Getting Better All the Time

Check “Ritual Calendar 2016” for upcoming holidays.

I woke up with the music of a Beatles’ song in my head. It took me a few hours to get some words, too. When I had snatches of the song, I looked up the lyrics.

Apparently the song is autobiographical. It tells of a guy who had a chip on his shoulder as a kid and was mean to his woman but fell in love with a new one and changed, thanks to her. His behavior got better all the time. Not something I can relate to; a damsel on a white horse came and saved him. Lucky guy!

So I just edited out the details and saw the song in terms of dealing with ritual abuse.

Anyway, Paul wrote,
“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)
A little better all the time”
And John added,
“It can’t get more worse)”

In the beginning, I thought remembering RA just couldn’t get more worse. It  really felt like it would, though. I actually believed I would die from the stress of remembering. Not by suicide, just that my body couldn’t take it and would stop; I would keel over from a heart attack or a massive stroke. Nobody knew about “feeling” flashbacks – past repressed feelings surfacing in the present – and so nobody could tell me what was going on. It would have helped a lot.

In the beginning, I couldn’t see changes because I wasn’t used to the process. They were small changes and came slowly. My therapist pointed out that I was taking baby steps, but I would get steadier with time, and my tiny steps would all add up. Guess what? He was right!

I slogged away year after year, and when I stopped to look back, I could see how far I had come. It was pretty amazing. Of course I would cycle back and feel really rotten again, over and over. It wasn’t that I was losing ground, it was that I was dealing with something at a deeper level. It took me a while to figure out that my healing process was spiral, not linear. Once I did, I no longer panicked when I entered that space. I wasn’t exactly joyful, but I knew what was going on, and trusted that there would be benefits.

Now something new and weird is happening. It’s a part of my process I have never seen before and I am very grateful for it.

I first noticed that I wasn’t a wreck before the spring equinox this year. Then I found that I was calm during Easter week and Beltane, which had been the worst day of the whole year for me. I wasn’t forgetting the holidays, I wasn’t forgetting or denying what happened to me. I wasn’t even minimizing. I was just reacting differently.

Recently I started noticing that this attitude was spreading to other difficult parts of my life. I had hated my birthday for years and told people close to me not to give me presents or cards. I didn’t tell anybody the date unless I absolutely had to, like at the pharmacy.

This year I acted more normally. I let my best friend take me out to dinner. I asked another friend to come celebrate with me (her birthday is a couple of weeks later than mine) by going indoor skydiving. And I messed up on Facebook and let my birthday be public. Aack! But I was really touched by good wishes from people in the survivor community that I knew well and people I hardly knew at all. I think that is the first time in my life that I have enjoyed my birthday, not just gritted my teeth and gotten through it.

Finally, I have always been camera phobic and did my best to avoid having my picture taken. Photos brought back such awful disgusting memories and I wasn’t willing to try desensitizing myself by having people take hundreds and hundred of pictures of me. I didn’t want to go through that much suffering, and, besides, I thought it was barbaric and wouldn’t work.

Recently I tried to relax a little, because I realized my kids had so few pictures of me. I had to admit it was getting better. And today I was on a conference call for an hour and a half and allowed the video to be on. Not only could they see me, I could see myself. Guess what? It was fine!! I can hardly believe it.

I did no conscious work on these issues. It just happened. It was like some switch inside allowed this calm and acceptance to spread out over many of my tender areas.

It reminds me of a light wind on water. You can see where the wind is blowing by the tiny ripples and you can see where it has left, or not yet arrived, by the calm, smooth surface. If the wind is stronger, you can tell where it is blowing harder by larger waves, often with white caps. It’s really wonderful to watch.

Take a look at the boat and the water at the top of the page. The water is my feelings, and the boat is me. Except that I would be under water, like a fish or mermaid.

Counting, License Plates, and Crosswords

When I was away, all those obsessive symptoms disappeared. It’s been four days now and they haven’t come back. They may be back tomorrow, in a week or a month or a year, or they may not come back at all. Perhaps it was just a cameo appearance? Who knows.

I thought I would write about some related things. One is reading license plates, the other is crossword puzzles.

Several of you commented on license plates, which must mean there are thousands of people out there who are obsessed with them. Ideas suggested were a program or memory and needing to memorize them in case you had to report them to the police. A related reason would be to spot cars that had followed you before or belonged to people who had harassed you.

I don’t know how common this is, but for me, I am looking for secret messages. (So did my first RA client.) This isn’t quite as nutty as it sounds because some programmed cues were seemingly random series of letters and numbers. So it would be possible, if they wanted me to perform a certain action, for them to send a car out with a plate containing that sequence and have it drive along around me. Maybe they said they would do that, maybe I thought it up on my own.

Many of the cues were plays on words;  they could be quite intricate. Sometimes opposites were used in a sentence, sometimes words that sounded alike, sometimes words that meant the same thing. I’ve not discussed this with other survivors, so I don’t know if others have the same kind of programming or if my programmers were just in love with puns and other word jokes.

Anyway, crosswords are the perfect places to look for such pairings. As a teen, I did two every day, the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. The rule was that the significant words had to come from different crosswords. I was still being abused during this time.

Now I do the easy puzzles that appear in the San Francisco Chronicle or the Washington Post. They take only about 10 minutes but almost every day they have a work pair that qualifies. I notice them, but they do not bother me any more. What does bother me is that most crosswords are done by software these days and the definitions are often wrong. Very annoying.

Oh, as a PS — I noticed that after the trip I no longer avoid using numbers instead of spelling them out. Looks like the programming using numbers has finally lost its hold. Hooray!

RA Survivors and Dentistry

I have a miserable time at the dentist. It’s not that I’m a chicken; it’s because I was tortured as a child by a dentist or somebody pretending to be a dentist. Over the years I have learned ways to make it a little less unbearable.

First, I tell all new dentists, in general terms, what my background is. I learned this the hard way twenty years ago when I had an emergency and my regular dentist wasn’t available and so sent me to the person who was covering for him. I figured, “I’m only going to see this guy once, so I won’t bother telling him.” I was so anxious that he tried everything he could think of to make me relax. Finally he said, “Just think of me as a witch doctor who make everything all right by magic.” I shot right up in the chair and said, “Don’t talk to me like that! I was abused by a dentist in a Satanic cult.” Shall we say he was startled?

We both calmed down enough to get the procedure done, but my regular dentist said that he was so shaken up that he had to send him a nice bottle of wine to persuade him to continue being on call.

Second, I kept changing dentists until I found a gentle soul. He’s a total gem. He practices dentistry half time, is an MFT and sees clients half time, and is writing a book on treating phobic patients. (Anybody who needs a dentist in San Francisco, just let me know. And you bet I will review his book when it comes out!)

Third, I have figured out some methods to keep myself in the present and out of flashbacks. I have no compunctions about asking for what I need because my dentist and his assistants dislike flashbacks almost as much as I do. Here’s what I’ve learned to do:

I ask them to keep talking about anything at all during the procedure. Hiking, dental school stories, their grandmothers, baseball, whatever. I just need their voices to hang on to and keep me in the present.

I tell them to let me know ahead of time what they are going to do, how much noise it will make, how long it will take. Surprises are not a good idea.

I ask for a lead apron because the weight is reassuring and goggles because they make me feel like my eyes are protected. Apparently I am not a freak; others find the apron and goggles comforting.

Last time, I was asked if I wanted nitrous oxide. I thought I could get through it without it. But why make life harder for myself, if I didn’t have to? I gratefully accepted it.

Nitrous disinhibits and I got relaxed enough to give him some feedback I had kept to myself until that point. (Again, I had made life harder for myself by not speaking up sooner. I think this pattern needs looking at!)

All dentists seem to minimize the amount of pain involved. They must teach them in dental school that the word “pain” frightens patients and it is better to use a euphemism. Well, it’s not. At best it’s annoying, at worst it destroys trust in the dentist. It’s not a “little tinge” or a “pinch” or “you may feel some pressure.” Be honest and call it what it is. “This will hurt moderately for about one minute. Raise your hand if you need me to stop.” I may be dental phobic, but I am still an intelligent adult and I don’t like being lied to.

The other thing I figured out under nitrous is that the torture I had experienced as a child had magnified the nerves’ response to pain.  Repeated stimulation of the nerve-to-brain pain pathway had set me up to be overly sensitive to dental pain for the rest of my life. I checked this out and was told that I was right.  Perhaps some people really do experience a novocaine shot as “a little pinch.” Apparently there are lucky folk who are even able to fall asleep while being given novocaine!!!

So it’s not our fault. We aren’t being sissies. It’s completely sensible to take care of ourselves and soothe ourselves the best we can. We can’t lessen the pain or eliminate the fear; we are stuck with it for life. But we can handle pain and fear in a way that gives us some measure of control, which we never had as children. That in itself is assertive and empowering, well worth doing.