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Author Topic: Long-ago incident
zeitvogel
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Hi there. Before I start I want to make clear that I'm an adult. Middle-aged, even. So really not in your target group. I write here because something happened to me in my teens that still bothers me, more than twenty years later.

Because it happened in my teens, I thought maybe you can help me figure it out. Also I have never told anyone, not even my therapist, and this is the first place where it feels like I could talk about it. So I hope it's okay.

Compared to what's happened to other people here it was nothing, and I'm embarrassed to bring it up, but it does still bother me after all these years and it doesn't seem to be going away.

It was around my 18th birthday. I was called up to be evaluated for the draft. It was a peacetime draft, but I was desperately hoping to be disqualified. I was shy and awkward at school and I had no idea how I could survive being in the army.

There were a bunch of us, and we were herded through various rooms while doctors poked us and measured things like eyesight and hearing, there were some written tests, and I remember a one-on-one conversation, probably psych evaluation.

Then at the end I was in an office room where a guy told me this was the last step, and he would be making the recommendation. He said my stats were borderline and he asked if I wanted to be in the military. I said no.

(Warning: detailed description in this paragraph)
Then he said there would be one more thing to check. He asked me to pull down my underwear, then stand up straight, put the back of my hand against my mouth, and pull in my stomach. I did this. I describe it in detail because I remember this part so vividly -- standing there in this oddly specific pose. After a short time, I think just a few seconds, he said it was ok and I could go.

I put back my underwear and went out, feeling embarrassed and intimidated. A few weeks later I got a notice from the ministry of defense: I wouldn't get conscripted. I was relieved.

It was years before I realized that there was something really odd about this, and I wasn't just being overly shy. (The memory had continued to bother me). Was there really a need to check something about my genitals? What was the test for? Why was it being done in an ordinary office for paperwork, instead of an examination room? I'd been in medical-looking rooms all day and this wasn't one of them. So I started thinking he had taken advantage of me, that he just wanted to see me naked.

(And he made a point of telling me he had discretion in my case, before asking -- I'm seeing that as suspicious only just now)

I've had several feelings about this over the years. Anger that he had done this to me. Shame that I fell for it. Doubt that I was mistaken. Even as I write this I wonder if maybe it WAS a real medical test (there are some funny ones like hitting peoples knees with rubber hammers), and maybe I'm making a fool of myself here. But I would welcome even that if it means I can let this go.

I also still felt relief that I hadn't been called up, and sometimes I figured that this small thing was actually a good tradeoff for not being in boot camp and then half a year of compulsory service. People do worse for less.

Many years after that I started wondering if the guy had any influence over the decision at all, or maybe he was just bluffing. Then I felt more stupid about it.

That memory of standing there keeps coming back, and I keep thinking what happened was wrong, but it also seems so insignificant compared to what other people have gone through that I feel ashamed to bring it up. I feel like in doing that I'm claiming something I have no right to, like "it happened to me too" when it really didn't. But on the other hand I've been carrying this for twenty years and I want to figure out what to do with it. Can you help?

Posts: 47 | From: Finland | Registered: Dec 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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I'm glad you found someplace to try reaching out around this, zeitvogel, and it is certainly okay to ask for this help here.

One thing we know about trauma is that we really can't compare. In other words, whether trauma is greater or smaller for people often is not related to whatever caused the trauma. Two people can have the exact same thing happen to them, but react to it very, very differently. So, I'd first suggest you try and let go of comparing, and certainly let go of any feelings that what you have felt and experienced was not real, or is not "valid" per how you have felt about it, okay?

I personally don't know very, very little about what would normally happen when someone is being considered with a draft. (Especially as the child of a draft resister!) So, I can't know -- you truly are going to be the one who can, and it is something we can know and feel in the moment -- whether we are talking about a sexual assault of some kind or not, but at the very least, it certainly sounds like a massive violation of very basic boundaries to me. Like I am hearing you say per your feelings and thoughts, I'd be inclined to say this was probably an assault.

But what is absolutely clear is how you felt then, still do now, and given the time that has passed, this was obviously traumatic for you.

Can I ask why it is not something you have chosen to share with your therapist?

