QUESTION: The problem I'm currently
having is affecting my marriage. Last February, I was brought into
the emergency room with abdominal pains. Apparently I had ruptured
an ovarian cyst. Many procedures were performed on me, and I felt
really helpless. Memories of sexual abuse flooded back to me.
Since then (and it has been nearly a year now),
I still feel an emotional distance from myself, others and the world
around me. My sporadic interest in sex is alienating my husband. Even
when I am aroused, I frequently feel too fearful to pursue a sexual
encounter. When we do have sex, I can never fully experience the encounter
because I feel threatened and become emotionally detached. It isn't
my husband's fault. He is very gentle and does not threaten to hurt
me. He gets frustrated about the fact that we have sex so infrequently
(less than once a month).
ANSWER: Your surgical procedures evoked
memories of sexual abuse. It is inevitable that parts of ourselves
that have been traumatized reappear in order to be healed. The fact
that these feelings are "up" for you now means that you must feel
safe enough in your current relationship to integrate an important
part of you that has been alienated.
The word "healing" is derived from the Old English
"hoelan," which means to integrate, synthesize, make whole. When we
are faced with a traumatic event that we were helpless to respond
to, the psyche represses or cuts off from the painful experience.
We literally "dis-integrate" in the face of trauma of any kind. This
is true whether we ourselves were victimized or if we were forced
to witness a trauma perpetrated on another person. The fact of helplessness
in the face of trauma results in a kind of dissociation that initially
protects the psyche. Eventually when we are strong enough the memories
press toward the surface of consciousness in order to be re-integrated.
Your alienation may also be a result of internalizing
the abuse, and continuing to avoid sex to keep these feelings at a
distance furthers your victimization. It is imperative that you get
help to externalize this ordeal.
Seek out a professional counselor with expertise in
recovery from sexual abuse. Join a support group for survivors of
sexual abuse. Ellen Bass and Laura Davis' workbook "The Courage to
Heal" may be useful in recovering your sexuality and sense of self.
On the plus side, your marriage provides a powerful healing matrix.
Your husband is a part of your recovery -- lean on him for support
through this process. It will be critical that he understands what
you are going through. Indeed, joining a partner's support group can
help him help you.
Your surgery released suppressed memories that are
causing the traumatized part of you to try to find its way home. Your
ensuing detachment and emotional distance are defenses against the
flood of feelings that have surfaced. This is a natural response to
the emerging memories that need your compassionate attention in order
to re-integrate the part of you that was abused, in effect to make
yourself whole again.
Welcome your hurt self home like you would embrace
a lost daughter. You have a right to heal and to reclaim your sexuality!