The Power of Baby Steps

* Detailed instructions for making comments are in “News Items.” 


* Additional information on the following holidays is available at:
 Thanksgiving https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
 Yule/Winter Solstice https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/

~~~~~~

Some changes come in such small increments that you don’t notice them until a long time has passed, and you take a moment to remember what it was like in the beginning. When I was a kid, did I feel taller every day? Of course not! But every few months, my height was marked on a door frame, and so I could see that I was noticeably taller than I was a year or two earlier.

So it was with healing from ritual abuse. Day by day, I felt I was getting nowhere fast. I couldn’t see any changes, and I was discouraged and, at times, hopeless. But when enough time had passed, the changes started to become visible.

This was what was like for me in the early days.

The moment when I realized there was ritual abuse in my background, my blood ran cold, and I burst out with, “Oh fuck!!!!” An hour or so later, the flashbacks started, and they continued non-stop for many months.

Well, I am exaggerating. They weren’t really non-stop. I was working at the time as a therapist, and they were kind enough to stop when I was with clients and to wait for times when I was alone, like on bathroom breaks. I was petrified I would have one during a session, so I was anxious all the time, but it never happened. Otherwise, they were 24/7.

I also became paranoid. I thought my cats knew I had killed cats forty years before and that they hated me for it. I thought that when radios were silent, they could broadcast thoughts and place them in my mind. I therefore slept with the radio on – it was lovely to wake up to “Mozart in the Morning!” Because I knew these thoughts were nuts, I figured I wasn’t quite as much of a mess as I thought I was, if that makes any sense. Even so, I was in pretty bad shape.

Now, my therapist had an optimistic streak that drove me crazy. He believed that I could come through this, and he attempted to slow me down. You see, I was failing around wildly, not knowing what to do, where to turn, not knowing if something was useful or hurtful. “Baby steps, Jean, baby steps.” But baby steps in what direction? He counted getting out of bed, eating every day, washing, as baby steps. Me, I thought that didn’t count as progress. I had done all those things for years. I wanted to do things I couldn’t do, like stop the flashbacks. It didn’t occur to me that I had never done any of those things while in flashback. Poor guy, he had his hands full reassuring me!

Finally, in exhaustion, I decided that all I had to do was not kill myself and wait for the changes to happen magically with no effort on my part.

As the months passed, things did start to change. I couldn’t see that anything was different, of course, because change came so slowly. I was also fighting “old tapes” from the cult and from my family.

The cult had taught me:
I was powerless
I was weak
I was stupid
Given a choice, I always chose the wrong thing
I would never learn
I deserved what I got, I deserved all the abuse
I could never change

My parents had taught me:
I was not nice enough
I was not pretty enough
I was not smart enough
I was not kind enough
I was not popular enough
I was a disappointment to them
I was stubborn and would never change

All the voices in my head conspired to deny or sabotage every positive baby step I took.

And when I reached a place when something positive had become a habit, it was frighteningly unfamiliar. I didn’t trust it to stick around, and I didn’t know how to act, think, or feel. It was like the first day of school or waking up one morning in a foreign land, not knowing the language or the customs. So what did I do? I made a vow not to hurt myself and waited to magically adapt with no effort on my part. Time is a wonderful healer!

Now, thirty years and six months later, I can see how all the little tiny things I did along the way have added up, and I feel transformed. There is still plenty of work on myself I can do, but the difference is amazing.

I’ll give you a recent example.

Halloween and Beltane are the worst days for me. They always had been, even before I realized that I was a ritual abuse survivor, and I figured they always would be.

But this year, I had no flashbacks on Halloween. I was not anxious and frightened the week or two before. I was not agoraphobic. I was not sick to my stomach. I was not upset by the decorations my neighbors chose for their front doors. It was just an ordinary day like any other.

If you had told me that someday I would not be bothered by Halloween, I would not have believed you for one minute. I never imagined that such a thing would happen. And yet it did. Why? An accumulation of little things I did along the way added up. Which ones helped and which didn’t, I don’t know. Perhaps they all helped, just because I put energy into trying.

I can’t promise you that you will get the same results as I did. But I can promise you that change is possible and that there is hope, even if it is clouded over by despair. All those baby steps make a huge difference!

Upcoming Holidays

November
11/11 (?) Veterans’ Day
11/12 Full moon
11/28 US Thanksgiving
December
12/1, 12/8, 12/15, 12/22 Sundays of Advent
12/11 Full moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/26 Annular solar eclipse. Totality will be visible in Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines.
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
12/22 – 12/30 Chanukah
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

 More on Flashbacks

* Detailed instructions for making comments are in “News Items.”

* Additional information on the following holidays is available at:

Halloween: (personal) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/ and
https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/halloween-2018/


Halloween (background) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/
Thanksgiving https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
Yule/Winter Solstice https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/

 ~~~~~

I haven’t written explicitly about flashbacks in a while. Here’s what I wrote back then if you want to look it up.

About BASK Flashbacks
https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2018/09/10/about-bask-flashbacks/ 
Explaining Flashbacks to Littles
https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/?s=flashback 
Flashback Worksheets
https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/flashback-worksheets/ 
Caryn Stardancer’s Flashback Worksheet
https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/caryn-stardancers-flashback-worksheet/ 
Another Round of Flashbacks (personal)
https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2019/04/30/another-round-of-flashbacks/

There are certain seasons when survivors are more apt to get flashbacks, and Halloween is one of them for sure. So it seemed appropriate to revisit the subject.

Flashbacks have a bad rep, but they also have a positive aspect to them. They give you information about the past, often eliciting an “Aha!” reaction. “So that is why I am afraid of…” “Those bastards actually DID that!” The knowledge can help explain some of your symptoms and make you feel less crazy. This is a plus! Far better to know why you do something than to stumble around without a clue.

Having said that, too many flashbacks in a short period of time can be really debilitating. So can the kind of flashbacks that are so vivid that you lose awareness of the present and re-experience the abuse just the way it happened in the past. It’s hard to remember the details of this kind of flashback, so you don’t get the positive part of the package.

It’s possible to slow down the rate at which flashbacks come, turn down the intensity, keep one foot in the present, and even schedule them!

As with many things, it’s easier to plan in advance than to wing it in the middle of a crisis. If you work out a plan, you can tell others (if you have trusted others), write it out, and put a copy of it in your wallet, another one in the car, and still another one by your bed. In other words, scatter them around liberally! I’ve known people who taped their plans to their walls. No matter where they were in the house, it would have been impossible to miss those lovingly illustrated posters.

Some of the things you might consider for your plan:
Hotline numbers
Numbers of your therapist and your friends
Comforting things, like blankets, pillows, tea
Pencils, pens, crayons, lots of paper
Affirmations
Soothing music
Books to read to your littles
Things that have a special meaning to you – lucky stones, crystals, prayer beads, etc.
Favorite stuffed animals

You know best what calms you down when you are panicked, what techniques help end panic attacks, what reminds you of the present. It’s important to comfort your younger parts and to talk to them and tell them it wasn’t their fault, they were brave to come through that, you love them, and you want them to know that it isn’t happening right now.

If you feel a flashback coming on, you might start soothing yourself before it starts. But sometimes you don’t have a warning. One minute you are fine, the next minute you have switched into flashback mode. If you don’t know where you are, it seems that there isn’t much you can do. But if you have left comforting things around that would appeal to child parts, they may very well see them and head for them. Once you are curled up with a stuffed animal, sucking your thumb, there may well be space for a more adult part to come forth and help out.

I have never had the kind of vivid flashback where it is so intense that it blocks out the present. I’ve always known it was a memory surfacing. For that reason, I don’t feel entirely sure that I understand what is going on and that I am giving good suggestions. I wonder at times whether there has been a switch, and it is another part, without co-consciousness, that has the flashback.

I said that it is possible to slow down the rate at which flashbacks come, turn down the intensity, keep one foot in the present, and even schedule them! Here’s some ideas on how to do these things.

1. Slowing down the rate. In a time when you are calm and not expecting to have flashbacks, explain to your parts that you want to give your full attention to each person who is sharing with you. That you are grateful to them and proud of them. But you need time between hearing about these things to catch your breath and absorb what you have learned. If somebody has just shared a memory they have been holding, could you wait at least an hour (or six hours or a day) before telling me what happened to you?

2. Turning down the intensity. There is a classic hypnotic technique which is pretty nifty. Pretend you can display the memory on a movie screen or TV. Pretend you have a set of controls. One for volume, one for color, one for the intensity of the emotions being displayed. If you find you need to turn down something else, just reach out your hand, and you will find that the control knob is there for you. Of course, you can always turn up the volume if something isn’t clear to you.

3. Keeping one foot in the present. The work needed to achieve this goal is done in anticipation of the need. If you are lost in a flashback, you have no concept of a future. You are 100% back there. Probably the most effective way of preparing is to talk to your parts, to educate them about flashbacks, and to tell them that they are experiencing the memory of the abuse, not the original abuse. Just talk, don’t worry about not getting an answer, don’t worry about talking to the “wrong” part. Once you feel you have gotten through, you can draw attention to certain things in your home, like calendars, dated newspapers or magazines, and your cellphones or television, which were not yet invented when the abuse took place.

4. Scheduling flashbacks. The technique is similar to that described in “Slowing down the rate.” Set aside a time each day, preferably with the same start and finish times. Tell your inner people that this time is set aside just for them to share the details of the terrible things that were done to them. Explain that you cannot give them your full attention at other times of the day, and you want to be able to listen with all of your heart and all of your mind. If a flashback starts or seems to be on the way, remind them that there is that special time when you can be there for them with all of your heart and mind. Then keep your promise! Make that time sacred, whether flashbacks come or not. It will take time for your parts to realize that the time is really theirs and that you are going to do what you said you would.

 

So, I would like feedback. What helps you? Just as important, what doesn’t? Just think how awesome it would be if everybody shared their opinions and experiences in the comment section. How much we would learn from each other! I bet we could put together a flashback-preparedness list that we could share more widely with other survivors.

~~~~~

Upcoming Holidays

October
10/31 Halloween/start of the Celtic New Year/start of the dark half of the year
November
11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/2 All Souls’ Day
11/11 (?) Veterans’ Day
11/12 Full moon
11/28 US Thanksgiving
December
12/1, 12/8, 12/15, 12/22 Sundays of Advent
12/11 Full moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/26 Annular solar eclipse. Totality will be visible in Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines.
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
9/29 – 10/1 Rosh Hashanah (New Year, Day of Judgement)
10/8 – 10/9 Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
10/16 Death of Rosenburg
10/13 – 10/20 Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles, harvest festival)
10/19 Death of Goering
10/20 Hitler’s actual half-birthday
10/21 Hitler’s alternative half-birthday (Note: Hitler was born on Easter, so Nazis celebrate his actual birthday and half-birthday on 4/20 and 10/20. His alternate birthday is celebrated on Easter of the current year and his alternate half-birthday six months later.)
10/21 – 10/22 Simchat Torah (celebration of the complete annual cycle of reading of the Torah)
11/9 Kristallnacht State-ordered pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria)
12/22 – 12/30 Chanukah
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

Halloween: 1999 and 2019

* Detailed instructions for making comments are in “News Items.”

* Additional information on the following holidays is available at:

I was searching my computer for a poem by verne that was published in the Survivorship Journal ages ago and came across some of my old writing. (If by some remote chance somebody has any poems by verne, they would be much appreciated. Just put them in the comments section.)

Here’s the poem – I think his spirit shines through.

A Toast

take a glass and raise it high
to those of us who won’t
lay down and die
some of us beaten and abused
by those we loved
others by our government
still we won’t
lay 
down and die

so take a glass
and drain it dry.

verne

~~~~~

I found this piece, which is 20 years old! It was the first year I was editing Survivorship’s Monthly Notes. Shortly afterwards, I went on to edit the Journal, as well.

