Some peace of mind

In a few days it will already be September. How do I feel about that? Good, I guess. I mean, I’ve made it this far. What’s to stop me from going further on with my life? I am no longer suicidal and although depression still gets me down, I am able to function during the week. The last time I felt really suicidal was two months ago, and two months of not feeling like wanting to kill myself is a huge deal for me. That was also triggered by my talk to the DDA. The Victims Compensation Program for the state denied my application because too much time has passed since the last time I was abused, but the victim advocate at the courthouse is helping me to petition. It would be nice to get some help.

I’m going on my first date from Match.com this week. He wanted to go for “drinks” but I insisted on meeting at a coffee shop and he conceded, which was a personal victory for me. I don’t want to drink alcohol with someone I don’t know. That just spells danger. Going to dinner is of course more of a commitment than drinks or a coffee, and that is for later if it goes that far. A glass of wine with dinner is different than just going to a bar. I really want to stay away from alcohol and any other bad influences. The nice thing though, is that this man I’m going to see is exactly the same age as me. I want to be with more people around my age. I’m so used to being with older people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve always gravitated to a generation beyond my own. Even as a child, my brother and I mostly spent time with adults rather than other children. It’s just how things were. There were other children in our lives too, but moving around to different countries made it difficult to really relate.

I should definitely be a psychologist if I can go from the beginning of a paragraph talking about a contemporary issue and within that same paragraph tie it back to my childhood. It’s more of a personal joke. The truth is, I do so desperately want to work in the field of psychology, but I just cannot get myself to study for this entrance exam. I don’t have the attention span of more than 20 minutes, and then I wander off in my mind elsewhere or distract with social media for hours, just to not look at my study books.

This weekend, in lieu of studying, I went to bed at 7:00 in the evening on Friday and finally hauled myself out of bed a whopping 25 hours later at 8:00 Saturday night. I stayed up until midnight distracting myself with social media, and then went to bed again. I was, however, able to find the courage to face my day today and wake up, make myself coffee, take my morning medication and supplement. I started taking SAM-e and I have no idea if it’s helping but it’s ‘au naturale’ and I figure I’ll just keep taking it because it’s supposed to help.

I love my four-day periods. This month mine came a week earlier than expected. I only know because I track it on an app called P-Tracker, which tells me how many days are left until my next one. I find my period to be just an inconvenience and now that I am able to use tampons again, it just makes it so much more convenient and less messy.

I’m finally going to see a general health practitioner after four years of not seeing one. I’ve been to specialist doctors but haven’t gotten my annual health checkup. Who massages their own breasts every week checking for lumps or cancerous growths? I certainly don’t. Overall my body is rather healthy. I’m at a healthy weight. I eat my fruits but not vegetables. I take supplements and a multivitamin. My mum wanted me to see a doctor because of this cough that I perpetually have which sounds hoarse. I didn’t think of it as a big deal.

My theatre friend took me out for coffee today in between rehearsals. I actually spent half an hour in the sun, and it felt lovely. It’s highly unusual for me to spend time in the sun, ever, these days. I still have a t-shirt sleeve tan from the one hour afternoon walk I took with my mum last month. My life really isn’t that bad any more. Nothing dramatic is going on. No more suicide threats, self harm episodes, and crying spells are at an all time low this week compared to the last few weeks. As my therapist said, emotions don’t always feel good. Emotions are also there to inform us, and they come and go. So if it’s uncomfortable, I can count on that feeling dissipating after a while. Life doesn’t have to be so dramatic.

My life is so undramatic, that I still haven’t found energy to participate in hobbies. I don’t go out, almost never. I like to stay home at sit on my couch and do nothing. Evenings and weekends. It’s nice to be out but it’s nice to be home. How do I explain to a prospective dating candidate that I just don’t do anything? I don’t. I don’t go hiking, I don’t go for runs or for a swim or play volleyball. I just go out for coffee and sit and talk and people watch. Now, that isn’t such a bad hobby, is it?

