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How the Reversal of Roe v. Wade Has Triggered My PTSD From Sexual Abuse

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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.

Ever since I heard the news that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision affirming the constitutional right to an abortion, I have felt my mental health take a nosedive. My PTSD got triggered in a myriad of ways that I partly didn’t anticipate but certainly comprehend, as with one fell swoop, those possessing a uterus had their fundamental human rights ripped out from within them.

• What is PTSD?

At first, it began with somatic responses fueled by rage and disbelief. My head felt hot and like it was going to explode. I felt nauseated and sick to my stomach and I had a sense that I was being smothered or restrained, as though someone had bound me up in a straight jacket. Then I had a good old-fashioned panic attack complete with the inability to breathe, elevated heart rate, and a sense that the whole world was spinning. Once that passed, I slowly devolved into a catatonic state, dissociated and numb to everything, as if my body had been attached to an electrical supply that had experienced a short circuit, frying all of my internal mechanisms and halting them from functioning.

Then came the nightmares. My most pervasive PTSD symptom is the persistent intrusion of violent dreams that terrorize me and wake me up. Most are permutations of feeling in danger or out of control, but every so often I will have dreams that are more direct recollections of my sexual abuse. These types of abuse dreams have taken over again, a nonstop barrage of having men violate me in various capacities against my will, and no matter how hard I protest nobody will do anything saying their hands are tied. I’m so beyond exhausted from nightmares that I’m operating in a zombie-like capacity somewhere between “I haven’t slept in five years” and “I’m a sloth on Xanax.” Not exactly conducive to a job involving customer service and working with sharp objects and fire.

But the worst part of it is the degree to which this has triggered old feelings of inferiority and a sense of helplessness. As an 8-year-old child, I had zero control over my own safety or capacity to protect my bodily autonomy. I was a vulnerable little child whose agency over her body was destroyed by the violation of being sexually abused. And now, the abuser reaching down my panties is the government and they are transgressing each and every one of us with a uterus. This may sound hyperbolic but it’s not. To be told that you do not possess the right to determine what happens to your body is an abuse of power and for anyone who has experienced sexual assault, there’s a visceral and soul-crushing guttural pain reminiscent of what we endured in the past.

Let me be clear, this isn’t a political statement, it’s a human one. I have spent years in trauma therapy processing my sexual abuse. The gnawing sense that I was somehow broken, flawed, disgusting, dirty, and that I deserved to be abused because of something I must have done coursed through my veins… a part of the very essence of who I thought I was. Disentangling these beliefs from the abuse of power and infringement of my rights as a person was no small feat and now it’s as if all of that work has been nullified.

If the government can force their way into a person’s body with zero concern for how it affects that individual physically, emotionally, or financially, then they clearly don’t care about bodily autonomy or agency. Those who inhabit a person with a uterus, be they men or a fetus, are worth more than that human who has a uterus. It’s shaming, disenfranchising, and ultimately tells me I don’t matter in the same way that I felt like I didn’t matter when I was sexually abused.

All I know is that I’m grieving. I’m grieving for those who have experienced sexual violence and understand the ramifications of this all too well. I’m grieving for those who will be violated in the future and will have to deal with a double violation. I’m grieving for those who will lose loved ones because their lives are endangered by carrying a child to term. I’m grieving for women who have to carry non-viable fetuses to term. And I’m grieving for the loss of potential of so many who will have to give up on their hopes and dreams because they didn’t have the opportunity to plan the timing of beginning a family for whatever reason. It’s a tragedy and I know that I’m hardly alone in the angst that I have been experiencing.

If you are struggling to regain your sense of balance since the ruling, there are many things you can do. I know that for me, action helps to reset my nervous system and pull me out of my freeze trauma response. You can donate to abortion access funds, protest, write your congressional leaders, volunteer at local women’s health clinics, and above all… vote. Unlike when I was a child, I now have a voice. I can and will share my story, uplift and amplify the stories of others who have had to obtain an abortion for various reasons, and take up space by advocating for the rights of all human beings to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Getty image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz.

Originally published: June 27, 2022
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