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.

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.

Goddess bless yoga – self care for survivors with vaginal injury

46aRemember when I wrote that I’d read that vulvadynia was related to constriction of blood flow in the pelvis? That makes sense to me as a survivor and I’ve been paying attention since I read it. I realize that I have habit of clenching this part of my body, particularly when I’m feeling pain, and that this probably started when my vulva was injured in the rapes.

There are yoga postures which increase the blood flow to your pelvis. Do a google search on fertility and yoga and you’ll come up with a bunch of them. The one I’ve been doing is to lay on my side with my legs bent from the hip and skooge my butt up close to the wall, then allow my legs to go up the wall. All the blood from the legs drains down over the next several minutes. It’s called Viparita Karani. Here’s a link to a more detailed explanation of the pose: http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/1140

Doing this has brought me out of a really bad bout of vulvadynia (pain in the vulva) and it’s definitely down to almost nothing. Yay! I’m hopeful that doing this sort of thing regularly will maybe allow the skin or whatever to heal. Chances are the vascular damage my nurse-practitioner found (also resulting from the rapes) is a factor in limiting blood flow too, or perhaps is the root cause, but iether way, this helps. I’ll keep you posted if it resolves it completely.

Thank Goddess!

(also see more self care for injured vulvae here and here)

And also: Eureka – take that, vulvadynia!

Vulvanomics

VulvaMy vulva has been very sore the last several days. Over the years I’ve made several attempts to try and figure out what is wrong and fix it.

As you may know, I was raped repeatedly as a small child, and my vagina/vulva was injured. From the scars and my memories of the pain, I’d say it tore from vaginal vestibule (the opening) in two places right over to my clitoris. Just thinking about that makes me want to cross my legs.

When I was a young adult (18) I began having intercourse with my then boyfriend, who was about my age. I had what I thought at the time were horrible bladder infections and yeast infections, so bad that I’d have to sit in the bath in order to control the pain when I peed. The wrinkles in condoms would cause enough friction that I’d be very sore.  During this time the doctor also found a sore he thought was herpes. He tested it and it was negative. I still don’t know what it was. I’ve had other sores since, but rarely. Gods only know what I would have been exposed to from my father, but I’ve gotten a full STD test panel and was negative for everything, which is a blessing.

I didn’t have the knowledge or assertiveness then that I have now. I went to the doctor a few times, but really they weren’t able to to resolve things so that they didn’t hurt. I researched all the usual helpful things:

  • I never did  use scented stuff near the peach (scented pantiliners, soaps, lotions, douches etc… which are supposed to cause reactions.
  • I had a doctor tell me to douche with plain vinegar and water to kill the bad bacteria and then insert a slurry of yogurt and water to restore the good bacteria. Later the same doctor told me to put boric acid in gelatin capsules and insert one when I had symptoms.
  • I bought soft cloth menstrual pads instead of the rough paper ones.
  • I  wore/wear only cotton underwear
  • I had another doctor tell me to use a blow dryer set on cool to dry my vulva after a shower or bath.

All of these things undoubtedly helped a bit, but don’t go all the way and it keeps coming back.

A few years later, having regular painful sex with another boyfriend, I went for several visits to my family doctor to see if I could clear it up once and for all. I told her I thought I had a persistent low grade yeast infection and vowed to keep going back again and again until it cleared up. She prescribed the anti-yeast vaginal suppositories, and I did that. A couple of weeks later, still sore. I went back. Puzzled, she tested me for diabetes and AIDS, which apparently both can cause recurrent yeast infections. Negative. I told her I was a survivor. She was very uncomfortable. I didn’t go back. She went on mat leave and I didn’t see her again.

A couple of years ago I went to a nurse practitioner (kind of like a super-powered nurse who does some of the things a doctor does) and told her about my little problem. I went in when the pain was pretty bad and she could see and feel the red, inflamed tissue. She told me she thought I had vascular damage from the rapes and pointed out my scars. She suggested putting cold packs on my vulva and tested me for infections (all negative). Then, after some promising and useful work,  she gave up and suggested it might be psychosomatic.   I don’t think it could be this persistent and steady if it is psychosomatic, and I’m generally not in a lot of denial about my abuse issues, so if it was really a body memory, you’d think I’d have processed it by now, I tend to not shy away from dealing with this kind of thing.  I think that an injury for which I didn’t get medical attention plus vascular damage might be a more credible cause, frankly, so I’d like to find someone knowledgeable to look at that.

I did some research and found out about vulvadynia, which I’ve written about on this blog before. The main self-care strategy for this is mostly to rinse your vulva with water after peeing to prevent the urine from irritating the sensitive tissue. This has taken my pain down a few notches, particularly in the morning, but not completely.I also read that perhaps clenching the muscles in the area can cause reduced blood flow which causes pain. I’ve been paying attention to not doing this, so it’s not related to the current pain I’ve got.

I know when you hear hoofbeats, think horse not zebra, but given that I have a zebra kind of injury here, and the usual causes have already been ruled out, it’s time for a little digging.

I’m girding my loins (so to speak) to make another pass at trying to figure out what is going on here.  I’m assuming I need some kind of specialist – but who? ob/gyn? midwife? . I googled “long term effects of vaginal injury” and got nothing. There’s a bit on STV’s in children but mostly for doctors on how to test for them following child sexual assault.

Free your vulva and the rest will follow.

I used to know this woman, a survivor, who was a fitness trainer. She loved exercising so much it was actually contagious. She and I used to go dancing a lot. At the time, there was a song called “Free Your Mind” with an anti-prejudice message. The chorus, which was most of what we could really make out in a noisy nightclub, was “Free your, mind, and the rest will follow”.

My friend adapted it to “Free your ass, and the rest will follow”, meaning “be in your body and grounded and everything gets a lot better”. It has a lot of truth, and has stayed with me. When I moved to another town, she made me a dance tape as a goodbye gift and titled it “Free your ass and the rest will follow”.  When I need to ground, shaking my butt or dancing helps a lot. It’s hard to be clenched up and  anxious when your butt is relaxed. Try it.

Artist Taishe sells these t-shirts. The image is linked to her site.

So this morning, after writing about my internal debate over my mother and whether I have more than just the one main abuser (*I removed this post because I was getting homophobic comments on it), I went to a place I go to do do a walking meditation. During the meditation I came to this.

It doesn’t matter if there’s more abuse I don’t remember. What matters is, can I live my life as fully and joyously as I want to? It’s been my experience that by going out and living passionately, the stuff that gets in the way needs to be cleared comes up. If it doesn’t get in the way, it’s irrelevant at this point.

The only tricky thing is when my unconscious hides my limitations from me (like being unaware that I clench my hands or jaw in sleep until it does damage).

In my meditation walk, I suddenly had a flash that my new motto was “Free your vulva and the rest will follow”.

What this means to me is that I need to stop clenching my vulva, in order to improve my vulvadynia, the sensation in my vulva, and hence, my sex life. I also need to unclench my passion and creativity (symbolized by my vulva) in all the other ways that they’re locked up. So instead of whining about how unmotivated I am to do my singing, I need to press into the resistance instead of allowing it to smother me.

Now, I know from past experience that my resistance is extremely well developed, and battling on to create anyways is a central struggle of my life so I’m not going to promise great results here. However, just as focussing on keeping my hands, feet and neck warm has unexpectedly resulted in me being more grounded, I have a suspicion that keeping my vulva relaxed will have good, but as yet unknown effects. If it brings flashbacks, so be it. If I suddenly find myself singing or making love, so much the better.

Vulvodynia and the power of the vulva

Click on this image for the history of the vulva in many cultures as a power symbol of political change and protest

Vulvodynia is a medical term for having persistent pain in your vulva that isn’t explained by the usual causes.