[ 12-04-2013, 06:41 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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zeitvogel
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First, thank you for your help [Smile] And thank you for creating this safe space in the first place. Simply writing this out has been incredibly helpful for me. The last few years I've been reading about abuse and abusive relationships, so I've visited a lot of safe spaces, but this is the first one that ever felt safe, and I didn't know the difference until I felt it here.

I saw your response this morning but I didn't have time to compose a reply. (I'm 10 hours ahead of Seattle time)

Yeah I think you hit the nail on the head, I have been telling myself my trauma wasn't valid, even from the beginning when I was telling myself I was just being overly shy.

About being shy, at that time I was very shy about peope seeing my body. Even though I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. I wore long sleeves and long pants even in summer and I avoided activities such as swimming. I remember one time when my mom brought some repair guy into my bedroom because she thought I was in the bathroom, and I totally panicked because I wasn't dressed yet. I'm pretty sure that no one, not even family or doctors, had ever seen me naked between about 13 and 21 -- except for this guy at the draft. So it's no wonder that the experience hit me particularly hard.

I also don't know what's supposed to happen during these evaluations [Frown] I've never heard anyone talk about it. I suppose I could ask some people my age to see what happened with them. Another option is to contact the government about it directly. You know, in theory I could even find out who the guy was. It's the military so they're bound to have records, and if he actually made a recommendation about me then there will be a piece of paper somewhere with both our names on it. (This possibility might be one of the things in the way of letting this go actually. I've thought about confronting him before.)

The whole thing was coercive, though. I had no choice about being there and submitting to all the tests. And there was the threat of being called up and having the military control my life completely. So the whole day I was just gritting my teeth and getting it over with. However this one experience obviously felt different.

About why I haven't told my therapist... partly because this was just something I never talked about with anyone. I have all these feelings of shame about it -- embarrassment about the situation itself, shame about being so upset about it, shame about being tricked, embarrassment about possibly finding out that it really was a normal procedure -- yes I know I feel bad about two contradictory things at the same time. The human mind is amazing.

I'm seeing her for depression and OCD so it didn't directly come up. But also I'm just not comfortable talking about sexual things with her. This may mean we're a bad fit, but I don't want to start over with someone else either.

But thank you for your question, because I thought it over in the morning and I had a session today, and I did tell her about it, and the whole session became about what happened and how I feel about people with similar authority. (For example going through airport security is a near-panic situation for me). We talked about the possibility of me seeing a separate therapist for sexual issues. That sounds like a possibility.

She did ask me if that was all that happened. I understand why she needed to know, and there was nothing wrong with her tone, but it still hit me in my uncertainty.

One thing I'm telling myself now is that regardless of what actually happened or what it meant, I was traumatized and that makes it a big thing all on its own. Whether I was traumatized by an abuser or by a misunderstanding doesn't actually make a difference now. I don't yet believe it though.

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Heather
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You know, I think what we can say is that basic respect and etiquette alone requires that anyone, before touching someone's body, ask them for permission to do whatever they are going to do. And in a case like this, a rationale.

But I think we probably both know why that did not happen here, for starters because in general, military dynamics, all around, and things like bodily autonomy? Not so much a thing. Power over others? Also lives large. But I think that beyond all of that, again, that an abuse of that power also occurred.

I also agree with you that the whole deal with none of this being elective? So not okay.

I am so glad you were able to finally talk with your therapist about this and it sounds like she also addressed it well, asking all the right questions and making sound suggestions. That is fantastic.

I am glad you found us here and this worked for you as a first place to disclose, and we always are humbled by that kind of trust. So, what feels like a best next step or set of steps for you from here?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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zeitvogel
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Oh there's been a misunderstanding. He didn't even touch me. He just looked. At least I assume he did; I was looking at the ceiling. So I got this trauma just from... standing there. From exposing myself while he sat at his desk. (Now I'm again embarrassed about this being less violating than you thought, I guess I still feel like a wimp for letting it bother me so much). Anyway that explains why you used the word 'assault', I was wondering how there could be assault without touching.

But yeah if there had been a reason and he had told me it, I think it wouldn't have bothered me afterward. I was already prepared for all kinds of embarrassing medical stuff. This thing bothered me because I couldn't figure it out, and the suspicion that it was wrong, that I was taken advantage of, created this ball of feelings that just kept growing.

