Today, while walking down a busy NYC street, I heard a woman behind me say, “you didn’t tell anyone did you?” and my heart pounded. Immediately I assumed she was talking to a child and that the secret she was asking this child to keep was one of abuse. My stomach soured as my brain began to play a familiar reel of images and movie clips; my arms tightened around my daughter.
The woman hurried past me and I realized she was young, alone and on the phone, seemingly talking about an issue at work. The crisis my brain had invented at the faintest of suggestions didn’t exist. I took a deep breath, kissed my daughter’s forehead, and tried to put the episode behind me. Just as I have done hundreds, likely thousands, of times before.
There are some hurts you don’t outgrow, and some damages don’t fade on their own. Some wounds, however buried they may become, are forever.
Child abuse is forever.
I don’t talk about my history of sexual abuse very often on this blog. It’s hard for me to focus for too long on the memories of it. Anything but a passing reference raises questions that I prefer to not think about. Why me? What could I have done differently? How much of the blame is mine? Who knew? Why didn’t people know? Why wasn’t I protected? Why wasn’t it obvious? How do I move past this?
There are triggers everywhere. A friendly tickle from a friend is a fight or flight inducing threat. I have to grit my teeth and look away from what are likely normal and loving interactions between fathers and preteen daughters. A whispering voice too close to my face or hot air against my neck is enough to stir up the beginnings of an anxiety attack. There are more; various combinations of behaviors and environments, certain smells, particular positions of my body, specific words. This paragraph alone is enough to cause a physical reaction.
I think to the future of my daughter, innocent and beautiful, and cringe. I know the statistics. I know that the perpetrator of this kind of violence is not the stereotypical man in a rusted out windowless van. If only it were that easy to protect ourselves and those that we love. But no. It is the men among us, our friends, our relatives, the husbands of our neighbors, that a mother needs to be vigilant against. There is no relationship in my life that is more important than the emotional and physical safety of my daughter, but there is no telling where the threat lies. There is only the constant and very real truth that the threat is amongst us, and the tiresome work of holding everyone suspect.
People who have not been abused, who are not survivors of sexual assault or rape, do not understand the way it can change your entire world. This lack of empathetic understanding is obvious every time the topic of sex comes up between me and my girlfriends or sisters. I listen to their tales of marital conquest and wicked quickies, brazen game playing and open communication. I hear their advice to me if I happen to share that things are not the same in my house. It is generally to “just do…” or “just try…” with explicit instructions. The hardest moments are when someone tells me how badly they feel for my husband. “Yes,” I want to say, “So do I.”
Yes,” the girl inside of me wants to say sadly, “but who feels bad for me?” She’s a narcissist, perhaps, the me that hasn’t yet grown up.
While every relationship that I have is in some way colored by my experiences of sexual abuse, none has been more impacted than that of my husband and I.
When Jason and I got together, I could count on one hand the amount of times in my twelve years of sexual activity that I had sex sober. Through two different long term relationships and several periods of reckless promiscuity, the number of times I had sex entirely as myself numbered less then five. If I didn’t have a few drinks in me, or some other chemical aid, sex simply did not happen. Period. My relationship with Jason would likely have been no different, it was certainly heading in that direction, but then I got sober. Suddenly if there was going to be physical intimacy it was going to have to be just him and I, and I was no longer on sure footing.
Pre-Recovery Seana was sexually confident, voracious, inspired. Post-Recovery Seana is… Not. She is timid and often uncomfortable, shy and entirely uncertain. If the Seana of old was a whore, the Seana that replaced her is a child. A moment of open communication or a bold attempt at something that used to be second, or even first, nature, requires an often impossible amount of bravery on my part. Every time I have sex with my husband there is a piece of my past to be overcome at some point in the exchange.
He says I don’t initiate. He’s right. Even when I really want to, I don’t, I can’t. He hints that I reject him too often. He’s right. Even when I don’t want to say no I hear myself saying it anyway. He’d be open to talk about these things but I don’t know what to say. I have no idea what’s wrong. It’s maddening and confusing and frustrating for the both of us. I think of the woman he first fell in love with and the difference in the woman I am today and feel sorry for him. I want to be well. For him, for myself, for Mabel.
I have no solutions for any of these things. Writing here, however, has always allowed me a new view through the window of my soul. Now that I’ve started looking, perhaps I’ll find some answers. I’ll let you know what I find out.