cw: sexual abuse, emotional abuse
I have this growing realization of this thing that I have to deal with at some point. It’s something I’ve been putting off dealing with for a long time. But you can’t contain trauma; it seeps through the cracks of any container you try to put it in. The spillover will infect every aspect of your life until you confront it. But everything also has to be worked through in its own time. You can’t rush the healing process. We understand this physically. I broke my right ankle in high school, and I’ve had major sprains of it several times before and since. That ankle will always be weaker than my left one, and the muscles will sprain more easily than if they had never been injured. The same is true for emotional wounds – if they reoccur, each injury makes the next that much more statistically likely. It’s also true that if I injure that ankle again, I will need to give it time to heal and not try to rush back into normal activity. In the same way, emotional trauma needs time and space before it can be dealt with. You don’t do physical therapy until the cast comes off.
Something my psychodrama trainer said at my last session keeps playing in the back of my mind. “If 2% of you believes something, then you believe it.” And all I can think is, well, then I’m fucked. 2% of me believes a lot of fucked-up shit about me that the other 98% knows isn’t true. I know it takes time to pull the hooks out. Maybe at first, 25% of you believes something. Then, 10%. In comparison, 2% isn’t much. But you have to keep working, because that 2% is still strong enough to keep drawing you back into negative patterns.
When I was 18 years old, I was emotionally and sexually abused in my first relationship. When I was a teenager I was constantly made fun of for never dating anyone. When I was 12 years old, my mother told me I was too fat for anyone to ever love me. When I was 11 years old, girls in my grade started getting crushes on boys and I didn’t understand why, and it made me an outsider. Any repeated injury makes the next statistically more likely.
I had worked through, or thought I worked through a lot of my sexual trauma in my most recent sexual relationship. But it’s been over a year since that relationship ended, and I am still so uncomfortable being in sex-positive or even sensual spaces that I feel cut off from a lot of communities that I used to engage in. That breakup retraumatized me in a lot of ways, and the more time that passes, the clearer it becomes to me that this isn’t something I’m going to be able to work through on my own. And that’s okay. Untangling that transference is going to be a messy process.
I feel fortunate that I have two loving and supportive partners with whom I can have deep emotional intimacy, and who are accepting and affirming of wherever I am in this process and wherever I end up. The fact that I have access to love in a non-sexual context is important and affirming in its own way. But I recently attended a conference where one of the keynotes centered around Audre Lorde’s conception of the erotic. Lorde says, “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”
The erotic, then, is where sensation meets our deepest feelings, and it can be applied to anything which gives us a deep sense of joy and satisfaction, not just sexual things.
I have come to realize that because of my past sexual trauma, the rejection of the revelation of my erotic self to another as marked by the termination of a relationship has the potential to cause retraumatization. But in the same way that depression numbs all feelings, not just negative ones, any attempt to shut down or compartmentalize the sexual component of my connection to my own sense of erotic power cuts off all of my access to that eroticism in my life, including other forms of sensation-based joy. It hampers my ability to truly be in my body and to feel my deepest feelings. And I’m not okay with that.
I believe that I was demisexual and then I was sexually abused, in the same way that I was kinky and then I was abused. I don’t think either aspect of my sexuality was caused by said abuse, but that both made me vulnerable to it. I don’t know whether working through my trauma will change how I engage with any of my partners, whether now or in the future. But I want to be able to feel open to engaging with my erotic power, whether or not it’s in a sexual context. I don’t want to feel that there are spaces which are not open or welcoming to me, or places that I cannot go to or people who I cannot engage. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable even thinking about being in a place where others are engaging in a sensual or sex-positive way.
But in order to work through this, I know that I will have to confront the parts of my abuser which I have internalized. That 2% of me which still has quite a lot of psychic power. I’ve tried so hard to annihilate any trace of that time in my life, up to the point of attempting suicide at the age of 20. But you can’t compartmentalize trauma; it will seep through the cracks of any container you attempt to put it in. And I’m just so tired of carrying this around. This fear of abandonment, these feelings of inadequacy, this anxious attachment and insecurity about those I love. I’m tired of even 2% of me thinking that I’m unlovable or undesirable.
I hesitated to write about this publicly, but if I am navigating these complex waters surely there are others who are doing the same. If any good could come of this, it’s worth it. I hope someone finds this and reads it and knows they are not alone. The next faciliation training weekend is in October, so I still have a little over two months to psych myself up to being able to confront all of this in a psychodrama. But at a certain point the cost of keeping a door closed is greater than the pain caused by opening it.