Thriver 2 Survivor on Being in Love
Survivor 2 Thriver on Falling in Love
What follows is my own account, as a person who endured some very different kinds of sexual abuse as a child, of opening to love. I’m sharing it primarily for others who’ve had similar abuse experiences. I am sure there are many paths on the way to attracting/finding a healthy relationship. Mine was certainly not the most direct path, nor the most efficient, I’m sure; it’s just what happened… and that’s my point ultimately. I wasn’t really trying to get there; I just did. I was, for the most part, just trying to get by.
A quick summary of the abuse: sexually trafficked and a passive participant in ritual abuse from about age four through six or seven, then incested by my father regularly from around age seven through thirteen, then sporadically until about the age of 18. The sum total of all of that left me aggressively broken and a sexual addict. One of the most challenging aspects of that sum total had been the fact that in the period from around 7 to 13, the time when I was regularly with my father, there was more to it than just the sex. It was very much an ersatz love affair, a romance. He played special songs for me and spent time alone with me, something he didn’t do with my sisters. I was, for all intents and purposes, though a child, in love with my father.
But, unbeknownst to me, he and my mother had worked out a deal: when I got my period, all of that was to end. I don’t think it was only my heart that broke because my father’s behavior changed dramatically at that point. He began to stay out late, coming home drunk on a regular basis. Often times when he came home, he would sneak up to my room and have sex with me and it was awful because he made no connection with me at all; he didn’t even speak. It felt to me as if I were being raped all over again, just as I had been when I was being trafficked.
Since socializing with the opposite sex began at around 13, I began socializing heavily, although not dating. I became that girl, the one the boys took into the bushes on the way home from school. I wanted love; I got sex. The more that happened, the more entrenched the pattern became. The few times I actually went out on date, I would inevitably end up having sex I didn’t want to have just because I didn’t know how to refuse it. I would hate myself afterwards. I had crushes on boys, as teenage girls do, but I wasn’t the kind of girl those boys went out with and I just couldn’t stop being the kind of girl I was and I didn’t know why. I cried myself to sleep more often than not.
Because my father insisted that I attend a local college — he still liked to have occasional access to me — I never got to have the college dorm experience, instead, I commuted back and forth. I made friends with some of the other students that commuted on the 45 minute long trip into the city. Eventually a group of us began hanging out together and for the first time in my life, I felt as if I actually had friends. I ended up having a brief relationship with one of them and it was, for a change, an actual relationship. I can’t remember now why it ended but I’m sure it was just as well.
Towards the end of sophomore year I became involved with a young man with whom I went on to have about a 2 ½ year long relationship. Much as with the guy from my group of friends, he was more like a friend than anything else; we were what might now be called friends with benefits, I suppose. I finally caught on that he was cheating on me and that was the end of that despite the fact we continued living together on the third floor of my parent’s house during which time, I met the man who would become my first husband.
He’d asked me to marry him on our first date after having had sex on the counter in his kitchen. I said yes because why not? A relationship was a relationship was a relationship and none seemed very different from any other and at least if I were married, maybe I would behave myself, maybe I wouldn’t cheat and maybe things would be different.
My father, whom I suppose never liked the guy I’d been living with, gleefully kicked him out when the new guy asked him for my hand in marriage. Martini in hand, my father walked up to the third floor, knocked on the door and said unceremoniously, “Get out. You’re leaving. She’s getting married.”
Love was never an issue. It didn’t happen. I was not consciously aware of it at the time, but the fact was that I had probably never stopped loving my father. By then I knew that he had been cheating and continued to regularly cheat on my mother, and of course, me, but as far as I was concerned, that was just who he was, who he’d always been. He’d always had at least one long-term mistress besides my mother and cheated on them both. I had no real idea what love was. I’d had no model for it.
Marriage for me was not a cure for what ailed me. I was unable to shake my addiction and so I tried the time-honored cure for holding a marriage together, I got pregnant. It was not a joint decision. Regrettably, I had never felt more sexy. He found me repulsive. I found people who didn’t. Then it turned out that I adored my child; I hadn’t expected that. He was to me, like the sun at the center of my universe, and my life revolved around him. I was astounded to find myself enjoying motherhood; it was something I simply hadn’t expected. Prior to the time when my marriage was going so badly, I’d sworn I didn’t want children. All of a sudden I wanted four more. All of a sudden, sex literally never crossed my mind. My marriage began to deteriorate rapidly.
My love of motherhood grew greater once I’d had my second child (also not a joint decision); my husband’s didn’t. He decided there would be no more children. After I got pregnant a third time, he insisted that I have an abortion and have my tubes tied. It got unpleasant and I caved. He claimed that we needed more money, mostly to support his wardrobe and his passion for books, and insisted I get a job. His parents would watch the kids. He seemed to have forgotten my predilection for bad behavior but I hadn’t and it wasn’t long before I was off and running and not much longer before I wanted out. I would take my children, make us a home… but then came a heartbreaking divorce in which my bad behavior cost me custody of my children, the only pure love I’d ever known.
