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Archive for October, 2008

This week, I am writing about my experiences in dealing with recovering a flashback as it happens. The series starts here.

It has now been a few days since I had the flashback. I am doing okay. I am actually doing well for the most part, although the pain is still a bit raw.

I shared the story with two friends separately. Both said the right things. One focused on the fact that nothing that happened in the past can change the person that I am today. The other pointed out that S probably thought I was drugged. He knew me before and after and saw how innocent I was. He probably figured I blocked that night out and thought it was best that I did.

What I am struggling with the most right now is coming to terms with the fact that the dissociative identity disorder (DID) really did affect me in adulthood. Up until recently, I believed it was just an issue in childhood. In fact, my therapist never gave me an official diagnosis of DID because I did not report losing time in adulthood. However, I clearly did.

A part of myself is mortified that I have memory gaps that other people could fill but I could not. How many times did I interact with my abusers after the fact and never even know it?

I am also angry that my abusers from childhood left me so vulnerable in adulthood. I was programmed to be a walking doormat for anyone who wanted to use and abuse my body. I fear just how many times I was exploited in adulthood because of my DID.

I am also in awe over how much I have changed. Going back to those times and seeing just how passive I was and then contrasting that person with who I am now is mindboggling. It is hard to believe that I am even the same person.

Overall, I accept that the flashbacks have been a good thing. I am reclaiming parts of myself that I have been pushing away for decades.

A friend worried that something that I had written recently triggered the flashbacks, but I don’t think so. I think I was ready to heal at a deeper level. Until I reclaim all of myself, I will continue to remain fragmented. While I am much more whole than I have ever been, I am still not fully whole. The price of finding wholeness is continuing to discover and heal these wounds.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I am writing about my experiences in dealing with recovering a flashback as it happens. The series starts here.

I wrote my last post the morning after recovering the memory (10/24/08). I am writing this one immediately afterward.

I typically recover my memories/experience flashbacks at night. That is the only down time I get throughout the day when it is safe for me to process the memory.

As I recover the memory, it is mostly in flashes (hence the term flashback). However, in the morning, the memory sits in my memory bank just like any other memory. If I want to, I can analyze the memory just as I would any other memory.

Here is my memory of the event this morning:

++++++ sexual abuse triggers ++++++

S (guy friend) and J (my date) picked up B (S’s date) and me from our dorm lobby. We walked together over to the party through the back parking lot. Neither S nor I knew our dates well, but we had been friends for a few weeks (beginning of my college career), so we mostly chatted on the walk over. This bothered B, but J did not seem to care.

We walked over to this house where the party was already going. When we got there, I did not know anyone other than the people I came with. I noticed a guy in the corner sizing me up. I knew he was a threat, and I dissociated. That is why I had no memory of the party – a part of myself was never there.

I don’t think I had ever met this guy before, but he was a predator. He saw the dissociation in me, just as I saw the predator in him, so he knew I was safe to exploit.

I clung to S, talking with him so I would not have to go with the danger guy. B got angry because I was monopolizing her date. She probably thought I was making a play for him, but I wasn’t.

Danger guy chatted with my date (J), and then they told me to come with them to another room. I knew it would be bad, so I tried to get B to come with me so I wouldn’t be alone with them. In retrospect, she probably thought I was a slut and trying to get her to do the same things that I did. She probably saw me as wanting to “be with” every guy at the party, including her date, which explains her animosity toward me after that night.

The predator was so cocky. As soon as we got in the room, he told me to “suck him off.” I did not protest a bit – just got down on my knees and did it. J was astonished, but predator was so d@#$ sure of himself.

It was a child alter part they were manipulating. She had seen her beloved dog die and knew that her younger sister’s life was at stake. She was not about to say no. In fact, she was not even aware that saying no or leaving was an option.

I still don’t remember how many, but it was definitely more than just those two guys. S did “rescue” me from that night. He continued to be nice to me the rest of the year (I transferred to a different school after freshman year).

I never went to another party my freshman year, at least not that I remember at this point. I do not recall ever talking to any of the guys from the party again other than S.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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This week, I am writing about my experiences in dealing with recovering a flashback as it happens. The series starts here.

Last night (10/23/08), I made a point of going to bed an hour early. This is unusual for me. When I know that a flashback is coming, I typically procrastinate and wind up feeling exhausted on top of feeling lousy.

I lit a vanilla-scented candle and liberally applied a chamomile spray to my pillow. I ran my air purifier to serve as white noise. Then, I laid down in my bed in a fetal position and invited the memory to come.

I could feel the terror in my thighs. My yoga instructor used to tell me that we hold our terror in our thighs, and I believe her because my panic attacks often begin with the shaking in my thighs and then move to the rest of my body.

Last night, I kept the shaking only in my thighs because I did not channel energy into it. I was allowing my body to release the terror without fueling the fire.

Then, I thought about the parts that I remembered. I remembered agreeing to go to a party with J (my date), S (my guy friend), and B (guy friend’s date). We walked over to the house together. We had to walk from my dorm through a parking lot where I never wanted to park, even though it was closer to my dorm. (Another mystery solved.)

Once we reached the house, I had a very hard time going in. A part of myself continued to fight remembering. So, I talked myself through it. I said that I am safe now. This event happened over 20 years ago. No matter what happened in that house, I loved myself.

I finally made it into the house. Flash of a guy in the corner to my left. Do I know him? I know he is dangerous. I cling to S and his date, B. B does not like this. Danger guy and J invite me to another room. I try to bring B along, but she doesn’t want to go – just relieved to get rid of me.

+++++ Sexual abuse triggers +++++

Flash to the room. Danger guy telling me to “suck him off.” My complying immediately while J (date) watches. Me giving J oral sex while danger guy circulates the party to invite members to the “private party.”

Eventually, S (my guy friend) is invited in. He goes ballistic, calling them a bunch of @$$holes. S takes me out of the room and takes me back to my dorm. B is furious with him. They fight while we walk. I am just “not there.”

We get back to the dorm, where I “come back.” I say that I’ll see him at the picnic. (It was a picnic, not a dance, that was the future plan.) S says I probably should not go to the picnic. I say okay, but I am very confused.

I see them standing vividly in the lobby to my dorm. I give S back the coat that he draped over my shoulders. B is in her own coat, looking furious.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my blog entry yesterday, I shared that I would be focusing this week on my experience with dealing with a new flashback. I am writing today’s blog entry on Thursday, 10/23/08.

I have had a pit in my stomach today. Out of nowhere, I started thinking about something that always perplexed me during my freshman year of college. Here is what I remember …

I befriended a guy (S) who was also a freshman. He was in the ROTC and part of a specialized unit. He was a nice guy. I thought he was cute, but there were no sparks between us or anything.

S introduced me to some of his guy friends who were also in this specialized unit. They were going to have some sort of formal dance. S invited B to go with him as his date. B was another freshman who lived on my hall in the dorm.

S introduced me to J, who was also in ROTC. J invited me to go to the dance with him. He also invited me to go to a party with him. S and B were going to be there as well.

I know that I went to the party, but I have no memory of anything that transpired at that party. After the party, I no longer wanted to go to the dance, and I did not go. I do not recall having a conversation in which I said I wasn’t going – I just knew that I wasn’t going to go.

After the party, B hated me. I don’t mean dislike – I mean total loathing, to the point of being quite rude if we came into contact with each other. I had a group of friends who asked why B hated me so much. I honestly do not know the answer.

My friends talked me into extending the olive branch. She did not want to talk to me but let me in her dorm room. I told her that I wanted to apologize for whatever I had done that might have hurt her. I also said that I honestly did not know what I had done to offend her.

B said that I knew d@#$ well what I had done and that she had no interest in any apologies from me. I believe that she said more, but that memory is fuzzy as well. I returned to my own dorm room absolutely baffled. I just tried to avoid her after that.

Soon after all of this happened, I started dating a very nice guy that I was not remotely attracted to. He was innocent and sweet but hardly my type. I am now recognizing a pattern in myself – I did the same thing after the date rape.

