I read SoccerStar's post on dental/medical procedure triggers. I almost responded there, but I didn't want to hijack that topic since it is common to many abuse survivors. My experience with this is a little different. I have no idea how many of you have encountered this. I shared my thoughts with a couple of fellow MSers this week by PM. In the process of doing that, I came to a startling realization; I have responded to the CSA by acting out in ways that are hidden in plain sight. This post is almost as difficult to write as my actual CSA disclosure. Looking back, I see that I have posted elements of this on MS, but I have just now connected the dots.
Going back to the summer of the CSA... I turned 13 when my parents were packing to move cross-country to California for my dad's job. Two days later, I left for a whole summer session at camp while they got settled. I was miserable about the move and vulnerable. At camp, a counselor exploited this and abused me repeatedly---culminating with rape. I told no one. After scrubbing after his attack, I responded by avoiding taking showers--in hopes the perp would be repulsed. He wasn't. He said he liked "my musky boy smell." Damn, I can't believe typed that. I am...really triggered by those words---more so than I expected. But, that's what the bastard said. He was/is a true hebephile.
All I ended up with was balantitis--an inflammation of the foreskin.
When I finally got home, I had a week or so before school started. I finally told my mom I needed to go to the doctor about my "problem." She took me to a (new to me) doctor where the balantitis was diagnosed. The nurse called my mom to the exam room and told her what I had. That was extremely embarrassing for a 13 year old boy! The nurse then said she was going to do a urethral swab to screen for STDs. She said this RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY MOTHER. She turned way as the nurse did the uncomfortable as hell swab. What the hell?? So it began. I was in all likelihood suffering from PTSD from camp when I went through this.
Just a few days later, I started a new middle school. Middle school is difficult anyway, but a strange middle school was even worse. I responded by trying out for the football team--and becoming a starting wide receiver. I loved athletics---swimming, football, baseball...water polo.
Snap Crackle Pop
Football was my "in" until I took a helmet-to helmet hit during a game just as I caught a pass in double coverage. That hit did two things. It gave me a concussion and it tore the meniscus in my left knee. It popped, I fell to the turf, and the football season was over. My dad drove me to the ER where we got the bad news. Soon after I had surgery to remove the damaged cartilage. This is where "it" started, "it" being acting out for attention.
I went in for surgery for the first time ever. I was of course anxious. I distinctly remember the bright lights of the OR, the green tile walls, the vulnerability and loss of control. Despite the pre-op valium, I was severely triggered. The anesthesiologist pressed a mask over my face and told me to breathe some pure oxygen deeply for a few minutes. He was chatty. He said it would give him extra time to get a breathing tube in because I would be unable to breathe for myself. During this time, "California Dreaming" by the Mamas and the Papas was playing in the OR. He injected the thiopental and I knew nothing until I woke up two hours later in pain. I was totally dependent on the hospital staff. I couldn't walk, I could hardly talk with an oxygen mask on my face, I couldn't drink anything-hydration and pain meds were taken care of through the IV.
Peeing into a bag means you have no control
I had a catheter in my bladder that was draining into a bag hanging on the bedside. No control. Even as a kid, I was the type who didn't want to be confined or controlled by others. This time I had no choice...and I actually began to enjoy it. Relieved of command wasn't a disgrace, it felt like...well...relief. What was going on here? I was re-creating the abuse...or at least re-creating the loss of control. Nurses came and went, checking the catheter...tugging on it, swabbing my penis...I protested, but why did I not really mind? Only this week have I viewed this episode as possibly one of "acting out."
Jump ahead with me. I continued to try to be all things athletic and academic through high school. As someone on MS told me, "I pursued academic and athletic success--'manly' pursuits like outdoor expeditions--hiking and sailing. I went to boarding school and did great. My parents moved back east, so things were much better. College options opened up--and I got into a great school. I hiked the AT which was a great self-discovery endeavor. CSA seemed to be left in the past.
