Friday, November 30, 2012

On being a victim

This post has a trigger and TMI warning for childhood sexual abuse.

Keep reading after the jump if you want to.

I would like to warn any friends who read this that this contains some very personal information that you might have preferred not to have found out.

I wrote this over a period from June 2012-now, which is why it's so long.

I've never really shared this with many people, and I'm not sure if it's a good idea to do so on a public blog like this, but here goes nothing.

When I was a child, I was sexually abused. The abuse was not terribly graphic; everything happened through clothes. I don't really label myself as a "victim" or a "survivor", because it didn't really affect me at the time. But I guess I was and am both these things.

"I wasn't raped!" is always something I feel a need to cry out. I wasn't, so it's worth saying - but the fact I want to say it straight away and abruptly so my confidant doesn't spend more than a second thinking I might have been interests me.

It's begun affecting me lately.

It all started in October 2011, when I was hooking up with 3. We'd organised safe words beforehand, and he started doing something that made me uncomfortable. I told him to stop, and I told him to stop in a progressively more and more serious tone, but I stupidly neglected to use the safe words. He did stop, but much later than I would have liked. He screwed up by not checking that everything was fine with me; I screwed up by not using the safe words. It was a stupid mistake, nobody's fault really, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to stop blaming him for it, especially because of what came after.

Anyway, all was well. It was just like any other sexytimes, really. I felt fine. In fact, I thought nothing of it.

Then the next day I felt really icky. I don't have any word for it apart from that. I remember sitting at my desk at work and just having this horrible, gross... "spinning" feeling. I realised what it was and was a little baffled. I connected it with my childhood trauma, and was like, "well then, I guess this one specific quasi sex act set me off. I won't do that again."

I told Mr Wrong and Mr Oldman about it, which meant explaining my abuse to Mr Oldman (kind of awkward), and I thought that was the end of it.

But things have begun to trigger me now. They never used to. The worst that has happened since October was around April 2012, where I was driving and listening to a This American Life podcast. They had a warning that they were going to talk about sexual abuse, but I really didn't think anything of it. I listened to it, and all of a sudden I had this same icky feeling. I felt kind of rattled. But the description of abuse was graphic enough that what else would you expect?

Then, in June 2012, I was watching a reality TV show that was like an Australian Idol for finding the most talented artist. One of the artists made a work that hinted at childhood sexual abuse, and it made me super uncomfortable and not really able to talk. This wasn't nearly as major, but the kicker? I'd watched that same episode a year ago and had actually forgotten about that part of it because I'd found it so unremarkable.

Again, in June 2012, I watched a movie and all of a sudden it began to imply that one of the characters was about to be raped. It gave me the same icky feeling, my skin crawled a bit, and, trembling (it felt like), I grabbed the remote and paused it and waited for the feeling to subside whilst apologising to Mr Wonderful for interrupting the movie. After the feeling subsided, I decided to try watching the rest of the movie, and I didn't feel bad in the least. This might have been because after it started again it got progressively clearer that the character wasn't going to end up being raped.

I've also resigned myself to having to tell the whole bleeding story to each new sex partner, which, again, is kind of awkward. I also feel it's unnecessary, because in four years of sexual activity I've only been seriously triggered once. I told Mr Wonderful and I often get the feeling he's handling me with kid gloves; when we talk about moving up to kinkier activities, he says he'll be checking in on me a lot vis-a-vis my safe word status. I kind of resent being treated like this, as though I'll explode if I'm treated too roughly, but at the same time I'm glad he's taking it seriously. (He's a very sweet man)

(Aside: I'm quite a fan of the red/yellow/green system, where "red" means "stop everything right now and let's put our clothes back on", "yellow" means "stop that thing you're doing but let's continue the sexings" and "green" means "all is well". It allows one partner to ask the other what their colour is so they can be assured everything's okay when they get an answer of "green". However, this is all rather moot because of my lack of experience - the only time I've ever needed to use a safe word I didn't.)

