What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

#ds450 - Closet SpaceI’m trying to write a chapter on coming out as an incest or child sexual assault survivor for the book.

There are a lot of reasons to come out, and a lot of reasons not to. I’m not going to say one is always better than the other. You need to decide for yourself what you’re up for and what you need. What I believe is that the situation, persons involved, purpose and your own tolerance for social isolation all have bearing on when and to whom you should disclose you are an abuse survivor. Continue reading What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

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.

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.

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.

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. “

Pap Test Success for Incest Survivor

I am an amazon! I had a pap test and negotiated for what I needed. Yay me.

I went to the drop in clinic today because I have a stomach bug (at least that’s what I thought) that wasn’t going away. The doctor ruled out the bug pretty quickly and then asked if I had pap tests regularly.  I said no. She asked if I was ready to have one today. I decided I was up for it. She wanted to check and see if there was something wrong with my uterus.  I decided I was. 

She handed me a paper sheet and was about to leave the room when I said “can I sit up for the test?” At first she said no. If I hadn’t already had a perfectly normal pap test sitting up,   I would have believed her. I explained how the other woman had done it with the back of the table up. She said “I don’t  know how to do it that way”. I said “I’m a rape survivor and I’d be more comfortable.” Her face softened an almost imperceptible amount and she said she would try.

I told her that the other woman had lifted up the back part of the table. She set it to an upright position and left the room so I could change. I’m not sure if she went online and looked up how to do it, because she was gone for awhile.

When she came back she had me sit on the table with my knees bent and my feet touching, then allow my knees to fall apart from each other. I think this was the part she looked up. She didn’t use the stirrups. This was actually even better than sitting up with the stirrups. Then she did the pap test pretty normally and fast. She seemed impressed that it wasn’t any harder to do in that position.  I told her that a group of doctors in Alberta had published a booklet that suggested it as a better way to do pap tests for survivors, and it certainly worked better for me. She said it might be a good new way to do it for everyone, since most women don’t like to lay down (it sounded like herself included).

Rape survivor is so much easier to say, and yet still correct, than childhood sexual assault survivor, incest survivor or any of the terms that bring in the messy details of my age when it happened or who was the perpetrator.

Anyhow, I came through unscathed, no meltdown, no triggers, feeling empowered. I think I have this blog to thank for being able to be so articulate with my doctor. I’ve gotten so much more comfortable with thinking about and talking about my vulva and what I need as a survivor. It’s really common after all.

My next step I think is to try and find a specialist to do some reconstructive surgery on my vulva, and get rid of those little sore tags of flesh.

Here’s a link to the booklet I was referring to:

Family Reunion

Don’t panic, it’s not MY family, it’s my wife’s. However, in the wake of my mother’s stalker-like note, I’m a bit twitchy about family. I normally like my wife’s family, they’re religious (in that gay-hating, women oppressing way, not the good way) but we stay away from that and they don’t tell us we’re going to hell or anything. They’re actually quite nice people, and there is a small but friendly non-religious contingent as well so it’s not too bad for a couple of lesbians all in all.

However this year is a milestone birthday for my wife’s mom, and everyone will be there I’m guessing, including one set of relatives I got my therapist to call social services about. I’m afraid of seeing them and probably discovering they’re still abusing and neglecting my neices and nephews and nothing has been done. Although, the Goddess works in mysterious ways, perhaps I’ll find out their kids have been removed to foster homes and they’re too ashamed to show up. One can hope. The only good thing is that their kids getting older and are leaving home, but they’re so badly injured psychologically. There are reports from other relatives that the kids steal from family when they visit, which is a sign of neglect to me, and also absorbing the values of their sociopath father. They’re skinny, needy and haunted when I seen them.  I wonder if I was like that. It’s a bit triggering to say the least. I suppose I should be a good survivor aunt and take notes to pass on to social services, and try and find out where they’re living now, but my inner child wants to stay the hell away from all of them. I actually think I ‘passed’ for normal quite a bit better than they do (I’ve been told I had a kind of quiet dignity, and a flair for the dramatic at times), which makes me really fear for what is happening to them.

It’s also getting close to my visit to my aunts and uncles out east. I leave next week. I”m looking forward to the trip, but frankly this is all a bit too much family at once for me. I’ve been working and packing non-stop to get ready for all this, so I’ve been overwhelmed. I’m one of those highly sensitive people who gets overwhelmed if I do too much or have too much stimulation because I process it all so deeply. It makes me a good writer, and gives me a rich inner life, which I wouldn’t give up for the world, but it also makes me exhausted by interpersonal conflict. I work for myself, alone most of the time, for that reason. When I see people I’m happy to see them, and I’m not a total hermit, but I like my space.