I think things will be better now that I'm talking about it. It's really changing in my head now, just from writing it all down and putting things together, and from feeling free to talk about it. So I think the immediate next step is just to let things settle for a few days.

And the thing I told about covering my body so much, I hadn't really realized before describing it here how extreme it was, and it may be part of my OCD. So I can take that up with my therapist. I'm seeing her again next friday. I still have traces of it, I never go out in shorts, always long trousers.

Do you know if there's a history of people with OCD being traumatized by violations of their compulsions? It may be good for me to read up on that. (On the other hand this might be a way I'm looking for 'permission' for my reaction...)

Thanks again for listening [Smile] This is all a great relief.

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Edith_*
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Hello there Zeitvogel! [Smile]

I hope you don't mind if I chime in here with just a thought. I want to repeat Heather's words, because I feel there is no better way to explain trauma and how trauma affects people:

quote:
"whether trauma is greater or smaller for people often is not related to whatever caused the trauma."
You get to feel what ever feelings you have around this, and I can assure you, nobody here thinks you are a "wimp". I know many people who just by witnessing something traumatic, they've been affected in different ways. It doesn't matter things didn't "actually" happened to them (and I am not saying nothing happened to you), what matters is those things affected them, and there is no shame about that.

I'm happy to hear that talking here about it is helping. If you need to talk more, don't hesitate to drop a line. [Smile]

--------------------
"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it's very important that you do it " (...'cause no one else will) -Gandhi-

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Heather
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Forcing or coercing someone to remove their clothing - using power in that way - is still an abuse. You know that, you were there, you know how you felt, you know who had the power in that stuation and who, in my mind, clearly, abused it.

Please dont be embarassed. I am so sorry this haooened to you, and so sorry that it has been shame and embarrsment that has kept you feeling unable to even tell anyone about it for so long.

I am not very educated about OCD in that regard, but I bet your therapist would be able to talk with you about that.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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zeitvogel
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Edith_* and Heather, thank you for your replies [Smile] I did need to hear that. I'm feeling much better now. It's like something unknotted inside me and it still feels... sore, I guess? But in a healing way. I don't get anxious when thinking about it, just sad.

I'll have a lot to discuss with my therapist on Friday.

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Heather
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You are so welcome. Assuming you are my age or older, that is an awfully long time to stay silent. I am really, really glad you were courageous enough to break it. [Smile]

[ 12-07-2013, 10:24 AM: Message edited by: Heather ]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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zeitvogel
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Hmm, I have some new information. I talked about the incident with a family member, and she said the description of my position sounded like a check for inguinal hernia. However, she said, that would normally involve me blowing onto my hand, which I don't remember but may have forgotten, and most significantly, would normally not require undressing all the way. Normally a doctor would feel for the hernia bulge (and would not attempt to rely on visual identification), and this can be done through underwear.

I wanted to share this here because it does make me a bit uncertain again, but I'm now confident enough to know that (a) it doesn't really matter whether it was a legitimate test because the effect on me was the same, and (b) the fact that it felt so wrong probably meant that there was something off about it.

Oh, and he could have damn well told me what he was looking for.

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Heather
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Absolutely. I agree with you: even in the event what he was doing was bonafide, the way he did it was unacceptable. But truly, it sounds to me like this was not likely about anything sound at all. Most especially because if he was checking for hernia, I would not expect that to involve undressing, or if it did, for anyone to expect to have to undress, so an explanation with that seems like it would have been a given.

Also, it does not sound like this person was a healthcare professional. So I question this being about establishing anything per your health.

I hope that family member was being supportive of you, by the way. Coming up with rationales for abuse is unfortunately a common way people respond to disclosures like this. I hope you know for now and the future, if someone starts responding that way, you can always tell them what you need from them, and that can include just listening and believing you, rather thantrying to reason an abuse away.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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zeitvogel
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Yeah, that was ok, she was supportive [Smile] Thanks for checking. She's the one who pointed out all the ways it didn't add up as a genuine test, and she echoed what you said, that the way I felt about it was a good indication that it was not an okay situation.

I found it helpful to know about this. Somehow it's easier to think "it was this procedure, done in a wrong way" than just "that was weird". Like there's more to hold on to.

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