Archive for February, 2010

As I shared yesterday, my son will soon be transferring to a private school that specializes in working with children with ADHD and learning disabilities. Hub and I are hopeful that this school can offer the “miracle cure” that we need. Our son is far too bright to be failing third grade.

I took my son to the school yesterday to do reading and math assessments. While he did this, I met with the headmaster, wrote a very large check (Yikes!), and then filled out a big packet of paperwork – all of those pesky forms that you have to fill out whenever you enroll a child in a school.

This form had a question on it that has never come up before. The school wanted to know the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the student’s grandparents. Both my father and hub’s mother are dead, and I had no problem with providing that information for hub’s father, but there was no way in hell I was going to write down my mother/abuser’s information on the form (nor did I even know it, to be quite honest.)

I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this, so I asked the librarian (I was filling out the forms in the library) what I should write down when I am estranged from my mother due to abuse and don’t want her anywhere near my kid. I am sure she was taken aback by my bluntness, but she said, “Just write N/A, and don’t worry about it. That information is only if you want to provide it.”

So, now you know — If you don’t want to disclose contact information for your abusive parent on a form, you can just write “N/A.” That keeps you from having to lie about it (such as claiming that the person is dead) but still protects your child. Why didn’t I think of that myself??

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have a very busy day ahead of me today. After going back and forth for over a month, hub and I have decided to transfer our son to a private school that specializes in working with children with ADHD and learning disabilities. This is wonderful news, but I have a lot of work to do in making the transition happen on March 8. So, I don’t have time to write a blog entry for today. I thought I would share a fabulous quote I found on Twitter about dissociative identity disorder (DID). I trust that anyone with DID will be blessed by it:

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have previously written about animal alter parts. I shared at the time that I have an alter part that is a wolf. When I was a little girl, I thought the scariest creature on the planet was the wolf in the story “Peter and the Wolf,” so I created an alter part to “protect” me from my abusers. Of course, having a wolf alter part never succeeded in stopping the abuse from happening, but it nevertheless made me feel “safe” enough to fall asleep at night.

Even though I have integrated many parts and consider myself to be (mostly) whole, the wolf refuses to integrate. I think this is because I am still not convinced that I am safe when I sleep. Every night, I know that I am about to fall asleep when I feel the wolf come out. It makes me feel safe and protected, and I can fall asleep.

This past week, I took my son to the Great Wolf Lodge, which is a hotel with an indoor water park. Because of its theme, I was surrounded by pictures and statues of wolves. Talk about feeling safe!

I fell in love with a photograph in their lobby that I would like to get a print of. You can only see half of the wolf’s face as it is peering out at you behind a tree through one exposed eye. The wolf looks really tough and ready to pounce if you mess with it. I tried to find the picture online so I could post it here, but I was unsuccessful. Alas!

That picture captures what my wolf alter feels like. The wolf is always watching and waiting to leap out and protect me if I need him. I know he has my back, and he gives me the courage to let down my guard and sleep at night.

I have invited the wolf to integrate more times than I can count, but he is not ready. I doubt he will ever be ready until I feel safe at night, and I might not live long enough to ever reach that place. Alas.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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Oh, boy, did I have a bad day last week. I was triggered so badly that I could barely stay in my body. I could not function. I could not work. I could not stop crying for four straight hours. It was a very bad day. I won’t go into all of the details that led up to the final moment of triggering, but the incident that put me over the edge was accidentally giving my son the wrong medication.

It is a very long story how this happened, but instead of giving my nine-year-old son his ADHD medication, I accidentally gave him one of my Xanax pills. As soon as I realized it, he had just swallowed the pill, and I had a few terrifying moments of not knowing whether I had just accidentally poisoned my kid. Per the Poison Control Center, the dose he took of Xanax was completely fine for his age and weight, and, in fact, many children are prescribed even higher doses of Xanax, so my son was never in any danger. He just had to stay home from school since we did not know how he would react to the medication. (Surprisingly and thankfully, he had no reaction at all.).

The point of this blog entry is not to talk about my idiocy but to talk about my triggering. My greatest fear is not keeping my inner child, and by extension, my child safe. Subconsciously, I am unable to tell the two apart. So, any potential danger to my son causes my dissociative identity disorder (DID) system to activate again. Considering that I endured a few minutes of sheer panic of possibly poisoning my child, you can imagine the level of anxiety I experienced.

