I’m mostly writing this as a way to process my feelings about all this, particularly concerning my guy friend. I feel like it might be something other abuse victims/survivors can relate to, or otherwise might be something helpful for people who can’t relate to us to better understand what I’m sure many of us have to face.
In my efforts to better prepare myself to date, I researched online articles and forum discussions as mentioned previous, some of the faith-based ones tending to talk about marriage rather than just dating, as if abuse/trauma doesn’t play a part any time before sex.* This is the sort of naïveté I expect in the Church, as most people there are woefully undereducated on the issue, leading many to say/do revictimizing things.
A/N: Engel says it well in It Wasn’t Your Fault: “If you were a victim of childhood abuse or neglect, shame can affect literally every aspect of your life: from your self-confidence, self-esteem, and body image to your ability to relate to others, navigate intimate relationships, and be a good parent; from your work performance to your ability to learn new things or care for yourself. Shame is responsible for myriad personal problems…” Speaking personally, what I endured has changed how I see and experience everything. I think the more people took time to realize that, and understand that abuse is not one person’s problem, it’s the world’s problem, the better.
Meanwhile, many of the secular sites I’d read on the topic were even worse: there were some that would breathe a sigh of relief that the abuse didn’t “ruin” the abuse victim’s comfort in being sexually intimate, and others that flat-out advised people to not even date abuse victims because of “trouble in the bedroom”.
The first was disappointing and eye-roll worthy, but that other stuff was just cruel. It’s shallow and selfish. It tells me once again that no one would actually love me, and that I amount to nothing more than my body. Actually, not even my body: just my torso, or even just my genitals.
Just like to my abusers, I’m ultimately a soulless doll.
Of course, I know; not all people are like this, but this seems to be most people, if not in the physical sense, the emotional sense as well. Most everyone I thought to be compassionate and trustworthy has disappointed me. It really doesn’t matter one bit what anyone says they do/don’t support, or do/don’t believe; I’ve found this to be true.
What’s worse, I think, are the cop-outs; my confessor and doctor often tell me about God’s love when I despair of ever finding human love. I realized yesterday that the reason that never stuck with me was because it sounded (while probably wasn’t intended) like this: “Well, that sucks. You should probably just turn to God for love because, heck, no one down here’s going to love you.” That’s the same thing I heard from one father-figure, when he told me to drop my “tortured dependence” on him, and that I should do what he does; put my trust in Jesus. What I heard was, “You, on the other hand, don’t. Pretty stupid if you ask me, to think I would ever love you like a daughter. Oh, and by the way, be sure to add ‘sacrilege’ to your next confession.”
I wonder how many times I’m going to hear stuff like this. Probably the same number of times I heard things along the lines of, “Of course we still care about you, but only in a casual/shallow way; under it all, you’re just too intense for us to handle.”
Looking at all this stuff…it makes perfect sense to me why so many abuse victims turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, etc. The risk for addiction is so high, as is the risk of suicide. I’ve got my own bad habits, and I’ve attempted suicide for the same reasons the others probably did; because human hearts are mostly cold and stony. Since I faced this kind of coldness everywhere I went, I feel very isolated, like I don’t really belong anywhere. I feel like I don’t truly belong with anyone or anything down here; only to the amount of entertainment/pleasure I give them.
It just feels like when I was a kid, and I wanted to make a small, genuine smile for my photos. They’d all say, “That’s not a real smile! You have such a pretty smile, c’mon! Let’s see those teeth!” I remember my cheeks aching from what felt like a huge fake grin I had to plaster on my face before they finally were satisfied enough to take the photo, and let me go. That’s the same smile I had for my uncle’s wedding photo, for just about all my school photos, family portraits, and ID cards. No one ever seems to know it was forced, or even wonders if it was forced (not unlike other photos and videos popularized in the world today #yeahIsaidit).
My doctor talked with me today, trying to make me see the bright side of all this stuff. He did also, though, made sure to offer his condolences for how this is making me feel. This mess is reopening all those other wounds, so I can’t really see the bright side he insisted was there. Still, his telling me about the bright side didn’t feel like when I’d be told to smile for the crowds or the cameras. Stands to reason that what he was saying was trustworthy…I think.
He addressed my feelings about God’s love, getting a bit emotional himself as he insisted that God loves me, that He lives in me. I used to believe that a very, very long time ago, that every human has God living in his/her heart, in my heart, but somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that. No way would God live in here. No way God would come to such a broken, dirty place…but then, that’s just what He did, isn’t it? My confessor would say (and has lately) that God desires me, seeks me out, not to use me or anything, but because I’m beloved to Him, I’m His beautiful creation.
My doctor quoted from CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters today, where the devil Screwtape writes to his novice-devil nephew Wormwood to attack us humans when God withholds consolation from us to help us stand on our own, challenge us. The danger, Screwtape says, is that if we survive the pain, fear, and depression that comes from that we will be able to say we stayed faithful in spite of the apparent abandonment…
…Which, I realize, is an empowering thing to be able to say.
While I was in his office, I voiced the thought that it sounded more like masochistic. It sounded more like the unhealthy sort of bond of love/loyalty chaining a victim to his/her abuser. Now…it sounds like something else.
I mentioned how being abused by mostly Catholic people in places mostly surrounded with holy images has damaged my relationship with God, trust in His protection and love. Seemed like lifeless, empty images. I have those images in my home, and sometimes I’d look right at them, thinking, “What do you care if I harm myself, or otherwise act out? You didn’t seem to mind before.” What can I call those moments when I actually did feel consolation, then? When I found clarity? Stopped myself from killing myself? What was all that then? Whose voice was that, calling for me deep down? My doctor said that God has just what I’m crying for, that He would be there in the darkness with me when everyone else bailed; this supports his words.
My doctor and confessor constantly tell me that most people will be acquaintances in my life. I’m not especially unlovable, they’d say; it’s just a fact for everyone. My doctor also added that nowadays the art of friendship and socializing, heart-to-heart stuff, is suffering. I can believe that; I see it. This isn’t a cop-out. It’s a fact of life. I do feel very alone…but I haven’t exactly done a lot of reaching out either. Shame is a very heavy and crippling thing.
I was told recently that if the love is worth it, it can endure everything that comes its way. I think it’s more accurate to say because the love is worth it, it can endure everything. The call to love doesn’t go away when something like this happens. Love doesn’t mean “tolerate”, nor “enable”. Love is a bright and fiery thing.
I’m not sure where to go from here, so I think I’ll stop for today. I think I’d like to revisit a few books (after I dust them off). Tomorrow’s another day.