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Archive for February, 2010

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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When I was in therapy, I asked my therapist numerous times when I would be “over” my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. He told me what I did not want to hear – I would never be “over” the PTSD. However, things would get better, and triggers would last minutes or hours rather than days or weeks. This was not what I wanted to hear, and I was determined to prove him wrong.

I have now been actively focusing on healing from the PTSD for 6-1/2 years, and I am somewhat sorry to have to report that my therapist was correct. Yes, I have healed enormously, and my life is so much better than I ever dreamed possible back when I began therapy. However, I still have PTSD. I still get triggered, and I still deal with nightmares. I am reluctantly accepting that my therapist was correct – I will always have PTSD.

Now that I have completely bummed you out, I will share the good news – You can manage your PTSD symptoms. My therapist was right about that part, too. When I started therapy, a trigger could keep me in complete “freak out” mode for weeks. Now, I can typically shake off a trigger in a couple of hours and sometimes even faster than that. I am generally aware when I have been triggered. I know what my body feels like in reaction to a trigger, even when I don’t know why I was triggered.

I also know what to do to bring myself back down. Early in therapy, I would just stay in a complete state of anxiety for weeks. Before therapy, I would “switch” and be completely out of touch with my life. Today, I know to take a few deep breaths and talk myself down. I tell myself that I am triggered and that I am having a normal reaction that anyone with PTSD would have. I also now have a Xanax prescription that can help bring me down if the trigger is severe enough that my other tools don’t work.

I am finding myself less dependent upon binge eating to manage my emotions because I am much more aware of what I am feeling and why. I also am fairly good at expressing how I feel in the moment so there is no need to “stuff down” the bad feelings.

My sister and I recently talked about how she wants her PTSD just to “go away.” I told her that I do, too, but that I think it is an unrealistic goal. We were very traumatized throughout our childhood, and we simply will not live long enough to dismantle all of the triggers and make the PTSD “go away.” However, we can lead fulfilling and productive lives as we learn to better manage our PTSD.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have shared before that my sister graduated college in December. She is now working on her Master’s degree in biology. She managed to get through her undergraduate courses well for the most part except that her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms caused her to fail multiple tests. She applied for accommodations at the college to get her own testing room. A doctor diagnosed her with social anxiety disorder, which qualified her for this accommodation. As soon as she started taking tests in a private testing room, she went from failing her exams to acing them.

Her problem is hypervigilence. When she is taking a test in a room filled with people, she must determine the origin of each sound to assess whether it is a threat. So, every time someone drops a pencil or clears his throat, she cannot focus on the test questions. Her brain stops processing the test, resulting in a failing grade. However, when she is in a private testing room, there is no “threat” to assess, so she can focus on her exam.

My sister is now being triggered by some of the labs that she is taking. She had to remove animal skulls from boxes, which was very triggering to her. Interestingly, she is not triggered by skulls if she comes across them in the forest, but it wigs her out to have to remove skulls from boxes or jars. We both suspect that this is a trigger from the ritual abuse we suffered. Regardless of why, she fears failing out of the Master’s program because of her PTSD symptoms.

I have encouraged her to apply for accommodations through the university’s disability office, and she is following my advice with the support of her campus counselor. Federal law offers protection for people with disabilities, and PTSD qualifies. My sister can apply for an individualized education plan (IEP), which will provide her with modifications to accommodate her disability. For example, she is going to ask that the animal skulls be removed from the boxes by someone else and be lying on the table when she enters the lab. She is hopeful that this will be enough to remove the triggers for her.

If you are in college (or high school), you have protection if your PTSD symptoms are interfering with your ability to succeed in school. Talk to your school’s disability office about possible accommodations. You should not have to give up on your dream of a college degree just because you have PTSD. Don’t let your abusers take that away from you, too.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am **hoping** that I can get back to blogging regularly again. My son only went to school for five hours last week thanks to the snowstorms that pummeled the eastern seaboard. He also missed two days of school the week before due to illness. I am soooo ready for him to get back to school so I can resume my life. I have a to-do list of over 50 items now … goodness help me.

I have been having disturbing dreams again. Every time I think I am finally finished with flashbacks, more seem to come. I think I blog about this every year, but I seem to “forget” and have to connect the dots year after year. My son had a birthday recently, and that always triggers me. He is now nine years old, and that has triggered memories of the horrors I endured when I was nine. Turning nine is significant with ritual abuse – that is when ritual abuse is stepped up a notch. So, it is no wonder that I have been freaking out a bit lately.

I have been haunted by memories of the box. I have always remembered the box that my abusers used. It was made out of plywood, and it had a mechanism for locking the lid. I have just “known” that I was locked in it, but pieces have been coming together through flashbacks lately. Not only was a locked in the box, but my abusers would throw in objects that terrified me or pour blood or feces on me. (I don’t know if it really was blood, but I believed it was as a child.)

This torture was also used as a “punishment” when I had trouble in school (which, fortunately, was not often). I have always remembered completely freaking out and having panic attacks in fifth grade because I had trouble learning the “new math” way of doing division. Now I understand why – my “punishment” was time in the box. This was when I was nine (I started school young). Since my son is nine and is struggling in school, I am freaking out about how to keep him safe. Even though I know that he is not going to be abused, my subconscious has a hard time separating out him from my inner child.

I am having dreams about flooding, water pouring out of walls, luggage (“baggage”), etc., which are all indicators that I have more memories/flashbacks that need to be processed. I am beginning to wonder if I will ever be “done” with recovering memories.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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