Rape dreams and release

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

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

Anyhow, I feel a lot better.

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

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

Visit with older brother – is the abuser dead yet?

My older brother called me on the weekend and we got together to watch his kid play in a sporting event.

All in all it went well. He made an effort to connect, I brought my wife, and we were on his home turf in a way (watching his kid play) so he felt comfortable and we had an activity to distract us.

At the end we were chatting and he casually asked if our father had died yet, in the same ‘I don’t care about the evil bastard’ way I might have. It must have cost him something to ask. I liked that he asked in the way he did. I told him I’d thought he’d be the one to tell me, but that no-one had told me so he probably was alive. My aunt, at least would let me know.  I filled him in a bit on what I knew about what the other family were doing, which I know he appreciates.

It was very human, if you know what I mean, we had a reasonable connection.

He’s still apparently a perfectionist, and demanding on his sons for achievement, which he comes by honestly, since my mom put an enormous amount of pressure on him. If I ever get close enough to him to point it out, I’ll make the comparison, as I know that that pressure was something he told me was harmful when he was younger. Or I’ll leave well enough alone. He’s not without insight into his own stuff and must already know.

He’s a doctor, and he told me that he thinks someone must have been making some of the medical info about our father up, that he couldn’t have survived all the things we’d heard he’d had (.4 blood alcohol, flail lung, flesh eating disease, liver cancer, plus a recurrence of cancer) in combination.  This makes sense to me, but I can’t imagine why they would make it up? Maybe to make us feel sorry and visit him on his deathbed?  I said it seemed unbelievable to me too, especially after I’d looked up the average survival rates for each of these and calculated he should statistically been dead several times over.  I said if it’s true, then I’m going to live to 150, so that’s all right. He said he thought at some point he’d get a funeral invitation and find out that way.

I told him I think that since mom’s still married to our father, the cops would notify her since she’s next of kin. He said he hoped she wouldn’t inherit his debts, and I said I thought they had a legal separation, so maybe not. My brother  said that our other brother would probably inherit everything then, which was only fair since he was the one still in contact with the old bastard and I agreed. My younger brother would give it all to mom anyhow.

It was good to have a conversation like this with no pretense. I also got to be kind, to support him in rooting for his son, and to speak briefly with my nephew.

I should find out what the rules are for death notification. If my mom is legally separated, do the RCMP notify her or one of his other relatives when he dies? If someone knows, I hope you’ll leave a comment here.

The spiritual thing about this was that on Saturday, after I visited with him, I ran into a friend and got talking for some reason about my mom, she asked if I was back in touch, and I said no, she was dead to me. She already knew about the scars, so she got it.

Then on the Sunday I went swimming in the ocean with some friends. It was kind of impromptu, so we didn’t have bathing suits with us. In Canada it is legal for women to go topless anywhere that men can, so we swam topless to keep most of our clothes dry. It felt like a purification, to be swimming in salt water against my bare skin, not feeling at all ashamed of my less than slender, less than young body on a public beach.

Then the next day I get the call from my aunt about my mom. Interesting how it all came together. It’s kind of like when you finally let go of an ex girlfriend and flirt with someone new, and they sense it and call you up. People sense when the connections are severed, I think, energetically. If so, that’s good, because the connection with my mom does feel severed – when I said she is dead to me, I meant it. I wonder how this will affect how I read her letter.

Survivor reaction after massage

Predictably, I felt vulnerable and emotional most of the week, after even a simple, tiny amount of compassionate work on my strangulation-surviving neck. It felt like pms. I cried easily and felt fragile, distracted and touchy.

Makes me wonder if I really want to get into this right now… Although I know there’s no time like the present for dealing with abuse crap – putting it off isn’t a good idea. We’ll see how I am after this weekends session. I think I’ll probably have her work on my leg first and get to know her better, after that, we’ll see about the neck, even though my inner kid really wants that area of me to be healed.

Massage

I had an interesting experience having a massage today. I had a sore hip due to what my chiropractor says is a tight ‘IT band’. The massage therapist was doing various things to loosen this and I was asking her what might have caused it to get so tight.

Between the two of us we figured it is probably due to my sleeping position, which not coincidentally, is as different as possible from the one I was raped in. She asked if I was uncomfortable sleeping on my back and rather than lying I said calmly. “Yes, but not physically. Trauma. Emotional. But it’s a lot better now.” Typical stock survivor response, acknowledge the facts as calmly as possible, combined with reassuring the listener I’m not going to fall apart on them. However, I meant it. I *am* fine. She said that was good, and continued on.

Now some massage therapists get uncomfortable when you say things like this, but this one didn’t. A woman would know exactly what traumatic event would happen when a woman is on her back. There was not much more to be said.

Earlier in the session she’d been working on the back of my neck and I said, “oh, one thing I forgot. If you work on the front of my neck, please let me know first please.” She’d also accepted this well.

When it came time for her to work on the front of my neck she warned me and was gentle, asking what types of touch to avoid. She got it.

I asked her how my neck was. I’m curious. I have no idea how being strangled has affected my neck. She said something like it was very siezed up and tense. I said, well it makes sense, the soul and body are connected, and she agreed.

At the end of the session we agreed that my IT band and leg needed more work and so did my neck. I said, if we work on the neck it will need a session just for that, and I’ll probably cry. I’ll need to have my car nearby so I can go to it to calm down afterward. I told her I look after myself just fine, but that there is likely to be emotion connected to the tension. She was great. She told me that it happens all the time, that people often have feelings come up during or after sessions and she considers it an honour to help people clear. Her energy felt grounded and sincere.

