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Posts Tagged ‘aftereffects of child abuse’

Last week was not a good week for me. I have a lot going on in my life right now, and I could handle the surface stuff if I was not getting triggered on a regular basis. It feels as if I cannot overcome one trigger before another knocks me off my feet again.

My seven-year-old son has ADHD, which causes him to have poor impulse control. His first medication has already stopped working, so we are in the process of trying a second medication. This whole experience has been very triggering to me.

For some reason, I have a difficult time separating my son from my inner child. I know logically that my son is not my inner child, but whenever I feel out of control in what is going on in my son’s life, I have a difficult time separating out his issues from my own emotionally.

For example, my son is seven years old, which is the same age that I was when I was vaginally raped for the first time. Because of this, his 7th birthday triggered me. I felt that I was free falling emotionally but did not know why.

Last week, the doctor told me not to medicate my son so his body could rest between medications. My son’s behaviors have been wild, and this triggers me because I fear that I cannot keep him safe. With no impulse control and hyperactivity, you can imagine the challenges in keeping a child physically safe.

On top of this, the doctor’s office did not fax over necessary paperwork for my son to receive the medication at school, so I had to make three separate trips to the doctor’s office last week (which is across town) to get this taken care of. This also triggered me into believing that my son was not “safe” because his doctor was not “protecting” him.

In my head, I know that my son is safe. Nobody has ever abused him, and he has me to keep him safe. However, in my heart, I have trouble separating out the two. When I see that I cannot “control” his safety (such as having to rely on others to medicate him), I feel unable to keep him safe, which triggers my own issues of being unable to keep myself safe as a child.

I can look at all of this logically and understand why I am reacting the way that I am, but understanding this does little to soothe the wounded child inside. It has been real challenge lately.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry Ritual Abuse and Programming, Simon posted the following question:

Theres a question ive always wanted to ask you but ive forgotten. If you have time id really appreciate a response! Here it is :-

***Could be triggering***

I trigger massively when i get water on my face. So basically i trigger when ive had a face wash or shower, or even when i go out and theres rain on my face. I can even be playing sports and ill sweat and it will run onto my face and its a MASSIVE trigger. This is less-so now ive worked through alot of memories, but ive always wondered why it is.Someone has said that maybe its because the abusers washed me after they abused me but i keep thinking it something else.

Was just wondering if you had any idea?

I had a similar question for my therapist a few years ago. I knew that I had always had a phobia of Russian nesting dolls, but I did not know why. My therapist said it might have to do with feeling constricted, but I intuitively knew that wasn’t it. I did not get my answer for at least another year, when I recovered one of my most traumatizing memories.

My short answer is that (1) I do not know the origin; and (2) you will know the origin when you are ready to process it. Our deepest triggers are a result of our deepest traumas. It only makes sense that we heal the less severe stuff first and then, once we have the confidence that we can handle the heavier trauma, we turn our attention there.

I would caution you against going out and seeking the answer. Instead, trust your own intuition to reveal the origin when you are ready to face it. Once you recover the memory, you will be wigged out but, at the same time, have a major “aha” moment. It really does feel good to put the pieces of the puzzle together and understand yourself.

If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone in having this issue with water. Check out the Incest Survivor’s After Effects Checklist. Number two on the list is…

Swallowing and gagging sensitivity; repugnance to water on one’s face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings)

I had an issue with eating cereal because I would come unglued if any milk trickled down my chin. I have my suspicions about the origin of this for me, but this has been low on my list of concerns. It is easy enough simply not to eat cereal.

I hope this helped.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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(c) Lynda BernhardtMy sister called to tell me that our mother/abuser is in the hospital. Apparently, she has been experiencing pain around her rib area and feared that she was having a heart attack. She checked herself into the hospital, where the doctor says he wants to keep her for at least a couple of days while he runs a battery of tests.

I have no idea how I feel about this. My first reaction was not how most people would react to hearing that their mothers were in the hospital. I felt no panic or sadness. I felt no overwhelming urge to drop out of my life and race to the hospital in another state.

However, I also did not feel happy about this news. I did not think that this was justice being meted out on my behalf. I took no pleasure in knowing that she is lying in a hospital bed, likely all alone because she has very few friends, I am not in her life, and my sister could not drop everything and drive five hours to visit her, either.

Honestly, what I felt was nothing, so I immediately went into what I “should” be feeling so I could act appropriately. I made myself stop this immediately.

