Legacy of Abuse

Adult Survivor Health Issues

Those who have experienced serious childhood trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse may have twice the rate of cancer, heart disease and chronic bronchitis than those who have not had such trauma.Dr Ron Acierno, Behavioural Medicine, 1997: 23 (2) pp53-64

Self Harm ~

79% of people who self-harmed had histories of childhood trauma.Van der Kolk et al. 1991 & Robert Anda, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 1998: 14 pp245-258


Adults who experienced childhood abuse are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who did not.Vincent Fellitti

People often ask me “Didn’t your Mum and Dad know about the truancy or the drinking or drug taking?” One skill that abuse gives you is the ability to keep secrets and hide feelings; I had hidden sexual abuse from 8 years of age, hiding the drinking, drugs, truancy and mental illness was a doddle. I had even learnt how to forge letters; no one had ever picked up on the forged letters and signatures to and from school!

The drinking had begun in my mid-teens during the truancy and I had some good times; I think I must have been among the top tipsy visitors to the free museums in London and regularly visited the British, Geffrye and London. I would spend hours walking around central London and if I had chosen a career as a Black Taxi Cab Driver I would have had a head start with “The Knowledge!”

In my previous update, I told how I had tried to get help from the NHS and had been totally let down, now I sought help from another source.

My family had always been Church goers, in fact my brother, who I’m very proud of and close to, is a Minister and Team Leader in the Midlands. Surely, I thought I would get some resolution and understanding of the abuse through the church. I had myself been going regularly for several years and had a period of relative stability, I had even managed to get to college and clawed some “O” levels together.  Before long, the “old demons” began playing their mind games again. This time I would seek help from the Church rather than the health service, I expected more empathy and understanding than previously experienced.

With a huge amount of fear I disclosed my abuse to a senior Minister, his angry response…”You’re making too much of it, you need to pull your socks up!”….almost word for word the same as the GP. My second attempt to a female minister, rare at that time, and her officious response; “I think you’re making excuses for your behaviour and making far too much of it”.

Again, my abusers words came back to me, “…no one will believe you, you’re making too much of it” and once again, he had been proven correct. Well, if he had abused me because I was too nice and what he had said before was true it was time to change. So I thought, out with the nice guy and trying to seek help, instead I became the archetypal angry young man; resentful, fearful and looked for refuge in drinking and drug taking.

It was shortly after this that my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Up until the abuse I had been my father’s shadow and had been inseparable from him. One of the worst results of the abuse for me was the irreversible damage it did to my relationship with my father. It began with my utter shock and disbelief that neither my father nor mother could see what was happening and come to my rescue. Surely they were my protectors and should have known and be able to see what was happening week in, week out, when I was sent to stay with the the abuser each weekend. The second result, and perhaps worst, was when I first disclosed to my family.

One evening I crept into my older brothers bedroom and told him I had a secret and that he couldn’t tell anyone.  As soon as I had finished telling him what was happening, he said he had to tell, he did exactly what I had prayed and hoped for. We went to my mother, who said we needed to tell my father. We were a traditional family and dad was the head of our household.

I was a nervous wreck, shaking and quivering, I told my dad what had happened. “Are you sure?” he asked, “You must be mistaken, ***** wouldn’t possibly do something like that”. My world collapsed, never before or since, even during the very worst of the abuse, had I felt so alone and abandoned. At that one moment my relationship with my father was changed forever and we would only really bridge that gulf on his deathbed…but, even so, I am so thankful we did.

It would take me years of therapy and also becoming a father myself to understand why my dad had responded the way he did. The abuser, had not just sexually abused me, he had abused my father’s trust, my mother and father, my family and all those who placed faith in him. I can now understand and appreciate that the last thing you want to believe and hear is that your child has been sexually abused. You would prefer to think the child had simply made a mistake, you would prefer to believe the trust you had placed in another person to take care of your child had not been cruelly abused and your own judgement of a person who claimed to be a dear friend was correctly placed.

Now the drinking and drug taking became out of control and by my early twenties I was both an alcoholic and drug addict caught up in a vicious spiral of uppers and downers.  I would take speed to get me up in the morning and to the pub. The added bonus of speed  meant I could drink even more – the down side, I couldn’t sleep and so needed to take other drugs to sedate me. This cycle went on and on for several years damaging both my mental and physical health. I became more paranoid, aggressive and had dramatic mood swings, I developed major kidney pain, heart palpitations and lost a huge amount of weight.