On the way home in the car I sang my scar song about the abuse to clear some of the built up emotion from having my neck worked on. I had an inner child reaction which led to me going to bed curled up in a quilt for a few hours, after which I felt more clear.

I have booked a session for next weekend. I’m not sure if we’ll work on the neck or the leg.  I’m proud of how matter of fact I was, and how well the interaction went. Unexpected. I’m used to being more guarded with health care folks, so they don’t treat me funny.

I’m looking forward to having body work done in a context that allows me to release the feeling. Not looking forward to cleaning up the reaction afterward, but hopefully if I can release fairly fully it’ll be more relief than triggering. One can hope.

The picture I chose to go with this post is of baby birds, who were rescued after their nest was blown out of a tree by the photographer. At first I rejected the picture, as it is not the strength and confidence I felt today. However, the vulnerability of the birds and their long necks resonates with the vulnerability I feel in my own neck and this situation. There are some very intense, fragile and wounded sensations locked away in my neck tissue and this picture owns that. Telling the truth, being as vulnerable and strong as I actually am is a far stronger and more courageous place to be in. [the photographer took down the photo I had linked to.]

Sociopathy is inherited – choosing not to have children

This weeks post is a result of re-reading some an old comment I made on a website about childbirthing when you are a survivor. I’ve never birthed or raised a child, and don’t plan to. When I was younger, I had a  strong aversion to the tearing that always happens during childbirth. I had some good ideas why this might be so, but of course didn’t have proof till I saw the scar tissue from the tearing I’d experienced during repeated vaginal rapes starting as a very young child.

The doula, a survivor herself, whose blog it was, responded to my comment by saying in part that women can give birth even with scar tissue, which of course was never the point.

It got me thinking about all the reasons I’ve chosen not to birth a child. You would think being a lesbian might be one of them, but it isn’treally. I know lots of same sex couples with children. We may have an awesome birth control method, but we can fairly easily get pregnant if we want to. Even the country  and place I live in are liberal enough that my child wouldn’t experience much in the way of serious discrimination, no more than any other kid in a multicultural society does.

Then of course, there are the environmental reasons. By choosing not to have a child, I’m making the single largest environmental conservation action that I could make. Even with an extremely conserving and eco-friendly lifestyle, human beings just do way more harm than good to the planet, and there need to be less of us if the planet is going to continue to support life in the long run.

And there are the temperament reasons. I have trouble enough sleeping without the expected sleeplessness of early parenthood, and I am extremely unhappy and foggy without sleep. The thought of enduring this for years is almost inconceivable (no pun intended). I’m also a bit of a space cadet, what with all the PTSD, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a little being I might accidentally injure with my forgetfulness. I have recurring nightmares where I make some mistake that injures my baby.

But really the most compelling reason for not having children is that sociopathy is apparently mostly genetic. My father is a sociopath, and I can’t take the chance that I might birth and raise one. Screening for sperm donors doesn’t usually include screening for sociopathy either, so my kid could get a double genetic load with the wrong donor. Not an acceptable risk to me. If there was an in vitro blood test for sociopathic tendencies, and I learned my baby had them, I would abort. I’d feel bad about it, and I’d pray about it, but I’d do it. The risk of harm from just one sociopath over his or her lifetime is just too great.

For those of you who, like me, have a first order relative who is or was a sociopath/psychopath/has antisocial personality disorder, I respectfully suggest that you consider never passing this gene on.

If you are at risk for passing sociopathy on to your children and have already had or plan to have children, or if you raise a child who is at risk, here are some resources to spot and help overcome sociopathic tendencies in your children.

Eureka – take that, vulvadynia!

Okay, I seem to have it figured out.

The yoga is great, but I found something even better. Just becoming aware of how often I clench the muscles of my sore, rape-injured body was a big first step. Now I’m learning to train my body not to do it.

It helps that it doesn’t hurt much any more. The clenching was a reaction to the pain. My guess is my smart child self figured out that clenching restricted blood flow, which dampened pain. It does do that, but now, years later when the wounds have mostly healed, the restricted blood flow causes damage and pain of it’s own.

Heating pads.

The yoga increased blood flow thing worked so well at bringing the pain down, I’ve moved on to prevention. I’ve been sitting on a gentle heating pad, set on low, while watching TV with my honey. The constant gentle heat keeps reminding me to relax, and with that relaxation, I feel so much more grounded and safe, less on guard, which should be a paradox, but isn’t. The heat and a conscious decision to relax have allowed me to get familiar with the sensation of not-clenching, and helping me make it the dominant way my body is. I still clench, but not as much, and my vulva is a lot better.

It reminds me of training myself not to clench my jaw (TMJ) a few years ago. I’d do big yawns to loosen my jaw before bed and put heat on my jaw joint, consciously loosen the muscles and put them in a position where they weren’t as easy to clench, jaw hanging loosely. Over time, it gradually lessened, and although I don’t know if I never clench my jaw when I sleep,  I no longer wake up with a sore jaw, and the dentist doesn’t mention it when I go.

I’m thinking this is advanced-survivor stuff. Perhaps ten years ago, unclenching my muscles would have brought flashbacks that would have seemed too daunting to embrace. Perhaps they are still working themselves to the surface, although perhaps not since I’ve remembered the injury I’m recovering from. Perhaps I couldn’t have done it before I saw the scars stretching across my vulva from the rapes. Knowing is always better than not knowing, no matter how hard it is.

