Falling Apart is a Delicate Art

I’ve lost a lot of people over the years, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been contending with a loss I haven’t experienced since I was a child—that of losing someone who is dying.

Much of my healing since leaving the cult has been centered on learning how to grieve, but I’m finding that the grief of death is an entirely different matter from the griefs I’ve experienced before. Rather than the emotional turmoil being spaced out over years as my subconscious gently guides me from layer to layer, they’re all there at the same time with an intensity that is nothing short of breath-taking.

There are days when I’m okay–when the routine of life makes me feel like I’m practically normal. I laugh, catching myself off guard. I get excited about my upcoming school year, work on crafts, and enjoy being with friends and chosen family while the pain of my heart recedes into the background for a time. I welcome those days because they help me get through the others, the days when I’m not okay–when I cry and rage and hide in bed, watching Netflix until I can’t feel anymore.

On some levels, I feel as though I have been building up to this moment, that the purpose of my life has been to learn how to grieve increasingly devastating losses.

Society tells me to buck up, hide my tears when I go into the grocery store, and tell people “I’m fine” when they ask. “Be strong,” they say. “Keep it together.”

Society is not comfortable with grief.

But I know better. I know by now that shoving down the sadness doesn’t make it go away. I know that putting on a brave face only helps to isolate me in my sadness and that trying to escape from the intensity of my emotions creates a recipe for crippling depression and stagnation.

So I surround myself with those who can tolerate tears. I allow myself to be utterly shattered. I am not interested in looking functioning right now. To what purpose? Because I think that others might be uncomfortable with the snot dripping down my nose and my red, swollen eyes? My grief is not about them.

Being shattered doesn’t mean I stop living. I am intentionally living each moment of this process, allowing myself to feel it in every corner of my heart.

“Grief is about letting yourself be destroyed,” my therapist tells me.

Her words offer the relief of permission, but I know there is a truth even deeper than that. I will be destroyed whether I wish to allow it or not, but surrendering to the destruction allows it to be a gentle annihilation. Over the last year with my physical therapy, I’ve learned that when there is pain, the best response is to release into it. Surrender removes the edge of resistance, allowing the pain to ebb and flow naturally.

When people tell me to “be strong,” I want to tell them that I am strong. Crying and “falling apart” aren’t signs of weakness. It takes strength to allow myself to be consumed and know that I will resurrect in the end. I am strong enough to feel the devastation of love.

 

 

Breaking Free From Pelvic Pain

I apologize for my absence last week. The end of the summer has proven to carry about as much emotion as I can handle. There has been tragedy, about which I don’t have the heart to write yet, and there has been joy. The two juxtaposed together feel incongruous to my deeply feeling heart, but in reality, it’s just the way of nature (a topic perhaps I will be able to verbalize in the coming weeks).

Today, though, I want to talk about something incredibly personal and vulnerable. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me make reference to my sexual abuse. What I haven’t mentioned were the physical effects that abuse caused.

Vaginismus is a generalized term that doctors use to describe pain in the vagina, usually related to spasms or contraction in the vaginal wall with insertion of any object. Doctors “don’t know exactly why vaginismus happens,” as WebMD bluntly puts it, and six years ago when I first started to experience the excruciating pain associated with vaginismus whenever I tried to have sex, get a pelvic exam, wear a tampon, or even go to the bathroom, I was told that not only was the cause unknown, but so was the cure.

Basically, I was told I would live with near-constant pain all the time, and the best that I could do would be to stretch my stubbornly shut vagina with smaller objects before I had sex…if the pain wasn’t so bad as to prevent me from having sex.

Last year in April, I went in for the dreaded pelvic exam that I get every year. It was also the year that I had to get my merena replaced, and what was supposed to be a “painless” process of removing the merena and a “mildly painful” process of inserting a new one was so excruciating that I was doped out of my mind on tranquilizers and still managed to scream loudly enough to have a sore throat later. Ripping my uterus out would have probably been less painful.

I had the procedure done at Planned Parenthood, and the gynecologist who worked with me took some time to talk to me about my pain. It was the first time any doctor had ever sat down long enough to try to understand it. She wasn’t able to do anything in that moment to make what I was there for any less painful, but she mentioned that there was a physical therapy that could help me with my pain.

Naturally, I was afraid to hope. If it were treatable, why hadn’t I been told sooner? But I let her write me a referral to a physical therapy center in my area…and then I sat on it for two months in absolute terror of what physical therapy might include.

