Archive for September, 2008

Last week was not a good week for me. I have a lot going on in my life right now, and I could handle the surface stuff if I was not getting triggered on a regular basis. It feels as if I cannot overcome one trigger before another knocks me off my feet again.

My seven-year-old son has ADHD, which causes him to have poor impulse control. His first medication has already stopped working, so we are in the process of trying a second medication. This whole experience has been very triggering to me.

For some reason, I have a difficult time separating my son from my inner child. I know logically that my son is not my inner child, but whenever I feel out of control in what is going on in my son’s life, I have a difficult time separating out his issues from my own emotionally.

For example, my son is seven years old, which is the same age that I was when I was vaginally raped for the first time. Because of this, his 7th birthday triggered me. I felt that I was free falling emotionally but did not know why.

Last week, the doctor told me not to medicate my son so his body could rest between medications. My son’s behaviors have been wild, and this triggers me because I fear that I cannot keep him safe. With no impulse control and hyperactivity, you can imagine the challenges in keeping a child physically safe.

On top of this, the doctor’s office did not fax over necessary paperwork for my son to receive the medication at school, so I had to make three separate trips to the doctor’s office last week (which is across town) to get this taken care of. This also triggered me into believing that my son was not “safe” because his doctor was not “protecting” him.

In my head, I know that my son is safe. Nobody has ever abused him, and he has me to keep him safe. However, in my heart, I have trouble separating out the two. When I see that I cannot “control” his safety (such as having to rely on others to medicate him), I feel unable to keep him safe, which triggers my own issues of being unable to keep myself safe as a child.

I can look at all of this logically and understand why I am reacting the way that I am, but understanding this does little to soothe the wounded child inside. It has been real challenge lately.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Somebody found my blog by Googling the question, “How do you know you have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)”? I think this is a great topic to cover, although it is not so easy to answer.

From a clinical standpoint, you have to meet the criteria outlined here. However, that is for diagnosing DID from an outward perspective, not an inward one, so I, personally, find this definition to be limited.

For me, the first red flag was feeling my face change. For a couple of years before coming to terms with having DID, I would feel my face change as I was lying in my bed at night trying to fall asleep. It felt like somebody was “stepping into my face.” My facial features felt more angular and simply did not “fit.”

Also, whenever I felt someone “step into my face,” I felt as if “I” was being pushed back from my face. It is hard to explain the feeling. It is like a thin layer of cold fog was separating me from my face. I could still see out of my own eyes, but I felt very disconnected from my face.

My second red flag was experiencing “loud thoughts” that did not originate from “me.” This is not the same thing as “hearing voices.” For example, I would be having sex with my husband, and I would suddenly have the thought, “If you keep your eyes closed, they all feel the same.” However, “I” was not thinking this at all.

My third red flag was when I stayed co-present while another alter part took over. This happened when my mother/abuser told me that she had gone into my then-two-year-old son’s bedroom during the night. This is not something that would have bothered “me,” but it triggered an alter part, who took over. I was along for the ride as my body picked up my child, slammed the door, and asked him repeatedly if “that crazy woman” had hurt him. My mind became flooded with deep pain and terror, and my body wept. However, “I” was simply observing all of this from a corner of my head, thinking WTF??

My fourth red flag was the realization that I had numerous holes in my memory. I had always prided myself in having a good memory because I had a few very vivid memories from a young age. However, when I actually sat down and tried to recall basic events, such as Christmas morning, I found no memories at all. In fact, I could not even recall any Christmas memories with either parent through age 23. That is clearly not normal.

My final red flag was acknowledging that my moods could change rapidly when I became upset. I used to joke that I had the world’s longest fuse. I would let other people walk all over me most of the time. However, occasionally, out of nowhere, I would become very assertive, but I had no idea where this strength came from. Once I recognized that I had DID, I realized that this was an alter part taking over.

It is not easy to recognize DID in yourself. However, when you are ready to begin healing, the amnestic barrier will begin to melt, and you will start to notice red flags.

If you suspect that you have DID, don’t panic. People with DID are intelligent, extremely strong and resourceful, and caring. You are going to be okay. You can heal from DID, just as I have.

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Photo Credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Those of you who follow this blog know that I have been advocating heavily for the passage of the Protect Our Children Act, also known as Senate Bills 1738 and 3344. I wrote about the importance of this legislation for abused children in all of these posts:

The Senate just passed the bill!!!!!!! See this article: Protect Our Children Act Passes Senate!

I can’t find any further details online yet, but I wanted you to know that we made a difference. It did not look like the Senate was going to do the right thing, but we child abuse survivors rallied along with other U.S. citizens, and the Senate heard us. Thanks to us, law enforcement will now have the funds to track down child predators and save abused children from being abused on camera.

Here are the details I received in an email from the National Association to Protect Children:

Just minutes ago, Congress passed the PROTECT Our Children Act.

It was a long, hard campaign… one that started with committed PROTECT members like you and then grew to over half a million Americans after it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show. Many Washington insiders said we would never win. We wanted you to be the first to know that we did!

As our campaign showed America, law enforcement now knows how to locate and stop hundreds of thousands of criminals who assault children and traffic in child pornography. But despite years of empty rhetoric from politicians, less than 2% of these cases are even being investigated. That begins to change today, with the passage of the PROTECT Our Children Act.
In the coming days, we’ll share many of the details about this landmark bill and how it was passed. But we didn’t want you to wait to hear this news. Please take time today to celebrate what we’ve accomplished together, because this never would have happened without you!

–The Staff and Volunteers at PROTECT

Thank you to everyone who took the time to write to your senators. We did something good today. We did for abused children today what should have been done for us. We made a difference.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last post, PTSD: What Do Flashbacks Feel Like?, I shared what flashbacks felt like for me. In this post, I will share tips to make working through flashbacks more bearable.

Let’s start with the physical aspects. When you are experiencing flashbacks, your brain is doing some major restructuring. Because of this, it is a really good idea to start taking Omega 3 supplements. As my yoga instructor explained it to me, Omega 3 supplements are like the “oil” for your brain.

Imagine a car engine trying to operate without oil to lubricate it. That is what you are doing to your brain, especially as you are experiencing flashbacks, if you do not get enough fatty acids in your diet. Taking Omega 3 supplements will help with the physical stress of experiencing flashbacks.

You will also need to set aside lots of time to process the memories and to rest. I struggled with terrible insomnia while I was experiencing flashbacks. I needed to set aside time to take naps on occasion so my body could rest. I also canceled numerous commitments and slowed down my life so I could focus on healing.

When you are experiencing a flashback, you have more power than you might realize. Even though one part of yourself is reliving the trauma, another part of yourself is fully aware of being in the present. You can use this “dual reality” (Judith Herman’s label) to your advantage.

When I experienced a flashback, I would talk myself through it. I would tell myself that I already survived the abuse, so I could survive the memory. I would remind myself that, no matter how bad the memory was, I knew the ending because I will still alive and okay today. I would also “play music” in my head to help calm myself as I experienced the flashback.

I also learned that I had the power to “stop” and “rewind” a flashback. As long as I promised myself that I would return to the memory the next day (and meant it), I could stop a flashback midway through so I had time to process the information. Many of my flashbacks contained a series of traumas in one incident, so I needed time to process each piece of a memory. Trying to deal with the entire traumatic experience in one sitting was simply too much.

Most importantly, I learned to believe myself. While what I remembered might have been smoke and mirrors in certain situations, my reaction as a child to that trauma was not. So, if you recover a memory that seems farfetched, such as being raped by Santa Claus, believe it. Your flashback is likely a very accurate representation of what happened, but you are experiencing it from the perspective of a child, not an adult.

Try to rest in the knowledge that flashbacks do not last forever. I experienced multiple flashbacks each week for a good year, but they finally tapered off. At some point, you recover enough information to be able to heal. You do not have to relive every single incident of trauma in order to heal. You just need to recover enough information to see yourself for who you are and to appreciate what you have been through.

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Photo Credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Somebody found my blog by Googling the question, “What do flashbacks feel like?” This is definitely a subject that I want to cover on my blog.

I wrote about what flashbacks felt like for me here. One person responded in the comments that she experiences flashbacks differently and that her siblings describe their flashbacks differently from her experience. So, what I am going to share here might or not might not be similar to what your experience is like.

My first flashbacks were more like a sickening awareness. I had been trying to figure out for months why I had alter parts, but I had no memory of any abuse severe enough to result in dissociative identity disorder (DID). I called my sister and asked her if she had any memories of me being abused as a child. She said that she had always had a very bad feeling about our mother.

