Shortly after participating in that study on the impact of childhood medical procedures, I became friends with a woman who commented on my blog (she was actually the one who sent the email about the study to the vulvodynia list serv in the first place). When I found out that she lived in the Boston area, we made a plan to meet in person. I had no idea when we first exchanged emails that she would help change my perspective on my vaginismus/vulvodynia in a crucial way - I just knew that we were kindred spirits.
She, too, had had a catheter (multiple) as a child/baby, had never had intercourse, and was around my age. When I entered her home, I was struck by how charming it was - if I had an ounce of designer in me, that's how I'd want my home to look. Over a couple of hours we talked about our shared experience of vulvodynia, but we also learned that we had both had lost someone to suicide and then done the Overnight Walk for suicide prevention in their memory. I learned that she was a talented photographer who loved documenting people's homes and I was trained in radio documentary and loved teasing out people's stories. When I left a couple hours later, I felt like we had only scratched the surface.
A few months later, she introduced me to Lorraine Faehndrich, a Pelvic Pain Relief Coach who offers private coaching sessions and a tele-seminar on "Healing Female Pain: The Mind Body Solution for Relieving Vulvodynia and Chronic Pelvic Pain." Her programs are specifically directed at women who are suffering from vulvodynia, vulvar vestibulitis, and other pelvic or sexual pain. I remember going to her website for the first time and wondering why I hadn't learned of her sooner.
I had been introduced to mind/body techniques a few years earlier, but had only really begun incorporating them into my life in the months leading up to working with Lorraine. Yoga, meditation, and working with a spiritual and sexual healer gave me a sense of agency and relief that I had yet to experience with traditional approaches to vulvodynia.
My friend's recommendation of Lorraine has been instrumental to my healing. I first signed up for her free call. >>> She has another one on January 7 that I highly recommend <<<. That free call turned into my taking her 6 week class, and then that led to me working with her privately. It's been a powerful experience.
Working with Lorraine has shifted my perspective of how I've been living my life and how I should change if I want to start being true to myself. This is the key to my healing, I think. Always being the "good daughter," "good girl," "good friend," "good student," "good employee," "good wife," etc. meant that I suppressed my emotions (especially anger) to prevent others from being upset with me or hurting their feelings. Suppressing emotions means tensing muscles. And tensing muscles means a lack of blood flow to wherever you're tensing (for me that meant primarily my pelvic floor/yoni). This might be a simplified explanation, but it rings true for me. Beyond the physical complications, I'm understanding that I sacrificed my own happiness, passion, sexuality, and creativity in exchange for pleasing those around me. That makes me sad just to type that.
Here are just a few of the things I've learned from working with Lorraine (and know that I'm still working on these every day...):
1. Trust your body to guide you. There was a reason why I woke up every morning with a stomach ache the semester I was in graduate school for history (I quit after one semester). Or when I was in a job I absolutely hated (I quit after 4 months). Those two experiences happened years and years before working with Lorraine, but they prove that everyone has a body compass (as Lorraine calls it). I'm even more mindful of listening to my body now and know that if I were to re-live those two experiences, I wouldn't have gone to grad school or accepted that job in the first place. Next time you're making a difficult decision, notice how your body feels when you consider your options. Is it tense/heavy? Feel light? Go toward the light, as they say.
2. Set boundaries and don't apologize for it. Lorraine has a simple tool for setting and visualizing your boundary that I've found especially useful when I'm having (or anticipating) a difficult conversation with someone or when I want to avoid taking on someone else's "stuff" (someone's bad mood for instance). I've learned that setting my boundary/asserting myself doesn't make me a bad person or friend, but instead saves me a lot of pain/turmoil in my body (wishing I had said or done something differently, etc., etc.). This tool has also helped me look out for myself more instead of always putting everyone else first (at a detriment to myself).
3. Emotions are meant to move. You mean you're not supposed to suppress them and hold them back, contorting yourself in the process? That's right. If you're angry, punch at the air or a pillow, kick, scream.... whatever you do, don't push it down. If you're sad, cry. (My favorite Lorraine encouragement is, "Yay tears!") Dialogue with your emotions. See what they have to tell you. Help them move through you instead of storing them in your body. Oh and something else I learned is that anxiety isn't an emotion. Sadness, happiness, anger, fear... these are all emotions and they all have some wisdom for you if you're open to listening. Lorraine has some great tools for uncovering that wisdom.
4. I am beautiful inside and out. I've written about this before, but I have always had a strong aversion to looking at and touching myself. I find my yoni/vagina gross and unattractive and I desperately want to change this view. Lorraine helps you to understand how beautiful you are, inside and out, and that we need to change how we as women feel about ourselves so that our daughters don't have the same struggle. I'm still actively working on this one. I've become more aware of how self critical I can be and that I need to start talking to myself the way I talk to / give pep talks to my friends. As Lorraine says...we wouldn't talk to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, so why do we do that to ourselves?
5. My yoni/vagina is a part of me and she's pretty awesome. For the majority of my life, I completely disconnected from my yoni. I didn't touch her or allow her to be touched. I didn't look at her. And I certainly didn't talk to her. And now I'm trying to do all of these things. I'm learning that her tensing up started at a very early age (when that boy on the playground grabbed my vagina, when I had that catheter, etc.). This was her way of protecting me, but she doesn't have to do that anymore (but thank you, yoni).
6. I am where I am and that's OK. This is a hard one to learn, but so important. (And, yes, I still struggle with this.) Celebrate the small steps toward healing you're taking. Don't beat yourself up over eating a bowl of ice cream or engaging in a tv marathon or [fill in the blank]. I know from my own experience (I can see it in my early blog posts) that I was impatient about getting better to the point where it would put me in a weeks-long funk. I am where I am and that's OK.
Since working with Lorraine, I've made some very positive steps toward living a more authentic life. I'm standing up for myself more; I'm dreaming and scheming a career that would make me happier; and my husband and I have started the adoption process. We still haven't had intercourse, but I know that it's only a matter of time; come January I'll be working with the first physical therapist that I ever saw in tandem with Lorraine and I think that could be a very powerful combination.
If you have any questions at all about Lorraine's approach, her free call coming up on January 7 (sign up here!), or my own journey, please don't hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment. To think that I started down this healing path because of my friend's comment on this blog... that's what I like to call a happy surprise.
[Note: If you like that free call, she has an 8-week group program starting January 21, 2014 (I'll be participating). More info here: http://www.radiantlifedesign.com/classes-and-groups/].