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Archive for January, 2011

My partner at Adoption Under One Roof wrote a blog entry about an adoptive mother who has been charged with misdemeanor child abuse of her seven-year-old child. I was triggered by watching the video of this mother making her child swirl hot sauce in his mouth for lying and then take a cold shower. This video was on the Dr. Phil show in November, but I did not hear about it until editing my partner’s blog this morning.

You can read the story here. Her blog entry did not trigger me, but I found the video to be triggering, so please proceed with caution. I am working on bringing myself down now. The authorities know what happened to this child. I am hopeful that he is getting help and will not be harmed again.

I would physically attack anyone who ever dared to do something like that to my child!!

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On my blog entry entitled Why I Relate So Strongly to Nina in “Black Swan”, a reader posted the following question:

Is being a childish adult also an effect of abuse? ~ Tentmaker

The short answer is yes – childishness can be an aftereffect of child abuse, and you don’t have to be childish in all areas of your life. In some areas of my life, I was very mature for my age. However, I was still very much a child in other areas.

This is just my own speculation, but that I think that the childishness comes from unmet needs in childhood. There is no question that children who suffer from ongoing severe abuse fail to have certain emotional needs met, with safety being the first obvious unmet need. I have written about the topic of unmet needs in great detail here, so I won’t repeat myself in this blog entry.

Some child abuse survivors, particularly if they were abused by their parents or guardians, might be childish or immature in many areas of their life. I suspect this is because the abuser wants to keep the child dependent. I saw this a lot over at Making Daughters Safe Again, which is a support website for survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse. Many women whose mothers sexually abused them throughout their childhood had trouble finding a way to break away from their mothers and achieve independent living.

Your reaction to the child abuse does not have to be that extreme, though. My forty-year-old sister wears her hair in pigtails, complete with little girl-style hair pieces, whenever she is in a bad mood. She says that it is impossible to be in a bad mood when you are wearing pigtails. (I replied, “Try me!” LOL) I wore my hair in a ponytail with little girl bows well into my thirties. I was also drawn to little girl types of clothing, such as sweaters with big teddy bears on them. My sister is obsessed with Disney World in part because it brings back happy childhood memories from an otherwise dismal childhood.

Another observation I have made is that many people who struggle with being childish in some areas of their lives are dealing with alter parts. (This is not always true – just something I have noticed.) When one of my young alter parts is out, I might feel a strong need to suck my thumb. I am a very responsible and mature adult and would never suck my thumb publicly, but I must confess that when this alter part comes out, I feel a very strong need to do it. Sometimes when I do something fun for my kid, such as ride on a merry-go-round, an alter part will “come out” and thoroughly enjoy it.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Why I Relate So Strongly to Nina in “Black Swan”, a reader posted the following comment:

I know it is different for everyone and the process is not linear, but when attaching feelings to events, you mentioned releasing your emotions, how long did it take for you to feel not crazy and to not be safe with yourself? Did it come up and sink down so sometimes it wasn’t so prevalent in your thinking? ~aggiemonday

Like Aggiemonday, I wanted a time line from my therapist. I lost count of how many times I asked, “How long…?” His answer was always that he did not have a crystal ball, which drove me crazy. Couldn’t he just give me an average based on his experience in working with other child abuse survivors?

Healing from child abuse is a very individual process. There are generalities, such as learning to love and accept yourself, that apply pretty much across the board, but the time frame for this is going to vary from person to person. The time frame is even going to vary for the same person depending upon the speed that the person can handle in this moment. The best advice I saw on the topic of pacing was from Isurvive when a member said only go as fast as the slowest part of yourself is ready to go. Of course, I was never very good at actually taking that advice.

I have found that the upward spiral (which I believe is mentioned in The Courage to Heal) is the best symbol for how my healing process feels. I often feel like I am going around in circles. I think that I have mastered one element of healing, and then I find myself fighting down the same demons a few months or years later. The upward spiral shows you that you are always healing and moving toward a healthier you, so you are not truly going in circles but, instead, spiraling upward.

The only way I can tell you to “speed things up” is to stop fighting the process. My therapist pointed out that the more energy I put into fighting my feelings and emotions, the more powerful they became. When I chose to stop fighting them and, instead, give them a voice, they lost their power over me. The more frequently I choose to accept myself, which includes my memories, feelings, and emotions, the faster I seem to spiral back out of the bad place.

That being said, embracing it all too quickly creates its own challenges. Some readers have been impressed by the speed of my healing, and even my therapist marveled that I completed two years of therapy in a period of six months. This was because my attitude was that if I had to feel like s@#$, then I was going to give it my all and get this process over with as soon as possible. My therapist would tell me to try to enjoy the process, but I told him that he was out of his mind to think that I would enjoy any of this.

