Tag Archives: molestation

when we are taught that “no” means “yes” but “yes” also means “yes”… (TRIGGER WARNING)

…and there is no real “no.”

A friend posted this blog link on facebook tonight.  I had wanted to see Divergent anyway, but now I want to read the book before seeing the movie (I tend to find they skimp on messages in movies).  It got me thinking; not only are movies and tv glorifying sexual violence, but we are trained that being “hard to get” is a turn on, and no never actually means no.  This is more pronounced with people who grow up in chaotic and abusive situations.  

When I was discussing the concept of rape with a co-worker many years ago (she was working towards licensure as a therapist and in the process of completing her PsyD), she defined rape and assault as needing a decisive “no” with physical resistance.  At the time, I had not mentioned my experiences with Duckboy to anyone except my own therapist, but even to her only in the most vague terms.  I was taken aback by this friend’s rigid and adamant definition.  I tried to gently give “other” scenarios (my own experiences without divulging that it was myself I was speaking about, but hypothetical subtleties in situations), but she refuted it all.  She said if the woman was truly not wanting any contact, she would fight back and scream “no” until her voice was hoarse if she had to… “what if she says no, but he doesn’t pay attention? …what if she was trained to refuse once, but if he pushed the idea, she had to go along with it? …what if he laughed her “no” off and continued what he was aiming for? … what if he said she was leading him on, so had to do it? what if she was scared because he was so much bigger and stronger? what if he could hold both of her hands in his one and pin them above her head? what if the “no” caught in her throat as she was trying to say it but all that escaped was tears and shaking her head? What if…” To all this, her reply was that it did not meet the definition of rape, and was barely teetering towards assault.  That conversation was had early in my acceptance of what had happened (there’s something about being in a situation that makes it feel normal, especially when you have always been taught to go along with whatever the stronger/louder/older person says without argument).  Prior to this conversation, I had started talking to JF about what had happened with Duckboy, but this conversation had me ashamed for feeling that any of it was something that should not have happened.  I started telling JF that it wasn’t anything wrong; that Duckboy had just been “a little forceful about the sexual stuff, but it was ok…”  I think she had tried to get to the truth of it all, but I was too ashamed.  It was not only not ok to fight back, but it was not ok to be disturbed by any of it if I hadn’t fought tooth and nail to get away.  If he had no scars or bruises, I was consenting… I think it’s at about this time that the cutting had moved to my legs.  I don’t really remember doing it, but I do remember having the gyn ask what the words on my legs were (and later JF asking about them because I had flat-out denied the existence of the cuts that were most certainly visible to the gyn).  The gyn thought she read “slut” and “whore”, but she wasn’t sure about it so JF wanted to talk about it.  I told her I wasn’t sure what they said, and that I didn’t remember writing them (I honestly did not remember it. I think that was one of the many times I had “checked-out” and cut myself only to wake in the morning to new cuts)… I remember telling JF that I didn’t really know why that would even cross my mind.  When she asked if it related to Duckboy, I reiterated that he never did anything wrong; he was just a little forceful… I stopped talking about it shortly after that.  Words appeared in blood on my legs, but I refused to talk about it.  I was lost in the shame of feeling wronged when I “obviously” wasn’t. I started OD’ing on pills to help drown out my head (though only once was I “caught” and sent to the ER. One other time I was sent to the ER because the nurse thought I meant I had taken that many pills only 2 hours ago, not 14 hours ago), and to help ease the dissonance between what I felt, and what “society” (or at least a handful of “friends”) said was right or wrong.  Mind you, my therapist, the nurse I trusted, and the gyn all colluded on the idea that what they understood had happened was indeed “wrong”, but for some reason I didn’t listen to their opinions… I didn’t address any of the assault or abuse stuff again for almost 15 years, but it crept back to my awareness regularly in the form of body memories and flashbacks.  