From the time when I was eleven to fourteen, I was in an abusive relationship with the boy next door. The abuse ranged from sexual, to physical and mental abuse, and left my head spinning. The boy in question was only three years older than me and while our relationship never became more than a friendship, I loved him deeply. At twenty-three, I sometimes still do. At fourteen I finally managed to create enough boundaries between me and him that I was able to remove myself from the relationship, but my health, both mental and physical, was already severely damaged. I had developed an eating disorder due to the sexual abuse at age eleven, and by age fourteen, I was suicidal.
To say that recovery was a long and hard process would be an understatement; more often than not my progress in recovery was devastating and I found myself unable to give myself a voice or to accept the help I desperately needed. I resisted treatment until my second year of university, when I finally decided to accept help. Even then, the process was difficult and far from perfect. Normal relationships, even beyond dating, were nearly impossible and I worked to keep myself distant from everyone. I am now in recovery and while most of my triggers are manageable, I still consider dating and romantic intimacy something incredibly difficult.While I am aware of my capability to face those fears head on, I don’t find it necessary to.
Oftentimes when considering recovery from abuse, particularly sexual, we see recovery as feeling safe again and being able to move through life with the same freedom and choices we had before. This isn’t the reality. Trauma, whether we want it to or not, changes us and oftentimes our priorities. While society sees having a partner, kids, and a family as “recovery,” it’s not. Recovery is whatever gets you through. For me, that’s making a family out of friendships and exchanging “I love you’s” in relationships between friends. I have no need or desire for romantic or sexual intimacy. I am a whole person on my own, one that is in recovery no matter what society tells me, in spite of people that hear of my most recent break-up and go, “Someday you’ll find someone that will make you want to push against those fears.”
My most recent relationship showed me that I am able to be in a romantic relationship,but when every part of that relationship is wrought with fear and instability then it’s not worth it to me. Instead of having to face that fear everyday ‘till I am desensitized, I am choosing to love myself. Instead of trying to change myself to reclaim a person that no longer exists, I am adapting my life in a way that makes the world feel safe again, even if that means redefining myself and how I see the world. I cannot be the eleven-year-old that was sexually assaulted, nor can I predict who I would have been without that abusive relationship. I am the person I am today and I am whole.