A good friend of mine from my teens got in touch recently. I hadn’t seen her since the first year of university, or perhaps before. She asked me how my parents were. I realized she must not have heard, that I didn’t tell her back then, at the beginning of my healing.  I wrote back that my parents had split up, and that I don’t see them, and asked how her parents were. There are many ways to tell, and which I use depends on my sense of balance between a strong certainty that I won’t lie about this any more against the need not to drive people away with awkwardness.

Complete and specific honesty is reserved for therapists, close friends and other survivors, who usually can take it without saying something stupid or hurtful or shrinking away from me, which is worse. This would be “My father is a sociopath and raped me starting when I was a preschooler. We lost touch after I reported him to the police. I recently found out my mother was actively complicit, so I don’t see her any more either.” Telling it this way is the best. It is a truth that prevents ever having to dance around the topic again. It allows my inside and my outside to be congruent and gives accurate context for things that may come up.

The other versions, for trusted non-survivors, are a lot less specific, such as “My parents were abusive and I don’t see them.” If the person accepts this, and leaves the topic alone, or says, ‘mine weren’t great iether’, we have a stronger friendship. If they say some rubbish about forgiveness or parents doing the best they can, I write them off.

If the person or situation isn’t important enough to get into it, I tell the truth, but not much of it.  I will tell strangers and acquaintances partial truths such as  “I don’t see my parents much” or “My mom is in X and my dad is in Y, they split up a few years ago.” A bland partial truth is usually enough to satisfy the question, and change the topic without lying.

I thought about telling my old friend more, but I decided to be more gentle. She knew my mother and father after all. This tragedy happened to people and in places that she is familiar with, that don’t have the distance they might otherwise have. She can read between the lines, and if she wants to know, she’ll ask. If she doesn’t, I have no need to tell her. Another thing that has loosened.

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.

Memories of childhood sexual assault – why are they different? how can we trust them?

Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn
Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn

One of the most difficult things about suviving childhood sexual assault is coping with the fragmented and taboo nature of our memories.

This breaks down into three main issues:

  • Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.
  • Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular trauma memories.
  • Memories of childhood sexual assault are different from regular memories of childhood trauma.
  • How do you trust your memories, particularly when people go on about ‘false memories’.

Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.

Traumatic events overwhelm the normal systems in the brain that store memories. A traumatic event isn’t just a very unpleasant or very stressful event. People experience trauma when they experience or witness something that’s going to kill or seriously harm you or someone else. During a true traumatic event the person feels strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

Because trauma is so overwhelming, the brain gets flooded with the information and can’t store it in the usual way. I think some information just flows over the edge of the cup and is lost, while other information comes in but isn’t properly catalogued. It’s stored in little boxes, separate from one another, some linked together and some not. The touch, taste, smell, sight and thought memories get put in completely different boxes.

Normal memories work like this:

You eat an ice cream cone and you taste the chocolate and it reminds you that you had chocolate ice cream with your friend Sally on her birthday and it was a sunny day and you were down by the ocean, and it was nice. You haven’t seen Sally in a while, maybe you’ll give her a call. Who was that guy she was dating again? You can’t remember his name. You have the taste, visual, emotional and context memories of the event with Sally all in one block, and they are being triggered by something relevant, the taste of ice cream. You may not have all the details, but the important ones are there, and they make sense in connection with one another.

A traumatic memory is like this.

You turn a corner and smell where some beer has been spilled and there is a stale beer smell. You feel panic. You don’t know why, and you don’t even necessarily know the panic is connected to the beer smell. You try and calm yourself down.  Here, you’re getting the smell and emotional part of the memory linked together, but the sight, sound and context information is stored in a different box. You can’t get there from here, so the panic doesn’t make sense to you.

This can work a different way, where you have information without the body or emotional memory. You can have the information, such as: ‘I was raped in my dorm bedroom’, divorced from the information about who raped you, what they looked like and a large part of how it felt while it was happening. You also have almost no feeling in your vagina, and a crushing feeling on your chest sometimes. You know he was a short, dark-haired man, because short dark-haired men now freak you out. You can’t see his face in your mind though. You feel numb about the rape, and are dreading remembering the pain and fear, which you can intellectually imagine is in there somewhere, but which you can’t reach. You don’t put this together with your sudden panicky distaste for stale beer.

Non-survivors often don’t get why people who have experienced trauma don’t remember the events in the connected way, like Sally and the ice cream cone. Their distrust is what fuels myths like the ‘false memory syndrome’.  Traumatic memory is different, but a lot of information is in there.  It just takes quite a bit of sleuthing to sort out.

Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular traumatic memories

On top of all that, traumatic memories stored in childhood have some key differences. First of all, children’s brains are still developing, and this affects how we store information. There have been studies that show that children aren’t able to tell the difference between television violence and violence occurring in real life until they reach age 7. This does not mean that children are going around ‘fantasizing’ being sexually abused. How could they? Even non-survivor adults have a hard time even imagining the kind of crap that happens to kids, why would a kid?  Children are normally so uninformed about sexuality, that “inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts” is a key sign that a child has been sexually abused.

Children young enough won’t have the self-talk we have that makes sense of what is going on such as labels for sensations or experiences:  “chocolate”, “warm”, “that’s daddy”. They will instead only have the sensations, which means that the context for the abuse “I was in my crib and someone who was angry picked me up and hurt me.” is missing, making it hard to classify in your mind later.

