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Posts Tagged ‘recovering memories’

I have more ritual abuse memories coming, and I am not looking forward to them. However, I know that they are a necessary part of my healing, so I will deal with them as they surface.

One might be the memory that explains my obsession with my teeth. Both my sister and I have this obsession. I have always loved going to the dentist. I own my own dental tools for scraping away tartar between visits to the dentist. I brush my teeth a minimum of five times day – so much so that I have caused myself gum damage.

I have been experiencing body memories for a few days now regarding my teeth. It feels like my teeth are being sunk into something that is softer than flesh but much more solid than a liquid. The closest I can describe is the fluoride treatments that were used back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – that gooey plaster-feeling substance. I can feel that on my teeth – both the top and bottom teeth. That memory will probably explain why I found fluoride treatments to be so triggering when I was in high school and college, although back then I didn’t know what “triggering” was.

I also suspect that I will be recovering the memory that explains why splinters are so triggering to me. Splinters have always been triggering to me. As a young child, my son knew that mommy cannot remove a splinter. The family rule has always been that, if it isn’t bother you too badly, wait until Dad gets home to remove the splinter. If it is really bothering you, I will take you to the doctor now. So, I would meet my kid’s needs, but I absolutely, positively could not do it myself. I know this is not “normal.”

My kid had a friend spend the night last weekend who got a splinter in my watch. My husband was out watching a ballgame with his father, so he wasn’t around to help. My kid actually helped his friend get the splinter out. They would describe what the splinter looked like, and I got very triggered – very dizzy like I was going to pass out – and I could feel sheer terror in my thighs. (My yoga instructor says that we hold our fear in our thighs.) I am sure that memory is going to be a doozy.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled How Do You Convince Yourself to Feel the Pain after Child Abuse?, a reader posted the following comment:

My problem is, I have blocked memories. I cannot remember no matter what I do or how hard I try. When I was really working on it, I just started having memories come up and I became so fearful, especially that it was all a figment of my imagination, that I mentally shut down to all of it- as a matter of fact, I would almost think I was completely healed, so detached I am from it all, if it were not for the fact that I still other issues that are not resolved. But the “remembering” part- fear shut me completely down. I try to do memory exercises and my mind just wanders away from it. ~ heavenly places

I have been dealing with this issue as well, so I took it as a sign that I needed to write about what happened.

I, too, still have blocked memories. I have learned from experience not to go searching for them, though. I actually have a few strategies that I used in the early years to go searching for repressed memories. They were effective in releasing them, but I was not prepared for the fallout of dealing with them. Getting the new information is interesting because I have the “aha” moments where another piece of the puzzle helps me to understand my life. If I could just remember the event without the emotions, I would probably just yank out all of the memories at once and be done with it.

The problem is that each new memory comes with a flood of emotions. The more trauma you experienced, the more anger, fear, grief, etc. is locked away with each memory. When each memory surfaces, you have to receive all of those emotions as “mine” and deal with them. I have learned that my subconscious mind knows better than I do when I am ready to deal with a particular memory.

Instead, I invite new memories to come out. I have learned what it feels like when I have another memory that needs to surface. When that happens, I tell myself that I am ready to receive the memory. I reassure myself that I already know the ending – that I survived the trauma – and that I am OK today.

The night before writing this, I effectively dealt with the part about not believing a memory. In the early years, I would go back and forth – Did it happen or didn’t it? Where is the proof? Doubting what the little boy or girl inside is telling you is not “inviting.” You need to believe what you recover in order to heal.

I recently shared recovering a memory of my mother/abuser being present for the ritual abuse, not participating but also not intervening. The next piece of the puzzle that came was her masturbating while I was being harmed (this is the new information from last night). My first reaction was to question myself – Did this really happen? Am I making this up? How can I believe this? How could I know?

This time, I just said, “Stop.” Instead, I chose to believe the little girl inside. I decided that whether or not my mother/abuser was actually masturbating during the ritual abuse is irrelevant to my healing process. What matters is that the little girl inside perceived that her mother was “getting off” on seeing me hurt. My actions and reactions as a little girl are based upon this perception. I am not in a court of law – I am alone in my bedroom trying to heal from deep trauma. I am not seeking to have my mother thrown in prison or even a confrontation. What she was doing and why is irrelevant to my experience. My experience is based upon a belief that she did this, and my belief as a little girl traumatized me. The little girl inside needs love, acceptance, and healing, not a cross-examination.

