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Archive for April, 2008

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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Plants in tree trunk (c) Lynda BernhardtIt used to tick me off that I had to pay for therapy after child abuse. Don’t get me wrong – My therapist was completely worth the money. That wasn’t the point. The point was that I never asked for the abuse, and now I had to pay a bunch of money to heal from something that I did not choose. The unfairness of it all really got to me.

I wish I could sue my abusers and make them pay for the therapy. They are the ones who caused the issues. If they had not abused me, then I would have no need for therapy. So, why should I have to shell out thousands of dollars for therapy for something that they caused? It is completely unfair.

My mother/abuser wants to reconcile, but I have no desire to do so. I cannot see how we could possibly have a relationship until she takes responsibility for the havoc she wreaked on my life. One big step toward taking responsibility would be reimbursing me for the money I spent on therapy. That bill should be hers, not mine. Until she takes that step, I see no way that we will ever move past where we are now, which is nowhere.

I would imagine that a person could sue a child abuser in court for the cost of therapy. However, I would not want to put myself through that. I would not want to have to share my story publicly in order to get the money. I would rather just pay for the therapy myself than put myself through it. However, if somebody ever touched my kid, I would sue his butt for every dime of therapy at the same time that I pressed charges to have him rot in prison.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda BernhardtIf you were abused as a child, then you need therapy. Even if the child abuse only happened one time, just that one time did a lot of emotional damage that is difficult to heal on your own.

I did not want to enter into therapy when I started having flashbacks. I was in the process of seeking to adopt a second child. I feared that entering therapy would end the possibility of adopting again. (I was wrong. As long as a therapist assures the social worker that your reason for seeking therapy will not affect your ability to parent a child, then being in therapy will not prevent you from adopting a child.)

I chose not to enter therapy. I thought I could handle it all myself. I couldn’t. The information from the flashbacks was bad enough, but the emotions that came with them were more than I could handle on my own. I did not know what to do with them. I feared that I was going crazy, and I had no one to tell me otherwise.

Choosing to enter into therapy was hard for me, but I did it. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had a professional reassuring me that I was not crazy. I also had someone who understood what I was going through and who could guide me through the maze of healing. My therapist was always one step ahead of me, always encouraging me to follow where my intuition led me and cheering me on along the way.

I learned that the healing work happened between sessions. Yes, we talked about things during the sessions, but it was mostly what had happened since the last time and what might be around the corner. Therapy sessions were checkpoints. I was doing the work at home.

My therapist did not try to get me dependent upon him. I saw him weekly for the first six months. Then, as the intensity of my healing slowed, he suggested every other week, and I was fine. Two years into therapy, he suggested monthly sessions, and I was fine. That moved into every few months until I ended therapy, with the understanding that I could come back at any time. I took him up on that offer two or three times and now have not been back in a couple of years.

Many people fear therapists, but there really is nothing to fear. Just make sure you get a referral, and walk away if your therapist makes you uncomfortable. You need to feel comfortable with your therapist to make progress.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Take Back the Night posterI have to send a “shout out” to my sister, who will be speaking at her university’s Take Back the Night rally. I am immensely proud of her. She is not someone who enjoys public speaking, so this is a huge step out in healing for her.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Take Back the Night program, here is a description of the event from the website:

Today, survivor speakouts are an inseparable part of Take Back the Night. Most present-day rallies offer survivors of violence an opportunity to give voice to their experiences and publicly affirm their transition from victim to survivor.

Common components of Take Back the Night rallies include candlelight vigils, empowerment marches, and survivor testimonials. The goals and specific features of a TBTN rally are just as varied as its vast array of supporters. Throughout its history, Take Back the Night has inspired both women and men to confront a myriad of social ills, including rape, sexual violence, domestic violence, violence against children, and violence against women. The unifying theme throughout these diverse topics is the assertion that all human beings have the right to be free from violence, the right to be heard, and the right to reclaim those rights if they are violated. – Take Back the Night website

My sister is going to read a poem that she wrote about her experiences and then share a few minutes about overcoming her history of child abuse. She is torn about whether to include anything about the mother-daughter sexual abuse because she is still in contact with our mother and plans for her to come to her graduation next year. She is leaning toward speaking out because she wants to offer support to anyone who has suffered similar abuse.

My sister is understandably nervous about speaking at this rally, but she is ready to take this huge step in healing. I am so very proud of her for this.

Related topic:

Child Abuse Awareness Event: Take Back the Night

Photo credit: Take Back the Night website (Posters and T-shirts of graphic are available at the website.)

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Fish by reef (c) Lynda BernhardtSurvivors of child abuse often get “triggered” by things that remind them of the abuse. A trigger can be pretty much anything. For example, I get triggered if someone opens my bedroom door when I am trying to sleep. I was awakened too many times to be abused, and those episodes always began by somebody opening my bedroom door while I was sleeping. So, to this day, I equate hearing the bedroom door open to experiencing abuse.

When people are triggered, they get a rush of adrenaline. They feel panicky and react in different ways. I would dissociate, which means that I would feel “floaty” in my head. The world would seem like I was looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. I would feel disconnected from what was going on around me. It was like I was “there” but “not there” at the same time.

I used to struggle to “stay present” during therapy sessions. I would hold onto my chair to help me stay present instead of distant in my head. I wanted to remember the therapy sessions afterward, and that was hard to do if I stayed triggered or dissociated the entire time. It took me a long time to learn how to stop dissociating. To this day, dissociation comes naturally, so I have to choose not to do it when something triggers me.

I used to be triggered by many things. Today, I am only triggered by a few things, thank goodness. When I am triggered (such as when I have to clean up dog poop), I get a really bad headache. I feel very angry, which is an improvement over feeling helpless. At least anger propels me forward instead of running away. Getting triggered sets off the “fight or flight” response. Now I feel the need to fight instead of flee, which I guess is progress.

I hope that I will reach a point in my life in which I no longer get triggered. That might be an unrealistic goal. However, as long as I am moving toward it, then I know I am making progress.

Related Topic:

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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