Eureka – take that, vulvadynia!

Okay, I seem to have it figured out.

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

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

Heating pads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free your vulva and the rest will follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn
Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn

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

This breaks down into three main issues:

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

Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.

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

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

Normal memories work like this:

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

A traumatic memory is like this.

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

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

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

Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular traumatic memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned about 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:

Gifts of Kindness II: teacher sends care package of lost memories to incest survivor former student

Photocredit: Greenhem

I got the package from my grade 6 teacher today. She sent me a beautiful letter, a collage of pictures of me and my classmates in a frame, and some stories about me then. I cried a good hard cry. I’ll write more later, since I’m at work. I think this is the kindest and most beautiful thing anyone has done for me. For background, see this earlier post.

What I learned about child sexual abuse and forgiveness.

Here’s what I have learned in 25 years of healing,  about the topic of forgiveness as relates to survivors of childhood sexual assault by a family member or other sexual predator.

1) People who rape kids are outside the range of what forgiveness cultural practices were designed for. People who haven’t survived childhood sexual abuse by a sociopath, caregiver or sexual predator, aren’t even remotely qualified to advise you about forgiveness. It doesn’t  matter if they are a clergy person, a yoga practitioner or kindly old lady, they just don’t have the chops. Remembering that will save you a lot of awkward discussions, where you try hard to make them understand, while awkwardly pretending to let them convince you a little so they’ll stop. Worse, you might let them make you feel guilty for not doing something clearly unreasonable. The best strategy is to just stare at them silently with a ‘suffering fools’ expression, until the awkward silence forces them to stop. It may make them realize that they have not walked in your shoes and are in no position to judge, but even if not, the social awkwardness will force them to change the subject. This is a favor to them, as it will prevent them from saying shockingly clueless and insensitive things they may be wise enough to regret later. [Here are some photos of the correct expression to use 1, 2, ]

Remember this: the forgiveness rules that might apply to people who hit you with a car, stole your money, or cheated on you with your best friend don’t even come close to applying to child sexual abuse.

Many non-survivors are so uncomfortable with the horror of what has happened to you (even if, like most of us, you only tell them the most tiny, sanitized smidgen of it), they want to tie it up and make it go away by making you shut up and make nice under cover of forgiveness. “La la  la la… we’re not listening, just forgive and shut up will you?”

Don’t let them.

Forgiveness is not a get-out of jail free card for the abuser, (or, unfortunately, you in your need to heal), and anyone who expects you to issue that card is not your ally, no matter how well meaning they are.

2) Acceptance is key. My favourite survivor-friendly definition of forgiveness is: “to give up all hope of a different past.” This type of forgiveness is the same last stage of the grieving process, acceptance. We accept that we were abused, accept all our feelings about it, and don’t try to pretend things were different than they were, even to ourself.

This type of forgiveness actually does make things better. People who don’t accept that the abuse happened or that it affected them, or that they have legitimate feelings about it, stay trapped in unsuccessful coping patterns. These can include getting or staying involved with people who hurt us, numbing out or controlling feelings with addictions among others. Grieving is the only thing I’ve found that actually makes a tragedy resolve itself into peace. This is a much more satisfying and productive kind of forgiveness for survivors, and it works much better at setting you free.

3) Be loyal to yourself. When abusers and complicit relatives ask you to forgive them, beware. This normally means “will you just shut up about it already” or “caretake me, I’m sorry already”. Know for yourself that this is what they are really saying.

You will know a real apology when (if) you feel one. Trust yourself. You don’t have to accept any apology with strings attached (or any apology at all). These strings will normally be: “I will say I’m sorry, and you will ‘go back to normal’ and behave as if nothing happened.” There is no way to go back to ‘normal’. There never was a normal, it was only a fantasy. Accepting this deal will be a raw deal.

And lastly –

Forgive yourself for loving the abuser if you did (or do). That love says more about you and the ways children work emotionally than it does about them. Forgive yourself for being a child and being unable to stop the abuse. Forgive yourself for being a teen or young adult and being unable to stop it. Childhood conditioning is tough to break. Forgive yourself for being a little eccentric compared to non-survivors. Forgive yourself for needing what you need and feeling what you feel. Forgive yourself for taking so long to heal, not remembering details you think you should, or continuing in confusing relationships with complicit family.

You deserve it.

What I’ve learned about happiness

I am a student of happiness right now. It started when I realized that I wasn’t actually happy. Nothing bad going on particularly, but not happy. That has changed.

