Archive for June, 2008

Bush and houses (c) Lynda BernhardtEven after doing all of the hard work of healing from child abuse and being in a place where I consider myself “healed,” I still sometimes have dreams about issues that arose from the child abuse. They are always intense, and I wake up feeling “off” in the morning.

Once upon a time, those kinds of dreams were my norm, so I feel grateful that they only happen every once in a while now. Also, it helps that I can analyze the dreams after I wake up and observe my progress.

When I used to have dreams about the abuse (which was pretty much every night), I was a victim and passive. Now, I fight back and feel much more in control.

Last night, I dreamt that I was in the house of my most sadistic abusers, S & L. I was using their bathroom. (Bathrooms are always a symbol that I am dealing with my most private thoughts and emotions.) I had trouble washing my hands in their sink because the faucet was this bizarre doll, and it was hard to turn the tiny handles on the doll’s body. I feared that I broke it but didn’t.

L (the husband) walked in. I apologized for the trouble with the doll faucet. He asked why I was using his bathroom. I told him it was the only one I could find in the house. I concentrated very hard on not blacking out. I did not want him to abuse me again.

Then, I was making love with hub. We stopped and decided to walk to a shopping center. He was fully dressed, and I was wearing nothing but a cheap white towel like the ones you get in hotel rooms. A group of men passed us walking the other way. One of them grabbed me and kept walking like it was no big deal. I tried to scream to hub, but as often happens in my dreams, I had no voice.

This kind of scenario played out a lot in my dreams in the past. Somebody would just “help himself” to my body. I would scream, but nobody would hear me. Sometimes my body would be immobilized so I would just lie their while another person – often a complete stranger – harmed me.

In this dream, I fought back. I could only move my head, so I bit the man as hard as I could in multiple places until he dropped me. That made my sister, who was suddenly in the dream next to hub, notice and come help me.

I felt shaky when I awoke, but I am pleased with the power that I am taking back in these kinds of dreams. I am a victim no longer. Nobody is going to take me without a fight.

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Purple plants (c) Lynda BernhardtOftentimes, the alter parts of people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) find themselves in conflict with one another. While movies like the remake of the movie Sybil give the impression that each alter part must “take a turn” being “out,” that was not my experience. Yes, there were many times that my host personality completely blacked out (such as during incidents of abuse). However, for the most part, my host personality would stay out while another alter part was co-present.

I can remember this happening from a young age. When I was around eight years old, I was sketching a toy horse. I left the room to use the bathroom. When I returned, I was thinking about how I wanted to reposition the horse when I stubbed my toe. I was jumping around in pain. Nevertheless, as I did this, I still reached out and repositioned the horse as I howled with pain. My mother/abuser, who was in the room when this happened, was baffled as to why I cared about the position of the horse when I was clearly in enough pain to be crying. While my host personality did not care about the toy horse, another alter part did, which is why my body did both things.

I have had odd moments like that throughout my life. I (from the perspective of the host personality) would be upset about another person taking advantage of me. From out of nowhere, I would suddenly have the assertiveness to stand up for myself and rectify the situation. Then, I would go back to being a doormat and completely baffled that I had the guts to do what I had just done. This dynamic confused people around me as well.

Another time, a “friend” was pushing my buttons while I was driving a car down the highway. I was 17. My father had recently passed away, and my mother had started raping me again. The last thing I needed was a mind-f@#$, and that is exactly what this person was trying to do.

This triggered an alter part that wanted to scratch her eyes out. However, another part of myself (my host personality??) would not allow that to happen, so it turned on me. I started mauling my own arm and my face as I drove. This also triggered another alter part that let out blood-curdling screams. Needless to say, this “friend” about wet her pants as I was speeding down the highway, screaming at the top of my lungs, and clawing myself until I was pouring blood. I finally pulled myself together, but it was a very intense period (perhaps five minutes) that had to have scared that “friend” to death.

Throughout my life, I would have “urges” to harm myself, such as to crash my car into a barrier while driving down the highway. However, another part of myself would never let me do it. I used to think that I was “crazy.” I now realize that this was a suicidal alter part that needed to be healed.

Even though alter parts can be in conflict, they all have the same interest of protecting the child. Even the suicidal alter parts are trying to “protect” the child in their own way (by permanently ending the abuse). As I learned to love and embrace each part as “me,” I stopped experiencing these kinds of conflicts.

