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Archive for October, 2008

On my blog entry Forms of Self-Injury: Pulling Your Hair Out, a reader left the following comment:

When I pick [self-injure] I am dissociated to another self that has no access to my usual logical brain functions. It is a separate system which sole function is to relieve tension and not to think. Its been created for the exact purpose TO NOT THINK … I am still desperately trying to access that painful part of self and I want to know how.

This comment addresses an issue that many people with dissociative identity disorder (DID) wrestle with – the self-injuring alter part. I had the same issue, only my self-injuring alter part would make me bang my head.

My self-injuring alter part came about after being forced to make a “Sophie’s Choice” between the life of my sister or my beloved dog. I wrote about the details of what created this alter part in my blog entry Child Abuse: Severe Emotional Abuses I Suffered.

Until I healed this part of myself, I would have no control over the urge to self-injure whenever that part of myself was triggered. My husband and I would be having an argument. He would tell me that I needed to choose between two unacceptable choices, and I would run from the room and start banging my head. There was no thought process involved. That alter part would take over, and I was powerless to stop the head-banging.

However, I realized that I did have some power over the head-banging. I had the power to run into another room before I started. I also had the power to aim my head into a pillow rather than the wall. This helped me to see that I did have some sort of connection to this part of myself, even though it felt foreign.

As for how to access that painful part of yourself – You can reach out to that part of yourself. Tell that part of yourself that you love her. Thank her for the role she played in helping you survive the abuse. Send her lots of love.

The next step is harder. Invite that part of yourself to release the memory that split her off. That memory is (obviously) going to be traumatizing. Just remember that you already survived the abuse – you can survive the memory.

The final piece is the hardest yet – Accept that part of yourself as you. I continue to wrestle with this today. I have many of my memories, but I still have trouble accepting that these horrible things happened to my body because it feels more like it happened to “her” and not “me.” But the truth is that it was my body, and each alter part is a part of me.

As you accept the self-injuring alter part as yourself, you will be able to heal that very wounded part of yourself. As you heal that part of yourself, you will no longer feel the need to self-injure, or at least not as frequently as you do now.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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After I posted my blog entry Tips for Working through Flashbacks after Child Abuse, a reader emailed me and asked me to elaborate upon this part:

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.

A flashback is a memory that your mind has stored (possibly for many years) and is now releasing so that it can make sense out of the trauma. So, you are the one who is releasing the memory. Because you are the one choosing to release the memory, you can also choose to stop and rewind a memory if you want.

Those of you who are new to flashbacks are probably thinking, “Yeah, right,” because your flashbacks feel out of your control. Actually, they are entirely under your control. You are releasing the memories because you are ready to heal. A part of yourself has decided that you are ready to deal with your past and heal so that you can live a life that is different from your past.

Even if you are willing yourself to stop having flashbacks, that is only one part of yourself. A deeper part of yourself is relieved to be releasing the memories. It takes an enormous amount of energy to repress memories and continue to lie to yourself about your past. With the release of each memory, you are freeing up energy to heal yourself.

So, back to how to control your flashbacks. The first step is recognizing that you have the power to stop and rewind your flashbacks. The second step is to understand the purpose of stopping and rewinding flashbacks.

You have a force inside of yourself that is pushing out these memories so you can heal. If you want to stop the memories so you can stuff them all back inside, then trying to stop the flashbacks is not going to work. However, if you want to stop and rewind a flashback to give yourself time to process the trauma, you can do this. You must promise yourself that you will choose to return to the memory again the next day (or in a few days) and mean it for this to work.

Once you (1) recognize that you have the power to stop a flashback and (2) promise yourself to return the next day, give it a try and see what happens. When you reach a place in a memory where you really do not believe you can handle more, tell yourself that you want to stop for now but that you will return to this place the next day. By doing this, I was able to stop the memory in its tracks.

I would then focus upon the new information that I had already recovered. I would comfort myself through that part of the memory. Then, when I returned to where I left off, the pain was not quite as raw because I had already begun processing the first part.

Please let me know how this method works for you. It worked very well for me.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I wrote about a date rape memory that I just recovered. I now have the full memory, not just the “during” but the “before” and “after” parts, too. Those are the most telling parts for helping me accept that the date rape was not my fault.

This is the first time that I have wrestled with my level of responsibility for being raped. All of my other rape memories happened when I was a child. The vast majority happened when I was under age 11. I never struggled with who bears responsibility when an adult rapes a child.

Recovering the memory of a date rape was hard because I was an adult. How much responsibility do I bear for what happened? After analyzing the flashback, I have concluded that I bear no responsibility for being raped. Rape is not a natural consequence of being naïve or passive, and nobody deserves rape as a punishment for these traits.

The date rape happened when R (my ex-boyfriend) wanted to “talk” about getting back together. Of course, he wanted the privacy of his dorm room. His idea of talking was making out, and he just took from me. He did not ask: He just took.

We had been dating for 10 months. We had repeated discussions about how I (thought I) was a virgin and did not plan to have sex before marriage. There was no discussion about this being “the day” that I wanted to share my “first time” with him. He just took it.

I won’t go into the details of the “during” other than to say that I just laid there. I did not respond or participate in any way. No, I did not fight him off because I was no longer “there.” But I sure as h@#$ did not welcome or participate in the date rape.

The most telling part comes in the “after.” Let’s assume that R thought this was mutual and that I had just “given” him my virginity after being reluctant to have sex for 10 months. Wouldn’t you expect us to share a smile or small talk as lovers? Wouldn’t he have at least walked me back to my dorm room?

None of this happened. I did a “walk of shame” alone back to my own dorm room. I don’t remember his “reason” for not accompanying me, but that hardly sounds like the afterglow of two consensual lovers, does it?

The shame I felt in that “walk of shame” is the most powerful part of the memory. It was in that moment that I decided that it was 100% over with R. It was also when I decided to pursue another guy I knew really liked me so I could ensure that it would stay over with R. I also refused to be alone with R after that day, even when he came around multiple times, trying to “force” me back into a relationship with him.

This situation would not hold up in a court of law, but it does not need to. I am not prosecuting him. What matters is that this was not my fault. I did not ask to be raped. I did not participate or give the impression that I was into the sexual contact in any way. The fact that I did not claw his eyes out was not an invitation to my body, doubly so after 10 months of saying “no.” Why would I suddenly change my mind after I told him that it was over?

As I recovered the memory, all I did was criticize myself and point out how “stupid” I was for X, Y, and Z. Now, I am trying to send myself multiple messages of “it was not your fault.” I did not ask for this.

The fact that I gained a lot of weight after this happened, after maintaining a healthier weight since moving out of my mother/abuser’s house two years before, drives home the level of shame I felt over this incident. This happened in February or March. By the summer, I already had a doctor putting me on a diet because I was over 30 pounds overweight.

This was not my fault.

Related Topic:

Trauma Thursday: Risk of Date Rape for Sexually Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I recently posted a fabulous video that talks about extreme forms of child abuse. This video mentions abusers continuing to abuse children into adulthood. They take advantage of the fact that the person has dissociative identity disorder (DID) and continue to abuse the child parts of an adult, and the adult has no memory that the abuse is continuing even into adulthood.

This was my biggest fear upon recognizing that I had DID. Well, actually my biggest fear was that I could be hurting my kid or allowing someone else to hurt him (which my therapist assured me would never happen in my situation), closely followed by the fear that I was blacking out while others abused me. I thought I had finished recovering memories after recovering abuse at age 17. I was already kind of freaked out that I could have been attacked at age 17 and have no recollection of it the next morning.

Yesterday, one of my fears came true. I recovered another memory of a date rape, only this memory was in adulthood. I was 19.