Then I came across this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0 and something in it clicked for me, about how I need to let people see me, people in my regular life ( you folks already usually get the straight deal).  She has this great quote: http://www.brenebrown.com/badge/ about being authentic. She says people are happier and experience less shame when they can be authentic. Makes sense. I know as survivors sometimes being authentic freaks people out, so it’s not easy, but I still think it’s worth doing to the extent that feels safe.

Then I got this audiobook from audible called the Happiness Project http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/the-happiness-project-book.html The author, Gretchen Rubin, an organized type-A ex-lawyer New Yorker and mom of two, researches what makes people happy and sets out trying out and evaluating various strategies. It appealed very much to my left brain way of organizing my life, but is also quite soulful.

So I’m trying some of her stuff. Being a pretty devout Pagan, I’ve used the concept of the five directions to organize the strategies into groups by element.

The first direction is Earth – which I associate with the body. I’m tracking in a chart on my computer whether I take my vitamins. I’ve read that Omega 3s are good for the brain and eyes. I follow a recommendation from ‘Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra’ and take two multivitamins, one vitamin D3 and one low dose aspirin daily along with six fish oil capsules. I know from the past that taking vitamins helps keep me from getting depressed, particularly B’s.  I also track keeping my hands and feet warm and doing something for exercise every day. I took Gretchen’s advice and am paying attention to getting a good night’s sleep and made my bedroom very dark to help with that. I also have a resolution I’m tracking to go to bed as soon as I’m tired rather than staying up. I’m making a point of eating slowly and enjoying my food, and of eating whatever I want when I’m hungry and stopping when I start to be full. I do this about 60% of the time, perhaps a little more, which is an improvement and I’m eating healthier than I was because of it.

The results from my ‘Earth’ strategies are very positive. The warm hands and feet thing keeps me in my body more than I’d be otherwise, which thankfully isn’t bringing up any gunk, and is improving my sex life and enjoyment of food. I’m sleeping better and waking more rested, with less midnight anxiety. I’ve been walking for exercise, which doesn’t trigger me like other exercise does, and it seems to be making me calmer. I sometimes walk on a treadmill, watching tv on my laptop at the same time which keeps me interested, and sometimes I just walk to wherever I’m going. I walked to a stressful early morning meeting that usually flattens me, and I realized midway through the meeting that I wasn’t the least bit anxious, which has never happened before.

All this is to say that, as survivors we often have a crappy relationship with our body. What I’ve learned about happiness is that doing small baby-step sensible practical things to improve my relationship to my body and to take better care of it, actually improve my well being. This may seem obvious, but it was not for me. Tracking it in a chart also seems to help me do it consistently.

Other things that seem to help me be happier are:

Air (communication, boundaries): Not nagging my wife and negotiating with her not to nag me. We have created a ‘nag board’ where we write down things we might otherwise ‘remind’ each other about or nag each other to do. The nagger writes down the date, what they want the other to do, what room they want them to do it in and their initials. When the ‘nagee’ does the item, she erases it from the board. This has eliminated almost all of our mutual nagging! As survivor space cadet girl, most ‘reminders’ to do something or not do something are almost instantly forgotten, and then my wife thinks I don’t care about her when in fact I’m just spacey. Writing it down and crossing it off seems to work for me. As the nagger, I also feel like my request is recorded and I don’t have to remind my wife or remember to remind her. She is more likely to do whatever it is if we don’t get in a big power struggle about it. Now that I’m happier, we seem to have more ease in our relationship as well and things are going a lot better. It’s not perfect, but I can feel hope. An Air resolution I haven’t gotten under my feet yet is practicing singing and writing three pages daily, although I’m making progress.

I’ll write more about Fire, Water and Center when I get to them. I figure once I have the Earth and Air resolutions nailed down, I’ll move on to Fire (passion) and Water (emotion and connection) and then figure out what Centre is for me.

I’ll keep you posted.

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

Photocredit: Morning Spiral Rose by Nexus6

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

Stages of my sexual life as a survivor:

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts of Kindness – A Teacher Gives Survivor a Piece of Her Past

Photocredit: Miracle Moods

I ran into one of my elementary school teachers at a conference I was presenting at, and we reconnected. In a follow up email I fairly matter of factly told her I’d been abused by my father (she still works in the school system and the more people who know about him in this small town the better), in the context of saying she might already know as the police had talked to some of my teachers.

