Herne’s blessings – vulva healing and sexuality

Surprize! Getting the inflammation in my vulva down to a dull roar did not instantly fix my sex life.

Surprize! Struggling while trying to restore my vulva to the state the Goddess intended for it brings up unexpected daddy issues.

Surprize! The God makes a reappearance.

Surprize!  People can be exceptionally kind sometimes when you let them see you. Continue reading Herne’s blessings – vulva healing and sexuality

The painless vulva miracle

HappySleepyFlickr2536098761_d2a5f0dab3
Photocredit: Happy Sleepy from Flickr

What a miracle this steroid cream is! I put it on and within an hour, I feel something I’ve never felt before. The pain, of burning and heat is replaced by a delicate feeling of wholeness, gentle presence and delicate fine-edged sensation. The feeling of gentle spray from my hand-helf shower head as I clean my vulva was takes my breath away, intimate and light and full-textured, in a way I haven’t ever felt, perhaps ever. It’s hard to describe without resorting to language that may seem hokey.  My vulva feels like it comes from an angel’s body, irridescent and soft and a sacred gift, so strong and yet so delicately sensory. Is this what other women’s vulvae feel like to you? You all are so blessed.

This is what it feels like to have a healthy, whole vulva, and it brings me to tears. I am so grateful and I want it so fiercely. I feel so much more, and I can have sex that is both gloriously sensory-rich and which I can have without paying for it afterwards in a currency of pain. I desperately hope that when this month of daily use is over, the inflammation is down so much that once or twice a week will keep me in this state. As it sits now, I have 6-10 hours of relief, and the pain and inflammation bounce back thereafter. My pink vulva goes back to a hot inflamed red. I may try using the cream at bedtime to see if that keeps it active for longer. This cream can’t be used daily for more than a month.

Once complication so far is that I have had what feels like a urinary tract infection since two days after starting the cream. I have had these in the past, and normally they go quickly when confronted with my two pronged treatment of drinking huge amounts of water (to dilute the bacteria and make the pee feel less caustic) and large amounts of vitamin C (excess vitamin C is excreted in the urine, making it acidic. Vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid. The change in pH kills the bacteria. However, I think that it is possible that the cream is irritating my urethra and making it feel like I have an infection, or I have an infection and the steroid cream is slowing down the healing of the opening to my urethra.

Another possible complication is that my voice is a bit husky. I sang in a concert yesterday and in the tech rehearsal I coughed during my final high note on one of the songs. This is one of the known side effects of the steroid cream I’m using. Again I hope this is something that is mostly about the cold I had last week taking time to heal or something that will drop off when I am using the cream less frequently.

I need to research and build in a habit of doing everything I can think of that reduces inflammation in the body. Perhaps now that I know what is going on, I can manage it more globally, again reducing the need for the cream. I’m feeling pretty darn motivated.

Treatment and healing – chronic vulva inflammatory condition

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.

So I had my follow up visit with the gyne specialist last Friday.

Here’s the skinny. I do not have planus lichen (SO glad I went ahead with the biopsy!) Instead I have a ‘chronic inflammatory skin condition’ of the vulva. Basically, she said that the technician could see that I had a chronic inflammatory condition from the tissue sample.

The worst inflammation, according to her, is right where the red is in this drawing. Do you think that it’s a coincidence that I have a chronic inflammatory condition right at the site of the most serious physical injury I’ve ever had? Nope. Me neither.

Luckily, even though it’s not something with it’s own name, there is a treatment. She gave me a prescription for a really strong steroid ointment. I use a tiny amount on the ‘affected area’ as it says on the jar, and then wash my hands really well, since we don’t want them getting ‘treated’.

I am to use it once a day until my vulva is no longer inflamed,  to a  maximum of a month, and probably about two weeks. You apparently don’t want to use this steroid daily for longer than that or it makes the skin thin.

After than I am to keep the ointment to use for flare ups, and can use it up to twice a week.

The good news is that it seems to be working. My vulva feels different, not sure exactly how yet. My wife says it looks a lot better and less red. I have had one flare up since I started using it, a bad one, but since I’m having a lot more sex now than I used to, that isn’t entirely surprising.

On the poly relationship front, I have a wife and a girlfriend. Who have met one another. And who seem to like one another. I spend weekdays with my wife and weekends with my girlfriend. My wife also seems to be getting her sex drive back. Yay! This is a very good time to have a well functioning vulva.

Autoimmune Disorders and PTSD

So this thing that makes my vulva and vagina feel like it has a bad sunburn (sometimes a healing itchy one, sometimes a fresh hot painful one) is an autoimmune disorder, so I’m looking into autoimmune disorders to see what I can do to self-manage and care for my body.

I don’t like the idea that my body has decided to attack my vulva. She’s been through enough, so I’m hoping to turn that around.

