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On my blog entry entitled Differences Between Ritual Abuse and Other Forms of Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

hi. dont mean to be annoying…just dont know where to seek answers to my questions in my head. seems like the images are more dominant and ever present but i cant get clear answers from within my brain. i imagine or remember fire torches. not fancy ones. 3 foot tall. garden snakes, earthworms. kneeling. hypnotic manner. hands folded. that wooden object inserted into me with the opening and 3 claws. what is the number 3 in any of this? and a smell and noise. not music. mold. and another smell i cant place. what would my parents being swingers have to do with it. and i know i was sexually abused by my father, 2 neighbors and a man he worked with. related > or not? such confusion. i dont know where to seek the answers i want. i have always been a self injurer in many ways. and i have always ‘known’ some of the images in my head. thinking i was just crazy. my sister remembers men in a place but nothing else and has 5 yrs missing. i remember the weird shit. no people. any idea where i can seek answers? ~ Malanie

I am going to address Malanie’s questions from my own perspective (which is pretty much all I have to offer).

For me, the ritual abuse memories are different from the other abuse memories. I never self-injured (or even considered self-injuring) throughout a year’s worth of recovering memories of mother-daughter sexual abuse. However, when I started having the first “flashes” of ritual abuse memories, I kept feeling strong urges to bang my head.

With the mother-daughter sexual abuse memories, they started with the release of body memories, and I would then recover “linear” memories of seeing/reliving an event that happened. At first it was from the perspective of the ceiling (could actually see myself from behind). Then, I moved into recovering memories in a linear way.

The ritual abuse memories come differently. I would experience a flash here and a flash there that made no sense because there was no context. I would experience deep terror, despair, the urge to self-injure, and a deep desire to die. While recovering other abuse memories was no picnic, that was different from recovering the ritual abuse memories.

I see a lot of commonality between what Malanie posted in her comment and some of the flashback memories I have recovered. My first ritual abuse memories were of the bonfire from a distance. I am very triggered by fire torches.

I, too, am haunted by the number 3, but I don’t know why. I used to keep a dream journal back when I was in my teens and twenties. Even dating back to those dreams, I saw a pattern of threes, and I continue to dream in patterns of threes. I have been perplexed by this for many years. I have speculated whether this represents being harmed in body, soul, and spirit, but that doesn’t seem to “feel right.” I don’t know the significance yet.

My parents were also swingers with the couple who brought my sister and me into the cult. While the husband was upstairs with both of my parents, the wife would come down to the basement where my sister and I were playing, and she would “groom” us for the cult. I don’t know why swinging was part of this – I only know that it was.

The answers you seek are inside of you already, and you will remember as you are ready. This has been a slow process for me. The mother-daughter sexual abuse memories came tumbling out one after another, but it hasn’t been that way with the ritual abuse memories. I’ll remember just a flash at first, and I will feel the terror. As I am ready, I will remember more.

With ritual abuse memories, I frequently remember one event in pieces. I might recover through one trauma and assume that was all. Then, after I process the first piece (which might be after one day or after a few months), I will recover memories of additional trauma that built upon the first.

I still have numerous “blanks” from the ritual abuse. I know through my triggers that I was drugged, but I have recovered no memories of being injected with anything. I know that my severe reaction to splinters is indicative of trauma, but I have no idea what happened to cause that reaction. The same is true of my triggering of fingernails that “split.”

You will remember as you are ready. The ritual abuse memories are encased in terror, so they will take time and lots of gentle self-care.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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Writing the blog entries about ritual abuse this week has been hard. I have a major headache right now, and I have been feeling triggered as I worked through the topics this week. The worst part is the terror – the deep-seated fear that I am going to be “punished” for breaking the silence of the cult.

Ritual abuse and terror go hand-in-hand. I suffered from many forms of abuse at the hands of many people, but none of the forms of abuse is coupled with the same level of sheer terror that I felt from the ritual abuse.

I am not worried about the cult members coming after me. For one, I have been very careful to shield my off-line identity. Also, this abuse happened back in the 1970’s, so most of my ritual abusers are either very old or dead at this point. I have not been in touch with any of my ritual abusers in decades. Also, I am not providing any identifying information, so they are safe from any sort of punishment for their actions at this point.

Instead, it is an internally-generated terror that bothers me. The terror comes with feeling very cold. In fact, whenever I have nightmares involving the cult, I have to pile blankets on top of myself in order to fall back to sleep, even in the middle of summer. The coldness permeates my bones and reaches down to the very core of myself.

Whenever I think about the ritual abuse (which is not very often), I remember the icy coldness. The abuse always happened outdoors in the middle of the night, so I was cold from that. But it was the coldness in the ritual abusers’ eyes that really froze me. It was like they were not human. It felt very much like how Harry Potter describes the dementors in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was as if the ritual abuse tried to suck the life out of me.

However, they did not succeed, and I am very proud of that. They had all of the power, and yet they still could not control one little girl. No matter how hard they tried, they could not succeed in breaking the will of one little girl. I never became like them, and I never will. Their actions have affected every single area of my life, but they could not turn me into one of them. I can live with the terror, so long as I know that I am my own person. I have the power to make my own choices. They never controlled me, and they never will.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Ritual abusers are masters at “programming” a child’s mind. By “programming,” I mean that they “implant” self-serving behaviors to control the child. While this might sound like a science-fiction movie, I assure you that it is very real. I know because I experienced it.

I was suicidal as a teenager. It started soon after I went through puberty. This is common among sexual abuse survivors. After reaching puberty, the child appreciates the gravity of what was taken through rape at a much deeper level. I battled suicidal urges on and off throughout my teen years.

When I would fantasize about how to kill myself, it was always by swallowing a jar of pills. I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. I never considered another form of suicide.

This changed during my senior year of high school. My father (the “good” parent) died suddenly, and my mother/abuser started sexually abusing me again. I felt an overwhelming desire to die with a razor. The thoughts kept swirling around my head that I wanted to “watch the lifeblood flow out of me.”

I even came close to doing it. I locked myself in my mother’s bathroom with a razor and prayed for God to give me one reason not to do it. Fortunately, I fought my way out of those feelings and put my suicidal desires behind me.

I did not deal with suicidal urges again until I started recovering memories of the ritual abuse. I also did not ever deal with self-injury before I started to recover ritual abuse memories. I dealt with the pain of infertility, the frustration of the adoption process, and other very difficult life circumstances without self-injuring or considering suicide. I even made it through a year of the healing process without either, including recovering memories of my mother sexually abusing me.

As soon as I started recovering ritual abuse memories, I started banging my head as a form of self-injury. I wanted to bang my head repeatedly into a brick wall – not just any brick wall but a particular one with messy mortar that was never smoothed down. I also felt very strong urges to “watch the lifeblood flow out of me.”

Neither of these urges seemed to originate from myself. If I were to choose to self-injure, I think would probably choose cutting. I would definitely choose a less messy way to go through with a suicide. And yet, I was plagued with both of these very strong urges once I started recovering memories of the ritual abuse.

I came to recognize that these urges were programmed into me. The cult “programmed” me to self-destruct rather than tell. The brick wall I “saw” with the self-injury urges was a particular one that the cult used as part of the programming. The cult taught me the phrase “watch the lifeblood flow out.” This is not something I would have come up with on my own – certainly not at age 16.

The good news is that programming is much easier to remove than your own deep-seated feelings about yourself. As Chrystine Oksana says in Safe Passage to Healing, programming is like a foreign object, and the mind is eager to remove objects that do not belong.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Before my sister and I ever were forced to attend a cult ceremony, we were “groomed” for our role in the cult. The cult members who brought us into the cult were family “friends” who were a married couple named S & L. The wife (S) was the primary “groomer.”

