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Sexual reawakening in my mid-50s… Part 1: a tangled backstory of abuse and trauma.


I recently met Lizzie Neale, who describes herself as a writer, photographer and singer… and a 57-year-old woman who has recently rediscovered and explored her sexuality, and has begun sharing her story through a series of blogs.

Many of the themes discussed feel very familiar from conversations I've had with women engaging with Sensual Bodyworks over the past 5 years. I have often thought of writing about some of these topics myself, but I could only report on them as an observer rather than first hand experience.

Lizzie has kindly given me permission to share the first of her blogs here as a guest author. This and the subsequent blogs can all be read at

I hope the blogs will resonate with, and be of use to some people, if only to realise they're not alone. And perhaps some of us men too will be more aware of the potential impact of our actions.

Trigger Warning: Please be aware that the following article contains details of rape, sexual assault and abuse.

Before I get onto that, here’s my tangled backstory of abuse and trauma, which ultimately leads to a happy ending. It makes me sad for the little girl, the teenaged girl and the younger woman – me – who experienced these things. I also feel sad for the woman who started it all off – my mother. These days I can feel compassion for her, but it wasn’t always the case. I felt very angry with her for decades and it has definitely affected our relationship… These days I can see that she, too, experienced abuse and trauma in her childhood. Generational trauma in action.

So, as a child I experienced physical and emotional abuse, and emotional neglect from a mentally unstable and emotionally unintelligent mother. My father was around, and a kindly figure, but he was dominated entirely by her moods and tiptoed on eggshells around her.

She was highly volatile, unpredictable and prone to terrifying, violent outbursts. Being shouted at, or battered with the wooden spoon, or both, was almost a daily occurance.

Everything was about her: if she was OK, then the rest of us were allowed to be. It was not OK to disagree with her, question her or think differently to her. Or to just be yourself if it was different to what she thought ought to be. Anyone voicing a slightly different opinion was aggressively shouted down. The consequences of daring to stand up to her were deeply unpleasant: either flashpoints of vicious temper, or prolonged periods of passive-aggressive martyrdom where we all suffered for days. She was highly controlling and highly emotionally manipulative.

I lived my childhood on red alert for the next eruption, screaming fit or bout of name-calling. Or for the next bad mood, or she was hysterical, but not necessarily targetting me. Even when her moods were directed elsewhere, it made for a toxic environment and she was oblivious to the impact she had on those around her. The only times I felt love or approval from her were when I did what she wanted, or was the way she thought I should be, or when she could show off about my achievements. The rest of the time I was either invisible or a target of her rage.

These days I understand that she was seriously mentally unwell and deeply insecure herself, and I was engulfed by this when I was a child. She was obsessed with her own appearance, shape, size and weight, and mithered endlessly about her hair, the ‘funny’ shape of her head and her ‘diabolical’ skin. I was exposed to this language and these behaviours throughout my whole childhood, and she also inflicted rules about it all onto me. She continuously restricted what I could eat, with mantras about butter gives you spots, sugar rots your teeth, and cake makes you fat. Decisions about clothes or hair were ruled with mantras about making me look better. I can accept she was trying to do the right thing, and I understand she had no idea of the unintended consequences.

My mother’s unwittingly toxic approach taught me that there must be something wrong with my body and appearance. In equally toxic tandem with that she did not teach me anything emotionally intelligent about relationships, or emotional management, or how to be a woman, and absolutely nothing about sex. I learnt about relationships from reading her romance novels and about sex from men.

I grew up emotionally unintelligent myself, which was no wonder given her lack of competence as a positive role model. It has taken me the whole of my adult life to remodel myself into an emotionally intelligent woman.

I know now that I entered adulthood with very deep shame about my body and extreme anxiety about men’s reactions to me. I had very low self-esteem and I was incredibly physically self-conscious. Consequently, I felt I should just be grateful for whatever was offered (or indeed taken). Often sex was something that was just done to me: I didn’t know any better and it never occurred to me to expect better. I believed that if a man wanted to have sex with me, then he must love me! All together this was a recipe for often traumatising experiences of relationships, intimacy and sex.