Children don’t yet have a mature self-identity, so that severe, conflicting traumatic demands upon them at a young enough age can force them to develop multiple identities to cope. As far as I know, instead of splitting myself, I instead split my father into two people, one who was my father, a mean, controlling drunk but who I could love and deal with, and ‘the monster’ who was the person who came out at night and raped and terrified me. I told people about ‘the monster’ I was terrified of , but since everyone knows that monsters aren’t real, especially when children talk about them, nothing came of it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that the information that my father was the monster was safe to remember. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard, overwhelming, terrifying and confusing to remember, just that it became possible to do so.

When we don’t have separation and experience to give us context to analyse information, and if we are abused by a caregiver, we likely accept the abusers explanation for what happened. For example, I literally did not know that my father wasn’t entitled to rape me (or kill me for that matter), until I was 14 years old.

Memories of childhood sexual assault are different from regular memories of childhood trauma.

“The taboo against talking about incest is stronger than the taboo against doing it.” – Maria Sauzier, M.D.

There are taboos about talking to children about sex, even in age-appropriate ways. Children are supposed to be innocent and non-sexual, and are shut down from talking about even normal or healthy sexuality or more importantly, the things they unfortunately need to know to label and report abuse.

A friend of mine ran away from home at age 14 and then was recruited by a pimp. When the pimp (who she thought was her boyfriend) groomed her with protection and drugs and then started having intercourse with her, she didn’t know what they were doing was sex. She’d heard of sex, of course, she just didn’t connect it to what they were doing.

I didn’t know that what my father was doing was sex or rape either. When I first had consensual intercourse with a guy in university, I believed I was losing my virginity. I knew what sex was too, my mom had given me a book and I understood the basics. I knew very little more than that it was something that happened in bed and that the thing that guys pee with went into a hole in the woman’s body and could result in pregnancy. I, however, did not know exactly where my own vagina was, or that I had a clitoris until the guy I slept with identified it for me. He, luckily was European and had heard of the clitoris.

Children are not told what the real names of the parts of their body are and not given safe situations where they can talk about them. Adult women can ask about a lesion on their vulva or pain in their anus in the doctors office, for example (if they get up the nerve) but a child will not usually have a person other than their mother (if that) who they can talk to about problems with the private parts of their body. If mother is an abuser or enabler, that’s not going to be any help.

Children are not routinely told that no-one, not even your parents, should touch the private parts of your body or make you touch the private parts of another person’s body. This is not the case in Sweden, where sex education has been mandatory in schools since 1956 starting at age 7, something that has run afoul of Muslim fundamentalist immigrants wishing to ‘protect’ their daughters from the information. The desire and determination to disempower girls and to keep children in the dark about the private and sexual parts of their body is something a variety of religions and ideologies share, unfortunately.

Children aren’t told how to tell the difference between safe genital touching, like an adult putting diaper cream on a baby, or gently washing with a washcloth, from abuse. Familial abusers take advantage of this by passing off abuse as normal care-giving  Children as a rule don’t know that if someone does inappropriate touch, it is important to tell a safe adult, even if (especially if) the person who did these things warns them not to. The don’t know that if they tell someone they think is a safe adult, and that person doesn’t help them, that they need to keep telling until someone does.

This means that information stored about sexual abuse will not have the context that an adult’s memory would have. If an adult woman is fondled by some creep in an elevator, she knows he’s not allowed to do it, and that it’s a crime, and she is within her rights to knee him in the balls and report him to the police. If a child is fondled in an elevator, she knows it’s icky and scary and that’s it.

Telling about sexual abuse means breaking several taboos and norms of behaviour. Children are supposed to be good and do what adults tell them to do, they are supposed to be innocent and not speak or know about sex or sexual assault.

So all this means that, if you were raped as a child, you don’t have the language to discuss it, and it is associated with shame. If you were in a traumatic car accident as a child, you could talk about it with your relatives and teachers without anyone freaking out too much, and no-one thought you were a bad girl or boy for bringing the topic up. When sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member, the child is cut off from their natural source of that support and help. Discussing the information and getting social support soon after an event are protective against developing post traumatic stress disorder. When the trauma is sexual, it is unlikely a child will get the information, social support and opportunities to talk about it that they would get for a non-sexual trauma.  You probably won’t get to talk about it for decades, until you are an adult. Since you can’t process it at the time, the mind and body file the disjointed information away, until it gets triggered later.

False Memory Syndrome has no scientific validity and was made up by an accused incest perpetrator

At this point, a discussion of the abuser and enabler propaganda tool that is ‘false memory syndrome’ comes into play. Let me be very clear, false memory syndrome is a completely bogus construction. It was literally made up by someone credibly accused of sexually abusing his daughter, and is promoted by this abuser and his wife in order to discredit his daughters allegations of abuse. Survivors know that most child predators deny having abused children; this is just a more elaborate version of the usual.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by medical professionals to classify what is wrong with people, has no entry called ‘false memory syndrome’. No mainstream professional association of doctors, psychologists or social workers has endorsed this fiction. It is completely and utterly a made up thing by abusers and their apologists.

Its power to convince comes from non-survivor’s discomfort with the topic of child sexual abuse by family members, and desire to make it go away.

Delayed memories of abuse are the norm rather than the exception for child sexual assault. The majority of survivors have some amnesia. There is an online database of hundreds of corroborated cases called the “Recovered Memory Project” connected to  Brown University where a person has remembered in adulthood a traumatic thing that happened, and then had the remembered facts externally validated.

