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Archive for December, 2007

Cave (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I spent seven hours yesterday reading the second half of the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I only started the series about a year ago, so I had friends eager for me to finish the last book so we could talk about so many things. I really enjoyed the series.

I found it hard to read straight through the books, even though I owned copies of all of them, because I needed time to decompress between each book. I found them to be very intense and triggering at times.

I was particularly moved by the Harry & Dumbledore conversations at the end of each book. I found a lot of wisdom in the books that is helpful in healing from child abuse. I do not know much about J.K. Rowling’s life, but it would not surprise me to learn that she was a fellow abuse survivor who wove what she learned about healing into her books.

In book 1, Harry wants to know the truth about his family. Dumbledore refers to the truth as a “beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” How true this is about recovering memories of an abusive past. The memories I recovered were terrible, but there is beauty in seeing the love and determination to survive that made me the person who I am.

In book 2, Harry is upset in learning that some of Voldemort’s powers were transferred to him during the attack. It bothers him to have some of Voldemort in himself, just as it bothers many abuser survivors to have some of their abusers in them, particularly those who were abused by their biological parents. Like Harry, abuse survivors may question whether they are destined to be like their abusive family. To this, Dumbledore has this wonderful advice: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” It is our choices that make us different from our abusers.

I could go on about Dumbledore’s advice, but there is so much more there. I have described dissociation as looking through the wrong end of a telescope multiple times, and that description is used in the books. When Harry is fighting Voldemort’s thoughts, it reads very much like fighting flashbacks. Love is the weapon that is stronger than all others.

The hardest part for me to read was the graveyard scene in the end of book 4, when Harry thinks he is about to win the cup but instead finds it is a portkey to Voldemort and the death eaters. That whole scene was very triggering to me as a ritual abuse survivor, and yet it was so empowering because, like Harry, I was just a kid who still managed to beat a bunch of adults in robes who appeared to have all of the power.

Anyone who has struggled with self-injury could feel triggered by Delores Umbridge forcing Harry to carve “I must not tell lies” into his own hand repeatedly.

If you are an abuse survivor and read the Harry Potter books, read them again while looking for the wisdom of surviving abuse. It is there is spade if you are looking for it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Pink flower (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Over the holiday season, I have spent a lot of time with dysfunctional family. Let’s just say that I am really missing my (functional) friends right now. It is really hard to spend a lot of time with dysfunctional people. These are people who I love, but I can no longer connect in the way I used to. Or, it is probably more accurate to say that I am now more aware of the lack of connection that has always been there.

When I spend time with my functional friends, we talk about all sorts of things. We can talk for hours about things that don’t matter and, more importantly, the things that do. We enjoy connecting by spending focused time together. Contrast this with my time with dysfunctional family. What do we do together? Watch TV shows and make snarky comments. With one of these family members, we can talk about important things over the phone, but it is all very shallow when we are together in person. It makes me sad.

I am noticing more of the ways in which my dysfunctional family members are clueless about the basics of interacting with other people, and I keep asking myself how they could not know these very basic things (like saying, “Thank you,” when somebody does something nice for you). I have to keep reminding myself that the real question is how **I** now know these things. They are not the ones who have changed – I have.

I find myself grieving, but it is hard to pinpoint specifically what it is that I am grieving. I do not want to go back to being emotionally unhealthy. I am very grateful for my health. However, my emotional health has come with the cost of losing relationships that were once very special to me. I now see how dysfunctional they were, but they were special to me nonetheless.

I guess I am realizing that we no longer really fit into one another’s lives any longer, and that hurts. I have already lost so much throughout my lifetime, thanks to the abuse, and now I am experiencing more losses. But then I have to ask if there was ever anything to lose. The relationships were probably always this empty, but I was just too emotionally unhealthy to see it. So, then, what exactly am I grieving? The loss of innocence about these relationships? The loss of what I thought those relationships were?

All I know is that I have a heavy heart today. I am going to let myself feel the sadness so I will not have to carry it around with me. I know that I only have to hang in there for one more week and then life will get back to normal.

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River in Valley (c) Lynda Bernhardt

+++++ religious triggers +++++

One question that many abuse survivors wrestle with is where God was when the abuse was happening. Considering that God might have been the only entity aware that the abuse was happening, and assuming that He had the power to stop the abuse, then why didn’t He?