This is how I lived much of my life. I would act and react based upon how I “should” be acting and reacting. My life was so far from normal that I could not rely upon my own instincts about how I should react. A few years ago, I would have dropped everything and rushed to her side because that is what a daughter is “supposed” to do.

I then analyzed how I would feel if she died in the hospital this week. Would I regret my estrangement? (I have not laid eyes on her since December 2003 by my own choice.) I don’t think I would. Would I go to her funeral? I don’t know. Probably. I think the closure might be good for me. I might catch some grief from my aunt, but I don’t really care about that. I seriously doubt that many people would even show up. Her passing would make my life much less complex, which is sad but true.

The only time I felt any sadness was when I acknowledged that I probably should send my mother something for Mother’s Day, especially in light of her hospitalization. I have chosen to continue “honoring” her on this stupid, card-sales-driven holiday because I have no desire to hurt or embarrass her, and my decision to blow her off on Mother’s Day would accomplish both.

Mother’s Day is always tricky because I refuse to lie. I am not going to buy her some mushy “you are such a great mom” card because she is not. I generally look for a card that reads “To Nana” and sign my kid’s name to it. However, I decided that, because I procrastinated so long, I had better send her something over the Internet and pay for speedy shipping. I decided to buy her the DVD of a movie she loved when I was a kid. That is what made me sad – the memory of her laughing hysterically at this silly Doris Day movie.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, Lack of Social Graces After Child Abuse, I shared my frustration with not knowing many basic social graces thanks to my history of being raised in an abusive environment. In this post, I would like to go into more depth about the ways that social graces are hard for me. I hope that by sharing this about myself, it will help you to feel better about your own frustrations in this area.

In many ways, I just want to be a normal person. My therapist says that I will never be “normal” (in a good way) because I have many gifts and talents that preclude me from being “normal.” That is all well and good, but it would be nice not to feel like a buffoon in social situations.

For example, I have a phobia of Russian nesting dolls thanks to a particularly savage gang rape that involved them. When my son was a toddler, I took him to the local library for story time. The librarian pulled out a Russian nesting doll, and I started to feel intense anxiety. She started to open the doll, and I had to leave the room. Fortunately, I was there with a neighbor who knew about my phobia (but not the intensity or cause), so she watched my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom. It’s kind of hard to blend in when you hyperventilate around an inanimate object like that.

I know several people who love gardening. Also, my son’s school has “gardening days” where parents come in and plant flowers around the campus. I cannot do it. I just say, “I don’t do gardening,” and let people think that I am a little princess. However, the truth is that getting dirt under my fingernails is extremely triggering to me because it reminds me of being buried alive and having to claw my way out of the dirt. There is no smooth way to work that into a conversation.

Nobody likes to feel like she doesn’t fit in. I often feel this way in groups, especially when I am around people who do not know about my history. I hate sidestepping the fact that I have not been in contact with my mother/abuser in 4-1/2 years without getting into why. Most people look down upon a person who is not in contact with her mother, assuming that she is an ungrateful jerk.

It’s hard. Yes, I have done an enormous amount of healing work. However, there are some things that I will never have that most people do, and that’s hard. It is yet one more thing that I need to grieve.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Girls on path (c) Lynda BernhardtOne of the aftereffects of child abuse that continues to kick my tail is the lack of social graces that I learned as a child. I didn’t learn any social graces beyond saying, “Please” and “Thank you” as a kid. Everything that I have learned socially I have “picked up on the street” by observing other people.

I know that Emily Post (or one of those etiquette women) said that etiquette is only needed for those who cannot be gracious. It is not that I don’t want to be gracious: it’s just that I do not know what other people’s expectations of graciousness are. Oftentimes, my attempts to be gracious just blow up in my face. I would read Emily Post, but that is apparently so outdated that I would wind up looking like an idiot, anyhow.

For example, my parents never wrote or taught me about thank you notes. Sometimes my grandparents would look at me pointedly and ask if I received the present they sent me in the mail. I would say, “yes,” and wonder why they had such little faith in the U.S. Postal Service. They never told me that I needed to send a thank you card, either.

A few years ago, I was so mortified at my lack of knowledge of social graces that I swore off parties for adults for a long time. A friend had moved into a ritzier part of town and invited her friends to her new house for a barbeque. I accepted the invitation on behalf of my family and came. There were easily 20 families there, each bringing along some sort of casserole or dessert. Hub turned to me and asked where our dish was. I told him that she did not ask me to bring a dish, to which he replied, “You always ask the hostess if you can bring anything.”

Nope. Never heard that one. The only thing my parents ever brought along were my sister and me to be abused by the hosts.

