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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

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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PhotobucketOn my blog entry entitled In a Weird Place Today, a reader posted an excerpt from a blog entry entitled The Truth About “Feeling Sorry for Yourself”….. I am so grateful to have learned about that blog entry because it has really helped me clarify where I am emotionally right now.

The following paragraph summarizes the blogger’s position on feeling sorry for yourself:

When experiencing hurt, anger, frustration, sorrow, depression, dissapointment….etc. there is a natural urge which leads towards healing. If we were to “go with the flow” on feelings alone, most of us would probably feel really sorry for ourselves for a while, comfort ourselves, and then, find ways to feel better, and eventually get back into the game. ~ Illusions at Powerful Intentions

I think this explains very nicely where I am right now. I have felt the need to withdraw from most people in my day-to-day life, but I haven’t been able to articulate why. I am coming to realize that I need to “be” right now. I need to “be” with my feelings of grief. I don’t want anyone else cheering me up, distracting me, or trying to fix it. I don’t want to analyze what happened in the past, what I should or shouldn’t be doing now, or what I need to do in the future. I just want to “be.”

My therapist advised me many times to learn to “sit” with my emotions. Don’t try to stuff them down with food, drown them with wine, or control them in any way – just let them “be.” Perhaps I am finally understanding this on a heart level.

I have been frustrated by gaining five pounds since the latest flashbacks surfaced. I am not binge eating, but I am doing some comfort eating. Reading that blogger’s article helped me to recognize that, while I am not wild about the weight gain, it is coming from a place of compassion and comfort.

I am still not very good at knowing what I need or how to nurture myself. I have been trying to follow whatever feels right in the moment. I have played the piano more in the past week than I have in the past year. I have watched TV and eaten cookies. I have written when I felt like it and refrained from writing when I felt like it.

I have been trying not to label where I am right now as “good” or “bad” – it just is. However, reading that article has helped me to see where I am in a more positive light.

When I have head cold, I know there is nothing I can do to make it magically go away. I accept that I am going to feel lousy for a few days. I eat some chicken soup, nap, and watch TV – little things that I know will comfort me until I feel better. I don’t think where I am right now is much different, only the pain is in my spirit instead of my body.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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It has been five days since a dysfunctional friendship of nine years ended. I won’t go into the details because why it ended really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a relationship I nurtured for almost a decade is over, and the real reason it ended was because it was dysfunctional.

I have no question that the relationship was long overdue for ending. I should have ended it a while ago, but I didn’t because when I love, I love deeply. I am also a loyal friend, so I have a habit of sticking with relationships long past when they should have expired. The relationship was once very meaningful and helpful to me, especially in my early therapy years. I don’t forget that and feel guilty about pulling away when the relationship no longer fits.

I have been grieving the loss, and I have had a bunch of different emotions swirling around my head. The primary emotion is anger because of the pointless way it ended. The other person tossed me away as if I never mattered, and that makes me angry – after all I invested in this person, it pisses me off that the other person so easily brushed me aside in one fit of anger. I am also angry about the other person’s alleged reasons for treating me this way. I accept that I need to let the anger run through me and out so it doesn’t turn into bitterness.

I am also sad and have done some crying over the death of this friendship. The sadness has been secondary to the anger, but I suspect as the anger abates, more sadness will follow.

The weirdest part is the absence of the friendship. I’ll watch something on TV and think, “I need to tell __ about ___ … No, wait, she isn’t in my life anymore.” She was such an integral part of my life for so long that it feels weird not having her to talk to about X, Y, and Z. I am not talking about leaning on her emotionally. I am talking about the fact that a TV show we both like will have new episodes airing next month or something funny that happened today. It’s just weird to notice the absence as I go about my day.

My therapist has warned me that I might have regrets about how long I chose to stay in the friendship, but I don’t know if I will. I made the decisions I did for the reasons I did, and those decisions led me to where I am today. I feel no need to beat myself up for things I did or did not do before today.

I also feel no guilt about the friendship ending. She blew it up, not me, and she blew it up over something so ridiculous that I think it was an excuse to get out. I don’t think this dysfunctional friendship was healthy for either of us any longer. I wish we could have parted amicably and downgraded to acquaintances, but it is what it is.

