PTSD is a weird thing. I feel like a lot of people assume that most triggers after a sexual assault have to do with the act of sex itself. Not always. Triggers can be a scent, the sound of someone clearing their throat, or the way a stranger stands close behind you. Sometimes we know why we are experiencing a certain trigger, other times, we have no idea. There are times where a survivor will learn of new triggers years on down the road. God, it’s frustrating.Alright, now let’s talk about pain during sex that is trauma related.
*TRIGGER WARNING & DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A DOCTOR! This is just what helped me, and are things I had wish I’d known from the beginning.
If you feel pain during penetration of any kind, this could be a sign of vaginismus. Vaginismus is basically a muscle spasm that occurs in your pelvic floor muscles. There are different symptoms or causes of vaginismus, yet it’s a pretty common symptom after trauma. There are emotional and physical triggers that cause this. Now, because every individual is different, and I am not a medical professional, I cannot give specific advice. What personally has helped me, was a few things. (Dyspareunia and vaginismus are often mistaken for each other. This is why I highly recommend going to your doctor because it could be pelvic inflammatory disease, etc.) There are also a lot of other causes for Vaginismus, but in this post I will be addressing the trauma aspect.) Here is what helped me but I also suggest going to a professional such as a physiotherapist.
Dilators & crystal wands. Yeah, yeah this may sound too woo-woooo or holistic for some people, but this is how I learned to have control of and listen to my body. Dilators come in all different sizes and if you are someone that is experiencing extreme discomfort, I suggest starting with the smallest kind and then working towards crystal wands (mostly because a lot of wands aren’t as small to start with if you’re working through severe pain.) When you insert either, make sure your environment feels safe. Make sure no one is around. You can put on soothing music such as sacral chakra music. Make sure your dilator, wand, and you are lubricated and clean. Before inserting, ask your body for permission. This may sound weird, but this is where the emotional component comes in. If you feel like your body is saying no, respect that. Your mind and body need to learn how to find trust in each other again. Just practice ujjayi breathing for a few minutes and then ask your body again. At the entrance, take a few breaths again. When inserting, don’t force when in pain. If there is a slight discomfort that you can breathe through, hold it there, take a few breaths and imagine the loop/ ring inside your vagina releasing all tension. The most important thing is to stop when you feel the need to stop. This creates trust with yourself that you will protect it in other situations. Heartbreakingly, the trauma created evidence that your body can’t trust you which is why your pelvic floor will tense up. It is not your fault that it happened, but your body is in survival mode and so the tightening is a defense mechanism. Hold the wand inside you for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a week.
When I first started doing this, I wanted the pain to go away after a week. There are times where I still have that tightness. Yet after practicing this, I’ve learned where the muscles are tensing up and learned to breathe into that area. FYI: this is just from personal experience but something I wish I learned a while ago if you feel pain in the beginning on penetration and are still learning where the tension in the pelvic floor muscles is: stop kissing during this moment and just breathe. That might not be for everyone, but focusing on breathing is what helped me loosen the tension initially. Another thing about the tension, that I learned, not from a doctor but a woman on Reddit: was locating where this tension was. She said to take a mirror, use a crystal wand or dilator and then notice where it looks like the tension is. For her (and myself, again maybe not for every woman) it was the same area. If you imagine your vaginal opening as a clock: and the public bone is at 12 o’clock and your anus is at 6 o’clock, the tension that caused a lot of the pain was towards 6. When you practice with a finger using massage and light pressure while breathing into it, you learn where the pain is and how to release it. Check out this pdf on Internal Pelvic Floor Massage for Tension.
Some other tips when using Dialators and Crystal Wands:
-Take a hot bath or shower before.
-Choose a place and time where you feel safe and are alone.
-COCONUT OIL! Lube! Don’t do this dry!
Healing is possible. Having great sex is possible. Trust me. It takes time. I thought it was impossible to take away that tightness and pain. But you WILL heal, I promise. You deserve it.
This post is to speak to survivors who were told or pressured to “forgive.” Everyone is welcome to their own opinions and beliefs, however, I suggest reading until the end, and you’ll see why. This blog post is probably so far one of the most important ones to read if you are on your healing journey as a sexual abuse survivor. It was difficult to write a title that included the two words that make us all cringe if put near each other: forgiveness and abuse. Now, the way I am going to talk about forgiveness isn’t the way your priest or pastor probably did. I’m not saying that they are wrong and I am right. These are just thoughts and realizations that I had about forgiveness a few years ago. Not only did I come to an understanding of what forgiveness really is, but I also came to this conclusion: Yes, it is possible to forgive anything (rape, sexual abuse) HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean we need to or should. IN FACT, I don’t recommend that ever being the focus for a survivor. Instead, I am going to discuss the definition of forgiveness and what would be more beneficial to you when it comes to healing from abuse.
I always shuttered at the word and would feel so frustrated by my teachers in catholic school who said “we need to forgive to go to heaven.” I remember thinking, How and why would a God make you forgive something so awful? I’ve had people tell me “to never forgive my abuser,” and I’ve had people say, “you have to forgive to move on.” As an extremely creative kid, I was always painting, writing poetry, and piano playing as a kid. Most of them were expressions and reflections on the abuse. Even as a 7, 8, and 10 years old, I wrote some dark shit. It was something that was constantly in my thoughts, and the PTSD wasn’t helping. My focus for years was on the limitations and troubles it had caused, sometimes my focus still goes back there from time to time.
Three summers ago I took a public speaking class at my local community college. Over the semester, we gave multiple speeches. The last and longest speech presentation was the “Persuasive Speech.” Our topic was up to us. That week I began brainstorming ideas such as: Why Fear Is The Root Cause of The Worlds Problems, Why We Should All Learn To Abide By The Ayurvedic Diet, or The Power of Thought and How It Creates Our Reality. They interested me but instead I chose to persuade the class on something I actually disagreed on: “It is possible to forgive the unforgivable.”
By the end of the research and presentation, I realized that forgiveness isn’t really what we understand as forgiveness. Thinking you are a bad person for not being able to forgive or that you won’t be able to heal if you don’t forgive is one of the most significant myths that hurt us. I want you to know that you do not ever need to forgive your abuser and that it should not be your focus at all. There is another way to heal, a much less shameful way, a way that lets your empowerment rise again. This other way incorporates certain aspects of (the true definition which I will state later on in this) forgiveness, but I want you to know that forgiveness right now should not be your focus. Before I go into explaining why and what will be more healing for you, I am going to briefly describe what forgiveness is and what it isn’t:
What is forgiveness? What isn’t forgiveness? (this explanation isn’t pertaining to abuse, I am talking about the overall definition) The definition of it for many of us is very cloudy. We hear often that forgiveness is the act of letting go and how choosing to not forgive is holding onto an attachment to suffering. Many of us (if not all) at one point lived in continual pain because of something that has happened in the past. A major obstacle that inhibits one from forgiving is that our happiness is still dependent on that person’s actions. Many of us refrain from forgiving because we fear a lack of control over the situation. Regardless of who we are forgiving, we all have had the thought “If I forgive, what if they do it again?” Forgiveness is a state of being, it’s not a one-time thing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue relationships with them. It’s a continual internal practice. We must remember that we are forgiving the person and not the action. It is the act that caused the feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, not the human itself. Now here is what I realized what it means to forgive:
Forgiveness is letting go of the person’s actions in the past, present, future. It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”
Now that I described what forgiveness is and isn’t, I’m going to talk about why that shouldn’t be your focus as a survivor and what would be more healing for you. In fact, this is what lead me to start this blog, and you’ll see why.
Firstly, whoever is telling you to forgive your abuser needs to fuck off. Whether it is a family member, friend, therapist, or religious figure, it doesn’t matter. They have no business in your decisions and personal journey. The reason why some people urge you to forgive is that A.) they cannot emotionally handle accepting or hearing what happened, and this is their way of sweeping it under the rug. B.) they may be relating your situation to their own or someone they know and believe if you do what they did then you’ll be healed. C.) their religious beliefs and inability to accept any other way of living except for their own. D.) either they have done the act or something similar or know someone who has done it and they are trying to obtain relief from their guilt by needing validation from your actions and current experience. Basically, if someone is pressuring you to forgive something like this, it actually has nothing to do with you and your situation. Instead, it has to do with more of their own personal or selfish reasons that have to do with themselves.
Secondly, the focus shouldn’t be on the abuser or even your relationship with them (if there is or was one in the past.) It needs to be on the person you are in this moment, and what limitations are present because of the abuse. What we are going to do is to pull out pieces of the meaning of forgiveness, and apply it to your own life for you to live the life you deserve and return to who you truly are. So, instead of it being about the abuser, focus more on the effects the abuse has left and how it is currently influencing your life in the present.
Instead of “trying to forgive” reflect on these questions:
Are there any “personality traits” I have that I don’t like about myself that were rooted in the trauma?
Are there any things that I want to do but I believe I can’t because of the abuse? (ex: sex or intimate relationships)
Are there any traits I admire in other’s yet don’t believe I can be myself because I was abused?
Are there any mental/physical blocks or limitations that the trauma has caused?
Are there things that I wish I could do but feel like I can’t because of triggers and PTSD?
Are there times when I wish that “I was normal” and not who I am because of the abuse?
Are there places or situations that I wish I could visit or experience but have a difficult time because of the trauma?
Are there relationships I want to have, yet am afraid to pursue because of the trauma?
Do you see? There are so many ways the abuse has confined us into this tiny cage, almost creating an identity of things we considered “personality traits.” Where in fact, they were symptoms of abuse, those things aren’t you. I’ll be honest, for most of my life I didn’t like who I was and that is because I wasn’t being who I was. It was like I had this agreement with life that was “ok this happened, so now I am this person.” I became tired of living my life based on the past. “It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”
Trauma impacts so many parts of one’s life so much so, that the trauma can become our identity. What I mean by that is, a lot of us (because of PTSD, our brains protecting us, and human nature) have learned certain behaviors, core beliefs, and ways we perceive the world to protect us and make us feel safe. The problem is that we are living in the present while being in the mindset of protecting ourselves from something that happened in the past. These behaviors and beliefs served a purpose and were there for a good reason: to feel safe, protected, and soothed. Sometimes though, they deter us from living the life we deserve and wish to have.
Forget focusing on forgiving your abuser. Instead, focus on shedding all of the beliefs and behaviors that stemmed from their actions that you feel are limiting your life. It’s not about letting go of the past. It’s about letting go of all the armor and limits we have put up to feel safe in this world that is no longer serving us so that our true inner power can overflow our entire being.
We may have learned that power is a dangerous thing and that it can be used to hurt others. Because survivors (including myself) have seen the ugly side of power, we may tend to shy away from any sort of power, even down to the minuscule things such as decision making, speaking up for ourselves, disagreeing, saying yes when we wanted to say no. What true power is- is what you’re about to do. It’s looking at the abuser/abuse and saying “I will no longer let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”
Were there times after this realization where I had fallen into the cycle of thinking, “the reason I do _ is because of the abuse?” Yes, in fact, that’s a story I told myself pretty often when I was addicted to Xanax. It wasn’t until I got treatment for it was when I realized: I can be the girl who is addicted to Xanax and drinks with it to cope with the pain of abuse and PTSD OR I can be the girl who WAS addicted to the combination of Xanax and alcohol but decided to walk away from it once she realized she was living a constant state of numbness because it was more familiar than allowing herself to feel the pain and enter the new chapter of her life where she sheds those limiting effects and lets her power flow.
The focus is on shedding all those aspects of yourself that were never you. It is about reconciling with the heartbreaking truth of what happened, and knowing that it’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it. Listen, that abuser and their actions placed so many limitations on your life, don’t give them any more attention by focusing on reconciling and forgiving them. Focus on letting your inner power, which was once blocked, begin to flow. The trauma may have blocked it temporarily, but the biggest gift you can give to yourself is by turning this obstacle into an opportunity to break the agreements that abuse has us agree to.
