Twenty-some years ago I was raped by a physician during a gynecologic exam . . . this being only the most recent assault I had experienced in my young life. I had lived through ten years of child sexual abuse at the hands of four different perpetrators. By the time I found myself in a doctor’s office, my perception of life was that people randomly invaded me.
I posted the story of this rape here (visible to members only): http://pandys.org/fo...&hl="chapter 1"
I don’t really know what else to call it. They assaulted me? They molested me? They made me talk about uncomfortable topics? Took pictures of me, showed pictures to me, told me personal things about their sexual histories? Inserted things in me, made me touch them down there, raped me and attempted to rape me. They gagged me with alcohol-and-cigarette-tasting mashing of mouths. Or they came into my room at night, or came into the bathroom. Whatever they did, it messed with my mind and made me think that this is simply how the world is.
Invaded. It’s the best word I can think of to categorize all of the ways they messed with me. “Messed,” that’s my mom’s word for it. That’s how she asked me when I was 20. “Did [your step-father] mess with you?” I simply nodded and we were catapulted on a path I can only describe as an odyssey, toward what I don’t know.
As an aside, my family was the subject of a police investigation of child sexual abuse a couple years after I graduated and moved out. The investigation didn't turn up sufficient evidence to support charges, but it enabled us to face head-on the facts of what had happened. At the time there were private admissions of culpability. But, in all the years since, my parents' perspective has been diminishment, bordering on denial.
When a doctor raped me in my early 20s, I simply wasn’t surprised. In fact, I was so accustomed to being randomly invaded I didn’t even experience the rape as traumatic. I pushed him out of me. I yelled, “Ouch, that hurts!” I sat up and pulled myself away. I defended myself and got out of there. But, that is all I did. It never occurred to me that a crime had been committed. In fact, I returned to that same doctor for a follow-up appointment. The appointment when he raped me was my initial exam prior to a surgery. I had a follow-up exam some days after the surgery. But, there was a nurse in the exam room for that appointment. He didn’t invade me then.
Years later, I received a phone call from a county sheriff’s investigator. He informed me this doctor had been arrested for sexually assaulting his patients. He explained they were contacting former patients to ask for a statement. A nurse, apparently, had identified me as a possible victim. It was a mind-bending phone call for me. I had long forgotten the discomfort of that encounter. I hadn’t named it as “sexual assault.” (Today, legally we call it rape. Today, I call it rape.) I put the investigator off initially, telling him I had to get to work and would call back.
I eventually called and gave my statement by phone. At that time in my life I was participating in group counseling. I had taken a vacation from work and was in an intensive out-patient program. I was confronting my childhood of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. At that point in my life I had been involved in individual counseling for several years. Despite all of the attention being paid to my history, the subject of being raped by the doctor never came up. I still hadn’t understood what happened. I wasn’t ready to see it, or feel what it did to me. I wasn’t coping well with my childhood traumas. I think I just didn’t have room for another obstacle in my recovery.
Nonetheless, I managed somehow to give my statement to the investigator. I was told they would get back in touch. And, I immediately pushed the whole thing out of my mind. There were news paper articles about the doctor. I saw one of them, but didn’t read it. I never paid attention to the news, so I was able to avoid any further exposure. Until a few weeks, or maybe it was months later - my memory isn’t clear – I saw another article in the newspaper announcing the doctor had died in jail awaiting trial. Apparently he had cancer when he was arrested and it was late stage. The investigators ran out of time. I guess the victims ran out of time too.
I didn’t feel anything at the time of his death, except perhaps relief. Not consciously. But, in the recesses of my buried emotions there was relief that I would not have to face the trauma. My recovery process from my childhood abuse had been an arduous trek of picking my way around the rocks and the breaks in the path. I had insisted on getting through without feeling the pain. I had insisted on thinking my way to a better way of being in the world, rather than confronting and expressing emotions. It’s not lost on me that my insistence on a cognitive process was not probably a “smart” thing to do, because it took a long, long time to make real progress.
However, I did make progress. I found my way to being kind to myself and moving forward to become the person I could be. Before and during the counseling for my child abuse I was harmful to myself, sometimes directly harmful and other times taking terrible risks that put me in great danger. I sustained many injuries at my own hands or as a consequence of my callous self-regard. After four years of intense counseling I made my way to the other side. I grew up. I outgrew my addiction to catharsis and shifted my attention to making something of myself. I had ability. I knew there were things in this world I could do. I had been an honor student in high school. I had been made aware of my potential. So, I made it my purpose to chase that potential with the same fury that I ran from my rage.
