Adult Attachment and Survivors (or – how to have a secure relationship when your childhood sucked) – Part 1

This is a huge topic. Here’s the short version for childhood sexual abuse survivors.

When you had parents who severely abused or neglected you, it messes up your ability to be close to a romantic partner. Oh yay, another thing being a survivor has messed up, you say? Well, yes, but the good news is, it’s fixable. Also, and this is a big thing, knowing about attachment theory is very useful for settling down and reparenting our own inner abused children. Happy inner children (or dissociative parts) mean a more settled, healed and calm life.

Attachment theory basics for survivors

lara and saskia
Here are the basics. All humans need someone to be their go-to person. Ideally, a baby has a parent who is their go-to person, the one pays attention to the signs baby needs something and makes it happen. This ‘attachment figure’ who is usually a close caregiver, is supposed to be reliably there, so that the baby and then child, feels safe. Ideally baby / child can then do more independent things like crawl across the room, try something new, ride a bicycle or go to school, knowing that their attachment person has their back if they need it.

So if you’re reading this blog, this probably wasn’t the case for you.  I’m sorry. It’s worth grieving about this.

What kind of Attachment Issue Do I (or my parts) have?

All of us childhood abuse survivors have attachment issues. It’s a sure thing. If the abuser was part of the family, it’s doubly sure. Knowing how that affected your attachment style can help you figure out how to heal it. Having a more secure attachment style makes it easier to have happy relationships, and can help calm down your nervous system, making a lot of things work better.

Basically the type of attachment disorder you have, depends on how much your parental figures were there for you emotionally and physically. Also, people often have qualities from more than one type at different times of their life, and in different relationships.

Anxious

If you had at least one person who was solidly there for you some of the time, but then was completely awol at others, you’re probably anxiously attached. This means that if you find someone you get connected to, you are always waiting for something to mess it up, and super sensitive to signs the person might be pulling away. You might even throw a bit of a tantrum if they seem to be doing that, or chase after them more than most people are comfortable with.

Avoidant

This is the attachment style you probably have if your parents were so neglectful that you couldn’t rely on them at all. A kid in this situation learns to be hyper-independent and to suppress any feelings of needing help or support. In studies with babies, they learned that even if the baby appears to be fine with being left by an attachment figure, sensors on their body detect just as much distress as an anxious baby. Its not that they aren’t freaked out mommy has left the room, they’ve just learned not to show it.

As adults we often suppress the recognition that things were really that bad. This kind of survivor will not remember much or anything about their childhood, and will say that it was basically all right. We pride themselves on not needing anyone, being low maintenance, and don’t want their partners to get ‘too clingy’. They might be more concerned with looking okay, and good to others in all ways than usual.

Disorganized

This type of attachment is caused when the caregiver scares, moves away from or ridicules the child when the child needs comforting.  The caregiver may seem ‘helpless’ in the face of the child needing help, and only eventually comfort the child if the child is persistent. Over time the child may turn into the one that takes care of the adult. They may become an adult that either takes care of others at the expense of their own needs or who is impatient and hostile about both their own needs and those of others.  Since most adults in relationships want a partner who is sensitive to their needs, and who is able to ask directly for what they themselves need, this makes it hard to connect and stay connected.

So what do I do about my attachment style as an adult survivor?

I’m going to devote a whole post or posts to this because it’s also a huge topic. But in brief form, you heal attachment problems by having close relationships with people who are able to have close relationships.

Oh, right, how the heck am I supposed to do that?

While most attachment books, being for a non-survivor audience, will say you have to find a healthy person to be a partner with. However, this can be too high a hurdle for a survivor. Some good ways to start healing attachment is to have supportive relationships with a therapist,  a higher power / god / goddess, and maybe eventually a best friend. You can also heal this by having a good and supportive relationship with other parts of yourself, and strengthening your inner loving parent. This last I have found particularly powerful.

Once some of the gunk is cleared from doing the above, a healthy romantic or life partnership will become more possible.

The type of close relationship you have is important, though. it needs to be reliable and supportive. The other party has to be reliable, safe and consistent, and if it’s a partnership, you have to be reliable, safe and consistent too.

I know that those kinds of relationships with other people are hard to come by for survivors. This is why you can get started on the ones that are most accessible to you – relationship with a higher power, or your own inner parent are ones you can put energy into without having to find another person. Trusting relationship with a therapist, is also a good place to start.

Now that I’m into this topic, I realize there is way more to cover. I haven’t even talked about how I’ve cleaned up my attachment style (I’m doing pretty well there). More on this in future posts.

 

A lot has happened…

The last time I posted here was December 2015. Wow. That’s a long time ago. A lot has happened.

The woman I was dating when I last wrote was a terrible human being. I was completely wrong about her. I was in the initial honeymoon of dating a very self-centred person. As I was writing, she was cheating on me. You might ask how someone can cheat when you are ethically non-monogamous in the first place, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Breaking your word and pursuing someone behind your partners back, and then concealing it, is pretty much always cheating. Continue reading A lot has happened…

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

HappySleepyFlickr2536098761_d2a5f0dab3
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.”

