Drifting Between Two Times
I woke up disoriented this morning. That hasn’t happened in a really, really long time. I was squinched up to the top of the bed by the Goliath-sized dog and I woke up after I stretched out my arm and became aware that the wall was soft. It didn’t make sense to me that the wall was soft….And the picture in my mind was of my wall with bright, cheerful flowers on it. Then I realized that the soft I was feeling was the curtain. And that there shouldn’t be a curtain there….I struggled for a minute through the mental haze and realized that the curtain did belong there. I was in my here-and-now bedroom.
The bedroom I thought I was waking up in was my little-girl bedroom. That was when I had the bright flowered wall paper. (I had different wallpaper when I was somewhere around 10ish years old). I don’t know what threw me back to that time and place…but it was very vivid.
After we moved to this house, bed placement in our bedroom became very important. The move here was great, but challenged my safety feelings when everything was new. We started with the bed in one place…And it was really triggering for me…the layout was just like my childhood bedroom and I couldn’t sleep. In bed, I was facing the door…and I just was on edge every night constantly waiting for someone bad to come through the door. We put the bed on the facing wall…which is perfect. I don’t face the door or the closet.
So, it surprised me this morning that I was so disoriented. And that I didn’t wake up in my here-and-now bedroom. It was very unnerving. Of course, last night when I was falling asleep, I was having one of those hard transitions…tossing and turning…couldn’t relax and settle, little noises set me off into a hyper-startle that lifted me off the bed as electric jolts shot down my arms and legs….I hate that! It is not easy to settle back into rest mode with my heart pounding and with the residual anxiety.
Usually, I live with my PTSD symptoms and we get along okay. I am used to them…other than always being exhausted from constantly being on high alert, I have adapted. But when the symptoms kick into the next gear….then they start to bother me more. And it is the most annoying/distressing at night.
How Trauma Wrecks Sex
Sex totally sucks.
There, I said it. Sex. Totally. Sucks. For me, right now, sex is complicated, stressful and frustrating. As much as I like the idea of sex, and even want to have sex sometimes, it is really hard to get out of my head and enjoy it. And one of the problems for me is that I used to like having sex. There was a time in my life when sex was not as complicated or difficult for me. I don’t know if I was more resilient or just in deep denial…but I managed okay with sex. Yes, there were times it was complicated and not so fun, but I didn’t really know why and didn’t let it bother me. But there were lots of times when sex was fun and dh and I would laugh and enjoy each other and sex was not as emotionally loaded as it is now. Honestly, I consider myself lucky to have those positive sexual experiences. And now I really wish I hadn’t taken them for granted.
10ish years ago, I started having real difficulties with sex…which I didn’t understand. Every time dh and I had sex, I felt like vomiting after. I didn’t know what triggered this unpleasant change (and still don’t know). I don’t think I really said much to dh about it. I just chalked it up as a Heidi-quirk and ignored it. I also was dissociating during sex at this point…though I do not know exactly when that started.
Then, after a couple of years of sex-nausea…I got a new symptom. After having sex, I would cry. And I mean sob hysterically. I felt devastated and broken by having sex and just couldn’t reel in the feelings. I tried to hide it from dh (cuz talk about a mood-killer!) but it is hard to hide tears streaming down your face and gasping for air as you are trying to force yourself sob quietly. Dh would hold me and try to comfort me…but there was nothing that he could do to help the inside part of me that was broken. Eventually, I learned to block the crying…at least the body-wracking sobbing part. I would feel like crying and maybe a tear or two would slip out and a couple of sniffles…but no more gut wrenching sobbing.
The crying during sex started at a time when I was in therapy with Therapist #1. And we talked several times about it, but not in any real depth…I just wasn’t able to tolerate much discussion about the topic. And after the crying kept going on (and on and on)…I started considering the idea of seeing a sex therapist. (This was when I was pretty much finished with Therapist #1 anyway and considering going elsewhere.) There did happen to be a sex therapist in the City at the time and T#1 gave me a referral to see her. So, I called her and actually got in to see her. I was thrilled…I thought this would be the ticket and I would get to solve my sex problem.