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Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtWhen I watched the remake of the movie Sybil, I found it interesting that Sybil’s host personality became upset about one of her alter parts being very talented in playing the piano while the host personality did not have that talent. The same thing happened to me, only with me, it was singing.

Before integration from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I had an average singing voice. I could stay on key, but my voice was nothing to write home about. However, there were times in which I would sing, and my voice sounded beautiful. It was not some trained, professional-sounding voice, but it was very pretty. I did not know why my “pretty voice” would come and go.

The reason for this was that an alter part held my love and talent for singing. As part of protecting this beautiful part of myself from being destroyed by my abusers, I split this talent off into an alter part and buried it deep inside of myself. As I began to heal from my history of child abuse, that part of myself felt safe enough to come out on occasion.

What was interesting was that I would be able to access this part of myself easier when singing certain songs that made me happy. For example, if one of my favorite hymns was sung during a church service, my “pretty” singing voice would come out. However, it wouldn’t be there during the next hymn. I had no control over when it came or left.

After integration, I still had to “invite” that part of myself out and reassure myself that it was safe for me to sing with my “pretty voice.” Now, I have full access to that part of myself as long as I feel safe. If I am feeling anxious or upset about something, then I have trouble coaxing that part of myself out. However, as long as I am feeling safe and present, it comes out naturally.

The other interesting thing is that this part of myself “hides” to the left. I would often feel only my left vocal chords doing the singing. I had to be very relaxed for the “pretty voice” to make use of all of my vocal chords. After integration, my “pretty voice” mostly uses all of my vocal chords, but I still feel a tingling in the left side of my neck when I sing.

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Purple flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtBefore I integrated from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), my memory was like Swiss cheese. I had a few vivid memories from my childhood, but they all involved my younger sister and me playing together without anybody else around. I have a few vivid memories from elementary school and can even tell you the name of each teacher throughout elementary school. However, so much was just gone, but I never realized it.

One fascinating thing about DID is a person’s ability to fool herself into believing that her memory is good when it is not. It was only after I started having flashbacks and analyzed what I actually remembered about my childhood that I realized how few memories were actually in my memory bank. That concerned me because people do not generally block out positive memories.

I saw the movie The Three Faces of Eve, which ends with the title character integrating after DID. She suddenly had the complete memory of her childhood. I always wondered if I would have the same experience. While I have recovered many more memories, my experience was a bit different.

In the movie, Eve wound up having all of her memories available to her. While many of mine have been restored, I still have some holes. My therapist is not concerned about this. He says that I probably “wasn’t there” for many things that happened. Also, I was probably in such a survival mode that I never imprinted many memories in the first place.

One wonderful thing has been the recovery of positive memories. One in particular was from when I was in the third grade. My family spent the day outside in the backyard doing yard work. I played in the grass and relished just being alive. I was so present that day. It was the perfect day. When we had to go inside, it was to watch my favorite television show, which was The Wonderful World of Disney. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Before recovering this memory, I had the wrong belief that every minute of my childhood was filled with horror. While there was plenty of horror in my childhood, there was also beauty. It was only through choosing to remember my childhood that I finally had access to the positive memories as well.

Also, my memories are not always linear. I have many memories that I can place within a certain time frame, but they are not necessarily in the order in which they happened. I guess the actual order does not matter, as long as I have access to the whole picture.

I do believe that I now have access to the whole picture. Some things exist in my head as memories. Other things I just “know” without being able to say how I know. Too many of those “knowings” have been corroborated by my sister, who was there, for me to doubt their authenticity.

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Flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtI recently went on a weekend getaway with five friends from high school. The woman with whom I shared a hotel room (R) was my closest friend in high school. R has always been extremely perceptive. While I always liked her, I would sometimes gets nervous around her in high school because I feared that she would “see me,” and I could not risk “being seen.” However, I did not know why this frightened me so much because I was unaware of having Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

In my post Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the Movies, I stated that I was only aware of one person ever “catching” me switch from one alter part to another. As it turns out, R saw it, too – she just did not know what it was.

According to R, I used to have a mannerism that she chalked up to being a personal quirk. I would bend my head down, swallow, and then look up. I have no recollection of doing this, and nobody has ever mentioned this mannerism to me before. I could rattle off a long list of quirks and mannerisms that I have, but this would not be one of them.

