My story — Part 3 with mother and stepfather

Dawn Walton
11 min readJul 10, 2021

Ok this one talks about tricky stuff too like self harm and suicide…sorry! Avoid if you’re worried about being triggered.

Chapter 16 — different house, same old problems

I must have been around 15/16 when we moved to a different village on the island. It was in the right catchment for the same school, so I didn’t have to change schools. As with primary, school was my safe place. I’m always surprised I wasn’t bullied, but maybe I was and didn’t notice. My inner world was so bad that nothing outside could touch it. I loved learning and still do to this day. I would do classwork quickly, get homework in on time and do well in tests and exams.

The house we moved into was a dormer bungalow with a large bedroom on either side of the upper floor, and all the living areas downstairs. A stairlift was fitted for my mother and they had one half of upstairs and I had the other.

Like most villages on Anglesey, it was in the middle of nowhere. Our village had 2 chapels, a shop and a post office. It was 3 miles to the local town. There were few buses so I got everywhere by walking. I did cycle too but I preferred to walk. I would often go for walks on my own. Did you know that sheep sound just like humans when they cough? I remember one evening walking along the lane. The field next to me had sheep in it. One of the things that sheep like to do is follow, and so if you walk past a field of sheep, they often track you along the hedge. It was starting to get dark. I could hear the sound of footsteps behind the hedge. I knew it was the sheep but still I was jumpy. Then one of them coughed. I still knew it was a sheep but it sounded so human I freaked and ran home!

My mother and I spent lots of time together in those years before I went to Uni. She was ill a lot. Quite often I would be scared because a local GP had to come out in the middle of the night to give her pain relief. She had spent so much time in hospital that she hated them and would point blank refuse to go. My stepfather had lost his job (again) and was now a full time carer so was at home all the time. He set himself up as a handyman doing jobs for locals.

Life had settled into a routine. My mother had always loved horses, and she was able to get a rescue horse of her own. He was a suffolk punch crossed with a Welsh Cob, so was a chunky beast. However, because of her limitations, she couldn’t go out riding on her own. So she got another pony so that I could go riding with her. I love animals but I am not a big fan of horses. I resented that I had to go every time she wanted to go out. But I had no life, we lived in the middle of nowhere and I was too conditioned to do what I was told. Other than the horse thing which I hated, I had a close enough relationship with her and we regularly went out together for lunch, to the beach, to complete drawing projects for art etc. As I got older I had less and less to do with my stepfather. The abuse had stopped, and because he was at home all the time, the chores had too. On father’s day and on his birthday, I used to deliberately pick cards for “A great father” knowing in my mind it wasn’t for him, it was just some random great father that was out there somewhere. That was my only form of rebellion.

Chapter 17— When the floodgates opened

Because my mind had shut down, it wasn’t that difficult a time for me initially. I just got on with life. Then, one day, when I was around 16 years old, I remember walking back to school after going into town with my best friend. She was talking to me about going clubbing at the weekend and was asking why I wouldn’t go along. She was talking about boys and when I didn’t engage she asked if I didn’t fancy boys. “I just know too much about what goes on I answered”.

Bang! Just like that a gate seemed to open and I was once more consciously aware of all the abuse.

I shut down, my inner world raging. I thought my friend wouldn’t want to be around someone that had done something that disgusting, but the reality was she was 16 and getting on with life, and I was no fun to be around. Many years later, I told the police I had told her and they contacted her. She’d been expecting the call and she was relieved, because her whole life she had felt guilty for not saying anything to help me. Of course she couldn’t say anything. She was just a child. So was I. And it probably would have made no difference anyway. Nobody believed me.

After the floodgates opened it became almost intolerable to be at home. We were all living a lie. Nobody believed me. And I had to pretend everything was ok. And I didn’t know if the abuse would happen again. It hadn’t in the new house, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t. In the last house I’d become paranoid. Whenever I went for a bath, he went out to the garage that was attached to the bathroom. I was convinced he had a peephole or something. I would close the shower curtain while I had a bath. In the new house, I just avoided baths as much as possible.

I started collecting my mothers painkillers to kill myself. She was on strong ones and had pointed out a few years ago which ones to be careful around. It was the time where tablets still came in bottles rather than bubble strips, so it was really easy to grab the odd one without her noticing. The problem was, there was always someone at home, and I knew enough by then to know that the problem with taking painkillers to kill yourself is that you can be found and have your stomach pumped. I didn’t want that. So I planned to go to University, and when I got there, and was free, I would take all the tablets I had collected. Nobody would find me, and I would be dead and all the pain would be over.

I also started self-harming. It was still too early for the internet, so I didn’t have any information on self-harm. What I did know is that the hurt was intolerable, and I had nothing I could do to stop it. I couldn’t take an aspirin and make it go away. I realised I could control physical pain. So I started scratching a patch on my arm. I scratched and scratched until I got down to the flesh. It hurt like hell and felt so good and in control. It would scab over and I could see it heal, and then I could pick the scab and watch it bleed. It felt like an outlet that I actually had control over.

Chapter 18 —There was nowhere to escape to

After my GCSE’s I went back to school to do A-Levels, but after that conversation with my friend, school was a very lonely place. I did not want to live. I did not want to pretend anymore. This began to have a weird impact physically. Every time I tried to go to school I got sick. People joked about morning sickness because if I tried to go in the afternoon I was fine. I remember standing in the 6th form common room. Everyone else had gone to assembly. I was breathing heavily to try and stop myself being sick. I look back on that time and recognise that it was actually a panic attack I was having.

