Healing Continues: Sexuality

No one gets better all at once. Healing goes on as we pick up pieces of our life that still belong, set aside those pieces that no longer fit, and build new pieces for the gaps that remain. And, as many have come to realize we are changed forever by our experience as wives and partners of men called sex addicts. The person that begins to emerge on our healing journey isn’t exactly the same person we were. There’s a “before” and an “after” version of “me.”

That truth still chokes me up. It’s one thing to lose the life partner who was the love of your life and the one you trusted with your children’s lives—but it’s another kick in the teeth to lose yourself. It’s back to square one. PTSD runs over nearly 70% of us like a Mack truck according to published research by Dr. B. Steffens. Some of the strengths you are counting on within yourself just aren’t there when you call them up. Some of the skills out of which you make a living may be compromised. Some of the comforts in being “you” are moving targets now. Healing continues as your life unfolds with different liabilities and different assets.

But here’s some really good news: every step we make to recognize the value of our lives with self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-care changes us for the better. When we pay attention to ourselves, identify what we need, and give it to ourselves instead of denying it or punishing ourselves, the healing keeps going—moving deeper into the cracks that remain. Yes, it’s hard to lose so much. But there is no limit to how much you can heal, and how much you can add to your life. This includes your sexuality.

I had no expectations in this regard. None. I had one lover in my life and it was my husband. But he happened to be his mother’s psychological slave, through covert incest. I didn’t know what that was at the time, but I had certainly raised concerns about her constant jealousy, “behind my back” criticism, and inappropriate demands upon him. (You will not be surprised to hear that my legitimate concerns were turned back upon me any time that I raised them.) As you may imagine, he was not free to love me with any degree of intimacy, ever, as long as he chose to serve her first. But the life I live now with my new life partner is completely free from her tyranny, my former husband’s slavery, and from the blameshifting about this that my run-of-the-mill sex addict put on me. It’s never too late to enjoy human sexual intimacy for the first time. Never. And it’s never too late to keep exploring it, either.  

I’m not going to talk about all the specific ways we have been harmed sexually by cowardly and abusive men. I don’t want to give them any more ideas than they already have about how it’s done. I also don’t want this to become a “trophy blog” for the men who pretend they want to know what they did wrong so they can “get better”, but really just get off on knowing how much of their abuse we’ve figured out and how much we haven’t. And then there’s the guys who just like to relive it all—but that’s not going to happen on my blog. Suffice it to say that women tell me their hard truths of woefully inadequate and/or abusive sexual experiences based on men’s epidemic performance failures, physical equipment limits, general incompetence, and outright cruelty and neglect. While these men like to complain to others that their wives and partners don’t like sex or aren’t sexually “open”, the facts say the opposite. He withholds his sexuality from her for long periods of time, and then controls the interaction so that it stays within his sphere of experience. Everything with an abuser is about control.

Being with a man called a sex addict (or as Dr. Minwalla calls them, Compulsive-Abusive Sexual-Relational Disordered Man—CASRD man, rhymes with hazard man) exclusively means most women haven’t had much of a chance to enjoy or explore their sexuality.  Healing continues for us as we deal with the specific sexual wounds of our life with him. We may need to work with someone to talk through those hard stories, challenge their power, and start with a fresh slate. Some women may need to work with a trained EMDR practitioner to diminish or eliminate trauma that is sexually related. EMDR is well-recommended as one of the simplest and most effective ways to treat trauma. What’s most important is that you take this part of healing seriously. Do not be ashamed of what he did to you. Get help and take back your sexuality from him.

For some women, sexual healing comes when they begin to consider dating someone new. Even if they don’t end up in a long-term relationship, the potential for a sexual connection with another man helps them to move on in their own lives. They are able to see themselves without making reference to the man who abused them. The experience of another man’s interest helps to rebuild confidence. If the interest is mutual, they may be relieved to discover they still have feelings of sexual attraction and desire. So many women have been beaten down for so long as sexual people that it’s a shock to feel those things again. They may have thought it all was gone forever. But it hasn’t. Other women can’t even imagine that possibility. I was one of those. Everything was dead inside me. As it turns out, I was wrong about that. You could be wrong about it, too.

