by Christina Enevoldsen
I saw myself standing next to a long line of people waiting to have their requests fulfilled. I wasn’t in the line; I was standing to the side, waiting for permission to get in the line. I wasn’t sure if it was the sea of humanity who decided if I was allowed to enter the line or if it was particular individuals. I only knew that there were a lot of people standing between me and my fulfilled desires. That’s the image I had for most of my life.
When it came to healing from sexual abuse, I had that same sense. I thought I had done my healing work years ago, but when it became clear that I still had work to do, I didn’t know if it was “my turn” to heal. It was my habit to ask “permission” when I wanted to start something new in my life. I would mention my new idea to the people closest to me and wait for their replies.
When I talked about delving deeper into the sexual abuse history, I was particularly interested in my husband’s response. I knew the process would put the most strain on him and on our relationship. Don was unaware that I was asking for his approval; he thought I was simply asking for his support. But it was his approval, not his support that I wanted.
I’m not sure what I would have done if Don had questioned the timing or asked how long the process might take or said anything else that would have discouraged me. I probably would have shrunk back and been angry that it wasn’t “my turn” yet. I would have likely felt rejected and resented serving and serving others, not knowing when I could attend to my needs.
Though Don was extremely encouraging of my journey, I tried to keep my healing in as small a space as possible—only heal when nobody was looking. I wanted to rush through my healing or to hide it in a box. “Is this okay? Am I bothering you? Is my mess making you uncomfortable?” I didn’t want the unpleasantness to spill over into his “space”. He never expressed any impatience or displeasure but when would his patience run out? When would he tell me enough was enough?
This was my issue and it wasn’t fair that he had to suffer through this process with me. When Don married me, we both thought I “had it together”. He didn’t bargain for the drama that this process brings.
Though I tried not to let my process show, I’ve had sudden angry outbursts, I’ve been morose for hours or days, I’ve cried for unknown reasons. Don has been here through it all. He’s listened to me pour out memories, he’s witnessed me beating my pillow to smithereens, he’s held me when I’ve cried and he’s stayed out of the way when I needed to be alone.
His unwavering love made me even more nervous. I’d never been able to trust in anyone’s love before or to have a relationship that wasn’t based on what I could do for them. I was married to an abuser for twenty-one years before marrying Don and I was finally facing the truth that I never had my parent’s love. And in the thick of the healing process, I didn’t have very much to give. Since I thought giving and serving was my only worth, I was terrified of losing my husband’s love. I knew he’d never leave me, but the thought of him staying while not loving me seemed worse. My past experience was screaming in my head that I couldn’t trust him. His love would run out and trusting in his support was setting me up for a fall. I knew his permission to heal would be withdrawn at any moment.
After all the losses I’d already experienced and all the times I’d had a broken heart, I thought I couldn’t afford to find out if this relationship was real. How much pain and loss could I handle? But the more I thought about it, I’d already experienced so much betrayal and hurt that I couldn’t afford to settle for another relationship that wasn’t based on real love. I had to confront my fear that I’d be abandoned if I asked for real love. I finally acknowledged that I needed it and was starting think that maybe I deserved it.
Telling myself that it wasn’t fair to inflict my process on him was really just an expression of my fear that he wouldn’t love me if he felt slighted. It was true that he never asked for this and it wasn’t fair to him. But I never asked for any of this either. Should I keep myself in misery so he wouldn’t be inconvenienced? Should I deny myself healing to spare him its intrusion? I don’t have to apologize for my healing process or the things it brings up.
Why did he get to decide if it was alright for me to heal? I had to take back the power to grant or withdraw permission. Whether my husband violently opposed my investment in myself or he was my biggest cheerleader, it became MY decision.
If you ask my husband what has been the most difficult part of my healing process, he’ll tell you that there have been more rewards than challenges (isn’t he diplomatic?) and it’s true that he’s benefiting from my growth. But for once, it’s not about him or anyone else. This process is for me.
I’ve chosen myself first for the first time in my life. I’ve dared to put my healing before my marriage or my husband. It’s challenged all my fears and I’ve learned that my husband loves me. When I started this process, I didn’t know if I’d still have his love on the other side of this. But I had to decide to love me most. And what I got after that was the security of the love for myself, my husband’s love, and a very satisfying healing journey.
I don’t see myself waiting on the side of the line anymore. In fact, I don’t see the line at all. I know there’s nobody waiting at the front of any line handing out my needs. I’m the person handing out the answers to my needs. And I don’t have to wait anymore.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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