I have 9 ACEs.

Photograph by kind permission: Trudie Smith Photography

Submitted by D.

It’s a bit disappointing not to get a full house, to be honest. Hey, if you are going to be screwed up, do it in style.

It’s a bit of a story so grab a cup of tea and make yourself comfortable!

It all started going horribly wrong when I was 5 or 6 years old. I don’t know the full story as I’ve heard two versions from people who I know, totally rewrite events. But there are some things that must be true.

I grew up on Anglesey. When I was 6 my mother ran off to London with the husband of a couple who were family friends. She took me and my brother with her. My brother is nearly 2 years older than I am. This man was an abusive alcoholic and pretty soon my father came down to take my brother and I back to Anglesey. He was awarded custody of us both. As this was in the 70’s, a time where it would have been unusual to give custody to the father, I am inclined to believe this version (my father’s) of the story.

In a plot twist that is like something out of a fairytale story, my father ended up getting together with the wife of the couple and she became my stepmother. My wicked stepmother. We lived on a chicken farm and my father spent all his time up in the sheds running it. My stepmother hated us. I can only assume that it was because we reminded her of my mother. My mother that had run off with her husband. I also later learned that she was an alcoholic too.

I remember the first time she hit me because it was such a shock. My brother and I were stood in the porch by the backdoor, ready to come into the house after a day at school. I must have been around 6 or 7. I had a stain on my top from my school lunch. Apparently, this was not ok. First, I realised that, was when I felt a very hard open palm slap across my head. This turned out to be the start of the regular beatings which involved slapping, shaking and dragging. She once beat my brother all the way down the hallway of our bungalow and continued to beat him while he curled up on his bed. At night she would argue with my father. They would scream at each other. I would bury my head under the pillow to cry. If we made a noise, she would come in and hit us. I got good at silent crying, and eventually at not crying at all.

It was more than the beatings though. We were also neglected. We would spend most of the nice weather days outside. We weren’t allowed back in the house at all. It was great because I developed a bladder of steel. As an adult, I could easily do an 8 hour long haul flight without needing a trip to the toilet! We were not clean. We had horrible old clothes on.

Food was very limited. Breakfast was often forgotten. Tea was a jam sandwich or something like that. Just 2 small slices of bread. My brother was a slow eater. Every Sunday the pressure cooker would be on for hours and we’d have a roast dinner. It was a time we dreaded. You’d think we’d be thrilled to be getting a cooked dinner under the circumstances. But it was like torture. My brother ate so slowly and was not allowed to leave the table until he’d finished everything. Sometimes he sat there for hours.

Everything was scary and we kept our heads down as much as we could. My father did nothing. I have no memories of him ever doing anything to directly harm us, or to protect us. I know one night he put his fist through the kitchen door during one of their rows. There was glass everywhere the next day. Another day he made us breakfast when we’d already had something. My brother and I couldn’t believe our luck. But I was sick as a dog when I got to school. My stomach just couldn’t take it.

My brother and I should have had each other through this. But he hated me. He used to threaten to punch me if I did something he didn’t like. “That will be 100 thumps”. “That will be 1000 thumps”. I was scared of him. One day, in the taxi that used to take us to school, he decided to execute on the backlog and punched me all the way to school. I turned up to school in tears. So much so that the teacher noticed and I was called into the office. I didn’t tell them why I was crying. I didn’t tell them anything.

School was great. It was fairly obvious that we were neglected (I later learned that school knew everything but that’s a different part of this story). When we had school dinners, the dinner ladies would give my brother and I second and third helpings of food. All through my life, school was my safe place.

As we got older my mother came back into our lives. She had a series of operations after the birth of my brother and I brought to light that she had a bit of her spine missing. So she had a spinal fusion and was very limited in what she could do and was in pain. She had a new man. The first time I saw her again after a few years, she was at my grandparents house (her parents). I didn’t recognise this strange woman. Must have been hard for her.

