Deep breaths. This is only part of your life. Part 3

Over the past four months, there has been an outpouring of high profile sexual harassment cases that have captured the headlines, beginning with Ronan Farrow's investigation of weathy and influential talent agent Harvey Weinstein's perversities and sexual abuse/harassment of well known actresses. This seems to have had various results: men from the entertainment and media industries have lost their affluent positions and/or they have faced intense scrutiny. As a result of these headline generating news stories that I've been reading, several memories from my past have bubbled up from that submerged and extremely crowded area of my brain that is reserved for denial. So again, it is time to take another series of deep breaths, dive in, bring those memories to the surface, and into the unflinchingly harsh light of self examination.

I've been describing my experiences dealing with unsettling memories in the same disordered manner they have returned to the forefront of my mind. In my previous blog, Deep breaths. This is only part of your life. Pt. 2, I vaguely referred to the sexual abuse I had survived during my marriage to a physically, mentally, emotionally abusive man. I also wrote about what happened to me as a result of one very traumatizing beating that came within a millimeter of ending my life. In that blog, I described about how strange it was that an eye doctor who worked for Kaiser Permanente, whose examination of my then damaged right eye, led to the subsequent diagnosis of PTSD by a psychiatrist. This shook me up so much that the numerous veils of denial about the violent abuse I had experienced fell away, and the harsh truth of those experiences came into focus. After that, I entered therapy for PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

However, I eventually became dissatisfied with the lack of consistent mental health services that were available to me through Kaiser Permanente, in particular, the limited number of available appointments with mental health therapists who could help me work through these difficult issues. My "therapy" mostly consisted of prescription drugs that made me very sleepy, even after I had a full eight hours of sleep. I could barely keep my eyes open during the day, which was alarming to me. How could anyone recover from those types of issues so they can get on with the business of daily living while they are struggling to remain awake? I could drink 64 ounces of very strong coffee and STILL had to fight off daytime sleepiness.

So I gradually weaned myself off the drugs (Yes, I knew that could be dangerous, but I decided that the chance would be worth it if I re-gained even a small amount of my previously normal functionality), and began a regime of vitamins and other kinds of natural supplements (5-HTP, Melatonin and extra Vitamin D at night) that would help with the anxiety and depression, and added ginseng and Vitamin C for more energy during the day so I can do some moderate exercise. It has worked well for me. I still occasionally drink coffee or tea, but only in the morning, and no more than 12 ounces at the very most.

As the result of the limited access to mental health therapists that Kaiser had imposed under the dictates of the health insurance plan I had (and having no money to see any private therapists who weren't aligned with Kaiser), I switched my health insurance to Anthem Blue Cross, and chose One Community Health as my primary health provider. It hasn't been a very smooth transition, but that's because changing health insurance and finding providers who accept that insurance is a complicated and confusing process. I made numerous mistakes, and I suspect that's the case for a lot of other people, too.

It was, once again, a doctor who broke through my denial about the abuse I had endured when I was married. I met with my primary care physician for my initial interview, and she asked me a lot of in depth questions about my family history, my health conditions, and my sexual history that Kaiser had never asked about. I didn't have a problem with that, but I was taken aback by some of the questions, especially this one:

"Have you ever been molested as a child, or raped at any time in your life?" (Note: those weren't her exact words, but it's close.)

I didn't answer right away, but she immediately grabbed a box of tissues from her desk and handed them to me. I guess my facial expression gave her an indication of what was going to happen next. Against my will and sense of pride, the tears began gushing. I was embarrassed, but completely powerless to stop them. After a few minutes, I was finally able to say "Yes."

When I was able to speak coherently, I told her that I have never admitted to any healthcare professional that my ex-husband had raped me while we were married. "Who would believe that a married woman had been raped by her husband?"

"No", she said, very adamantly. "We don't believe that anymore. No still means no, even if you are married." I looked at her through a flood of tears while I tried to force my very distraught brain to comprehend what she was telling me. During that time, over thirty years ago, I didn't think anyone would believe that I had been raped by my husband.

The laws have changed significantly over the years since the first martial rape case was brought to court in 1979. I remember reading about it in the newspapers, and in popular magazines like Newsweek and Time. I was, by then, a newspaper reporter who had taken a temporary leave of absence from my university program because I felt that on-the-job experience was more important than writing papers and taking finals. (What did I know? I was 22 years old.) As I read the articles and watched the news broadcasts about that first marital rape case, I wondered how a case like could be proven, then delegated the story to the most abandoned recesses of my memory.

From 1981-1987, the six and one half years I was married to my abuser, it never occurred to me that I could have brought a rape charge against him. I was too preoccupied with getting away from him and filing for divorce, which is what I eventually did. I was ecstatic when the divorce was finalized, and for the first time in almost a decade, I experienced the sweetness of the word "freedom". I wanted to put the discarded pieces of my life's dreams back together, which meant finishing my abandoned bachelor's degree program and returning to work as a newspaper reporter.

I accomplished the first goal. The second one was a lot more difficult for a single parent with three very young children and very low self esteem. Childcare was also extremely difficult for me to obtain. I eventually gave up on that goal and proceeded to work at any temporary, part time and full time job that would keep my children and me housed, clothed, fed and comfortable during chilly winters and very hot summers of the Sacramento Valley area. (My parents, Richard and Mary Shortt, helped me out financially and emotionally during this period of my life. Mom and Dad, I am so grateful for your unceasing patience and love. I wouldn't have made it without you.)

My dream is that someday women will be believed when they say they've been been sexually harrassed and/or raped. Pushing sexual, physical and mental abuse aside to " move on with life" (trudging miserably while maintaing faux expression of happiness is a more accurate description) might seem like a better way of coping with the nightmarish memories, but that's not how recovery from traumatizing events works. The mind never forgets. Buried memories and emotions surface when you least expect them to, causing sudden outbursts that seem like grossly inappropriate reactions to whatever is going on in your life at the time.

Worst of all, your behavior towards other people, especially those who are very close to you, changes in ways that are imperceptible to you. You sometimes push those same people away, especially when they really need you. I did all of these things to the people in my life, who I deeply love and cherish. Above everything else that has happened to me, that pains me the most.

It's extremely important to get help immediately. Burying the memories only delays your recovery from the ordeal, along with your overall health and well being. I know this from painful experience because I developed subconscious coping methods that threatened my health and overall well being. I gained almost 200 pounds and developed dermatilliomania in an effort to make myself as unattractive to men as possible, and protect myself from further harm. It worked, but it also nearly killed me. Worst of all, my health issues terrified my family. No amount of self-centered denial of the past, regardless of how abominable the situation was, is worth doing that to the people in your life
who love you.

For more information:
National Sexual Assault Hotline: or call 1-800-656-4673

An evolution of law: Spousal rape recently prosecutable

Wikipedia: Marital Rape (United States law)

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