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Archive for February, 2009

In my last blog entry, I shared that I am in the process of accepting that I will always have aftermath from the child abuse to deal with. I am trying to adjust to this reality and be okay with it.

I said that when I reframe my situation and view having aftereffects from the child abuse as “normal,” I can stop beating myself up for not being able to do the impossible and, instead, have compassion on myself.

When my goal was the cessation of any aftermath from the child abuse, I was constantly falling short of the goal. I would get frustrated with myself, thinking that I was not doing X, Y, or Z enough. If I only did more of X, Y, or Z, then I would not still struggle with triggers.

When I reframe my expectations, I can stop beating myself up and, instead, have compassion on the little girl inside who was so badly wounded. Why do I struggle with frequent triggers? Because I was extremely damaged. Why do I get a bad headache and struggle with insomnia at each full moon? Because I was severally abused at the full moon for years during my childhood.

Rather than get angry with myself for having a normal reaction to severe trauma, I want to focus on loving myself. I need to accept that I was the wounded little girl in my memories – not somebody that I was watching from afar. To this day, many of my memories are from the perspective of the outside because it is still too painful to accept that this body that I live in now is the one that endured so many traumas.

I saw my therapist a couple of months ago after not seeing him for a couple of years. We talked about how I would probably continue to recover memories/experience flashbacks from time to time throughout the rest of my life. We also talked about how this is okay. I am releasing memories, getting to know myself better, and accepting myself and my experiences at deeper and deeper levels.

I can’t say that I am happy with this realization, but I do feel relieved. I can finally stop pushing myself so hard and, instead, love who I am today. I don’t have to wait until I grow into this person with no more post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues. I can love and accept the person who I am today. I can also appreciate who I am today. I don’t have to wait to do that.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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When I decided to heal from my history of child abuse, I was determined for the outcome to be complete, 100% healing. At my first therapy session, my therapist asked me what my goals were, and I said that I wanted to be a “normal” person like everyone else. He replied that everyone else was not “normal” and that it was unrealistic for me to expect to be like everyone else. I did not want to hear that.

For years, I have been determined to heal completely. I concluded that other people simply did not try hard enough … that I was different … that I was going to be the exception to the rule and live a completely normal life as a completely healed person.

I am starting to (very reluctantly) accept that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is always going to be a part of my life. This is a very hard thing for me to admit to myself, much less to anyone else. A part of me feels like this admission means that I am “giving up” – that I have failed on my quest to be a completely healed person.

It is not like my therapist did not tell me this from the beginning. He said that healing means that triggers last for hours instead of weeks or months. Healing is all about degrees and about how I feel about myself. For him, the goal was never for me to be 100% free of nightmares, flashbacks, and the other aftermath. (That was certainly my goal!) Instead, his goal was for me to love and accept myself as I am, riding out the aftermath and returning sooner and sooner to a place of being okay.

If I use my therapist’s definition of healing, then I am already “healed.” However, I don’t feel “healed,” and I think this is because my definition of healing has been so different.

I am beginning to accept that I will always have aftermath of my childhood to ride out and deal with. The aftereffects will gradually improve as I learn how to manage them, but they are never going to disappear magically as I want them to.

How does this realization make me feel? In some ways, it makes me angry because this means that my abusers succeeded in affecting my life until the day I die. That really p@$$es me off. In other ways, it makes me feel relieved.

I am so hard on myself. I always have been. I throw all of my energy into the direction that I want to go in my life, and I have done this in spades when it comes to healing. All of this deep effort has failed to make the aftermath “go away.”

When I reframe my situation and see this as “normal,” I can stop beating myself up for not being able to do the impossible and, instead, have compassion on myself. I will get into that in my next post.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled My Most Traumatizing Child Abuse Memory, a reader posted the following comment:

I hope you don’t mind but I have a question though. Reading this post I wonder how you manage to deal with the images, smells, feelings etc afterwards. I mean I am really struggling to manage after a memory surfaces or an image appears, it just gets played over and over in my head. PArtly i think because I’m trying to work it out – is it real? Am I making this up? Does it fit with everything else I’ve remembered? Does it fit with the person who I thought I knew? And most of those things I can’t work out, and so it just plays and replays on continuous loop. I try and remind myself that it isn’t happening now, but it doesn’t seem to help. I just wondered how you managed that, and manage to look at these things, remember them but not be tormented by them. ~ Karen

A friend gave me some really great advice about how to handle flashbacks. She used the metaphor of a fire hose. The flashbacks, including the emotions, images, smells, etc., are like the high-pressure water running through a fire hose, while I am the fire hose housing the pressure.

As these very strong emotions, etc., flow through me, I frequently fear that they will sweep me away because the power of the current is so strong. However, I must remember that I am the hose. I am stationary. Emotions might be extremely strong, but I do not have to get swept away in them. Instead, I need to let them flow through me, just as the fire hose allows the high-pressure water to flow through it. I am the hose, not the emotions.

Now, think about what happens to a fire hose when it gets a kink in it. The pressure of the water builds and could potentially break through the hose. That is what happens when we fight the emotions. When you fight the release of the memory by questioning whether it happened, refusing to allow the emotions to release, etc, the pressure builds up in the hose. Think about a cartoon where the hose gets bigger and bigger until it explodes. Metaphorically, this is what you are doing to yourself when you fight the process of releasing the memories.

Whenever I deal with a new memory or, in the case of the blog entry about my dog, face a traumatizing memory at a deeper level, I accept what comes. I invite the pain to course through me and then out of me back into G*d, the universe, or whatever you want to call it. I visualize the pain as black stuff inside of my spirit. I slowly and deeply breathe in air filled with self-love. Then, I slowly breathe out air filled with the pain. I visualize the air and pain flowing out of my right side. (I am not sure why. It just works for me.)

I do this exercise several times until I feel the pain flowing out of me. Then, I become the hose – merely a vessel for the pain to flow out of the deepest recesses of my soul and back to G*d. I choose not to attach any of my energy from today to that high-pressure water because the energy is about the past and not about today.

After I finish this exercise, I “go to the beach” in my head. The beach is my safe place. I visualize myself sitting on the beach and soaking in the positive energy. This helps me “seal off” my hose so that the negative energy that I just released does not flow back into me.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Is it possible to have a positive view of sex after sexual abuse? For me, this is the million dollar question. I truly do not know.

I can see where a woman (or man) who has had a “normal” sex life and then is raped can eventually get back to a place of having a positive view of sex again. However, is this possible for someone who was introduced to sex (rape) at such a young age that there never were positive associations with the act?

How do you take the exact same action and make it “bad” in one scenario but “good” in another? How do you take an action that was so emotionally (and possibly physically) damaging in one context and turn that into an “expression of love” in another? I feel like this is what society expects me to do, but I question whether that is even possible. Is it?

If you consider that my childhood was filled with rapes – by both men and women – and that those rapes were exceedingly painful for me (both physically and emotionally), how I am supposed to desire those same actions in order to say, “I love you,” to another person? It simply does not make sense to me.

I hear people talk about how sex is supposed to be about connecting at a very deep level. It is supposed to be about communicating how deeply you care about the other person. But that is simply not the case for me. To me, it is about another person using my body for his own gratification. As an adult, I choose to stay in a relationship that involves sex, and sex is an expected part of a marriage, but none of that adds up to me feeling like anything other than being a vessel for another person to feel gratified.

The act of sex does not make me feel loved and cherished. It makes me feel used. I am not sure how to get past that. I am also not sure if it is possible.

If you have once been in this place and have moved past it, I would love to hear your story. I would like to know that this is possible and get some tips on how to get there.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One of the blessings and curses of suffering from child abuse is having the ability to see things that many other people cannot or do not see. For example, I can walk into a room and “sense” if a fellow child abuse survivor is present. I frequently just “know” that another person has a history of abuse. I cannot tell you specifics: I just “know.” If I get to know the person, she will inevitably share this fact with me at a later time.

I have the same “gift” when it comes to child abusers, and sensing that someone is an abuser is far more disturbing. There are some people that I intuitively dislike immediately. I can sense it deep inside of myself – DANGER! DANGER! I would never leave my child alone with one of those people, no matter how many letters of recommendation the person comes with.

I can frequently sense the energy of another person. I can “feel” the person’s anxiety or sadness. I can sometimes even “feel” a person’s disapproval, even when his mouth is saying that he approves of something.

Because of this skill, I rarely get blindsided by people’s reactions. I can generally “feel” the direction of the energy long before anything is said. On the rare occasions that I am blindsided, it is because I choose to disregard my intuition and listen to what another person is telling me instead. I have learned the hard way always to trust my intuition, even when everyone else around me disagrees with what it is saying.

I suspect that child abusers, as former child abuse victims themselves, share the gift of being able to identify fellow child abuse survivors when they walk into a room. I do not think it is a coincidence that many child abusers just happen to harm children who have already been abused before.

I used to believe that I was some sort of child abuser magnet because of how frequently abusers would harm me, even those who were not from the same “circle.” I truly believe this is because they intuitively knew that I had already been “broken,” so I was safe to harm. I was not going to tell. They were right about that.

