How Sexual Abuse Ruined Surprises For Me

by Bethany

Birthdays usually mean surprises. I remember one particular birthday en route to our destination I was lead into a dark room and without warning, all of my closest friends popped out shouting my praises. I was so taken aback. Immediately my defenses went up. This should have been a happy moment, but it felt more like a violation. What was meant as a celebration of me, I saw as an attack.

Why was the surprise party so jarring? Because it wasn’t what I expected. I had anticipated a calm evening, with our course mapped out and a full agenda of what, when, where, who.  And it wasn’t so much that I was missing out on the evening that should have been; I was disturbed that I had lost control of everything.

Control gives me a sense of security. I know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen,  and who it will happen with. I recall someone a long time ago naming one of their best qualities as spontaneity. I was baffled. How could that be a good quality? People just pick up and go. Ahhhh! The whole idea of that was terrifying to me. It wasn’t until recently that I began to explore my feelings about being spontaneous. What so many people view as a fun and admirable quality I saw as dangerous. It seemed irresponsible to me. I thought that people were just throwing themselves in harm’s way by doing something without planning it in advance. Spontaneity requires that same loss of control that I hated so much.

Where did I get this? I had no control over what my abuser did to me, and to counteract that I have made an attempt to control everything. The truth is, trying to control hasn’t kept me safe. Instead, it has instilled more fear. Being terrified of surprises doesn’t make them go away.

As I’ve started to take back my voice and established healthy boundaries in my life I’ve also started to let go of the fear that bound me.  Dealing with the fears that compel me to try to control everything has allowed me to take baby steps, starting with my plan to lose control. I know that sounds like it doesn’t go together, but for a type A girl like me it was my best solution. I took pockets of my week when I would allow for the unexpected—whether that be a beach adventure or just picking a direction and seeing where the wind blows. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Sure, at first it was a little stressful, but I pressed on and actually started to enjoy not being on edge all the time.

Over time it’s become a habit. And this doesn’t mean letting go of all my defenses, but it did mean not letting the loss of control dictate whether I had a good time or not. It’s been freeing! I began feeling like a human being instead of a robot.

Just the other day I asked my mom if she wanted to go on an adventure and we just picked up and left. I never could have done this a year ago, and it’s exciting to know that I’m on my way to being completely free.


Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.

[read Bethany’s story here]

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How Sexual Abuse Ruined Surprises For Me

7 thoughts on “How Sexual Abuse Ruined Surprises For Me

  • October 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Just because of some of the abuse I was subjected to, I still hate surprises and even wrapped presents. Thank goodness for gift bags. It’s not about being out of control for me, but horrific memories that I know and understand why I have that response but still have the response. I don’t have a running & screaming response….more like the guy in the wheelchair with cardiac problems being wheeled into the ambush. hmmm…ambush. Thanks for sharing this fear and how you are able to cope with it now.

  • October 26, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Bethany, I love it!

    It speaks so much to me. I loved control and fought tooth and nail when I realized I had to give it up. My husband does everything at the spur of a moment, and I am so glad that I had already started woking on my control issues, because I don’t see how we could have made it. Him wanting to go, me telling him no. Me wanting to plan a trip, him losing his joy because it was too structured. lol.

    Thanks for sharing kiddo. Very, very good!

  • October 26, 2010 at 9:47 am

    I have lots to think about with this post… I like to fly by the seat of my pants… as long as I am the one in control. I don’t like following someone else’s plan unless I have approved of it first. I like to know what others have planned if it involves me! I think that ends up in the same place though! When it comes to something like a surprise party, I would HATE that.. UNLESS it was with people that I trust, which I can only say is true for this past few years. (and I mean they could only invite the people that I trust too!) But I am getting better at all this self control stuff. I am getting way more relaxed. I used to get really suspicious if my husband brought me home flowers for no reason.. (and that comes from always getting ” guilt gifts ” in the past.) ~ it gets better all the time.. Thanks for sharing Bethany! this is really wonderful and thought provoking.. still have lots to think about in relation to myself and my own progress! Hugs! Darlene

  • October 26, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Grace, I completely understand your response. Sometimes that shock feels like your entire body is seizing up. That is very common for abuse survivors.

    Patty, Structure is such a perfect word for the way I used to live. I was so rigid all the time. It left no room for fun. Isn’t it great to be able jump up and do things without planning now? 🙂

    Darlene, that makes complete sense. It’s so good to hear the other side of the spectrum on what people do to keep control.

  • October 26, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Bethany, it’s been so great to see you let loose! You really have become less structured in your time and clothes and even your attitude. I can soooo relate to the hatred of surprises. My friends would try to convince me that it was a ‘good’ surprise, but in my mind, that’s a contradiction in terms. I like to be a part of planning anything I’m involved in, too. Like you, I’ve noticed I’m not so rigid as I used to be since I’ve been dealing with the fear of being controlled, with asserting myself, with boundary issues and such. I still have a long way to go, but it’s good to see progress! Thanks for sharing this. Hugs, Mom (Christina)

  • October 26, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Yes, the wardrobe change has been dramatic. I used to dress like a business woman – way too mature for my age. Now I dress like a typical 25 year old. Jeans and a t-shirt are no longer a sin. Haha

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