Archive for November, 2010

In my blog entry yesterday, I kicked off the topic of whether it is possible for a child abuser to “forget” or repress memories of abusing a child. My mother is a person who does not appear to have any conscious memories of having been an abuser or of delivering her own children to a group of ritual abusers. However, I have no question that she carries memories of the abuse at least at a subconscious level.

I wrote about one incident here. I (through an alter part) confronted my mother when I was in graduate school about the sexual abuse. I yelled at her, “You already f@#$ed me as a child. You are not going to f@#$ me as an adult!!!!” Her response was to hang up on me, get out a gun, and strongly contemplate killing herself. That does not sound like a woman with no memory of what she did. If she truly had no memory on any level of what she did, her reaction would have been very different.

Here is another example: During the summer after I graduated high school (after my mother’s sanity snapped from my father’s sudden death), my mother broke down crying at the breakfast table and told me that my 15-year-old sister had been raped a few months ago. Here was the story she told me: My sister and her best friend were at a male friend’s house. He tickled both of them and chased them into the bedroom. He tied them both up to the bed. He raped one while the other was forced to watch. Then, he did the same to the other one. She begged me not to tell my sister and told me that she was getting my sister help.

Several years later, I asked my sister about this incident, and she swore up and down that it never happened. My sister pointed out that both she and her friend were the size of adults and that the friend was a black belt in Judo. A man would have a difficult time restraining both of them without a weapon.

My world was turned on its ear. My mother had provided me with a very detailed accounting and was crying when she told me (something she rarely did). Then, when I recovered a flashback, it all made sense. I wrote about the incident in detail here. Here is a summary of what I recovered in the flashback:

I was three years old the first time my mother performed oral sex on my baby sister in front of me. She took us to the basement and tied us to chairs with my father’s ties. First, she performed oral sex on me while my sister watched. Then, she forced me to watch her do the same to my sister.

Sound familiar?

My therapist strongly suspects that my mother has schizophrenia based on the symptoms I have shared with him. I am also pretty certain that she suffers at the very least from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from child abuse that she has shared with me that she recovered through flashbacks. I don’t know what information she retains in her daily memory about the horrors she inflicted, but I know the truth is in her head based on these incidents as well as others I won’t go into here.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Remembering Sexual Abuse Incidents but Not the Rapes, readers posted the following comments:

Is is possible for an abuser to forget the abuse that he or she did, or to forget the abuse that he or she enabled? I know the victim can forget – can the abuser(s)? ~ Lilo

So can an abuser have ‘forgotten’ or is he/she manipulating people in believing that (s)he is completely innocent (and we, the victims consequently crazy) and is (s)he just lying/denying all the way? ~ Chloe

This is a topic that continues to haunt me as well because I am in the same boat. I truly do not believe that my mother/abuser carries a conscious memory of the abuse that she inflicted upon my sister and me, but I know that she carries memories of it in her subconscious mind. I will get into that in tomorrow’s blog entry.

Before proceeding with this topic, let me add my therapist’s warning – He told me that I need to stay out of my abuser’s head. He said that, regardless of what was going on in her head, her actions hurt me. So, whether or not my mother/abuser consciously remembers the abuses that she inflicted does not change the damage done to me. Her mindset has no bearing on the wounds inflicted or my right to heal.

While I understand where my therapist is coming from, I think it is completely human and understandable to want to know the answer to this question. This woman turned my childhood into a living hell. Could she possibly be walking around in her day-to-day life with no memory of the damage she did for decades? If she does remember, she is a d@#$ good liar. If she doesn’t remember, then why in the h@#$ did she put me through it in the first place? What was the point? Either way, it makes no sense.

The other reason I think we child abuse survivors feel a need to know is because we question our own sanity when we recover very detailed memories of abuse that are denied. When we know that we were harmed in a very specific way with very specific details, it makes us feel “crazy” when our abusers can look us straight in the eye and flatly deny that it happened. That sets us up for an “either you are crazy or I am” dynamic, and our abusers are perfectly happy to let us believe that we are the crazy ones. I guess that is why my therapist cautions me against “going there” at all.

Today is just an introduction to the topic. Tomorrow, I will share my “evidence” that my mother/abuser has memories of committing the abuse (at least at a subconscious level). Then, I will share some of my theories in answer to this question on Wednesday.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Today I am going to talk about a topic that will most likely only appeal to those of you who are further along in healing. When I first heard about this topic when I was early into my healing journey, I rejected it outright. However, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this topic, which is why I am writing about it today. If you are not ready to hear this message today, just let it go, but tuck it into the back of your mind for the future.

Early into my healing journey, I heard people say that it is not the child abuse itself that causes the emotional damage but, instead, our reaction to the abuse. Specifically, it is the lies we embrace after experiencing the abuse that causes the problems. If you are reacting strongly in a negative way to this idea, I understand … I was once there myself. Bear with me for minute, though.

When a child is abused, the child internalizes numerous beliefs that are lies. Here were some of mine:

  • I am fundamentally unloveable.
  • I cannot trust anyone.
  • The world is completely unsafe.
  • Who I am is not good enough.
  • I am fundamentally f@#$ed in the head.
  • If anyone saw the real me, he would run from the room screaming.
  • I am worthless.

These beliefs were my reaction to being a victim of child abuse. I have come to recognize that it was my choice to continue believing these lies that caused the emotional damage long after my body was safe.

Why does this distinction even matter? Because what I can choose, I can also “unchoose.” If my belief in lies is what is causing my pain, then my choice to embrace the truth has the power to relieve my pain.

Contrast this view with what I initially believed – that the pain was caused by having experienced the child abuse itself. If it is true that having experienced child abuse condemns a person to a lifetime of misery, then I am destined to be miserable for the rest of my life. It is not possible for me to go back in time and stop the abuse from happening. So, if experiencing child abuse means being in pain forever, then there is no hope for me to heal.

However, if the cause of my pain is actually from the lies I have embraced in reaction to being abused as a child, then I can choose to fight the lies with the truth and ease my misery. I can dismantle the lies, replace them with the truth, and live the rest of my life free from the pain of having been abused as a child. My history will not change, but my reaction to my history will do a complete 180.

I think this theory also explains why different people can experience the same abuses but react differently. Each child buys into his own set of lies. Some of the lies are common among child abuse survivors (guilt, shame, etc.) while others are unique to the individual. This could also explain why different healing tools work to varying degrees with different child abuse survivors – You need to figure out which healing tools will be most effective in helping you dismantle the lies that you have carried over from childhood.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Thankful for All of You

In honor of Thanksgiving, I would like to take a break from the intense topics we have been exploring this week and focus on being thankful. I have a friend who writes down what she is thankful for every Thanksgiving, so I thought I would do the same here. Feel free to tell me what you are thankful for in the comments.

Here are some things that I am thankful for this Thanksgiving:

  • My child – I spent many years not knowing if I would ever be a mother.
  • My husband – He is a good provider and loves me, even though the person I am today barely resembles the wounded girl he married two decades ago.
  • My sister – What would I do without my fellow foxhole dweller? I don’t think I would have survived my childhood without her.
  • My friends – I have built my own family of women who are as close to me as sisters. I am so blessed to have a group of women who would do just about anything for me, as I would for them.
  • My job – I am blessed to have a flexible, part-time, from home job that provides me with income to travel and “play” and gives me the opportunity to use my mind. It is also a rewarding job where I feel like I am making a difference in the world.
  • My Internet access – Okay, okay. I admit it – I am a complete computer geek and junkie. The Internet has enriched my life, bringing me into contact with fellow child abuse survivors, fellow adoptive mothers, and other groups of people that I would never have met otherwise. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the enrichment I experience from knowing all of you!
  • My life – I really have a great life. Those of you who have read my story might marvel at me saying this, but I feel so incredibly blessed to have lived the life that I have. I have overcome numerous obstacles and thrived.
  • My dogs – I adopted a couple of retired racing greyhounds a few years ago, and they are such a great addition to our family. They are very low maintenance. They just want to lie at my feet while I write on my computer, and they love to go for long walks with me in the pretty weather.
  • My relationship with God – I don’t know where I would be without my faith.
  • And last but definitely not least … My relationship with all of you!! – Even though I have never met any of you face-to-face, you know me in ways that many people in my day-to-day life do not, and I have gotten to know many of you well. I am so blessed by your comments, your emails, and your advice. I am blessed that you take time out of your busy day to read my blog. All of you are such a blessing to me, and I am truly thankful that you are a part of my life.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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*** sexual abuse and hymen triggers**

I have received some questions about the hymen bleeding after the first consensual intercourse when the person recovers memories of childhood rapes. I did not know that this could happen, either. The memories I dissociated the hardest were the vaginal rapes. I wanted to believe that they had never happened, and I truly believed (through my host personality) that I was a virgin until my husband. I held onto experiencing bleeding (albeit light bleeding) after our first sexual experience as my “proof” that my self-told lie was correct.

Chrystine Oksana’s book Safe Passage to Healing is the book that shook me free from the lies. I read this passage and experienced a sickening awareness that I had, in fact, been vaginally raped:

Some survivors are baffled by memories of repeated rapes, yet they also remember bleeding during their first conscious experience of intercourse. This would seem to imply that their hymen had not been broken. Like other genital tissue, hymens can heal and regenerate very quickly. While they may not return to their original intact shape, the regenerated hymen and scar tissue may bleed after a period of sexual inactivity. ~ Safe Passage to Healing, p. 76

I have frequently heard references to bleeding after your first experience with intercourse, but people generally do not talk about the quantity of blood. My memory of my first rape involves blood, but I don’t have a good feel for how much bleeding was involved. I was too young to have a period and, therefore, had no experience with vaginal bleeding, so I have no measure of how much bleeding is to be expected after an intact hymen is broken.

My last memory of being raped in childhood was when I was around age 12 or 13. My body was still growing, and I wonder how much that factors into how well the hymen regenerates. My next sexual experience involving that part of my body was being “fingered” at age 18, and I did experience a little bleeding then. I would call it “staining” – enough to wipe with toilet paper but not need a pad. I don’t know if bleeding after “being fingered” is normal or not.

My next rape was at age 19 by an ex-boyfriend. After that incident, I had enough bleeding that I thought my period was starting early. (I immediately dissociated the rape – an alter part experienced the rape.) Again, it was more “staining” than a flow.

Finally, I had intercourse by choice for the first time at age 23, which would be four years after the last rape. Once again, I experienced very light staining. I think it involved two wipes with toilet paper and that was it.

I apologize if I am providing too much information, but I thought my experiences might be helpful to those of you who are wrestling with blood flow after rape and consensual sex. To this day, I have no idea what quantity of blood is considered normal for the person whose first intercourse experience is consensual.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Remember in the 1990’s when recovering repressed memories was all the rage? Then, right on the heels of this came the propaganda that any memory that you have not always had in your conscious memory is suspect. Talk shows covered false memory syndrome, accused therapists of planting memories of abuse, etc. I don’t think society ever recovered from this, and now many people completely discount any memory that a person has not always held in his conscious memory bank.

I periodically receive emails from people questioning the veracity of my story because I had no memory of it until my late thirties, accusing me of everything from false memory syndrome to being psychotic. My response is always, “Then why have I improved through therapy?” They have no answer for this.

What kills me is that the same people who discount my recovered memories don’t think a thing of a soldier who has repressed the memory of his buddy being blown to bits in front of him. The only difference between his experience and mine is that other people can vouch for a battle having taken place whereas my abuse took place in secrecy. Without a witness, these people believe that my abuse couldn’t possibly have happened.

