Category Archives: Dundee

It’s not ok

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This week is National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence awareness week.

I spent my whole life feeling like I wanted to die. I felt there was something very wrong with me. Before I was 9 I had been neglected,  starved and beaten. When I was 9 I moved in with my mother and her new husband. Between the age of 10-12  I was sexually abused. How broken must I be that no one loved me? How evil must I be that all these people could do was hurt me?

As an adult I tried to hide what had happened to me. I would have been horrified if someone had guessed that I had been sexually abused. I didn’t even tell my closest friends. When I did speak to them I was shaking so much I could barely speak. When I met my husband-to-be at University we would stay up through the night talking. I told him a lot of what happened,.

My life was spent in hiding. The real me locked away in a black place with an outer shell, an android version, living my life. I was very successful. I married the guy I fell in love with at Uni and we moved in together. My career grew until I was in a senior role working at an international level. This was still not me. It was still the android. I hated myself so much. I was scared of everything and everybody. A simple trip on the underground in London would have me on edge. Someone touching my shoulder in the office would make me freeze.

I believed anyone would be able to do anything they wanted to me so I kept a very solid F**k off shield to prevent anyone getting close. It worked well. Too well. I felt alone and unlikeable.

When I got pregnant with my son I was terrified. People were looking at me and touching me again and I would just freeze every time. He was born prematurely and died after 30 days. Now, to add to all the reasons I already had to hate my body, I had killed my baby and I hated it even more.

Despite this I got pregnant again. This time all was fine and my daughter was born. She was amazing. I was determined not to screw her up in the way I had been screwed up. When she was 3 she started asking me if I was happy. No matter how many times I told her I was, she kept asking. I realised that I was in serious danger of screwing her up. That was not going to happen. It was ok for me to be screwed up, it was not ok for her to be.

So I found a Cognitive Hypnotherapist in London called Trevor Silvester. I was wary. In a room with a strange man who would ask me to close my eyes. Not going to happen. During the abuse I would close my eyes and hide in my head. He could do what he wanted to my body but he would never touch my head. Not true but what I believed.

So I took a friend to the first session.

After the first session there was a release. The critical voice in my head was quiet. I began to believe that maybe I could be ok.

Over a few sessions loads changed. For the first time in my life I could say I was happy. I stopped wanting to die. I realised that everything in my life had led me to this point and I trained to be a Cognitive Hypnotherapist myself. Still, I dreaded that anyone would learn about the sexual abuse. One day, while walking through the park with Trevor on the way to my Cognitive Hypnotherapy course, he told me that there would come a time where I would remember what happened in a different way. I would realise that it had helped me become who I was. I started shaking at the thought. It seemed at that time, that people knowing I had been abused would be the worst thing ever.

I blogged my journey, but only from my head and thoughts. I never wrote about what happened. Trevor mentioned that people would be able to work it out. I was horrified. Then, after a couple of years and a few more sessions, I realised it didn’t matter if people knew. I had reached the place where I knew it was never about me.

I contacted the NSPCC and reported my abuser for historical abuse. They passed it on to the police.

Within a week 2 police officers came to my house and did an initial interview. It was awful. Really really awful. Little did I know that it would be nothing in comparison with what I would have to go through over the next 2 years. I eventually did a face to face interview, and later an interview on video. I spoke through details of what had happened in a way that I never believed I would. There were a number of occasions where I shut down and was no longer able to speak. But I came back. And I did it. All thanks to the help from Trevor. I had reached a point where I could talk about everything.

The CPS were almost certain they would get a conviction on the basis of my video evidence. They were amazed at how much I was able to talk about. I don’t think they’d met anyone who could do that before. They even asked about the Cognitive Hypnotherapy – curious about the impact it had on my ability to speak.