S started ritually abusing my sister and me in her basement when we were around five and seven, respectively. The number one rule was total obedience at all times. We were not permitted to have wills of our own. Any deviance from immediate obedience would result in the sibling being tortured while the “transgressor” watched helplessly. This method was very effective because while I might be willing to take my own lumps after showing defiance, I was not willing to choose to have the pain inflicted upon my sister.

S would set us up to do things that violated our moral codes as a way to break our wills.

++++ ritual abuse and animal abuse triggers ++++

For example, she forced me to kill a small kitten with my bare hands. With my sister, S used a bird. To this day, I am very uncomfortable around kittens, and my sister is afraid of birds.

Ritual abusers just keep upping the ante until breaking the moral code is preferable to the alternative. For example, the ritual abuser might tell a child to kill a kitten. If the child refuses, then the abuser kills another kitten. The abuser says that the child is responsible for that kitten’s death because it would still be alive if the child had only obeyed. If the child continues to resist, then the ritual abuser kills a second kitten, then a third, and so on.

At some point, the child kills the kitten to save the lives of the other kittens. At this point, the ritual abuser “wins” because he has succeeded in forcing the child to break his own moral code. The ritual abuser also makes a point of telling the child that she “chose” to kill the kitten.

+++++ end triggers +++++

These are the kinds of abuses that ritual abusers do to break the will of the child before the child begins attending cult ceremonies. By the time the child attends a cult ceremony, he is already terrified of his ritual abuser. Add to that being abused at night in a rural area by robed people around a fire, and the child is very unlikely to disobey or tell anyone else about the abuse.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Throughout my life, I have struggled with panic attacks. I rarely get them any longer since I started the child abuse healing process. However, I got them with regularity throughout my adult life before then.

I still remember the first time I had one. I was in my teens (maybe 14), and my body would not stop shaking. It scared me because I did not know what was going on. To my knowledge, there was no trigger involved. My baseline was always anxious, but suddenly I could not hold it in any longer.

I remember calling out to my father from the hallway and asking him what was wrong with me. I kept shaking – violently shaking – and I could not stop. I was hyperventilating. I thought I was losing my mind. My father had no idea what was going on with me, either.

After that first time, I had panic attacks with regularity. About every two or three months, the anxiety would build to a crescendo, and then the panic attack would come. I would lie in my bed, and the shaking would begin. It would start with my head and move down to my entire body. My body would jerk so violently that my headboard would thump against the wall and disturb everyone in the house. It would get harder and harder until it felt like my body was going into convulsions.

I would hyperventilate while my body shook. I would usually cry because I was so frightened. This would go on for about ten to fifteen minutes and then abruptly stop. My body would feel relaxed, and I would then feel soooo much better. I would sleep better than I had in weeks.

I heard other people talk about panic attacks, but theirs did not sound like mine. I never heard about another person having a similar type of panic attack until I read the book, Safe Passage to Healing, by Chrystine Oksana, who is also a ritual abuse survivor. Finally, my panic attacks made sense.

I finally worked up the courage to talk about my panic attacks over on Isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. One of the members explained to me that my panic attacks were a normal (and effective) way of managing my overwhelming anxiety. She explained that wild rabbits are routinely traumatized by being chased by numerous types of animals. When they get away and are safe, their bodies shake. This is how they work the adrenaline out of their bodies and succeed in going about their lives, even though they are traumatized routinely by being chased with the potential of being another animal’s lunch.

I don’t know if the comparison is correct or not, but it does make sense. I think the panic attacks were a way for me to manage the overwhelming terror from the ritual abuse memories.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Panic Attacks and the Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I would like to get back to talking about ritual abuse. I moved on to other topics last week to answer a couple of questions, but I really want to spend more time talking about the “taboo” topic of ritual abuse.

