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On my blog entry entitled Worrying about Reactions to Your Child Abuse Story, a reader posted the following comment:

But my question is, how do tell [my therapist] about each memory so she can help me work through them? I am always trying to hide everything from her, knowing she will eventually find out after a crisis intervention. Mostly because I don’t want anyone including her to have a glimps of what I went through. Why should others suffer because I did? I don’t want to frighten her away, even though she has proved time and time again that she is not going anywhere. Am I just fearful of losing the most trustful person in my life? I know I need to work on memory work, but it’s all so painful. I am not questioning her abilities, she even gets consultatiion to help her help me. Why am I so afraid to tell her? I don’t want her to have to keep putting out fires. I want her help and I know she can. I just dont understand why I am reluctant in telling her the full truth. I have been fighting with her somewhat. Do you think she will stop her work with me and pass me off to someone else? Will she think I am trying to push her away? Or do you think she is understanding enough to stick around? ~Karina

Karina’s post reminds me of my husband’s reaction to the idea of transferring our son to a private school that specializes in learning disabilities. We had already tried so many ways to help our son be successful in school, including fighting for an individualized education plan (IEP), getting him tutoring, and being ultra-involved in his school and homework, all to no avail. Transferring our son to this expensive private school was our last hope. In a rare show of emotion, my husband asked, “What’s left if this doesn’t work? We are out of options.”

Karina says that her T has helped her repeatedly and continues to reassure her that she is committed to her, and yet Karina is fearful. I suspect that part of this dynamic is the same as my husband’s, which is the fear of losing all hope. As long as there is something left to try, all is not lost. However, when we commit to the last resort and it doesn’t work, all hope is gone, and then what’s the point of even trying anymore? As abused children, we would rather believe the abuse was our fault, which makes it something we can control, than to sink into complete despair.

My son’s new school was a huge blessing. It’s specialization made it the perfect fit, and my failing student started bringing homes A’s and B’s. Even more importantly, he rediscovered his love for learning. He just needed the right fit for his learning style.

It sounds like Karina has found the right fit as well – a T who is in invested in and committed to her. Her T also sounds fearless, never shying away no matter what new information is uncovered.

I reached a place in my healing process where I had to choose to trust, and that was not easy for me. It was actually one of the most difficult parts of my healing process because my heart had been broken so many times in my life, and I did not think I could survive one more heartbreak. However, unless I mustered up the courage to risk trust, I knew I would never heal. So, I bit the bullet and threw everything I had in taking that risk.

This was not easy for me. I spent the entire morning in the bathroom with diarrhea and fighting off vomiting. I was lightheaded and dizzy, and my heart kept racing like I was about to be thrown off a cliff. No matter how much I fought myself, I forced myself to open up. When I did (and it was well-received), I felt the ice breaking all around my heart and opened myself up to a truly emotionally-intimate relationship. This can be your experience as well, but you have to find the courage to take the risk.

Image credit: Hekatekris

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SunriseI met with my therapist yesterday and feel much better about everything going on in my life. By the time I walked into my therapist’s office, I knew what I needed to do, but I needed his professional opinion to validate that I wasn’t a complete jerk.

What I **wanted** to be able to do was send a simple card to communicate that I care and am thinking about my ex-friend without opening the door to further contact. I don’t think this will be possible in this situation, just as it was not possible either with momster or an ex-friend from high school. In all three cases, the relationship must be on the other person’s terms, which doesn’t leave room for me to define what I want the relationship to be like. Since all three of these people have only given me two choices – my way or the highway – I choose the highway.

My therapist pointed out that I am not “doing nothing.” I made sure the school counselor knew about the situation (she already did from the daughter), and I have prayed. Those are two constructive things that I have done for my ex-friend, and this enabled me to stay true to my own values even when she has painted our relationship into a corner that does not leave me the freedom to send a simple card.

This discussion only took about half of the session, so we talked about the last few months. I have felt so off-balance for all of the reasons that I have already blogged about. My therapist pointed out that so much of my life has been in flux for the past couple of months, which is causing me to feel destabilized. The word destabilized really resonated with me. I haven’t had the alone time to use most of my grounding tools since hub has been home for the past couple of months (he returned to work yesterday), which is likely part of why I have been feeling so out of sorts for so long.

My sister and I are taking a trip together, along with our children, to the beach for several days. We are keeping our return open-ended because we both very much need the break. Trips to the beach typically help ground me, so I am hoping to return focused.

One issue I haven’t blogged about is that I haven’t received any classes to teach for my part-time job in six weeks with no end in sight. I also work a second part-time job that helps with the cash flow, but it’s not as rewarding. I am thinking that perhaps now is the perfect time to start writing the book that I keep thinking about writing “someday.”

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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A reader emailed me to ask how to speed up the process of healing from child abuse. The reader has grown weary of the healing process and wants to fast-track the process to get it over with. I can completely relate to this because I said the same things many times myself. My therapy used to tell me to “slow down,” and I would respond, “Why would I possibly want to endure this process any longer than I have to?”

