`As a child you are abused, but it is only as an adult that the real suffering comes through, and the guilt, self-hatred and anger start to eat away at you'

PR consultant, Charlotte, was forced to confront a terrible past this week when the Cabinet announced its intention to hold an inquiry into abuse. Here she tells her harrowing story.
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The Independent Online
Yesterday I was untouchable, in control, running a successful financial marketing consultancy. I created campaigns, juggled appointments, grabbed taxis to meet grey-suited men who wanted my help to produce leads. I enjoyed the stress, and fought off the competition. Above all I was strong, I was a woman in a corporate suit, earning respect in a male- dominated industry.

Yesterday I woke up and heard the news of the new child abuse inquiry and I heard of the victims, their suicides. Suddenly I was a child all over again, hurting and crying like a vulnerable infant abandoned in the middle of a busy road with fast cars approaching from every direction to knock me down. I was terrified as it all came flooding back to haunt me. It was probably more than a year ago now that I last had one of these "lapses", but this time it was just so much more painful. It was too real, too close to home, and I realised no amount of corporate clothing could protect me today.

As a child you are abused, but it is only as an adult that the real suffering comes through and the torture of guilt, self-hatred and anger starts to eat away at you. As one of the victims, my life is consumed by an overwhelming aggression, a thirst for destruction or, more accurately, self-destruction, which rips away at me. At night, when I sleep I try to escape it all, but the dreams just keep coming back.

Like the victims on the radio broadcast, eight years ago I, too, attempted suicide. Throughout university I spent three years pursuing my death-wish, trying to destroy the hateful person that I was. My third and last suicide attempt institutionalised me for a while and, but for the hospital apparatus, I might not have had this second chance at life - but I never regret it. Even now I see it as just another failure. As one of my succession of therapists explained over the years, I was angry. I took the gun and turned it through 180 degrees and shot myself. In reality I wanted to shoot him, my abuser, the man who had so irrevocably changed my whole life through his own perverted and selfish needs, all those years ago - when I was too young to know any better. I wish I could accept that today, but even now, almost 30 years old, I feel the guilt of letting it happen and I hate myself so desperately.

It all began around the time of my 12th birthday, when I took my first steps into competitive ballroom dancing, spurred on by a pushy but proud mother.

At school I was an achiever, top-stream in all subjects and with a bright future lying ahead, but it was my dancing that I lived for, that I loved. A year later it all began to change. My dance teacher, whom I had respected and admired, became my mother's secret lover. One night I heard their screams and their lovemaking behind the door of a holiday chalet, where I was also staying with my dance partner, in preparation for the competition the next day.

In the morning the nightmare began. Sam, my middle-aged, grey-haired, married dance teacher, started to undress his "little star" and then, to touch her and squeeze her and force her to caress him back.

"Don't tell anyone about our little secret, no one needs to know," he used to say, and so it continued. Again and again, at every opportunity, at every dance competition, in every dance lesson, he would touch more, ask me to kiss him more and demand more. I didn't fight it, I couldn't tell my mother as she loved him and she would not have believed me anyway. I couldn't tell my father as I didn't want him to split up with my mother or stop my dancing career.

So I let him do it to me, again and again, sometimes crying through it but always his "little star". When he called my dancing friends by the same name it made me shiver to think there may be more like me, living this nightmare too.

In an effort to stop him, to take away my slim, girlish body with its smooth adolescent curves, I resolved to diet - obsessively. A year later,weighing less than six stone, pale and withdrawn, I still hadn't succeeded in stopping him.

The only option left was to give up my dancing career, to prevent my mother having an excuse to see him and to cut him out my life for good. My mother screamed at me, when I told her. "You're doing this to hurt me, why don't you like him anymore, he loves you."

All the time, I wondered whether she ever had any idea what had been happening. Probably not.

My life from then on has been a constant fight to find anything about myself which I could like. My adolescence saw the start of eight years in which I continued to hurt and punish myself, destroying my body with anorexia and bulimia. I took a radio into our family bathroom and vomited away the food and the pain, loving the thrill of taking my ugly body away, hiding it from male eyes.

My periods stopped completely for over six years, and even now are barely restored - not that I cared. I never wanted to be a woman, I hated them. They were like my mother, they were cheap sluts with horrible lovers who abused little girls. Consequently my problems with accepting women and respecting them have lingered on, even today.

Almost 16 years after it all began you would think I would have "got over it", but you never do. Even now I see a therapist, but fortunately I have a very loving partner and good friends who help too. Last year I was sterilised when it was discovered that the damage I had done to myself had made pregnancy and potential complications too great.

Now I have to live with that, but I blame him, wherever he is now, whoever he is abusing now. What angers me most is the fact that he is still out there, probably doing the same thing all over again.

I often think that if I had a gun I would have killed him by now, or my mother, whichever was easiest. They have destroyed so much of my life that it almost seems incongruous to see how successful I am now.

To beat them, you have to fight back. I have learned to live a life where every day I must continue that fight - for acceptance at work, for respect from my colleagues and just to have something to keep me going, to prevent me failing all over again, to make me turn away from the pills staring at me in the bathroom cabinet.

No one, except the abused, will ever understand the pain, the self-hatred, the terror of wanting to escape from it all, but death is too easy an option.

Child abuse kills. It almost killed me, but as an adult I have learnt to fight back. Tonight I will turn on the radio and listen to the broadcasts, to the abuse inquiry commentaries, but now I will know that I have shared my pain with you and perhaps some of my guilt will be just that little bit easier to handle.

Letters, page 13

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