Flashbacks, Triggers,and Worksheets

The American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) is presenting “Way Maker World Conference.”

Thursday, September 14 – Saturday, September 18, 2021, Orlando, FL.

This is a huge conference held every two years. Almost 4,000 people have registered and they are expecting 7,000. There will be approximately 50 pre-conference workshops, 175 clinical/biblical workshops, and 200 exhibitors.

Presentations are organized into thirteen tracks. The ones that caught my attention are “Abuse, Violence, and Trauma-Informed Care,” “Mental Health, the Brain and Neuroscience,” and “Psychiatry, Behavioral Medicine, and Collaborative Care.” Among other topics covered are addictions, sexuality, family issues, and pastoral counseling.

I tried using the AACC therapist finder and it needs work. Or else I am using it wrong! If you are looking for Christian counseling. or think you may in the future, you might want to copy the information on the conference site. I recognized a couple of presenters that are good with RA. If you would like to consult them for a referral in your area, write me and I will put you in touch.

The AACC website is: https://www.aacc.net/

Their blog is at https://www.aacc.net/category/aacc-blog/

The conference website is: https://worldconference.net

Contact information: PO Box 739 Forest, VA 24551, contactmemberservices@aacc.net, 1-800-526-8673

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I learned something new yesterday about flashbacks. My therapist knows so much, and it never occurs to her to tell me unless I ask! But half the time I have no idea that there is something to ask about.

I had always assumed that flashbacks were always triggered by something in the present. If I couldn’t identify the trigger, it was because it had snuck in under the radar. But she said that not all flashbacks are triggered by present-day events. Some are due to a part sharing a memory, wanting the “me” who is out to have a particular piece of information. In that case, it’s fruitless to look for a trigger. Or the trigger might simply be a thought that part had, like “she’s strong enough to know this now.”

In situations where there is a trigger, it’s useful to see the connection. Then in the future, if you encounter the same trigger, you may be prepared for a flashback. And the trigger itself is a piece of information – it may well be part of the memory.

A trigger is very useful to sort out how much of your reaction comes from the present situation and how much comes from the past and is, in effect, part of the flashback. This helps ground you in the present and helps prevent a melt-down or other over-reaction. It gives you more control and freedom to chose among your coping mechanisms.

Some people have designed flashback worksheets to help them connect the trigger to the flashback. I found that they weren’t very useful to me because I got all hung up in searching for a trigger that didn’t exist, or that existed but was invisible to me, so I stopped using them. But other people have found them very helpful.

A blog entry on a trigger-free worksheet I designed is at https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/flashback-worksheets/.

In short, it consists of these questions:

1. What am I thinking/feeling?
2. What from the past could have set off this reaction?
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction?
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present? (or both)
5. If it’s in the
Present – what action can I take to solve the problem?
Past – what can I do to calm myself down?

It’s interesting to see that eight years ago I suspected that not all flashbacks are preceded by triggers. I had forgotten that insight and had to come across the information all over again in therapy. I am so expert at forgetting!

By the way, my therapist told me that it is very, very common for ritual abuse survivors to be preoccupied with their own deaths. It doesn’t seem to be something that develops in old age. It just seems to come with the RA territory. For me, it’s a gnawing intrusive thought that pops up several times a day (or night). I find that it sometimes appears at random times and sometimes it’s part of a routine. Like every time I go out of the house, I think, “I might die while I am out. What do I need to do before I leave? What don’t I want people to see?” And then I talk myself out of worrying about it. And remind myself that the actuarial tables say I might well live into my nineties.

She also told me that the fear of being killed was because we were told we would be killed if we told what had been done to us. So that surge of fear is a feeling-flashback.

I was going to say that all intrusive thoughts are visitors from the past. But that’s not true – present-day anxiety can cause rumination and intrusive thoughts that just pop into your mind. Say you are working at a company where there are a lot of layoffs and you are worried that you will lose your job. It would be perfectly natural to have intrusive thoughts about becoming unemployed, even if job insecurity was not a family issue in your childhood.

Not every bad thing in the world can be ascribed to the cult. Not every bad thing in the world is your fault, either.

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Upcoming Holidays

May
5/31 Memorial Day

June
6/10 Annular Solar Eclipse
6/20 Fathers’ Day
6/21 Summer solstice
6/23 Midsummer’s Eve
6/24 (?) St John’s Day
6/24 Full Moon

July
7/4 Independence Day
7/23 Full Moon
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God
7/27 Grand Climax

August
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/13 Friday the 13th
8/15 (?) Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/22 Full Moon
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups

6/6 D-Day (Invasion of France in WW2)
7/18 Tisha B’Av (Jewish Day of Mourning)
7/29 Hitler proclaimed leader of the Nazi party

(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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* You can find more information on the following holidays at: 

 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/ 

Candlemas https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/

Valentine’s Day https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/

Spring Equinox https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-spring-equinox/

Easter: personal. (for background, see Spring Equinox)  https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-blues/

Walpurgisnacht/May Eve: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/walpurgisnacht/

Beltane: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/

Mothers’ Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/

Caryn Stardancer’s Flashback Worksheet

In “Flashback Worksheets” at https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/flashback-worksheets/ I spoke about Caryn Stardancer’s worksheet, which was published in the Survivorship Journal.

