Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sexual Healing- my ex husband

Most people do not understand that rape is not sex. Rape is a physical assault that involves sexual organs, a person's most intimately physical places.
Over the years I have used my bonds with the men in my life that I trusted to heal sexually from these assaults. One of these times has already been detailed intimately in my blog at, but I want to revisit it later. However, first I want to bring up the "sexual healing" with my now ex husband.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs frequently in people who suffer a traumatic event, such as war, natural disasters, abuse, or rape. The symptoms include flashbacks (reliving the event), trouble sleeping, nightmares, overreacting to being startled, among others. People often cope with the trauma by becoming self-destructive. Sadly, until the self-destructive behaviors stop, and the sufferer bonds in a trusting relationship with another person, the trauma cannot be worked through.
This knowledge is new to me through my training with trauma informed care and working with severely abused children, but it has always been natural for me to feel it. So when I was with my ex husband, I was never able to work through my trauma because my husband had been constantly re-traumatizing me through abuse and neglect. Until it became a "safe" relationship, I hid myself in my shell awaiting the end of the battle. One day a few years into the relationship, he finally got me out of my shell for a little while. Suddenly, what I had gone through was more pressing than his current issues.
As the trust built between us, I was finally able to confide in him a detailed account of the rape. Over the next few days we discussed it slowly, so that I coud give him time to process the details and my emotional destruction from it. Finally it became time.
After a rape, you do not just feel gross inside and revolting to others, you do not just relive the memory of the events, you remember the way it feels, it sounds, it smells. One minute you can be sitting watching tv, the next you are transported to another time and place. It is a place where you feel helpless and afraid all over again, and as hard as you try you cannot stop it. It is not just a memory of events, the next thing you know, you feel the rhythmic pounding against you, hands touching you, you trying to fight unsuccessfully, the internal cry for help that no one seems to hear, his breathing as he orgasms, and the stench of his breath and body.
All that stimulus makes it easy to understand why rape victims typically shy away from sex, or run to it. Both are coping mechanisms to avoid reliving the event. Understandably, a lot of survivors, even in committed, long-term partnerships will refuse sex. Oftentimes the partner may never even know why the survivor has such a strong aversion to sex. On the flipside, other survivors run to sex. Not because of the "enjoyment of the rape," (which is an incredible perverse way of thinking of it) but to cover up the flashback of the rape, to silence the physical sensations, and even to gain power over the choice to say yes, since even that was stolen from them.
Back to my story. At some point I was finally able to trust my (then) husband to help me through the trauma experience. We had spent days discussing the event, and a some point it happened- I became vulnerable to him. As the vulnerability hit me, my voice became much softer, weaker. I grabbed him and asked him quietly to have sex with me, even though I would likely relive the experience. As he reacted in stunned silence, I reassured him that I needed it; I needed him to keep going, even if I cried, screamed, or acted in some weird manner. He nodded his head and agreed to it. But before we began, I made him swear to me not to stop, since stopping would be interpreted by me as his disgust in me and traumatize me further. He promised me.
With that he neared me and began to kiss me passionately, removing my clothes. The terror of the event flooded into memory, and I was suddenly frozen in fear. Soon he had penetrated me. My kissing became awkward and then I could not even kiss. My whole body went limp and I began to shake in terror. That is when I began to scream and cry in terror. Luckily my husband responded by holding me with his arms and whispering he loved me as I screamed in an uncontrollable panic.  My body remained completely limp. The physical sensations became the current sensations, not the past. First the past had overwhelmed the present, but slowly, the present sensations began to infiltrate that old memory. As it ended, I for the first time felt I was living in that moment, not in two- the rape and the present.
Having sex with someone you trust as you relive the rape, to me, was like rewriting a bad story, this time with a better ending. So even as the rape memory began to become incredibly real, the reality of having sex with someone I trusted began to overwrite the memory. I could not erase that memory, so overwriting it became the only logical next best solution.
After it ended, I lay in his arms for nearly an hour sobbing and him holding me tightly.Once I was finally done crying, I sill hung on to him, as if for dear life. I needed to feel the feeling of safety in someone's embrace. I lay in that embrace until I fell lightly asleep.
Over the next few sexual encounters we had, I noticed a marked improvement in my sensitivity, the ability to lubricate (which had always been an incredible issue- it was practically gone overnight), and the feeling of the sex itself, the intimate encounter, felt more exciting, more natural, less disgusting.
My husband and I were never able to bond again like that, since he went back to showing signs of being abusive and neglectful only a few weeks later, so I was always disappointed I did not heal more fully from the first rape. Looking back, I never really trusted him, and rightly so. He never deserved my trust. It is also extremely apparent to me that our relationship only occurred because the trauma of that first rape and the previous abuse made a life that he provided what I perceived to be acceptable living conditions.
This story is important to me to share, because the weight I felt lift off my shoulders that day, is what everyone deserves to be relieved of. If you are in a committed and safe/trusting sexual relationship, please have the courage to confront the terrors of sexual trauma with empathy and courage. Your life will be all the better for it.
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