I got a very nice reply back from her at that time, and she told me a little of how I  had appeared at the time.

Just recently I got another email back from her saying she’d gone through her records and found some pictures of me when I was younger and wanted to send them to me.

I am in tears from her kindness. And not just light tears, I’m sobbing as I write this. I have so little kindness from people who know I’m a survivor that it means so much, and for her to give me something I can’t get on my own, information about my childhood, is so valuable and so very kind.

If there are anyone reading who is in a position to tell a survivor something about who they were or what they did as a child while all the abuse was going on, something normal from the life they may barely if all remember, I encourage you to do it. Their families likely do not hold those memories for them.

I am so very grateful.

What I learned about night fears and sexual abuse survivors

In this post, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about night fears resulting from sexual assaults as a child and how to reduce them.

I started out with night fears which were more of the usual type. I had a real sociopathic perpetrator, in my house, with real access to me, and I was afraid. Straight up, regular, warranted fear. My mother was no help. This was a lot of real, justified fear and I lived in real risk of being raped at any time for at least a decade. So you might say I was conditioned to associate laying in my own bed at night with, if not being raped, at least with the persistent fear of being raped.

Over time, I developed what I called ‘monsters’, which I still don’t fully understand. They were compilations of my fear and rage that seemed to haunt me, give me a target for the fear in my body, other than the one I couldn’t admit into awareness, that it was my father who was the source of the danger and injury. When I’d be in bed, it would feel like a ‘monster’ was there just outside of my awareness (or in it) that was waiting to harm me if I dropped my guard. I had these from early childhood onward through my 20’s.

When I left home I still had the monsters of course, and it took me a couple of years to even begin to figure them out. I’d started attending an adult children of alcoholics (ACoA) meeting that was for women only, and it was there I started to have some support and validation. It was also the first place in my own memory that I’d felt safe.

One afternoon or evening, I was sitting on a couch in the common area of the student housing where I lived with a friend who was a survivor, and she was asking about the monsters, about what would happen if I let one of them come close. I trusted her, and I tried to do this. Once the monster came close enough, I suddenly knew it was my father, that it was my father who had hurt me.

This is the first learning about night fears. It helps to find out, even roughly, what real life person, location, experience or whatever they are about. From then on, when I had monsters, I could say, “this is from being abused by my father”, and I didn’t feel like I was going crazy.

I started to notice I’d get what I called ‘monstery’ when I was triggered by something, usually something I’d seen on tv, but sometimes contact with my family. The types of things that triggered me were depictions of women-hating violence like rape, or scary movies with a supernatural element (reinforcing my fear that the monsters were real). If I avoided triggers like that the monsters were under a bit more control. I could also do things as part of my going to bed procedure that would make me feel more safe, such as having a candle lit by my bed and blowing it out last, or by writing in my journal and clearing out all my worries by writing in bed, just before turning off the light. I wrote my journal as a letter to the Goddess, so it was the same as praying before bed.

A major breakthrough came a few years later, when a friend from ACoA said I could call her the next time I had a monster, no matter how late it was. I called her and with her prompting, described the monster in enough detail to try and figure out what event or fear it was associated with.  I still remember that phone call, and how helpful it was to have someone there with me when I was so afraid. Over time, I became good at letting the ‘monsters’, which were really flashbacks and the fears of flashbacks, come to my awareness during therapy sessions and then allowing them to come closer to me so I could feel what information they might hold about my life.

People have these misconceptions about survivors, they think it would be best if we just forgot all the bad stuff that happened to us. What they don’t get is that we may be able to forget the facts and details in our heads, but our body never forgets on it’s own. the memory isn’t all stored in the same place like a regular memory. It doesn’t fade until all or most of the pieces are brought together into a bundle, and that takes psychological detective work.  If I didn’t remember and assimilate all the traumatic events, I’d still be terrified every night going to sleep. When healing from chronic trauma or complicated PTSD, I believe the only way out is through.

Some other random things that helped:

1) Giving myself permission – I was terrified to get out of bed in the night to go to the bathroom. I got myself a chamber pot to use for awhile so I didn’t have to.

2) Pets – Pets are excellent company for keeping away night terrors. They don’t mind if you wake them up for company in the middle of the night and they are always alert for real-world dangers. If you feel like someone is in your room or hallway to attack you and the dog hasn’t noticed, it’s not a real-world attacker.

