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Archive for November, 2009

I guess I must be feeling better because I actually feel up to blogging. Hooray!

Last week, I came down with the H1N1 virus. My symptoms matched the CDC’s list of H1N1 symptoms with the exception of one – I did not vomit. My symptoms began with a “drippy” nose on Monday. It was really annoying. Then on Tuesday, I kept getting lightheaded. I even had to stop a few times during the day to put my head between my knees to keep from passing out. I started my monthly cycle that day, so I chalked it up to that. Then, I woke up on Wednesday with a 101.1 fever – not good.

I very rarely run a fever. On the rare occasions that I do, I either have the flu or some sort of infection (sinus infection or bronchitis). I ran down the list of symptoms for the H1N1 virus, and I had every one of them – fever, cough (it felt like someone was stepping on my windpipe, making it hard to breathe), mild sore throat, body aches, severe headache, chills, fatigue, and diarrhea. I did not vomit, but I was very dizzy and stayed nauseous for five days. It was a miserable experience.

Despite the fact that I ran a fever nonstop for two straight days, was extremely dizzy, had a horrendous headache, and mostly stayed in bed for five days, hub didn’t believe that I had the H1N1 virus. Here in North Carolina, medical providers will not screen for the virus unless you are sick enough to be hospitalized, so there is no way to verify your diagnosis officially. However, I am quite capable of reading a list of symptoms, comparing my symptoms, and making an educated guess about what is ailing me. My sister is the only other person who doubts my self-diagnosis. Of course, neither had a better answer for why I was suddenly running a fever for two days (which peaked at 101.5) and was extremely dizzy for five days. Millions of people have had the H1N1 virus — so many that the president has declared this virus a national emergency — but Faith cannot possibly have it. Or course not!

This experience hearkened me back to my childhood days when nobody would believe me when I was sick. When I was around eight or nine years old, I came down with an “out of both ends” virus while spending the night at my cousins’ house. My aunt drove me home with lots of towels to clean up the mess during the drive. When she got me home, my mother was not happy for me to be returned early. Her response to my aunt was, “She’s not sick.” My exasperated aunt invited my mother to come take a look at the floor of her car for evidence to the contrary.

However, nothing would “reach” my mother. She was practicing “calling things that be not as though they were,” which is religious babble for saying what you want things to be like until they become that way. So, while my mother “spoke over me” that I was healthy, I was an eight-year-old kid who had to take care of herself as I vomited and had diarrhea all over the bathroom.

Fortunately, I do have people in my life (none relatives) who do believe me when I say that I am sick. Friends dropped off food and Gatorade so I could nourish myself. (G*d forbid a family member actually take care of me when I get sick!) A friend took my son overnight so I could get some rest. Thank goodness for the family I have built for myself. I couldn’t get through it relying on my relatives to take care of me when I need help.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am sick

I awoke this morning with a fever of 101.1. It peaked at 101.5 and is now down to 99.5 (which is relief after how I was feeling a few hours ago). I had both the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu shots, so I am hoping that, if it is the flu, I will feel better soon. If I disappear for a few days, that is why.

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How is this for weird? I think I must have just found my “inner anorexic.” This is really weird, and I don’t know how long it will last … but let me back up…

Since I was 11 years old, I have used food to help me “stuff down” the bad feelings. I just thought I had no self-control. I was well into adulthood when I learned that there was a label for what I did – binge eating/compulsive overeating – and I was shocked to learn that it was a real eating disorder. Since I wasn’t thin and did not vomit up my food, I did not appreciate the severity of the eating disorder. It was validating to call it what it was and recognize that the problem wasn’t just me being “lazy” or lacking in self-control.

I generally succumb to the urge to binge eat at this time of year and wind up putting on weight. Because most people tend to overeat to some degree during the holidays, nobody ever seems to notice this pattern in me. However, this year I have an added stressor – next month, I will be seeing my mother/abuser for the first time in six years as we both attend my sister’s college graduation. I expect to battle the eating disorder in spades, so I have been trying to nurture my body during the times that I am doing okay. I am actually making some progress!

I went to battle with an alter part recently. I finally “met” one of the parts that drives the eating disorder. This little girl believes that being bigger makes me safe, so she is always hungry. Once I recognized this in myself, I started putting energy into fighting this false belief. I have been telling myself that, as an adult woman, I am no longer a small, vulnerable child. I am about 20 pounds overweight, and the extra weight actually makes me less safe. If I need to run away or fight back, then I will actually be safer if my body will get a little bit smaller.

I guess I got through to that part of myself because the urges to overeat have all but stopped. (This has only been for about a week, so I am hardly holding my breath that this is permanent.) In fact, there have been a couple of days where I started feeling lightheaded and could not figure out why. I finally realized that I had not eaten anything other than rice milk all day, and my body was reacting to having so few calories in it by lunchtime. Still, I did not feel hungry.

This is not normal for me, and I am curious to see how long it lasts. In the meantime, I am perfectly happy to drop a few pounds before the next wave of binge eating rears its ugly head. I would love to believe that I have conquered it, but it will take me prolonged periods of eating in a healthy manner for me to believe it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am currently working through a Beth Moore study at my church entitled The Patriarchs. In one of the videos, Beth Moore shared a story that really touched me. A woman showed Beth a photograph of herself with her mother and grown daughter. She said that all three women – three generations – were battered women. She then showed Beth a picture of her baby granddaughter (generation #4). The woman said, “She will not be a battered woman.”

Beth went on to talk about how, if we make no changes, then the same behaviors will be passed down from generation to generation. If we want to see a change in our children’s lives, then we need to make that change in our lives. Otherwise, nothing will ever change.

As I shared yesterday, I am seeing in very tangible ways how I have broken the cycle of abuse. Anything in my life that I don’t want to pass down to my kid, I need to change in my own life. That change will have a ripple effect. Not only will I break that cycle of abuse for my child, but it will be broken for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and all down the line. People who may never know my name will have a different life because **I** made the choice to change the direction of the family heritage.

If only my mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother had the courage to change the momentum of the abuse in our family, my childhood would have been vastly different. I am grateful that I have had the strength, courage, and determination to change this. I am certainly not perfect and have not fixed everything, but the family legacy that I will leave to my son and grandchildren will be vastly different from what was left to me.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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I had an epiphany that I would like to share with you. While I am fully aware that I have broken the cycle of abuse in my family, a specific example drove this point home in a very tangible way.

When I was in third grade, I had to write a book report. I chose a book that was too advanced for me (probably by a few years). Although the teacher was concerned, I pushed for it, and she let me choose this book for my book report.

Sure enough, the book was too hard for me to complete reading within the deadline. Although I read well over 200 pages of the book, I simply could not finish the last 20 or so pages of the book before the project was due the following day. My mother yelled at me and locked me in my room until I finished it. I remember not being able to see the pages through my tears because it was too hard. I simply could not do it.

My mother berated me for not finishing the book and for lying and saying that I had. She put me on probation for two weeks. She then told her friends, S&L about it (my most sadistic abusers), who brutalized me in the name of “punishment” for not finishing the book. To this day, one reason I believe that I must be perfect is because of that experience.

It just hit me in such a tangible way that I am sooo not like my mother or other abusers. My son is in third grade, and he has multiple learning disabilities. His class was expected to read the novel Charlotte’s Web at the pace of a chapter a day until they finished the book. My son simply cannot do this. He reads at a second grade level and has all sorts of accommodations. However, he did have this assignment due.

How did I handle this? In the same way that my mother should have … I read him every word of that book, day after day, from beginning until the end. I didn’t berate him for not doing his homework or for not being able to do something that many of his classmates did with ease. I assessed the situation and figured out a way to make him successful.

I don’t know why this epiphany is hitting me so hard, but it is making me cry. Maybe I am finally understanding from an adult perspective just how cruel my mother was.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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Learning how to set boundaries can be a real challenge for anyone who suffered from child abuse. We learned that we had no boundaries, and we did not have the first idea about how to set any, much less enforce them. When you enter into therapy, a good therapist is going to encourage you to start setting boundaries in your life. Expect to have some growing pains as you learn to develop this skill.

I used to believe that being called (or even thought of as) a b@#$% would be the worst thing in the world. I now understand that there is a time and a place when this is actually a good thing, such as when I am coming to the defense of my child. Finding the right balance between doormat and b@#$% can be a challenge. My therapist told me that, if I **think** that I being a little b@#$%y, I am probably only nearing the appropriate level of setting boundaries.

However, I have seen people go from one extreme to the other before they find a happy medium. One day, they are the world’s biggest doormat. The next, they appear to be trying to eviscerate anyone who comes into their path. This is not the same thing as setting healthy boundaries. Rather than assume that everyone on the planet is trying to take advantage of you, you need to learn how to assess each situation on a case-by-case basis. Here is what works for me…

I decide ahead of time what I want my boundary to be. Let’s say my boundary is that I want to spend two hours on Sundays doing something for myself. If someone asks if I can babysit her child on Sunday, I don’t go off on her and call her every name in the book for trying to take my time away. Instead, I say that I am really sorry, but I am unavailable on Sunday afternoon. If I wouldn’t mind watching the child another time, I might offer an alternative time.

However, let’s say that I say no, and the person tells me that I am a self-centered b@#$% for not changing my plans to accommodate her. I can go one of two directions – I can tell her not to talk to me that way (with or without colorful language), or I can choose not to invest in that relationship any longer. I do not invest in friendships where the other person is not grateful when I do her a favor.

If you are in that place where you are trying to make changes but seem not to know how to get setting boundaries right, don’t despair. This is a skill that comes with practice. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I used to be.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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A recurring theme I see among child abuse survivors is been taken advantage of by others. This is an issue that I have wrestled with throughout my life, although I have made marked progress in the last few years. I used to think that, if I was kind to others, then they would be kind to me. I treated others as I wanted to be treated, but I did not get the same treatment in return. It took me a long time to understand why not.

It was all an issue with my  inability to set boundaries in relationships. Because I was so willing to give of myself in relationships, I was easy prey for those who were looking to take advantage of me. I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar for each time someone spent time with me just to use me and then kicked me to the curb when I finally built up the courage to say, “Enough!” More often than not, I did this by separating myself from the other person rather than having a confrontation.

My therapist told me that my homework every single week was working on setting boundaries. I have come a long way. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, hub asked me to go get him a refill at Wendy’s. I looked at him like he was nuts and said, “No!” I used to get him refills all the time. I didn’t know it was okay to say no to him, so I would routinely go wait in line to get him a refill while my French fries got cold. The other day, I simply said no because I didn’t want to do it – How freeing is that??

Now, don’t get me wrong – I do plenty of nice things for hub. In fact, I am writing this blog entry on a Sunday afternoon at a local “bounce place” while my kid and his two friends are bouncing on a bunch of inflatables. I took all three for the entire afternoon (four hours), and hub is lounging around the house right now and probably even taking a long nap. So, I do nice things for him. However, I don’t have to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to be in this relationship. That would make me his servant or slave, not his wife.

Any relationship that does not give you the freedom to say, “No,” is a dysfunctional one. In any relationship, you will sometimes be the giver, but there also needs to be room for you to be the receiver as well. If you are always giving, that means that the other person is always taking. That is not okay. You deserve to be in a reciprocal relationship where you are valued for who you are, not for what you do.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One topic I don’t see discussed a lot is preverbal abuse. Preverbal abuse is any abuse that a child experiences before he or she has developed language. Because the child has not developed language, he has to store the memories in ways that do not attach language. This can present quite a challenge to the adult who is experiencing body memories with no “explanation” behind them.

I read about this phenomenon in great detail in the book When You’re Ready by Kathy Evert. While this is a book about mother-daughter sexual abuse, it covers healing from preverbal abuse in powerful ways.

From what I understand from reading multiple books on the subject, our brains are like filing systems. When you experience something today, your brain looks for a similar experience in your memory bank for a place to “file” away the memory. When a baby is the one being harmed, the baby does not have enough experiences yet to file away something as mind-blowing as abuse, so the memory gets stored in a different away.

On top of this, a baby does not have the ability to describe what has happened without language, so what is stored is the reaction to the abuse. So, someone who suffered from preverbal abuse might experience flashbacks by reenacting the abuse as it occurred. If you don’t know the history, it might not make any sense. However, the flashback, experienced physically, makes perfect sense when you understand the cause.

The closest experience I have had was recovering a memory of my mother sexually abusing me while changing a diaper when I was a toddler. As I had the flashback, I had an overwhelming urge to suck my thumb even though I was in my mid-thirties when I experienced the flashback. I guess because I was crossing over to being verbal, I recovered enough in the memory to understand it. However, if I had been nine months old when this happened, this urge would not have made sense.

In the book When You’re Ready, the author talks about needing to be held and comforted in the ways that she wasn’t as a baby. An online friend told me about her strong need to be rocked, even though she was now an adult. This woman had the great idea of buying herself a hammock so she could meet this need in herself.

If you are struggling with flashbacks that are mostly bodily and don’t seem to make much sense, consider the possibility that you are dealing with a preverbal memory. If you are, then you will need to comfort yourself in ways similar to how you would have comforted that traumatized baby.

The myth that babies do not remember trauma is a bunch of hogwash. Too many people have reported similar experiences with releasing preverbal body memories to debunk that myth.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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How many of you have issues with being touched? My guess is that it is probably a big number. I have always had trouble with being touched by another person. It is unusual for my body to make physical contact with another person’s body in a day. I have worked hard to push past this for the sake of my son, who I don’t want to inherit my issues.

It took me years to be able to accept a hug without embarrassing myself. I would get stiff as a board as soon as I saw the arms coming. (That was a real problem at church, where women love to give hugs.) It was even worse if I didn’t see the hug coming.

I heard a sermon once about the importance of hugs and personal touch. The pastor said that a person needs something like 12 hugs a day to feel loved. I honestly could not remember the last time that I had been hugged, and it made me cry. I make a point of giving my son lots of healthy, loving touch – from tousling his hair when I walk by to giving him hugs and telling him that I love him. I am determined for this aversion to touch to end with me.

Despite the efforts I have made on behalf of my son, touch is simply not a part of my day-to-day life. I love to have my hair touched (and thoroughly enjoy trips to the beauty salon as a result). I also love it when someone touches my feet. However, the rest of me is “off limits.”

I know that I am not alone in this based upon the reactions of some of my offline friends who were also sexually abused as children. One is so uncomfortable with any form of touch that she will go several months between haircuts. It takes her a lot of emotional work to build up the courage to have her hair touched that much. I have another off-line friend who is very into sex, in part, because that is the only time in which she feels safe being touched. However, after the sex is over, she doesn’t want her lover touching any part of her.

I think the only way past this is to risk allowing another person to touch you and have positive experiences with it. The hardest part is that you cannot control the other person’s actions and reactions. Whenever I choose to initiate a hug, I doubt that the other person has any idea what it takes for me to do it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I have shared several times before, October through December are typically very rough months for me. Some of this is the result of the ritual abuse I suffered as a child. I suspect that this is also a difficult time because there are so many holidays, which when I was a child signified being separated from those who were supportive (teachers and friends), leaving me 24/7 with my crazy family and their friends.

Regardless of the reason, October is generally a very difficult time of year. I pretty much stay triggered, alternating between feeling anxious and feeling very depressed. I am happy to report that I did much better this October than I have in previous years. Hooray!

I am not saying that I was able to avoid being triggered. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that these last couple of weeks have involved one trigger after another. The big difference is that I have not stayed triggered. I have been successful in pulling myself out of the nosedives repeatedly. The good news is that I have had many “good” days. The bad news is that I feel like a Weeble-Wobble that keeps getting knocked down and then getting back up … up and down … up and down … until I start to feel dizzy.

In some ways, handling the triggers in a healthier way is just as tiring as staying “stuck” in the triggers. There is a certain amount of “comfort” in knowing that I am in a bad place and will stay there for a while. Even though I don’t enjoy it, I know what to expect. These days, I cannot tell you from hour to hour what state I will be in. That is exhausting, but I still wouldn’t trade it. As I pull myself out of the swirling currents over and over again, I gain confidence in knowing that I am not going to drown.

I was pleasantly surprised not to have to deal with any Halloween-related (ritual abuse) triggers this year. For as long as I can remember, being out after dark has been triggering. Couple that with seeing black hooded figures, and I typically have a very bad headache every Halloween. That did not happen this year (to my utter amazement), so I guess I am making progress in that area.

How did all of you deal with Halloween this year? Was it as triggering as ever? Or did you notice some progress in healing? (Or both?)

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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