Tag Archives: Child abuse

Effect of childhood on our genes

Yesterday I attended a conference about ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. It was about making Scotland the first ACE aware nation in the world. It was certainly thought provoking. 

I particularly enjoyed the talk from Dr Nadine Burke Harris about the physical implications of what she refers to as “Toxic stress”. 

Toxic Stress

The stress response is a physical and emotional response designed to help us escape sabre toothed tigers. This set of responses is designed to give us the best chance of surviving when fighting or running away from a predator.

  1. The pre-frontal cortex – the thinking part of the brain – is disengaged, because it’s too slow to help us survive. Taking time to think and work out options, in the middle of an attack, is a bad idea.
  2. The heart rate increases
  3. Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body – preparing our organs for instant response. Adrenaline also impacts on the immune system. Not really possible to ask the tiger to come back tomorrow because you have a bad cold right now. Our immune system is directed to preparing to fight infection from any injuries. 
  4. The pain response is adjusted to allow us to keep fighting or running even when injured. 

This all makes total sense – when fighting tigers. 

But what if the threat is violence from a parent, that could happen every day of your childhood. 

What if the threat is emotional or sexual abuse where you are being hurt but not necessarily physically. 

In these situations, the body reacts in exactly the same way. It treats the thing that hurts you emotionally in exactly the same way as if it was going to hurt you physically. 

Epigenetics

In itself this is bad enough, but this toxic stress has an effect on your genes through Epigentics. 

Image result for musical notes and notations

The way Nadine described Epigentics was great. If your DNA is the music notes on a piece of music, Epigentics are the musical notation that tells you what to do with the notes such as speeding up, slowing down and pausing

Epigenetics are like a series of little switches that activate and deactive things in your DNA

Because of these Epigenetic switches, right through into adulthood, when the threat is no longer present, the physiological response can remain.

This can lead to physical issues such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, weight issues and chronic pain conditions such as Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. 


All is not lost!

There are two ways to address this:

  1. We can work we children to offset the effect of any adverse experiences and prevent them from becoming toxic stress
  2. We can work with adults to re-programme the interpretation of the childhood experiences and switch the Epigenetic switches off again. 

Hold on to your past – it defines you.

When I was 3 I told that my grandfather was molesting me. Nothing changed and it continued until I moved to live with my mother at 8 or 9 years old.

When I was 12 I told my mother I was being abused. Nothing changed and the abuse continued for some time after.

3 years ago I faced my abuser in court and he walked out of the court free. The jury found him not guilty. Nothing changed.

Before I went to live with my mother, I was starved and looked like a skeleton, beaten to the point of being covered in bruises and neglected. School knew. Social Services knew. Nothing changed.

At 14 years old my brother ran away for the first time. He was returned home. At 16 years old he ran away again and this time they couldn’t bring him home.

I stayed.

I went to university, got a degree in computing, met the man who would become my husband, and went on to have a very successful career, eventually ending up on a 6 figure salary in BT. I had a wonderful house, husband and daughter. Everything was amazing.

Except I was still the broken little girl inside. It was all a pretence.

Then I found cognitive hypnotherapy and everything changed.

Nothing changed what had happened, of course. It was me that changed inside. My internal story changed. The meaning behind the events changed.

One day a friend suggested that I should let go of my past as it didn’t serve me any more. I got really upset.

Who would I be if I had not experienced my life?

I am where I am not just because of who I am, but also because of the experiences I went through.

 

If I wasn’t the person I am, I wouldn’t be here writing this, helping people, trying to change the world, one person at a time. I would be like my brother, a drug addict struggling to keep going each day.

If I hadn’t gone through the experiences I did then it would be unlikely that I would dedicate my life to helping others escape the demons of their past.

So I don’t want to let go of the past. It made me who I am.

I sometimes learn new things about my past. Recently I reconnected with a relative (there are very few people from my past allowed in my present life). I learnt things about what was done, and what people new, that floored me a little. I felt angry and upset. I asked why no one protected me, as I have done many times before.

But this time it was different for me. I didn’t ask what was wrong with me. I didn’t feel even more evil and broken.

