Written by Eva Muilenburg
Even before we enter this world, our bodies are intrinsically aware it needs to be treated with love, and with pain being the chief indicator of how far away from this expectation we are, it’s not a whole lot of fun when the idea of love is corrupted by abuse and trauma.
From the ages of about five to almost fifteen, I was sexually, emotionally, spiritually and physically abused and/or assaulted by seven different men and one older girl. After several attempted disclosures, I was finally removed from my home and placed into foster care a week before my fifteenth birthday in Australia. I later aged out of a group home at eighteen.
Throughout my childhood survival mode became my solace, and my understanding of love became a corrupted, skeptical, unrealistic and irrational ideal that only existed in other people’s lives and Bollywood movies (and yes, you guessed right… I grew up in India).
In my world, honour trumped truth and safety. My days were streaked with stains of toxic patriarchy and a belief that girls will always suffer under the hands of men, and if they were honourable… they would do so silently.
I entered adulthood with a deep sense of loneliness and a longing to be loved even though I knew little of what true love meant. My self-worth was firmly rooted in the belief I was only as worthy as what my body could offer men. I was desperate to wear any mask necessary if it meant I would be loved.
My story was woven around my abuse. I couldn’t see the world from any other vantage point but I clung to the moments of safety I experienced with my grandmas, aunties and daydreams.
At 19, I got married to my husband, Mitch, who was fully aware of my trauma. And with the encouragement of his family, we did trauma counseling together which they even insisted on paying for!
I also found my church family at this time who opened up their homes and gave me a front-row seat to observe how they interacted with each other in love.
Mitch and I were blessed to witness several wonderful marriages as we journeyed toward our own. We would spend hours at their houses soaking in the pearls of wisdom.
I witnessed the wives who expressed their views and did not get shut down.
I witnessed husbands who parented just as well as their wives.
I witnessed physical affection and life-giving words that men spoke over women.
I witnessed women who did not suffer at the hands of their husbands but rather flourished alongside them.
I witnessed the way they talked about each other when they weren’t together.
I saw what love could be and I wanted it more than ever.
But even though we had some great examples,
I felt my trauma in the tips of my toes…
In the crawling under my skin…
In the lump in my throat…
In the clenching of my jaws…
In the pounding of my chest…
and the rage in my heart.
Fear told me that it was not sure that I was safe so it needed to linger just in case.
Fear was the arbiter of the early years of our marriage.
It told me that I cannot close my eyes when I kiss the love of my life because what if he magically turned into my abuser when I opened them?
It told me to self-sabotage as much as I can so that my husband would leave before he realised my worthlessness.
It told me that I had to release him of the burden of being my husband and suggest other people he could marry instead.
It told me that I cannot engage in intimacy because wanting that would mean I asked for my abuse.
It would even play vivid reels of my abuse in the most sacred and private places of my marriage.
It would demand that I dissociate at every touch.
Fear was relentless and the trauma that lived inside of me demanded that I pay attention.
So, I did.
I knew I had to soothe the wounded little girl inside of me before I flourished into the woman I was made to be. As I saw myself as a 5-year-old girl trapped in the clutches of a 50-year-old man, I knew SHE deserved to be loved. I knew I had to stay in the fight, for HER.
So, I fought.
I fought for my healing on my knees at church altars and on cold kitchen tiles and bathroom floors.
I fought for my healing on the couches of half a dozen therapists.
I fought to soothe my inner child by teaching her that she is worthy of love.
I fought with tears and a shaky voice as I asked “why?” and then… “so, now what?”
Then slowly… morning came and I witnessed, yet again in my husband, the kind of love that didn’t say, “Let me be your hero” but a love that said, “I will cheer you on as you overcome your adversities”. He never came to my rescue as my knight in shining armour but he helped me put on my own armour.
I was determined to experience love in the way that it was meant to be experienced. Because I was committed to not letting the injustice steal any more of my joy.
And ever so slowly… I could see the fruit of the fight. Healing and hope began to be restored. At a glacial pace, flashbacks of my abuse were evicted, one by one, from the intimate parts of my marriage.
It took eight years.
Eight years of patience (and impatience) from both Mitch and me.
Eight years of, “did you dissociate this time?”
Eight years of soothing the wounded child within me.
Eight years of therapy and healing.
Eight years of prayers and hope and despair… and hope again.
Eight years, it took… and let me testify: I now close my eyes when I kiss my husband. I don’t dissociate in moments meant for connection and love. And it was worth fighting for.
Yes, there is more healing to come but love… LOVE is worth fighting for.