The Scars to Prove It

In therapy today I talked about how I’m still trying to integrate the scars I saw into my body image. It’s not like it’s a big change, I realize. I always felt there was something ‘wrong’ with my vagina/vulva and now I know.

My assignments out of therapy are threefold. First, to think about what kind of ceremony or blessing I would/could do for a six year old girl who had been raped, and think about whether I want to do that for myself. Second, to sit with the rage that’s coming up toward my father, my mother and all the adults who failed to notice a little girl with a torn and bleeding vagina. Third, to write the story of the scar.

I’m going to start with number three, piecing what I know together in time order, filling in what I can in a narrative.  This might be triggering for some people, so look after yourself. I can’t think of a picture to go with this, other than the one in my mind. In my mind I’m looking at the scars on my vulva.

 

My name is Kelly. I live in a brown duplex on my street. I have long blonde hair and am tall for my age. I like to sing and make up little songs. I have a dog named Tony who is big and black, and who likes to pull me on my crazy carpet in the winter. He’s very strong. I live with my mommy and daddy and my big brother. My brother is okay, although he mostly just does dumb boy stuff and doesn’t like to play with me. I can ride a bicycle with training wheels. My dad gets mad at my mom and sometimes he has a sleep on the kitchen floor. Our house has black and white shag carpet and book shelves my daddy made and a red phone in the kitchen up high on the wall. There is a tree out front that has dangly things that make stars when you crumble them. I put the stars on top of my mud pies, for sprinkles. Next door is Reo, she’s really nice and sometimes we get rhubarb from her garden and dip it into sugar and eat it, and sometimes her mom lets us eat rasberries. Her mom is really old. My mom’s friend Mrs H lives a few doors down and we go over there sometimes. I don’t like the H’s house because they smoke too much and the air is yucky. I play a bit in the carport in the front and sometimes we have garage sales there or I do a lemonade stand. Our house has a basement with a playroom, but I don’t want to talk about that.

I have a sore on my bum, near where I go pee pee. It hurts and burns and I feel like I have to pee, but when I go to the bathroom I just sit and hurt instead.

I’m dead. I know I’m dead because I stopped living. Last night my daddy pressed me down and hurt me and then I stopped living. When you die, it hurts a lot and then you go to sleep and don’t wake up, right? Well that’s what happened. It hurt so much. His eyes were big and stared and his lips were big and red. He smelled like beer. He was squishing my neck and I couldn’t breathe, like being tickled too much when you get dizzy and then I got more dizzy and everything went far away. Today I’m walking around but I didn’t wake up, so I know I’m dead.

When people die, everyone is supposed to come over and say nice things and cry, aren’t they? Nobody seems to care I’m dead. I guess nobody cares anyhow. My daddy isn’t home today, and I don’t like him any more. He smells bad and he killed me.

—–

My name is Kelly. I live in a house now. I have my own bedroom. I don’t really remember being dead. My mom says I’m an absent minded professor. I read a lot of books really fast and I stay in my room. Sometimes I can’t hear it when people talk to me, even if they’re right next to me and talking really loud. My dad is an alcoholic. My mom says so. He comes home and we can’t have dinner, no matter how hungry we are, until he has a few beers and relaxes. Then we can eat. Sometimes there isn’t any food in the house and this is the only time we eat anything. When we have no money because someone hasn’t paid my dad yet, we go to a restaurant and my dad has some beer and we get to eat. When he gets drunk he goes to sleep in his chair and then it’s good for awhile. My mom and brothers and I talk, not too loud and we get to watch whatever we want on TV.

I can’t get to sleep very well. My mom makes me go to bed but then there are scary things, like spots that float in front of my eyes, or the things that might grab my leg from under the bed. Or the things behind me. Sometimes I put my head under the covers so they can’t get me but then it gets hot so I put my nose out. I can hear the clothes dryer sound going round while I wait. My mom says I’m too old to be afraid of monsters. My mom says “I’m right hear down the hall”, but it doesn’t help.

It’s really late and I’m still not sleeping. The dryer has stopped. I hear my dad’s chair in the family room as he wakes up. Sometimes he turns on the tv again and watches for awhile. Sometimes he gets up to go to bed.  I hear his hands on the walls as he comes down the hallway. I can see the white around the edge of my bedroom door, which is open a little. He slows down. My heart starts to beat faster. He goes into the bathroom and closes the door. He clears his throat and spits into the sink. He does this because he smokes. I’m worried he will get cancer and die. He turns on the fan. I hear the pee going into the toilet and he flushes it. He washes his hands. A monster comes out and comes across the hall into my room.  My mom is just down the hall. She doesn’t do anything. When he’s done he goes the rest of the way down the hall and climbs into bed with my mother. I can hear the springs creak.

