Archive for the ‘Flashbacks’ Category

Before experiencing flashbacks myself, I thought they would all be the same. I actually have several different ways that I experience flashbacks/recover memories, and I suspect that may be true for others as well. I am going to share the different ways that I experience flashbacks and would also like to hear from you if there are additional ways to experience them.
Sickening Awareness
My healing process began with what I call a sickening awareness. I just “knew” that I had been sexually abused by my mother. I had no other information than the weight of knowing in my heart of hearts that it had happened. I also experienced this as the first step in working through being raped by men.
Body Memories
These are my least favorite kind of flashback. After the first sickening awareness, I could feel my body being abused. I had no other information, just that it felt like someone was hurting my body right then. I have come to recognize these flashbacks as my body releasing its own memories of being abused.
Reliving the Abuse
This is the most common form of flashback for me. While a part of me is fully aware that I am an adult lying safely in my bed, another part of myself relives the abuse. I feel and experience the event as the child I was when the abuse happened. The memory unfolds in a linear fashion just as it did when I was a child.
I suspect this form of flashback is what put the “flash” in the term “flashback.” I will see a split-second snippet of what happened. For me, this is most common with recovering ritual abuse memories. I don’t know if the different ties into the heightened terror and/or use of drugs during the abuse or not. I’ll see a “flash” of one part of what happened and then a “flash” of another. Because most of my memories were recovered through reliving the abuse, it took me a while to recognize that these were also flashbacks, just recovered differently.
I have never heard anyone else talk about this form of flashback, but I had this happen when I was dealing with being forced to abuse my sibling. I had been dealing with the sickening awareness that I had been forced to abuse my younger sister, and I had also recovered a piece of one memory involving sexual abuse. I was so sick to my stomach that I wanted to die, and the shame was unbearable. My mind released a montage of flashes of my sister being forced to sexually abuse me. I felt such relief because I knew that she was not responsible, which gave me the courage to talk with her about this form of abuse, apologize, and accept her response that she did not hold me responsible for what our abusers forced me to do to her.

I suspect there are other types of flashbacks as well. I’d love to hear about the different ways that others recover memories.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yesterday, I blogged about a memory I just recovered. In that blog entry, I just wrote about the memory itself. I wrote that in the morning. I am writing this in the afternoon as the emotions are starting to wash over me.

I remember this process from when I was recovering memories on a regular basis. When I was ready to release a memory through flashbacks, I would get a bad headache and experience anxiety as I relived the experience. Afterward, I would calm myself down and accept the truth of whatever the flashback revealed. This almost always happened at night.

The next morning, I would awaken with the flashback being stored as any other memory, so what was hidden from me only a day before was now accessible just like any other memory. In the morning, I would think about the flashback logically – OK, that it explains why ___ always triggered me, why I did X, Y, or Z, etc. I would think that I am OK – that it is so much better to remember than repress it. In fact, releasing a new memory gives me a lot of energy, like finally putting my arms down after holding them up for too long.

If this is where the process ended, I think healing from child abuse would not be that bad. Sadly, that’s not where it ends. Later in the afternoon, as is happening as I write this, all of the emotions that I “froze” along with the memory of the event get “unfrozen” and wash over me – the shame, guilt, sadness, despair, and all of the other painful emotions that I was unable to process when the event happened.

My emotions were interesting as I processed the memory last night. I had previously recovered a memory of seeing my sister “killed,” which I blogged about here, here, and here. The emotion I felt most strongly as I relived that memory was despair. I wanted to die because my reason for living – my sister – was dead (I believed).

I did not feel despair or suicidal with this flashback, which is unexpected. Instead, I felt immobilized. I had already been through believing my sister had been killed (after “witnessing” her “murder”) and then the shock of processing that she was alive the next morning. So, I was uncertain how to react this time. I knew I was seeing her dead body a second time but did not know what to believe, so I just shut down.

Whenever I think about a Christmas tree, I see myself immobilized in front of it. I see my limp body unable to move. I think that captures how I felt as I saw my sister’s “dead” body being carried toward me.