My own life is an example of a memory of abuse being suppressed in childhood, remembered as an adult, and then finding physical corroboration much later. I remembered, when I was about 21, being raped at the age of approximately 5 by my father. I remembered intense pain, a lot of blood and an aftermath of pain while it healed.  When I was about 40, during the time I was writing this blog, I asked my medical practitioner if there were any scars, and she showed me scars and vascular damage corroborating my memory of rape, extensive tearing and a lot of blood.

Until I saw the scars, there was always a tiny doubting voice. That voice asked why didn’t I remember more detail and why were the memories so fragmented, with almost none of them having all the pieces in one box. I now know that’s the way it usually works, but it still made me doubt. Then I would have to remember all the corroborating information I had, the intensity of the memories, the effects on my life, and remind myself that with an effect there must be a cause. It helped, of course that my memory of the first time I was raped was the clearest and most detailed. It is the one memory I’ve been most sure of.  I know other stuff happened from the fragments I have, but I am much more certain about that one time. The most compelling part of the memory for me was that I remembered how it felt to be so young and to be so emotionally open, to love and trust my daddy, and how shocked I was with the pain and his brutality. It was nothing I could make up, and I knew it immediately.

You may never remember all of it. It’s frustrating but true. The more extreme, extensive or prolonged the abuse was, the more likely you are to have a hard time piecing it together. You may remember things, and then go back into denial about them while you process their impact on your life and relationships. You may be sure about what happened one day, fresh from a vivid flashback, and doubtful the next because important details are missing or vague.

What people don’t always know, is that this is completely normal, even typical, for survivors of childhood sexual assault.

What I learned about child sexual abuse survivors and sex and relationships

Photocredit: Morning Spiral Rose by Nexus6

Here’s a post from a place where I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a handle on all of the post-traumatic symptoms, although I have come a long way.

Stages of my sexual life as a survivor:

1) Teenage – not going ‘all the way’ and enjoying all the sexual play leading up to intercourse. Being quite prim and avoiding sexual situations

2) Young adult – having intercourse with boyfriends and experiencing pain, fear and flashbacks. Not being able to connect the dots with abuse at first, but trying to avoid sex. Bargaining with sex for safety while sleeping. Needing to make sure my partner was satiated before sleep so I could be assured that I would not be awoken with demands (with variable success).

3) Middle adult – Sex in relationships got good and a lot easier. However, in relationship it always dried up after the first year or two, not always on my end. Partners would lose interest and I would try and interest them in pleasing me the way I needed, which would be interpreted as a criticism.  Or I would lose interest and be harder to please and have a hard time getting into my body deeply enough for things to work well.  Hiding intense feelings (from myself or partner) and having sex at the same time became impossible, so if intimacy was a problem, then sex wouldn’t work either.  On the up side though, the sex I did have was a lot better and more connected and pleasurable, and almost all the time the sex I had was sex I wanted.

What I’ve learned / believe about survivors and sexual healing

  1. If you’re just having sex with someone to have them guard you while you sleep at night, get a dog. They will guard you for free.
  2. Experiencing feelings and flashbacks isn’t so bad, avoiding them is what causes all the trouble. If you allow yourself to process the gunk in therapy, sex gets easier and less like a trigger minefield.
  3. Never ever pimp out your inner child to get your adult self off sexually on things that are part of the abuse. It’s tempting if it’s the only way you know now to have an orgasm or get connected sexually, but it’s not worth it. It cuts deeper a channel between sex and trauma that should never have been there in the first place, making it harder to eradicate. Your child self was used to satisfy an adults sexual wants already, it’s a betrayal to do that to her now that you know better. You can break those abuse-sex connections if you stick with it. Find other things that feel good. Get in touch with your body. Do the work of clearing out and integrating flashbacks and feeling feelings. What fires together in the brain wires together and you owe it to your child self to set her free of abuse. Rewire with positive fantasies that make you feel safe.
  4. Clenching your vagina and vulva cuts off blood flow and can cause or worsen vulvadynia (pain and itching in the vulva). It is possible to be doing this without being conscious of it. Ice helps with the pain of an injured vulva, and heat can help keep it from coming back. I thought I had a yeast infection for years, but it turns out it was actually part of the long term effects of the wounds on my vulva from the rapes.
  5. Use completely different setting to remind yourself you’re not in the same place you were abused in and not with your abuser. Different lighting, smells, textures, positions, activities etc… really help keep you present day.
  6. Develop a routine around staying in your body and a way to get back when you dissociate. Mine is feeling the temperature of my feet, and telling myself “It’s okay, you’re safe now”.
  7. Develop a safe sex list of things that you actually can do without getting triggered, and an unsafe sex list of things you probably can never or never want to do. With a new partner, only do the safe sex things, and then maybe work into the medium risk things as trust and safety builds. Never do the unsafe sex things. If they want to make love with you, your partner needs to understand and accept that the unsafe sex things are forever off the table. You might even have body types or genders of partners that are not going to ever work for you, and that’s okay.
  8. See a therapist regularly if you are going through lots of flashbacks and stuff with your partner. They are too close to the action to help you heal that stuff, no matter how loving and compassionate they are.
  9. Tell your inner child self that sex is an adult thing. You and your partner will play together, and you can meet her needs later (or before). Make sure you do this to keep adult stuff adult. Think of your abused child self as an external child that you can put to bed with her teddy in another room while the adults play. Meet your inner child needs for play, validation, touch  and attention separately if you can. Have some times and places that your partner knows are off limits for initiating sex, where you can meet those needs for nonsexual cuddling and hugs.
  10. If your spirituality makes you feel safe, bring it into your sexuality. Make loving your partner an act of magic or prayer. It will completely change the feel and energy.