Only….It didn’t work out. I went to the meet-and-greet appointment and discussed what my issues were and what I was hoping to get out of therapy. Everything was going great…and then we started filling out the paperwork. We got to the part about insurance coverage (which is through dh’s job) and the Sex Therapist asked about my insurance plan and I said it was [Husband’s Employer] Blue Cross. And the Sex Therapist stopped in her tracks. She clarified, that my dh worked for [Employer]. And I said yup. And she said, “Then I cannot work with you.” Turns out she also worked for dh’s employer in the employee assistance program and thus due to conflict of interest, did not accept any clients affiliated with dh’s employer.
I was really upset…and really frustrated because it turns out that T#1 actually knew about the conflict of interest issue but forgot about it. <eye roll>
So…after that situation and the lack of another female sex therapist in the county….I ended up seeing Therapist #2. Therapist #2 and I did talk about sex and my continuing issues, but I was unable to get to any resolution with it. And then about 3-4 years ago, I got sex symptom number three: Pain. Like, take-your-breath-away kind of pain with intercourse. I was convinced it was a psych issue (it just kind of fit) but T#2 did not want to jump to that conclusion and after much (much!) coaxing, she convinced me to see my Primary Physician for a pelvic exam. My PP could find nothing physically wrong with me. And after discussing the things I had done to try to mitigate the pain, my PP concluded it was psych related.
And so…to this day…whenever I have sex one, two and/or all three of those things happen…I feel like I am going to vomit or cry and/or I have pain. So…yeah….Sex sucks. Funny though…I don’t dissociate anymore during sex…Or at least, I do so very rarely. Often, I wish I still did…It would make sex so much easier!
One of the things that is hard about trauma and sex is that sex is a partnership. And I don’t think it is fair that my sex issues can interfere with my husband’s enjoyment of sex. I feel incredibly guilty about that. And because of that, I try to hide my dysfunction symptoms from him. It just doesn’t seem right to me that I complicate our sexual relationship. I also don’t want to feel like there is something wrong with me. I want him to treat me like I am normal…And then maybe I will feel normal.
When I first started having the pain issue, T#2 was very concerned about me continuing to have sex with so much pain. She was afraid that I would re-traumatize myself…Certainly a valid concern. And I talked to dh about it. And then he refused to have sex with me because he didn’t want to re-traumatize me. And that made me feel sooo much worse. I felt utterly broken and tainted and ruined. Actually, I felt rejected. And that felt awful. And since then…I have been careful about what I disclose to dh about my sexual dysfunction. I will tolerate pretty much anything regarding sex…but not being rejected by dh. That just kills me.
The other issue I currently have with sex is that I used sex to punish myself. I have talked about this and tried to explain it to the AT, but I am not sure I ever explain it right…So, I will do my best to explain it here and hopefully, it will make some sense. When I am feeling really bad about myself and hating myself…I want to have sex. Part of me reasons that since I feel like crap anyway, why not have sex? It’s not like the sex will hurt my mood or do me any more harm than I am doing myself anyway. But there’s also another part of me that feels like I need to punish myself…that the sex reinforces that I am disgusting and ruined and I want to hurt myself by having sex.
I like to simplify this all by saying, “Sex is complicated.” That is my pat answer about sex. But it is about as loaded as three words can get. Sex is easy when I don’t have sex (and sometimes we go months and months without having sex) and sex is hard most of the time when we do have sex. Sometimes…every once in a while….Sex is pretty much okay. I am present, I mostly enjoy it, it is only minimally uncomfortable….But it will still hit me after…the nausea or crying. And that is when I feel the most broken…when I can almost enjoy the sex…but then something over-rides the pleasure and I am reminded of how damaged I am on the inside.