I felt upset. Genuinely upset that people would treat a little girl that way.

And I felt in awe of the person that I am. The person that got through that. And the person I have become as a result of that.

So don’t let go of your childhood experiences. You need them. They go with your personal qualities to make you who you are today.

Don’t give up on yourself

This weekend I was at Regents University in London for a course run by Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy. To get to the Uni, you walk through Regent’s Park. It’s a stunning park right in the centre of London, close to Baker Street, and behind Madame Tussauds.

I have experienced many moments in this park.

  • There was a conversation with Trevor Silvester about how I would one day look back on my childhood experiences and be thankful for them. I remember that conversation. It seemed a ridiculous thing to say. He could tell it unsettled me and quickly switched to a distraction. But I remembered it. And, of course, he was right. I am in that place now – but only just!
  • There was a moment just a year or two ago, where those of use who were qualified came together for an annual Cognitive Hypnotherapy event. I felt so different. I felt like I didn’t belong. And I felt sad, because I always felt different. I sat on a bench with a Starbucks over the lunch break. I left everyone else behind to chat. I isolated myself. It was just me and a squirrel that wanted what I had (no way it was getting my Starbucks!). I have since learnt to accept my differences – even like them. I can be comfortable with people I don’t connect with, in the same was as those I do. Not everyone is my tribe.
  • There were many Saturday mornings where I walked along, having had a session with Trevor on the Friday, desperately trying to process the barrage of emotions and thoughts that flooded me following yet another fundamental shift.

As I walked through the park on Saturday, I felt a deep, calm peace.

It occurred to me that I was unrecognisable in comparison to the person that first walked through the park just over 6 years ago. So much so, that you would swear it was not the same person.

There have been many times in the last few years that I have felt that I have reached the limit of change. Often, with things that I still was unhappy with. I would try and accept the version of me that I was. I would try and convince myself that some things just couldn’t be changed.

But I didn’t believe that to be true for my clients, so how could I accept it for myself?

And like that 18 year old me that didn’t take the bottle of tablets, there was a part of me that still fought; a part of me that still believed there was something better for me.

And then another shift has happened. In many ways, this was the most profound shift yet. And I realised that I was wrong: everything can change.

Bowling

I often tell my clients that this process is like bowling

Image result for bowling images

When you go bowling, you don’t know how many pins you are going to knock out of the way until you actually roll the ball down the alley. You have to bowl, and wait.

Each session we bowl.

You also can’t take the bowling ball and go round the back to get the back pins first.

You have to start with the front row.

So sometimes you feel that you have gone backwards. You uncover a row of pins, and because the others have been cleared out of the way, they feel significant. It feels like that was the main problem all along.

But as with bowling, you can only get at the back row once the rows in front are gone.

Don’t give up

So my message to you is: don’t give up on yourself.

Keep bowling. Keep going. If you are not happy with anything, it can always be changed. It might take a while, and it might even catch you by surprise, but everything can change.

And remember, whatever you think, the fact that you are reading this blog post means that you have not given up on yourself yet!

We’re all screwed up – including me

It’s not secret that I have had my struggles.

It’s also no secret that I had a very difficult childhood. In fact, people who have heard the story have said I should make it into a film. It is a bit ridiculous!

Cognitive Hypnotherapy has been the thing that freed me up.

Even though the actual number of sessions of therapy I’ve had is relatively low (8 in total over the last 7 years), I have been able to find an amazing level of peace, happiness and contentment with my life. But it’s not been a short journey. Every day has been about learning.

Recently I was getting very frustrated with myself.

I still hated myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror without sneering. I wanted to be someone else. I found it impossible when people said nice things. It was actually upsetting. How could they be so cruel as to say something that was so obviously untrue? It wasn’t fair.

I knew this wasn’t right. It was frustrating. How could so much else have changed but not this?

I also knew I had some behaviours that weren’t right. I would never ask a question in a meeting or at Uni, because I assumed that nobody would pay any attention to what I said. When courses didn’t sell, and videos didn’t get many views I would think “Of course, why would anyone listen to me?”. When someone disagreed with something I said in a forum I would back off and not argue my point. I physically would shake and dwell on what I said and what they said.