A reader left a comment with these kinds of questions on my post, Christmas After Child Abuse: O Holy Night. Her comment prompted me to write about this topic.

Like most abuse survivors who have held onto some sort of faith, I wrestled with this question for years. I had already been through another challenge in my life without leaning on God (when my father passed away), and I had been through the challenge of infertility while leaning on God, so I knew that having a faith to lean upon made things easier. However, as I faced flashbacks of horrendous abuse, I repeatedly questioned where God was during all of this.

I have learned that the best way to get answers from God is to take my questions directly to Him. I do not need a middle-man like a pastor to give me the answers: I can get my answers directly from God.

One of my answers was that God never promised us a life free from abuse. In fact, Jesus was very clear that life would be difficult:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

It is right there in black and white in the Bible: “In this world you will have trouble.”

Many Christians like to believe that they will be spared pain if they do the right things and lead a “good Christian life,” but that simply is not biblical. Jesus was crucified, and most of his disciples were martyred. So, there must be a purpose to our lives that runs much larger and deeper than being spared from pain.

Also, Jesus’ first job description was as the binder of broken hearts in Luke 4:

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

He was quoting Isaiah 61:1, which says:

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

So, I believe that God’s role is not to prevent tragedy from occurring but to bind up, or heal, broken hearts. In our anger, we child abuse survivors sometimes lash out at God and blame Him for our abuse when He was not the one who abused us. I believe that He sobbed as He saw how our abusers chose to use their free will and grieved ever creating mankind.

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Old House (c) Lynda Bernhardt

One challenge for me as I have healed from my history of child abuse has been the changes in my dysfunctional relationships. I find myself gravitating toward more functional people, and those are the people I choose to spend most of my time with. However, especially around the holidays, I reconnect with the people who have been in my life since before I started healing, which include some family and some lifelong friends. Those are the relationships that are becoming more difficult.

It makes me sad to be around these people because I see their bondage but am unable to show them the way out. Some are finding their way, but others are not even aware that they are in bondage. Still others recognize their bondage but refuse to hear me when I tell them the way out. I guess each person has to find his own way in his own time, but it is hard to have the answers and have them fall on deaf ears.

What really baffles me is that being around these people used to feel so normal, and now it feels anything but normal. Once upon a time, I actually aspired to be more like them because they were more functional than I was. This just drives home how far I have come along my healing journey. That I would ever view their relationships as “normal” shows me just how “sick” I once was.

One thing I see many of these people having in common is the absence of emotional intimacy. I will be in a room full of people, but nobody is connecting. They lose themselves in books, puzzles, games, or whatever method they choose to maintain their distance. Others lose themselves in “busy-ness,” telling themselves that they are doing all of these things for the people they love when all those people really need is focused time together.

I am not saying that I am perfect. I am still a work in progress, too. I remind myself regularly about how quirky I am, and that is completely true. However, I have crossed over to a functional lifestyle, and it is weird still having ties to so many dysfunctional people. I am getting a better idea about why dysfunctional people wind up together because it is hard, as a functional person, to be around dysfunction for long.

It also makes me sad for my dysfunctional loved ones because I know what they are missing out on. Interconnectedness is the point of life – not having the cleanest house, being the most involved, or owning the most stuff. But I cannot choose a functional lifestyle for another person. Each person must find his own way in his own time.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Christmas Tree

+++++ religious triggers +++++

I don’t remember my first 24 Christmases. One reason is because I sat around the Christmas tree w/my abuser each year. Another reason is because I was viciously abused on Christmas Eve when I was 7.

I have always been somewhere between indifferent to Christmas to downright hostile towards it. However, the one Christmas song that I really like is O Holy Night.

I wanted to share some of the inspirations I get from this song so that you, too, can find some solace in this wonderful song.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.

For my entire life, I have laid buried under the aftermath of my abusers’ sin, and I have been pining for relief from the shame. It was through God that my spirit finally felt its worth. Before this, my spirit had felt completely worthless. What a great feeling — to finally feel that my soul has some worth!!

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

I had grown so weary under the burden of my past and shame — shame that wasn’t mine to bear but nevertheless burdened my shoulders. But I now feel a thrill of hope because a new and glorious morning is breaking. There is light at the end of this tunnel of healing. The darkness will yield to the glorious light of freedom from my lifetime of bondage. I am already seeing the first signs of the approaching dawn.

The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

Jesus was born to be our friend in the midst of our trials. He was there when I was being hurt, grieving mightily that such evil could be inflicted upon an innocent child. And as my heart and spirit fragmented into a thousand pieces and bled in places that nobody could see, He was the one binding it up, trying so hard to stop the bleeding.

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,

God knows what we need. He knows exactly how we were broken, so He knows exactly what needs fixing. He knows where our weak spots are, and he knows how to reinforce them. Only He truly knows the gravity of what we endured because He endured it alongside of us. Only He truly knows how badly our souls bleed.

And he doesn’t hold our weaknesses against us. He doesn’t judge us for them. He wants to deliver us from our weaknesses and stop the internal bleeding.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

God has the power to break the chains that bind us. He will stop the oppression in our lives — the oppression of the past that never seems to go away. Through God, we can truly break free from the chains that bind us and no longer live an oppressed life.

This hymn is very personal to me. It is my proclamation that I will survive this Christmas and I will thrive. A new day is dawning, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Armadillo Skull (c) Lynda Bernhardt

WordPress has a neat feature of letting me know what words people type into search engines to find my blog. One person found it by typing in “December 21” “ritual abuse.” I know exactly what that person was looking for, and I wish I had thought to post about it on Friday.

Ritual abusers have occult holidays in which they hold their ceremonies that involve harming children. Some are the Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter, where they desecrate the holidays. Others follow the pagan celebrations of equinoxes and solstices, and, of course, December 21 was the winter solstice.

If you suffered from ritual abuse as a child, then you are probably wigging out to a certain degree right now. Not only are the winter solstice and Christmas only days apart, we also have a full moon tonight. Oh, joy. This amounts to quite the pressure cooker for ritual abuse survivors.

Be very gentle with yourself as you move your way through this triggering time of year. Focus on getting through each minute by doing things that make you feel safe and/or present. What works for me is playing the piano, watching a comedy, and doing plenty of yoga and meditation.

I have been struggling during the holiday season. I am doing much better than I usually do because I have many positive coping tools in my emotional toolbox. However, it is still a struggle. I have to take things one moment at a time and remember that I only need to focus on getting through this moment. To think about getting through the next couple of weeks is too hard.

It makes perfect sense for this time of year to be difficult. No matter how many positive associations you might have tried to make with Christmas, you still have years of very painful associations with this time of year. Be patient with yourself as you work through your past.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Safe Passage to Healing

The book Safe Passage to Healing by Chrystine Oksana was very helpful to me in explaining the importance of associating memories back with the memories of traumatic experiences.

Throughout my healing process, I worked on associating the memories, feelings, etc. If I was sad, I cried; if I was angry, I threw things, etc. But I had a deep well of sadness inside that never seemed to go away, no matter how much I cried. I have a friend whose anger never seems to go away, no matter how often she expresses it.

In this book, I learned something that I have not read anywhere else. I had been associating memories as I had them, feelings as I had them, etc. But I had not put the pieces together to associate them back as a whole experience. This is why the well of sadness kept recycling. I cried for years, but I never fully released the sadness until I cried about the reason for the tears.

For example, my beloved dog was slaughtered in front of me to ensure my silence about the abuse. Even though I dissociated the memory, the sadness remained beneath the surface for my entire life. Every time I cried at a commercial, I was really crying about my dog. But until I actually shed tears about my dog, the tears just kept coming. It was through grieving my dog that I finally emptied the well of sadness.

Safe Passage to Healing talks about the different parts of an experience that we dissociate. There is: (1) the event that happened; (2) the emotions we felt in reaction; and (3) the feelings we felt. I never realized that feelings and emotions are not the same thing until reading this book. An emotion is anger or terror or grief. The feelings are how our bodies respond, such as the turning of the stomach, rapid heartbeat, etc. when we are terrified. Most traumatic events will cause several emotions, including terror, anger, grief, and shame as well as the resulting feelings for each emotion. So, one memory can actually be dissociated into many different parts – the event, the rage, the terror, the sadness, the shame, etc. Part of healing involves bringing all of these parts back together and healing them as a unit – healing our reaction to an event.

I had tried to heal the parts individually, but for me to fully heal the traumatic events, I needed to bring them together into context and associate them as one event. That meant crying for the loss of my dog, comforting myself, punching pillows in anger, etc. – all for one particular trauma.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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