When you’re abused, a common defense mechanism is dissociation–when you mentally “flee” your body and try to be anywhere but here.
That helps you live through trauma.
But it also creates a whole heap of problems down the road when you’re trying to get healthy again.
This week we’re talking about the “figuring things out” stage of sex, and one of the big elements of that is dealing with past trauma. It’s great if you can do this in the early years, but if not–do it now! And so I wanted to find a way to talk about this huge issue about how trauma impacts our sex life.
Then I found Megan Cox on Facebook. I read something beautiful she wrote about learning how to talk to her body and be nice to her body, because her body deserved it, and nobody had ever done that before. And I asked Megan if she could write something for me, because it was so raw and real and I know that people need to hear this.
Maybe you’re not an abuse survivor or a trauma survivor, but as you read this, you can learn what these women (and men) go through. Or maybe you’ll recognize yourself in her words, even if you’ve never been able to name it yourself. So here is Megan, from Give Her Wings:
It is amazing how long it can take for a person to process trauma.
For me, it has been over eight years since I left my abusive (seminary-attending, pastorally-called, charming) ex-husband. And seven years since I started Give Her Wings, the Christian non-profit that comes alongside single mothers who have left abuse. At first, I was just trying to “scream” with whatever shaking voice I could muster about the problem that Christian marriages are having with abuse and the lack of training and guidance found within the Church walls. I was doing everything I could desperately do to try to raise awareness of how bad theology about marriage was creating bad, bad generational fruits. Now, it seems that awareness is there and I can breathe a bit. And heal some.
Even after all of these years, I have known that I needed to heal from unspoken sexual abuse that I have not been able to even verbalize until now. I knew that it was bad. I knew that sex hurt and I hated it. I could speak the words because I did not know that it was different for other women. I did not have the language.
The other day, I was rushing to get ready for work. I needed to iron a new skirt that had those “fold marks” from being crammed in a package from Amazon. Getting dressed, I knelt down to plug in the iron and promptly hit my forehead — HARD — on the corner of our dresser. It seared through my mind, pulsing throughout my head and I fell backwards a bit. I sat down, holding my face as I felt a small welt emerge the size of a a lemon drop.
Then, I sobbed.
I sobbed like the world was coming to an end.
It was a little bit out of proportion but I exploded out all of my current frustrations . . . all the efforts I have put into so many projects and people . . . I sobbed for things my family is suffering . . . I sobbed for my overwhelming, but temporary, mark on my face now. I sobbed until my eyes were puffy and I knew that no amount of make up would cover that hot mess for days.
I parted my hair on the other side to hide the mark, only to reveal the Harry-Potter-shaped scar that was normally covered by my swooping bangs. A scar obtained 25 years ago through a bout of skin cancer and a string of 36 stitches.
I cried again.
As you can imagine, it’s kind of been a rough day.
However (and please try to follow my thinking here), it is a sign that I am connecting to my body.
For abuse survivors, there is a strong tendency to completely separate our bodies from our souls and minds, further isolating us — even from ourselves.
Total and complete isolation.
I’ve been in yoga lately and I have started kind of talking to my body (so weird). Does it make sense that, every time I connect with my body, I weep? Like, I’m getting reacquainted with it? Last week, in yoga, I did a great job on the “tree pose”. After holding the balance, I looked down at my right thigh, gave it a love pat and said, “Good job, leg.” Then, I wept. Right there in yoga (I’m sure it didn’t help that there was a soft rendition of that song from “Beaches” playing in the background). I think I am the only person who has been kind to this body that has been through so so much. I’m showing compassion for my body for the first time. (As an aside, it is almost always ridiculous to me how many layers there are in healing!)
So, for those of you who might not understand, I got really good at dissociating during pain and during sex, which started going hand-in-hand on our honeymoon. I tried to do what he wanted and needed — whenever he wanted and needed it. I felt used, as I’ve mentioned before, kind of like a prostitute. I’ve heard that same phrase from other women, as well — I felt like a prostitute.
I swear, I could disassociate from my body right this second, if you asked me to. It became second nature. I would say things to myself like, “Anyone can get through anything for an hour.” “Anyone can get through anything for nine months.” “Anyone can get through anything for x-number of years . . . ” until I couldn’t. And then I just stopped feeling. Numbed out. Dead inside.No one cared — not even myself.
So, here are some of the things that I want to say to my body:
- I’m sorry, body, that you were in so much pain on your entire honeymoon and had to keep taking baths to try to lessen it. And then give your body up again and again to a man who did not know how to be kind to you.
- I’m sorry, body, for each little bruise, scrape or cut you sustained at his hands. I see things on my hands, my arms, my thighs. I see those marks and it wasn’t fair.
- I’m sorry, body, for not giving you enough rest. Like, ever. I’m trying to do better now.
- I think you are incredibly strong for carrying four babies and having four C-sections in way too short a time. You, Megan, carried diaper bags, pushed strollers and had babies on your hips for years. Yoga has helped me to see how much you stoop over and did not even use muscles in your shoulders, stand up tall and look at people squarely. You were always hunched over . . . beat down.
- I look at the scar from hip to hip from last year’s restorative surgery on tummy muscles that had simply given out. I tried to lovingly put vitamin E oil and care for that wound for months. Because I am worth it. I know that now. I’m trying.
- I’m sorry for not giving you enough food and nutrients when you were a young woman trying to compete with porn stars and the other women that your ex husband thought were beautiful.
- I’m sorry for openly criticizing you for so many years and thinking you weren’t enough. All you’ve done is serve this soul well.
My hair has been pulled — more than I care to admit. I’ve been smacked. I’ve been pushed into the wall and into the shower door, more than once. I’ve been cornered; I’ve been used; I’ve been scarred. I had four large babies who took up residence in a smallish body. There was a lot of joy there but also a lot of vomiting and a lot of breast-feeding. There was even limping as I was barely able to carry them. Then, there was the split from the muscles, which caused me to wear a (very warm) brace with that last pregnancy. While I’m very proud of my births and young-motherhood, I felt like a baby-receptacle for a while.
And since no one else seemed to care, I did not think I was worth being cared for.
The doctor during my very last C-section: Mrs. Penner, we have to tie your tubes. You cannot keep doing this. Let me take care of this. You have to be there for your children. They need you.
I felt like someone cared.
I wept then, too, and consented right there during the surgery. If I was not going to stop myself from repeating this torture on my body, this doctor was. Oddly, that was the kindest thing anyone had done for me for years.
Now, I just won’t have that. I don’t want my hair pulled. I don’t want to be hurt during sex. I want to be present when I’m touched. And it is taking me a very long time. But I think that I would be cheating myself if I don’t try. But, trying is hard. Because it is easy to be deprive myself of sensation. But, then I would lose. And I’m so over losing.
But this is part of being a warrior-princess, right? Facing all of those things. Crying during yoga. Giving my thigh a high-five. Being OK with my markings and softly touching my lemon-drop lump because no one else will.
Oh, friends. Sometimes the bravest things are things we are trying to do that no one else would ever see.
Thank you for allowing me to share some of my very personal journey with you.
If you are a trauma survivor, I encourage you to seek out qualified counseling to help you process that trauma and learn to reconnect with your body, as Megan did. Please do not just go to anyone who calls themselves a counselor, because, as Rachael Denhollander said about abuse survivors, she has yet to know one who went to biblical counselors (different from those with Master’s in Pastoral Counseling) who has emerged less harmed. When counseling is not properly trauma informed, it can do more harm than good. Here are some posts on helping you identify good counselors: