“I don’t think you’re as broken as you think you are…”
My previous therapist said this to me a year ago, and it was a revelation. A huge weight lifted off my chest. Maybe she is right– maybe I’m not broken.
This is one of the shame tapes that runs through my head often. “I’m broken. No one wants me. Why would anyone want this? I’m broken. I’m broken. I’m broken.”
It doesn’t surprise me when I hear others with vulvodynia express this same sentiment. It is always hard when your body isn’t functioning in the normal ways. I am sure people with other conditions feel broken sometimes. But in my experience, cis-women who experience vulvovaginal pain feel uniquely broken.
Why is that? Why is this feeling so hard to shake?
I think one of the main reasons is because as women, we learn that our worth is tied to our sexuality. This message is so engrained in our culture that we don’t have to be taught it, per se. Instead the message is underlying in every magazine, in every TV show, in every commercial or advertisement… and this message is so pervasive.
This alone is hard enough to shake. Years… decades of cultural subliminal and overt brainwashing is not easily undone. Throw in a healthy serving of conservative-culture in which sex wasn’t talked about openly and you have a recipe for confusion.
(Again, I am grateful for my faith and I hope to change the hush-hush culture within it)
So, as a cis-gendered woman in a heterosexual relationship… I really struggled when we got married and I experienced incredible pain with penetration. Because the only thing separating me from being a girlfriend/fiancee –> wife was sex.
And soon after our wedding the depression started to sink in. I legitimately don’t have very many memories from our first year married. I know I’ve blocked them out. But I do remember the confusion of where the depression was coming from. Maybe it is the birth control? Maybe I am just ultra-stressed? Maybe all couples experience a rough patch?
The one thing I didn’t allow myself to think was: maybe I have depression that was triggered by this pain.
If I could go back in time, I would have done a lot of things differently. Including advocating for myself and educating the doctors who dismissed me. I would have started therapy much, much earlier because I would have allowed myself to see the depression that I was so diligently hiding away. Also, AJ and I would have stopped attempting intercourse in the “maybe this time it won’t hurt” fashion… and instead embraced our full sex life (sans penetration) earlier.
But… hindsight is 20/20 and so those things did not happen. Instead, over years of pain, marital tension, and dismissal… the negative self-talk solidified into identity.
I can’t have sex (at this point I hadn’t realized the difference in definition between SEX and PENETRATION) solidified into I am a worthless wife.
I am stressed out and tired all the time solidified into I am lazy.
I have this vulvovaginal pain and weird skin/digestive issues solidified into my body hates me and I am broken.
Worthless. Lazy. Broken.
I really started to believe these things. So much so that sometimes I can’t imagine not feeling this way about myself. But, that’s depression for you. That’s what I have been and am currently working on.
Which is why, after almost a full session of me diving into those feelings of being worthless and my deep fear that AJ will leave me one day, I was shocked when my previous therapist said, “I don’t think you are as broken as you think you are…” A small thread of hope laced through me. Maybe she’s right.
I am still working on this. I’m amazed at how hard it is to unlearn these false thought patterns. I am to the point now that when my shame tapes start to spiral, I can at least have some form of logical thought enter in the battle. Logic does not always win, but at least it is a start, right?