Rules of kvetching: applied to CSA survivors

The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times
The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

My neck has been particularly seized up since I found out about the appointment with the gynecologist. Coincidence? Not likely. Since the assault that caused the tearing in my vagina also caused a neck injury, the two are definitely linked.

I believe in the saying “trust in God(s) but tie your camel”, which means to consider both the practical and the mystical in life and cover both. So I did.

I went to both the chiropractor and massage therapist. The chiropractor assessed my neck and said my alignment was fine and that the issue was muscular. She referred me to the massage therapist and wrote down what muscles to work on. They both gave me exercises to do.

I also did a very powerful cleansing and healing ritual in my bath, praying for help from my matron and patron gods, in the journey of restoring the damage to my body from the abuse. I metaphorically let the gunk fall from me, and my body be whole.

And I told/tell myself that my emotional processing system is likely to be taking up a portion of my mental and physical space, even when I’m not aware of it, between now and the appointment, and of course afterwards, until I sort out what there is to do. This is completely normal.

I’ve been a lot more open about my injury in the past several months, which gives me a larger pool of people who I don’t have to ‘come out to’ about it when things get more intense in order to have some support. The isolation of having an injury that it freaks people out to discuss just makes things more difficult, so creating some pockets of awareness is part of my support system. However, it does come with risks. There is always the risk of people negatively stereotyping me because of my injuries and experiences and treating me like ‘damaged goods’ in one way or another. I’d prefer people see my considerable strengths instead.

I found this image and explanation online and thought it was an excellent resource when applied when survivors disclose or are going through PTSD related gunk. It’s called ‘how not to say the wrong thing’. The idea is that you draw a circle around the survivor/person with cancer/bereaved person etc… and then a circle around that that contains the the person who is next closest to the trauma (spouse, for example), then a circle around that that has the people next farthest out and so on till you get out to the level of coworkers and acquaintances. The authors called this circle the ‘kvetching order’. Everyone is allowed to both complain or vent but they can only do so to people in a larger circle than them. To people in a smaller circle than their own, they can only offer comfort, not advice, emotional venting or complaint. Comfort in, kvetching out. The person at the centre can kvetch to anyone about the issue. It is apparently called the ‘silk ring theory’.

So let’s see if I can imagine applying this to myself…

I’m in the centre – I had the sexual assault that ripped my vagina and healed badly, plus the strangulation injury that makes my neck vulnerable now. I’m the one with the scary appointments and needing to advocate for myself to try and assess the damage and fix what I can. I am at the top of kvetching order and theoretically can complain to anyone and accept support from everyone. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? In the circle around me is my wife. I don’t have any other partners, but if I did, she might be here. Around her is my close survivor friends, women and men who have experienced childhood sexual assault too, and get it but also might be triggered, and who I might share the more graphic details with because even though it might freak them out, they won’t judge me or say dumb things. Around that is maybe my Aunt and cousins, who know and are reasonably supportive, around that would be my non-survivor friends who know. Around that are nice people who care about me but don’t know the details. I would say that the perpetrator is always in the largest circle. Everyone can complain to him (survivor, her supporters, society at large), but he can’t complain to anyone.

Hmm… this is a lot different from a cancer diagnosis isn’t it? If I had cancer (Goddess forbid) my wife could put something out on Facebook about it for example, and everyone would know. Casseroles might arrive. People would still behave weirdly, and perhaps even blame me for the cancer if I was say, a smoker, but certainly it could be talked about. As a survivor, even accessing support about something heavy creates the risk of someone breaking the kvetching order and dumping their gunk/misconceptions/discrimination about child abuse survivors who disclose back on me.

The people who say dumb things to survivors are usually breaking the kvetching order now that I think about it. For my aunt to want me to take care of my mother’s feelings about my mother losing her idealized (and fictional) happy family is breaking the kvetching order. My mom has every right to complain to her therapist or friends, but not to me or my wife or my survivor friends. And my aunt has every right to complain about the impact the abuse has had on her family, but not to me or my wife.

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!

How to get care for an vulva injured in childhood.

Photocredit/art credit: http://kateordie.tumblr.com
Photocredit/art credit: http://kateordie.tumblr.com

I am going to blow my own horn here. I did good.

First, some background. I had sex for the first time with a new lover recently and my vulva was really not happy afterward, directly related to my injuries. First off, my lover did not respond well to being told I had scars/injuries on my vulva (she ignored the comment. really?) and then was much rougher with me than my sensitive peach can handle. Yes, I probably shouldn’t have continued having sex with her, but you know, sometimes you make a call at the time. I changed the activity, but by then the damage was done. Now I know. Next time I’ll be more firm about what can and cannot happen up front.

The flesh tag at the mouth of my vagina got rubbed raw and my poor peach hurt for days. It was what most women would consider ordinary sexual activities, none of which would have been unusually rough treatment for an uninjured vagina/vulva.