Then came marriage number two, another relationship. This time with a man who obviously adored me. What I wanted, I know now, was love but I didn’t know it then and I settled for obsession. Devastated by the loss of my children, I determined not to cheat on this man no matter what and for the most part I didn’t. (I still think that four or five times in 23 years was an almost unimaginable improvement. Not exactly congratulating myself, but still…) Ultimately however, my second husband’s obsession with me and his inability to allow me to hang out with women friends, or to visit my children, became too much. I began sneaking out to have lunch with women friends. Then he began displaying interest in another woman, an interest he claimed was strictly platonic. And, he probably thought it was but I recognized the behavior from when we’d first gotten together and he was married with a wife who’d been nine months pregnant. I knew right where that platonic relationship was going. I begged him to give it up because, as unsatisfactory a marriage as it was, I was used to it. Instead, he made a date with the other woman for lunch on our anniversary. That did it.
I had never been in love with him and I think he sensed that but I had love for him because he had stood by me through one of the most challenging times of my life when I had contracted a disease that disfigured my entire body and was threatening to kill me. It had required him to transport me to the hospital once a month for treatments meaning that he had to sleep in his car because he had a night job and he had to get sleep sometime. But at the same time, his demands for sex during that period when I was in a massive amount of pain, did not speak to me of love but only of his obsession with me.
Following that divorce, at 62, I spent one of the best years of my life, all alone, broke as all hell, in a third floor walk-up apartment in Woonsocket, Rhode Island with my daughter living nearby. Men? I didn’t even think about them. I discovered how much I enjoyed my own company, how much pleasure there was in the world, how many things to see and do. I attended a women-only dance party once a week where I could dance by myself till I dropped. I was in heaven and looking forward to spending the rest of my life blissfully as a single woman. But it was 2008 and the company that I worked for had to cut back and there were no jobs whatsoever in Woonsocket, Rhode Island or anywhere close by so I had to move back to New Jersey and my old job on the weekend of one of the worst snowstorms of the winter.
It was a short time I’d spent away but it was enough to let me know that life had a lot more to offer than what I’d been getting previously and so I decided, after settling in and coming to grips with the fact that I was living in New Jersey again, to splurge and spend money I didn’t really have to spend on a trip to a clothing optional resort that I’d used to visit with my second husband who was a nudist and a fan of volleyball which he played there. While I was not, and am not, a nudist, they also had dances there and I had discovered that dancing naked was one of my favorite things in the world, so after the ups and downs I’d been going through I decided to treat myself to a Saturday night of naked dancing because there is no safer place for a single woman than a nudist resort. (It’s true! Single women are like gold at a place like that and the resorts will do whatever they have to do to keep them feeling safe.)
I had a couple of friends nearby; I told them I would be there and asked if they would meet me so that I wouldn’t be at the dance alone and so hopefully men would not bother me by asking me to dance. And happily only one did… while my friends were dancing! It was a slow dance. I replied to him that I’d come to dance by myself and he nodded, smiling a little, retreating to his table and his friends. He thought he’d try again when a fast dance came on and took my second refusal equally well but followed it quickly with an invitation to coffee in the morning if I felt like it at the time and, as it turned out the next morning, I felt like a walk and a cup of coffee. Why not?
This was a gentle man. I could see it in his eyes, detect it in the way he treated me. And I learned from our conversation that he had built the house in which we were having coffee. We parted politely after exchanging Email addresses and the following day I Emailed him a link to a YouTube video clip of Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr from The King and I: Shall We Dance? Two weeks later, passing through New Jersey with his daughter, on the way home from a family function, he called from the road asking if I’d like to meet them for lunch and I could see, from the relationship that they had, that my original assessment of him had been correct, he was, indeed a gentle man… and a good father.
Our relationship developed slowly as it was long distance, he in West Virginia and me in New Jersey, and that was perfect, allowing time to elapse in which we could get to know each other through frequent phone conversations before entering into a physical relationship. This was something I’d never done before. Courtship? I felt differently when I was with him than I’d ever felt before too; there was a fondness and a genuine caring that developed over the months. I missed him when we were apart; I’d never missed anyone except for my children in my whole life.
Over the course of my second marriage I had begun, very slowly, to change, a change that had been accelerated by various therapies (one that was all my own) and by the disease process that had taken me so close to death. The year I spent living alone had created a space in which I coalesced at a soul level, discovered my own value, began to respect the gifts I’d been given. As I’d learned to love my body and my soul, I began to understand love, to allow it to embrace me… and before another year had passed, love had brought me the gift of being able to attract someone who felt that love in me, someone whom I could love in return, finally understanding the all-encompassing acceptance that love requires both of self and the other.
We’ve been married now just over seven years. We know each other at a cellular level. I can’t remember now exactly how long it took for me to realize that for the first time in my life as a woman I was in love. “In love.”
A little over a year ago when he fell off the roof, I received the full impact of what it means to be in love. I functioned. Did everything I was supposed to do. But I was a flat out mess. He got mostly better though there are some lingering issues and I got all better. I got even better. I got to see how love had sustained me… and him. I have now learned how to trust in love and it has changed me profoundly.