Posts Tagged ‘child abuse’

I was doing completely OK until late Saturday morning. My son’s friend spent the night, and I picked up some breakfast for the boys at a local restaurant. As it turned out, the restaurant gave us the wrong side dish for my son, and he got angry with me. I don’t know what it was about that interaction, but I was suddenly SLAMMED with Mother’s Day grief.

I am trying to focus on the positive – that I only got triggered the day before Mother’s Day instead of weeks ahead of time. As a friend pointed out, I typically start wigging out sometime in April, and that didn’t happen in this year. In fact, I was in a great mood while driving out to pick up the food from the fast food restaurant. However, once I was slammed, I was slammed hard.

I spent half of Saturday and all day Sunday fighting off tears. That’s one of the challenges of Mother’s Day – because it is supposed to be celebrating me, I don’t really have the option of blowing off my family to go grieve. I did it in subtle ways, such as taking a Sunday afternoon nap (something I rarely do) so I could have some alone time. I spent the weekend feeling like I had a heavy pit in my stomach – the grief was so heavy.

I just woke up on Monday morning, so it’s too early to say how much residue I still have to deal with. At the moment, I am still feeling depressed with little energy. At least the “holiday” is over, so hopefully I just need to recover from the weekend.

I was able to be objective enough to recognize the progress in only being slammed for half a day before Mother’s Day instead of going through that pain for weeks. I was also objective enough to recognize that this is temporary. That being said, it’s no wonder I have battled my weight (eating to “stuff down” the pain) and questioned my sanity throughout my life. Having to live with the weight of that pain is nearly unbearable.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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As I shared yesterday, my sister has always been a wonderful role model about love and acceptance. She was always willing to meet me wherever I was, whether that was in self-denial or self-exploration. Sadly, it has only been since going through the healing process that I have reciprocated the acceptance piece.

My father (the “good” parent) raised me to believe that success = money, and my mother and conservation community raised me to believe that success = being a virgin, marrying well, and being a stay-at-home mom. I split myself inside so I could believe I was still a virgin, went to law school so I could have money (even though I hated law school), married a lawyer, and quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom when my child came along. I wanted to follow the rules so I would be safe.

My sister did not “follow the rules.” She dropped out of high school after ninth grade because our mother had started abusing her again during the night. (I had left for college.) She could not stay awake all night armed with a knife and also be successful in school during the day.

I couldn’t “see” the abuse because that would have shattered my walls of self-denial. All I saw was my intelligent sister throwing away her education. With the strong encouragement of my grandparents (father’s parents), I tried to get my sister into college to no avail. Her path was very different from mine. I eventually accepted that she was going to live her life in the way she chose and that I was powerless to change any of it.

Fast-forward to her mid-thirties – My sister made her own decision (I had given up years before) to go to college. She graduated with honors with a double degree and will graduate this year with a double master’s degree. Her college experience was much richer than mine because mine was about escaping my mother whereas hers has been an adult enriching herself.

I couldn’t see my sister for who she was until I faced down my own demons. Possibly because my sister knew this about me (whether consciously or subconsciously), she loved and accepted me through it. As I removed my walls of self-denial, I was able to see not only myself more clearly but also my sister. Her journey makes sense to me today whereas it baffled me before.

I think it is my sister’s attitude of acceptance toward me that was the glue that held us together. I think she knew it was worth putting up with ignorant comments from me as she waited for me to find my way back to myself. I am so grateful that she did because I wouldn’t trade what we have today for anything!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Many child abuse survivors have remarked that my positive relationship with my sister is not the norm. Of course, I only know my own experience, so our relationship seems plenty “normal” to me. :0)

I think one reason our relationship works is because it is based on love and acceptance. We have both always loved each other, and it has always been a pure love. While we were forced to do things to each other by our abusers, we never once did anything to each other outside of duress. We both knew we were safe with each other. Also, both of us had our sister’s life used as the primary means of controlling us. We each understood the duress the other was dealing with.

