I’m booked for dental surgery this coming Friday and I’m terrified. Not everyone really understands my fear – and in fact, most don’t. The fear is HUGE. The fear causes me to neglect my dental health which has caused massive problems. A simple procedure put on hold for years has grown into something major. It will take a lot of courage and frank conversation with the surgeon in order for me to sit in the chair and allow him to do the work. It will require that I have someone I trust accompany me and hold my hand and comfort me while I allow the dentist to put me to sleep. Even with this precaution, I may not allow that to happen. I may insist on staying awake and possibly feeling more pain than is necessary.
I thought I’d take a moment and discuss what happens and the reasons why. It is my hope that this will help others to understand the significant impact that childhood sexual abuse has on survivors. And for those of you who are survivors, this may help you understand some of what you are experiencing in similar situations.
1) Authority figures. The moment I cross the threshold of the dentist office, I feel small. I begin to feel insignificant in the presence of someone I perceive to be in a position of authority. While my intellect tells me otherwise – we are equals after all – the ‘old brain’ messages tell me that he (or she), is far more powerful and important than I. As such, I must obey and defer to his wishes. The dentist has control over me.
2) Be pleasing and deny your feelings. I am not to make a fuss or cause any upset. Basically just be a ‘good girl’ and do what is required. It does not matter if you are hurting or uncomfortable. Just obey. I don’t think I need to detail where this comes from. What happens as I sit on the chair becomes overwhelming at times. I often feel like I am going to cry (and sometimes I DO). I feel bad if I have to ask them to stop for a moment. If the freezing is wearing out and I feel pain, I may be afraid to signal that there is a problem. Needless to say this causes me significant pain but I justify it by thinking that I am not being a bother and it’s really not THAT bad. (HA!)
3) Panic Attacks. This is a huge one. The anaesthetic that is injected has adrenaline in it which can precipitate a panic attack. I often ask for and receive freezing that does not have adrenaline but it wears out sooner and so they have to keep injecting me. (ya- those needles are lots of fun to get over and over and over again…) Even without the adrenaline, there is no guarantee that I will not have a panic attack. They suck. Big time.
4) Helplessness. While I know I am not powerless, I FEEL that way. I am put in a chair that is then tilted back and asked to open my mouth wide while they put something in my mouth to hold it open and I can not speak. Ya. Not a good feeling for someone who has been sexually abused.
5) Isolation. I feel alone. I feel weird. I am not normal. After all – normal people don’t go through this. Now I know that this is not the case. I’m certain that others experience similar feelings . But at the time I am experiencing this, I go to that place of being all alone in the world. Damaged. Unworthy. An alien.
There IS good news though. There are some things I do now that I am happy to share with others. Things that may help you or someone you care about who may be experiencing similar things. And while they are not always easy, and they sometimes require that you disclose, they WILL help.
1) Tell the dentist that you are experiencing Post Tramautic Stress Disorder. No need to detail but you can certainly advise them of certain behaviours to be aware of. Let them know that you may cry but that is not from physical pain.
2) Agree ahead of time on a signal to stop and take a break.
3) Ask if the procedure can be done with the chair not reclined so far back
4) Insist on having someone in the room with you if you fear being alone.
5) Book additional time on your appointment. An extra 15 minutes can really help and you won’t feel so bad if you need to break during the procedure. Call ahead of time and talk to the receptionist if you prefer. There is no shame in asking for accommodations to be made. And if there is any hesitation, then find another dentist.
6) Positive affirmations. Repeat often before, during and after your appointment. ‘I am okay. I am taking care of my health. I have no reason to feel embarrassed by anything that transpires. I am powerful. I am strong. I am good and whole.’ Whatever works best for you – say it.
I’ve just started doing this at my own dentist and it is helping. The staff there are wonderful and they have done all they can to make me feel comfy. I will call the surgeon’s office tomorrow and give them the ‘head’s up’ and I will do it from a place of STRENGTH.
I feel better already for sharing this with you! Thank you.
(PS- for those of you who are fans of the show ‘Dexter’ like I am – you’ll appreciate the laugh – the surgeon’s first name is ‘DEXTER’)