My week at Heal for Life UK


This is a mug I bought on the way back to remind me of my week at HFL


I finally feel like I am resurfacing after a period in the depths. I just got back from a week at Heal For Life , a programme run by and for survivors of childhood trauma. I’ve been wanting to go for ages after a friend enthused about her experience of the programme, but fear and practicalities of work and parenting kept me away until now. I booked it about a year ago and in the couple of weeks leading up to it I felt in fear and dread and wondered why I was doing this to myself. A lot of my life is spent on that precarious knife edge of just coping, with wobbles feeling like they could descend into full on break down at any time and it almost felt inevitable that this would be the outcome of any in depth explorations of past trauma. I’ve done a fair bit of therapy over the years and spent long periods feeling stranded scared and stuck, and berated myself for not being able to let go and move on. Most recently I had some brilliant psychology support where I came to understand that the main thing I need to do to heal is forgive myself but that’s so much easier said than done. I feared that a week at HFL to focus on myself without the pressure and distraction of having to keep all the other life stuff of kids and work together would mean that I would fall apart.

I’ve not done much conscious processing since I’ve been back, it’s like I’ve slammed the lid back on that box for now in an attempt to re-orientate and adjust back into my home life, but the week, it spoke deeply to me. There is so much I could say, but I’ll try and stick to the headlines. Firstly (because it’s the most straight forward), the setting was idyllic in the grounds of a massive estate far from civilisation and other people. There were trees in the woods I’ve never seen before, magnolias in flower, cherry trees laden with blossom, the rich purple, green and white of bluebells and stitchwort, abundant cowslips and primroses, and hidden away, the biggest badger set I’ve ever come across with their amazing excavations out of the chalk and flint. I saw hares, deer and a fox. Wondering amongst that generous beauty was a great source of comfort and felt like a gift.

On the night we arrived, we were given an overview of the week where one of the team said it was basically about love, to which my automatic cynical response was “yeah right” and I had no concept of what that meant. But the love that was offered over the week was consistent, open hearted, boundless and profound. I have never known or experienced love like it – total unwavering acceptance from each member of the team throughout the week – they were really there for us without agenda other than to support. Love indeed was the key and it moved me deeply, was something I had never imagined possible, and I feel so so privileged to have experienced that. It questioned my fear of people and made me wonder about the possibilities if I could allow myself to be more open in my wider life.

The week was long and full and structured and held. I realised that I have been locked in a battle between my wounded child and punishing parent since my kids were born. I was able to tolerate listening to a bit of what the child part of me had experienced all those years ago and understand the importance of being open to listening more and experimenting with some compassion towards her and to allowing her to have a voice. I need to work a whole lot more with breaking down my resistance to that, but I have some great models from the love of the team to help me internalise. We learned about practical ways to de-trigger and were shown ways to become better parents to ourselves. We were given space and structure to explore our pains and remember our strengths – it was great to remember what a feisty rebellious girl and young woman I was because she has somehow been forgotten and to remember that fearless spirit surviving however she could gives me hope that there must still be some of that fight in me somewhere.

There’s lots more to say, but I’m going to leave it there for now. If you are still battling your demons though, I would say that going on a HFL week might be the greatest gift you ever give yourself. And we deserve it. We deserve to be deeply moved by love and acceptance, and support in finding ways to move forward….  Love love love. Love love love. Love is all you need.

Posted in healing, mental health, ptsd, sexual abuse, trauma, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

#FacesOfPTSD not all wars take place on the battlefield



#FacesOfPTSD not all wars take place on the battlefield

This is a post in support of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign challenging the idea that most people suffering from the effects of PTSD are survivors of military trauma. You can find out more about it here:

I am such a techno dinosaur that I’ve spent ages trying to insert the image I created but have still not managed so this will have to do.

For me, living with PTSD is the electric shock jolt of an over active startle response to any sudden noise or movement, it is shouting at my kids when they think it is funny to make me jump and feeling like a fool in the park when I drop to my knees with my hands over my head because a tiny dog has suddenly come from nowhere into my line of vision. It is my kids having to repeat something simple to me 3 times before I can hear it because I just can’t focus. It is shaking and sweating in the dentist chair. It is the inability to filter our unwanted stimuli so I get sensory overload in many situations, but most annoyingly in the supermarket sending me into panic even though I tell myself nothing is wrong. It is the nausea caused by full on smells you know cannot really be here now in this moment. It is the difficulty managing everyday stress like the dog barking and the kids trying to tell you something whilst your head feels like it will explode. It is me berating myself for being triggered again.  It is the unpredictable dark shadows and the dreams that mean sleep is not your friend. It is having a very small life because it takes all your energy just to manage that. Generally my PTSD is at medium volume,  on rare occasions low volume and at times of stress so painfully loud it feels like my skin is peeled back.


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The Body Remembers

Trigger Points: Childhood Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting

the_body_remembersThe Body Remembers

Just get over it.

Why can’t you just get let it go?

Because it has not gone anywhere. It is still here.

