Body Memories, Flashbacks, and Blood Pressure

Notices are after this entry.

Now I know that the body remembers what happened to it and can duplicate the state the body was in during a traumatic event. This is considered a kind of sensory flashback, along with flashbacks of sight, sound, taste, and smell. Add pain and touch, and you can account for most body memories.

I know that blood vessels right under the skin can dilate during a flashback. Years and years ago, I saw a red mark appear on a survivor’s neck as she was describing being choked. That, to my mind, was a clear body memory.

So is it possible that major arteries and veins can constrict and dilate during a body memory? Why not? The actual mechanism could be the same as it was years earlier when the trauma took place.

Let me go back over my blood pressure history with that possibility in mind. I’m going to get detailed because I am so preoccupied with the readings.

I had normal blood pressure (120/80) until I got my first RA memories about thirty years ago.

I was first diagnosed with high blood pressure (163/124) in 1985 and put on blood pressure-lowering medication. I have been on meds ever since. When one stopped working, I was given a different one or an additional one. Then a third and even a fourth was necessary to keep things at a mild roar.

About six or seven years ago, I started feeling light-headed at night. I was afraid of falling and so lay down on the floor. I’d doze off (or lose consciousness?) on and off for a couple of hours and then, when I felt safe enough to stand and walk, take myself to bed. I started to wonder if these episodes could be explained by low blood pressure, and kept the blood pressure cuff by the computer.

I was right. I started feeling light-headed when my systolic blood pressure was below 100.

I lost all faith in my cardiologist when she told me I was having transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), that I was unsafe living at home, and that I should move into assisted living. She didn’t do an EKG, order any other tests, and didn’t seem to have considered any other possible explanations. She also said I was too dumb to understand what I read on the Internet and should just trust her. So I went hunting for a new cardiologist.

However, my primary care physician thought I was over-medicated and took me off three of the four medications I was taking. She was right. Older people become less efficient at metabolizing medications. The poor old liver and kidneys have to work harder, and when they can’t keep up, blood levels of medication rise. I have not been on more than two medications at a time since then.

My new cardiologist is a far better doctor and humble enough to know when he does not know something. Recently, he sent me to a Hypertension Clinic to be evaluated. The good news was that they ruled out all the serious things they usually find in people referred to them for hypertension. The bad news is that they seemed to have run out of ideas.

I researched and found postprandial hypotension. Postprandial hypotension occurs in older folks when blood rushes to the stomach to help digest food, and there isn’t enough left to maintain blood pressure. So I tried eating six small meals a day instead of three normal ones and checking my blood pressure. Not my problem: it only dropped a few points, just as when I was eating three meals a day.

A fellow RA survivor friend suggested polyvagal shutdown. Polyvagal shutdown occurs when you are terrified, and it is not possible to fight or flee from the danger. The vagal nerve takes over, stops the production of adrenaline, slows heartbeat and breathing, and drops blood pressure. That’s the “freeze” response – playing possum in hopes the saber-tooth tiger will think you are dead and go after more appealing prey.

So if the freeze response occurs now, it probably is because we are having an emotional flashback to a terrifying situation, and the vagal nerve thinks it’s happening in the present and reacts as if it were happening in the present. In other words, a body flashback.

Then I started seeing a whole new pattern of low blood pressure measurements. During the days, first a couple of days a week, then more often, my blood pressure would be normal, plus or minus 15 points. Hooray! The drugs were working!

Except – when the readings were below 140, I did not take the meds because I was afraid I would faint if I had a 50-60 point drop. And I refused to take that chance. So this was all happening without meds.

Of course, I went right to the direst explanation. There was something else seriously wrong with my heart that prevented it from beating strongly enough to raise my BP to my “normal” level. And it was rare, and even if they identified what it was, there was no treatment, and it would do me in.

Survivors in my support groups suggested that the body is very good at healing itself and that I had been happy recently. Maybe I had finally relaxed enough that things were approaching normal. My new normal might be healthy!

Well, I was a tad skeptical. Had I been reacting to the stress of remembering and coping with all that brought with it by having high blood pressure continuously since 1985? And now, had I worked through all my issues and relaxed enough for my blood pressure to come down to 120/80 plus or minus 15 points systolic? Not likely, but it would be great if that were so.