We all come to rock bottom at some point in our lives, but many of us will climb the ladder up towards where we were once before. Instead of climbing back up out of rock bottom, what if we broke through? If we broke through we’d have a different perspective looking back at our rock bottom.
So basically, forget about forgiving your abuser and letting go of what they did. Focus on letting go of the limits the trauma imposed so that your inner strength can overflow and be a gift to the universe and yourself.
I decided to put this weeks post into a video to make sure this information is clearly communicated. In this (40 min, yeah it’s long) video I talk about things that I have learned over the years about trauma + medication and how trauma can make the process more difficult. Here are things to know when deciding to go the route of medication.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. This is knowledge that came from personal experience.
Part 1: This is going to be a series of blog posts that speak to parents of children who have been sexually abused. Firstly, if this relates to you, I want to say that I am so sorry, my heart goes out to you and your child. No parent ever wants to hear that it has happened. Also, I want you to know that it is not your fault. You did everything you could to protect your child at the time. My parents where probably one of the most cautious people, and yet it still happened to me in my own home. What’s important now is to focus on your child and how to help them feel validated, heard, and understood.
Now, I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor. All of these insights and tips are things I had wish I had known as well as my parents had. My goal here is to help families have the healing process be as uncomplicated as possible. This is a grave and serious topic in which the healing process often takes years. This first post in the series is about understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma in your child. I believe this is important to start with because oftentimes symptoms of trauma can be mistaken as behavioral problems or mental illness. Some children have been misdiagnosed (including myself) and/or put on medication for something that was a symptom of trauma. (The next blog post will be about deciding whether to or not to introduce medications to your child. That post won’t be a concrete yes or no opinion, but rather things that are incredibly important to keep in mind if choosing this route. Trust me, knowing these things will save your child, time, etc. Stay tuned for next week’s post regarding medication.)
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com
One thing to know about kids before going into this is that they do not have the vocabulary, education, experience, understanding, or knowledge that you do. However, I am not saying children are not smart. In fact, I personally believe that children use certain parts of the brain more than we do. They have such a fresh perspective of life which allows them to be more open to learning without judgment. Yet, this also is what can become a problem if they have experienced abuse. Depending on the situation and who the abuser is, children sometimes see the abuser in a different light than the rest of the world. This is because predators are like con artists. Most of the time, it is someone the child knows. They are manipulative and will create this false perception of what the abuse is. Meaning, oftentimes abusers will try to create a situation where the child depends on them or trusts them so that it taints the child’s perspective of what is really going on and therefore wouldn’t tell another adult because they’d fear hurting the abuser or breaking or losing that bond. I know it is painful to read and hear, but this is important to know when you are trying to talk to your child.
There are many reasons why children do not say anything. Most don’t. The reason above is one of them, but there are a few other reasons. One of them is that the abuser may live in the household, or is a relative. It’s hard for children to speak up against someone in the family or community that may be highly thought of by everyone else. Another reason is that children may not understand what happened. I was six years old when I was abused, and I did not know or understand what rape was. Therefore, I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of what occurred to directly tell my parents right after it happened. I just knew something “bad” happened.
When a child doesn’t report the abuse, that doesn’t mean there are no other clear signs that may appear. Many times, these symptoms show up as behavioral problems or acting out. If the parent doesn’t know what occurred and then punish the child for these actions that are just trauma manifestations, this affects the child on so many levels.
I am not saying that all of these actions mean that your child has been abused, but if you suspect or know they have, then look out for these symptoms because they are not your child “Acting Out.”
Avoiding physical touch of any kind. If your child seems agitated or resistant towards hugs or honestly anything along the lines of that, do not tell them to “toughen up,” “you’re fine,” or tell them that you are safe and not going to hurt them. Right now, they don’t need rationalization, they need their boundaries respected. (Trust isn’t rebuilt by words, it is rebuilt by action.)
Avoiding certain people, places, groups, or events. This includes church, school, tutoring, dance classes, or sports practice. Sometimes the people, places, or things that a child survivor avoids may not be directly related (yet oftentimes is) it can also be a trigger that reminds them of the abuse, not even tangible triggers but also, emotional ones. So, instead of immediately reacting when your child seems to be defiant, become observant because learning about the fears is how you will learn how to help your child. There were so many times where my parents thought I was being difficult and was punished for it, when in fact I was terrified to go certain places or see certain people out of pure fear. (This was mostly within the first year after the abuse, where I’d get panic attacks yet seemed like tantrums. Again, this is not blaming them, they didn’t know right away and had no background or experience in mental health.)
Behavioral changes. Eating less or more, suddenly seems shyer, jumps at sudden movements or sounds, being more agitated, doing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, controlling, tantrums, avoidant actions, and most of all: seeming more on edge, highly sensitivity, and dissociating (which looks like daydreaming.) The body doesn’t feel like a safe place to live after rape. It’s constant extreme discomfort, unease, and yet there’s no escape. In ways to compensate, the child will try to make everything feel safe around them. This will appear as children exhibiting disordered eating habits, saying that certain clothes feel “too tight” or “too loose,” being startled at loud sounds, or extreme responses or freeze responses when people exhibit strong emotions. The year after the abuse, I would take up to three showers a day. At the time, my parents thought it was absurd and obviously, didn’t allow me to when I tried. So just keep in mind to look out for behaviors such as that. The mind isn’t the only thing that is affected. After trauma, the body is still constantly in alert, fight or flight mode. Many kids appear and are highly sensitive, especially to other people’s emotions. (In some cases, if the abuser was someone the child knew, they may have had to scan the abuser’s emotional state and try to respond or act a certain way to not get hurt. That is why many trauma survivors can sense the emotions of others well but often neglect their own.) I have ADHD and PTSD, so it was hard to tell the difference between having a hard time focusing, and dissociating. Internally, there is a clear difference. But if you find your child zoning out often, especially in moments of high stress, it can be either or. This is where professional help is important. Also, here is an article that talks about ADHD and Trauma.
Chances are, your child has a limited vocabulary regarding the topic of sexual abuse. They are not going to know how to explain what happened. From personal experience, having parents asking open-ended questions felt frustrating because I could not find the right words to describe it. On the other hand, I have read many articles that said to ask open-ended questions. So, it all depends on the child. Try both and observe how they respond. In my case, it was difficult to put my thoughts into words, and I’d shut down, cry, and become frustrated. If this relates to your child-Instead of asking broad questions like, “Why do you feel sad?” Try asking either more specific questions (even if they say reply “no” to the question, it narrows the answers down and helps the child narrow it down in their mind) or by asking physically related questions, such as where did you get hurt, etc. Oftentimes, they’ll be able to answer the more physical related questions regarding how they felt, instead of the emotional aspects of the abuse. Here is a link to discussing the abuse with your child, based on their age.
Here is a helpful description of a common way children will try to say that they have been abused. This is from Dr. Laurie Braga’s testimony where she talks about certain techniques she uses when interviewing children of sexual abuse. (Link to interview)
“In the course of your interview of thousands of kids, three or four hundred alleged victims of sexual abuse and one hundred confirmed victims of sexual abuse, have you noticed a common pattern of disclosure of the sexual abuse event by children?
Yes. I have seen a common thread, a common pattern of how children disclose. They typically will start off by saying — either by saying nothing happened or they will say something happened, but they will either say the least of what happened, or they will say something happened, but it was just some other kid, or something happened and that they saw it. Then they will gradually, as they become more comfortable, they will begin to open up more and say what happened, actually what happened to them, “This is what actually what happened to me,” and gradually, as they become more comfortable, they will build up to the worst of what happened to them, especially anything that they feel personally responsible for, as if they themselves were a partner in the crime and did something real bad. Then after having disclosed, if they [are] then met with openness and comfortableness, from someone else, say their parents, then they will continue to open up and continue to tell what happened. If they are met with, “I don’t want to hear this stuff,” or they are with a person who is in an adverse position to them who is sort of saying to them, “Well, this didn’t really happen, did it?” they will then retract what they said, take it back and say, “No, it didn’t really happen,” or of they don’t completely take it back, they will say the things that are the easiest and not the hardest to talk about.”
It is important to address the trauma before coming to conclusions about any other mental health disorder. If a child is diagnosed with anxiety, depression, etc instead of addressing the trauma & PTSD that may be causing the anxiety, more symptoms will surface overtime because the real issue at hand is not being addressed. Anxiety and depression are symptoms of trauma and they are also diagnoses. An individual can have both or may have had one or the other before the trauma. But, just from personal experience, make sure you address the trauma first, and then co-existing disorders. Because even if you think one of the symptoms is “solved” (like anxiety & avoiding certain places or people) another one will surface. It will be like playing that game, “wack a mole” because the root of the issue isn’t being addressed. The trauma needs to be treated mentally and physically (I talk about the importance of healing the body in this post.) They must learn to emotionally regulate the emotions evoked from the trauma because (not to come across as extreme here, but this occurs all the time and also is from my personal experience) later on as the child gets older, they will try to learn to emotionally regulate these feelings themselves and sometimes, they are not always the best ways: substance abuse, co-dependency, eating disorders, hypersexuality, self-harm…)
If you are struggling to understand your child, I suggest taking them to see a therapist, social worker, etc. Try: “psychologytoday.com” if you have insurance. You can select your insurance, zip code, and trauma specialization in the search bar. Another tip if you decide to do this is to give time for your child to speak. In some cases where the child is quiet, many therapy sessions end up revolving around the parent’s perspective. Even though that is important too, talking for your child will end up being a disservice in the long run. It can lead to veering off the path of what may be going on within your child’s mind that they are hiding and that you are unaware of (and they also may be unaware.) It is the therapist’s job to help the child find ways to talk about the abuse.
This topic will go into next week’s post where I discuss the pros, cons, and things to know when thinking about medication. *This is not a all for medication and this is not an against medication post. It will be discussing things to keep in mind when considering it.
Last week I was staring at a stack of paper cards, with a value written on each of them. We were instructed to separate these cards into the three categories: Important, Kind of Important, Not Important. There were A LOT of cards. After we put them into categories, we had to pick the top ten values from the “Important” category. Never thought how much you’d learn about yourself after doing this. After sorting through the cards, worrying that I’d miss an important one, I chose the top ten. (Here is a list of Brene Browns Values if you want to try this!)
Excitement, Passion, Honesty, Independence, Humor, Creativity, Self Knowledge, Sexuality, Purpose, and Stability. Fast-forward to today, the morning after a bad relapse, I sat holding my mug of black coffee looking at my top ten values I wrote down from last week. Silently, my tears streamed down my face and dripped into the blue ceramic mug. I poured out the coffee and went back to the torn out pieces of notebook paper from therapy. Staring blankly at the words excitement and stability, I felt like there was a contradiction. It’s impossible to have passion, excitement, with stability, I thought, You can’t balance that.
Ah there lies the problem.
It’s not the value itself that needs to change, but rather it was my definition of the value and how I’d seek it..
My mother would quote one of my grandmother to me, “Boring is beautiful.” I’d often cringe at it. Whenever she’d say that, I’d think to myself “No, boring is when I can’t sit still. Boring is when I end up getting super high alone at night and go skateboarding (yes, I know, I am 23) or opening up that orange pill bottle, or waking up at this man’s house in Delaware (I live in PA.) I can’t be bored! It’s not fucking beautiful.” Obviously, I didn’t say those things out loud, and yeah that reaction is a bit extreme. Most of the time, I’d reply to her saying, “I don’t really see that Mom.” I didn’t. Is stability and boredom the same thing? Can you live a life where excitement and stability both equally exist? Here are a few things I realized on this “not my greatest” morning.
Here’s the part where I talk about the correlation between chaos, our definition of pleasure, and the fear of living an ordinary life.. It all ties together.
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, lived in an environment where abuse was occurring, or survived emotional abuse chances are you became familiar with chaos. In fact, you’re probably more familiar with chaos than calm. Even though calmness is what we ultimately crave (and may have used addictive behaviors to self soothe and emotionally regulate) it’s unfamiliar. And for the human brain- unfamiliarity is scary. “I never lived in peace, I don’t deserve it, and even though other’s do, it’s not possible for me” This may not be a thought that is highlighted in your mind, but it could be subconsciously lurking in the background.
You see, abuse and being raised in certain environments overtime imprint the belief system. We might believe “we don’t deserve to feel good.” OR that “we don’t deserve boundaries.” Something the world see’s as so pleasurable was used against us to create pain and punishment. In consequence of this, it’s common to believe that pleasure = punishment. In cases of emotional abuse, you may have a belief that love equates to pain, or that you need to tolerate _ when in a relationship, to receive love you have to neglect yourself and value other’s more. Another common belief survivors may have is if they feel pleasure, they will have to be punished for it. Some punish themselves after it. Maybe you feel that you are not allowed to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel afraid to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel that if you experience pleasure, someone else will feel hurt, and vice versa. The major concepts that we need to look at and change are: What does pleasure mean to you? How do you seek it? Often, pleasure for us can be connected with methods of escapism and behaviors that lead to addiction. Those old behaviors that once may have saved us, took us out of the scary reality, and brought us pleasure often later on turn into what is causing pain later.
This is how the cycle occurs. The abuse happens imprinting deep wounds and core beliefs about ourselves and the world. With that perspective and definition of what love and pleasure is, we subconsciously end up gravitating towards experiences that mirror those views (the way our brain works is to constantly seek out evidence for our beliefs and thoughts, it’s not that we wanted more bad things to happen, it’s our brains trying to make sense of things.) When we then experience the pain again, it confirms the belief that “Life is always unstable and painful.”
Let me clarify very CLEARLY: You are never at fault for being abused. Never. It’s never EVER, someone’s fault that they were abused, OR ending up in another abusive situation later on in life. What I am talking about here is the importance of understanding the wounds in some of our beliefs and what we believe we deserve. If you were raised in an environment where abuse was called, “house rules,” or it was the norm, when you are in a relationship later on and something similar happens, it may take a while for the survivor to notice the red flags. There’s that quote from Perks of Being A Wallflower that says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” But in this case not only is it “what we think we deserve,” it also is “what we saw and learned as love.” Maybe you didn’t experience abuse but you witnessed it as a child, that is still a chaotic environment where you learned to tolerate it because in that moment you needed to as survival. Calmness can feel strange and unfamiliar for those who experience sexual or emotional abuse.
I’ve done it myself, believing that I wasn’t deserving of a calm, normal life. I still struggle with this. Sure, in many aspects I’ve worked through them, but there are still many more. I’ve had multiple therapists, friends, and especially my mom say to me many times that “You should write a book about of all the weird stuff that has happened to you.” Sure, on the outside they were funny, but a lot of the situations I’ve found myself in were a result of feeling unworthy, battles with addiction, and core beliefs I had about sex and relationships. Sure, I causally write or tell my weird ass experiences with hits of humor. Yet, I often don’t talk about the aftermath like crying in the gynecologists office, the distance addiction has caused in my friendships and relationships, going off the grid from the world during depression or relapses, and so much more.
It’s not that we don’t want an ordinary life. It’s not that we don’t want a supportive loving relationship. It’s that we might believe deep down we don’t deserve it. It also might be the thought, “If my life didn’t consist of chaos, constant healing from the chaos, addiction…who would I be? And what would I do with my life?” becuase you were in the throws of it for so long.
Once we become aware of our past and how if affected us, we can now take our power back and create the life our seven year old self would be proud of, and smiling at. We may feel like without constant chaos or substances life would be dull, but I’m learning that chaos and relapses gets old as well. I am learning to value my current relationships over the substances I once used to escape from the old ones (or memories.)
This is where we return to the values I talked about above. Except this time, rewrite under each value how we want that to look in our everyday lives. So instead of pleasure and excitement being: abusing substances, chaotic relationships, and walking into situations most would run from, we can seek those things in other ways such as through listening or playing music, making playlists, preforming, getting coffee with your girlfriends, rock climbing, fresh bed sheets, early mornings, create art, write a book, laughter with friends, soreness in your muscles after working out, hot yoga, ah the list can go on.
** I want to also not dismiss the difficulty in leaving an abusive situation. My love goes out to you and I know how scary it can be to speak up and leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Is: 1 (800) 799 – 7233. There are also many centers that help women such as https://womenagainstabuse.org/ (Philadelphia Area)
After you write down your values, redefine what they mean to you, and how that would look in your life, you’ll be able to see that it is possible to live a life of excitement and stability.
I’m a woman, but I still call myself a girl. In the evenings before bed, I would do headstands after getting stoned. I used to paint acrylics on tall stretched canvases, and one day stopped. My succulents beside my bedroom windowsill are still thriving and alive. I drink straight-up black, iced coffee in the mornings before eating anything. Smoking cigarettes is now a habit that remains way in the past. I love green juice only if it has lemon in it. I became vegetarian when I was seven years old. Today, I don’t label myself as a raw vegan yet the foods I eat are simply just raw fruits, vegetables, and nut butter because I don’t like to cook. When I moved back to PA from California, I didn’t have any furniture and slept on my yoga mat alone for weeks on end, and swear to this day that it healed my back. I don’t like spending the night at men’s homes. I don’t like being held after sex. My parents raised my two brothers and I in an Irish Catholic/Bohemian household and it’s even more confusing than it sounds. I admire Buddhism, yet learning about Hinduism compels me to think beyond learned limits. As a kid, I liked boys, girls, the gym teacher, my brother’s friends, my father’s friends. I quit drinking once because for some reason I thought it was a good idea to combine vodka with Xanax. After a while, I started again, and have been contemplating this past week once again on stopping. I have immense love for Hot Yoga. I was born in the Bay Area and lived in a Youth Hostel that my Dad managed. Sometimes, when I pray, I don’t have a concrete understanding of who I am praying to, yet I feel consoled. Currently, I believe we are all God yet haven’t woken up to realize it yet. I used to take three showers a day after I was sexually abused at six years old. I’ve written a collection of non-fiction pieces about overcoming trauma & I hope one day to heal others with this writing. However, I am still terrified to put the pieces out for people to read. I’ve been reading about quantum physics over the past month. I am terrified to take acid or shrooms because I know someone that never came back. I write songs at 10 pm every night on the guitar so softly, hoping I won’t wake up the neighbors.
