Archive for January, 2008

Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt

I am really struggling lately with keeping balance in my life, as you might have noticed by my sporadic posting over the past couple of weeks. I don’t know how it happens. To a certain extent, it has to do with still struggling with setting appropriate boundaries. It also has to do with a deep need not to let other people down. Regardless of why, the pace of my life is wearing me down, and I need to take some steps to change it.

The last time my life got this crazy, I quit a bunch of things. I told myself that I could only keep three big commitments, and the rest had to go. That was huge for me. I have something inside of myself that does not ever want me to quit an activity because I don’t want to let anyone down. However, if I do not find balance, then I wind up letting myself down. I am a human BEing, not a human DOing, and I have not spent nearly enough time lately just “being.”

Some of what is going on is just life. Life can get crazy sometimes, and mine sure has. However, I still have not quite learned how to leave some activities behind when they are no longer benefiting me. Every commitment I make feels like a life commitment, but I cannot add new things that are a better fit today if I do not let go of the commitments from yesterday.

I think I will start right now. I will post this and then just go “be.” :0)

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Girl behind bars (c) Lynda Bernhardt One aftereffect from my abusive childhood that I am not proud of is my ability to lie. I consider myself to be a person of integrity, and I am honest with people about most things in my life. However, when it comes to close relationships (particularly family), lying to avoid conflict comes as naturally as breathing.

Lying is a common aftereffect of child abuse. The abused child wants to placate the abuser so the abuser will not harm her, so she tells the abuser whatever he or she wants to hear. When the abused child becomes an adult, that tendency is still there. The potential of being in conflict with a family member triggers all of the person’s fears from childhood of experiencing abuse for not agreeing with and placating the abuser. It can take a long time for an adult survivor of child abuse to accept that she is no longer in danger for disagreeing with a family member.

I watch television shows like Everybody Loves Raymond or Friends and sit in awe of the ability of the characters to bicker and then still be okay. This is not a lesson that I have learned yet as part of my healing. If I am in conflict with someone I care about, it feels like my world is spinning out of control. My therapist used to tell me that I needed to learn that it is okay to disagree in a relationship and that an argument will not end it. Two people who love each other will come back together and not break apart over one disagreement. While I get that in my head, I have a long way to go before I will get this at a heart level.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Overcoming Phobias

Snake (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I shared last week, I did not post for several days because I took my son to Disney World. Boy, did we have a good time!

In addition to the fun of visiting an amusement park, I was able to celebrate an important phase of healing: I have overcome my phobia of airplanes! I am so relieved to finally put this behind me.

I have been phobic of riding in airplanes throughout my adult life. I do not remember it bothering me when I flew as a child, but I became anxious about it as an adult. I had recurring dreams about being in an airplane when it crashed. Just the thought of sitting in an airplane would cause me to feel deep anxiety.

I was obsessed with watching programs about airplane crashes. I remember watching a special called When Planes Go Down and memorizing all of the safety tips they shared. I wear jeans because they are more fire-resistant than other fabrics. I only wear sneakers because sandals could fly off my feet in a crash. I would count the number of seat backs from my row to the nearest emergency exit and commit the number to memory. That way, if I survived a crash, I could feel my way through the smoke to the exit.

I would tense up at lift-off and at landing because that it when most crashes happen. I would panic at any sign of turbulence. I was a complete wreck on an airplane, spending most of the time praying that I would be okay.

I did none of this on our flight down or back. I was completely calm. I was not worried a bit. Even when my son got concerned when we hit some turbulence, I was reassuring to him and truly did not worry about it. It is a miracle!

You might be asking how I got there. I did it through finally reaching a place where I know, at a heart level, that I am going to be okay. If I live, I will be okay, and if I die, I will be okay. I truly believe that the spirit lives on after death, so I have nothing to fear. Once you lose the fear of death, the rest is easy.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Castle (c) Lynda Bernhardt

My son and I are off to Disney for a long weekend, so this will be my last post until next week.

I have posted quite a few articles on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) on eHow.com. Feel free to check them out if you miss reading my articles while I am gone. :0)

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt January has been a rough month for me. I have been feeling overwhelmed. As I posted last week, I even struggled with self-injury one day for the first time in well over a year. I have been feeling such an intensity inside of myself, but I have not been able to identify why.

Yes, I do have a lot going on in my life right now. However, even having too much going on does not explain the level of intensity that I have been facing.

I finally figured out what the problem is. My son turned seven years old recently. I was seven years old when the worst of the abuse happened. Turning seven years old heralded in severe ritual abuse, including the first of many gang rapes and the murder of my beloved dog.

