I wanted to write about something else today, but something came up. I guess this could be another purity study in relation to feeling dirty after abuse.
As I was wrestling with the thought of jumping ship from the Church, one of the things I also thought about giving up on was “saving for marriage”. I always struggled with this…always. Even if it wasn’t my choice, I’m not a virgin. I haven’t been since I was a tiny child. Just what am I saving for this man, who I don’t even know, who I’ve just about given up believing even exists?
For a while, I had a very rational reason for waiting to share my sexuality with someone. While my mind locked away the memories of sexual abuse, my body remembered. I’m still aware of what happened, but those mental memories are locked away again; my body still remembers every abuse it endured. As many studies have shown, the sexual act between two people (regardless of whether it was consensual or not, marital or not) activates neurochemistry that bonds that person to the other. It leaves a physical memory that doesn’t ever go away, even as the mental memory is long gone.
I may not remember that very first abuser’s face or name, nor the face and name of a few of those other abusers, but I will always remember what they did. My body will very likely carry that memory with it for the rest of my life. With that in mind, I concluded that it was to my and my future husband’s best interests to not have sex until my wedding night. I already will be bringing with me the memories of abuse into marriage; I didn’t want to bring the memories of other men (or women) along with me, too. That makes sense, right? That’s reasonable. It’s scientific. It’s human biology and psychology. It’s not a reason one could easily write off as medieval nonsense, or some puritanical sexual repression.
But even that reason is losing its weight, as it hinges on the existence of “Husband”. The man who will stay. The one who will be with me for the rest of our lives.
I looked to all my relationships, so many being ones that were supposed to “stay” and truly love me. All lost. All turned to hurt. I’d been abandoned. Betrayed. Forgotten. How am I supposed to believe in “Husband”, when so much evidence points to no such person existing? Who would, could, ever want to wake up to me every morning? Vow to be with me in sickness and in health, and be faithful to that vow? Be willing to comfort me back to the present when memories come up to hurt and haunt me, even in intimate moments? Maybe even (if I ever work up the courage to) raise a family with me? Who would want to share our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our very lives when I’m, in many people’s opinion, “too intense” and “ruined“?
Such a man can’t exist. Not in this world.
Why not just, if even just for a few minutes…pretend someone loves me? Takes delight in this body that’s “ruined”? Holds me in his arms like I’m someone he values, and ignore that he might very well be just thinking I’m something he took pleasure from (and worse, vice versa)? Why not forget about all this stuff with someone for a while?
The thing that started this whole stream of thought is this article, Yes, You are Worth Waiting For. The writer, also a victim of child sex abuse, wrote this and other articles that express just how I’m feeling. I want to share a quote, but can’t choose; I’d very much recommend giving it a gander, even if it doesn’t personally hold weight to you.
Reading this, I can’t help but think of the guy I like. Over the time that we’ve known each other, (almost a year now) another side of me has been surfacing, one that I was (and am) very afraid of. I’ve said things I never would have said (flirted), behaved in a way I never have behaved (got cuddly), wanted things I never wanted before (loving touch). I don’t know who he’ll be to me when all’s said and done, but sometimes, I think I’m fooling myself into thinking that we could be “just friends”. I’d want him to be someone else to me, and that I’d be someone else to him (if that isn’t already the case?).
And then, sometimes, there’d be something else I’d want from him. Something I know he ought not give me. Something I have no right to have. That frightens me. I feel so ashamed for ever feeling that way, even if it’s not all the time. I don’t know how I could ever tell him that it’s me I’m more worried about in keeping physical boundaries than him. And now there’s that nagging whisper inside, asking, “Why not?”
Another thing this article brought to mind is from when I was a somewhat-brighter-eyed teenager. One of the chastity speakers I listened to described how his wife, on their wedding night, gave him a stack of letters addressed to her Husband. These were a part of her healing journey from sexual acting out among other things, love letters to this man she had no idea about on the temptations she’s struggling with, the hurt she’s enduring. Every time she wanted to go back to her old self, her old life, she wrote. So, with my new purity ring on my finger, I wrote to a man I didn’t know. I’d wonder what he was doing as I was writing those letters, how he was, what his life has been like.
Looking back at that now, I wonder: just how much of that heart-fluttering hope was for the idea of Husband? Did I love the concept, or the real person, whoever he is?
I could never really picture what kind of man he was, or who I’d want him to be. The kind of people I’m attracted to has changed quite a bit since when I first started this healing journey. Attraction is one of those things culture says will never change. People form their entire identities, their sense of self, around whom they’re attracted to. What does that mean for someone like me, whose attraction was affected by her abuse?
I’d believe (still believe) at the bottom of my heart that God wants me to be married, but I always faltered when it came to thinking about the husband part of the equation, the father of my children. I could never picture a life with someone who’d want to stay, and while there were qualities I’d hoped him to have, I couldn’t picture him. I feel like I’m betrothed to a figment, a ghost, a character from a children’s storybook.
“Why not? He’s not coming. Why wait?”
