If the room is dark during sex, I can’t tell if it is my husband or the man who assaulted me.
I walk into the bedroom, sure to close the door behind me. I lift it and quietly pull it toward me with a whisper as to not alert him of my departure from the living room. It’s dark outside, and I close the blinds before I undress and get ready for bed. I hear the door open behind me, and I stiffen with anticipation.
I know it’s him. I can feel eyes on me and soon after — his hands wrap around my tense body.
I just want to crawl inside of myself and disappear.
Turning my body sideways, I break free from his embrace; I hurriedly put on my top and panties while simultaneously blurting out how much my head hurts.
This is and has been my instinctual response to this oddly false and completely invalid sense of threat from the man I married — for the past year.
This man I love cannot come close to me without my body clenching and my stomach jumping into my throat.
Sixteen years have passed since my last sexual assault, and before now, I had an incredibly healthy sex drive. I wore my sexuality like a badge of honor and actively sought out just the right moment to initiate. I was comfortable with every aspect of physical intimacy, but it seems to have transformed into the most extreme form of discomfort.
I noticed this dramatic shift after having our first daughter together; I started to remember little bits and pieces of a time long before I met my husband — flashes of his voice and blurs of his face. Thinking about how I could’ve handled the situation differently so he couldn’t have penetrated my body. Blaming myself constantly and being more aware of what I was wearing and who was in my space.
I consciously worked to push it away.
This stayed in the back of my mind and came to the surface slowly and more visibly in my daily tasks — the constant anxiety when I was away from my home after dark, pepper spray clenched in my fist as I left the gym, and triple checking my doors so I wouldn’t be raped upon entering my car. The fear and guardedness were beginning to consume me — and in turn, my life.
If the room were dark during sex, I would close my eyes and tears would stream down my cheeks. My jaw clenched, I would feel his face and head to make sure it was really him.
I started to build this wall of resentment and hatred of anything requiring me to be touched or grabbed. It began to feel like the only reason I existed was to be submissive and allow myself to be an object.
The past year has been the hardest year for us. All of the memories of being assaulted came back more clearly, and the feelings of fear came rushing back with them.
I remember feeling especially triggered around the time of the election. I had just returned home from a Sexual Assault Survivor forum that myself and a few good friends were hosting in New York. This event was an awakening of everything that had previously been buried deep within. Hearing the stories of the women that surrounded me, reminded me of the cold hard floor and hands around my neck. It reminded me of how broken I was and how much I had pushed everyone in my life away.
My husband and I left for Seattle a couple of days later. This was our first trip away without our kids, and we were excited at the thought of uninhibited sex — I was feeling empowered, and I was going to take it all back. I was going to be free and open to anything.
Our first night wasn’t much different than a regular night at home. He would extend an invitation, and I would shut down, pulling my legs tight together and crossing my arms in front of my breasts.
I just didn’t get why he kept trying. Why didn’t he just give up and let go of any hope?
The next night we laid in bed, and I immediately threw out my cold signals and closed body language.
That’ll teach him to try to have sex with me, I thought to myself. But I was still struggling with the why. Why did I feel so unsafe and closed off around him?
The end of our second night came to a close, and we headed back to our room. After changing and getting into bed, I turned on my side and immediately felt his hands on my body. Slow and calm. The screaming and shuttering inside my head was silenced for the first time in what seemed like months.
Instead of shutting down, I opened myself up.
We were completely bare and exposed — the lights dim, but I could see his face and I knew that I was safe. I married him, stayed up all night with each of our babies with him.
He wasn’t trying to hurt me; he wanted to love me and connect with me in the most intimate way.
Instead of holding him back, I invited him in, all while he listened as I quietly guided him and told him what I needed from him — to feel safe and to feel okay.
I owned my past in these moments, and I told myself that this was my choice. I wanted to have sex. This realization allowed me the quiet opportunity to communicate my wants and needs, and he listened.
Walking away from this first step, I am grounded in knowing that I alone have control over my physical and emotional self. Overcoming these fears will take time.
It is my choice who I let enter my space and body. Learning to accept the past and work through the emotion and impact it has had on my life in so many ways is how I will continue to move forward.
Growing but never expecting to be fully healed.
Images via tumblr.com.
This article has been republished from Ravishly with full permission. You can view the original article here.
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Katherine Emrick is a Los Angeles based writer and doula with focus on sexual assault survivor advocacy. She is the creator of the blog and social media movement Motherhood Rising and advocates for equal rights and transparency in the media. You can follow her on Instagram Facebook, and Twitter