Making unhealthy choices is one of the biggest problems in the life of someone who was sexually abused as a child. You just don’t realize it until you are spiraling downward. When you choose someone as a mate who drinks too much, uses drugs or is physically violent you obviously don’t see the damage waiting for you down the road. Anyone abused as a child has self esteem that is so low that unconsciously they think this is all they deserve. Your brain plays tricks on you. Yes he drinks too much but he’s not an alcoholic; he was angry with me and hit me but I did something I shouldn’t have so I probably deserved it; he comes home late a lot and makes excuses like he witnessed a car accident and has to fill out reports for the police so it will take hours and so on but I’m sure he isn’t cheating on me. I know the excuses. I’ve been there.
It’s not just poor choices in your significant other. Sometimes we make poor choices in our friends. They party too much and want you to join them. They belittle and berate you but they are probably right. You are putting on weight, you did say something stupid, you don’t really know how to do this or that, whatever they want to use as a tool to tear your already fragile ego down. Or maybe it’s a family member that is not a healthy person to be around. It is so difficult to tell yourself that you must keep them out of your life. The longer you put up with people who do not treat you in the way you deserve the more difficult it is to tear away from them.
Before I got into recovery I didn’t even know how to choose the right person to put a new lawn in – the one I hired left empty beer cans all over my lawn the first day he showed up. Then there was the computer technician who was going to repair my computer. He said he had to take it with him and work on it in the shop. No problem. While he had it he read my private journals, the manuscript of my life and other files I didn’t even know he could access. Next thing I knew he was a stalker that made my life a living hell. Even when I went to his shop and found out he doesn’t even work there anymore I still didn’t realize what was lurking down the road. I have found myself in so many problems just because I didn’t know how to make healthy choices. Sometimes my gut even told me this person was up to no good but I didn’t trust my own judgment, my own inner voices. My mom used to tell people I was no good, that I was stupid, and I believed it. I was ripe for anyone who wanted to use and then abuse me. When they say that perpetrators choose the most obedient child in the playground they are correct. An obedient child cannot set boundaries.
Once you enter a program of recovery you start looking at this problem in a different light. You start asking yourself some tough questions.
Does your significant other have a problem with alcohol or drugs? Are they physically violent, emotionally unstable or controlling? Do they demand sex and become abusive and rape you (which is against the law) when denied? Are they honest and fair minded? What is their personal integrity like? How do they treat their children? or yours? their parents? How do they treat you? With respect? consideration? understanding? Do they mean what they say and say what they mean?
These are some of the questions you should ask yourself when you first begin a relationship. If the answers are not right, then neither is your choice. A future with anyone that doesn’t rate the right answer to any of these questions is predictable. Most of us wait until we are in the depths of despair before we begin to notice the shortcomings of those with whom we have developed an emotional attachment. Since in a wounded child the heart is disconnected from the head, it is no wonder we choose someone who is unstable for our life’s mate. People with low self esteem generally pick partners who do not treat them well or are not of sound and noble character. It is difficult to see that you deserve the best when you do not believe you are the best. Foresight and good judgment, qualities denied to one who has been sexually abused as a child, are essential to our well-being.
One of the most important needs you will have once you enter recovery is the circle of friends and family who make up your support group. Not everyone will be on this list. Your nuclear family may not want to dredge up old family stuff. Worse yet, they may not believe you and may ridicule your efforts. Anyone who does not take your recovery seriously has no place in your inner circle. Mom may not want to desecrate Dad’s image. In patriarchal families, keeping Dad on his pedestal is mandatory. Why would you want to protect someone who has physically violated you? Why would you want to choose someone who encourages you to protect that person as part of your support group? Learning how to make healthy choices is not an easy job but once you learn it will come naturally to you. Little by little the friends who are not healthy for you will drop off and people who make sound judgments will replace them.
If friends or family harass you to split up from an abuser before you are ready, your despair will deepen. You never walk alone until your legs are strong enough to hold you. Let those who care know what you are going through and that all changes have to be done in your time frame, not theirs. When you are ready, although it may still be painful to go through a separation, you will have the strength to walk through it. If your loved ones choose to abandon you because they can’t bear your pain, that is their decision. If the bond is strong enough, this will not happen. And if it does, they may return when you have completed recovery.
Eliminate those who might hinder your progress. Emphasize that you are on a journey and that arriving at the end is the only thing that matters. Keep only supportive people in your life. Any attempts to sabotage your recovery will keep you from reaching the end of that bridge.
Seek those willing to listen, those who genuinely care and encourage you. You will be surprised how many who touch your life, will soon be touched by yours. Often, during recovery you meet kindred spirits who, if it were not for your courageous efforts in coming out of hiding, would not be able to face their own childhood traumas. The sad truth is that more people have been traumatized by sexual abuse, either to themselves or a loved one, than have not.
Sometimes I look back at my life before I entered recovery. I see all the holes I fell into. I see all the unhealthy choices I made and I am appalled. I can see now that I felt I had no choice. Losing your freedom of choice is a bitter pill to swallow and I never knew I had a choice are two wise sayings I learned that became my watchwords. While once our abuser felt like a gigantic puppeteer pulling our strings we can now reach up and cut those strings as we become our own puppeteer.
(Parts of this blog were taken from my book REPAIR Your Life.)