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Archive for June, 2011

I have more ritual abuse memories coming, and I am not looking forward to them. However, I know that they are a necessary part of my healing, so I will deal with them as they surface.

One might be the memory that explains my obsession with my teeth. Both my sister and I have this obsession. I have always loved going to the dentist. I own my own dental tools for scraping away tartar between visits to the dentist. I brush my teeth a minimum of five times day – so much so that I have caused myself gum damage.

I have been experiencing body memories for a few days now regarding my teeth. It feels like my teeth are being sunk into something that is softer than flesh but much more solid than a liquid. The closest I can describe is the fluoride treatments that were used back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – that gooey plaster-feeling substance. I can feel that on my teeth – both the top and bottom teeth. That memory will probably explain why I found fluoride treatments to be so triggering when I was in high school and college, although back then I didn’t know what “triggering” was.

I also suspect that I will be recovering the memory that explains why splinters are so triggering to me. Splinters have always been triggering to me. As a young child, my son knew that mommy cannot remove a splinter. The family rule has always been that, if it isn’t bother you too badly, wait until Dad gets home to remove the splinter. If it is really bothering you, I will take you to the doctor now. So, I would meet my kid’s needs, but I absolutely, positively could not do it myself. I know this is not “normal.”

My kid had a friend spend the night last weekend who got a splinter in my watch. My husband was out watching a ballgame with his father, so he wasn’t around to help. My kid actually helped his friend get the splinter out. They would describe what the splinter looked like, and I got very triggered – very dizzy like I was going to pass out – and I could feel sheer terror in my thighs. (My yoga instructor says that we hold our fear in our thighs.) I am sure that memory is going to be a doozy.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Before I start this blog entry, please note that the focus is on my offline relationships, not here. On my blog, I am able to connect and be caring without “taking on” anyone else’s pain. If only I could be that way in my offline life…

Last week, I felt like I was being bombarded daily with drama from all directions in my offline life. Every time the phone rang, someone was in crisis. Every email seemed to hold drama in it. It didn’t help that serious “drama” was going on at one of my part-time jobs, and I had to intervene with multiple students who were panicked about how the “drama” would affect their grades. Everywhere I turned, someone was in crisis and needed me to help them out.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great friend and am very supportive of those in my life. Where it starts to overwhelm me is when the room for myself gets choked out as I become mired in everyone else’s stuff. There is no time for me and my own coping mechanisms as I get pulled into everyone else’s drama over and over again.

The worst part is those in my life who then “blame” me for their drama. That’s that part that gets me angry and gets me saying, “Enough!” I used to attract this kind of personality before therapy. I would imagine I was great to be around for those who don’t want to take responsibility for their own stuff. As an abused child, I was programmed to believe that everything was “my fault,” and I was comfortable in that role. If the problem is “my fault,” then I have the power to fix it. That’s why it helped me to survive the child abuse by believing that it was “my fault.” To accept the truth – that I had absolutely no power to make the child abuse stop – was to accept despair.

However, I am no longer an abused child, and my patience has run out on people in my day-to-day life who are miserable, won’t make the effort to change it, and want to dump all of their misery on me. Goodness knows, I have a ton of internal drama that I could be dumping on other people and using as a reason to stay perpetually miserable, but I don’t. I write the drama out here, and people can choose to read it or not. And, for the most part, I stay pretty positive in my life, even after weeks of little sleep and getting slammed with flashbacks.

I feel better after getting that off my chest.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader asked me to discuss the topic of dealing with parents where one is confrontational and the other is passive. This reader was specifically interested in this topic with Father’s Day coming up. Because Mother’s Day is my big “go crazy” day, I often forget that Father’s Day is extremely painful for many of my readers. Hopefully, this blog entry will be helpful for those of you who have to deal with this dynamic.

The reader talked about a family dynamic that I have seen in other abusive and/or dysfunctional households. One parent is confrontational while the other parent is passive, letting the confrontational parent steamroll the adult child. The adult child struggles with where to place the anger, sometimes finding herself even angrier at the passive parent than the confrontational parent.

