Shitty first drafts

I’m listening to Brene Brown’s book ‘Rising Strong’ right now. I find her work to be very helpful. I could write more about that but I’m trying to get to a point here.

I’m in a relationship. A good one. With a woman I love and respect and am very attracted to, all of which appears to be mutual. So far so good, right?

My ex wife (who I am technically still married to, and still love, but we’re not a fit anymore) still lives in one half of my house and I live in the other. She’s moving out at the end of the month, and is deeply heartbroken, as was I for most of this past year. We would have celebrated our 15th anniversary a month ago. Continue reading Shitty first drafts

UPDATED My book – It Gets Better: What I learned from 20 years of healing childhood rape

So here it is, my book draft. The working title is “It Gets Better: What I learned from 20 years of healing childhood rape” I was sharing it as a google doc, but that unfortunately had some privacy issues, so I’ve uploaded a pdf below, which I will refresh every so often as I keep working on it.  I converted it from a word document to a google document which introduced some errors I’m going to pick away at.  I’m also going to add in some of the more recent information from my blog.

Keep in mind THIS IS A DRAFT – so don’t expect perfection. I’m still working on it. You can help though. Having input from other survivors is important. I realized reading it over, that there are some sections I still have to add, so it’s not complete, but I’m actively working on it.

You can give me feedback in the comments to this post. What I’m looking for is *not* spelling or grammar errors, but comments like: “you should have a section on this topic” or “I didn’t understand this bit on page 10” or “I think it would be good to add this in to your description on anxiety” etc… So basically about the content and organization not the grammar and punctuation. I can hire an editor for that. If you’d like to write me a review and put it in the comments, I’d love that too.

View or download the pdf version (updated Feb 2015) here: MayWeDanceonTheirGraves

Image

The colour purple

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/5780128884/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/5780128884/

Last night my partner decided to watch the Color Purple, a screen adaptation of a book by Alice Walker. This is the 1985 epic movie that made the acting careers of Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. The main character is an incest survivor, having borne two children sired by her own father by the age of 13. Both of these children are sold by her abuser and taken from her arms shortly after their birth. Don’t watch this movie if you don’t want to be triggered. It’s full of lots of events that might seem extreme to civilians, but which survivors know happen all the time, and happened to us. I don’t know how people can watch these movies – they seem so numb to me to be able to enjoy watching people get tortured. Continue reading The colour purple

Benefits of being a sexual abuse survivor…

I’ve been feeling disheartened lately. I’ve been practicing tantric yoni massage (no endorsement implied in the link, but the description seems about right, and it even mentions survivors), both on my own and with my wife and my lover. I have the injured vulva which has been very sore, and I end up crying throughout the sessions, and crying hard. It feels like it’s clearing held energy out of my vagina and vulva. 

I’m not afraid of crying. I know that clearing emotions is just something that has to happen, like vomiting when you’re really nauseous, and that once it’s passed you feel a lot better. Eventually, it clears so much that acceptance happens and that piece of gunk is fully healed. So crying is a good thing.

Meanwhile, I’m giving my partners multiple long screaming orgasms.

This doesn’t feel the least bit fair.

Yesterday I had a good cry and rage about how unfair it is that 4o years later I’m still trying to heal my vulva, while psychopath father still hasn’t done a day in jail.

I’ve developed a chart and am tracking the state of my vulva plus the things I do to treat it.

I have a 5 point scale from ‘blood red and sore without touching’ at 5 to ‘pink and not sore or itchy’ at 1. My vulva has been at a 4 or 5 for several days now. I’m taking turmeric daily, applying vaseline daily, tracking how often I use the high powered cortisone cream, and basically just monitoring what seems to make it flare up or down rather than numbing out that part of my body. I suspect that learning to be more present in my vulva is making me more conscious of the discomfort that has always been there, not worsening it, but it still sucks.

This article about vulvar skin conditions was a source of some good insight and advice. However, it also lets me know that I probably need to do more medical advocacy on my own behalf, including another biopsy, if I can get a dermatopathologist to examine it and refine my diagnosis. Apparently regular pathologists aren’t good at reading vulvar biopsies because the moist skin shows skin diseases differently than regular dry skin.

Anyhow, as expected, the emotional and physical gunk is coming up to clear.  It’s not like I didn’t know it would.

I’m re-reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s ‘David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants‘, a book about the benefits of being an underdog, or how sometimes an advantage is not an advantage. He talks about how sometimes not being invested in the mainstream way of doing things can be a big advantage and how skills and attitudes people learn when they are the underdog can sometimes give them an advantage. It got me thinking. What about being an incest survivor gives me an advantage?

Now, let’s be clear, I do not subscribe to any victim-blaming philosophies of growth that says basically that we’ve attracted abuse or are asking for it to grow our souls or it’s karma for being complete assholes in a previous life whatever. Despite being wrong, blaming anyone but the abuser for the abuse has been shown to be associated with poorer emotional health. However, since the reality of what I’ve survived is clearly the reality, I might as well look for whatever silver linings I can, right?

The point of the exercise is to look at things commonly seen as disadvantages and figure out situations or conditions in which they offer an unseen advantage. This is not about minimizing or denying, this is about figuring out what I as a survivor or we all as survivors can find to compensate for*  this thing we’ve been handed to deal with. (*terrible wording, but I couldn’t find a better way to put it. Of course, nothing can actually compensate for childhood abuse.)

