Please be aware that this is an in depth discussion of child abuse.
I can’t seem to get away from my thoughts on this subject of sexual abuse. My mind goes around and around in frustrating circles and I never get any closer to an answer.
When I think back through my life, there’s rarely been a time when I’ve not felt like there was something dark that I wasn’t remembering. The way I reacted to my very first and consensual sexual encounter was extreme. I was really upset.
I was just turned 16 and on a family holiday in Spain and me and a friend met up with a bunch of boys and over the course of a few nights got closer with one of them. Not closer, I didn’t even really find him that attractive, he was just someone to full around with. I was determined to lose my virginity and to be honest, anyone would do.
We went to the beach, both drunk, both virgins… I think, at least I was.
The sex was excruciating. It felt like a knife being thrust inside of me, over and over. I think that’s normal though?
Afterwards though, maybe it was the alcohol, but I felt awful. I felt dirty and violated. And the act left me with some blood in my underwear. I felt utterly heartbroken and I didn’t know why. It was all totally consensual. I wanted it. I mean…. I probably didn’t want it exactly, I just wanted the bragging rights of no longer being a virgin for when I got home to my friends. But I did give permission.
At 16 you feel like the world can’t tell you anything, but when I think back now to that logic – losing your virginity for bragging rights…. What a bloody ridiculous way to think.
So anyway, that night, filled with too much alcohol and left the beach, we parted ways and I started walking back to the apartment and I was sobbing my heart out. I was a mess. I saw the young handsome concierge/security guard ( whom I really fancied) outside another hotel talking to a friend – another security guard, and he saw me and in broken English and my limited Spanish, he got the gist of what happened but I was so distraught that he thought I’d been raped.
I put him right, assured him that wasn’t the case. And he walked me back to the apartments.
I think from what I can remember, I was so upset because I hadn’t liked it, it had been a painful and an emotionally empty experience. I felt cheap and used. But even so, my reaction was pretty extreme.
Months and months later back home, I got my very first boyfriend. It was an 18 month relationship, pretty normal. We had a lot of sex. It was okay, fun I guess? It was a time of exploration. But afterwards I always felt empty and I always had to remove myself to the bathroom to let myself cry a few secret tears before pulling myself together and going out back to my boyfriend and acting normal.
But there were one or two moments where I reacted badly during or after sex, where I’d get so much fear and overwhelm at the power of a man over me, of the sex. I felt violated. And I’d cry and cry and rock myself backwards and forwards until I eventually calmed myself down. I do wonder now if those were flashbacks? But at the time I had no idea what was wrong with me. Why did I feel like I’d been raped? Violated… defiled? The sex was always consensual so I had no right to these powerful outbursts. I felt like a child but I also had a voice telling me to stop being so dramatic and ridiculous.
What was wrong with me? I wondered. Why did I react like this and why did I always feel so awful and bereft and utterly emptied of my soul every-time after sex?
Despite all of that, I carried on, because I wanted to I guess and also…. It was the done thing wasn’t it?
It never occurred to me to give up on sex for a while. To give myself time and space to feel.
I never joined the dots. I knew it wasn’t normal, but then I’d never felt normal so I just stuffed it all away and carried on having sex and crying in toilets afterwards.
It’s just always been that way. Sex has always been really difficult for me and I’ve always felt violated and emptied afterwards. And up until a few years ago, I still had to go to the bathroom afterwards to secretly cry. I have never been able to lie in bed after sex, I always got up immediately for the bathroom, I had to get away and I had to hide the rise of emotions that were exploding out of me. I would sit on the toilet or the floor and tears would well up and silent screams would rise up. But I would never make a sound. Never show my tears, and never tell how bad sex made me feel. This would all happen in less that 3 minutes. I couldn’t afford to be in there longer and have my boyfriends or my now husband suspect anything was wrong.
Again, I just very efficiently stuffed all the emotions away.
I still have times like that but it’s not as often. I’ve learned to send my child parts away during intimate times. That has helped a lot. But I still feel very empty after sex. And I avoid it altogether if I can. I just don’t enjoy it. I don’t want it. I struggle to stay present during sex and I often have flashback to things, feelings, that I don’t understand and can’t explain.
I know sex is normal but it never has been for me. I don’t get it. I don’t know how it brings couples closer. For me I feel more estranged from my husband during sex than any other time. I don’t understand how sex is showing love? How it can make people feel closer to one another.
For me it’s a biological act. And not a very good one.
Sex for me mean overpowered, overwhelmed, violating, painful, and empty. It feels like an assault on my body and on my soul. It always feels like something has been taken from me.
So that brings me back to, the question – what is wrong with me? What happened to make me this way?
Why does sex feel like violence to me?
