It generally doesn't "just happen."
In fact, while I was grieving the effects of my husband's sex addiction disclosure 20 years ago, I learned that a high percentage of people who choose sex addicts have been sexually abused.
That certainly rang true for me.
I'd known since I was 15 that I'd been sexually abused, and I was even fairly certain that I knew who my perpetrator was. I didn't have any memories of the abuse; I just knew that it was true, deep in my gut, for as long as I could remember.
But at that tender age, I also didn't think it was an issue to be concerned about. It happened; I knew it; and it was over.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
What I didn't know then, as a young teen, was that I should've done something more about it, like tell an adult. Or consult a professional. Or confront my perpetrator. Or even believe it was a monumental discovery that needed attention.
But I did none of these.
In fact, I successfully shoved the abuse so far down into my subconscious that thinking about it over the years felt like a fictional story I was trying to write.
Someone else's story, certainly not mine.
It wasn't until my life was impacted by sex-addiction when I was finally given permission to ask myself the tough questions: Had I really been sexually abused? And why had I chosen a sex addict as a mate?
I was grieving so heavily and so deeply about my broken marriage that I assumed I was killing two birds with one stone: healing the fall-out from my husband's infidelities, while dealing with that sex-abuse-thing that happened years ago.
How wrong I was.
Instead, the abuse had been driving my behaviors for decades since it had happened to me as a toddler. And the fall-out of being sexually exploited continued long after my ex-husband left our home.
I just didn't know it.
Looking back on the symptoms, it may have been obvious to the casual observer that something sinister had happened to me, but the effects from sex abuse were obvious to me only in hindsight, after I began healing as an adult.
As a child, I was an angry and lonely; I was fearful and anxious much of the time; I worried incessantly; and as a young writer, many of my poems spoke to my abuse in the form of ideas and themes far beyond the typical knowledge and maturity of a kid.
The dominant theme that fueled my behaviors and drove my decisions beginning when I was very young was that I have always felt like an outcast and an outsider.
I have rarely felt like I belong: to any groups, to my family, to my places of employment, or to the world.
As young as five years old, I sensed how different I was from my family and I've rarely felt a part of our big, robust clan of ten. I knew they didn't act like me, think like me, nor have the same perspectives on the world as I did.
Trauma taught me that I was to stay in the background of my life, hidden, because I was just a "nobody," incapable of making a difference in my world.
Don't make a sound; don't have any needs; don't act up.
Staying quiet and hidden continue to paralyze me at times. I can still succumb to feeling small, vulnerable, and discarded, even as a powerful 54-year-old woman who has led a courageous and kick-ass life.
I've also had to learn to break free of debilitating fear. I was terrified of abduction, especially as a child, but even as a young adult I was still acutely aware of my surroundings at all times.
One could call it "hypervigilance," an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect activity. It may bring about a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion.
Yep, that was me for as long as I can remember.
My take on the world has always been that it's out to get me, and that may have sometimes included you, too.
I have been afraid of your tone, your anger, and even your brilliance. Self-doubt often made me compare myself to you and others, and I rarely measured up.
In fact, oftentimes I was flailing inside while a barrage of self-criticizing chatter droned on in my head. Unworthiness was a typical theme, so I've had to be persistent about replacing it with uplifting and empowering thoughts and behaviors, instead.
In order to compensate for feeling less-than, I adopted perfectionism as a way to throw a blanket over the symptoms of abuse. If I could be a perfect Mom (oh, my poor children!), homemaker, wife, employee, and friend, I could tamp down feeling so broken.
But few people knew any of this about me.
Because as a child I learned to hide behind a veneer of "nice" and "happy" and I quickly learned that staying very busy would drown out any undercurrent of abuse.
I groomed myself into a free-spirited, independent, unconventional woman; I naturally and easily lead workshops; I am a prolific writer with a published book; I raised 3 kids alone for 20 years; I'm typically chosen as a leader at work; and I'm a powerful Mofo in life.
But that has never completely erased the nagging belief that I don't belong on this planet, I don't fit in, and I don't always feel as together as you may think I am.
I'm often surprised when people remember my name, or seek me out, because I'm more used to feeling invisible or ignored than I am used to feeling included.
Sex abuse also skewed my filters for intimacy and appropriate relating. Love was confused with sex, so I gravitated toward others whose need for sex was insatiable because my need to be loved was paramount.
Unraveling and rebuilding a sense of healthy intimacy has been challenging.
Fortunately, I've been able to overcome many of the challenges left in the wake of sex abuse because my personality has always demanded it. I have had a life-long drive to become someone more than my scared little self, and I am proud of how I've succeeded.
The demons that still occasionally show up serve to remind me how sex abuse fractured my childhood and set me on a course of pain, fear, and missing out on feeling like a worthy member of the planet, but as an adult, I also know these are just symptoms of abuse.
I can change my perspective, challenge the negative chatter, and expect a different outcome.
I've also been able to fully forgive my perpetrator, which is a miracle since he died long before I even began my healing journey. My story with him is complete; my forgiveness added a whole new layer of meaning to my path toward healing.
I feel safe, and the world is beautiful and friendly.
And because I've been diligent in my pursuit toward healing, I lead a meaningful life full of adventure, joy, confidence, and a sense of pride for all I've survived.
You can, too.
Be courageous. Tell your story. And lean into healing.