Sexual Healing at Age 7?
Until the last two weeks, this question never crossed my mind. Now I can’t leave it alone. If the answer is Yes, how can that be? As noted in Unpacking My Suitcase, I’m not yet sexually aware. But I’m carrying an unwelcome load of something in my female body and spirit.
I’ve never denied that my father beat me. I have, however, protected him and myself by ignoring the way this affected all parts of my life, especially my sexuality. The beatings weren’t simply “over and done with,” or “what happens to all children.” Myths like these never helped me get through and on with my life.
My Go-to Sexual Abuse Story
As an adult preacher’s kid, I got through by focusing on another story—even though I never told anyone but my husband the entire story. In the mid-60s and 70s speakers sometimes asked, “How many women in this audience were sexually abused before the age of 18?” I always raised my hand, though not without shame and fear of stigma.
If anyone asked me to say more, I was ready with my designated sexual abuse story: The Shopkeeper. It was true. It happened. Implication: If I need sexual healing, it’s because of the shopkeeper who molested me. No need to talk about what happened in my life before age 10 ½.
From this perspective, my victim status felt comfortable. Besides, it gave me a way of not being seen as a goody-two-shoes preacher’s kid who supposedly didn’t know anything about the real world. It also gave me a way of belonging without having to talk about distressing or disturbing things that happened to me at home when I was a child. And yes, it protected my father the preacher.
I used to think it would be wonderful if someone outside my family set everything in motion. Then it would all seem like a wicked accident. Sort of like a natural disaster over which no one had any control, including myself. It could have happened to any young girl.
But that’s not true. What happened in the shopkeeper’s store couldn’t have happened to just any young girl. I’d been groomed for something like this.
How It All Started
When I began this blog I started with The Shopkeeper, but not because it explains why I need sexual healing. Rather, it demonstrates that I was already at risk of something like this happening to me.
My father’s conscious goal was to break my will. I don’t believe it was to groom me as a victim or to harm me sexually. Nonetheless, that’s what happened in the ways I describe in both parts of Rituals of Submission. Nothing else from my childhood helps me better understand the internal torment of my adult life, especially when it comes to my sexuality.
I often feel an edge of fear when I talk about my preacher father beating me. In fact, I feel a bit of it now. My fear has two sides, though they aren’t equally powerful.
- First, I fear there’s someone out there who ‘knows me better than I know myself,’ and will see right through me. I deserved every licking I got and then some. In fact, I’m a fraud—an imposter who got this far in life by hiding the truth about herself. I was actually a stubborn, rebellious, angry, disobedient little girl who was bad from the inside out. Father was right. I was wrong. My will had to be broken, and the anger had to be beaten out of me. Too bad he didn’t accomplish his goal. I know these voices in my head don’t want me to know the truth about myself or about what happened to me as a child. Yet the fear doesn’t fully disappear.
- On the other hand, I still fear being discounted, dismissed or disbelieved, because my victim story doesn’t pass the test of horror. Sometimes people expect to hear a story about incest, repeated rape, kidnapping, being prostituted, or alcoholic rages and drug-induced neglect. My experience may seem to pale beside others that seem more gruesome. However, the internal hellishness of it was anything but pale or less gruesome. This also goes for its impact on my female sexuality, even though I didn’t recognize this for years.
My Heavy 7-Year Old Load
I haven’t figured out a tidy way of identifying things that didn’t bode well for my sexual health. When I look at my list, it seems like scatter-shot. All over the map. One thing after another. But it all looks familiar and is deeply rooted in me by the time I’m 7 years old, not yet sexually aware.
Here’s what chipped away at me daily, from the inside out.
- In the name of God, my father regularly exercises intrusive control and power over my body, spirit, mind, emotions and behaviors.
- It seems there are no boundaries when it comes to my body, spirit, mind, emotions and behaviors. I can’t post visible signs that say: Stop! Do Not Enter! Do Not Hurt! Do Not Criticize or Demean!
- Instead I invent gigantic internal signs that say: It’s None of Your Business! You Think I’m Obeying, But I Have NOT Done Exactly What You Told Me To Do! You Can NOT Control My Mind!
- I fear my father every day, not for what he actually does but for what he might do. This is not healthy respect like “fear of the Lord.” It’s fear of beatings. Like a low-grade fever that won’t go away.
- My female body burns with shame every time I’m required to expose it to my father’s beatings.
- I get mixed messages about love. It seems connected to being beaten, saying I’m sorry, begging forgiveness for my sins and saying I love you all at the same time.
- I become cautious and strategic: vigilant about rules; emotions kept under control or denied; behavior controlled in order to ‘control’ my father so I won’t get punished. No spontaneity; it’s too dangerous.
- I work hard at figuring things out in my mind, Getting it Right the First Time. I develop a Deep Need to Be Right so I won’t get into trouble. No weakness or stumbling allowed.
- I don’t learn to make decisions for myself. I just have to remember to obey The Good Girl Rules.
- I talk as though I have a voice of my own, but I don’t. I don’t even have a whisper when it comes to how I feel or what I think of my father’s actions or his opinions about me.
- Every day I get better at looking and behaving like a happy, normal child, even though I don’t feel loved or valued just the way I am.
- I find out I have A Magnificent Escape Hatch: School! I get really good at doing school. They like me. I even get a little praise from my parents now and then. Going to school is like Going to Another Planet. I love it. Maybe I’ll do this for the rest of my life.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2014