Over-Reactions and Under-Reactions as Flashbacks

Since this post is all about flashbacks, you might want to go back and read “About BASK Flashbacks: (https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2018/09/10/about-bask-flashbacks/.) I read it periodically to structure my thinking.

You probably don’t remember that I had tentatively started to deal with the stage in my life when I was used in child pornography. I haven’t said anything much about it because the process shut down after just a couple of weeks. 

How do I feel? Sad. Disappointed. Relieved. Numb. 

And brooding about flashbacks – what they are, where they come from, how to tell if I am in one.

Now, sensory flashbacks are pretty easy for me to identify. I see or hear or smell something that isn’t here now. My classic example is when I was splashing around in the pool, and I suddenly smelled beer in the air above the water. There was no question in my mind that the pool was not filled with beer!!! Sometimes I see something for a moment, and then it changes into something else. A dead body by the side of the road turns into a black plastic bag. You get the idea.

Feelings, however, are much harder to identify. I instinctively try to find a present-day explanation for whatever I am feeling. If I am anxious these days it is because of COVD-19. That makes total sense, right? Everybody is anxious about the virus, and there is no reason why I should be any different.

However, underneath the consciousness of every-day stressors, there is a huge layer of anxiety from my childhood trying to come out. At times it pushes through, seemingly out of nowhere. Other times it piggybacks on something in the present that has already made me anxious. (That’s called being triggered.) Most of the time, it sits there, boiling away, gathering steam, waiting to erupt like a geyser.

I have to remain open to the idea that some of the anxiety I am feeling today comes from those unprocessed feelings from the past. I search for clues (when I remember that I am dealing with more than COVID-19. aging, and chronic pain.) Did it come bursting out of nowhere? Probably from the past. Was I already feeling anxious and started to feel lots more so? Is there anything similar in the two situations? Could I have been triggered?

A psychologist once told me, “If somebody is over-reacting, it means they had to under-react in the past.” This idea has been very useful to me over the years. I do over-react quite a bit, and I have learned to trace my feelings back to situations in my childhood.

It just occurred to me that it doesn’t have to be childhood feelings. David Free, a man I had been e-friends with for twenty-five years, died a couple of years ago. I thought about him a lot, but I didn’t cry. Shortly afterward, a man I barely knew died. I had liked him, but he was an acquaintance, not a friend. I cried for weeks! Of course, I was grieving for David as well. I have no idea why I couldn’t grieve at the time, but I couldn’t. I had to wait to be triggered before I could finally feel my sorrow.

Anxiety from the past doesn’t work on an on/off switch; it’s on a dimmer. When it is strongest, I am in full-fledged panic mode, and when it is weakest, I am totally numb. I’ve only realized this recently; feeling numb is just as much a flashback as feeling panicked.

When I got flashbacks to Satanic abuses, I was not numb. I was full of feelings, mainly fear and anger. When the memories were of family life, they could be accompanied by feelings (mainly outrage and anger,) or I could feel sort of stunned. But anything to do with pornography, I am numb. I can describe the scene, but I cannot retrieve anything of what I felt back then. The only emotion that comes through this veil of numbness is shame. 

I have the sense that I felt nothing until it was all over, and only then did I feel shame. And then I forgot everything – the people involved, the audience, the acts I performed, everything. I had been taught (programmed) to forget. 

I learned about the forgetting part of the experience when I was giving presentations at Survivorship. I did fine during the workshop, but I was dissociated afterward, and I felt like I was floating. I could not remember what I had said, and I did not recognize any of the people who came up to talk to me, even if I had known them for years. The first time this happened, I was shocked, and I froze and said nothing. I learned to tell people I was in a flashback and could not recognize them. Then I realized I could be calmer and more matter-of-fact if I told them beforehand. The workshops went much more smoothly

