Bailing vs Being Self Protective, a case study…

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.- Albert Schweitzer
I’m fine. All is well. There’s no drama, generally or abuse wise, in my life.

Except, I feel edgy and menstrual, which in itself is probably the cause of the edgy.

I have a performance this Friday. I’m not looking forward to it. I’d like to be better prepared, but feel like I’d be wimping out if I bailed.

I really really want to bail. Firstly, my guitarist who would normally play for me can’t make it, so if I want accompaniment, I have to sing with a recording. I’ve never done that before, and don’t have a lot of faith in the sound tech for this event. This in itself gives me a good reason to bail, as I told the organizer my acceptance was contingent on my guitarist being able to make it.

What is actually a bit worse is that I volunteered to help with the opening blessing, and yesterday got an email letting me know who the other priestesses are to be. One of them is a woman who is an ex housemate. We had to kick her out of the shared house we lived in because she was bullying me.  What this looked like was a lot of yelling and imposing body language on her part and a lot of cringing and ineffective arguing on mine, much like my experience was with my father/abuser. Generally she did the worst stuff when no-one was around to witness, until one day my wife came home when she was at it and intervened. We lived together during the time shortly after my father/abuser was in a car accident and I thought he would die, so I was quite fragile and definitely in no shape to defend myself the way I would normally do. It is the first time since I left my home with my parents that I have felt that afraid and helpless.  At one point I was so afraid of her that I left my wife and dog at the house and went to live with a friend for two weeks, so I could make it through to the time she was due to move out. It was a close thing as to whether she would succeed in bullying me to leave or would leave herself.

This happened over six years ago, and I have run into her at events from time to time since then. Mostly I ignore her and don’t initiate contact with her, and that works out tolerably. Since she seems to have gotten into leadership roles in the community, I’ve mostly bowed out completely so I don’t have to be around her. This has cost me opportunities to priestess and be in community, but honestly there are other things about this community that don’t fit well either. Priestessing a blessing together would require interaction.

Generally, the more orthodox Pagan protocol for these types of situations, is that if two members of a circle have a conflict they cannot resolve, it is the responsibility of the parties to put it aside during the ceremony completely, or if they cannot, to withdraw. It’s kind of like “speak now or forever hold your peace” at weddings. Some circles even ask “is there peace on the circle” before starting to ensure that people have a chance to withdraw if they need to. I’m on the orthodox end of things when it comes to pagan ethics, and this community isn’t, so withdrawal wouldn’t be required of me by community standards, but is absolutely required by my own standards.

I have stopped going to religious events in my former community because this bully is quite active in leadership roles. At the time, she was angry that she was kicked out of our house, not accountable for her behavour (as bullies seldom are) and has no doubt spread her perspective among the other people in our formerly shared community. One or two of her friends, when I have run into them, show signs that they have been told something (I’m not sure what) that makes them cooler toward me. The way Pagan opening ceremonies work is that the people doing the opening have to stay to the end and participate in the closing, so I wouldn’t be able to leave if the going got tough.

My third reason for wanting to bail is that, I lead a choir that has offered to perform that night, and we’re just not ready to perform publicly.

The fourth reason is that there are lots of other performers, and we probably won’t be on till about three hours in, and I’ll be fried from the priestessing and the waiting and even less likely to be able to perform competently because of it.

One other glitch is that the organizer has disclosed to me that she has BPD and I know rejection, if she takes it that way, might be particularly painful for her.

I don’t want to do a bad job in a hostile environment as my first time performing in awhile in front of people who may have been poisoned against me. I don’t think it would be good for my currently fragile performer’s soul.

I am an amazon; I can get through anything, but do I want to? I really should let the organizer know now, so she can find someone else for the opening.

_____

Okay, I’ve finished drafting my bail email to the organizer. I haven’t sent it yet, but I should do soon, as the gig is less than a week away.

Now I’m not certain. Is this a challenge I should accept, making myself visible and possibly a target, or a valid warning that I should avoid?

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.

I did it.

Photocredit: Zanastardust

I just finished bringing my father / abuser’s file to the attention of the RCMP in connection with some murders of young women that have been happening in and around my home town during the time my family has lived there. I used an online tip form, because it seemed a lot easier to write out what I know than to be interviewed on the phone. I hate talking on the phone. I gave them my real name.

I did it because my vulva has been hurting all day, and it needed to be done. I spent an hour or more writing out all the facts I know of, looked into my files to check dates and it does seem possible he is the one murdering these young women. Either way, I didn’t say anything that they can’t verify themselves. I didn’t give them the full time-line, although it does look like there is a murder within a year of events that would have been stressful to him (getting interviewed by the police about raping me, his wife leaving him etc…) The first murder happened about a year after we moved there.

I sure hope that either they don’t contact me or at least that it’s not a bad experience if they do. I’m stronger now than I was then. Tips aren’t supposed to be a case all sewn up, they’re just information that might fit into the case. I have done all I can do, now.

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

Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn
Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn

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

This breaks down into three main issues:

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

Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.

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

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

Normal memories work like this:

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

A traumatic memory is like this.