What I’ve found is an epidemiological study looking at folks with PTSD and autoimmune disorders in soldiers with PTSD. [An aside: Soldiers are so much safer for people to wrap their heads around studying, aren’t they? They’re clearly not crazy, like those women who said they were raped in childhood… Thank Goddess we have them to provide a parallel example to validate with, but really…] No big surprise – folks with PTSD have more of them. Here’s the specifics: Continue reading Autoimmune Disorders and PTSD

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?

Awesome Sexuality after surviving the worst

This is obviously not me, but is a wedding picture of a poly triad, and expresses so beautifully that feeling of being happy that your love is happy with someone, which we call compersion.  Photocredit: Waffletaxi http://www.flickr.com/photos/waffletaxi/8428484327/
This is obviously not me, but is a wedding picture of a poly triad, and expresses so beautifully that feeling of being happy that your love is happy with someone, which we call compersion. Photocredit: Waffletaxi http://www.flickr.com/photos/waffletaxi/8428484327/

I remember despairing of ever having a decent sex life, of ever actually wanting sex, of finding people who wanted me and would be good to me, with whom I could navigate the minefield that is survivor sex, so I thought I’d brag about how awesome things are so if that’s where you are right now, you’ll know it can get a lot better.

I spent the weekend with my girlfriend. Okay, we’re not officially calling one another that, at least not in front of one another, but the writing is on the wall. Keep in mind, I also have a wife, who is consenting to me having a girlfriend, and both women are fully informed and consulted with about how everything goes down.  I like how Jada Pinkett-Smith refers to her own marriage: “Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship … this means we have a GROWN one.” We’re planning for the three of us to meet and for the two of them to be introduced in the next little while. Wow. This still fills me with gratitude.

My gf is lesbian, which is kind of a relief. Lesbian culture is different from bisexual/pansexual culture, and being with someone with your own terms of reference and community culture makes things a lot easier.

She is also a member of a different queer subculture than I am although I do have friends who are part of that community. I am finding that this isn’t really as big a clash as I’d feared it would be, or maybe it’s just the hormones talking.  Getting to know people as they really are sure breaks down stereotypes. I will probably write at some point about how some of how we are together interacts with my abuse triggers, because it does. I have a firm policy for myself of doing nothing sexually to reinforce the negative neural pathways and associations created by the abuse, including fantasy, but I’m actually pretty adventurous other than that. I am really happy about how much I trust myself to make good choices about what I do and do not do with my body. If this doesn’t work out, that’s fine. I will have no regrets. Self-trust and self-love are the most powerful resources I know. This is another healed thing. Self-trust, and making good choices.

Okay, the first awesome sexual thing is the above. I had an invasive, painful, emotionally difficult procedure done on my vagina on Friday, followed by freaking Mother’s Day weekend, and what am I talking about on Monday?  My awesome love life after spending a cuddly weekend with my new love. Did I tell her about the procedure? Did I have a cry about it? Did the physical limitations get in the way? Yup. We just acknowledged and worked around it, feeling closer with one another and had lots of pleasure and intimacy.  It’s awesome being a grown up.

Oh that’s another word we’re not using with one another, or at least I’m not. I’m pretty judicious about the ‘L’ word. I want to use important words like that honestly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m falling for this woman, let’s call her ‘Kitten’ (she’d find that funny) pretty hard, but I’m not ready to use the L word. I love my wife (let’s call her ‘Root’), and that took years to develop and mature. It seems weird to use the same word for all different kinds of affectionate feeling, but maybe that’s good too. I love my friends and some of my family, and those kinds of love are different in colour and shape from one another. I wonder what the common thread is that makes it love? Loyalty, affection, commitment, making family of someone perhaps.

Speaking of which, I was checking in with my wife last night, as we crawled into bed with one another after spending the weekend apart. I asked if she felt I was still keeping up my end of the marriage, doing all my ‘wifely duties’. She asked what I thought those were and I rattled off a long list of things, from caring about and for her family to helping her with her computer. She seemed impressed with the long list of things I consider part of my ‘job’ as her wife. She shared that she was trying to be good with the poly, because she knows that having a sexual life is important for me and supports that but that if she had a sex drive of her own she wouldn’t be. I asked if she got everything from me that she had always gotten, and she said she got much more now. I forget how she put it but that basically the quality of our intimacy, and connection and relationship was just better. I told her that I am happy, that her and Kitten both make me happy, and that we don’t have to do things any way other than what works for us.  I’m also noticing that with the romance of my new relationship, I’m reminded of the romantic touches that come so easily when romance is in the air,  that I can do for my wife as well.

In short, life is awesome and full of love. “Take that!” I say to the abuse triggers and assorted childhood crap. The best revenge is indeed living well.

Better, stronger, faster than before.