From that point on we would go and stay with her and her husband over the holidays. They were good times. We got fed. We didn’t get hit. What more could you ask for?

When I was about 8 we had a visit from a lady that I now know was a social worker. I didn’t know who she was at the time. My brother and I talked to her alone. We had strict instructions to not tell her anything and, if asked, we should say we wanted to remain living with my father and stepmother.

She did ask. My brother did as he was told. I didn’t. I said I wanted to go and live with my mother.

Afterwards my father sat me on his lap, held me close and told me that if I didn’t want to live with him then he didn’t love me.

And that was that.

I discovered, many years later, that my brother always remembered that visit and carried the guilt of not answering like I had for his whole life.

When I was around 9 my stepmother and father had a baby daughter. We had to help look after her. She was very much loved and cared for.

Not long after it was the summer holidays and my brother and I went to stay with my mother. They now lived in Stockport. It was the best summer ever. We played out, ate ice cream and didn’t go to bed crying.

At the end of the summer my mother asked us if we wanted to carry on living with them, rather than go back. This was a bit of a no brainer. I couldn’t believe our luck. I later learned, that because I had been older than 8 when the social worker visited, that I was old enough to be listened to when asked where I wanted to live.

I can’t remember how long we lived in Stockport. It was probably close to 2 years. Her husband used to be a lorry driver so was rarely at home. My school was at the end of the street and was a fabulous school where I flourished. My brother went to High school and so we were our own people.

Not long after we started living with them, we were asked if we wanted to call the husband dad. It didn’t seem we had much of a choice to be honest, so pretty soon I had a stepfather. That time in Stockport was magical. It was safe and it was fun. When the ice cream van came down the street we would go out and get a tub with a flake.

And then it all changed again.

My stepfather lost his job, and pretty soon we moved back to Anglesey.

It was like moving out of the sunshine into the shadows.

He was at home a lot more and he was very controlling. We were like slaves, making his packed lunch, ironing his shirts. We were all scared of him. Before we left Stockport there was an incident where my brother had obviously done something very wrong. His punishment was my stepfather tanning his backside 6 times with a stick, while we all watched. I could not believe, after everything, that my mother would let him do that.

So he never hit us in the way my stepmother had, but it felt like the threat was there. With all the bullying and emotional manipulation back on Anglesey, we felt it could turn into being hit at any moment. He used to play fight with my brother and I and would get very rough with my brother. I really think he was trying to boost his ego.

Soon after we moved back to Anglesey, he started visiting my room to kiss me goodnight. One night, he said “Not like that, a proper kiss” and shoved his tongue deep into my mouth. I tried to keep my mouth tightly shut but couldn’t. I felt like I couldn’t breather. I had no idea what was going on. From then on he did more and more each night, although he stopped one short of rape.

I always fought. I never just accepted what was happening. I used to turn the light out though. At least that way I could hide in my head. From that point he would use my chores as a punishment for not cooperating enough at night. He would inspect the dishes I’d dried and make me wash and dry them again. He would make me re-iron his shirt collars until they were perfect. Then, one day, because I wasn’t cooperating enough, he took a belt to me. With my mothers approval, he told me I wasn’t trying hard enough at my chores. He took me into my room, pulled my pants down, and hit me 6 times with a belt.

I was mortified. And yet there was nothing I could do.

One night, I used playfighting as an excuse to kick him. I got him in the ribs and cracked one of them. He had to go to A&E. I often smile when I wonder how he explained that one away!

One night my mother walked in when he was in the middle of stuff. The light was out so she couldn’t see. She asked what was going on. I am not sure what I answered, but she closed the door and walked out again. We lived in a bungalow so she was in the living room next to my bedroom at all times.

When I was 12 I went to stay with my mother’s best friend for a week. She was the friend that was a neighbour when we lived in Stockport. She had two girls that were a good few years younger than me.

All week she went on about how I would learn to like my stepfather. I knew I wouldn’t.

