Archive for February, 2011

On my blog entry entitled How Do You Let Yourself Feel the Depths of Your Pain?, a reader posted the following comment:

I am not only unable to express emotions, but I can’t even find the words to express what happened to me. I constant struggle with flashbacks, relive horrible memories but unable to share them or give my memories a voice. Because of that inability I so often feel like I am a lair, that things i see in my mind have never happened. All I do in therapy is sit there unable to talk, and since I am a horrible artist I cannot even draw pictures of what I see in my mind. I feel so alone in this and completely hopelessly stuck. Am I alone? I know my abusers trained me not to talk, etc. I don’t know how to get unstuck. Have you experienced this or do you know of others who went through this and have been able to come out the other side. If I don’t talk I can’t heal. If I don’t heal my rage and anger will eat me alive and I will lose my loved ones I don’t ever want to affect those I love with my anger. I wish I can talk about my abuse so I can heal. ~ Matreshka

My abusers also frightened me into silence. I was so frightened to talk about the abuse that I actually lost my voice (quite literally) with five days of laryngitis after my first therapy appointment. My therapist said it was a wonderful metaphor for my childhood – that I had “lost my voice.” However, I would “find my voice” again through therapy and talking about what happened until I no longer felt the need to talk about it anymore.

I am an extrovert by nature and have a loud, strong voice. However, in the early years of therapy, my voice would feel so “thin” whenever I talked about the abuse. I have performed in plays on a stage in front of hundreds of people with no need for a microphone, but my therapist had to strain to hear my soft-spoken voice in those early months of therapy.

My process was to write about the memories first on Isurvive. I always received an enormous amount of support there, which gave me the courage to speak the words either in therapy or with my one trusted friend back then. I would eventually talk with both of them about the latest memory, but I sometimes felt more comfortable talking with one of them first versus the other.

I was in therapy for roughly a year before the first glimpses of the ritual abuse started to emerge. They were so scary that I would just see flashes of a bonfire way down below from the perspective of the treetops. While I got through talking about my mother’s abuse, beginning to face the ritual abuse memories triggered multiple bouts of suicidal urges and the emergence of self-injury in the form of head-banging. In 35 years, I had never self-injured, but I started doing it when I started talking about the ritual abuse memories.

Once again, I had to find the courage to talk about it. I found the courage by building upon what had already worked (talking about the other forms of abuse), taking a leap of faith that I would be okay, and pure stubbornness to allow anyone else to tell me what I could and could not talk about. It p@$$ed me off that my abusers had “programmed” me to self-destruct rather than tell, and I was not going to let them win. I pushed myself past the strong desire to kill myself several times by the sheer force of will, telling myself that I will be d@#$ed before I let my abusers force me to end my life.

Healing from child abuse is not for the faint of heart. It is one of the most difficult choices you will ever make, and you will question yourself many times about whether you can do this. You have to make a resolve that you are going to heal no matter the cost.

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On my blog entry entitled How Do You Let Yourself Feel the Depths of Your Pain?, a reader posted the following comment:

I do understand WHAT you saying, I’m just not sure how you actually GET to the point of ‘wanting’ to feel the pain that devastated me and my childhood, in the first place. I have always told my therapist that I have never felt angry at them–only at myself! I am the only person that I have ever taken my anger out on! My therapist told me that it isn’t necessary to SAY everything that happened, in order to heal–but, for me, it feels like it is, because otherwise it will always be my dirty little secret! The problem is that I can’t seem to go there!!! I can’t bring it up–no matter what I do, it just doesn’t come out of my mouth! Even if I make a list with things that I need/want to talk about, I somehow manage to find other things to fill the time. How do you go from fighting with everything that you have to keep it all locked away–which is necessary as a kid–to now, convincing yourself that it is no longer helping you?!? It still feels like I have to keep it hidden in order to survive! ~Theresa

Before reading my response, be sure to read my blog entry from Wednesday. I will build upon what I said in that blog entry today.

The first step was believing that I needed to feel the pain in order to heal. I spent most of my life feeling numb, which basic means that I did not feel anything. Unfortunately, you cannot simply turn off the switch to the bad feelings. When you numb yourself, you numb the good stuff, too. It is like you spend your life watching it through the wrong side of binoculars. You feel no passion, no joy … no anything. You are simply existing until you die.