When I made this choice, I could feel the depths of the healing taking place inside of myself. It felt similar to when my host personality integrated, although it was not to the same degree. Something powerful took place when I made the choice to believe in myself no matter what and stop cross-examining myself. I have a feeling that this choice is going to lead to more “unbelievable” memories surfacing because I will just receive them with belief and focus on healing, not on questioning myself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled How to Work through Memories of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

my major problem is owning he memory. How can you own it when the memories are so unreal? Alot of my memories are about rituals and torture, and sexual games, trying to tell yourself this was your life you just don’t remember it is so unreal. How do you believe the memories and work through them when they are so evil and weird that your mind couldn’t even think such things let alone believe them? ~ Kelly

On yesterday’s blog entry, I focused on the bigger picture of believing your own memories. Today, I am going to focus on believing the “unbelievable” memories – those that are too horrible, sadistic, etc. to be believed.

I have had to work through “unbelievable” memories more times than I can count. If you have read my story, then you understand why. I had to work through the reality of what I endured, and my reality happened to be “unbelievable” in many respects. I did not choose to be abused, nor did I choose the types of abuses that I suffered. The “unbelievable” element of the abuse I suffered is not under my control, but I always have a choice to believe myself.

One of the comments to my blog entry yesterday summed this up nicely:

It sounds as though the path to healing is the road of acceptance. I had not realized it before, but what you said about getting better when you accepted your memories and getting worse when you denied them, is exactly what has been happening to me. hmmmmmm…. sounds easier then it is. ~ Barbi

Healing from child abuse really is that simple – unfortunately, simple is not the same thing as easy.

The key is to stop fighting yourself. When you experience a flashback (recover a memory), you are releasing some of the trauma that, up until this point, you have been using an enormous amount of energy to repress. This is a natural part of the healing process that will go much more smoothly if you will simply accept the memory at face value. Yes, it will be shocking and upsetting, and the release of the memory will come with the release of emotions related to that incident. If you will choose to embrace the memory as “mine” and express the accompanying emotions, then you will not spend too much time dealing with that particular trauma. Accept and release it, and the flashback loses its power.

If you spend a lot of time questioning whether this could have really happened and/or fighting the memory and emotions, the process is going to move a lot slower. The natural process of healing to is release it all, but you are acting as a roadblock by fighting it. The more you fight the natural flow of healing, the more pain you will experience for a longer period of time. It sucks, but the only way over the pain is straight through it.

Once you choose to believe yourself, no matter what comes up, the process gets significantly easier – still painful, but easier. As you learn to work with yourself, you will develop strategies to get through the most “unbelievable” memories.

For example, I recovered a memory of being forced to perform sexual acts on my younger sister. At first, I fought it because it was “unbelievable.” I had never heard of this form of abuse, and it made no “sense.” I thought child abuse was about the abuser getting sexual pleasure out of the experience, and S (my most sadistic abuser) was present and forcing this contact but seemingly got nothing out of it (was not a participant). I finally recognized that I needed to believe myself, even if I was “wrong.”

Then, I moved into fighting it because I could not handle it. If I was my sister’s abuser, then I really was “one of them” and just wanted to die. My own healing process dispelled this fear by releasing a montage of mini-flashes of my sister being forced to perform sexual acts on me. I “knew” at a heart level that neither of us were the abusers – both were being forced by S (and others). This freed me to accept the memory and deal with. Processing the guilt, shame, horror, anger, etc. was excruciating, but I was able to release this, which brought an enormous amount of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled How to Work through Memories of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I am wondering the same thing as Kelly…it’s so unreal … how do I believe memories like those, let alone “work through them”? Will I ever really know that they are real and I”m not just crazy or sick…I do have some physical issues but no scars…unless I can actually uncover photographs or the people involved actually confess these same memories to me, independently of me telling them about them? Is it ever possible to be really “sure” when you’re working purely from “memory”? ~ Lilo

I, too, had a very hard time believing my own memories, especially in the beginning. First of all, I did not believe in repressed memories. I thought that people would remember anything that had ever happened to them, so I must just be crazy. Second, my first memories were of my mother sexually abusing me, and “moms don’t do that.” I could recall ever hearing about a mother doing that to her daughter, so how could those memories be true?

Next, I did not believe the memories because they were from an out-of-body perspective. How could I possibly remember the back side of my body? How could I have a “from the ceiling” perspective of the abuse? Also, the memories were so amazingly detailed and clear – How could that be possible? How could I possibly remember that I was wearing pink pants during a particular incident that happened when I was only three years old?

These are all questions I threw at my therapist, and he kept telling me that my experience was normal! I was certain that the next “proof” of my own insanity would be enough for him to commit me, but my therapist kept validating me over and over again. He even told me that the “insane” patients try to convince you that they were abused, but the child abuse survivors try to convince you that they weren’t!

