“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37
I struggled for a long time to accept the fact that I had developed feelings of emotional attachment to a man who clearly did not have my good or wellbeing in mind. While I was conscious of the fact he did not genuinely love me and the relationship was not age-appropriate, I could not let go of it. And for a long time I hated myself for it. But learning why I couldn’t let go has not only helped me understand why I acted the way I did, but has completely changed my relationship with Christ.
We all possess innate goodness by the simple fact we are created by God. While the human race is quite diverse, we all desire to be loved, to be known, and to be delighted in. These desires are very good. But when we or others in relationship with us break the natural law set by God in order to fulfill these desires, destruction and greater longing is what follows.
When our hearts are wounded or in need of love, we cling to the things that give us security or seem to fulfill our deepest longings. For me, my abuser was this sense of security for years. He offered me a very distorted reflection of what my heart desired most. I used him to fill the cracks in my heart that were longing for healing. It was a dependency that was never fulfilling but just enough to take the edge off.
I was in the habit of turning to him whenever I felt lonely. He distracted me from hurt and stress that occupied my mind. Ending communication with him was extremely difficult for this reason. In February of 2015, less than a year into my freshmen year of college, I put an end to all communication with him. In the lead up to that day, I remember having a complete emotional breakdown when I realized what I had to do.
I sat at a coffee house bawling my eyes out realizing that he not only needed to be removed completely from my life, but that I was the one that had to send him away. At the same time I was uncomfortable with myself for even feeling so torn up about it. Why was I so emotionally invested? How did it get that far?
When God created the human heart and marriage, He created them to function with integrity. Sex creates lasting and enduring bonds. It is designed to increase unity and love between spouses. While we can certainly numb ourselves to these lasting effects for a time, we will indeed experience them at some point and often at the least convenient times–the times when we most need security and love.
There is a very good reason behind why we should take seriously the Church teaching that sex is specifically reserved for the marital union. The reason is that valid marriages are indissoluble, and sexuality is designed to perpetuate this indissolubility. On our own, we cannot break these bonds once they have been established. When we let in or give too much of ourselves to another person that is not our spouse (physically or emotionally), we are swimming in dangerous waters. We must recognize the limitations of our hearts if we are to truly love. In my life this recognition came when a trusted friend pointed out, “He (my abuser) is very good at manipulating you.”
Recently I’ve spent some time revisiting the tens of thousands of messages sent between me and my abuser with the hopes of answering the question: how did it get that far?
The answer I’ve come to is this: attachment. There was a point where I began to have real feelings for him. He was giving me constant attention and manipulating my desires to be seen, known, and loved. I loved him for the attention he gave me. But then it got complicated.
When he first sexualized the relationship I convinced myself I was reading into something that wasn’t there. He did so in a way that was not explicitly clear and I didn’t want to be embarrassed for telling anyone if I was in fact misinterpreting his words. He was an adult who was esteemed by those I was close with. I continued to let his advances and words in and over time it became explicitly clear that he wanted our relationship to be sexual. Eventually I felt trapped in a situation that I didn’t know how to get out of and ultimately felt responsible for. I was afraid of anyone finding out about what was happening for fear they would think less of me because of the amount of time I had let the communication continue.
The content our messages and the amount of time I spent speaking with him created inappropriate attachments that I became aware of only when they felt impossible to break. And at the time I ended communication with him completely, the attachment had only been accentuated through a physical interaction that occurred months prior.
In the immediate months following my decision to end communication with him I remember feeling as if I had just come out of an intense battle. I felt like my soul was bleeding. But that ache is exactly what led me to spend time in front of the Eucharist on a daily basis. This ache pointed me straight toward the authentic fulfillment of all the desires of my heart.
On February 25, 2021 I celebrated six years of striving to fill my wounds with the only One who can truly heal wounds and fulfill the longings that make us human. While I fail at this on a daily basis, it has been the greatest adventure of my life.
In your battle to guard your heart (or reclaim it) do not forget to surrender it to the One who created it and delights in you more than any of His creatures can!