A nurse practitioner challenged my pessimism during an intake interview with me for a sleep study that the Hypertension Clinic had ordered. I told her what was going on, that I had had a super sucky childhood, and my friends suggested that the high blood pressure was due to remembering and that now I seem much happier, more present, more relaxed. And that is why my blood pressure is dropping back to near-normal.

I asked if this were possible, and she said, “absolutely.”

My current hypothesis about my blood pressure is that the presence or absence of flashbacks governs it. Until I remembered, I had no flashbacks, so my blood pressure was normal. Then my memories came, and I was in almost continuous flashbacks of one sort or another for thirty-five years. Now, although it is news to me, I have worked through enough that I am no longer under the stress that continuous flashbacks caused, and my blood pressure is returning to normal.

If so, thank you, my wondrous, miracle-performing body. And, even if this isn’t the explanation, I’m in awe of your resilience. I thought I would be dead at thirty, and you thought otherwise. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Cat Update

Baker has discovered the cat tree and has made it to the first level. He promptly falls asleep there. From the exertion? It’s only a sixteen-inch jump. I was assured that he likes to be high up and would jump up on counters (no), tables (no), bookshelves (no), and cat trees. I’m just as glad he doesn’t like to be on the kitchen counters.

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 Holiday ZOOM Drop-In Group to celebrate our freedom

We are meeting on Sunday, July 3, 2 – 4 PM Pacific Time to celebrate our escape from the perpetrators. Our freedom. Our independence.

Stop in to say hello or stay the whole time. Bring a meal or a snack and eat together or just hang out with other RA/MC survivors. joanies and Rainsinger will be our hosts.

Register through  https://grassroots-ra-mc-collective.org/events/ d.

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RA/MC Panel at the International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference

I will be part of a four-person panel of RA/MC survivors of child sex trafficking. The title of the presentation is “The Interface between Sex Trafficking, Ritual Abuse, and Mind Control Programming.” It will be in two parts. Each part will consist of a panel discussion recording followed by live questions and answers. There will be a fifteen-minute break between the two sections.

Our time-slots are 1:45 and 3:15 on Thursday, September 22. 2022. Read more about the presentation plus descriptions of all the other presentations at https://app.traffickingconference.com/schedule

Please come see us in (virtual) person! Choose the “Free Attendee Registration” option for survivors and remember to write for the registration code number. Register at https://www.traffickingconference.com/register

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Upcoming Holidays

July
7/4 Independence Day
7/13 Full Moon
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God
7/27 Grand Climax/Da Meur

August
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/11 Full Moon
8/13 Friday the 13th
8/15 (?) Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day

September
9/5 – 9/7 Feast of the Beast/Marriage to the Beast
9/5 Labor Day (United States)
9/10 Full Moon
9/22 Fall Equinox
9/29 (?) Michaelmas/Feast of Archangel Michael and of all Angels

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups

July 29: Hitler proclaimed leader of the Nazi party.
August 1: Lammas
Early August through October: Various preparations are done in readiness for October, the month with the largest number of celebrated dates.
September 22: autumnal equinox, “Fall Festival.
9/25 – 9/27: Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)

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You can find more information on the following holidays at:

Candlemas – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/
Valentine’s Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-
Beltane – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/
Mothers’ Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/
Fathers’ Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/ritual-abuse-and-fathers-day/
Summer Solstice (corrected text) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
and https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/august-ritual-dates/ 
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1 – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-feast-of-the-beast/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2 – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/feast-of-the-beast-part-ii/
Fall Equinox – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/the-fall-equinox/
Halloween (personal) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/ 
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/ 

Managing Flashbacks

When I first started having flashbacks, I thought I had been hit by a mental and emotional Mack truck. It took several years of practice to get a handle on them and to learn how to deal with them. I’d like to share some of this hard-earned experience with you.

It helped to realize that different parts of my memories are stored in different parts of my brain. So the smells might come back, or the emotions, or the sights, but not everything at once. Or at least not usually.

When every sense, every detail comes back at once, the challenge is to keep one foot, or at least one toe, in the present so that I know it’s a flashback as it’s happening. Otherwise, I’m afraid I may find out later that I’ve acted in some way that made sense in the context of the flashback, but was harmful or weird in the present-life context.

It helps to say things out loud, if I can. “This is a flashback. Watch it and see how much you can remember.” “This is my apartment. The year is 2013.” “I am remembering something horrible that happened when I was a kid.” The more aware I am that the past is intruding into the present, the easier it is to ride through the flashback.

If I write about it, or better yet, tell somebody, the flashback moves from my unconscious to the conscious part of my mind. It transforms into a memory. It may take several tellings to complete this transformation, but eventually it happens and I no longer flash back to the same incident. The longest it ever took was three months. I thought that was plenty long enough!

When only one component returns, it’s not always clear whether it’s a flashback or a present-day occurrence. I try to be logical: “Is it really possible for my hands to smell of ‘that’ when I haven’t touched ‘that’ for two years? No. It’s got to be a flashback.” If I can’t figure it out myself, I can ask somebody for a reality check. “Do you smell something burning?”

The hardest “partial” flashbacks for me are body memories and emotions. With body memories, I often can’t figure out if I need medical attention or a journaling session. I’ve worked out a couple of general guidelines by now. If I can bring it on by thinking of my abuse or if it goes away when I talk about it, it’s probably a body memory. If I run through a list of the things I know are wrong with me, and the body feeling fits, then it’s probably a present condition, like arthritis.

Emotional flashbacks are much, much, harder to sort out. I have a life-long habit of feeling an emotion and then searching around for a likely explanation. That’s because I never knew I was having emotional flashbacks and so I just assumed it must be something or somebody in my environment that precipitated my feelings. Now I know that sometimes it’s a flashback and sometimes it isn’t, but darned if I can tell the difference lots of the time.

Reality checks come in handy here, too. I ask friends or my therapist if I seem to be over-reacting. (Over-reacting simply means that you had to under-react to something in the past, stuffed the emotions, and are now feeling both sets of emotions.)

Sometimes I can change my life so it’s clear when I’m having a flashback. For example, if I don’t lie, cheat, or steal, I have no reason to feel guilty, and all that guilt is from the past. Simple! (But not always easy to do.)

Most of the time it’s not that clear-cut, unfortunately. I can’t eliminate anger or fear from my life. I have to remember that the source of my emotion can be both the past and the present. If I see somebody threatening on the street, I’m appropriately afraid, but I’m also feeling fear that I have suppressed for years and years. It’s a flashback and not a flashback, both at the same time.

The more I understand my flashbacks, the easier they are to put up with. I hope some of my thoughts help you as you try to understand and work with yours.

Dissociation and Health

How to tell the difference between a body memory and a medical emergency? Good question. I have visited emergency rooms more than once with a panic attack that I mistook for a heart attack and have ignored the pain of a strep abscess, ending up spending five days post-surgery in the hospital.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at sorting things out. Now I ask myself, “Do I hurt anywhere? Does it hurt more or less than yesterday or last week, and does it hurt differently? Have I told the doctor?” I also check to see if I feel generally, bodily, sick or if I have any of the warning signs of disease, like lumps or changing moles.

Body memories, at least for me, tend to occur in certain locations or at certain times and they tend to come back day after day after day. Some are really nutty, and that makes them easy to identify. Some come with a story attached, and that, too, helps.

What really complicates things is that a present-day physical problem can stir up body memories of a similar illness or injury. In that case, working with the memory doesn’t affect today’s condition. It’s worthwhile, of course, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Does it work the other way around; do body memories sometimes cause physical problems? I think so, but I don’t think it happens as often. For example, a memory of being made to drink something awful might make it impossible to swallow, which could lead to dehydration.

I’ve found that discussing things I am not sure of with a friend is a great help. I pick somebody who is neither a total stoic nor a hypochondriac and ask for a reality check. Sometimes just hearing my own words helps me make a decision.

We were taught to bear pain, not to talk about it (certainly never to strangers), and to dissociate from it completely. No wonder it is hard for us, as adults, to know when there is something seriously wrong.

It takes prolonged practice to learn to tune into our bodies. We have to make a conscious effort to feel things that others notice instantaneously. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

And now I have another little motto for my fridge: “When in doubt, check it out.”

It’s embarrassing and sometimes expensive to be an alarmist, but it can be lethal to ignore or dissociate away pain or other symptoms.