A year ago this month, I finally went to my first appointment and began a journey that has ended Friday with some of the happiest tears I’ve ever cried. I learned that the cause of vaginismus isn’t quite as “mysterious” as other doctors would have me believe. I learned that it wasn’t all in my head due to sexual anxiety triggered by the fear of flashbacks and memories of abuse; my pelvic muscles had suffered physical trauma just as my soul had suffered emotional trauma. No amount of talking therapy was going to address the injury that had occurred to my vaginal wall when I was a child.

But pelvic floor physical therapy could.

It was awkward as all hell going in to see a woman who would stick her finger inside my vagina once a week to teach my muscles how to relax. I think I wouldn’t have been able to do the work if I had gone before last year because there’s nothing in mainstream society that teaches us that vaginal insertion and vaginal massage can be anything other than sexual. It was something I had to learn through my voracious reading of feminist and sex-positive books.

It was painful as all hell too. Initially the only way to get my muscles to release their tension was through trigger point therapy, which basically stresses the muscle until it releases from exhaustion.

And, of course, it was hard as all hell. My muscles were so used to being contracted that relaxing them took effort, concentration, and training. I had to do internal work on myself in between my appointments in order for them to be effective. And the emotional work of my therapy definitely came in. In fact, I learned that muscles often hold memories and emotions. Releasing the muscle releases a flood of things that my mind has buried.

But this week, I finally graduated from my physical therapy with the majority of my vaginal and pelvic muscles at normal tension and tone. The therapist couldn’t fix everything. There’s permanent damage in some parts of my pelvis, but for the first time in my life, I can go entire days and almost weeks without spasms. I know what pain-free sex feels like. I know how to manage my pain and release the spasms when I have them.

So on some levels, the doctors were right. I will never be entirely free from pelvic pain.

But they were so so so wrong because managing my symptoms and pain now means reminding my body how to get to a pain-free place again rather than ignoring the pain.

Why am I writing about this?

Partially because I think we need to slough off the shame of talking about pelvic health. If I were having epiphanies associated with menstruation, I’d be writing about that too.

But mostly because I know there are other women out there who have pelvic pain and vaginismus, whether because of sexual abuse, a physical accident, or anything else.

And I know that they’ve likely been told the “cause” is unknown.

And I know they probably believe there is no treatment for it.

And I want them to now know that that’s not fucking true. There’s a difference between “complicated and caused by multiple factors” and “unknown causes.” There might be some ways in which this is “incurable,” but it’s not untreatable. If doctor’s believe the unknown and untreatable bunk, it’s because women’s sexual health isn’t taken as seriously, but there are people out there who care and who focus on helping women (and some men) heal themselves.

So as the successfully former patient, I’m here to say: There’s hope.

But First Let Me Take a Selfie: Capturing Life’s Moments

I took so many pictures when I was a young teen. I had boxes of photographs from disposable cameras with photos of things that I didn’t even remember.

But I struggle to remember to take pictures as an adult.

With cameras built into most cell phones, it should be easier to snap a picture of almost any moment in my life, yet the majority of the pictures on my phone consist of parking spaces I need to remember or images of that water stain I need to tell my landlord about. Pictures that are for practical purposes but have no emotional meaning for me.

The camera has become ubiquitous and thus invisible. Back when I had to go out and buy a disposable camera, I was aware that something special was coming up. Carrying it around with me while out with friends or on a vacation helped me remember to put the view finder up to my eye periodically and press the button.

Now, I rarely think about my camera.

Maybe that’s just me. I’m not a photographer. Photography requires a certain mindset, I mindset that steps out of a moment long enough to take a picture of it. Photography has always struck me as somewhat disruptive to inundating myself in what’s happening.

But I want it to be me. When I see pictures that others have taken, I love the way they take me back. I love the way they give me access to people and things I can’t physically return to.

I have a friend who takes tons of photos. And seeing our happy, sometimes drunk, but always smiling faces in the pictures reminds me of the magic of those moments in a way that memory alone can’t. Thanks to her, I have a stockpile of mementos of our time together, and I treasure them.

But were you to look through my photo albums, it would seem as though she were my only friend because I and my other friends never think to take pictures together with our ever-present, ever-ready cameras.

This past week, my partner and I were on vacation, and I made a concerted effort to remember to demand a few selfies with him throughout our site-seeing adventures. It’s the first step in my mid-year’s resolution to start documenting the people and times in my life more.

Life is fragile, and the blissful moments fly by so quickly. But pictures freeze those moments, just a little bit, providing a memory-portal to help me travel back for a visit.

New Moon in Cancer: Reflections on Relationships

The new moon this moon has knocked the air out of me emotionally, but it’s forced me to confront some things I have been avoiding for a while. I don’t have too much for this blog today, mostly some reflection thoughts. It seems like this moon has been all about the patterns of relationships, the patterns of my core being.