In the early days of recovering memories, I desperately wanted proof. I found the validation I needed in small ways, such as recovering a memory in which my mother wore a particular hairstyle and then verifying that her hairstyle did, in fact, look like that when I was that particular age. Another time, I recovered a memory of hugging a toy dog after being abused. I found a picture of me at the same age holding that dog.

I am fortunate to have a sibling who has been able to verify many of my memories. We endured many abuses together, and we both have the same memories of what happened – sometimes with a different focus but still consistent memories of the same event. We also suffered many similar abuses separately, which was also validating.

Now that I am seven years into my healing journey, I see the validation in other ways. I see it when I learn about how old (pre-therapy) friends and doing and realize just how amazingly f@#$ed up most of them are today. (Thankfully, there are exceptions, but most of them are people who have been through therapy like I have.) If not for my choice to heal, I would likely be in the same place.

I also find validation in recognizing the degree to which I was broken, including the many aftereffects I have dealt with (eating disorder, self-injury, insomnia, night terrors, etc.). Further validation comes from seeing how much more emotionally healthy I am versus seven years ago. If I simply made all of this stuff up or was mentally ill, how is it possible that I am now so much healthier than I used to be?

Confession time – I have never received an official diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID) from a therapist because mine is not big on labels. He did use the label of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a particular reason that I won’t go into now, and he knows about all about the alter parts, but his focus was always on learning how to love and accept myself and my experiences rather than on labeling me. I would sometimes question whether I really had DID, even though I “knew” that I did.

I received that validation from fellow child abuse survivors at Isurvive and here. If I did not endure the memories that I have recovered and never had DID, then how is it that my words resonate so deeply with other child abuse survivors? Why do they understand me so well when most people in my life haven’t? Why does my advice help so many other people?

I have found validation in many ways over the years, but the most important validation came from myself. When I chose to believe myself, I healed. When I chose not to believe myself, my symptoms grew worse. Choosing to believe my memories meant releasing myself to the natural process of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my About Faith Allen page, a reader posted the following comment:

How do you work through memories? I have a very difficult time working through or blogging about things I remember. It is an extremely painstaking process. And my mind will not even bring up blocked memories. In fact, I got so good at forgetting, I continue to do it at age 42, even a lot of good present stuff. When I blog a memory, there is sits. And here I hurt so much. Then what? What should come next? So I talked about it. Is that all? Should it get better from there? ~ Heavenly Places

Working through memories of child abuse is painstaking work and takes a lot of time and energy. You are not going to feel better magically overnight – it is a healing process that is kind of like healing a very deep wound. You might not see any evidence of healing taking place on the surface at first, but healing is happening at the deepest levels, and the wound is gradually healing even when you cannot tell that it is.

Remembering the trauma is only the first step. You need to find a way to accept that experience as “mine,” and you need to process all of the emotions that came with that traumatizing event – the anger, the terror, the shame, etc. Frequently, child abuse survivors experience these pieces separately, but you need to connect them back together so that, for example, your anger is directed toward the abuser for what he did to you.

I strongly recommend that you work through the Survivor to Thriver manual, which does an excellent job of walking you through the healing process of any form of child abuse (including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse). There is a natural process in healing emotionally, just as there is a natural process of healing physically. This book does a wonderful job of explaining what to expect as you move through your emotional healing.

As you process the memories that you do remember, you will free yourself up to deal with the more traumatizing memories that you might not yet remember at a conscious level. This is your mind’s way of protecting you from having to face too many painful memories at one time. You will remember more as you are ready.

Finding a good therapist is also a very important part of healing. Think of your therapist as a healing process “tutor” who can guide you through healing exercises that are specific to you. Your therapist can answer your questions as you go and help you learn how to express your emotions about what you have been through.

The specifics of the healing process are not the same for everyone, but the big picture is – You heal by learning how to love and express yourself, which includes accepting everything that you have been through as part of what has shaped you into the person you are today. Believe it or not, as you learn to love and accept yourself, the memories of the abuse lose their “punch” and simply become a part of your history. This frees you up to choose to live your life in whatever manner you want, freed from the guilt and shame of your past.

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I am a bit shaky as I write this blog entry because I just recovered another memory that I have been working toward for a while. By the time this blog entry publishes, this will be “old news,” and I will be fine. However, in the moment, I am shaking and have a bad headache.

Here is what I have always remembered:

The summer before my junior year of high school, a rising senior befriended me and recruited me to be on the school’s flag corp. I really did not have much interest in waving a flag around or attending football games, but it meant she and I could hang out, so I joined.

I was not a good member of the team. I got sick or had a debilitating headache before just about every game and competition. I think I only attended one (or possibly two) of the weekly games before abruptly quitting halfway through the season. I have spent my entire life beating myself up for being such a flake.

