Benefits of being a sexual abuse survivor…

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

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

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

This doesn’t feel the least bit fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me think:

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

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

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

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

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

Better, stronger, faster than before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information for childhood sexual assault survivors with vaginal/vulvar injuries

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

Bunny-Wallpapers-bunny-rabbits-128637_1024_768

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravery and Vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m in.

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

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

I have some hope now I can get it resolved.

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. “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PTSD Spaciness triggered waiting for letter from mom

Lightning; My First TrySo I’ve been extra spacey lately since the news about the impending letter from my mom replying to the one I sent her three years ago. It’s not like I really notice the spaci-ness myself much, but my wife has noticed and pointed out a few things.

This morning I forgot to feed my beloved dog, and then when reminded, promptly forgot again until reminded a second time. My poor good doggy.

I’ve lost my favourite pair of glasses. No clue where they are. My wife can’t even find them and she’s usually very good at finding things I lose.

My wife tells me things and I forget them. What are they? I forget…

I ran a red light today because I got too distracted when my wife was trying to say something about what lane I was in.

I had a creepy dream where my father was my boyfriend and I was being all nice to him, behaving like his girlfriend. Creepy! The morning I went to the dentist too, as if being triggered wasn’t the last thing I needed before seeing the dentist.

What I did well was to let my wife know that I’m just going to be spacey over the next few days and there’s nothing I can really do about it.  I’m not sure if that’s true. Perhaps if I really grounded or something I’d feel whatever feelings I’m dissociating from and then I wouldn’t need to dissociate. That’s what I’d have tried back when I was a therapist and I was working with a survivor who was dissociating, although it’s harder to do for oneself. I’d book an appointment with my therapist, but really, what is there to say? I saw my brother and it went well, and my mother’s going to send me a letter, but I haven’t gotten it yet. What’s to talk about?

When the letter comes, I’m going to give it to my wife to keep in her locker at work, so it’s not in the house. I don’t know why I want to do that, but it feels better somehow. It will help me avoid the temptation to open it before I have enough support.  I’m likely to freak out afterward, so I need to make sure the timing is right.

On the up side I went to the dentist yesterday and had a filling. I’d avoided making an appointment for a couple of months, because I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but got up the courage. It was way in the back up near the gum and I was worried I’d be on my back with my mouth jammed open in pain for ages, with gunk going down my throat, something I figured would trigger me bad. I explained to the dental assistant that I was concerned I might be anxious with my mouth open for a long time, and that I thought it would help if I could close my mouth whenever  I needed to. She said that would be fine, and pointed out that there was one point in the procedure where the glue wouldn’t stick if I closed my mouth and saliva got on it. I asked how long that was likely to be and said it would help if during that time she explained what was happening. It turned out to be no big thing, ten or fifteen minutes all together and the dentist was told I was anxious and distracted me by chatting about our vacations. She didn’t even have to freeze me, which worked great. Kind of an incentive to make sure I don’t get any more cavities though.

Warrior WomanWhat do I think is at the root of my spaciness? Rage. Having contact with my stinking psychopath-enabling weak martyr of a hypocrite faux-feminist mother really fucking pisses me off. How DARE she want to have ‘a relationship’ with me? How can she really be this dense and want me to f’ing overlook that she didn’t help me at all when she knew that my vagina was ripped so bad I had two tears from one side of my vulva to the other!!!! Who the hell does she think I am? She hasn’t even admitted to the crime and I’m supposed to forget and forgive (ideally in that order)? I want to rip her apart with my bare hands, and I’m going to get words from her, words that will be full of bullshit as usual. I can’t even imagine what she would say that would be enough. If she goes on about how my letter hurts her or something I’m going to freaking blow up!

The parts of me that don’t want to pound her senseless with something heavy, are thinking that any information will be useful, and I don’t even have to respond to the letter, although, realistically I should or she’ll contact me again. However, I could wait three freaking years to respond just like she did and see how she likes it.

I may end up saying “I have now seen the scars on my vagina and vulva.  You knew I was raped. I was too seriously injured for you not to have known. You have lied to me for the last time. No, I will never have a relationship with you.  You can’t come back from this. You are dead to me. Go to hell. ”

Go to freaking hell, Mom!!

Letter from mom on it’s way…

My mom’s sister (who I like) called me this weekend to let me know that my mom has finally written a reply to my letter sent almost three years ago with, apparently, answers to my questions. The catch is, she feels it’s too private to send by mail (?) and would like to know how I want receive it. She is, of course, fishing to see me in person, something my aunt suggested (ie: my mom bring the letter in person and I read it in front of her, ick!) which is not going to happen.

By making my aunt, who is awaiting major surgery right now, the intermediary, my mom is once again in fine form for putting her needs above others.

To spare my aunt, who is a very nice person and who has been good to me, I did not go into a rant about how seeing me in the person was out of question for a woman who had not provided medical (or police) attention to her five year old daughter (me) with a severely torn vagina from rape and then lied to my face about it for 20 years, saying she didn’t know I’d been abused.

Instead, I expressed regret to my aunt that she was in the middle of this and suggested (to my aunt) that she let my mom know that if regular mail didn’t work then registered mail, courier or giving it to my brother to give to me would work.

My aunt also relayed that my mom “loves me and wants to have a relationship with me again”.  She clearly is buying the bullshit, which since I also bought it for awhile, I’m not going to hold against her.

I’d rather eat dirt, frankly, than ‘have a relationship’ with my mother again. I do not ‘have relationships’ with people who think so little of me.  I wonder if my younger brother has cut her off, nurturing and caretaking-wise, and she’s shopping around.

The problem is, that if I see her in person, I’m pretty thoroughly conditioned to mother her – offer her sympathy, help and advice I later (or immediately) resent. My mom must know this, that I’m much more ‘reasonable’ when I see her in person, which is why she wants it. So not seeing her at all is by far the best option for me.

I really hadn’t expected my mom to write back after the first few months, although I reminded her last year when she hand delivered a note, that the only communication I wanted from her was a written reply to my letter. This does of course give me a little time to plan how to read the letter I haven’t received yet. I’m thinking the good old standby of opening and reading it at my therapists office.

I am assuming by now that she knows (via my aunt or uncle) that I know  the vaginal tearing was far to extensive for her not to have known about it when it happened. She no doubt has a way to justify or ignore that for herself. We’ll see if she responds to that directly in the letter or not. I expect this might be a bit of a doozy. If she essentially bails and only provides me with some of the info I asked for like giving me a couple of anecdotes of when he was creepy to other women, and perhaps some info on the layout of the house we lived in, topped off with another  ‘no I didn’t know he was abusing you’, that would almost be easiest to deal with. If she gives me any real information, it might give me nightmares or flashbacks, but I can handle it. Mostly I am decent now at deconstructing her mind games, but just to be sure, I’ll be opening it at my therapists office, and maybe storing it at a friends until I get a chance to read it.

Goddess bless yoga – self care for survivors with vaginal injury

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

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

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

Thank Goddess!

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

And also: Eureka – take that, vulvadynia!

Vulvanomics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free your vulva and the rest will follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vulvodynia and the power of the vulva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now was that so hard?