I almost forgot to mention! I entered this poetry contest online! I found out about it while I was surfing the Internet and the deadline was August 30, so I put together a document of 95 pages of poetry (the maximum allowed was 98 pages) and submitted it along with paying a reading fee. It was for a publishing company that only publishes works written by women. I have over 100 unpublished poems that I wrote over a period of three years, and then spent six months to a year typing them up to my Google Docs. There they wait, hoping to one day be published when I have the time and energy to do it. It’s a part of my healing journey. I even performed one of my poems at an open mic night earlier this year and it was tantalizingly fun. I took myself out of my comfort zone and just did it with a friend one night. I was surprised I was able to memorize the thing in less than a week – I didn’t think I had that in me. That capability. I’m not a part of that underground, tightly-knit community of budding poet-artists in town, but I could be. I could be if I wanted to be. There are just other places I would rather focus my energy right now, such as this blog. This blog has become very important to me. I don’t know how to get more people to read my writing, but I wish more did. I want my story and my journey to be known. And I want it to help those who can relate.

Reclaiming my sexuality

Last night I went to take a shower. Normal, everyday thing, right? Right. There are lots of mirrors in my home. A large, full-sized and wood-framed mirror in the living room, ceiling to floor mirrors on my three sliding closet doors, and a full-sized built-in mirror in the bathroom nook within my bedroom. I walked by that bathroom mirror across the sink in the nude as I do every other day. Sometimes I do stop to look at myself for a few minutes, mainly in self-hatred at the belly fat which isn’t flat – because I am now a fully-grown woman with curves, not sickly skinny with diets being forced upon me. I often look at other womans’ bellies at the gym and wonder how it is possible that their stomachs are relatively flat.

So I stood there. And then on impulse, I sat down on the soft bathroom floor mat in front of the mirror with my legs spread wide open. And I looked at myself. I looked at my breasts, my long, dark hair, my stomach, my vulva. Now that I’m thinking of dating someone I am wondering what they would think of my body. Because we are sexual beings, right? Sex is often part of an intimate partnership formed with another being. It’s an intimate act and it’s supposed to be beautiful and special and cherished. Not forced, not abusive, not scary. Not what I experienced for so many traumatic years. I am in control now.

My hands made their way down to my vulva, and I opened my labia and just stared. So, this is what my vagina looks like. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever in my lifetime properly taken a look at my vagina (well, the outer part is actually called the vulva, you cannot actually see the vagina because it’s inside). My vagina got used a lot for many years in sexual acts, but I’ve never really looked at it. I have never appreciated it. I have never loved it. Apparently the vulva and inner labia have a pinker colour than the rest of the body’s skin. I didn’t remember that fact and it was surprising to me. Is that where the pink comes from on the ribbon logo of the breast cancer walks? Probably not but a point worth considering.

I looked at the hair covering my private part. Hair everywhere. My abuser infantilized me on a regular basis and wanted me to be like a little girl, so he often made me trim, shave, or wax the entire thing. It was more pleasurable for him. Pleasure was completely out of the picture for me, but I obeyed as usual. I was a good girl and an obedient wife. Now that I have hair down there, I feel like a real woman. Women have hair. That’s just it. So do men. And sometimes traces of pubic hair end up on the bathroom floor and that’s okay too. I can clean it up.

I gave myself a haircut. It was kind of spontaneous, but also influenced by my newfound penchant for dating someone. I didn’t want the future person to have to deal with that big bush, so I grabbed my pink scissors from the kitchen and chopped off what I could. I was pleased with the results.

Soon after I started to touch myself. I rubbed my clitoris, lubricated with some spit, and then had the courage to put my finger inside of myself, just like I would do with a tampon. For the last four years I have been essentially asexual, and I can tell you, this act did not arouse me. It felt okay. After a very long ten minutes my body was creating some of its own lubrication. So I said, okay, fine. This was self-inflicted for the purpose of pleasure. My body did not betray me like it had so many times before, becoming wet because of sexual acts forced upon me. “See, you liked it,” my abuser would rationalize. He told me what I wanted. I was not allowed to have my own feelings or thoughts. Now, no one is telling me what to do, especially when it comes to my body.

