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Posts Tagged ‘awakening to your own truths’

On my blog entry entitled How to Work through Memories of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

my major problem is owning he memory. How can you own it when the memories are so unreal? Alot of my memories are about rituals and torture, and sexual games, trying to tell yourself this was your life you just don’t remember it is so unreal. How do you believe the memories and work through them when they are so evil and weird that your mind couldn’t even think such things let alone believe them? ~ Kelly

On yesterday’s blog entry, I focused on the bigger picture of believing your own memories. Today, I am going to focus on believing the “unbelievable” memories – those that are too horrible, sadistic, etc. to be believed.

I have had to work through “unbelievable” memories more times than I can count. If you have read my story, then you understand why. I had to work through the reality of what I endured, and my reality happened to be “unbelievable” in many respects. I did not choose to be abused, nor did I choose the types of abuses that I suffered. The “unbelievable” element of the abuse I suffered is not under my control, but I always have a choice to believe myself.

One of the comments to my blog entry yesterday summed this up nicely:

It sounds as though the path to healing is the road of acceptance. I had not realized it before, but what you said about getting better when you accepted your memories and getting worse when you denied them, is exactly what has been happening to me. hmmmmmm…. sounds easier then it is. ~ Barbi

Healing from child abuse really is that simple – unfortunately, simple is not the same thing as easy.

The key is to stop fighting yourself. When you experience a flashback (recover a memory), you are releasing some of the trauma that, up until this point, you have been using an enormous amount of energy to repress. This is a natural part of the healing process that will go much more smoothly if you will simply accept the memory at face value. Yes, it will be shocking and upsetting, and the release of the memory will come with the release of emotions related to that incident. If you will choose to embrace the memory as “mine” and express the accompanying emotions, then you will not spend too much time dealing with that particular trauma. Accept and release it, and the flashback loses its power.

If you spend a lot of time questioning whether this could have really happened and/or fighting the memory and emotions, the process is going to move a lot slower. The natural process of healing to is release it all, but you are acting as a roadblock by fighting it. The more you fight the natural flow of healing, the more pain you will experience for a longer period of time. It sucks, but the only way over the pain is straight through it.

Once you choose to believe yourself, no matter what comes up, the process gets significantly easier – still painful, but easier. As you learn to work with yourself, you will develop strategies to get through the most “unbelievable” memories.

For example, I recovered a memory of being forced to perform sexual acts on my younger sister. At first, I fought it because it was “unbelievable.” I had never heard of this form of abuse, and it made no “sense.” I thought child abuse was about the abuser getting sexual pleasure out of the experience, and S (my most sadistic abuser) was present and forcing this contact but seemingly got nothing out of it (was not a participant). I finally recognized that I needed to believe myself, even if I was “wrong.”

Then, I moved into fighting it because I could not handle it. If I was my sister’s abuser, then I really was “one of them” and just wanted to die. My own healing process dispelled this fear by releasing a montage of mini-flashes of my sister being forced to perform sexual acts on me. I “knew” at a heart level that neither of us were the abusers – both were being forced by S (and others). This freed me to accept the memory and deal with. Processing the guilt, shame, horror, anger, etc. was excruciating, but I was able to release this, which brought an enormous amount of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled How to Work through Memories of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I am wondering the same thing as Kelly…it’s so unreal … how do I believe memories like those, let alone “work through them”? Will I ever really know that they are real and I”m not just crazy or sick…I do have some physical issues but no scars…unless I can actually uncover photographs or the people involved actually confess these same memories to me, independently of me telling them about them? Is it ever possible to be really “sure” when you’re working purely from “memory”? ~ Lilo

I, too, had a very hard time believing my own memories, especially in the beginning. First of all, I did not believe in repressed memories. I thought that people would remember anything that had ever happened to them, so I must just be crazy. Second, my first memories were of my mother sexually abusing me, and “moms don’t do that.” I could recall ever hearing about a mother doing that to her daughter, so how could those memories be true?

Next, I did not believe the memories because they were from an out-of-body perspective. How could I possibly remember the back side of my body? How could I have a “from the ceiling” perspective of the abuse? Also, the memories were so amazingly detailed and clear – How could that be possible? How could I possibly remember that I was wearing pink pants during a particular incident that happened when I was only three years old?