I used to think that all of these actions, beliefs, rules, and perceptions were concrete. I believed they made up who I was: Fiona. Yet there is a higher part that is aware I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. Think about it with yourself. Isn’t there a part of you that knows you are living the life of ___? When you realize you are more than your name, beliefs, and the things you have done/experienced, your mind becomes a blank slate of who you can be. What is that part? God? The Universe? Your Higher Self? All that stuff above could have been completely different. I could’ve written that I loved Math and play soccer. The Fiona described above would have been completely different, however, I would still have that same higher part of me that is aware that I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. You see, I think that one of the most important things to learn in this life is how to “break agreements.” These agreements are beliefs, experiences, and rules that you have agreed to “be.” Looking above, those are all “agreements.” When you can separate yourself from yourself, you start to realize that you don’t have to be controlled by “external events.” I would constantly say to myself I do ___ because of ___. Or, I am ____ kind of person because this thing happened to me.
It’s not about discovering who you are. It’s not even about working on becoming that change you want. If you are always focused on “becoming,” you’ll always be in that state of trying to change. That’s why some habits are so hard to break, we’re not living in the end. Instead of being the person that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, be the person that just doesn’t smoke them. Live in that version of yourself. Your higher part of you that is watching you live the life of __, doesn’t have any rules or limitations on who you are based on the past and what people have told you. You already are the change you desire. It’s about breaking the agreements and shedding all of the things you believed you were so you can just allow yourself to “be” that version of yourself.
* This Post Goes Along With: The Addiction To Pain and The Search For Happiness. When I was living out in California, I decided to visit an intuitive guide, and spiritual teacher. The two of us sat cross-legged on the floor as the pacific breeze swept in from her balcony. She paused, taking a look at the cards spread across the floor and said, “Spirit is telling me that there is a deep lack of trust in life’s experiences. This isn’t about a specific individual, but more of: Is this life safe for me?”
It took time to understand that this life is a safe experience. Time and time again, I still have to root myself in that belief whenever I find myself wanting to control my current situations. There’s no need to. All that does is just creating suffering. Accepting and trusting the present cultivates gratitude.
When we lack trust, we feel unsafe. There is a deep fear of the unknown. In times when we feel unsafe, we search for certainty and stability. Our perception of control, and having to “know” makes our egos feel safe. We cling onto people, places, careers, religion, objects, and beliefs to feel secure. Our egos will seek out something we can always fall back on. This can show up as people, actions, and addictions. We all have our life jackets. When we are in the throws of life, we tend to seek out an escape or something we perceptive as permanent. We want to feel good, not overwhelmed.
We all experience high and low points in our life. In those time we ask ourselves: “How can things get better than this?” “How can things get worse?!”
When we are riding the highs, we are often living in the present. Yet, when we are at the lows, we tend to want to crawl out of our skin at the slightest bit of discomfort.
Yet what if the feelings we consider “low” and “high” aren’t categorized as “good” and “bad”? What if they were just feelings? We experience not only these feelings emotionally but also through tears, tension, or fatigue in our bodies. But what if we just feel, without labeling it as “negative.” Because, whether we label the physical and emotional feelings as positive or negative, we still will feel them! And they will always leave.
So why create more suffering by attaching onto the idea that sadness, anger, and grief are “bad”? If we take away the judgment of the feeling, we can look at the state we are in from an observant perspective.
You see, when you realize that life isn’t happening to you, that it is you & and you are part of the flow – nothing can touch you, because you are part of that wave. We are “always in flux”, nothing can break us. Within, we all have a safe place, that energy, where we can retreat to. Yet instead of seeking this, we seek external refuge.
The solution to having a lack of trust in life is: to trust yourself. You are the channel of life itself. You wouldn’t exist if you were not a part of the process of life. If we are life’s energetic force, we’ve got to understand that we will always be safe.
“You are the universe experiencing itself.” -Alan Watts.
Lack of trust also is linked to feeling unworthy. When you lack self-esteem, you lack trust in yourself. Maybe you’re always second-guessing yourself, feeling overwhelmed by options and what choice is right. Or, that other’s voices have a stronger power than your own when it comes to making decisions. When we feel unworthy, we tend to see the world in black and white. We clearly label our emotions, thoughts, and past experiences as “good” and “bad”. We will put people, experiences, and things up on a pedestal. When what we consider “good” shows up in our life, we will cling onto it tightly. This is because of the deeply rooted belief of “I am unworthy, good things don’t happen to me, this is rare, and I may never experience this again.” We lack trust in ourselves that we can never attract good things again.
Then, the law of impermanence comes along and that “good” thing goes away. Not because you are unworthy, but because nothing is permanent. When we feel like we are unworthy, we will blame ourselves and pick ourselves apart for the thing exiting our lives. This memory cultivates another belief within ourselves that just adds to the evidence to prove that we are unworthy.
A person who values themselves will live in the present and soak up the experience entirely. When the good thing leaves, we accept that it has exited our life, and remain grateful for experiencing it. We don’t fight for it to stay, but instead, we have gratitude and gently let it go. This doesn’t mean we don’t feel grief! Of course, we do-we’re human. But when we have a deep trust in ourselves that we can experience “good” things again, we let go much easier. There’s no resistance, we simply just ride the wave that takes us to the next best thing.
