The Journey Continues

Due to mood issues and meds issues, my therapist and I had to postpone trauma work for a few sessions.  We picked back up today, though, and I am exhausted.  I brought the memory of my first sexual ritual, which occurred when I was aged six.  Just as before, she read it in session, asking questions as she went.

When she had finished reading, we talked very briefly about it.  She has a tendency to be late, and this cuts in to our work time.  She assigned my second writing.  She wants me to write to my six-year-old self.  This is funny to hear, for an ex-multiple.  The problem here is that what I know she wants me to say to that self and what I actually feel are two different things.

My therapist wants me to thank my six-year-old self for starting our chain of survival.  She said the fact that I made it out started right there with that little girl.  In part, I can feel a sense of pride for that.  Still, the majority of me feels like that girl was broken.  Like what she endured made her less, somehow.  Like they took a piece of her that can never be remade.  My therapist wants me to write nice things to her, and part of me does feel grateful.  I don’t want to insult or berate her.  I just don’t feel like her at all.  Post-multiplicity, I know perfectly well that the six-year-old is me, and her voice does not sound in my head.  I’ve come to realise and accept that it’s me alone.  However, I still have trouble connecting to those feelings.  When I do writing assignments for therapy, I relive my experiences, but they get too overwhelming, and I pull away.

Part of therapy is going to be reconnecting to those feelings.  That should be brilliant.  I did the integration bit in an almost militaristic fashion, but I didn’t actually feel the pain, anger and fear.  Apparently, that will be a necessity to healing the memories.  As my therapist said, it’s a good thing we’re good journey partners.  This may take a while.

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It Has Begun

Today I brought my therapist a trauma narrative showing ten years of ritualistic sexual violence.  I haven’t been able to speak the words to her in all the years we’ve worked together, so I just took a chance and wrote it out.  She read it in session and assured me that she saw no difference in me.  I am glad of that.

We’re going to work through the trauma paragraph-by-paragraph until it no longer has a hold on my life and mind.  It took five years to do this with my memory of physical trauma.  I have no idea how long this journey will take, but I am so lucky to have a wonderful therapist at my side.

I walk in to this a terrified person who feels ashamed of her body at all costs.  I hope to walk out of it with peace and pride.  It has begun.

Back to Me

My mood is stable.  After about a year and a half of ups and downs, my mood has stabilised.  It’s almost impossible for me to believe.  I keep waiting for something to shift, but, for the past week or so, it hasn’t.  I am so grateful.

So what now?  Back to the work of being me.  I wear many hats.  Among them, as anyone who has read this blog will know, is trauma survivor.  My therapist and I haven’t been able to do trauma work in all this time, as we didn’t want to offset any precarious stability I might have found.  I never thought I’d be happy to do trauma work.  It took five years to work through physical trauma, though, and we’ll be starting on sexual trauma next week.  I don’t doubt needing five more years.  But now, I feel confident that we can do the work.

Another hat I wear is family-of-choice.  I have siblings of choice far away, a best friend who’s frequently by my side, and a friend back home who will always have my heart.  I haven’t been able to be present for them nearly as much as I would like.  When your mood is unstable, your mind is unclear.  You can listen and be there to the best of your ability, but you’re never fully present.  Now, I can be with my FOC fully.  I can give them my whole mind and my whole heart without having to worry about whether the situation will spin me out of control.

Self is the last hat I wear.  I am the sum total of what has happened to me in the past and what is in my life at present.  In my belief system, I am already affected by the promise of my future.  I need to reconnect with the essence of who I am again, as that will centre me in the new-found stability.  I’m trying to accept the rough edges of me and understand that my FOC love me for me, no pretence needed.  I’m just a simple girl from the more grisly side of East London who has found herself a world away, surrounded by amazing people on both sides of the ocean.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pride

It isn’t often that I feel proud of myself, but today, I do.  For the first time in 18 years, I had a ‘Well Woman’ exam this morning.  This includes a breast exam, smear test and palpitation to check the uterus and ovaries.  That’s a great deal of physical contact in very personal areas.  My therapist and I have been working on this for a year or so now, and it’s finally done.

