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Archive for November, 2010

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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On my blog entry entitled Living in the Present to Dismantle Triggers, a reader asked the following question:

How would you define “closure” from child abuse? ~ Lilo

I needed some time to think about my answer to this. I think the answer will be different depending upon who you ask. For me, closure from child abuse means that I am at peace with who I am, which includes all of my child abuse history. Closure means full acceptance of myself and no longer fighting any part of myself – my emotions and feelings, my memories, or my life in general.

I think a big part (and challenge) of healing from child abuse is having to accept things that I did not want to accept. I did not want the abuse to have happened. I did not want to accept that my virginity was taken by rape when I was still in elementary school. I wanted my childhood to have been one thing (a loving and safe childhood), but my reality was quite different from this. Closure from child abuse involves letting go of the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s and making peace with what was and now is. I am not 100% there yet, but I can look back at many of my childhood traumas and accept that they happened. They contributed to who I am today, and I love who I am today, so I no longer need to fight the reality of my childhood experiences.

Another big part of healing from child abuse is silencing “The Voice” in my head – the voice that carries the echoes of the past and holds me hostage to all sorts of lies. Before beginning to heal, The Voice was filled with constant messages of how worthless I was – it called me stupid, fundamentally unlovable, ugly both inside and out, fat, etc. The Voice told me that I could not trust anyone and that loving was too risky. The Voice kept me locked in a prison fueled by lies. To me, closure from child abuse involves silencing this voice and loving myself for who I am rather than hating myself for what I have or have not done. I don’t have to **do** anything to be worthy of love. I just have to be me – I just have to **be**.

I have utilized many tools for helping me heal from child abuse, and I have gotten advice from numerous resources, from my therapist and yoga instructor to books on healing from trauma to fellow child abuse survivors. All of these tools and resources have led me toward awakening to who I have always been. I see part of closure from child abuse as recognizing that I am not something that is “broken” needing to be fixed – I am enough just the way I am. I just need to awaken to who I am and always have been. Closure involves shedding the lies – both those told to me by my abusers and those I told myself – and awakening to the truth that I have all that I need in just being me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I read something recently that got me thinking about something I used to struggle with. Soon after I started having flashbacks, I found Isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. I couldn’t believe that I had found a community where my symptoms actually made sense and where I was fully accepted just for being me. Up until this point in my life, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. Suddenly, I was part of a very supportive community surrounded by people who were dealing with similar issues. I felt Iike I had just discovered my Mother Ship!

Fast-forward a few years … I continued to be very active at Isurvive, but I found that I was spending a lot more time posting support for others than needing support myself. Of course, I had my moments and still received wonderful support, but the dynamic has shifted from me mostly receiving to mostly giving. I was completely okay with doing lots of giving, but I had a deep-seated fear that I did not want to share with anyone – What happens if/when I heal enough that I no longer belong here?

The thought of losing the one place on earth where I felt like I belonged was frightening. It was enough to get me second-guessing whether I really wanted to continue healing at the pace that I was. Of course, I wanted the pain to end, but I did not want to lose my connection with the child abuse survivor community. It took me a while to work through this struggle, especially since these fears were my own little secret. I did not want to sound arrogant about my healing process, nor did I want to risk no longer fitting in.

I eventually wound up starting this blog, and Lori (the Isurvive board owner) included my blog as a resource for people from Isurvive. I became an Amazon affiliate and set up the commissions to be direct deposited over to Isurvive. This enabled me to stay a part of that wonderful community while also spreading my wings.

For the first few months, I continued being active over there as well as writing this blog. Life circumstances (including starting a new job as well as a new online website business) limited the time that I had to be active on message boards, and I wound up putting my focus here and dropping out of being active over at Isurvive. I still pop in from time to time, and it is great to see some familiar folks, but I am an old dinosaur there now. Most of the active people probably don’t even know who I am unless they have checked out my blog. And you know what? I am okay!

I am grateful that I continued to follow my intuition and allow myself to heal. I realize that I have not “lost” anything. I am still active in the child abuse survivor community, just in a different way. I also have a lot of learning and growing to do myself – I am far from having all of the answers. You don’t have to choose between healing and being a member of a supportive community. If you will allow yourself to follow the flow of healing, it will lead you to new places that satisfy you. You don’t have to “stay sick” to keep your support community.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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*** sexual abuse triggers ***

A reader emailed me a question that she had trouble finding an answer to online, so I thought I had better address it here. The question was whether it is possible for a young girl to be vaginally gang-raped, survive the experience, and not remember that it happened (dissociate the memories into adulthood). The answer is a resounding yes, and it happens with much greater frequency than society wants to admit. It happened to me, as you can read about in my story.

Let’s start with the physical act of raping a young girl. The reader was asking about the age of eight, but vaginal rapes can happen at any age, even in infancy. The vagina is intended to stretch to enable a baby to pass through it, so it is able to be stretched to accommodate a male appendage or other object even in a young girl. Of course, this comes with great pain to the girl, but it is physically possible.

The younger the girl was when the rapes started, the more likely she is to have repressed the memories. Children under the age of six have the gift of being able to split off the memory from conscious awareness through dissociation so that they do not hold a conscious memory of the rape immediately after it happens. This can result in a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) or other form of dissociative disorder. I had been vaginally raped repeated from the ages of around six through 11 and was vaginally raped again a few times in my teens, but I had no memory whatsoever of the rapes until my late thirties. This was the truth I most rejected about my history.

I held onto the fact that I experienced light bleeding when I first chose to be sexually active as “proof” of my self-told lies of still being a virgin. I would have nightmares of being raped but rejected them outright due to this “proof.” Then, as I was reading Safe Passage to Healing by Chrystine Oksana, I came across a passage that talked about the hymen’s ability to regenerate in part after a period of celibacy. That is when my truth leaked out as a sickening awareness.

Throughout therapy, I had kept telling myself, “at least I was never vaginally raped…” That was the one type of abuse I needed to have been spared to be okay. Facing this truth was the most difficult part of my healing journey, and I wasn’t sure if I would survive it. However, after grieving mightily for three days, treating myself with kindness and accepting my truth was the catalyst to ending my status as a person with DID. Since I was no longer hiding big truths from myself, I no longer needed to have a host personality. The host integrated, and I forever stopped losing time. I was also immediately okay because the rest of myself had always known this truth.

I hope that the Google search engine will pick on this blog entry about whether it is possible for a young girl to be vaginally gang-raped, survive the experience, and not remember that it happened (dissociate the memories into adulthood). I don’t want other women who are facing this incredibly painful experience to find no articles when they do their search.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my last blog entry, I wrote about how the lies we have bought into from childhood continue to plague us in adulthood. Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God is helping me to understand that the key to dismantling a trigger is mindfulness or learning how to stay present. This blog entry continues a summary of Roth’s theory on how staying present can transform your life.

I stated in my last blog entry that our minds deceive us. They have bought into our abusers’ lies, and they direct us through triggers to act and react as we did as children. That was fine in childhood, but we are now adults, and we are no longer in the same environment that we lived in as children.

Roth states that the key to dismantling triggering (although she uses different words for “triggering”) is staying present (or “mindfulness” as a reader called it). Roth’s advice is to learn how to inhabit your body again. She says that we are a society of people walking around who live in our heads or “near” our bodies but not in them. This is why people who compulsively overeat have such a hard time stopping – they are not living in their bodies, so they are unable to sense their bodies’ cues about hunger and fullness. I have personally experienced great success in overcoming compulsive overeating and losing weight when I made an effort to stay present, but I “forgot” this skill after being triggered mightily.

When we are triggered, we dissociate (or “bolt,” as Roth calls it). We leave our bodies and try to distance ourselves from all that we are feeling. This is our minds continuing to torture us with our childhood pain. We cannot trust what our minds are telling us, and that causes us to second guess all of our instincts and intuition.

Roth says that the antidote is to live in your body. Her recommendation is to practice meditation so you can learn the difference between your mind and “you.” She also recommends a breathing technique that I was unfamiliar with. Breathe in and out, focusing on your belly. Your belly is the center of your body, so noticing the way your belly moves when you breathe and focusing on your breath at the center of your body helps to bring you back into your body.

When you return to your body, you return to the present. You are able to recognize that you are completely safe in the present moment. As you learn to focus on what is around you right now – the sights, sounds, smells, etc. – you distance yourself from the pain of the past. You can learn to observe the pain and see that it is separate from you. As you approach the pain with kindness (acceptance) rather than flight (avoidance), you dismantle the pain.

This ties into my experience with integrating alter parts and memories – inviting them out, treating them with kindness, and accepting them as “me.” This method has worked very well for me with integrating alter parts, so I can see how it could work equally as well with past pain.

I still have about a third of the book to read, so I am sure I will be reporting more. Right now, I am trying to digest all of this and practice staying present.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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