Archive for the ‘Healing Process’ Category

This blog entry continues the topic I started yesterday.

I take no issue with my sister’s therapist having a different opinion of what might be going on with me than what I believe is happening. My sister’s therapist has never met me, and everything she knows about me is filtered through my sister (who posts on this blog as Lydia). Lydia’s therapist’s focus is on Lydia, not me, and on helping Lydia navigate the waters of trying to maintain a relationship with both me and momster when I am 100% cutting momster out of my life. Trying to understand the mental health status of both of us is fair game in Lydia’s therapy as far as I am concerned.

My therapist’s opinion of what is going on with me carries more weight than Lydia’s therapist’s opinion based upon secondhand information, and I am sure the same is true for Lydia if my therapist made any sort of comments about her own state of mental health. The therapist that has gotten to know the patient is in a much better position to observe and diagnose the state of mental health of the patient than someone receiving secondhand information.

The biggest difference between the momster/me situation and the Lydia/me situation is that I have a mental health professional who has evaluated me over a period of years, and momster does not. This means that if my sister needed a professional opinion on my state of mental health, I have someone who could provide it whereas there is no mental health professional involved with momster. We only have her word that she is “normal,” but her behavior screams otherwise.

My sister (Lydia) had some interesting comments after reading my accounting of what my friend said was in momster’s letter. Her reaction was the context definitely sheds a different light on the same facts. Lydia has heard the stories about the cows and the play directly from momster and received them in a very different light. She could see how my friend could have the reaction she did but also has a different perspective on what was intended in the letter.

I told Lydia, and Lydia 100% supported this, that the intention of momster is irrelevant for my decision-making on continued contact. The comments might be as innocent as Lydia believes, or they might be as calculated as my friend believes. Either way, my focus needs to be on MY reaction to the letter, not on what was going on in momster’s head when she wrote the letter. For better or for worse, contact from momster is toxic to me, and I don’t want it in my life. Lydia supports my decision, and we haven’t even talked about momster once other than this conversation after she called me about the logistical issue she was having in trying to post.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Man at DeskThanks to the momster drama, back to school activities, traveling, getting a promotion at my job, and getting sick last week, I am embarrassingly behind on reading through the comments. When I logged into my email account (where I receive email copies of all comments as well as emails from readers), I had over 500 messages – Yikes! It is going to take me a while to catch up.

My sister, who occasionally visits and posts as “Lydia,” called me about a logistical issue she was having with one of her comments, which is how I found out about discussions concerning what her therapist said about my momster situation. You can read the discussions here.

Different readers have posted different comments regarding my sister’s therapist’s views about me as well as my therapist’s views about my mother possibly having schizophrenia, so I would like to address those in my next two blog entries.

In neither case did a therapist “diagnose” someone that s/he had not talked with. In both cases, the patient (me re: momster and Lydia re: me) sought to talk with the therapist about concerns with someone in her life who might have mental health issues. The therapist’s observations were based solely on the patient’s representation of the other person’s behavior, which is always going to be filtered through the patient’s accounts of the third party’s behavior. The goal of those discussions is to help the patient work through her feelings about interactions with the other person.

Let’s focus on my situation in this blog entry…I have always known that momster’s interactions with the world was “off,” and I have numerous reasons to believe that she is likely mentally ill. I could go on for days with examples, but one of the most concerning symptoms is her hearing “G*d” audibly talking to her and telling her to do odd things. As a child, I thought that she was more religious than I was and a prophet since G*d talked to people in the Bible, but as I grew older, I recognized that the messages she was receiving were definitely odd. Her interactions with other people are simply not rational and never have been.

Momster has never sought out a diagnosis from the mental health community because she does not believe there is anything wrong with her. She truly believes that the reason that nobody else is hearing G*d audibly talking to them is because they are not prophets like she is. Emotionally healthy people tend to stay away from her because her behavior is so erratic.

I talked with my therapist about her symptoms to help me make sense of them and unravel my own reactions to having been raised by a mentally-ill woman. He never diagnosed her with anything, but he said her symptoms are consistent with schizophrenia. I did my own research and agree with him. No, she has never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but that does not mean that she is not mentally ill. I needed to have a frame of reference from my end to help me heal from my interactions with her regardless of whether she ever chooses to seek professional help, and I did not need to limit my own ability to heal from our relationship based upon whether or not she chose to seek help.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fish by ReefI can’t remember where I read this (probably in one of my healing books), but I read a great analogy about healing that I am beginning to experience firsthand. The resource shared about an experiment involving fish.

