Healing from Ritual Abuse: Phase One

I found an old notebook and read it through in one sitting. My best friend told me not to do that, but I am not one to take good advice, even advice I routinely give others.

The notebook covers nine months, from early October 1988 to late June 1989. It includes, in late March, my discovery of my ritual abuse background. Ellen Bass
calls this the crisis phase. I had had so many other momentous things happen in the preceding couple of years that crisis no longer felt like crisis — it felt like more of the same. So I call it phase one of dealing with ritual abuse.

I sat down to read it, knowing that it was a journal about abuse, but not knowing the date or whether it included ritual abuse.’The first entry reads: “I see an image far away of the garden the lovely garden I remember someone shelling peas they are green and smell green and taste green and smell green under my fingernails.” (Something bad happened in that garden, of course.)

The last entry: “If this stuff didn’t happen and I’m making it up, something else worse happened to make me make it up.”  Quite a change in viewpoint.

It was strange to read it. I remember writing most entries and remember the events that I wrote about. Other times it’s not familiar but it comes back if I just sit quietly for a few moments. And sometimes I can’t remember for the life of me. Seems I felt strongly about people whose names I don’t even recognize. I feel guilty, like I am disloyal to them. But I remembered far more than I forgot.

Everything was so raw. My unconscious was close to the surface and spilled out over every part of my life. I can follow the patterns in my writing and I see that my unconscious is working in the same way today, but in the background. It has been   a steady companion through the years.

Today I appreciate, for the most part, the calm, the ability to enjoy ordinary things, the joy I get from contributing to my community. Other times I would like to be open and passionate like I was in the beginning of the process. I could, and probably will, read that notebook over and over just to get a taste of that intensity.

As the memories and feelings flowed through me back then, I was filled with a great sense of love for people I knew, people in general, myself, and life itself. I remember the fear and horror and I remember being paranoid and delusional. I was afraid to be with my cats, for example, because I thought they could read my mind. But I don’t remember being filled with love. I find that very strange. Love came roaring out, like a lion released from its cage. How could I have forgotten that?

I see the effects of experiencing that burst of love, though. Before I remembered the ritual abuse, I thought I was incapable of love. Or that I could love like everybody else but I was incapable of recognizing it or feeling it. When I thought of my inability, I was filled with a yearning to feel love, both given and received. Now I know who and what I love even though I often feel constricted in my ability to let it in and express my feelings. But I am secure and no longer feel like a one-legged alien.

I’d like to transcribe it all and send you every word. I think that’s a bit much, though. I will probably just make selections and offer them to you with comments.

My Brother’s Birthday

I have been down and discouraged all week, only yesterday realizing that today is my brother’s birthday. He has been dead six years now after having been totally disabled by a massive stoke for eight years. Those fourteen years feel like an eternity and an instant at the same time. I can’t seem to come to terms with this: I cry every time I think of him. I’m crying as I write this.

I realize that strokes occur to those who were not born into cults, as well as those that were, but I cannot help but feel that there was a connection.  I resonate with the factors that led to it — self-neglect, shame, and guilt, all-encompassing guilt. He was told he had high blood pressure, but that he could lower it by losing weight. I’m sure he said to himself that he would go back to the doctor when he lost weight, and then never did, until he was forced to by a medium-sized stroke. A couple of years later, a second stroke left him unable to communicate, unable to eat except through a feeding tube, and able to move only one arm. The ER, intensive care unit, and nursing home gave him very good care for eight years and kept him alive in total dependence. It was heart-breaking.

I was close to my brother as a child in both the “day life” and the “night life,” although we never spoke of the cult — it was buried under impenetrable layers of amnesia. He was the only person in my family that I liked and trusted. But slowly, we grew apart. In high school he appeared increasingly shy and by the time he graduated college he had what these days we call “social phobia.” People made him so uncomfortable that he withdrew as far as he could.

It wasn’t just strangers — everybody made him anxious, including me. First he stopped calling me, then he stopped answering his phone when I called. If I did reach him and invited him to something, he found an excuse. My sweet brother had become a ghost. We managed to see each other every few years, more so after my husband died. He sensed I needed him, and rose to the occasion. He painted rooms, changed tires, fixed my fence. We connected over tasks, but couldn’t talk personally.

When I discovered I had been molested, and later, when my cult background came to light, I disclosed to him without hesitation. I was hoping that he, too, would remember and would have a chance for a happier life. He said a few things that indicated he had been cult-abused, like “I cannot look people in the eye because I see a knife in their eye or a beating heart.” But that was all.

I couldn’t protect him when we were children and I couldn’t help him heal when we were adults. As I became more connected to my past, he became more disconnected from me. And then the strokes came.

I see that the way I handle my grief is to reach out to others. Although I could never help him, I can at least try to make a difference in the lives of some people I do not know. Every word I have written is in his memory.

Love

How in the world did we learn how to love? We were raised with deceit and cruelty. The people who were supposed to cherish us were sadists. We had to bond to monsters, because that’s all there was to bond to. By all odds, we should be incapable of love because we have no idea what it is.

I asked one of my healing buddies how he explained it. He said, “I just looked at the fields and knew that there was more, and that it was wrong.” Somehow that little boy could see the beauty of the fields amid the ugliness of his upbringing and his heart went out to it. There must be an intrinsic capacity in children to love.

Of course, love goes against everything we were taught. It was seen as an act of rebellion and invited severe punishment. We learned to love in secret to protect both ourselves and the people and things we cherished. We didn’t stop loving, we just went underground with it.

When we got enough power to escape, we gained the opportunity to love openly. Of course we were afraid to love, afraid to let anybody know we cared. We had to fight against our well-learned fear with every ounce of our strength. But we did it and we continue doing it daily in continued defiance of the cult. The instinct is just too great to deny.