It’s a no-brainer really that one of the biggest areas we have to deal with in our lives is our sexuality.
I remember when I was young, not long after I had got away and left home and was trying to move on I suppose in my life – find the ‘life after abuse’, I came across a couple of books written by survivors. They were very different. One was a young woman who had become a prostitute after years of abuse and the other a young mother who was raising the child that came from her father’s abuse.
I was reading to feel less alone. When I had encountered the books it felt incredible to come across others who had been abused and I pored over every page looking for similarities and points of connection. There were many. And yet our outcomes were very different. I didn’t have a child and there was no way I would entertain the idea of selling my body. I couldn’t relate to that story at all. In fact for me this was when I think I first realised that a significant result of the years of abuse for me was how terrified of my sexuality I was.
Oh but I had become a Christian and was able, for many years, to hide my distaste behind the cloak of purity and I wonder sometimes if I was not joined there by others who found it easy to avoid sex on the pretext of waiting for the right expression when in fact we were simply turned off and scared. Or was it scarred?
Like many of my contemporaries, I met and became engaged to my husband, and we waited for the wedding night. It wasn’t hard for me. I didn’t mind at all. I wasn’t so naïve though as to think that on that blessed night it would all be wonderful. I knew enough then to at least realise that my natural aversion wouldn’t disappear when I said the magic words, ‘I do’. What I wasn’t prepared for was the extent of the damage done and the years of work ahead for me.
I look back at that honeymoon now and shudder. I remember someone saying to me before we were married that the honeymoon would be over all too soon and reality would kick in. They encouraged me to savour every bit of it. But the reality was, I was longing for it to end. It was the honeymoon from hell and I couldn’t wait to get back home and not be trapped with a man who couldn’t understand what I was going through.
He told me I needed counselling and I knew that was true but I needed much more than that. I needed a depth of understanding that simply wasn’t there.
The flashbacks were the worst part. I was never having sex just with my husband – there was always a third party as my memories surfaced and stole what was intended for pleasure and turned it into a horror movie that never ended well.
What began in passion was soon overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of terror that I couldn’t shake. I needed lights on. I needed to keep my eyes open. I had to focus my breathing. I had to keep telling myself that it would be okay. My first mantra’s were this is your husband not your abuser, but they quickly became lie still and it will soon be over. I didn’t know how to change.
Associated with the flashbacks was the physiological problem of spasms of pain. They weren’t even in my head and I had no idea how to deal with them. I felt robbed. I couldn’t understand how something that left me feeling raw and violated all over again could be desired or desirable.
I came home from my honeymoon defeated and feeling like a broken ragdoll with no hope and worse, no one understanding the depths of my pain.
The years of abuse were stealing my present-day life as well, right before my eyes.
I spent many years trying to deal with my ‘problems’. Eventually my marriage broke down and despite the fact that we had eight children and in addition I had suffered several miscarriages, my sexual struggles were blamed. I was, my former husband said, damaged and irreparable.
In time I came to appreciate that while in some ways he was right, the truth is we are all damaged. He didn’t come to our marriage in perfection and while it was true that I had struggles, it was also true that he had an opportunity to help me but was not able. This was the flaw he brought to our marriage. And it was just as significant. He was never emotionally available to me in any way and the truth is he was simply the wrong person to try to work through these issues with. He had no depth.
It’s funny now, so many years later, when I look back over that first marriage. How naive I was, and how unsure of myself. Before I even accepted his proposal we spoke of the years of abuse I had endured and the ways in which I knew myself to be scarred, and my husband was full of it will all be all rights, and I will be there for you. But in reality he wasn’t capable. I needed something he simply could not give. And neither of us really knew what it was.
Years later, I came to see was that it wasn’t so much that my sexuality was damaged as that this was the manifestation of the pain trapped inside. Of course if you are a victim of child sexual abuse sex will be problematic but the point is it isn’t our sexuality that is damaged through early childhood abuse, it’s our sense of worth, or ability to attach to a man and the fact that we have a mountain range of grief to deal with. These are the actual barriers to a health sense of our own sexuality. Next week we will look into some other aspects of our sexual struggles following child sexual abuse.
Sue Parry-Jones is a trained counsellor, a social worker and survivor of abuse. The content of the blog is both personal and sound. The words are relate-able and widely appealing to those struggling with survival from abuse in their own lives. More and more we are appreciating in our society that abuse affects a number of people’s lives and as more people are beginning to openly discuss what they have endured, so there is a huge need for encouragement and hope in the form of texts that deliver clear and concise yet real input. THe words shared here are honest, real and heart-felt.