I’ve learned so much about my process in the few weeks I’ve been working on these issues. My decision has already paid off, and I believe that I will learn much, much more. I don’t know if I am looking forward to learning more or dreading it. Or both!

 ~~~~~~~~~~

Upcoming Holidays

October
10/1 Full moon
10/12 Columbus Day
10/13 Backward Halloween
10/31 Full moon (Blue Moon)
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 (?)
11/13 Friday the thirteenth
11/14 New moon
11/26 Thanksgiving Day (United States)
11/30 St Andrew’s Day
9/29 Michaelmas/Feast of Archangel Michael and of all Angels
December
Sundays of advent: 11/28, 12/5, 12/12, 12/19
12/4 New Moon
12/4 Total Solar Eclipse
12/14 New moon
12/14 Total solar eclipse. Totality visible in Chile and parts of Argentina. Partial eclipse visible in southern South America and south-east Africa. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-december-14
12/18 Full Moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/5 Christmas Day
12/29 Full moon
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
10/3 Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles, harvest festival)
10/19 Death of Goering
10/12 Hitler’s alternate half-birthday (Note: Hitler was born on Easter, so Nazis celebrate his actual half-birthday, 10/20, and his alternate half-birthdate six months after Easter, which fell on 4/12 this year.)
10/20 Hitler’s half-birthday
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes.)

~~~~~~~~~~

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

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/
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/

Fuzzy Flashbacks Caused by Staying at Home

* SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) offers virtual support groups for all survivors, male survivors, and family and friends of survivors. A listing of all meetings is at: https://www.snapnetwork.org/events

* And SNAP announced that it will be holding a free virtual conference, instead of an in-person event in Denver. The date will be September 25 – 27. Information is in the middle of their home page. https://www.snapnetwork.org/

* You can find more information on the following holidays at:
Summer Solstice (corrected text): https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
August Ritual Dates: 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/

~~~~~

The summer solstice is right around the corner. It comes early this year, on June 19. Because our unconscious expects it to be on the 20th or 21st, it’s going to take everybody by surprise. It might be a good idea to put it in total caps on your calendar for a few days before its arrival. SOLSTICE ON JUNE 19!!!!

~~~~~

I’m getting some good mileage – insights and memories – from a kind of continual soft, fuzzy flashback that stays in the background. It took me three months to figure out what was going on! I’m going to describe my experience in case anybody can relate.

My idea of a flashback is the rapid emergence of some part of a past experience. It’s more a reliving of an event, rather than a remembering. It’s impossible to ignore, demanding my attention. My reaction is usually, “What the fuck is this?”

This kind of flashback lasts anywhere from seconds to months. When I first remembered, they were 24/7. Little by little, flashback-free moments appeared here and there. Now flashbacks are rare, but frequent enough to be a permanent part of my life.

The last entry is worth rereading. It categorizes flashbacks according to the B.A.S.K. model. The letters stand for: B (behavior) – A (affect, emotion) – S (sensory; sight, sound, smell, taste, heat/cold perception, pressure, pain) – K (cognition). The more of these elements are present, the more intense the flashback. Sensory flashbacks are easiest for me to recognize, while the others are often a little tricky.

Something in the present causes the past to re-appear; whatever sets it off is called the trigger. (I hate the word trigger because it “triggers” memories of violence for me. I prefer the word “reminder,” which is neutral.)

Identifying the reminder is useful because when you see that object, or hear that word, or find yourself in that situation, you will be prepared for a flashback. It’s not necessary to know what it was that set things off to work through the flashback, though.

Being confined to my home these days is an ever-present reminder of my childhood. I didn’t know this for many weeks, but I did know I was “off.” Old symptoms were coming back, and my world seemed very small. It finally occurred to me that, as a child, my world was extremely small indeed. First it was confined to two rooms of the apartment and to the park for an hour or two. When we moved, I could enter all the rooms of the apartment, I still went to the park, and then, after a year, there was school. School seemed vast in terms of both space and new experiences. I was overwhelmed and I loved it !