I know enough to know that isn’t right, and, more importantly, I don’t have to accept it.

And then I got help from a fellow therapist. And we changed the hurt child girl so she was happy.

And things began to change.

I went to my daughter’s school to talk to them about an issue. I could have avoided it but I didn’t. I felt calm when I was there.

I started engaging in discussions on forums.

I went to the doctors about a lump above my stomach. I’d done this before and they dismissed it but I knew it was not right. I had been putting off going but I made the appointment and stuck to my guns to get a scan.

I went to the hairdressers and closed my eyes and relaxed while I was having my hair washed. Something I have never done before.

To many these may seem like small things, but to me they were huge signs of change.

And then I had an opportunity to do a talk to our local ACES group (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I want to become the sort of public speaker that talks at large events. Ultimately, I would love to do Tony Robbins style conferences (obvious they will be Dawn Style by then). I know that I need to share my personal story – what brought me to this point – if I really want to connect with people. I know I have a hell of a story.

I’ve always been able to write this but never talk. This was because of my mother telling me at 12 years old never to talk about the abuse again. But she didn’t say to never write about it lol!

In the past, when I’ve tried to talk, my subconscious has shut me down. I lose the ability to speak or move. So I’ve avoided telling my story.

On Tuesday I went along to this group event with a plan to talk through my story. ACES is all about resilience, and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on our physical and mental well-being. I know that my story shows how it is possible to be happy no matter what. I know I am a better therapist because what I’ve been through shows that it is possible to overcome anything. This was a good audience to start with.

My passion is to help everyone realise that we can all find happiness, no matter what has happened in our childhood. I have never made it so personal before.

I have never told my life story to anyone out loud, from start to finish before, let alone a room of strangers. I spoke to about 15 people. I told them everything from when I was 6 right up until I took my abuser to court. I told the whole story. I explained how if I’m ok, then anybody can be, if you just have the right help.

It was liberating. I felt so free afterwards. I had told my story and I was fine. That’s all it was – a story. Something that I could use to help other people. It did not leave me shaking (although I was a little nervous when I started talking!). It did not stir up nightmares. I did not go into the ‘no-speaking’ state. I was absolutely fine.

I felt exhilarated and I feel so lucky to have been given that chance.

So now I’m working towards a new TED talk next year. A talk that will draw on my experiences both from childhood, and from working with over 600 clients.

“Our past creates us but doesn’t define us – lessons from over 600 clients”

(if anyone can think of a better click-bait style title please let me know!)

This is my next step and I can’t wait.

5 lessons from taking my abuser to court

**Trigger warning** This article is about child abuse. Please don’t read if you thing it might trigger you

I picked up the phone and called the NSPCC. “I want to report a case of historical abuse” I said. I was terrified. I had been shaking for days just thinking about making that phonecall.

For years I had wanted to do this. I didn’t even know if he was still alive. What I was almost positive about was that he’d abused others. What I was really worried about was that he still was, and would be in the future.

But up until a few years ago, I couldn’t even tell anyone what had happened, let alone publicly admit it. I always felt guilty for that. When I blogged about my Cognitive Hypnotherapy journey, I never said what had happened. Although most people could read between the lines and guess.

But I’ve come a long way in the last few years.

I was ready.

In May 2015 I travelled to North Wales for a trial that I was told would last 2-3 days. It spanned 4 days in the end. It was the culmination of 2 years of hell as the police gathered evidence, submitted through the CPS, got court dates and moved things forward.

He was found Not Guilty.

No one expected that. He even turned up in court, on the day of the verdict, with a large suitcase.

I had failed in everything I set out to achieve. It was not high enough profile to get publicity. Nobody except him knew what went on in court. He is free to continue whatever he wants to do, unchecked and un-monitored.

It was a horrendous process, but I changed a lot because of it – often, believe it or not, in a good way. I would like to share with you 5 key lessons I learnt from taking him to court.

1. It takes a lot for an abuse case to get to court.

Most of the 2 years was spent waiting.