The wife and I will be staying at a hotel rather than with relatives, which should hopefully help, and we’re bringing our dog, which I anticipate will need a lot of long walks during the day.

Wish me luck.

Music

I was listening to the audio recording of my last singing lesson (I’ve had three so far) and damn, my voice sounds good. I went online and purchased some sheet music for songs I’d like to do. The music store even transposes them to the right key. This is a big deal, as transposing by hand is really labour intensive.

In short. I’m happy. I’m learning new things and I’m feeling confident. I might even branch out into learning an instrument.

In about a week and a half I’m going to visit my mom’s sister and brother out east. I’m hoping to ask them some questions, and visit my grandparent’s graves, since I wasn’t able to attend their funerals.  My aunt gets it and should be great, but I’m trying not to worry. Only knowing that I can stay in a hotel if it doesn’t work out with her keeps me from getting anxious about it. I honestly don’t know how it will go.

I’m sure I will have lots to write once I’m on the road.

My wife and I are planning a trip for our vacation in a couple of months that might include my home town. I’d like to have a look at some of the places I spent time as a child, see if I can remember anything, maybe talk to some of my childhood friends. I must be doing a lot better because I’m not feeling afraid of running into my father. Instead I’m thinking I should practice up on my right hook so I can deck him if I see him. Then I fantasize about what the conversation with the police would look like, or if he’d even press charges  if I threatened “I will if you will”. I’m sure I’ll get nervous if it gets closer. We’re going to do some fun stuff too.

Post therapy

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks now since my last therapy session I think. I’m choosing to spend time on the present day goals I have, improving my singing, finishing the book I’m writing, getting my physical health in better order, having fun.

I’m feeling a bit isolated. Father’s day was hard this year, which it isn’t usually. Normally it’s this irrelevant thing that passes by without my notice. This year I really wanted him to die, was really hoping and expecting him to die on Father’s day, like it would be fitting somehow. He could of course be dead right now, given I’m out of touch with anyone who’d tell me in a hurry, but somehow I doubt it.

My wife asks what does it matter if he dies? To me it’s a product of my anger. I’m angry that I was wounded so bad on my vulva and remember very little of the situation surrounding it. I remember it happening, but not what happened before or after or even the place where it happened very well.

Has anyone tried hypnosis to fill in the details in their memories? I’d be interested in finding out how that worked out for you.

I’m angry and he should have some consequences for something as horrific as that. My friend the lawyer says it’s not to late to pursue criminal charges, but I’m not sure I want to do that. I don’t think much of it would be within my control. I mean, I have these big scars on my body that prove I was injured. Does that mean they’ll have a big picture of my vulva in the courtroom, or read out my medical report, or have me examined by a forensic gynaecologist or something? That’s actually not the part that bugs me, it’s just that they won’t be representing me, I’ll just be a witness and they’ll be making decisions out of my control on a situation that should be completely within my control.

What I really want is to rub my mother’s nose in it, make her explain exactly how she managed to overlook such a serious injury, force her to take back her lie that she didn’t know I was being abused. I want to scream and yell and force her to tell me the truth finally.

What I really want to do is sing and dance and be happy and not worry about shithead.

I read something recently that a therapist wrote about survivors. That we’re not willing to live an ordinary life. That our winning back of our souls and hearts and memories had better bloody well mean something. I’m paraphrasing here, but I agree. I’m not content to have a job and a marriage and a home and routine activities. My life has to count for something or it wouldn’t be worth the first 15 years, and the ten after that recovering myself.

I told my therapist in my last session that what I wanted was to do earth work, get my regular life sorted out, and balance out all the water work of healing. Now I actually have to do it.

I have had two singing lessons now and I rehearsed tonight. My first lesson went amazingly well and I sang like a rock star. Predictably, by the second lesson I had a sore throat and a head cold. I’m now over the cold and practising for my third lesson next week. I was in the park today on my dinner break and was thinking about how my eyesight has taken an abrupt turn for the worse these last two years. I paid attention to what that meant, looking out with my eyes at the beautiful trees around me that I could no longer see crisply without glasses. I realized suddenly, suddenly knew that my eyes were trying to protect me by shutting out seeing things, the way they had as a child. That I needed to give them permission to see. It felt like I had been cutting off the blood flow to my eyes. I told myself, my eyes that it was now safe to see everything. It is now safe to see.

