Archive for April, 2008

Playground (c) Lynda BernhardtI am so saddened by the news this week. It seems like every time I listen to the news, I hear another horrifying story of abuse in one form or another.

Take the Austrian woman who has been locked in a basement for 28 years by her father, who conceived at least one child with his daughter. That is just plain sick and disturbing. No commentary is necessary.

Then there is all of the hoopla with Miley Cirus. This is a 15-year-old child who looks like she just took a roll in the hay, complete with a bare back, a sheet pulled over her breasts, tousled hair, and smeared lipstick. In what universe is this appropriate for a child who is not even old enough to drive yet!?!! And yet the photographer defends the photograph as “a simple, classic portrait.” You’ve gotta be kidding me. I have sat for many “simple, classic portraits.” None involved taking off my shirt and covering my breasts with a sheet.

How could anyone think that it is okay to make this child look like she just finished having sex?

And then I saw an article that asked if a New York columnist was the worst mother in the world? The article talks about how she allows her NINE-YEAR-OLD CHILD to ride on the subway unsupervised!! Does this make her the worst mother in the world? Not even close. I know of too many mothers who raped their children, killed them, or “sold” their children as prostitutes for money or drugs. Those woman certainly earn the title more than this columnist.

Nevertheless, with all that I have experienced firsthand and learned about from numerous other people, a person is, at best, naïve to believe that a nine-year-old child is safe out in public, whether that be on a subway or anywhere else. Pimps troll for children to add to their stables (and they are not only looking for female prostitutes). Pedophiles look for these kinds of opportunities as well.

What is this child going to do if a pedophile tries to take him? The pedophile can simply act like he is a father with a misbehaving child. Who is going to stop him?

And then there are the pedophiles who notice the routines and befriend the child. After they gain the child’s trust, they harm him.

I understand that this columnist believes in “free range” parenting and argues that nine-year-old children had more independence in the “good old days.” Unfortunately, the “good old days” was an illusion. There were no “good old days” for me as numerous people raped me as a child when given the opportunity. People just didn’t talk about it back then.

On behalf of children who are being “free range parented” everywhere, let me shout it from the rooftops: YOUR CHILD IS NOT SAFE!! ONE IN THREE GIRLS, AND ONE IN SIX BOYS, ARE SEXUALLY ABUSED BY AGE 18!! THEY ONLY HAVE YOU TO PROTECT THEM!!

I need to avoid the newspapers. I am already jaded enough.

Related Topic:

Protecting the Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Sarah WiesCheck out this video of Sarah skydiving to raise money for rape awareness. She went skydiving as part of Operation Freefall to raise funds for the charity Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR).

It looks like she raised $250 by skydiving. She has much to be proud of.

I am so impressed!!

Photo credit: First Giving

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Purple flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtWhen I was in therapy, my therapist recommended that I read the book Compassion and Self Hate: An Alternative to Despair by Theodore I. Rubin. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has suffered from abuse.

The crux of the book is that each of us has a battle going on inside of ourselves between self-compassion and self-hate. No matter how powerful our self-hate is, our self-compassion will always win because being loving and compassionate toward yourself is your true nature. It is basically the same message as learning how to feed the right wolf. I have come to realize that this was my issue last week when I was struggling with all of the social graces and not feeling “normal.”

It is humbling to realize how easily I can slip back into old patterns, even after years of healing work. Hating myself was my normal state for most of my life. So, when I was triggered, it felt very comfortable to slip back into that pattern. Nothing in my life had changed – it was an internal shift. I chose to feed the “wrong” wolf, even though this happened at a subconscious level. I am happy to say that, now that I recognize what I was doing, I am sending big fat, juicy steaks to my “good wolf” and putting the “evil wolf” on a diet.

Every minute of every day, we make choices about how we feel about ourselves. We can choose to tell ourselves that we are stupid, abnormal, unlovable, or a wide variety of other self-hating messages, or we can choose to love ourselves exactly as we are. I am, once again, choosing to love myself. It does not matter if other people find things about me that do not meet their “standards.” I meet my own standards, and that is all that matters.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Frog statue (c) Lynda BernhardtLast week, I focused on my perceived lack of social graces and how it was making me feel like a fish out of water. I had a near panic attack going to a birthday party last week, even though two of my good friends were throwing it for their sons, whose birthdays are only a few days apart. I had a bunch of close friends there, but that didn’t matter. I had to take over-the-counter medication to calm myself down so I could even attend.