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

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

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

Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular traumatic memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned about faith and child sexual abuse

Photocredit: Denis Collette

My adult spirituality developed in first or second year university. I was taking a philosophy of religion course, up to my neck in flashbacks and attending 12 step meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics. The Courage to Heal and ‘You can heal your life’ were my lifelines.  In the 12 step meetings I went to, the word God was used, but often the phrase ‘higher power’ was substituted. My 12 step colleagues felt that any higher power was better than no higher power, and a person had a right to choose what felt right for them.

By this point in my life I had had quite enough father-rule. I decided that if I needed a higher power, I was going to invent one that I could trust completely. Instead She found me.

But this isn’t what I wanted to write about. I’ve written this before.

The part of faith that transcend all specific religions and are empowering for survivors are these.

Somebody knows all about the abuse and how dirty and ashamed you feel inside sometimes, and loves you. She/He/It/They both see you and love you. This is the magic bullet for shame – to be both seen deeply and loved.

You don’t have to connect with the same God(s) you were introduced to as a child, or if you do, to interpret and relate to Him or Her in the same way you did then. You can choose to believe in whatever and whomever feels right and safe for you. In my case, I didn’t feel good about opening up and feeling vulnerable to a male God. My God had to be a feminist. Your mileage will vary and that’s okay, in my opinion. I don’t know if there is one God with many aspects or many Gods or something altogether different, and that’s okay with me.

It is okay to be mad at God. She can take it and He gets it. Once I yelled at Her at a 12 step retreat. I can’t remember now what I yelled exactly, but it freaked everyone out and then I cried myself into exhaustion. I told Her She might have a reason for not intervening to stop me being abused, but I didn’t have to like it. This was the beginning of an honest relationship with deity that has deepened and strengthened me immeasurably over the years. Sucking up or bargaining with God(s) isn’t nearly as helpful.  There is no point pretending you aren’t mad that a powerful being didn’t intervene and stop an innocent child, you, from being abused and that the abuser got away with it if they did.

In philosophy of religion, this is called ‘the problem of evil’, a core subject that basically comes down to: if God(s) is omnipotent and good how can God(s) allow evil to happen?

The standard answers are: “It all makes sense somehow, we just don’t get it.” and “God wants people to have free will so they can choose to be good rather than have it forced upon them.” A variation on answer number two is the existence of an adversary or anti-God and the two of them fight it out. All of these answers have a lot of logical problems that philosophers of religion haggle about endlessly.

The main thing I learned from philosophy of religion is that all fundamentalists are alike and all mystics are alike, no matter their religion. A Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Wiccan mystic will have more in common with one another in their core values than they will with a fundamentalist of their own tradition.  This essentially means you get two basic types of religion – one where being devout is about obedience to holiness rules and religious authority, where the will of the Divine is interpreted through priests, and a second type where the Divine speaks directly to the person, whose own conscience is informed by that intimacy with God(s).

The first type of faith is about holding to the rules and structure even when they don’t make sense, and being rewarded with a sense of solidity, certainty and connection with community and tradition.

The second type is about ecstatic connection with the Sacred. Faith in the Divine is unnecessary if you experience the Divine directly. Faith is expressed by trusting that the connection is real and opening to it. It can make you feel whole, but it can be very vulnerable.

I personally think the mystic’s path of direct connection works best for survivors. Here is why.

Firstly, the direct and intimate relationship with a loving higher power of our personal and direct understanding is shame reducing.

Secondly most of the hierarchical religions have a vulnerability in that they are easily exploited by predators. Even if survivors escape further abuse, survivors can be re-traumatized by structures and philosophies that enable or condone abuse, and which might not be as painful for others. When people give their moral compass to someone else blindly, they will likely as not have it returned with it’s pointer bent, and this is intolerable for those of us who have been betrayed by authority figures before.

It is my opinion that only God/Goddess is big enough to hold the need, the pain and the sorrow of a survivor’s inner child. Bargaining with that fact by trying to find a lover, therapist or parent surrogate who can do it only postpones the inevitable. We need to learn to love ourselves, and God/Goddess is big enough to hold the enormity of our pain and need. There were times when I was so grieving and heartbroken, that all that would help was to give my pain to the ocean to hold. She was big enough, she could take it, and in the process of giving it to Her to hold, I learned to let the pain flow through me and out of me.

Connecting with the Divine is an ongoing relationship that evolves over time. It’s about learning what connects you to the sacred, what it feels like to turn your burdens over and ask for guidance from a power greater or deeper than yourself, and how that process works for you. It is about healing the relationship and in my case, forgiving Her for not saving me from being abused.

You don’t actually have to believe all the time. Faith is like abuse memories. Sometimes you’re sure they’re accurate, and others the doubt creeps in or you’re cut off from your source  of certainty. God(s) don’t mind if you doubt, She/He knows you and gets why and loves you anyhow.  Connecting with the Divine is like reaching your roots down into fertile soil that steadies and nourishes you, or challenges and heals you. You already know how to do it, you may just not know you do.