Tonight, I am going to give myself permission to remember what happened that night. I am fairly certain that it is sexual in nature – perhaps a gang rape situation. I am going to allow myself to stop the memory part way if I need time to process the first part. I suspect I will be able to process it all in one sitting. I hope so.

I keep reminding myself that, no matter what happened, I am still the same person today. I was also only 17 years old and fresh out of an abusive household, so I likely would have been easily triggered. Most of all, I just want to be kind and gentle with myself.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I shared in my blog entry entitled Dealing with Memory of Date Rape into Adulthood, I had to deal with a flashback recently. Unfortunately, flashbacks are part of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I am just going to have to ride them out.

I really believed that I had finished having to work through flashbacks. I had recovered memories through age 17, when I was still living with my mother/abuser. I thought that the abuse had stopped after that.

Unfortunately, even though (I believe) the abuse ended from my mother’s hand, the world had others waiting in the wings to harm me, too. And, because of my dissociative identity disorder (DID), I was the perfect target for those looking to harm an easy victim.

As I shared in another post about the date rape, I simply checked out of my body. My memory is from the perspective of the ceiling. My body is just lying there, doing nothing, as my ex-boyfriend believed that he was taking my virginity. I hoped that was the last time I checked out, but apparently I have more to deal with.

I am about to recover another memory. I can feel the flashback coming. I know that when I go to bed at night, I will recover another horrendous truth. This is one from near-adulthood – when I was a freshman in college at the age of 17. I can feel the weight the pain, even though I don’t have the memory yet.

This week, I am going to document the process as I go through it. I am actually writing this on Thursday night (10/23/08), so I will likely have already dealt with this flashback by the time you read my posts this week. However, I think it will add value to those of you who are dealing with flashbacks or are on the brink of dealing with them to come along for the ride with me.

So, that will be the topic this week. I am hoping that I get through this flashback as well as I did with the date rape one. I felt really badly for a few days and then felt much, much better afterward. I have also set up a support system. I will be meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow to talk about the memory, so I won’t have to go through this alone. And, of course, I have all of you here as well as my friends at isurvive. So, I know that I am going to be okay.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Chapel (c) Lynda Bernhardt

*** This was supposed to post on 10/21/08. I just realized that it never did. – Faith ***


On my blog entry entitled Riding Out Suicidal Urges, a reader named Matt shared his struggles with being married to a woman with dissociative identity disorder (DID) who has a suicidal alter part. His comment is a long one, so I am not going to reprint it here. I addressed most of his comment in my last blog entry, Helping Spouse with a Suicidal Alter Part.

In this blog entry, I would like to address this part of Matt’s comment:

I’ve been a faith-filled person, but my faith has been stretched to the point that I have a hard time believing in a God who would allow this to happen.

I hear your pain this comment, so I thought it would be worth devoting an entire blog entry to where is God in this situation. Believe it or not, God is all over this situation. When you view the situation from a different perspective, I hope you will be able to hold onto your faith.

DID is not a curse – it is a blessing. Imagine being a three-year-old little child who is being repeatedly raped and tortured. You are so little that you have no means of escape. A 30 lb. child is no match for an adult, even a small adult.

God gives very young children (under six years of age) the ability to flee their bodies. Most of my memories of abuse in childhood come from the perspective of the ceiling. I calmly observed my body being severely abused as my spirit hovered above my body. I was “spared” the abuse because I was not in my body as it was being harmed.

Adults do not have the ability to do this unless they developed DID in early childhood. If adults could flee their bodies during abuse, then prisoners of war (POWs) would have a way to fight back, but they don’t. They are forced to stay in their bodies and experience all of the horror as it happens to them. God lovingly provided young children a way to be spared from this.

When you live in a severely abusive environment, DID is a gift. It is only when the child is removed from the ongoing abuse that the DID becomes maladaptive. Without developing DID, your wife likely would not have survived the abuse. She either would have killed herself, gone insane, or become an abuser herself. The DID spared her from these outcomes and gave her a life with you and your son.