R also talked about different things that I did not remember but that she remembered very well. One was the time that she and I went shopping with a third friend. The friend was talking about how the secret to getting customer service to take you seriously was to “practice being a b@#$%.” According to R, I said, “R does not need to practice being a b@#$%.” However, when she mentioned this conversation to me a few years later, I did not remember it.

R brought this conversation up again, in conjunction with the discussion of my quirky mannerism, and I did remember that conversation this time (now that I have integrated). What I remember is that I was complimenting R’s ability to be forceful in appropriate situations and not let other people take advantage of her. However, that would not have been the perspective of the host personality, who thought that being called a b@#$% was the worst possible thing imaginable. So, I totally get why my saying that to R was very hurtful at the time.

Apparently, I switched during that conversation. It was probably Irate who made the comment. Irate (as the name implies) did not take any crap off anyone. I used to joke that I had the world’s longest fuse – that I would be a doormat most of the time but then, about once a year, I would snap and put people in their place. That was Irate coming out, only I did not recognize this about myself. All I knew is that, in certain circumstances, I suddenly had a backbone and did not fear confrontation.

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Flower (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my post Contrasting My DID Integration Experience with Sybil’s, a reader left the following comment:

Please keep writing the personal experience stuff – it is so much more useful and informative from someone who as been there. – Emily

This week, I will focus on more of the “personal experience stuff” that relates to my history with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Feel free to post comments or to email me with specific question you have or topics that you would like for me to cover.

Many years ago, I read Truddi Chase’s book, When Rabbit Howls. I remember noting that the book mentioned several times that Truddi could not use a watch. Whenever she tried to wear a watch, it did funky things like speed up or slow down, so she had to get by without a watch.

My sister has always had the same problem. She tends to carry a pocket watch or a watch that clips onto her purse because watch batteries die on her very quickly.

I used to not have a similar issue, but that changed when I started focusing on healing from my history of child abuse. I had one watch that I had used for many years. The watchband broke, so I decided to buy myself a new watch. I had the same problems that Truddi Chase reported. Sometimes the watch would run slow. Other times the watch would run fast. However, the one thing that the watch would not do was keep accurate time.

I exchanged the watch for a different one, and the same thing happened. By this point, I figured out that I was the problem and not the watch. One watch salesman verified that some people have stronger magnetism that affects the ability of a watch to work. I wound up buying a new band and going back to my old watch, which continues to work just fine.

My sister has always had freakish-level magnetism. In fact, she used to do bar tricks with it. She would ask for a knife and a pile of paperclips. After holding the knife in her hands for a few moments, it would magnetize enough to pick up not only a paperclip but an entire chain of paperclips. I do not know many people who can do this.

I do not know the scientific explanation for all of this. Perhaps all of the brain energy involved in repressing memories results in a higher state of magnetism than most people experience?? All I know is that I have experienced the phenomenon firsthand and watched my sister do her bar tricks, even with knives that other people gave her, so she could not have done something to the knife in advance.

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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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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtI have written a few times about forgiveness after child abuse. Forgiveness is such a huge stumbling block for many adult survivors of child abuse. I have heard many say that if forgiveness is required in order to heal from child abuse, then they will never fully heal.

I first approached the idea of forgiveness before I faced the extent of my child abuse history. I hated my mother/abuser throughout my life, and I thought it all stemmed from certain emotional abuses that I have always remembered. I was angry about the fact that she continued to have the power to hurt me. I was listening to a talk radio show, and somebody called in about a similar issue. The radio personality said that forgiveness was the key to releasing my mother/abuser’s power over me.

I was floored and had the same reaction that most child abuse survivors do – She does not deserve forgiveness. However, I wanted relief from the ongoing emotional pain, so I read a book about forgiveness. I came to realize that, while she did not deserve forgiveness, I deserved healing. I chose myself over her. Also, I came to realize that, whether or not I forgave my mother, her life was pretty much the same. I was the only one who was suffering.

So, I chose to let go of the bitterness, which is how I have always defined forgiveness. I chose to stop nursing the bitterness, and I freed myself from her. The emotional abuse history lost its power and stopped hurting me.

I have applied this principle to my other abusers, first processing my anger toward them and then choosing to let go of putting energy into thinking about them. I have defined forgiveness as becoming indifferent toward them. However, some comments now have me questioning if this is forgiveness or something else.