My internal dialogue has been centered around my inability to protect my son. We recently started him on medication for his Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The medication is working well, but it does have side effects that are now starting to balance out. However, when he had issues the first day, I felt such an overwhelming sense of despair that I started to wonder if I was losing my mind.

Realizing that my son’s birthday is what triggered this reaction in me has been immensely helpful because at least I know that I am sane. I have been overreacting to everything in my life for over a week, and at least I know why. I could even see that I was overreacting but was unable to stop it.

Of course, the next question was what to do about it. I have been trying to nurture the frightened seven-year-old child inside of myself. I also keep telling myself that my son is not me. I had nobody to protect me, but my son has me. I will not let another person harm him in the way I was harmed.

I have actually been able to sleep for the last two nights, which has been a relief. So, I hope I am moving past this part of my healing journey. Even after we heal, we always have residue that will bubble up. This was one of those times.

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt I was watching the television show Numb3rs this weekend. The episode was about rape. I always struggle with whether or not to watch a show about rape because the scenes can be triggering for me. However, I also like to know what is being presented about rape to the general public, so I usually wind up watching the show, anyhow.

This episode ended with a rape victim asking if rape really was “soul murder.” I had never heard that term before, and I found it interesting.

I do not believe that rape is “soul murder” because I do not believe that our souls can be murdered. I believe that each of us is born with a body, soul, and spirit. Our bodies are (obviously) our physical selves. I believe our souls are part of the divine – the part that God breathed into Adam that carries a piece of God inside of all of us. That part of ourselves cannot be damaged. I believe that it is our spirits that are damaged by rape and child abuse.

So, is rape “spirit murder”? I would say no, although I do believe that rape is “spirit wounding.” I do not believe that anyone has the power to “murder” another person’s spirit. Of course, there are those who try to accomplish this, but ultimately only we can murder our own spirits. Only we can chose not to heal.

I believe that emotional healing or spirit healing is possible for all people, but we must choose to heal. I do not believe that another person can murder my spirit because then that takes away my power. I can (and did) fragment my spirit to save myself, but only I had the power to do that.

So, I would have to disagree with the character on Numb3rs. Her soul was not murdered. Instead, her spirit was wounded, but she has the power to heal it.

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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many adult survivors of child abuse struggle with abusive dreams. They wake up appalled at having such disturbing dreams, and they feel deep shame as a result. They also fear talking about the dreams because they do not want people to think that they have the desire to harm a child.

An abusive dream might involve you abusing a child. You might even enjoy playing the role of the abuser in your dream. This type of dream does not mean that you have a desire to abuse anyone else. Instead, abusive dreams are your way of trying to understand why your abusers harmed you. They arise from your quest to understand why you suffered abuse and have nothing whatsoever to do with a desire to harm anyone else.

The first time I had this type of dream, I was mortified. I felt so filled with shame, and I could not bring myself to discuss it with anyone, not even my therapist. Fortunately, my therapist was able to figure out what was going on, and he told me that these kinds of dreams are a normal part of trying to make sense out of senseless abuse.

One of the most disturbing abusive dream that I ever had involved me, as an adult, doing things to my kid. In the dream, I really believed that what I was doing was good for him and that I was showing him how much I loved him. When I woke up, I almost vomited because I was so nauseated at the thought of ever harming a child, much less my own kid. Fortunately, my therapist had already explained what abusive dreams meant, so I was not as freaked out as I would have been otherwise.

As I analyzed the dream, I realized that I was trying to shed the best possible light on my abusers. I was trying to figure out if it was possible for them to have done the things they did with the motivation of love, even though their actions were harmful. This dream helped me work through the truth – that there was never any justification for what my abusers did to me. I have not had another abusive dream since.

Abusive dreams are not prophetic, and they are not revealing any deep-seated desires on your part. They are about understanding your past and have nothing to do with your future. While abusive dreams are very disturbing, they are a normal part of the healing process.

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Yesterday was a very rough day. I have been waiting a long time to get my son medicated for his Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Hub and I have not been on the same page about this issue from the beginning. The doctor prescribed medication in pill form, which my seven-year-old son is afraid to swallow. Long story short, I could not get him to take the pills, and hub and I wound up in a screaming match with hub “forbidding” me to request another form of medication for our son because we already spent a large amount of money on those pills.

I am sure this is a situation experienced by numerous households all over the world, but my reaction was far more intense than I would imagine most people would react. The problem is that anything involving my kid triggers issues about myself. My husband’s refusal to consider another form of medication (leaving me to try to “force” pills down his throat or forego necessary medication) triggered all of the feelings of hopelessness. It made me feel like I was facing a “Sophie’s Choice” of two unacceptable options. Whenever I feel cornered like this, my need to self-injure by banging my head becomes overwhelming.

