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Posts Tagged ‘flashbacks’

Victory (c) Microsoft

Victory (c) Microsoft

I recovered my Achilles’ heel – the final piece to the puzzle that explains my freak out whenever I see a splinter, my aversion to silence, and my need to use the bathroom immediately before bed, even if I just went five minutes before. With the recovery of this memory, I have fully reclaimed myself – Hallelujah!

***** trigger warning *****

I have already written about the first three parts of this memory. Part 1 is about being buried alive, and Part 2 is about being buried alive with my sister’s “corpse.” Part 3 was about being forced to “kill” my sister, which happened immediately before being put into the box. What I recovered this morning is Part 4.

To weave it all together, I was told that it was time for my sister to die and that I had to be the one to kill her. My entire life was about doing all sorts of vile things to keep her safe. Her death was not an option.

They put something (a rag??) in my hands and told me to smother her with it. I touched her face as lightly as I could, but she “died,” anyhow. My guess is that the rag had ether or equivalent on it to knock her out. They told me that she was dead.

Next I was brought to the “burial site” by the large box I have already described. They made a dramatic entrance with my sister’s limp body in someone’s arms. They placed her into the box and then said that because I was a “bad girl” and killed my sister, I would be buried with her. They made me get into the box and then buried us.

Whether or not I was ever actually buried is another story. That box was HUGE, and I seriously doubt they dug a hole that deep. However, I **believed** that we were buried, which is what is relevant to processing the trauma.

I was frightened but resigned to die. My reason for living was lying “dead” beside me, so I was ready to die as well. I shut down. Then, after a period of time, my sister “came back to life.” The air in the box was already warm, and I feared that my sister might suffocate, so I tried to break out of the box. I always obeyed the rule not to show emotion, but I gave it all I had. I screamed, hit, and clawed the box, desperately trying to get out. That’s how I got the splinters, which were a tangible reminder later that this event really happened, which is why they were always so triggering to me.

Once my sister was fully awake, she joined in trying to escape from the box. No matter how hard we tried or how loudly we screamed, we were trapped, and the more we screamed and moved around, the hotter it got in the box. This is why my sister freaks out unless she has air flowing onto her at all times. She keeps a fan everywhere she goes.

We eventually gave up after a long period of time, and then it was completely silent except for the sounds of our breathing. That’s why silence freaks me out – I always have to have white noise going in the background. We laid there a very long time, so long that I lost control of my bladder – hence the need to use the bathroom immediately before bed every night.

The wait went on and on and on and on and on. I have no concept of time in my memory, but it felt like hours. We were eventually released from the box into the cold night, and somebody gave me a blanket. The kindness of the blanket after the cruelty of the box messed with my head even more.

So, that’s the end of the “old me” story. I am relieved to have finally reclaimed this part of myself so I can heal it.

I sobbed heavily after “reliving” this memory this morning. I played Contemporary Christian music the entire time and couldn’t even get out a “help” in prayer because I was so distraught. I felt God all around me, telling me that this didn’t break me because He wouldn’t let it.

I have nothing left to fear. All of the traumatic memories have been recovered, and I survived! I survived the abuse, and I survived the memories. I know that I have a “fun” couple of weeks ahead of me as I process the emotions, but I WON! I won the war against my abusers and within myself. It might take me a while to recover from this last battle, but the war is won. I am a new creation, and my past no longer has power over me. Praise God!

Photo credit: Microsoft

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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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For some reason, I seem to uncover more pieces of my story on Saturday nights. A friend pointed out that the ritual abuse likely happened on Saturday nights, so that might be the connection.

Last night, I knew that I had more memories to release. I was in front of the bonfire again at the 6 o’clock position, and my sister was at her usual 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock position. I realized that I have never – not in all of my flashbacks to date – seen anything at 3 o’clock. So, I forced myself to look through the darkness and saw my mother.

My adult reaction was that it made sense. My child reaction was both anger and deep grief at the betrayal. My own mother was there watching as I was gang raped, photographed, etc., and did nothing.

It gets worse…

I don’t think I have shared that my mother/abuser has always been obsessed with animals. We bought a large plot of land (well over 100 acres), and she had a ton of animals – 7 or 8 dogs, multiple cats, chickens, horses, cows, a goat, etc. The animals always came first to her. If we were low on food, a trip to the grocery store was not a priority unless and until she got low on dog food. Once she needed dog food, we knew that she would buy more food for us.

The one memory I have of the ritual abuse in which my mother did not pull me out of bed, drive me there, and then drive me home was the time they killed my dog. This was an unwanted puppy from a stray dog my mother took in who was already pregnant. The plan was to adopt out all of the puppies, but I begged to keep one puppy – H. She was my dog, and I loved her dearly. That was the dog that my abusers killed in front of me. That was the only time that S & L (my most sadistic abusers) took my sister and me camping with my dog, so they had access to us and the dog without my mother around.

