Thanksgiving and Dissociation

I’m sitting here not knowing what to write. My mind feels blank, empty. I’ve been in this place before, many, many times. I have always come up with something, and most of the time I was satisfied with what I had written. That doesn’t mean I’ll be able to pull it off today, of course.

It’s a very familiar feeling. There is a pane of glass between me and the world, and whatever is “me” has stepped back, several steps behind the glass. Quiet, unengaged, just looking outwards toward the world. No judgment, no reaction, no words, no thoughts.

It’s dissociation, of course. At this time, for whatever reason, I am more dissociated than usual. If I fight it and scold myself for being so unengaged, so uncaring, it is unpleasant. I start brooding on what might be wrong with me, and why I haven’t fixed it once and for all after all these years. This leads to a fair amount of self-hatred.

If I just experience it without all that useless self-improvement chatter, it isn’t all that unpleasant. It’s nothing – no pain, no anxiety, no pleasure. Isn’t this what you are supposed to achieve when you empty your mind during meditation? Just observe the thoughts as they float by, don’t try and catch them and remember them, just observe without judgment, and then let them go. When the thoughts have gone, isn’t this what is left? Probably not, but it’s the closest I can come to describing what being dissociated feels like to me.

Dissociation, of course, takes many forms. It simply means that things that were once together have gotten separated. One’s self can be split into separate parts, each holding a part of the original self. A memory may be split, and parts stored separately so that only a smell is recalled. Or an image, like a still photograph. Or the emotion that was felt at the time the memory was formed.

We all learned to dissociate as very little kids. It was the only way we could survive what was done to us. We learned how to ”leave our bodies;” that is, we separated our bodies and our minds so that we could be unaware of the pain and the threat to our very lives. We floated up to the treetops and looked at the stars, or floated into an angel’s arms, or became a little bird perching on a branch, ready to fly away at any moment. Or, like me, we became nothing.

Thanksgiving has always been difficult for me. I think that is why I am so disengaged. I am re-experiencing the state I was in during those childhood Thanksgivings.

It’s interesting – I only have one memory of a Thanksgiving up until my twenties. A little glass bowl was filled with celery stalks and olives. I have memories of Christmas, Easter, and my birthday, all difficult days for me throughout adulthood. But Thanksgiving remains a blank. The celery and olives have no meaning, as far as I can tell. They are neutral, neither liked nor disliked, with no attached symbolism. Probably that is why they are remembered. I focused on something banal to protect myself from whatever was happening around me or to me. As neutral as leaves on a tree.

Today, despite feeling totally detached, I am making a point to see that the plants are watered. The cat will be fed every day this week, and the litter box will be cleaned. I will pet him every time he asks for attention. I may feel that I don’t care about the plants and the cat, but the plants won’t notice, and the cat probably won’t either. I will try to get a few things done, just not as much as usual.

And I will try and accept this eerie, quiet feeling. Not accept as in, “fuck it, it’s here, so I shall put up with it until lit goes away.” More like, “Gee, this has some advantages. The little voice that says, ‘hurry, things need to be done, important things. Stop daydreaming!’ is quiet. It feels sort of nice to float along, not caring or worrying so much.”

Thursday will come and go, and I will come out of this stasis and start feeling again. Meanwhile, I have ordered 120 bulbs on sale for my spring garden, cooked four artichokes, and eaten one. I made my bed and my laundry is done. I have actually been taking care of myself without thinking about it. Friday, I will feel good about the things I did while I was sleepwalking. Today, it is enough to just notice them.

GrassRoots RA/MC Collective Gives Me Such Joy!

Three Fun Survivor-Led Workshops for RA/MC Survivors

All these free events are held over ZOOM. Register for them at https://grassroots-ra-mc-collective.org/events/

Slow Flow Yoga with Toshia

An hour of gentle movement, breathing techniques, and guided relaxation to create mental clarity and increased body awareness. It can be done in a chair, on the floor, or on a couch or a bed.

