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Posts Tagged ‘body memories’

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.

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.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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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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On my blog entry entitled Dealing with Memories from Preverbal Abuse, a reader asked the following question:

i have been in therapy for one year now. I started having memories of being a baby, I still doubt that these things are real. I also have realized that I too have a baby alter. When the baby comes out, it happens really quick. I get confused as to why this comes out. How am I suppose to know if these memories are infact real and not just my mind making them up because I want answers? ~ Wendy

Dealing with preverbal memories is tough because babies do not have any sort of frame of reference for “holding” the memories. All they know is that they were traumatized without any sort of language or frame of reference to begin to understand the trauma. If you were traumatized before you could speak, recovering those preverbal memories can be scary and feel overwhelming.

My advice is to believe yourself. You are not trying to convince a judge or jury of anything. Nobody is on trial. What possible reason would you have to make this stuff up? People who did not experience preverbal trauma do not have baby alter parts and do not experience overwhelming body memories from the perspective of a baby like you do.

Rather that put a lot of energy into questioning yourself, start nurturing that wounded little baby inside of you. Provide yourself with all that you missed as a baby to the extent that you can. The number one need you had was safety, so do you all you can to help you feel safe. Rock on a rocking chair, or consider purchasing a hammock to rock you as you needed to be rocked as a child.

If you will stop putting energy into doubting yourself and, instead, use that energy to love yourself, what harm will come? If your efforts to love and nurture your wounded inner baby brings relief, that’s all that matters.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Now that I have shared my story about seeing my mother/abuser again, I am ready to dive back into helping all of you! On my blog entry entitled What is a Body Memory?, a reader posted the following comment:

I have a question- I know about body memories. But I don’t get how to process them. When I try to work through them, I end up just being stuck. They come back again from time to time but they never seem to change. It was good to learn how to “manage” them. But it’s really starting to get on my nerves that I can’t seem to be able to change them. I’m working on this for almost 20 years and have been in therapy. How exactly do you do it? Any tips? ~ Anon

Body memories can be difficult to manage and heal, especially when you don’t know the origin of the trauma. This is doubly an issue for anyone whose trauma began when you were preverbal. The book When You’re Ready does a great job talking about how to process body memories for trauma that occurred when you were too young to process the memories with language.

The key to healing body memories is to relate them back to the source. For example, I used to have body memories of tasting cigarette smoke in my mouth and feeling it in my lungs, even though I have never smoked. This phenomenon happened long before I started having flashbacks. I used to wonder if it was some sort of weird “past life” phenomenon.

When I recovered the memory of the origin of the trauma (being choked nearly to death and then having mouth-to-mouth administered by my abuser, who had been smoking), I started having the body memories again. This time, I knew what was going on, so I was able to connect the elements of the one traumatic event back together again. This helped me to heal this particular body memory. I can still access that body memory or have it triggered, but, just like with any other type of triggering, I use my tools to bring myself back to the present, and that heals the body memory.

Body memories really are not any different than any other type of flashback. They can be triggered, just like visual or emotional flashbacks, and you heal them by processing the trauma that created the body memory. The most difficult part is often connecting back the body memory to the underlying event.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One topic I don’t see discussed a lot is preverbal abuse. Preverbal abuse is any abuse that a child experiences before he or she has developed language. Because the child has not developed language, he has to store the memories in ways that do not attach language. This can present quite a challenge to the adult who is experiencing body memories with no “explanation” behind them.

I read about this phenomenon in great detail in the book When You’re Ready by Kathy Evert. While this is a book about mother-daughter sexual abuse, it covers healing from preverbal abuse in powerful ways.

From what I understand from reading multiple books on the subject, our brains are like filing systems. When you experience something today, your brain looks for a similar experience in your memory bank for a place to “file” away the memory. When a baby is the one being harmed, the baby does not have enough experiences yet to file away something as mind-blowing as abuse, so the memory gets stored in a different away.

On top of this, a baby does not have the ability to describe what has happened without language, so what is stored is the reaction to the abuse. So, someone who suffered from preverbal abuse might experience flashbacks by reenacting the abuse as it occurred. If you don’t know the history, it might not make any sense. However, the flashback, experienced physically, makes perfect sense when you understand the cause.

The closest experience I have had was recovering a memory of my mother sexually abusing me while changing a diaper when I was a toddler. As I had the flashback, I had an overwhelming urge to suck my thumb even though I was in my mid-thirties when I experienced the flashback. I guess because I was crossing over to being verbal, I recovered enough in the memory to understand it. However, if I had been nine months old when this happened, this urge would not have made sense.

In the book When You’re Ready, the author talks about needing to be held and comforted in the ways that she wasn’t as a baby. An online friend told me about her strong need to be rocked, even though she was now an adult. This woman had the great idea of buying herself a hammock so she could meet this need in herself.

If you are struggling with flashbacks that are mostly bodily and don’t seem to make much sense, consider the possibility that you are dealing with a preverbal memory. If you are, then you will need to comfort yourself in ways similar to how you would have comforted that traumatized baby.

The myth that babies do not remember trauma is a bunch of hogwash. Too many people have reported similar experiences with releasing preverbal body memories to debunk that myth.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Dark skies (c) Lynda BernhardtMost people are familiar with at least the concept of a visual flashback. A person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) relives a traumatizing event by “seeing” the event take place again. Fewer are aware that flashbacks come in many other forms, such as emotional flashbacks. I have talked about non-visual flashbacks on my blog, but I would like to address the body memory form of a flashback today.

The brain is not the only part of the body that retains memories of trauma. Every cell of our bodies has the capacity to remember trauma. For example, most people have heard about amputees who continue to feel sensations from the missing limbs. Having a part of the body amputated is traumatizing to the body, and the cells of the body react by having their own form of flashbacks called “body memories.”

If you do not know what a body memory is, then it can be very scary to have one. That used to happen to me a lot. I feared I was going crazy until my therapist explained what was going on.

For example, I would be lying in my bed at night, and I would feel my body being raped. I would not be experiencing a visual flashback at the time. I would just feel the trauma of a rape and not know what to do with it.

Frequently, I would experience body memories after the initial visual flashback. For example, after recovering the memory of an oral rape, I would feel the aftermath in my throat. Or after recovering the visual flashback of an animal rape, I would feel the sensations of that rape in my body.

Body memories can be terrifying, and they make you want to claw your way out of your skin to stop feeling them.

In order to heal from a body memory, you must do the opposite of what you want to do – You need to let your body release the memory. Just like with visual flashbacks, you will only be haunted by them while you fight them. After you release them, your body no longer feels the need to experience them.

Releasing a body memory is not fun. You must surrender to the awful feelings and allow your body to feel really badly for a little while. However, if you talk yourself through them, then they will no longer plague you. Tell yourself that you already survived the abuse, so you can survive the memory. Be loving to your body and tell it that you are sorry that it endured so much abuse.

It helps if you can connect back the source of the memory to the traumatizing event. This gives the body memory a context and helps you move past the need to continue experiencing the body memory.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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