“You’re just not the same person you were a year ago,” she said to me, shaking her head.
“Yes, you’re right. I’m not,” I said, taking a deep breath and praying that my blood pressure wouldn’t spike and cause my vision to fuzz.
I love this woman. In fact, I’ve adored her as long as I’ve known her, and I’ve always felt her love for me.
Yet, she frequently smooths her hand on my back upon greeting me, even after I’ve asked her several times to stop, because I don’t like it.
“In the last year, I’ve been learning to let my body feel, and I’ve been learning to listen to my body,” I continued. “One of the things I’ve learned is that when someone touches me–when I can’t see them or see their hand–my blood pressure spikes; and I want to fight them.”
“I just don’t understand…” she said, turning to walk away.
“That’s right, and you won’t understand if you keep walking away when I try to talk to you about it,” I said, raising my voice after her.
Touch can be a peculiar thing to the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Nothing feels better in the world than snuggling up next to my husband and allowing him to caress my hair, my face, my back. His large, warm hands calm my heart when I feel anxious. Placing my face on his chest feels safe, secure, mine.
The Lord tenderly developed this sense of safety and affection within our marriage over time. For this, I loudly praise Him. I know this gift from God.
Yet, the same hands, the same man can stir up instant anxiety, anger, and flight within me by putting his hands on my hips from behind, while I am standing at the kitchen counter. It takes everything within me not to turn swinging at him with whatever I may have in my hands, including my chef knife with onions sticking fast to it.
Ironically, rubbing my children’s back in the morning upon awaking brings me great joy and delight. Not to mention, when my husband leans forward during a church service, my hand will often reach out and make repeated circles on his back.
“What you need to understand,” I said to this woman that I love and care for deeply, “it’s not about you. It’s about me.”
Her face relaxed, carrying less confrontation and frustration.
“Because of the abuse that happened long ago, I am instantly transported emotionally back to that time when I was touched inappropriately. My blood pressure floods, my muscles fire for fight, and I want to start swinging. It’s not about you. It’s about me.”
“Well, you can be sure, I will never touch you again,” she said, eyebrows angled and eyes fierce.
“But that’s not what I asked for. I love you. I desire your touch, but in the way that feels like love to me. It’s not about you. It’s about me,” I continued, trying to plead my case for respectful touch by my definition of respectful touch.
My heart still pounded as I climbed into my vehicle to return home, and I heard her words repeat over and over, almost like an accusation. You’re just not the same person you were a year ago.
Exhaling a prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” He interrupted my prayer.
You ARE different. You’ve grown, and you spoke up!
Tightening my grip on the steering wheel, I sang the praise song a little louder, my heart’s cadence changed from booming to keeping time, and my eyes filled with praise and thanks, overflowing onto my cheeks.
Gratitude expressed in liquid form, for me, almost always follows the gentle, loving, and respectful touch of our Savior.
If Jesus can reach out and touch a leprous man, making the leprous man clean, then how much more can we heal when Jesus–lovingly and respectfully–speaks to and touches our heart?
Growth is evident in my life, and there’s much growth still required of me.
Recently, the same woman and I met again. I greeted her with wide-open arms for a love-hug. My words impacted her, and she kept her arms draped at her side.
“You can hug me back. I love your hugs, just not the rubbing,” I said, tendered by the realization that she finally heard my heart, my needs.
“Well, it’s going to take some practice,” she replied.
Yes, it will take some practice.
And still, I give thanks to the Lord for forward growth even though others may perceive it, initially, as a couple steps backward in order to practice giving and receiving hugs.
In the end, we will all be made like Him in fullness.
Until then, Lord, help those around us as we heal to understand the complex and lasting needs that we have as sexual abuse survivors, and teach us how to educate in love.
What’s your next step?
Physical touch, including sexual intimacy, can stimulate a great deal of anxiety for the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Where do you find yourself with the ability to express your preferences in regard to touch? Prayerfully consider how you might need to speak up about how you are touched.
Join me on the healing journey.
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