First off, the specialist did not help me assess the damage from the assault. I was disappointed. However, she did have a very credible theory for what could be causing my pain and took a biopsy to confirm. The biopsy was freaking painful and caused a lot of bleeding (they cut off a small piece of flesh to look at under the microscope) but can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

The diagnosis she’s testing with the biopsy is vulvar lichen planus. It’s an inflammatory condition of the skin, that women sometimes get on the vulva. I have most of the symptoms and the doctor thought there was a good chance that’s what it is. Basically it makes your vulva and vagina look and feel like you’ve had a bad sunburn. I looked up some pictures to add to this post, but I don’t want to inflict them on you. They’re not pretty.

If so, it’s only indirectly caused by the assaults. According to the American Skin Association “Sometimes this disease affects the areas of skin where you had a trauma, such as a superficial scratch, cut, or burn.” So the reason I have it on my vulva is likely to be because my vulva was injured.

It is not caused by an infection, aging or menopause, diet, hygiene practices or sexual activity.” and it is not sexually transmitted.

The gyne wasn’t keen to remove the flesh tag from my vagina, she thought it might cause more scarring. I’m willing to wait to assess that till the lichen planus (if that’s what it is) gets under control. If there are any other women out there who have kept or removed flesh tags from the vaginal opening and want to weigh in on whether it was a good thing, I’d love to hear your comments.

Lichen planus is thought to be an autoimmune disease, but they’re not positive about that. It does run in families a bit too.

One source said that because it’s autoimmune, avoiding allergy triggers or taking antihistamines could help. However, primarily it’s treated with steroid creams, or if that doesn’t work, oral steroids.

She couldn’t prescribe the cream now, because the hole from the biopsy has to heal first, which will take about a week. I can’t get another appointment to see her for a month, so that’s how long it will take.

In the meanwhile I’m going to (sigh!) try and eliminate dairy and gluten, both of whom I have mild allergic responses to, in the hopes that will help calm my immune system down. There are lots of things that are helpful for calming down autoimmune issues too, so I’ll look into those and try them out.

All in all, it’s hopeful. I may be able to have sex without pain and itching afterward. That’d be pretty awesome.

Here’s a video a woman made with art and commentary about a similar condition, called Lichen Schlerosis. The art and sentiments are pretty much the same though. Her drawing of a sore vulva inside an eye is the featured image for this post.

Courage, Perseverence, Gratitude

Here’s an excerpt from the typed page I’m giving to the Ob/Gyn specialist later this morning:

“What I am here for:

1)      My goal is to improve my ability to mitigate the impact of my injuries on my sex life and daily level of pain and discomfort. I’d like help to figure out how not to have any pain at all on a daily basis. I also would like to have a clear understanding of the damage (tearing, vascular, nerve?)  so that I can modify sexual activities to have pleasure and avoid pain, and to comfortably and pleasurably have sex more frequently.

2)      Is there anything about my physiology following the injuries that makes it more likely for me to experience vaginal infections or pain around my urethra. If so, what can I do as self care to compensate for this? (I already do all the usual things – cotton panties, no douching, no scented products)

3)      I would like a very thorough assessment of what damage was done by the assaults. Where any tearing might have happened. My research indicates that vaginal injuries in childhood tend to heal without scarring, and the fact that I have scars suggests either repeated or deeper damage, so it’s possible there were other injuries that are not as apparent. Children who are raped apparently typically tear toward the anus, and my scars are in the other direction. I’d like to know specifically where any tears are, were or may have been, where any scarring, nerve damage or vascular damage is and where any flesh tags are. I think this information will help me work around them and  mitigate them

4)      I would like to discuss the possibility of removing any flesh tags that are getting rubbed during penetrative sex and what the impact of that might be.”

I feel really calm, centered. I had a little cry in the shower this morning, but it was full of gratitude for the support and for the women and men who are walking beside me in this. I know that the Goddess has my back. I am meeting more and more survivors who have experienced vaginal damage. Women, I am doing this for me, but I am doing it for you too.  Thank you for walking beside me in this. May we all be blessed. May we all outlive our abusers and dance on their graves.

Sophie Scholl - holocaust resister - "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did."
Sophie Scholl – holocaust resister- “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

Care and feeding of the unconscious

scorpIf you believe in astrology, I can sum up my experience this morning with one phrase:

I am a Sagittarius with a moon in Scorpio.

This means that my inside and my outside aren’t always on speaking terms. My super open, transparent, honest to a fault Sagittarius outside persona is at odds with an inner Scorpio emotional self that would just like to keep all that sh*t secret and close to the chest. If it lets the information out to tattle-tale Sagittarius, she’ll want to be all open and authentic and sh*t, which makes the Scorpio part of me very unhappy.

My sneaky Scorpio moon fights back against all this dangerous openness by just neglecting to tell me how I feel for long periods of time, then suddenly wakes me up at 5 am on a weekend to tell me all about it, like the girlfriend who wakes you up in the middle of the night to ask you where your relationship is going.

This morning went down like this:

Uneasy dreams about being in a house with doors and windows that won’t even close properly, let alone lock, on a windy night on the third story or so of a low rise building with outdoor terraces.

This is Scorpio code for “your boundaries suck, dude.”