Let me think:

As a result of healing myself of childhood sexual assault I have the following advantages:

  1. I understand and surrender to grief, but am not overwhelmed by it. Strong feelings are familiar and manageable, and I have ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude.
  2. I see dysfunction a mile off.   I make good decisions about people.
  3. I have a lot of empathy. As part of figuring out my own gunk, I’m often able to figure out other people’s enough to have compassion for them. I can make a frame for people to be who they are and as they are.
  4. I don’t put up with shit from abusers. I can spot them, and I don’t engage.
  5. I am not afraid of other people’s feelings. I accept them and am not easily manipulated by them.
  6. I know I can handle it if bad things happen, so I’m not as worried about things I can’t control.
  7. I love myself, deep down. We’ve been through a lot together, me and I, and I trust myself. I am proud of myself and what I’ve achieved.
  8. I am willing to speak truth to power when necessary and do it effectively.
  9. I have well defined skills for coping with fear, pain, uncertainty and processes that feel mysterious and involve faith and self-trust.
  10. I have close to me people who are real and grounded and honourable. Everyone else has the lack of these qualities seemingly written in neon paint on their foreheads.
  11. I have a deep, engaged and mature faith, and a strong spiritual practice.
  12. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and am great at reframing things so I can turn it into a win.

As a result of experiencing childhood sexual assault (this is harder) I have the following advantages:

  1. I have only family of choice remaining to me. I don’t ever have to put up with the garden variety of annoying relatives or family drama. Anyone who isn’t good and loving is no longer in my life.
  2. I have very strong friendships with other survivors. Because we don’t have biological family, we make our friends into family, which makes for strong connections.
  3. I am a very sensitive and skilled lover. Because my own vulva is often sore and easily irritated, and I am not always able to receive touch on my vulva without discomfort, I have put a lot of my sexual energy into getting off on giving my partners pleasure. I have also developed skills to touch other vulvae well without irritating.
  4. Disclosing the experience of abuse to friends, family or lovers is a bit of a litmus test for people’s character. You can tell a lot about people by how well they handle it. It weeds out a lot of bad eggs that would otherwise take awhile to show their colours.

That’s all I have for now. I’d love to hear in the comments about what ‘earned benefits’ or silver lining items (no matter how ironic or backhanded) other survivors can think of about being a childhood sexual abuse or assault survivor.

Vulva – Healing the Physical Effects of Childhood Sexual Assault – Physical Self Care

This post is chock full of triggers. No descriptions of actual abuse, but lots about injured vaginas and what works to make them feel better.  A little bit of religious triggers if reading about Pagan stuff triggers you. Read at your own risk.

_________________________________________________________________________

I have one messed up vagina. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Actually spiritually it is probably healthier than most, after 20 years of being an active member of a religion where the vulva is literally a core sacred symbol. That was the most right and healing thing I’ve ever done as a survivor and a woman, to actively choose to align my spirituality with viewing my sexuality and my female body as sacred.

As you may know if you read this blog the physical effects are pretty severe. When I was raped as a very young child, my vagina tore badly. So badly that it still has scarring, which is unusual. Vulvae normally heal from even very severe wounds without scars, apparently, but mine was injured deep enough or repeatedly enough to scar and to have loose tags of torn tissue. Lucky me. Actually, seeing the scars a few years ago helped me prove that my mother was complicit in the abuse, literally an accessory after the fact, and gave me clear justification to disown her.

This, likewise is a drawing of an adult woman's vulva showing the names for all the parts and which ones usually get injured in sexual assault. Now you know what all your lady bits are are called.
This, likewise is a drawing of an adult woman’s vulva showing the names for all the parts and which ones usually get injured in sexual assault. Now you know what all your lady bits are are called.

About a year ago, I got a diagnosis for the chronic pain and itching I’ve been experiencing my whole life around my vagina opening and my vulva. The gynecologist did a biopsy and found that the tissue to the posterior side of my vaginal opening is chronically inflamed. The words “It’s definitely not in your head” were used, always a good thing for a survivor to hear, especially when I’d been told basically that by another practitioner.  She prescribed me really strong cortisone ointment and sent me on my way. While the ointment does bring down the inflammation, I haven’t quite figured out how to manage it so that it stays gone.

Here’s what I’ve researched so far and what seems to be worth doing for me:

  1. Using a mirror daily (when I remember) to check my vulva for redness and take action if necessary. I’ve gotten so used to ignoring the discomfort, that a visual check is helpful. When not inflamed, my vulva simmers down to a dark pink instead of a dark red. The area in the image on this page that is red is where the worst of my inflammation and torn tags is, which  makes sense because that’s where the worst of the tearing usually is in a rape.
  2. Taking turmeric capsules. I get empty gel capsules and fill them with the spice turmeric, which has scientifically verified anti-inflammatory properties. There are no side effects. It’s food. I take 1-3 a day.
  3. Putting petroleum jelly (vaseline) on my vulva daily to keep it moist and keep it from getting irritated by rubbing on clothes and stuff.  I’ve also used coconut oil, which is nice, but it apparently is ‘comodogenic’ which means it causes pimples. I don’t want a pimple on my vulva, thanks. Cocoa butter would probably also work. The problem with all of these is that they break down latex gloves or condoms, so make sure you gently wipe off the jelly or oil with a soft damp cloth before using any of these.
  4. Ice packs. Those gel packs you put in the freezer are wonderful for an inflamed vulva. I wrap them in a tea towel and put one in my panties or sit on it. Really helps when the pain is bad.
  5. A squeeze bottle of water to rinse after peeing. Especially in the morning, when urine is concentrated, the urine can burn the sensitive sore skin. The vaseline seems to help with this.
  6. Boric acid capsules. Using the same empty gel capsules, fill them with pharmaceutical grade powdered boric acid from a drug store, the kind that might be sold as eyewash. Put one in your vagina every day for a few weeks if you have a chronic vaginal infection. Shorter if you rarely have infections or it seems to clear it up faster. This is also science based and works for both yeast infections and other types of vaginal infections by changing the pH of your vagina to make it acidic and unfriendly to the bad bacteria.
  7. The ‘legs up the wall’ yoga pose which increases blood flow to the pelvis. This seems to help with the pain sometimes.
  8. Sexual positions for penetrative sex that don’t irritate the red area are purportedly the ‘woman on top’ position and ‘from behind’ position. I have had sex in these positions (no, I’m not going to explain how this works for lesbians 😉 ) and I do seem to recall it being better.

