I was twenty-two. I’d been married five years when I confessed to my husband that I’d been having an affair. While he decided if he wanted to stay with me, I went to stay with my parents.
The day I arrived to my parents’ house, I sat in one corner of their living room while my mom and dad sat in the opposite corner. The living room was mostly used as a pass through to get from the front door to the rest of the house. But on this day, I wasn’t allowed entrance to the rest of the house quite yet. I don’t remember anything specific that they said, but the message was, “How could you turn out so bad when you came from such a good family?”
I’ve processed several layers of pain over that one instance. I’ve worked through the injustice of their accusations when my dad hadn’t had any trouble giving me to other men when I was a little girl. If allowing other men to have sex with me was so wrong, then why did he do it? I’ve also internally addressed the rejection and judgment that I felt from my parents when I so desperately wanted to feel their arms around me. Yet there was something about it that still lingered.
I hadn’t thought about that in a year or two when I came across something that explained why I kept going back to it. I was reading a story about another abuse survivor who had coped with her pain through a serious addiction. Her account was horrific, but the way she wrote about it felt detached and distant. She seemed to be telling the story about a fictional character instead of her own life.
Something about that struck me and I read and reread her story, curious to know its significance. I finally asked myself if there was anything in my past that I was disconnected from. Immediately, I saw myself back in my parents’ living room.
This time I recognized it. As my mom and dad situated themselves far from me, I was sitting with them. My inward posture toward myself was just as rejecting as theirs. They didn’t want to associate with me, they didn’t want to touch me, but I didn’t want to touch me either. I was desperate to avoid the contamination of my own filth.
When I was nine years old, my father orally raped me in the corner of the airplane hangar that was behind our house. The hangar faced a public road that was only separated by a small taxiway and a large field of tumbleweed and tall yellow grass. I was panicked—but not of the act that was being perpetrated on me—I was terrified of being caught. In my mind, I was the bad one.
When my dad was finished, he threw my head off him in disgust. His sudden thrust seemed to demand, “How could you???” as though he was the victim of the rape. And then I was alone.
That incident only reinforced what I already knew about myself: I was worthless for anything except sex and I was disgusting for it. My badness meant that I was disqualified for love and compassion and that I deserved to be abandoned. In my shame I abandoned myself.
The shame didn’t come from my affair; the affair was the result of my shame. I learned it from the way I was treated in that airplane hangar and in my parents’ bedroom and at the sex parties and everywhere else my dad violated me. I wasn’t trash just because I was treated like trash. I was misused. I was mishandled. It wasn’t something I deserved and it wasn’t me.
Today, I can separate the wrong things I’ve done from the wrong things that have been done to me. I don’t condone or defend the ways I’ve hurt myself and others but I don’t abandon myself either. I can acknowledge the wrong I’ve done without feeling contaminated and without incorporating those things into my identity. I can see the good and bad things about myself and still thoroughly love myself. I’m loyal to myself the same way I stand with my son or daughter when one of them fails.
Over the years, I’ve done some things that have led to other people separating from me. No matter what I’ve done in my past or what I’ll do in the future, I won’t separate from myself again. I’ll sit with myself during the tough time with my arms wrapped around me saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts, I’d love to hear yours. If you’d like to comment, you don’t have to use your real name and email addresses are never made public.
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.