Then I wake up gradually ruminating about the dream and my jazz piano lesson, which I suddenly realized had been dumbed down for me because I didn’t really get the previous lesson. No wonder practising hadn’t sounded as good the night before, all the fun jazz stuff had been stripped out of the exercise after I complained I couldn’t remember it when I got home. I felt shame and frustration.

My Scorpio moon whispered to me. “What are you going to do about it?”

Well what can you do about shame in a darkened bed with a sleeping wife and chihuahua on a Saturday morning?

“You wanted to know how you feel.” Says the Scorpio moon nastily. “Now deal with it.”

But that wasn’t even the main course. As if pulling on the edge of a big knot that had suddenly come loose, all my week’s shame and anger came unravelling into my heart, spooling out from some place I hid it without knowing I’d done so.

The meeting I’d had yesterday with a team I supervise hadn’t gone well. It was the yearly review and while I’d collected feedback, I hadn’t given any.  A key member is moving on, and the remaining team, a performance troupe, isn’t up to the quality I need. I may need to cut some underperforming members and add others, which I need to do without completely demoralizing the group.  Complicated, murky and targetting the very area I feel insecure. The people I supervise are working musicians, and I am an amateur. What the hell do I know?  I know what I need them to accomplish and that sometimes someone has to be the heavy.  I feel a sense of my own incompetence in failing to address this at the time, my unease, and anger at my team.

Then I noticed the birds singing that “you’re up way too early in the morning” song they do when the sun is rising in the summer and I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep.

So what did I do? I got up and wrote about it here. Because shame doesn’t go away by ruminating on it in a dark room at 5 am. It goes away by shining light on it. Even if that has to be early morning on a Saturday.

Take that, Scorpio moon.

Rules of kvetching: applied to CSA survivors

The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times
The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

My neck has been particularly seized up since I found out about the appointment with the gynecologist. Coincidence? Not likely. Since the assault that caused the tearing in my vagina also caused a neck injury, the two are definitely linked.

I believe in the saying “trust in God(s) but tie your camel”, which means to consider both the practical and the mystical in life and cover both. So I did.

I went to both the chiropractor and massage therapist. The chiropractor assessed my neck and said my alignment was fine and that the issue was muscular. She referred me to the massage therapist and wrote down what muscles to work on. They both gave me exercises to do.

I also did a very powerful cleansing and healing ritual in my bath, praying for help from my matron and patron gods, in the journey of restoring the damage to my body from the abuse. I metaphorically let the gunk fall from me, and my body be whole.

And I told/tell myself that my emotional processing system is likely to be taking up a portion of my mental and physical space, even when I’m not aware of it, between now and the appointment, and of course afterwards, until I sort out what there is to do. This is completely normal.

I’ve been a lot more open about my injury in the past several months, which gives me a larger pool of people who I don’t have to ‘come out to’ about it when things get more intense in order to have some support. The isolation of having an injury that it freaks people out to discuss just makes things more difficult, so creating some pockets of awareness is part of my support system. However, it does come with risks. There is always the risk of people negatively stereotyping me because of my injuries and experiences and treating me like ‘damaged goods’ in one way or another. I’d prefer people see my considerable strengths instead.

I found this image and explanation online and thought it was an excellent resource when applied when survivors disclose or are going through PTSD related gunk. It’s called ‘how not to say the wrong thing’. The idea is that you draw a circle around the survivor/person with cancer/bereaved person etc… and then a circle around that that contains the the person who is next closest to the trauma (spouse, for example), then a circle around that that has the people next farthest out and so on till you get out to the level of coworkers and acquaintances. The authors called this circle the ‘kvetching order’. Everyone is allowed to both complain or vent but they can only do so to people in a larger circle than them. To people in a smaller circle than their own, they can only offer comfort, not advice, emotional venting or complaint. Comfort in, kvetching out. The person at the centre can kvetch to anyone about the issue. It is apparently called the ‘silk ring theory’.

So let’s see if I can imagine applying this to myself…

I’m in the centre – I had the sexual assault that ripped my vagina and healed badly, plus the strangulation injury that makes my neck vulnerable now. I’m the one with the scary appointments and needing to advocate for myself to try and assess the damage and fix what I can. I am at the top of kvetching order and theoretically can complain to anyone and accept support from everyone. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? In the circle around me is my wife. I don’t have any other partners, but if I did, she might be here. Around her is my close survivor friends, women and men who have experienced childhood sexual assault too, and get it but also might be triggered, and who I might share the more graphic details with because even though it might freak them out, they won’t judge me or say dumb things. Around that is maybe my Aunt and cousins, who know and are reasonably supportive, around that would be my non-survivor friends who know. Around that are nice people who care about me but don’t know the details. I would say that the perpetrator is always in the largest circle. Everyone can complain to him (survivor, her supporters, society at large), but he can’t complain to anyone.