You know what is so wierd? I just had gotten so used to the burning, itching and periodic pain, that I thought it was relatively normal. I’d gotten used to having to have sex in very limited ways and to feeling pain after and sometimes during. At times it hasn’t really seemed worth it. No wonder my sex life has fizzled.

Vulvodynia comes in two types. The first is where the woman experiences pain with intercourse, or inserting a tampon or similar, and afterwards, but not the rest of the time. The second kind is when the woman has the first kind of pain, sometimes not as severely, but also a persistent pain or itching at other times.

That’s the kind I have, and now that I know what it is, I can access the wisdom of women all over the world who have it too. Unlike the pain I had as a child, I’m not alone.

I found a list of things that are thought to be involved in vulvodynia and things that make it better and worse and I’m trying them. It’s actually helping.

One of the things that doctors believed about vulvodynia was that it is psychosomatic, caused by being a sexual abuse survivor.  I think that’s demeaning. Of course there are physical effects of being raped, I’ve got the scars to prove it. And of course there are psychological effects that affect how the vagina and vulva feel and perform, particularly in how relaxed and open we feel.

What is demeaning and insulting to the brave women warriors who have survived rape as children is to dismiss our complaints as if because we know the cause it doesn’t need to be cured, like it’s some kind of hopeless case to have a vulva that feels healthy and good, and it is some kind of hopeless case to have a healthy mind and spirit after being ‘damaged’. It’s like we’re in some feudal culture and we’ve been ‘ruined’ by losing our virginity in an unsanctioned way.

I went to see my nurse practitioner, the one who showed me my rape scars last summer. I wasn’t there specifically about my vagina, but after she looked into what I was there about I asked her about the pain and itching. She told me all her tests had been negative for infection, that everything looked fine.  I said “you think this is psychosomatic?” She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no. She said “we’ll you’ve had a hard life”. I said, I had a hard childhood, I’ve had a pretty good life, for the last 20 years, actually”. I hate it when people assume I’m some kind of lifelong victim.  I’ve never been in an abusive relationship as an adult, I’ve never done drugs or abused alcohol, I’ve not been raped or beaten as an adult and I’ve made good choices for myself. 

After I got home from my appointment I did some research. Vulvodynia is thought to be caused by chronic tightening of the muscles of the vagina, which restricts blood flow, causing the pain and itching. There are of course other theories, but I like this one. It looks like everyone wins – psychological: clenching of the vaginal and vulval muscles – physical: restricted blood flow causing persistent pain.

So what part of this allows her to dismiss my valid medical issue?

I’ll tell you what does. Her discomfort with having to help someone who was raped as a tiny child having persistent pain her whole life as a result. In her vagina. People don’t want to think about it. They want me to be crazy. They want it to be something they can discount. It makes it less scary for them.  That a man can rape a child and get away with creates enormous cognitive dissonance for people. It’s nothing that should happen. It’s nothing he should get away with. I agree. But rather than trying to ignore or brush away the effects, I want to resolve them. I’m one of the sanest people I know. I know how to face reality in ways they don’t.

My wife and I are coming up on our ten year anniversary. I joke that it’s actually 40 years in ‘het years’ – kind of like dog years. Because lesbian relationships get little social support, a ten year anniversary is the equivalent of 40 years for a straight couple who have had help and approval from their culture from the beginning, going back as far as high school. How does this apply?

Life is a lot harder without social support. By shunning survivors of abuse, in all the ways our culture shuns us, we inhibit and restrict the healing and change that is necessary to make child rape obsolete. My ally, my nurse practitioner, well meaning and educated, does it, I’ve had a lover tell me, upon looking at a cute picture of myself as a child that “no wonder my father loved me so much”.  I broke up with him soon after. It’s not love. I’m not a victim. Let’s just fix the problem, shall we?

So I’m working on relaxing those muscles, in various ways, on my own and with a little help from my wife. It’s working.

Now was that so hard?