What I Learned about Grounding and Sexual Abuse Survivors

Photocredit: Raissa Bandou via Flickr

I thought I’d write a bit about some of the healing things I’ve learned in 22 years of clawing back the effects of being raped as a child from my life. One of the first and probably most important things I started working on was reclaiming a sense of being in my body.

<possible religious triggers>

I was raised loosely Christian, but when I was exploring my spirituality as an adult, I found that I needed something a lot more overtly empowering of women, with a very very low (or preferably nonexistent) patriarchal component. (Patriarchy means ‘father rule’, and I’d had quite enough of that.)

I came first to my own beliefs, that my higher power was nature, and then discovered existing religious structures that fit. I became Wiccan, in a social justice tradition called Reclaiming, who are kind of the Quakers of NeoPaganism. The nice thing about Wiccans is that people have a lot of choice on what to believe and how to practice, which suited my need to reclaim control of my life from my parents.

Pagans and Wiccans begin most of our meditations and ceremonies with something called grounding, which is a meditative act of connecting with our own body and then, energetically with the earth and sensations around us. This is apparently easy for some people, I’m thinking for folks whose bodies have not been traumatically violated.

It was only when I tried to do it, to ground, that I discovered that I had virtually no awareness of my body. If I held my arm behind my back, I could only tell where it was by looking for it with my eyes, or by reaching out for it with my other arm. I must have been phenomenally clumsy. When I started to pay attention to my body, at first I could only experience it with a great amount of attention. I started by touching my own skin, and comparing the sensation of feeling the outside of the skin with my ‘active’ hand with attending to the sensation of being touched by my own hand from inside.

At first the sensation on the ‘outside’ was a lot stronger than the sensation on the inside. I could feel what temperature my skin was by touching it with my hand, but if I took  my hand away and tried to attend to what temperature my skin was without touching it, I couldn’t tell. I’d guess, and then check by touching with my hand.

Gradually, with practice, I became aware of sensation from the hairs on  my skin, how they would raise themselves when I was cold and if I concentrated I could feel the air disturb these hairs, giving me some clues about how my body was moving.

Grounding myself to a degree that I could be adequately prepared for ceremony in my view took several months of practice, and a lot of concentration each time. Over time it has become fairly easy. I pay attention to the temperature of my extremities and other safe parts of my body on a regular basis, pay attention to subtle sensations like currents of air over my skin, my pulse, the buzz of blood moving around within me, whether my eyes or mouth are moist.

It is still easy to fall into my default setting, which is to turn most of these sensations off. However, I find staying connected to my body is worth it. I think better, I’m more aware of my surroundings and I can take better care of my needs in the moment, like knowing when I have to pee, relax my muscles or eat. People respond better to me when I am grounded, like they feel I am more there.

At other times it all seems to much, to be typing here and notice that the palms of my hands are a lot warmer than the backs, that the fingers themselves have a mild ache, that I’ll need to change position because my neck is getting stiff. It seems like it breaks my focus on what I’m trying to do or write.

But this was supposed to be about what I’ve learned. Here are my tips for getting into your body if you are as dissociated from it as I was:

When trying to ground, pay attention first to physical sensations in relatively safe areas of your body. If you have been out of your body for a while, don’t try to do it all at once, or you may be in for a weekend of flashbacks. Be gentle. Find a safe place (in my case,  my feet) where you can be minutely aware of sensations without it triggering anything. Put your awareness there, and feel everything you can, the temperature of the skin, and then if you can, inside the skin. Feel any differences in levels of comfort or discomfort in your safe body part. In my case, right now, between my big toe and my second toe, there feels like more movement space than between the other does. Move the body part slightly and observe how that changes the sensations. Take a few deep breaths from time to time to prevent yourself from completely leaving the rest of your body while you focus on this one part.

In time work up to being closely aware of two body parts at the same time, say your hands and your feet. Gradually work into being aware of the whole body at once.

You might find once you do this that there are certain parts of your body that you have no sensation from. These are possibly areas where some trauma is held. Be very gentle in getting in touch with these places. You might want to make your first few attempts with a supportive friend present or in session with your therapist, so you have someone to help remind you that you are safe in the present, and to help you release any feelings that come up.

It helped me to have something comforting to do for that body part. I was a low-income student at the time, but I could afford to buy socks from time to time. I bought colourful, soft socks for my feet, which helped me be aware of this part of my body with affection. Over time, as I have reclaimed most of my body, things like warm baths, lotions and massages have become body care, as have healthy food. 

Lately I’ve been eating a healthy dinner from a recipe my cousin, who is a very good cook, gave me. It consists of freshly cooked brown rice, still warm, with grated carrots and beets on top, slivered almonds, and chopped baby spinach. Then there is a dressing (I’ll find and add the recipe for it to the comments) that goes over top. The dressing is, frankly, what makes it taste good. He calls it “hippy  crack”. What I like about eating it is that my body seems to like it. After I eat it I notice my body feels ‘happy’ for lack of a better word, with all the nutrients. You might want to try this, eating something healthy, like a freshly squeezed juice, and see how your body feels in response. This was something I’ve only been able to notice in the last ten years or so, so don’t worry if you don’t feel anything at all.