The reason they wouldn’t want my mother around is that she might have intervened for the dog – the unwanted dog. She would sit there and watch (never participated) as my sister and I were gang-raped, photographed, and tortured, and do nothing. She could be trusted not to intervene for me – her own child – but could not be trusted not to intervene for an “unwanted” dog.

To the adult me, all of this is in perfect character with my mother. To the wounded child inside, I feel so amazingly betrayed and valueless in her eyes. I want to kick and scream, and I want to shed a flood of tears. Of course, hub and child are home today, so I can’t do that … so I am writing it all out here.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

My first six months of therapy were intense, to say the least. To this day, my therapist (T) will marvel about how I covered a few years worth of therapy in such a short period of time. I was like a runaway freight train. I decided that if I was going to go through this painful healing process, then I was going to give it all I had and get it over with as quickly as possible.

I had weekly therapy sessions, but they were really more of a check-in and reassurance than anything else. I was doing most of the work on my own at home. I have read many stories of DID patients who need the T to facilitate communication among the alter parts and who recover memories in his presence. That was not my experience.

I recovered a new memory just about every night. When I was in that in-between state of awake and asleep, I could feel the pull to recover another memory. I would willingly follow that pull and explore what I needed to remember.

What I had read and heard about flashbacks was a bit different from what I experienced. I had heard that many veterans who saw the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan had flashbacks in which they thought they were back in the war again. So, my expectation was that I would believe that I was a child being harmed again. That’s not what it was like.

Instead, I experienced what Judith Herman calls a “dual reality” in her book Trauma and Recovery. Yes, a part of myself was reliving the trauma. However, another part of myself was completely aware that I was lying safely in my bed, and I used this to my advantage. As I would experience a flashback, I would tell myself that I already survived the abuse, so I can survive the memory. Sometimes I would play a silly song in my head to calm myself down.

I learned that I could stop and rewind a memory as long as I was truthful with myself about being willing to revisit the memory the next night. Some memories were so traumatizing that I had to return to them several times before I could get through them.

While I had a flashback, the details were unbelievably vivid, as if I really was back in that time and place again. However, in the morning, they would be just like any other memory that I could retrieve at will but were no longer vivid.

Each memory unleashed intense emotions. That is what I had the hardest time dealing with. Recovering the memories was actually “fun” at times because the pieces of my life started falling into place. It was like uncovering my own mystery. I was okay with having the information – it was the emotions that kicked my tail.

After recovering my first memory, I stayed in a very bad place emotionally for six straight weeks. Then, one day the clouds parted, and I felt really good. I felt like I could breathe again, and I got a taste of what life could be like without being in pain. This reprieve only lasted for a few hours, but it gave me the hope of what my life could be like after I dealt with the pain of my past.

After six months, my healing process blessedly slowed down, and my therapist recommended that we cut back to biweekly sessions. I took a lot of pride in recognizing that I had done an enormous amount of healing work and built up the confidence that I really was going to get through this.

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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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Microscopic view (c) Lynda BernhardtWhen I was going through the healing process, a visual flashback was obvious to me. I was suddenly reliving something traumatic. I would “see” and experience the event happening again while, at the same time, knowing that I was safe in my bed. I did not pick up on non-visual flashbacks quite as quickly. I had them for a long time before I knew what they were.

For example, I would sometimes taste cigarette smoke in my mouth, even though I have never smoked. When I would taste the cigarette smoke, I would feel panicky but not know why. The answer came later when I recovered the memory of my abuser almost smothering me to death. She was punishing my younger sister for some perceived non-compliance by smothering me with a pillow. I did not even bother to fight it because I knew that it would only make things worse. My abuser was so caught up in upsetting my sister that she failed to realize that she took things too far.

From here, the memory moves to the ceiling. I saw her yelling at my limp body, but my body did not respond. She then removed the pillow and checked to see if I was breathing – I wasn’t. She dragged my body to the bathroom and told my sister to go upstairs and get my parents. Meanwhile, she gave me mouth-to-mouth and resuscitated me, all the while telling me that I was not worth going to prison over. She had recently smoked a cigarette, so when I came to, I could taste the cigarette smoke in my mouth and lungs.

She told my parents that she had found me on the floor in the bathroom. She said that I must have slipped and bumped my head on the toilet. I was disoriented and said nothing. My parents told me to be more careful and left my sister and me downstairs to play.

Today, I have been having more emotional flashbacks surrounding this event. I don’t know what has triggered it today. All I know is that I will suddenly start feeling like I cannot breathe, even though I can. Even as I take slow, deep breaths, a part of myself feels as if it is being deprived of air. It is a really weird feeling.

Isn’t post-traumatic stress disorder fun?

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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