When Sex Equals Love

Posted by on 10 28 14 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on When Sex Equals Love

Every Saturday morning, I carefully selected a dress and took my mother the comb. She yanked it through the snarls in my long hair without caring how much it hurt, but on Saturdays, I didn’t care. She’d go back to bed like she did nearly every day, and I’d brush my teeth then wait at the front door for the preacher. I was 5 years old.

The preacher wasn’t our preacher; we didn’t go to church, but he was an important Southern Baptist preacher in our town. He was kind and grandfatherly and influential, and even though he had nine adopted children, he gave my mother a little money for the privilege of spending time alone with me. Every single Saturday he took me to Baskin Robbins where I got to order a cone of orange sherbet and we’d walk hand-in-hand down to the park, which had an old train caboose for children to explore. He’d let me run all through the train car and push me a little on the swings. We’d even sometimes feed the geese in the pond, which delighted me like nothing else.

My mother called geese “rats with wings” although she never took me to parks and certainly never bought me ice cream. When I wasn’t fetching her Pepsis or tissues in bed, she was usually sleeping. That was on good days. On bad days she was running through the house screaming about her “no good husband” (my father) who was almost always working or on hunting trips. My mother liked to break things and tear at her flesh and fall to the floor in crying fits. She would hit me with a belt or fly swatter but her own hand would do in a pinch, which is partly why I loved Saturdays.

After swinging on the swings or feeding the geese the preacher would take me back to his van. His van was the kind of van that would have been great for camping––it had a round spaceship window and shag carpeting from floor to ceiling. We wouldn’t leave the park right away. Instead, we’d sit in the back of the van for a while. What happened back there is trapped in my memory, in a dense, fuzzy place where I disconnect from my body. I didn’t like the van experiences, but I always liked to see the preacher. He was the only grown up I knew who enjoyed spending time with me. He didn’t tell me to “shut up” when I asked questions, and he was always kind when he spoke.

Fast Forward

Years later, I’m invited into the back of a Ford Thunderbird and I don’t especially like what begins to happen there either, but I don’t say no because the boy who owns the Thunderbird is important and older and has told me I’m pretty. I don’t think of myself as pretty, and certainly not important, but it feels good to pretend for one second that someone else might think so. I’m 15. Afterward, I spend a lot of time in boys’ bedrooms and in the back of cars.

When I’m 17, I haven’t seen my mother in four years. The last thing she told me was that she never really loved me. There is a period of foster care and then someone finds my father, who had long since moved away. I sit stoned and alone at a party and after a college boy puts his hand over my mouth and forces me, I quietly dress and go home. I never tell anyone. When a boy I grew up with drugs me the following year and has his way with my unconscious body, I wake up alone and sore and hopeless, and again I dress and go home. I sometimes see him around and pretend that nothing happened.

I’m 22 and 26 and 31 and again and again, I’m either a silent witness to my own misuse, or I mistake sex for love. I perform like a woman in a movie, but nothing I say feels real. No words a lover says reach me. Only intensity and touches that sometimes hurt seem to matter, even though they strip me, carve me out. I am 34 when I go to a hotel with a married man I hate, whose politics and words and actions I despise––he lacks empathy––and when I get up to leave in the middle of the night, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Who is this woman for whom I feel no compassion? Who is this woman for whom I have cared so little?

I am walking on newborn colt legs into recovery at 35, desperate and wobbly and searching for meaning. Trying hard to understand with my body, not just my intellect, that abuse laid the foundation for my compulsion; I fused sex with love, shame with feeling. To have both sex and love, I must cease to conflate them. I’ve got to find a way to forgive, yes, but with the knowledge that I must also allow myself to feel, on my own behalf––anger, self-protection and significance.