I instantly felt my body being orally raped, and I just knew that my mother had sexually abused me. I had no memories of the abuse at this point, but I knew with absolute certainty that my body was not lying to me. I felt the truth (and horror) of what my mother had done in the deepest recesses of my spirit.

I started recovering visual flashbacks after that. As I would lie in my bed at night, I would feel a “pull” in my brain and know that a memory was coming. I would choose to experience the memory. With my eyes closed, I would “see” myself reliving the event. While I might be horrified by what happened, I would not feel emotions in the reliving. It was more like observing abuse happening to someone else who looked just like me.

In the beginning, most of my memories were from the perspective of the ceiling, so I questioned whether I was simply crazy. After all, how could I possibly have seen the back of my head?

After recovering the memory, I would post out it online at Isurvive.org, my favorite message board for child abuse survivors. The memory would be vivid. The next morning, the memory would be in my memory bank just like any other memory.

Then, the emotions would come. Whatever emotions I had repressed along with the memory would wash over me, and I would feel as if I was drowning in a sea of terror and grief. (The rage came later.)

Because I dealt with flashbacks on a regular basis for over three years, I developed some strategies to make them easier to handle. I will write about those in my next post.

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Photo Credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One of the most difficult parts of healing from child abuse is struggling with suicidal urges. As I moved through the child abuse healing process, I would feel suicidal urges from time to time. The pain ran so deep that I was willing to do anything – A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G – to make the pain stop. Even death seemed preferable to continuing one more minute experiencing such a deep level of pain.

Also, my suicidal urges would come with very deep despair. No matter how much progress I had made along my child abuse healing journey, I could not see any of it. It felt as if I was enveloped in a dark cloud, and I could not see past my immediate pain.

If you are in this place, keep holding on. Sometimes that is all you can do when the suicidal urges wash over you. The most important thing to remember is not to act on those suicidal urges. No matter how intense they are in the moment, those feelings will pass.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, suicidal urges feel kind of like coming into contact with dementors. They suck all of the hope and joy out of your life, and you are left with the deepest pain that you ever experienced. Also like with dementors, eating chocolate afterward always did wonders for me in recovering from the encounter. :0)

I made a life decision that I would never attempt to take my own life. No matter how bad it got, I would use all of my coping tools to fight back. I refused to end my life in that manner, if for no other reason than to prevent my child abusers from winning. As long as I am still alive and not an abuser myself, I win. If I kill myself because of the pain that they inflicted, then they win.

If you are struggling with suicidal urges, this is a normal part of healing from child abuse. What you are feeling is not about today – you are feeling the echoes of your past. You are releasing the despair that you could not face while you were being abused. You need to pour those painful emotions out of your spirit so you can heal.

Whenever you feel suicidal urges, remove giving into them from your list of possibilities. From there, do whatever you can to ride them out. Rest assured that suicidal urges always end. It might seem like you will be miserable forever, but you won’t. Emotions, even extremely painful ones, always end.

Related Topic:

Aftereffects of Childhood Abuse: Suicidal Urges

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I wrote about Senate Bills 1738 and 3344 last week in the following posts:

I was quite blunt about my disgust over the Democrats and the Republicans using abused children as pawns in their own political games. Thank goodness, others are disgusted with this as well, and they are doing something about it.

If you are as disturbed as I am about the political games, please click over to the following site:

Don’t let the PROTECT Our Children Act Die!

It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. This issue transcends politics. The issue is protecting children, and everyone, whether a Republican or a Democrat, should care about that.

The link has a proposed email to send to two senators who have the power to get a child protection bill passed. It does not have to be Senate Bill 1738 or Senate Bill 3344 — We just want the legislation passed. This email tells both sides to get it together. You can also tailor the email to say anything that you, personally, want to add.

Here is the proposed email, which you can alter yourself on that site before you send it:

Children who are victims of child pornography and sexual abuse don’t care about Senate procedure… they just want help. I’m writing to ask that you please set aside Senate concerns and pass the PROTECT Our Children Act before it’s too late.

Senator Coburn, if a compromise to the SAFE Act can be worked out that the Senate will pass, it will be because of your determination. However, if it cannot, I hope that you will not hold up passage of the PROTECT Our Children Act, which could save many children.

Senator Reid, I know that as Majority Leader, you hold the ultimate power over whether this landmark legislation passes… or dies. The PROTECT Our Children Act now has 52 Senate sponsors, and a vote on the Senate floor would pass by a landslide!

Senators, please, don’t let the Senate go home without passage of the PROTECT Our Children Act. America is watching… and counting on your leadership.

Please help us pressure the Senate to pass legislation to protect our children. This isn’t about politics — it is about children.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am currently in training for a new job. It is a part-time position that I can do from home on my computer. It is very flexible, which works out nicely with my schedule. So far, training is going well.

However (and you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?), the training requires me to use my real name. That is unbelievably difficult for me. I have been active online for years, and I have always gone by “Faith.” That name feels like the “online me.” I have to remember not to refer to myself as Faith in this online training.

And here is the kicker about why I am having such a hard time in using my real name – It is the same name as my mother/abuser. That really stinks, doesn’t it?

My mother’s name is “Faye,” and she named me “Faye Anne.” My parents called me “Annie” until I was seven years old. Annie is who I identify with as the original child. When I was seven, Annie went to sleep. I woke up one morning and did not know who I was. Everyone kept calling me Annie, but that name did not fit. I hated Annie.

So, I insisted upon being called by my first name, which happens to be the same name as my mother/abuser. I don’t think I knew this when I made that decision, or at least that part of myself (my host personality) did not.

So, now I have the instructor and my fellow students-in-training calling me by my mother’s name. That has been triggering. But I really don’t know how to tell them to call me Faith when that is not any part of my legal name.

I guess I will figure out a way to ride this out. It just really stinks. At least my sister was not named after our mother-abuser.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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When people hear the phrase “self-injury,” they generally think about people who cut themselves (cutting). However, cutting is only one type of self-injury.

People use numerous other types of self-injury, including…

  • Banging head
  • Breaking bones
  • Burning themselves
  • Picking at skin and/or scabs
  • Pulling out hair and/or eyebrows

Pulling out your hair, including your eyebrows, is not a form of self-injury that I see a lot of discussion about, but this form of self-injury happens much more frequently than you might realize.

People who pull out their hair are self-injuring for the same reasons as others who engage in self-injury: They are managing their emotions. The person feels anxiety or other strong negative emotion. When he or she pulls out hair, the anxiety eases. The person continues to pull out his hair because doing so is an effective way to manage the stress.

Of course, pulling out your hair comes with physical consequences, just like any other form of self-injury does. People who pull out their hair can wind up with bald patches on their head. They might have to pencil in their eyebrows with makeup because they have plucked out all of their eyebrow hairs. Also, once all of the hair has been removed, there is nothing left to manage the repressed emotions.

If you self-injure by pulling out your hair, you are not alone. Many people do this but are afraid or ashamed to talk about it. It really does make logical sense why you do this. Whenever you pull out your hair, you feel a reduction in your overwhelming level of anxiety or other strong emotions.

There are other, more positive, ways to cope with your emotions. The best way is to talk about them. Rather than express yourself physically, try talking about what you are feeling. Write down your feelings in a journal. Allow yourself to cry. As you learn to manage your emotions in other, more positive ways, you will feel less of a compulsive to pull out your hair.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Over on my professional blog, one of my colleagues wrote a blog entry about a link between child abuse and asthma. She cites a research study that found that children who were either physically or sexually abused were twice as likely to develop asthma.

I am fascinated by this finding.

I do not have asthma, but my sister does. She has been diagnosed with occupational asthma, but we suspect that she might have asthma that is more chronic. Due to her financial situation, she keeps delaying getting that checked out.

I posted a thread over at Isurvive on this topic, and quite a few abuse survivors reported that they do, in fact, have asthma. Others reported other bronchial issues.

While I don’t have asthma, I do have severe allergies to dust mites, mold, and cats. I am not sure if that is related to the abuse or not.

Ironically, my son is the one who has asthma in our family, and he has not been abused in any way. However, his birth mother smoked during her pregnancy. (She did not discover she was pregnant until her third trimester, so she did not intentionally expose him to prenatal smoking.) There is a strong link between prenatal smoking and asthma, so I can’t say that this was a complete surprise.

I wonder if there is a direct link between child abuse and asthma or whether it ties into the lifestyle of many abusers. My most sadistic abusers smoked. Abusers use crutches to manage their issues, including harming children, so it would not surprise me to learn that a high percentage of child abusers smoke. If that is the case, then it could be the exposure to secondhand smoke that is the culprit rather than the abuse itself.

I would be curious to learn about additional studies on this topic.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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