As my therapist and I planned, I identified myself to the nurse as a survivor of sexual trauma before even starting the prep.  She told the doctor, who, upon entering the room, told me how brave I was to be there.  This woman who had just learnt a dark secret from my past called me brave.  She walked me through the whole process, even showing me the instruments that would be used.  I began to relax a bit.

The nurse held my hand through the entire exam.  When I got scared and dizzy, I just looked over at her and knew someone was on my side.  It isn’t that I thought the doctor was against me; it’s just that she became a danger to me in my survivor’s mind the minute she touched me below the waist.  The whole exam probably took five minutes, and I am proud of each one of them.

I’ve put this off for so many years now.  It’s humbling that a doctor and nurse could work together so well to help me through it.

THAT Exam

My doctor has suggested it.  My therapist has suggested it.  My psychiatrist– if he were so inclined– would probably suggest it, too.  When she was just a bit older than me, my mother went in for a routine pap test and found that pre-cancerous cells were forming in her uterine lining.  Now, I need to get a bloody pap test, and I cannot seem to even schedule the appointment.

For those of you who don’t know, pap tests involve using a speculum to expand the vaginal opening so that the doctor can see the lining of the cervix.  Then, cells are brushed off into a specimen jar.  To end the exam, the doctor inserts two fingers in the vagina and presses on the lower pelvic area to feel for the size, shape, and location of reproductive organs.  ‘Written out’ it seems fairly innocuous.  Why, then, have I had to pause this post to go and be sick?

For me, the panic starts when I have to lay my head back.  At that point, I can’t *see* the person touching me.  As I was often tied up and blind-folded during sexual trauma, this is terrifying for me.  I don’t want to lie there with my head back unable to see this person who, at that point, will feel all-powerful to me.  That utter lack of control makes me physically ill.  I don’t want anyone even thinking about that area of my body, much less concentrating on it and even touching it.

Logically, I know this is a very simple medical procedure that will be performed by a female physician who has probably done thousands of these.  I know it only takes a few minutes and isn’t likely to cause me a great deal of pain.  Yet I cannot bring myself to even set the appointment.

Any strategies, dear readers?  I know this is incredibly common amongst women with sexual trauma histories.  What has helped you through?  Thanks in advance.

Maladaptive Progress

Yesterday was supposed to be my first therapy session talking about sexual trauma.  We did discuss it in very academic tones, but a great deal of the session was devoted to preparing for this.  We had to discuss a safety plan of sorts for the self injury.  The therapist suggested that I write out affirmations about how my body deserves to be nurtured because of what it has been through and that I read those when the urge to cut gets strong.  At the time, it seemed very helpful.  Now it just seems like a lie I’ll be forced to tell myself.  Perhaps that was the point– to keep reading it until I believe it.

The problem is the urges are getting stronger and are actually ‘progressing’ to suicidal feelings.  All day today I’ve concentrated on how I could go through with it.  I’ve thought about the knife slipping a little deeply down my forearm, about the pills in the drawer that could help me slip away.  I’m fighting the thoughts, but it’s difficult when they are so present.  I’ve emailed and texted friends, not mentioning suicidal feelings.  Just making connections and distracting myself all at the same time.  This is not a healthy or safe place to be.

As I told the therapist yesterday, I feel like an adolescent girl with a razor and a Sylvia Plath book.  A request for you, my dear readers– if you are in your mid-twenties or older and have a problem with self-injury, email me at ec1_englishrain@yahoo.com  Only if you feel like sharing, of course.  I feel very alone in terms of struggling with this issue as an adult, and I’d like to hear from others who are dealing with it.  Many thanks in advance.  Also, remember that your emails will be as confidential as you want.  I don’t even need your actual age if you’d prefer not to give it.

Peace to us all.

Into the Fire

It’s the title of a Sarah McLachlan song that fits well with the upcoming new twist in my therapy journey:  ‘I will stare into the sun until its light doesn’t blind me.  I will walk into the fire until its heat doesn’t burn me.  And I will feed the fire.’ 

