Asking for and relying on anybody’s help has never come easy to me. Incongruence has a price. I had kept a debilitating secret for more than 30 years. I was consumed with a fear of what could happen during counselling and embarrassed by the fact that I needed the help in the first place. I was afraid that counselling would not work. I was afraid of the pain I felt and of releasing it, but I also wanted desperately to settle my inner turmoil. I also had huge trust issues. I have always carried the shame of what happened to me but longed to be fixed and really thought it was possible.

The relationship with my counsellor was key. Counselling helped by enabling me to unlock the silence at my own pace. I was heard and believed. I was able to be myself without fear of judgment. I didn’t have to pretend. In that space, I was nobody’s mum, wife or friend. I could be me. I was able to share things I thought would be unbearable for another person to hear. My counsellor never once made me feel uncomfortable.

During counselling, I realised that I had developed several coping mechanisms over the past 30 years. I had separated out the various roles I played, and I put on different heads to switch between each role and to keep each contained. I could be physically in the room but emotionally completely disconnected and distant. These strategies helped me to survive, but changing heads was tiring and less effective than I thought. Being disconnected meant I could keep all the roles separate, but counselling helped me see that what I really needed was to be one connected, joined-up person, with a choice.

Counselling helped me to become that functioning person. There will always be triggers and things that knock me off balance, but my reaction is different now. For me, there is no such thing as ‘recovered’ and ‘healed’, but there is ‘recovering’ and ‘healing’. Counselling didn’t cure me of my personal demons, but it did give me the tools to work through the obstacles in my way. More of me has become available to my family. I no longer use what happened to me as a frame of reference in my life. There have been enormous changes in how I cope with daily life – real, lasting benefits that I’ve been able to continue after counselling. I have learnt that the coping strategies I evolved during childhood are no longer necessary now I’m an adult. I am now able to look after myself and practise good self-care. I have been able to turn overwhelmingly negative thoughts and feelings completely around. I have learnt to take time out for myself, to relax, be part of the present and not to feel guilty about that.

Through the counselling service I attended, I also had the opportunity to be involved in the research and interviewing process for a diploma in counselling for trauma they were developing for counsellors on working with adult survivors of sexual violence. It was a really useful and fulfilling experience. It gave me a sense of empowerment, positivity and belonging and boosted my self-regard. My past has defined me for many years, but now I feel like I’m worth something; I feel valued for who I am.

Counselling has shown me who I really am. I am proud of me – I often catch myself smiling. I will always be grateful for all that the counselling service gave me. It was a hand to hold at one of the darkest times of my life. I have been able to calm the inner turmoil and find strength to keep moving forward. I am able to stand on my own two feet and feel alive again. I am now living.

The author wishes to remain anonymous. She was a client of New Pathways, in Wales.