One of my friends noticed that I wasn’t quite right and asked if I was okay. Of course, I started crying. I couldn’t talk about it there, or I knew I would fall apart. I made a joke about inheriting my sister’s social anxiety disorder, to which she replied that at least I was comfortable in social settings. That made me laugh.

I still cannot quite pinpoint what got me so worked up. I was triggered – obviously – but I cannot exactly say what needed (or still needs) healing. All I know is that I felt a lot of shame, even though I know I have no reason to feel shameful.

I didn’t feel “normal,” and that dredged up all of my childhood insecurities of not fitting in anywhere. A wise friend reminded me recently that there is no “normal” and that we fit in as well as we believe that we fit in. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

I am “normal” in that I am a “normal” trauma survivor. A part of myself longs to be “normal,” defined as “fitting in” with those around me. And yet, I question if that should be my goal. Do I really want to spend an hour discussing the pros and cons of choosing off-white versus eggshell for the trim in my kitchen? No, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I don’t give a #$%&. It’s all white to me.

For some reason, I was deeply triggered, and it shook my confidence in myself. I questioned whether being me was enough. The bottom line is that I am who I am, and that is not going to change. I can pretend to be another person, just as I did for most of my life, but that won’t make me “normal.” That’s just a mask. I don’t want to wear a mask any longer.

It seems like the people who are “normal” just want to be “superheroes,” and those who are “superheroes” just want to be “normal.” Most people do not seem to be happy with who they are. But the bottom line is that it does not matter if I am viewed as “normal,” “abnormal,” or a “superhero.” I can only be me.

And when it comes down to it, it is only my opinion of myself that matters. If I told my friends that I was feeling insecure about myself, they would rally around me and tell me how much they care. But I know from experience that I will not feel their love unless I first love myself. This isn’t about anyone else – it is about me.

I am probably overanalyzing myself and my reaction, in part because I don’t like feeling so badly. The bottom line is that only I can choose to accept or reject myself. No matter which path I choose, the opinions of everyone else are not going to change how I feel about myself. It’s up to me to decide what “normal” is for me and embrace myself, regardless of how I measure up to anyone else.

Related topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Candle This week, I have been talking about feelings of not fitting in. Most child abuse survivors can relate to the feelings of isolation and “not fitting in.” I have talked about how lousy it feels in great detail. Now I want to talk about how to overcome this.

What I have found is that, if I am at peace with myself, then the opinions of others do not matter. I achieve this by learning how to love and accept myself as I am. No, I am not perfect, but neither is any other person on the planet. It is okay for me to make mistakes. I have to tell myself this repeatedly because “being perfect” and meeting everyone else’s expectations was drilled into my head as a child. I must continuously remind myself that it is okay for me to mess up.

Doing yoga and meditation has been instrumental in helping me learn how to love myself. I have found that, through meditation, I can access a source of unending love. I can get my need to be loved and accepted filled by tapping into that unending source of love.

I have also chosen to stop the internal mental chatter in which I repeat my faults. Instead, I replace those messages with positive ones, such as, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry.”

As I meet this need to feel loved within myself, I enter into my social relationships with a very different perspective. Instead of seeking ways that others can fill my emptiness, I look for ways to give back to others out of the abundance of love and acceptance inside of myself. People are drawn to sincere caring and compassion, so I wind up never being alone.

How well does this work? It has been very effective for me for the most part. However, if I get lazy with doing yoga and meditation (as I have lately), then the abundance turns into emptiness again, and then I find myself vulnerable to the opinions of others. What’s worse is that I find myself getting triggered by a meaningless statement and blowing it up into all of the insecurities that I battled throughout most of my life. The key is to ground myself again, through yoga and meditation, and keep reminding myself that I love myself. As long as I love and accept myself, then the opinions of others are irrelevant.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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Storm clouds (c) Lynda BernhardtThis week, I have been focusing on the topic of not fitting in, which is a feeling that often plagues child abuse survivors. This feeling is even more prominent for those of us who suffered from childhood ritual abuse.

The book Safe Passage to Healing by Chrystine Oksana does a wonderful job explaining why this is. Ritual abusers do not want the child telling anyone about the abuse. So, they isolate the child, making him feel like he will never fit in anywhere other than with the cult.