I remember the times I would close my eyes and “just get it over with” when a friend asked for “benefits” even though that was all purely consensual.  He attributed it all to my coming out later that year.  I never told him about Duckboy.  For years, I was adamant that what went on with Duckboy was all in my head in terms of “appropriateness.”  Even when the flashbacks interfered with my relationships (apparently I went pale and stopped breathing for a few seconds the first time my ex pulled out a realistic dildo. She had offered to stop, but I recovered my bearings and did my best to ignore the flashbacks taking over enough to convince her there was nothing wrong), I refused to acknowledge the damage done by Duckboy.  It was only after the millionth recommendation from the millionth hospital social worker that I sought sexual assault counseling this past summer.  Even when the body memories caused me to cut severely in an effort to rid myself of them, I refused to acknowledge a history of assault.  When asked about it, I attributed it to the body memories, but refused to give details or call it anything other than him being forceful.  There were the body memories that came before Duckboy, but I had no actual memories to pair them with, so they “didn’t count.”  You can’t really work on something you don’t remember except on a physical and emotional level… at least, I have no idea how to do it, and I thought it was all in my head (ok, so it is, but in a different way).  I know the basics of the situation from second-hand stories of what went on, but at the same time, my involvement is constantly denied after the first admission of occurrence.  I was too young to really remember, so I only have the stories they told me about it.  I know the guy served time for it.  I know he assaulted more than one kid at the parties. I know I was told I stopped going to bed when the other kids went because I would throw a tantrum at the parties.  It was before my brother was born, so I can assume I was younger than one and a half.  The only reason I even know anything happened was that I was told to alert my parents if the guy ever tried to contact me (after he was released… I might have been 12 or 14).  But all I have of that time are distorted nightmares and vague body memories. The stuff with Duckboy isn’t too concrete, but I remember more than I do of the earlier stuff.  I have explicit memories of what he did, and fears connected to specific events.  I react strongly and violently when touched without expecting it, especially by someone I don’t know and trust.  I have scared family friends with my reactions when they were only trying to be genuinely, harmlessly playful (things that are harmless to someone who has never been violated turn into assaults for someone with a history).  Triggers are rampant in medical settings because of the nature of medical exams.  Even when I trust my doctor, dissociation is almost inevitable.  I have yet to figure out if it’s more helpful to be alone with her, or have my wife there.  It gets confusing and full of flashbacks either way.  Speaking of doctors, I’m surprised more gyn’s are not more sensitive to assault histories.  I think they are almost as uncomfortable addressing the possibility of abuse (past or present) as we are divulging it.  It took me years to find Dr. F.  Before her, no one asked about any specifics beyond the existence of an assault history.  Dr. F actually sat down and talked before having me strip for the first time.  She checks in regularly and is always asking what helps to make it all easier.  I have not yet made any effort to find a gyn here because it’s so difficult to find someone that’s willing to take time and space to make things feel safe… Even at the hospital, when the doctors knew there was a history and those triggers had led me to the hospital, simply labeled me as “resistant” and “defiant” when I insisted on a female doctor for any exams.  There was more than one occasion when I was not given a choice to refuse the exam or ask for a female doctor. There were several “unwarranted” exams that I was not able to refuse.  Then they wondered why I “left” during the exam. They deemed me a danger to myself for dissociating in a very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and triggering situation… They replayed the old scenarios in new ways.  You would think that with a greater push for awareness and understanding of assault situations (and trauma in general) that they would work harder to keep from triggering people and re-victimizing them.  There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen in that field…