Waiting to find out if they would progress with the case.

Did they have enough evidence? How could they possibly take someone to court on my word alone?

I initially gave a verbal interview where the police officer took notes. It was then passed to a specialist unit and they said I could have done a video interview that would be played in court so I wouldn’t have to read out my statement. A way better option it seemed! So I travelled to Wales and spent 3 hours re-living every painful detail while being questioned, on video.  It was horrendous, but possible, thanks to all my help from Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Trevor Silvester.

I thought that was going to be the worst part, but I didn’t realise that I would have to watch the video, in court, with the jury and judge watching the video and me. One of the worst experiences of my life!

I did a written statement interview, a video interview and answered a number of follow up questions.

I did it alone. My mother’s friend, who I originally told about the abuse, refused to give the police any statement.

My mother, who knew all about it but had never believed me, did not corroborate my story.

And yet, the CPS accepted it as a case based on my evidence. The CPS prosecuting barrister reckoned it was a very solid case with over 90% certainty of a guilty verdict.

It took 2 years to get to court and had to go through many checks to make sure there was enough to work on.

So now, when I watch TV and here about high profile people in court for abuse, what I know is that it doesn’t happen lightly. It takes a *lot* for a case like this to get to court.

2. We need a better jury system.

Before I went to court I met with the CPS barrister and the police officer who was leading my case. They talked to me about behaviour while I was on the stand.

They said that although the barrister was asking me questions, I should answer to the jury. I should make eye contact with the jury and speak to them. They said there are usually a couple of jurors that will engage with you.

I wasn’t worried about this. I am used to talking to audiences and picking someone out to connect with.

My trial took place the same week as a major drugs trial. There were armed police all round court. It was quite dramatic. That trial got first dibs on the jurors as it was scheduled to last at least 8 weeks – way longer than usual.

My trial was delayed because my jurors were what was left after the drugs trial had its pick.

Of the 12 jurors, 10 were about student age. Over the few days, every single day at least one of them slept in and the start of the day was significantly delayed.

The jury was bored and indifferent through the trial. They had to listen to some pretty harrowing stuff but seemed totally indifferent to it. I managed to only make eye contact with 1 juror – a middle aged lady. The others were looking down and some were even yawning.

How are these people supposed to make a ruling in a case such as this? How are they supposed to separate evidence from subjective opinion? How are they supposed to know what abuse is?

In my opinion, a jury should have a court official that helps them with interpretation of evidence and statements during their discussion point. Or we need a more American system where a jury is selected. It is supposed to be a cross section of your peers. My juror was far from that.

It is because of this particular make up of the jury that he was found Not Guilty. Everyone was certain. Even the judge suggested he was guilty in the summing up. The police officer could barely bring herself to tell me the result. No one could believe it. But it was the jury’s choice.

3. I was believed.

In the early days, after I reported it, I was amazed that the police interviewed me. I always questioned the truth of my story, even though I lived with the memories and their impact every day. When they submitted to the CPS for approval to take it to court, I was sure it wouldn’t be accepted.

I was ready to not be believed. Again.

When it got to court I was stunned, and thrilled. They believed what I said. For the first time I had spoken out and been believed.

By the time I got to court I no longer needed any validation of my story. I knew how much I’d had to go through to get that far. I realised court was just a technicality. Everyone was just doing their job.

In the end, the defence barrister was pretty clever. He used a minor molestation situation with my grandfather (something that has caused me no problems in later life). He asked the jury to believe that it was actually my grandfather that had done all those horrible things, not my abuser. The jury didn’t have to say it didn’t happen (my evidence would have made that impossible) they just had to say it wasn’t him.

And the only person who could have proved that to be incorrect, my mother, chose not to show up in court for me.

I came out of the trial knowing I was believed for the first time in my life. And for the first time in my life I felt sorry for what the younger version of me had been through.

4. Your story does not have to haunt you forever.

I have carried my story in my head for many years. It plays over and over again. It was almost like it need to be told. It pushed against the edges of my mind. It became more graphic and detailed as I learnt more. It gained depth and meaning.

