Shouting “STOP!” in retrospect (content warning: rape)

a cure for what ails you, abuse, personal experiences, ptsd, relationships, therapy

Hey readers!

I had a great, if intense, EMDR session this afternoon. I’ve mentioned X a few times before, especially in my last post, and he was the subject of today’s sessions.

I’ve mentioned before, in very vague terms, that I have a long history of sexual abuse. Those of you who have listened to the RISK! episode have heard me say it directly: I never talk about it. I’ve been to literally a dozen other therapists in the last eleven years, but due to insurance issues or money in general or whatever, I was never able to see a single counselor for more than a few sessions.

As a result, I am extremely uncomfortable discussing any of the rape-and-what-have-you in anything less than broad terms. I can vividly describe everything else–the physical and emotional abuse, what it did to me psychologically, how the effects have rippled through time and still mess with me to this day. But if you sit me down and ask me to tell you exactly what happened, to describe it? Then I clam up and can’t even say the word “sex” without looking at the floor.

I had to do that today. I had to lay out the details of a memory that I very recently had a flashback about. I had to describe how we were positioned, to talk about that rolltop desk and how I used to lean into it and stay absolutely silent because I knew if I made a sound or asked him to stop, he’d be angry. And when you’re in abuse-victim-survival-mode, avoiding that anger is pretty much all you think about. I just had to get through that moment and then things might be better. (This is called “conditional assumption” or “deferred happiness” and is extremely common in abusive relationships.)

I want to pause to make an important distinction here, since we are talking about rape and consent–by “had to,” I mean that my therapist (who we’ll call S from now on) invited me to talk about my flashback in very general terms: “Can you tell me what the flashback was about?” She never probed for details, and her sensitivity was much appreciated.

We began by identifying my negative false belief: He is raping me and hurting me but I’m not saying anything because “I don’t matter. I have to do this.”

She asked me, as is typical by now, to rate how disturbing I found that belief while I was thinking about the scene I’d described. Then, she asked what I’d like to replace that belief was (and how believable it was to me as I was sitting in her office, pre-EMDR). This is what I replaced that thought with: “I do matter, and I don’t have to do this.”

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I prefer to use the hand buzzers for EMDR–I’m migraine-prone so the lights don’t work well, and because I have that thing where sudden and/or loud sounds in my left ear trigger an uptick in the dissociation. So, I relaxed (as much as I could) into the couch, a buzzer in each hand, and willingly stepped back into that moment.

It was like entering a time capsule. I was disturbed and amazed at how easily I could reenter the memory. I saw myself, leaned against that desk, slipping my fingers, one at a time, into the grooves in the wood as a distraction. My abuser–my rapist–was not there, only a strange, smooth grey nothingness behind me. It was like my mind wasn’t even going to let me go there, to see his face. I’m actually grateful for that. I imagine my mind saying, “Okay, so you have to relive this a little so you can rewrite it and feel better, but you do not need to see his face. I’ve got your back.”

I was standing in the corner of my bedroom, just at the foot of my bed, and looking across at that girl by the desk, that girl who was me-and-not-me. I saw our dresser. I saw the window–the light outside was, as in most of my memories of X, a strange grey-blue that could have been dawn, dusk, or midnight. In my memories, it is often all three.

S. stopped the buzzers and had me draw a deep breath, as is our custom by now. She asked what I saw, how I felt. Then we started the second round.

This time, the details were clearer–the way the yellow light cast shadows at the corner of the desk, the frayed edges of the area rug behind the dresser. I began to feel angry. I wanted to scream at him to get off her, to let this girl–this child–go. To stop filling her head with bullshit and lies.

I was 18. I’m 29 now. Looking back, I was a baby. I was coming out of this intense childhood full of abuse and anxiety and no one had taught me what a relationship was supposed to look like. The only relationships I saw were dysfunctional ones; later in life, I sought out and clung to what was familiar to me. Unfortunately, what was familiar was also rape-y and weird, which are two words that could pretty accurately sum up my life from ages 17 to 19.

I told S. about my anger. We chatted for a few minutes to decompress, then jumped back in.

This time, I was furious. I was screaming at him, telling him that I am a human being, not something to masturbate into and that I do matter. That I don’t need to perform for anyone. That I am not a dog that does tricks and licks its owner’s boot even after being kicked. 

That my body is mine, and that my ownership means something.

By the end of the session, I found the false belief, the “I don’t matter and I have to do this,” disturbing for a different reason. I find it disturbing that I ever felt that way. And above all, I find it disturbing that another human being was not only capable of doing that to me, but that he enjoyed it.