These are all questions I threw at my therapist, and he kept telling me that my experience was normal! I was certain that the next “proof” of my own insanity would be enough for him to commit me, but my therapist kept validating me over and over again. He even told me that the “insane” patients try to convince you that they were abused, but the child abuse survivors try to convince you that they weren’t!

In the early days of recovering memories, I desperately wanted proof. I found the validation I needed in small ways, such as recovering a memory in which my mother wore a particular hairstyle and then verifying that her hairstyle did, in fact, look like that when I was that particular age. Another time, I recovered a memory of hugging a toy dog after being abused. I found a picture of me at the same age holding that dog.

I am fortunate to have a sibling who has been able to verify many of my memories. We endured many abuses together, and we both have the same memories of what happened – sometimes with a different focus but still consistent memories of the same event. We also suffered many similar abuses separately, which was also validating.

Now that I am seven years into my healing journey, I see the validation in other ways. I see it when I learn about how old (pre-therapy) friends and doing and realize just how amazingly f@#$ed up most of them are today. (Thankfully, there are exceptions, but most of them are people who have been through therapy like I have.) If not for my choice to heal, I would likely be in the same place.

I also find validation in recognizing the degree to which I was broken, including the many aftereffects I have dealt with (eating disorder, self-injury, insomnia, night terrors, etc.). Further validation comes from seeing how much more emotionally healthy I am versus seven years ago. If I simply made all of this stuff up or was mentally ill, how is it possible that I am now so much healthier than I used to be?

Confession time – I have never received an official diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) from a therapist because mine is not big on labels. He did use the label of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a particular reason that I won’t go into now, and he knows about all about the alter parts, but his focus was always on learning how to love and accept myself and my experiences rather than on labeling me. I would sometimes question whether I really had DID, even though I “knew” that I did.

I received that validation from fellow child abuse survivors at Isurvive and here. If I did not endure the memories that I have recovered and never had DID, then how is it that my words resonate so deeply with other child abuse survivors? Why do they understand me so well when most people in my life haven’t? Why does my advice help so many other people?

I have found validation in many ways over the years, but the most important validation came from myself. When I chose to believe myself, I healed. When I chose not to believe myself, my symptoms grew worse. Choosing to believe my memories meant releasing myself to the natural process of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my About Faith Allen page, a reader posted the following comment:

How do you work through memories? I have a very difficult time working through or blogging about things I remember. It is an extremely painstaking process. And my mind will not even bring up blocked memories. In fact, I got so good at forgetting, I continue to do it at age 42, even a lot of good present stuff. When I blog a memory, there is sits. And here I hurt so much. Then what? What should come next? So I talked about it. Is that all? Should it get better from there? ~ Heavenly Places

Working through memories of child abuse is painstaking work and takes a lot of time and energy. You are not going to feel better magically overnight – it is a healing process that is kind of like healing a very deep wound. You might not see any evidence of healing taking place on the surface at first, but healing is happening at the deepest levels, and the wound is gradually healing even when you cannot tell that it is.

Remembering the trauma is only the first step. You need to find a way to accept that experience as “mine,” and you need to process all of the emotions that came with that traumatizing event – the anger, the terror, the shame, etc. Frequently, child abuse survivors experience these pieces separately, but you need to connect them back together so that, for example, your anger is directed toward the abuser for what he did to you.

I strongly recommend that you work through the Survivor to Thriver manual, which does an excellent job of walking you through the healing process of any form of child abuse (including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse). There is a natural process in healing emotionally, just as there is a natural process of healing physically. This book does a wonderful job of explaining what to expect as you move through your emotional healing.

As you process the memories that you do remember, you will free yourself up to deal with the more traumatizing memories that you might not yet remember at a conscious level. This is your mind’s way of protecting you from having to face too many painful memories at one time. You will remember more as you are ready.

Finding a good therapist is also a very important part of healing. Think of your therapist as a healing process “tutor” who can guide you through healing exercises that are specific to you. Your therapist can answer your questions as you go and help you learn how to express your emotions about what you have been through.

The specifics of the healing process are not the same for everyone, but the big picture is – You heal by learning how to love and express yourself, which includes accepting everything that you have been through as part of what has shaped you into the person you are today. Believe it or not, as you learn to love and accept yourself, the memories of the abuse lose their “punch” and simply become a part of your history. This frees you up to choose to live your life in whatever manner you want, freed from the guilt and shame of your past.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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