Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
**Trigger Warning: Discusses issues of sexual violence**
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it has been difficult for me to learn how to trust men again. Until I was in high school, I hated all men. I wanted to leave them all hurt. I dated so that they could feel the pain I felt.
My goal in life became to break hearts. I hated my dad, he was a man, and all men were the same because of their package down there. My concept of a relationship with a man was unhealthy. Sure, I had a lot of friends who were men, but I would constantly find ways to make them feel bad. Furthermore, I didn’t have many female friends because I was in constant envy that they had good relationships. I was just so jealous. I thought they were always doing something right and I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
But the real relationship I wanted was a dating relationship, a sexual relationship, or at least the potential for one. Many people have been commenting about relationships in emails I have received, and I think it is important to discuss intimacy with another person after sexual violence.
The first two people I had sex with were both my boyfriends. I was pressured into having sex with the first one because we had dated for 8 months and my friends wanted me to “pop the cherry.” I felt no attraction to him at that point, so I kind of just let it happen. I didn’t even take my shirt off because I didn’t want him to see my boobs and become more attached to my naked body. It’s so funny repeating this because my conceptualization of sex has changed so much since then. With the second boyfriend, it was all great until he came to visit me while we were in college. As I mentioned in a previous column, he began to start having sex with me while I was sleeping without my consent, and I would wake up to him on top of me.
So I want to talk a bit about sex and intimacy being a Survivor. It’s a difficult process to trust a partner again, any partner, but I always have believed that the person you have to trust the most is yourself. That’s the first step. I want to first say that the feelings you may have about legitimacy of your experience and the lack of trust are incredibly valid. If you feel shame or guilt, that is normal, but I want to address how to stop feeling so ashamed and then how to trust yourself and then your partner.
Keep telling yourself that it is not your fault. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t deserve it. Think about the reasons why you feel so ashamed. I know this is incredibly hard, but it will help. Your head will probably tell you that you deserved it— but you did not ask for it, you could not stop it, you had no control over your body/ senses, and again it was not your fault. This has the potential to be a very slow process. Then, feel proud of yourself for your accomplishments because to get over shame you need to feel good again. Do something to make yourself feel better.
I currently suffer from PTSD after being sexually abused by my father, and this is something I struggle with every single day. I feel like I did something wrong and that I could’ve done something different. I don’t feel like my emotions are valid. Counseling has definitely helped me, but this does not work for everyone and can sometimes make people trust themselves less. Ultimately, you are your own best friend, and I want to share ways that you can trust yourself again.
For a long time, I would write a positive note to myself every night about why I exist and/ or what makes me so special. I would then put that note into a jar and when I felt terrible I would open up that jar and pull out the notes and remember why I was such an amazing person.
Other people write journals, which is a good way to get in touch with your inner feelings but also a way to keep track of your progress. Set reasonable goals for making progress to trust yourself again. Each time you make progress, do something good for yourself. You are a person of unbelievable worth, and having these goals will ultimately help you to support yourself. Take care of yourself – do something that takes your mind off of things, eat what you like, etc. Do something that makes you feel good!! When I feel shitty about myself, I go to the gym and eat cheese curls (maybe not the best combination, but it makes me feel good!) For several weeks, I would also stand in front of a mirror everyday and repeat to myself that I am strong, and that really helped me because I hated looking at myself for such a long time. Find people who are supportive, and a friend who can help you trust again. For me, this was one of my blockmates.
This trust in myself also comes with relationships. Every day I am afraid I will never meet someone because I still struggle with my assault. But there will be someone patient and caring out there. And for every relationship I have, whether he is a boyfriend or a hook-up, I talk about my boundaries, I talk about how I want to be touched, I talk about what makes me comfortable. To make it sexier, you can take your partner’s hands and put them where you want them to be (or not, if you don’t want them putting their hands on you). If you aren’t comfortable opening yourself up to them about your experiences, it is still important to talk about what you want and don’t want.
I hope that this was a fulfilling last entry to my column for all of you, and I hope that I have helped someone to heal because talking to many of you helped me to heal as well. If you ever want to talk, you can always email me at email@example.com and I will always answer you.