I am still shaky even writing about it, but I want to focus on all of the things I did right. My immediate reaction was the overwhelming urge to kill myself because I have always said that I would kill myself before I ever endangered my child. I told my therapist this when I started therapy, and he knew I meant it. If I ever found out that an alter part hurt my son, I would commit suicide immediately to save him from being harmed by me like I was by my mother. My therapist assured me that, because I feel so strongly about this, I would never hurt my son. All alter parts are still me, and I would never do something so fundamentally opposite of the core of my being.

Back to the story – As soon as I knew my son was safe, I came completely unglued and could not stop crying hysterically. Thank goodness this happened in front of another adult (the one who called Poison Control), so she could calm my son down while I completely freaked out. Next, I called friend after friend until I got one, and she worked hard to talk me down. That got me home without driving my car into a tree.

Next, I took Xanax myself, which my friend thought to tell me to do because I was too far gone to think of it. Next, another friend coincidentally happened to call. I wouldn’t have answered the phone, but my son did and handed it to me. She continued talking me down until the Xanax kicked in and I could be somewhat rational.

Then, I went to my bedroom and watched an episode of “Ugly Betty,” a lighthearted comedy just to get my mind doing something other than berate myself for being the worst mother in the world. I also ate a light meal so I could self-medicate with food in a healthy way rather than binge eat. By the time the show ended, I was rational enough to be able to do some mindless work-related things, which helped keep my mind focused on something other than my emotions. Despite all of these measures, I cried for four straight hours, and the rest of the day was terrible. I took medication to help me sleep and went to bed early, and I woke up fairly okay the next morning.

Rather than focus upon the near-tragedy, I am choosing to focus upon how far I have come. I seriously doubt I will get more triggered than I was that day, and I was able to get through it without harming myself. That is real progress.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled DID: Feeling Like a Different Person While Integrating, a reader posted the following comment:

One thing I found confusing in your post is in the paragraph about Sassy [an alter part who enjoyed sex]. You talked about other parts over-ruling her once she integrated. I wonder then how you know that she did integrate, because if she did, wouldn’t her free spirit still show itself, even if toned down somewhat. I mean, I thought you would become more balanced, rather than remaining conflicted about sex. ~ Multipleinoz

Unfortunately, I am not sure that I have good answer for you. As far as I know, this part has integrated, but I am still quite conflicted about sex. Here is my theory, but I don’t know if it is correct or not …

I think that I separated out my enjoyment of sex into Sassy to protect that part of my personality from being destroyed by the abuse. When Sassy “came out” while I was co-conscious, I got to experience “pure” enjoyment of sex because Sassy’s experiences were in a vacuum. She was completely separate from all of the bad sexual experiences. I do believe she integrated because I have not experienced her since that time, but it is possible that she is lying dormant waiting to be rediscovered when I am ready. I have always assumed that she integrated but that, against the backdrop of all of my bad associations with sex, her “pure” enjoyment of sex has been muddied by all of the pain.

I am hopeful that I will one day re-experience the joy of Sassy (she was a lot of fun!). I am encouraged to know that, whether as a separate part or an integrated part, this side of my personality does exist. That gives me hope that I can one day become less conflicted about sex.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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A question that I frequently receive from readers is how long it takes to heal from child abuse. I, too, asked the same question when I was new to healing. I was having flashbacks every night, nightmares, insomnia, and feeling like I was losing my mind. I sought therapy, and one of the first questions I asked was how long it would take for me to “get over this.” My therapist told me repeatedly that he did not have a crystal ball and could not answer that question. (I did not take that response well!)

I have interacted with numerous child abuse survivors since I started healing in 2003. I have seen some people fly through the healing process and others stay stuck for many years in the same place. The pace of healing really is up to you.

I was on the “fast track.” I decided that I was either going to (quite literally) kill myself and not deal with at all, or I was going to “get it over with” as fast as humanly possible. According to my therapist, I did about two years worth of therapy in six months. I lived and breathed healing. I read numerous books on healing. I invited and worked through flashbacks every night. I was on Isurvive every single day, multiple times a day, talking about my memories and seeking advice on healing. My healing process felt like a runaway freight train. My therapist kept telling me to slow down, but I couldn’t even if I wanted to … and I didn’t want to. I wanted to get this h@#$ “over with” so I could move on with my life.

I know others who have been in therapy for decades but never seem to get anywhere. They meet with a therapist weekly but don’t really do any work between their sessions. They are frustrated because they feel like they are making no progress, but they are also unwilling/unable to work through any of their issues without a therapist in the room with them.

