The Power of Baby Steps

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* Additional information on the following holidays is available at:
 Thanksgiving https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
 Yule/Winter Solstice https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/

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Some changes come in such small increments that you don’t notice them until a long time has passed, and you take a moment to remember what it was like in the beginning. When I was a kid, did I feel taller every day? Of course not! But every few months, my height was marked on a door frame, and so I could see that I was noticeably taller than I was a year or two earlier.

So it was with healing from ritual abuse. Day by day, I felt I was getting nowhere fast. I couldn’t see any changes, and I was discouraged and, at times, hopeless. But when enough time had passed, the changes started to become visible.

This was what was like for me in the early days.

The moment when I realized there was ritual abuse in my background, my blood ran cold, and I burst out with, “Oh fuck!!!!” An hour or so later, the flashbacks started, and they continued non-stop for many months.

Well, I am exaggerating. They weren’t really non-stop. I was working at the time as a therapist, and they were kind enough to stop when I was with clients and to wait for times when I was alone, like on bathroom breaks. I was petrified I would have one during a session, so I was anxious all the time, but it never happened. Otherwise, they were 24/7.

I also became paranoid. I thought my cats knew I had killed cats forty years before and that they hated me for it. I thought that when radios were silent, they could broadcast thoughts and place them in my mind. I therefore slept with the radio on – it was lovely to wake up to “Mozart in the Morning!” Because I knew these thoughts were nuts, I figured I wasn’t quite as much of a mess as I thought I was, if that makes any sense. Even so, I was in pretty bad shape.

Now, my therapist had an optimistic streak that drove me crazy. He believed that I could come through this, and he attempted to slow me down. You see, I was failing around wildly, not knowing what to do, where to turn, not knowing if something was useful or hurtful. “Baby steps, Jean, baby steps.” But baby steps in what direction? He counted getting out of bed, eating every day, washing, as baby steps. Me, I thought that didn’t count as progress. I had done all those things for years. I wanted to do things I couldn’t do, like stop the flashbacks. It didn’t occur to me that I had never done any of those things while in flashback. Poor guy, he had his hands full reassuring me!

Finally, in exhaustion, I decided that all I had to do was not kill myself and wait for the changes to happen magically with no effort on my part.

As the months passed, things did start to change. I couldn’t see that anything was different, of course, because change came so slowly. I was also fighting “old tapes” from the cult and from my family.

The cult had taught me:
I was powerless
I was weak
I was stupid
Given a choice, I always chose the wrong thing
I would never learn
I deserved what I got, I deserved all the abuse
I could never change

My parents had taught me:
I was not nice enough
I was not pretty enough
I was not smart enough
I was not kind enough
I was not popular enough
I was a disappointment to them
I was stubborn and would never change

All the voices in my head conspired to deny or sabotage every positive baby step I took.

And when I reached a place when something positive had become a habit, it was frighteningly unfamiliar. I didn’t trust it to stick around, and I didn’t know how to act, think, or feel. It was like the first day of school or waking up one morning in a foreign land, not knowing the language or the customs. So what did I do? I made a vow not to hurt myself and waited to magically adapt with no effort on my part. Time is a wonderful healer!

Now, thirty years and six months later, I can see how all the little tiny things I did along the way have added up, and I feel transformed. There is still plenty of work on myself I can do, but the difference is amazing.

I’ll give you a recent example.

Halloween and Beltane are the worst days for me. They always had been, even before I realized that I was a ritual abuse survivor, and I figured they always would be.

But this year, I had no flashbacks on Halloween. I was not anxious and frightened the week or two before. I was not agoraphobic. I was not sick to my stomach. I was not upset by the decorations my neighbors chose for their front doors. It was just an ordinary day like any other.

If you had told me that someday I would not be bothered by Halloween, I would not have believed you for one minute. I never imagined that such a thing would happen. And yet it did. Why? An accumulation of little things I did along the way added up. Which ones helped and which didn’t, I don’t know. Perhaps they all helped, just because I put energy into trying.

I can’t promise you that you will get the same results as I did. But I can promise you that change is possible and that there is hope, even if it is clouded over by despair. All those baby steps make a huge difference!

Upcoming Holidays

November
11/11 (?) Veterans’ Day
11/12 Full moon
11/28 US Thanksgiving
December
12/1, 12/8, 12/15, 12/22 Sundays of Advent
12/11 Full moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/26 Annular solar eclipse. Totality will be visible in Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines.
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
12/22 – 12/30 Chanukah
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

Halloween: 1999 and 2019

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* Additional information on the following holidays is available at:

I was searching my computer for a poem by verne that was published in the Survivorship Journal ages ago and came across some of my old writing. (If by some remote chance somebody has any poems by verne, they would be much appreciated. Just put them in the comments section.)