My head is really hurting. I’ll write more as I process more. This is a hard one.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader emailed me with concerns about false memory syndrome. This reader is in the same place that I was once and that many of you have been. When your repressed memories start pouring out through flashbacks, they seem unbelievable. You ask yourself if these horrible things could possibly be true because they seem so foreign to you. You don’t want them to be true, and you hope that they aren’t. However, they are so detailed and “warped” that you think that either they must be true or you are just plain “crazy.” At least, that’s what it was like for me.

This healing/flashback process is hard enough, but thanks to the propaganda in the 1990’s about false memory syndrome, many child abuse survivors worry that some unscrupulous person has implanted these memories into their heads. That’s even scarier than the flashbacks being true. You fear that there is something really “wrong” with you and lose the ability to trust yourself.

I am not saying that no unscrupulous therapist has ever implanted false memories into a patient. I cannot fathom why a therapist would do this, but I also cannot fathom why someone would abuse a child. I am not going to get into an unscrupulous therapist’s head. However, I do not buy into false memory syndrome being some sweeping, widespread issue as society was led to believe in the 1990’s. I believe that movement was a way to silence those of us who were recovering child abuse memories that certain members of society did not want recovered or believed.

I have had people email me accusing me of suffering from delusions implanted by a therapist. Here is my response to this ridiculous accusation:

    1. I did not enter into therapy until after I had already recovered numerous repressed memories, so nobody had access to my head to implant anything.
    2. My sister recovered many of the same memories even though we have never seen the same therapist.
    3. If these are all false memories, why is processing them resulting in my getting healthier emotionally instead of more unhealthy?

I also find the accusation of false memory syndrome to be insulting. I am not some weak-minded person who can be that easily manipulated by another person. I mean no offense to anyone who has fallen prey to false memory syndrome. My point is that I have a very strong will, and the thought of me allowing anyone else to implant that many memories into my head is simply ludicrous.

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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.

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As I shared yesterday, this has been a rough week for me emotionally. I knew I needed to talk about the memory, but I had one reason after another not to. I also had a tough time finding the time and freedom to talk it throughout the week with my husband or child at home.

Yesterday evening, my son kept triggering me. He has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), so he can come up with some random and weird behaviors. Yesterday, it seemed like everything he was doing was triggering a ritual abuse memory.

The final straw was when my son threw “slime” into my hair. It was old slime, so it didn’t come out. I had this foreign substance stuck in my hair and dripping off into the carpet, which triggered memories of my sister’s “blood.” I was extremely triggered and turned to wine to calm me down.

After dinner and having some time alone upstairs, I realized that I absolutely **had** to talk about the memory. Yes, I had blogged about it, but there is something empowering about physically using your voice to talk about the memory and in being physically “heard” by someone in your day-to-day life. So, I called one of my best friends and bawled my eyes out as I told her.

That’s really all I needed. I didn’t need her to do anything other than listen. She said a few encouraging things, which was sweet, but I didn’t need them. I just needed her to listen, which she did.

I actually slept last night without needing to take a Xanax or a sleeping pill. Even though I am not back to 100%, I can tell that I am healing. It made such a huge difference to **talk** about what happened, to be believed, and to be supported.

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This week, I have been dealing with a pretty heavy-duty memory that I wrote about here and here. In part because this is the last week of school, and in part because I am slammed with playing “catch up” on my obligations after a month of working 30+ hour weeks at my new part-time job, I haven’t really had the opportunity to grieve this heinous memory.

A part of myself feels frustrated because I can feel the terror as a ball of ice in my stomach. I am having trouble staying in my body because I am so triggered, which makes it hard to stay connected with what my body is feeling. This is an issue even with basic things like whether or not my body is hungry. I find myself eating more than my body needs, in part because the taste of food is a distraction from the ball of ice, and in part because I am so out of touch with what my body needs and does not need.

I was also hit with some day-to-day bad news involving my kid’s medication. We had similar news back in November, and I reacted full force by finding another part-time job with unbelievable intensity. This time, I had a similar reaction in looking for a full-time job, but I was able to pull out from this after 24 hours versus the two months of intensity I went through last time. I feel like I am able to be more rational and logical about solutions this time than I was last time, so that is making progress.