3) Feeling anger – once I’d cleared out the fear of being raped that was stored in the monster experiences, I became aware gradually and with some help from a therapist, that anger was actually the main trigger, or even rage. While it may seem odd for me to fantasize a monster hurting me rather than the other way around, that’s how it worked. Anger was so dissociated from my awareness – I never consciously felt anger – that my mind had somehow decided it was safer to have the monsters angry at me than me at them. The monsters were in fact my own rage. This convoluted theory was proven right when I started acting as if this was correct. When I had the ‘monster kind of scared’ going on, I’d assume I was angry. I looked in the mirror, into my own eyes and told myself “I’m angry, I’m angry” over and over. I found it was impossible to feel both angry and fearful at the same time. I tried to both feel the anger, and see myself in the mirror believing and hearing me. I tried to feel the anger in my body. This completely dissolved the monsters! It was like I’d found a magic wand to turn them off.

4) Being brave / exposure. I began getting up in the night to pee. When I felt a monster coming on, I would practice thought-stopping. “no, I’m not going there” I would tell myself firmly, and although the awareness of the monster feeling was still there, I’d go through with my plan to get up and pee and come back to bed. If I had to turn on all the lights, so be it, if I had to run back to bed afterward, fine. I would remind myself that monsters were just my unconscious letting me know I was triggered or angry. I would tell myself “I’m angry I’m angry I’m angry” instead. I’m not going to tell you this wasn’t hard, but over time the night fear conditioning I’d gotten as a child gave up. I almost never experience it any more. More recently, I would read about how exposure therapy, progressively desensitizing yourself to the fearful situations, gradually and under your own control, is an accepted treatment for anxiety. Before I actually got up though, I tried some easier things, like allowing myself to lay on my back (a trigger) when the lights were on or  allowing my foot to stick out of the covers (where apparently I was afraid a monster would grab it). If I couldn’t deal on a particular night, I kept the chamber pot as a backup.

I’m happy and proud to say that most of the time I don’t have a single fear to get up in the night to pee any more. Unless something incredibly triggering is happening in my life, I also never have monsters any more. If I can do it, you can too.

You know, I was realizing as I was putting the categories on this post, that this qualifies as perseverance. Perhaps I am perseverent after all, I just have had a harder time doing regular life perseverance while I have been caught up in persevering on the healing tasks that I needed to do.

Hangover

Today was the first day alone I’ve had since I got back from my trip to see my relatives.

My house is a mess, something that if I don’t deal with soon, will probably put me at odds with my wife. I spent most of the day in bed reading, broken up but largely context-less bursts of sobbing. There is so much to integrate from my trip, and I feel utterly alien. It’s like I’m hiding my own emotional reality from myself unless it leaks out suddenly, as it did on the weekend in an unexpected burst of anger which I wasn’t that good at hiding and today in an unexpected burst of crying while reading a novel.

I hate it. It makes me wonder what I’ve got locked away so tight, since my own emotional reality sneaks up on me, like it’s coming from somewhere else. I mean, I was a therapist, so I know it makes sense I’d have grieving to do, and anger to express. It’s the fact that I don’t actually feel them, until they burst out suddenly and then just as suddenly are gone. Am I in some sort of shock? It’s not that I’m not capable of strong emotion sometimes, but I seem to need someone there to validate and protect me, even if it is only the Goddess in the form of a beautiful natural location, in order to truly feel.

I”m overwhelmed.

What am I overwhelmed about? The trip went well.

1) I disclosed graphic details of the abuse: That I’d been injured in a rape at the age of 5 and that my mother must have known – to family – her own brother and sister. They’d believed me, shown me validation and respect for my strength, and apologized for not seeing and intervening. They totally got why I needed to ask questions about my mother and father, and answered them honestly and as fully as they could.

2) I got information about my father and mother. My mom’s high school yearbook, which my uncle had since he went to the same school, referred to her dating my father at the age of 15. My aunt said that her parents were strongly against sex before marriage, and that my mother was the golden girl, very obedient. She thought my father must have put huge pressure on her to have sex with him before marriage, and that her getting pregnant before marriage as she did was a huge deal. My uncle told me a story about going hunting with my father and my father firing a gun irresponsibly, scaring my uncle so he didn’t hunt with my father again. The way he told the story, I could see my father doing it on purpose, just for the risk and to freak out my uncle. He loved freaking people out. Very sociopathic.