The Survivor to Thriver manual gave me the hope that my life could be different. The manual walked me through how to heal, and there were steps along the way that I did not want to do, such as Step 3, which is making a commitment to recovery from the child abuse. That step talks about finding a therapist, which I did not want to do. I found that I needed a therapist, and that relationship being such a positive influence helped me believe in the importance of the next step and the next.

Step 3 of the Survivor to Thriver manual includes the following advice:

Disclosing your abuse to someone else can be extremely powerful because it shatters the silence and secrecy of the past, and may well shatter your expectation of a negative response. ~ Survivor to Thriver manual

If I was going to commit to healing, then I was going to have to move out of my comfort zone. I was going to have to risk talking about what happened and trust that I was going to be okay after I did it. It wasn’t easy – it was actually one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in my life. Being brave doesn’t mean that you are not scared – it means that you are scared to death but do it, anyhow. I was brave to take the risk of talking about what happened, and it helped me to have the Survivor to Thriver manual holding my hand through the process.

For me, talking about what happened is what got the ball rolling. Like you, I never felt any anger toward any of my abusers – only toward myself. However, when I told other people about what happened, they would get angry at my abusers and be compassionate toward me (two things that I did not know how to do myself). Just like a child learns how to react in different situations by watching the behavior modeled by his parents, I learned how to be angry toward my abusers and compassionate toward myself by watching the reactions of the people in my life as they learned about my abuse.

To heal, you have to find the courage to ignore that inner voice trying to silence you. For me, this meant talking about what happened. For another survivor, it might mean painting, drawing, or sculpting your truths. I had to give my inner child a voice to heal. Once I found the courage to do this, the rest fell into place.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I shared yesterday that a dear friend of mine passed away. Lori Schmitt was the owner and operator of Isurvive, which is a message board for adult survivors of child abuse. Lori did not create the board. I found it in 2003 (and don’t know how long it had been around before this), and Lori took over roughly two years later (~ 2005). Isurvive was a good place before, but Lori took it to a whole new level, adding the toll-free number, the chat room, a Positive Transitions forum, a place for survivors of ritualized abuse to talk, and many other enhancements. Although I never met Lori face-to-face, she was very dear to me, and I am so saddened by her passing.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not coincidentally), I spent yesterday morning thinking about healing mentors and the sadness of losing them. I was doing yoga for the first time in a while (because I battled so much illness this winter), and I started thinking about P, my one-on-one yoga instructor who moved away a couple of years ago. P was much more than a yoga instructor to me. She is a fellow child abuse survivor who is much farther along her healing and spiritual journey than I am.

I would see P for a yoga session every three or four weeks, but I always got so much more out of it than yoga tips. She was always so “in tune” with where I was emotionally. She just “knew” when I was doing well or (as was typically the case) struggling, and she always had the answers I needed to find my way. She moved to another state a couple of years ago, and it was hard to see her go. She was a safety net for me of sorts, always putting me back on the right path both emotionally and spiritually. Without her here to guide me, I have to take responsibility for doing this myself.

As I mused about the loss of this mentor, I had no idea that another mentor had already left me the day before. Lori was another person who always believed in me, always saw the best in me, and was always there for me. While I rarely leaned in her in the past several years, she was my safety net. Just knowing that she was there for me helped give me the courage to fly … to this blog, among other things. Now that safety net is gone. Even though I know I don’t need it, there is something hard and sad about knowing that you are now on your own.

Of course, we are never alone. We grow and change, and we transform from being the mentee to the mentor. Our investments in others have ripple effects. Because of Lori’s investment in me, I invest in all of you. Several of you have told me that I have inspired you to start your own blogs, and you will wind up investing in others as you do this. I hope that Lori is able to see just how many lives that she touched and that the ripples from her kindness will continue for many years to come.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have just learned that my friend, Lori, passed away yesterday. Lori was the owner and operator of Isurvive, which is the message board for child abuse survivors that helped me survive the flashback years. Even though we never met face to face, Lori was a dear friend. We were in regular contact through email, and she was very dear to me.

The members of Isurvive are lighting candles in her memory this evening, so I thought I would do the same here. Lori lived her life in a wheelchair, so I am envisioning her freed from the physical limitations of her body, freed from her emotional baggage, and dancing. If anyone ever deserved to dance, it’s Lori.

Lori ~ You are loved and will be missed by so many.