Sure, we still may feel uncertain, lost, and maybe even depressed. However, have trust in yourself that this is not “bad” to feel, it just is. You are allowed to feel sad. You are allowed to feel happy. Don’t let people give you an expiration date on your grief. Maybe that same feeling will hit you out of nowhere years down the road. Yet, this time you just accept it without labeling it and float until the next wave rolls in and takes you on the next journey.
If you are constantly wrestling with your feelings and circumstances you’re going to get exhausted and then retreat or give in to the “lifejacket”. Now, we all do it, we’re human. But we’re also are our own personal hero’s who will surprise ourselves and our strengths from time to time.
Once we recognize that “we are the universe” experiencing itself (which must mean: We are all one), then we become at ease. We begin to trust ourselves because we are life. The things that are tragic, uncomfortable, and shocking is also part of the experience. We are the universe sorting itself out. Trust and self-worth come from knowing that you are meant to be here, and you will always be safe regardless of the present wave that you’re on.
This Post Goes With: We Are All Just Passing Through. We can get used to suffering. It’s a pretty common thing to be addicted to pain. Sounds crazy because chances are, you are frustrated with the pain and want it to go away right? It’s not the feeling of pain itself, but rather the chemical response our bodies give. If we have suffered from mental health issues or the effects of trauma for most of our lives, living a life outside of those confinements and pain is unfamiliar. The reason behind this is because our body releases endorphins throughout the body when we feel pain mentally and physically. So we are not hooked on the pain itself (because, who WANTS to feel these things, right?) but we are hooked on the endorphins that our body releases when we experience these emotions. Eventually, our body gets used to being in this state. So when we try to think of positive thoughts, it often feels uncomfortable. Life without pain and chaos can feel unfamiliar and strange. Maybe you’ve experienced the thought “it’s too good to be true,” when life begins to line up in your favor. This is not because this good thing is a rare event, but rather it’s because the emotions that are evoked from this positive outcome is foreign to your body. Maybe saying affirmations feels like bullshit or you have a strong belief that you “always mess up your relationships.” Again, it’s not the suffering and experiences you are addicted to, but the chemical releases that occur in response to these experiences. A lot of it stems from childhood.
Not only is this a common occurrence of childhood sexual abuse survivors, but this also goes for emotional abuse too. For example, let’s say you had a father who was emotionally distant. Throughout childhood, chances are you’d constantly seek out attention, validation, or love from him. The times he gave you his time or attention, you’d get a feeling of euphoria or joy from feeling that you are loved at that moment. In that positive experience, the release of endorphins occurs. Now, let’s say chances are he doesn’t stay engaged, or involved for long and withdraws, becoming cold. That pain of disappointment and abandonment the child suddenly feels is also accompanied by endorphins. This becomes a cycle, and if it occurs repeatedly in childhood, oftentimes, in adulthood they will seek out the same. It’s not that the adult wants that painful experience, instead they are used to the cycle and the endorphins released in response to the highs and lows, creating some sort of dependency. They don’t know any different. Often, this occurs subconsciously, but once we become aware of what is going on, we have the power to change it.
Also, here is something to know about happiness: it’s not our natural set point. Take that pressure off yourself to feel happy all the time. We can change the cycle I mentioned above and experience happiness more frequently, but it’s not the natural state of human beings, just like anger, stress, and sadness. They are all equivalent. I think a lot of frustration in individuals comes from “not feeling happy.” I’ve done this myself. I’d often freak out that I wasn’t “happy anymore” and would fear that I was going into another depressive episode. Whereas in reality, I just wasn’t feeling happy in that moment. We are not made to feel happy all the time. In fact, on a vibrational scale, peace is at a higher level than happiness. Peace is the form of least resistance. Peace is releasing the struggle to constantly achieve happiness. We will find relief once we stop searching for maintaining a state of happiness all the time.
TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post contains the subjects of sexual assault and rape. These posts include excerpts from my non-fiction essays and memoirs written for past college courses. My work is intended to help others understand, cultivate awareness about trauma.
“I looked at the shrine of dusty magazines, as I tried to bury the surfacing feelings in my sheets. I had left my body because the pain is too high of a price to pay for a fleeting moment of pleasure. I looked over at his dresser. Typical. Like one of those windup toys, we both followed through with the fixed motions we’ve been set to. I dipped my toes back into my skin to get a sense of it. It was risk to bring myself back to the rhythms of the room.
This isn’t awful. Does he notice? Quick, do something so he knows you’re alive. I arched my back to look at the clock that hung over his bed frame. I want to go home. I kind of hate him. Maybe he hates me too.
I wondered if he noticed my distance after I departed. After he walked throughout all the corners of my body, luckily avoiding the trap doors, my heart fell silent. I bent my toes and fingers, bringing back awareness into my limbs.
I pulled myself up out of his bed and picked my clothes. It was difficult to hear what he was saying over the fog of silence that stood stagnant in the room. My ears picked up mumblings of his voice as my head nodded off in agreement. And who the hell knows what I was even agreeing to. The man could’ve asked me to marry him or told me he never wanted to see me again.
Over my body, I threw on my light baggy sweater and walked towards the door. I didn’t look back before I closed it behind me. Onwards I went, tiptoeing down the narrow, iron staircase. At the front of the screen door, I collected my flip flops and drawstring bag. I pushed open the screen door, as a breath of wind brushed my hair. I walked through the tuffs of grass on the front lawn. The humid air, thickened by the essence of oak leaves and cut grass, warmed my body to the core of my bones. The pavement began to cool off as the summer heat faded up into the starry night’s pool. I wondered how the earth continued to live when the pavement laid itself down on the earth.
Did it halt her breathing? It certainly stopped her from blooming in certain places. Yet. still, there were areas of her land that continued to flourish.
