On Feeling Like My Body Is Not A Safe Place

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Being touched, even by a doctor, made me feel ashamed. Having sex? That was even worse.

“I don’t know why I’m getting so emotional right now,” I said as I wiped tears away from the face.

“I don’t know, either,” Dr. O’Neil shrugged as she handed me a tissue.

I tried to get myself together and choked sobs back into the dark depths of my throat, my voice again feeling silenced.

My mom sat there awkwardly staring at the ceiling, while the doctor continued to explain why she didn’t want to replace my birth control implant early, which I had come to her for, in what I thought was a viable option to re-regulate my period. “There’s a risk involved every time I do this procedure and it’s designed to be used for three years. Replacing it after just one raises a lot of concern to me.” She continued to talk about why my plan was a bad idea, while I felt the shame creeping up my stomach.

“OK, well let’s just do the yearly wellness exam then,” I stammered. My mom, who I had insisted come to give me a hand to squeeze when I was getting the implant removed and replaced, couldn’t get out of there fast enough. “Here, put this gown on and use this sheet to cover yourself, if you want. Then, I’ll come back in and start the exam,” Dr. O’Neil handed me one of the ugly hospital gowns to put on.

As soon as she left the room, I started to quietly cry even harder. I used about three tissues in the span of three minutes, there were so many tears. As I waited, I started thinking about why I had gotten so upset during that conversation—sure, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it wasn’t necessarily bad news, either. Plus, I never really make a display of my emotions about well…anything.

I thought back to the 40-year-old lovers I courted as a teenager, the cybersex addiction I’d harbored at the tender age of 14, the person who sexually assaulted me in my sleep, and the man who sexually assaulted me in my own bed. The flash of images came into my head and I realized that this was about something deeper. The lack of autonomy I felt in my body and throughout my life as a sexual being was being brought to surface by this visit to the gynecologist. It wasn’t about her or my fucking implant, it was about feeling like I didn’t have a choice.

Not having a choice has defined my sex life for as long as I can remember.

Once she came back into the room, she quickly prepared her speculum and continued to ramble on about our initial conversation. Give it a rest already, I just want to get out of here, I thought. But I just nodded and gave her a few “Yeah’s” and “Mhm’s” to try to make this process go faster.

“Now, lay back and place your feet in the stirrups.” Uh-oh. The moment of truth. I reluctantly followed her instructions, although it took several “scooch forwards” before I was close enough for her to touch me. When she opened up the speculum inside of me, I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run.

I couldn’t help but moan in pain, as I felt myself start to panic. “Hold it there; make sure to not push me out.” That comment made me grimace so much that I did just that—I pushed her out. “Oops. I have to get another sample, so I’ll have to put it back in for a few more seconds,” I started to wince again, as I felt my body tense. I can’t remember the last time I felt this vulnerable, this naive, this embarrassed.

“OK, we’re good!” Dr. O’Neil removed the speculum and I could breathe again. “You can sit up now.

Once she left the room again, I started to sob. I took an extra few minutes to get dressed, as I was trying to simultaneously clean up my mess of tears. I felt numbness and pain, all at the same time.

On the ride back to my apartment, I retreated into my thoughts. I thought about why that experience had been so traumatic for me, since although the gynecologist’s office isn’t the most comfortable place to be, it certainly doesn’t trigger tears for most.

I thought back to all of those people, the ones who had violated my body over the years. I had stopped having sex or engaging in relationships altogether for the last seven months or so and wasn’t used to accessing this part of myself. My body felt like a war zone, a battleground that I needed to run like hell from to avoid getting killed. My body is not a safe place, I thought. This is what my experience had taught me. Being touched, even by a doctor, made me feel ashamed. Having sex? That was even worse.

After I said a mumbled goodbye to my mom, I walked back into my apartment and breathed a sigh of relief. I was home. I was in my safe, happy place.

I thought deeper about all of these connections, as I got settled into bed to take a much needed nap. I had realized earlier in the week that I needed to take action to heal the issues around sex and body with some people who had helped to create mine. Ever since, I felt light as a feather and saw my life start to come together in all kinds of unexpected ways. To me, this was further confirmation that I needed to heal this area of my life, which I’d been avoiding for the better part of my adulthood. If I ever wanted to have a satisfying sex life or even experience bodily pleasure that isn’t wrapped up in my endless stream of mental chatter, I needed to do this.

I’d been using my mind to avoid my body, choosing to live my life in my head instead of in my body. I saw how this was damaging me for the first time, thanks to my visit to the gynecologist.

As I rolled over to find a comfortable place in my pillow, I fondled my naked breast and then my stomach. I’m here, I reminded myself. You are here and you have a choice.

Erin McKelle is a feminist blogger, social media consultant, and body positive fashionista who is currently living nomadically (i.e. traveling the world). She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and has a BA from Ohio University. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her whipping up a vegan dish in the kitchen, creating an art project, or reading a book in bed.

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