Body, Memory, Mind

It’s been six weeks since my surgery for pelvic organ prolapse (hysterectomy plus lots of cutting and stitching to repair). The pain has finally decreased; for the last two days I have taken one dose of ibuprofen, that’s all. I walk at a normal pace and even danced around a bit to my favorite music. I am back to work half time. I have to rest more than usual, but otherwise am nearly normal. (Phew!)

So this means it is time for me to be taking care of the next stage of healing–making sure my vaginal tissue grows over the mesh that was put in to support the front and back walls. So last night I take out the estrogen cream I am supposed to rub against the walls of my vagina twice a week for a year. It’s thick and sticky. I put it on my finger and rub it around inside me. It’s the first time I’ve had the nerve to touch that tender tissue, and I’m alarmed at what I find. It’s hard and ribbed, full of twisted ropes of scar tissue. It seems to have no flexibility (will I ever be able to have intercourse? I wonder). It’s uncomfortable to the touch.

Done. I wash my hands and crawl into bed. It hurts, a sharp pain around the opening and inside. In the past, such a pain reminds me of being very young (four perhaps? I don’t know) and the pain of inappropriate penetration. But this time, the memory that comes to me is the memory of an abortion I had when I was 21. I was in college and in love with my boyfriend, who thought contraception was immoral but didn’t let that stop him from having sex. I was too insecure to assert myself so the only surprise is that it took me two years with him before I got pregnant.

He said he loved me, but he was about to graduate, and he had other plans than hanging around and helping me have his baby. So I had an abortion and then I rode my bike home from Planned Parenthood and said goodbye to him because he was leaving for Peace Corps. And I never saw him again (forgive me, I may have told this story before). I was alone and cried and cried that day. I felt the loss of him more than the loss of a child, which didn’t seem real.

Anyway, that’s all old history.

As I lie in bed now with the sharp pains, I think of the abortion. And I think of the start of a potential child. From my current place, it seems different than it did then. I have two children, so I understand in a way I didn’t the transformation from positive pregnancy test to baby to child to teen to young adult. Actually, I have a stepson who is six months older than this person would have been if this early pregnancy had become a person.

And the memory starts my thoughts going, “I was so irresponsible; how did I let that happen?!” And “maybe I was never meant to be a mother; how uncaring,” which connected to thoughts of all the ways in which I feel I have not given my sons everything they need. And the ever-familiar “I am a bad person. I am evil.”

I know this isn’t helpful. It doesn’t change the past. It focuses on the negative. It piles heavy burdens of blame, regret and shame on my shoulders. So I try to breathe again. I try to find some compassion for the 21-year-old. She had no guidance. She had already learned to go along with the sexual requests of, well, whoever. And so much the more so when she was in love. She was ashamed. She told no one but her boyfriend, who treated it as an irritation. She was overwhelmed with loss. She coped the best she could.

And when she later did become a mother, she did the best she could. She loved and cared for the boys, even when she was depressed and exhausted, even when she was a worn out single mother. She never hurt them physically, and any emotional harm was unintentional. She took them places and gave them experiences. She told them stories and laughed with them. She built towers of blocks and Legos. She played transformers even though she thought they were ridiculous toys. She sang children’s songs when they were little and learned what was popular when they were teens. It’s true she didn’t always do what she could have to help them grow into fully independent adults, understanding both their own boundaries and respecting others. She couldn’t teach it because no one had ever taught her. She couldn’t teach it because she only recently started to learn it.

Consciously looking for these compassionate thoughts doesn’t fully stop the self-loathing ones, but it interrupts them and takes away some of their power.

20 thoughts on “Body, Memory, Mind

  1. You’re a great woman and a great mother, Q! And you’re right, you did the best you could with what little you had. It is brave of you to keep sharing your stories and to keep speaking out against the critical voices. You have so much strength and beauty in you and I hope that you will continue to be able to find those comforting and compassionate thoughts whenever the cruel ones start to attack you again.

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    • Thanks once again for being so supportive. I just keep sharing stories, trying to believe what I read in Brene Brown’s books, what E. tells me: bring your shame out in the open to expose it to the light and air makes it easier to bear. It doesn’t mean it’s all gone, but it seems less likely to crush me.