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My blog entry entitled How Do You Let Yourself Feel the Depths of Your Pain? seems to have struck a chord with several readers, so I am going to talk more about that topic for the rest of the week.

On that blog entry, a reader posted the following comment:

The only thing I wished I could have heard more about was the actual therapy/healing process. I am in yet another layer of remembering and I have flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, panic… I am making progress but progress is often ugly before the beauty of healing. It is helping to hear how others acted/behaved/struggled/thought, while healing. ~ AJC

I am going to share what my healing process in this area was like. Please do not assume that yours must be or will be like mine because different child abuse survivors heal at different rates and in different ways. While the key to healing is loving and accepting each part of yourself as “me,” how each person gets to that place can vary widely.

I used the Survivor to Thriver manual as my “healing Bible.” I worked through each of the steps and explored the “self-help” and “professional” help tips. Step 14 is:

I am able to grieve my childhood and mourn the loss of those who failed me. ~ Survivor to Thriver manual

The manual advises that this step will take time, patience, and the need to be compassionate toward yourself. The manual includes these comforting words:

You can’t be rushed into healing these deepest wounds from childhood, and the healing won’t happen all at once. More likely you will heal the wounds in layers throughout your recovery, coming back to this step several times…You can get past [feeling stalled in your healing] by sharing the most vulnerable parts of yourself with others, thereby turning your fear of being hurt into the building of trust…You need caring, and you need to be able to accept it from others. ~ Survivor to Thriver manual

By the time I had reached Step 14, I had learned that the manual was reliable. It had guided me where I needed to go up until this point, so I believed in the advice about the need for mourning and the healing I would experience by finding the courage to do so. I believed I could allow myself to be vulnerable and open myself up to receive caring from others simply because the manual said so.

So much of healing from child abuse is learning how to build trust …both trust in yourself as well as trust in other people. In my case, I built trust in the authors of the Survivor to Thriver manual, my therapist, a close offline friend, and the Isurvive community. I finally gave my wounded little girl a voice. As each memory surfaced, I told my story. I would post it on Isurvive immediately as my way of shouting from the rooftops that it happened. The positive reinforcement from that community gave me the courage to tell my story face-to-face to my therapist and my friend. Their love and acceptance helped me to start to trust myself. I could believe my own truths and that I was worthy of receiving love because they loved me even after knowing these horrible truths about me. In fact, I have found that the people in my life who know my full story are the ones who love and accept me the most!

For me, working through the grieving and mourning goes hand-in-hand with talking about what happened. I could not heal each piece as long as it was my “dirty little secret.” I needed to tell someone else and experience their compassion so I could learn how to be compassionate to myself. Brick by brick, I dismantled my internal wall, which enable the pain to pour out.

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On my blog entry entitled Dealing with Judgmental People/Stigma of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith- did u ever love your mother? I mean wholeheartedly love her? I did mine. And then she left me to my abusers without a look back. How do I GET OVER SUCH A BETRAYAL? Can I ever love anyone again? ~ Carla

I answered the first part in my blog entry yesterday. Today I will focus on the second part… yes, you can love again, but you must be willing to risk being vulnerable to being hurt again, and that is hard to do. When the betrayer is your mother, finding the courage to risk loving again is that much harder because the person who was supposed to teach you unconditional love is the one who betrayed you. This makes the challenge harder but not insurmountable.

The first step is to recognize that you do actually trust some people in some ways. When your mother betrays you, it can be very easy to use blanket statements, such as, “I cannot trust anyone in any way.” My therapist challenged this thinking, pointing out that I trust my husband to bring home a paycheck, I trust my friend not to repeat something I told her in confidence, etc. You need to remove the legacy of your mother’s shadow from darkening your perception of all other relationships. You need to get at a heart level that not every person on the planet is like your mother.

The next step was the hardest for me … You have to risk being vulnerable in a relationship. I was so guarded that my goal was to tell someone that she was becoming a good friend. Just the thought of saying these words to another person gave me multiple panic attacks, make me nauseous, increased my heart rate, and caused me to hyperventilate. When I would reconsider telling her this, all of the anxiety eased. This told me that I was onto something, and I forced myself to say these words. I had to binge eat immediately after because I was shaking so badly, but I did it! I felt the walls of ice around my heart start to break down with this one act of courage.