The first time I did yoga I cried.

And every time after that for six months.

At the mat, I came face to face

with my self hatred.

At the mat, I discovered the way

I hold my trauma in the space between my pelvic bones.

Some people brought towels to class

to wipe away their sweat.

My towel wiped away my snot and tears,

as a lifetime of holding trauma was released,

in sudden waves that washed over me,

salty memories licking my skin.

The body remembers.

I have a safe home now.

I have a gentle, loving husband who adores me

and would do anything to protect me from harm.

But I still have to ask him not to stand in doorways


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A Sneak Peek at the Survivors Empowering Survivor Series.

Really looking forward to reading these real life stories…

Trigger Points: Childhood Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting

You’re not going to want to miss what we have in store for the month of February! The Survivors Empowering Survivors series is shaping up to be no less than awe-inspiring.

SES photo2

Here’s a sneak peek at just a few of the survivors you’ll be hearing from:

amy o 

Amy Oestreicher – A PTSD peer-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright.  As a survivor and “thriver” of nearly 30 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, organ failure and a decade of medical trauma, Amy has been challenged with and continues to overcome extreme circumstances she calls life’s detours.

byron hByron Hamel – An award-winning Canadian journalist, television producer, author and blogger at Trauma Dad. Despite being raised by a violent man who got the death penalty for torturing and killing a baby, Byron is a loving father dedicated to fighting child abuse and empowering others to heal.

liz mullinarLiz Mullinar A woman…

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Responses to a journal prompt from Trigger Points Anthology

Source: Responses to a journal prompt from Trigger Points Anthology

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Responses to a journal prompt from Trigger Points Anthology

Have you ever told anyone about your triggers? Who did you tell or who could you tell that could be supportive of your healing? What are the fears you have in sharing this part of your story and the effect it will have on your parenting?


Therapists I’ve worked with have helped me identify some triggers, my children have pressed buttons I didn’t even know were there which I’ve had to work on, and often I have to work really hard to work out what’s going on. A year ago my eldest son aged 10 gesticulated “wanker” at me and another time called me a cunt. Both times I just flipped and had to reign myself in from screaming in his face, shut myself in my room until I’d calmed down. I didn’t realise this was a trigger – I guess as well as the obvious, it taps into something of the deep misogyny I grew up in. When that same child used to hit and kick me when he was much younger I found that triggering and have had to do a lot of work on being able to control my anger/rage.


Before I had children I had never experienced anger, let alone rage, but as soon as my eldest started to express his will I would have these experiences where I would tangibly feel something rise up within me and erupt. I felt like a monster. I felt like my dad – all this stuff I had said to myself about wanting to break the cycle of abuse – I felt such a failure and a hypocrite. I hurt my oldest child, hit him hard a few times. I couldn’t understand how I could do such a thing – I would apologise and tell him that it definitely wasn’t ok for me to do that and it would spin me spiralling downwards in self loathing and hate and resentment at the world for seeming ok whilst I felt I contaminated anything I touched. I couldn’t believe how out of control I felt in moments, feared what I might do, and that was a great catalyst for going someway to sorting it out.


Looking back I think I thought my son hated me and I took his challenges so personally, his behaviour felt like such a direct reflection of my failings as a mother, like I couldn’t give him what he needed and I felt despair at the knowledge that I was damaging him. I sought out some parenting support – a woman from Sure Start came every week and was so non-judgemental, it was wonderful. She said it was clear I wanted the best for my children, and I did, I just didn’t know how to do it. She saw how my kids behaved and reassured me it was ok to have boundaries. I’d got so muddled – I’d equated boundaries with tyranny and abuse, but she painted them as an essential safety net. Over weeks she gave me very practical hands on parenting advice and was ON MY SIDE! I had been in such dread of seeking help when I had only ever had negative contact with “services”. She was so generous in her belief in me and so supportive in helping me make single parenting more manageable. I have huge appreciation for the impact she had on me and my kid’s lives.


From that I progressed onto a parenting course which I found really useful too and it made me realise how lacking I was in the most basic knowledge and skills of parenting. I didn’t want to parent like my parents, but I had no alternative model.


Dentists have been a massive trigger for me and I remember a time when I’d come home from having a filling and just couldn’t stop crying. My oldest son, then about 8 asked me what had happened and the whole story spewed out of me – how they’d used a jaw clamp, how I had been force fed in a similar way, how my dad had pulled my tooth out with a pair of pliers and it had reminded me of that hurt. He asked me lots of questions and I answered most of them. That’s a big regret of mine – that I haven’t managed to shield them more from my story. My oldest has always been very curious about my childhood, he’s never met his grandparents or my wider family and he’s had lots of questions about why. I’ve been honest with him, but mostly economic with the truth, but in times of crisis I have said way more than a growing boy should ever have to cope with – he knows my dad was violent and cruel towards me, he knows my brother raped and physically and sexually abused me, he knows I’ve tried to hang myself. He’s only 11. What 11 year old should have to cope with that information? It has affected his sense of identity, his relationship with his masculinity. He used to ask frequently – do you think I’ll be like your dad when I grow up? I’ve reassured and explained over and over the wider circumstances, what a wonderful and loved being he is, etc etc. He knows he is loved. He hasn’t asked that question for a long time now, and I hope that is a sign of his acceptance that abuse isn’t carried in your blood, but more a reflection of a person’s deep and unprocessed damage. We do a lot of processing.