I’m realizing I am very bad at saying what I need. The more I struggle, the more I withdraw. I haven’t entirely recovered from the break up with my best friend several years ago, and I’ve internalized this very deep-seated message that when it comes down to it, no one will be there for me when I’m in pain.

I’ll go out of my way to be there for others. I’m loyal enough to be a puppy. And in suppressing my own needs, I often raise someone else’s up. It makes me a “good friend” or a “good girlfriend,” except the other side of the coin is that it’s motivated from fear. Fear of them not finding my own vulnerabilities lovable. Fear of losing their interest. Fear of being too “dramatic.”

But fear is not a good foundation for any relationship.

As this new moon has pealed back the layers of all my excuses, I’m left staring at the stark and somewhat unappealing truth.

I’m not very good at relationship.

I am scared to death to trust. I am scared to death to have demands or desires. I would often rather fade out of a relationship than take the chance of stirring up conflict.

And in light of that, how can I expect any relationship I have to be more than superficially deep when I cordon off the most vulnerable part of myself and hide behind a persona of empathy for someone else?

Even that realization tempts me to just withdraw more and content myself to a fate of solitude…if it hadn’t been for friends who called me on my shit, demanding/entreating that I show up and letting me know that they can see those parts that I think are so shameful and unlovable and still be there in the end. And it’s because of them that I’m using the new moon to look at how my other relationships could follow suit. What do I need to do to bring myself to them? How can I begin taking the chance of reaching out or taking a stand for my needs?

Some relationships will be easy to adjust. Others are a lifetime in the making and harder to break the out of their pattern.

I have a feeling this will be a messy process. I probably won’t show up with my vulnerability gracefully at first. Yesterday, I shocked myself when passive aggressive shit came flying out that I didn’t even know was sitting on the springboard of my tongue. But I’m going to do it and hope that the relationships that truly matter will love me in that mess the way some already have and that the ones that don’t matter will shed themselves quickly.

What are the relationship patterns that your new moon is showing to you right now?

Silly Girls, Orgasmic Sex is for Divas

Should it be news when a woman expects to enjoy sex?

Probably not in a world that isn’t completely fucked up…but actually, yeah, I think it should be news in today’s world.

It’s certainly turning heads that Nicki Minaj stated in her Cosmopolitan interview, “I demand to climax.”

Some are cheering her on. Some, however, think that she’s a “diva.” Because…apparently expecting sex to be pleasurable is such an unreasonable standard.

Sex. Orgasms. Celebrities. Who cares, right?

Well, I care. It’s a big deal.

The very fact that Nicki can create such a fuss over that statement and that she can get such backlash for holding that opinion reveals pretty strongly that even in our “advanced” society, female sexuality is still considered “for others.”

No man—absolutely none—needs to declare that he expects to climax every time he has sex. It’s a given. It’s expected that men will enjoy sex and that sex will lead to orgasm for men.

But women who expect the same…that’s shocking, unheard of, bitchy, demanding, diva-ish.

We live in a society where the female orgasm is extra. Movies and porn center themselves on male pleasure and ejaculation but hold no expectation of showing a woman climaxing. Women’s sexuality is used to sell everything from beer to cars to deodorant, yet women enjoying sex and climaxing during sex is no one’s first concern.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we hope to change the way our culture views women, we need to change the way our culture views women’s sexuality, not by fighting for fewer displays of sexuality but rather by fighting for displays of sexuality that demonstrate clearly that a woman’s sexuality is for herself.

We need more women declaring that they enjoy sex…and that they only have sex that they can enjoy.

The traditional ways of fighting objectification too easily play into the mindset that a woman’s only reason for being sexual is for the male gaze, male pleasure, etc. It reinforces the myth that women don’t have desires of their own.

Women, and girls especially, need role models who demonstrate…not modesty, but agency in sexuality. We need media that shows sex being rooted in respect, consent, and mutual pleasure. Expecting orgasmic sex shouldn’t have to be a newsworthy story. It’s time for women to take back their right to their own sexuality and demand that sex is as pleasurable for them as it is for their partners.

Guest Post: Right Thing Wrong Reason

The following critical analysis of the recent SCOTUS decision regarding marriage equality is a guest post from my partner. As we celebrate a step in the right direction this July 4, this post serves as a gentle reminder that our rights cannot be bestowed upon us like a gift from the government. They can only be acknowledged and defended. In fighting for equality, perhaps such a fine point seems like a quibble over semantics, but it’s an important one because it is the difference between asking permission and demanding what is legitimately ours.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, love did indeed win. Gay rights movements across the nation were give a wonderful reason to celebrate – LGBTQ now enjoy equality under the law in regard to marriage. This outcome was absolutely required by the 14th Amendment. If government is going to do anything, it must conduct its business without such unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Yet while the SCOTUS made a monumentally necessary decision, it also provided an observable continuation of a dangerous definitional shift.