A large fish tank was subdivided into two parts separated by a pane of glass. The scientist released a fish on one side and the fish’s prey on the other side. The predator repeatedly hit the glass in pursuit of its prey and eventually gave up. A few months later, the scientist removed the glass. Even though the barrier was removed, the fish never again tried to pursue its prey on the other side of the tank.

I am finding that I have been living in artificial boundaries that have been removed, and the only impediment to me going to the other side of the fish tank is my own mistaken belief that a barrier still exists. This seems to be true in multiple areas of my life. I assume that because X triggered me in the past, I must always avoid X. The thing is … I am finding that this belief is frequently no longer true.

Let’s take the approach of Halloween, for example. In the past, Halloween has been triggering to me, and I would get triggered by the black robes in Halloween stores. I would take precautions before going into a Halloween store or just avoid it altogether. This year, I have taken my son into Halloween stores three times and been completely OK. Not only have I been OK – I have enjoyed myself!

I typically get worked up before I visit my hometown. As I shared last week, that did not happen this time. Instead of assuming that I was going to be all wigged out, I just went about my day and figured that I would deal with whatever emotions arose as I went. I only recall one short burst of anxiety, and that only happened when I started analyzing myself and how I have reacted in the past.

This is happening in other areas of my life as well, so I am trying to get out of my own way and stop assuming that I cannot do X because X has always been a problem in the past. Instead, I am experimenting with just going about my day and not worrying about if I get triggered. If I do get triggered, I know how to calm myself down – the world won’t end. I am surprised by how infrequently I am being triggered these days.

The holiday season is typically a difficult time of year for me, but I am going to wait and see. I’ll just go about my life without having preconceived notions and see what happens. Who knows? Perhaps they will be fine. And if I get triggered, I know I’ll be OK.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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 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.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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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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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 Why I Relate So Strongly to Nina in “Black Swan”, a reader posted the following comment:

I know it is different for everyone and the process is not linear, but when attaching feelings to events, you mentioned releasing your emotions, how long did it take for you to feel not crazy and to not be safe with yourself? Did it come up and sink down so sometimes it wasn’t so prevalent in your thinking? ~aggiemonday

Like Aggiemonday, I wanted a time line from my therapist. I lost count of how many times I asked, “How long…?” His answer was always that he did not have a crystal ball, which drove me crazy. Couldn’t he just give me an average based on his experience in working with other child abuse survivors?

Healing from child abuse is a very individual process. There are generalities, such as learning to love and accept yourself, that apply pretty much across the board, but the time frame for this is going to vary from person to person. The time frame is even going to vary for the same person depending upon the speed that the person can handle in this moment. The best advice I saw on the topic of pacing was from Isurvive when a member said only go as fast as the slowest part of yourself is ready to go. Of course, I was never very good at actually taking that advice.

I have found that the upward spiral (which I believe is mentioned in The Courage to Heal) is the best symbol for how my healing process feels. I often feel like I am going around in circles. I think that I have mastered one element of healing, and then I find myself fighting down the same demons a few months or years later. The upward spiral shows you that you are always healing and moving toward a healthier you, so you are not truly going in circles but, instead, spiraling upward.

The only way I can tell you to “speed things up” is to stop fighting the process. My therapist pointed out that the more energy I put into fighting my feelings and emotions, the more powerful they became. When I chose to stop fighting them and, instead, give them a voice, they lost their power over me. The more frequently I choose to accept myself, which includes my memories, feelings, and emotions, the faster I seem to spiral back out of the bad place.

That being said, embracing it all too quickly creates its own challenges. Some readers have been impressed by the speed of my healing, and even my therapist marveled that I completed two years of therapy in a period of six months. This was because my attitude was that if I had to feel like s@#$, then I was going to give it my all and get this process over with as soon as possible. My therapist would tell me to try to enjoy the process, but I told him that he was out of his mind to think that I would enjoy any of this.

Trying to heal too quickly feels like riding on a runaway freight train. My therapist kept telling me to slow down, but in the early months of therapy, I simply didn’t have the power to do it. After that first intense six months, I settled into a more manageable pace of healing for me. Keep in mind that with each accepted memory comes emotions and feelings that need to be processed. Rather than race through the process, it is sometimes to your benefit to give yourself time to breathe between each period of healing.

