Boom. Therapy.

January 25, 2013

There are certain statements you never want to hear come out of your therapist’s mouth:

“I’m doubling your rate.”

“Man, I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

“I believe you and you alone are at fault for the misery of your childhood.”

“I suspect you experienced some sort of perceived sexual trauma when you were young, possibly pre-verbal, which is keeping you from having positive intimate experiences.”

One might expect the latter, which I had the pleasure of hearing a couple years ago, to be followed by the psychologist version of the Chris Rock mic-drop. I picture this 60-something, white haired, be-scarfed lady throwing her hands in the air and walking out of the room with a,

“BOOM. Analyzed.”

In my case, she had the decency to remain seated.  Though I thankfully didn’t spend the next year giving sidelong glances to uncles and older cousins, I was left with the gnawing feeling of being betrayed by my memory, aware that if she were right (and she’d never been anything but), and my body and mind were working this hard to keep me from remembering it, whatever “it” was, was likely pretty awful.

Enter BikeGuy.

BikeGuy was an internet dating find, one of those guys who rides around this city in matching, lycra-based tops and bottoms. What happens when a man puts on one of those outfits? Do they constrain their balls so much, thrust their junk so far up into their body cavity that they have no choice but to become arrogant, dispassionate cretons, careening too close to pedestrians, hogging bike lanes, and yelling “ON YOUR LEFT” too loud and too late to be courteous?


Despite his character flaws, BikeGuy also happened to be puckishly handsome, lean, muscular, and, most importantly, interested. To say BikeGuy and I “dated” would be to grossly overstate what BikeGuy and I did. To even say we “went out” would be inaccurate because truly we just “stayed in.”  After a series of emails, one honest-to-god date, and a follow-up of gchats that quickly spiraled into the obscene, he biked his skinny little biker butt over to my apartment on a couple chilly October nights.

Sidebar.  I have to laugh when I hear the adage that anticipation is the best part of sex; my body apparently never got that memo. Panic Attack is probably too strong a term for what I go through, but it’s not terribly far off – usually my stomach busies itself with liquefying its contents while my mouth goes dry and the rest of me lightly shakes. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps if I knew a man for longer than a single date, the fear would wane with familiarity. But I have, historically, had a problem with jumping into bed too quickly – a holdover, I suppose, from the overweight middle schooler no one ever had a crush on hidden in my head, who’s still quite convinced if a man is interested, he’s just doing her a favor so she should be grateful and jump at the opportunity before his charitable altruism evaporates and he realizes he could do far better.

(Relax, guys. That’s why I’m in therapy.)

Anyway. Back to BikeGuy. Sorry – no details. Other than, despite his tiny frame, BikeGuy…. well…BikeGuy had a lot to stuff in his lycra… let’s leave it at that. As I explained to my therapist shortly after our evenings together, it’s not that I was in excruciating pain, so much as I felt – overwhelmed? Like the whole experience of sex with him was too much to – forgive me – take in. She responded without blinking:

“Did you feel like you were going to die?”

Now. If one of my girlfriends had asked me this, I would have chuckled, probably, or rolled my eyes. But where my therapist asked me this, I instead burst into uncontrollable, choking, gasping sobs.

So then…. yes?

Mic-drop.  She high fives herself.

I cry for a while, don’t talk a whole lot, and then suddenly this memory floats into view and I decide to tell it. It’s not something I ever repressed – it is an experience that over the years had occasionally surfaced in the bobbing flotsam of my memory swamp – I just never assigned any significance to it. But at that moment, in this context, I felt compelled to mention it.

I’m little. Maybe 4. I’ve been getting chronic urinary tract infections.  Because of these UTIs, I find myself on a gurney, naked from the waist down, revealed by what covers me: a piece of paper with a square hole cut out, exposing the parts of me I’d most prefer be hidden. My mom’s there. A couple female nurses are there. A man is there. I don’t know what the man is doing exactly, but it involves sharp pain “down there,” and he’s getting increasingly frustrated with me. I am crying. I am, as my mother would later say, “Not cooperating.”  There might be some sort of restraint system. After numerous failed attempts to do whatever it is he’s trying to do, he gives up, and I remember knowing I’ve done something wrong, failed some sort of test. There is a transition to another exam, a sonogram, this one administered by a nice lady, and nothing hurts about that. The gel is warm and the wand they use is gentle and round and noninvasive – the contrast of “sharp” versus “dull” sticks out in the memory. And that’s it.

My therapist believes my little kid self experienced this – whatever this was – as a rape trauma, and the panic attacks and discomfort with sex stem from that. Trauma I get but… rape? Come on. That’s a big assertion. But since neither of us know what the hell this was, she suggests I do some digging to see if I can learn anything about the mystery procedure.