The above  is all very important on a physical level, but there’s a whole other level of healing I’m embarking on now. I’m doing Tantric yoni (vulva/vagina) massage, on myself and with my wife. This is basically massaging the inside and outside of the vagina/vulva in a structured way while being very present and breathing in a special way that opens you up.  I know this will sound terrifying to lots of survivors. It’s probably a good way to bring up an unmanageable amount of flashbacks, but that hasn’t happened for at least a decade, and if it does, I am ready. So far as a recipient it’s been about crying my heart out and releasing a lot of pain and stored gunk. No night terrors or new memories thank the Goddess. I’m good with crying, and I can feel it clearing already. I’m ready for it and I’m glad to be doing it. For those of you who have female partners who are not survivors, they will like it a lot. You should try it.

My wife is being a good sport about performing the yoni massage on me, because it’s certainly not sexy with me emoting hard the whole time. I am grateful to have someone who loves me helping me heal this. It’s not something I could go to a massage therapist with. My hope/plan is that doing this regularly will clear out the emotional trauma gunk from the assaults stored in my vagina and vulva which may help it be less inflamed, or at least help me have more sensation and comfort in the relatively undamaged areas of my vulva. I enjoy sex, but it’s a pain (no pun intended) that my injury makes it complicated.  I will keep you posted on whether this works, and if so, will post a primer for survivors on how to do it and what I learned.

If you have a vaginal/vulval injury and have tried these or any other things that work, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

Help for Partners of Childhood Sexual Assault Survivors

I had a comment just now asking for resources for partners. I am a survivor and have been involved with women who are survivors. I think that most of this will be applicable to partners of survivors of all genders.

Partners will find these posts particularly useful:

What not to say to survivors of childhood sexual assault…

Do you have a friend, relative or lover who survived childhood sexual assault? Here’s 6 of the top 10 things not to say or do.

1) Breaking the kvetching order  – Don’t expect the survivor to provide emotional support to you about your feelings about their trauma. Go to other people with that.  Support her or him, but refrain from offering advice or judgement.

2) Giving advice. If you haven’t survived childhood sexual abuse, really you’ve got nothing useful about this. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Keep your advice, particularly about forgiveness, moving on, or dealing with abusive or complicit relatives and parents to yourself. For more information on why this is so, please read this post on what it’s like to have PTSD and complex PTSD.

A related issue is platitudes. Phrases like “Parents do the best they can with what they know at the time.” “Mothers/fathers always put their children first.” “Family comes first.” for example, are often completely false in families containing abusers and can make your loved one feel like they are an alien from another planet.

The closest experience a non-survivor can get to what a survivor is going through are experiences of deep loss and grief. Think about how you felt when someone close to you died, or the biggest tragedy you have experienced or could imagine experiencing. That’s probably closest to the experience your loved one is having. If you’ve had one or more experiences of trauma  then you might also be able to relate. By trauma, I don’t mean just stressful events. Here’s what I mean by trauma:

direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing anevent that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threatof death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate(Criterion A1). The person’s response to the event must involve intense fear,helplessness, or horror (or in children, the response must involve disorganized or agitated behavior) (Criterion A2). (p. 463 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR; American PsychiatricAssociation [APA], 2000))

3) Investigating – It’s not your job to determine if your loved one is telling the truth about what happened to her or him. She or he is probably doing a good job doubting his/her own reality right now. Just stay out of grilling her him for details and trying to make sense of it. She/he will sort most of it out eventually, but based on how the memory works in cases of trauma, it’s not as straightforward a process as you might expect.

4) Not wanting to talk about it – Yes, child sexual assault is disturbing, but it’s a fact of your loved one’s reality, and part of her daily existence. She/he should be able to refer to it in conversation without a big ‘disturbance in the force’ or you changing the topic. It’s a big deal, but don’t make a big deal of it either.

5) Trying to fix it. – You can’t. The best you can do is to walk beside your loved one, to listen and to care.

6) Expecting it to be over quickly – grieving childhood sexual assault, particularly recurring assault, takes about 10 years from the time the person is actively healing. Think about people who have tragically lost one of their children to accident, illness or murder. Do you expect them to ever stop grieving? Yes, it may die down, but there will always be times when grief is active.

I am sure there are more of these – anyone got any others to add?

I have an appointment!

tumblr_m8xh9scySH1qery84I just found out I have an appointment with a woman obstetrician/gynecologist for May 10th. The doctor who set up the appointment for me thought that an obstetrician might be a good doctor to help me, as the tearing is similar to tearing from birthing. I can’t find much about her online, but she teaches at one of the local universities so she is experienced and connected.  I expected to have to wait several months for an appointment, so this is really good.

When I got off the phone with the nurse I had a good hard cry and then looked her up, and then had a cry again. It’s relief and fear together. What if she doesn’t examine me very thoroughly and says nothing can be done? I deserve to know exactly the extent of my injuries, and what I might do to improve their impact on my sex life.

I have to remember to confirm the appointment a week before or I will lose it. I tend to get spacey about things with emotional energy attached to them so I’ve already set lots of reminders and will tell my wife and friends to remind me to confirm too.

