The woman thought she would never find love, she was wrong
The following is an adapted excerpt from “I Just Haven’t Met You Yet: Finding Empowerment in Dating, Love, and Life” by Tracy Strauss, published by Skyhorse.
“Did the surgeon remove part of your brain,” said my father, “when he took off part of your breast?”
I was a teenager, standing in my bedroom doorway, listening to the clatter of cutlery on kitchen plates with food. I imagined my father cutting his meat with the uneven edge of his knife. It was quiet. In the silence, I imagined my mother, who had recently been hospitalized to have a borderline-malignant lump removed from her breast, plate another pea on her plate, letting it spin in a circle, poking the center with the tip of her fork. .
Pots and pans clattered on the linoleum kitchen floor. The sound stuck in my ribs. I took a few steps to the hallway closet, past my brother’s empty bedroom (he was away at college), grabbed a thick towel, and tiptoed, barefoot, toward the bathroom, halfway between my bedroom and the kitchen. I counted each step and felt my skin rub against the bark-colored carpet until I reached the cool tiles of the bathroom: safe.
I closed the bathroom door, pushed the lock securely into place, then quickly undressed and piled my clothes on the counter next to the sink. I stepped into the shower and turned on the faucet to drown out the sound of the fight.
A steady stream of hot water filled my ears, rolled down my back, and flowed down my body, warming my shoulders and chest. I closed my eyes tightly and prayed that the fight would end when I turned off the water. But when I did, things were worse.
I kept a secret
When I told one of my friends that I was upset that my parents were having marital problems, he said, “I’m not worried about you.” He said there are people he’s worried about, but I’m not one of them. I was the kind of person who could handle anything.
I didn’t tell him my secret, not even to myself: that my father sexually abused me.
I could handle anything and everything. I numbed myself to it.
Growing up, early in my PTSD recovery, my therapist explained dissociation—how one can “go somewhere else” in one’s mind to avoid a threatening or unbearable experience. So I pushed away what was happening, even blocked out some of my trauma, until as an adult I was physically and emotionally safe enough to fully deal with the details.
Dissociation allowed me to grow up as an overachieving student in high school and college. I became an adult, what clinicians in the trauma field called “high functioning”: I was a woman with a college degree, an apartment, a full-time job, and a relatively stable—albeit socially isolated—life. I learned that other survivors had struggled with severe dissociative identity disorder or addiction, or were involved in crime and prostitution, or had become homeless. Early in my recovery, when I attended a trauma education and coping skills group with 10 other adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I was one of two who engaged in conversation. The others sat around the table and colored themselves with crayons to calm him down. Of course I had problems, but I managed. I was lucky.
I thought I was failing at love
While my friends were getting married and starting families, I was forever single. I spent my 30s in therapy three times a week, coming to terms with my past and working to overcome the obstacles my history of abuse had placed in my love life. I thought if I worked hard enough I could catch up with my partner; I could also find the partner of my life.
I’ve met men through online dating, speed dating, religious groups, hiking groups, adult education classes, and get-togethers, but I’ve always been disappointed by either the lack of connection I felt with potential friends or the rejections. from the boys I really wanted.
Although I felt unlucky in love, I was on a life-saving journey to untangle my heart from my harmful past. My upbringing was based on a self-destructive belief system that I needed to see, understand and dismantle. I couldn’t fully embrace dating until I did.
For years, I thought that the failures of romance were all for nothing, but they weren’t really “failures” they were all for something. On the way to find my life partner, I would find myself. The men I met, the dating experiences I tried to navigate, and the relationships I tried led the way.
I just didn’t know yet.
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