On the last night, after I’d gone to bed, I came back downstairs and told her and her husband what had been happening.

“Are you sure?” they asked “that’s a very serious accusation”

I told them I was, but asked them not to tell my mother.

When I got home it became impossible. I’d told someone now. He hadn’t visited for a while but I think it’s because I’d started my period. For all the time I lived at home, I never knew if the abuse would happen again. He constantly emotionally manipulated me.

I eventually caved and wrote to my mother’s friend and asked her to tell my mother.

My mother went spare at me. She yelled and asked what I expected her to do. I sobbed and asked her to take me away. She told me to forget we ever had that conversation.

I sat in my room after and sobbed. I felt so utterly helpless. If I’d know about suicide and self-harm, I would not be here writing this now. I later found a letter between my mother and my friend where they said they didn’t believe me. From when I was 12 to when I was 16 I have no memories. From that moment my brain shut down. It’s not that I remember bits. I remember absolutely nothing. I have since reconnected with a couple of old school friends. One left school when she was 16. I had to ask her what I called her because I couldn’t remember. She was at my house all the time apparently.

When he was 15 my brother ran away for the first time. He was found in London and brought home.

When he was 16 he ran away again. This time he wasn’t brought home. He lived on the streets of London. These days he is 47 years old and he has a small flat in London. He is a heroin addict and an alcoholic.

I was so mad at him for going without me. I was left behind with all the responsibility. I was the carer for my mother and his slave. My mother was scared of him and would hide with me. Many nights she would end up having the out of hours doctor out. I was scared she would die. I had to go everywhere with her and do everything.

When I was 17 I got ill. I couldn’t get to school. I was too sick. I was fine in the afternoon but not in the morning. People joked about it being morning sickness. I know now it was anxiety. I went to hospital for tests. They found very little. One doctor asked if I’d given birth because I’d lost a lot of weight and there was evidence of sexual activity. My stepfather took me to all these appointments.

No one ever offered psychological help.

I took my A-levels at home. I got a B and a C and a fail.

I was devastated. I wouldn’t get into Uni. I was stuck at home.

For the past year I had been planning the best way to kill myself. I had been self-harming by scratching away at skin until it bled. I had been collecting my mother’s strong painkillers. I couldn’t try it at home because my mother and stepfather were always there. He had given up work to be a full time carer. It wasn’t a cry for help. I wanted to die.

I got into University through clearing.

On my first day at Uni I sat at the desk in my room, looking out of the window at the world going by. In front of me was a unique collection of strong painkillers, gathered over the last year.

I never took them.

Instead I stood up and walked to one of the other flats in the block, knocked on the door, and introduced myself to one of my other 8 flatmates. This was totally uncharacteristic.

In many ways I did kill myself that day. I realised I could be whoever I wanted, with no past. No one knew me. I became an actor and the ‘real me’ was buried never to be seen again.

I met my husband at uni. He was my first relationship. We would sit up all night talking. He was the first person I told any details to. We connected. We are soul mates.

I left uni and went on to have a very successful career. The actor version of me had no insecurities or limiting beliefs to get in the way. I was confident and outgoing and I progressed rapidly in my career.

But I was unhappy. I joked that I wish I would be run over by a bus, but always lived somewhere with no buses!

Then, in 2005, my husband had had enough and found me a counsellor up in Aberdeen. I went to see her for a year and a half. I wanted to have a child but was too scared. By the end of 2006/ start of 2007 I was pregnant with my first child. That was also the time my husband started having a series of heart attacks. He eventually ended up in cardiac intensive care. In March 2007 he had a quadruple bypass, and I had my 12 week scan.

When I was 20 weeks pregnant the midwife had concerns about my blood pressure. Suddenly everything changed and just as I found myself at exactly 26 weeks we had to give birth by c-section as he was no longer getting blood to his head. My son was 1lb 6oz and had little chance of survival. Every day for 30 days they told us to prepare for the worst. On the 30th day, the worst happened. He developed a tear in his stomach and we had to turn his incubator off. I hated my body more than ever for killing my son.

