A reader asked if I would write on feelings about menstruation after sexual abuse. For sexual abuse survivors who connect their periods to the sexual abuse, the natural process of menstruation can be a monthly trigger that is challenging to overcome. Because we women do not have the power to stop our periods from happening, we need to find a way to manage the triggers associated with menstruation.
A woman once told me that she believes that the feelings a girl has toward her first period can affect how she feels about it the rest of her life. Her mother built up the period as being a rite of passage into womanhood that was deserving of celebration. This woman said that getting her period each month always put her in a good mood. It was a monthly reminder of feeling joyful.
Sadly, sexual abuse survivors often go the other direction. My first period felt pretty traumatizing. First of all, I didn’t know exactly what it was. My mother/abuser told me to expect to “bleed,” which I expected to be red blood flowing like when you cut yourself. So, when this brown stuff appeared in my underwear, I was baffled as to what it was. Once I figured it out, I had to tell my mother/abuser about it so I could have access to maxi-pads (which is what she used – I had never seen a tampon). I can still see that moment as clear as day. My mother shifted her weight from one hip to the other and said, “So I guess you’re a woman now.” I felt so ashamed and dirty, and I wanted to throw up. I now realize this was because of the mother-daughter sexual abuse, but I didn’t have any conscious memory of this at the time.
I was extremely embarrassed to be having periods and didn’t want my parents to know when I was having them. I didn’t know about tracking your periods to know when to expect the next one, so I “started” while I was spending the day with my father at his office on a Saturday. I was absolutely humiliated and determined not to tell him, but I had no maxi-pads with me. I rummaged through his secretary’s drawer and found a four-pack of OB tampons. I read the materials very carefully and then used a tampon for the first time.
I was shocked to learn that I had “hole” there where the period was coming out. I think this was more of pushing away the memories of sexual abuse because I had been raped numerous times by then, but I was completely unaware (at a conscious level) of having a place to put the tampon. I was so emotionally distanced from my body that I really had no understanding about where menstruation came from.
This blog entry is getting too long, so I will continue with dealing with your feelings about menstruation tomorrow. (Sorry to all of my male readers!)
Photo credit: Hekatekris