A couple of years ago, I had to accept that I had lost time in adulthood. I have no memories of any Christmas with my immediate family through age 23. It was freaky to realize that I had lost time when I was as old as 23.

Now I have to face that I was raped as an adult (at 19) and that I had no recollection of it immediately afterward. This was by a boyfriend. I have yet to deal with the specifics because I am currently reeling from it happening at all. I will deal with the specifics as I am ready.

But so much makes sense now … why he said that he would “always be my first” when I broke things off for good … why he spread rumors that I was pregnant with his child (I thought, “Whatever. Kind of hard to get pregnant without having sex!”) … why I gained a ton of weight that year … why I ran directly into another unhealthy relationship when I did not want a relationship at all. It is all making sense.

I suspect that he would not remember it as a rape. Our pattern was that he would take, not ask, and I would not stop him until it came to intercourse. I would do the “no, don’t” weak woman thing, and he would just keep on taking anyhow and read my continuing the relationship to mean consent. However, when it came to intercourse, I was completely firm. I always said no.

I suspect that he continued his pattern and “took,” and I blacked out, leaving a child part to be raped. He probably saw this as me finally giving in to having sex with him, only for me to dump him immediately afterward. (The details of how I finally ended it with him are fuzzy.)

What scares me is what else might be lurking in my subconscious about other rapes or abuses in which I just blacked out and allowed another person to do whatever he or she wanted with my body. I know that this does not change the value of who I am. I know that I am okay today, so no matter how much @#$% continues to surface, I still won. I know that I was programmed by “professionals” to flee my body, and I cannot hold myself accountable for dissociating and leaving my body to be raped. I know that I am going to be okay.

With all that said, I still cried pretty heavily yesterday, and I simply feel lousy. I am trying not to stuff the pain down with food, alcohol, or other means. I am trying to allow the pain to flow out of myself so I can process yet another trauma and move on with my life. I just wish there was an end to the trauma. I want to move on to healing and stop finding myself back in this place of having more @#$% to process. And yet, I know that I must accept all of my truths to heal fully.

Sometimes healing just plain sucks.

Related Topic:

Trauma Thursday: Risk of Date Rape for Sexually Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In the comments on my blog entry Aftereffects of Child Abuse: Dreams of Abuse, Palucci shared a dream that she feared might be a flashback. From all that she describes, I agree that it sounds like her dream was actually a flashback.

Flashbacks can happen in a number of ways. While most people think of flashbacks as being visual, they can tie into any of the senses. For example, I will often get a body memory/flashback of the taste of cigarette smoke in my mouth and lungs. This ties into a memory in which my abuser first smothered me and then resuscitated me after smoking a cigarette.

Flashbacks can come in dream form. While the facts of the dream might not be accurate, the feelings are. And sometimes the facts in the dream are accurate as well.

For example, for most of my life, I have struggled with a recurring dream. I am following someone who I trust. He or she opens a door, and I follow through the door. We walk into a small room. There is a door on the other side of the room. The other person walks through it and shuts the door. I try to turn the knob, but the door is locked.

The first door then slams behind me. I try to open it, but that door is locked as well. I realized that I am trapped inside of this small room, and I know that something terrible is going to happen. Sometimes, I awaken at this point. At other times, the dream goes on to my being raped.

I no longer have that dream because I finally recovered the memory. The dream was actually a flashback of a trauma I endured. My female babysitter told me that she had a special doll for me in her room. She led me through a large walk-in closet that had access to both the hallway and her bedroom. The doors locked just as they did in the dream. She then came back in and hurt me.

It was such a relief to recover the reason for the nightmare. It was also a relief to stop having the dream. Once I understood the trauma that my mind was trying to work through, I no longer needed the dream to process the trauma.

The dreams do not always have to be accurate for them to be flashbacks. For example, I struggled with recurring dreams of my son jumping or falling off high places, such as the balcony at my church. Of course, this has never happened to him. However, I later recovered the memory of watching a toddler fall from a high place while I was forced to watch but could not help. So, even though the facts of the dream were not accurate, the dream was still a flashback.

