“When I don’t eat I am slyly aiming for suicide.
When I smoke a gram of cocaine on my own I think how nice it would be to feel high when I die.
When I drink so much I hit my head and wake up with no memory, oblivion is at the back of my mind.
I am numb and my insides feel dead. […]
All the times I could have died, all the men who could have crushed me, all the drunken idiots I let drive me. The dark alleyways I’ve stumbled down, the doors I’ve walked through, not knowing what was waiting for me, the condoms I haven’t used, the things I have shared with people I didn’t know.
If I analyse my decisions and the things I’ve done, I never really wanted to live. I never wanted to breathe and to grow old.
It’s more than just introspection, naval gazing, ungrateful youth, not understanding how good I’ve got it. It’s deep and nothing can scrub it off. The stain is there and even the bleach of a new ease won’t lighten it.
I am the queen of control and I’m waiting. I survived all those things, all my losses, for a reason.
Always be yourself. Myself is dark and ugly and angry and twisted. I feel like my life is an act. I’m a very good actress.
I’ve had the thought, held the fantasy so many times. Sometimes the scenes consume me, and I have to turn out the lights, hide under the duvet and cry to myself. The images invade my mind at any given time, always after intense emotion, often at random, calm moments. If I spend too much time enveloped in my past, or mulling over the blankness I see in my future, the ideas will creep in, the plans and calculations begin.
I want to be able to feel.
I’m able to squash the impulse well enough. I like to think of myself a highly functioning. Nobody who knows me has any idea of how damaged I am. I don’t even really know – I have so much dark and sticky stuff squashed down, deep into my psyche and well hidden.
I don’t know exactly what’s lurking there, but I know I think about suicide too often. I don’t know what I’m capable of, but I have a feeling I’m capable of too much. I’m scared of what will happen if I ever learn how to let it all out.
I have power. I know how to pull myself back from the brink. My mantra, my anchor is my saving grace, but it won’t last for ever. In five years I’ll have to face up to the promise I’ve been making myself.
The idea came to me when I was 21. After one really bad episode, cutting my wrist deeper than I’d ever done before, I promised myself that if I still felt the same way when I was 27, If I was still fighting with myself at 27, I’d allow myself to do it, to end it, to stop the fire and the torment. I’ll know and everyone else will know that I tried. I endured until 27. Having a deadline, a literal dead line, gives me relief. Things don’t matter so much.
My first job is more significant to me than any other first. When people, perhaps older and wiser, say “you never forget your first”, I wince internally. I spin my stories with humour and make the rough parts softer.
I always feel removed, so distant from these people who can laugh genuinely about their history. The smugness, the smiles, the reminisce, public or private, of their own first kiss, first grope, first fuck, first love. I remember my firsts, but through an anaesthetizing fog, with bits missing, scrubbed out, scraped away, by my self loving, self conscience.
At 18 I found myself in a bad situation. I had been working in Notting Hill for a few months, as a live in nanny. I’d started the job with bags of enthusiasm, envisioning a career with high earning potential, a chance to work for interesting people, and live in exciting locations. Long hours and less than minimum wage had extinguished any passion I had for the job. I knew I needed more money.
I had taken the nanny job because I needed somewhere to live. I was effectively homeless. My parents had cast me out at eighteen. My mother told me to fuck off and she meant it.
Despite repeated, genuine efforts to patch up our already shitty relationship, she refused to talk to me. Pleading letters, emails, texts, garnered no response.
The emptiness I felt in those first few years, the rejection and loneliness, was grief – like. Experiencing other people’s families caused me pain, witnessing how much love a mother could have for her children left me feeling defective. There must have been something intrinsically wrong with me.
I was alone in London at eighteen.
It was the lack of options and choice, the inability to see a way out, an escape pushed me into survival mode. I was running from destitution and to this day remain terrified of homelessness.
Prostitution stripped me of my sexuality, and ripped out my ability to truly desire someone.
Sex with someone you love is about intimacy.
It’s impossible to be intimate with someone when you suspect you’re incapable of love. I understand it’s not a transactional action any more, my body understands, and I can get wet, I can react in a natural way, but my mind can’t leave the gutter. I’m suspicious, I pretend to trust, I resign myself to not really caring. And it’s not difficult. It’s not that I’m pretending not to care about him or her or it or them. It’s that I don’t. How can I, when usually it was the married ones, the ones that took me into their warm, marital beds, who tried to trick me, force me, into taking off the condom. A condom for me was, and still is a psychological barrier. A penis inside me, but not really touching me. A way to stop them from really feeling me, and to pretend that I wasn’t really feeling them. Something I will always connect with too much Vaseline and fake moans and a bit of pain.
I’m a rock. A highly functioning, emotionless, rolling stone. Sometimes it comforts me. My cynicism means I won’t ever be the little wife, unaware of a partners infidelities and betrayals. I cannot ever consign myself to the resentment,the boredom and the sacrifice of long term, monogamy. I am difficult to love because I don’t know how to love. I want to know. I want to feel the rush of emotion, the belief, the high of another person. My insecurities protect me, and also rob me of something so human and natural. I want to long.
I entered prostitution because I needed money. I had three options; sleep in the street, sleep with my abusive ex boyfriend, or sleep with men for money and support myself. I was eighteen and I couldn’t support myself with a 9 to 5 minimum wage job.
The more I examine my own story, the more I am able to identify common patterns.
To my ex, who abused me, and who I, in turn, used to provide me a roof and a way out of the world I’d crashed into: I want you to know that you threw me off course, for sure. My life would have been very different had I not met you. Your controlling nature squashed me. Your ability to isolate me sent me in a totally different direction than my peers. You changed my course, and I am sitting here, writing this now, because of you. I have an anger inside that scares me. You took advantage because you could. I was young and not smart enough to see and understand what was happening. My parents were not present enough to notice, and too busy to care. You struck gold with me!
I will never forget that at first I didn’t like you. What I learnt in the bed with you served me well later on. You were old and your teeth were ugly. We had nothing in common – how can a sixteen year old and a twenty nine year old have anything to share? You said I love you first, the first man to ever say it. You monopolised my time, undermined my intelligence and reinforced my insecurities. You saw threats and pitfalls in places and people I had never doubted. You squashed my personality, obliterated my interests, belittled my ambitions. My inner monologue started to sound too much like yours.
Toxicity is accumulative. My opinions were half formed, developing. You caught me at the perfect age to divert and twist.
I ran away from you, but eventually, out of necessity, ran back to you.
I wanted normality, whatever that is. I wanted to be able to tell the truth about what I’d been doing, with who and where. I wanted my perpetual paranoia about money to stop. I wanted security and stability and safety.
I hid my decision to go back to my ex for as long as I could. I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t strong enough, brave enough, to exit by myself. I still do, although I understand my reasons better now.
I am, above all else, pragmatic.
I didn’t want to meet any new men. I was hostile to even the thought of sex with someone new. I had no sex drive, no desire for intimacy.
I was on autopilot. I am scared that I still am. I don’t remember a different way of being.
I use people because people have used me. I fear that all of my relationships and friendships are subconsciously powered by what I learnt while escorting – that people exist to be used and nothing more.”
Rife: Twenty Stories from Britain’s Youth
Ella is contributing an essay to Rife: Twenty Stories from Britain’s Youth, a book of essays by young people about their lives in Britain today.
Find out more and pledge your support: