Archive for November, 2010

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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In my last blog entry, I wrote about my history with learning how to stay present. This is a skill that I have been good at in the past. Then, I will get very triggered, which derails me, and then I “forget” the skills that I have learned. Through Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God, I am recognizing that learning how to stay present is truly the key to all of my issues – not just in healing from child abuse but in healing all of the aftereffects of child abuse.

I will do my best to explain her reasoning. All of these pearls of wisdom are courtesy of Geneen Roth…

Roth says that our histories are like blinders that prevent us from seeing the beauty of our lives. The metaphor she uses is sitting in front of Niagara Falls wearing blinders & ear plugs and believing that there is no beauty in our lives. The fact that we cannot see or hear Niagara Falls doesn’t mean that it does not exist – it means that we are not truly living our lives because we trudge through each day blind to the beauty that is ours if we will simply remove the blinders.

To apply what she is saying to child abuse survivors, the blinders are the lies that your abusers told you and that you believed –worthlessness, shame, guilt, etc. The beauty of life is right in front of you, but you cannot see it because you have been “blinded” by all of the lies from being abused. The good news is that we have the power to remove the blinders. According to Roth, we do this by staying present.

I am going to use my own metaphor to explain this next part, but I am explaining Roth’s theory … Think of your mind as being a computer that compiles cause and effect. It records all of the childhood abuse and then makes predictions about future outcomes based upon past result. This is what a trigger is.

To use an example I read in another book, a girl was late for dinner on Christmas Eve, so Santa did not bring her any presents. As an adult, she gets triggered by being late, appearing to completely overreact to being just a little late as an adult when she is really reacting to what happened when she was a girl. The problem is that her mind is telling her that being late as a child resulted in a huge punishment, so being late in adulthood (the same cause) is going to result in another huge punishment (same effect).

The problem is that our minds are “stuck” in childhood, but our bodies have moved on from that place. In adulthood, we no longer have abusers who are going to inflict severe “punishments” for our perceived “causes,” but nobody has told our minds this. Our minds continue to try to guide the abused little boy or girl, but we are no longer abused children – we are adults who are being led in the wrong direction by our minds.

Roth says that the way to counter this is to live in the present. More on that tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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See the story here.

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On my blog entry entitled Choosing Not to Dissociate the Pain, a reader posted the following comment:

Hi Faith, you wrote “It sounds like the key is learning how to live in the present and feel whatever comes up in the present moment.” This is what Mindfulness is about – have you done this before? My therapist recommends practicing mindfulness regularly so that it becomes an automatic thing that I can do when difficult / stressful times arise. There is heaps of info online if you are interested. You can buy things to help if you want, but it’s not necessary. I sometimes listen to CDs but most times I just choose to be mindful to regular daily things like washing my hands, eating or house cleaning, etc. It takes time to make a new habit, but I think it’s worth it! ~ Dawn

I tend to cycle around and “relearn” different areas of healing, and staying present is an area of healing that has become a central focus for me lately. This is due, in part, to reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God, but this is actually not a new concept for me. With each pass, I seem to “get it” at a deeper and deeper level. It would be really great if staying present would just “stick” this time.

Like Dawn, I had a therapist who encouraged me to live in the present. He would say that the past has already happened and the future has not happened yet. The only moment I have right now is the present one. He would encourage me to engage in activities, such as playing the piano, that drew my focus to the present moment. His antidote to being trigged and dissociating was to focus on the present – on how the chair feel under my legs, how my breath feels in my body, etc.

My yoga instructor had the same advice. She would repeatedly remind me to stay present in this moment. She taught me tools, such as yoga and meditation, to help me with this. Without fail, doing yoga and meditation helps slow the internal chatter and relax me by bringing my focus back to the present.

I have not been ready to “hear” it yet, but from what I can tell from flipping through the book The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz, the key to healing sexually is to pleasure your body (at first in non-sexual ways) and stay present during it, such as walking barefoot in the grass and experiencing in the present moment what it feels like.

I also had success in conquering my binge/compulsive eating for 11 months by staying present while I ate. Losing weight was effortless – the weight dropped off as I stayed present and paid attention to my body’s cues about when I was hungry and when I was not. I got derailed by being very triggered, and I never fully returned to that place.

So, now I am reading Women Food and God, and it is telling me the exact same thing, although I am in a better place to “hear” it. While her audience is people who want to overcome compulsive eating, she is clear that her advice to stay present is really about how to live your live in the present. How you eat is simply a reflection of how you live and what you believe about yourself and your life. More on this topic tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader asked me to write a letter explaining why I believe going through the healing process from child abuse is worthwhile. Here is the letter I sent her. I thought I would share it with all of you as well:

You asked me to write a letter to you explaining why I believe going through the healing process is worthwhile. In a nutshell, the healing process is the bridge from being a child abuse victim or survivor to living your life. As long as you stay in victim or survivor mode, your life is all about the past. You act and react based upon your hellish past, which keeps the past feeling ever-present. The healing process is the way out — the way to living instead of just existing and waiting for the blessed sleep of death. Your life can be more than just a daily (or hourly) exercise in pain avoidance.