When I told it in court, in all it’s horrific detail, it let the story out.

Other stuff from my childhood, stuff described by prosecution and defence as horrific, added to the depth of the story.

But after the trial, the story no longer served a purpose. It had been told.

And because of the Not Guilty verdict, I could fully let it go.

If it had been Guilty, I would have used my story to help others. I would have lived it again and again each time I told it.

But now it’s on a shelf and not in my head. I don’t need to add anything to it or ever need to read it again.

It is possible to be free of your story, no matter what happened.

5. I have the best friends.

When I went to Wales to record the video, my friend came with me, just to keep me company. She was brilliant. She asked nothing of me. She just was there for me. She wandered round for hours while I was in with the police.

She came with me again when I visited court a week before to see how things would work. Due to the nature of the case, I had special measures. I had a screen so he couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see him. I was kept in a special private room in between appearances so there was no chance of bumping into him.

Another friend, who has 3 kids, came down with me for the week of the trial. She stayed with me while I sat in a private room and watched the video of my testimony. She sat through the rest of the trial and told me what he said and what happened.

Another friend, who I only know online, attended his initial plea court appearance and then sat through the whole trial, giving me feedback on what was said. She even attended the day of the verdict when I had to head back home, because the trial had overrun and gave me the verdict before the police.

Another who lives all the way down the south of England, and I haven’t seen for many years, offered to leave her daughter with her granny and come with me to court.

If wealth is measured in friendship and the people around you, I am by far the richest person alive.

From my hubby, to my real life friends, to my virtual friends, everyone was phenomenally supportive. I often found myself in tears from the depth of support and love I felt

And so…

It was, by a million miles, one of the hardest things I have done in my life. I wanted to be the voice for others he’d abused, because I could be. I wanted to save others from his abuse in the future. Because the verdict was Not Guilty, it meant that I achieved nothing I set out to achieve.

I should have been permanently damaged by the experience.

But the opposite was true.

I was freed up by the experience.

I stood up for myself and others.

I was believed.

I was loved.

I am free of my story.

I am a specialist in sexual abuse

There are many different types of sexual abuse. There is no one type that is worse than the other though. You see, the problem with abuse is not what actually happens, but the meaning you take from what happens.

It’s the meaning behind it that causes the pain in later life, that triggers you in some way. Things like:

  • I should have told someone
  • I should have fought back
  • I should have been able to not respond
  • It was about me not them

Or if you reported the abuse to someone

  • They don’t love me because they didn’t do anything when I told them
  • It must be me that was in the wrong because the person I told didn’t act in the way I hoped/expected

A lot of this pain comes from comparing what you now know, as an adult, with the way you thought as a child. We often project adult thoughts onto our child selves. But you see, you don’t think now like you thought then. You don’t think now, like you thought last year.

We are always the best version of us that we can possibly be, under the circumstances.

As a result of this pain, those who have been abused often have a number of issues, that are symptomatic of having these memories in their head. One or more of the following may be familiar:

  • hatred of body leading to self harm and/or weight issues
  • anxiety – hyper vigilance in every social situation
  • fake persona – living a false life, pretending to be a person you are not to hide the person you feel you really are.
  • depression – a belief that you deserve all the bad things that happen to you in life.
  • Lack of trust in your own feelings/body leading to promiscuity or full withdrawal from physical contact.

Over the years I have worked with many clients who have experienced abuse. Sometimes, that is the problem they bring to me. More often, the problem they reach out for is symptomatic of experiencing abuse as a child. The “system (NHS or otherwise) struggles to treat someone who has been abused because they can present with such a range of different problems. The system first likes to put people in a category and then they treat all people in that category the same. I have had clients come to me with every label under the sun – and what it really meant was they were hurting and doing their best to survive. This can make treatment lengthy and with limited effect, because when you treat one symptom in one category, the other one remains.

I can help you move on from sexual abuse and live a happy, fulfilling life

I don’t need labels. And I don’t need to take years. Within 2-3 sessions you can be a very different person – the person you were always meant to be before someone forced you into hiding during childhood.