We reject anti-gay discrimination because it violates a basic democratic government principle codified in the 14th Amendment: government must treat its citizens equally under the law. And that is enough. We must protect equality because it is a cornerstone of democracy and liberty.

Women’s rights and aboriginal activist Lill Watson ingeniously reasoned, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, whose online presence has been all but eradicated by the Chinese government, echoed this sentiment: “If someone is not free, I am not free.”

Legal equality for all is prerequisite to personal freedom.

Many historical dictators and fascist regimes absolutely protected their own rights but impinged others’ daily, which resulted in the mere illusion of freedom. This reasoning is rampant in today’s and yesterday’s Conservative arguments. They repackage already discarded arguments from 1960s segregation in their efforts to discriminate against minority groups, all the while claiming their religious freedom is being encroached when they are not permitted to discriminate.

A case in point, this somewhat hilariously self-defeating attempt at claiming oppression from a Catholic group opposing marriage equality. 

Today’s politics would do well to remember Martin Niemöller’s famous and provocative poem:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The Bill of Rights is not meant to be an exhaustive list, as evidenced by the 9th Amendment. In its codification, its authors outlined the basis of what makes something an absolute, unalienable right. One should be as free as possible until that freedom abuts someone else’s freedom.

As John B. Finch famously argued in the 1800s, “Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

According to Thomas Jefferson, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

We cannot equate freedom of speech with requiring government to reserve air time, provide a speaking platform, or print pieces of paper validating everyone’s speaking ability. Government should not be required to provide churches in which religious persons can meet. Fundamental or unalienable rights require no government permission or action; they require a lack of government prohibition and interference.

Yet we’ve seen a foundational shift away from this definition of “fundamental right” from meaning an unalienable right with which government must not interfere to meaning a thing that government should give you. The SCOTUS highlighted this change by affirming a fundamental right to marry and be recognized by the government. The idea that government must not discriminate in its issuance of marriage licenses or associated benefits is not the problem. What is insidious is the equivocation on the definition of “fundamental right.” The language changes from protecting unalienable rights to handing out rights, like food, water, shelter, affirmation, and happiness.

Certainly, Obergefell v. Hodges is not the first time that a fundamental right to marriage has been articulated. The 1967 Loving v. Virginia Court quoted the 1942 Skinner v. Oklahoma Court, stating that marriage “is one of the basic civil rights of man.” Justice Kennedy merely employs this foundation to imply the existence of other positive rights, stating an anti-gay marriage law “demea[ns] the lives of homosexual persons [and] works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians.”

This is a true statement; these things likely occur due to such discrimination. Yet this is not solid legal basis for rejecting a law. Each criminal or civil prohibition demeans and disrespects those who violate it, yet violators’ feelings should have no effect on our evaluation of a law’s constitutionality. To be clear, there is no constitutional right to feel good, be happy, be affirmed, or feel supported. The government cannot ensure or grant these things. There is, however, a constitutional right to be free to pursue these things (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness), subject only to the equal rights of others.

The natural progression of this shift has resulted in in the application of supposed unalienable rights to a redefined idea of personhood that includes corporations. The ramifications of this theory are piling up in the wake of Citizens United v. FEC and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Let’s be clear: the government can and should do all sorts of things, for various reasons. Yet what the government taxes, on what the government spends money, and how the government operates is only the SCOTUS’s business insomuch as it violates fundamental, unalienable rights. The SCOTUS might find a law to be bad or ineffective or failure-doomed, yet their job is to evaluate the law for constitutionality, not quality.

The SCOTUS has strayed from an understanding of basic rights that deals with individuals’ equality under the law. By equivocating their definitions, they have gradually and pervasively moved towards a quite different definition, one that redefines both liberties and to whom those liberties apply. They have redefined terms like “individual,” “freedom,” and “justice.” And liberal America has applauded and supported this evolution. Yet while liberal America intuitively knows it’s wrong to discriminate against LGBT, they largely fail to provide a legal foundation upon which to argue for fundamental rights. Claiming the moral high ground is only helpful as long as your group is in power. After having granted the government the power to decide moral issues for its people, this power becomes a tool to oppress even those who originally granted government that power. As race and gay rights activist Audre Lorde argued, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”