I was abused as a child in different ways by different people. This is not a confession but a statement of fact. I have only told, at most, four people this fact. I don’t know why. It has been a hard thing for me to come to terms with—my whole life has been trying to run from my own pain, and creating spaces, relationships and situations that kept me from really having to deal with it. When I have encountered other women who’ve been abused as children and are open about it, I’ve felt angry with them. I felt they were using their stories to get pity and attention. I felt that it was disgraceful to air what I perceived to be “dirty laundry” in public.
So I unconsciously created a life where I was rarely put in a position to have to deal with straight men (my primary abusers) in a work setting. My work was female-oriented for the most part, and that made me feel physically safe. Up until about seven years ago, I led a life that appeared to be similar to the lives of my friends. I dressed up, I went out, I met men. But I was dissociative during intimacy, without realizing it. At that point in time, I thought dissociating WAS intimacy. I thought sex was something you just performed robotically in order to be approved of, and the best thing to do was to be sexually attractive and “do” all the things your partner wanted you to do. I was completely cut off from my emotions and from my physical desires. I just wanted to be a normal person, like my friends. I thought aping their actions would get me there. When they talked about their desires, I followed suit, parroting them and feeling nothing inside. I would often gain a bit too much weight as a deterrent to sex, unconsciously keeping myself safe.
At a certain point—or at any point, really—dissociative sex becomes like self-rape. I didn’t realize that. But at some point in time, for some reason, I began to question more and more the way I would involuntarily “tune out” during these encounters. Spontaneously and involuntarily “tuning out” was something that happened to me a lot in childhood, to the point where, in fourth grade, I went from being a teacher’s pet to a student who was reprimanded repeatedly for not paying attention. It happened so often it was even a joke in my family: “Aimee’s spacing out.” Because this behavior was both chastised and normalized, I didn’t understand that it was neither normal nor “my fault.”
As my life progressed, I began to see painful patterns that brought me a high degree of misery in my life. I was very easily controlled in the workplace because I feared making mistakes and being confronted—by women or men. People sense fear, and if they are not sensitive, they will often use it against you. In my personal life, after this period of going out and “hooking up” in a dissociative state, I began to draw back from intimacy, finally realizing that something was going on with me, and that it was very wrong. From that point, I began to see getting hit on by men not as a chance to feel like an attractive, normal person (which I absolutely did not feel like), but as an attack—and I began to get very nervous whenever a man would approach me. I still feel that way (but I am getting a little better). Being confronted romantically by a man, or in an assertive, aggressive or hostile way by a man, is deeply frightening to me, and I have a really hard time getting past it. Sometimes I just can’t get past it. This has caused endless problems in my work life and in my personal life. Sometimes I feel like I live in a constant state of childhood fear.
Dealing with all of these things on my own was and has been extremely difficult for me. As much as there are tools like therapy and so forth to deal with this type of thing—they don’t go far enough as far as I am concerned. I had a therapist who seemed embarrassed when I talked about sex (and, being someone who has been abused and is thus sensitive to the emotions of others, it made me not want to talk about it).
If you have been scared into a place where you cannot feel desire, no one can make you feel like it’s OK to feel desire. They can tell it’s OK because of course it’s OK. But telling you something doesn’t make it true in your body. You have to find that for yourself, in your own body, mind and heart. And you have to do this in your own way. I did it, I am doing it, but it has not been easy, and it has led to some extremely awkward and embarrassing situations. I’m still working on it.
As I wrote, I’ve only told a very few people about this. Not all of them were close friends. This is not a topic people feel very comfortable discussing openly. And previous to my coming to terms with my past as an abused child, I was as judgmental as anyone, more so, with regard to women talking about their abuse openly. Now I can see that their opening up about their own abuse was a “trigger” for me (I was also dismissive of triggers, until understanding them firsthand). Since I had yet to come to terms with it in my own mind and life, their stories made me think about things I did not want to think about. Or talk about.
People say you have to talk about things, but when you encounter closed doors (often in the form of uncomfortable silences), it makes it hard to talk about things. I’m not sure you have to talk about them. I don’t know. For me, I feel like this is something that is probably meant to unfold.
The weird thing is, I feel a sort of guilt about the ways in which my personal development relative to my abuse has made me make a mess out of so many situations. There are literally countless times that I have had issues with men that I “overreacted” to (from a normative perspective) because they made me feel so afraid. I feel guilt that it took me so long to address this problem directly, that I was mean to other women who told their stories of abuse, and that I still don’t know exactly what I should be “doing” to get better. I am OK with where I am. But I have regrets because I know I messed up some things because of this.
I also don’t necessarily like talking about this because I don’t want people to look at me and see something used and abused. I feel protective of the person I was as a child, and I don’t want everyone looking at her and studying her. It’s very embarrassing to me.
I’ve always enjoyed my writing life on the intellectual plane, and I do not love this sudden impulse I’ve had over the past few months to write so personally about myself and my life. It does not feel as interesting to me as my other intellectual and creative pursuits. I like less the fact that I’m drawn to offering these words in a public forum, since they are so personal. But I have a strong intuitive impulse to do this, and it’s one I don’t feel like I want to deny.