Posts Tagged ‘childhood abuse’

Old House (c) Lynda Bernhardt

My dreams have always been a great way to track my emotional health. For most of my life, my dreams were filled with all sorts of terror. I had recurring dreams that scared the fool out of me. Those turned out to be flashbacks of particularly terrifying events from my abusive childhood.

I have learned that dreams about houses are introspection dreams. Each room represents a different part of myself. The bathroom is the most private part of myself, closely followed by my bedroom. When I analyze the rooms, including colors and what is located inside of them, and combine that with my emotional reaction, I learn a lot about my progress in healing from child abuse.

Last night, I had the most amazing dream that drives home just how far I have come. I went to visit my childhood home, which is where much of the abuse took place. Parts of the house looked like my true childhood home. The basement looked the basement of an abusive family friend’s house, which is where my most sadistic abuse took place. One room looked like a room in my grandmother’s house. The rest of the house was purely from my imagination.

All of the rooms reeked of the 1970’s, which is when I was abused. Everything was that awful olive green, orange, and brown. Yuck.

The dream began with me in the entranceway, checking out the old house. This part did not look like any house I ever lived in. I realized just how beautiful the house itself was if we could just give it a facelift. I imagine what the walls would look like if I painted them a soft green, and I realize that this house could be beautiful.

In the den, most of the toys were suspended from the ceiling, which I thought was a real shame. Why buy all of these toys and not allow a child to play with them? There were some toys on the floor, but most of the fun was still denied me.

I moved to the basement, which is where my most sadistic abuse took place at someone else’s house. The staircase spiraled downward (which is unlike any of the real houses), but I was able to reach the perspective of exactly what the basement looked like when it happened, except that there was a fireplace with a fire in it on top of where the abuse happened. A spark flew out and caught something on fire on a table. I tried to put it out in a leisurely manner. The flame would grow and then subside. My sister got concerned, but I was not – I knew I had it under control. I never got frightened as the flames grew, and then, sure enough, I put them out, just as I knew I would.

I examined other parts of the house and found small windows that I could have used as escape hatches as a child. I found one room that I did not remember. It was in the middle of the house, but my husband told me it was the attic. I do not know what that represents.

We went outside (sister, husband, and me), and I examined the toys outside. There was an old swing that looked ugly (the chains were painted white), but it was still functional. I marveled over how well toys used to be built back then. Alongside the driveway were some swings. I had trouble getting on one, but then I got on another, stretched out on my back, and enjoyed the feeling. I would spin slowly in one direction and then the other, and it felt amazing. I took a last look at the house and said, “It isn’t an attractive house, but I guess I can understand why my mother wanted it.”

I woke up feeling a lot of anxiety, but during the dream, I really was okay. I can definitely see improvement.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

At this time of year, I like to reflect upon the reasons I have in my life to be thankful. Of course, I am thankful for my son and my sister, who is my best friend. I am thankful for my husband and my other friends. I am thankful for my dog, who just joined our family a couple of months ago but has become an integral part of our household. (That’s his picture!) Most importantly, I am thankful for the person that I have become.

Over four years ago, I made the choice to heal from my past no matter what it took. I started having flashbacks just a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2003. I was feeling completely miserable as the emotions I had repressed for decades exploded all over my life. I was so distraught that I developed acid reflux, which damaged my vocal chords enough to give me laryngitis for over a week. I found it appropriate that the abuse memories caused me to lose my voice because having no voice sums up my childhood.

I had no idea when I began my healing journey that I would remember so many traumatic events. While it was painful to re-live each one, I now sit in awe at my ability to survive them all as a young child. I started to say as a helpless child, but I wasn’t helpless. My very strong will to survive and overcome the abuse prevented me from being helpless.

Four years ago, I hated myself. Today, I love myself. No, my life is not perfect, but I still love my life. I love that I have taken all of the garbage that my abusers threw my way and turned my experiences around so that I can now encourage others to heal as I have healed. I love that I no longer live in fear. Even the fear of death has lost its power over me. No matter what, I know that I will always be okay.