Of course, ritual abusers really do not have to make much of an effort to bring about this feeling of isolation. It is hard for the child who has been raped and tortured to find a lot in common with the average child. When my weekend was filled with being gang-raped and buried alive, there really wasn’t much common ground when talking with another ten year old about her weekend. The only ones who could understand my life were those who were living it, and they were the last people I wanted to be around (other than my sister).

I felt particularly isolated in middle school. The onset of puberty really amplified my feelings of isolation that I was already experiencing. That was when the suicidal urges started. It wasn’t that I wanted to die: I just did not want to continue living if this was what my life had to offer.

Even on message boards for abuse survivors, it can be hard for those who suffered from ritual abuse to feel like they fit in because many of their experiences are so different from those experienced by others. All abuse is bad, so I am not negating the pain that anyone suffered when being abused. It is just that survivors of ritual abuse have an added layer of stuff to work through that can cause them to feel like they don’t fit in, even around other child abuse survivors.

My favorite message board for abuse survivors took care of this by creating a forum specifically for ritual abuse survivors. Because there was so much overlap, this forum also grew to encompass anyone with dissociative identity disorder (DID), even though not every person with that diagnosis suffered from ritual abuse. This has become a tight knit community within the community because of the common experiences.

The other isolating factor is society’s widespread belief that ritual abuse does not happen. If you say that you were ritually abused, then you must be “crazy.” Well, my sister and I have both been diagnosed as “not crazy,” yet we both have the same ritual abuse memories. The stories I hear from other ritual abuse survivors have too much in common for us to make it all up. Besides, why would I make this stuff up? There have been many times that I wished it was all in my head and that I was just “crazy.” That would be much easier to live with.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Child in field (c) Lynda BernhardtThis week, I have been talking about the struggles of not having the same social graces that other people have, thanks to being raised in an abusive environment. Today, I’d like to go more into the feeling of isolation and “not fitting in” that many child abuse survivors experience.

I am very active on a message board for adult child abuse survivors. I never felt like I fit in anywhere until I found that place. Of course, just about everyone on there pretty much felt the same way – that they had never fit in anywhere. Many “newbies” to that site question whether they will fit in there because they have never experienced a feeling of belonging before. It feels so wonderful when you finally find a group of people that understand you.

I often find myself feeling like an outsider in a group. I will volunteer to facilitate a group, in part to keep myself separate by choice. That way, when I feel left out or different, I can pretend that is the reason why. It is unlikely for me to come across someone in my day-to-day life who has healed from dissociative identity disorder (DID) or who has suffered from child abuse as severe as mine.

I do meet many people who have suffered form some form of abuse, and we definitely wind up having a lot in common. But that only comes out when we move to the one-on-one setting. It’s not like a group of women are going to sit around swapping childhood rape stories.

I wrestle with the need to connect with others and the need to protect myself from rejection. The more I feel comfortable with myself – with loving and accepting myself the way I am – the less vulnerable I feel to the opinions of others. It is only my own opinion of myself that should matter.

While I am generally successful in feeling comfortable in my own skin, I will get triggered from time to time, as happened over the weekend, and then all of those old insecurities arise again. I question if I will always feel like the odd man out. I wonder if there is a place for me anywhere.

I know this is completely crazy because I have so many people who care about me in my life. But one trigger can make all of that seem so fleeting and fragile. I guess this is just another layer of pain that I need to grieve and heal. I need to have a good cry and plug back into my life. I need to get back to how I feel about myself rather than being so sensitive to the opinions of others. I don’t want to give my power away like that.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Sarah WiesAbuse survivor Sarah Wies is going to be skydiving on Saturday to raise awareness about sexual violence. Yes, I said skydiving. She is a braver woman than I am!

She is skydiving as part of Operation Freefall to raise funds for the charity Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR). I have sponsored her in this event, and I invite you to do the same.

Here is what SOAR will use the money for:

  • Extend efforts to provide prevention, recovery, and prosecution information to tens of millions of people, including your community, each year.
  • Expand SOAR’s programs to educate lawmakers, police officers, students and the media about sexual assault.
  • Enhance SOAR’s programs to empower victims of sexual violence.
  • Enhance local services for survivors of sexual violence.

– From Speaking Out About Rape, Inc.® (SOAR®)

If you are interested in sponsoring Sara, you can do so here.

Photo credit: First Giving

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, Lack of Social Graces After Child Abuse, I shared my frustration with not knowing many basic social graces thanks to my history of being raised in an abusive environment. In this post, I would like to go into more depth about the ways that social graces are hard for me. I hope that by sharing this about myself, it will help you to feel better about your own frustrations in this area.