Maybe she’d trust us more.
It was like this sticky tar that we slid on top of her, without permission whatsoever. It’s too messy to clean off. Slowly, over time it hardened into asphalt.
Perhaps she’s not suffocating underneath, I thought, but left those parts abandoned. She doesn’t feel when people walk over her anymore because of the hardened pavement.”
-Excerpt from “The Pavement” by Fiona McHugh.
You see, after abuse happens, especially at a young age, it’s common for (not in all, but many cases) survivors to compartmentalize physical intimacy and emotional intimacy into two different boxes, OR they will seek out physical intimacy as a way to earn or feel a sense of emotional intimacy. Walls are built to feel protected emotionally and physically. Yet oftentimes, when these walls are built, they often cause us to disconnect from ourselves. Common ways this can show up are: people-pleasing, putting other’s needs over our emotional and physical needs, or totally disengaging from your body and heart.
Ask yourself the question, “Why do I have sex?” If that is too much of a broad question and feels too overwhelming to answer, then here are some things to ask yourself to understand where you are at:
Is it easier to be physically intimate instead of emotionally?
Do I use physical intimacy as a way to feel closeness, to avoid emotional intimacy/vulnerability?
Do I abandon myself to please my partner? And am I aware of what I really want?
Do I engage in sex because I believe I will feel validation?
Do I struggle with asking for help or expressing my feelings? Am I more aware of my partner’s feelings than my own?
Do I use sex as a way to connect to people instead of being open emotionally?
Do I have a deep desire for connection, yet fear it at the same time?
Do I know what makes me feel good? Do I even know that sex is supposed to and allowed to feel good?
Do I believe I need to have sex to receive love, feel desired, or feel worthy?
Do I have a difficult time saying no to physical intimacy? Do I give into sex even when I don’t want to? Am I often sexually compliant?
Do I value my partner’s pleasure over mine? Do I even feel pleasure?
Is it difficult to express what I want?
These questions are here to create awareness. Sometimes we get caught up in the cycle of life and continue to experience the same type of pain, without understanding why. These questions above helped me see which beliefs created this pain. The first step to breaking a cycle is to understand it. Yet, instead of viewing your beliefs critically, try analyzing them from an observant perspective.
Here’s the thing: there is physical intimacy, then there is emotional intimacy. They are two different things. You can experience both of them with a partner, and you can also experience one. If you were a survivor of sexual or emotional abuse, it can feel scary to share both types with a partner, because it means there are now two ways you are being vulnerable and trusting them. And for someone who survived abuse, that can feel overwhelming. Here are some ways to break down beliefs that people can’t be trusted.
Learning what you desire, what feels good, what you will and won’t tolerate.
Promising yourself to never abandon yourself for someone else’s needs. Becoming your own superhero.
Once you are more in tune with yourself, practice communicating with your partner your desires or if something doesn’t feel right. This takes time.
After you have a practice of communicating, you will start to build trust with yourself.
I cannot express enough how important it is to build back trust with yourself. When you don’t trust yourself to communicate boundaries and needs, it’s easy to create detachment during sex as a way to subconsciously protect yourself from being totally vulnerable. I want you to know that it is possible to build that bridge between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy. Even if you saw sex as a way to escape, numb out, or avoid emotional vulnerability, I promise that it is possible to rewrite your story and learn that it can be an incredible experience with someone you love. There are good people out there that will love you and will be patient, compassionate, and understanding. I promise.
“We’ve raised little boys in the dirt. As they use their plastic shovels, we praise them fordigging up the earth. While girls are taught to avoid the mud because it will stain their dresses and skirts. Not only are we teaching young girls to walk this earth between these narrow lines, but this seeps into the minds of younger boys who later become young men…”
-Excerpt from the nonfiction essay “The Pavement” by: Fiona McHugh
A lot of us women have been raised to sit still, stand up straight, smile, brush your hair, apologize (even if you don’t mean it- because being “nice” and laid back will make you more likable and not a bitch), don’t speak if it will cause conflict or chaos, be skinny but also have boobs and make sure your ass isn’t flat, follow the rules, put other’s needs above ours, be polite, and you just absolutely must be: pretty. Now, if these are your values then maybe this post isn’t for you. But if you were taught that these “should” be your values and must be put before your intuition and what you truly value, keep reading.
Being polite and pretty is not what we came here to be.
We have been taught that these behaviors will make us accepted, likable, and even loved. “Forget that you have a sense of humor or are athletic, this is what makes you important.” Man, fuck that . If you feel like you’ve abandoned yourself to become the poster child for the behaviors listed above then here’s what to remember:
Step Back: into yourself, and your own mind. Quit trying to be a mindreader. Stop trying to please everyone around you. If you continue focusing on everyone around you and aren’t in touch with yourself, this is when your battery will get depleted. If you find yourself feeling lost, resentful, or indecisive, chances are you need to come back to yourself and ask, “Aside from all opinions and/or obligations, what do I need right now?”
Boundaries. If you need space, you don’t have to message back. Most of us would rather feel resentment for letting people cross a line, instead of guilt for creating a boundary.
Stop Saying Sorry: This isn’t regarding if you morally did fuck up, but more of saying unnecessary “sorry’s”. I still am a culprit of this. These unnecessary sorry’s are used after stating opinions, passing by someone in a store aisle when they’re like 10 feet away, or randomly thrown in during conversations without context. “Oh sorry!” “Oh my god I’m so sorry!” Sorry, this sorry that, what are we?!!? Sorry for existing?!!?!?
Choose Authenticity: Instead of striving to be good; choose authenticity.. You’re not actually being “good” if you’re not living in alignment with yourself. This goes for sharing your opinion, saying that joke, going for that career or training you’ve always wanted to do, saying what you like and don’t like during sex, and saying “shut the fuck up” if someone calls you too thin or too fat. I promise, it’s weird at first when you stay with yourself, but at the end of your life, you’ll be able to say that you lived your own life and not someone else’s.