I have had to wrestle with this dynamic myself in a couple of relationships. With my own parents, my mother abused me while my father didn’t do enough to stop it. I went through a phase of being angrier with him than with my mother/abuser because it was his job to stop the abuse, but he didn’t (or at least not enough). My in-laws had a similar dynamic, where my mother-in-law would get all worked up about something, and my father-in-law would not intervene even though he disagreed with her. In both situations, I felt anger that the “sane” parent would not step in and protect me.

If you are dealing with this dynamic, you first need to recognize that this dynamic is triggering you. The wounded little boy or girl inside feels betrayed and angry at one parent for not intervening with the abuse or dysfunction of the confrontational parent. Try treating the wounded child inside as you would any other abused child. Comfort her. Tell her that she is now safe and that you love her. Also, tell her that **you** will be the one to intervene this time.

The second step is to set and enforce boundaries. The passive parent is not going to step it up, so you need to be the advocate for your wounded inner child. You need to be the one to tell the confrontational parent to knock it off or you will leave. Period. If you give a confrontational person a verbal “punch in the face,” the confrontation will stop. Walking out is always an option.

The third step is to cut yourself some slack if you don’t handle things perfectly. Keep in mind that your confrontational parent knows what buttons to push because he or she installed them. Until you are able to dismantle the buttons, you will stay vulnerable to doing your part of the “dance.” The parent will say X, and you will react by doing Y simply because that is how you were “programmed” to react. Any steps you take toward dismantling the dance will go a long way toward healing.

One final tip – Before I got strong enough to remove myself from dysfunctional family get-togethers with my in-laws, I used humor to get myself through them. For example, whenever my mother-in-law would say a particular phrase, I would “do a shot” in my head and then imagine how drunk I would be if I was really drinking. This helped me to step outside of the “dance” and see the dysfunction for what it was.

This change is not going to happen overnight, but any step you take toward standing up for your inner child and refusing to participate in the “dance” with your confrontational parent is a positive step along your healing journey.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I don’t write much about my therapist anymore because I “graduated” from therapy a few years ago. I know he is always there for me if I need a session, which is one reason why I mostly don’t feel the need to go back. As long as I have the safety net, I feel safe to fly on my own.

Also, I have internalized so many of his messages. I can “hear” his “voice” when I am in a bad place, so I don’t need the physical proximity to get the therapy. I know exactly what he will say – He will tell me how great I am doing while I look at him like he has two heads. He will challenge all of my negativity about myself and point out how far I have come. He will call me a walking miracle. He will never validate my fears of being certifiably “crazy.”

He will show a reaction to the pain I share – not the stoic look on the faces of shrinks on TV but the reaction of someone who is validating that the abuse really was “that bad.” He will then keep redirecting me to removing the label of “crazy” from myself and put that label squarely on my abusers’ shoulders.

He will 100% believe whatever I tell him happened and 100% believe in my ability to be OK. He is 100% confident that I will overcome every single painful memory and that I will never be “normal” because I am too extraordinary of a person to be limited by normality.

I have referred friends to my therapist over the years, telling them that if he can “fix me,” then he can “fix” anyone. Of course, he would say that I did all of the “fixing” myself in an extraordinary way, but I am painfully aware that I could have just as easily scared off a lesser therapist.

One friend contacted him a couple of weeks ago while her own therapist was indisposed. She told him that I made the referral. I don’t know what he said to her specifically about me, but she told me that he thinks the world of me.

Another close friend has been seeing him regularly for a few years. In her last session, she talked about me for a little while (which I am 100% OK with – I trust them both). She needed someone to talk to about the flashback I shared with her, and it’s not like this is something she can discuss with just anyone.

It was kind of cool hearing his comments. I could completely hear his voice as she related them to me. He was very validating about that “crazy” memory and my reaction to it. She also told him that I had a bad dream, and his response was, “That’s the only kind of dream she ever has.”

I can’t quite articulate why, but that one comment was what inspired this blog entry. He gets it, and he gets me. I tell people all the time that I have nightmares every single night and that I can probably count on one hand the number of “good” dreams I have had in my life. I think most people believe I am exaggerating, but I am not … and my therapist gets that about me. One person on this planet really and truly gets me. Not only does he get me, but he also thinks the world of me. That’s a great feeling!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I masturbate… A LOT; I do it mostly when I’m frustrated or upset. I don’t hurt myself necessarily but I hate myself the hold time, start crying and picture myself getting abused. I don’t understand why I get all… well you know when I’m upset. Does that have to do with being abused? Or am I just weird… [I]s it normal to touch yourself five times in one day? And is being overly sensitive an effect of being possibly abused or being hormonal or both? Because I’m also very sensitive…. with girls and even more so with boys….And whatever is the cause of being sensitive is there ways to calm it down? …. ~ Kolbey

This is an excerpt of Kolbey’s comment so I can address the questions specifically. Kolbey is a teen, so I will address that as well.