Hmm… this is a lot different from a cancer diagnosis isn’t it? If I had cancer (Goddess forbid) my wife could put something out on Facebook about it for example, and everyone would know. Casseroles might arrive. People would still behave weirdly, and perhaps even blame me for the cancer if I was say, a smoker, but certainly it could be talked about. As a survivor, even accessing support about something heavy creates the risk of someone breaking the kvetching order and dumping their gunk/misconceptions/discrimination about child abuse survivors who disclose back on me.

The people who say dumb things to survivors are usually breaking the kvetching order now that I think about it. For my aunt to want me to take care of my mother’s feelings about my mother losing her idealized (and fictional) happy family is breaking the kvetching order. My mom has every right to complain to her therapist or friends, but not to me or my wife or my survivor friends. And my aunt has every right to complain about the impact the abuse has had on her family, but not to me or my wife.

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.

Information for childhood sexual assault survivors with vaginal/vulvar injuries

Note: This is probably triggering.It’s medical studies talking about vulva injuries in kids and how they heal. Read at your own risk. Here is a nice picture of a bunny to give you the opportunity to not read what is below if you don’t want to.

Bunny-Wallpapers-bunny-rabbits-128637_1024_768

I am doing some research to help find an appropriate specialist to treat my vulvar injuries. I have found some disturbing things out.

Apparently injuries to the vulva bleed a lot, and you can die. Some sources recommended examining injured children under anasthesia, because it’s really common for there be other internal injuries (tearing into the urethra or anus). In places in the world where young women and children are commonly raped and mutilated genitally, things like ‘fistulas’ are common, which is where the wall between the colon and the vagina has a hole in it, and fecal matter gets into the vagina. My heart goes out to those women. I sure hope I have nothing like that. Surely I would have noticed?

And generally, tears in the vulva inflicted as children usually heal well and quickly without scarring, unless they are particularly deep and severe. Lucky me. I have two really long, very evident scars.  So survivors who know you were injured, don’t feel invalidated if you haven’t got scars. Most women don’t. Reading this, I think that it’s is likely that there were other less severe tears that healed up without leaving a lot of signs. Also, the scars from tearing during rape, in adults anyhow, tend to rip backward toward the anus (if that’s how I understand posterior in this context), which is the opposite of what happened to me. Here’s the reference on that:

Here’s an excerpt from one of the few references I found that wasn’t about tearing during birthing. “Healing of Nonhymenal Genital Injuries in Prepubertal and Adolescent Girls: A Descriptive Study”:

Superficial vestibular lacerations seemed healed in 2 days, whereas deep perineal lacerations required up to 20 days. The appearance of new blood vessel formation was detected only in prepubertal girls, whereas scar tissue formation occurred only after a deep laceration in both groups.

CONCLUSIONS. The majority of these nonhymenal genital injuries healed with little or no evidence of previous trauma. The time required for resolution varied by type, location, and severity.  http://www.pediatricsdigest.mobi/content/120/5/1000.full

Here’s a list of common complication for female genital injury, along with how to treat it soon after it happened as published by the World Health Organization. This would be the treatment I didn’t get.

I’ve looked at some diagrams and there doesn’t seem to be a name for the part of my anatomy that got torn, basically between the vestibule, through the urethra to the clitoris. Although if the diagram of the child sized vulva is accurate, that space was a lot shorter when I was a child.

This is the diagram of a kids vulva. The most commonly injured places are all toward the anus from the vulva.
This is the diagram of a kids vulva. The most commonly injured places are all toward the anus from the vulva.
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.

Probably the most disturbing thing though is that looking up ‘reconstructive gynecology’ brings up listings for ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ surgery, where women get their labia cosmetically altered to make them prettier, and get their vagina ‘tightened up’. That is the most misogynist thing I’ve heard of in a long time. I need reconstructive surgery from a horrible injury. Y’all with intact vaginae and vulvae should be grateful, and not damage them with unnecessary surgery to make your vagina/vulva look better. Outrageous. Seriously. Sheesh!

How to get care for an vulva injured in childhood.

Photocredit/art credit: http://kateordie.tumblr.com
Photocredit/art credit: http://kateordie.tumblr.com

I am going to blow my own horn here. I did good.

First, some background. I had sex for the first time with a new lover recently and my vulva was really not happy afterward, directly related to my injuries. First off, my lover did not respond well to being told I had scars/injuries on my vulva (she ignored the comment. really?) and then was much rougher with me than my sensitive peach can handle. Yes, I probably shouldn’t have continued having sex with her, but you know, sometimes you make a call at the time. I changed the activity, but by then the damage was done. Now I know. Next time I’ll be more firm about what can and cannot happen up front.

The flesh tag at the mouth of my vagina got rubbed raw and my poor peach hurt for days. It was what most women would consider ordinary sexual activities, none of which would have been unusually rough treatment for an uninjured vagina/vulva.