Pastors love to tell their congregations about how much God loves us, but I rarely hear them talk about how much God wants us to love ourselves. This is the key to your wife healing from her DID. In order to fragment her spirit into multiple alter parts, she had to “reject” them as being “her.” The way she will heal from the DID is to love each part back into being one whole spirit.

A wonderful book on the importance of learning to love yourself is Francine Rivers’ Christian novel, Redeeming Love. She flips the story of Hosea to focus upon Hosea’s wife, Gomer (“Angel” in the novel) instead of on Hosea. The novel drive home that, no matter how much God loves you, you are not going to be able to receive that love and heal until you choose to heal yourself. It is a powerful book that might get through to your wife.

One other thing – Many “faith-filled” people believe that suicide = fast-track to hell. I vehemently disagree with this, and there is nothing in the Bible that says this. The Catholic Church implies it because you last act is “murder,” but I do not see suicide as a personal murder. Instead, suicide is a last-ditch attempt to make the emotional pain stop. People who commit suicide are in such deep emotional pain that they are willing to do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G, even die, to make the pain stop.

That is not murder. I truly believe that greets those who commit suicide with deep love, compassion, and understanding. Nobody other than God fully appreciates the depth of your wife’s pain. God is not going to punish her for not being strong enough to continue enduring such overwhelming pain. I know the weight of that level of pain. I wouldn’t make a dog continue living in that level of pain.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to post them. My heart goes out to you and your situation.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry, Child Abuse: Severe Emotional Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I was hoping when I read, “When a person suffers from severe emotional abuse, he might have trouble validating that the abuse was that bad because there was no physical or sexual abuse involved,” that I would read farther and be able to validate my experience as abusive. My “abuser” threatened to kill me (while he had my mouth and nose covered so I couldn’t breathe), to strangle me (while he had his hands around my throat), to break my neck (while he held me up in the air by my head). My abuser threatened to break my arm while he was twisting it behind my back, but in any of these instances he never left a lasting mark. So it couldn’t have been that bad. My therapist says that was abuse and that it was emotional/psychological abuse, but it’s so hard to accept. I just keep thinking that she is a “softy” and doesn’t understand that I just had to be tough in my family and that it wasn’t abuse.

To me, the reader’s experiences were clearly abusive, yet the reader is having a hard time embracing the label of “abuse” for these experiences. This is a common phenomenon among child abuse survivors. My therapist says that mentally ill people try to convince you that they were abused, and child abuse survivors try to convince you that they were not.

I used to share horrific memories with my therapist and immediately follow it up with, “but it wasn’t that bad,” or, “other people have had it worse.” Like this reader, I had a hard time seeing certain traumas as “that bad” because they left no marks on my body. However, some of the my most traumatizing moments did not even involving my being touched, such as when I was forced to “choose” between the life of my sister and my beloved dog and then witness my dog’s execution.

Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery, explains this phenomenon very well. She explains that the abused child needs to minimize the abuse as a coping mechanism. If a child fully grasps how overwhelming the abuse is and how powerless he is to control it, then he will lose the drive to continue fighting to survive and sink into the depths of despair. So, minimizing the gravity of the abuse is actually a coping mechanism that helped you survive.

One way to judge how abusive a situation was is to project it onto somebody else. Imagine that somebody did those things to your child or another child that you love or care about. Would you label those actions as abuse? If yes, then it was abuse.

For some reason, I continue to have a hard time accepting smothering as being physically and emotionally abusive. Even though I almost died from smothering, it left no marks on me. My parents saw me immediately afterward and noticed nothing. All of this has made it difficult for me to embrace this traumatizing event as “that bad.”

And yet I continue to experience body memories from that experience. Why would I have repeated body memories if that experience was no big deal? And if somebody smothered my kid and almost killed him, I would definitely label that action as abuse and do everything I could to get that person locked away in prison. I would also get my child lots of therapy and feel guilty for leaving him alone with a person who would do such a thing to him. So, why don’t I have that same reaction about the abuse toward myself?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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