It wasn’t all bad though… I experienced a gentle introduction to sex with my first boyfriend and I feel fortunate about that, looking back. But years of chaos and short-lived flings came after that, and while sometimes sexually thrilling, all were emotionally dysfunctional in some form. Knowing what I know now about consent, I recognise that I was raped on numerous occasions. At the time, I just thought this was normal.

It was very mutually loving to start with. And then, a few months after we married, I discovered his carefully guarded secret: he was a closet ‘cross-dresser’. I will explore this more in a future blog but suffice to say it shocked me to my very core.

As for him, he’d been trying to ‘make it go away’ for his whole adult life so it was unsurprising he hadn’t told me about it. And it was the act of lying, not what he was lying about which caused me the most distress. Even at the time I could see that he lied to me because he was still lying to himself. And I had absolutely no idea. When I found out, apart from the shock, it felt like a betrayal of trust beyond all my powers of comprehension, emotional processing and coping resources. It changed everything in an instant. Our sex-life, which had been quite good, ground to an abrupt halt; our travesty of a marriage ended 3 years later.

It was the best sex I’d ever had. Sexually, I was the leader and brimming with power and confidence. We communicated well, trusted each other, and experimented with uninhibited abandon… until his wife found out.

From there I moved seamlessly onto the man who became my second husband. I realised only after we divorced – once the dust had settled and after years of therapy – that he believed himself to be a knight on a white horse whose role it was to ‘rescue damsels in distress’ (in other words, prey on emotionally vulnerable women.) In return for his ‘rescuing’, he expected to be worshipped. I certainly fit his bill after the catalogue of trauma through to my mid-30’s and I also had complex PTSD.

It slowly dawned on me that I’d made a terrible mistake and the build-up of abuse meant I eventually shut down emotionally and physically. In his eyes, I rejected him, and I suppose I did in a way, because I was seriously mentally unwell. His response to that, instead of supporting me to get better, was to turn nasty and he became (even more) emotionally abusive and physically abusive, too.

He sexually assaulted me many mornings before I was fully awake… and then he played the victim if I turned my face away, said no, or pushed him off me. This played out for months on end, while the whole time he accused me of rejecting him. One time he forced me to have sex with him as I lay frozen with shock and paralysed with disgust beneath him… Even after that, when recalling the incident in the long list of reasons he invented to divorce me for ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as a ‘bad wife’, he played the victim. “It was obvious you didn’t want to!”, he whined, even managing to shed tears to confirm his hard-done-by status. Completely missing the point. That didn’t make me a ‘bad wife’; it made him a rapist. But I didn’t recognise it at the time.

And after that little lot, I experienced another rape. I won’t even bother to describe the circumstances, but suffice to say it was just more trauma, and the injury I sustained during it still affects me today.

And then nothing for 11 years.

Is there any wonder?

I kept myself safe from harm, pain, abuse and betrayal, and finally carved out some space to heal. I learnt many useful and healing things via good therapy journeys and new friendships. But throughout those 11 years, I basically felt sexually dead. In my mid-40’s, I resigned myself to never having sex again, but at the same time I suffered chronic loneliness and a longing for intimacy. I also had very toxic beliefs about my body and that nobody would ever want me. My body image and physical self-loathing overruled absolutely everything, and I was far too scared and too overwhelmed to do anything about it. I was totally stuck.

And then…

Unexpectedly, as if by magic, something shifted when I turned 55. Out of the blue, I experienced a miraculous reawakening of my sexuality. To say it was a sudden onset of clamouring physical needs would be the understatement of the decade: I was almost climbing the walls in frustration! I knew I had to do something.

Thanks to years of therapy, I had by this time in my life developed very good levels of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and a solid bedrock of emotional resilience. I was in the best physical, mental and emotional health of my life. Even sky-high anxiety, rock-bottom confidence and a toxic body image could not hold me back!



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