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Radical Acceptance of Vaginismus

Sounds like a cult but is not a cult.

Even if you don't use the term 'radical' you have probably come across the concept of 'acceptance' at some stage in your life already. Like most things in life, the theory is pretty straightforward but it's a bit harder to put it into practice. Acceptance is, I think, a very important part of recovering from vaginismus, at least for me.

When I talk about acceptance, I mean acknowledging the reality of your own situation as it stands right now. Even if you're not happy with that situation. It does not mean accepting you'll have vaginismus forever, giving up on treatment, or giving in to living with painful sex. It does mean drawing a line under things as they stand, so that you can start to take some positive steps forward.

Why is acceptance important?

It's fair to say that for the majority of my 13 years with Vaginismus I was very resistant to accepting the reality of my situation. Probably in part because I didn't actually have a diagnosis to accept. Pre-diagnosis and pre-acceptance I spent large amounts of my time looking backwards at the 'what' and the 'why' behind my symptoms, whilst also trying to move forwards towards a 'Cure'. Walking forwards whilst looking backwards often leaves us falling on our ass.

My head was always filled with anger, confusion, hopelessness, guilt, and even grief for the old me that used to be able to have pain-free penetrative sex. I thought that I was the only one dealing with this condition and I felt that doctors were all worthless. I wanted to know WHY this was happening to ME. What had I done to deserve this? Life felt tragically unfair.

I'm not saying its wrong to feel like that. You feel whatever you feel in the moment. The problem for me was that I was clinging to these thoughts and wasn't able to move on. I genuinely think it stopped me from properly pursuing and committing to treatment.

In more recent times I've been able to come to terms with the fact that I have vaginismus and what that means for the various aspects of my life that it touches upon. No, I don't have full mastery of this acceptance malarkey. I still get pissed off at my vagina. I do not meditate at sunrise in the lotus position (well done if you do, it's too early for me). But for the most part I'm able to accept my reality. As shit as it sometimes is.

And here's a dose of my reality: My vagina hurts if something goes inside of it so I am not able to have pain-free PIV sex. I'm not able to comfortably wear tampons. Dating is a minefield. Smear tests are awful. I have to spend my evenings shoving plastic faux willies into my vagina. I'm not happy about any of these things, but this IS the reality of the situation. It doesn't matter how much I don't want this to be the situation, it just IS that way right now. Accepting it doesn't mean that I have to live with vaginismus forever, or that treatment isn't possible, or any of those things. It does mean that I can allow myself to stop focusing on the unhelpful 'why me' thoughts and focus on what the bloody hell I'm going to do about it.

What did acceptance ever do for me?

Practicing acceptance has personally led to some big improvements for me. It's hard to overstate how much better my mental health is these days than two years ago. Acceptance has helped me to let go of a lot of the negative emotions and beliefs that I held about my vaginismus and laid the foundations for me to engage in treatment with a better mindset. That's not to say that I'm ecstatically happy about my situation, I'm not. I'm just putting things into perspective. Giving myself permission to be happy in other parts of my life and not put everything on hold pending successful rehabilitation of my Vag.

Acceptance regularly plays a part in my dilating routine. One of my big things is to TRY to focus on accepting each dilating session for what it is and not what I think it should be. Similarly I TRY not to compare my overall situation or progress to the progress of others. I'm repeatedly shouting the word TRY here because sometimes I manage it and sometimes I don't. That's the thing with acceptance, it's not something you just do miraculously, it takes practice and even then, you'll occasionally have a shitty day and want to bask in the misery for a while. And that's OK too, just make sure to pick yourself up after a day or so.

Taking back some control

Behind our vaginismus symptoms lies a myriad of unconscious processes but that doesn't mean that we have absolutely no control over our situation. It's just about recognising what you can and can't control so you can learn to let go of things that you can't change and focus on those things that you can.

I can't change the fact that I have vaginismus, at least in the short term. I can't change the reality of whatever caused my vaginismus. I can't control a partners reaction to my vaginismus. I can't control how well a dilating session goes.

So what can I control? This will vary massively from person to person so what follows is not intended to be an exhaustive list of things that you SHOULD be doing. No sir, I will not give you material with which to beat yourself up. Only you know what you want to change in your life and if you don't, a therapist may help you identify it. These are just some of the things that I try to control about my own situation:

I can educate myself and any potential partners about vaginismus, so that they understand what I need from them. I can eject people that don't take my vaginismus seriously. I can alter my interpretation of what 'sex' is, so that I can enjoy a sex life without the threat of penetration. I can turn up for my dilation sessions as often as I can manage. I can practice mindfulness and breathwork in each session. I can build up other areas of my life so that vaginismus doesn't totally eclipse everything else.

Does any of this mean I won't have pain with penetration in the short term? NOPE, of course not. Otherwise we'd all be cured. But it does give me some sense of agency over how I live alongside my vaginismus and work towards recovery.

And we need to ACCEPT that might be as much as we can do for now (sorry, I couldn't resist).



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