I'm in a bad head space at the time of writing. It's affecting multiple layers of my life in ways I wouldn't have expected. I'd always ignored it, and I'm sure that in the future I will continue to do so, but right now it's fucking me up and it's always in the back of my mind.

Apparently I could have PTSD - though this is something I'm loathe to self-diagnose, I find the reason behind it being a potential diagnosis fascinating. I can remember the abuse itself fine - it happened a lot, I'm not sure how long for, but I don't struggle to remember in general the way it felt. But when I try to remember telling my Mum about it, I can remember lots of things around it, but not what I said to her or how she reacted to the news. Apparently it's not uncommon for the abuse not to be traumatic, but the way a parent handles it can make it traumatic in its own way (e.g. by telling you it was wrong, that you were somehow tarnished, that you should never speak of it again, or any one of other thousands of things).

I'm probably going to seek some professional help. I'm fortunate in that my employer provides us with access to free counselling services. But oh my gosh, the thought of getting help - as I type out the email - is making me super nervous/anxious.

The counselling went fine. I felt a little silly because the counsellor kept on assuming I was feeling worse about things than I really was. Once I told him about the abuse he asked me if I had body image or self esteem issues - I confidently answered no, because I don't. There was little discussion of diagnoses or what I could have or what happened in the past; it was all tools that can help me in the present. Mostly variants of controlled, incremental exposure. This seems like a good idea.

A few months and two counselling sessions later, I'm feeling a lot better. I'm not sure if the therapy had anything to do with it - I decided to stop seeing the therapist after he recommended some pseudo-scientific treatments that invoked acupressure points. Yeah, I wasn't going to get into that.

It was all kind of wishy-washy mumbo jumbo. He spoke with lots of jargon and lots of ideas but I didn't really feel connected or like I could relate to the guy. I just felt kind of silly about the whole thing because my issues occurred so rarely that it was very difficult to engineer a situation in which I would be triggered, so how can you test the progress? But once he started talking about the alt-med therapies he'd lost all his credibility in my mind and out I went.

I think I'm okay now, though. I'm cautiously optimistic. Nothing has come close to triggering me in three months and it's no longer on my radar.


  1. I'm not sure that I really wanted to know this about you, but y'know, when there is something that says don't read, it kinda hard not to...

    On the acupuncture thing. Just the sense of laying there with needles sticking out of you will do at least two things, provide the placebo effect and release lots of pain killing chemicals into your body.

    Congrats on being brave enough to talk about this, it's not easy to do. When I'm at my lowest of lows I write things down, I don't think I would ever be brave enough to share them with peeps though.

    The process of writing and talking about the events can be good, eventually there can be a disconnect with the feelings associated with the event and the events themselves.

    Anyways, take care.

    1. Yeah, I did warn you that you might not want to read that :)

      Everything I've read about acupuncture says that the benefits are independent of the points they're inserted. If he was talking about actually using acupuncture I would have been less rattled, but he was talking about just tapping that part of the body with the hands.

      I really didn't feel comfortable with the therapist in general, to be honest. I felt like he didn't listen, and didn't explain himself properly. I think that sexual abuse wasn't his forte; he was a marriage/eating disorder/work stress counselor.

      Plus, he always referred to sex as "making love". That wigged me the fuck out. I don't make love. I fuck.

  2. Yes, big red button, don't touch... can't help myself... forbidden fruit and all...

    Looks like I misread. Acupressure is different, sorry. Personally I don't really understand how somebody would send somebody who is talking about sexual abuse to a "practitioner" who would end up touching them as the "treatment". I know it is different and should be clinical, but... I dunno, it just doesn't *seem* right.

    I guess it's up to you to tell this dude when you're talking to him that you prefer the term fucking to making love (if it bothers you a heap). He isn't going to be able to read that by your facial expressions.

    Feeling comfortable with the therapist is pretty vital to being able to open up to him and express your feelings properly. I get that you don't really have a problem with that in the first place, but it probably makes it easier.

    Maybe find another counsellor?