3) I got triggered by two things at my paternal aunt’s house. One was a room I think I was abused in, which I’d dreamt about, but didn’t realize actually existed, a ‘secret room’ behind one of the bedrooms that used to be a storage area. The second was the type of attention her husband showed toward my cousin’s son, his grandson. He lit up when he saw him, but was a bit controlling with him, and the little boy moved away from him later in the meal. Nothing major, but he was just enough like my dad to creep me out, given the context.

4) I went to a couple of places I’d been to as a child, but didn’t have the liberty to wander and soak up impressions, to get a sense for whether I could remember how I thought or felt there. It was like I am so hungry for places that were familiar to me as a child, places I could recover lost parts of myself from.

I found a really good way to explain why survivors don’t want to ‘just forget it’. I told my mom’s brother’s wife, my aunt: “Because of how overwhelming it is when traumatic things happen, the brain doesn’t store the information properly. You get bits of memory floating around, ready to surface at any time. Like a feeling of terror, with no other information. To stop it, you have to allow yourself to feel whatever it is, and then sometimes you get more information  to go with it and it can become a normal memory.  So why would I want to forget a memory I worked so hard for?”  Shortly after this she told me how much she admires my courage.

The problem is people don’t really get it unless you tell them everything. If they don’t know how bad it really is, they don’t get why things are important. I really respect my maternal aunts and uncle for hearing, and asking and being unflinching in looking at things. I offered a couple of times to change the subject, but they said they were comfortable with talking about it if I wanted to.

I think it’s the love that makes me cry. I’m not used to getting this kind of love and support and willingness from people, certainly not my family.

My aunt told me she was going to tell my mother she should confess, tell the truth about what she did. We both agreed it would be good for my mom to get it off her chest, and that she owed it to me. My aunt thinks she can get her to disclose. I think she can try, but I don’t really see it happening.

And then there’s this whole thing about whether my mom abused me. I’m afraid if I remember anything like that it will f up my sex life even worse than it already is. One of the great things about being a lesbian is that I don’t have sex with men, and don’t have to wade into the minefield of sensations that are too similar to the ones of the abuse.

And lastly there’s the whole sociopath thing. Even the small morsels of love I thought I might have had from my father, the connection of singing together and all that, was probably either grooming or his ego at having a talented daughter.  He literally had no ability to connect or love anyone. I had no father. Someone f’ing saddled me with a sociopath father! and it’s fricking hereditary!  I can’t have a child knowing he or she might be sociopathic, not that I was really planning to, but still. On the other hand it validates what happened to me. He just did what he wanted to, and liked to torture and dominate people.

My wife and I get into fights because I think she lets’ mean people get away with hurting her. It triggers me because I know you have to cut off people like that. Apparently I did the best thing you can do if you are involved with a sociopath in some way, just cut them off completely and permanently. As long as they have contact they will use it to meet their needs for stimulation and winning at the expense of others, to manipulate with pity and power. I cut him off effectively. Why did he give me his piano? Was it to manipulate my mother into thinking she could get restitution and repentance from him to mend her broken family to the way it was? I can’t think of another reason. He made trouble for me actually, because by giving it to me, he  broke his separate promises to both of my brothers to leave it to them.

My mother should just cut him off, and wait for him to die, not count on getting a penny out of the house, and do whatever hands off legal shielding she can do to prevent herself from becoming accountable for his debts.

I hope in a few days I’ll feel better. The crying feels more like exhaustion that anything else, and the rage. It’s like I’m overwhelmed and just can’t take anymore.

Family Reunion

Don’t panic, it’s not MY family, it’s my wife’s. However, in the wake of my mother’s stalker-like note, I’m a bit twitchy about family. I normally like my wife’s family, they’re religious (in that gay-hating, women oppressing way, not the good way) but we stay away from that and they don’t tell us we’re going to hell or anything. They’re actually quite nice people, and there is a small but friendly non-religious contingent as well so it’s not too bad for a couple of lesbians all in all.

However this year is a milestone birthday for my wife’s mom, and everyone will be there I’m guessing, including one set of relatives I got my therapist to call social services about. I’m afraid of seeing them and probably discovering they’re still abusing and neglecting my neices and nephews and nothing has been done. Although, the Goddess works in mysterious ways, perhaps I’ll find out their kids have been removed to foster homes and they’re too ashamed to show up. One can hope. The only good thing is that their kids getting older and are leaving home, but they’re so badly injured psychologically. There are reports from other relatives that the kids steal from family when they visit, which is a sign of neglect to me, and also absorbing the values of their sociopath father. They’re skinny, needy and haunted when I seen them.  I wonder if I was like that. It’s a bit triggering to say the least. I suppose I should be a good survivor aunt and take notes to pass on to social services, and try and find out where they’re living now, but my inner child wants to stay the hell away from all of them. I actually think I ‘passed’ for normal quite a bit better than they do (I’ve been told I had a kind of quiet dignity, and a flair for the dramatic at times), which makes me really fear for what is happening to them.