I know a little boy who survived a car crash that killed his mother when he was five years old. His mother died on impact, and he was stuck in his car seat for hours until somebody found the wrecked car. The little boy had no memory of the car crash the next day, and nobody questioned his sanity. Nobody said that the car crash couldn’t have happened or that he was psychotic because he has “blocked out” the memory of this traumatizing event. In fact, most people’s reactions were that blocking out the memory was “normal” and that it was a “blessing” that he did not remember sitting in a car for hours with his dead mother.

Being abused is equally as traumatizing, and yet when the child does the same exact thing (“blocks out” the memory), people assume that the child must retain a working memory of the trauma for it to have happened. This five-year-old child will likely start having flashbacks when he is an adult as he processes the trauma, and nobody will accuse him of being psychotic, having false memory syndrome, or making it all up. However, a child abuse survivor processing trauma in the same way will be questioned because the memory was not always held in conscious awareness. Why is that?

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I recently wrote a blog entry entitled Is it Possible to Have Been Raped as a Girl and Not Remember?. After this blog entry published, I received emails from readers asking me to discuss this topic further. This is my first installment. If you have specific questions or issues you would like for me to cover, please email them to me or post them in the comments to this blog entry. You can find my email address on the About Faith Allen page. I will not use your name unless you ask me to.

One reader wants to know more about the situation of remembering some sexual abuse incidents but repressing the memories of the rapes. This was my situation for about a year. I first entered into therapy after I began recovering memories of being sexually abused by my mother. (Before this, I had no memories whatsoever of sexual abuse.) As I dealt with those memories, more memories surfaced of other forms of sexual abuse, but none of them involved vaginal rape. I kept telling myself that I could handle the memories as long as I was never vaginally raped. As I continued to heal, I reached a place when I had to face that this, too, had been taken from me. It was incredibly painful, but I needed to remember to heal.

Why did I remember multiple other incidents of sexual abuse but not the rapes? My guess is that I found the vaginal rapes to be the most traumatizing. Different people are going to have different memories that they consider to be the “worst of the worst.” For me, it was vaginal rapes. For my sister, it was animal rape. For others, it is mother-daughter sexual abuse or other forms of abuse. I think we often save for last the memory that we fear will break us. We ease ourselves into remembering the worst.

I have talked with child abuse survivors who have always remembered some forms of sexual abuse but not others. My observation has been that those whose sexual abuse began after age six appear to be more likely to remember some of the sexual abuse but might have dissociated the accompanying emotions or some of the more traumatizing incidents.

I know one sexual abuse survivor who remembered being raped hundreds of times by a family member. Because she had these memories, she did not believe that anything had been repressed. She was wrong. Through therapy, as she healed from what she had already remembered but had refused to “feel,” she started recovering memories of other abuses that were even more traumatizing than the memories she had always held. She took this very hard because she thought that what she remembered was hard enough. She felt like she was losing her mind as more memories of even more traumatizing abuses surfaced.

It is normal for people who have endured trauma to repress the memory. It is possible (and common) for child abuse survivors to have memories of some of the abuse but not others.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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As I write this, I have been focusing on trying to stay present (mindfulness) for roughly 10 days. I thought I would share my observations so far and then check in from time to time on my progress. (Yes, I am hoping to continue to make progress!)

First, mindfulness is definitely a skill to be developed. I have a leg up on many people because I had practice staying present (at least during meals) for 11 months a few years back before a big trigger derailed my progress. It has taken me this long to get back to it. Because I had 11 months of practice being mindful (at least at mealtimes), doing this does not feel as foreign as it did the first time. Still, it is a skill, and I have to focus and recognize when I have “slipped.” Not being present feels very “normal” to me, so I have to stay mindful about being mindful.

