Ten years ago, I was a mess. My recent conversion to Catholicism had not gone well because all these weird problems with masturbation had come up (it’s a sin for Catholics to masturbate – and I was trying hard not to sin). My marriage was on the rocks because my husband thought I might be better off without him dragging me down. A dear friend’s daughter had finally succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 14, which was unbearably sad. And I had been getting worse in therapy, not better. The monk I was seeing (a licensed psychotherapist) had diagnosed me as a sex addict and told me that I’d never get better unless I attended 12 step meetings. He was a real swell guy. He shared how he’d been abused by an uncle, which was the root of his leather fetish. He shared how his alcoholism fueled his sexual acting out. He shared his stupid clove cigarettes. He shared his fantasies of steamy sex on leather sheets with marijuana incense and the god Baphomet looking on as we fucked. And eventually, he shared that he didn’t consider phone sex “real sex.”
I swear, this was my life, not the terrible script of some drug-induced B movie.
Children who are sexually abused often grow up to feel as though they are bad or evil people. The things that you do as a teen that you don’t understand – being sexual at a young age, being confused about your sexual identity, feeling suicidal, feeling dirty, taking drugs, drinking, engaging in self-destructive, risky behaviors – all that stuff is bad enough because it generally runs counter to your personal values. But just as bad is the sense of isolation. As a teenager and young adult you think you’re the only one who is like this, which fuels that vicious shame cycle that we know so well.
The truth is that acting out in these ways is NORMAL when you’ve been sexually abused. I had the added advantage/disadvantage of having Asperger’s Syndrome. So I was less able to interpret who is trustworthy and much more susceptible to gas lighting than I might otherwise be. Still, I was lucky to have found a wonderful friend, partner, husband and we had four beautiful children.
When my breasts developed, they were one of things my grandfather focused on when he molested me. Breastfeeding my children was a way for me to reclaim my body. My children loved me unconditionally, which was a balm. They gave me a purpose for being on this planet: I am a mother. I am here to love, nurture, and protect these children. This was a mission I could do even though I was a bad person, deep down inside.
Unfortunately, I continued to try and fill that existential “hole” that childhood sexual abuse inflicts with little success until I decided to try and let God fill it. Let me tell you; when you already feel like a bad person, like a blight or toxin that has to be careful not to contaminate those she loves, meeting a sociopathic priest can derail your life in ways that are unrecoverable.
Yes, I had problem sexual behaviors: compulsive masturbation and Internet porn. I had a pervading sense of self-worthlessness. I That’s it. I was never the horrible person I thought I was. Instead I was a good mom, a productive member of my community, and a good wife. I was unlucky to have been abused as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. I’m lucky to have survived.
Recently I had a series of difficult family events that really threw me for a loop. I got scared, and all those old tapes started playing loudly. They’ve quieted down a bit and I can feel myself backing away from the ledge again. This time, I had a wonderful therapist helping me to remember that this is NORMAL and that I can be PROUD of myself for living.
I hope anyone reading this who has been hurt as a child will take a breath and treat themselves with as much love and compassion as they would a dear friend who’d been through similar circumstances.