I’m afraid of the bathroom. Sometimes when I’m in there my brother will reach in, turn the fan on and the light off, and then lock the door from the outside. I scream and scream and eventually my mother makes him let me out.

When I come home from school sometimes I lie on the couch in the living room and look at the carmel-coloured leather. My mind goes away and my body goes very still. I can lie like that for hours. It’s hard to move or get up. It’s like I’m dead.

_____

My name is Kelly. I am having sex for the first time with my second college boyfriend. I can’t open up and he can’t get in. I can open up a little when I think about the hunting knife we had at my parent’s house, that has a little leather scabbard to hold it. The knife is sharp but it fits the scabbard so it doesn’t cut it. This makes me feel better. I tell him about it and he says “why not just think about a penis and a vagina?”  

I’m not sure what the big deal is about sex. Kissing was way better.  He wants to have sex all the time and I am seeing monsters. The monsters hide in the corner of my room and if I pay attention to them, they come closer. I tell my friend about the monsters and she has them too. She thinks that they are evil spirits come to attack us. Her boyfriend has ideas about how to keep them away. He wants to protect her. I tell my boyfriend about the monsters. He goes and talks to a psychiatrist at student health and they make me an appointment. The psychiatrist says I don’t have schizophrenia, which I didn’t think I did. She asks if I was sexually abused. I don’t know what she means. I tell her I may have been abused by a babysitter, but she doesn’t seem interested. She says I’m not ready to have sex yet. I tell her I don’t want to have sex, and lie and tell her I can avoid having sex with my boyfriend. When I break up with my boyfriend I go off birth control and tell myself I’m never having sex again.

____

My name isn’t Kelly any more. I’m in my doctors office. I have a sore vagina. The wrinkles in the condoms rub against me and hurt and afterward it hurts for days. I think I must have a yeast infection all the time, it’s so sore. I ask my doctor what to do and she takes a swab and gives me a prescription for some yeast medicine. It doesn’t really work. A few days after the treatment is finished I feel sore again. I think maybe I’m getting the infection again from my boyfriend but he won’t get treated. I go back to my doctor and she asks me a bunch of questions. She does some tests to see if I have AIDS or diabetes, since they sometimes cause women to have yeast infections a lot. I don’t have iether. I tell her I am a sexual abuse survivor. She looks very uncomfortable and tells me with a nervous edge “it looked fine”.

___

My name  hasn’t been Kelly for a very long time. I’m sitting on the examination table looking at the mirror. The nurse shows me a little nub of flesh near the opening of my vagina. I know this nub by feel. It gets sore all the time, because it gets rubbed. I never thought about what it was before, except maybe a leftover piece of hymen. She says “this looks like your vagina was ripped a long time ago and healed without being stitched up properly”. I look again at the nub and the white line leading up to it. She puts her gloved finders above my vagina, near my labia. The skin there is a dark purple. I’ve never seen it before. She says, it’s unusually hot here. The veins look unusually swollen and damaged. This speaks to me of some old vascular damage that would have happened when you were abused.  I tell her I’ve never given birth or had any kind of rough sex that would cause damage. She says, “this looks like this is really old scarring.”  I hold my wife’s hand and close my eyes. A wave of tears flow through my body but only a couple seep out my eyes. I tell her I’m ready to go on.

Mothering her

I was reading Faith Allen’s excellent blog , specifically a post where she was responding to another person with dissociative identity disorder. She talked about self-nurturing, visualizing wrapping the younger self that holds a memory and feeling in a blanket, telling her it was not her fault. It brought tears to my eyes, sitting here, as I realized I had not reached out to that little girl within me who suffered this injury, that little girl who is me, but who sometimes feels like another individual, whose trust I need to win, whose secrets I often don’t know until  she tells me, and who I have a duty to protect and mother. I’ve done the self-mothering before, perhaps with this very same part of myself, and I sometimes forget how helpful it is.

Reading Faith’s blog, I find a lot of similarities between the strategies she and other survivors with DID use to heal and the ones I’ve used. Event the dialogues with alters, remind me of negotiating with and comforting my abused inner child. I think dissociation is a spectrum, and we’re all somewhere along it. I don’t believe I lose time, although my forgetfulness is pretty well noted.