So I put my foot down, and decided by golly I was going to find a doctor and get this sorted. I tried at first to find a family doctor with some street cred about sexual assault. This was a disaster, as the doctor I found at first was, and then was not accepting patients. The sexual assault centre didn’t have anyone to recommend, and I ended the day in tears.

I  waited a week or two to cool down and then a couple of days ago I decided to just go into the walk-in clinic and ask for a referral to a specialist there. Here’s what I did right:

  1. I asked my wife to come with me. She made me eat first so I wouldn’t be low blood sugar, kept me company in the waiting room, and also wrote down what the doctor said.
  2. I asked for support. I messaged four of my friends who know about the injuries and told them what I was doing and asked for energetic support. I said I wanted to avoid crying and find an effective referral. They sent me supportive messages back that I read in the waiting room.
  3. I dressed up. I wore business-casual clothing, did my hair, applied light makeup. Office armor.
  4. I introduced myself and my wife to the doctor with our first names, to make us real people.
  5. I brought a printout of a photo I’d taken of my vulva that clearly shows the scars. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, as I could show the doctor the scars without having to undress.
  6. Some good phrases I used: “I’m looking for a referral to a specialist to address some injuries from a sexual assault.” “I didn’t receive medical attention, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need medical attention.”  “It healed badly and affects my sex life now.” “I have a picture of the injury.”
  7. I pulled out my printout of the photo my wife took for me. (If you take a photo of your own injury I recommend using a flash, as it shows the scars more clearly) and pointed out the two long lines of scars. Having the photo also allowed me to point out where the flesh tag is and where the vascular damage is.

The doctor said he would try and track down a suitable specialist for me and gave me a timeline for how long he thought it would take. A couple of weeks for him to find someone suitable (he gave me some internet search terms to look under if I wanted to try and find someone myself) and then 3-9 months to get in. He consulted with me about whether I should see an Ob/Gyn (who might have experience with similar injuries from birthing tears) or a reconstructive gynecologist. All in all he was very nice and I was happy about what happened. He said that removing the flesh tag would be straightforward but that there might be scarring which might be problematic. I told him I just wanted to see what I was dealing with and what could be done, surgically and non-surgically, to mitigate it. (I probably used the word mitigate. I’m like that.) Yay.

Bravery and Vulnerability

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s recent book “Daring Greatly“. Most of the information is stuff I already know, but it’s good to review and there were some new bits. I recommend it for anyone wanting to learn about vulnerability and how to manage shame. She also has a number of TED videos which are excellent.

About a month ago, I went to the STI clinic to get tested. As a lesbian with not a lot of sexual partners, I’m very low risk, but I wanted to be able to truthfully say to any new partners that I’d been tested and was negative for everything, which I am.

The nurse was curious about why I’d come to this particular clinic rather than my doctor, and I said I felt more comfortable with a drop in clinic and that I’d heard this clinic was good with sexual assault survivors (which I had). We talked a bit about how doctors often got weird when the topic of my vaginal injuries was brought up, and how I have some ongoing conditions as a result I need help with but have been unable to get help for. She was sympathetic and gave me the number of a medical practice with two women doctors in it who were on the sexual assault team, and thus unlikely to be freaked out by sexual assault stuff.

So I finally got up the nerve to call the number this morning, and, as Brene Brown would say, dared greatly by winning while being vulnerable.

The reception nurse answered and then when I asked if the two doctors were accepting new patients she said no they weren’t. Then she asked me who I was friends with, and I said I was calling for myself. I eventually figured out she was asking who had referred me and I told her that the nurse at the STI clinic had and that I was a sexual assault survivor and she said these doctors would be suitable.

The nurse said “good for you” when I told her I was a sexual assault survivor, which I took to mean she was approving of me disclosing and asking for help. She said that one of the doctors could see me and gave me a date to call back and make an appointment, and to say I’d been told I could.

I’m in.

I’m really tired of having a constantly itchy vulva that is sometimes quite sore. I have tried all the self care, done everything they say prevents it, and still it persists. I have holes in my underwear in the place that itches most, from unconsciously scratching. I want to talk to someone about my scars, the vascular damage and the tag of flesh and whether I should remove it. I want to know whether the itching is from the blood flow issue or something that can be cured with antibiotics or antifungals.

I’ve had this itching and pain, chronically, for at least 20 years.

I have some hope now I can get it resolved.

Grief, when you least expect it

I went out to ‘Trouble with the curve’ tonight with my wife. This story of a relationship between a father and daughter and it’s impact on her life really touched me. Wierd eh? My father is a sociopath, Clint Eastwood’s character is crusty but quite beautiful actually.

There’s a scene where he beats a man into unconsciousness for pulling his daughter, then six years old, into a shed and touching her arm. It is obvious to us, and to him, that more would have happened if Eastwood’s character hadn’t found them. I just realized, that is what made me cry. To have a male relative that would defend me, who would beat the crap out of a child molester, is pretty potent stuff. Just seeing that, portrayed so compellingly by Eastwood’s character, must have opened up the grief. In my case, the molester was my father, so that kind of escape was impossible. My mom claimed once that if my grandfather, her father, had known, he’d have killed my father. I wish it were so.

