As a member of the National Speakers Bureau for RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), I share a lot of things with audiences, both speaking and in writing, that many would consider too personal and shameful to speak out loud.
I am a firm believer that we go through what we go through to help others go through what we’ve been through, so I feel it is my job—my responsibility—to be a role model of healing and to prove that we can overcome absolutely any obstacle.
I believe the silence of shame and the disease of perfectionism keeps most of us sick on this planet. Holding our pain inside of ourselves causes us to hurt ourselves and others every single day. Until we all raise our voices together, in the solidarity of #MeToo, we cannot and will not heal as a planet.
I believe our pain begs for help and to let others know we are not okay. We have to overcome our silence and learn help seeking behaviors in order to first reconnect and heal the injured parts of self, then to ultimately heal to a place where we can have safe, happy, healthy connections to others.
Sex is a shameful subject for most. Whether it is healthy or unhealthy, consensual or a violation, most people don’t go around talking about their sex life and what has happened to them sexually.
The shame around sex of all kinds on this planet makes it incredibly challenging for anyone to become a fully realized, open, loving, creative expression of the divine.
How can we truly connect to others if we cannot completely connect to self which includes embracing our sacred sexuality?
I was sexually violated for the first time at the age of three. Until I am healed enough to speak that truth, I am not free. Sadly, it is a piece of who I am.
“When you can tell the story and it doesn’t bring up pain, you know that it is healed.” ~ Iyanla Vanzant
For me to fully connect to you in a vulnerable, authentic, transparent, fully human way, I need to be free to share that with you if I so choose. I need to know that I am not alone when I share. I need to know that when I sought help to heal that injured part of me, that others understood, that it wasn’t shameful and that I was not the only one.
This is why I share my story today. I believe everyone has a right to heal from the injury of sexual violence. They have a right to know there is no shame in it, that others understand and that they are not the only one.
When I speak to audiences, I speak of consent. I tell audiences that even if it is your spouse of 20 years laying in bed next to you and you are both naked, you still have the right to say “No!” Any day, any time, as many times as you wish.
As humans we have two basic needs in life: safety and connection.
We all want it, deserve it, and instinctually need it to survive. So, where does consent figure into safety and connection? For some people, consent is perfectly clear; however, for those who have been injured through sexual violence—one in three women and one in six men—and have yet to heal, this line can be blurry and confusing.
In sexual violence survivors whose injury is not yet healed, the basic need for safety and connection is out of balance.
Instead of creating happy, healthy, harmonious relationships in those with an unhealed sexual violence injury, either safety or connection drives their behavior.
If safety, not dying, is the primary motivator, someone with a sexual violence injury may never leave their home. They may fear all people or all of the people of the same gender as the person who violated them. They may go years and years without human touch or even without human contact.
This is a common response for someone who was raped, understood what was happening while it was happening, remembers the act, and consciously thought during it that there was a very real possibility in the moment that they could die.
If connection is the primary motivator, someone with a sexual violence injury may be promiscuous, having sex without truly knowing someone and in dangerous situations. They see sex as their only means of connection and safety as something elusive and not even available to them ever under any circumstances.
This is a common response for someone who was violated as a child, did not understand what was happening, could not process the act and implications, and subconsciously started acting out sexual behaviors as a means of trying to express their pain when words were elusive to them.
All this leads to the question of how to return, or learn for the first time, sexual health, balancing safety and connection, when healing from the injury of sexual violence.
1. First and foremost, find a therapist that specializes in sexual violence, trauma release, and inner child therapy (if you are a childhood survivor). The first thing we have to do as survivors is find a safe space to break the secret and to talk about all that hurts.
2. Stop hurting yourself. Hurting ourselves or acting out on others in our pain is not just a “common side effect;” it is a normal response for those who have endured sexual violence of any kind.
There is nothing wrong with you. You’ve been injured. Your trauma-based responses are a normal reaction to an abnormal stressor—and you can heal.
The compulsion to hurt ourselves by acting out sexually (or whatever form of self-harm we practice) is the drug we use, just like heroin, to temporarily numb and distract from our pain. In order to heal, we have to stop hurting ourselves. Again, a qualified therapist and a 12-step program can assist you with this incredible challenge.
SLAA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, is the 12-step program for sex addiction; however, many sex addicts also abuse a substance. If that is the case, both 12-step programs could be utilized simultaneously.
3. Begin to learn safe and healthy boundaries. Whether it means venturing out of your home and connecting to others from a place of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health or it means realizing the truth in how we put ourselves at risk sexually, boundaries are critically important to healing the injury of sexual violence.
4. Learn to create a healthy connection to self, both emotionally, by inviting and allowing all trauma and pain to be expressed, and sexually, by becoming fully intimate with your own physical body before attempting healthy connections with others. Honor yourself in every way. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and authentic with yourself so that you can, ultimately, connect with others from a healthy, safe, vulnerable, genuine place.
5. Learn first with yourself what healthy sexuality looks like. Practice it with yourself before attempting to practice it with others. Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Staci Haines is an excellent resource for learning healthy sexual expression.
6. Connect sexually only to those who have earned your trust over time and proven that they are worthy of joining you in your sacred sexual space.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t be intimate with someone as you get to know them and they prove their trustworthiness, it just means that intimacy is redefined.
Holding hands, hugging, and kissing can all be very intimate gestures. Go only as far as you are completely and totally comfortable, always knowing you can say, “no” at any time and knowing that you are with a partner who puts your comfort and safety above all else.
Quite often, sexual violence survivors will think they are incredibly aroused when holding hands, hugging, and kissing, and they will uncontrollably speed things up from there, moving into deeper expressions of intimacy before they are truly ready. We say things like we couldn’t help it, our hormones took over. The truth is, this is not actually arousal or hormones. It is a fear-based, panic reaction that is reliving the trauma from the perspective of getting it over with quickly.
It is a sad realization and a hard truth to face, but when the injury is healed, holding hands, hugging, and kissing become such a beautiful, simple, and deep expression of intimacy and can be enjoyed fully in the present moment as we get to know potential partners slowly while building trust.
Allowing someone to hold sacred sexual space with us as we heal is an honor and an incredibly beautiful experience.
Finding someone who knows they get to hold your hand, hug you, kiss you, and embrace you while you explore your emotions and maybe even your body in their presence if you so choose is a gift to be treasured for both you and for your sacred partner.
Creating safe space for us to fully express ourselves emotionally, vulnerably, and transparently is the birthright of each and every one of us. Allowing us to safely express ourselves sexually, at whatever pace we desire in whatever way we desire, is also a birthright, yet we choose to call it consent.
Until we all know exactly what consent is and what it looks like for every individual, I invite us all to share this message from the healing space of #MeToo.
Author: Christie Del Vesco
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis