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Archive for July, 2008

This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

In November 2003, I reached a place of questioning whether I had, in fact, been abused as a child. I had no memory of any abuse. However, my life fit the profile of an abused child so fully that I had to wonder if maybe I had repressed some memories from my childhood. However, I was certain that it would have only been once, and I was certain that I had never been penetrated. I had built my life (which I now know was my host personality’s belief) around being a virgin until marriage.

I tried and tried to remember anything, but I couldn’t. I was certain that there was no physical abuse because there would have been a medical record of it. However, maybe I could have been sexually abused in a way that left no marks?? So, I called my sister and asked her if she had any memory of me being abused as a child. My sister hesitated at first and then said, “I don’t exactly remember, but I have always had this bad feeling about mom.”

Immediately, I had my first flashback, although I did not recognize it as such. It was a body memory, and I could feel myself being orally raped. I felt incredibly sick to my stomach, but I knew it was true. In that instant, I knew that I had been lying to myself all of these years. I knew why I hated my mother so deeply, even when I tried in vain to forgive her for the emotional abuse that I had always remembered.

To say I was an emotional wreck is an understatement. My own mother!?!! But moms don’t do that. You hear about fathers sexually abusing their children, but mothers!?!! No. And yet, I knew it was true. I knew deep inside of myself that I had always known, but I didn’t want to know.

There was no “unringing this bell.” I knew now, and I had to deal with the consequences. I just did not have the first clue how.

I immediately became very sick. I had such severe reflux (something I had never had before) that I developed laryngitis and could not talk at all for five days. (My therapist later told me that this was a fitting metaphor for my childhood – “losing my voice.”)

I did not know what to do with this information. I did not know where to go or who to tell. Definitely not my husband, who disliked my mother already. Who would believe me?

The first person I told was a woman from my church. I had previously requested a Stephen Minister, which is a “lay person” (church member who has no background in the ministry), for another issue, so I asked to meet with her. I told her about this new awareness. She asked me a bunch of questions, and all I could say was, “I don’t know.” When did it start? When did it end? Why did it end? How many times?

I did not know the answers to any of these questions. All I knew was that I had been sexually abused by my mother, and I had no idea what to do about it. I also believed that my life was over and that I would never be okay again.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

From July 2003 (when my mother-abuser had surgery) until November 2003, I spent much of my time trying to figure out what in the world was going on with me. I had always been such a doormat who very rarely got angry. Now, I was angry a lot.

I kept feeling an alter ego “step into my face.” I reached a place of accepted that I did, in fact, have an alter ego. However, I did not know what to do with this. I did not know why I had one, and I did not know the protocol for dealing with one. I feared that this meant that I was “crazy,” which I had feared for most of my life, anyhow.

I had read the story of Truddi Chase, and I had seen both The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil. So, I did know something about alter egos and dissociative identity disorder (DID). However, I had nothing in my conscious memory bank to explain my having an alter ego.

I did lots of research online and discovered a term that I had never heard before called dissociation. Here is a definition of dissociation from dictionary.com:

A psychological defense mechanism in which specific, anxiety-provoking thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations are separated from the rest of the psyche.

When I read about different examples, such as seeing the world through the wrong end of a telescope, this term resonated with me deeply. So, I decided to learn more.

I looked for resources in my local library and found Martha Stout’s book, The Myth of Sanity. This book explained dissociation, DID, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a way that I could understand it.

In a nutshell, dissociation runs on a continuum. On the far left is normal dissociation that everyone experiences, like “losing yourself” in a good movie and “forgetting” that you are in a crowded theater. On the far right is DID, which is the most extreme form of dissociation. In the middle is PTSD, and there are a wide range of dissociative disorders that are more severe than PTSD but not to the degree of DID.

What’s funny in retrospect is that I was baffled by where I fell on the continuum. I knew that I had an alter part, which would put me on the right side of the dissociation continuum. However, I was certain that I did not have PTSD because what I had been through was not that bad.

I “knew” that I never suffered any form of abuse other than emotional, but the emotional abuse I remembered was not as extreme as what was experienced by the patients that Dr. Stout discusses in her book. Yet I could relate so deeply to the patients she described. I went around in circles trying to make sense of my experiences because I was certain that I had never been abused as a child.

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

In the summer of 2003, my mother-abuser had major surgery. She could not be left alone after coming home from the hospital, so my sister and I agreed to split up the time to stay with her. I was dreading staying at her house but believed that it was my duty to go. My son was only two years old at the time. I was a stay-at-home mom, so I took him along with me.

From the moment I walked in the door, I was edgy. I felt rage brewing beneath the surface, but I could not tell you why. I remember my mother falling asleep while we watched TV, and the thought raced through my head that I hoped she was dead. I was mortified by this thought, which I now know was the thoughts of Irate, who was one of my alter egos.

After I had been there for three days and still had one or two left to go, my anxiety was peaking. I was a complete wreck, even though my mother was doing nothing outwardly to warrant my reaction. I cried myself to sleep each night and prayed that I could leave soon.

During the night, my mother-abuser knocked on my door at midnight and told me that I had to go to the 24-hour Wal-Mart to pick up something for her. She lives in the middle of nowhere, so it was not safe for me to drive 15 miles on country roads to run this errand for her, but I did it because I believed that I had no other choice. I left my two-year-old son behind because he was fast asleep.

When I returned from the errand, my mother told me that my son had awakened while I was gone, and she had gone into his room. I completely flipped out. An alter ego took over (Irate), and I was just along for the ride.

I pulled my son out of his crib, slammed the door to my room, and held him close. I bawled my eyes out, asking if that crazy woman had hurt him and apologizing for leaving him alone with her. Frantic thoughts were racing through my head, filled with fear that she had sexually abused him.

The weird thing was that these were not “my thoughts.” I felt as if I had been shoved to the corner of my head and that “somebody else” was controlling my body. I stayed co-present (did not black out) for the entire thing: I just was not in charge.

The next morning, my mother told me to leave right away, and I probably left skid marks as I drove away very quickly. I stayed in a rage for weeks, which I now recognize as Irate staying co-present. This experience is what kicked off my healing process from child abuse.

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On my post Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse, a reader named Tami said:

I would be very interested in knowing how you went about your healing process and integration.

Writing out every step of my healing process could crash the WordPress server, but I can provide a basic overview of the steps involved in my healing process. Hopefully, this will be helpful to those of you who are new to the healing process from child abuse.

For most of my life, I knew that I was fundamentally f#$%ed in the head. I did not know what was wrong with me or why, only that I was really messed up. I got great grades in school and graduated from a prestigious university with a law degree when I was only 23 years old. To say that I was driven was an understatement. By outside appearances, I was successful in life. However, I had so much going on inside that did not match the outside.

For example, I struggled with binge eating for most of my life. I had issues with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). When I dreamed at night, my dreams were either nightmares or night terrors. Also, I was (and still am) unbelievably quirky. At a base level, I loathed myself.

Because I did not know what broke me, I did not know how to fix myself. I read lots of self-help books, but none really fixed my issues. I had no idea that my life was a textbook profile of a child abuse survivor. I had no memories of being abused as a child. However, I was drawn toward stories about sexual abuse and dissociative identity disorder. Also, I tended to befriend people with a history of sexual abuse.

In 2002, I developed a suspicion that I might have alter parts. When I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep at night, I would sometimes feel “someone step into my face.” My cheekbones would feel angular, and I had a strong suspicion that perhaps I had an alter ego. I would even run to the mirror to see if my face looked different, but it didn’t.

Then, one night as I was overwhelmed with anxiety (which was pretty much my baseline), I told myself that I wanted to remember. If something had happened to me to mess me up this badly, I wanted to know what it was.

I started having a body memory, although at the time I did not know what it was. I could feel myself being orally raped. I forced myself to look into my abuser’s face. I expected to see my father’s face because that is how all of the made-for-TV movies work out, but instead, it was my mother’s face. I was not ready to deal with it, so I shut it all back inside and went to sleep. The next morning, I had no memory of this.

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This week, I have been exploring a dynamic in my friendships that I want to change. You can read the other discussions here:

When I am looking for a new friend, I seek out someone who is guarded. I am not sure why that is. Part of this probably ties into their own trauma histories. It is a given that I am only going to befriend a person who has been through a bunch of $@#% in childhood. It might not necessarily be sexual abuse, although that is often the case. I simply do not have enough in common with a person who has not known trauma for a friendship to work.

I put a lot of effort into letting the friend know that she is safe. She can trust me. I am a safe place to fall. I will love her no matter what she is dealing with. I will not betray her.

However, I wonder if my intuition is both the draw and the drawback. I am an extremely intuitive person, so I often just know things before a friend tells me. Because of this, I am rarely shocked when a friend confides in me about something that she has been wrestling with. Also, I am good at interpreting dreams, and most people do not appreciate that sharing your dreams is like opening up your diary for others to read.

So, I wind up knowing more about a person than they might feel comfortable with. Combine this with my only choosing emotionally guarded friends, and that is bound to cause a problem.

But here is what I do not get. I offer my love and a safe place for a friend to be herself. I have had extremely guarded people open up to me. I do not betray their trust. However, they still push me away. Is this because of something I am doing wrong, an insecurity in the other person, or a little of both?

I am an intense person. My topic of choice in a conversation is going to be something very deep. I don’t want to spend my time debating the pros and cons of the color “eggshell” over “ecru.” I simply do not give a d@#$. In the grand scheme of things, what color you paint your window trim is irrelevant. I want to talk about the things I write about on this blog – about healing, emotions, insecurities, and the meaning of life.

However, I also want to have fun. I don’t want to spend hours with a negative person who does nothing but b@#$% about her life. I want to spend time with somebody who has been through h@#$ and back but still has a smile on her face and sees the beauty in life. That is who I am, and I am not the only person on the planet like this. So, why is it so hard for me to befriend someone who is more like I am?

Maybe part of the problem is that I am growing and changing at such a rapid pace. That makes it hard to find a friendship match when who I am continues to change.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last post, Analyzing Friendships after Child Abuse, I shared that I am in the process of analyzing my relationships with my friends. Many of my older friendships are drifting away, and I have a few acquaintances that have stepped up dramatically toward real friendships. I am both overjoyed and scared to death, so I am trying to understand myself – in part so I don’t f@#$ this up.

I am becoming aware of the ways in which I set myself up for disappointment in friendships, which I guess is a form of self-sabotage. For example, I like talking on the telephone with friends. I love sitting down and having a 30 minute conversation or even just having a friend call me to let me know about something that has happened during her day. I also like having friendships where I feel free to call them to tell them about something funny that just happened. I do this with my sister all the time. I will call just to tell her a funny joke I heard on the radio, and she does the same to me. She is always happy to hear from me, as I am from her.

So, why have most of the friendships that I have nurtured in recent years been with women who have issues with the telephone? Some do not like being on the telephone, and so I never feel comfortable calling. When I do call, I feel like I have to have an official “purpose,” like scheduling the next time we are getting together, and then I need to get off the phone as quickly as possible. I don’t like that, so why do I choose friends who are that way?

And then there are the friends who never call me. If I call them, they are happy to chat, but the communication is always one-sided. I will periodically decide to make no effort to contact anyone for a week or two and see who even notices. In most cases, the only time my phone rings during that period of time is when my sister calls me.

There is nothing wrong with being phone aversive. It does not make these people “bad” or anything. However, it is not a good friendship match for me. So, why do I choose these friends?

I think it is a form of self-sabotage. I think that a part of myself does not believe that I deserve to have the type of friendship that I seek, so I nurture friendships that are not good matches for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my friends. When I love, I love deeply. I love these friends, even in a bad match. The problem is that my needs are not getting met. I need to understand why I invest so much of myself into friendships that don’t meet my needs when I have other people in my life who want to pursue a deeper friendship that is much closer to what I am seeking. Why do I push those people away?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am kind of in a weird place right now in my healing journey from child abuse. I am questioning a lot about myself and my relationships with other people. I am specifically focusing on my friendships.

I had an epiphany that I have been the one setting myself up to be disappointed in many of my friendships. I am the one who chooses who to spend my time with and who to confide in. So, I am the one who has chosen friendships that do not meet some of my basic needs.

What has made a lot of this clear is that I have entered into a new phase of friendship with a few friends who are offering what I have been looking for pretty much my whole life. Quite frankly, it scares the h@#$ out of me.

I have the expectation that friendships are not going to be reciprocal and that I will be pushed away at some point for some reason, and so I often push away first. I always feel like I have to prove myself or earn my way into the friendship, if that makes sense. Having people offering friendship on a deep emotional level and being open to receiving me as I am is both what I want and what I fear. That is being offered to me now, and I am alternating between being extremely grateful and extremely fearful.

I have always wanted a friend that embraces me as a sister. Yes, I have my actual sister, and I love her dearly, but she lives far away. I really want somebody nearby who sees me as more than just a default pal when there is nothing better to do on a rainy day. I have a history of offering this to friends but being put on the backburner because their family members always come first, even family members that they do not particularly like.

In fairness, it is much easier for me to place friendships as a higher priority. My father is dead. I am estranged from my mother-abuser. My sister lives hundreds of miles away. I see my husband and his family frequently enough that I can easily bow out of a family dinner in order to spend time with a friend if I want to.

However, even if my parents were alive and in my life, I would still put friendship higher on my priority list than most people do. When I love someone, that love is not tied to being blood-related. Blood relatives hurt me deeply, so being related by blood carries very little weight with me. It hurts when I have no family other than my sister that finds me special enough to make me a priority and then have my friends always put me behind their families as well. It hurts twice as much when I know that they do not even like many of their family members. Why do I rate even lower than people that they don’t even like??

TV shows like “Friends” or “Sex in the City” show the kinds of friendships I want – friends who are as close as, or even closer than, family. So I know that somebody somewhere gets it. However, I have not been able to find that level of friendship in my own life. I am beginning to realize it is by my own doing and nobody else’s. That’s a hard one for me to accept, but it is true.

And now the branch of friendship at a deeper level is being offered to me (I think), and it scares me. I don’t want to be hurt again. And yet, if I do not risk allowing that kind of love into my life, then I am the one choosing the loneliness for myself.

Growth is hard sometimes.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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