Let’s start with the “normal” part and then move onto the parts that are not “normal.” It is normal for teens to masturbate (both male and female), and the frequency will vary from person to person. Some might not ever or only rarely masturbate, and others might masturbate multiple times a day. Your body is hormonal and transforming into an adult’s body, and your sexuality is being awakened. So, if your question was solely about the frequency of masturbation, hearing about masturbating five times in one day would not concern me a bit. That is the only part of your comment that sounds “normal” (meaning typical for a non-abused teenager) in this comment.

Since I have never been a “normal” (non-abused) teen or adult, my next comment is based upon what I hear is normal rather than I what I have experienced as normal. I have been told that “normal” masturbation feels really good, which is why people do it. When someone who has not been abused masturbates, the draw is achieving an orgasm that feels good and is relaxing. That doesn’t sound like Kolbey’s situation, which is the first red flag I see.

Reacting to masturbation by hating yourself, crying, and visualizing being abused is not “normal.” That is the way I used to react to having consensual married sex, and that also was not normal. When I started having consensual married sex, I had no memory of the sexual abuse. I had repressed all of those memories, but they still colored all of my experiences, including my sexual ones.

At the time, I viewed myself as a very conservative and innocent “girl.” However, to achieve an orgasm, I had to visualize some really sick and perverted stuff. I would climax but then hate myself afterward. I would feel sick inside and filled with shame. Since recovering the memories, I recognize that I was forcing myself to relive the abuse because the abuse and sexual arousal was all intertwined in my head.

I am not sure what Kolbey means by being “overly sensitive,” but I suspect this is a reference to being easily triggered. Someone will say something innocent that triggers a flooding of shame, and Kolbey is blindsided by this. If that is the case, this happened to me throughout my life until going through therapy. The way to calm it down in the short-term is to ground yourself – lots of deep breathing and positive thoughts – “I am OK. I love myself. I am safe…” — That kind of thing.

I think it might be helpful for Kolbey to read through the Incest Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist. If reading through the checklist feels like looking in a mirror, that is a huge red flag for a history of child abuse. I recommend talking with a trusted adult (perhaps the school counselor) about getting some therapy. In the meantime, the books The Courage to Heal and the Survivor to Thriver Manual are wonderful resources to help you with healing from child abuse.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Feeling Better after Talking about Flashback, a reader posted the following comment:

A question Faith: how did you get to a place where you knew your friend could listen to such horrendous things? How do you feel okay about your friend being okay (not being vicariously traumatised)? I ask because I have an offline friend now who says she is willing to listen and really wants to support me, but I feel very unsure about telling her actual details. I think it would help me to be able to tell someone other my therapist, but I don’t want to hurt her or risk damaging our relationship because it gets too much for her. ~ Dawnawakening

I err on the side of taking is slow. I will drop a comment here or there about child abuse and gauge the other person’s reaction. If the person seems to want to talk about child abuse, I’ll talk about it generally and determine the person’s comfort level. Frequently, this turns into me listening to the other person talk about painful childhood memories, whether they were abusive or just painful. (I am a very good listener.)

A friend who really wants to hear about it will give me signs that she is open to hearing more. She might ask me basic questions, frequently beginning with, “If you don’t mind my asking…” I always clarify that I am 100% comfortable talking about my history but that most people cannot handle hearing about it. I will answer the questions asked but stay general, using phrases like, “He did things to me,” versus sharing anything graphic.

Over time (typically a period of weeks or longer), the conversations will circle around again to the topic with the other person making it clear that she wants to know more. If invited to share more, I will begin by asking her to tell me when it becomes too much. I am very clear that my childhood abuse was severe. If she says she is OK to hear more, I will share a little at a time and gauge her reaction. I’ll stop if I see that the person has heard enough.