I didn’t realize till now that that is what made me so sad. I walked out of the movie feeling sad and not knowing why. I felt a longing for the father figure in the movie, who in the end perfectly understood his daughter, who had finally gotten him to hear her about who she was and what she wanted.

My father may have groomed me, and I know my pre-rape self loved him, in such a pure, open hearted way that I don’t think I’ve experienced since, but I haven’t actually grieved the relationship with him on those terms for a long time.

Feeling that longing and sadness, I realize I have to listen to that part of myself who was manipulated into loving an evil person, but I don’t think that’s exactly who I’m grieving. It makes more sense to me, connects more emotionally, to miss the father I never had, the father who would have beaten my actual father to a bloody pulp for hurting a beautiful, pure-hearted kindergartener.

It’s wierd to have an emotional landscape that is so foreign, even to me, at times, so that I don’t even know why I am crying until the tears have run their course. I’m glad I’ve learned to let them flow anyhow, to trust that the truth will come after, perhaps much after. This is what it’s like to have experience in fragments, and to make those fragments whole.

Unveiling

Fly me to the Mooooon...
One of the things that is complicated about the polyamory community is our strange inability to talk about our love lives, since everyone we know that is poly is likely to be webbed up in some way with whomever we want to talk about.

For example: I’ve been on three dates recently. All women are really nice, but there are some caveats and I seem to be hesitating with all of them. I don’t want to be caught in not acting, but am inclined to take time to digest things when I’m uncertain.

Anyhow, two of these woman are quite connected in the poly community so I can’t talk about my dates with the two others by name or in detail with my poly women friends (who would get it) because they know these women, and if the haven’t dated them themselves at least might be dating a man who is. Nobody wants to gossip, which is good, but makes it hard to hash things out with your girlfriends. I can’t talk to my wife about it either, for good reasons as well.

One of the women is about 15 years younger than I and seems not to have a lot of time. Another is really nice and smart, has some shared values, and is attractive, but has a live in partner who smokes so their place reeks and makes me cough. He’s also quite a dominant guy, and I was sensing him doing some alpha pecking order stuff with me, which as you can imagine, aint gonna fly. I don’t accept male authority outside of work relationships, where who I defer to is based on knowledge or formal rank, and has a rational purpose. This guy is her primary partner, and I respect that. I’m willing to be polite, friendly and fair, but not deferential.

The third is a woman I like and respect that I’ve known peripherally (mostly through women’s workshops) for several years. Let’s call her Jane. She’s a very interesting and soulful woman, and I would have dated her long ago (or tried to) if I hadn’t been in a monogamous relationship at the time. She’s perhaps interested, but we haven’t formally broached the topic, although we’ve been spending time together. She has some of the qualities that drive me nuts in my wife, introverted, kinesthetic, reluctant to talk about feelings, discomfort with her own nudity. She also seems to have trouble setting boundaries with people who are imposing on her, again like my wife. Do I need two of these? On the other hand, she is a lot better at creating community and art than I am and I could really learn from her there. She is also pagan.

Here’s the important thing. Jane told me recently she’d had a dream about me after I’d told her that I was dedicated to Aphrodite (which I am). In her dream I embodied Aphrodite.

Okay, this is a really, really big deal. Dreams about Goddesses are not random things, and Aphrodite is quite a hands on Matron deity. The last woman I was with (independently of me telling her anything) felt a huge energetic connection with me that felt Goddess driven, and I think it was. It’s like some women are drawn to me as a priestess to learn something about love. My connection with that women (Let’s call her Amy) was really intense, and, it felt to me, Goddess driven. If Jane had an Aphrodite dream about me, it Means Something.

My take on life is that the Goddess(es) and Gods guide me – not by bossing me around, but by providing me resources to learn and do things I said I wanted to learn and do, like a mentor.

I have a fantasy where Jane and I become co-primaries and I spend part of my week with her and part with my wife. This woman has a very rich life in a nearby community, so I’d have to travel a short way to be with her, but it wouldn’t be onerous. I can see us having a lot to learn from one another, but I can also see places where she might drive me nuts.

Looking at the other women I’ve been on dates with, I think all of them could drive me nuts a little. Heck, my wife drives me nuts a little, although less so now that we’re poly.

What I hunger for is someone who can meet me. A woman who isn’t afraid to be naked and to dare, emotionally, physically, spiritually. I’m like Hermoine’s purse in the book the Deathly Hallows, a little clutch that was a warehouse inside. There are so few places to unfold.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Challion series has some spiritual concepts in it that I relate to strongly. I love her description of the relationships between her characters and various matron or patron Gods in it. It’s similar to how I experience my own relationship with Aphrodite and with the God as Stag. In her book she talks about how the Gods can only enter and act directly in the world through people who have developed the ability to open to them, usually through pain and loss. One of the characters describes how perhaps a hundred people had been set on a path toward a particular quest by the gods, and only he arrived. She talks about how the Gods most love the great-souled, but that becoming great-souled is the result of a lifetime of learning, opening and making choices.