We’re going to pick up again next Monday. In the meantime, S. told me to keep yelling at him in my head. I left her office with a smile.

You know how in Dogma, Alanis Morissette plays God and absolutely destroys Bartleby with her voice? That’s how the scene with X is going to play out in my head from now on. I’m also picturing the final stanza of “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

I am wishing you a wonderful week filled with ferocity, dear readers! Y’all come back, now, y’hear?

I’ve been feeling like a raw, exposed nerve lately.

ptsd

I’ve been dealing with a particularly ugly batch of memories lately, one that I should have dealt with sooner: the sexual abuse/coercive rape in an otherwise abusive relationship I was involved in during my teens, and a sexual assault that occurred last summer.

Let’s back up. I had my initial consultation at a local pain clinic last Thursday, and while the attitudes of the doctor and his PA were certainly off-putting and had me feeling as though I was on trial, guilty of something, it was one particular portion of the physical exam that triggered me.

From what I understand, physicians are supposed to begin with “neutral voice, neutral touch” when approaching “private” areas. The first portion was okay, though the pressure on my lower abdomen caused quite a bit of pain (I have endometriosis, which is why I was there in the first place). The problematic part came when the doctor instructed me to sit up. Then, instead of letting me know what he was going to do before he did it, he slid his hands up my skirt, onto my inner thighs, pushed my legs apart, and then sat back to wait.

“Push your legs together and let me know if it causes pain,” he said. I did; no pain. There wasn’t any actual inappropriate contact; it was just the circumstances (abrupt touch and being in a closed room with two men who had already put me on edge with their accusatory attitudes) that happened to trigger me. The part that baffles me is that he kept referencing my bipolar disorder and (especially) my PTSD. He had a problem with the fact that my mood stabilizers put a damper on most of his plans for treatment and wasn’t afraid to tell me so.

The worst part was when, upon noticing my escalating anxiety, began commenting on my PTSD and saying that I need to find coping methods, need to work with a therapist, and so on. As he was heading out the door at the end of the visit, after we’d discussed a procedure involving a nerve block (which he had initially said would require only a local anesthetic), he looked over his shoulder and said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll want you very sedated for that procedure.” By this point, I was a nervous wreck; my hands were shaking and I had pushed myself as far back in the chair as I could, trying to make myself as small as possible.

I’ve put in a call to the complaint department and have asked for a new doctor, though I haven’t heard back yet on either count.

Moving on, I finally confessed (is “confessed” the right word?) to my family about the rapes and the assault. My mother and auntmom were infuriated but not surprised, considering they hated the guy I was dating at the time and knew I was being abused, though they never really tried to intervene. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering I wouldn’t have listened at the time, anyway; as we all know, abusive relationships come with a lot of brainwashing. On Sunday, I also “came out” to another aunt about many of the things I’ve kept hidden from my family for the past seven years, including the sexual abuse, the trauma I suffered as a child, the bullying, and the miscarriage I had at five weeks when I was 19.

Needless to say, it’s been a trying couple of days and I’m struggling to get back on my feet and regain my characteristic toughness. But dealing with all of this so directly and all at once has definitely taken its toll; I feel anxious when left alone and, unfortunately, have found myself feeling apprehensive around men over the last few days. D. and I were unloading bags from the car this morning and there was a portly man in overalls, a stained t-shirt, and a John Deere cap—basically, the stereotypical “farmer” type you see around here—standing next to his pickup truck in the parking space two away from ours. He was staring at me. He didn’t move, he didn’t smile, he didn’t say anything. He just stood there and stared.

Normally, I would have met his gaze fearlessly and unflinchingly until he looked away or left, but today, I just….couldn’t. I put my head down and kept my eyes locked on the ground as I walked as quickly as possible toward the building, thankful that management recently added locks to the outermost doors as well. D. followed close behind and agreed that the guy had been creepy, but the commiseration didn’t help much; I felt dirty for a while and hated myself for bitching out, for not being able to act like the bold broad everyone seems to think I am.

Right now, I feel vulnerable, exposed, weak. That incident on Thursday ripped me wide open and I don’t know how to close it up this time. I’m not sure why my mind decided now was the perfect time to deal with things that happened six years ago (though the sexual assault was last summer), but at least I have the wisdom to know that all I can do is cope to the best of my ability and ride it out.

If any other survivors of rape/sexual abuse/sexual assault/whatever you want to call it have any tips for coping, I would love to hear them.

Stay strong. Stay beautiful.