My second article has been published on The Mighty website. This piece is a personal look into how the childhood abuse I endured affects my marriage. It is also a testament to the power of love and support from our loved ones.
We have been together almost nine years, my husband and I. Next to my children, he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He is kind, quirky, he makes me laugh and he makes me roll my eyes. He is encouraging, supportive and he lets me be myself completely. Things the average person would naturally expect from a partner, right?
This is why I think everything happened as it did.
See, I do not know how to be me. My sense of self, my idea of who I am and what I am capable of, never developed. Rather, it was destroyed in early childhood due to horrific abuse at the hands of my grandfather. It is hardwired into who I am — this feeling of incompleteness, of little value. Ironic, it was when I found myself in a loving, calm and safe relationship, that it started to seep through the cracks.
Turns out when you live your whole life in a heightened state of stress, calming down can cause an issue.
The changes in our relationship were gradual; at least they felt like it for me. My best guess, if I am honest, is that they culminated for about a year, maybe a year and a half. I became less affectionate, less intimate; I was constantly stressed out and short-tempered; I could not keep things straight and I felt like I was always forgetting something. I just couldn’t keep it together. All of these things created a tense and cool relationship between the two of us, and between the household and I. I did not know how to fix it, and frankly, I did not have the energy. Finally, it happened. One day, I noticed my husband was not wearing his wedding ring. I knew why, I knew the major issue he had, but I asked anyway.
The fight that ensued was tense and angry, and ended with no real resolution, only my complete withdrawal for three days. When I say withdrawal, I mean it quite literally. I shut the world out and retreated completely into my own head as I processed everything we said and why. It was a lonely and disconnected three days. It was my first truly recognizable “triggered” experience.
Then it hit me, hard. I knew why I was not feeling myself, and I couldn’t believe it. It is not that I have forgotten it happened. I have just never thought about it.
I did some research on the effects of childhood sexual abuse on adults later in life; reading many of the different articles was like reading a biography of my life. As an adult survivor, I have brought with me into adulthood many negative beliefs about myself and no real coping skills for big emotions when life stresses me out.
I made a phone call to a local organization that specializes in helping adult survivors of childhood sexual assault. Thank goodness I did, I literally caught myself right as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) took hold of me after over 2o years of disassociation.
That was nine months ago.
Since then, I have been on a journey of self-discovery, and of healing, with my husband right by my side. This has not been easy for either of us and it still affects our marriage sometimes. While I deal with all the emotional and mental chaos of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), he has to deal with my mood swings, my depression, my anxiety and my tears.
I have told him often that I do not need him to understand my pain. I would never want him to. Understanding this level of evil and ugliness is not something I would wish on anyone. I also do not want him to stress himself out trying to fix anything. This cannot be fixed, it does not go away; I have to learn how to live with this. I just need to know he is with me, in this space, when I need him. He is a light when things get dark, he is my present, and he is home.
As a victim of child abuse, I was betrayed by those I loved; I was abused, neglected and left to sort out everything abuse made me feel — fear, shame and helplessness — on my own. The protective wall I built to lock away the terror and intensity of that experience and those emotions was solid.
Who would have thought, decades later, I would meet a man who would break through that wall with love, consideration, some annoying quirks and encouragement. He appreciates who I am and wants to see me shine. He took out every defense I had with the size of his heart, and he has been helping me as I rebuild myself and deal with the trauma of my past.
My marriage was shaken to its core by my disassociation and C-PTSD, but I managed to get help, just in time. I forced myself to get help, and while it has been the hardest and most painful thing I have ever done willingly, I would not change it for the world. With the cards life has dealt me, I do not think I could be more appreciative of how things are working out.
Speaking up has been scary and has caused me immense amounts of anxiety, but it has also been empowering, and it has been rewarding. Having my husband by my side — hearing me, believing me, supporting me — has definitely helped. Connecting with other survivors and hearing their stories has helped elevate some of the isolation.
If I can leave one bit of experience with other survivors as I close, it is to be kind and patient with yourself through whatever stage of awareness you are in, regarding your abuse. We survivors find our voice when it is time, and we deal with our emotions as we can.
You are not alone.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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