Since this mirrors my own life, Julie, if I may, let me offer this thought: you and I get to be right about our worthlessness, which in so many ways is driven by the notion that the sexual assaults (multiple in both our cases) were of course our own faults. Therefore we are not worthy of Big Love. This toxic internal messaging has been my handmaiden my entire adult life, given that my own family was the original source of the first, and that has driven much of my behavior. While on one hand that sounds shitty, as though you and I are doomed to choose distant partners the rest of our lives (and I did it with friends, too), that isn’t necessarily true.

At 67, the last relationship I had was predicated solely on sex, my partner incapable of relating to me any other way. This fit my picture not only of who I am but what I deserve. I traded the currency of my body for what presented as affection, but wasn’t. I was a receptacle. This past year I not only dumped that but also a number of female friendships which were much the same- not sexual, but people who used me rather than engaged with me emotionally. You’re aware of this far earlier than I was. I think perhaps the best news is that first, you and I are our own best company, and in the wee small hours of the night there is intense value in learning to love, appreciate, heal and treasure ourselves, hard as that is, and it is hard. Second, that slow and kind process will, and has for me, allowed me to make far better choices in company both friend and otherwise. While the good guy has yet to show up, I have watched my ability to say NO to people who fit my old profile. That in and of itself is huge progress. I will take it as it comes.

There are times when I watch a movie that includes a love scene. Even kissing- those things are so painful to watch that I simply fast forward through them because they underscore what I don’t have writ large. They underscore what brutal early experiences have ripped out of my life from pre-adolescence. It’s too painful to watch, even in manufactured love scenes, people treating each other with love and respect. Affection, kindness, and love that transcends the physical. I never had that this life. Not yet anyway. So I just go on. We must. I do my best to fill my life with love as I can experience it, from animals and people I meet who have more to offer than an erect penis and little else.

I’m not going to suggest to you or anyone else that what I have experienced is universal. However articles like yours remind me that the damage sexual battery does to an otherwise healthy, hopeful life is serious, and long-lasting. In this you and I and billions of other women are hardly alone. Your article has inspired me to write another piece. In the meantime, perhaps our greatest lesson is to understand that we are not defined by whether or not we are partnered, whether or not we are loved by another per se. Better, we are defined by how well we treat ourselves, manage our way through the inevitable pain that life can present, and how we choose to have compassion and empathy for others who have been similarly hurt.

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Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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