If you want to speed the process of healing from child abuse along, you need to stop fighting yourself. You need to choose to believe every memory that surfaces, even those that seem “unbelievable,” and you need to process the emotions that come with them. You have to stop fighting the tide and, instead, release yourself into the current of your healing process. When you stop setting up your own roadblocks, the healing process develops its own rhythm, and you will move through the process faster.

The thought of not fighting the memories is terrifying to many child abuse survivors, especially those in the early stages of healing. The more you have fought them, the scarier the prospect becomes. This is because, as you actively block the memories through denial, cutting, binge eating, etc., your subconscious mind has to work even harder to push the memories out. So, from your perspective, it appears that letting go is going to cause the lid to blow off the pressure cooker and explode all over your life.

When you first let go, it might actually feel that way – It did for me. I had six weeks of feeling like I was being pulled down into an abyss, and I had no idea how I would survive this or even if I wanted to. Then, the clouds parted, and I felt the warmth of the sun inside of myself for the first time ever. It only lasted for a few hours, but it gave me the hope I needed to hang in there while the healing process ran its course.

I know how scary it is to let go and trust that the healing process knows what it is doing. However, if you truly want to “get this healing over with,” that’s the way you do it.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

My first six months of therapy were intense, to say the least. To this day, my therapist (T) will marvel about how I covered a few years worth of therapy in such a short period of time. I was like a runaway freight train. I decided that if I was going to go through this painful healing process, then I was going to give it all I had and get it over with as quickly as possible.

I had weekly therapy sessions, but they were really more of a check-in and reassurance than anything else. I was doing most of the work on my own at home. I have read many stories of DID patients who need the T to facilitate communication among the alter parts and who recover memories in his presence. That was not my experience.

I recovered a new memory just about every night. When I was in that in-between state of awake and asleep, I could feel the pull to recover another memory. I would willingly follow that pull and explore what I needed to remember.

What I had read and heard about flashbacks was a bit different from what I experienced. I had heard that many veterans who saw the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan had flashbacks in which they thought they were back in the war again. So, my expectation was that I would believe that I was a child being harmed again. That’s not what it was like.

Instead, I experienced what Judith Herman calls a “dual reality” in her book Trauma and Recovery. Yes, a part of myself was reliving the trauma. However, another part of myself was completely aware that I was lying safely in my bed, and I used this to my advantage. As I would experience a flashback, I would tell myself that I already survived the abuse, so I can survive the memory. Sometimes I would play a silly song in my head to calm myself down.

I learned that I could stop and rewind a memory as long as I was truthful with myself about being willing to revisit the memory the next night. Some memories were so traumatizing that I had to return to them several times before I could get through them.

While I had a flashback, the details were unbelievably vivid, as if I really was back in that time and place again. However, in the morning, they would be just like any other memory that I could retrieve at will but were no longer vivid.

Each memory unleashed intense emotions. That is what I had the hardest time dealing with. Recovering the memories was actually “fun” at times because the pieces of my life started falling into place. It was like uncovering my own mystery. I was okay with having the information – it was the emotions that kicked my tail.

After recovering my first memory, I stayed in a very bad place emotionally for six straight weeks. Then, one day the clouds parted, and I felt really good. I felt like I could breathe again, and I got a taste of what life could be like without being in pain. This reprieve only lasted for a few hours, but it gave me the hope of what my life could be like after I dealt with the pain of my past.

After six months, my healing process blessedly slowed down, and my therapist recommended that we cut back to biweekly sessions. I took a lot of pride in recognizing that I had done an enormous amount of healing work and built up the confidence that I really was going to get through this.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

When I decided to enter into therapy, I did not have a clue about how to find a therapist. I was also trying to think of a way to enter into therapy without my husband finding out. I did not want him to know that I was not the virgin I had always represented myself as being.

I met with my Stephen minister again, and she handed me a phone number for a therapist (T) that our pastor had recommended. I found out later that the pastor had no clue who it was for or what the situation was about. This lady simply asked if he knew a good therapist, and he passed along this name.

I was extremely nervous, but I called the number and left a message. The T called me back within a few hours, and I screened him on the phone. I asked if he had ever counseled anyone who had been sexually abused by her mother, and he surprised me by saying yes! We set up an initial meeting.

The first meeting was pretty much him telling me his credentials (degree in psychology from a prestigious university and over 20 years of experience working as a psychologist). I did not have much to tell him yet because I really did not remember much yet myself. However, I did share that I was leaving the next day to see my mother-abuser for Christmas.

He told me that I needed to cut off all personal contact with her for a few months during the early months of therapy. I looked at him like he had two heads. I had no awareness that not having my mother in my life was an option. He was very clear that, if I wanted to heal, I had to set boundaries so that I would feel safe. If she was still calling and visiting, then that was not going to happen. I was scared but agreed.