Even if it turned out that this guy I liked actually turned out to be my husband one day (and wouldn’t that be something?), he’s not my husband now. He’s not even my boyfriend. It wouldn’t be right. And besides, I’d imagine that he’d be very insulted, learning I’d feel this way, or maybe he’d take that as an invitation to “help” me reconsider waiting. He said he wouldn’t do that, would never do that, but what if he was lying, like so many others have lied?
I’d wrestle with this stuff, and with just why I feel so drawn to him. My best guess is just how safe I feel around him. When he would touch my shoulder, hug me, hold me, I didn’t feel like how I always felt, that he was “taking” from me. Just the opposite; it felt like a gift, what my priest friend would say was the difference between love and lust. I also never got the feeling that he thought I was something dirty and untouchable, or a temptation. He knows most of what I went through, and still cares for me. He’d say these cool things, like, “I know that distrust comes with you,” or “I’m not that guy,” and whatever shame I was feeling would go away, hearing his voice, looking in his eyes, seeing…what looks like real honesty.
Looking at this, maybe it really is that I like him for who he is, and not just the idea of him or who he could be. After all, there are a lot of things we disagree on. There are things I’ve seen in him that I really didn’t like, and vice versa I’m sure. So, yeah; I don’t see him with an unrealistically positive view I used to see people I’d get attached to, what people describe as that “puppy love” stage. I know he’s not a prince (and thank goodness), and yet those things seem so small in light of what I see in him, even if I don’t understand it very much, even if he doesn’t see it himself.
He doesn’t, among other things, believe in God. He doesn’t believe he’s His son, and so understandably believes and does things that are very against His precepts. It’s understandable. I don’t really believe most of the time I’m His daughter either, and so I likewise believe and do things against what I was taught all my life to be things He wants for His children.
…I really don’t understand why God wants me to wait. I don’t understand why He’d want me to be pure.
I once had the idea of writing something here, like that rationale I had for waiting for marriage, comparing purity to water. Purity is often talked about these days as something dead and dry, naive and repressive. I had the thought that maybe purity in it’s truest form is supposed to be something flowing, passionate, and life-giving. I ended up not writing on either of those things (until now) because, no matter what I read, or what people tell me about marriage or whatever, I can’t understand.
I mean…He didn’t, and doesn’t, seem to care about what happened to my body by other people. What should He care what I choose to do with my body, to whom I give it to and when?
Something still in me strongly disagrees with this belief. I once had this…I guess a “vision”, when I was praying one day. It was a different perspective on one of the memories I had of being abused in my bed, that God was very much there when it felt like He was a distant, impartial observer. In the “vision”, I saw that He was very much there. He was both a witness, begging that abuser to stop, and a victim, experiencing it through my eyes, suffering that abuse right along with me as it was happening.
It made me look at the crucifix, at all of God the Son’s horrible wounds, in a different light for a while there. Knowing my story, my sufferings, I can’t even imagine the burden of taking on everyone’s sufferings, if that’s indeed how intimately He bore it. If nothing else proved that Jesus was God, that’s enough to convince me.
Still…I don’t get it.
I don’t understand.
As I was telling my priest friend, fathers are supposed to protect their children, right? He responded with telling me what I already know about free will, that power God gave us over even Him. All our choices, good or ill, has consequences likewise good or ill, depending on if it matches with the realities God built or not. It’s still our choice to make to choose Him or not. This frightening power, over God’s own will and desires…so many people chose to use this power to hurt me, to take from me.
Even if God was suffering with me as a witness and a victim, why did He put me here? Why did He put me under the care of abusers, who in turn pretty much gave me to those other abusers? Why did He put all those people in my path as I tried to escape and heal that stuff who were only kind at first?
I don’t get it.
I really don’t understand.
Was I supposed to be something to convince them not to do those bad things? To love instead of abuse? I used to think that way, but now I’m not so sure.
I can’t even sit in the church anymore at Mass. I spent all of last Sunday in the outer vestibule, wishing I wasn’t even there, that I was instead outside by the hydrangeas and the Pieta statue. Being in the actual church just results in me being just… consumed with anger and hatred at the Church and her members. I thought it would’ve lessened when I decided to give God and the Church another chance. It didn’t, and I don’t know what to do with it.
What should I do?
I asked God, “What should I do?” If He answered me yet, I didn’t hear. Or maybe didn’t understand.
…Reading this fellow victim/survivor posts, I feel this tiny, absolutely tiny hope I felt as a teen. In her article about how her husband actually helped her on her healing journey, the words she wrote were both foreign…and surprisingly, familiar. She also wrote how she felt safe, being straight with the man who became her husband, just as I felt when I’m straight with the guy I like. He would always take me by surprise with encouragement when I would be down on myself, saying things like, “That’s not true!” or “Don’t think like that!” Add that to the observations made earlier, there’s that “something there”.
Should I dare to hope?
Should I believe in love? In marriage? In that elusive Husband?
Even if it turns out that he’s not the one, I can’t rightly deny something’s there.
Realizing this, thinking about all this…even though I don’t understand, nor can I really word…I think can see it.
If just a tiny glimpse, I think I can see “why not,” “why stay,” “why hope”…and “why wait”.