The more you accept every part of yourself – your memories, emotions, and feelings – as “me,” the sooner you will stop feeling so “crazy.” The more you accept yourself, the more you will feel “safe” with yourself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader asked me to write a letter explaining why I believe going through the healing process from child abuse is worthwhile. Here is the letter I sent her. I thought I would share it with all of you as well:

You asked me to write a letter to you explaining why I believe going through the healing process is worthwhile. In a nutshell, the healing process is the bridge from being a child abuse victim or survivor to living your life. As long as you stay in victim or survivor mode, your life is all about the past. You act and react based upon your hellish past, which keeps the past feeling ever-present. The healing process is the way out — the way to living instead of just existing and waiting for the blessed sleep of death. Your life can be more than just a daily (or hourly) exercise in pain avoidance.

Before healing, I hated myself. I did not believe there was a place in the world for me. I did not believe that I fit in anywhere. I saw no value in my life or in myself. I felt like I had to apologize for my mere existence. I believed I had to earn love and acceptance, but I was so broken that I could never do enough to earn my place at the table.

Now that I am much farther along in my healing journey, I see my life — my past, my present, and my future — through different eyes. I recognize that the only love and acceptance that was missing from my life was my own. I don’t have to earn my place at the table or fight for my right to exist. The fact that I exist gives me a place at the table. I don’t have to “do” to belong — I just have to “be.”

The biggest surprise was recognizing that I was not something broken that needed to be fixed. Instead, the abuse put blinders on me that caused me to see myself through a distorted lens. The healing process is helping me to remove the blinders and see what was always there — the miracle and beauty of ME! The essence of me — my spirit — has never been and never could be broken. The brokenness I perceived came from buying into my abusers’ lies. The healing process is not really about healing brokenness but, instead, about awakening to who I already am.

Choosing to heal is giving yourself a gift of love, compassion, and kindness. It gives you the gift of being content now, in the present moment, instead of waiting for some future point in time when all of the stars align so I can be happy. All that I need to be at peace with myself is already there inside of myself and has been all along. The healing process is what helped me remove the blinders so I could see it.

Good luck with your healing journey!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Over the last week or so, I have been focusing on the healing process and have stated that the healing process has its own natural rhythm. If we can identify that natural rhythm and allow it to flow, healing happens naturally.

Of course, since I wrote this, I had to put myself to the test, and it has been a tough week. I am apparently working on healing a deeper layer of myself (or another alter part for those with DID). I keep finding myself feeling intensely sad, and I have been plagued by nightmares. The nightmares got so bad one night that I kept waking myself by whimpering in my sleep. I knew that if I got up to take a Xanax or clear my head, I would never get back to sleep. So, I kept falling right back into the nightmares and finally awakened in tears with my heart pounding and my bed sheets soaked with sweat.

Early in the healing process, I would be beating myself up for this. I would assume that I was doing something “wrong” because, if I was really healing, I should no longer be having nightmares. Adding negative thoughts, self-hatred, and shame would be an impediment to the natural flow of healing, and I have reached a place where I recognize that I am not doing anything “wrong” right now.

Another common reaction is for me to throw myself into compulsive busy-ness. This can be over-committing myself through volunteer work, taking on more classes at my job, or doing other things to keep me “too busy” to have to feel this lousy. The idea is to stay too busy to feel badly during the day and then drop into bed too exhausted to dream at night. Instead, I am choosing to slow myself down, building yoga and meditation into my daily schedule and moving at a slower pace. My therapist always advises me to “sit with” the pain and just allow it to “be.” It takes a lot of self-discipline for me to do this.

Another reaction that I used to do a lot is to attach myself to those feelings. For example, I started working through this phase of healing over the weekend, which is when I was receiving all of the comments to Friday’s blog entry in which some of my readers felt “judged” by my words. It hurts me to know that I have hurt another person, so I could have easily attached my feelings of sadness to that event, but I chose not to. I was able to recognize that one was not related to the other.

When I attach my life today to the feelings I experience that are really echoes of the past, I can go downhill quickly. I take the sadness from childhood and add my experiences from today, which is like pouring gasoline on a fire. So, instead of feeling a malaise, I can feel suicidally depressed, as if I were being sucked into a dark hole with no way out. My yogi gave me the advice to think of myself as the fire hose and the emotions as the water coursing through it. No matter how powerful those emotions are, I am not the “water” – I am the hose.

So, I have gotten better about what not to do, but I am still uncertain what I should be doing right now. Until I figure that out, I am choosing just to “be.” I am choosing to “sit with” this pain and recognize that this is part of my natural healing process. It is going to feel lousy for a while, but then it will pass. I just have to be very gentle with myself in the process.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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