I’m also thinking of who to bring with me to the appointment. Last time I brought my wife, but she doesn’t do survivor support well. She loves me, but she’s not great at demonstrating empathy in the way I need it when I’m upset. I think I need a survivor with me. My first thought was one of my longer term male friends, who has survived a lot himself and is good at being supportive, or maybe my other survivor friend who is a lawyer and good at collecting specific information. I need someone who will be compassionate, get what a big deal this is, help me remember to ask everything I want to ask, and offer moral support. Perhaps I’ll talk it over with both of them and see which of them is up for it. The guy gets a bit spacey himself so may not be the best choice if I need someone to be my rock. The woman is a bit less amazonian than I am about her survivor stuff so may not be as unflinching as I need. My wife was there when I first saw the scars so she has the history. But she hates talking about our sex life, and I’ll have to do that to really get the information I need. It will come to me who is best.

Burning the Journals

Midnight ember
I just got back from a camping trip with my wife. With her support, I burned several boxes of old journals, dating back from my childhood through the present. It took me three days. Now that I’ve decided not to sue the old hopefully soon to be dead bastard, I don’t need them any more.

I flipped through each of them, tore out some poetry and things I wanted to keep, and then burned the rest. As a Wiccan, releasing ritual is usually done on the waning moon, but the moon was waxing so I needed to interpret what I was doing in that light, as accepting, increasing or making whole rather than discarding something unwanted.

What I came up with is that I am all of it. I am the woman who  wrote 30+ years of journals, writing mostly when I had too much inside that I couldn’t share. I am the teenage girl obsessing about boys and interpersonal crap with girls, even though I’m a lesbian. I am the young woman obsessing about guys, money and finding a job. I am the emerging lesbian obsessing about women, whether to label myself bi or lesbian. Thank goodness queer wasn’t a label in use then, that would have been way more confusing. I am the woman who lived with a man but knew she  preferred women, who fell in love with her best friend and was rejected by her.

I am the woman who saved her friend from committing suicide because I could read the signs and took a long cab ride out to stop her. I am the woman who stood up at a 12 step convention and asked a crowd of 300 people to tell me they believed me about the abuse. I cry even now thinking of how powerful that was, when they all unanimously stood and declared it in unison. I am the woman with a powerful and direct voice when she has enough social support and a hesitant, anxious and ruminating manner when she doesn’t. I am the girl who wrote poetry. I am the girl who counted in her head to keep from having intrusive thoughts and feelings about the abuse.

I am the woman who successfully pulled her mind away from abuse thoughts during sex, who once despaired of ever having an orgasm without some abuse fantasy in it, who took her sexuality back from the abuser. Who now almost never thinks or feels those things in sexual contexts.

I am the woman who chronicled her flashbacks – reading them I remembered when the memories of the abuse were more visceral, and am glad that has faded as they got integrated.

I accept all of my experience, power and knowledge into me. I integrate that girl, that woman I have been and am. Although I have changed and evolved, it is all me and I welcome that stored energy and passion back to me.

What I noticed as well, is that so much paper was spent agonizing over decisions, fretting and obsessing rather than acting. Some of this is my highly sensitive person nature, where I am cautious and slow to act. Some of it is the chronic anxiety I struggled with most of my life. Some of it is just that I had no one else to tell. Some of that has not changed.

If this ritual, this spell of release and transformation, has one goal, it’s to end that. I will write purposefully – envisioning the ideal future or in poetry, music or prose – or not at all. I will put my feelings into music or art instead. I have obsessed and ruminated enough. Now I will act.

My self-help book is underway. The working title is “It gets better: What I learned from 25 years of healing childhood rape”. I could use some ‘test readers’ to give me feedback on the rough draft – not about fine editing things and grammar, those are third or fourth draft, but about what parts seem most helpful, what might be missing, what’s unclear. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to review a copy of it and give me some feedback. A lot of it is from this blog, just organized in a different way with some added material.

Link between slut shaming, rape culture and child sexual abuse – education from a child

This is awesome, and I agree with everything she says. I sure hope this 13 year old child is not having sex, but, I think it’s very a good idea for a 13 year old child to be as literate about a culture that supports rape as she seems to be. Good for her. I think that ‘slut shaming’ has a big connection to ‘rape survivor shaming’ – survivors know that girls that are seen as ‘damaged goods’ already through having been abused are at higher risk for repeated assault.

Life Full of Beauty

I wish I could write in more detail about my new lover and our first nights together, but  the story is partly hers and not mine to share. All I feel comfortable saying is that it went well, and I was able to be a lot more open about my scarring than I had intended to. I had a flare-up of my vulvadynia, and dealt with it with the yoga move I’ve written about earlier. The next day I was totally fine and not sore at all. I am proud of really trusting the rhythms of my body and very pleased I was able to let go and be open to body sensations and pleasure in ways I haven’t been able to before. I’m so proud of trusting myself and the self esteem and sexual confidence I seem to have aquired somewhere.

I think this blog has had a lot to do with that, getting myself clear and really looking at the impact the vaginal/vulvar injuries I suffered as a child has had on my sexuality. I feel really confident I can do this. Thank Goddess for that.

My relationship with my wife is coping well with the polyamory, we’re taking good care of one another, and it’s working. I really feel lucky that she trusts me so much in this journey.

My life is full of beauty.

I am happy.

I haven’t written much because not much on the sexual abuse theme has been up lately. I’m happy. I smile. I look at old pictures of myself with a wistful look on my face and realize how profound that change is. I feel good physically. My year of working out twice a week with a trainer has paid off and I’m strong and muscular with a much smaller belly and way more energy. Happiness seems to have brought my cortisol levels down and the belly fat is finally giving up the ghost. I’m not anxious. My job is good.