It was annoying because school had always been my safe space and now I couldn’t go. The only way I got in was if my stepfather gave me a lift, making me dependent on him. That was something I tried really hard to avoid.

I stopped eating and lost a load of weight. Up until that point I was overweight. The kick back to being starved as a child meant I ate lots. Getting sick meant I couldn’t face food most of the time and when I did eat, it was very little. The weight fell off me.

Nobody seemed to know what was causing this sickness. I was given anti-sickness tablets and even pesseries (ew!) but they didn’t help (because it was anxiety not sickness!). At no point was I offered or given any psychological help. I had one conversation with a local GP who was a really good friend of my mother’s. He often came to our house in an emergency. I assumed if my mother had believed me, she would have told him. If she didn’t then I should not talk. Either way, when he asked if I had any problems I said I was fine.

In the end I was sent to the local hospital for a number of tests. One of the first doctors I saw did a full physical examination. My stepfather took me to all these appointments. He waited outside while I went through the traumatic experience of being shut in a room with a man who was doing stuff to me. He was just doing an examination, nothing awry there — but my experiences of being shut in a room with a man were very different. After, my stepfather joined us while the doctor questioned me and gave some conclusions. I remember the doctor being absolutely positive I’d had a baby and would not believe me when I said I hadn’t. I suspect the skin left after all the weight loss, combined with ‘evidence of tampering’ he saw from the abuse that had happened for years led him to that conclusion.

I had a gastroscopy and then spent 3 days in hospital while they monitored everything they could. It was a horrible time as I was in an adult ward because of my age. Then Dave and Delyth visited and brought me books and I couldn’t have been more grateful (see later in the post)

Of course they never found any reason behind the sickness. Now I know that’s because it was never a physical problem. At the time, I was just as confused as everyone else.

After the trial in May 2015, despite the verdict (more on this later) I was given the maximum amount of the criminal injuries compensation. This is calculated based on evidence, not the sales pitch that a trial actually is. In the notes for how it is calculated, it was noted that I didn’t have a history of psychological issues caused by the abuse, including suicidal tendencies and depression. Of course I did have all of thos things. But what I didn’t have was anyone to help, so I didn’t actually get any therapy until 2005, when my husband decided that I really needed help and found me a counsellor to see up in Aberdeen.

The net effect of this ‘morning-sickness’ was that I missed most of the last year of school. I was ok with computer studies because that didn’t happen in a school. There was a technical college in the centre of the island. I guess too few people were taking certain subjects to make it worth having a whole class, so they brought all the schools together in one place. This happened in the afternoon so I could always make those lessons. I was into computers from the start so this worked out well. My English teacher was phenomenal. She sent work home, and even had me over to her house for a study session once. My maths teacher was useless. He didn’t provide any work or support. I eventually got a maths tutor but it was too little, too late.

I ended up sitting my exams at home with a teacher there to supervise. The exam board was not notified of my mitigating circumstances. But I figured I might as well try and take the exams.

When I went to get my A-Level results I was devastated. I got a B in Computer studies, a C in English, and I failed maths. These were not the grades I need to get into Manchester University to study computer science. University was my only way out. I was going to go there and kill myself and now I didn’t have the grades to do that. My friend had lost her mother at around the same time that I got ill. She took me to get our results. The exam board had been told about her circumstances and her grades were adjusted so she got what she needed.

I felt like there was no hope.

Then my stepfather phone the Uni and I got in through clearing. The Uni said if I was able to get those grades having missed a year, then they were more than happy to give me a chance.

It was hard to deal with. I was getting what I wanted, but he had made it happen.

Chapter 19— Look for the helpers

By this point in my life, all the adults had treated me like I was not significant / important enough to be treated with kindness. I felt like a shadow person. Anyone could do anything they wanted to me. Once I had my daughter, this concept became so much worse. I have no doubt at all I would do anything for her. If anyone hurt her I would destroy them. I would sacrificie everything I have, and everything I am, to stop her being hurt. How bad a person am I that as a child nobody looked at me and felt that way?

When the Chicago Marathon bombing happened people where shocked. Like with many major events that are driven by evil people, it shook the world to see so many people harmed so deliberately. And then a meme came out about someone helping one of the injured runners over the finish line. They said “Look for the helpers”

I have used this often since I read it. When things feel bleak and you lose faith in humanity and the world, look for those kind people that always show up.

At around the same time as I got ill, I got a job at a local geological museum called Stone Science. It was a couple of miles walk from my house, so easy to get to. Dave and Delyth that run the place are the most down to earth and kind souls that you could meet. They gave me a job. It wasn’t much money but it didn’t matter. It got me out of the house. It gave me some independence. And most importantly, it gave me a safe space to be.

As soon as I turned 17 I learned to drive. I passed my test by the time I was 18 even though I didn’t have a car until much later. My mother drove an automatic so it was down to my stepfather to teach me to drive. He soon got fed up of me not being subservient enough in my responses when he told me to do stuff and refused to teach me any more. Delyth took up the mantle and taught me to drive in their work van. It was an amazing thing to do. They didn’t have a huge amount of money and their work van was critical for their business, but they let me drive it. Look for the helpers. They will be there.

And so after a tumultuous couple of years, I headed off to Uni…

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Dawn Walton

Therapist and brain reprogrammer. If 1 in 4 people in the UK has a mental heatlh problem, then 3 in 4 don’t. Not True!