In May last year I went to court. I had special measures – screens between me and him so I never needed to see him. I sat in a video room while the jury watched my video evidence. Apart from switching off my son’s incubator, this was by a long shot the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had to sit and relive every single detail of being abused while others watched. But I did it. So that we could get the verdict. So he could be prevented from abusing others. I am almost positive he has abused others and have carried the guilt of this my whole life. I should have spoken out. I should have protected others. But I couldn’t. If he had been dead I wouldn’t have needed this process. But I wanted to protect others – and maybe act as a voice for those incapable of speaking out.

The day of the trial there was another major drugs trial going on. My jury was made up of the rejects from that trial. 8 out of the 12 jurors were student age. There were only 3 women. The trial lasted 2 days + the verdict. For both days there was at least one juror turned up late because they slept in.

As I was questioned they looked bored and uninterested. The barrister told me to direct my answers to the jury. But only 2 of them made eye contact with me.

When I came out of giving my evidence, I shut down. I couldn’t talk and I shook violently. It had taken everything I had to keep it together while talking.

During the trial, both defence and prosecution brought evidence from my early childhood. I learnt about the school saying my brother and I were covered in bruises, and skeletally thin. I heard how social services and the school were fully aware of the neglect.

His defence could not say it didn’t happen because my video evidence was so convincing. So instead they took a minor indecent exposure incident with my grandfather and suggested that I had mis-remembered and that it was actually my grandfather who did all that stuff.

That was enough for the young and disinterested jury. They didn’t have to say it didn’t happen, they could just say it wasn’t him.

Despite my abuser coming as close as possible to admitting guilt during his testimony, despite him being so convinced he would be found guilty that he turned up to the verdict with his suitcase, the jury found him not guilty.

Initially I was devastated. After all of that he would walk away free.

But I realised that wasn’t true. I no longer worry about being believed. I believe what happened and I know it wasn’t about me. It was about him and how sick he is. He had not got away free. I had 2 years of hell – so had he. He was convinced he was going to jail. He has been called out. He is no longer free to do what he wants. I doubt very much he will do it again.

And me? I am free. All that stuff in my head no longer serves a purpose. I had a run the day after I gave evidence and imagined it all disappearing in the breeze. There are no more painful memories in my head. They serve no purpose any more so have lost all meaning. I am truly free.

And the Not Guilty verdict freed me up even more in a strange way. If it was guilty I would have used my story to reach out to others. To help people. After all, that’s what I do these days. I help people. The problem is, every time you tell your story, you live it. You have to. To talk about it you need to access your memories. Every time I talked about it I would relive it. So if it had been Guilty I would have been reliving my story constantly.

But it was Not Guilty. So I don’t. I am truly free.

Be more hedgehog

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Hedgehogs are stupid animals. So it might surprise you that I am suggesting that you try and become more like a hedgehog.

Let me explain:

The thing that makes a hedgehog stupid is the way they approach obstacles. They don’t really get obstacles. They don’t try and work out the best way round. They walk forward in an unrelenting fashion.

If faced with a rock they will try and go over it rather than round it.

In the UK we have cattle grids to stop cows getting onto a road. We had to start putting ramps in them to let the hedgehogs out because they wouldn’t take the safe path, they take the straight path.

I have approached my life in the same way as a hedgehog approaches it’s journey. I have been a hedgehog. I move forward in an unrelenting fashion with no acknowledgement of the obstacles that get in the way. The doubts, worries, risk etc. are given no time in my head.

I am a hedgehog. I a move forward irrespective of the obstacle.

Try it. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you ignore obstacles (just don’t go near the cattle grid, or tennis nets!)

Different realities

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Some people can’t see certain colours. Some people can’t see reds and greens. It’s hard to understand what they see, when we can see them fine. But we accept that some people see colours differently.

The thing a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not the eyes that see. It’s the brain. We all see things based on our own reality. We all see things differently.

So why is it so hard to accept that we might see other things differently? Why is it so hard to accept that the way we see ourselves may not be the same as others see us?