Even with the eating thing, I am not having huge binges like I used to. I am not remotely tempted to bang my head. I know in the moment that this awful feeling won’t last. In fact, I even know what I need to do – I need to let myself feel the pain. I need to sit with the pain, bawl my eyes out, throw things, and release all of these pent up emotions. However, I don’t want to (and am limited on free time this week), so I am staying in this place of uncomfortable limbo in large part due to my own choices.

I am trying to be compassionate toward myself. This was a huge memory to recover. It was an incredibly traumatizing and confusing event.

One other difference I am noticing is that, for the first time in years, I am not triggered by the end of school. I typically go into a funk of feeling “abandoned,” fearing that all of my friends will “go away” over the summer and that I will be alone. There is not one ounce of me that is feeling that way this year, which is a huge leap forward.

So, even though I am not doing so great, I am able to see, even from this painful place, all of the progress that I have made. I also know exactly what I need to do – I just can’t seem to make myself do it yet. That will come.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled “I Don’t Know If I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)”, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith, I was wondering if you could do a post about night terrors. Like when u wake up soaked in sweet and thinking its real. You stuck in the past. The cry. The heavy crying. And ‘body memories’ like if u wake up and you feel pain of someone hurting you? But its in your head. And not happening but u think it is. I hope I totally don’t sounds loopy. I’m being serious this happens to. And the feelings feel real and The feelings associated or direct me to a post if uve already done one? ~ Freckles

What Freckles is describing is dual consciousness. On the one hand, a part of you knows that you are lying safely in your bed while another part of yourself feels like you have been teleported back in time and are currently being abused.

I recently had a nightmare where I was being raped again. I could feel everything that I felt when I was raped as a child. It really did feel like I was being raped again in that moment even though I was safely asleep in my bed. As Freckles describes, I awoke feeling as if my body had just been raped even though I was reliving a memory that happened decades ago.

I have heard that some child abuse survivors can become so caught up in the reality of the past that they lose touch with the present during the flashback. When a loved one steps in to try to help, they lash out against the loved one, believing that the loved one is the abuser. I, personally, have not had this experience. I have been fortunate to stay grounded enough in the present to avoid “losing myself” to total immersion in the past while I am awake. Flashbacks in nightmares are a different story – When I experience those, I am only aware of the past, not the present.

Here’s the good news: You can use this dual consciousness to your advantage! As long as a part of yourself is aware of being in the present, you can use that part of yourself to comfort yourself through the flashback. I learned how to pause, rewind, and fast-forward a flashback.

I also learned how to talk my way through the flashbacks. Even though a part of myself was experiencing the abuse as if it was happening right now, another part of myself would walk me through it. I would tell myself that I already survived the abuse, so I could survive the memory. I would tell myself that I am OK, that I am safe now, and that it is OK to remember what happened. I would tell myself that I already know the ending – that I survived and am OK today. I would sometimes even play a song in my head to help ease the anxiety as I worked through the memory.

As for stopping the flashback … some of my flashbacks were too intense to deal with all in one sitting. As long as I promised myself that I would return the next night (and meant it), I developed the ability to “turn off” the flashback for the night once I had enough. I would process what I had relived that night and then be in a better place to move forward the following night.

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On my blog entry entitled “I Don’t Know If I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)”, a reader posted the following comment:

Do any of you readers or Faith have this experience that you initially did not remember your trauma because it was at too young an age? When I ask non-survivors about their memories before age eight (which is the age DID usually develops), they respond that they have hardly any memories, so I’m wondering why so many survivors seem to have so many memories of their trauma at such a young age? Or is it a thing about trauma that you should remember it? ~ Astrid

I have been told that “normal” memory for someone who did not experience childhood trauma includes basic memories of what was going on at home and at school beginning with elementary school, so presumably around age five or six. I did not have a “normal” childhood and cannot attest to this standard being accurate, but others have told me that this is the baseline.

Before recovering flashbacks, I used to pride myself in my very good memory. I have crisp, clear memories from as young as two years old (when my sister was born) that have been independently verified as accurate. There was a snowstorm when she was born that knocked out the power. I remember running in the snow and also sitting in the dark around the fire in the fireplace.

