Understanding Does Not Mean Instant Change

(content may be triggering today – explicit details of abuse ahead)

I am an impatient person. Sometimes I am a desperate person. It is not a feature of myself that I am particularly proud of, but it is true. And it is especially true about my recovery. I am soooo ready to be all better, to put all of the past in the past, but it simply does not work that way. Even though I understand the changes I need to make in my life, I struggle to make them. Why? Because I am human.

I am trying not to beat myself up about some setbacks in my healing process. Trying. See, I also understand I am human and imperfect, but it is hard to change the self-hating habits too.

Yesterday I started posting about my sexual healing journey. I finally feel like I can discuss these issues. I try to be happy with that, because that is huge, but I want more. I want to be better now! I want to stop thinking about my childhood trauma. I want the slimy tentacles of this past abuse to get out of my brain and leave me alone. I used to think I was so damaged by my monstrous father that I was also a monster. That kind of thinking led to a few suicide attempts about 10 years ago. I used to think it would be better to kill the monster within me, as I had no hope of removing it. Slowly, I started to see those tentacles were no longer living, but were deeply embedded like shrapnel. I had to get them out, but the digging was so painful, and required small recoveries from the process itself. Finally – I found the bottom and feel like I have the understanding to truly heal. (God I hope I found the bottom, but part of me thinks I probably haven’t and will have to dig and battle a bit my entire life)

Another mind-whirling section of The Sexual Healing Journey, by Wendy Maltz, showed how to identify and remove triggers from past abuse from our daily lives, and then from our sex lives. It had a series of questions meant to be helpful. And I suppose for someone who had experienced 1 attack, or 1 instance of sexual trauma, that this could be helpful. The idea is to (at least for now) never repeat something the abuser did. This makes sense in the case of rape or other brutal attacks. But nothing my Dad did to me all those years were physically painful, and were things that could be part of a healthy sexual relationship. Excluding every way he touched me would mean no sex life at all. OK. So gulp, breathe, keep reading.

Next section asked details about the abuse, like time of day, time of year, what I was wearing, what the abuser was wearing, etc. This part is meant to avoid triggers, and again, I could see how this would be helpful to a rape victim. The idea is if you were raped in the early morning while jogging through autumn leaves, that you may have more triggers in the autumn, in the morning, and while jogging or seeing people in jogging clothes. Makes sense. But see? I had some form of abuse every day, every time of day or night, every time of year, from age 3-16. Pretty much if Dad was in the room with me, I could expect to me groped, fondled, grabbed, or touched by some part of him. He could do these things in plain daylight because many of them would look innocent – I think. (I have to think this way or I can’t bear to think of my family members not protecting me) These are some of the memories I had to sort through while reading this book. Each example happened many, many times in some form throughout my childhood, not isolated events.

Example, if I would stand at the kitchen sink getting a glass of water, he would come up behind me, put his hands around me to fondle my chest and kiss my neck and ear and whisper horrid things (I still feel his breath on me, can still hear those words) if no one was looking, or if they were, he would wrap his arms around me and grind his pelvis into my rear. I assume it looked like a bear hug. I don’t know. All I know is a little girl should not know what her father’s erect penis feels like rubbing on her bottom. He’d bend his knees and slowly stand up so I could feel him the whole way along my bottom until his erection was in the small of my back. Then he’d walk off as silently as he approached. It would be over quickly, just a minute. But the nausea, confusion, and shame would last forever, until his next touch. That would be just one time during the day, a normal occurrence, a normal part of my life. I have memories of this particular action from ages 8-16, when I was tall enough I guess. When I was younger he did that same move only while I was lying down. When I was younger I thought it was his knee rubbing on me sometimes. (see how matter of fact I have to be – this was my life) So I don’t like being held from behind and can avoid this trigger.

Example, when I was little, maybe around first grade? I would often sit on his lap, as little girls do. Sometimes he’d get me to straddle just one of his legs and would bounce and push his thigh into my crotch, asking how I liked that. Or if we were at a table, he’d have one hand in my crotch or up my shirt, out of sight under the table, while we sat and played games with the brothers at that same table. He’d usually just grab and hold still, and I’d hold my breath, because I knew it would be my fault if he got caught. And I remember him getting caught and laughing it off, saying “Oops how’d that get there” and no one said anything else. Later he’d tell me we had to be more careful, that no one could know I was his special girl and I’d be in trouble, because it was very bad. I remember being so confused. I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know why he wanted to touch me or keep it hidden. I didn’t know. But I wanted to be a good girl and he was scary when he was angry, and so I helped him keep his secret.