I hope that each of you has a very happy Thanksgiving.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Storm Clouds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As somebody who suffered from ritual abuse, I am appalled at the ways that I see the occult being used as entertainment. My son recently attended a birthday party with a “laser tag” theme. I thought the laser tag game would take place in a well-lit room with various barriers to hide behind. Instead, the game was in a dark and cloudy room, through a maze with a big bonfire in it. I could not even watch from the observation area because the layout was too triggering for me – and I have been healing from the ritual abuse for a long time now.

Even religious activities are not immune from the occult influence. Seriously, wouldn’t church be the last place you would expect to see occult references show up? When I played the video for the end of our yearlong Bible study, I was shocked to see the narrator standing in a dark wooded area, complete with the sounds of crickets and stone artifacts that appeared to be hidden deep in the woods. I am baffled by why anyone would think that setting was a good idea for a Bible study video of all things.

And then there are the numerous movies that focus on the occult, which I won’t go into here. I kind of understand how the hooded robes made their way into Halloween stores for boys, but I don’t want to be anywhere near them. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of ways that the occult is used as a basis for entertainment.

Why is that? Are people active in the occult also in public relations and the entertainment industry? I am perplexed as to why anyone would want to go there for entertainment. Believe me, when you have been tormented and tortured at midnight deep in the woods where nobody can hear your screams, the last thing you want to do is watch anything remotely related to the occult.

I do not want to be anywhere near anything that reminds me of the ritual abuse, and I do not want my child anywhere near it, either. It seems like I have to work harder and harder to manage this.

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Plant (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many child abuse survivors fail to appreciate the power of their thoughts. Our thoughts are what keep child abuse survivors in bondage long after the abuse ends, and our choice to change our thoughts can propel child abuse survivors out of despair and into hope. Choosing the right thoughts can redefine our lives. Every thought that you have channels your energy.

I saw a poster that showed a person climbing a mountain. The caption read, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you will be right.” There is so much truth in that poster. If you think you can, then you have thoughts like The Little Engine That Could. If you think that you can’t, then you will sabotage your efforts by channeling negative energy that thwarts your efforts.

I believe the power of our thoughts can contribute to suicidal feelings. Suicidal thoughts are feelings, and feelings always pass. However, when we attach our thoughts to our feelings, thinking things like, “It’s hopeless; I might as well give up,” it is like flooring a Corvette the wrong way down a one-way street. We can very quickly find ourselves in a very dangerous place if we are not mindful of the energy we are channeling.

On the positive side, we can channel our energy to propel ourselves through the healing process. By choosing to stop negative internal messages and replace them with positive ones, we can turn the tide of how we are feeling.

About a year ago, I made the choice to say the following messages to myself multiple times a day, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry.” I chose these three sentences because they were the three messages that I most needed to hear in my childhood. I did not believe any of them, but I said them repeatedly anyhow. In time, I grew to believe them. I found that I could ground myself anytime I was triggered by saying these messages in my head.

More recently, I started telling myself that I am healed, integrated, and whole. While I had reached a place of healing, I had trouble believing it. Channeling my thoughts in this direction helped me to see that I really had healed.

If you are struggling in any area of your life, monitor your internal thoughts. Change the way you talk to yourself, and you will change the direction of your life.

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Trauma Thursday: Traumatized Child and Healing Through Mantras

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Sunlight through leaves (c) Lynda Bernhardt

As I have moved from a child abuse “survivor” to “thriver” to “conqueror,” I am finding that I have lost my excuses for the things I do not like about my life. For most of my life, I felt trapped by things outside of my control. I was afraid to stand up for myself. I was a walking doormat, rarely asking for, much less demanding, what I wanted and needed out of life.

As I have healed from my past, I have learned how to set boundaries in my life. I have learned how to say no without feeling guilty about it. I have learned to ask for and demand what I want and need in my life. And yet my life is still not perfect.

Don’t get me wrong: I really do have a good life, and I am content with it for the most part. However, as I continue to become more emotionally healthy, I am becoming more aware of the less-than-healthy relationships in my life. In some cases, I have been aware of the unhealthy aspects for a long time, but I chose not to deal with them. As I now interact with the world from a standpoint of health, the unhealthy stuff is really starting to bug me.