I guess I have fear putting this out there. Fear that you will judge me for my honesty, my failings as a mother and the affect this has on my kids. But I also think it’s important that we share the stories of our experiences as it can be so reassuring to learn about each others struggles and imperfections. There is so much we can learn from each other xxx

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New Year 2016

The turning of the year again feels like a time for reflection. When I look at the poem from last year, I’m really glad to say I feel in a better space than I did then and in a better space than when I started to write this blog. I still haven’t gone through that last lot of notes from when I was sectioned and feel no pressing need to. Trying to think about things which have changed to help me feel in a better space…. I had a really tough few months from the beginning of last year until the summer where I was self harming more than I have in years, fighting the urges daily and in the end just giving into it. Felt loads of shame around being a mother and not wanting my kids to know, or anyone really. The ongoing hassle of getting dressings from the chemist. The doctor suggested I take Prozac, which I said I’d tried before and didn’t work but I wasn’t in much of a state to argue. It was clear pretty quickly that they were adding to my urges to the point where I felt in crisis and worried about what I might do. I went back to the doctor and she said I should take my emergency chemical cosh (of Chlorpromazine) 3x a day to off set the negative affects of the Prozac. I took the prescription, but knew there was no way I was gonna do that. I did some research, stopped taking the Prozac and a couple of weeks later went back with a letter saying all I wanted to say and requesting a change of meds to Sertraline which has had a big impact on my intrusive thoughts which makes life easier and I haven’t self harmed for ages. I’ve been clear throughout that I don’t want any contact with a psychiatrist despite some pressure, and I’m really glad I’ve stuck with that, as I’m not up for laying myself open to other’s judgement.
So taking Sertraline has helped me into a better space. I think also persevering with psychology has been healing in that it has been such a process of acceptance from her that I am starting to be able to receive. I’ve gone from being in total melt down fighting self harm most sessions to looking at her side on, though she’s not allowed to look at me. Before I’ve blamed this state of melt down in therapy totally on myself, like it confirms how fucked up I am, but she’s taken it as a message that the work is too challenging, so we’ve tried lots of different things and ultimately stripped it right back and lowered expectations to working on feeling safe in the room. It still challenges me, but I feel like I’m getting somewhere, feel like there is a glimpse of hope that I might be able to shift my perspective and feel a bit more compassion for myself, and I think that is modelled by the psychologist and her respect for my limitations. I am able to feel her acceptance, to let some of it in, to surrender.
I’ve also started my Level 4 counselling course which includes an hour of unstructured group work every week. I have avoided group work so far, as I avoid people in general! But it has been really reassuring and I feel like I’m starting to adjust my idea of normal in the face of other people’s responses to conflict, assertiveness, honesty, etc, I feel like I’m learning loads and am slowly resetting my defaults. I’ve also found an online support group at Blurt which goes some way to helping me feel less alone and less of a freak in the world. More recently I’ve found out about Trigger Points Anthology which is a book of first hand accounts of parenting experiences of survivors and has made me want cry out with recognition at times – there is something very powerful about knowing other people experience similar struggles. It’s just been published and it’s well worth checking out their fb page of the same name.
My job has also been a great boost to feeling like I’m putting something good out in the world. I’ve gone from teaching assistant to running the Nurture Programme and it feels a great privilege to be working with these kids who are struggling and feeling like I know what I’m doing and generally having a positive impact. It’s good to feel like I’m making a difference to kids’ lives and I’m really enjoying it. It’s only funded for a year but I’m highly valuing the experience for as long as it lasts.
I’ve taken the pressure off myself socially and let myself hermit when I can, and a few friends have dropped away which I understand as I’m consistently unreliable. Feel sad at friends lost, but glad to be at this place where I can let myself hibernate if I want, as before I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself without much success. I am generally running a couple of times a week with a couple of friends and I really value that structured contact.
I still make the occasional major parenting fuck up, the latest of which was my 11 year old son turning my computer on and finding my counselling course autobiography facing him and I had to work out how to explain that I had indeed tried to hang myself, but there was no need to worry. Me and both kids had a more in-depth discussion about it, but I hate that feeling of mashing their heads up and handing on this legacy of damage, it’s more than any kid should have to know about at their age. I keep trying and keep hoping it’s enough.
I’ve got a good feeling about 2016 – I’m getting somewhere in therapy, I have a Heal For Life Foundation healing week in May, which will be the first time and I hear they can be life changing, I’m gaining more job skills and doing my dream job.
That’s it for now. I might share writing to some of the journal prompts in Trigger Points Anthology as I do them.

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