Example, I used to have asthma attacks in the middle of the night. Or nightmares. Or I wet the bed. Or I would see scary things in my room. (I know now it was actually him hovering over my bed) Many things would frighten me. I have so many fuzzy memories of waking at night and then being comforted by Dad, but it took me years to realize he was the thing that had actually woken me in the first place. I used to think he had come to my rescue when I called out, but see, he was already in my room, that’s how he got there so quickly. On other nights, I would awaken and seek him out in his room. Mom would always say “Go back to bed” and offer no comfort. But Dad would open his arms and say “It’s ok, you can sleep on my side”. It felt so warm and safe in his arms, I’d fall right back asleep. I’d wake up with his hands inside my top, and his penis inside my underpants. And then I’d freeze and I know now that my mind left my body. I knew I had to be quiet. Good girls were quiet.

I used to feel guilt and shame about choosing to sit on his lap, or going to his bed. But see? I was not the wrong one. I was doing what little girls do. He was doing what monstrous, psychopathic pedophiles do. He used my love against me.

So I am left with the damage.

I startle easily, actually scream if someone touches me unexpectedly, or a loud noise, or even a quiet noise can startle me to the point of nausea if unexpected. Some days this response is extreme, and a simple “Mom?” from my child can have me scream and jump onto the ceiling fan. I forget where I am , what I am doing, and it takes several minutes to regain composure. It takes several hours for the heart pumping, choking and adrenaline to wear off.

Some days I don’t want anyone to touch me at all. Including kids and Hubby. No hugs, kisses or snuggles. Not even a shoulder tap. On those days I can’t stand to go to shopping, for fear a stranger will get too close and send me into a panic. I hope my kids still feel loved on these days. I do my best to connect in other ways, without touching, but some days I just can’t do that either. I know Hubby struggles on these days, as I pull away from his return-from-work kiss. He’s supposed to understand and not take it personally, but I know that must be nearly impossible. I would be hurt if he did the same to me.

The part that really stinks, is the no-touch episodes come on with no warning. I can be going along fine, enjoying – no cherishing – snuggly moments and then BAM! Terror! I can’t breathe! Stop touching me! I try to contain this terror and not frighten the kids, and get myself out of the room, usually to work on the computer or do dishes or some other natural sounding excuse. Sometimes Hubby doesn’t know that is why I left the room and comes over to rub my shoulders or sneak a kiss or playfully swat my bottom. I still freeze sometimes. I can’t always tell him to stop. I just gulp and pull away and make him ask what is wrong.


11 thoughts on “Understanding Does Not Mean Instant Change

  1. I’m an immediate gratification person too…hate waiting for change to come around. I can also relate to that frozen feeling (and most of the post, actually) and having to pull away from a loved one. I *hate* that “what’s wrong?” question more than anything, which is probably unreasonable, but it makes me want to scream “How can you not know?!!”

    Keep on your healing path. You’re doing so well….:)

  2. Thanks for being brave enough to share the horrors. I remember so little, but as I read so much was familiar. My NM still calls me her touch-me-not. And I can feel the rage spike. I want to scream and I have to hold in the violence, not only around my NM but one of my brothers, too. The brother’s behavior, only seven years ago, started “THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN EVER AGAIN!” Yep, hit a trigger. It’s okay. Maybe I’m ready to tackle this after all.

  3. Sometimes I thought that giving up was an option. Now when I am feeling low or lost as trauma often can make us feel, I seek self-love and understanding for myself. The thought of taking a bath can be daunting. I know getting help is a choice. Reaching out is much simpler start than I thought. The awakenings are the positive loving responses I get. These are gifts to me in turn for a slow by slow attempt to every day open my heart and trust while I try to make sense of ‘forgiveness.’

    I admire this piece on Understanding Doesn’t Mean Instant Change. It is especially brave to write openly about the story that connects to “so I am left with the damage.” Reading this may take some of us by surprise. To imagine it way too difficult. For many who experienced it, the simple daily stressors like the smell of coffee, or wet latex dish washing gloves, can be a reminder of being left with the damage. The words here are comforting and bring me closer to another kind of understanding as we are separate in this healing but we are one!

    • What a thoughtful comment, in so many ways! Thank you for taking the time to read my story and share your thoughts. I also believe that we are one, all sharing the same goals of love and peace and growth, no matter what our particular background story may be. The more I reach out and share, the more I find my true self.

  4. Pingback: Sometimes it is Better to Go To Bed Angry | Roots to Blossom

  5. It does get better. What you don’t want to hear I know, it does get better but it takes time. You are doing the work but it takes time. It is so hard some days, those days be gentle with yourself. None of this, not a single bit is yours except the damage. The damage you are healing, but it takes time.

    Just be gentle with yourself. Let yourself heal in your time. Those who love you know and understand.

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