As for the acceptance part, my sister has always been better at this than I have. She was a wonderful role model and patient teacher. From my sister’s end, she was always 100% accepting of where I was on my own healing journey and never tried to change me.

As I shared previously, with her “warehouse” internal filing system, she always had access to all memories if she chose to look, which means that she had ready access to a slew of memories of my child abuse. However, she went along with my self-delusions of being innocent, even though I was so determined to “forget” that I created almost a caricature of innocence. She never mocked that but, instead, embraced the lie.

As long as I needed to believe that I was innocent, my sister played along. I don’t know to what degree this was conscious and how much was subconscious, but she always treated me as if my self-delusion was truth. If she had not, I doubt we would have been as close because I couldn’t handle the truth for most of my life.

Then, when I switched gears and was ready to face my truth, my sister adapted immediately and confirmed my deepest fears. She went from co-conspirator in my self-delusions to my strongest healing supporter in milliseconds.

My acceptance of my sister’s experience was different. I’ll get into that tomorrow.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Realizing that I Had DID, a reader posted the following comment:

I am curious… maybe at some point you could post about whether or not your sister also has DID, if that isn’t too personal or invasive to share. Also, how you and your sister came to talk about the abuse and when/ how that happened. My understanding is that many siblings are driven apart when the subject of abuse comes up or they tend to avoid it altogether. You and your sister have a unique bond in that you can and do share your experiences and feelings surrounding this.

I emailed my sister to make sure she was OK with me talking about her on the blog. I also gave her an overview of how I planned to represent her (based on things she has told me in the past) since I am talking about her experience and not mine. She is 100% supportive and might even write a guest blog at some point to share her point of view.

My sister has not been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and does not relate to DID. Her diagnoses are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder. She and I endured most of the same abuses or similar variations of the same abuses.

Despite my sister not relating to DID, she does sometimes say things that, to me, sound in the ballpark of DID/being a multiple, such as asking me one day if I ever “feel short.” Yes, I do sometimes “feel short” when a young alter part comes outs. She does not relate to an alter part “coming out” but does experience “feeling short” or feeling as if she was physically different for no apparent reason.

My sister’s internal experience is quite fascinating. I haven’t heard another child abuse survivor describe it quite in this way. She says she can best describe her internal experience as a warehouse. All of the memories are stored in boxes so she doesn’t have to view any of them if she doesn’t want to. She might not know in the moment what is located in each box, but she knows the general organization of the warehouse and has the ability at will to open any box and view any memory – she simply chooses not to unless she feels a need to “go there.”

Unlike me, who truly had NO IDEA about the childhood abuse, my sister was always aware of being a child abuse victim. As a young child (around age six), she wanted to be a call girl when she grew up. Even as a little girl, she thought that she might as well profit from what was being done to her.

I’ll share about our relationship tomorrow.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have been trying to convey an important concept, but I am clearly using the wrong words because I keep having to explain what I mean. The phrase I have been using is “farther along in healing,” which at least some readers are hearing as comparing the mile marker I have reached to the mile marker that someone else has reached. That’s not what I mean, and I can understand why believing that is my intent would frustrate someone else. So, let’s work together to come up with better terminology to explain the concept I am trying to convey.

Some of this is repeated from a comment I posted to a reader, so if you get deja vu while reading it, that would be why.

When I started l healing from child abuse, I wrestled with the following questions:

  • Was I abused at all?
  • Was the abuse really “that bad?”
  • Does what I experience qualify as abuse or as a particular type of abuse (physical, ritual, sexual, emotional, etc.)?
  • Can I survive the healing process?
  • Is healing from child abuse really possible?

Different child abuse survivors might wrestle with one, a few, or all of these questions, or they might wrestle with completely different questions that fall under the same umbrella. This category is what I have been defining as “earlier” in healing. One survivor might work through these issues in a few months while another might take decades. My guess is that for most survivors, processing these questions probably takes years. At least, that was my own personal experience.