It’s also getting close to my visit to my aunts and uncles out east. I leave next week. I”m looking forward to the trip, but frankly this is all a bit too much family at once for me. I’ve been working and packing non-stop to get ready for all this, so I’ve been overwhelmed. I’m one of those highly sensitive people who gets overwhelmed if I do too much or have too much stimulation because I process it all so deeply. It makes me a good writer, and gives me a rich inner life, which I wouldn’t give up for the world, but it also makes me exhausted by interpersonal conflict. I work for myself, alone most of the time, for that reason. When I see people I’m happy to see them, and I’m not a total hermit, but I like my space.

The wife and I will be staying at a hotel rather than with relatives, which should hopefully help, and we’re bringing our dog, which I anticipate will need a lot of long walks during the day.

Wish me luck.

Hand-delivered note from mom

I went out my front door and found the following note stuffed into my mailbox, hanging out. I recognized my mom’s handwriting at once. Here’s what it said:

“July 9, 2010

Hi [SDW] & [Wife],

A long time has passed. Maybe we could meet for “coffee” tea” soon.

Love Mom”

and then on a separate piece of hotel notepad paper (they were small, and printed with the hotel’s address and phone…).

“Just so you know, Joetta [her dog] died yesterday. I called B—- [the dog’s former owner], she came to see her. She developed Cancer that spread. She couldn’t walk. I had her checked at the xxxxx Vet Hospital. xxoo”

Why would she travel so far (to my town, a journey of perhaps 5 hours) to have her dog put down? Perhaps because the former owner of the dog lives here, or perhaps because my brother was here to offer emotional support. That seems more likely.

I’m relatively calm, but I had a sudden impulse just now to burn her notes. I spaced out a little, because when I went to find the notes to transcribe them here, I was surprised to discover I’d put them back in the mailbox. I instantly came in and wrote her a reply.

I’ve sealed the envelope now, but it reads roughly.

“Dear Mom,

I’m sorry Joetta died.

I’ve been waiting for a written reply from you to my letter. I would welcome a written response with some of the information I requested.

Sincerely,

SDW

PS: [my wife’s name] and I are doing well”

She’s having an emotional crisis and needs her mommy – me. Generally the safest way for me to be with her is ‘big sister/therapist’ since it meets her needs enough that she stays relatively calm. In fact I think she’d like me to be like this forever. She thought given the situation, the death of her dog, that I’d feel socially obligated to be nice to her and let bygones be bygones. I’ve let two Christmases and birthdays pass without contact, so she’s getting desperate perhaps. She was hoping I’d call her at her hotel and all would be forgiven. It creeps me out a little that she was here and I didn’t know, although my dog was barking quite a bit earlier today. Perhaps it was when I was out for breakfast, since I didn’t go by the mailbox on the way back. Yick.

I think my response sets the boundary I want to set: I’m not speaking to you unless it’s on my terms. Whether she abused me directly or not, she overlooked my father raping me so brutally that I had large tears on my vulva. When I remember that, I hold firm.  I expect I’ll have feelings later, and I’m going to leave my house in case she comes by again. Ick.

Expanding, letting life in

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

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

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

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

Photocredit: Chaval Brasil via Flickr “Great view”

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

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

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

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

the great divide

I can’t sleep so I’m writingthis in the middle of the night on my mini-laptop in bed. What a modern gal I am. My wife is sleeping next to me, and I”m hoping the dim light of the screen doesn’t wake her.

I’m thinking about taking a break from my therapist. It just doesn’t feel lik I’m making any real life positive changes as a result of therapy any more. If anything I’ m a bit more ashamed,a bit more depressed than has been typical, and I can’t seem to shake it. \I feel like I need to do some present day life housecleaning to feel better, to get on the physical level and her approach isn’t really that style.

I need to get this feeling of general dissatisfaction, confusion and shame about my job sorted. \I’ve taken on too much and am just not ableto do the stellar job for all my clients that I once was.