Once you risk opening up your heart to another person and feel the warmth of love in a part of your spirit that has been icy cold for decades, you realize that the risk is worth the reward. You take more risks in baby steps and enter into truly emotionally intimate relationships. Once you have had a taste of them, you won’t ever want to go back.

I wish there a way for me to make this process less scary for you. All I have to offer is my experience. I have two very close friendships in which I am 98% completely open and honest, and I trust that they will love me no matter what I do. I also have several other close friendships that are dear to me but not quite as emotionally intimate. It all started with breaking out of my mother’s shadow and taking the risk that love was possible for me.

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On my blog entry entitled Dealing with Judgmental People/Stigma of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith- did u ever love your mother? I mean wholeheartedly love her? I did mine. And then she left me to my abusers without a look back. How do I GET OVER SUCH A BETRAYAL? Can I ever love anyone again? ~ Carla

I believe that I loved my mother wholeheartedly when I was first born. Of course, I don’t really remember. I know that I loved her deeply because it took a lot of energy and many years for me to sever my emotional ties with her. Your mother is the first person you love (from the womb), and society bombards us with propaganda about mothers being the go-to person who will always love you even when the rest of the world rejects you. So, in my experience, the betrayal by a mother cuts deeper than any other betrayal that a child experiences.

In fact, there is still a tiny sliver of myself that loves her, even though I cut all personal contact with her in 2003. She sent me a letter a couple of weeks ago in which she said the following:

Each person makes choices, who they want in their lives and who they don’t. You have made your choice not to have me in your life. I respect your choice even if I don’t agree with it. I love you Faith, but I realize that you have made that decision. But I to have made a choice, and that is to let you go. Take care, Mom

Just writing those words makes me want to cry, even though this is what I have wanted for so long. My initial reaction when I read her letter a couple of weeks ago was, “Oh, no!” immediately followed by relief. I then shoved it all aside because I was sick with the vertigo and sinus infection and simply could not deal with her drama. When I have thought about the letter again, I have had neither reaction. Instead, I just see this as another ploy and wonder how long this one will last.

I think the part that still hurts, even after all this time, is her telling me that she chooses to let me go. Why not respect my choice to keep her distance instead of saying, “You have rejected me, so now I choose to reject you?” That leads to me feeling angry at her, and then I just push it all aside again until later. Yes, I know I need to deal with it at some point, but until all sickness has left my house (now the flu is working its way through my family), I am not dealing with her crap.

Once again, I have gone on too long, so I will address the second part of the question tomorrow.

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For some reason, I seem to uncover more pieces of my story on Saturday nights. A friend pointed out that the ritual abuse likely happened on Saturday nights, so that might be the connection.

Last night, I knew that I had more memories to release. I was in front of the bonfire again at the 6 o’clock position, and my sister was at her usual 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock position. I realized that I have never – not in all of my flashbacks to date – seen anything at 3 o’clock. So, I forced myself to look through the darkness and saw my mother.

My adult reaction was that it made sense. My child reaction was both anger and deep grief at the betrayal. My own mother was there watching as I was gang raped, photographed, etc., and did nothing.

It gets worse…

I don’t think I have shared that my mother/abuser has always been obsessed with animals. We bought a large plot of land (well over 100 acres), and she had a ton of animals – 7 or 8 dogs, multiple cats, chickens, horses, cows, a goat, etc. The animals always came first to her. If we were low on food, a trip to the grocery store was not a priority unless and until she got low on dog food. Once she needed dog food, we knew that she would buy more food for us.

The one memory I have of the ritual abuse in which my mother did not pull me out of bed, drive me there, and then drive me home was the time they killed my dog. This was an unwanted puppy from a stray dog my mother took in who was already pregnant. The plan was to adopt out all of the puppies, but I begged to keep one puppy – H. She was my dog, and I loved her dearly. That was the dog that my abusers killed in front of me. That was the only time that S & L (my most sadistic abusers) took my sister and me camping with my dog, so they had access to us and the dog without my mother around.

The reason they wouldn’t want my mother around is that she might have intervened for the dog – the unwanted dog. She would sit there and watch (never participated) as my sister and I were gang-raped, photographed, and tortured, and do nothing. She could be trusted not to intervene for me – her own child – but could not be trusted not to intervene for an “unwanted” dog.