I got bored and stopped but I continued to just stare. I looked at my vulva with the labia closed. I thought about the thousands of women on this planet who have to undergo FGM (female genital mutilation). I thought how lucky I am that I was not born into a culture which believes in FGM. The country doesn’t matter, because immigrants from those cultures still practise this act upon young girls in my own country. Essentially the young girl is told there will be a ceremony and a celebration. There is dancing and sometimes gifts. Then the older women hold the unsuspecting, naive, innocent little girl down pinned to the ground, undress her from the waist down, and then a man who is usually not a doctor begins to literally sever, to cut off the labia without anesthesia. If there is music, live or recorded, it becomes louder to cover the screams of the girl in pain. Once the labia are cut off and the vulva is bleeding, what is left of the skin gets sewn together, leaving a small hole for pee and a period to come out. The skin fuses together. Sometimes a full circumcision is performed and the clitoris is also cut out. Then, in order to have sex when these women come of age, the skin rips when the penis is inserted because the hole is too small. When the woman has to have a child, the skin which has been fused together has to be cut in order for the baby to fit through the vagina, and then the woman has her vulva sewn up again. It’s a medical process which has no medical benefit and is often not performed by a medical practitioner. Don’t quote me on any of this. I am not an expert. This is what I know from what I have read.

So, I have an uncircumcised vagina / vulva. No one has seen it for four years, except for one doctor and a man with whom I did not have sex. I just sat there on the bathroom floor for two hours. Two hours looking at my body. I sat cross-legged. I sat in the lotus position with my feet crossed upon my knees. I sat there curled up, hugging my legs to my chest, naked. I thought about a lot of things. The time that my vulva and I spent together was very relaxed, but my mind was racing, not from anxiety, but from memories and other thoughts. In the end, I got up and showered for five minutes, changed into pajamas and sat on the couch with my wet hair draped over my shoulders. I felt mentally really exhausted. But I believe I had made a very personal accomplishment. I had achieved something, which contributed to my inner healing. I know that one day I will be able to have sex again, and that it will be of my volition, my choice, and self-directed. I want it to be beautiful. That’s how sex is supposed to be.

A longer letter to my therapist than I had planned…

I couldn’t resist the temptation of writing to you while I enjoy my sweetened Italian coffee. Italian beans and an Italian coffee maker. It’s a treat I rarely get to enjoy because of my sleeping habits, since I know I shouldn’t have strong coffee too late in a day.

In my morning daydreams we are friends instead of therapist and patient and that means I can call you any time. I call you and you pick up and we say hello. I wish you a happy Sunday. I ask you what you’ll be doing today and you ask me the same. I tell you how good my warm coffee tastes and ask you if you’ve had your morning coffee yet. I tell you that I’m going to a company social event this afternoon where about 50 financial advisors from all over the country are meeting at a brewery as a precursor to their three-day conference. My co-worker who is also my financial advisor is picking me up so that I can have a beer and not have to drive. I assume his wife doesn’t mind because it’s business and we have a purely professional relationship. Whereas another financial advisor I work for who is much older when I suggested he take me out for a drink said his wife would have a fit. It’s interesting how the cultures of different generations are, but also that is telling of the person’s relationship with their spouse.

Okay, so that’s all true it’s not a part of my day dream. You listen and respond attentively to my story. It’s just like in our sessions except it’s over the phone for a ten minute phone call, not 50 minutes. Then I could imagine other conversation happening but eventually I say bye and we hang up the phone. I didn’t have to have a reason to call you. I called you just because I felt like it. And I was able to connect with you which feeds my soul and gives me happiness and energy for the day.

I think that’s a very nice dream to imagine. I actually talk to you all the time. When I’m not actually writing you an email I’m sometimes thinking about what I would say to you even if I don’t get around to writing it.

