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The Box

riffing off the theme for disability blog carnival #13: "What box?"

The box.

The box says that trauma comes in a handful of forms: child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, war, torture, natural disasters.

That might be all right, but it also tells you what each one of these things are. It tells you what they look like. It tells you who does them. It tells you that they have patterns, and it tells you what those patterns are. It tells you what happened to you if these things did. It tells you that if something similar happened, something that didn't quite fit these patterns, that it must not have been as bad. Even if you sometimes wonder whether what you've seen is actually worse.

First, the child. They told us who to avoid in textbooks and in class. They told you what people tried to do: touch you in particular places, places that were covered by bathing suits. They told you what to say no to, that if you stood up to one of these people you had "Good refusal skills."

I was sure I had those. Even though twice a week (if I remember right) I left my class and went into a room where a woman wrenched my legs apart and held them there while I screamed and pleaded.

I still had my clothes on. Her hands or legs touching my legs and pushing until I pleaded. And even when I pleaded it wasn't stop. It was "won't my legs be kind of better if you only do it for thirty seconds no why twenty-nine thirty thirty one thirty-two no no please please I can't aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhghghghghghghggh how many seconds did it take me to scream just then?"

The county paid her to come and give me therapy. I was supposed to trust her.

I had no idea "refusal skills" could mean saying no to her. She didn't want sex. She wanted to help me.

Or so everyone said to me anyway.

(This is where I'm kind of flashbacky so if I sound a bit like a child that is why... I can't both pull away enough to sound reasonable AND tell this story)

and now the word "abuse." they tell you what this one means, also. Usually they say that it's a men and woman that get married. The man acts nice, and then turns into a monster, and acts nice again. That's the pattern. That's what's happening if someone's abusing you. I thought that if someone was always mean, it meant that must not be abuse. They must be right when they say:

tough love.

deal with it to get better.

that's a persona.

to help you.

you hear the others screaming and she calls you names and she tells you draw a circle and you do you do you move the pencil so slow and it's not a circle and she says is that your cp or are you just stupid

and you ask

and ask and ask

"do you like me?"

because one crumb of praise

might make it less like walking

of your own "free will"

into the mouth of hell

with flourescent lights and brown speckled linoleum floors

AND THAT LAUGH

THAT LAUGH

AND THOSE JOKES

she liked calling herself a torturer

was she really a sadist or did it help her hate herself less

if all of us crying was funny

i don't know

i don't know

and the box says it's families. The box says it's men. The box says it's husbands. The box says it's stepfathers. The box says it's something that men do to women and girls. The box says it's why feminism is important. Or sometimes the box reluctantly admits that it is something that men do to men, or that women do to women. But that means they're dating, and that means they're gay.

And it affecting you sexually means you were raped... or if not it means you're crazy. I remember trying to insert a tampon, lying on my back, remembering her over me. Trying to insert something into my body. I lost it. I screamed. I wailed. I cried.

My mother came running and asked me "Who raped you?" My response "no one" was completely unparseable.

She only touched my legs. The doctors who operated on me: only opened the skin and muscle and drilled into the bone of my legs.

My legs are not a vagina.

So why should I scream and cry at pulling myself apart and sticking something in one?

That's not, er... in the box.

To my knowledge, it was only something like a year ago that I was actually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Admittedly, the shrink that I saw as a teenager after a cycle of surgeries on my legs that went wrong over and over may have diagnosed me with it as well, thinking about the acute trauma of those surgeries.

But therapists since then grappled with what to diagnose me with. Usually the thought that it would be most useful to diagnose me with the stuff relating to my sexuality, but I wasn't quite clinically distressed enough by that, so they chose things like anxiety.

And the thing is, talking to other bloggers with disabilities, what happened to me is not unusual. What I saw happen to others, people who didn't have the facility with language that I had, people who couldn't talk about what it was like, wasn't unusual.

