How Sexual Abuse Changed Me

I was eleven when I lost my virginity.  It happened under an old pine tree in an overgrown backyard of an old lady’s house a block away from my childhood home.  The boys were older.  They were rough and cruel.  They laughed the whole time like it was some hysterical joke I didn’t understand.  Perhaps they thought I was the punchline.  It killed my innocence and woke a nightmare that has been chasing me ever since.

When I was thirteen, it began happening regularly.  This time it was my brother’s friends.  The first time my brother told me that one of his friends wanted to be with me, I said no.  I didn’t want to do it.  My brother, almost 5 years older than me and over twice my weight, changed my mind with his fists.  It was easier to let it happen whenever they wanted than to get beaten.  It was always easier to close my eyes and let it happen than to say no, get hit and have it happen anyway.

Sex was something I was forced to have when I was a child not even old enough to consent.  Sex was something others pushed me into because I was wearing something revealing or acted flirtatiously and someone else felt owed.  Sex was something I let happen because I didn’t know how to say no and was afraid to say no.  Sex had to do with being an object for others to use.

I had no say over my own body.  I had no say over sex.  Sex was a physical act that boys and men would do that had very little to do with me as a person.  The physical act of sex took away my voice and my identity.  I could have been any person.  Any hole.  Sex, to me, was something ugly and rough.  Sex was scary.  Sex hurt.  Just the thought of sex made me want to cry.

I often wonder if predators can single out victims the way a wolf can spot that lone, weak sheep at the edge of the flock.  The easy target.  That one who has been hurt and abused so often that they have very little fight left in them.  As much as I’ve wished I could walk through life invisible, I’ve often felt like I’ve had a glaringly bright neon sign floating above my head that reads, “Easy Target Here”.  Even in relationships, I’ve been pressured into things I did not want to do, things I begged and pleaded not to do.  My ex used to push to do things or include others under the guise of stepping out of comfort zones or sexual exploration.  Looking back, he felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, just another predator looking to have his way regardless of what I wanted, under the guise of love.

The first couple times I was raped, I tried reaching out to my mother for help.  When I was eleven and came home crying, covered in dirt and pine needles, their semen and my blood, my mother asked what I had expected based on the clothes I was wearing.  When I was thirteen and she was bringing me to the hospital for the doctors to kill the baby one of my brother’s friends had left to grow inside me, I was told not to tell my father.  Told that “daddies did not love little whores”.  I was never asked whether I had consented to have sex because I was too young to even consent.  I was never even asked if I wanted an abortion.  I had no voice.  I was irrelevant.  I learned not to speak up because if my own mother could not be understanding or compassionate, what could I expect from the rest of the world?

Even worse than having no one to turn to is not being able to count on myself.  I have lived a coward’s life.  I have been afraid to say no because my voice meant nothing when I did speak up.  I have been afraid to fight back because it was easier to let it happen than to take a beating.  I have not spoken out about all I’ve been through because I feel dirty, damaged, ashamed, irrelevant and inconsequential.   I feel like I’ve failed myself for not yelling no, not fighting harder, not crying out that things like this go on.  I feel like a failure.  I feel tainted and used.  All the damage others have done to me cannot compare to how much I beat myself up because I let it happen again and again.

When I talk about previous partners, it is a very gray area for me.  Where most people can blurt out a specific number, I’m never sure how to respond.  I refuse to count those that touched me when I was a child.  Likewise, I cannot stomach to acknowledge those that forced themselves upon me as an adult.  I’m forever weighing whether or not to count those that I had never wanted to be with but who pushed anyway.  If I did not say no because I was too afraid to say anything, what do I consider them?  I am very hesitant to ever use the word rape unless I have been verbally or physically adamant in my objections – but what does a woman call it when she has become too afraid and defeated to say no?  Instead, I usually find myself only counting those who I have willingly, completely of my own choice and actions, chosen to be intimate with on my own terms.  It is a very short list.

In my head, in order to try to have any type of semi-normal physical relationship with anyone, I had to separate sex from intimacy.  For me, intimacy was about sharing love and tenderness.  Intimacy didn’t have to involve any particular physical act.  Intimacy revolved around feelings.  It is always those feelings that I have to focus on.  Emotions not physical acts.  I have a lot of trouble dating.  Men seem to want to jump right away into a physical relationship.  I do not move fast enough so most lose interest quickly and move on.  For me, intimacy must involve feelings and trust.  Feelings build over time.  Trust must be earned.  I’m not comfortable rushing into intimacy.

As much as I would love to have a “healthy” physical relationship one day, I’m honestly not sure it is possible.  Whenever people show interest in me, I’m afraid I’ll be put in that position again where I won’t be able to say no, or worse, that it won’t matter if I say anything at all.  Even compliments are met with mistrust because I am always looking for ulterior motives.   I find myself recoiling from the touch of others unless the feelings are there and I have expressly initiated intimacy myself.  I have to mentally prepare myself, convincing myself that this specific time is different, that there are feelings and that I do matter to them, just to follow through.  If there are any doubts about sincerity, I pull away and hide.  It should not be this hard.  Yet, for me, it always is.  I fear it always will be.

I am tired of being a victim.  I am tired of always being afraid.  I am trying to speak up, to find ways to work through my past and to heal.  Though the physical act of sex only lasts a short while, the trauma of sexual abuse lasts a lifetime.

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