Some of the results I expected after 10 days are already happening. I am effortlessly eating less, and my body is gradually losing weight. I have lost three pounds since I started staying present, and that includes going on a four-day trip. (I tend to gain weight or, at best, hold steady, when I travel due to eating out so much.) The compulsion to overeat is not magically gone, but it is frequently not present during meals.

When I feel the urge to overeat, I am following Geneen Roth’s advice in Women Food and God and asking myself why I feel the need to overeat right now. I focus on staying present and observe how my body is feeling. I find that I frequently feel ice in my stomach at night, which is when I most struggle with the urge to overeat. I believe that is my body’s reaction to terror – the terror I felt as a little girl at night – and I am trying to comfort the terror. For me, expressing and integrating the terror has been one of the more challenging emotions, which might explain the continued presence of “ice in my stomach.”

I have been surprised by some results so far that I did not see coming – I have not felt the need for Xanax or wine since I started focusing on staying present. I typically drink a glass of wine in the evenings or take a Xanax, doubly so at this time of year when I tend to be easily triggered. The surprising part is that I had not even noticed the absence of Xanax or wine. It just hit me yesterday that it has been over a week since I have taken either, and one or the other has been a staple every evening for a month or two.

Another surprise is the change in my dreams. Since I have begun focusing on staying present, I have stopped having intense nightmares. Intense nightmares have been such a normal part of my life that I had just accepted that that always would be. I no longer bother showering before bed because I am so used to awakening in terror with night sweats that I just have to bathe again in the morning, anyhow. It occurred to me that I haven’t had any intense nightmares in a while. I continue to dream, and they are certainly not dreams of bunnies and marshmallows, but they aren’t intense dreams that make my heart race.

Also, I have had no issues whatsoever with insomnia since I started practicing mindfulness. I am more relaxed when I go to bed, and I have been falling asleep fairly quickly. Most nights, I sleep straight through until morning. My “normal” pattern has always been to awaken from a nightmare at around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. with my heart racing, and I had trouble falling back to sleep. I would sometimes have to take a Xanax to succeed.

I recognize that I am only 10 days into this new way of living, but I am encouraged by all of the changes that I am seeing. I am doubly surprised because this time of year (during the holidays) is typically a very difficult time of year for me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Blinders from Not Living in the Present, a reader mentioned Theophostics as an effective healing tool. I did not know much about it, so I thought I would do some research into it and share what I learned with all of you.

Of primary importance is the fact that Theophostics is a Christian-based healing method, so anyone who is triggered by religion or does not share the Christian faith is probably going to want to look elsewhere. However, those of you who embrace the Christian faith might find Theophostics to be a helpful healing tool, so this blog entry is for all of you.

You can read the history of Theophostics here. It was founded by Dr. Ed Smith. Here is an excerpt from the website explaining the basics of Theophostics:

Dr. Ed already knew the reason for the woman’s emotional pain and dysfunction. He knew it did not have to do with the abuse that had occurred, but rather because of what the women believed in the context of the abusive memory. It was not the memory of the abuse that had them bound, but rather it was what they held in belief. Dr. Ed had tried everything he knew to do to get the truth into these women’s heads, yet nothing seem to make much difference. Then in that one momentious moment where Dr. Ed simply asked the Lord to speak to the woman’s heart and mind about what she believed that was causing her the emotional pain she carried. In that wonderful moment everythting changed for her and for this ministry. She reported a freedom and peace like she had never had before. The pain dissolved and she left with a new found freedom that she holds to this day. Theophostic Prayer was born. This prayer process has since developed into a highly successful approach to helping people in all manner of emotional states to find the peace of Christ where all they had known before was pain. Jesus is indeed “the way and the truth….” ~ Theophostic.com

After reading about Theophostics, I realized that I actually had some experience with it but did not recognize the name. I know a man (C) who received this training (I just could never remember the name of it). He was working with a couple of women with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and doing a “prayer ministry” to help them heal. He claimed that this method was very effective – that alter parts were being integrated, and all he was doing was praying with her.