Even my relationship with my wife is good. We’ve weathered so far the transition into polyamory. I’m happier, and she has more space, which she likes, and I have my old bodacious social self back, which I like. We aren’t taking one another for granted any more. We’ve both been putting energy into making the other feel loved. This is not to say I’ve actually slept with someone else, but that’s most likely to change very soon, and it looks like we’ll weather that as well.

I’ve been thinking about how and whether to explain to new lovers about the scars on my vulva, and the care needed to make sure I don’t get really sore or triggered. Frankly, preventing soreness is of more practical importance. This next relationship will be my first new sexual relationship after finding out about my scars and figuring out how to prevent and manage the chronic vulvadynia I’d had as a result of the injuries from the rapes.

Mostly I think I’ll start with – ‘I have some vascular damage, so I need there to be more than enough lube at all times and I need to change immediately anything that irritates no matter how fun it is, or I’ll be in pain for days.’ Anyone out there have a good speech for this kind of thing, that doesn’t break the mood, but gets the necessary info across? This will probably separate the wheat from the chaff, but we’ll see how that works. I’ll let you know. It’s one of those hard things for survivors, figuring out how much to tell a lover, and how to prevent the abuse from taking over our sex lives.

For those of you with similar vulva injuries, I have had good results with Probe brand lubricant, which is water based with a citrus preservative and doesn’t cause flare-ups like some other ones do. You can get thicker formulations of it that offer a bit more protection from friction as well.

I want to say that I’m hopeful, I’m well and yes, people can heal from even prolonged, early and violent child sexual assault. I believe that I’m one of them.  It takes time, courage and work, and it’s not like all of the effects go away completely, but it doesn’t prevent me from doing anything I want to do anymore. I’m so grateful.

Missing the Freakin Point! Same-Sex Boundaries and Sexual Abuse Survivors

Apparently, at a recent Pantheacon, there was a scuffle between trans activists and women who want to have a women’s skyclad (nude) ritual without penises and testicles. The theoretical  penis and testicles in question that so many people were up in arms about women excluding from pagan ritual would belong to a transwoman who had not yet (or did not intend to) have them altered.  I don’t know if an actual transwoman was excluded from ritual, or just the idea that some poor penis-enhanced and vagina-challenged woman would be excluded from a ritual by feminists that got people’s knicker in a twist.

I think this is very much a sexual abuse survivor issue. The vast majority, although of course not all, of us were sexually assaulted by people with penises, who had more power than us not only because they were adults, but because they had male privilege.

There need to be sacred places where naked penises are not welcome.  There need to be places I can be energetically open without my inner survivor child freezing and fearful. I needed that a lot more when I was younger than I do now, but it’s still very healing. I’m not saying that a transexual woman who has fully transitioned (hormones, genital surgery) should not come to a skyclad women’s only ritual. Personally, I think she’s very welcome.

Below is the full comment I wrote on a pagan blog about this issue. The character limit cut me off so I only posted the first part. Here is the rest.

I want to add some perspective here. The first time I was raped by a person with a penis, I was five years old. Over a decade of my childhood, I’ve been raped several more times, always by a person with a penis, who had male socialization and attitudes, and believed he was allowed to rape me because he was a man. The culture around us permitted and condoned his ongoing rape of me implicitly because of his status as a male.  As a young woman, I had my body violated by grabbing, leering, rape threats and unwelcome comments several times, all of which by someone with a penis who had male privilege, and who got away with it because of that.

I am very concerned that tearing down women’s healing places comes from a place of mysogyny and discounting women’s actual reality under sexism. I have seen this process in effect with rape survivors and the battle to end rape is not over.  I am not a victim. I am strong, but I needed women’s space, completely and utterly free from penises and internalized male sexism, to heal. Feminism has been very important to me, and so has spaces that feel safe because I cannot be raped there. The Goddess has healed me, and I could not have experienced that healing without women’s mystery ritual. 3 out of 5 women are sexually violated by the time they are 18. We don’t talk about it much in public, and  we can’t enter into arguments like these without exposing something painful, private and often misunderstood, often to a culture that discounts the importance of what we have experienced. This is not right or fair.

A woman would understand the fear, and the need for body safety at a skyclad ritual. A woman with a penis should also understand this and respect this. If she doesn’t, she misses an key part of the experience of being a woman, and until she gains it she will likely not be experienced as an an ally of women like me who have survived rape.

No, I don’t even remotely think all men are rapists or potential rapists, or that men are evil. In Canada, where I live, a person needs to have bottom surgery to legally change their sex to female on their birth certificate and drivers licence. I think this is a good and clear boundary. I’d like to see pagans holding an equivalent of menarche rituals for transwomen who have taken this step, and the reverse for transmen who had completed physical transition. Once a person had had this ritual they would be considered their target sex and would be welcome in same-sex ritual of their target sex only after that.

The tool of air is discernment and boundaries, as represented by the knife that cuts the circle, so that some are in and some are out. There needs to be a place to draw a line and I don’t think a person’s declaration that they think of themselves as female alone, followed up with nothing permanent, is enough of a commitment to justify the harms to sacred healing space women like me would experience.

  • What about people who do not think of themselves as either female or male? Should they be in the boundary of a ritual designed for women if they do not even include themselves there?
  • If a trans-specific ritual were held, could ciswomen and cismen crash it?
  • If a person of colour specific ritual were held, could a white person with a black ancestor ten generations back crash it?
  • If specific ritual was held to connect with biological ancestors and gods from a particular pagan tradition practiced in a particular place and time, would that be racist? (Eg: a ritual to the Greek gods open only to people of Greek heritage?

Rather than attack women creating spaces for ourselves, can we please attack rapists, mysogynists and pedophiles and their apologists? Once those are gone, we will have no need for this debate.

