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Archive for the ‘Flashbacks’ Category

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.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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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!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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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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A reader wants to know if it is possible to recover flashbacks from when you were a baby. The answer is yes, although those flashbacks are often a bit different from what other flashbacks feels like.

From what I have read, memories are categorized in your brain based upon your past experiences. For example, if you have seen a horse in a book and then see a real horse, your brain makes a connection between the two. Trauma doesn’t really fit when the brain is categorizing experiences, which could explain part of why a child’s memories (particularly a younger child’s memories) of trauma get filed in the subconscious with no method of retrieval while the child lives in the abusive environment.

Preverbal abuse takes this a step further. If a three-year-old child is hit in the head with a frying pan, the child has words for what is being done to him even though he has a difficult time processing it. A baby has no word for “frying pan” yet and, therefore, processes what happened in a different way.

From what I have read as well as the comments posted by readers, preverbal memories/flashbacks are experienced differently. Because there was no language developed to categorize the trauma, the preverbal memories are stored in a different way. One book I read talked about the preverbal memories being released as intense feelings and body memories. The woman thought she was losing her mind because she would experience very intense emotions and feelings with no context. Fortunately, her therapist understood what was going on and helped her through it.

My earliest non-trauma memory was from age two when my sister was born. I distinctly remember sitting by the fireplace in the dark and feeling scared, and I also remember running in the snow and laughing. Both memories have been independently verified, so I know firsthand that memories can be retrieved at age two.

As for trauma-related memories, my earliest to-date is from when I was a toddler with abuse happening during diaper changes. I have experienced intense releases of emotions that I suspect are preverbal memories, but if that is the case for me, I am early in the process.

Here is another blog entry I wrote on the topic. You can also read more articles about preverbal memories here:

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am not going to lie to you—the last few weeks have been very hard for me emotionally. I have been dealing with flashbacks (true “flashes” without a linear explanation) and a flood of related emotions (mostly terror). I alternate between wanting to invite them out so I can heal and wanting to drug myself at night so I can get some d@#$ sleep. I wrestle with feeling despair at still being in a place of having to deal with more memories.

However, I also see, even in this place of struggle, what a difference that I am making in the lives of others through this blog and recognize that, without my struggles, I actually wouldn’t be of that much help to all of you. If healing was really easy for me, how could I be of help to you? It is my ability to show you that I have been in the trenches, too, and (unfortunately) continue to cycle around through the trenches that offers hope.

I am human, though, and like any human, I don’t enjoy being in pain. It’s not that I am afraid of the healing process … I am p@$$ed off that there is still more to process. I don’t think it has anything to do with not “working hard enough” before – I simply suffered from that much trauma. While healing in some areas does spill over to other areas, I still have areas of trauma that I need to address. I try to remember that this is just another part of the ebb and flow of the healing process, but I confess that I am not always very graceful about it.

I continue to struggle with the release of “flashes” of memories, such as the flash of a white pickup truck, a very detailed memory of the dirt, and seeing the boxes and skeletons used to frighten children who did not know that they weren’t real human skeletons. I experience the terrors of the child who didn’t want to be thrown in a box with a “dead person,” all the while understanding from the adult perspective that the child was purposely manipulated to fear something that was not even true. My head feels like the “bubble within a bubble” you sometimes see when children are blowing bubbles as I reconcile the child’s memories and terror with the adult’s understanding of what really happened. I have to find a way to reassure the terrified child inside without invalidating her experience.

I am also wrestling with body memories, such as last night when I “couldn’t see,” smelled the overpowering scent of chalk (like the smell of chalk when you bang two erasers together), and “couldn’t breathe” due to being enclosed without fresh air. Again, I had allow my body to release the body memories while, at the same time, allowing myself to breath in deeply both to calm the terror and to keep myself breathing. I struggle with the dichotomy between the memories being released and my reality of being an adult today who is safe.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This has been a rough week for me. While it was freeing to make the choice not to question whatever memories surfaced, this also apparently opened the floodgates to dealing with some really heavy stuff. At this point, I don’t even know what it is yet … only that it is really bad.

On Sunday night, I had a cluster of nightmares:

1. I vomited into toilets three times – severe, Norovirus-like retching.

2. I was a teenager living on the East Coast in the U.S. My mother had moved to Seattle (place farthest away in the Continental U.S.) and was forcing me to visit her there. I didn’t want to go there, but I had no choice.

