This is a guest post by Alana Sheeren (bio below).
When I was 16 years old and stepping into my sexuality, I began seeing flashes of what I thought was a dream. It was as though the film in my mind had caught, and I could see a second or two of action before it became still again. In the first I was in a dark closet with an older cousin and he was unbuckling the button on my overalls. In the second, we were in his room, lying on his bed, and he was telling me he had a surprise for me as I squeezed my eyes shut. There’s more to it but I’ll spare you the details. Writing these words now, 35 years later, I am aware of the reactions in my body, the heat, the shame, the grief. When they first came, the intensity was overwhelming and confusing. I wanted to believe they were a dream and I did, until I saw a picture of myself in the overalls – bold stripes with big brass buckles at the shoulder. I crumbled into reality.
I dismissed the effects for another twenty years. I talked about it here and there, to people who didn’t know me well. I never used the words “sexual abuse” or “molestation”. I talked about it with one therapist who thought it of little import and another who wanted to work through it, so I quit seeing her. I pretended nothing had changed when I saw my cousin. Though opportunities presented themselves, I waited to lose my virginity to a man I loved. After four years together our relationship ended and I began a decade of unhealthy behaviors. I allowed myself to feel violated time and time again. I was tall, muscular, attractive and there was never a shortage of men interested. My boundaries were unclear. I desperately wanted to be loved. I got hurt, physically and emotionally.
It wasn’t until I was married, pregnant with my daughter and finishing my graduate degree in psychology that I put it all together. In my last quarter, I signed up for a workshop on feminism and sexuality from an LGBTQ perspective (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer/Questioning). As I listened to people share stories of oppression and shame, revelation and growth, the ground fell open in front of me and I saw the thread that wove my sexual story together. I finally understood that those years of allowing myself to be touched in ways that made me ache, of being tossed about in my own undertow, traced directly back to those early violations by a wounded teenager.
Eventually I told my mother, who knew something had happened, then my brother and sister-in-law and finally my father. There have been difficult moments as we’ve negotiated anger and forgiveness, boundaries and the birth of three granddaughters. Witnessing my child’s physical beauty and innocent explorations of her own body have brought tears to my eyes. I see myself through her and my heart breaks. I find myself vigilant where it might not be necessary and am acutely aware of what I could be passing along.
What my cousin did to me has ended up in the middle of my marriage too. The tapestry of this story continues to be woven. I am working to untangle the knots, smooth the bumps. Last night I cried. I mourned my innocence and freedom. I mourned an ease that my body has yet to know, to embody fully. I cried for the young woman I was, the shame that I have yet to shed, the memories of pain that still live in my cells. I cried because with my husband beside me, I am healing these old wounds, and because I am still raw, all these years later. As I turn myself toward trust, time and again, I can see freedom on the horizon. I can hear acceptance in the beat of my own heart.