However, when the flashbacks started, I came to realize that my memory had a lot of holes in it. I could recite the name of each teacher and facts about school from age four on up (and still can), but I could not recall any memories at all with my parents in them until middle school. I always had vivid memories of S & L’s house (my most sadistic abusers) but not of the abuse.

The flashback memories filled in many of these gaps in very crisp detail, down to the color of the clothes I was wearing at age 3. When I have a flashback, it feels like I have traveled in a time machine and am re-experiencing the trauma right now. Those memories are very clear when I recover them. Then, by the next morning, they “feel” like all of my other memories. They lose their feeling of happening now and are just another set of memories in my memory bank. I don’t know if my experience is similar to anyone else’s, but that is how the memories work for me.

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An acquaintance recently turned 40 and said that her birthday present to herself is to go skydiving. I said that I don’t understand jumping out of a fully functional airplane. While I respect people’s rights to go skydiving, I confess that I don’t see even one thing appealing about it.

I asked a friend (who is a fellow child abuse survivor) her opinion about skydiving, and she had an interesting theory. She thinks that people who like to skydive, bungee jump, and other potentially dangerous activities are seeking the adrenaline rush. My response was that I can get an adrenaline rush just by going to sleep at night, so I don’t need to endanger myself to achieve that goal!

I really do have an adrenaline rush just about every night. I frequently awaken from a nightmare, and as I move from the terror of the dream to the reality that I am safe in my bedroom, I can feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. This is one of the reasons that I struggle with insomnia – it’s hard to sleep when you feel like you just went skydiving!

It’s hard for me to understand why somebody would seek an adrenaline rush, but that is likely because I have no balance. I actually loved watching the TV show “24,” which also caused an adrenaline rush, so I guess I can relate to that degree. Then, I thought about how much I love riding rollercoasters, but that appeal was gone as long as I had vertigo since I felt like I had been “spinning” for nine days. Again, I think it all boils down to achieving a balance.

I also suspect that an adrenaline rush of your choosing (both how and when) is a very different experience from having it thrust upon you night after night for year after year. Most people probably don’t go skydiving 30 minutes before bedtime. If I could just bottle up my own adrenaline, I could probably earn a fortune!

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On my blog entry entitled Talking about Child Abuse is Not “Rambling”, a reader posted the following comment:

I have found that some people with PTSD tend to have a better memory for many things and trust it less. I have a PTSD friend and we can go back years and recount events. Together we can remember the rack that the pool cue was taken from in a fight. We both noticed during the fight that one guy did not know enough to break the cue so he was likely not a major threat, the guy who broke the mug was the threat. That sort of thing. ~ MFF

One way I know that a memory is really a flashback is the “crispness” and level of detail held in the memory. When I think about a non-traumatizing memory from a couple of weeks ago, I will have a difficult time telling you what I was wearing, what the weather was like, and a million other unimportant details. However, I recovered a memory from age three in which I could describe the pink pants I was wearing, exactly where I was, what was happening, the positions that my sister and I were in, etc.

Sometimes a flashback will begin with a stream of consciousness memory, such as the one I had the other night.

*** sexual abuse triggers ***

As I was falling asleep, I had a stream of consciousness of a man lying on his back. His pants were pulled off, and his body shape was different from hub’s. Then, it was like the lens went into crystal clear focus. It was my father lying on his back (I think he was drugged – looked like he was asleep), and I was forced to perform oral sex on him while pictures were taken.

*** end triggers ***

It was very disturbing but makes complete sense in light of other events that happened. My sister and I both recovered memories of my father being photographed hurting her while blindfolded, and my sister believes he was blackmailed with those photos. My guess is that these were more photos in the arsenal, which begs the question of how much he knew was being done to me as a child. I don’t know. He never approached me sexually (and he had plenty of opportunity if he had wanted to). I just don’t know what he knew and didn’t know. My sister thinks that is why he moves us 30 miles away – so he could still work at his company (which he owned) but get us away from those monsters.

If not for the crystal clear focus of the flashback, I might have beat myself up for having a sick mind or whatever. However, for me – the telltale sign of a flashback is the very crisp and detailed quality of the memories – very different from my regular memories.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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