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Posts Tagged ‘Can I let go of abuse I don’t remember?’

This week, I have been talking about the need to remember enough of the trauma to “let go.” I have also been sharing some personal examples of how this process has worked for me. You can catch up here and here.

I don’t want anyone to think that there is something “wrong” with them if they don’t experience the same results that I did in “letting go” of my most traumatizing memory in about three weeks’ time. Healing is not a race or a competition.

I don’t think it is possible to “let go” of trauma in three weeks without a significant amount of practice and experience in working through trauma. When I first started on my healing journey, I recovered memories of the mother-daughter sexual abuse. My “breakthrough crisis” lasted for six weeks – every single minute of six weeks. I then got a four-hour reprieve where I realized there was actually life after this horrifying experience. When the four hours ended, I was right back where I was before – drowning in emotional pain – but this time I had the **hope** of a future that was not consumed by pain.

My therapist assured me that the healing process would move me toward shorter difficult periods (from six weeks to hours or days) and that the easier periods would grow longer (from four hours to weeks or even months!). Of course, I had a hard time believing this in the moment, but it gave me hope.

Healing from child abuse is a process of remembering what happened and finding a way to accept it as part of who you are. The way you get from A to B is going to vary from person to person. For me, yoga and meditation were a huge part of this process. For Michael, yoga is just about the last thing he would do, but art has been very helpful. Art is not my thing (unless you classify writing as “art”), so many of the tools he shares are not tools that I have used. However, we are both moving from A to B one trauma at a time.

The more experience I have in healing from trauma, the better prepared I am to navigate through new memories. My new memories seem to be surfacing about once every six months now, and I am growing more confident in my ability to work through them. If I could just “let it go” without having to remember, I would. That hasn’t been my experience. I need remember enough to heal, and I cannot “let go” until I remember and process.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my last blog entry, I answered the question of how a person can “let go” of a traumatic memory that he or she does not remember. I said that you can’t. “Letting go” of a traumatizing memory before processing it is simply denial. The trauma will continue to plague you until you process it. I then shared me experience with healing from mother-daughter sexual abuse – I didn’t have to remember every abusive experience to heal.

Now I would like to focus on healing from the ritual abuse. I recovered my first inkling of there being any ritual abuse with a flash of my soul/spirit being high in the treetops looking down at a bonfire (out-of-body-type memory). Since that first flash, I have recovered quite a few horrific trauma memories of the ritual abuse.

I believe I have needed to process more specific ritual abuse memories than I did of mother-daughter sexual abuse because the ritual abuse memories had significant differences that I needed to heal. With the mother-daughter sexual abuse, it was mostly the same thing over and over again, so I only needed to remember a handful of memories to heal. However, the ritual abuse varied, traumatizing me in different ways. I have had to process specific traumas that are different from one another, at least different enough that I need to work through them one at a time versus in a blanket way.

I started working through the healing process (having flashbacks, seeing a therapist, reading self-help books, etc.) in 2003, and I started working through the ritual abuse traumas in 2005. Even though I did a lot of trauma work and experienced a significant amount of healing, I was still extremely triggered by Christmas because of the memories I just worked through this past Christmas, which I blogged about here:

I could not “piggy-back” that trauma with the other ritual abuse memories despite the fact that I have done an enormous amount of work processing traumas from ritual abuse. I had to remember what happened before I could “let it go.”

I haven’t yet shared what an amazing transformation has taken place inside of me from letting go. For the first time ever, I decided not to “do” anything with those memories. Other that writing about them on the blog, I did not analyze them. I did not sit around thinking about them. I didn’t do exercises to work through my emotions. Instead, I chose to “be” with whatever I felt without judgment or action.

For about three weeks, I was probably clinically depressed. I withdrew from everyone in my life to the extent I could. I didn’t return phone calls or get together with friends. I just went about my day feeling sad. I tried to visualize allowing the pain to pour out of me with nothing to interfere with the process – no distractions, no advice, no trying to make it better, etc.

After about three weeks, I miraculously felt better – I mean really, really better. I found myself sometimes singing Christmas carols and appreciating the beauty of Christmas lights at night. I stopped feeling the urge to wear my “Bah Humbug” shirts. By remembering what happened and “letting go” of the emotions, I found freedom from the emotional bondage.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled What Does “Letting Go” Mean?, a reader posted the following comment:

How do you let go of abuse you can’t remember? I try to tell people who don’t understand PTSD, “you can’t forget what you can’t remember.” ~PW

The short answer is that you can’t. Trying to “let go” of memories you have not yet processed is simply denial. Well-meaning people sometimes advice child abuse survivors to “let it go,” but what they really mean is to shove it back down inside so nobody has to deal with it. What these people don’t realize is that until you process the trauma, it continues to affect every single area of your life. You cannot “let it go” until you process the trauma.

Considering how much trauma I suffered as a child, I feared I might not live long enough to process every single memory of every traumatizing incident in my life. My therapist assured me that there is no need to recover every memory of the abuse (thank goodness!) You need to process just enough to reach a place of working through accepting that one area of trauma.

For example, I know that my mother sexually abused me from when I was a toddler through around age six. I can pinpoint the length because I recovered a memory of her sexually abusing me as a toddler and then another memory of myself at around age six when my father walked in on my mother hurting me. That’s when her sexual abuse stopped (although it started up again briefly after my father’s death when I was 16).

My mother was a stay-at-home mom and had 24/7 access to my sister and me except when we were in school, so I know there were more incidents than the two. However, I have only recovered a handful of specific memories of being sexually abused by her. One was when I was two years old, and she performed a “new” sexual act on me. Another was the memory of my mother sexually abusing my baby sister in front of me for the first time (when I was four). Within these flashbacks are the thoughts I was having, which confirm that these four incidents were not the only times she sexually abused me.

I have been able to process the trauma of being sexually abused by my mother by working through this handful of specific memories, even though I was likely sexually abused by her hundreds of times. As my therapist said, I don’t have to put myself through reliving all of those incidents. I need to remember enough of what happened to process it and heal.

This blog entry is getting too long, so I will continue with this topic tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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