Also, after I first share a much deeper trauma, I’ll wait to see how she treats me the next time we get together before sharing more. If she treats me the same, I’ll continue as invited. If she pulls away, I know not to go there anymore.

I am very skilled at reading faces, and I also trust my intuition. Most of the time, I can use both of those to help me pace what the other person can handle. Only a very few offline friends have heard my story because it is so intense.

I don’t worry about traumatizing the other person by talking about my history because I let her set the pace. If she doesn’t want to hear about it, then I won’t talk about it with her. If the other person tells me she can handle it, then I trust that she will take care of herself and tell me when she has had enough.

For the most part, I no longer feel the need to share my story offline except for when I recover a new memory as happened last weekend. I will only share my newer memories with one of my two friends who know my full story.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Differences Between Ritual Abuse and Other Forms of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

hi. dont mean to be annoying…just dont know where to seek answers to my questions in my head. seems like the images are more dominant and ever present but i cant get clear answers from within my brain. i imagine or remember fire torches. not fancy ones. 3 foot tall. garden snakes, earthworms. kneeling. hypnotic manner. hands folded. that wooden object inserted into me with the opening and 3 claws. what is the number 3 in any of this? and a smell and noise. not music. mold. and another smell i cant place. what would my parents being swingers have to do with it. and i know i was sexually abused by my father, 2 neighbors and a man he worked with. related > or not? such confusion. i dont know where to seek the answers i want. i have always been a self injurer in many ways. and i have always ‘known’ some of the images in my head. thinking i was just crazy. my sister remembers men in a place but nothing else and has 5 yrs missing. i remember the weird shit. no people. any idea where i can seek answers? ~ Malanie

I am going to address Malanie’s questions from my own perspective (which is pretty much all I have to offer).

For me, the ritual abuse memories are different from the other abuse memories. I never self-injured (or even considered self-injuring) throughout a year’s worth of recovering memories of mother-daughter sexual abuse. However, when I started having the first “flashes” of ritual abuse memories, I kept feeling strong urges to bang my head.

With the mother-daughter sexual abuse memories, they started with the release of body memories, and I would then recover “linear” memories of seeing/reliving an event that happened. At first it was from the perspective of the ceiling (could actually see myself from behind). Then, I moved into recovering memories in a linear way.

The ritual abuse memories come differently. I would experience a flash here and a flash there that made no sense because there was no context. I would experience deep terror, despair, the urge to self-injure, and a deep desire to die. While recovering other abuse memories was no picnic, that was different from recovering the ritual abuse memories.

I see a lot of commonality between what Malanie posted in her comment and some of the flashback memories I have recovered. My first ritual abuse memories were of the bonfire from a distance. I am very triggered by fire torches.

I, too, am haunted by the number 3, but I don’t know why. I used to keep a dream journal back when I was in my teens and twenties. Even dating back to those dreams, I saw a pattern of threes, and I continue to dream in patterns of threes. I have been perplexed by this for many years. I have speculated whether this represents being harmed in body, soul, and spirit, but that doesn’t seem to “feel right.” I don’t know the significance yet.

My parents were also swingers with the couple who brought my sister and me into the cult. While the husband was upstairs with both of my parents, the wife would come down to the basement where my sister and I were playing, and she would “groom” us for the cult. I don’t know why swinging was part of this – I only know that it was.

The answers you seek are inside of you already, and you will remember as you are ready. This has been a slow process for me. The mother-daughter sexual abuse memories came tumbling out one after another, but it hasn’t been that way with the ritual abuse memories. I’ll remember just a flash at first, and I will feel the terror. As I am ready, I will remember more.

With ritual abuse memories, I frequently remember one event in pieces. I might recover through one trauma and assume that was all. Then, after I process the first piece (which might be after one day or after a few months), I will recover memories of additional trauma that built upon the first.

I still have numerous “blanks” from the ritual abuse. I know through my triggers that I was drugged, but I have recovered no memories of being injected with anything. I know that my severe reaction to splinters is indicative of trauma, but I have no idea what happened to cause that reaction. The same is true of my triggering of fingernails that “split.”

You will remember as you are ready. The ritual abuse memories are encased in terror, so they will take time and lots of gentle self-care.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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