Lastly, if you are very dissociated from your body, it is for good reason. Your mind and body will let you know the full back-story when it is safe to, in time, but you don’t need it to start to reclaim your connection to your body. Don’t judge yourself for being numb, spacey or ungrounded. Let other people’s judgement slide off you if you can. They have no clue. With people who know my history, sometimes I’ll say – “This behaviour is a caused by some very extreme experiences and I’m doing the best I can to overcome it. You haven’t been in my shoes. Cut me some slack.”

I’d love to hear what you think about this post, or if you have any strategies or experiences around connecting with your body to share in the comments.

Expanding, letting life in

He really did rape me. He really did. He really did rape me. Over and over that’s all I think, suddenly. I say it out loud, to feel my own reaction ot my words, I am sobbing as I say it. I’m reading a book by an author that is hitting the nail on the head for me, I’ll give the name of the book later, and it occurs to me that I’m only reacting to this book about survivors in the way I am, breaking into tears of self-recognition every page or so, because I am in fact a survivor. There are things about my life that I don’t consciously know, details, but I have seen the scars on my vulva, I have seen them. They’re long and they are from a terrible wound, and all of this proves, he really did rape me. It’s old news, it’s new news. It’s feeling the same thing at a different level, letting it in, letting myself see myself.

I knew this fact as an article of faith, coming from my commitment to believe my own self, the feelings and memories, but somehow hard visual evidence, the picture I took of those wounds I didn’t see until a year ago, is so unalterably true that there is no layer of protective denial any more. Fuck my brothers’ arrogance, fuck his saying he always believed me. He doesn’t believe me even now. even now.

What more don’t I know about my past? What more am I shielding myself from?

I’ve been noticing, walking outside today that I have two ways of holding my eyes. I habitually narrow my vision, which has been deteriorating these past two years, to the extent that I need glasses again. Lately I’ve been experimenting with purposefully expanding my field of vision, using my peripheral vision, which makes all my sight more clear. Normally, even with my glasses off, I see as if I’m wearing glasses, noticing only what is right in front of me and relatively close. I don’t even realize I”m doing it, most of the time. Now I’m trying to learn not to, to see the whole big picture at once. When I do it outside, even on a cloudy day, my eyes water. The light seems overwhelming. It’s like I don’t ever open my eyes all the way. I believe I’ve been shielding myself from seeing the full picture, and it feels like I’m doing it because to see it all at once, the sky the tops of trees the buildings in the distance, to expand my focus from the close, the immediate the controllable, makes me feel overwhelmed. I worked with an affirmation of ‘it is safe to see everything’. I practiced looking around and feeling the slight overwhelm of all the information coming at me visually. Interesting that I hadn’t noticed this before. I’d noticed the two ways of seeing, but not this, not in this way, this depth.

Photocredit: Chaval Brasil via Flickr “Great view”

No wonder I”m emotional tonight after doing that so much today. I was successful at it too, tolerating it for quite awhile, eventually even my eyes stopped streaming. The book was talking about the difference between feelign numb and dissociated, barely alive really, avoiding all the closed boxes of memories and feelings, and choosing the risky process of living life with those boxes all open. I am opening. I am writing and singing and being creative and it is bubbling up. I want to see it all.

He really did rape me. He really did. Perhaps there is more too.

Adrenaline makes our vision narrow too, opening up my field of view feels unreal, to look at this suddenly panoramic view of where I am. When I do it, everything seems small, like I”m viewing it from a great distance.

ps: The book: The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness by Martha Stout, Ph.D.

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.

Massage

I just had an hour long massage at a spa. Steam room, cucumber water, soft music, the whole bit. I decided to spend the money I’d been spending on therapy on something body/soul nurturing, and this and the singing lessons are it. I even spent a little time meditating in the quiet, pleasant waiting area. So I’m feeling pretty mellow.

One of the things that I have a love-hate relationship with massages about is the fact that I often cry during massages, particularly deep tissue ones. This time, the body worker was working fairly intensely on my left shoulder-back and I started to cry. Now a certain amount of crying is easily hidden during a massage, with your face down, a lot of people get sniffly just from their nose clogging up, for example, and there’s a bit of music, and well, your face is hidden. The sobbing breathing has to be controlled if I don’t want her to know I’m crying. I walked a middle line there.

What I ended up crying about is stinking father’s day. As much as I try to avoid it (I actually put a rule in my email that deletes any message with the phrase ‘father’s day’ in it), these kinds of holidays are ubiquitous. I ended up on the table praying to ‘the Father’ a made up god from a book called “The Curse of Challion”, who is kind of the soul of positive fatherhood, and also the god of winter and death. I was asking him why he didn’t strike my father dead for desecrating fatherhood. That reminded me of my grandfather, and I asked him the same thing (he died when I was 13), why he couldn’t do something to make sure my father dies. Father’s day would be an appropriate time. Anyway, I started to feel my grief.

The woman’s hands on my waist as she massaged my lower back reminded me of being touched by my wife, and how I miss feeling intimate with her, how I miss loving, present, touch. It’s not as if she doesn’t caress me, but I still miss the way it used to be.

Luckily, she worked on my back a long time before flipping me over, and I was able to enjoy the pleasure of her massaging my feet, and scalp and arms. By the time it finished, I was ready to go to sleep.

I feel calm and peaceful, and still a bit sleepy.

Photocredit: Morning Spiral Rose by Nexus6

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!

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?

My brother

I’ve been getting rolfing sessions lately. I’ve had two. It’s a bodywork method that is about restoring the connective tissue to balance, to release physical stuff held in the body. It was most likely in no way designed for work with survivors, more like held tension or sports injuries, really. Anyhow, I thought “held things in the body, that’s me.” and figured it might be worth a shot.