I did have that conversation with my mother. I said that I was going into therapy to deal with childhood issues and that my T recommended cutting off personal contact with all family members (which was a lie) but that we could still email each other. She was surprisingly supportive.

This still left telling hub about the therapy. Hub came with me a few days later to visit with my grandparents for Christmas. Before we left, my grandparents gave me a check for $1,000. They had never done anything like this before, so it had never crossed my mind that they would give me such a generous check. When we left, hub starting talking about what we could do with that money. This was my segue into wanting to go into therapy and why.

I cried after all of this was over. I knew that somebody was looking out for me. Entering into therapy seemed like such a huge hurdle, and yet every piece of it, including the funding, fell into my lap. As frightened as I was, I knew that somebody somewhere was looking out for me and was guiding me toward finally healing from my pain.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

After I had my first flashback, I decided not to seek out therapy for three reasons:

  1. I was in the process of adopting a second child and feared that being in therapy would prevent me from adopting again.
  2. I did not want hub to know that I had been sexually abused, and he was the only breadwinner in our family to pay for therapy.
  3. I did not think a therapist would believe me about a mother sexually abusing a child, so I feared I would be labeled as “crazy.”

I decided that I would just heal myself instead.

I went online and found a wonderful resource called the Survivor to Thriver manual. The manual provides 21 steps to heal from any form of child abuse. I got annoyed because alcoholics only have 12 steps to cover, so why did I have to do so many??

I was okay with the first two steps, but step three was to find a good therapist. No way. Not happening. I figured I would just skip that step.

I started going looking for my repressed memories. I wanted to remember so I could get this over with and move on with my life. So, I would do visualizations and go looking for them. I would “see” a long, dark hallway with a bunch of locked wooden doors. I would look for the one with a gold key in it and then open it. That would release a flashback.

I started having flashbacks just about every night. I questioned whether they were real because most were from the view of the ceiling. How could I possibly see the back of my own head? And yet, the details in the memories matched what I remembered about that time period in my life and were verified by pictures in photo albums, such as my mother’s hairstyle and the decorations in my bedroom.

What I did not see coming was the flood of emotion. While I was horrified by the memories, I did not expect to feel intense levels of shame and despair. Suddenly, I could not look people in the eye. I believed that I was a worthless piece of scum who was not worthy of being around another person.

I spent an afternoon with an acquaintance from church who is a really good, loving, and compassionate person. I could not handle the contrast between her goodness and “purity” with my disgusting and loathsome history. The self-loathing got so intense that I found myself on the floor of my bedroom, having a full-fledged panic attack, banging my head against the floor and thinking about the best way to end my life. The only thing holding me back was my love for my son – I could not leave him that way.

Finally, it hit me that anything was better than being in this place. Even if it meant that I could not adopt again, and even if it meant that I was diagnosed as “crazy,” anything was better than being in this retched place. So, I decided to listen to the Survivor to Thriver manual and find a therapist.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda Bernhardt

If you have a history of child abuse, then you need a therapist. Period. Healing from child abuse is incredibly grueling, and you are at risk for self-injuring or attempting suicide if you try to heal without the guidance of a therapist.

You do not have to see a therapist forever. I saw mine weekly for the first six months. Then, we moved to every other week for a year and a half. Finally, we dropped down to monthly and then to “as needed.” I have not seen my therapist in a couple of years now, but I know that he is only a phone call away if I ever need him.

It is very important that you choose an experienced therapist with a degree in psychology or psychiatry who has experience in counseling people with a history of child abuse. It might be tempting to go the pastor route or work with a Christian counselor who does not have a degree in psychology or psychiatry due to the reduced cost, but I strongly recommend not doing this. I know too many people whose therapy actually made things worse because the counselor had no experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

My sister saw a Christian counselor (the preacher’s wife), who had no professional counseling education, about her guilt and shame over being sexually abused as a child. The woman had her write down her “sins” (including being sexually abused) on a piece of paper and then burn it. (Considering my sister self-injured through burning, that was a doubly unfortunately recommendation.) Of course, “burning her sins” did not heal her PTSD, so the counselor told her that she had a demon inside of her. How is this constructive in helping a child abuse survivor recover from PTSD?

I know adults who have had similar experiences with Christian counselors with no PTSD education. They post on my favorite online message board for child abuse survivors about their counselors telling them that they have demons inside of them, which causes them to despair that they can never heal from their child abuse issues. I always tell them to run away as far and as fast as they can.

I am not meaning to slam on anyone who provides therapy through a Christian environment. I found my own therapist through the Methodist Counseling Center, and he is wonderful. However, he was a psychologist first, with a real psychology degree from a real university and 20+ years of experience in counseling people with child abuse issues. That is the type of therapist you need. Not everyone who calls himself a counselor has the credentials to back it up. Be sure to check a therapist’s credentials before you begin working with him.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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