I feel at peace right now. I decided to get out of bed. Yesterday I decided to not get out of bed and I spent the entire day, yes, all of it day and night, in bed in the dark mostly sleeping. For the few hours during which I was awake and just laying there I allowed myself to think about a lot of things. I thought about how much I used to hurt emotionally, overwhelmingly, and how I had difficulty expressing that to you during our sessions. And how I no longer hurt. The severe emotional pain lasted many years. I think it was always there, from the moment the abuse started, but I kept it repressed and tried to live that dual life of the perfect wife and the sexually abused prostitute and how I kept those identities separate and how much it killed me inside until the pain bubbled up to the surface and I could no longer pretend I wasn’t in pain and that I needed it to stop.

I think of all the hospital stays and the time I was kept in a mental ER holding place near my mom’s house two Decembers ago and how I called you from the patient phone and you picked up because you didn’t know who it was and I told you as I have in the past that they were holding me there against my will. I don’t remember what you said, it was just grounding amid the rest of the chaos of the night to be able to hear your voice and connect with you.

I remember the times I couldn’t utter a single word sitting across from you on the couch and I would motion for you to give me a pen and paper and all I could write was, I hurt. I hurt. The pain was insurmountable.

I remember how I used to be scared of going out at night, or sometimes out of my apartment at all, even during the day. I remember how you were always kind and understanding with me but that you placed boundaries like not supporting me when I was banging my head against the hard wall. You said you don’t support it, that it’s not okay, that this is a place for healing not hurting oneself and you walked out of the room.

I know that every session for a long while I would tell you I wanted to kill myself and you told me that all of us must eventually die, that it’s inevitable, and that I had promised to write you a handwritten letter one day when I am completely healed, perhaps when I have children of my own. Who knows when that will be. I have so many decades ahead of me.

I know when I first started seeing you I didn’t tell you much of anything about what I didn’t even consider to be an abusive relationship and we mostly talked about my anger toward my mother.

You have always been there for me. It took going to several therapists in order to find you by chance. But it cannot have been an accident that we met. Because, maybe, it was meant to happen. While I was laying in bed yesterday evening, my feet playing with each other back and forth like I usually do, I was thinking how things could have been different. I could have not moved in with my boyfriend before the end of college. I would have stayed in Davis and gone to graduate school and I would now be teaching Italian at a high school, and I would love my students and my job. I would be married with young children and I would have reconciled sooner in life with my mom because she would have been a grandma and I would have actually needed her. I would have let go of my anger. I would barely sleep because of little children crying at night and I would have not fallen into a deep depression and I would only be taking vitamin supplements instead of a cocktail of psychotropic medications. I might know nothing of the world of therapy, or I would have found another therapist like the one I had on campus when I was in college, but I certainly wouldn’t aspire to do what you do because I would have been happy with what I was doing. Maybe I would have worked in marketing at a company using my creative side and like one of my high school friends I would already be at the mature level of management, because I would have grown professionally.

None of that did happen. But it could have if things had been different. If I had had less anger with my mom and not felt the need to run away from one controlling person to another. Because we repeat patterns. I simulated that which was the only thing I knew. If my dad had not died I would have had a strong male role model in my life and not felt the need to gravitate to a man so strongly and needily at such a young age. If my dad had not been born with a hole in his heart he wouldn’t have developed such a charming personality to compensate for his inability to keep up physically and my mom wouldn’t have been charmed by him and fallen in love and then my brother and I wouldn’t have been born. Had he grown up in England instead of in South Africa during apartheid he wouldn’t have felt the need to leave and he never would have lived in Switzerland and have come to America. Had he been born in a later era surgery on his heart would have been commonplace and his mother wouldn’t have had to fight so hard to keep his weak body alive. Had my mom’s father stayed in India I would be Indian and speak Hindi fluently and not know anything about cultures around the world.

Had you remained a farmer I would have never met you. Had you not moved to this city and developed your practice I would have never met you. Had you not worked with little Tina in that early learning environment you may not have pursued the field of psychology and marriage and family therapy. Had you not joined the group practice I might never have found you.