This isn’t my first dysfunctional relationship to end, and I am sure it won’t be the last. I’ll get through it just as I always do.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I shared yesterday that a dear friend of mine passed away. Lori Schmitt was the owner and operator of Isurvive, which is a message board for adult survivors of child abuse. Lori did not create the board. I found it in 2003 (and don’t know how long it had been around before this), and Lori took over roughly two years later (~ 2005). Isurvive was a good place before, but Lori took it to a whole new level, adding the toll-free number, the chat room, a Positive Transitions forum, a place for survivors of ritualized abuse to talk, and many other enhancements. Although I never met Lori face-to-face, she was very dear to me, and I am so saddened by her passing.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not coincidentally), I spent yesterday morning thinking about healing mentors and the sadness of losing them. I was doing yoga for the first time in a while (because I battled so much illness this winter), and I started thinking about P, my one-on-one yoga instructor who moved away a couple of years ago. P was much more than a yoga instructor to me. She is a fellow child abuse survivor who is much farther along her healing and spiritual journey than I am.

I would see P for a yoga session every three or four weeks, but I always got so much more out of it than yoga tips. She was always so “in tune” with where I was emotionally. She just “knew” when I was doing well or (as was typically the case) struggling, and she always had the answers I needed to find my way. She moved to another state a couple of years ago, and it was hard to see her go. She was a safety net for me of sorts, always putting me back on the right path both emotionally and spiritually. Without her here to guide me, I have to take responsibility for doing this myself.

As I mused about the loss of this mentor, I had no idea that another mentor had already left me the day before. Lori was another person who always believed in me, always saw the best in me, and was always there for me. While I rarely leaned in her in the past several years, she was my safety net. Just knowing that she was there for me helped give me the courage to fly … to this blog, among other things. Now that safety net is gone. Even though I know I don’t need it, there is something hard and sad about knowing that you are now on your own.

Of course, we are never alone. We grow and change, and we transform from being the mentee to the mentor. Our investments in others have ripple effects. Because of Lori’s investment in me, I invest in all of you. Several of you have told me that I have inspired you to start your own blogs, and you will wind up investing in others as you do this. I hope that Lori is able to see just how many lives that she touched and that the ripples from her kindness will continue for many years to come.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I had another tough week with the Beth Moore Bible study I am working through entitled Breaking Free. Don’t worry – What I have to talk about today is not religion-based, so there are no religion triggers in it.

This week’s focus is on childhood dreams from girlhood and the ways that your faith can fulfill those dreams. I felt like a fish out of water, and recognizing my lack of these dreams hurt … I guess because it drives home just how different my childhood was and how this was another loss for me to grieve from childhood.

Beth Moore says that all young girls have the following four dreams and that this is one reason little girls love fairy tales:

  1. To be a bride
  2. To be beautiful
  3. To be fruitful
  4. To live happily ever after

We were supposed to put a check mark by each one that we remember dreaming about as a little girl. I could not check any of them.

I had no dreams of growing up to be beautiful because I “knew” I was not beautiful as a child. My mother forced me to keep my hair in a boyish cut and dressed me in boyish clothing. Until I hit puberty, people constantly thought I was a boy. On top of that, I saw myself as “ugly” because of the abuse.

Quite frankly, I have no desire to be “beautiful” today because I don’t want to attract anyone’s sexual attention (not even hub’s.). The more beautiful a woman is, the more men think about her sexually, which I see as dangerous. I had a well-meaning friend offer to give me a makeover, and I told her no quite firmly. I am not plucking my eyebrows into a sexy arch, wearing sexier makeup, dressing to flatter my figure, or wearing high heels because all of these things would attract sexual attention, and I don’t want any. I don’t want anyone to see or think about my body. I do believe this ties into why I struggle so much with trying to lose weight even though I work out an hour a day most days each week.

I did not dream of being a bride … I did not think that anyone would want me, and I was frankly shocked when hub did. I definitely had no dreams of being fruitful as a little girl because I saw that as more helpless children that I would have to protect, and my sister was enough. I used to have my Barbies abort their babies, and I hated dolls. You can forget living happily ever after – My dream was to grow big enough that my abusers could no longer hurt me.

And then here was the kicker that made me cry – The question: “Who is someone you are absolutely certain loves you?” and then list how you know. My answer was no one. I might have said my son a couple of years ago, but his mood swings sometimes make me question this. I know I have many people in my life who need me, but “needing” me is not the same thing as “loving” me. I sometimes question if I am in people’s lives because I am “useful” rather than because I am loved.