I was at a first nations gathering where there was a moon lodge (a secluded space for women who are currently menstruating, where they are tended by other women. Menstruating women are regarded as being too energetically powerful to include in co-ed rituals, so at large gatherings, a moon lodge is built for them to do menstrual time specific ritual together instead.). The tradition held that the only people allowed to build or enter the moon lodge were women who had already menstruated or who were menstruating. I was honoured to be invited (as a white person) to help build the lodge. There was another white person who was transgendered (but not transexual by hir own report- more of a stone butch) who frequently would wear a penis prosthesis under hir pants. The elder crone in charge of the moon lodge said this person, who menstruated, was welcome to help build the lodge provided they did not wear the prosthesis, considered themself a woman and participated as a woman. This person agreed, respecting the culture and it’s gatekeeper. I do not think the elder would have permitted a naked person with a penis and testicles in the moon lodge. I do not believe it is possible to participate in a women’s mystery skyclad ritual with a penis and testicles, and not change it to co-ed ritual energetically. If a transwoman has had bottom surgery, that demonstrates commitment to being a woman, and I believe she should be included.

Feminists are easy targets in a culture that already hates women. Would we be so judgemental about a men’s ritual that excluded a female-bodied transmen who had had no hormone treatment or breast reduction? The reason this doesn’t happen is that a transman in such a situation would run a great risk of violence in participating and probably wouldn’t risk participating until he passed. Women like Z are used as the straw feminist to attack, so that women like me, who are wanting to have a reasoned dialogue about the actual impacts of including people with penises in women’s intimate spaces are silenced. I am beginning to very much resent it.

 

NOTE: By the way, before commenting on this post, please read the comments already posted. Reasoned and nuanced discussion of ideas are welcome.

Managing Cortisol Levels for People with Complex PTSD

One of the problems with having been in a chronic state of fear and anxiety for years and years while surviving the abuse, and then while healing from it, is that the cortisol levels in the blood get really high. High cortisol levels make it almost impossible to lose weight, and are linked to all kinds of diseases, as if we didn’t need more negative effects from the abuse.

Here’s some tips I researched to reduce cortisol levels. I’ve added my notes next to them about how they’ve worked out for me:

  1. Avoid caffeine, which can elevate cortisol levels. [I avoid cafeine, which does make me anxous, but still eat chocolate. If I feel the need for a latte, I have steamed milk, which is just as satisfying. ]
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Cortisol levels are generally lower in the middle of the night while you’re asleep, and sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels. [Hard to do if you’re already anxious. But I do modify my life to prioritize not having to wake to an alarm in the morning. ]
  3. Exercise regularly, but avoid intense or prolonged exercise as it stimulates cortisol release. [This is interesting, intense or prolonged exercise does make me really uncomfortable – I feel hyped up, anxous and emotional. When I work out, I now stop and take a walk around the gym if I get like that, and won’t do an exercise that doesn’t permit this kind of break when I need it. It’s really made exercise possible for me. ]
  4. Try music therapy, massage therapy, and dancing, all of which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. [I like all these things, interestingly dancing is one of the vigorous exercise types I can tolerate well without getting anxous or adrenalized.]
  5. Consider supplementation with vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, black tea, or phosphatidylserine. [I don’t know what this last thing is, but I have been taking more vitamin C and Omega 3 fatty acids. I take 6 or more salmon oil capsules a day, after reading how good it is for the brain, especially those of us with gunk.]
  6. Laugh and cry – research has shown that both reduce cortisol levels. [This must be why crying always makes me feel better. I’ve been looking for more opportunities to laugh.]
  7. Eat regular meals and stick to low-glycemic foods to maintain a constant blood sugar level. [Always a struggle, but I think this helps too when I can pull it off. I don’t like sugary foods anyways so it’s not as hard for me as it might be for others, and I actually like whole grain foods. ]

Since it’s been a while since I posted.

Update: Things are a lot better with my wife. We’re communicating a lot more, and she’s reading an excellent book “Pagan Polyamory” which is starting some good discussions. We had a lovely romantic weekend a couple of weeks ago, which went really well. I also read my Car Crash post out at a workshop I was at last weekend. Afterward I felt like I’d overshared, but my friend who was there pointed out that it was a similar time I thought I’d overshared that had resulted in our friendship, so I think it was okay.

Bountiful Abuse – why something stronger was needed to stop a religious child abuse ring

In Creston BC, which is in the western section of Canada, the country where I live, there is an organized paedophile ring masquerading as a religion. The fundamentalist church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) bills itself as an orthodox stream of Mormonism (The mainstream Mormon church doesn’t agree).

Mormons originally allowed/encouraged multiple wives for their most powerful and affluent male members, and that practice died out when polygamy was outlawed in the area of the US (Utah) where most of them lived. Most modern Mormons (LDS without the F) only have one wife, although their religious doctrines still permit or encourage more than one. Christianity and Islam, of course, also allowed their wealthy men multiple wives too in ancient times.  There are lots of men in the Bible with multiple wives, including Joseph, David and Moses. In Islam, their prophet Mohammed had multiple wives. Joseph Smith, the founder/prophet of Mormonism and author of most of their scripture, said that he had received a divine revelation that not only allowed him to have multiple wives, but to ‘re-assign’ wives who were currently married to his followers to himself. This reassignment of wives from one man to another by religious leaders still occurs within the FLDS.

Anyhow, in my country, a small group of affluent men are, in 2011,  holding marriage ceremonies and having sex with multiple young women and children, who have been groomed to accept this practice from birth, in a place called Bountiful, near Creston, BC. Female children and girls are illegally transported over the border from and to FLDS colonies in the US to serve as ‘brides’ for the creepy patriarchs of this sect.