I’m still feeling a lot of discomfort from my injured vulva/vagina. I’m not sure if it’s from current day, or a body memory from the rape or it’s aftermath. I do remember having this same burning pain as a child, although I was a lot older than the first memory. Great. While I know I was raped several times, I’m not sure I want the extra detail. However, this is her/my story and if it’s coming up now it’s because it needs to for me to be whole.

This is what I tell her now:

Little one, you did not do anything bad, and he was bad to hurt you. I’m sorry it hurts down there. I’ll do whatever I can to help it feel better. Mommy is very angry at him and I promise I will keep Daddy from hurting you ever again. You are beautiful and special and I love you. It’s okay now. You’re safe now. You have people who love you and would never hurt you. You were a good girl to tell me about it. You did the right thing. Your dad can’t ever hurt you again. You can relax. Go ahead and cry, I”m right here. I’ll make sure you’re safe.  Me and the Goddess are here.

Filling a space

Photocredit: paul+photos=moody
Notice how they have the same tail curve, gait and body posture? Photocredit: paul+photos=moody , Photocredit: Bazin Erwan

Last night I was reading in bed waiting for my wife to (finally) stop messing around on the computer and come to bed.  The book I was reading was on psychic self defence, not a topic I particularly needed, but it was the only book in the bookstore by an author I like.  Anyhow, he was writing that one way to divert an attack of yucky energy (or the more common garden variety yucky energy around places where negative things are happening, for example) energy is to ‘entrain’ it with the good energy coming off of you, which is kind of like how your heart beat and your lovers begin to beat in the same rhythm when you are pressed against one another. Vibrations tend to ‘entrain’ or match frequency when associated with one another. This might be why we often absorb the moods and attitudes of people around us.Anyhow, he suggested filling a space around me with the energy of ‘calm and friendly’. The idea is that being clear and focussed (sending a louder, clearer ‘signal’) makes it more likely that any energy around me will dance to my beat instead of forcing me to trudge along with it.  It took me awhile to figure out how to do ‘calm and friendly’, when my headspace was more impatient and tired. Finally I thought of sitting in the sun doing my meditation, how the sun feels friendly and the meditation feels calm and my body is all relaxed.  I let that energy surround me. He suggested focussing on this for 10 minutes, which I don’t think I did, but after about 5, I felt great, and my bedroom (which has a tendency to grow shadows and creepy feelings at night sometimes) felt much safer. It was like the feeling of having Reiki or a really good massage, or a nice hug after a thorough cry by someone who understands.

One foot in front of the other

I went and looked up the name of a lawyer I want to talk to about pressuring my dad into confessing. I want to have a confession or something like that before he dies so I can do the activism I want to do without having to use the word ‘alleged’.  With the evidence of the scar tissue, and a good lawyer, I wonder if I could get him to sign a confession in exchange for me not suing him into bankrupcy or reopening the criminal case.  Like the clinic for the pap test. I’ve printed up the contact information, which has been sitting on my desk for several days, waiting for me to decide when and whether to move forward. Talking to a lawyer doesn’t mean I’ll go through with it, and I’ve already decided it definitely doesn’t mean I’ll talk to my father about it. That’s what lawyers are for.

Things are always in tension for me between making meaning of my life, fighting injustice and expressing my creativity in the world. The first five years or so of healing, that was my main focus in life. Everything revolved around healing and reclaiming myself and my body. Life was simple. Now, 21 years after I began, it becomes a choice.

I am proud of what I did in finding proof and having a vaginal examination on my own terms. I am also proud that I’ve been meditating and going outside and enjoying the sunshine at least once a day, for the most part. The other things I wanted to incorporate into my daily routine aren’t getting done as regularly, if at all.  My therapist says it takes awhile to make changes into habits, even positive or enjoyable ones, and I’m finding that to be true.

I’ve practiced singing one more time since the time when I felt the joy, and it wasn’t as good. I’ve been avoiding it since. I love singing, but I’ve thrown up a block for myself. I do this all the time. Sometimes I think it is a part of the anxiety that is a part of being a survivor, that I close off my channel to passion once it starts to flow.

I brought my guitar to my wife’s family reunion recently and did a bit of campfire singing, which counts as practicing my guitar. I’m learning to play the bodhran, which is a tradional Celtic drum. I seem to practice it more than anything else, perhaps because it blows off some energy.