Trying to heal too quickly feels like riding on a runaway freight train. My therapist kept telling me to slow down, but in the early months of therapy, I simply didn’t have the power to do it. After that first intense six months, I settled into a more manageable pace of healing for me. Keep in mind that with each accepted memory comes emotions and feelings that need to be processed. Rather than race through the process, it is sometimes to your benefit to give yourself time to breathe between each period of healing.

The more you accept every part of yourself – your memories, emotions, and feelings – as “me,” the sooner you will stop feeling so “crazy.” The more you accept yourself, the more you will feel “safe” with yourself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Today I am climbing up on my soapbox, so consider yourself warned! I don’t know how much any of you have followed what is going on with online colleges in the news, but as fellow child abuse survivors, you need to know…

I have been working as an online college instructor for one of the well-known online universities since 2008. Online colleges are designed to meet the needs of the non-traditional student. Until I started getting to know my students, I did not realize just how many child abuse survivors are able to earn a college degree because of the existence of online universities like the one where I work. The ability to attend college online has been a real gift to numerous child abuse survivors who would not otherwise be able to go to college.

Of course, people from all walks of life are online students, but the majority is not straight out of high school like you see on most of the traditional college campuses. Numerous students are single parents who are working fulltime in dead-end jobs. Earning a college degree is the ticket out of their current life circumstances. If they had to find childcare and attend a ground campus, they would never be able to earn a college degree. However, by being able to log onto the computer after the children are in bed, they are able to make this huge commitment.

I have been surprised by how many fellow child abuse survivors are enrolled in online colleges. I have heard all sorts of stories because of the personal nature of the course that I facilitate. Once one student shares her story, others share theirs as well. I have had several students who grew up in the foster care system, abused wives who are secretly earning a college degree when the abusive partner is not home, and recovering addicts. More students with a history of child abuse have shared their story than I can count. Many of these students have told me that a “regular” college education would not have been possible for them. They are so grateful for having this option.

Many of the well-known online universities are for-profit, which has caused some people to question the motives of these colleges and the value of their degrees. My online university, as well as others, has made changes to the format of the classes to ensure that only students who are ready to take on the commitment do so and to set them up for success. My online university also offers free confidential counseling over the phone for all students. The counselors are equipped to handle everything from the basic stresses of time management to issues as serious as rape or suicide threats.

I applied for a job as an online college instructor because of the flexible hours. I never dreamed that I would be helping so many child abuse survivors by doing this. Even though my students will never know the details of my own history, I am able to believe in them and help them to have the confidence that they can rise above their childhood traumas. It is a real honor to work with these online students. I hope that these students will continue to have access to Federal financial aid (this has been the topic in the news) because without it, many won’t have access to the tools needed to create a better life for themselves. Watching insecure online students gain confidence in their ability to change the direction of their lives is the most rewarding part of my job.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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When I went to see the movie Black Swan, I thought it was going to be a thriller set on a ballet stage. I never expected to relate so deeply to the main character, Nina (played by Natalie Portman), especially since I have absolutely no experience (or even interest) in ballet. I also did not expect to be completely freaked out by her mother (played by Barbara Hershey). The movie blindsided me and disturbed me on a very deep emotional level. I shared my reasons why here: Black Swan: Movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse.

I felt physically ill watching Nina because I saw so much of myself in her before I entered into therapy. Like Nina, I was a perfectionist. Great wasn’t good enough – I needed to be perfect in everything I tried. For me, it was being the perfect student, daughter, wife, and mother. I had to be “perfect” to be safe.

My “art” was writing instead of ballet. Earning a 94 in a college-level English class in 10th grade did not make me proud: I believed that my writing was not good enough because it was not perfect. I knew I had the mechanics down, but I believed that I had nothing to write about. I was missing my own “Black Swan” – I was completely disconnected from my passionate side. I was shocked in adulthood when my 10th grade teacher told me that I was one of the best writers she ever had as a student.

I used to appear just as frigid as Nina did in the movie. I was religious and spun it to be a positive – I was “saving myself” for my husband, so it was okay for me to be frigid. In this light, my frigidity was elevated instead of looked down upon.

I also felt the need to please my mother at all costs, as Nina did in the movie, and yet I felt an underlying hatred toward her, just as Nina appears to have. Whenever I said no to my mother (such as when Nina said no to the cake), the “no” had no force behind it, and my mother knew exactly which buttons to push to make me say “yes.” Like Nina, I did not believe I had a choice – I had to do whatever my mother said.