I don’t say this because I know what you are going through. Yes, I experienced sexual abuse, but that’s not relevant to our work. What is relevant is that I have healed from being abused and I am happy in my life. What is relevant is that I have used what I learnt from my own journey to help others, and seen the most amazing transformations. I wasn’t ready before to declare myself a specialist in this area. I wasn’t far enough in my own journey and I hadn’t seen enough people transform. But I am comfortable now, with everything that happened to me. The meaning has gone. The pain has gone. And I have helped so many people, that I just want to help more. I love seeing my clients flourish and live the lives they want to live.

I know it’s hard. It’s hard when you hate yourself to do anything for yourself. But you’re here and you’re reading this so there is a part of you that is still fighting. Maybe this year is the right time for that part to reach out to me, and let me help you. I would be honoured if you would let me.

Remember, I do sessions on Skype, Facetime and in Dundee and Aberdeen. There is no reason not to reach out. Maybe, just maybe, I can help.

Email dawn@thinkitchangeit.com to begin our journey together.

George Michael – a place in my childhood

When Bowie died, people felt that they had lost someone who played a big part in their childhood. He wasn’t really a part of mine so it didn’t affect me in the same way.

Then yesterday I head that George Michael had died.

Once more I was 12 years old, sitting in my bedroom. A single bed was in the corner. At the end was a Narnia style wardrobe that I often climbed into desperately wishing that the back would open into another world. Needless to say, it never did. I used to hide Christmas presents in there – cheap marshmallows and cheap chocolate, that I would then eat, and have to buy more.

On the opposite wall to the bed and the wardrobe was a dresser. On it sat a small horizontal tape recorder that I used to record the chart show on a Sunday and to record silly voices. You had to hold down the play and record button at the same time to record, and I often got it wrong, missing something important.

The wallpaper was a bit rubbish but that didn’t matter, because I got Smash Hits magazine and stuck the posters all over the wall

Wham were my favourite band, and specifically George Michael. My bed is in that corner and their posters were right next to my bed. This is probably typical of any teenager in the 80’s. We used Smash Hits for posters and lyrics. Duran Duran, East 17, Wham and many others were idolised and the source of many a young girls obsession and fantasies.

So when I heard about George Michael’s death it took me back to that room, to that bed in the corner, to the memories of the person I fancied most in the 80’s, to kissing his poster…and to being abused…in that same bed…in that same corner…with a wardrobe at the end of the bed I wanted to escape into.

The 80’s to me was a story of parallel lives. The life of a normal teenager, into bands like Wham, into wearing bright pink plastic jewellery and leg warmers, and the life of an abused child; scared at home, being emotionally abused and punished through the day, and never knowing what the night would bring.

Songs are powerful. People are powerful. They root in our subconscious and move us around time. As Maya Angelou said, people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

RIP George Michael.

I am not what happened to me

I was not sure how to write this post.

My Timehop reminded me that I was in court a year ago with this post

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A friend on Twitter pointed out that Timehop is not always a good thing. Sometimes it reminds us of stuff we don’t need to be reminded of.

I see it differently.

I reported my abuser to the NSPCC for historical abuse in October 2013. 2 years later I attended court. The police and prosecution were almost 100% certain that they would get a guilty verdict based on my evidence. My evidence was a 3 hour video interview where I told them everything that had happened. Every detail, no matter how painful. I figured if I did that, it was worth it because it would give us the best chance of a conviction. I didn’t do it for validation, I did it because I believed he had, and would, abuse others. I was strong enough to be their voice thanks to Cognitive Hypnotherapy.

Over 2 days I had to go through watching my video evidence again. Re-living every horrific detail. I had to be questioned about being abused in front of a jury. I met with the prosecution barrister before the trial. They told me to talk to the jury. That is who I was giving evidence to. But the jury of 12 was made up of at least 10 student age lads. Each day at least one of them overslept and the trial was delayed. None of them made eye contact with me when I spoke. The looked down and they looked bored.

His testimonial was full of lies and he was destroyed by the prosecution. He turned up to the verdict with his suitcase.

He was found Not guilty.

In that moment, of hearing the verdict, I was devastated. I cried for 2 days.