A year ago, I would have pointed to my history being responsible for my circumstances. I would have felt trapped in my circumstances with the need to accept where I am in my life. However, as I have healed, I have had to take responsibility for where I am in my life.

Every single unhealthy relationship that I continue to nurture is in my life because I choose to have it in my life. Every area of my life in which I wish things were different is my responsibility because I am not demanding change.

I have reached a place of accepting that things will continue the way they are in all areas of my life unless I make the choice to change them. So now, I face having to make difficult decisions – to continue to accept less healthy things in my life or to demand change. At this point, it is not an issue of fear of losing any relationship but, instead, weighing out which aspects are worth the investment of energy to change. Sometimes relationships, or certain aspects of relationships, are not worth the investment of energy necessary to change them. Not every relationship is worth saving.

Don’t worry – I am not planning any big changes in my life anytime soon. This is all part of processing my own responsibility for my own happiness in my life.

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I am walking in the waves along the beach, and I realize that I am at peace for the first time in my life. I think about the story I wrote entitled “Shards of Glass,” and I realize that my feet are no longer numb. I can feel the cool water rolling over them. I can feel the sand beneath my feet. When I reach a patch of pebbles, I am not afraid to feel their roughness – I know my tender feet have felt much worse.

I never thought that I would reach this point. My feet had been filled with so many shards of glass. I didn’t think I could ever remove them all, and I certainly didn’t think that my tender feet could ever learn to feel again. But they have. My once-crippled feet have learned to dance.

My feet still bear scars, which will never fade. But instead of being ashamed, I wear them with pride as a badge of honor. I have earned my way back to health. Survival is no longer enough. I want to thrive. I want to live the rest of my life, not just watch the days pass. I want to make a difference in this world.

My once-wounded feet are finally dancing. They may never dance like the rest of the world because they have walked a different path. But there is a beauty in their dance that others do not have – the beauty of renewal. My feet have a passion that most people will never know – the joy that arises from knowing that I can never be broken. My abusers tried their best, but they failed.

I spent the first half of my life as the walking wounded — putting one foot in front of the other and waiting for the blessed sleep of death. I plan to spend the rest of my life living … and dancing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Child abuse is like shards of glass that penetrate your body. A childhood of abuse is like being forced to run barefoot across a field filled with shards of glass. The farther you are forced to run, the more glass cuts into your feet, cutting you body, soul, and spirit.

When you finally leave the field, you just want to fit in with the people around you. You repress the pain of the glass in your feet, but the glass still affects your steps. You marvel at how others can dance with ease while you always feel crippled, but you aren’t sure why.

Eventually, the pain from the glass becomes too great, and your body is ready to heal. One shard starts to come out, and you see a memory for the first time. You cannot believe that there is glass coming out of your foot, and the pain involved in removing the glass is immense. But, after you remove the shard and examine it, that hole in your foot begins to heal, and you realize that the appearance of the shard was really a good thing. You hope that there are no more shards, but you still don’t walk well.

Another shard starts to come out – then another and another and another. Each one brings its own individual pain. Some are small and can be removed quickly. Others are large and deep, so they must be removed slowly, or you will faint from the pain. Still others are so large and deep that they break off inside of your foot, so you have to remove several smaller pieces before the one wound can heal.

It is enormously painful to remove all of the glass, but, little by little, your walk gets easier. When you are finally finished removing all of the glass, you are healed, but your foot is covered with scars. You will never be like those who have always danced with ease. But your scars are proof that your path has been much harder than most, and you know that you can walk through anything because your tender feet have already endured hell.

And, when you finally do learn to dance, your dance is more beautiful than you ever thought possible. You glide across the dance floor with an ease that your once-wounded feet never imagined. People marvel at your dance, but only a trusted few are invited to see the scars. Those who see the scars stand in awe that feet that were once so broken can now glide. Only a trusted few will ever know the true beauty that they behold when they see the once wounded feet dance.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my post, Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, I talked about how forgiveness is a process rather than a moment. I have also found that sometimes forgiveness happens in layers.