Let’s approach our body, mind, and spirit with curiosity. This is a safe way for us to befriend our bodies, where past trauma is stored.” 

Sunday, November 13, 4:00 – 5:00 PM Pacific Time 

Come join Chris as she shares how to make  “paper dolls” for each of your others. This has been a very helpful tool for her because it encourages her parts to come forward. It is then easier for them to talk, tell their stories, and get to know you. Making the dolls is easy! Chris says she is not an artist and anybody can do this.

Saturday, November 26, 1:00 – 3:00 PM Pacific Time 

Heart and Soul Cards of Hope For the New Year  – Creative Arts Workshop

Soul Affirmation Cards Jen will show you how to create a personal “Heart and Soul’” affirmation card for the New Year. What are your hopes and dreams? What is that one word or phrase that opens up your heart and gives hope to your soul? How is that word or phrase held in art form? Celebrate the closing of this year with Jen as they teach us how to create a personal heart and soul card of hope for the year to come.

Saturday, December 31, 1:00 – 4:00 PM Pacific Time 

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GrassRoots is such a joy! In the beginning, there were just three of us, Rivers, Leni, and me. We put on a couple of poetry readings, starting on July 2021. We asked everybody who came to them to tell their friends about GrassRoots. We told our own friends, and I guess their friends told some other people. Those of us who have a blog wrote about it. Word spread. Only sixteen months have passed, and look at all that is going on!

On October 15, 2022, we hosted our first workshop. Until then, everything had been much-needed and much-appreciated ongoing groups. Drop-in support groups, plus art and writing groups. Now we are branching out, growing like a healthy tree.

Shana Dines was the trailblazer. She is a watercolor artist – you can see a couple of her paintings on our webpage. She also, in 3-D life, teaches watercolor techniques. I always assumed that watercolors were unforgiving because once they were on paper, you couldn’t change anything. Shana taught us how to layer color and how to paint one thing and then place another thing over it. She gave us some basic theory, like how to use complementary colors. We all worked on a scene of the sun setting over the ocean, and, toward the end, some of us did our own thing. I painted my fear and added these words from Litany Against Fear from “Dune:” 

“I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.” 

Shana was the first. Now three more survivors are giving workshops on very different subjects this year. They don’t conflict with anything else GrassRoots offers, so you can go to all three without missing anything. Who knows how many will happen during 2023!

Looking to the future, we’d like to have a speaker series. Once a month, a survivor would give a talk about some aspect of their life – healing, activism, whatever interested them. We are the experts because we have lived through ritual abuse and mind control.  We know what was done to us and how it has affected every corner of our being and every moment of our lives. 

It’s easy to record ZOOM sessions, so we could post the talks on the resource page. (Don’t automatically think “I can’t.” Think “I can’t…yet.”) If anybody is interested, contact me or, better yet, post in the comment section so you can inspire others. 

GrassRoots makes me so happy! I feel like a little rabbit hopping around in a field of wonderful ideas. There are lots of other rabbits to play with, and I like each of them more than all the others. The sun is warm, the breeze is soft on my fur, and there are lots of yummy things to eat. Bliss.

But it hasn’t always been like this. When I first realized what my childhood had been like, I thought I would die from the pain. I could hardly breathe. It was a huge struggle to get through each day, but I did. I sure wasn’t happily hopping around; I was slogging through molasses at midnight. Slowly, all too slowly, the days turned into weeks, months, and then years. I finally became able to feel more than numbness or pain.

I was very lucky to be able to suffer in the company of other survivors. Some were deeper in pain and fear than I was, some had come to a place where they could feel a little hope, a little love, a tiny bit of pleasure. Being among survivors gave me instant perspective. I was not the only one who had been tortured and used, then tossed aside, as a child. Others had escaped enslavement, then gotten through tsunami waves of pain and despair. There was hope of something different in life, after all. What I was feeling would not necessarily last forever.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I had not been able to meet and talk to others like myself. Nobody would have understood me the way other survivors do. I would have been alone, doubted and doubting, confused, with no idea of what to do, where to turn, or how to manage. There were only a couple of books on ritual abuse available in those days, and not a whole lot written about trauma or childhood abuse. I doubt if those books were available in small-town libraries. There was no Internet.