3. I was late in getting my son to school. I was not ready, and I kept running around like crazy trying to get dressed. Weird impediments kept happening, like my socks being attached to each other. I looked up and realize that I had three HUGE fish tanks in my room. I “forgot” they were there and had not fed the fish in many months. I felt like crap because they must have starved to death, and I tried to find some fish food as I saw that some were still alive and must have eaten the dead ones to survive. The dead ones were in clusters on the bottom like people who banded together as they died one by one. There were two fish that looked like people who truly hated me for what I had done to them.

Then, the next night, I had flashes of a trimmed Christmas tree being thrown on the bonfire and body memories of being forced to perform oral sex on a woman. I again had a pattern of three dreams:

1. I was very upset about how people were treating fish. (Think about when people refer to fish in reference to a woman – smell.)

2. I had a dream involving my friend’s kid who is 8 rather than my own kid, who is 10.

3. I was running around a courthouse. (Seeking justice)

This dream cluster had another pattern of threes:

1. An older man (represented by former boss in dream) experiments with fish and makes their color pale.

2. A child stirs chili powder into the water with the fish, which kills them, but he feels badly when I get very upset about it.

3. I try to buy back a DVD of the fish that a restaurant has. (restaurant = eating = my body memory) The restaurant refuses to give me the DVD but will sell it to me. I think this ties into child porn – recordings of my “fish” being sold.

I am physically exhausted from the dreams and feel “off.” I feel like I have two or three bubbles in my head taking up the space where one bubble should be. That’s the best way that I can describe it. This is how I feel when I have truths breaking into my subconscious.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled How Do You Convince Yourself to Feel the Pain after Child Abuse?, a reader posted the following comment:

My problem is, I have blocked memories. I cannot remember no matter what I do or how hard I try. When I was really working on it, I just started having memories come up and I became so fearful, especially that it was all a figment of my imagination, that I mentally shut down to all of it- as a matter of fact, I would almost think I was completely healed, so detached I am from it all, if it were not for the fact that I still other issues that are not resolved. But the “remembering” part- fear shut me completely down. I try to do memory exercises and my mind just wanders away from it. ~ heavenly places

I have been dealing with this issue as well, so I took it as a sign that I needed to write about what happened.

I, too, still have blocked memories. I have learned from experience not to go searching for them, though. I actually have a few strategies that I used in the early years to go searching for repressed memories. They were effective in releasing them, but I was not prepared for the fallout of dealing with them. Getting the new information is interesting because I have the “aha” moments where another piece of the puzzle helps me to understand my life. If I could just remember the event without the emotions, I would probably just yank out all of the memories at once and be done with it.

The problem is that each new memory comes with a flood of emotions. The more trauma you experienced, the more anger, fear, grief, etc. is locked away with each memory. When each memory surfaces, you have to receive all of those emotions as “mine” and deal with them. I have learned that my subconscious mind knows better than I do when I am ready to deal with a particular memory.

Instead, I invite new memories to come out. I have learned what it feels like when I have another memory that needs to surface. When that happens, I tell myself that I am ready to receive the memory. I reassure myself that I already know the ending – that I survived the trauma – and that I am OK today.

The night before writing this, I effectively dealt with the part about not believing a memory. In the early years, I would go back and forth – Did it happen or didn’t it? Where is the proof? Doubting what the little boy or girl inside is telling you is not “inviting.” You need to believe what you recover in order to heal.

I recently shared recovering a memory of my mother/abuser being present for the ritual abuse, not participating but also not intervening. The next piece of the puzzle that came was her masturbating while I was being harmed (this is the new information from last night). My first reaction was to question myself – Did this really happen? Am I making this up? How can I believe this? How could I know?

This time, I just said, “Stop.” Instead, I chose to believe the little girl inside. I decided that whether or not my mother/abuser was actually masturbating during the ritual abuse is irrelevant to my healing process. What matters is that the little girl inside perceived that her mother was “getting off” on seeing me hurt. My actions and reactions as a little girl are based upon this perception. I am not in a court of law – I am alone in my bedroom trying to heal from deep trauma. I am not seeking to have my mother thrown in prison or even a confrontation. What she was doing and why is irrelevant to my experience. My experience is based upon a belief that she did this, and my belief as a little girl traumatized me. The little girl inside needs love, acceptance, and healing, not a cross-examination.

When I made this choice, I could feel the depths of the healing taking place inside of myself. It felt similar to when my host personality integrated, although it was not to the same degree. Something powerful took place when I made the choice to believe in myself no matter what and stop cross-examining myself. I have a feeling that this choice is going to lead to more “unbelievable” memories surfacing because I will just receive them with belief and focus on healing, not on questioning myself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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