A few clients started dating again believing that they would be able to filter out the CASRD men by being more careful. It doesn’t usually work out that they can. Assholes come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and occupations. They have spent their whole lives lying about who they are, while we’ve only just started trying to identify them. The dating world is tough. For women in my age range it can be even worse, as one client discovered. After carefully screening her dating companions and making it clear she had no interest in porn or porn users, she ended up dating seven guys who, when the relationship moved towards a sexual connection, all claimed they had “prostate problems” that impeded their sexual performance. Yeah…right. Which do you think is more likely—erectile dysfunction from excessive porn use or a mass epidemic of prostate problems?

Even against all odds a few go on to find new partners in life, both with and without being married. For women like me whose sexual experience was sorely limited to the CASRD man, having a sexual relationship with a non-abuser can be so surprising that it’s like starting over from the beginning. I remember the first time my new life partner really kissed me (as opposed to quick little kisses of interest). I nearly fell on the floor. Literally. Right there. Beside his kitchen counter. I had never been kissed by anyone that present or that interested in me. Instead, I had been kissed by someone who needed me very badly to make him look normal. Not the same at all. So, the first thing to understand is that you may not really know very much at all about your sexual responsiveness to a real person who actually shows up and isn’t thinking about someone else. Your passion is still an unknown quantity. That’s all good news but it also can be a shock to the system. I found I had to get used to the power of human intimacy in our deepening relationship. His focussed presence was wonderful and exhilarating, but I actually had to get used to it. It was almost too much at first—but we figured it out together.

Perhaps the points I hope you will hear in this is that with a loving partner in positive mutuality, you can leave behind the disasters, disappointments, wounds and embarrassment of this nightmare in which we’ve been stuck. If you need extra support, seek professional help. But I believe that healing continues within a healthy sexual relationship. As we are loved faithfully and love faithfully in return and express that fully with our bodies, healing happens almost imperceptibly. It is just a part of what love does.

On other hand, some women lose interest in sexual relationships completely. “The shop is closed” as one woman put it. I understand that point of view as well. In establishing recovery priorities, sexual expression and relationships are just not everyone’s priority. But that is not to say abstinence, for example, is not also a form of healing. Like any good fasting practice, there is much to be gained by the clarity that comes with new focus and fewer distractions. Women may need that kind of decision to indicate commitment to care for themselves and work on other aspects of their humanity where strength, healing and purpose are needed first, or more.

Additionally, some women feel “closing the shop” is the only way to avoid participating in societal constructs that they now see are serving misogyny. Others may explore their spectrum of human sexuality and choose relationships with other women as resistance to and protest of misogyny, and/or simply because they meet someone who can be that special to them. Sexual healing comes many ways to many women. I’m not recommending any in particular. I’m just identifying them.

Needless to say, this kind of freedom and affirmation of a women’s autonomy to direct her sexuality as she chooses is terrifying to many groups operating from a patriarchal viewpoint. I remember way back into my young adult days being at a Christian event for women and listening to a speaker talking about marriage who said, “of course we have no sexual feelings until our husband awakens them in us.” I laughed right out loud. I thought she was being sarcastic. Then I realized I was the only one laughing in the room. Regrettably, it is still the case that others believe our human sexuality should be under the control of men generally, and a husband, specifically—or that it just isn’t there at all. 

Along those lines, then, this may be the time for you to own your human sexuality in a way that you haven’t owned it before. This doesn’t mean you are going to have lots of sexual partners, or that you will “close up the shop”, or that you will have same-sex partners. It just means that no one else is ever in control of your sexuality, other than you. It remains something you choose to share with someone or keep to yourself.

This brings me to a final point about self-pleasuring. For the many women who talk to me about the disaster of their CASRD man husband as their only sexual partner, it may be that you don’t know how your body can respond based on simple stimulus. Lots of clients have shared they invested in a personal vibrator for the first time in their life, and finally got to know themselves intimately. They discovered that sexual pleasure was possible, that it wasn’t rocket science, and that they learned what they could ask for with a partner. There’s no shame in that. You have been through enough. Sexual abandonment, abuse, and neglect should never have the last word on the miraculous creation that is your body. Write your own next chapter.

In all this, remember what I said in the first paragraph, The person that begins to emerge on our healing journey isn’t exactly the same person we were. There’s a “before” and an “after” version of “me.”  There’s no reason for the “after” version of “you” not to be a more powerful and more positive steward of your sexuality. 

I believe in you. No matter how you feel right now as a sexual being. I believe in the totality of you. Join me, as you are able. 

With you,

Diane

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