You already know you mean so much to me. You help me to stay balanced and to live my life. You have taught me about the power of emotions. You have helped me through what will always be the darkest period of my life. Nothing in my life will ever be that hard. You have helped me to realize that I am strong and that the fact that I exist makes a difference in this world and that making a difference can be as little or big as giving a fellow human being a smile. You have helped me increase my self worth so that I know I am important not only to you but to a lot of people, that I am valued and that I have the ability to create and direct my own life and that I don’t need others to tell me what to do. Through you I have grown up, matured, from a girl into a woman. I am me and I am glad for it. Thank you for helping me.

Now my coffee is long gone and it’s an hour and a half later and I feel good about myself because I expressed myself emotionally through words and I can carry this with me throughout the day, still imagining what I’d say to you about my day, but also becoming immersed in my day to where I don’t actually think of you at all.

Attachment

My TalkSpace therapist has suggested, in other words, that I may be too attached to my main therapist. He is on vacation this month and I have been distraught at not seeing him. Literally, in tears, a mess, depressed, unwilling to get out of bed on the weekends. In my defiance and I suppose as a way of punishing myself for feeling this way, I say, “fine. If I cannot see him then I won’t live. I won’t get out of bed. I won’t do anything until I get to see him again.” Who does this hurt? Not my therapist. It hurts me. But that’s just what I’m used to doing: hurting myself and punishing myself.

Why would I feel the need to punish myself just because I cannot see my therapist? Maybe it’s the defiance. That if he won’t let me see him then I won’t do anything. I don’t know if this makes sense to another rational being but it makes sense to me. Perhaps I feel like I am already being punished by not getting to see him, so that I need to continue that punishment further.

By the way, he did reach out to me, after five emails, two text messages and three voicemail messages later, on Monday during business hours, and I am seeing him this week. So, I do feel relieved. He is on vacation but in town and I desperately feel the need to see him. I know I have a very strong attachment to him, and also that I depend on him to be there for me every week so that no matter what emotional turmoil the week may bring, I always have him as my balance and equilibrium. He is my zen. He is my safest of safe places and I can cry and smile and do whatever I need to do in order to be fully me. He accepts all of me, non-judgmentally. There is no other person like him in this world. No other person has the sort of connection with me as he does. No one can replace him.

I know it will feel nice to see him. It’s two days away but that couldn’t be soon enough. I know I should probably apologize for all of the messages I left him to schedule this meeting but somehow I just know he is okay with it. He can handle it. He can handle anything when it comes to me. And yes, I do believe that I am special, when it comes to him. I am special to him and he is special to me and we have a very special relationship. The relationship is complex and I have gone in and out of various levels of dependency on him. I have been angry, upset, sad, mourning, in grief, happy, okay, content, suicidal and everything in between. My therapist has seen it all, has dealt with it all, has helped me through it all. For eight years. How could I not be attached to him? I won’t always be so needy, but I realize at the moment, it’s just where I’m at. I need him and that’s it.

Other people, to soothe me, have said, “you don’t need him.” “You are strong enough on your own.” “You can manage.” But the thing is I don’t feel as if I can manage without him and feelings are like facts sometimes. Feelings are very real and they are not unimportant. They carry great weight in the decisions that I make. I make most decisions based on feelings rather than facts. If I feel good about something, then I can do it. If I don’t feel good, then I know it’s not a good idea. My therapist always validates my feelings.

I used to be so hurt from the pain of my former abuse that all I could manage to say in a session is “I hurt” over and over again. I couldn’t put any other words to it. And my therapist, he would just sit there with me and listen, and make eye contact, and just never go away. He has always been there for me. Other times when I wasn’t able to utter a single word, I would motion for a pen and paper and I would write “I hurt” on the paper. Other times I needed to do sand tray therapy, creating a scene of the bad wolf eating the helpless baby chickens, to express my feelings because I was mute, unable to talk. It’s just that, he has always been there for me. I cannot imagine a time in my life without him. I cannot imagine ever parting from him, although I know there will be a time that I won’t need him so much. I don’t know. I just know that I need him now.