It took me 3 months to feel that the tension from the shaking had left my body. I felt traumatised by what happened in court and the verdict seemed to have only served to enhance that. I went through all that for nothing? But it wasn’t for nothing. I had called him out. I had removed the power he had over me. Those memories no longer served a purpose and I visualised them dissipating into the breeze.

My head was clear.

I realised that the verdict did not matter. This happens with jury’s. They are unpredictable. Everyone believed me and not him – even the judge made it clear in his summing up.

In many ways the verdict was more liberating for me than a guilty verdict would have been. If it had been Guilty I would have talked about it, shared my story, again and again. Every time we tell our story, we relive it a little. I would have kept myself reliving what happened.

The verdict allowed me to let go once and for all. All the traumatic memories. All the meaning. Everything went away.

For the first time in my life I was free. I started a new chapter. I could be whoever I wanted to be.

A year later the Criminal Injuries Compensation board awarded me 100% based on the police evidence and my statement. It felt like a final vindication. I let go of the injustice of the verdict that had been plaguing me.

I went back to where I grew up, on holiday, knowing he lived there.

My past has no power over my present and my future.

I am not what happened to me.

And so my Timehop reminds me that it is possible to move on from even the most traumatic events in our lives. It reminds me that we don’t stay in the same place for any length of time. This too shall pass. Always.

The end of the story

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The interesting thing about child abuse is that it’s not the actual acts that cause the problem. It’s the programming in our brains as children that requires we learn from everything that happens to us, and around us. We need to take meaning and lessons from events so that we have the best chance of survival as adults, when there is no one to guide us.

The facts of what happens in our childhood are not the problem. This applies equally to horrible events as it does to wonderful ones.

Did you know that we experience roughly 7,363,000 minutes by the time we are 14 years old? Because of the way we are wired, any one of these could become a significant basis for a lesson. It could be a good collection of minutes like remembering eating ice cream down on the beach with your mother. It was a moment of connection, of love, so now whenever you eat ice cream it reminds you of how much your mother loved you. And if you feel unloved, for whatever reason, eating ice cream brings back that feeling.  It could be a bad collection of minutes where you got beaten for making a mess on your top at school. You learnt that your behaviour led to a beating which made you try and change your behaviour. But we all make a mess sometimes and so you could never get things right.

Everything that happens becomes a story. The facts take on meaning. The meaning creates the story. The story runs through our lives.

When you have been abused it is not the facts of what they did to you that are the problem. It’s the story you write. “He did this, my body responded and I became part of what was happening instead of merely a person he was doing it to. Because my body responded I can’t trust my body. I hate my body. I hate myself” And then you define yourself as hateful, disgusting, broken (or whatever because it’s your story)

I had my story. A story where I was either abused by every adult or not put first by any adult. And I had a few tries. I had a father and a stepmother, then a stepfather and a mother.

In my story I was the bad guy because when I had my daughter I couldn’t see how I would let anyone hurt her. I couldn’t see how I would ever do anything other than put her first above all else – no matter what the cost.

In my story I was the broken and evil lead character. Those around me were not the villains. There was a reason why they couldn’t love me. There was a reason why they abused me. I was broken. I hated the child version of me.

This is the story I have carried my whole life. If I ever became unsure, I referred to the appropriate chapter of the story, and reminded myself of what had happened.

But a story is a work of fiction. It might be based on facts but things are exaggerated and changed to engage the audience.

When I took my abuser to court I had to lay out the facts behind that story.

In my video I told them everything. Every single detail. I even told them, when asked, how I had felt at the time. I left no detail out. I then relived all those details 4 times through the trial. First I had to read the written statement I initially gave. Then I watched the first 25 minutes of the video evidence I gave. The next day I watched the remaining 1 hour and 20 minutes of the video evidence. Then I was questioned by the defence.

Through all of this there was no room for the story. Just the details. The facts. It stopped becoming a work of fiction and became a documentary. And then, to my surprise, both the defence and the prosecution brought details of my early childhood into play. That had also been a story to me. But now, that too, was a documentary.