To the adult me, all of this is in perfect character with my mother. To the wounded child inside, I feel so amazingly betrayed and valueless in her eyes. I want to kick and scream, and I want to shed a flood of tears. Of course, hub and child are home today, so I can’t do that … so I am writing it all out here.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Inspirational Song: Kutless’ “That’s What Faith Can Do”, a reader posted the following comment:

You mentioned that you allowed yourself to feel the depths of your pain. I am just wondering, how did you let yourself do it? ~ Lanna

This took a lot of courage, and it did not happen overnight. For me, it was always okay to feel sadness and cry in private, so I started with what was comfortable. Because I allowed myself this outlet, I would often express other emotions, such as rage, through tears, which did not fully process those emotions.

I used the Survivor to Thriver Manual to guide me through the healing process, and that manual did a great job in walking me through how to process my emotions. I highly recommend this resource to all child abuse survivors regardless of the type of abuse you suffered. The manual is written in a way that encompasses all forms of child abuse, including emotional abuse, and it is written in a way that is not triggering.

A big part of my struggles was dissociating whenever I experienced a strong emotion. I had to accept each emotion as “mine” rather than “hers” (as in my inner child’s or alter part’s emotion). Until I embraced the emotion as “mine,” it was very hard to process the emotion.

I also needed to connect the emotion back to the source. I used to cry at commercials but had the inability to feel anything (couldn’t even cry) when I thought about some of the more traumatic abuses that I had suffered. Sometimes I would watch a movie to access the sadness, and then I would direct the sadness to the source (the abuse). Once I connected the emotion to the trauma and expressed it, I felt an amazing amount of relief.

Another tip is opening up your mind to the possibility of feeling certain emotions. For example, I truly believed that I held no anger toward my abusers. I was wrong. My therapist assured me that nobody could endure what I had without feeling any anger. I chose to invite the anger out. I punched a pillow and felt like an idiot with the first three punches. The anger exploded out with the 4th punch, and I throttled that pillow while screaming obscenities for about 20 minutes. I was physically and emotionally exhausted afterward, but I also felt really good.

There was another time where I became so triggered that I found the courage to access the most deep and raw places inside. I felt emotional pain so deep and raw that I questioned whether it was survivable. I released wails and sobs that ran so deep that words like “wail” or “sob” do not begin to describe it. Again, this was excruciatingly painful, but the relief I felt on the other side was amazing.

Going to that deep and raw place inside is a choice, and it takes a lot of courage. The Survivor to Thriver Manual assured me that accessing my deepest wounds would bring me the greatest healing, so I took a chance and dove in. I am glad I did.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my blog entry yesterday, I addressed the topic of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) after child abuse. The same reader who asked me to cover that topic also requested that I discuss how to tell an intimate partner about past sexual abuse and about having an STD. This reader has been reluctant to date anyone because of this.

First of all, you need to educate yourself about your particular STD if you have not already. You need to make sure that you take every precaution so that you do not infect anyone else. If there is any risk of infecting your partner by engaging in any particular sexual act, don’t do it before you have had a conversation about your STD. Your partner needs to be aware of the risk that he is taking in having an intimate physical relationship with you. If you put him at risk without his knowledge, you are going to sabotage the relationship, even if your partner does not contract the STD.

I would break this into two conversations. The first conversation should be about your history of sexual abuse. Anyone who has been sexually abused has been affected by it … some in very different ways than others, but affected nonetheless. If your partner cannot handle your child abuse history, then he doesn’t need the additional information about your STD.

I recommend Laura Davis’ book Allies in Healing, which is a book written specifically for people in a relationship with someone who was sexually abused as a child. I would take a deep breath and then tell your partner that you were sexually abused as a child. I would answer any questions he might have and then give him a copy of Allies in Healing to read. This book explains things in a way that keeps you from having to do it yourself.

Give your partner time to process the fact that you were sexually abused and to educate himself about how the sexual abuse has affected you. After he has proven that he is going to stand by you rather than run, you can have the second part of the conversation about the STDs. By this time, he might have already considered the possibility, so it shouldn’t come as a complete shock. Be sure to have literature available for him to read about the risks of participating in particular sexual acts with you. Make sure that literature includes ways for having “safer sex” with a person with your particular STD.

If your partner is still committed to you after learning both of these important pieces of information about you, you can feel pretty good about his level of commitment to you. If he runs, it is better that it happens before you enter into a sexual relationship with him and open yourself up to feeling even more vulnerable.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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