Before healing, I hated myself. I did not believe there was a place in the world for me. I did not believe that I fit in anywhere. I saw no value in my life or in myself. I felt like I had to apologize for my mere existence. I believed I had to earn love and acceptance, but I was so broken that I could never do enough to earn my place at the table.

Now that I am much farther along in my healing journey, I see my life — my past, my present, and my future — through different eyes. I recognize that the only love and acceptance that was missing from my life was my own. I don’t have to earn my place at the table or fight for my right to exist. The fact that I exist gives me a place at the table. I don’t have to “do” to belong — I just have to “be.”

The biggest surprise was recognizing that I was not something broken that needed to be fixed. Instead, the abuse put blinders on me that caused me to see myself through a distorted lens. The healing process is helping me to remove the blinders and see what was always there — the miracle and beauty of ME! The essence of me — my spirit — has never been and never could be broken. The brokenness I perceived came from buying into my abusers’ lies. The healing process is not really about healing brokenness but, instead, about awakening to who I already am.

Choosing to heal is giving yourself a gift of love, compassion, and kindness. It gives you the gift of being content now, in the present moment, instead of waiting for some future point in time when all of the stars align so I can be happy. All that I need to be at peace with myself is already there inside of myself and has been all along. The healing process is what helped me remove the blinders so I could see it.

Good luck with your healing journey!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Good Article on Overcoming Food Addiction, a reader posted the following comment:

and its just came to my mind the way that one reader wrote a letter to her body, during my therapy I was required to write a letter to my eating disorder treating it as a friend. It went like: Dear ….(whatever eating-disorder it is),

I would like to thank you for….
ie. always being there for me, for always protecting me…etc

It totally helped me change my perspective cos then I was able to see how much I got out off that “relationship” with my eating disorder and why it had been such a faithful companion to me. And step by step I was able to see my needs behind it and learned to fulfill those needs in a more constructive way ~ Queen of Acknowledgement

I have been thinking about this comment all week and trying to decide how I feel about viewing my eating disorder as my “friend.” I also talked with an off-line friend about this theory. She rejected the notion of viewing an eating disorder as a friend outright, but I am much more open to the idea, although I confess that I have never once considered doing so.

On the one hand, I have one offline friend who told me that it is important to distance yourself from what ails you. She says that I should not call compulsive overeating “my” eating disorder because I don’t need to claim an attachment to it. Her advice is contrary to what Queen of Acknowledgement is saying.

I have been thinking about the advice I give repeatedly – that the key to healing from child abuse is to love and accept every part of yourself, expressing your feelings and emotions as you experience them. Isn’t what Queen of Acknowledgement advises doing just that? Rather than reject the part of myself that found comfort in food when my life had little comfort, perhaps I need to honor and accept the creativity I found in surviving the unsurvivable. Perhaps Queen of Acknowledgement is onto something really profound. What do you think?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I was surprised to learn that quite a few people have found my blog by doing an Internet search for “18 and abused.” I am assuming that this means that the person is 18 years old, which is an adult in the United States, and is looking for information about being abused after the victim becomes a legal adult.

This is one area of child abuse that many people simply do not get. I have told a few offline people about my mother stopping her abuse when I was in elementary school and then starting back when I was a senior in high school after my father died. Almost every single time I tell someone about what happened in high school, the other person asks me why I did not fight her off. This is because most people simply do not understand the mind of the abused child.

My mother began sexually abusing me when I was just a toddler (and possibly even earlier based upon some body memories I have been recovering lately). Her direct abuse ended when I was still in elementary school when my father walked in on her hurting me. While she continued to let other people harm me, she did not touch me any longer. Because I never experienced safety during my childhood, much less received therapy or talked about her abuse, that part of myself never developed. I still had an inner child (or alter part or whatever you want to call it) that was frozen at the stage of development when the abuse first started happening. So, when my mother came into my bedroom and awakened her 17-year-old daughter, the emotional age of the child she abused was only a toddler.

When my mother awakened me to harm me for the first time in over a decade, I was not the 17-year-old young woman who was applying to colleges: I was that terrified toddler all over again. I felt just as helpless as I did when I inhabited a toddler’s body, and my reactions were those of a toddler, not of a young woman.

This is why stories come out about young women in their twenties who are still living at home and being repeatedly raped by their fathers (or other parental figures). Society mistakenly assumes that once a person becomes an adult, he or she magically has the emotional power to fight back. The thinking is that the person is a legal adult and physically has an adult body, so any sexual contact with the abuser must now be consensual. This could not be further from the truth.

If you are over 18 and are still being abused, you are not alone, and there is nothing “wrong” with you. You are not “weak,” and you are certainly not consenting to the abuse. The problem is that you have not developed into an adult emotionally because you have not been safe long enough for this to happen.

The one advantage that you do have as a young adult is the legal ability to leave your home. If you try to do this before you turn 18, the State can get involved and return you to your abusive household or place you into the foster care system. Now that you are over 18, you legally have the right to leave your abusive home. I strongly suggest talking with a professional therapist or counselor about ways to help you leave your abusive home as soon as possible.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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