In many ways, I just want to be a normal person. My therapist says that I will never be “normal” (in a good way) because I have many gifts and talents that preclude me from being “normal.” That is all well and good, but it would be nice not to feel like a buffoon in social situations.

For example, I have a phobia of Russian nesting dolls thanks to a particularly savage gang rape that involved them. When my son was a toddler, I took him to the local library for story time. The librarian pulled out a Russian nesting doll, and I started to feel intense anxiety. She started to open the doll, and I had to leave the room. Fortunately, I was there with a neighbor who knew about my phobia (but not the intensity or cause), so she watched my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom. It’s kind of hard to blend in when you hyperventilate around an inanimate object like that.

I know several people who love gardening. Also, my son’s school has “gardening days” where parents come in and plant flowers around the campus. I cannot do it. I just say, “I don’t do gardening,” and let people think that I am a little princess. However, the truth is that getting dirt under my fingernails is extremely triggering to me because it reminds me of being buried alive and having to claw my way out of the dirt. There is no smooth way to work that into a conversation.

Nobody likes to feel like she doesn’t fit in. I often feel this way in groups, especially when I am around people who do not know about my history. I hate sidestepping the fact that I have not been in contact with my mother/abuser in 4-1/2 years without getting into why. Most people look down upon a person who is not in contact with her mother, assuming that she is an ungrateful jerk.

It’s hard. Yes, I have done an enormous amount of healing work. However, there are some things that I will never have that most people do, and that’s hard. It is yet one more thing that I need to grieve.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Girls on path (c) Lynda BernhardtOne of the aftereffects of child abuse that continues to kick my tail is the lack of social graces that I learned as a child. I didn’t learn any social graces beyond saying, “Please” and “Thank you” as a kid. Everything that I have learned socially I have “picked up on the street” by observing other people.

I know that Emily Post (or one of those etiquette women) said that etiquette is only needed for those who cannot be gracious. It is not that I don’t want to be gracious: it’s just that I do not know what other people’s expectations of graciousness are. Oftentimes, my attempts to be gracious just blow up in my face. I would read Emily Post, but that is apparently so outdated that I would wind up looking like an idiot, anyhow.

For example, my parents never wrote or taught me about thank you notes. Sometimes my grandparents would look at me pointedly and ask if I received the present they sent me in the mail. I would say, “yes,” and wonder why they had such little faith in the U.S. Postal Service. They never told me that I needed to send a thank you card, either.

A few years ago, I was so mortified at my lack of knowledge of social graces that I swore off parties for adults for a long time. A friend had moved into a ritzier part of town and invited her friends to her new house for a barbeque. I accepted the invitation on behalf of my family and came. There were easily 20 families there, each bringing along some sort of casserole or dessert. Hub turned to me and asked where our dish was. I told him that she did not ask me to bring a dish, to which he replied, “You always ask the hostess if you can bring anything.”

Nope. Never heard that one. The only thing my parents ever brought along were my sister and me to be abused by the hosts.

I spent the night fighting back tears as I figured that every person there thought I was a self-centered jerk. Then, I came home and bawled my eyes out in shame. I posted about all of this at my online abuse survivors message board, and my friends there were fabulous, as always. One said to come on over right now where she and her dog were hanging out in the backyard. Neither she nor the dog cared what I brought or what I wore. My presence would be the gift.

A friend at isurvive suggested that I ask, “What should I wear, and what should I bring?” with every invitation, and I would be okay. I do that, but I also try to avoid going to group parties because it is not worth the stress I put on myself. At least with children’s birthday parties, I know to bring a gift, but I still wind up doing things wrong even at those.

One of my problems is that I don’t know how to do the shallow chit-chat thing well. I am extremely good in the one-on-one setting, when pretenses are down and we are talking about things that matter. But put me in a setting with people I don’t know or barely know, and I am going to screw something up. My attempts to be welcoming to others are viewed as “too talkative.” My attempts not to be “too talkative” come across as “standoffish.” I cannot seem to find that balance.

And then there is the challenge of figuring out what to say. I don’t have the same background as most people. It’s not like I can say, “Yeah, that reminds me of the time I was buried alive and had to claw my way out of the ground,” in a conversation. Now that I am a parent, I generally fall back on kid topics, but it is still very stressful for me to generate idle chit chit. I still can’t seem to get it right.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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