Tonic. June 2006
I donÄôt think about it now. It has gone completely, but for years, for most of my life, I carried it in my bones. I remembered every day and it touched and coloured all that I saw, felt and said.
What terrible thing happened that could last so long and change so much?
Sexual abuse. Moments in time that become like infected splinters in the everyday reality of most who have had the experience. Strangely, not everyone has a negative response. I know a woman who was licked all over by a friend of her parents when she was eleven and has fond memories of the event, but somehow I feel this is not the mainstream response. Mainstream may seem an unusual word to use, but it is surprising how many women, and men, have been through negative sexual experiences in their youth. I am not particularly interested in statistics, because for me this was never the point. I was not interested in numbers; I was just trying to deal with my response to my story. My father had walked away when I was 3, never looking back. My longing for him and the love I thought he represented, or could have shown me, left me angry and looking for affection elsewhere.
I avoid the use of the word victim now. I was a victim for years. I was downtrodden by the events and furious. I wanted to harm the perpetrators, and as I could not, I wanted to harm myself. For a long time I had dreams of hearing that the man who played with me the most would die a horrible death and then I would organise a string of hearses to go to his funeral bearing the word paedophile written white chrysanthemums. I felt it was a great revenge. There was no other way forward. I was stuck, nailed to the past by the word ÄúvictimÄù. I spent 9 years in therapy. I went into treatment for 6 weeks to deal with Äúchild abuseÄù. And there I spent hours writing it all down in neat columns, remembering every detail, and then read it out in group. Lapping up the experience of bonding through wounding, we all had to scream, shout and beat a symbolic image of our offender or multiples of them. This was then going to set us free. It was an interesting experience. I could not speak for three days afterwards, and I think that it did lift some of the anger. But I was not really any wiser as to how to manage myself in the real world.
At the time, during the years of crying about it, remembering it, picking over all the details like a vulture in the towers of silence, it seemed the only way to heal. I felt like an open sore. Like a scab that could not heal. I felt different to other people and was very attached to that difference. On one level it felt like my skeleton. I was terrified to let it go. I had a horror of dissolving into nothing if I let go of my inappropriate sexual history and all the rage and fury and guilt that went along with it. I could not countenance the thought of living without it, of letting go of the victim that it had made me.
I used to wonder, why me? Why did I go through those things? Why canÄôt I let them go? They affected all my relationships, particularly the sexual ones. For a moment I was about to write romantic, but of course there was no romance. I did not do romance in any way. I felt that if someone was attracted to me I owed them my body. I had a debt to them and had to repay it. I had no boundaries, sexually, and my response to sexual contact was not overly functional. Hard to write about, but true. I liked the flush of a new conquest; I liked the intensity of new men, but could not sustain anything approaching intimacy. I thought that intimacy was showing someone your underwear, or that was all I was prepared to let it be. The moment it became a physical experience I flew out of my body into a land of fantasy, and not usually fantasies about the person I was with. I had not real idea as to what was happening to my body. I had left it to fend for itÄôs self and gone elsewhere. Sometimes shopping, sometimes begging God to get me through the experience that I had craved, sometimes imagining myself by the sea. Confusing yet totally compulsive.
If I was not Äúacting outÄù, bingeing, then I was anorexic. Legs crossed, nothing allowed in. Just all going on in my head. Cervix as tight as a nut, trying to control all the fear and the emotional torment.
It sounds so insane. It sounds so unreal, but this is what it was like. I can communicate it in retrospect, but whilst in the depths of trying to live my life as a person who had been sexually abused I could not begin to vocalise what I was feeling.
There were many other emotions coming in and conflicting, or making the letting go so much harder. One of them was guilt. A very difficult thing to admit, feeling guilty about being abused. Why would one feel guilty?
It took me a long time to get there, to understand the battle. I had a series of experiences of sexual abuse through my childhood and adolescence, and I donÄôt want remember the first time, but I do know from that instant something in me, in my psyche, my belief and trust in life, was broken, and the broken aspect of me allowed the rest of the experiences to continue. I had no defences. It had become normal, the way things happened. My relationship with my family was angry and distant. I left home when I was 16. Healing was a real challenge.