You don’t know what you don’t know. Until you see things in a different way, no amount of explanation from anyone else will shift your perception. A person who is colour blind will not realise that they see things differently until someone points it out to them. Even then, they still won’t truly understand until something helps them see differently. A person who is experiencing depression will not be able to hear what other people tell them. They are living in a restricted reality in their own head.

This video of a baby getting glasses for the first time is a great example. She doesn’t know that there is anything wrong with her eyesight,  until she sees the world for the first time through glasses.

Baby sees with glasses for the first time

When people leave their first session with me, they mostly look bemused. They know themselves pretty well, and have no reason to believe an hour spent talking to me will change a thing. But as they go through the weeks after that session, they begin to see things differently. Their reality begins to shift. The more evidence they gather of how things can be different, the more it brings into question everything they thought was true about themselves.

It can be both unnerving and exciting.

In time, they stop accepting their emotional state as a black and white truth. They begin to realise that it is a temporary reality that can be changed. Until they do, I am there. I remain the objective observer, finding the right glasses to allow them to see the world as it is, rather than a filtered version based on past experiences.

It’s a wonderful journey and I am honoured to be part of it with so many people.

3 steps to break a habit

Willpower logo trimmedToday is No Smoking day and there will be a bunch of you that want to break the habit of smoking.

So here are my top 3 steps for breaking a habit.

Firstly, a little science around habits.

When you do something that is familiar to your brain it releases a drug called Dopamine. This drug makes you feel better. It makes you do the thing you are about to do. If you stop doing the thing, and your brain doesn’t recognise your thoughts, you don’t get Dopamine. You go cold turkey.

This is why breaking a habit is uncomfortable.

But you can train your brain in the same way as you can train any muscle in your body. You can increase your willpower. And by increasing your willpower you have the strength to endure the short period where you are going cold turkey from dopamine.

Imagine you start your day with a bucket of willpower points. As you go through the day you spend your points. By the end of the day the bucket is empty, so you have no more willpower points to spend. Training your brain is about starting the day with a bigger bucket of willpower points.

So how do you train your brain to have more willpower?

1. Do the same thing differently.

If you are smoking, smoke with the opposite hand. Or smoke a different brand. Or allow yourself to have a cigarette but take one puff and then put it down. Count to 10 and take another puff. Put it down. This is you taking control of something that is normally out of control. Do a little of something different every day. Like with any training, the more you do, the stronger you get. Increase the time to 20 seconds. Hold the cigarette in the opposite hand and with different fingers.

2. Create a long term idealistic goal rather than a shorter term fixed goal.

Decide that in a years time you want to be a non-smoker. This means that even if you have a cigarette today, you haven’t blown your goal. You have something to aim for. Recognise each time you choose not to smoke as a step towards your goal and each time you choose to smoke as a pause. This way there is no failure. You give yourself credit for what you achieve instead of beating yourself up for failure. Consider too, if you put something off until tomorrow, ask “How would the me tomorrow feel about the me today stealing my time?”

3. Just breathe.

So many studies now show that meditation is a powerful tool both for the mind and body. It’s also really good for boosting self-control and willpower. Set a timer for 1 minute every day. In that minute spend time just focussing on your breathing. Thoughts will come into your head and distract you. Take each thought and imagine it disappearing just as quickly as it arrives. You can dissolve it, see it float down a river, imagine it flying away. Any way that comes to mind. You might even find it helps to label the different thoughts – negative, future, to-do, etc. You can change their colour or their sound. But each time you are distracted by a thought, bring your attention back to your breathing after banishing it.

If you need a little help with these steps, you can download the Willpower Workout from the appstore. Search “TICIWillpower” or click on the link below (Apple devices only)

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Think before you judge others

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I follow a Facebook page called Humans of Dundee. It’s like Humans of New York but for Dundee. It’s wonderful. A snapshot of people’s lives. I was even featured on it myself once.

I am always looking for opportunities to Pay it Forward and I like to look for opportunities on this page. So when a fireman, who found himself unable to walk one day, posted how keen he was to get back to work after 6 months off it seemed like a good opportunity for me.

I suggested Dr David Hamilton’s book “How your mind can heal your body” and offered my services to see if we could work together.

The first reply from someone was as follows:

I think it is SICK to prey on people like that! Unless, of course, you’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart and not charging a penny. If that is the case, I am sorry. If not, SHAME on you!

And it’s a shame that the first thing this person assumed was that my intentions were not good. What sort of world do they live in where they see all the people around them as predators and don’t take things on face value.

CAPITAL LETTERS. Shouting at me because their first thought was that an offer of help was preying on someone.

Shame on them for judging that quickly. Shame on them.

But I wasn’t mad at them. I wasn’t upset. I felt sad for them actually. I felt sad that things must be so hard in their world, in their mind, that they can’t see kindness.

The fireman took it as intended. A friend of his had the book and lent it to him which was great.

The exchange got me thinking.

If I could have one wish, it would be that people didn’t stand in judgement of others

Because you never know. We all play different roles depending on who we are with. Who you are at work is not who you are at home. Who you are with friends is not the same as who you are with your partner. And most of us have a facade that we use for protection. Most of us don’t want people to know that we are worried or insecure or scared.

Someone outwardly confident is often just as insecure inside as everyone else. They just hide it well.

Someone who hates themselves can still smile and look after their appearance. They aren’t going to walk around telling everyone they hate themselves.

You can’t tell be looking. You can’t tell by hearing. You can never tell what it is like in someone else’s head. So don’t think you can.

Don’t respond to others based on how you think.

Don’t judge. You don’t know.

World Prematurity Day 2014

DSCN0157Today is World Prematurity Day.

Twitter and Facebook are covered with stories of prematurity. I find it very difficult.

In 2007 I gave birth to a baby boy just as I turned 26 weeks pregnant. He was 1lb 6oz.

He died 30 days later.

There are so many stories of babies that survive. I read stories of miracle skin contact bringing a baby back to life. Despite a belief that everything would work out, it didn’t.

When he died a piece of me died too. The hope I nurtured took it’s toll. My ability to hope and believe that everything will work out has been forever tarnished. Reality can do that to you.

For years I tortured myself with “what if…” thoughts.

But you see, we can’t change the past. Nothing we do now will change the events of the past.

What we can do is change the way we feel about it. We can re-live those past events constantly trying to find things that could have been different, or we can live in the moment. We can acknowledge that the past is behind us and if you try and take a step forward whilst looking behind you, then you will stumble and fall a lot. But if you look at your feet, at each step you take, you can focus on moving forward.

It’s not easy but it is simple. Each day taking a simple step forward. And there will be times where you need to look back. And remember. Times like today. But when you do, pause. Just pause and look back and try and focus on the facts rather than the things you’d like to change. Try and notice details that you didn’t notice before, like I remember the kind nurse who really took to my little boy and even came to his funeral. Instead of focussing on the decision we made with the doctor to give him steroids which led to his death.

And if you pause when you look back, then you are less likely to stumble and hurt yourself. When you are ready you can look forward again, and focus on that next step forward. Every journey starts with a single step.

Weight – Your brain decides

In the caveman days, there would be a certain pattern that our life would follow.

Caveman-2-JPEGFirstly there was the time after we had caught a woolly mammoth. The was a period of feast. As well as eating for survival, your mind would guide your body to store fat and nutrients from what you ate. This would mean that during the inevitable periods of famine that followed, you would have plenty of reserves to give you best chance of survival for as long as possible.

Then food would run out. You would have no idea when the next catch would be and so you entered a period of famine. During a period of famine everything had to change around from a mind/body perspective. The focus would be on using the nutrients and energy from anything you consumed, and only tapping into your reserves as a last resort. After all, who was to know how long a period of famine would last.

Whether in feast or famine, your mind/body relationship is programmed to give you the best chance of survival.