At a recent session, it occurred to me that I’m through part of the trauma processing.  I can think of the physical abuse and not shrink back in horror (most of the time).  When memories get triggered, I’m good at picking a coping skill to lean on (most of the time).  And most of the time is the best I’m going to do.  Therapy is about learning to cope with memories, not erasing them.  The scars of my past will always come back to haunt me.  The thing I’m proud of now is that, when flashbacks and negative feelings about the physical abuse surface, I can force them in to submission before they take over.

All of that said, I asked the therapist if we could re-assess my treatment plan and go over new goals.  A major part of our journey together is done.  Now, the time has come to deal with the sexual trauma.  Even thinking the words causes me to feel nauseous.  Saying them aloud makes me physically ill.  Still, I’ll never get past this if I keep avoiding it.  When there was so much physical trauma to contend with, trying to deal with this bit was too much to consider.  I go kicking and screaming in to this new part of my journey, but I go nonetheless.

Already, I feel dirty inside and out.  I feel hopeless and want to shrink away from any source of light, lest someone notice this secret of mine.  Any time I think closely about this journey I’m taking on, the memories swirl all about me, and I start to feel like a spoiled little child who is whining because things didn’t go her way.  I feel like hiding somewhere dark and quiet so that no one even notices my existence.  Shame.  Fear.  No good.  Hopeless.  Alone.

Wish me luck, folks.  This could get interesting.

Blogathon for RAINN

I was contacted by someone from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) regarding the 2009 Blogathon.  Blogathon is a charitable event in which bloggers pledge to post every half hour for a consecutive 24 hour period.  It’s a great way to support this organisation and to raise awareness for their cause.  I’m not able to participate this year– interrupting my sleep/wake cycle that much is likely to go very badly for me– but I support RAINN’s efforts whole-heartedly.

If you’re interested in participating, visit RAINN’s 2009 Blogathon page.  The deadline to enter your blog is 22 July. For general information on Blogathon 2009, visit the official Blogathon page.

Happy blogging!

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Disclaimer: I do not work for RAINN.  I’m simply trying to gain support and awareness for an organisation that has helped so many people affected by sexual violence.

Trauma and Sexual Response

This is a difficult subject, but from what I’ve read and heard among other survivors, it’s important.

Rape is sexual contact.  In my opinion, it isn’t sex.  I count sex as part of a consensual relationship between adults.  Classifying beyond that is not my call.

Victims of sexual abuse and/or rape are not responsible for what happened.  We did *not* want those things to happen, nor did we create the circumstances that led to our abuse.  The mind makes the emotional connection that this feels wrong.  The physical body, however, does not always make that distinction.

Right.  I can see that I’m not going to get through writing this post without starting to bumble on incoherently.

My point is, if you’re a survivor of sexual abuse and/or rape, you are *not* responsible, even if your physical body responded as it would under normal sexual circumstances.  That’s actually not uncommon, and it does not make you anything less than what you are now– someone working towards the difficult transformation from victim to survivor.

A Feminine Question

My mother was roughly the age I am now when she developed uterine cancer.  She survived fine with a partial hysterectomy, but it’s still a bit worrisome to think of.  In spite of that, my last PAP smear was 10 years ago.  I cannot bring myself even to make an appointment for the bloody test.  I found a clinic and dialed the number once, and that sent me in to a full-on panic attack, complete with shakes, sweats, and dizziness.  Not fun.

Time for a little from the too much information file– my periods have been incredibly irregular lately.  Considering I can usually count 28 days ahead and know exactly when the next will start, the irregular bit is bothering me, as is the slight pain in my right breast that has been there for about a year now.  The sensible, adult thing to do, then, is go to an OB-GYN and get a look over.  I can *not* seem to take that step, though.  I know I need to have the test.  It just feels like a violation. It feels like that word I still can’t bring myself to say.

For those of you who are female survivors of sexual assault, regardless of your age at the time, how do you cope with tests like this one?  Gynaecological exams overall?  I’d really appreciate any advice you can offer.  Please feel free to email me as well if you aren’t comfortable replying on the blog.  Thanks very much.