(Subtitle: I don't want to make light of a shitty thing, but my hope is that at least one person will find it funny... and if you don't, let me know, and I will change it immediately.)
WARNING: I'm about to get graphic about sexual abuse. Stop reading here if you don't feel up to reading about it.
In the past few weeks, I have watched one of my favorite people face shit and fears and SHIT and she's pretty much my hero. Some things, like her situation, have to be faced because it's life or death. Some of my fears don't HAVE to be faced, but watching her courage made me want to be brave.
I know that most people don't understand my fears. They seem silly (even to me). And to compare them AT ALL to what S is facing... but if she can do what she is doing, then of course, I can get over my little fears.
I used to have a half-tooth in my head. It broke off more than a year ago. I figured with it broken that bad, there was no way they could save it, so there was no rush... Except what I REALLY thought was:
HELL NO! I WON'T GO!
The last time I went to the dentist was in 2006. I didn't have them do an exam. It was for a molar on the other side of my mouth. It had broken in half, and I just had them pull it. And before that, I'm not sure when the last time was.
I hate the dentist. I am aware that very few people like going there. It's painful. It sucks to have someone shoving things in your mouth. It's miserable. I get that I am not alone in my general hatred for dentists.
My fear and hatred is similar... and different.
I don't mind the pain. To be clear, I don't LIKE pain, but I can handle pain. I don't like people shoving things in my mouth, but I can handle that discomfort... sort of.
I can't handle them laying the chair back, getting in my space, and trying to keep myself in the present moment while feeling pain and having someone shove things in my mouth.
WARNING: The next paragraph is graphic. Stop reading here if you don't feel up to reading about it.
Laying on my back will probably always be problematic for me. Beyond being just a vulnerable position in general, it is the position I took over and over and over. Sometimes that position resulted in the painful shoving of his genitalia into my own. Sometimes it was the painful and disgusting shoving of his genitalia into other places. While sitting on my chest. And holding my head.
As the dentist puts back the chair, I fight EVERY time to remind myself I am at the dentist and not somewhere else. I fight to remind myself I am safe. No one is going to hurt me, except in the way that will help my teeth... but it is SO familiar and so close to that feeling... that horrible voiceless, powerful, painful, disgusting feeling.
I watched my friend go to the doctor, and I watched her face a long list of things that would trigger her. I came to the conclusion I had been a coward long enough. So I set up the appointment.
It turns out dentists are used to people having anxieties. My dentist had a questionnaire that asked about anxieties... and how he could help... and he and all of his assistants actually read my answers.
They asked what they could do to lessen my anxiety.
I told them to leave me sitting up as much and for as long as possible. Which they did.
Partway through the checkup and cleaning, I could feel myself slipping away.
(For those who have never dissociated, I'll try to explain what it feels like to me. It feels similar to passing out, except I don't actually pass out most of the time. Instead, my consciousness goes way back into the back of my head. Sometimes, I just stay there and I can observe what is happening to my body in the present, but I can't do anything to control my body. Sometimes, my consciousness goes so far away, I am unaware of my surroundings. Sometimes, I experience flashbacks. As far as my consciousness is concerned I am reliving past experiences. It FEELS like I am being raped, or molested, or I'm fighting for my life, and it FEELS almost impossible to tell the difference between the past and the present. I've learned a few tricks to bring myself back... almost none of which can be done in a dentist's chair.)
I started to shake. The hygienist immediately stopped and asked if there was anything she could do to make it better. I told her to just talk. Tell stories. She noticed my sweatshirt with horses on it and started telling me about training her horses. It was a topic I get pretty excited about. I focused on her stories, and that kept me present. (The fact that I could focus on stories will tell anyone who has ever dealt with flashbacks or dissociation how far I have come. Just listening to someone else talk would never have been enough a few years ago.)
They gave me the list of what work needed to be done. Wisdom teeth out (why?), a root canal, two crowns, and four fillings. Not bad considering how long it has been. Then it came time to set the appointment to come back. My chest got tight. I wanted to cry. The dentist was good and asked again, "How can we help you with your anxiety?" He told me the work they were going to do would require that they lay the chair all the way back, and probably have to keep me back for a while. We talked about "laughing gas". It's purpose is to relax people, but not only does it not relax me, it has made things worse in the past. He offered Valium, or something like it, which meant I had to have a driver. I was somewhat relieved, because that gave me an excuse to ask someone to come with me.
So, I got my Diazepam. I took it an hour before my appointment like they told me to. It didn't do anything until about two hours into the appointment... About the time they were all done, I suddenly just wanted to go to sleep.
As I was leaving, I saw my little "grounding guy". BJ's granddaughter gave it to me when she was only two or three. She told me to hold it when I was sad and it would make me smile. It is small enough that it went with me everywhere for a long time. I decided to take him with me to the dentist.
I was impressed with the staff. They tried hard to be accommodating and empathetic.
I still freaked out.
|Causing myself pain sometimes keeps me grounded. Therapists and professionals don't usually like this technique...|
|I didn't know I'd twisted myself into a pretzel.|
I survived.They will seat the crowns in a few days.
There really isn't a "happy ending" to this story... but I decided to write about this... and to actually post the pictures that BJ took... because although life is good, and I am happy, I'd be lying if I said I never had to deal with trauma-shit. I do. I have had nightmares and bad nights since the appointment. Flashbacks, where I relive the worst moments. It sucks.
I want to tell this story, because I think it's important to talk about the effects of abuse. I think it's important to help increase understanding. I feel a huge desire to educate people about what it's like to live with PTSD.
No one would have known how freaked out I felt. No one would have known how icky it felt to be in that dentist chair if I didn't tell this story... I wear a good mask on my face. I pretend pretty good when I want to... but I'd like to create a world where people like me don't have to wear a mask. They don't have to pretend that they are okay when they feel like the world is crashing in around them.
Maybe if I talk about one stupid little visit to the dentist, I can make a difference.