 Halloween, October 1999

I’m really ambivalent about fall. As a child, I never could decide if I dreaded the return to school or couldn’t wait. On the one hand, there was the relentless pressure to do everything perfectly the first time, the social isolation, the contempt of the other kids. On the other hand, there was the hope that I would somehow magically discover the secret to happiness and social ease. Perhaps in second grade? Perhaps third? Perhaps a Ph.D. in Comparative Tibetan Literature would do the trick?

And then, lurking in my unconscious, was the knowledge that some pretty awful days were coming up. I’m sure even a first grader knows on some level that when the leaves start to fall, the Equinox, and then Halloween, can’t be far behind.

Halloween seems a very difficult holiday to reclaim. To me, it connotes death and destruction on many levels, and reclaiming death seems impossible. There is nothing in my heritage, either the day heritage or the night one, that allows me to feel comfortable with death or the process of dying.

Nobody I knew spoke of the dead with respect and affection, nobody in my childhood celebrated their lives. I wonder what it would be like to have my first associations with death be The Day of the Dead – a joyful picnic in the cemetery, with laughter and reminiscing, food prepared from ancient recipes, children running around and playing.

So how do I cope? Well, to tell you the truth, I generally try something different each year, because nothing has satisfied me so far. I tried making elaborate treats for the trick-or-treaters. I tried turning off all the lights and going to bed at 5:30. One year I painted the inside of the garage. I tried a trip to a tourist town I had never seen. (Bad idea. I found I prefer to be miserable in familiar surroundings. Of course, I never would have known that if I hadn’t experimented.)

One year I tried to ‘sanitize’ part of the ritual. Along with two tolerant friends, I built a fire in their fireplace. We took slips of paper and wrote all the things we wanted to say goodbye to and then burned the paper. We then wished each other Happy New Year. (October 31st is the first day of the Celtic New Year.) We wrote all the things we wanted to welcome into our lives on more scraps of paper, took them home, and planted them in the dirt so they could grow. That was sort of cool.

This year? I don’t know yet.

Halloween, October 2019

I don’t feel upset about Halloween . . . yet. I’m glad I am no longer all triggered two weeks ahead of every major holiday. I don’t feel the panicky pressure of the days ticking off, and I haven’t planned anything special.

I remember doing something really cool one year back then. Halloween is the Celtic New Year, and the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is believed to be thinner than usual. Since the dead can come and visit, there is a tradition of setting out a portion of the evening meal to welcome them.

So I put a plate of whatever I had made for dinner out on the deck. The next day, the food was all gone!!! I was awed and baffled until I noticed little footprints. Raccoons had come and had a feast. My friends thought the dead had shape-shifted into raccoons, which is a lovely thought. Ancestors or raccoons, it didnt matter to me. I felt a little less anger and resentment against my parents. It’s great to do something kind for somebody you hate; it softens your soul and eases your burden.

I’m saddened that I no longer have the energy to do as much writing as I did twenty years ago. By and large, I like what I wrote back then, and I feel that my style hasn’t changed much. I only hope that what I manage to do now measures up.

~~~~~

Upcoming Holidays

October
10/31 Halloween/start of Celtic New Year/start of the dark half of the year
November
11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/2 All Souls’ Day
11/11 (?) Veterans’ Day
11/12 Full moon
11/28 US Thanksgiving
December
12/1, 12/8, 12/15, 12/22 Sundays of Advent
12/11 Full moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/15 Christmas Day
12/26 Annular solar eclipse. Totality visible in Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines.
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
10/20 Hitler’s actual half-birthday
10/21 Hitler’s alternative half-birthday (Note: Hitler was born on Easter, so Nazis celebrate his actual birthday and half-birthday on 4/20 and 10/20. His alternate birthday is celebrated on Easter of the current year and his alternate half-birthday six months later.)
10/21 – 10/22 Simchat Torah (celebration of the complete annual cycle of reading of the Torah)
11/9 Kristallnacht State-ordered pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria)
12/22 – 12/30 Chanukah
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)