The second category, which I have been calling “farther along in healing,” encompasses child abuse survivors who have resolved most or all of these questions. I no longer doubt that I was abused. I recognize that the abuse was “that bad.” I have settled on the labels that work for me (and in some cases have decided that a label is irrelevant), and I know at a heart level that the healing process is survivable.

For me, there wasn’t a particular moment when I crossed that line for good. I spent years going over and back, over and back, over and back. However, I am now solidly on the other side of the line. I will likely never fully heal from every wound, but I am solid in accepting my history and knowing at a heart level that I am going to be OK.

I think there is value in people who have crossed that line, whether only in some ways or in all ways, interacting with those who have not. The support I received from people on the other side of the line was immensely helpful to me in my own healing journey, and I want to pay it forward.

Can someone please suggest terminology that explains this concept? I feel like I keep going in circles with people thinking I am judging their experiences, building myself up as an expert on things I am not, etc., when all I am trying to say is that I want to offer others the same hope that was once offered to me. Anyone?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Why Do Some Child Abuse Survivors Fare Better than Others?, a reader posted the following comment:

This does lead potentially to more interesting questions such as how do each of us measure our healing. I think for me freedom and joy would be key, as they were most stolen. ~ A x

I think that is a great question worth exploring together!

In the blog entry that spawned the comment, I was exploring (with no real answer) why some child abuse survivors fare better than others when they have endured similar trauma. As an example, my sister and I endured most of the same traumas. From the outside, I have “fared better” in several ways if you compare us from an external perspective (from an American point of view – I know that different cultures have different external measures). However, she definitely fared better than me in many important internal ways.

For example, I split into DID and lived most of my life from the perspective of a very innocent host personality. I disconnected so completely from many parts of myself – the core of who I am – because I could not accept the truth of having been raped by men. While I dissociated other parts, that particular piece of the trauma was so horrific to me that I rejected myself to avoid dealing with it.

Contrast this with my sister – She has always remembered everything but compartmentalized the memories so she could access them at will without having them ever-present as she went about her life. Externally, her life has been harder in several ways that I won’t go into here. Short version – her life had less external stability. That being said, she never rejected who she was as I did which kept her truer to herself than I ever was.

This very connectedness with her history directly led to many of the issues that caused chaos in her life. If you define “success” by stability, I was the more successful one. However, if you define “success” as staying connected to who you are (which, in my opinion, is a key to healing), she was much more “successful” than I was despite her outward chaos. So much of the healing process for me has involved dismantling the lies I built my identity around and discovering myself. My sister never needed to do any other this – she always knew who she was, but that connectedness led her through years of chaos. We have both suffered and struggled to move toward emotional health, but we have had to slay different demons.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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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…

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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…

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I have finally finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. The final pages of the last book, Mockingjay, inspired the topic of today’s blog entry.

Right now, my child is only 11 years old, so he doesn’t know much about my child abuse history. However, as he grows into an adult, I am not sure how much to share with him. It is natural to want to shield your child from knowing that this level of evil exists in the world, but withholding such a big part of what shaped me into the person I am could keep my child from ever really knowing me.

One of the characters from Mockingjay wrestles with the question:

How can I tell [my children] about that world without frightening them to death?

Her husband responds:

It will be okay. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver.

My question is how you do that.

The character decides:

I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do.

The same character also says:

What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.

Some of the best parts of me exist because I have survived severe trauma. I appreciate kindness and goodness much more than most people because of the dark backdrop of my childhood. Because I know what it is like to live in a world without compassion, I know firsthand that no act of kindness or goodness is wasted. Every single act of kindness matters, no matter how small.

How do I share the best parts of myself with my child while I withhold knowledge of the trauma that created them? How can he ever appreciate my strength without knowing how deeply it has been tested? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

I still have time because my child is young. However, in the blink of an eye, he will be an adult, and I will have to decide how much of my history to share with him. Withholding where I have been feels like withholding myself.

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