I think what it is is that, fundamentally, I’m lonely. I’ve got all this powerful stuff going on and rarely see anyone but my wife (I work from home) and certainly speak to few people who I think will get it. I’ll try this weekend to make contact with some friends, which might give me some momentum.

Photocredit: Brian Auer
Photocredit: Brian Auer

I didn’t know how I was going to end this post until I went searching for a photo to put with it. In my religious tradition, having one foot in the water and one on land means to pay attention to both the realm of feelings and the soul and practical life. To be balanced in this way is to be in Grace. I went looking for some bare feet walking, then realized I meant bare feet on the beach and then saw this one. That’s what I’m doing, trying to walk with one foot on water and one on the earth. Sometimes I sway more into one world than the other, but I’m best when I can walk in both.

In the wake of proof

Photocredit: Yann!s
Photocredit: Yann!s

Knowing I have scar tissue has changed my life I think. It’s like an incontrovertable validation of what I’ve been saying all along. No longer can I doubt or go into denial about the accuracy of my memory. I know what happened and I was accurate all along. It is an immense relief.

The other thing about it is I am more in touch with my own vagina, which is not so good on the one hand because I’m in mild discomfort most of the time. but is good because it allows me to be aware and take care of my body instead of just numbing that part of my body out. I think in the long run this is an incredibly good thing. It’s what I wanted, to have my body be my own, and to have no part of me belong to him any more out of my own fear to be in touch with horrors.

I have written a separate letter to my mother to let her know about the scar tissue and ask that she write me and let me know what she remembers. I don’t know if I will send it. I should not be surprized she hasn’t written me yet: when given the opportunity my mother will always bail, will always avoid doing anything that makes her uncomfortable and this surely must overwhelm and horrify her.

I want to tell my family “see, I have proof, you need to believe and support me now”, however, really, I doubt it will change anything with them for me. Denial is a powerful force. It is the societal denial that interests me most now. We have to start believing children and making it safe for them to tell.

I have a therapy appointment on Monday and am looking forward to talking this over with my therapist. This changes everything for me, and I don’t know what to do next.

I realize at some levels I have been depressed for awhile, a low level depression, really not sadness as much as a lack of happiness. I’ve been taking some vitamins, meditating and trying to get more sleep and it seems to be helping. Today I had two moments of happiness. I got a book from the library on singing – Anne Peckham’s Vocal Exercises for the Contemporary Singer. It has a guided warmup and then some more advanced exercises for sopranos. I’ve been doing the warmup exercises a few times a week and today was the first time I did the advanced exercises. It was exhilarating to sing in my high clear voice and to find the places where the voice rings and resonates. I had some advanced voice training about a decade ago, and had thought I’d lost that ability. Apparently not. Apparently all I needed was to warm up and work out my voice and it came back. I was singing for the joy of it and full of the joy of it like I haven’t in a long time.

The second flash came as I was walking back from some errands, and passed by a park I like which has some tall beautiful trees. I looked over at one I particularly like and felt a flash of joy in the rich greens of the leaves against a clear blue sky and the peaceful park.

Photocredit: Greekadman
Photocredit: Greekadman

I am emerging, like coming up from under a pool of cool water into a clear day.

Warrior Victorious in Pap Test

Thank the Goddess for Good Medical Care at Last! Photocredit: Great Beyond
Thank the Goddess for Good Medical Care at Last! Photocredit: Great Beyond

So the gyne visit went about as well as it could possibly go, and better than I could have envisioned.

The nurse-practitioner I saw was very experienced and nice and drew the correct line between warm sympathy and matter of factness. She said we could take as long as we needed, and she did the history taking and blood pressure stuff first. She explained everything really fully and was very relaxed, egalitarian and friendly.

She was matter of fact, thorough and respectful about asking my history – saying it woudl be helpful to know whatever I told her. I did a good job too, matter of fact and calm. She said she’d mail me copies of everything she put in my chart and all my test results too, so I’d have it as well.

I’d typed up all my questions, so I wouldn’t forget anything and just handed them to her, which worked well.

I did ask about the scar tissue.

