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Archive for February, 2011

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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A reader asked me to write about dealing with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) that were contracted from childhood sexual abuse. The reader said that she has not seen this topic covered in the blogs she follows and wonders whether she is the only child abuse survivor dealing with this issue. I assured her that she is not.

Years ago, I was a guardian ad litem for an elementary-age child who contracted an STD. Because a child generally cannot contract an STD without being sexually abused, the State got involved, and I was called in to represent the child’s interests. While other evidence of sexual abuse might be able to be explained away, it is pretty hard to get around the evidence of sexual abuse when a child has an STD. It might not tell the “who,” but the “what” is undeniable in most cases.

If you do a Google search of STDs and child abuse, you will find numerous articles about children contracting STDs from being sexually abused. Sadly, children have no say in using condoms during the sexual abuse. Many child abusers have multiple sexual encounters with multiple people (I won’t say “partners” because a child is never a willing “partner” in sexual abuse), which puts the child abusers at a higher risk of contracting an STD which, in turn, can be passed along to the child. Some STDs are incurable, so the child must deal with the STD the rest of his or her life.

My partner over at Adoption Under One Roof has been a foster mother for many years, and she says that some children enter the foster care system already infected with an STD. This is a common issue that the foster care system and foster parents deal with. When you are the one who has been hiding the fact that you have an STD from childhood, you might feel shame in being the only person to have had an STD like herpes since you were eight years old. You are definitely not alone. Only a small percentage of sexual abuse survivors ever enter the foster care system, and enough of them have STDs in childhood for the State and foster parents to have to know how to deal with it. Statistically, a percentage of child abuse survivors who never entered the foster care system have STDs from childhood as well.

The same reader asked me to address how to discuss STDs and a history of child abuse with a potential partner. I will address that in my next blog entry.

Additional Resources:

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This blog entry continues the one I started yesterday on menstruation after sexual abuse.

Like any trigger, getting triggered by menstruation comes from the association you have made between your period and a traumatizing event. This makes complete sense. I have recovered the memory of my first rape (when I was very young – not sure how old, but in the 6-8 year range). That memory was extremely difficult to recover, and it includes bathing with blood coming out from between my legs.

I was so young that I did even know there was a “hole down there.” I am convinced that my virginity was sold to the highest bidder, and I was not prepared for what was to come. I was laid out on a bed in a sheer white nightie, and the man came and “took” my virginity without me knowing what was going on. Up until that point, all of the abuse I had suffered had happened outside of my body. This was the first time that it happened inside my body. Even inside of my own body was not safe from these evil people!

It makes perfect sense that I would associate the bleeding of a period with that first incidence of bleeding from a broken hymen and probably additional tissue damage. Periods also come with pain for many women (cramps), which could also trigger an association with being abused “down there.” So, it makes perfect sense for a sexual abuse survivor to be triggered by menstruation.

As with any trigger, the key is to dismantle the trigger. You need to understand the cause of the trigger. You then need to heal the underlying pain that is causing the trigger. Even now, writing about that first time is causing me to dissociate somewhat, which tells me that I have more healing work to do in that area.

Some sexual abuse survivors have success in applying a different meaning to the trigger. For example, my yoga instructor (who was also sexually abused) has chosen to view her period as a physical cleansing that reminds her to do emotional and spiritual cleansing. She sees her period as a gift that reminds her to focus on letting go of anger, bitterness, etc., on a monthly basis.

I confess that does not work for me. For years, I tried to view my period as a gift that would enable me to give a baby life, but that was not to be. (I am infertile and am a mother through adoption.) To me, my period mocks me on so many levels, from being a monthly reminder of my “barrenness” to a reminder of being raped. I also have endometriosis, which makes my periods more physically painful. So, I am not really in a place to rejoice over my periods.

Instead, I try to view them from a biological standpoint and remove any emotional attachment to them. They are a nuisance to be managed on a monthly basis. I will take that over being triggered by them any day!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader asked if I would write on feelings about menstruation after sexual abuse. For sexual abuse survivors who connect their periods to the sexual abuse, the natural process of menstruation can be a monthly trigger that is challenging to overcome. Because we women do not have the power to stop our periods from happening, we need to find a way to manage the triggers associated with menstruation.

A woman once told me that she believes that the feelings a girl has toward her first period can affect how she feels about it the rest of her life. Her mother built up the period as being a rite of passage into womanhood that was deserving of celebration. This woman said that getting her period each month always put her in a good mood. It was a monthly reminder of feeling joyful.

Sadly, sexual abuse survivors often go the other direction. My first period felt pretty traumatizing. First of all, I didn’t know exactly what it was. My mother/abuser told me to expect to “bleed,” which I expected to be red blood flowing like when you cut yourself. So, when this brown stuff appeared in my underwear, I was baffled as to what it was. Once I figured it out, I had to tell my mother/abuser about it so I could have access to maxi-pads (which is what she used – I had never seen a tampon). I can still see that moment as clear as day. My mother shifted her weight from one hip to the other and said, “So I guess you’re a woman now.” I felt so ashamed and dirty, and I wanted to throw up. I now realize this was because of the mother-daughter sexual abuse, but I didn’t have any conscious memory of this at the time.

I was extremely embarrassed to be having periods and didn’t want my parents to know when I was having them. I didn’t know about tracking your periods to know when to expect the next one, so I “started” while I was spending the day with my father at his office on a Saturday. I was absolutely humiliated and determined not to tell him, but I had no maxi-pads with me. I rummaged through his secretary’s drawer and found a four-pack of OB tampons. I read the materials very carefully and then used a tampon for the first time.

I was shocked to learn that I had “hole” there where the period was coming out. I think this was more of pushing away the memories of sexual abuse because I had been raped numerous times by then, but I was completely unaware (at a conscious level) of having a place to put the tampon. I was so emotionally distanced from my body that I really had no understanding about where menstruation came from.

This blog entry is getting too long, so I will continue with dealing with your feelings about menstruation tomorrow. (Sorry to all of my male readers!)

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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*** sexual abuse triggers ***

I had some disturbing flashbacks last night. (Are there any other kind?)

First, it was a dream.  A woman was badgering a stay-at-home mom in public, calling her a whore. I tried to offer encouragement to the woman and was charmed by her baby. I climbed into the passenger side of my mother/abuser’s van. The seat kept pushing me forward, and I knew someone evil was in the van with me. I wasn’t scared. I knew it was a dream and that I had to do this.

A very raw part of myself started screaming, “Why did you do this to me!?!! Why!?!! Why!?!! Why!?!!” Then, I was a girl in the process of being raped by a man. He was very rhythmic, taking his time as if I were an object and not a person. I was a vessel for his own gratification, not a little girl. I could feel his proportionately large body part inside of me, and my mind went a hundred different places in how I should be reacting to this.

Then, I pulled out of this and semi-woke up, but my mind kept going to strange places such as the size of my father’s genitalia in comparison to other men’s. My reaction in my sleep was that I really should not know that information about my own father. (I previously recovered a memory of my father being drugged at one of the cult meetings/child prostitution gatherings. He was blindfolded. I was forced to give him a hand job, and then he raped my sister. I don’t think he knew it was her or that it was a child, at least not before penetration.)

I am okay but flooded with anxiety right now. I am writing this out and posting it to give those memories a voice.

Before I went to sleep, I knew flashbacks were coming. I saw a plank of wood and started getting triggered about splinters. (Splinters are very triggering for me.) I couldn’t move past seeing the wood and told myself that was enough for tonight. I also felt the “tugging” I feel in my brain when a flashback is ready to come.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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