Get rid of the "Problem"
The perp who raped me was fascinated with my foreskin. Newborn circumcision rates in the US peaked in the early 70s. That meant I was something of a black swan. I wasn't embarrassed by it, but the perp couldn't get enough of it. Not bathing wasn't enough to repel him, so years later when I was in college, I had sex for the first time--well, sex on MY terms. The girl...oh, let's call her Lori had never seen an uncircumcised penis. She made such a big deal about it that I was once again self-conscious about it. Instead of attracting someone (like the perp), it repelled someone I wanted to be with. That was all kinds of effed up. For those who don't know already--I went to the student health center complaining about my foreskin and was referred to a urologist. He was an older man and very sympathetic. His suggestion: circumcision. I impulsively had it done as a college freshman. I also regretted it almost immediately. The physical pain was bad, but I went from fully intact to having no trace of a foreskin left at all. None. I mourned the loss. Perhaps it was more impulsive than acting out, but it was the latest in a string of embarrassing episodes. I wanted to get rid of what seemed to attract the perp, and what repelled young women.
Selling the Drama
In college, the newfound freedom led to more acting out. It started with a simple sign on a bulletin board that cryptically read, "The Evaluation of Pain." It was a research study seeking student volunteers for an experiment.
It also paid participants for their "trouble." I had an academic scholarship, I worked summers, and my parents sent money my way, but extra money was always nice. I called the number and was led to an obscure wing of an obscure building in a hidden corner of campus. The researcher asked me some questions and ultimately invited me back the next day. As I left she admonished me to wear something comfortable for my appointment. So it began. I showed up in a T-shirt and Umbro soccer shorts expecting who knows what. For me, I ended up having to immerse my hand in extremely cold water while I answered a series of questions. I left with $25 in my pocket. Not bad for an hour's work.
I looked for more-and there was no shortage of university researchers using NSF and pharma grants. I did several each semester---not drug trials or anything like that, but experiments that were somewhat embarrassing and awkward. There was always some sense of losing control---even if I could withdraw at any time.
One experiment I signed up for called for sub-elite athletes, but otherwise fit people to exercise to complete exhaustion on a stationary bike while wearing a mask delivering various percentages of oxygen. The clinicians repeatedly drew blood from an iv to measure lactic acid and other parameters as we exercised to exhaustion. If you have seen the move version of "The Right Stuff", you no doubt remember the medical screening for the astronauts. This was a lot like that.
Another experiment I eagerly signed up for evaluated sperm parameters among college students. It was just what it sounds like-a small room and a small jar twice a week after 3 day's abstinence. I did this for several weeks--nothing like getting on a J/O schedule set by someone else. I was also selected to wear a SUPER snug jock/suspensory thing 24/7 to see if that impacted sperm health. Sure, sign me up for that. Whatever. My sex life is already tied to Room 303 in an unnamed building. How clinical and emotionless.
You fly this plane for a while
There were more, but these stand out most. I eventually left most of these behind as I went on through college. The fact remains that I now see this as acting out. Until very recently, I read "acting out" posts on MS, but usually put them in the "Does not Apply to Me" file. Like the high-powered CEO, the hotshot lawyer, pilot or whatever who always seems to be in charge, I see that I'm probably like that as well. Several years ago, I watched a documentary on dominatrixes--yes I did. The segment focused on one of those large and in charge guys who visited a dominatrix to let someone else take control--to give him a break from the grind. Damn. I see it. I haven't visited a dominatrix, but...I sometimes ask my wife to "take charge" sometimes.
The hard realization is that I channeled my post CSA acting out through legitimate means. I SOLD MY BODY FOR CASH. It was legitimate, legal and sanctioned by the university research board, but I LET MYSELF BE ABUSED-again and again. I know re-creating the CSA can come in all kinds of forms, but this was a shock to me.I haven't done this sort of thing since college, but it has a place in my evolution. Understanding this is also real progress that I share with you. I'm the type of person who has to understand to move forward. This helps tremendously.