So I put my foot down, and decided by golly I was going to find a doctor and get this sorted. I tried at first to find a family doctor with some street cred about sexual assault. This was a disaster, as the doctor I found at first was, and then was not accepting patients. The sexual assault centre didn’t have anyone to recommend, and I ended the day in tears.

I  waited a week or two to cool down and then a couple of days ago I decided to just go into the walk-in clinic and ask for a referral to a specialist there. Here’s what I did right:

  1. I asked my wife to come with me. She made me eat first so I wouldn’t be low blood sugar, kept me company in the waiting room, and also wrote down what the doctor said.
  2. I asked for support. I messaged four of my friends who know about the injuries and told them what I was doing and asked for energetic support. I said I wanted to avoid crying and find an effective referral. They sent me supportive messages back that I read in the waiting room.
  3. I dressed up. I wore business-casual clothing, did my hair, applied light makeup. Office armor.
  4. I introduced myself and my wife to the doctor with our first names, to make us real people.
  5. I brought a printout of a photo I’d taken of my vulva that clearly shows the scars. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, as I could show the doctor the scars without having to undress.
  6. Some good phrases I used: “I’m looking for a referral to a specialist to address some injuries from a sexual assault.” “I didn’t receive medical attention, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need medical attention.”  “It healed badly and affects my sex life now.” “I have a picture of the injury.”
  7. I pulled out my printout of the photo my wife took for me. (If you take a photo of your own injury I recommend using a flash, as it shows the scars more clearly) and pointed out the two long lines of scars. Having the photo also allowed me to point out where the flesh tag is and where the vascular damage is.

The doctor said he would try and track down a suitable specialist for me and gave me a timeline for how long he thought it would take. A couple of weeks for him to find someone suitable (he gave me some internet search terms to look under if I wanted to try and find someone myself) and then 3-9 months to get in. He consulted with me about whether I should see an Ob/Gyn (who might have experience with similar injuries from birthing tears) or a reconstructive gynecologist. All in all he was very nice and I was happy about what happened. He said that removing the flesh tag would be straightforward but that there might be scarring which might be problematic. I told him I just wanted to see what I was dealing with and what could be done, surgically and non-surgically, to mitigate it. (I probably used the word mitigate. I’m like that.) Yay.

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.

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.

Managing Cortisol Levels for People with Complex PTSD

One of the problems with having been in a chronic state of fear and anxiety for years and years while surviving the abuse, and then while healing from it, is that the cortisol levels in the blood get really high. High cortisol levels make it almost impossible to lose weight, and are linked to all kinds of diseases, as if we didn’t need more negative effects from the abuse.

Here’s some tips I researched to reduce cortisol levels. I’ve added my notes next to them about how they’ve worked out for me:

  1. Avoid caffeine, which can elevate cortisol levels. [I avoid cafeine, which does make me anxous, but still eat chocolate. If I feel the need for a latte, I have steamed milk, which is just as satisfying. ]
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Cortisol levels are generally lower in the middle of the night while you’re asleep, and sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels. [Hard to do if you’re already anxious. But I do modify my life to prioritize not having to wake to an alarm in the morning. ]
  3. Exercise regularly, but avoid intense or prolonged exercise as it stimulates cortisol release. [This is interesting, intense or prolonged exercise does make me really uncomfortable – I feel hyped up, anxous and emotional. When I work out, I now stop and take a walk around the gym if I get like that, and won’t do an exercise that doesn’t permit this kind of break when I need it. It’s really made exercise possible for me. ]
  4. Try music therapy, massage therapy, and dancing, all of which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. [I like all these things, interestingly dancing is one of the vigorous exercise types I can tolerate well without getting anxous or adrenalized.]
  5. Consider supplementation with vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, black tea, or phosphatidylserine. [I don’t know what this last thing is, but I have been taking more vitamin C and Omega 3 fatty acids. I take 6 or more salmon oil capsules a day, after reading how good it is for the brain, especially those of us with gunk.]
  6. Laugh and cry – research has shown that both reduce cortisol levels. [This must be why crying always makes me feel better. I’ve been looking for more opportunities to laugh.]
  7. Eat regular meals and stick to low-glycemic foods to maintain a constant blood sugar level. [Always a struggle, but I think this helps too when I can pull it off. I don’t like sugary foods anyways so it’s not as hard for me as it might be for others, and I actually like whole grain foods. ]

Since it’s been a while since I posted.

Update: Things are a lot better with my wife. We’re communicating a lot more, and she’s reading an excellent book “Pagan Polyamory” which is starting some good discussions. We had a lovely romantic weekend a couple of weeks ago, which went really well. I also read my Car Crash post out at a workshop I was at last weekend. Afterward I felt like I’d overshared, but my friend who was there pointed out that it was a similar time I thought I’d overshared that had resulted in our friendship, so I think it was okay.

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!!

Massage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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