Now this, mind you, was in my every-day life, the only life I was allowed to know. There was another, hidden life, that belonged to the cult. In a sense, it was vaster, because there were always new abuses, always further cruelties. And my emotions were so strong I could hardly bear them. It certainly could not be called boring. I think that the contrast made my day life seem even more restricted, even though I couldn’t remember the cult life.

Today, as in my childhood, I am confined to my apartment and the garden, my tiny version of an urban park. All I see of the outside world are crows on the neighbors’ roofs and people jogging and walking their dogs. I’m forgetting what it is like to go into a grocery store, to window shop, to smell the ocean. I do remember what it feels like to be agoraphobic – terrified of leaving my little bubble of safety and perhaps end up in a cult gathering. In a sick sense, that’s a perk or being quarantined.

And yet the agoraphobia lingers because I’m afraid to go outside even to walk around the block. I’m told it’s safe if I wear a mask and stay away from people, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Most of the time, I believe I am content to stay home, but there is an underlying sense of longing for freedom.

So many others are feeling under house arrest that it seems like a normal reaction to being alone at home. So is it a flashback or not?

I think it’s both. If I look at the situation from one angle, I am having a totally normal reaction to my present-day situation. If I look at it from another angle, I am deep in feelings from when I was four or five or six.  And that is definitely, according to the B.A.S.K. model, a feelings flashback.

~~~~~

Upcoming Holidays

June
6/19 Summer solstice
6/21 Fathers’ Day
6/21 Annular solar eclipse. Visible from parts of Africa (including the Central African Republic, Congo, and Ethiopia), south of Pakistan, northern India, and China. A partial eclipse is visible in south/east Europe, much of Asia, the north of Australia, and much of Africa, Pacific, Indian Ocean. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-june-21
6/23 Midsummer’s Eve
6/24 St. John’s Day
July
7/4 Independence Day
7/4 Full moon
7/4-5 Penumbral lunar eclipse. The moon will turn a shade darker during the maximum phase, visible in North and South America, and Africa. Most penumbral lunar eclipses cannot easily be distinguished from a usual full moon. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-july-5
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God
August
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/3 Full moon
8/15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
7/30 Tisha B’Av (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.)

Flashbacks in the Time of Coronavirus

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

Summer Solstice (corrected text): https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
August Ritual Dates: 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/

* So nice to be able to think about something other than myself!

~~~~~

I was talking to a friend the other day and said that I see flashbacks as layered, one on top of another. The simile I used was that of nested Russian dolls. Each doll is larger than the previous one because it has to contain all the smaller dolls.

So it is with my flashbacks. When I was three, they did something awful to me. When I was four, they did something similar, and I had a flashback to what they had done the year before. Therefore, I had to deal with the terror of both the present and the past at the same time.

When a similar thing was done to me once again, my experience included the emotions from the two previous events as well as from whatever was going on in the present.

The layering of flashbacks explains why holidays are so very intense. Similar things were done on the same day year after year after year. It also explains why spring seems like a series of unhappy days, and no one day stands out as unbearable. Easter wanders around, and the flashbacks are spread out, not concentrated on one particular date.

With holidays, it’s easy to figure out what I am flashing back to. But with this virus, it takes work to make sense of my feelings. The things that are happening to me are not sharp or painful, and they do not seem to have Satanic (or pornographic) connotations. They are diffuse – they develop over time.

Take cabin fever, for example. The first couple of days I didn’t experience any cabin fever at all. Then one day, there was a twinge of resentment when I wanted to go out and didn’t. Now I have been pent up for so long (85 days) that I have regressed to being agoraphobic.

So let’s say staying at home all the time is the biggest Russian doll? What is inside her?

1. Helplessness
2. Fear of dying a horrible death
3. Not believing this is happening
4. No physical contact with other people
5. Not being able to choose the food I want
6. Fear I will forget how to breathe

The first three items are very general. The present-day emotion could be stirring up emotions from any number of different cult events. From just about all of them, as a matter of fact! The best I can do is say to myself, “Yes, I used to feel this way a lot as a kid. But this is very different. No adult is hurting me – it’s precautions that I am taking to stay safe from a virus. It’s not the same at all.” That is good enough, for sure.