At the height of my drinking and drug taking
At the height of my drinking and drug taking

I went to the doctor who sent me for an ECG and echo-graph of my heart, the nurse asked me if I was an athlete as I had an enlarged heart muscle which was usually found in high performance athletes. In fact it was a result of taking the speed for so long and putting so much strain on my heart.

The self-harming that had begun during the actual abuse escalated dramatically during my teens. It had begun with head and face butting walls, I now punched walls and objects and  broke a knuckle. At that time I also cut myself and to this day I do not sun bathe, I avoid swimming and taking my shirt off in public due to the scars I have on my stomach. I began to put myself into more and more potentially dangerous situations in attempts to self-destruct.

My drinking and drug taking was out of control and I was on a course of destruction that was clearly the result of the abuse, I had sought help numerous times and been either refused, ridiculed or dismissed as self-indulgent or attention seeking. I did not know where to turn or what to do, I had finally resigned myself to living with the guilt, the shame and self-loathing that was my life.

Finally, something changed….

My Abuse

National Commission of Enquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse, October 1996
  • One million children are abused in some way each year, 50% of those abused (now adults) never reported the abuse.
  • In 67% of cases the abuse started before the age of 11years.
  • In 50% of cases the abuse lasted 2-18 years.
Unfortunately, my own story is so, so similar to that of many other victims of child abuse.
Aged about 10 years old, photo taken by my abuser

My sexual abuse started when I was 8 years old and went on for the next 5 years. It was only disclosed to my own family and the perpetrator was never prosecuted.

My abuser, photo taken by me at Beachy Head

The person who abused me was a senior civil servant, my father’s supervisor, highly regarded in the literary world, public school educated, wealthy; a “model” of respectability.

The results of the abuse took many forms;

Education and Leaving School
I went from being in many top sets at school to almost complete truancy, many of my teachers didn’t even recognise me when I occasionally “popped in” for a look around to see what was going on. The result was I left school with one “O” level in Art and that was only because I turned up for the exam and knocked out a drawing on the day.

The ’80’s in the UK was a time of high unemployment, and with no real qualifications I simply went on the dole for the next 2 years while I battled my declining mental health.

Mental Health
My mental health problems started during the abuse.

The deepening anxiety meant I began to develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) around 9 years of age and this progressed throughout my teens and early twenties, sometimes it would take me 2-3 hours to get outside the door after checking and rechecking  every door, window, gas tap and light switch numerous times. One thing that many people who do not suffer from OCD don’t appreciate is, that it is not just the physical rituals that are debilitating, you also have ruminations and mental rituals which are just as crippling; reciting number sequences or going over and over what you have done and trying to remember every sequence of a day, absolutely convinced you have done something terribly wrong or forgotten something of major importance.

The depression began when I was in my mid teens and at 16, I finally summoned enough courage to seek professional help and went to see my GP. I remember very clearly being petrified about talking about what had happened and fearing not being believed. With a dry mouth, I opened up to my doctor, who listened for about a minute and then told me;

“Pull your socks up and get on with your life, all this happened to you in your childhood and you should be over it by now”.   

At that moment everything the abuser had told me came true. He had said that no one would listen or believe me and that I was making too much of it. If he was right about that, then logic told me he was right about all the rest; I had deserved the abuse and it was my fault. The reason my abuser gave me for the abuse was that I was “too nice”, “too innocent” and “too trusting”, he had done it for my own good, to help me become more worldly.

The depression continued to worsen and at 18 I was put under a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety. This professional was supposed to be very good and highly competent, she asked me was there anything I needed to tell her, I explained about the abuse in a very quick and off hand way.

She asked me, “Do you think it has affected you?”
“No” I replied, testing her to see if she would challenge me and not allow me to get away with it.
“Then just forget about it” was her response.

Shortly after I took an overdose.

When she came to see me in hospital, she was very surprised, “What are you doing here, I thought you were doing really well”, she said.  I stopped seeing her soon after and found an alternative way to deal with the effects of the abuse.

The next blog, will look at my drinking and drug addiction.