This was the worst thing ever. My husband and I agreed before he was born, no matter what happened we would have another.

By October I was pregnant again with my daughter. I was scared all the way through, but it was fine and she went over by about 2 weeks. She was born a healthy 6lb 10oz. She remains the most amazing thing ever. I am amazed that I could create her and keep her alive. (she is nearly 10 at the time of writing this).

When she was 3 she asked “are you happy mummy?”

“Yes”, I lied.

And she kept asking.

I asked on Twitter if anyone knew what to do. They said she was just learning how to read people and that it was fine. But she didn’t stop asking.

I hated lying to her.

I decided that it was one thing to be screwed up. It was another to screw up my daughter.

I learnt about a guy in Harley Street called Trevor Silvester who could apparently help me in just a few sessions. Hah! That was ridiculous of course. But what if it was true? What if someone could help me?

I went to Harley street, terrified. He was a Cognitive Hypnotherapist, so I took a friend with me to make sure I was safe.

He asked me to close my eyes and I panicked. But he put me at ease.

After that first session everything changed. A voice was missing from my head. A voice I hadn’t even realised was there until it wasn’t.

By the second session I thought this was something I had to learn. I couldn’t believe that everyone didn’t know about it.

By the third session I was booked to train to do what he did. This was May 2011. By July 2012 I was qualified as a Cognitive Hypnotherapist after doing 10 months of training, for 1 weekend a month, down in London. I did this at the same time as being a mum to a 3 year old, being a senior manager in a major Telecoms company, and running the London Marathon in 2012!

My plan was to leave the full time job after 2 years but I got a chance to be paid off and took the money. In 2013 I became a full time therapist. By experiences didn’t make me a better therapist, but they did teach me that I could help anyone. After all, if I could be ok, so could they.

In 2013 I felt in a good enough place to report my stepfather for historical abuse. I was 99% sure of another girl he’d abused and was sure there had been, and would be others. I wanted to stop that and be the voice for others who couldn’t talk.

It took 2 years to go to trial. I gave 3 hours of video evidence. It was horrific to go through that – but worth it to protect others. By the time it came to trial the CPS were very confident. The prosecution had found my best friend, who was now a psychologist, who was more than happy to testify as she’d carried the guilt her whole life of not doing something after I told her.

My mother’s friend refused to comment at all. My mother told a totally different story and did not corroborate my version at all.

In court his defence did not try and say it did not happen. Instead they said the molestation from my grandfather, that I had experienced when I lived with my father and stepmother, was actually what I was describing. The jury didn’t have to say it didn’t happen. Just that it wasn’t him. The jury was made up of 10 students and 2 older people. On some days they didn’t get out of bed in time. My mother was the only one who could say it was him. Not only did she not show in court, but her written statement was too bad to read out. It was better for the prosecution to allow the jury to think she didn’t believe it happened than to read out her statement.

So even though my stepfather came within a whisker of admitting he did it under cross examination, and even though he turned up to the verdict with his suitcase packed for prison, the jury found him not guilty and he walked free to abuse anyone he wants. He moved not long after.

So I failed to protect others.

But through the trial both the prosecution and the defence described my childhood as horrific. Social services detailed the neglect and starvation. School knew about it all. And for the CPS to take it to court there had to be enough evidence. Horrific though the experience was, I left it free of my story. I no longer worried about being believed or making stuff up.

For the first time in my life I was free.

I am free.

I am happy.

Thanks to Cognitive Hypnotherapy, I may have 9 ACEs, but I am not on a path to dying younger, or having mental illness. I am happy and well balanced. My daughter has made it to nearly 10 years old and she’s fine. She’s one of the happiest kids I’ve every met.

I think it’s important to know that our past may create us, but it doesn’t have to define us for life. Change is possible.