I think I have written better pieces about faith and survivors than this one, pieces that actually come from that connection more than I am feeling it today. I invite you to read them here:

Wedding Canopy

This picture is of someone’s real wedding canopy, it’s called Magical White Wedding by Ronsho, from Flickr.

Our wedding was magical. It was a blessing of us and of our families. It would be so hard to separate out again, to lose touch with her family, who have become my family in a way mine haven’t been. I can’t help but feel that the Goddess wanted us to be together for a reason. It might be that it was a time limited thing and we’ll be separate now.

I”ve been thinking about how it would work to stay in our house in separate suites, to kind of stay roommates and life-allies if we break up. It’s probably naive, although I have lived with exes after breakups before and it didn’t turn out so bad, actually. One ex girlfriend got together with another woman and we all lived together for years. It didn’t bother me a bit (well, I spent more time than usual out of the house for the first couple of weeks but not too bad) and I was glad to see her happy. The other woman was my friend too, so that helped. I don’t know if my wife could pull that off.  It’s probably just the ‘bargaining’ stage of grief – we can hold on to the things that are still good in our relationship, and be free too.

I love her. She’s my family. She’s my grounding, the source of a lot of my feeling of safety in the world. I would survive if we split up and perhaps grow in ways that I need to, but it would be sad. Perhaps I need to learn to feel safe on my own now, perhaps I am ready. Perhaps I need to do things I can’t do in this partnership. I don’t know. I don’t want to lose my home, iether by needing to sell it or by buying her out and having to have roommates to pay the mortgage. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to lose what intimacy I have with her.

May the Goddess guide me. May everything work out in the best possible way.

Blessed be.

Figuring out the vulva

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

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

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

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

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

In order of helpfulness

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

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

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

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

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

Vulvodynia and the power of the vulva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now was that so hard?

Soundtrack for a Survivors Sword Dancing Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holly Near – I am willing

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

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

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

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

Maybe we’ll bring instruments and sing too.

Body Memories of Strangulation

I haven’t been on this blog much lately because I was writing my novel. I did it! I finished 50,000 words in one month. Yay for me. I took a break from the singing practice during novel writing month and hope to come back.

[Abuse triggers]

Lately the big issue for me is strangulation.

I’ve been having body memories from when I was strangled. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a body memory (I don’t have a lot of them) or just a sore neck in a place that made me think of when I was strangled when I was about 6. So being the kind of person who likes to know what I’m dealing with, I did some internet searching on long term effects of strangulation. I was wondering if the pain I was feeling was some kind of long term effect.

Kind of a mistake, although maybe not.

I remember being strangled into unconsciousness from pressure on the front of my throat. I was fairly young, maybe 5-7. I remember the pain, struggling to breathe and not being able to take in air, and passing out. I passed out long enough that I was disoriented and he was gone. I was in shock or quite disoriented for a day or two afterward.

What my internet search told me about this is that I survived attempted murder.
My air was definitely cut off, and perhaps blood to my brain as well.

Here are some immediate effects:

  • Abrasions, lacerations, contusions, or edema to the neck, depending on how the patient was strangled
  • Subconjunctival and skin petechiae cephalad to the site of choking (Tardieu spots)
  • Severe pain on gentle palpation of the larynx, which may indicate laryngeal fracture
  • Mild cough
  • Stridor
  • Muffled voice
  • Respiratory distress
  • Hypoxia (usually a late finding)
  • Mental status changes (short term -restlessness or combativeness, long term  – amnesia, psychosis (hallucinations))
  • I definitely had the larynx pain. I don’t know what else. Hypoxia is a shortage of oxygen in the tissues. Cerebral Hypoxia which can cause confusion and fainting. I have these constant, recurring nightmares where I am trying to get help but am confused and can’t successfully do whatever I’m trying to do, usually get away or call for help on the phone or some other way.  I think when I came to I was very confused.

    Apparently depending on how much blood supply is cut off, a person can lose consciousness in as little as 10 seconds, if the strangulation happened for longer, I’d have been dead. Strangulation, according to the sources I looked at,  typically has very subtle marks, even when it is severe. Even people who were killed by strangulation might not have much in the way of marks. There might not even be bruising, which tends to lead law enforcement to underestimate the severity of the attack. Women are far more likely to be strangled by men than men are by men, since the person doing it has to be a lot stronger.

    I can’t find the reference now that really hit home for me. It said something like if the victim was strangled for a short while they might lose consciousness and then regain it quite quickly when the strangulation was released. If the person was strangled for a little longer, and lost consciousness for longer, then they were very close to serious brain damage and death. That was me.

    What was different for me this time is that I’m feeling less separate from what happened to me. I used to feel these things as happening to my child self, with an intellectual sense of it having happened to me. Now, I think it is finding the scars on my vulva. These things happened to me.

    I told my therapist my full memory of being strangled, went into the body memory and described it to her. The pain in my throat was bad, and over the course of the session it dissolved. My larynx still aches from time to time, when I get triggered, but is a lot better.

    No WONDER singing has been such a struggle for me. No wonder I’ve had these constant dreams of being confused. I sure hope I’m going to have more of these body memories. I know there’s more, unfortunately. I guess the only way out is through. They’re validating but painful.