Reformed addicts: How a woman turned to drink after she was raped in the army

Addiction can take hold of anyone at any time.

By Natalie Walker
Monday, 25th March 2019, 9:05 am
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 9:33 am
Picture posed by model. Photo supplied through Pixabay
Picture posed by model. Photo supplied through Pixabay

At the age of 18, Penny* was looking forward to the next stage of her life.She had worked hard at school and college and was ready to join the army.But shortly after she joined, she was raped and she turned to drink to block it out.

She then developed an eating disorder and struggled to cope with the horrific scenes she witnessed whilst on duty.She is now ready to share her story and reveal how, with the right support, she has gained control of her life again.

Penny, who is in her 50s, admits she had a ‘perfect’ childhood and was certainly ready to embrace what the army had to offer.She joined when she was 18 and travelled around the world, visiting places like Germany and Hong Kong.

Penny was in the army. Generic photo supplied through Pixabay

She reveals: “I had a beautiful and perfect life and had no issues until I joined the army.“When things kicked off in the Falkland Islands, I decided I wanted to join up.

“But I was raped when I first joined and that’s when I started drinking. “For me, it was escapism. I was using it to numb the pain and carry on. It blocked everything out for me.“I was drinking every day and used it as my crutch. It helped me cope and get through the day. It made things better for me.“I didn’t tell anyone and so my rapist has never been brought to justice. Now people around me know, I don’t want to revisit that part of my life again. That has gone.”

As well as dealing with her own ordeal, Penny was confronted with a lot of stress at work and witnessed her friends being blown up while on duty.She recalls: “The job was also very stressful. I saw a lot of nasty things, I lost some of my friends and I saw them getting blown up.“I started with bulimia. My eating disorder kicked off, as I used laxatives and booze, making myself sick. Everything just spiralled out of control.“But I was able to hide my drinking and carry on with work, so know one really knew.”

Penny eventually left the army in the early 1990s after 11 years. She cut down her drinking when she had her two sons.But the weight of everything that had happened during her time remained with her, as she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 12 years ago.

She adds: “I am still suffering now. I have been in and out of combat stress, with PTSD. I have mental breakdowns and carry out self harm, making myself sick. I cut my hair and I am aggressive with everyone. I isolate myself and I drink. “This happens every couple of months - I am just coming out of my latest episode now. The slightest bit of stress sends me off.

“I have an illness, which is linked to long term stress, following my job and so I am on painkillers. I also take antidepressants.“I did stop drinking when I had my children more than 20 years ago. They are totally aware of my PTSD and have picked me up every time I get down.“Whilst they were growing up, I was able to curb and hide the drinking, so they were not affected. Supporting me has made them more understanding and streetwise. They are very mature. In fact one of my sons is serving in the armed forces, whilst the other is studying law.”

Penny had tried to seek help, through various mental health teams, and is now working through an anger management course.

She admits: “Going to my support groups does not give me hope, as I can’t erase the memories, but I am trying to find ways of coping.“At the time, I had no-one to talk to, but now I feel there is more support and awareness of harassment at work, rape and abuse and the knowledge we don’t have to put up with that.”

Here is where you can get support: Reformed addicts: What is Red Rose Recovery and Lancashire User Forum?*Penny is not her real name.