I never thought I would be the sort of person who needs counselling!
I'm not sure what I thought that person would be like, but I never thought it would be me!
I was brought up in a middle class, strictly religious family, and life for me and my siblings was mapped out - university, good job, marriage and children - perfect replica of my parents' life. I worked hard and was a good girl. However, things started to go wrong for me just before my A-levels. I went for extra lessons with a neighbour and family friend once a week, which I enjoyed, as after a few weeks I felt comfortable with my tutor and we had a good relationship. But it started to become wierd when he started touching me; just the odd pat or stroke, nothing I could really put my finger on as really wrong, but it just seemed strange as he was much older than me and friends with my parents, and I felt uncomfortable with it. Things progressed, and eventually he raped me.
I went straight home and washed until I was too sore to wash anymore. I didn't tell anyone. I felt as though I had led him on by not picking him up on the borderline things he had said and done. I thought we had been having a laugh, but clearly he must have thought I was giving him signals. Afterwards, he had been acting as if I had agreed to it all, kissing me gently on the forehead, telling me how wonderful and sexy I was. How could he think that when I had been shouting for him to stop, trying to push him off, hitting him and crying. I was really confused about what had happened and thought my parents would be furious with me for letting it happen. From his reaction, I thought I must have done something to encourage it.
I didn't know what to do next. I knew I wouldn't be strong enough to take legal action, so what would be the point of causing so much upset to everyone when people probably wouldn't believe me anyway? I decided never to tell anyone and make excuses so that I never had to go there again. I was terrified that I could be pregnant or have a sexually transmitted disease. I went to the family doctor, but when he asked me questions about protection, I burst into tears and couldn't speak. He got quite angry with me, saying that I shouldn't be having sex if I wasn't emotionally ready. It was horrible. If that was the reaction of a doctor, what on earth would the police say, especially as I had destroyed any evidence?
From then on, my life seemed to go out of control. I hadn't heard of this happening to anyone else I knew (this was before the internet and social media). Rape was something to do with strangers in dark alleyways late at night, not six o'clock on a weekday on your neighbour's house. Why me? Was it possible that I had been so irresistible that he just wasn't able to control himself around me? I had been keeping my virginity for my future husband, but now it was gone, what was left to save? By some strange logic, I rationalised that if I rejected advances, men took what they wanted anyway, so surely it would be better to give in willingly and enjoy it rather than endure the pain!
When I got to university, I suddenly had a lot of freedom and was amongst a lot of people the same age with a lot of freedom. I tried out some flirting, and found out that actually, most men would take sex if it was available. I discovered it could actually be fun and became very promiscuous. I drank too much, too often, frequently waking up next to a strange face and I dabbled with illegal drugs.
It was all illicit and exciting - I was having fun wasn't I?
So why did I feel so desperately sad and empty all of the time, but especially after a 'good night out'?
Why were all of my friends male and mostly sexual partners?
Why did I stop eating and become obsessed with exercise and my body shape?
Why was my life suddenly so far from where I had imagined?
I dropped out of university, moved in with my 'sort of' boyfriend and continued my hedonistic lifestyle. I wasn't faithful to him and I'm pretty sure I was also one of many to him. I had no job, no future and no present! I seemed to spend a lot of my time crying and feeling so down that I couldn't do anything. One afternoon, whilst nursing a hangover, clearing up the booze-soaked cigarette butts from my bedside table and contemplating getting yet another morning after pill, a film came on the TV that I had loved as a child. It was like an epiphany! Suddenly my past life came flooding back to me, happy memories and hope for a bright future. I broke down in uncontrollable tears and realised that something HAD to chage.
I walked to the local library (after a visit to the clinic) and found a leaflet about counselling. I took it. After about an hour of staring at it, I called the number - answerphone - I hung up. I asked a friend to call a couple of days later, but the receptionist told him that I had to make the call myself. Apparently, it's important for people to take responsibility for their own recovery and making their own phone call is the first step. My friend sat with me as I dialled and I left my details. Within a few days, I was seeing my counsellor for the first time.
I didn't know what to expect. I suppose I thought it would be somene who looked like Frasier Crane and I'd have to lie down on a stiff, black leather couch, but it wasn't like that at all. I saw a really nice lady with a kind smile in the conservatory behind her house. It was lovely; a comfy sofa, soft cushions to grab for comfort, scented candles and plenty of tissues to hand. I wasn't going to mention my teenage experience, despite knowing deep down that that's when things started to go wrong (in fact it took a while for me to say anything much) but after a while, I found myself blurting out everything. I told her about how I could never feel anything was good enough for my parents, how I didn't want to let them down, how I felt everything was my fault and how I became a dirty little slut. I expected her to be shocked - she wasn't. I expected her to judge me - she didn't. She was sympathetic and asked me lots of questions that made me look at things differently. I had six more sessions with her over six weeks and went back a few times over the years when things got tough.
God knows where I would have been without counselling, but I know where I am now. I'm sorted.
I've rebuilt my self-esteem and my life. I've taken control of myself and realised that I don't have to just get swept along by my past experiences and bad choices. It's up to me how my life goes from here. Bad things may happen, but I'm tough and I know I can deal with them because it's up to me how I react. I'm with a really lovely partner, in a normal faithful relationship, and we have a beautiful little girl. Plus, I'm a really good mum. I've got a job and I eat well and exercise for health, rather than to try to be skinny.
I'm not a doctor, so I don't know if counselling can help everyone, but I know that it really helped me. All I would say is that if you feel lost, or that your life is out of control, maybe you should give CCC a call.
What have you got to lose?
If you have been affected by anything you have read here, contact CCC for support.
Peterborough 01733 553166 Cambridge 01223 233047
Gemma's real name has been witheld to protect her identity.