Anyway, what was my original point?  Oh, the thoughts on the rape scene in Divergent… well, I guess I addressed it.  I’m glad that our kids are now being taught more often that “no” means no, and not a veiled “yes”.  I’m glad that we are educating everyone on the concept of respecting boundaries.  I’m glad that society is changing, albeit slowly.  It gives me hope that one day my future kids will know that they don’t have to do anything that feels so wrong. I will never tell kids not to fight for their right to refuse to do anything.  I will make sure they know they can always look to my wife and I for support around anything… and I will forever be vigilant for signs of abuse with the people I care about. No one deserves to be hurt.


Sometimes telling is worse

De has been trying to build trust and comfort in taking about my trauma. One phrase she has told me a few times has been “You’ve already been through the worst part, the act.”

My gut reaction to that phrase the first time I heard it was a loud “no!” echoing in my head, but I wasn’t sure why. It hit me the other night tho. The act wasn’t that bad because I was able to dissociate from it. I didn’t really have to “pay attention” to what was going on. When i have flashbacks or I have to talk about it, there’s a level of attention to it that I had not had when it first happened. It’s worse because I can’t (or shouldn’t) dissociate from it. The emotions come with accessing the memories. The fear sets in, the anger, everything… It’s worse because I feel and see and hear everything without being able to turn the attention off (at least if I want to be able to get anywhere with processing it). So I have to disagree with her when she says the worst part is over (at least for me. It may be different for a one – time trauma or ones without dissociation)… 

Jealousy and ::gasp!:: sex!

The topic of jealousy was addressed in couple’s therapy last week.  We talked about my lack of jealousy in intimate relationships.  It has a lot to do with how I see that reaction/set of emotions: as anger (and I have a huge aversion to anger).  Its not only that though.  It’s that I feel that jealousy is useless.  It causes a whole bunch of issues if it’s unfounded (which it often is), so I don’t expend much energy on it in relationships in the first place.  Yes, I’ll admit to jealousy of people who seem to have it together, of people who can keep their lives on track, or people who can make it through a day without thinking that the world would be better off if they just ceased to exist.  That I’m jealous of… but of someone choosing to leave me in a relationship?  No.  I’m difficult to live with, depressed, selfish, needy, lazy, and take way more than I give.  And this is not just my poor self-esteem.  This is the truth of the moment.  And it’s a truth I am not sure I am ready to change right now, not because I don’t care, but because I have not given myself permission to be any of these things until relatively recently in my life.  My history has consisted of doing nothing but giving to others and bending over backwards to please others even when I had nothing to give and was completely spent.  I have a history of ignoring my own needs and desires in order to make others happy (or keep them appeased).  So in the last 7 or so years (more so in the last 3), I have swung to the other extreme.  I take time for myself.  I throw little-kid tantrums to to get my needs met.  I am utterly selfish most of the time… and I feel incredibly guilty about it.  I’m at constant war with my “training” from my childhood, and the new information I’m given on a daily basis.  I have yet to find a happy medium.

The whole topic came about surrounding the concept of L’s crush on J.  J asked if I was jealous of L’s energy being put into someone else (or the concept of someone else).  I asserted that jealousy (at least the anger portion of it) was not something I ever really felt in any relationship.  It’s not that the relationship means so little, or that I feel so secure in the relationship that I have no reason to feel jealous.  It’s that I don’t feel I deserve to fight for it.  If someone chooses to move on from me, who am I to stop them?  I wasn’t worth the relationship in the first place.  I’ll be sad about it, but I don’t feel myself worth sticking around for.  J brought up a good point though.  She said that L was the one “disadvantaged” at the start of the relationship because she was the one pursuing me.  I was standoff-ish and non-committal (I had just come out of a 5-year relationship and my ex had been the one to get me the subscription to Match.com.  I did not yet feel ready to jump back into something serious, so I dated other people for the first 6 months I knew L).  She also brought up that a wandering eye in a relationship can often mean some needs are going unmet (to that I say: Duh! I’m still surprised that L has chosen to stay in this relationship, as it seems to be me doing all the taking while I battle my demons.  I would hate being in a relationship with myself…).  Jealousy is supposed to help signal that something is going unmet, and supposed to motivate me to work to meet those needs…  The thing is, I feel incapable at this time of meeting some of those needs.   How do you make emotional space for something you battle another aspect of daily?  How do you balance caring for others and caring for yourself if your needs happen to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.