I feel overworked, anda bit burnt out. My father is still not dead, stinking Father’s day is looming (I don’t know exactly when it is, but the media is putting on more positive stories about fathers and someone tried to sell me a robot controlled helicopter today at the mall for father’s day.I didn’t tell him my father is an evil bastard and the only way I’d buy him a helicopter is if it could be reliably expected to hasten his death.

My marriage is a bit better than usual lately, and I’ve seen some of my friends more. I’m thinking I could get a nice long aromatherapy massage every two weeks for the same money as seeing my therapist and probably more benefit to my mood.

It’s not that I don’t like her or that she’s doing a bad job or anything like that, it’s just that I don’t feel like I’m getting anything done,or that seeing her right now is improving my mood or life. She’s become like a friend I complain to, and that’s not cutting it.

I need a mom, nurturing or life skills instruction. I need a small business coach or a priestess to bless me. I need to feel that it is all going to work out okay. I need to know it, with help to create a rational plan I can reasonably believe will do the job in a reasonable time span. I need hope. I need someone to tell me what vitamins to take and what exercise to do to make me feel better, who isn’t flaky or expecting me to take their advice on faith with no evidence.

I have no mother or father or big brother to believe in. I have no family but my wife and she seems fragile and overburdened herself half the time. She loves me. Today was her day off and she popped into my office to bring me snacks andvitamins and juice smoothies at intervals,did my filing and looked after the dog so I could concentrate. She’s a good person and gives me practicalsupport that I find nurturing and helpful because she loves me. does she talk abou tfeelings with me? not so much, but she doesn what she can.

The great divide is between the physical and the emotional, or perhaps both of those and the spiritual. It should all be one seamless whole, but it feels unbalanced.I need to be in my body more, I think that will help with the shame. What do I feel shame abuot? Really I’m not sure. The loss of my older brother and mother, realistically, finally, is something I’m still grieving. Their rejection seems like a rejection of some child part of me, like my inner child just can’tfigure out why my adored older brother, the safe one, the hero, treats me like I’m craxy and bad, and my own mother won’t do me the courtesy of responding to a letter I sent more than a year ago.

the great divide is between holding on to my reality, the true reality where there is actually nothing inherently wrong with me and their reactions are their own gunk and nothign to do with me at all, and the fear that somehow they are right, or perhaps just me bargaining with the loss. If I accept their premise that it really is me that is wrong, that I need to just shut up about the abuse and behave as if it never happened, then I don’t have to accept that I’ve lost them both. However, since they really do believe that, I really have lost them both. Perhaps I need somesort of grief ritual for more than my father. Perhaps it is not just him I’m burying.Like most of the survivors I know, I have finally lost my family of origin.

I was talking to an old friend of mine who I ran into yesterday. He was saying how his family had basically disowned him for being gay, but that his mom had told him years ago, that as you get older it’s your friends that matter more than your family, that your friends become your family. Perhaps this is true.

I’m a pretty intense person. Apparently us creative types, and highly sensistive people often are. I like the richness of my inner life, the depth and the interconnection of symbol and spirit that I feel and wouldn’t give it up. It’s what helps me write,what makes me care about my job, and have compassion for other people. It’s what  makes me who I am. But  being true to myself can sure make me lonely too, realising that very few people see the world as I do.

Perseverence Practice – Day 4

I was able to practice voice for longer last time, and it felt good. It’s amazing how alive I feel when I’m singing well. I still haven’t done the full routine, but I’m getting there. I had a long day today, and feel edgy and distracted. The last thing I want to do is put focussed energy into anything, or is it to be fully present? Anyhow, I haven’t done my voice practice yet today, but I will.

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3 1/2 hours later

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I just finished doing my voice workout. I didn’t do all the warmup stretches and really felt the increased tension in my neck and shoulders impacting my voice. I was sitting with my back to the door, and the door open and felt (still feel) a creepy sense that something low and black is slinking up behind me to grab my neck. Lovely being a trauma survivor isn’t it? 35 years later, when I try to focus completely on something I love, I get distracted by phantom abusers sneaking up on me. I hope that rat bastard’s cancer is really hurting him today.

I have my period, which is always a trigger time for me, perhaps because of the blood and cramping, so that probably explains the ‘monstery’ – afraid and wary and haunted by phantoms – feeling I have. I’ve been curled up with my dog and the tv all evening, wanting some time to myself to curl up. I’m proud I did the practising despite feeling like a wounded bear, avoiding everything and everyone and eating a lot of something — fruit?  I still feel monstery, which usually means I’m angry. Ya think? I’ve been working on getting my sexuality back, which seems to be working, but bleeding this month is suddenly having a whole new resonance – reminding me viscerally of how I bled when I got those scars. I think that’s where the trigger is coming from.