Dragonfly in a tree; "Stained Glass Dragonfly"Since I’m relatively anonymous here, I’m going to risk looking arrogant or foolish or full of hubris here. I think I’ve earned a relatively large and open soul in my lifetime. What I most want is to feel it unfolded in ways that seem to be rare and few so far. It has opened through surrender to music, through the Aphrodisian albeit brief intimate connection with women like Amy, opened sometimes through writing, through mystical meditation and rare moments of connection with the Gods, or simply doing the right thing at the right time despite opposition.

Generally, I can’t open like that with someone who hasn’t experienced their own losses and grown from them. But people don’t wear that information on their sleeve, so it sometimes takes time to know. And some get overwhelmed with such large energies, in themselves or someone else, and close themselves up, like Amy did, at the moment things are most powerful and beautiful.

I’ve sworn I won’t obsess, but instead will envision the future and create it. In my future – I am unfolding my soul in places that have space to embrace it. I am finding more and more of those spaces. I am trusting my heart and my intuition, as well as my intelligence and experience. I am unfolding the wings I have kept closed to my side and learning to fly.

~ Tricks For Treats ~

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.

Another disappointing response from a relative

I had my aunt visit recently, the one who was also assaulted by my father. When I visited her a couple of years ago, she was very accepting of what I had to say and even offered to put some pressure on my mom to write me a letter.

After visiting me she visited my mother, and you guessed it, went into denial. She wrote me a letter expressing her hope that my mother and brothers and I would all be one big happy family again.  I just got it and I’m crying.

I know, I know that family members do this. That they go into and out of denial, and seldom are able to really handle how bad it is. However it really hurts. Why do I always have to be the strong one? Why can’t I have the steadfast warrior support I deserve?

It hurts.

Here is the response I wrote:

“Dear Aunt J

I really enjoyed your visit. Thank you so much for coming.

You know, I’ve learned a lot in my life in connection to what happened to me. One thing is that people have a very hard time holding in their hearts that it is as bad as it is. It hurts. It is an exceptional person who can do it, usually one who has had to face her own hard truths unflinchingly. I am able to do this for others, and I understand it is a rare gift. It feels better to pretend it is something that can be swept under the rug or that it’s not of much importance. That’s how I understand your letter. I forgive you for wanting it all to go away, and I understand the impulse to put gentle pressure on me to make nice with my mother, which demands that I pretend what she did wasn’t horrific in it’s own right, and give up my right to a confession and apology.

Here is why you should resist that impulse to condone and minimize, however. That impulse is what protects people like Graham. That impulse is what keeps people from calling the police and getting children to safety, or calling child protective services. That impulse to hide from the truth of a horrific situation is why he is not in jail right now, why he got away with raping a child, with aggravated sexual assault. That impulse is why I have chronic discomfort, every day from the vascular damage and scarring he inflicted on me, scarring and nerve damage that in part result from medical attention my mother could have gotten for me, but did not. If we do not stand up to insist on a world where children’s bodies are respected, and those who violate them are held accountable, who will? If we contribute to a climate that sweeps it under the rug as not important, then we are part of the problem.

It is important and healthy to face the truth. It is good for the soul, and our own personal integrity. It is good to be accountable for harm we have done to others and make amends.  That is why I am requiring that my mother confess to me what she did, to make amends by confessing in writing. I have proof, in the form of the scars, that she did know, right after it happened. Those wounds were very severe, and not something a mother would not have noticed in a 5 or 6 year old child. She knew, and she covered it up, instead of going to the police or even a doctor. I got no stitches, no antibiotics, and as far as I can recall, no painkillers. I’m not sure if you tore when you gave birth, but I imagine it is like that. My doctor has given me some strategies to manage the pain and vascular problems I still have, but my body will never be the same. Those ongoing effects could have been prevented if I’d gotten stitched up and removed from Graham’s reach right away. Imagine a child going through that alone.

It is a small thing I am asking for. I am asking only that people face the reality of what happened as unflinchingly as they can. I survived it, I healed it.  I deserve that small thing from people who love me, and I respect myself enough to insist on it. If it means I have no family, so be it.

I was so honoured that you and uncle T believed and supported me. It filled a deep place within me. Although I understand that denial is part of your own grieving process, and that it is difficult to stay connected to the truth of what happened in the face of my mother’s denial, it still hurts. I understand, and I forgive you, but I want to inspire you to do better.

Accepting the truth, even a horrific truth, unflinchingly, has its own gifts. It makes us stronger, and less able to be manipulated by others. I would not go back. I am proud of who I have become by overcoming, and wish that for my mother and older brother, and for you.

May you be blessed in all ways possible,

Love,

your niece. “