(yes, the title is my effort to snarkily lash out against the way in which we tell our assault stories. oh lulz, *sardonic grin* boys will be boys! oh, ha ha, isn’t this an amusing anecdote about being sexually assaulted on a bus?)
This is the serious version of my last post. A trigger warning applies to this entire post. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable to talk about this openly. If you are reading this as someone that knows me personally, please do not be offended that I typed this up instead of coming to talk to you about it. There is no way that I could spit this out verbally. I have had three therapists and have not come close to talking to them about it. Until recently, I had not told myself. What I repressed comes back to me in bits and pieces when I’m not ready for it. What I remember I forced myself to define as “no big deal” or simply “part of growing up female.” You will know if or when it is appropriate to discuss this in person with me. I write this here because I feel that my past has contributed to my pelvic pain in ways that I am only just realizing. I am using this space to work out my thoughts on this matter, and, like the rest of this blog, to help others with similar pain deal with their own issues.
In case anyone is not aware of how to properly handle this kind of discussion, here are a few pointers that you can use now and in the future. First, victim blaming is never acceptable. This can take many forms. I know that I don’t get many comments around here, and I don’t have many readers. But. If anyone here engages in that kind of nasty rhetoric, I will ban them before they can blink. If I know you in Real Life and you say anything even remotely victim-blamey online or in person, I will never talk to you again. Trust me. The whole wide world is full of rape apologists, and I do not choose to associate with them. Ever. Also, women have damn good reasons for not reporting rape. It’s not helpful to make a survivor feel guilty, i.e. “it’s your duty to other women,” “think about everyone else he could be hurting,” etc. Not helpful. The only duty a survivor has is to herself. Further, there is no typical victim and no typical reaction to assault. There are no emotions that someone should feel, a right way to deal with abuse, or some foolproof guide on how to heal. With that point comes one of the most important: never tell a survivor how they should be feeling. It is not anyone’s place to categorize assaults or put someone else’s experiences in a hierarchy. Lastly, I’d like to officially strike both “it could have been so much worse” and “I’m lucky that I was only ______” from use. None of us are lucky to be merely groped or only leered at. We can’t rank how someone experiences violation or pain, so please do not try.
When first researching vulvodynia and vaginismus, almost every source stated that a history of sexual abuse/assault/rape is common amongst pelvic pain sufferers. I thought, “how ridiculous, of course I’ve never been assaulted or raped ” but the more I think about it, the less that is true. Now it seems ridiculous and sad that I had internalized our culture’s pure vitriol for women and blamed myself for each and every attack. I still do, in a way. I’m going back and forth as to whether or not to use “attack” or “incident.” Attack is an action that was performed upon me. Incident is an occurance, a happening, a hm, how peculiar, the deliberate disappearing of the attacker. Wording is very powerful—it allows us to convince ourselves of almost anything.
It can’t be rape if… I didn’t actually fight back when… It would have been rude to say no to… It’s my fault that it hurts because… It doesn’t count if you give in after being worn down… He’ll stop if he notices I’m crying, probably… I don’t deserve any better than… It’s the least I can do for him since… Coercion isn’t the same thing as…
Every gynecologist that managed to take me seriously would first ask about my history of sexual assault—some more tactfully and respectfully than others. After my emphatic NO, NEVER! they’d dismiss my pain as all in my head and send me on my way. I no longer think that “in your head” should be grounds for dismissal, though I did for a very long time. This is why.
This is a roughly chronological account. I have left out large swaths that I still can’t think about or just don’t want to have “out there” yet.
The large swath turned out to be my entire life. I can’t do this. But gather from this post, if nothing else, that the shame and fear and physical horror of assault leaves a mark. I’m definitely beginning to realize that my pelvic pain is a part of that. I haven’t come to terms with this and I’m not even close to being able to deal with it or dispose of it or move on in any way. You wanna know why I’m so anxious and stressed out and my body hurts all the time? Because every single day forces me to relive each and every assault upon my person. Wanna know why I’m so mad? Because in our culture it’s all a big fucking joke, and victims are the punchline.
Reading the news is like being attacked. Going to the movies. Magazine covers. Conversation. Culture. “Herp derp I totally got raped by that test, d00dz.” The whole goddamn internet. Quick movements. Incense. Darkness. Whiskey. Waterbeds. I’m so glad that waterbeds went out of style. Music. What’s disturbing is that I could add to this list weekly. And it always changes. Most of the time I’m just fine lying on a couch. Sometimes the situation aligns so that it makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs. One day it will feel so nice to be offered a hug, the next it will feel like strangulation.
It seems like these are just tiny little things that make me act out for no reason. But to me, it is not tiny. Everyday occurances are like the soundtrack to hell. A particular song could be played at a coffee shop when someone with poor taste is in charge of the speakers, and it could ruin my day. The connection to pelvic pain is so blindingly obvious to me now. My triggers (let’s say, a rape apologist commenting on a news item or some shitty AC/DC song) don’t just mentally set me back. The pain flares and muscle spasms go right along with them. It seemed ludicrous that my vaginismus could come from an emotional place rather than a physical one, at first. But it does make sense. A lifetime of fear will make one a bit tense, after all.
The most infuriating thing is that I now have this physical vestige of abuse. Every time I want to use my body for pleasure and experience pain, my attackers are victimizing me all over again. There’s nothing I can do to stay in control of myself. I hate that it took some scientist to validate what I already knew about my life. I felt crazy and helpless and out of control until reading that headline—but I knew all along that it was true. I don’t ever again want to hear that I just need to buck up, champ, it’s not that bad. I don’t choose stress and anxiety and not knowing how to handle life’s little problems. Lots of people chose it for me a long time ago, and they keep choosing it for me over and over again. It’s not as simple as “just ignore it” because every day I have to hear people make excuses for rapists, for attackers, for their friends who are let’s face it just not that kind of guy or maybe it was your cousin who knows but he volunteers for the youth group so he’d never do that kinda thing and what were you doing out so late anyway? It’s the fucking music it’s the stars in July it’s a look in someone’s eye on the subway I can’t ignore it, it’s not going away. My brain has been pickled in cortisol since birth, I can’t shut it off.
I try so hard to just calm down, to try to convince myself that I’m overreacting and that everything is fine now, but I can’t do it. I just can’t. The spasms in relation to triggering circumstances are getting much, much worse and far more frequent. I don’t know what this means.
The only way I know how to react to this is with anger, which I can and do express (but can’t often control). What I don’t express is the profound sadness of it all. That I hold tightly.
Though they weren’t right on purpose, those doctors that told me it was all in my head may have been onto something.