I have a friend who has forgiven her father for his sexual abuse. She went through the same place where I am now for a very long time. However, as she continued to heal, she grew compassion for him, and he is now in her life again. She says that forgiveness is about recognizing his limitations and wanting to love him through them. If that is forgiveness, then I am not there and probably never will be.

I also wrote an article on forgiveness for eHow.com. A reader over there says that I am only “pretending to be indifferent.” Seriously, I am not pretending anything. I really do not think about my mother that often, unless something forces me to think about her like having to provide her maiden name to get a credit card. But that is more of an annoyance, not a dwelling.

That reader says that forgiveness is really about finding compassion for the other person, which is the same thing that my friend says. And that seems to tie into forgiveness meaning understanding. If that is true, then I guess I have not forgiven my abusers. If I have not, then what have I done? It has brought me an enormous amount of relief and comfort. But what exactly is it?

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtA reader recently told me that she questioned her diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) because she does not “hear voices.” Many people have the misconception that people with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) “hear voices.” They do not. People with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, sometimes “hear voices,” but that is not the case with DID.

The problem with DID is trying to explain what alter parts “sound like” in your head. There are no auditory sounds involved. The best way I can describe it is that I had thoughts that were “not mine.” I describe them as “loud thoughts” or “strong thoughts” that did not originate with “me.”

Perhaps an example would make this clearer…

My healing process began after I and my then-two-year-old son spent the night at my mother/abuser’s house. At this point in my life, I had no awareness of having ever been abused, having DID, or having alter parts. My mother insisted that I go on an errand at midnight. While I was gone, she went into my son’s room. She told me this when I returned.

I completely flipped out. I ran into my son’s room and brought him into the guest room with me. I cried and held him close. I asked him what “that crazy lady” did to him. My heart was racing, and my mind was flooded with fear that my mother had sexually abused my son. The weird part was that none of this was coming from “me.”

I felt like I (my spirit??) had been shoved to one corner of my head. I could see and hear everything that was going on around me, but it was from a distance, and I was not driving my body. I heard my voice talking, but I was not telling my body to say those words. I could feel the intense fear and was baffled as to why I was fearful that my mother might have sexually abused my son. Yes, I knew that she was mentally ill, but I had no memory at that point of her sexually abusing either my sister or me.

After that, being co-present with alter parts became a normal part of my life until I integrated. I never “heard” any voices, but I could “feel” their thoughts, and their thoughts felt separate from mine.

I hope this helps others to understand what internal communication with DID is like.

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Fire (c) Rosanne Mooney
As a person who suffered from several years of ritual abuse, I take issue with including the word “satanic” in the descriptor. (Many online discussions of ritual abuse use the initials “SRA” for satanic ritual abuse.) I never refer to what I went through as “satanic ritual abuse.” As soon as you throw around the name “Satan,” you are asking for people to think that you are a nut.

I do not know why my ritual abusers did the things that they did to me. I know that they were sadistic, and I know that they were organized. However, I do not know what “creed” they were using to justify their despicable actions toward me, my sister, and the other children they harmed. Their “creed” never mattered to me. I just wanted them to stop hurting me.

However, the things they did to us are in keeping with the stuff that you hear about with satanic ritual abuse, such as meeting in a rural area after dark around a bonfire. There was blood and feces involved. There were black robes and hoods, probably because they were too cowardly to show their faces in case anyone ever testified against them. People who hide behind hoods and masks are always cowards.

I honestly do not know why they did the things that they did to me. The people who, along with my mother, brought my sister and me to be ritually abused were wealthy, and the husband was in a prestigious position in a Fortune 100 company, so one could argue that there was some sort of ladder-climbing connection there. However, most people do not feel the need to rape children in the middle of the night in order to become successful in business, so I find it hard to believe that was their motivation.

My therapist gave me the wonderful advice to stay out of my abusers’ heads. Their reasons for harming me really are irrelevant. They hurt me, and I have healed myself. That’s pretty much all that matters. It also helps for me to see them as weak people rather than powerful hooded entities that could harm me at any time. I am now an adult – they have no power over me.

I am not comfortable with including the word “satanic” in describing what I experienced because I do not know if “devil worship” was their motivation or not. The bottom line is that it really does not matter. My focus needs to be on healing myself, not on what was going on in my ritual abusers’ sick minds.

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