And, sadly, that is what it is like today for innumerable survivors.

When I first remembered, though, it was very different. In the late 80s, we were not afraid to speak to each other. There were feminist bookstores that sold books, journals, and zines about RA and conferences to go to. Many cities had 12-step meetings just for RA survivors, and some had a meeting almost every day of the week!  

Then the False Memory Syndrome Foundation came along. The members made up pseudo-scientific theories, claiming that children do not forget traumatic events. The stories they told had been suggested to them, and they had fallen for them. If one child disclosed, that child was mentally ill and disbelieved. If a group of children all told the same story, it was a case of mass hysteria. All their memories were false.

The FMSF also claimed that children were coached to tell false stories about one parent, usually the father, to please the other parent. This they called “the parent alienation syndrome.” One parent, usually the mother, was painted as manipulating and vengeful, willing to use an innocent child as a weapon against the other. 

They hired lawyers to go after therapists who “implanted memories” in clients to get their money. (Never mind that survivors are disproportionately unable to work, unemployed, or underemployed.) They provided lawyers to parents accused of sexually or ritually abusing their children. They even sued Ellen Bass, author of “Courage to Heal, claiming she put ideas into countless people’s heads. Ellen is reputed to have said, “Gee, I read a book about plumbing, but I never thought I was a plumber.”

The FMSF hired excellent public relations people and articles were published in respected journals and newspapers. In the 27 years of its existence (1992 – 2019), their disinformation campaign successfully swayed a large number of people. We are understandably reluctant to believe the worst of others, especially of people like ourselves, our neighbors, or our friends. It is more comfortable to believe that atrocities happen in other countries and not in our own backyards.  

And so survivors and their helpers became once again isolated and silenced.  

I was very lucky to have had support and a sense of community for four or five years before the FMSF turned the tide. I’ve always been sad that those times didn’t last longer. I want to recreate that atmosphere, both for others and for myself. I can’t change world opinion, but I can try to carve out a little green field in my own corner of the world.

That is what GrassRoots means to me – a return to belief, trust, and love in our relationships with our fellow survivors.  Watching GrassRoots, and the people who make up GrassRoots, grow and blossom makes me very, very happy.

 

Halloween 2022

Update on Spencer

A little bit of good news before I get into the heavy stuff.

Spencer, for new readers, is my timid newly-adopted cat. (See the above photo.) He’s been having a terrible time getting used to his new surroundings, as he had lived his whole life in the same place with his mommy. I actually lost him in the apartment for about a week.

But I found him, and he is back in my bedroom and starting to feel comfortable in the smaller space. Hopefully, when he gets free run of the place, he will think of the bedroom as a safe place to retreat to.

Happy! happy! He is bonding with me, more so day by day. He sleeps next to me at night, and we cuddle before I fall asleep. He has started to gently lick my hands as part of his good night routine. 

My next challenge will be to get him off the night shift and onto the day shift. I’m considering moving the computer into my bedroom so I can pay more attention to him during the day. Hope he is not scared of large, bright, noisy machines. 

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Halloween

I thought of my first Halloween here in the heart of the nation’s gay male Mecca. OMG! The costumes! There is a fair amount of kink here and costumes were worn for days, both before and after. The (bad pun) least of it was nude men wearing Santa hats. So many black cats, so many witches, so many Dorothys with little stuffed Totos in their arms. It felt like I was living in a sea of triggers. 

Today, things seem more sedate and, of course, I stay at home except for doctors’ appointments. If I wanted to trigger myself, I would have to go hunting for something on the Internet. I am very grateful I no longer have those intense flashbacks. 

I am also very grateful that, for me, all the cult abuse happened in a couple of days around Halloween. The rest of October has been pretty devoid of horrible memories. For many survivors, though, it seems that the whole month of October is riddled with preparation for coming rituals and then the rituals themselves. In addition to Halloween, there are these days: 10/9 Full Moon, 10/12 Columbus Day (perhaps), 10/13 Backwards Halloween, 10/13 – 10/30 Preparation for Halloween Eve, and 10/25 New Moon.