Today, I would like to explain expulsion ceremonies. If you were ritually abused by a cult and left with any notice at all, then you likely endured an expulsion ceremony. In some cases, the teenager or adult ritual abuse survivor tells the cult that she is leaving. In other cases, the child is moving away or leaving for another reason out of her control. (This is what happened to me.) If the cult knows that the ritual abuse survivor is leaving, then they put the child through an expulsion ceremony.

The purpose of an expulsion ceremony is to instill enough terror to silence the ritual abuse survivor forever. As long as the child is going to be terrorized by the cult on a regular basis, the cult has a perpetual way to ensure that the child never tells. However, once the child leaves the influence of the cult, there is a risk that she might tell someone about the ritual abuse. So, the cult puts the child through a horrific ceremony filled with terror to ensure that the child will never tell.

This happened to me when I was 11 years old. My parents moved us 30 miles away, and apparently this was far enough to move my sister and me away from cult activities. So, the cult put me through an expulsion ceremony. Of course, I did not know what it was or why they were putting me through it. Honestly, I thought they were going to kill me rather than let me leave.

I have already written about some of that night here. I am going to try to write about it now, but it will be hard. I am already feeling triggered.

+++++ severe ritual abuse triggers +++++

The cult leader told me that I was going to be “sacrificed” tonight. The ceremony would begin when he got to the smallest Russian nesting doll. (I have always had a phobia of Russian nesting dolls.) He opened doll after doll, and it was excruciating never knowing if the next doll was going to be the last one.

He shoved the smallest doll inside of me and then raped me. After that, all of the cult members savagely gang-raped me. This involved both men and women manipulating every orifice of my body at the same time.

Then, the cult leader made me walk over to the bonfire and lie down on something cold (maybe a slab of granite??). He said that it was time for me to die. He held up a knife and gave a long speech, so I was frozen in terror for a long time, waiting to die. Then, he dropped the knife and told me that I was not worth sacrificing. I was not worthy. I was not good enough.

Then, he spit on me. The entire cult followed suit, spitting on me, urinating on me, and smearing me with feces. They kept this up until I rolled over and vomited. They collected my vomit to use on my younger sister in her expulsion ceremony. To this day, she is highly triggered by vomit.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fire (c) Rosanne Mooney
As a person who suffered from several years of ritual abuse, I take issue with including the word “satanic” in the descriptor. (Many online discussions of ritual abuse use the initials “SRA” for satanic ritual abuse.) I never refer to what I went through as “satanic ritual abuse.” As soon as you throw around the name “Satan,” you are asking for people to think that you are a nut.

I do not know why my ritual abusers did the things that they did to me. I know that they were sadistic, and I know that they were organized. However, I do not know what “creed” they were using to justify their despicable actions toward me, my sister, and the other children they harmed. Their “creed” never mattered to me. I just wanted them to stop hurting me.

However, the things they did to us are in keeping with the stuff that you hear about with satanic ritual abuse, such as meeting in a rural area after dark around a bonfire. There was blood and feces involved. There were black robes and hoods, probably because they were too cowardly to show their faces in case anyone ever testified against them. People who hide behind hoods and masks are always cowards.

I honestly do not know why they did the things that they did to me. The people who, along with my mother, brought my sister and me to be ritually abused were wealthy, and the husband was in a prestigious position in a Fortune 100 company, so one could argue that there was some sort of ladder-climbing connection there. However, most people do not feel the need to rape children in the middle of the night in order to become successful in business, so I find it hard to believe that was their motivation.

My therapist gave me the wonderful advice to stay out of my abusers’ heads. Their reasons for harming me really are irrelevant. They hurt me, and I have healed myself. That’s pretty much all that matters. It also helps for me to see them as weak people rather than powerful hooded entities that could harm me at any time. I am now an adult – they have no power over me.

I am not comfortable with including the word “satanic” in describing what I experienced because I do not know if “devil worship” was their motivation or not. The bottom line is that it really does not matter. My focus needs to be on healing myself, not on what was going on in my ritual abusers’ sick minds.

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Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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