I went to college and earned a degree. I earned another degree and then another. I got a great job, got married, had kids. I lived a storybook life for 20 years. Not entirely storybook, but in comparison to the first twenty two years, my life was a rose garden. Then, recently, one of my teenage children was working on an assignment for school where he described his family’s history. He wrote about his dad’s difficult childhood in foster care, having been abandoned by his parents. As he read the story I was touched by the sensitivity and insight of my son’s words. He next read what he wrote about me. He wrote that there wasn’t much to tell about his mom. She had a normal childhood, “nothing big ever happened to her,” said he.
I was shocked, not because he described me that way. It makes sense he would describe me that way. He knows nothing about my history. I decided long ago there was no reason to tell my children about the abuse in my past. I was shocked because I knew I don’t feel that way. I feel there is a steel case inside where my big pains were stored. Also, this conversation with my son happened during the same week when I was facing the reality of having to go to the doctor. I avoid doctors, vigorously. I only go when I absolutely must. I will wait until I’m deathly ill before being seen. And, I have a condition that requires me to be seen. If I don’t stay on my prescription I will die in a matter of months.
Now, despite my doctor avoidance, I had done fairly well managing my condition because it didn’t require a doctor to physically examine me. Just a blood test and a few questions, then here’s the script and off you go. That’s how it had been for years. Almost no doctor touched me since the delivery of my last child (the very child who rattled my teeth with his description of my life). But, we had recently moved. We were in a new community, which meant a new doctor. I struggled mightily, delaying, resisting the task of finding a doctor, of starting over. I knew it would mean a possible physical exam.
For me a physical exam can spark a full-on panic attack. It takes the form of shaking that looks like a seizure. It’s not a seizure. But, I can’t control it. I space out and have great difficulty responding when this happens. I end up being sick to my stomach and laid out for a day or two afterward. I get migraines and sometimes I end up self-harming because I can’t cope with the overwhelming anxiety that ravages me after a physical exam, especially a gynecologic exam. Any exam that touches where I would wear a t-shirt or a pair of shorts is more than I can tolerate. One time I ended up in an emergency room because of my condition and I ended up being combative with the staff. They had to hold me down for several minutes until I started the “seizure” and then became lethargic.
I knew I might have to be examined by a doctor when I established. I knew I had to find someone in order to renew my prescription. But, I kept putting it off. I put it off until the meds ran out. Finally, knowing how dangerous it was, telling myself it was stupid to put my life at risk, stupid to risk my children losing their mother, I made an appointment. I found a female doctor.
In fact, I found an ObGyn. There was another issue going on for me that needed this specialty. As much as it horrified me, I knew I needed this care. And, I figured, I could get it over with, get my prescription, and then not see an ObGyn again for five or ten years. I had learned recently that one of my sisters had a suspicious breast tumor. She was tested for the cancer gene and tested positive. The tumor was benign, but they told her she would require close, regular monitoring. And, they said her sisters would also need to be tested. Additionally, I have had breast lumps. I have several of them, in fact. When I was carrying my first child the doctor ran a biopsy on one of them. It was benign. She advised me to follow-up yearly. I did not comply with that advice. So, here I was confronted with another warning, another opportunity to make a better choice for myself.
Furthermore, I have recently found myself in a better place, more at peace, safer than I have been ever in my life. When we moved to our new community we moved away from a toxic situation into a healthy situation. I finally found a content place in my life. And, I guess this is how it goes, as soon as I set down the sword and the shield that protected me through it all, I discover the pain, I see the wounds and the blood. Not just my own blood, but that of others with whom I have done battle over the years. It’s all still there. The carnage clings to the armor inside.
Finally, now that I’ve given this lengthy background, I am to the reason I am writing this story now. I must be seen by a doctor and I have more therapeutic work to do in order to cope with it. Maybe, just maybe, I can rid myself of the armor. Maybe I can get to the point that a doctor appointment does not induce an anxiety attack. Maybe I can take care of my health so I can live the full length of my life. So, here’s my plan. I need to be able to talk about this experience. No one knows what I’m going through. I have found a counselor. I plan to share this blog with her. Between the counseling and the blog perhaps I’ll find a way to move past this anxiety about doctors, perhaps even let go of some of the buried pain and set aside the armor.
So, my plan is to post about each stage of this experience. I also plan to post a daily list of the good things from my day that made me smile, or gave me joy. There is much joy in my life. It carries me; it feeds my soul. I don’t want to get lost in the mire of darkness that comes with my history. I think in my prior counseling I made important, critical even, changes to my view of the world and of myself in it. But, I might have built my internal armor in the process, to contain the toxins, to protect me from them. Perhaps the reason I am going through this situation today, the reason I am able to consider going to an ObGyn, is because I am ready to live without the armor. Maybe not. We’ll see.