So, of course it’s bringing gunk up. I had a session a couple of days ago where the person worked on my back and then then next day woke up feeling as if I’d been punched in the solar plexus, and felt like that most of the day. That evening my wife and I went to a kids movie, how to train your dragon. There was this scene in it where the kid is in a ring with a dragon he’s supposed to kill and he’s trying to tame it instead, and his dad freaks out and they rush in and this sets the dragon off and it’s attacking the kid, and his tame dragon comes to rescue him and they’re going to kill the tame dragon, and he is begging his dad not to kill the dragon.

At this point I got triggered. I’m finding myself getting more and more upset, and I walk out of the theatre and go to the bathroom. I get into a cry and then start sobbing. Then in my head I hear myself saying “don’t kill him, take (kill?) me instead”, and calling out my older brother’s name. I think he was who I was trying to protect, offering myself to my father to rape so he wouldn’t hurt my older brother. I guess he really does have something to feel guilty about after all, although of course I don’t hold him responsible.

In the days before cell phones bathrooms were a refuge where an emotional girl could go to cry. Even if someone came in they’d do their business and leave. But no. Not one but two women came in and had long loud conversations on the phone while I was busy trying not to cry too loud. I could have let myself go into it further, and gotten more information (I seem to get the information more clearly if I let myself go fully into the feelings), but then I’d have been sobbing loudly and someone would ask if I was okay, and I’d have to pull it together and tell them I was fine and just wanted to be left alone to finish crying. Honestly, ladies, just pee and leave, it’s not a phone booth, it’s a place to do private things, like eliminate wastes and cry when you’re too heartbroken to do it quietly a dark theatre and don’t want to shut down, not to have loud conversations with your boyfriend that you could have in the lobby or hallway or whatever.

So today I have some unfinished crying rattling around in my solar plexus that I really wish I’d been able to vent yesterday in one go. Much easier that way than having to work into it to release the rest, without as big a head of steam behind it.

Do I really think I offered my father to rape me to save my brother’s life? We’ll it’s not out of character, for him or for me, or out of scale with what I now realize happened. These damn post traumatic memories come in such tiny installments it’s hard to know for sure till I get the rest of it, if I ever do. I know though that my first memory of the rape that I now have proof happened, was not much more information wise than this, so I’ll have to leave it open and see what flows out.

My brother is a dickhead for blaming me for the fact that me disclosing abuse got him into therapy. He needed therapy because of what happened to him and in his home, not because of anything I did. It’s just more scapegoating, anything that happens is apparently my fault. He probably remembers all kinds of facts and details he’s withholding because he doesn’t want to get into it, information I need to be whole. Bastard! To think I loved him enough to stand in the way of him being abused, knowing my dad wanted my silence about the rapes more than he wanted to dominate my brother. Well, you’re on your own now, brother. You’re on your own. And so am I.

Soundtrack for a Survivors Sword Dancing Road Trip

I’m planning to rent a bus to drive up to my father’s grave with all the survivor friends I can muster. So far I have about six, including my Aunt.  (He’s not dead yet, but  a girl can hope.)

I’m thinking of having a road trip CD. When we got married, I spent months crafting four cds of music I wanted played at the wedding. It was great to have.

On the road trip I want women warrior music. Here’s what I’ve got so far.  It’s kind of amazing this music exists.

Dixie Chicks – Goodbye Earl – the story of a domestic abuse survivor and her good friend who poison the survivors husband because he is trying to kill her despite her having left him and having a restraining order.

Dar Williams – Flinty Kind of Woman – The story of a group of New England matrons who mobilize immediately to garotte a child molester in a marsh.

Martina McBride – Concrete Angel – Tells the story of how an abused girl appears to teachers who see bruises but don’t intervene and how she is beaten to death by her mother.

Martina McBride – Independence Day – Story of how a battered mother, when her community looks the other way and will not help her, burns down her house while her child is away, killing herself and her abuser.

Goddess protection song – “I invoke the protection of the Divine Mothers embrace. I invoke the protection of the Divine Mother’s grace.”

George Straight – She let herself go – Story of a woman whose husband leaves her, thinking she’ll fall apart without him, and she starts to have fun and adventures.

KD Lang – Big Boned Gal – Story of a joyously dancing curvaceous woman in small town Alberta.

Terry Clark – She didn’t have time – Story of a woman left by her husband with a small baby and how she puts aside grief and hopelessness to go on living.

Pat Humphries – Bound for Freedom – “Here I go bound for freedom, and my truth takes the lead” ” I will organize for justice, I will raise my voice in song, and our children will be free to lead the world to carry on.”

The Wyrd Sisters – Warrior – “I will a brave warrior be, till not another woman dies.”

Tery Clark – Emotional Girl – “I’ve got a passionate heart, and that’s just the way things are.”

Holly Near – I am willing

Martina McBride – When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues – “When God-fearin’ women get the blues, There ain’t no slap down or tellin’ what they’re gonna do, Run around yellin’, I’ve got a Mustang, it’ll do 80, You don’t have to be my baby, I stirred my last batch of gravy, You don’t have to be my, be my, be my baby”

Pat Humphries – I will be with you – “You must be who you are, you will find your way through”

Pat Humphries – Swimming to the Other Side (check out the lyrics, they’re beautiful.)

Pat Humphries – Keep on Moving Forward (Never turning back)

Maybe we’ll bring instruments and sing too.