Open Letter to Spouses of Survivors, Pt. 1
Warning: This article contains descriptions of abuse that may be upsetting. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, help is available. Call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for confidential support.
Dear Significant Other,
I know that I am not always "easy" to love. I carry triggers, pain, hurt and somatic memories of the years and years of abuse I suffered. I wish that I could come to you with a "clean slate", having not been hurt, at all, by my previous partner. I'm doing so much healing work and I know you see this. But there are some issues that I want to address with you because I know that my own baggage affects you deeply. I wish that weren't true. I love you SO MUCH. Honestly, deep down, I feel like you deserve better. Sometimes, I think that you would be better off without me. Sometimes, a tiny part of me wishes you could have someone else -- someone who isn't bruised or who doesn't cry so much or who doesn't have panic attacks. I wish I could be that for you. I KNOW you love ME . . . you have said that so many times. Still, though . . .
I wish that I didn't jump when you touch me. Please know -- this is not because of you. It is because the touch from the man who was supposed to love me made me cringe and startle. Maybe he smacked me; maybe he pulled my hair or grabbed my arms or strangled me. Maybe he even spanked me. Maybe he never gave me affection that wasn't aggressively sexual. When you reach out, it may take me a minute to register that it is you -- my safe partner -- and not someone who will hurt me. When I become startled, my heart races and my cheeks and body become hot and I become utterly frustrated by the fact that I cannot "bring myself down". I feel irritable and (maybe) angry. Underneath that is simply the reminder of what HE did to me -- not what you are doing now. I'm so afraid to hurt your feelings. My entire body becomes tense and I almost have to "speak" to each muscle in my body -- head to toe -- in order to try to release. I want my shoulders to relax; I want my head to stop pounding; I want my nerves to feel less "electric". It feels like the ghost of my ex is still living in my body, causing panic and fear at the slightest provocation.
When he touched me, there was an entitlement that traveled through his aggression and straight into my soul. There was possessiveness associated with it. I did not feel like I was the master-of-my-own-body. He owned me. I had to stop what I was doing; I couldn't even more from room to room when he was here. When he touched me, I wondered how deep the pain would go this time. I was scanning his face and eyes . . . Would it leave a bruise? Is there a foreboding? Does this mean that I may be raped tonight? No matter how many times I asked him to stop, he would not stop. He did this to my children, also. I am only just now learning that touch can be gentle and soothing and loving. I'm asking you for time and patience. Eventually, I will get used to how you touch me and I will fall in love with it and even want more affection. If I startle, please be patient. It WILL get better. Sex was painful. I'm not alone. There is an exorbitant percentage of women (especially in evangelicalism) who suffer from vaginismus. It is not something that we can control. One little thought. . . . one little move and all of our muscles tighten. They have a mind of their own -- bracing for the shock and pain of intercourse. I still cannot control it but I have all of these little ways to "make it work". If I close my eyes, it is because I'm trying to stay in my body. I want to feel -- not dissociate. I know my fists are clenched . . . I may not even know it is happening. I want to know that sex is for ME, also. You can help me with this by asking me what I like or what feels good. It would be extra-amazing if you could ask me what I DON'T like. It may surprise you.
I need you to help me. I need you to be "extra-soft" when you touch me and hold me and love me. Please don't tug at my hair or smack me or hurt me. I know you are being playful but my nervous system cannot tolerate it. As soon as I feel something threatening, I shut down. And it may take hours to pull myself back out of that state. Be willing to stop if I need you to.
Every time you honor my body, I feel safer with you. Please know that I have guilt over all of this, even though common sense tells me that this is not my fault. Don't give up on me, darling. We can make all of this new -- we can start over together and make something that is uniquely our's. It can be beautiful.
More soon . . . .
Love, Your Beloved Survivor