Here’s the poem – I think his spirit shines through.

A Toast

take a glass and raise it high
to those of us who won’t
lay down and die
some of us beaten and abused
by those we loved
others by our government
still we won’t
lay 
down and die

so take a glass
and drain it dry.

verne

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I found this piece, which is 20 years old! It was the first year I was editing Survivorship’s Monthly Notes. Shortly afterwards, I went on to edit the Journal, as well.

 Halloween, October 1999

I’m really ambivalent about fall. As a child, I never could decide if I dreaded the return to school or couldn’t wait. On the one hand, there was the relentless pressure to do everything perfectly the first time, the social isolation, the contempt of the other kids. On the other hand, there was the hope that I would somehow magically discover the secret to happiness and social ease. Perhaps in second grade? Perhaps third? Perhaps a Ph.D. in Comparative Tibetan Literature would do the trick?

And then, lurking in my unconscious, was the knowledge that some pretty awful days were coming up. I’m sure even a first grader knows on some level that when the leaves start to fall, the Equinox, and then Halloween, can’t be far behind.

Halloween seems a very difficult holiday to reclaim. To me, it connotes death and destruction on many levels, and reclaiming death seems impossible. There is nothing in my heritage, either the day heritage or the night one, that allows me to feel comfortable with death or the process of dying.

Nobody I knew spoke of the dead with respect and affection, nobody in my childhood celebrated their lives. I wonder what it would be like to have my first associations with death be The Day of the Dead – a joyful picnic in the cemetery, with laughter and reminiscing, food prepared from ancient recipes, children running around and playing.

So how do I cope? Well, to tell you the truth, I generally try something different each year, because nothing has satisfied me so far. I tried making elaborate treats for the trick-or-treaters. I tried turning off all the lights and going to bed at 5:30. One year I painted the inside of the garage. I tried a trip to a tourist town I had never seen. (Bad idea. I found I prefer to be miserable in familiar surroundings. Of course, I never would have known that if I hadn’t experimented.)

One year I tried to ‘sanitize’ part of the ritual. Along with two tolerant friends, I built a fire in their fireplace. We took slips of paper and wrote all the things we wanted to say goodbye to and then burned the paper. We then wished each other Happy New Year. (October 31st is the first day of the Celtic New Year.) We wrote all the things we wanted to welcome into our lives on more scraps of paper, took them home, and planted them in the dirt so they could grow. That was sort of cool.

This year? I don’t know yet.

Halloween, October 2019

I don’t feel upset about Halloween . . . yet. I’m glad I am no longer all triggered two weeks ahead of every major holiday. I don’t feel the panicky pressure of the days ticking off, and I haven’t planned anything special.

I remember doing something really cool one year back then. Halloween is the Celtic New Year, and the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is believed to be thinner than usual. Since the dead can come and visit, there is a tradition of setting out a portion of the evening meal to welcome them.

So I put a plate of whatever I had made for dinner out on the deck. The next day, the food was all gone!!! I was awed and baffled until I noticed little footprints. Raccoons had come and had a feast. My friends thought the dead had shape-shifted into raccoons, which is a lovely thought. Ancestors or raccoons, it didnt matter to me. I felt a little less anger and resentment against my parents. It’s great to do something kind for somebody you hate; it softens your soul and eases your burden.

I’m saddened that I no longer have the energy to do as much writing as I did twenty years ago. By and large, I like what I wrote back then, and I feel that my style hasn’t changed much. I only hope that what I manage to do now measures up.

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Upcoming Holidays

October
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
11/12 Full moon
11/28 US Thanksgiving
December
12/1, 12/8, 12/15, 12/22 Sundays of Advent
12/11 Full moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/15 Christmas Day
12/26 Annular solar eclipse. Totality visible in Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines.
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
10/20 Hitler’s actual half-birthday
10/21 Hitler’s alternative half-birthday (Note: Hitler was born on Easter, so Nazis celebrate his actual birthday and half-birthday on 4/20 and 10/20. His alternate birthday is celebrated on Easter of the current year and his alternate half-birthday six months later.)
10/21 – 10/22 Simchat Torah (celebration of the complete annual cycle of reading of the Torah)
11/9 Kristallnacht State-ordered pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria)
12/22 – 12/30 Chanukah
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

I Turned off Those Old Tapes!

* Detailed instructions for making comments are in “News Items.”