And now comes up the topic of sex… This is a tough one for me.  I am torn between the teaching/learning that sex is a taboo topic, and society’s push to sexualize just about everything.  I’m embarrassed by it, and my struggles with it.  In a culture where sex is freely bragged about, all over TV, and “expected”  once you hit a certain age, I am hindered by the shame brought on from abuse.  Don’t get me wrong, it can be incredibly wonderful (especially with a partner to whom you are connected).  But it can also be scary as sin.  I have a history of molestation and rape… and the memories have come back with a vengeance since I moved back “home”… I don’t talk about it much.  I talk around it, but not about it.  It has always effected me, but it became a much larger obstacle in this environment.  I’m back in the same place where a lot of it happened.  I’m back in the same neighborhood, the same house, the same room… The memories and flashbacks came much harder and more often when we first moved back here, but they still linger.  I have put up walls around myself to stay out of that head-space.  I try my best not to think of any of it, but that means I avoid it with my wife also (talk about frustrating on her end).  The act of having sex still very much triggers me. I get lost in the memories, and I suddenly can’t tell if I’m with my wife, or with Duckboy. Time warps. I’m at once very young and 16 and 34. My body confuses the physical sensations. My head launches into the past… The use of names during sex creeps me out, but I’m not quite sure why (that may go back to me having trouble associating with my name at times).  I try my hand at changing the associations sometimes, but it’s difficult to do and does not always work.  So how do I explain it to my wife without making her feel unloved and unwanted?  I’m not sure… which leads to resentments and unmet needs.  It leads to her desperately searching for a way to get those needs met within the bounds of our relationship (toys are wonderful inventions)…  And it leads to a lot of fights.  Neither of us likes to make the other feel bad, so we walk on eggshells in our fighting.  We simply don’t talk much.  We distance ourselves and cry and feel abandoned… I hate it.  I wish I could change this about myself.  I wish I could be ok with having sex all the times it comes up.  I wish I could take those horrible memories and wipe them from my head.  I wish I didn’t confuse her touch with the memory of his… I wish I could be normal!  And I wish society did not place such emphasis on sex and sexualized behavior.  I’m glad we can talk about it more openly, but at the same time, we are barred from talking about the scarier side of everything, the uncomfortable stuff, and the issues surrounding any negative experiences.  Victims are still very stigmatized, and perpetrators are still somewhat exulted…

So I started working with De back in late August.  She is a therapist at the local sexual assault crisis counseling center.  Only, as much as I want to focus on the assaults and getting over the associations I have with sex, all the other stuff also crowds the exits and we are again left doing crisis stabilization instead of any meaningful trauma work.  I don’t know how to change that…  On Friday, De had mentioned trying a to start processing the traumas that I have experienced.  I had desperately wanted to jump into everything and start right there, but my fears got the best of me. While I want to share the details of the past, I wish that no one else would ever have to experience it or hear it. And I worry that, in the telling, I will come to the realization that my reactions are over-blown, I will be invalidated in my pain (It really wasn’t that bad. Others have had it worse. You call that trauma? You’re just a whiney little child! <–all things I have heard in the past at one time or another). Also, I have a history of falling apart completely when facing my past.  I have always lost complete control and become a huge liability.  I tried telling her this, but I am not very good at expressing things a lot of the time (and people seem to have a difficult time grasping the extent of my decompensation unless they witness it for themselves.  It's such a huge departure from my presentation when I'm "together" that it's difficult to imagine).  I tried to tell her that I am willing to try it as long as we can guarantee it can be done safely, but that my fears make me believe that I should do it while inpatient.  I came off sounding like I did not want to try it, which is completely wrong.  I want nothing more than to tackle all of this once and for all… but I'm terrified.  I don't trust myself.  I don't want to put my wife through that level of "crazy" again.  I don't want to cause De to resent ever having taken me on as a client.  I don't want people to think less of me (I have a desperate desire to be liked while still feeling completely unworthy of that positive association).

My fear of falling comes not only from my past, but also from the ever-present thoughts of suicide that haunt the back of my head.  Even if I don't have an active plan or desire to kill myself, the thoughts are always there.  To have that so close, and to think of tackling trauma issues outpatient (which can be incredibly triggering) is very scary… but then why am I seeing De?

(in proof-reading this post, I find I have not touched on what it was that I originally wanted to say, but I also have lost whatever that was… humpf.)