WARNING: Contains sensitive material.
The violation began at an early age for me and not just by one person. I’ve had years of therapy and talked about it endlessly yet nothing can replace the part of me that they stole. Some of it I blanked out for years. I refused to let my thoughts go there. Of course, drugs and alcohol do a superb job of removing memories, or at least sedating them. I buried the thoughts and memories deeply, believing that if I didn’t entertain them I would be okay. But the evidence of sexual abuse plagued my entire life and I didn’t even realize it.
No concept of decent treatment
“You don’t know how to be treated by men, or by anyone,” …a friend informed me a few months ago. And they are right. As much as I hate to accept that fact, my friend is perfectly, disturbingly and incredibly right. I have a small number of friends that I trust with my life – two actually. Others come and go, as is the way in the recovery world. One minute you’re having coffee every Friday, the next you don’t hear from them again.
And then there’s my love life. Or not love life. You choose. Sexual abuse leaves you with a whole set of problematic dynamics in this area, which I am fully aware of, but haven’t figured out how to overcome just yet. When your body is used for the non-consensual pleasure of several other people you become completely detached from any sense of being valuable. I searched to find value in myself. It seemed my beauty mattered, my feminine body mattered and that is how I judged if someone loved me or not; by the amount of sexual attention they gave me.
My understanding of consent was blurred for many years. Sexual experiences were something that happened to me. I can’t say I made real decisions concerning my sexual activity. In my teens I didn’t fully understand that I could say no to sexual acts. There were many times with different boyfriends when they would touch me and it hurt. I never tried to stop them, because the fear of them rejecting me was too much to bear. It made them happy and that meant I was doing something good. I was doing something to make them love me. And there was always drugs and alcohol to help me cope.
A spiraling pattern
I had so little self-esteem, been rejected and used so many times, that a further sexual assault in my early twenties was buried immediately after it happened. I was assaulted in a nightclub. A guy grabbed me and put his fingers inside me and then walked away. I was with my boyfriend that night. When I told him what happened he looked at me and shrugged his shoulders as if it was nothing. It was that night that it really hit me how little I mattered to men. Thank God for drugs and alcohol to lessen the pain.
I never told anyone about my sexual abuse until I was in my thirties. Not even the assault in the nightclub. I just never mentioned it again until a few years into my recovery from addiction. As a result of all the early sexual conditioning, it’s been a long journey of relearning what it means to be a whole person. I felt nothing but shame, guilt, disgust, anger and hate towards myself. I was dirty. And I continued to attract men who liked to tell me how dirty I was, even in recovery.
What is love?
That’s what happens to many survivors of sexual abuse. We never fully understand our worth and continue to attract men who will abuse and degrade us in one way or another. I’ve had so many men try to mold me and change me until I was someone I didn’t recognize. I crave real connection and intimacy and often times I have mistakenly thought that I had that with someone. I have an idea of what that would be like, but I have never had that. I’m learning to deal with the fact that no man has ever actually loved me. I’ve learned that obsession and abuse is not love. I’ve learned that the words “I love you” is not love. I’ve learned that control and conditioning is not love. I’ve learned that sexual attraction is not love.
I’m fully aware of how completely juvenile my thinking and attitude is regarding love and sex. But that is the result of sexual abuse. It leaves you completely vulnerable. At this stage it has left me unable to trust myself when it comes to choosing a partner. So now I am single. Becoming clean and sober was debilitatingly difficult for me. The memories, thoughts and emotions came to the surface and the rage that engulfed me was catastrophic. And so the root cause of my addictive lifestyle was exposed…and the work to reconstruct myself began.
There are a select few beautiful people who are aware of my vulnerability and are helping me to overcome it. I have made great strides in the last year regarding how I treat myself. I have become an extremely empowered and strong woman with a very bright future. But I am lonely. I look at my male friends who treat their little girls with so much love and respect and wish that I had been valued to that level when I was little. Maybe I’d never have had to drink and use drugs. Maybe I’d never have been beaten by a string of lovers. Maybe I’d never have gotten used to being called a whore. Maybe right at this moment I’d be lying in the arms of a man who cherishes me. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that I am not diseased, nor powerless. I have reacted to unacceptable situations my entire life and survived it. I behaved the only way I knew how. Now I know differently. Now there’s a new way to live and I have great hope and great love for myself. And that’s the most important thing. Even if no man ever loves me, I love myself. I never thought that was possible.