Have I made my point? Did I feel the need to justify my thoughts and actions? I suppose I did. I don’t like being told that I’m wrong, and if someone suggests for me to do something differently, like attach myself to someone in my personal life rather than to my therapist, I feel as if they are telling me that I am bad, that I am doing something bad and wrong, and that feels awful. I need to take things at my own pace and not be led to think that I am bad, because that is where my mind goes a lot of the time. I am not bad. I am just a swan with a broken wing, and that wing is mending, and before long, I will be able to take flight with the rest of the flock.

Wishes Beyond Trauma

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD, can strike at any time, especially when you least expect it. I haven’t had flashbacks in a very long time. This morning I woke up almost two hours early to memories of things that my ex-husband did to me. They weren’t merely memories, but sets of visual images in my mind, playing as if projected onto the wall, and I was in that motion picture and those things were happening to me all over again. It was scary, frightening, and exhausting. My mind and thoughts were racing. I knew I needed to get out of it, but I was somehow drawn to it, trapped in the cycle. I would close my eyes and try to think of puppies, but that only lasted two seconds before the images came back.

Panic and anger ensued. I imagined scenarios that didn’t happen, which could have and should have happened. I should have run out naked on to the street after having been sexually abused, and cried for 9-1-1 and I should have been questioned by the police. He would have been arrested then. There would have been evidence. If only I had done this at the time, in 2008 and in 2009 when things were at their worst, when strange men would come over at night. There would have been evidence. Cash exchanging hands, illegal prostitution. How else could those strange men prove that their semen ended up on me? I would have been swabbed and have had a thorough physical exam in an Emergency Room. Police would have gone through the home and found the two external hard drives with illegal underage pornography on them. The old email accounts that were used to pimp me would have still been active and accessible. Cash negotiations for sexual acts, all written by my abuser. Explicit and tarnishing photographs exchanged. There would have been evidence.

But I didn’t. I knew it had to be kept a secret. I loved my abuser. I loved him, who he used to be, not what he had become and the abuse itself. I knew that his life would be over and his pristine reputation tarnished had I gone to the police, had I involved law enforcement. I knew I couldn’t allow that to happen, because we had a future together, no matter what else happened, and because he claimed to love me back. If I loved him, the theory went, then I would be willing to do anything, and I mean, anything, for him.

I am having to take some deep breaths. Focusing on my breathing calms me. I live a dual life. I have the one life in which I was tortured and abused and every sexual injustice was committed against me and I was traumatised enough to try committing suicide multiple times and then subjected to a long series of Electroconvulsive Therapy treatments, thereby losing years of memories, in order to not kill myself. The other “me” goes to work five days a week, smiles at co-workers even when she is not happy and distracted by traumatic and anger-inciting memories, gets along with everyone, services customers with an upbeat and professional voice, feeds herself, showers regularly, remembers to take her psychotropic medications because without them she knows that she would end up in an abysmal pit of self-destruction including financial instability and possibly institutionalization.

The two “me’s” exist and I don’t know how to integrate them. I am both and I am neither. I don’t want to be either of them. I just want to be me, as a whole person. I want to be me without the trauma. I want to have a job that I love. I want to be excited about life, and I want to look forward to the next day, the next week, the next year. I want to travel and to have wonderful experiences and make fulfilling memories. I want to have a close relationship that is trusting and secure and in which I can open my heart fully. I want to be able to share sexual experiences with one person exclusively, to devote myself to that individual whilst being my own person, to have sex be beautiful and not about control. I want to have consensual sex. I want to be able to say “yes” and agree to making love. I want to be able to appreciate my whole body instead of looking in the mirror and being dismayed each time. I want a life not filled with despair and fear and anger and panic. I want a life outside of work where I do things on the weekends instead of living my life locked inside the four walls of my dark bedroom where I know that I will be physically safe. I want to be motivated to exercise, to increase my natural mood-lifting endorphins. I want to be surrounded by people doing pleasurable things like eating and hiking and sitting down for coffee instead of surrounded by doctors and nurses in intensive care units. That last one I do have. All in all I want to have more of a life that is worth living.