Allie shares her story of a lifetime of self-harm after an abusive childhood

A woman from south Essex has shared how her experiences as a child have led her to join websites which invite other people to hurt her.

Please note this story contains themes of abuse, self-harm, eating disorders and alternative sexual practices. 

A woman from south Essex has shared how her experiences as a child have led her to join websites which invite other people to hurt her.

Allie, 52, is a Trauma Ambassador with Healthwatch Essex, a group which seeks to raise awareness of the impact of trauma on people accessing health and social care in the region.

Allie spoke to Healthwatch Essex on a podcast, bravely sharing how her treatment as a child led to binge-eating, self-harm – and when harming herself did not feel enough, signing up to websites which allowed her to meet with men who were intent on causing her harm.

Allie describes a series of horrific experiences as a child, which she had locked away – creating a very successful career for herself, driven by an intense desire to be financially independent from her family from an early age: “I was a complete workaholic and had wanted to get away from my family for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t have told you why that was, but I just knew that every time I was with my family I would hurt myself. I had been doing that since I was 8, but I couldn’t have told you why.

“It was a private therapist who, in the end, unlocked the door to everything for me. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I disclosed what had happened. I was born into a very uncontrolled environment – the 5th of 5 siblings. From the very beginning I was repeatedly told I was a mistake. Mum told me over and over again that I had made her ill. She had been told she shouldn’t have another child after my brother and after she then had me, for pretty much the rest of her life, I was the one who had made her ill. She always seemed angry with me.

“My parents were going through an acrimonious breakup – both had alcohol problems and would shout and throw things, and at the same time as that, my dad would come into my bedroom to sexually abuse another child there, so there was a lot happening at night in my room when I was very young. There was also a big room with lots of ‘uncles’ – I later found out they weren’t uncles – and my brothers were always coming out of that room upset. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew something wasn’t right.

“One day, when I was 4 and my brother was 9, we did something wrong – I can’t remember what – but mum said, ‘I’m going to shut you up for good. I will make it that you don’t misbehave again’. She got a dining room chair out and she made me bend over the chair and pull my trousers down and she got my brother to sexually abuse me. That was a defining point. My brother cried. He didn’t want to do it and I didn’t want him to touch me.  But then leading on from that, my brother continued to abuse me until I was 14. I never blamed him because I saw it as a learnt behaviour – my mum taught him to do that. And he was in a house where everyone was hurting everyone else, so why would he think his behaviour needed to be any different?”

Allie’s mum left the home not long after that and her dad, who was a long-distance lorry driver, moved a next-door neighbour in. The family scattered at that point – the oldest siblings going to live with friends and partners. Her dad soon married the neighbour and they moved house, sending her youngest brother to borstal, so Allie was alone with her new step-mother.

It was the beginning of even worse treatment for Allie, between the ages of 5 and 8: “She didn’t want me, but I was the only one that she couldn’t get rid of. She would chuck me out in the garden and leave me there for hours after school in all weathers. She would say to me constantly, ‘you’re bad and I’m just trying to make you good.’ She started these punishments, where if I didn’t make my bed or something stupid, she would make me stand with my hands on my head, facing the wall, but she didn’t mean for a couple of hours – she meant for days. She would leave me there over whole weekends and I couldn’t eat, drink or go to the bathroom while I was there. She would come up behind me and I could feel her breathing down my neck, and if I moved in any way, she had a little black book and she would make tallies of five bar gates for each movement. Then on a Sunday afternoon, she would make me stand against a wall, and hit me that many times.

“On my 5th birthday, at midnight, she dragged me out of bed, took me to an alleyway at the side of the house and made me kneel on a gravel path. She then hit me 5 times across the back, saying ‘no one loves you and this is how you’re going spend your birthday every year’. She would do that on the hour every hour for the next 24 hours. That then happened every birthday, increasing the number of hits by my new age.