Pay special attention to recurring nightmares. They are often actually flashbacks.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my blog entry Processing Forgiveness after Child Abuse, Simon said:

My mother was the main abuser and i believe part of a larger group. My dad worked away and was uninvolved and hardly at home due to commitments. I find it complicating that my dad isnt to blame but is responsible. I cant seem to find an approriate response to that. Sometimes think it would be easier if he was an abuser aswell, easier to sort out in my head.

My situation is pretty much the same. My mother was my first abuser, and she was the person who provided access to most of my abusers. She is also the person who would pull me out of my bed at night and drive me over to the “cult” where a group of organized abusers tortured me and made money off forced child prostitution and child pornography.

My mother was clearly wrong and deserves all of the rage that I have had to work through over the years. However, when it comes to my father, my feelings are torn.

On the one hand, my father was my “savior.” When he walked in on my mother sexually abusing me when I was six years old, he put a stop to it. However, he still continued to leave me in my mother’s care, and he clearly did not stop my mother from driving me to the “cult” for the abuse. I often wonder where the h#$% he was when all of this was taking place.

Where it really gets sticky is that my father was an abuser in one instance, although I do believe that he was duped. My sister and I have both had flashbacks of our father showing up at a “cult” meeting one time. He was blindfolded, but we could see him. We both believe that he was drugged, and the group took incriminating pictures of him doing things with my sister, although I do not believe that my father had any idea that what he was doing while blindfolded was with a child, much less his own daughter. We both have always remembered that our father abruptly stopped drinking any form of alcohol at about the same time. My sister believes that the “cult” silenced him with those pictures.

So, my father was my savior and my abuser, but ultimately, he failed me. He was the sane parent. He knew that his wife was unstable and sexually abused me, but he continued to leave my sister and me alone with her. He escaped into his job, leaving my sister and me behind with a mentally ill mother to fend for ourselves. I do hold my father responsible for this choice.

My father passed away when I was a teenager, so I never had the opportunity to confront him about any of this. I did a visualization a couple of years ago to have that confrontation. I visualized him sitting in a chair across from me. I told him all of the things that I needed to say.

I loved my father, and yet I hated him. He betrayed me by choosing his insane wife over me, who he was supposed to protect. He chose escaping into his job over investing in me as his daughter.

Yes, my feelings toward my non-offending parent are significantly more complicated than my feelings toward my abusive parent.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Hi, everyone!

I just wanted to leave you a quick administrative note about immediate support and feedback.

While I want to help everyone that I can, I have personal limitations. I am a mother of a child with ADHD who has been transitioning off one medication and onto another. I am very active in my kid’s school (put in over 10 volunteer hours last week for a big event at his school). I am starting a new part-time job for which I have been in intensive training for the past month. I write a professional blog for Adoption Under One Roof. I write this blog. I go through periods of struggling with emotional flashbacks where I have trouble doing any of the above. And now I have a cold, which has me feeling miserable at the moment.

Unfortunately, as much as I want to provide helpful and timely feedback, I cannot always do it right away. This is one of the reasons that I plug Isurvive so frequently. Isurvive is a safe place where you can get quick feedback because there are hundreds of child abuse survivors online at any given time who can respond to your needs.

I do eventually respond to every question that I receive, but I cannot promise how quickly I can respond. If you need immediate feedback, please post your question over at Isurvive. Isurvive is a message board for child abuse survivors, and it is very supportive.

I found Isurvive in December 2003, and the friends I made over there were instrumental in helping me heal from my issues. I serve on the Board of Directors for Isurvive today, and I have become good friends with Lori, who is the owner and operator of Isurvive. You are in good hands over there.

In the meantime, I have saved copies of the questions that people have left for me over the past month, and I will be responding to them on my blog. So, please be patient with me as I “unbury” myself from a backlog of questions.

Have a good weekend!

– Faith

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