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.

Herne’s blessings – vulva healing and sexuality

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

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

Surprize! The God makes a reappearance.

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

The painless vulva miracle

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Photocredit: Happy Sleepy from Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Treatment and healing – chronic vulva inflammatory condition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autoimmune Disorders and PTSD

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

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

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

Better, stronger, faster than before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courage, Perseverence, Gratitude

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

“What I am here for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have an appointment!

tumblr_m8xh9scySH1qery84I just found out I have an appointment with a woman obstetrician/gynecologist for May 10th. The doctor who set up the appointment for me thought that an obstetrician might be a good doctor to help me, as the tearing is similar to tearing from birthing. I can’t find much about her online, but she teaches at one of the local universities so she is experienced and connected.  I expected to have to wait several months for an appointment, so this is really good.

When I got off the phone with the nurse I had a good hard cry and then looked her up, and then had a cry again. It’s relief and fear together. What if she doesn’t examine me very thoroughly and says nothing can be done? I deserve to know exactly the extent of my injuries, and what I might do to improve their impact on my sex life.

I have to remember to confirm the appointment a week before or I will lose it. I tend to get spacey about things with emotional energy attached to them so I’ve already set lots of reminders and will tell my wife and friends to remind me to confirm too.

I’m also thinking of who to bring with me to the appointment. Last time I brought my wife, but she doesn’t do survivor support well. She loves me, but she’s not great at demonstrating empathy in the way I need it when I’m upset. I think I need a survivor with me. My first thought was one of my longer term male friends, who has survived a lot himself and is good at being supportive, or maybe my other survivor friend who is a lawyer and good at collecting specific information. I need someone who will be compassionate, get what a big deal this is, help me remember to ask everything I want to ask, and offer moral support. Perhaps I’ll talk it over with both of them and see which of them is up for it. The guy gets a bit spacey himself so may not be the best choice if I need someone to be my rock. The woman is a bit less amazonian than I am about her survivor stuff so may not be as unflinching as I need. My wife was there when I first saw the scars so she has the history. But she hates talking about our sex life, and I’ll have to do that to really get the information I need. It will come to me who is best.

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. “

Pap Test Success for Incest Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Full of Beauty

I wish I could write in more detail about my new lover and our first nights together, but  the story is partly hers and not mine to share. All I feel comfortable saying is that it went well, and I was able to be a lot more open about my scarring than I had intended to. I had a flare-up of my vulvadynia, and dealt with it with the yoga move I’ve written about earlier. The next day I was totally fine and not sore at all. I am proud of really trusting the rhythms of my body and very pleased I was able to let go and be open to body sensations and pleasure in ways I haven’t been able to before. I’m so proud of trusting myself and the self esteem and sexual confidence I seem to have aquired somewhere.

I think this blog has had a lot to do with that, getting myself clear and really looking at the impact the vaginal/vulvar injuries I suffered as a child has had on my sexuality. I feel really confident I can do this. Thank Goddess for that.

My relationship with my wife is coping well with the polyamory, we’re taking good care of one another, and it’s working. I really feel lucky that she trusts me so much in this journey.

My life is full of beauty.

I am happy.

I haven’t written much because not much on the sexual abuse theme has been up lately. I’m happy. I smile. I look at old pictures of myself with a wistful look on my face and realize how profound that change is. I feel good physically. My year of working out twice a week with a trainer has paid off and I’m strong and muscular with a much smaller belly and way more energy. Happiness seems to have brought my cortisol levels down and the belly fat is finally giving up the ghost. I’m not anxious. My job is good.

Even my relationship with my wife is good. We’ve weathered so far the transition into polyamory. I’m happier, and she has more space, which she likes, and I have my old bodacious social self back, which I like. We aren’t taking one another for granted any more. We’ve both been putting energy into making the other feel loved. This is not to say I’ve actually slept with someone else, but that’s most likely to change very soon, and it looks like we’ll weather that as well.

I’ve been thinking about how and whether to explain to new lovers about the scars on my vulva, and the care needed to make sure I don’t get really sore or triggered. Frankly, preventing soreness is of more practical importance. This next relationship will be my first new sexual relationship after finding out about my scars and figuring out how to prevent and manage the chronic vulvadynia I’d had as a result of the injuries from the rapes.

Mostly I think I’ll start with – ‘I have some vascular damage, so I need there to be more than enough lube at all times and I need to change immediately anything that irritates no matter how fun it is, or I’ll be in pain for days.’ Anyone out there have a good speech for this kind of thing, that doesn’t break the mood, but gets the necessary info across? This will probably separate the wheat from the chaff, but we’ll see how that works. I’ll let you know. It’s one of those hard things for survivors, figuring out how much to tell a lover, and how to prevent the abuse from taking over our sex lives.

For those of you with similar vulva injuries, I have had good results with Probe brand lubricant, which is water based with a citrus preservative and doesn’t cause flare-ups like some other ones do. You can get thicker formulations of it that offer a bit more protection from friction as well.

I want to say that I’m hopeful, I’m well and yes, people can heal from even prolonged, early and violent child sexual assault. I believe that I’m one of them.  It takes time, courage and work, and it’s not like all of the effects go away completely, but it doesn’t prevent me from doing anything I want to do anymore. I’m so grateful.

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.

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.

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.