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      • Of course! I’ll always be here to root you on! 😀 Sharing your stories is a very powerful move. It’s impacting not only yourself but EVERYONE who reads your posts too. I know for one, I have been impacted greatly. I don’t think I’d have gotten as far in my own therapy had I not gotten some ideas from you as to what to do. And like you, I’ve come to realize that talking about my shame and fighting the urge to keep it all down (because it’s so shameful to talk about) has been SO helpful! It’s weird how exposing the shame is what makes it shrivel up and a little less scary…

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  2. You’re really brave. I feel so much compassion for you, for that girl who was hurt and who did the best she could— and btw, she did pretty darn good! I haven’t been on here lately, but I’ve wondered how you are. I’m glad to see you are healing well and fighting the self hate with empathy and compassion. Xx💟

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alice, thanks for your message! Yes, I’m still here, still trying to meet myself with kindness. Some days go better than others, but all of them go better than they used to. Definite progress. 🙂

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  3. He sounds like a colossal hypocrite to me, and so not worth your time of day, but I know it is never that simple with those who we have once trusted. I think you have only come through it a stronger person, though, and both the coping and the conscientiousness of your life since are testimony to that.

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    • He was a hypocrite of course, and I don’t know how he made that make sense to himself, but you know, a lot of us are pretty confused at age 21. Underneath it all, he could also be very kind, so I imagine there are ways in which the memory haunts him as well. Or so I like to imagine.

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  4. …was emotionally younger in her mind. She knew about abuse first hand. It as her “normal” and no one really told her differently. She just didn’t know why she did the crazy stuff she was doing and how it was she ended up where she was. Yet she managed to get through college and get a great job. She did have children and is a wonderful mom. She is married to a loving and caring man. She is safe now. She is wise. She is you.

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    • Yeah, isn’t it weird to be on one level very immature and clueless and dysfunctional, but still be able to do well in school and at work?

      I guess last year (2015) I also had that experience of functioning at two levels, at a high level at work, and disintegrating inside myself at home. I feel like this year I am getting the different parts to be more aligned to one another. Sometimes. More and more of the time, actually.

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  5. Hearing a lot of strength and wisdom, amidst the grief. Reflecting on the past, all of the hurts, particularly those in adulthood that seemingly appear to have been “chosen” (though I think acting out of trauma response is not exactly a conscious choice) is so painful. Kudos to you for feeling it and talking about the pain you feel.

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    • Hi Rachel. I still struggle a lot with the times I have “chosen” behaviors that were unhealthy or even dangerous. I feel sometimes when I say my actions were shaped by traumatic experiences, I am making excuses for myself. And yet, what good does it do to berate myself over and over? At some point, I need to accept it and move on, and that is easier if I contextualize the action and think of the impact of past experiences and the absence of positive, constructive role models for adult sexual behavior.

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  6. Alice said it – you’ve done pretty darn good! You deserve all this self-compassion, and I’m happy that you see the many good things you’ve done for your children, but a little sad that the criticism is “I” and the compassion is “she”. Maybe a literary device or maybe a distancing, an acknowledgment that this other person, this younger self, did good, but not you, not quite – I don’t know. And she was amazing, no doubt about that. I just hope your current self is getting credit too.

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    • Interesting you caught that–I hadn’t noticed. I will need to pay attention to whether I can give the kindness to MYSELF (my current self) and not just the memory of a former self.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your experience. I know it’s not always easy to open up to such a deep and touching level. We can judge ourselves so harshly at times.

    I hope you on your way to a healthy recovery from your hysterectomy and doing much better.

    Here’s an experience I’d like to share with you:

    https://hysterectomy4dysmenorrhea.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/was-it-the-nurse-or-the-dilaudid/

    I wish you ALL THE BEST in the coming days! ❤

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  8. Your awesome Q and I have a lot of love and compassion for that 21 year old! She was still suffering the effects of abuse and did not know better so it is not her fault at all. xoxo

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    • Thank you for being so encouraging. That 21-year-old still had a lot to learn, that’s for sure. I do think she really tried to manage the best she could, but it’s too bad she didn’t have more resource and self-confidence!

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