The last three items bring up instant images from my childhood. My mother used to push me away, not wanting to touch me. When I had trouble eating something (because I was in flashback), I was left sitting at the table alone, staring at the food on my plate. I had been told that I could not leave until I ate it. I either finally managed to choke it down, or it was removed and given to me again at breakfast. The final one reminds me of lying in bed, wide awake, afraid to fall asleep for fear I would “forget” how to breathe. This fear did not occur before I was about eight, so that must have been a period when I was repeatedly being suffocated.

At times it feels like my experience of sheltering-in-place is buoyed by a sea of flashbacks. They come and go, like ripples on the surface of the water. Their number seems infinite, wide and deep as the ocean, and their variety also seems infinite. Just as it is impossible to see one molecule of water, I cannot grasp one flashback, isolate it, and examine it apart from all the others floating through my consciousness. I try, of course, despite the confusion.

In struggling to untangle past from present, it helps me to review the B.A.S.K. model of flashbacks, developed by Bennett Braun over twenty years ago. (Bennett BraunDissociation (1998) Vol.1, No.1, pp.4-23.) It’s just as useful today as it was then. You can read the whole article (and then browse every issue of Dissociation) at https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/1276.

Braun organizes flashbacks into four categories.

B stands for behavior. If you repeat something in the present that you did in the past, that’s a behavior flashback. Therapists often call this “acting out” because you are acting out a scene from the past.

An example might be walking into the kitchen and picking up a knife, not knowing why you are doing this. It’s a repetition of past behavior; during the time you were being abused, you may have picked up a knife and then dissociated. The knowledge of what came afterward is not available to you anymore. Another example is more complex and involves trying to “save” people over and over again because you tried and failed to protect other children in the cult.

A is for affect, the fancy word for emotions. Dissociated emotions can come back and reappear in the present. They are real emotions, and you are really feeling them. They just belong to something that happened in the past. Something in the present that evokes the same emotion has triggered the return of the past, dissociated emotions.

S is sensory. You can have flashbacks of memories recorded by any of your senses. Sight, sound, smell, touch, pressure, hot/cold, pain, and proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space.)

Finally, K stands for knowledge. That’s when you just know something, but don’t know how you know it. I open my mouth, and something comes out. I think, “Now, where did that come from?” I have no idea, but I just know it is true. It’s a little spooky, and it is hard to explain away as belonging to the present.

Even though I read that article twenty-two years ago, I still use the B.A.S.K. model to sort out my thoughts when I am in flashback. I hope it may help you, too.

~~~~~~~~~~

Upcoming Holidays

May
5/31 Pentecost

June
6/5 Full moon
6/5-6 Penumbral lunar eclipse. The moon will turn a shade darker during the maximum phase, visible in Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa. Most penumbral lunar eclipses cannot be easily distinguished from a usual full moon. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-june-5
6/19 Summer solstice
6/21 Fathers’ Day
6/21 Annular solar eclipse. Visible from parts of Africa (including the Central African Republic, Congo, and Ethiopia), south of Pakistan, northern India, and China. Partial eclipse is visible in south/east Europe, much of Asia, the north of Australia, and much of Africa, Pacific, Indian Ocean. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-june-21
6/23 Midsummer’s Eve
6/24 St. John’s Day

July
7/4 Independence Day
7/4 Full moon
7/4-5 Penumbral lunar eclipse. The moon will turn a shade darker during the maximum phase, visible in North and South America, and Africa. Most penumbral lunar eclipses cannot be easily distinguished from a usual full moon. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-july-5
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God

August
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/3 Full moon
8/15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
6/6 D-Day: invasion of France in WW2
7/30 Tisha B’Av (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.)