With my father in my face all the time, the only way to lesson the visual impact of what he was doing was to blur my vision. Perhaps that’s the gift my body gave me. I had eye surgery about 10 years now, but just recently my vision has reverted, making eye glasses necessary again. Maybe being in therapy these last almost two years has made my body react in the same way again. I’m going to experiment with that idea.

A picture is worth…

Butt Prints in the Sand, click on picture to view source and credits

I got my wife to take a picture of my vulva so I could see what I’m dealing with. A mirror is quite an awkward way to see one’s vulva if you’ve ever tried it. It was easier at the nurse’s office, but she had a magnifying mirror I think and a good light and angle.

Anyhow I now have this good quality, close up picture of a part of my body I’m trying to have a happier relationship with. It helps.

I can see the two scars leading away toward the front of my body from the vaginal vestibule. One reaches all the way from inside my vagina opening to the place where the two labia minora come together at the top (where it disappears from view in my picture), which is almost to my clitoris. And the other is almost that long, but goes off to the side a bit. They are quite faded now, as she said, very old scars, but I think about what kind of injury would create that much tearing to be that long and that visible over 30 years later.

That old fucker better die soon.

Seeing how faded the scars are, and how clearly healed it is helps. If you know about or suspect damage to your own vulva I recommend taking a picture and having a look. Use a flash, a lot of the detail isn’t easily visible at first, particularly with old scars. Mine look like faded white/pale pink  lines leading out from the vestibule. I probably wouldn’t have known what they were without my nurse, who has seen scars on women’s vulvas from childbirth, identifying them for me. Since I’ve never given birth or been raped as an adult, (and apparently my cervix does not show evidence of having opened for birthing) there’s only one experience I’ve had that could have made these scars.

In my religion, the vulva is particularly holy, being representative of the Goddess’s creative power in the universe and the sacredness of both sex and of giving birth. The Gods are valued as lovers and brothers of the Goddess(es), and also as fathers to Her children. I think it’s great I’ve chosen to participate in a religion that calls this part of me holy, that is unafraid to talk about or honour vulvas. My father is not a pagan, but he’s done what must be the greatest act of sacrilege, violating the most sacred part of a woman’s body and his sacred role as a guardian and nurturer of children.

Well, my little sacred warrior vulva, you’ve come through a lot. May you be blessed, may you be happy and whole and an honoured part of my body and being.

Blessed be.

P.S. I was looking for some links for explanation of the medical terms above, and ran into some journals, which led me to others. I found this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10533272 which has the following rather chilling phrase, which made me cry a little out recognition of the validation it provided for my recollection of what happened. “repeated abusive genital penetration significantly more often than non-penetrative abuse leaves deep posterior hymenal clefts and/or vestibular scarring”.  This particular study took pains to match the girl’s disclosure of what happened to her with the perpetrators confession, so there could be no argument about what caused these particular injuries. The exams were also done ‘non-acutely’ which I think means that they were done some time after the actual injury took place. This article also might be valuable to other survivors with genital injuries, which talks about the healing patterns of pediatric genital injuries. : http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/112/4/829 It also has pictures and shows what the same injuries look like when healed, and has arrows showing where the injuries are. The vulva is such an unfamiliar organ, that the arrows pointing out what’s wrong are helpful. A lot of the sources make it clear that lack of visible injury does not rule out abuse, and that often the injuries heal without a scar or vascular damage. What I am understaning from all of this is that my injuries were particularly severe, even as far as these things go. Yikes.

Figuring out the vulva

Sheila na gig - these are Goddess images honouring the sacredness of the doors of life. This one was found at Kilpeck Church in Herefordshire. Photocredit: Ben Grader

You know, it’s weird. In the aftermath of finding confirmation my vagina had been injured by the rapes, it’s actually empowered me to do something about the physical discomfort I’ve had on and off for a long time.

It’s quite different to look at the pain as discomfort coming from an injury, than to think of it as some sort of nebulous survivor thing, or something that I can’t do anything about. It gives me something to look for for practical help.

I’ve been reading up about vulvodynia (pain in the vulva) online, and even though my nurse practitioner wasn’t very helpful, I’ve found some self-management strategies that seem to be working. I’ve discovered that the pattern of my symptoms and what causes them fits what other women describe. For example, some women feel sore during penetrative sex, but many feel sore a day afterwards when inflammation sets in.

I’m going to list them here in case any other survivors with injured vulvas find them helpful.

In order of helpfulness

  1. VERY helpful: A  squeeze bottle to rinse irritated tissues after peeing. This is so simple and so helpful. Thanks to the gal who runs the interstitial cystitis network for this tip. Instant pain reduction. Perhaps the vascular damage or scar tissue has made the area around my urethra more sensitive. I suppose a bidet would be even better, but I don’t have one. This works great. Just plain room temperature or warm water.
  2. Massage. Yes, I mean massage, consciously loosening up all the muscles in the pelvis and vulva. Thank goodness I have a willing wife.  It’s not foreplay per see, but certainly seems to make sex more possible. One massage got me pain free for almost a week. Apparently one of the proposed causes of vulvadynia is restricted blood flow in the vulva caused by clenching the muscles.  I think that’s really possible as a cause for what’s going on with me.
  3. Just a regular quite soft pillow on my work chair seems to help even better than the donut.
  4. Sitting is bad for the vulva, apparently, and what do I do for hours each day? Sit in a computer chair. I’m trying to sort out my options on that one.
  5. Donut pillow – This is one of those rubber blow up pillows sold at drug stores called an ‘invalid pillow’. It’s sort of helpful, but puts a lot of pressure on your legs if you’re going to be sitting for a long time.    Apparently there are these foam pillows with a cut out or much softer strip down the center that are supposed to be good as well.
  6. Thinking about relaxing my vulva and pelvis while I’m walking or resting. Seems to help a bit. I notice I do seem to clench up a lot of the time, now that I’m paying attention. Interesting.

There were also some tips about sex when you have a touchy vulva that looked helpful too: http://www.ic-network.com/selfhelp/sex.html I don’t know if I have interstitial cystitis, but since many women with it also have vulvadynia too, a lot of the tips cross over. I know I had a lot of bladder infections as a young woman, and I recall recurrent pain and needing to pee but not being able to as a child which probably was a bladder infection then. If I feel one coming on now, I drink a lot of water and eat a lot of vitamin c which usually settles it.

Since the physical things are helping, I don’t think this is a body memory, although the clenching that’s causing it might be. However, I’m not feeling much emotional energy around it, so I think it might actually be mostly physical.

For the first time in a long time I’m actually hopeful I’ll have a sex life again.  It sucks to know that every time you have even gentle sex you’re going to be sore for days afterwards. Kind of makes it hard to feel it’s worth it, you know?  I’m hopeful that if I can find a way to manage it I won’t have to.

It also feels quite weird to be talking about my vagina and vulva, present day, on this blog. “What kind of person discusses her vulva online?” some voice in my head says. Some people I know face to face sometimes follow my blog and I wonder about judgment about my poor taste in talking about my peach. However, my poor little raw vaginal vestibule (see I learned a new term, its the area just outside the vagina entrance) is pretty darn sore a lot of the time, despite almost never having sex and I think other survivors might be having similar issues, so I think it’s worth talking about, despite the embarrassment.  I mean half the population has a vulva, and most of the rest of the world (save gay men, of course) are at least moderately interested in vulvae (my spellcheck rejected vulvas, and suggested vulvae, which sounds so literate)  so I think it’s just cultural bullshit that it’s a taboo topic. Incest and vaginas and vulvae,  oh my!

Icing my vulva

I’ve had pain and itching in my vulva for most of my life.  I’ve worn out holes in the fronts of underwear from scratching. This, I’ve found through some recent reading, is actually pretty common with vaginal injuries like mine.

This summer, when I found out about the two tear scars and vascular damage, it all began to make sense. The medical professional that saw me suggested I ice my vulva when I was feeling pain or discomfort. Well she said something cool, and I’m using a well wrapped ice pack.

It works. It actually works and I don’t have to dissociate from that part of my body any more.

The pain happens without warning, and I’ve gotten accustomed to ignoring it. But now I have something to do about it, something that works.

So tonight I’m sitting on an ice pack, watching TV.

May you rot in hell, Dad.

This, as my friend Butterfly would say, is why you shouldn’t fuck kids.

Feminist Vitamins

I’ve been telling my friends that coming back from my week at camp I feel like I’ve had a megadose of ultra-strength feminist Mother Earth vitamins. It’s not like I”m any different, just more of myself, and I feel stronger and more resilient.

How important it is to be in a space where I can drink deep of the healing power of swimming in a lake, breathing in the moist scent of pine, cedar and soil, having a whole day, a whole week even with nothing to do but enjoy and visit with nice women. How critical it is as a survivor to be able to be frank.

There was a woman there who had just finished hearing about the sentencing of a man who had almost killed her.  I told her I appreciated how frank she was being about it, and we compared horrific life experience stories and betrayal byour mothers and families in a laughing and cynical way that was very refreshing.

I had a huge cry on the first day of the camp about the scars and the deeper level of reality of the rape of  me as a child. It was so good to let my sorrow go into the Earth, and to know that I was safe. For the rest of the camp I felt joyful and strong, which I often do when I’ve been able to let deep feelings flow. Intimacy with myself, in ceremony, lovemaking or sometimes solitude, often produces this type of crying release, but if I stop the flow to spare the sensibilities of others or feel I’ll be judged, it cuts me off from myself, and from my wife. I noticed a few other women crying, and made a point of connecting with each of them. All had something legitimately horrible they were grieving, but by releasing the feelings in safe space, like me, they all seemed to feel better. I invited them to be real with me, and was able to be real in turn, which meant I had women who knew and accepted where I was at sprinkled throughout the camp. I made a point of being a cheerleader for crying “go cryers, go cryers!”  in a playful way to point out that I’m a cryer too and it’s good to cry when you need to. People laughed. Crying when you needed to became a normal and good thing. Blessings.

On my last day at the lake I was swimming with a woman who I’d become friends with. I told her how healing it had been to swim naked, to allow the sacred lake to bless my body in a way that wouldn’t have felt the same in a swimsuit. I told her about the scars I’d recently discovered and she looked at me and said “isn’t it interesting how all sharing here seems to reach an understanding audience”. I won’t tell you what she disclosed to me then, but although she who was not to my knowledge a survivor, she also bore the scars of a betrayal by someone she loved and trusted.

Today on the phone I was talking with a good Pagan friend who knows I’m a survivor. I told her I’d recently had an exam that showed me some scar tissue I didn’t know about from when I was raped as a child. She said “scars where?” and I said “where do you think?”  A silence followed as she allowed that to sink in. We talked together about our murder fantasies of killing the men who had done the intolerable to us – her ex husband who is damaging her son’s spirit, and my father who had done the unthinkable to me. I said to her “you don’t have to pretend it’s not as bad as it is, I’m one of the few people who actually understands a good revenge and murder fantasy”.

Feminist vitamins. Sharing reality, building solidarity, becoming less alone. One capsule at a time.

One foot in front of the other

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photocredit: Brian Auer
Photocredit: Brian Auer

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

Email to a survivors organization in my home town

I just sent this.

Hi there,

I’m sorry for doing this in an email, but wasn’t certain I could explain all this well over the phone. I hope you can forward this email to whomever in your organization it might concern. I’m originally from [home town] (born and raised) and am an incest survivor. My abuser, who was my father, is still living in [home town] and is likely to die within the next year from cancer. I’ve been in recovery for over 20 years and in general am very well, but since surviving and recovering has been such a big and spiritually significant part of my life, I know I will need to celebrate my abusers death in a way consistent with my culture and spirituality, as part of having closure with him.

Photocredit: "Crossed Swords" by Bott.Richard
Photocredit: "Crossed Swords" by Bott.Richard

I’m planning to dance a traditional Scottish sword dance that is performed on the death of a mortal enemy to celebrate the victory of having outlived him and banish him from my life. Since I’m fairly certain my father will be buried in [my hometown] I’m planning to do this at his gravesite there, with a bagpiper and supportive witnesses. I’m working with a counsellor here on this and will be bringing my partner and one or two friends with me, but wanted to make contact with your organisation, in case it would be possible to receive some support from you while I am up for the ceremony. I have investigated the legalities of performing this ceremony at my father’s gravesite, and it looks like there should be no barriers. Grieving rituals are not only expressly allowed under the provincial funerals act, they are protected and cannot be interrupted by law. The cemetery itself has a no disturbing the peace rule, but a graveside grieving ceremony conducted by a relative could hardly qualify. My family are supportive and will not object.

I plan to bring a friend who is a video artist to record this event in hopes that it might be meaningful to other survivors, and would like to extend an invitation to local survivors and their allies who might want to bear witness to what I believe will be a powerful and empowering ceremony.

Anyhow, if you agree it would be appropriate to talk further about this, I’d like to speak with one of your staff about this, and keep you posted on the plans that will begin once my abuser dies. If this type of support does not fall within your mandate, I understand. I would also be willing to cover the cost of the counsellors time. Knowing that there was a feminist counsellor with childhood sexual assault literacy available in [my hometown] to check in with in some way during my visit would be very helpful.

Photocredit: Zanastardust
Photocredit: Zanastardust

Sincererely,

[My Real Name]

Compost

Photocredit: Ollie-G "A Leaf in Spring"
Photocredit: Ollie-G "A Leaf in Spring"

The last few days I’ve been lonely. Being sick with a sore throat and earache, and kind of tired, I’ve not been working much and have had lots of time to myself. I find myself logging in to my blog and looking at the posts of other survivors, looking eagerly for comments on my own blog.

I’m tired. Nothing’s wrong, but I’m sick and tired, I’ve got my period and I’ve got no mother. I never had a mother, but now I really don’t. It could be I never hear from her again.  I told her the truth, and she’s not a big fan of facing facts, at least not on a time scale less than glacial. I don’t regret sending her the letter, but I am a bit sad.

I’m thankful this weekend is Easter weekend. I don’t celebrate Easter, except in those areas that overlap with Eostre, the holiday Pagan’s celebrate on Spring Equinox, which are mostly the good bits about new life and bunnies and eggs and blessing children (and therefore, metaphorically, Spring Herself) with gifts of sweets.  This is good because I have the time off, without the commitments.

I’ve been hungry for time to myself, but time for myself feeling sick and tired isn’t really it. One thing I’ve noticed is that although I haven’t been working as much, my business hasn’t fallen apart. Perhaps I can have a soul-life and a work life at the same time.

I’ve been able to work in the garden a bit this week, weather permitting, which has been a blessing. We’ve put in a huge rasberry patch in the back yard, and some new grass for the dogs to pee on. They set to work right away, eating the new lawn, rolling on it, and other dogly stuff. Our big dog is getting a bit frustrated with having two mommies sick, and no-one to give him the abundant affection he so clearly deserves…

I’m taking a break from the acupuncture too, till I’m well again.

Part of being Pagan is having respect for the cycles of life, the waning moon as well as the waxing, fall as well as spring, winter as well as summer, compost as well as planting, menstruation as well as ovulation.

There is a tarot card, the Hermit, which to me is about big, barely visible things happening when nothing important seems to be happening.

So as a good religious Pagan, I need to cover myself metaphorically in leaf mould (or a nice soft blanket) even when the weather and my fear of losing momentum says grow, grow, grow, and allow a little fallow stage before I move on.

And maybe that’s okay. Like spring, where things grow in fits and starts, weather and frost permitting, I’m allowed to expand and unhide and then contract a little too.

Unhiding continued

So I didn’t go and make music this week. The sore throat won. However I did compile a bunch of lyrics and listen to a lot of songs that my musical colleague wants to do, and prepared a chart of an original song we’re going to work on together. I kept going. I also practiced my guitar, enough that the calluses on my fingers are starting to come back.

Photocredit: Martin LaBar on Flickr
(See the ant? I think of this picture as 'baby steps amid passion') Photocredit: Martin LaBar on Flickr

So, not leaping wildly out of the hiding space, but still moving. Baby steps.

I’m not long on persistence when it comes to things for me, particularly things I want desperately. I have no patience with suffering for long periods, holding on and hoping for things to get better, for people to change. All that has failed me spectacularly. It takes enormous faith, now to keep going when progress is slow or things get frustrating. The anxiety of waiting is a lot to bear.

So continuing with the baby steps in the face of obstacles is a good thing.

I still haven’t heard anything from my mother. Which is a good thing, I guess. I’m thinking, slowly, about what I’m called to do with my life, trying things on in my head like a new sweater, putting it on and checking it out in the mirror.

My wife is the best clothes shopping ally. She tells me when something makes my butt look good, or is too tight and doesn’t flatter me, even if I’ve fallen in love with the colour or fabric. She says if it doesn’t delight me, there’s no point buying it, even if it’s on sale. I almost always find something I feel, if not beautiful, at least respectable in when I go shopping with her. Without her, I almost never find anything for my atypically sized body.

I need a little support, a way to reinforce the small voice that knows the truth inside me. Sometimes writing will do it, rarely a friend will be able to get inside my strange and beautiful brain to hold a mirror to my ideas. Sometimes my wife will do it – she’s particularly good with business problems and telling me my work is valuable and worth every penny.

Encouragement is so important, being understood is so important and a little goes a long way. That’s one thing we miss out on as survivors when we ‘pass’ for non-survivors, the sense that someone knows and understands, that our reations and feelings are normal given the circumstances. It is only in community with one another that I understand this in my bones. I’m very grateful.

Small Steps
Small Steps