Walk the Land Chapter 5
I was Naked and you Clothed Me
If you are a victim of sexual abuse, I am including this trigger warning. This chapter contains content that describes sexual assault and language that discusses mental health instability and alcohol abuse. Please be advised. Thank you.
*Indicates names that have been changed to protect the identities of those parties that were involved
Acclimating back to the South Florida scene was much easier than I thought, coming back to familiar faces and friends that were just a bit more grown than when I left. Easing into high school from middle school for me was the first time I felt a great joy and excitement about something new in my life. It was also around that same time I got my first job as a counselor-in-training at a local summer camp.
I wouldn’t say that I was boy crazy at fourteen or looking to date, but in the summer going into my freshman year of high school, I met my first love. We had a mutual friend in common who also worked with me at the camp, and somehow he connected us both.
Len* was older than me and had just graduated high school. He was handsome and brilliant and the first time we spoke on the phone, the conversation lasted all night and into the early hours of the morning. There was an immediate connection, a spark, and we both recognized it from the beginning. Although we may not have seen it then, the connection we had was based deeply on our past traumas and need for one another’s presence. Very quickly, Len became a stable force in my life.
As any other young teenage couple, we had our fair share of issues. He was jealous and overprotective of me, and I was a fierce defender of my independence. This made for some fiery, explosive arguments, leading to a lot of shouting, tears, and long, drawn out apologies. Len was the first boy I ever loved.
But in the height of my new found love came trauma responses. Back then I did not call them that, but now I know better. Lots of running away, self-blame and self-injurious behavior. With nowhere for the pain to go, I took it out on myself. While I was with Len, I also distanced myself from my close friends. Relating to Len was a lot easier than relating to them, and I felt more secure confiding in him with many of the things in my heart.
I did not tell Len about my trauma. He just figured I was more mature for my age than other girls. He saw me as fascinating, eloquent, intelligent and captivating. He saw something in me that I did not see in myself. This was God’s way of telling me I still had dignity and worth, and I belonged somewhere, to someone. The very beginnings of the underpinnings of Christ in subtle, loving messages.
Because Len didn’t know about the abuse, he didn’t understand my reaction to things, and frankly, neither did I. I overreacted when he told me things, and took too many things he said to heart. He was also a young kid who didn’t know any better.
I had never processed the early trauma of my childhood sexual abuse because I had never told anyone. Those sorts of things get buried deep like time capsules with no “to open” date. The ramification of those trauma burials are the manifestations that occur later in life, and they are numerous. Body dysmorphia, cutting, addiction just to name a few. And even these behaviors change, morph and grow worse over time.
Len loved me in a way that I believe was as pure as a 17-year old could. And without having ever gone to therapy or even telling him I was abused, how could he help me? The relationship was loving but boisterous, and without being honest with him, there was just no way to get better. He tried to love me, I tensed. We repeated a vicious cycle. The more he restrained me from doing things he knew were not good for me, the more I resented him. I wanted desperately to be loved, but I showed that by desperately pulling away.
I didn’t know it then, but I learned later that this was a defense mechanism for sexual abuse survivors—that when someone tried to love you, the response was to try and leave them. Triggers come come through physical touch, words or big emotions. I would do the opposite of what I wanted. I would run away to try and draw his love. It was confusing, endless and tiring. I just could not give in to the love that I knew he had for me.
So when I found out that there was going to be a party that summer with a bunch of college kids, I rallied at the chance to go and drink. I had snuck some drinks here and there and appreciated the opportunity to be numb, as it seemed to be the only thing that killed the pain. With my hands on unlimited supplies of alcohol, I had a plan to get drunk and see how that worked on my emotional pain levels. I dressed up to make myself look older than I really was and told Len I was going to the party. He was angry. He warned me, but I didn’t listen.
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