Let me be clear, as a Wiccan, my religious beliefs are entirely in support of people having multiple partners of whatever sex, or recognizing additional spouses with a ceremony, as long as there’s no coercion and everyone is of age.   One of the most widely held principles of my faith is that all acts of love and pleasure are sacred to the Goddess. Since an even more widely held Wiccan principle (possibly our only real area of unanimous agreement)  is ‘as long as it harms none, do as you will’, we also are against child sexual abuse.  Of course, as a childhood sexual assault survivor, I’m absolutely against children or teens having sex with adults for any reason.

As a married lesbian, I also don’t take the right to marry the person of my choice for granted.

So I can say in all honesty, that I’m one of the ones affected. I’m the one losing religious and social freedoms here, and I’m completely fine with it.

Since recently I’ve been exploring being ethically non-monogamous with my wife, I’m in communication with some polyamourous folk. They’re all in an uproar about a new court decision in Canada that puts minor limits on our freedom (Canadians can now legally have multiple common law partners but still not marry them in a religious or civil ceremony). It’s another one of those situations where I feel invisible as a child sexual assault survivor, and  where you really want to say:

“As a person who was repeatedly raped as a young child by a much older man with the complicit support of her mother, and complicit non-interference  of her parent’s friends, and culture, I think I have something to say about the difficulties of stopping systemic child sexual abuse in Bountiful. I know from experience that the existing laws are useless and almost impossible to enforce in this type of situation. It’s the perfect racket for abusers. This situation needs something stronger. If it is heavy handed, so be it. I also have something to say about child sexual assault. It’s evil. It’s close to the worst thing that can happen to a human being, and your petty little ‘I can’t hold a ceremony to celebrate my multiple love’  problem can wait until the children have been rescued from rape and slavery. “

In Canada, polyamory has been illegal for many years, and the attorney general is hoping to use that law to wipe out the child and woman abuse perpetrated at the FLDS colony at Bountiful. However, the FLDS has challenged the law’s constitutionality, which on the face of it seems like an easy thing to do. I mean, shouldn’t people be able to do whatever they want for relationships and marriage, particularly a religious thing? Aren’t there already child abuse and child trafficking laws that take care of the child abuse part of things?

Well yes, and no. Those of you who are also survivors of child sexual abuse, particularly those with complicit families or even abuser collaborators beyond that, know that laws are worthless if they can’t be enforced or aren’t enforced.

If children can’t know that what is happening is illegal, if they have no-one to tell,  if they’ve been brainwashed from birth to accept abuse, if their religious authorities condone or support the abusers, and if their caregivers are all complicit in the abuse, then absolutely no one can and will help them escape.

This was my experience and I am sure the experience of many of those reading this. Even perfectly nice people aren’t doing squat to help children who are being abused unless it’s blatant and they have someone effective on hand and willing to intervene. Effective intervention doesn’t happen all that much in my experience and the experience of dozens of survivors of  incest and child abuse I’ve known.  So forgive me if I don’t want to rely on the existing laws about child sexual assault (and the paltry penalties for people who are convicted of one of the worst things you can do to a human being). 

Fortunately, the FLDS lost their argument. The court upheld the anti-polygamy law, but clarified it to exclude multiple common law relationships, which are now officially legal. I read the decision handed down by my country’s supreme court and I’m okay with it, despite the fact that it limits my personal and religious freedoms as a polyamourous person and a Wiccan. The Canadian law, which is an old law recently clarified by the supreme court, criminalizes having more than one wife or husband. If people have a civil or religious ceremony to get married to more than one person, or are recognized by their community as being married to more than one person, they can go to jail. There is no minimum sentence, so I’m assuming they can sentence based on the harm done, which in the FLDS case is considerable.

The good news for ethical, egalitarian nonmonogamists is that, it does not criminalize multiple relationships, provided you don’t actually marry more than one of your lovers. If you want to live common law with more than one adult, that’s not illegal, so most my acquaintances with multiple partners are not doing anything illegal. Those of them with child custody battles will be and are relieved.

Personally, I’d like to just see heterosexual polygyny (having one man with  more than one wife) made illegal, because that’s the sole practice that has been shown, across the centuries, cultures and religions, to lower the marriage age of girls, increase antisocial behaviour in the young men who are not permitted to marry, reduce paternal investment in children, increase infant mortality rates, increase domestic abuse and reduce the autonomy and personal power of women. There is no evidence that women having multiple husbands or wives causes any problems, or that harms are inherent in situations where both partners are free to love other partners. It’s just the ‘rich guy with lots of wives’ situation, particularly in combination with religious sanction, that seems to be the troublemaker. However, I realize that there’s no chance that this will actually happen, I’m just saying.

The court decision actually explored and addressed the rather well researched harms of polygyny in upholding the law’s constitutionality. Since polygamy is most often practiced by very privileged men, they also dismissed the idea that they would be discriminating against a vulnerable, oppressed minority. They also addressed the community aspect of polygamist abuse, pointing out that FLDS members, most of whom saw nothing wrong with a 15 year old girl marrying a much older man, are incapable of identifying child abuse when they see it.

If these FLDS child abusers are unable to have holy sanction put on their ‘marriages’ to children, then I don’t see how they’re going to maintain the abusive marital ponzi scheme they’ve created. One wife and a bunch of concubines just doesn’t come across as well in a church doctrine, although I don’t doubt they’ll try it. If these girls aren’t married in their own eyes and those of their families, then all the religious rationale goes out the window.

More importantly, it is far easier and more straightforward to prove a marital relationship than child sexual abuse. We can send these abusers to jail and get them away from their  victims, and perhaps give those victims enough time and space to reclaim their autonomy and personal power and crush the whole paedophile ring. May it be so!