Is it another sign of child abuse? I don’t know. I know it can be, and I am aware that it would be easy to come to that conclusion, I know that my feelings and reactions are consistent with what abuse victims experience. Yet without any concrete memories, I can’t seem to accept that as a possibility.
I remember once, when I was about 23ish, talking online to someone who was training as a psychiatric nurse or something and telling them that I felt like I’d been sexually abused but didn’t know why I felt that way because I had no memory of anything like that. I don’t know what that person said in reply to that. But back then I don’t think there was as much awareness about repressed memories, or traumatic amnesia.
By that time I was already having nightmares about abuse amongst other things…. Churches, the devil etc etc all lovely things like that. I was convinced I was a miserable broken human being. A horribly desperate attention-whore who had no reason to be broken. No reason to be unhappy and no right to kindness or love or attention. I didn’t even know at the age of 32 that having needs was allowed. I didn’t know I was allowed to need anything, or that it was okay to need other people.
It seems so ridiculous now, to have gotten to be that old and not know the most basic of things. Learning that needs were normal and healthy came as a huge revelation. I’d learned to suppress my needs to the point that I didn’t even think I had very many needs apart from the obvious -food, water, a roof over my head, clothes.
I those early days of therapy with my very first counsellor, I couldn’t even use the word “needs”. It filled me with shame. And I absolutely could not ask her to fulfil any need of mine. I would rather have stabbed myself in the eye than say “ I need……” The burning shame of that was too much for me and anyway I didn’t even really know if what I needed was okay to ask for. I was utterly bewildered.
Whenever I tried to get near the subject of my nightmares in counselling sessions…. Hinting at what I felt was wrong or telling my councillor about a nightmare, it always without exception led to another nightmare about being attacked by demons and the devil and I was convinced it was as punishment for trying to talk about this stuff. The nightmares were a warning to keep my mouth shut.
Plus I was so full of shame and doubt and so unaware of what was wrong with me or why I was feeling suicidally depressed, that it seemed easier to just not talk about the nightmares and I didn’t have the words to explain my feelings of abuse because I had no memories and no understanding of why I might feel that way. At that time I didn’t know you could repress memories or have amnesia over traumatic events.
That was only years ago. I’ve learned so much in that time.
So here I am only now approaching the abuse stuff. I am just approaching the start line or so it feels.
I feel like I have more tools to help me talk about it and be curious about it. But shame is still a huge stumbling block and the lack of concrete memory leaves me bewildered and so utterly ashamed and angry with myself as I doubt my own felt experience.
My therapist is in no doubt there’s abuse in my past, my child parts have given a lot of information and drawn a lot about it. She holds my story and my truth for me right now because I can’t accept that any of this is real.
Until I get the concrete memories, I am not sure I will ever fully accept that I was abused.
You know, over the past 15 years or so, I have googled so many times to try and discredit myself as a liar, a fantacist, an attention whore…. Whatever. Would I know if I was lying? Would I know if I was a fantacist, have others thought they’d been abused and it turned out they were wrong? Repressed memories…. All of it.
And the overriding opinion is that my type of symptoms, along with the fragmentation and dissociation, is usually indicative or some sort of abuse.
Even this week, I’ve been looking up to see if I can find people with my symptoms and then finding out that there was no abuse. I haven’t found that yet.
The only thing I haven’t tried with any real effort is just believing myself- Having faith in my gut feeling and my lived experiences.
Why am I searching so hard to find an alternative explanation? Why am I trying so hard to discredit myself? Why would I rather believe that maybe my nightmares and flashbacks and deep aversion to sex are symptoms from a past life or from being a liar desperate for attention? Why would I rather try to prove myself to be a bad person with dishonest intent than just accept the possibility that I am a truthful person experiencing symptoms of child abuse?
I don’t know.
I feel like before I accept that I was sexually abused as a child, I have to exhaust all other possible explanations for my symptoms. Without my concrete memories of who and where and what…. I feel like I’m clutching at air and coming up with nothing.
Being honest is really important to me. Being real is really important to me. Not lying is integral to all of this.
I know the evidence in favour of the child-abuse theory is stacking up. I know. And this month it has certainly felt like I can’t really deny it for much longer.
But I always come back to the lack of concrete memory. That’s the one that sticks on me. Without that, I am not sure I can ever fully believe myself. And if I can’t believe myself, then I struggle to talk about it and get help with it because I am utterly terrified of being wrong or being a liar.
When I try to just put it away, not think about it, or just decide “ nah it probably didn’t happen”. My stomach flips and then sinks and I feel a sense of self-betrayal.
I can’t let go of the feeling that something is wrong, something that I can’t remember happened.
I want to. In the absence of concrete memory I just want to ignore it all and just get on with my life. But my nightmares and flashbacks and young parts pull me back with overwhelming images and make me question what really happened.
So right now I am in limbo.
But I am closer to acceptance, closer to being ready to explore it all.
I am ready.