I spent the night fighting back tears as I figured that every person there thought I was a self-centered jerk. Then, I came home and bawled my eyes out in shame. I posted about all of this at my online abuse survivors message board, and my friends there were fabulous, as always. One said to come on over right now where she and her dog were hanging out in the backyard. Neither she nor the dog cared what I brought or what I wore. My presence would be the gift.

A friend at isurvive suggested that I ask, “What should I wear, and what should I bring?” with every invitation, and I would be okay. I do that, but I also try to avoid going to group parties because it is not worth the stress I put on myself. At least with children’s birthday parties, I know to bring a gift, but I still wind up doing things wrong even at those.

One of my problems is that I don’t know how to do the shallow chit-chat thing well. I am extremely good in the one-on-one setting, when pretenses are down and we are talking about things that matter. But put me in a setting with people I don’t know or barely know, and I am going to screw something up. My attempts to be welcoming to others are viewed as “too talkative.” My attempts not to be “too talkative” come across as “standoffish.” I cannot seem to find that balance.

And then there is the challenge of figuring out what to say. I don’t have the same background as most people. It’s not like I can say, “Yeah, that reminds me of the time I was buried alive and had to claw my way out of the ground,” in a conversation. Now that I am a parent, I generally fall back on kid topics, but it is still very stressful for me to generate idle chit chit. I still can’t seem to get it right.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Storm clouds (c) Lynda BernhardtI used to have panic attacks on a regular basis after suffering from child abuse. They only stopped after I did the hard work of healing from the child abuse. Until then, I had panic attacks every couple of months. I knew this was not normal, and I had no idea what caused them. I only knew that I felt much, much better after having one.

I would feel the anxiety building up for several days before having a panic attack. I knew that the only way to relieve the anxiety was to allow myself to have a panic attack. I got really good at holding myself together until I could be alone and let loose.

I would lie down in my bed and start to shake. At first, it would only be my knees. Then, the shaking would travel to my thighs and calves. Next, it would move upward until every part of my body was shaking violently. Sometimes, I would shake so hard that the headboard would beat against the wall. I would often jerk my head rhythmically, kind of like head-banging into the air instead of into a wall or pillow. I would hyperventilate and force myself to breathe more deeply. Otherwise, I would get lightheaded.

This would go on for 10 to 20 minutes until it ran its course. Then, I would just stop. My body would feel amazing. All of my muscles would feel very relaxed, and I would sleep more deeply than I had in months (or since the previous episode).

I never told anyone about my panic attacks because I was embarrassed by them. I did not understand why I had them, and I feared it meant that I was crazy. I have since learned that some other child abuse survivors have them, too.

One abuse survivor told me that wild animals shake their bodies like this to release the adrenaline. She said that rabbits are constantly in danger, but they cannot function if they are in a state of terror all the time. So, after they are chased and escape with their lives, their bodies shake to release the adrenaline, and then they go back to normal.

I wonder if that is what my body was doing. Was I just releasing adrenaline? I don’t know. All I know is that I had panic attacks for decades, and I don’t anymore now that I have healed.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Winding Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Hypervigilance is one of the aftereffects of child abuse that drives me the nuttiest. I do not struggle with it too much during the daytime. I am much more likely to “zone out” when triggered than to get hyper-focused. However, during the night is a different story.

When I lie down to sleep at night, the smallest noise can jolt me awake. I can be dog-tired and just about to fall asleep when the slightest sound makes me feel as if I have been given a shot of adrenaline. I react most strongly to any sound that makes me think that someone is about to open my bedroom door. I become instantly awake. My heart races, and I feel panicky.

I have taken several steps to ease my hypervigilance at night. I do yoga and meditation before bed to make sure I am very calm. I burn a vanilla-scented candle before bed to calm my startle reflex. I run some sort of white noise (humidifier or air purifier) to drown out noises. I also moved into my own room so my husband’s movements do not disturb me. Despite all of this, I still struggle with hypervigilance at night. I do not know what else I can do other than accept that this is part of who I am.

At least this is only an issue at night for me. I know many people who live like this 24/7. They go to a movie and cannot relax because they are so focused on the people in the movie theater around them. My sister had to get a private testing room in college because her hypervigilance caused her to bomb tests even though she knew the material well. It is tough to go about your day with your armor up, ready to fight or flee at the slightest provocation.

If you struggle with hypervigilance, you are not alone. This is a common aftereffect of child abuse.

Related Topic:

Hypervigilance and the Traumatized Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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