It's not unique. It's not even all that strange. It's just not in the box.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
bookgirlwa
Apr. 13th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)
And the box tells you `no one would hurt a child with a disability' and that people only want to `help' you. And we are never taught that `help' is often not helpful at all and we are taught that we are never allowed to say no to `help'.

I never even knew I was allowed to cry or say anything if physio hurt. I know someone who used to hide when it came time for her physio, and I was astounded - I didn't know it was possible to do that. They had me brainwashed so well.

And my vote is for sadist, like my family, laughing at the pain of those of us who can't protect ourselves.

And more that I can't find the words for.
fierceawakening
Apr. 13th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
I never even knew I was allowed to cry or say anything if physio hurt. I know someone who used to hide when it came time for her physio, and I was astounded - I didn't know it was possible to do that. They had me brainwashed so well.

I fully understood the expression "No pain, no gain" from about age seven or eight.
bookgirlwa
Apr. 13th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC)
And I am overwhelmed by the courage you had to ask this... abusive bitch if she liked you. That takes extraordinary bravery. I never ever ever was able to ask anyone in my whole life that.
thegimpparade
Apr. 13th, 2007 10:39 pm (UTC)
It's confusing, isn't it? I've never ever thought of myself as someone who suffered abuse as a child. And yet a few years back I had an EMG. I'd last had one when I was three years old and my only enduring memory from that first one was the technician telling me that it wouldn't hurt. Which is an incredible lie -- the test is an administration of electrical shocks to various muscles to test reactions and locate the source of neuromuscular problems. It's done by sticking little needles in the muscles and jolting a series of currents through them.

But the recent EMG surprised me when I had very emotional, traumatic flashbacks to the first one. A feeling of utter helplessness I didn't even know I had in me, really. I laid there and wept and wept through the experience, completely undone by it and unable to convey to the current tech what was going on emotionally for me. I've never felt so unsafe.

I don't know what to name that experience and the reliving of it 30+ years later. Abuse? Necessary discomfort? A big ball of lies from a medical expert my parents entrusted me to? The relentless quest for diagnosis?

Thanks for writing about this, Trin.
fierceawakening
Apr. 13th, 2007 10:57 pm (UTC)
It's confusing, isn't it? I've never ever thought of myself as someone who suffered abuse as a child.

I sometimes still don't. Because there's that box, that set of experiences that qualify as real. And then there are mine, and many of them were unquestionably bad, and this person was unquestionably a jerk, but what does that really mean? I eventually decided that naming it abuse was most true to my experience. But still sometimes, I think of that as referring to specific sets of experience, none of which I have actually had. That's why this was a post about "The box. "
fierceawakening
Apr. 13th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC)
and i'll answer your direct experience later, i don't mean to leave that hanging.
fierceawakening
Apr. 14th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
But the recent EMG surprised me when I had very emotional, traumatic flashbacks to the first one. A feeling of utter helplessness I didn't even know I had in me, really. I laid there and wept and wept through the experience, completely undone by it and unable to convey to the current tech what was going on emotionally for me. I've never felt so unsafe.

I think that many medical or medicalized experiences involve a degree of violation. Especially if they happen to us as children, when we cannot actually really think seriously about our consent or whether or how we should give it. I think our culture downplays this--they're so much about how quick a surgery is, how you can leave the same day, how it's nothing, blah blah blah. but our bodies remember.

The doctors involved may not intend any kind of violating experience, but it may still come out as one. Many procedures are physically invasive, which can carry the symbolic meaning of an emotional invasion as well.

I'm not surprised that you would flash back to one of these experiences, even if you don't remember it being particularly traumatic.
ahavah
Apr. 13th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
This was hard to read, but I'm glad you shared. As a parent, I definitely appreciate the reminder. *Hugs*
fierceawakening
Apr. 27th, 2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
thank you.

and *hugs* and love always.
cheshire_bitten
Apr. 13th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC)
All I can think was that she didn't need to be nice to you, she was nice to your family instead, her cycle of violence was evil to trin, nice to the normal people.
dragonspeaking
Apr. 13th, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)
Ow, that makes my heart hurt for you. I worked in child protective services for a time, until it nearly destroyed me, and I still have this mother bear thing going on.