Like Nina, I was caught in my childhood. I still slept with my favorite stuffed animal into adulthood because it helped me feel safe. I wore bows in my hair into my thirties. (Heck, to this day, my almost-40-year-old sister still wears pigtails sometimes!), and I bought sweaters with big teddy bears on them in my twenties and thirties.

I also came off as one-dimensional as the “White Swan” Nina did in the movie. People used to tease me for being this way. Nina passes it off as making sacrifices for her art, but really there isn’t much depth there … at least on the surface. Like Nina, I had a lot brewing beneath the surface and could shock you with surprising strength, such as when she bit Thomas (played by Vincent Cassell).

When I finally tapped into my own “Black Swan” (my repressed emotions from the child abuse), I felt like I was “losing it” like Nina in the movie, although I never fully lost touch with reality as she seems to. I questioned what was real and what was not. I doubted my flashbacks on a daily basis and wondered if I was just “crazy.” Nothing made sense.

Just like with the movie “Black Swan,” my life makes no sense until you view it against the backdrop of mother-daughter sexual abuse. Then, all of the pieces fit. I hated the “White Swan” Nina just as I hated myself before therapy. I was frightened of the “Black Swan” Nina just as I was frightened by the release of my repressed emotions. From this side of therapy, I can see the beauty in both and appreciate that both are part of one whole person.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am physically worn out. The week of Christmas, I was an emotional wreck, which I suspect lowered my immune system. The day after Christmas, I woke up with a bad head cold. I am usually able to fight off colds with plenty of fluids, plenty of rest, and plenty of Airborne and Zicam. Because I had company for the holidays, I was not able to do this, and the cold completely slammed me. I was very congested and miserable for eight days.

I never felt better after the cold ended, and I thought it was just allergies. I actually had a sinus infection but didn’t know it. I tried going to the gym, but I simply had no energy. Because I did not know I had a sinus infection, I flew on an airplane to and from Florida for my kid’s birthday. This triggered a bout of vertigo, which lasted for nine days. (Imagine feeling like you just got off a roller coaster or the spinning teacups every minute for nine straight days.) According to my doctor, the only medication available in the United States to “treat” vertigo is very strong motion sickness medication that makes you extremely drowsy. So, I spent Thursday night through Sunday feeling “drugged” and unable to drive.

Thankfully, the dizziness ended midday on Sunday, but then I was slammed with a severe headache. (A friend who has suffered from vertigo twice assures me that this is normal.) I had a severe headache on Sunday afternoon and evening, overnight and into Monday, when it went into a migraine. Fortunately, I know how to treat migraines, so I drank a lot of caffeine (I rarely drink caffeine – only to manage migraines when they come), which helped the headache but made me jittery.

My vertigo friend says that I will feel “off” for a few more days as my body continues to heal from the vertigo. Feeling so badly physically for so long is now triggering my anxiety, but I am hesitant to put any other drug (such as Xanax) in my body right now. I think my body has been through enough, so I don’t want to add anything else. Unfortunately, this means that I have figure out a way to manage the anxiety without any of my usual tools since yoga and exercise are off the table for a few more days. So, I am hoping that blogging about all of this will help.

I feel like I have done nothing but b@#%$ and moan about how I am feeling physically forever. I had a full-fledged panic attack on Saturday morning (Day 8 of the vertigo), and I am glad we don’t have guns in the house because I might have used one on myself. I have not felt the urge to self-injure this strongly in years, but since my preferred form of self-injury is head-banging, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. (I certainly did not want to make the vertigo worse!)

I had a panic attack, complete with shaking, screaming, and wailing. A part of myself “judged” me for being “dramatic,” but there was nobody home with me other than my dogs, and they are hardly influenced by “drama.” I just wanted the pain to end, and I was willing to drive a steak knife into my ear to make the vertigo stop if I thought it would actually work.

I am grateful that the vertigo has ended, but I am simply worn out, both physically and emotionally. I really need a breather right now. I need to have at least one hour where I am grateful to be alive. I haven’t felt that way in so long.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Bear with Me

Hi, everyone.

Please bear with me over the next few days. When I flew with a sinus infection twice last weekend, I triggered a bout of vertigo. The spinning stopped midday yesterday, leaving behind a severe headache. I am still feeling out of sorts this morning. Fortunately, I had written a blog entry for this morning last week, but I am going to take it slow and easy until I am feeling back to normal.

Of course, this coincides with my blog receiving the largest number of page views ever yesterday. Please be patient with me in responding to reader comments. I have published all that were waiting in the moderator queue except for one about adding a blog to the blogroll. I have left it unpublished to remind me to do that once I am feeling better.

Thanks for your patience.

– Faith

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