My recommendation is taking a middle ground. The more work you do between therapy sessions, the sooner you are going to feel better. Healing from child abuse is very hard work, so pacing yourself is key. (Admittedly, I am not very good at pacing myself, so I cannot really offer much advice on how to do that.)

Back to the original question – How long does it take to heal from child abuse? The answer is completely up to you. You need to talk about what happened until you no longer feel the need to talk about it any longer. For some, the bulk of the work might be accomplished in a year or two; for others, the road will be much longer.

A wise friend told me to look at healing as an investment in the rest of your life. She said that, even if it takes five years or ten, I will have the rest of my life to reap the benefits of the hard work that I am doing now. She also pointed out that healing is not like an on/off switch. You do not go from being completely miserable to completely happy. Healing is a gradual process in which you are always “getting better.”

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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On my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader asked the following question:

Faith, thank you so much for this blog. It is so nice to hear that I am not the only one who does this. That in itself brings a huge weight off my shoulders. My biggest question is though, how do I go about stopping an…for lack of a better word…addiction that has been going on for years? ~ Gia

Although some people might fear that self-injury through masturbation is a more extreme form of an addiction/compulsion, it really is just an addiction or compulsion just like any other. Whether you struggle with an eating disorder, self-injury, or an addiction to porn, drugs, or alcohol, your addiction or compulsion is being fueled by your avoidance of facing your painful emotions.

The first step in stopping an addiction or compulsion is understanding what emotional need it is meeting. The bottom line is that all addictions and compulsions work for you on some level. My most troublesome addiction/compulsion is my battle with binge eating. As much as I complain about battling my weight and my lack of control at times with food, binge eating has always worked for me. When I was in a lot of pain as an abused child, food offered me comfort. As I “stuffed down” food, I was really “stuffing down” all of the emotions that I was not yet ready to face.

Once you understand why you are drawn to this particular addiction or compulsion, the second step is to find other ways to meet the same need. For me, learning that it is okay to feel the emotions has been instrumental in weaning off the binge eating. Now, when I get angry, I yell or punch pillows instead of eat. If I feel sad, I cry instead of eat. Since I am no longer trying to “stuff down” my emotions, the pull to binge eat is much less strong.

Third, you need to develop alternative coping strategies. For example, if I drink a glass of wine (I have no alcoholic tendencies) or take a Xanax, I am much less likely to binge eat. Both substances give me the same relief without the calories. Other more positive strategies for me include doing a Sudoku puzzle, talking with a friend, or exercising.

Fourth, build up your confidence in the alternative strategies. I give myself a 15-minute “cooling off” period. I tell myself to try other options for 15 minutes. If, after 15 minutes, I still feel the need to binge eat, I give myself permission to binge with no guilt. Then, I start fresh the next day. I have found that, most of the time, my other strategies will meet my emotional needs, and I don’t need to binge eat after all.

Finally, if you do succumb to the addiction/compulsion, let go of the guilt. You are not going to be free of a lifelong addiction or compulsion overnight, and you will always be vulnerable to it. Recognize that it is okay to lean on your addiction or compulsion from time to time, but keep trying to find other ways to meet your needs.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have received emails from several readers asking about my opinion of sado-masochism (S&M) after child abuse. In some cases, the person is engaging in S&M as a consenting adult. In other cases, the person has been viewing S&M pornography. The emails I receive ask my opinion of engaging in these actions, whether as active participants or as viewers. Because this seems to be a recurring theme, I thought it was a good idea to address this issue on my blog.

Let me begin by saying that I see nothing wrong with engaging in pretty much any type of sexual behavior that is 100% consensual between the adults involved (no children ever or other unable to consent). If consenting adults enjoy engaging in S&M, who am I to tell them that they are doing anything wrong?

However, the emails I have been receiving are filled with shame and confusion, and they are written by adult survivors of sexual abuse. Some of those writing the emails specifically say that the S&M behavior that they are either viewing or participating in mirrors abuses that they suffered as abused children. In my opinion, this is not a healthy activity for someone who is using S&M as a way to reenact the abuse.

I don’t see S&M as any different from fantasizing about the child abuse during consensual sex, engaging in degrading consensual sex that mirrors the child abuse, or watching pornography that mirrors the child abuse. All of these situations have the same common element – a child abuse survivor is choosing to go back to an abusive situation in his or her head in order to achieve an orgasm. I think this is re-abusing yourself and not emotionally healthy for you to engage in.