“She would make me put my hands on my head at the dinner table and clap when I could start eating and clap when I could stop. Some days I would get to eat the dinner, other days I would get nothing. The days I didn’t eat anything, I had to scrape it into the bin, but then she would hit me for wasting food, even though it was her clap that meant I had to stop eating it.”

When her dad returned home from his coach trips he would also sexually abuse Allie. Allie said that no social worker, teacher or any adult noticed that something was wrong and her step-mother said that if she told anyone she would kill her.

It was only when Allie was medically dismissed from her job at the age of 35, after developing a brain condition which affected her balance and memory, that her experiences began to show themselves more intensely. A therapist helped her to access memories that she had long since locked away, helping to explain some of her behaviour: “Since I was eight I had been using lot of ways of cope with life, without really realising. I had different levels of harm – firstly, binge-eating – if I wanted to completely check out of life, if I ate enough, I would fall asleep. If I wasn’t awake, I couldn’t think; so I was using food as a drug. The second level was to hurt myself – hitting or cutting myself, sometimes in the 5 bar gates that hark back to my stepmother. My extreme way of coping, if I get to the point where I can’t hurt myself enough, I let other people hurt me. There are a lot of alternative lifestyle websites out there – I advertise myself as a sadomasochist – I want as much pain as they can give; they can do whatever they like to me as long as they don’t touch my face. The process itself is quite aggressive – within 15 minutes of putting a profile up, I will have had 100 people message me and within 2 hours, 500 people in contact. But sometimes the only way I get rid of the compulsion is to act upon them. It’s more than a relief, it’s like a high.

Allie told us that she felt very lucky to be alive, given that she has a condition which is a form of haemophilia. She has been hospitalised on numerous occasions, including with a pierced artery: “I have had quite a few occasions over the years when I’ve been really badly beaten. In my 30s, I had two occasions which were so bad that I didn’t think I was going to survive. I don’t think I allowed myself to think about the danger of the situation I was putting myself in. If during one of these encounters, someone killed me, it was something they would have to deal with, not me. I feel very lucky to have my haemophilia team, as I know that I can contact them if I need help. A&E has never been a good experience for me. I’ve been in resus so many times and been referred to as a ‘stupid girl’ for causing myself harm. But they have no understanding of how I have reached that point.”

Allie has since been diagnosed with PTSD and traits of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and continues to use therapeutic techniques and support to manage impulsive thoughts relating to harm. She now shares her story to raise awareness of the impact that trauma can have long after it takes place as well as the body’s ability to ‘lock’ it away as a mechanism of self-protection.

She joined the Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador Group in the hope that she could make a difference: “I was volunteering with Open Arts which use creative therapies and I was sat beside I man who was going through a particularly hard time. He told me he had been in his doctor’s surgery and he saw this card which he felt might help him talk to medics in a way that he had not been able to before. He showed me the card [the Healthwatch Essex Trauma Card] and I thought ‘oh my god, this is amazing; this is exactly what is needed because there are so many people who experience trauma who are unable to tell people what is actually going on in their bodies’. I felt it was such a good thing that I just wanted to be involved in the group that developed the card. We need to be talking about how it feels to experience trauma, because there’s a lot of shame connected with it, and because of that shame, there’s a lot of silence around it.”

Sharon Westfield De Cortez, Information and Guidance Manager at Healthwatch Essex, runs the Trauma Ambassador Group (TAG). She said: “One of the reasons we created the TAG, is because we know conversations about trauma are not happening and it’s so important that they do. Allie is incredibly brave to share her story so openly in order to help others. She has been involved with our group for some time now and is really helping to ensure that people living with trauma have their voice heard in health and social care.

“They are a group which often do disconnect from the services that they desperately need, simply because services are often not taking into account their unique experiences and their impact. We hope that the Trauma Card goes some way to addressing this issue so that more people living with trauma can feel comfortable in health and social care settings.

“If anyone has been affected by trauma themselves and would like support or to share their story, please get in touch on 0300 500 1895 or email [email protected]

Allie’s podcast is available here and she has recorded a series of short videos which can be found here.