Do I know in my head that I have people in my life who love me? Yes. Is my heart certain of anyone’s love? No. I am certain that there is not one person in my life who is in it forever and that any of them could leave at any time. Yes, I know that my loved ones who have moved away still love me, but that doesn’t do me a lot of good when they are 8 hours away by car. I feel like I am easy to leave. I don’t begrudge people for following their dreams (or their husbands’ dreams), but it doesn’t change the fact that they leave. So, no – I am not absolutely certain about anyone’s love for me on this planet, and that hurts.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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On my blog entry entitled Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Alter Parts: Understanding Sad Parts, a reader posted the following comment:

I keep having this huge need to just sob LOUD and long, and it’s accompanied by stinging behind my eyes like I’m about to cry, but I can’t do it. That doesn’t feel like “mine”, do you know what I mean? It feels like I’m faking it, like I’m doing something I don’t feel. It’s spontaneous and I’m trying to make it go away, actually! … I want to try to help that younger part; these waves need to go away. Is there anything I’m missing here? ~ Mamarosebud

A sad alter part is a part of you, but you split off the sadness because you couldn’t handle the sadness when you experienced it. You need to grieve, but it feels odd because it doesn’t feel like you, but it is you. Yes, I understand this because I have been there.

The first time I really let all of the tears spill out was a bizarre experience. I began sobbing, and I kept experiencing “loud thoughts” that I was just putting on a show and crying for attention. I felt shame for crying. However, I fought back, thinking, “There is nobody else here, so for whom am I putting on a show??”

I have had sad alter parts that desperately needed to weep, but I could not bring myself to access those tears. I had to keep coming back to that part of myself before I could release the pain. I could feel the weight or heaviness of the sadness, but I did not feel sad because that part felt so separate.

What worked for me was listening to a sad song and invite the alter part to come out and cry. It took several passes before I was successful. After I finally did reach that part, I sobbed and sobbed. It felt miserable in the moment but much, much better afterward.

The only way for the sadness to “go away” is for you to give the sadness a voice. You don’t have to experience the tears as “mine” yet. Just invite the sad part out to grieve, and comfort that part of yourself, even if it feels foreign to you. Fighting it is useless because it is just going to keep coming back and might even become more powerful. Instead, invite that part of yourself to grieve, and love that part through it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I shared recently, my beloved 16-year-old beagle passed away. I was heartbroken all that day and spent many hours crying and grieving his loss. By the next day, I was okay. In fact, I was even able to appreciate the ways in which my life was easier, such as not having to administer two pain medications and carry the dog in and out to use the bathroom all day.

Some people might assume that I did not love this dog because I adjusted to life without him so quickly, but that simply is not true. I raised him from an eight-week-old puppy. As with the book Marley and Me, his life story is the story of my family. My husband and I were newlyweds when we adopted this dog, and so many of my memories of my son are intertwined with memories of this dog. Yes, I loved him.

So, how can I adjust so quickly to his passing? I think this about resiliency, not a lack of caring. Many people believe that if they spend years in mourning after a loved one passes away, refusing to adjust to a life without the loved one, they are somehow proving the depth of their love. Instead, I believe this is just a lack of resiliency and inability/refusal to adjust to a new reality.

Those of us who survived child abuse also survived many losses. We learned at a young age that loss was a part of life – the loss of innocence, safety, loving relationships, etc. My life has been filled with loss, so why is it so shocking that I am resilient and can adjust quickly when I experience a loss?

I have only experienced two losses that I did not recover from quickly. The first was the death of my father, although even then, I did not understand why I should struggle since he was rarely around. I have since recovered the flashbacks of my mother starting up the abuse again. So, my issue was not with adjusting to my father’s absence so much as to the lack of safety that resulted from his passing.

The other loss was that of infertility. The problem with infertility is that there is a monthly hope followed by a monthly loss. It was the emotional rollercoaster of the ups and downs that really got to me. Once I accepted my infertility as a permanent fixture in my life, I was able to grieve my infertility loss and heal that pain.

My mother-in-law passed away suddenly a few months ago. Hub took my strength as a sign of not caring or not loving deeply enough. The reality is that I have become resilient in my grief. I have no expectation of those that I love being in my life forever. We will eventually part, such as through growing apart, moving away, or one of us dying. That is just a reality of life. Therefore, when a loss happens, I am not “shocked” that life can be cruel. Instead, I try to appreciate the relationships I have in my life while they are in it, knowing that they are a gift for now rather than a fixture forever.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I know this is not related to child abuse, but I had to put my beloved 16-year-old beagle to sleep this morning. It was long past due. He was mostly blind and deaf, and he was in constant paint. We had him on three pain medications, but it wasn’t enough. It was cruel to make him continue on in pain.

I know he was 110 in people years, but it still hurts. I loved that dog.

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