Conveniently, that night I have dinner with one of my best friends, who happens to be a neonatal intensive care nurse, and I ask her if any of these memories of mine add up to a procedure she’s heard of. I barely finish a sentence before she calmly says –

“Sure, of course. A Voiding Cysto-Urethrogram or VCUG with Renal Ultrasound.”

Sure. Of course.

Armed with new knowledge and a name I go home and do what I do best: google. Just for the hell of it – just to see if this crazy, insane rape trauma theory is all it’s cracked up to be – I google:

“VCUG rape.”

Lo and behold, there have been a number of studies examining language behavior and memory accuracy of children suffering from sexual PTSD, wherein rather than put a child who was raped through the stress of interviews on the subject, they instead work with children who have undergone a VCUG because they are the most analogous population to rape victims.

Mic drop.

BikeGuy turned out to be even more of a jerk than his outfits predicted, and I never saw him again after our two nights together, but at least he gave me the gift of awareness. I wish I could say as soon as the trauma was unearthed from my unconscious I was relieved of the burden and have had nothing but constant amazing sex and deep meaningful connection in the last year since it all transpired but no dice. It has been a period of healing and self-investigation with some attempts at connection peppered around, still hampered by fear and insecurity. But, hey, that’s 90% of life anyway.

I found a video today made by a medical center that explains the procedure to parents, and instructs them on how to talk about it with their children.  If only we had YouTube in the 80s… What shook me most emotionally was the care and communication of the staff depicted in the video.

Maybe back in 1986, this dude got a parking ticket in the morning, and a stale muffin, and a rotten orange and then someone stepped on his foot and then there was no toilet paper and then he got a bill for unpaid taxes and then his partner called and yelled at him and then he found out his mom was in the hospital and then he stepped into my examination room. Our actions have consequence not just at the moment, but rippling through time and between strangers who will never meet. In 1986 a man had a bad day and attempted a VCUG on a terrified child, and in 2012 a 30 year old woman trembled on her therapist’s chair, discovering she’s unconsciously viewed every sexual partner she’s had as the doctor telling her if she’s being bad or good.

Be nice to people today. Be nice to people every day. But especially if you’re catheterizing a 4 year old.



  1. I agree with your last statement (the ‘take home message’) 100%. One of my former bosses would tell us to hold down her 2 year old so she could forcibly change her into whatever outfit the mom wanted (and the two year old very strongly did not want to wear) and I would never do it for fear I’d cause her some lasting trauma. It just seemed so unnecessary and wrong. I am now very glad I never partook and instead found ways to talk her around to changing her clothes herself. Because you just never know what/how kids will remember and that’s a huge responsibility that we should all (esp. the medical community) take very seriously.

  2. Hi. I don’t know if you will ever see this but I wanted to thank you. I’ve struggled with this weird obsessive thought pattern, peeing/holding-a-full-bladder related panic, and general anxiety for most of my life, finally realizing it was my response to something called, yup, a vcug. But I didn’t know until I read your article that it is an analogous experience to rape for many young females. So thank you for giving me this key information that I can now use with my therapist and sweet, supportive bf to, hopefully, heal. Thank you.

    • LC, I don’t know if you’ll see THIS, but thank you so so much for your comment. I’m honored to have helped in any way! I’m so glad you have both a therapist and a sweet, supportive boyfriend. I’ve got the former. Working on the latter 😉 But I’m truly so grateful for your comment and so happy to have helped.

  3. Thanks for your post. I had this procedure and others done done at age 7 or so. Since this trauma I have been sexually confused and frustrated. I feel like I was raped and it wasn’t until I read this that now in my thirties this had dawned on me. I remember being held down and trying to keep my legs closed when people forced them open and held them down. Then people touched me uncomfortably for a long time on my genitals all the while I screamed and squirmed wondering why my mother was allowing this to happen. I don’t remember anything after that…. another procedure they forced my legs open and into stirrups and then another held them open while one of them proceeded to once again do what felt like fondling me. Once they had shoved tubes in what seemed like every hole they pushed liquid into my bladder until I sobbed and felt like I would rip open. This on top of every urologist and pediatrician looking at and touching my privates. The ducked up thing is that somehow they must have, at some point, inadvertently caused clitoral stimulation because now I have these adult medical fetishes that cause me much shame. I can’t even orgasm without visualizing being medically violated. I thought I was the only one that recieved emotional scars from the medical community. I take solice in knowing I’m not alone…. now my 6 year old is having chronic uti’s and I’m afraid they will recommend these types of procedures. Hopefully not….

    • So glad to be of service. We’re not alone out there.

  4. I can’t believe I’m not the only one with these feelings. I had to have several VCUGs as a young child. I’m 24 now and it took me until now to finally find a way to describe these traumatizing flashbacks I’ve been having my whole life. I wish there was more awareness about the trauma associated with this procedure and some kind of support system for the kids who have to go through it.

    • It’s so cool that you found this post and I’m so glad to have any part in any human feeling a little less alone in the world. How did you come across this?? Thank you so much for writing, Ashley.

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