Side note - I was gonna add you as a friend, then I remembered that my journal is pretty fucked up and you probably wouldn't care to read it anyway.
ashlupa
Apr. 27th, 2007 12:19 pm (UTC)
...you know, I had forgotten most of that.

I had forgotten the screaming, the crying, the fear. I had forgotten how much I hated all the therapists, even the nice man who wrapped my legs in casts and created things that hurt to wear. I had forgotten the adults who tried to tell me that I wasn't allowed to use a wheelchair, that I wasn't allowed to be fast and graceful. I had forgotten the silent tears before every surgery, because I was afraid I wouldn't wake up.

How did I forget?

Thank you.
fierceawakening
Apr. 27th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
How did I forget?

They tell us it's nothing. That's how.
lekiare
Apr. 27th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
My first memory was a procedure where I think I was mistreated. It was pretty bad, and reading something like this hits close to home. Some people just suck.
fierceawakening
Apr. 27th, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC)
*hugs you* I think that happens a lot... but we don't have the words to speak of it, really.
achanchinou
Apr. 27th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
I never knew this happened. I thought the kids who had physical issues that went off to therapy did so happily. I always thought... but apparently that was foolhardy. I danced, and workouts were often painful, but never violating. The woman who stretched us never did so to the point of pain like that.

And then my back changed my life, and then I got to experience it for real. I felt that abuse, that belittling, the therapist laughing at me every time I fell on the floor.

I never knew it was real until I felt it, and when I felt it, I was so hurt and so angry and so upset I wanted to throw her from the window of her posh third floor office.

All I did was roll away as fast as I could, and break into hysteric tears and sobs and heaves as soon as I was safe in my car.

I never knew. I know now. And I'm so incredibly incensed that this goes on. I'm approaching wheelchair skills rehab in the next few months. I look forward to it. I dread it. I happily think of the things I want to learn. I fear the people I will meet.
fierceawakening
Apr. 27th, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)
I never knew this happened. I thought the kids who had physical issues that went off to therapy did so happily.

That's how it ought to be, but often not how it is.
chantphantom
May. 3rd, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
Wow!
Well said, and very poetic and elloquent too. My Mom once quoted to me the findings of a study (done I believe by the UCLA at Berkley but don't quote me on that) which showed that children who have had surgery early in life often show the same simptoms as survivers of sexual abuse. And when you think about it, is that really a big surprise? I kid of less than five years old doesn't have the rationality yet to understand that what's being done to them is actually to make them better, and I'm not even sure that an adult psyche does. Sure the words are heard and understood at a conscious, rational level. But what registers at a psychological level is that people are doing things to you that hurt and you can't stop them. The difference between that and experiencing "abuse" would be what? But as you point out, the box says that we're not allowed to describe it that way. Personally, I think that that's because then we as a society would have to ask questions that we don't want to ask about how we practice medicine.
fierceawakening
May. 3rd, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow!
Yes.
amberite
Dec. 31st, 2007 11:38 am (UTC)
I also freaked the fuck out the first time I tried to use a tampon. Pretty much the same as you describe it.

I didn't have any experiences with medical abuse. I think for me it was that my vag was a big blank spot; it didn't exist on my body map.

(I ended up working very hard over the years to get it to exist on my body map and as a not scarybadalien thing. If I'd known about FTM stuff earlier, I might have gone a different direction.)

I've never had an experience of serious physical violation in a doctor's office. But I can tell you that sometimes psychiatrists end up in the same nasty, fucked-up power relation and I was lucky to only see a tiny bit of it, very very lucky that when I called my parents and said, "I'm in a bad place, don't let these people keep me here, if they don't bring me home this afternoon PLEASE come and get me" they believed me.

These things are *quite* real and need witness.


Thank you for this post -- I read it before, but re-read it just now.
nocturneslady
Apr. 29th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
thank you.
fierceawakening
Apr. 29th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
for what exactly?

you're welcome. :)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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