Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
Campfire for the Heart is a collection of true, international stories of
Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have an inspiring resilience story to share, or know someone who does,
please contact Natalie through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
“I was determined to be in the small percentage of CPTSD survivors
and I'm proud to say I am.
If I can do this, anyone can.”
“You’re unwanted,” was the theme of my childhood. My mother tried to kill herself numerous times after my birth. She hated me and accused me of ruining her life. My next eldest sibling was 13 years old and hated me even more. The two of them spent the rest of their lives tormenting me.
That said, I was born into a middle-class family and my father valued education. I was educated at a girls school for 12 years which I absolutely loved. I still have friends from school today (I'm 57 now). It was the late 60's and early 70's so I grew up without supervision, riding my bike, climbing trees, spending time at my oldest sister's farm. I love the natural world and animals and played outside as much as I could. I read books voraciously (and still do).
My biggest issue was "Why didn't anyone want me? or play with me? What was wrong with me?" I was smart, cute, sporty, funny and so wanted to please, but was totally ignored at home. I was only wheeled out to sing for the Japanese businessmen my father brought home. For my father, I was symbol of his virility. He was 50 when I was born and my mother was 45.
Given I was so lonely at home, I was easy prey for my sister's boyfriend. He started grooming me when I was 7 and I loved the attention he gave me. He noticed me and played with me in the pool. Then he started sexually abusing me. I was the bridesmaid at their wedding and I cried so hysterically that I ruined the photos. Not one person asked me why I was so upset.
When I was 12, my mother sent me to live with him and my sister and this was when things really ramped up. My brother-in-law was the head of a paedophile cult and, after much sexual abuse, it culminated in our "wedding ceremony" with 14 men and 2 dogs all having their turn with me.
My body was my voice. I soon became ill with glandular fever and, after missing two terms of school recovering, I was then sent to boarding school which I believe saved my life. I was safe at boarding school and had many friends. I was an A student and loved learning. Later at university, I was known as the wild girl and loved to party and have fun during the terms, but was alone again in the holidays when everyone else went home. I always thought there was something wrong with me. "Damaged goods" as my father told my first husband!
I searched for years to find out what was wrong with me and why I was not wanted. Why was I unlovable? I tried many programs, psychologists, treatments, doctors, gurus, as well as diet, drugs, exercise, crystals, trips to India, and the list goes on. It was only when I finally found out about Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) that I had a diagnosis that made sense and the journey to true recovery began.
The complex element was the key for me. Unlike PTSD that is often linked to one event, the C in 'complex' indicates "child, confined, captive, over a long period of time". I was also diagnosed with Stockholm Syndrome as I did 'love' my abuser because he gave me attention, but the diagnosis of CPTSD was an even better fit as I was so young when the abuse began. My message here is to keep searching for a diagnosis that fits you. Find what fits for you, then the healing can begin.
Not many folks recover from CPTSD, but I was determined to be in the minority who did. I now know this determination is a part of the Stockdale Paradox. You don't give up and you do whatever it takes to get through. Highly motivated, I did all that I was told by professionals and more. I remarried my true love and finally felt the grief that I had bottled up – grief for my childhood, my body, my loneliness, for being unloved by my biological family, unable to have children, and mostly for my beautiful dog whose death at 15 was the final straw.
The natural world and its beauty were a huge part of my recovery, as was feeding my curiosity about neuroscience and how my body and brain managed to keep me alive, even at the darkest times when I wanted to die. This fascination led me to be trained as a physicist and executive coach.
My most recent piece of the 'recovery pie' is self-kindness, one of the three elements of self-compassion. It's challenging, yet I do it and benefit from it. Being kind to myself is a wonderful gift. Who would have thought? The natural world grounds me and my garden keeps me fit. I'm in awe of the seasons and the night sky.
People do recover. YOU can recover. To survive and thrive, I have always given 100% to my life projects. I was determined to be in the small percentage of CPTSD survivors and I'm proud to say I am. If I can do this, anyone can.
I was riddled with shame and by finally being to articulate my story I am now happier than ever. Science, the natural world, friends and love are all parts of my journey. No one size fits all, no guru, program, medicine fitted for me. I had to make my own way. If you are struggling and nothing seems to be working for you, please don't give up. Keep going and create your own pathway to contentment.