Potentially triggering moments ahead, mentions of assaults, exams, and memories, so here is a picture of Gilda Catner if you need to stop here.
It has been over a year since I was last assaulted. That alone for me is remarkable. In that year a lot has happened. I’ve been seeing a therapist regularly. I’ve been working the same job consistently. I’ve been to Harry Potter World (and isn’t that all that matters?). I’ve also been diagnosed with endometriosis. I’ve had surgery. I’ve had flashbacks. I’ve healed. I’ve learned, and in a lot of ways I’ve found tools to get out from under the pain of traumas.
To that end my therapist has celebrated with me as I’ve moved into what is genuinely a relatively stable place. I’m not healed. I’m not cured. But I am better. I can confidently tell you that I am constantly getting better. Flashbacks are fewer.
This all, to me, is incredible.
Now that society-at-large is starting to talk about sexual harassment and trauma, let’s talk about what no one is talking about. Hell, I haven’t been talking about it, because I didn’t know it was a thing. So let me tell you what I’ve learned to be a thing.
Mental and emotional damage is a big side effect of sexual assault. Lasting damage, and I am so glad we’ve reached the stage where people are getting the platform and space to speak about that. It’s important, and while heartbreaking, it is beautiful.
It’s safe to assume that some physical damage also comes with sexual assault. Bruises, tears, and some times worse, but often it’s relatively superficial physical damage. Or so I believed.
After months of searching, I finally found a new gynecologist. I was given the most thorough exam I’ve ever received, and with it some of the most needed patience. He explained every he did before he did. I was with him for at least 45 minutes, before he told me that he believed I had both bladder damage and damage to my hip muscle from the assaults, likely one within the last year based on how my pain has changed.
He sent me to a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor, again something I did not know existed. When they handed me the pamphlet for it, it was described as for pre and post-natal treatment. The nurse told me that’s just what they call it, so don’t be intimidated.
A little over a month ago I started seeing my physical therapist, for what I refer to as “vag therapy.” She’s patient. She’s calm. She shows as much care to how my mind is doing as my brain therapist. If I don’t feel up to an internal treatment, she doesn’t even give it a second thought. If I don’t feel up to her touching me, she walks me through stretches that I do myself. This experience has been incredibly healing, but there’s something I really need you to understand.
When I first did my rape kit back in April of 2017, the nurse pointed out that I had hemorrhoids. Those were new. She noticed some mild damage, but she also explained that the same cell structure in your mouth that heals so quickly, is the same cell structure in vaginas, which is why they also heal quickly. Perhaps if I’d gone in the minute after it happened, she’d have seen other damage, but she didn’t tell me about the possibility of future problems. She didn’t even mention it.
When I went to see my physical therapist, she told me there wasn’t just damage, there’s a tear in one of the muscles in my pelvic floor that controls my hip. Not a strain. Not a kink. A tear. That tear then changes how I use my hip which pinches the nerves in my hip. This affects so much more of my life than I realized. It dictates whether or not it hurts to poop, or if I can poop. It can mean I pee more or less because of pain. It changes how I walk, because it’s not just about that muscle. Since it involves my nerves, sometimes there’s a searing pain in my foot, when I’ve done nothing differently. Sometimes I collapse in the middle of a grocery because I’ve been walking too long. Sometimes my head lilts to one side because the nerves are all bound up.
When I say it hurts, I’m understating. I’ll burn myself sitting on and resting under heating pads. I’ll lose sleep. I’ll cry uncontrollably to my boyfriend because I think the way this may be affecting his life is incredibly unfair to him. It determines whether or not I can attend something I was looking forward to. It can genuinely bring me to my knees.
The first time I met with my physical therapist, I got in the car and lost it. I started sobbing. I had, no, I have made so much progress in the last eight years, and in this last one specifically. I’m incredibly proud of how hard I’ve worked, how far I’ve come. I’ve cut out people who were detrimental to my growth, and in many ways deliberately working to undermine it. I’ve given myself tools to get through bad days. I’ve had less bad days. And yet, here I am.
I felt like I’d lost, again. In many ways, I still do. (For corn’s sake, it’s only been a month). These monsters have gone on with their lives, many feeling like they’ve done nothing wrong, some despite conversations. While I’ve begun to feel like every few months I have to start fighting this battle all over again. Like getting to the end of your five-hundredth meter in the pool and remembering just before your feet reach the bottom of the pool that you’re doing the 1,000. Just as you start to breathe relief, your splashed with the reality that this race is not over. It’s both exhausting and heartbreaking.
Hear me though. I am not telling you this for pity or sympathy or anything else. I don’t think I’m telling you for my own sake. Know that your friends who have suffered and survived, may not just be trying to get through mental blocks, and trust me that’s hard enough. Their bodies may also be fighting. Their bodies maybe fighting fights that the mind is not yet aware of.
It’s a long struggle. I know that, and I’ve seen people come and go with time as it weighs on them too. That seems like a dark place to leave, but as of this moment, I don’t know what all comes next. Just do me a favor, check on your survivor friends. Keep growing.