Now fast forward to the current day and think about a diet. A diet is a period where you deprive yourself of food – either by quantity or by type of food. To your brain this is famine and it adapts accordingly.

And then you have time off a diet. Because everybody does;  a birthday, a holiday, or just fed up of trying. To your brain this is feast and once more it will adapt accordingly by stocking up your reserves again.

This is why diets work in terms of losing weight, but then you put it back on again – and some. And each time you diet you lose weight, and gain more until it gets to a point where you have to make a superhuman effort to diet. And you probably feel a failure – like you are no good at dieting. But all you are doing is exactly what your mind and body are designed to do.

This ability of the brain to decided how to metabolise what you eat, based on environmental/emotional factors, can also be the reason why some people feel ‘unfairly’ overweight because they don’t eat that much. If your brain has a reason for you to keep the weight on ( e.g a suit to hide behind or having to be likeable as a person if you can’t use your size as an excuse) then no matter what you try, it will ensure the weight doesn’t come off.

I can help. I can get you out of that diet cycle by freeing you up from food or your size having any meaning – leaving you the freedom to choose to be whoever you want to be.

Why not email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com today? You will see changes from the first session in your relationship with food and yourself. And I can usually help you in as little as 3 sessions spread over 6 weeks.

Maybe today is the day…

Expectations vs Reality

IMG_2031What do you expect of yourself?

Where are you compared with where you think you should be?

How do you cope? How does that compare with how you think you should cope?

In my experience, when a client comes to me with symptoms of depression, out of control emotions or low self-esteem, the problem often comes down to expectations vs reality.

They think they should be someone they are not. They think everyone else expects them to be something different.

And so each day they judge themselves as failing. Failing because they are not living up to their expectations of themselves and their perception of what others expect of them.

It’s not true but that doesn’t make it any less real. What it does mean is that it can be changed. Nothing is real in our heads. Everything is altered by our own perception.

When interviewing, if a policeman asks “how tall was your attacker?” they will get a tall person.

If they ask “How short was your attacker?” they will get a short person.

If they ask “What height was your attacker?” they will get something more accurate but they will still need to ask 5 other people to get a fairly accurate answer. We all see things in our own way.

But this is a good thing. It means by changing our perception we can change our reality.

So ask yourself “What expectations do I have of myself?”

Then ask “What would happen if I dropped those expectations? How would I feel?”

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is that simple.

And if you need help with that, drop me a mail to dawn@thinkitchangeit.com

For Now

I went to see AvenueQ last night. It was brilliant. Very adult, but very funny.

In a strange way there were loads of really good life lessons in it too. I giggled a bit when the Japanese lady character – Christmas Eve – mused on being too effective as a therapist because people didn’t come back after their first session!

There is a theme about finding purpose in life, to give it meaning, that runs through the show. But the end number sums it all up. It talks about just appreciating now.

Why does everything have to be so hard?
Maybe you’ll never find your purpose
Lots of people don’t
But then I don’t even know why I’m alive
Well, who does, really?}
Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied
Everyone goes ’round a little empty inside
Take a breath, look around
Swallow your pride for now
Nothing lasts, life goes on
Full of surprises
You’ll be faced with problems
Of all shapes and sizes
You’re going to have to make
A few compromises for now
For now
But only for now
Only for now
For now we’re healthy
For now we’re employed
For now we’re happy
If not overjoyed
And we’ll accept the things
We cannot avoid, for now, for now
For now, for now
But only for now
Only for now
(For now there’s life)
Only for now
(For now there’s love)
Only for now
(For now there’s work)
For now there’s happiness
But only for now
(For now discomfort)
But only for now
(But now there’s friendship)
Only for now
(For now)
Only for now
Only for now, sex
Is only for now, your hair
Is only for now, George Bush
Is only for now
Don’t stress, relax
Let life roll off your backs
Except for death and paying taxes
Everything in life is only for now
Each time you smile
It’ll only last a while
Life may be scary
But it’s only temporary
Everything in life is only for now