As nearly as I can tell, survivors of sexual abuse generally go to one extreme or another: either they become incredibly “adventurous” (read: promiscuous), or they become frigid. I’ve known many, many women who’ve whispered, sobbed, or shouted their stories of shame, and as a rule I’ve seen those two variable outcomes. A decade after the event, one friend got mad and a little too intoxicated and stood on a street corner and shouted “I’ve been raped!” Many, many more victims of sexual abuse have never told anyone. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t wear a lifetime victim hat for the abuse that I’ve been through, but sometimes it’s difficult to know when my scars are showing. I’ve walked the tired tightrope between emotional promiscuity and being emotionally unavailable. I don’t think that I’ve been terribly physically promiscuous – I can still count my lifetime’s sexual partners on my fingers with room to spare (and if I had a do-over I’d skip all but one of them) – but I can say that letting someone be emotionally close to me has been tough because it’s become very difficult for me to trust people. Unfortunately, that lack of trust has been further reinforced by a particularly volatile relationship that has spanned most of my adult life. Once you’re really, truly, habitually betrayed by some of the people closest to you, that cycle of emotion tends to bleed over into other relationships.
Today I read a (really poorly written) article with this blurb:
Mark, 35, a copywriter in Oakland, California and his wife Ellen, 31, an accountant, says: “When Ellen and I first got together she told me she’d been molested by her brother all through her affecting our relationship. All I knew was that every time we started feeling close to each other, Ellen would freak out: she’d accuse me of cheating on her; she’d say she knew I was planning to dump her; she’d start threatening to leave me before I could hurt her. Then she’d go into a deep depression,” Mark sighs. “Meanwhile, I was getting hurt, because no matter how I tried, I couldn’t convince her that I loved her. Finally, Ellen started seeing a therapist. Then she figured out that she was afraid to trust me; she thought I’d betray her the way her brother had.”
When I read that, I thought, I know this girl. Heck, I might be this girl. Except that my name isn’t Ellen, and I don’t have a husband named Mark. Or any husband at all.
Over the past several years, I’ve done the therapy to deal with my past and present, and made an accidental study of reading works by sexually abused women (it turns out that if you read sexual literature – not to be confused with smut – odds are fairly good that you’re reading the intellectual product of someone that’s been sexually abused).
- Anais Nin was a very prolific descriptive writer that maintained a number of polyamorous relationships after being sexually abused by her father during her childhood. She renewed her relationship with him during her adulthood, and journaled about sleeping with him as an adult in Incest. Her journals, which she considered her true masterpiece, spanned over 60 years, and she published widely received erotica, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence.
- Virginia Woolf became a very astute chronicler of interpersonal relationships after being sexually abused by her half-brothers as a small child. She struggled with depression and “insanity” all her life, but nonetheless produced 9 novels, several volumes of short stories, three biographies, and a score of nonfiction works. “Nothing has really happened,” she wrote, “until it has been described. So you must write many letters to your family and friends, and keep a diary.”
- Catherine Millet admits in her book The Sexual Life of Catherine M. to having been molested as a child by a friend’s uncle, although it doesn’t focus on the incident as abuse, but rather as one in a series of blunt, clinically described casual sexual encounters, including orgies and other incidents. (I didn’t find this book nearly as titillating as the cover led me to believe I would).
I want what most normal women want: a healthy partnership with the person that I consider my best friend. That hasn’t panned out for me just yet, primarily because when I finally found a relationship that fit the description, I wasn’t ready for it. Maybe this time around I will be. I guess the thing is, there’s no quick fix for emotional habits; you have to break them by making a thousand tiny choices, over and over again, so that you create new habits. Epiphanies won’t help you if you don’t put them into action over and over again. Implementing the things you learn is much more difficult than the act of learning itself. One valuable thing that I have learned is that once you do truly love someone, the risk is worth it – and none of those “other” relationships matter anymore.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused or assaulted, call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) co-founded by Tori Amos (the lovely woman singing above) for help. 1.800.656.HOPE (4673).
NOTE: I purchased all of these books for my own personal gratification, and am not being paid to endorse any of them. However, if you’d like to earn me some money, feel free to shop in my Amazon store.