How many of you have this kind of intuition? Do you ever just “know things,” even though nobody has told you? Do you think this is aftermath of the abuse? Or are we, as child abuse survivors, more intuitive than those who were never harmed?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Skull (c) Lynda Bernhardt

This blog entry will likely only be healing to me, but I need to get this out. Although I endured an unbelievable amount of trauma throughout my childhood (and some into adulthood), none of the memories has haunted me like this one.

I am feeling driven to face this memory once and for all so I can heal from it. I deserve to be freed from it. I have mentioned it in passing, but I do not believe that I have ever told anyone the full story about that night. I am going to do that now because I need to in order to heal. I have always needed to give my trauma a voice, and that is what I am doing now.

++++ animal abuse & ritual abuse triggers ++++

When I was around six years old, our dog had puppies. I fell in love with H and begged my parents to keep her. They eventually relented, and I was inseparable from H.

I think H was only about 18 months old on the most traumatizing night of my life. My most sadistic abusers, S & L, invited my younger sister and me to go on an overnight camping trip. They offered to let me take H along and sleep with her under the stars. It sounded great.

I remember camping out by a mobile home. I remember eating fish and playing with H.

Then, I am back in that horrible place in the dark around the bonfire. People are milling about before the “ceremony” begins.

The cult leader tells me that this is a special night – they will be “sacrificing” my sister. Of course, I panic, but there is nothing that I can do. They have already snuffed out any trace of emotion from me, but my soul bleeds at the news.

They tell me that I can choose a replacement for her, but I will be responsible for the death of the replacement. I say, “Yes. Anyone but my sister.” They make a big deal about me being the one to choose the replacement.

I am so relieved that my sister will not be the one “sacrificed” until I hear H’s whines. Three or four robed people are dragging my beloved dog toward the bonfire, and she is putting up quite a struggle. They are having to drag her to get into my line of vision. They want me to watch … and I do as they slit her throat with a knife.

Her body stops moving instantly, and then they plunge the knife back into her, making a “cross” as they cut her long ways down her torso. Blood is pouring from my beloved dog, and I can do nothing. I cannot cry. I cannot scream. I can do nothing except feel the weight of being the one to “choose” her death. She was one of two beings in my life who truly loved me, and they took her from me.

They throw her body on the fire, and I smell her burning flesh. They scoop up her feces and smear it all over my body – my face, my hands … everywhere. It is still warm — she expelled it as she fought for her life.

Then, they carve out part of her burned flesh and force me to eat it. I have no choice. I “ chose” this. This was my doing.

I turn over to the side and vomit, tasting my bile filled with fish from my dinner a few hours earlier. To this day, I cannot eat fish. It triggers me enormously, as does coming into contact with dog feces.

++++ end triggers ++++

As an adult, I know that it was not my fault. This was all “drama” to drive home the point that they had the power to kill my sister if I ever told … and I never did until adulthood. Even now, I tell through a pen name and use initials rather than names.

At least I can cry now. It feels very good to shed the tears that I have held back for over three decades. The last time I tried to cry over this, it took me thirty minutes to work up one single tear, but the release was enormous. Today, I have tears streaming down my face. They have been a long time in coming.

I honor H for her love and her sacrifice. I forgive myself for “choosing” her death. I give myself the gift of releasing the pain and the screams that I have held back for over thirty years. I am grateful for the love that this dog gave me, and know that she forgives me. At least her passing was quick.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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After I am severely triggered, it generally takes me a while (maybe a day or two) to get back to feeling like myself. I feel like I have been run over by an emotional mack truck, and it takes me a while to pull myself back together.

For some reason, I generally deal with severe triggers at night, although this is not always the case. Sometimes I am severely triggered during the day, but I have to hold myself together to get through my day-to-day life, so my reaction to the severe triggering might not hit full-force until the evening.

While I am severely triggered, I don’t give a d@#$ about long-term consequences, such as weight gain from the binge eating or having a hangover in the morning. My sole focus is to deaden the emotional pain in the moment.

I pay for this the next morning. I wake up feeling sluggish (unusual for me) and sad. I want to curl up into a ball and sleep the day away. However, my life is not conducive to doing this, so I have to muster the little energy I have and find a way to get through the day. If I can manage not to get triggered again, I try to do something loving and compassionate for myself, such as watch a favorite TV show in the evening and then go to bed early. If I can do this, then I am generally back to my old self the next day.

It really bothers me that my environment continues to have this kind of power over me. I don’t want something as simple as seeing dog poop to derail my life for a day or two. I want to be able to make choices about what or how much to eat or whether to drink. However, when I am severely triggered, it feels as if I have no choice. Everything goes into autopilot, and I am just along for the ride.

Related Topic:

PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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