I will outlive him and dance on his grave.

New song

Here’s a song I just wrote:

“Scars to Prove It”

Have you ever wondered
how a child survives a horror?
Do you think children are resilient
or children they forget?

Hiding from yourself, is necessary for survival
Nice girls don’t make a fuss
Nice girls they pretend
they’re safe and loved

30 years or more they’ve been there
evidence of my destruction
proof somebody should have seen
when I was six years old.

30 years or more he’s been
protected by your disbelieving
by his respectability
people willing to be blind

I’ve got the scars to prove it
because a father owns his daughter
got the scars to prove it
because no-one interfered
I’ve got the scars to prove it, 30 years or more they waited
scars of horror, just where you’d think they’d be.

I’d never looked, never asked
no doctor ever mentioned
perhaps they thought I’d given birth
and never been sewn up
Until one day I asked her, and she showed me with a mirror
“this is very old” she said, healed without a doctors care.

They were the scars to prove it, a nightmare seen in daytime
The scars that showed that I’d been making nothing up
Scars seen in the mirror, instead of in my soul
For the first time I could see the story of that little girl.

Scars to prove it. A nightmare really happened.
Scars to prove it, spotted far too late.
Scars to prove it, because nobody would interfere
Scars of horror, just where you think they’d be.
Here

Copyright 2009 SwordDanceWarrior
Here’s a very rough a capella recording of the song if you’d like to hear it.  All rights reserved.

Feminist Vitamins

I’ve been telling my friends that coming back from my week at camp I feel like I’ve had a megadose of ultra-strength feminist Mother Earth vitamins. It’s not like I”m any different, just more of myself, and I feel stronger and more resilient.

How important it is to be in a space where I can drink deep of the healing power of swimming in a lake, breathing in the moist scent of pine, cedar and soil, having a whole day, a whole week even with nothing to do but enjoy and visit with nice women. How critical it is as a survivor to be able to be frank.

There was a woman there who had just finished hearing about the sentencing of a man who had almost killed her.  I told her I appreciated how frank she was being about it, and we compared horrific life experience stories and betrayal byour mothers and families in a laughing and cynical way that was very refreshing.

I had a huge cry on the first day of the camp about the scars and the deeper level of reality of the rape of  me as a child. It was so good to let my sorrow go into the Earth, and to know that I was safe. For the rest of the camp I felt joyful and strong, which I often do when I’ve been able to let deep feelings flow. Intimacy with myself, in ceremony, lovemaking or sometimes solitude, often produces this type of crying release, but if I stop the flow to spare the sensibilities of others or feel I’ll be judged, it cuts me off from myself, and from my wife. I noticed a few other women crying, and made a point of connecting with each of them. All had something legitimately horrible they were grieving, but by releasing the feelings in safe space, like me, they all seemed to feel better. I invited them to be real with me, and was able to be real in turn, which meant I had women who knew and accepted where I was at sprinkled throughout the camp. I made a point of being a cheerleader for crying “go cryers, go cryers!”  in a playful way to point out that I’m a cryer too and it’s good to cry when you need to. People laughed. Crying when you needed to became a normal and good thing. Blessings.

On my last day at the lake I was swimming with a woman who I’d become friends with. I told her how healing it had been to swim naked, to allow the sacred lake to bless my body in a way that wouldn’t have felt the same in a swimsuit. I told her about the scars I’d recently discovered and she looked at me and said “isn’t it interesting how all sharing here seems to reach an understanding audience”. I won’t tell you what she disclosed to me then, but although she who was not to my knowledge a survivor, she also bore the scars of a betrayal by someone she loved and trusted.

Today on the phone I was talking with a good Pagan friend who knows I’m a survivor. I told her I’d recently had an exam that showed me some scar tissue I didn’t know about from when I was raped as a child. She said “scars where?” and I said “where do you think?”  A silence followed as she allowed that to sink in. We talked together about our murder fantasies of killing the men who had done the intolerable to us – her ex husband who is damaging her son’s spirit, and my father who had done the unthinkable to me. I said to her “you don’t have to pretend it’s not as bad as it is, I’m one of the few people who actually understands a good revenge and murder fantasy”.

Feminist vitamins. Sharing reality, building solidarity, becoming less alone. One capsule at a time.