Civil libertarians will never understand this. They say ‘oh my gosh, someone is being prevented from doing some relatively minor thing they want to do, their freedom is limited!’. They’ll do court challenges with nice wholesome egalitarian polyamourous families who are, in fact, truly doing nothing wrong, and would probably never be arrested or charged under the law since the police have better things to do. If they do do this, they would once again be choosing the child pornographers, pimps and organized abusers over our most vulnerable souls. And if they do, I will curse them for it, for once again putting someones comparatively inconsequential freedoms ahead of protecting children and women from systemic sexual assault.

What about my freedom to grow up without being raped? What about these FLDS children’s freedom to live without being sexually exploited and coerced into child marriage with the participation of everyone they know? Isn’t that more important? Any sane person would think so, wouldn’t they? If I didn’t know that every day, sexually exploited children are abandoned and ignored, I would think they would have no other sane choice.

I hope they arrest all of these rapists and throw away the key as soon as possible.

May it be so.

On pilgrimage

I’m on pilgrimage to various neolithic Goddess sites in Malta with a bunch of women. It’s been a good trip, but I’ve had a cold the whole time. Tomorrow we’ll be singing in  one of the temples, an  underground one with great accoustics. I’m staying silent tonight in hopes that my voice will heal by then and I’ll be able to sing with the others.

It’s kind of inspiring that these cultures, which have left no evidence of war (weapons, war injuries on skeletons, fortifications) lasted for thousands of years and lived in a sustainable manner. Their central deities were Goddesses and their temples and tombs were shaped as wombs, dark inside and painted red.

May your day today be peaceful.

Sworddancewarrior

‘Mother’s day’ song for mother complicit in child abuse

I did end up writing a song,. about the hypocrisy of my mother expecting me to celebrate mother’s day, to give her her motherly due, when she was an accessory after the fact to me being raped and seriously wounded as a child by my father and then lied to me about it. The recording was intended to have a cool bossa feel, where an emotional song is sung with a cool bell-like delivery. It was done on my phone, with the soundcloud  app, so it isn’t perfect but you get the feel.

Maravilhosa Ipanema - Gold Istant
"Maravilhosa Ipanema - Gold Istant" Creative Commons licence, click on image for source
Here are the lyrics:

Mothers day
Mother stay
Mother, hey won’t you help me
Father’s night

There’s no way
to escape
blood ‘relations’
without a fight

Somethings are too much
to explain
like the pain
tearing your body apart
or the eyes that don’t see
look at me, mother
bleeding
first right, of kings.**

Mother’s day
now you say
‘didn’t see it’
in the night
hitting hard
ripping open a child
giving scars from one side to the other
the eyes that don’t see
look at me, mother
bleeding
first rite

Mother’s day
what you say is a lie
there’s no way
I will play
this game on
Mother’s day.

[**this is a reference to the feudal practice where the king had the right to rape any bride in his territory on her wedding night, who was presumed to be a virgin prior to that.]

Rape dreams and release

So I had ‘fending off rape dreams’ this morning, three consecutive ones. Not a big surprise, given how angry I’ve been lately. I tend to have ‘monsters/men are hurting me’ dreams when I’m angry. In my dreams I was successful at fighting the men off and not so successful at getting the police involved. My unconscious tried to solve my recurring dream problem of being unable to make phones work when calling for help by asking someone else to use the phone to call 911, which almost worked. Interesting.

I had another session with my massage therapist, who is working out great. Like everyone else does, she commented on how tight my back was (big surprise). I said, “well, I’ve had some, shall we say, ‘difficult life experiences’, which leads to a lot of stored tension in the muscles.” she agreed, good naturedly, and pointed out that I might have flashbacks or feelings after she worked on me. Yup, I’m aware of that. But her pointing it out gave me explicit permission to have feelings. Shortly afterward, I ended up having a good shaking cry while she worked on my back, feeling the anger “that bitch!” toward my mother and the little girl betrayal feelings. Worked beautifully. My back feels a lot better.  She also worked on my neck, which went fine as well. I kept breathing deep from my belly and consciously relaxing, which helped a lot to remind me that my breathing was not restricted by what she was doing. I realized there’s a specific place that corresponds to the memory of having my windpipe crushed, and she wasn’t touching it, so it all worked out nicely. She also moved around the bones in my head a little, which were apparently a bit crooked and out of place, which cleared the fogginess in my head a lot. Between the two of them, I’m not feeling so spacey any more. She thought perhaps the blood flow in my head might be a bit congested, which could have made it harder to think.

Anyhow, I feel a lot better.

My wife pointed out that the stuff I’m going through now is the same as what my mom did to me for about a year when she would tell me she was going to leave my father/abuser on such and such a date, and then not do it, and then set another date. Me waiting for my mother to do something, hoping she’ll come through for me (like give me useful information or a confession) has a predictable result, and is an old game of hers. At that time, she advised me to cut off communication with my mom until she actually left, which I did, and which worked nicely.  Alcoholics set up a pattern where they expect to get full credit for just promising to do something and not delivering, my mom, although a workaholic rather than an alcoholic,  plays the same game. She claims ‘good mom’ credit from her sister for ‘reaching out to her daughter’  but hasn’t actually sent the letter, and hasn’t even given a deadline for doing so.

I’m going to try and write some music today, I have an idea for a survivor mothers day song.  I need a ‘hook’ for the song that can’t be dismissed as generic mother’s day blaming. Something that makes it clear that some things are just too much, some things invalidate the social contract between mothers and daughters. Blood is thicker than blood, perhaps. Something about blood (the bleeding wounds) is thicker than blood (blood relations), a bleeding heart will never get it, a bleeding. Maybe look at all kinds of metaphors around blood. Blood of my blood, blood feud, blood oath, blood relations. Hmmm…. blood relations, relations being a  euphemism for intercourse. I’ll let you know if I write something worth sharing.