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What It Was Like Having Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy as a Sexual Abuse Survivor

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Childhood sexual abuse changes your entire world. There is nothing my trauma history does not touch. No matter what I do, I cannot escape it. It turns out this physical pain I have been in for many years means I have problems with my pelvic floor.

• What is PTSD?

Lo and behold, it is more than likely related to my sexual abuse. Between 22% to 48% of (mainly) women with pelvic floor dysfunction have a sexual abuse history. At least I am not alone, but I am surely not happy about it. Here is my trauma once again haunting me and I am once again out of control. But this time, I am going to take back control.

Good Care Led To My Leap of Faith

TMI warning: I have had constipation for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it gets bad. I also have gastroparesis on top of that, and it does not help. It is embarrassing and not many people can discuss this with you, but I got a good doctor and she is helping me.

When we could not get my constipation under control, she recommended I have an anorectal manometry.

I flipped out. There was no way someone was going to go into my rectum and have me do things with my sphincter muscle. I cried and admitted to my doctor that I had a trauma history and could not possibly subject myself to the test.

She listened and assured me her nurse would be kind, caring and understanding, and would take precautions with me so that I would be able to manage the test. She felt it was necessary and I really need to get to the bottom — pun intended — of my issues before I had even bigger problems. I asked her what the treatment would be if she found out that I had a problem with my pelvic floor. She stated physical therapy (PT). This did not alarm me. I had been to physical therapy, so I knew what to expect.

I later learned that physical therapy for the pelvic floor involved internal work in the vagina and the rectum. I came to a full stop and deep panic set in. Now, I really did not want the test. Why have it if I was not going to do the treatment? I called the doctor back. I told her my concerns and she said she had spoken to a trauma-informed physical therapist for me and that she would take good care of me.

After the test, I was diagnosed with moderate pelvic floor dyssynergia. When you have pelvic floor dyssynergia (pelvic dyssynergia), the muscles in your pelvic floor become uncoordinated. This makes it difficult to have a bowel movement.

My Own Homework Led To Discovery

As usual, I headed out to do my own research. I was right about the pelvic floor PT. I was scared. I continued to read and found out that the lifelong low back pain that I experience could be related to a weak pelvic floor. Now, this got my attention. I have been extremely limited most of my adult life with back pain and have had surgery.

This treatment could be a game-changer for me. I could have my mobility back. I just needed to agree to this PT. I was so scared. I had a long talk with my therapist about embarking on this; she was hesitant but also did not know much about it. My psychiatric nurse thought it was a bad idea and could possibly set me back in my healing. She even said it might land me back in the hospital. They both advised that I should consider all the pros and cons and come to a decision I could live with.

I hate when my abuse is a barrier to my happiness, peace of mind and well-being. I often find myself torn between wanting something and not wanting to upset my fragile equilibrium. I decided I really wanted this. I really wanted healing and I was going to have to take a cautious leap of faith and take actions for myself.

Scared Out of My Mind, I Did It Anyway

I made my appointment and panicked a bit. I asked the scheduler if the PT would call before the appointment just so I can know what to expect out of the first visit. Lo and behold, they had a cancellation and I ended in the office before she and I could talk. My biggest fear was that she was going to do an exam on the first day. I knew if she did that, I would have a breakdown. We sat down and made introductions. I liked her already; she had a warm demeanor. Before we got too far into the appointment, I shared that I had some trauma history and I feared this treatment — I had made notes on a piece of paper just in case I was too scared to speak to her directly about it. She reassured me she had dealt with other women like myself and would take everything at my own pace. We did not do an internal exam for the next few weeks of treatment.

So, last Friday, I finally did it. I let her examine me and I am here to tell the tale. It was easy and uneventful. I did not freak out on her or have a breakdown. She was excellent and professional and kept it very clinical. I am so proud of me.

I did not let the trauma beat me this time. I may still have some emotional repercussions and I did not sleep the following night, but this is another indicator that I am getting stronger and that all this therapy is paying off. I do not need another challenge like this any time soon, but I will be ready.

I am already making progress in PT and I am happy about where this is headed. I want you to know that our trauma can be very limiting, but it does not have to rule us to no end. There are opportunities for us to tuck our heads out from under it and rise above it.

So, remember:

You are brave.

Your past does not determine your present, it just informs it.

You can do anything you set your mind to.

It is OK to be scared and still do it.

No one can take these steps for you.

Change is necessary in your own time.

You are worthy of healing.

Your body is safe.

You are in control.

You’ve got this. You are Mighty.

Maya Lorde

Photo by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

Originally published: October 2, 2020
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