It is a difficult experience to find your way out of. Hard to find therapists who have had the same history, and for me, talking about it with those who had not felt the same was awful. They would sit there wide eyed and fascinated and I felt like a freak, not at all as though I was getting anywhere at all but was some sort of entertainment. Shouting and screaming about it is dealing with the past. Fine and dandy, but how to live with it now? The world is a sexual place. The messages are everywhere. Sex is how most of us communicate and certainly how advertising, films, television and business communicate. So the memories clamber over all that the eyes rest on, and on every sexual encounter. To become intimate with another in a physical way brings it all roaring back every time. There is no trust, all are tarred with the same brush and normality seems impossible. On top of all that, what is normality? What is normal sex? Does anyone really talk about it? Once fiddled with and touched as a child or teenager there is no normal. It is all fraught with shivers, fear, longing yet dread, howling memories that crowd in and dry up all the juices, prayers and entreaties to God and ultimately pain, both physical and mental.
Enough of the history. How to climb out? The climb is challenging. There is not a lot of help available, but my own journey out has given me tools that have moved me towards wholeness.
If you are in a relationship, then a celibacy contract. If you are acting out sexually, again, a celibacy contract. The thought is awful, but the experience is dynamic and ultimately life changing. I did a year long contract with my husband. The thought behind it is that having been abused we loose our sexual boundaries. We have no protection for our psyche. We see ourselves as an object. Mainly focussed on our sexuality, not on who we are. If the sexuality is removed we start to relate as a person, not as our sexual organs. In staring to relate as a person we take time to rebuild our boundaries, to take a distance from our history.
The contract is: No sexual experiences at all. No masturbation, no fantasy, no kissing, no dating, no bathing together, no seeing each other naked. Dressing appropriately, so covered, no belly, breasts, backside, visible. Writing a journal of feelings that arise, because without question they will, and working with someone else to oversee the contract. This can be a friend, another person with abuse issues, a sponsor in 12 step recovery. If you are in a relationship it is hard. Your partner may not agree to the contract, and then a whole raft of new issues arises. Learning to say no to sexual advances, solving arguments without resorting to sexual conquest, and letting your partner get to know you properly. The usual term for the contract is 6-12 months. The experience showed me how to relate without the use of sex. That I was funny, that others liked me and that I was not an object. It gave me back my boundaries. I also began to totally trust my husband, that he loves me and I am enough. I have worked with many women on this over the years and it is potent.
Guilt. An interesting part of the move forward is to deal with the guilt. Many, but not all abused, feel tremendous guilt which is so hard to talk about, but colours the sexual response. I certainly felt it very strongly and had real issues owning up to it. What happened was wrong. No question about it, but there was, at times, a pleasure, too. A thrill. An eroticism that then alters our present day sexuality. It can become sexual deviance, sexual anorexia or an over fascination with certain forms of sexual play. Understanding what triggers the behaviour now, what experiences from the past are making your present sexual reality can help you settle and allows real intimacy. You can transform the arousal from just a fantasy led by extreme negative emotion, and develop a more positive and healing sexual response.
I feel the need to state at this point that I am not a therapist, but just writing about what worked for me.
Orgasm. Gosh it is a big thing. The journey there can be so fraught with pain and suffering. It is surprising how many women struggle with achieving orgasm. I know several who have never had the experience at all. Others who will never allow their lover to trigger one, who can only bring themselves to the peaks of pleasure, women who have them alone only, and fake it when required to show pleasure with a partner. Then those who like to have orgasms inappropriately, in dangerous places and situations. Who risk being caught because it is linked to the guilt, memory and experience of being abused.
There is a wealth of healing opportunities here. The most potent of which is working the G spot. I know it sounds strange, but as a yoga teacher I have discovered the power we hold in the pelvis. All our negative sexual history is stored here. Learning how to release this energy and let go is the road the freedom from the past.
Beyond all of this, there is yoga. Kundalini Yoga and meditation has brought transformation for me. The focus on the physical sensations in the body, the releasing of tension and long held emotional blocks, has transformed my relationship with my body and my soul. I have worked through and released so much.
There is a lot you can do, but it is important to be willing to let go. To want freedom. To want it enough that you will let go of the blanket of damage that the hurt and the pain become. I dropped this blanket when I became bored of my story. Bored of hearing it in my head and in my response to life. Once I reached that place the healing began. It was not fast, but the poison is now nectar. I have transformed all those experiences into a potent healing force and will always encourage others to do the same. There are no wasted experiences; everything becomes part of the path to wholeness.