If you were abused in a Nazi or Neo-Nazi cult, these days may be observed: 10/16 Death of Rosenburg, 10/19, Death of Goering, and 10/20 Hitler’s half-birthday. The Jewish holidays 10/5 Yom Kippur and 10/10 Sukkot, may also be observed by some, but not all, Nazi groups. 

In Polytheistic groups, many Celtic, Druidic, Roman, and Egyptian holidays are added to the basic Satanic calendar.

Turning Flashbacks into Memories

By now, I am desensitized to many anniversary reactions and triggers. After freaking out year after year, they have lost their ability to send me into a full-fledged panic attack. I must say I don’t like Halloween and I don’t like Halloween decorations. I find them ugly and kitschy. The day has become a big money maker, what with costumes and candy and little plastic pumpkins with handles and greeting cards and glow-in-the-dark 6-foot tall skeletons and who knows what else. I’m much more comfortable with The Day of the Dead.

My “anniversary reaction” is now simply one of dislike. It doesn’t precipitate a flashback that plunges me back to a long-forgotten ritual. Or perhaps to a school party that put me in a flashback to a recent ritual. (I have had flashbacks to childhood events that, themselves, precipitated flashbacks – sort of like those Russian dolls, small ones nested into medium ones nested in turn into one final big one.) 

The memory has moved from being so vivid that I almost thought it was happening in the present, to a scary flashback where I was equally conscious of the past event and my present life, to an ordinary memory, just like any other memory. The technical terms are traumatic memory (flashback) and narrative memory.

Traumatic memory: my head is being held under water in a big bucket I can’t hold my breath a moment longer I am going to drown I am going to breathe water and drown I am going to die i am dying i am dying

Narrative memory: Once, when I was about six or seven, they said, “Come and bob for apples – it’s fun. Bite an apple, and if you can bring it to the surface, you can keep it. You’ll get some candy, too.” I believed them and stuck my head in the bucket of water. I could feel apples bouncing off my face, but I couldn’t catch one. I came up for some air and then tried again. Somebody started laughing, and a hand pushed my head down under the water. I thought I was going to drown, but at the last moment, they released me. They laughed and made fun of me and called me stupid. And no apple, no candy, of course.

See the difference?

So how do you get from flashback to memory? I think the answer is to clothe the raw experience in words. 

If you have supportive people around, tell them about the flashback. Let them ask questions. This will clear up misunderstandings, help you search for more words to add to the experience, and, in all probability, make you feel closer to each other. If you can, tell more than one person. Different people ask different questions, leading you to look at the traumatic experience from slightly different angles.

Pen and paper or keyboard and computer are also excellent ways to clothe your experience in words. Journaling has helped countless people. Forget good grammar – just let the words flow. Try to keep your journals in one place and try to organize your computer files so that you can easily find them. 

And date every single thing! I wish I had dated my writings and kept them together. It is invaluable when I come across something to know whether it was written twenty years ago or five. I would then understand where it fits in the ever-evolving narrative of my life.

And don’t forget to talk to yourself, preferably out loud. Explain to your inner parts what a flashback is. Tell them that what was done was horrible, and that they were not at fault in any way. Tell them how sorry you are that it happened and that it was wrong, wrong, wrong. The more you talk about or write about an experience held in a flashback, the faster it moves into narrative memory.

You may be afraid to put words to what you have experienced. That’s part of the flashback, part of the “don’t tell, don’t speak of this, don’t let anybody (even yourself) know” programming. Name your fear, name all the reasons you have to be afraid. When you have clothed your fear in words, it may be possible to turn toward the rest of the traumatic experience. And even if you are not ready, you have taken a huge step toward handling the terror you felt when enduring the abuse, holiday after holiday, year after year.

And remember….Halloween will be over in a few hours.