I obtained a copy and found that the copyright notice read, “Permission to photocopy for the purpose of individual therapy. Not for publication.” Therefore I cannot post it on my blog.

However, if you would like a copy of the worksheet for your own personal use, write me at rahome@ra-info.org and I will e-mail it to you.

Remember that the best worksheet is one you design with your own needs in mind. Other people’s worksheets can be used for inspiration.

Flashback Worksheets

There is an entry on the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas on December 15, 2012.

I found it far less upsetting to have a flashback if I knew it was a flashback. Otherwise, it never occurred to me that what I was experiencing was a memory; I thought I was crazy or had a brain tumor. Once I learned to recognize a flashback, I could say “Oh fuck, here we go again!” and brace myself. It’s a lot easier theses days.

Caryn Stardancer designed a flashback worksheet and published it in Survivorship. * When I tried to use it, I found I got stuck on identifying the trigger.  I was so immersed in the flashback that I had no attention to spare and could not scan my environment for possible triggers.  I rewrote the worksheet and omitted the whole concept of triggers, which helped a lot.

My Worksheet:
1. What am I thinking/feeling?
2. What in the past could have set off this reaction?
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction?
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present?
5. If it’s in the
Present – what action can I take to solve the problem?
Past – what can I do to calm myself down?

Modifying the Worksheet
I like questions because they jump-start me. Many people don’t, however. If you feel interrogated or intimidated by questions, you can use phrases:
“I am thinking/feeling ….”
“…. from the past might be causing my reaction.”
“…. in the present might be causing my reaction.”
“I can test if it is past or present by ….”
“A present problem could be handled by ….”
“I can soothe myself and calm past feelings by …”

If you don’t like the way I have designed the worksheet, start from scratch and write something different. Whatever works best for you is the way to go!

You might consider dating the worksheets and saving them in a notebook or folder. That way you can flip through them and see if you have had this particular flashback before. (I once had the same flashback for three straight months. No fun.) And you can look back and see how you have changed over the months or years.

A Personal Example

1. What am I thinking/feeling? “I am anxious, almost panicking, because I have to drive to a new place. My heart is pounding. I am afraid I will get lost and never be able to find my way back again. I’ll never see anybody I know ever again.”
2. What in the past could have set off this reaction? “Well, I did get taken to strange places for rituals and other horrible things. I didn’t know where I was going, or whether I would get back alive. I had no choice and no control, no options. It was terrifying.”
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction? “I am going to a supermarket in a different town. There  is no logical reason to have this kind of reaction”. Or: “I am planning to drive across Death Valley. Lots of people have gotten in trouble in Death Valley. My anxiety is realistic.”
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present? “If I’m not sure whether I’m over-reacting (in a flashback) or not, I can ask a friend who doesn’t have a trauma background. If I don’t have a friend handy at the moment, I can ask myself “How would So-and-So react?”
5. If it’s in the present? “If I am going to Death Valley, I might really get into trouble. I might run out of gas or water or blow a tire. I would be dependent on somebody finding me and helping me, and I understand desert roads are pretty untraveled. It would be sensible to do some research at AAA or the Park Department website to see what I need to do to protect myself. It also would be sensible to carry a cell phone. I need to take some real action in the present in order to stay safe.”
If it’s in the past? “If I’m going to the supermarket, though, chances are I am having a feeling flashback, so I need to soothe myself. I can tell myself that it’s okay, I’m in control and at the wheel now, and I have a map, a full tank of gas, and a charge card. If I get lost I can ask somebody. I have made lots of similar trips successfully, and nothing bad happened.”

Of course, it could be a bit of past and a bit of present. In that case,you need to take sensible  precautions and reassure the frightened parts of yourself.

One you have used your worksheet for a while, you will find that you don’t need it anymore. Differentiating between past and present becomes automatic. So does preparing yourself for a present-day challenge and soothing yourself if the past comes welling up.The worksheet is a simple tool that will help you get to that point a little faster. And it’s nice to know you have an old friend you can always fall back on if you need to.

* I think it is called “Reprogramming Worksheet” and was published in the Survivorship Journal, Volume 3 Number 8 (August 1991) and Volume 4 Number 3 (March 1992.) You can order back issues from https://survivorship.org/back-issues-of-survivorship/
If anybody happens to have a copy, please post it in the comments section. We are okay copyright-wise: it is “fair use” and we cite the source and credit the author and publication.