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Healing from past trauma

Dear Annie: I am 57 years old and autistic. Due to my inability to read people and my own bad choices, I am the single mother of three adult children, whom I love and am indescribably proud of. But I have never been loved. As a child, I was sexually abused by my father for years. A teacher sexually assaulted me in high school.

I’m terrified of male doctors. But two years ago, I started having to go to a doctor regularly to get injections in my eyes. If any other man even got that close to me, I’d go through the roof. But this man can get up in my face with a hypodermic and poke a hole in my eye, and, somehow, I’m fine. In fact, I feel safe around him. I have had nightmares on a couple of occasions and found that I changed the dream to imagine I was lying next to this doctor with my head on his shoulder, and I wasn’t afraid anymore. Why can’t I find a man like this? And are autistic people like me allowed to be loved? — When Will I Be Loved

Dear WWIBL: I’m so sorry that people who should have protected you instead hurt you. That should never happen to anyone. None of it was your fault.

It makes sense that you would find yourself attached to this doctor, an authority figure with a gentle manner. You’ve been vulnerable with him, and he has validated that trust. It’s just the opposite of what you got growing up. But the healing that you seek won’t come from any man, no matter how caring he is. It will come from you, working through the severe trauma you’ve been carrying for decades, with the help of trained specialists.

There are several resources I’d encourage you to make use of. The first is the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network hotline at 1-800-656-4673, which can connect you with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

I also urge you to find a counselor, preferably one who specializes in trauma and/or serving clients who have autism. Find one by asking your primary care doctor or calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-662-4357. (SAMHSA can also provide referrals to support groups and community-based organizations.)

You may also be interested in the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and researcher who has decades of experience helping patients recognize, cope with and recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lastly, you’re not just allowed to be loved; you are loved. You’ve raised three children who, no doubt, care a great deal for you.

Dear Annie: I’m a 39-year-old woman who wears full-mouth dentures. I’m insecure and feel as though I’ll never find someone who would want to be with me because of them. I’m currently in a toxic relationship and stay in it because of the fact I wear dentures. How do I overcome these insecurities and find someone who wants to be with me? — Scared to Smile

Dear Scared: For what it’s worth, dentures are usually only obvious to the person who’s wearing them. But you’re not alone in your feelings — many who have dental implants report feeling self-conscious. I encourage you to connect with some of them at community.dentureliving.com.

And you must break up with your current partner. Building up your self-esteem will be hard, if not impossible, while in a toxic relationship. You can and will find someone who truly values you as a person inside and out, who makes you smile with no reservations. It will have been worth the wait.

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