Patterns of Healing

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

* Remember that two anthologies are seeking submissions:

1. Jade Miller is working on an anthology about the difficulty of finding a therapist who can work with DID or other forms of dissociation. Write her at thetraumasurvivorstale@gmail.com

2. I am seeking submissions of accounts of forced abortion, sacrifice, or forced adoption of babies in a cult setting. Contact me through the comments section, rahome@ra-info.org or RA Projects, PO Box 14276, 4304 18th St., San Francisco CA 94114.

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When I was much younger, I thought healing always happened in small steps; each hour, each day, I’d get better. And then one day, poof! I’d be all well and able to forget all about it.

Now I am older and wiser (I hope!) Some things work that way. Head colds, for instance. When I had my knee replaced, it got incrementally less painful. There was a base level of pain which worsened when I did the physical therapy exercises, but, after an hour or so, it returned to base level. The pain lessened a tiny bit each day until one day it had disappeared entirely. What joy!

(This lasted two years until I tripped and fell onto the wheels of my walker. Since then it feels like I have bruised a bone whenever I move a certain way. The doctor is not concerned, so I am not concerned. This is a kind of pain that doesn’t heal – it just stays steady. But it is infrequent and minor and thus easy to live with.)

I am talking about osteoarthritis, where pain increases as the disease progresses. There is an initial flare up, which leaves a small residue of pain. Then another flare up, which increases the level of pain. And another and another. If you made a graph, it would look like a flight of stairs.

When I look back at all the years I have been dealing with ritual abuse, these models don’t seem to apply. Healing didn’t proceed evenly, in a straight line to completion. Luckily, I was not stuck forever at a steady amount of emotional pain and dysfunction. Nor did I heal something, then take on something else, heal that, etc., creating a stair-like pattern leading to “all better.”

There is a pattern that people often speak of, and that is a circular, or spiral form of healing. You deal with something once, then go on to something else. Later, you come back and revisit it, but at a deeper level. It’s as if you needed time to absorb what you had learned. Each time it is really tough, but each time, you can do it. I’ve experienced this, but it isn’t my usual pattern.

This is how my journey looked. Without doing anything, I got used to my new reality. Perhaps it was like moving to another country; in time, just by living there, I picked up the language and got used to a new culture. I’m not entirely comfortable in my new identity, but at least I don’t feel crazy or evil any more.

At various times, I had a lot of flashbacks to different things that were done to me. I was distraught, but I bulled through it. I wrote about what had happened, I told people, sometimes I drew it. Gradually the flashbacks faded in intensity and became further apart. Each time I worked through a wave of flashbacks, I felt there was more of me, if that makes any sense.

Yesterday I had a flashback to something that hadn’t bothered me for fifteen years. What happened? New situation, unfamiliar people, same old triggers.

This involves dentistry, I had been going to a wonderfully kind dentist who patiently worked with me for about ten years of memories of dental torture. Then we had clear sailing for about fifteen years until he inconsiderately retired. 

I thought I knew how to explain to my new dentist how to prevent me from going into flashback by talking to me throughout the procedure. He didn’t understand: he thought I wanted him to explain what he was going to do. That was not enough to keep me in present-day reality. 

So does this mean I’m “not healed” from those experiences? I don’t think so. I think it means that being with strangers, in an unfamiliar setting, made me feel more vulnerable. Then the coping mechanism I had relied on for fifteen years failed. Since I didn’t know it would fail, I had no back-up plan. Before the next procedure, there will be a back-up plan;  hopefully, one that will work. I like this guy and don’t want to start over looking for a new dentist.

Having flashbacks after so many years of calm did not feel like a dismal failure on my part. It felt like a normal part of living long-term with the effects of ritual abuse. Something to cope with, nothing to freak out about. Just another pothole on the road of life.

This is why I don’t think in terms of healing or not-healing – or even getting better or regressing. I think in terms of understanding why I react the way I do to certain situations and then managing those reactions. I have figured out why I had that flashback and I have a plan for how to handle the next visit. That’s enough.

The more I learn about my past and the ways I deal with its after-effects, the more I accept how very different I am from people who have not been severely abused. And also how very much the same we all are in our common humanity. 

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(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

 

  

  

 

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4 thoughts on “Patterns of Healing

  1. I like your description of healing. When I think of my healing, my huge flashbacks have disappeared and I’ll now get snippets of an image that adds to the memory- like being driven on a dirt road by my father at Cape Cod. I quickly saw beach sand and beach grass when I looked out the window trying to find an escape route. I’m sure I will always have memories like that.
    Thanks, Jeanne.

  2. Hi Jean. I appreciate this post so much. I relate to most everything you said. I am working towards becoming more accepting that I still deal with so many after affects from the extreme trauma. I also believed I would work and work on healing then one day I’d be all better and could have a life with the trauma behind me. After 20 years it’s just not how it works for me.

    I can still get so distraught when things “flare” up. What still comes up for when that happens is my rage, my anger and sadness that I am still being impacted at times in ways that I feel I’m going backwards and loosing ground. I’m trying to work on acceptance but right now the rage and/or grief often floods me. I think I’ll come back and reread what you’ve written several times.

    Thank you
    Wounded Healer

    1. “All better”- wouldn’t that be wonderful? Maybe it would help to think of it as “different”. Then when you look back you can see the changes and your pattern.

      I think that grief and anger are a totally healthy response to any flashback. If you feel the grief, after it washes over you, you will probably feel exhausted and somehow calm. And the rage – if you sit with the feeling and don’t act on it, it will shift. My bet is it will change to sadness, perhaps another wave of grief. Horrible as grief feels, it’s healing. It leads, incrementally, to acceptance and peace.

      Rage, too, is exhausting. Looking back, is it coming less frequently? Is it less intense, too, perhaps?

      It’s not fair that we have to live with after effects, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, all our lives. I feel covered with wounds and scars, more scars than open wounds now. But since we are stuck with them, at least we have the choice of how to deal with them, which we never did before we escaped.

      Freedom to make choices, it’s not a small thing!

      1. Hi Jean.

        Thank you so much for your reply. Different is a way to look at it that seems to fit. It is less frequent. Feels deeper if that makes sense. Some very deep core trauma that has surfaced opens up a different deeper emotional response and process. The being covered with wounds and scars resonates with me as well. Sigh. And the freedom to make choices is definitely no small thing!!

        Thank you

        For whatever reason I can’t get to our comments on your blog, only Bree’s. Not sure why.

        I sure wish we could have some tea or coffee together. I remember our days on the Ship and how helpful you were to me and my Tribe..their grandma Jeannie. Thank you for all your support during your time there. And for your blog as well. So very appreciated.

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