We had this conversation when I was about a year into therapy, and I confess that I was dubious of this method. I knew the hard work that I was doing in and outside of therapy, and I found it hard to believe that sitting around praying could accomplish the same thing. Also, this guy was a pretty fundamentalist Christian (and I am not), so I had my reservations about what he was doing.

Fast forward a few months … I had an alter part emerge who hated God, the church, and anything religious. This was quite a challenge for me because I am very active in my church. I attended a Christian event that should have been amazing, but the Christian songs kept triggering me. For the next week, I could not pray without “hearing” the “loud thoughts” of this alter part telling God to f@#$ off using all sorts of obscenities. For the first time in my life, I was unable to turn to God in prayer for myself.

I emailed C along with a mutual friend (G) who ran a Bible study (where I met C). They both drove out to my house during their lunch break to pray with me (which I now recognize as Theophostics). I had my doubts that anything would happen, but I was wrong.

We sat in my living room, and we bowed our heads in prayer. I could not really pray because of this alter part, but C prayed out loud while G prayed silently. It is hard to describe what happened next, but it felt like energy was “cleaning” my brain. It was powerful. I released myself into this. It felt peaceful and energizing. It felt like God comforted the hurting alter part, answering the questions I didn’t even know I had, and then the alter part was just “gone.” I don’t know if the part integrated, went to heaven, or what, but I never had an issue with being triggered by religion again. It was just miraculously healed in that one prayer session.

I felt very relaxed both during and after, which is not typically what I would expect with two men hanging out in my living room in the middle of the day. I just felt very peaceful.

I have not used Theophostics again, but I can tell you that my one experience was positive. Again, if you are triggered by religion or do not share the Christian faith, it is probably not the best tool for you. I also would not recommend Theophostics as your sole healing method. As a supplement, though, I found it to be pretty amazing!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Blinders from Not Living in the Present, a reader posted the following comment:

Also, you don’t account for those of us, who unfortunately, still have contact with the people that hurt us. I know that your solution is to cut all contact, but your situation is different. Your sister had a lot of the same experiences, so she is with you. In my case, I was THE target. If I cut all contact, I lose everyone. ~ Theresa

I cannot emphasize strongly enough the need to cut off all contact with your abusers when you enter into therapy to heal from child abuse. This is not just my opinion – My therapist was emphatic about this as well. At my very first session, I told my therapist that I was leaving the next day to see my mother/abuser for an early Christmas get-together with my side of the family. His response was that I needed to cease all personal contact with her for at least the first few months of therapy.

My first reaction was, “No way!” It’s not that I wanted my mother/abuser in my life; the problem was that I did not believe that I had the option of cutting her out of my life. Just the thought of telling her to get out of my life about caused me to have a panic attack right there in his office. He probed my reasons, but I would not budge. He then said, “If you are not willing to end personal contact with your mother, at least for a few months, then there is little I am going to be able to do help you through therapy. Until you feel safe, therapy is not going to do you much good, and maintaining a personal relationship (visits, phone calls, etc.) is going to prevent this from happening.”

I had been so hopeful about starting therapy, and I realized I had a choice to make. I didn’t think I could do it, but I knew he was right. I was not willing to continue staying emotionally sick just because telling her to back off would hurt her feelings. So, I made the terrifying decision to tell her that I was cutting all personal communication for a few months while I entered into therapy to deal with some childhood issues. We could communicate through emails or letters, but no phone calls or visits until further notice. Period.

What started out as a short-term break in contact has grown into almost seven years of separation. I don’t believe that I would have been able to heal to the degree that I have if I had kept my mother/abuser in my life. To be honest, other than my sister, I really don’t have much to do with any blood relatives. Even my sister lives far away (nine hours by car), and we only get together once or twice a year for a visit.

Instead, I have built my own “family,” developing deep friendships with women who are as close to me as sisters. I have met my needs in other ways – I did not need to involved my severely dysfunctional family to meet my needs.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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