I was pondering yesterday about the ripple effects that sexual violence creates in the lives of so many, particularly within ones own self-esteem and comfort level with sex thereafter. At times I can be so hard on myself, thinking that after 26 years from the first act of violence I endured should be a thing of the past, something I am simply over, yet I continue to experience the aftermath of it. It creeps up on me like a familiar shadow that I wish I could shake off. It rises out of the deepest part of my skin to the surface and makes me feel itchy, uncomfortable all the sudden in the skin I’ve spent years trying to heal and care for. Just when I think my skin is anew and no longer confounded, I am blindsided by a reminder that it simply will never go away. No matter how much I exfoliate both physically and emotionally; it lingers, just beneath the surface, patiently waiting to throw me off guard at my most confident of moments.
I sit and marvel at the impact one night can have on me, on the aftermath of one act by a pedophile that has robbed me of my ability to even fully be free of his grasp. I spent some time beating myself up over this very feeling yesterday, saying things to myself that I often counsel others never to say to a rape survivor.
“Why aren’t you over this, yet?” I baffled to myself. “Its been years, it was one event in your life”
And then a more gentle voice came, reminding me that it wasn’t just one event, it was just the first violation in a line of years of violations that followed during that time in my life when I was not living, merely existing in the shell of my body having no actual attachment to it; allowing all visitors unfettered access devoid of the understanding that it wasn’t mandatory or obligatory. It would be years before I would comprehend that my body was mine not just something to be had; that I actually held ownership of it and could say “No” and have that small word actually honored.
Intimacy is an allusive concept to most survivors of sexual violence; it is a tangled web of confusion, harm, pleasure and pain. Sometimes it feels safe like home and other times it feels like blades driving out of flesh and I cannot pull away fast enough. The challenge of this web is its impossible to fully entangle from it, nor is it 100% possible to predict when it will tighten its silk around me encasing me in irrational fear or loosen its grip long enough for me to feel as though it has been removed from my world and I can move freely.
Thankfully today, I have a partner who is gentle and kind and unconditionally supportive of the web and what it means for us in our lives. It means sometimes I am able to fully execute my love for her in many ways and it means that other times I recoil from her life she is a hot flame capable of burning me at any minute. She knows when to pull me in and when to give me the space I need all without judgment or resentment. Even though she has never been harmed in the way I have, she understands on a cellular level that my body, mind and spirit are at times at war with each other and she stands her ground firmly like a patient soldier protecting me and willing to slay the darkest of my demons. She is vigilant in her love for me; she is my dutiful protector and my liberator when I need to flee. Its taken me a long time to find someone like her, who just gets it without words, who can sometimes see before I do what is rising in me.
It is no easy feat to attempt to love someone who has survived sexual trespass. There is no handbook or printed schedule for the reoccurrence of trauma. It takes a unique and beautiful human spirit who is willing to stand vigil in the unknown space we as survivors have to navigate. Our allies are vital to our healing, that allow us the space to experience, recover and endure. It is possible to fully engage love and intimacy in the aftermath; it takes patience, kindness, understanding and vigilance.
I am so blessed I have finally found that person and pray that every other survivor has the ability to find that person as well, with 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men assaulted in this society we need just as many warriors willing to stand with us and endure the unknown aftermath of sexual violence.