Trigger warning: this content contains discussion about sexual abuse.

How did [the sexual abuse you’d experienced] leave you feeling?

I think at the time… I didn’t really feel comfortable. When I was nine, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my own experience. I do remember people kind of asking me like, “Did he do anything to you?” And I kind of brushed it off. I don’t think I disclosed that he did… It wasn’t really that normal for me to open up about my feelings and stuff to my family. So, I think I kind of just shut it all down, and just got on with it.

But I think it’s had an effect on other areas in my life… It altered the way I viewed my own stepfather and men, older men in general. There would definitely be this strange feeling that would come up whenever I was in situations with older men. And it affected my relationships as I got older – just the relationships that I’ve had with guys, like intimate relationships. Yeah, I could never quite pinpoint what it was. They thought maybe it was just like extreme commitment phobia. Where if we got quite close, my feelings would just shut off and it was almost like repulsion that would kick in. And yes, it was just really weird being intimate with guys.

And then I think later on in life, it was kind of just the same really. Just this inability to kind of fully connect with other people and the world. So yeah, I just felt quite disconnected from everything.

Did you think it was okay to seek help?

Yeah, I think I didn’t have that stigma around seeking help, that wasn’t very strong for me. It wasn’t really internalised I don’t think. I think I just didn’t really know where to go for help. You kind of just get caught up in just doing things and living your life. And it’s not until kind of key moments that happen where you’re like, “Whoa okay, there’s something wrong here”. So when I discovered HELP, when I found that it was an option, and that it was funded, all I needed to do was really call up. It just made seeking help a lot easier, like it made the process a lot easier for me.

How did you hear about HELP?

I heard about it through a good friend of mine. I guess I was quite open with her about things that happened to me in the past… And she had been to HELP. And just really recommended that I should call the number…

How did receiving HELP’s support make you feel?

The way I felt before was just largely disconnected from the world. I kind of look back on my childhood and teen years and early 20s, as this period when all of these things happened, but I wasn’t really able to take it all in… It’s like, I wasn’t really there. It’s kind of weird… I’ve done all these really cool things and had these amazing experiences, but they were just happening to me, you know? And I guess with the way I feel now – I’m only just finishing with HELP really, our counselling sessions and the Freedom to Fly workshops, or opportunities that were presented to me afterwards…

So, where I’m at now is that I’m actually able to participate in the world. And I have autonomy, and I can experience these things. And they actually get through to me. Yeah, it’s almost like I’m just, alive. Whereas before I was kind of asleep. And so yeah, I think with trauma, it’s not an isolated thing. It’s not like this thing happened to me then, and then this other thing happened to me, but they all kind of feed off each other and it seeps into different areas of your life.

Before doing counselling, I just didn’t even have an idea or framework of any way to identify what the trauma was and who I was really… And so, I think I had a very warped understanding of myself. And yeah, it’s like, if my potential was up here, I was kind of floating down. It’s so hard trying to put this into words! But I think I’m, I just feel a lot happier now, afterwards. I feel like I’m more in control, you know? 

I think another thing as well is that I probably, I’m able to identify where there are difficulties… So where there are things that I need to work through, I at least kind of have some steps of going about that. It’s not like, oh my god there’s all this s**t going on and it’s all a huge, murky area where I don’t even know where to start… It’s like, actually, for the most part, things are really good. But now I can kind of see where there’s a bit of murk and I know how to go about making the appropriate changes if I need to. I’m more in control… I’m definitely in the driver’s seat.

How did HELP support you?

I think in those three and a half years… Before coming to counselling, I did kind of do it all on my own. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. And so, I didn’t realise one of the first things that we kind of said, when you asked me why I went to counseling, and it was that I didn’t want to need to do it on my own anymore…

And I remember just thinking beforehand that I probably wouldn’t have that much time to fill an hour session, I thought it’s gonna be so awkward! I’m gonna go in there, and it’s just gonna be like cicadas in the background and there’s gonna be nothing to talk about.  But it ended up being this huge, tangled web of things that I’ve gone through, and it was kind of like opening a can of worms, you know? There was just so much in there that I just didn’t know was in there… And I really don’t think I could have possibly… It would have taken me like hundreds of years to delve into that stuff on my own.

I think I got really lucky being paired with [my therapist]. I think we had a really cool connection. Yeah, and I guess in my life at the time… I don’t know if this was because I started therapy or it just happened to be… It was just quite a transformative period. I started my first kind of full-time job and that brought up a lot, and I just started a long-term relationship, and so there was just quite a lot there. There were quite a lot of things that were triggering me constantly. And it was so good to be able to come here every week. And it was quite anchoring, you know? And I genuinely didn’t feel alone at all. And I felt properly listened to. And that was quite a foreign thing. And that in and of itself is quite transformative… But yeah, that’s just the listening part.

There were books that we talked about, there were different frameworks I looked into, we talked about dreams and things, and doing the psychodrama, the Freedom to Fly workshops that [my therapist] recommended, they were really, really good. It just covered a lot of bases I found. It wasn’t just purely talking, which I think helps me because I like the variety. Yeah, it was really good support. And I think also even in the holidays for the close down period, just knowing that there was a line, I could call if s**t hit the fan. And yeah, it was a really, nice supportive environment.

Do you feel like you’re in a better place now?

Yes, 100% yes. I guess just externally, I kind of found more or less what I want to do in my life, which is really cool… I’ve changed careers. Yeah, I’m genuinely as happy as I’ve ever been, which is really cool. I don’t feel lost anymore. And I don’t really feel anxious all that much. Yeah, I think a lot of the feelings that are related to trauma… It’s definitely still a part of me and I can recognize it when it comes up, but it’s reduced in frequency and scale. So it’s a minor thing now, whereas before, it was a major thing.

So the last question is, do you have any advice for anyone else who has been sexually abused and need support?

Well definitely go to HELP! So yeah, I think the timing needed to be this way for me… But if I had kind of gone through this process sooner… I genuinely feel like I probably would have been able to start truly living life sooner. So just reach out to people, and I think you can kind of break through the discomfort… So, I think maybe just look into it! There’s no harm in calling HELP and enquiring about it. You won’t regret that.

*Client name changed to protect privacy