She tilted up the exam table so I was sitting up and gave me a mirror to hold and I could see everything she did, which was great. She showed me the parts of my vulva that she thought showed old injuries. Turns out I have some vascular damage where the veins/arteries are really big and close to the surface and the whole area is hot, which she thought spoke to me having been injured and the veins being damaged when I was a kid. She also showed me some tags of flesh (like little lumps sticking out around the opening) around my vagina that to her looked like I’d torn and had healed without being sewn up. At this point I took a minute to hold my wife’s hand and breathe, since I got a bit emotional, but I didn’t really cry or anything till we left the office and were in the elevator. I haven’t really cried much yet, but I expect I will.

She knows some folks at a gyne clinic where care is given to children who have been raped, and she said she’d talk to them about what signs the vulva/vagina of an adult survivor might show as well.  She said she’d never had a survivor patient before (that she knew of, I add silently) and that the mirror and tilted table worked so well she’ll probably make that standard. She said when she was trained to do pap tests (I guess they practiced on each other) they did it with the ‘patient’ (another student) sitting up with a mirror, so that’s interesting, maybe a lot of female doctors or nurse practitioners were trained that way and might be familiar with it.

I’m pretty happy about finally having proof to back up what I remember, and also that she was able to give me some ideas to help reduce the irritation and sometimes pain all this causes me, that nobody’s been able to help me with so far. She’s suggested cold packs to reduce the swelling, which I think could actually work. We might also get an appointment with a gynecologist to see if they can remove the tags of scar tissue flesh, since they get sore.

I’m also really sad and angry for that little girl with the torn vagina and no-one giving medical attention I needed. I’m pissed at my mother, who obviously should have noticed a little girl with a ripped, bleeding vulva.

And finally, I gave her a copy of the ‘survivor safety form’ I made, and a copy of the article about survivors and pap test avoiding. I suggested that if the  health region wanted to put on a clinic for survivors, there were a lot out there that weren’t getting pap tests.  She seemed interested and said she was networking with a group of other women practitioners and they were looking for groups to offer care to (or something like that), I offered to be a ‘community informant’ if that would be helpful (in health region they like to have ‘advisory groups’). She asked me to email her a copy of the form, which I’ll do. So that’s hopeful as well.

All in all I feel blessed and hopeful. Yay!

If any health care providers (or survivors who want to talk to them) are reading this, here are some links I recommend:

*** My survivor safety sheet: http://sworddancewarrior.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/information-sheet-for-primary-health-care-providers.pdf

***[REALLY GOOD RESOURCE] Schachter, C.L., Stalker, C.A., Teram, E., Lasiuk, G.C., Danilkewich, A. (2008). Handbook on sensitive practice for health care practitioner: Lessons from adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncfv-cnivf/pdfs/nfntsx-handbook_e.pdf

Helping survivors of childhood abuse through labour: http://www.gentlebirth.org/archives/abuselbr.html

Prevalence of sexual assault history among women with common gynecologic symptoms. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9790390?dopt=Abstract

Health risk behaviors and medical sequelae of childhood sexual abuse.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1434879?dopt=Abstract

Effect of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Gynecologic Care as an Adult http://psy.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/48/5/385

The day before the pap

Yesterday I saw my therapist and we talked about the pap test appointment tomorrow. What’s different about this appointment is:

1) the medical professional will know I’m a survivor.
2) I’m planning to ask if I have scar tissue.
3) I’m planning to ask about all the wierd things I have going on with my vagina.

It feels incredibly vulnerable to do this this way, consciously, asking for the compassionate care I want, especially when I didn’t have any care that I remember for my vagina when I was assaulted as a child.

I have duly printed out my ‘survivor safety lecture’ pap test sheet and marked the appropriate boxes. I also have typed up all my questions, and the rationale behind them on a single sheet of paper so that if I can’t deal with asking verbally, I can just get her to read it.

At my therapists suggestion, I’m going to reserve the right not to go through with the exam if I don’t like the nurse or her responses, so the questions have a dual purpose. I get to see how she handles them. My therapist also offered me an emergency session on Thursday or Friday if I need one, an offer which brings tears to my eyes even now.

It was good to talk it over with my therapist, and more importantly cry it over, cry over the body of the 5 year old girl with the injured vagina, cry over the lifetime lack of anyone to ask questions about my injuries or to care about them. Cry about the shame and fear of judgement / condescension / freak out of a nurse or doctor knowing my history examining me.

So, I’m going to watch some nice, anethesizing tv or read my new book.

On the up side, I’m still meditating 8 minutes per day and still practising either singing or guitar daily. I also started a tai chi class with my wife yesterday. So in general, things are good.

Wish me luck.