For my abusers who harmed me one time, I have been able to choose to let go of the bitterness and, over time, heal the wound and forgive. However, for abusers who repeatedly harmed me, I have had to forgive in layers. It is sort of like the difference between healing a first degree versus a third degree burn. You have to heal one layer of skin at a time if the burn runs deeper.

My primary abuser is the same person who provided most of my others abusers access to me as a child. I have found that I needed to forgive that abuser first for the things done directly to me. After I healed those wounded parts of myself, I was ready to start healing the wounds inflicted by providing access to others. I also needed to heal different layers based upon the forms of abuse inflicted upon me.

Because my wounds were so deep, it appeared to others like I continued to wrestle with the same wounds with this one abuser. In actuality, I was continuously healing my wounds – they were just very deep. I would fully heal the wounds from one type of abuse, but I would move on to another wound that was still very raw.

I still cannot say that I have fully forgiven this person, although I would estimate that I am 90% there. I do not want to invest any energy into this person, which is how I let go of the bitterness. However, it does take a very long time to fully forgive when the person inflicted multiple wounds.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my post, Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, a reader left the following comment:

The person I need to forgive is me. I did nothing wrong, and have no reason to be blamed for anything that happened, yet I feel dirty, ashamed, guilty and a million and 1 other negative emotions. They are dissipating, slowly, and as I let go of each one, I come closer to the self forgiveness and the peace that I so need.

There is so much wisdom in that comment. The reader captures well the struggles that survivors of childhood abuse face as they wrestle with finding a way to forgive themselves.

I, too, used to feel very guilty and filled with shame over my childhood, even though I did nothing wrong. I was just an innocent child. I did not choose to be abused, and I did not choose the things that my abusers forced me to do. However, no matter how much I knew these things in my head, I still felt very guilty at a heart level.

In my post Forgiveness and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, I described the forgiveness of others as the act of letting go – of choosing to stop nursing the bitterness and, instead, using that energy to heal yourself. I used the same process in forgiving myself.

Whether or not I “should” feel guilty about my history of abuse, I did feel guilty. I needed to choose to stop nursing that guilt and shame. Whenever I felt filled with shame, I would choose to be kind to myself and think about positive things, even when doing so felt foreign to me.

One resource that really helped me was the book, Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Lewis Herman. In this book, Ms. Herman talks about different causes of trauma, including soldiers who are traumatized by war. I could look at a soldier’s situation more objectively: They were drafted to fight, so why should they feel guilty? Then I thought about what that guilt-ridden soldier would say to me about things that I suffered as a young child. Taking a step back from my specific circumstances helped me to see my circumstances more objectively.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Ever since Halloween came and went, I have been struggling emotionally. It is not a constant struggle, thank goodness, but I have definitely had my tough moments. I have noticed on my favorite message board for abuse survivors that a lot of my friends are struggling, too. I suspect all of this ties into our history of childhood abuse.

When you are a child living in an abusive household, the holidays are grueling. Your lifelines – your friends and teachers – are cut out of your life as you head home for the holiday break, and you are immersed in an abusive environment 24/7 with no hope of a reprieve until after the New Year. That’s tough for a kid.

To a certain extent, I still feel that way today, even though my household is far from abusive. My friends get busy with their own holiday plans, and I wind up feeling alone in my house. This triggers all sorts of terrible memories from childhood.

I found a way to make Christmas better last year by having my sister and nephews come for the holiday. I still have not figured out a way to make Thanksgiving more bearable. We have my husband’s family come for the meal, but they come and go in less than two hours, leaving me with a long weekend of trying to entertain my hyperactive child. But I digress…

Today is Veteran’s Day, which is yet another day that my kid is out of school. My husband is traveling – again – and that leaves me feeling lonely like I did as a child. I know I will get through the day. It just feels like a foreshadowing of the black cloud that seems to settle over me as the holidays approach.

I am trying to find a way to honor the sadness of my childhood as it applies to the holidays without making this my present. I have not quite figured out how to do it yet. I need to make it a priority to do yoga and meditation every single day. I need to give myself the room to grieve but then also find the joy, too. It’s going to be another long marathon until the New Year, so I guess I had better get started preparing for it.

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Approach of Easter and the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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