Fortunately, this has not happened to me in well over a year. I have become much better about setting boundaries and refusing to let other people run my life. However, for whatever reason, I felt cornered and succombed to the overwhelming urge to self-injure. I was in such a bad place that it was the better alternative to what I wanted to do.

My sister, who also has a history of self-injury, talked me down, and she helped me to see that I do have choices. I withdrew the cost of the medication from my own account (I have a personal account that I fund with my paychecks from writing jobs) and placed it on the table for hub. Now, I will get whatever medication my son needs, and hub cannot complain about the cost because I am paying for it. And if he tries to back me into a corner again, I will come out fighting rather than harm myself again.

I hate that I went to that place again. I hate that I can still be triggered to that very deep, dark place in such a short period of time. I am grateful that I was able to pull out of the nosedive and be okay. I am also grateful that I was able to feel the pain rather than continue to “bang it away.” I probably cried for five hours yesterday, and I feel better for it, although I also feel spent.

It bothers me that I can still be driven to self-injury. It bothers me that the person who mostly has the “power” to trigger this in me is my spouse, who should be my safe place to fall instead of the one making me feel cornered. I have a lot to think about, but for now I am too tired. I just want to recuperate from a very rough day.

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Man facing ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

In my last few posts, I have been discussing healing from degrading abuses that generate an enormous amount of shame. One such type of abuse is sexual abuse by an abuser of the same sex. While child abuse is about power and dominating a child, there is something more sinister about experiencing abuse by a member of the same sex.

Sexual abuse by a person of the same sex can cause a person to question his or her sexual identity. This is particular difficult when the child’s body responded to the sexual stimulation involved in the abuse. The person might believe that because the body responded with pleasurable sensations, he or she must have liked it. This is not the case. If anything, having your body respond to sexual stimulation during sexual abuse only makes the abuse that much worse because it feels as if your own body is betraying you.

The human body is wired to respond favorably to sexual stimulation. Whether a woman or a man stimulated your body, your body only responded as it was designed to respond. Just because your body responded to the sexual stimulation from the abuse does not mean that you wanted it or that it was okay. Your body’s response is not “worse” because your abuser happened to be a member of the same sex. Your body’s response had nothing to do with sexual desire. A child’s sexual responses should never have been awakened by a man or a woman.

People who have been sexually abused by a member of the same sex often struggle with additional shame. They fear how others will receive this information. They worry that people will assume that they must have homosexual tendencies because of the abuse. Your sexual orientation is separate from the abuse, and you are not destined to be either heterosexual or homosexual based upon the gender of your abuser.

Many women struggle with abuse by women because they fear that they will not be believed. Society has reluctantly accepted that some men sexually abuse children, but female abusers get very little press. Unfortunately, women abuse children, too. See my series on mother-daughter sexual abuse for more on that topic.

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Animal skull (c) Lynda Bernhardt

In my last couple of posts, Working Through Shame After Child Abuse and Recovering from Childhood Gang Rape, I have been discussing shame that arises out of experiencing particularly degrading forms of abuse. Perhaps one of the most degrading and shame-inducing forms of abuse is animal rape. Most people are too embarrassed to discuss this topic with another person, even with a trusted therapist or friend, because the level of shame and degradation is so great. Even people using anonymous messages boards for abuse survivors often hesitate to raise this topic. If you are a survivor of animal rape, you are not alone, and the shame that you are feeling is not yours to bear.

The wording of what you experienced is important. Some abuse survivors label the animal rape as “bestiality,” but bestiality implies consent. If you were a child whose abuser chose to orchestrate sexual contact between you and an animal, then what you experienced was not bestiality – it was animal rape. What the animal did to you was rape just as surely as if a man had done the same thing to you.

Some people who have suffered from animal rape fear that this is the abuse that is beyond healing. They fear that another person could never look them in the eye again if they knew about the abuse, and they feel as if the shame might swallow them up. Please hear this: Nothing that another person ever did to you – even raping you with an animal – can change the value of who you are. Yes, the animal rape was a huge load of manure dumped on the pile, but even a Mount Everest of manure piled upon a diamond cannot change the value of the diamond underneath. You are still precious and worthy of love. Being raped by an animal did not change this.

I know several people who experienced animal rape as part of their child abuse. These people have been able to talk about it and heal from it. You can, too. The shame is not yours to bear.

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