When I was a junior, there was a sophomore who acted like she knew me, but I did not know her. For two years, she would go out of her way to say, “Hi, Faith” whenever she saw me, but I had no clue who she was or why she kept talking to me. She wound up marrying one of my ex-boyfriends, so she was at my 20-year high school reunion with him. She thanked me for being so nice to her at band camp, and I looked at her like she had two heads because I had no memory of ever going to a band camp.

*****suicide triggers*****

I was suicidal for much of my junior year and even wrote a term paper on teen suicide. I would spend many hours fantasizing about the way I wanted to die. I finally confided in my mother about the suicidal feelings. She responded by laughing about it at church, which got back to me. I would have swallowed a bottle of pills immediately if a friend and his mother had not intervened. They pulled me through, and I found hope again.

*****end suicide triggers*****

My most sadistic abusers, S & L, had three children. The youngest was M, and he was maybe three or four years older than me. I never liked him. After my family moved away, my parents stayed in touch occasionally with that horrid family. When I was around 13, we got together with S & L and M at a country club, and M tried to come onto me. I was so revolted and just wanted to get away.

Here is the missing piece I just recovered:

*****sexual abuse triggers*****

I did go to band camp. Somehow, M was there, and he raped me during the night in a field. I don’t know what he was doing there or how he lured me out of the cabin into the darkness of night, but he did. Maybe my parents sent him to check up on me??

This is why I have had such a tough time recovering this memory. I knew it had to be more trauma (most likely sexual abuse), but I had no aversion to anyone in my high school that raised a red flag as a perpetrator. I never felt unsafe at high school. As I recovered the memory, the “what” came easily, but the “who” kept evading me. It was physically painful to “look” at the face of the person who did this, and then I had a hard time believing what I saw.

This is such a big piece to my high school puzzle – Why I quit the flag corp., which angered a lot of people … Why I struggled with suicidal urges throughout my junior year (band camp was the summer before junior year) … Why I was always sick before any flag corp. event …
I also realize that I have spent decades beating myself up for being a flake when I was really just protecting myself. If M could show up at one flag corp. event, he could show up at others.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am not really sure how to categorize what I am going through right now, so I am just going to share the story and stop worrying about labels … I had a Reiki appointment last week. I had been in a really great place for about two weeks (and knew it wouldn’t last, so I savored every minute!). At my Reiki appointment, I am supposed to state an “intention.” Because I was in such as great place, my intention was “whatever is for my greatest good.” Big mistake! LOL

In the course of the Reiki, the Reiki master “saw” a “vision” while she was over my second chakra. She saw a boy in the age range of 8-12 sitting alone in a chair. She tried to communicate with him, but he just glared at her. He would look down, look up with a glare, and look down again. Then, she saw light envelop the boy. He stood up and walked out of a door filled with light. My Reiki master had no idea what this meant but found it interesting.

That afternoon, my anxiety returned, but I could not explain why. I slept fitfully and felt “off” the next day. One of my friends said that I looked pale and was concerned about me. I could not get enough food in me and kept eating. (I have a long history of binge eating.) The next day, I started using my tools — stay present, listen to positive music, focus on uplifting things, etc. The urge to eat was still there but not as strong.

That night, I had a dream. I was absolutely terrified and refused to look. I kept hiding my face so I wouldn’t see it. There were flashes and sheer terror, but I was too frightened to look. I awoke in a cold sweat.

The next night, I dreamt that I was a teenager visiting my mother/abuser and sister at our old house (where we lived when I was a teenager in college and my younger sister was still living at home). My sister was much more messed up than I realized and had a heroin problem. She wanted to eat. We stopped by my Sunday School teacher’s house, where I shared some things about my faith.

Then, we wound up back at my mother’s house. My friend E was there. (In my dreams, she represents my protector alter parts.) She was debating whether to make another key, so I made the choice for her by eating my copy of the key. That way, she had to hold the key. I then went to my old bedroom. I was naked and wanted to find some clothes. The door opened, and my mother, sister, and others were there looking at me. I threw a sheet over myself. They left, and I rummaged through the drawers trying to find anything that I could wear.

When I woke up, I knew that the binge eating was about stuffing down the memory (which is why I ate the key in my dream). I decided to get the flashback over with, but I couldn’t reach it. Instead, I visualized myself walking into a very cold room. I saw my child self naked and badly beaten lying on the floor. I picked her up, wrapped her in a blanket, and tried to bring her out of the room, but there was a force that would not let her leave. So, I carried her to a room by my heart that is cozy and warm. I got the “good mother” (a nurturing alter part) to nurse her wounds, and I shut the door that can only be opened from the inside.

So, I clearly have more $#%& to deal with, but I am apparently not ready to go there yet, even if it is for my “greatest good.” I told you this was a difficult experience to describe! LOL

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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