* There is an entry on the Summer Solstice (corrected text) at https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/

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I had planned to write about the down period I was in. Even though I am happy, happier than I ever have been in my life, there still are times when the old beliefs about myself seem to get stronger, and, once again, life is a struggle. The struggle, though, is conducted with a background of self-acceptance and happiness rather than one of despair, self-hatred, and deep misery. It makes a big difference.

Now I have traversed that rough spot in the road, and I can look back at the process.

The trigger was a flashback to being ordered at knife-point not ever to tell, and my depressive feelings were the emergence of old beliefs about myself, lies that I was told decades ago. . Although I thought I would have to work through those old-tape issues on a deeper level, the mood lifted by itself after I made another big decision.

I knew I was approaching the day when I would need to stop driving, but I was not sure how soon it would be. I decided to be evaluated by a professional and get an objective opinion. Then I would have data to base my decision on, and I would know if I needed to start planning for a wheel-less future.

It turned out that my vision is a lot worse than I thought it was. I have had cataract surgery in both eyes, and my distance vision is so much better. I can read more street signs, colors are brighter, and objects in the distance look crisp and clear. I am delighted with the results. I was also pleased when my eye doctor told me that once eye was 20/25 and the other 20/30. The evaluation, however, showed a different story.

My depth perception sucks. And my ability to see objects in low contrast situations is even worse. Before the road test, my vision was tested indoors on a bright overcast day, in natural light. I was shown a piece of white paper with large letters on it. On the first line, the letters were black. The next line was dark grey, and then each line got lighter and lighter. I could only see letters half-way down the page!! I almost believed that there was nothing on the bottom of the page. What you don’t see doesn’t exist…sure. I know better.

Overall, the tests showed that, in those conditions, one eye was 20/40 and the other one was just a little better than 20/40. Maybe 20/38. The cut-off point for the DMV is 20/40. I asked how long the evaluator thought I could still drive. He hesitated and said, “Perhaps a year, but your license expires in September, and you might not pass the eye exam.”

The discrepancy between the two eye tests can be explained by the fact that I have age-related macular degeneration. In this condition, the light-sensing cells in the middle of the retina gradually die off, and it becomes progressively harder to see objects straight ahead. The brighter the light, the better the vision. In the office, the room lights are off, and black letters are shown on a brightly back-lit screen, giving maximum contrast. At my dining room table, where the evaluation took place, there was only ambient light.

At night, I am aware of dark spots in the center of my vision. During the day, I can’t yet see them, but, obviously, they really affect my vision.

Okay, back to my depressed mood. Given that I am almost illegal to drive, I made the decision to stop driving immediately and avoid the possibility of an accident. I would be devastated if I hit somebody – I was forced to hurt enough people in my childhood to last several lifetimes.

This is a huge decision. It means depending on others for transportation and, since there was no one to depend on except myself in my childhood, accepting help from others is very difficult for me. There’s a lot of grief in losing independence, giving up driving anywhere I want anytime I want, and saying goodbye to my faithful old car.

But it turns out to be an incredibly empowering decision. I, me, myself, myselves, stopped driving. Nobody told me to, nobody forced me. I did it to protect myself and to protect others, and I am convinced it is the right decision. I am taking care of myself and learning a whole new way of being in the world. I feel in control, capable, strong.

This feeling is the antithesis of how I felt as a child with a knife at my throat. I couldn’t have planned a more effective way of turning off those old tapes.

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P.S. A couple of tips I learned from the evaluator. These aren’t just for people with low vision; everybody can benefit from them.

There are mirrors that clip onto the rear view mirrow and the side mirrors. They diminish the size of the blind spots and are really helpful. They are inexpensive and available at any autoparts store.

You can also buy a shield to put over the top of the dashboard. Or you can simply can cut a piece of black cloth – remember to leave a hole for the speedometer. This eliminates the distracting reflection of the dashboard in your front window.

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Upcoming Holidays

May
5/12 Mothers’ Day
5/18 Full moon
5/27 Memorial Day
June
6/9 – 6/10 Pentecost
6/16 Father’s Day
6/17 Full moon
6/20 Corpus Christi/Feast of the Body of Christ
6/21 Summer solstice
6/23 Midsummer’s Eve
6/24 St John’s Day
July
7/2 Total solar eclipse. Visible in parts of South America
7/4 Fourth of July/ US Independence Day
7/16 Full moon
July 16 – 17 Partial lunar eclipse. Visible in South America, Africa, most of Europe and Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
6/6 D-Day: invasion of France in WW2
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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