While I cannot relate to S&M, I can relate to choosing to reenact the abuse in my head to achieve an orgasm. If I want to climax during consensual sex, nothing makes it happen faster than to fantasize a reenactment of my childhood trauma. However, I have chosen to stop doing this out of respect for my wounded inner child. I would rather never climax again than continue to harm my inner child. I am still in the process of separating out trauma from orgasms.

If you are engaging in consensual S&M and do not feel any sort of shame or triggering from it, I see no need for you to stop. However, if you are a child abuse survivor who is feeling conflicted, listen to that voice inside of yourself. If this behavior was not harmful to you, then why would you be second guessing yourself? Why would you be writing to me asking whether or not it is “wrong”? You already know the answer – it is wrong for you because it is hurting you.

Believe me – I don’t have all of the answers, and I certainly don’t have them all for sex. I strongly suggest reading The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz to help you with your sexual healing.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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I was recently contacted by a college student who is writing his Master’s thesis on how blogging helps adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I gave him permission to use excerpts from my blog as part of his thesis. Now I am going to make his job very easy for him because this is a great topic. I also encourage those of you who blog about childhood sexual abuse to write about your reasons and provide a link over to your blog in the comments so this student can use your blog for his research as well. I am thrilled that someone cares enough to ask, and I want to be supportive.

I actually did not begin using the Internet for healing from childhood sexual abuse as a blogger. In fact, I did not even know what a blog was when I began having flashbacks in 2003. All I knew was that I was having flashbacks of my mother sexually abusing me and that, other than my sister, I knew no one with a similar history. I was fearful of contacting a therapist because I thought that he would not believe me. After all, how often do you hear about mother-daughter sexual abuse?

I found a message board for adult survivors of child abuse called Isurvive, where I found people who supported me and believed me, even when I was having trouble believing myself. I shared all of my memories as I recovered them on that site, so I was kind of “blogging” without understanding what that term meant. I would share a memory and my reaction to it, and multiple fellow child abuse survivors would post supportive comments. They believed me, gave advice, offered support, and pretty much “held my hand” through one of the most painful times in my life. At a time when I was convinced that I must be “crazy,” I had a therapist and my online support system telling me that I was not.

In October 2007, I decided to write my own blog on healing from child abuse. My purpose was to provide support to those who were not as far along in healing from child abuse as I was. I wanted to provide the lifeline that others had provided me years ago when the flashbacks started.

Since then, my blog has met other needs as well. There are times when I still need support, and my wonderful readers provide me with supportive comments. I have used my blog for political activism, such as to help get the Protect Our Children Act passed. I have also used my blog to talk about topics that are not generally discussed anywhere online or offline, including animal rape, dissociative identity disorder (DID), mother-daughter sexual abuse, and masturbation as self-injury. My goal was never to be the spokesperson for any of these topics, but they need to be talked about, and I am willing to speak out about them when most other people are not.

My “reward” comes from the heartfelt emails I receive from people thanking me for talking about these difficult topics. Some readers have had the courage to talk to their therapists about issues like masturbation as self-injury after reading my blog. Others have told me that, instead of reaching for a razor blade to cut themselves, they reached for their keyboard to read my blog. The knowledge that my words are bringing healing to the most hurting members of society gives me immense satisfaction.

I do not get paid to write this blog. I have set my blog up as an affiliate for amazon.com, but every dime is donate directly to Isurvive to help that site continue to help adult survivors of childhood abuse. I lead a busy life, but I take the time to blog because it matters. This blog is my gift back to the community of adult survivors of child abuse. I know what it feels like to believe that I am completely alone. Through this blog, no child abuse survivor should ever need to feel that way again. As long as I continue writing this blog, and as long as I have active readers supporting one another, no adult survivor of childhood abuse needs to worry about healing alone.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Enjoying the Plateau

Today has been a good day. I got a good night’s rest with no nightmares. When I weighed in this morning, my weight was the lowest it has been in a year. (I am glad that something positive came out of that awful stomach virus!) Then, I went online and saw that I had finally been solicited to teach two more classes for my job, and this is the “easier” class that I teach (same pay with half the work!) So, all is right in my world at the moment.

I call a day like today a plateau. Most of my life seems to be climbing up a mountain as I fight the demons of my childhood. One of the joys of healing is the plateau – when life permits me to stop and catch my breath. On days like today, I can see how far I have come, and I can celebrate all of the hard work that I have done to get here.

I wish that life would let me stay in this place forever, but I know from experience that it won’t. This knowledge just makes the plateau that much sweeter. I am going to savor this time today and enjoy being alive. I am sure I will need this break to sustain me through the next mountain ahead.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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