When confronted so starkly with the facts, a story loses all mystique. All fictional aspects dissolved. It was a hard-hitting documentary that laid it out as it was.

And like someone telling you the punch line of a joke before they do the big build up, the story lost all meaning during the trial.

So now I have closed that story book and put it on a shelf. It serves no more purpose for me. It carries no more mystique. There is no meaning or emotion. It’s a rubbish story that I would never choose to read again.

The characters remain in the book of course. Unlike me, the trial created new stories for them. Stories that they had seen differently before. They will continue to play out their role in my story without me going near it.

They are nothing to me now. The verdict is irrelevant. What happens next for them is irrelevant.

I am not a victim of child abuse. I am not a survivor of child abuse.

I am Dawn Walton. I am a mother to the most amazing daughter. I am a wife to the best man I could every wish to have met. I am a therapist, an author and a public speaker. I am an Xbox playing geek who will use any excuse to buy technology. I am a lover of Starbucks coffee. My story has yet to be written but I can’t wait to see where it takes me because it’s going to be brilliant wherever it goes.

I was abused

**trigger warning – this post deals with issues of child abuse**

Between the age of 4 and 9 I was neglected, beaten and starved.

Then circumstances changed for me.

At the age of 10 I was sexually abused on a fairly continuous basis until I was nearly 12 years old.

I told someone about the abuse and they got cross and told me never to talk about it again.

So I didn’t until I told my best friend when we were 16 years old. We then drifted apart and I didn’t see her again until this week in court where she testified for me. She always remembered me telling her.

In August 2013 I reported the historical abuse to the NSPCC and they passed it on to the police because I believed he was a threat to others.

This week was the trial.

After having to decide to turn my 30 week old baby’s incubator off, this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It felt like I was repeatedly living the abuse – this time with everybody watching.  I did not do it for justice, revenge, closure or peace. The process certainly provided none of those things. I did it because I believed he had abused others and would again. I did it to protect others and I chose to do everything that was necessary, no matter how painful, to give us the best chance of  a guilty verdict. I didn’t even care about the sentence. That was irrelevant. 

I wanted to be able to tell those of you abusing out there to watch out – those children will grow into adults and will find their voice.

I wanted to be able to tell those of you who have been abused to speak out and stand up because the judicial system will support you.

The police took me seriously. The CPS took the case to court. He turned up into the dock on the day of the verdict with his suitcase. It could not have gone better.

Except it could, because he was found NOT GUILTY.

Not guilty because it was his word against mine. Not guilty because none of the adults that knew what had happened to me turned up to court, so nobody corroborated any of the details. Not guilty because you can not find someone guilty beyond reasonable doubt if there is no evidence other than he said and she said. Not guilty because most of the jury were young lads of student age.

Yesterday, when I learnt this, I was devastated. It felt like I had been abused again, spoken out again, had nothing done again. I felt stupid. I felt I had put myself and my family through all this pain for nothing.

I am lucky to have amazing support from my husband and many friends. They supported me while I processed. While I cried. While I hurt.

And as I came to the realisation that this was just a technicality and there was nothing different that could have happened in the case (other than people showing up who refused to and they have to live with themselves now), I recovered.

Everything I wanted to achieve had already been achieved. He had been in court. I had spoken out against him. He his highly unlikely to do it again.

All through my life I have spoken out and fought. Despite what was done to me. The barristers on both sides called my early childhood horrific. To me, it was just rubbish.

The sexual abuse was traumatic. Reliving it to tell about it was traumatic. But it was worth it so that he knows he didn’t get away with it. He was called out.

Today is day zero of the rest of my life. I have no demons to carry. I have the ability to stand up and respect myself. My daughter will be taught to do the same thing and she will know one day that her mother did this.

Whilst the verdict is not as we hoped; whilst everyone involved is in shock that he wasn’t found guilty by the jury; justice has been served.

So watch out abusers because that child will grow up and find their voice one day. And if they are as lucky as me they will have all the support they need to speak out and stand up to you.

And for those of you who have been abused, it’s them that’s broken, not you. No matter what happened during the abuse. You were a child. It should never happen.