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)

Growth

My daughter came to visit me. I looked at her and noticed that she had some grey hair. That night I dreamed I was buying her new clothes. She was about four and she loudly didn’t like any of them. That was my real kid!!! She had morphed from a kid to an adult right under my eyes and I never even noticed. I have to compare snapshots or memories of her from years apart to notice the changes.

We visited Muir Woods together and there was an exhibit of a cross section of a redwood about four feet wide. Each growth ring was as thin as a pencil line but 1,117 of them sure add up. Growth of trees and kids is slow but sure.

So it is with my healing. I don’t feel healed at all; I don’t feel I have done much of anything. I don’t think I am changing or that I will be any different next year than I am this year. It feels like I am warehousing myself. It’s only when I look back that I can see how I have grown.

Back in 2005, my arthritis was so bad that I was using crutches and a walker. I was in constant pain and I was grouchy morning, noon, and night. First I had a lot of physical therapy and exercised in the water. Then I got brave and had a knee replaced. Now I am in much less pain and I gave away my crutches. My face is relaxed and I smile again, simply because I am not constantly bathed in pain.

Four years ago I was a slow but terrible driver. Most people were scared to ride with me, and I was often scared to ride with myself. It was weird, though, because every so often I would drive really fast (and badly) and sometimes I even drove well. I figured out that I had different groups of alters driving at different times. Rather than telling them which group could drive and which group couldn’t, I told them how I wanted them to drive, and let them decide who would like to. Now I am not nearly as bad, except for backing out of the garage.

And if I look all the way back to when I first realized I had Satanism in my background, I can see tremendous changes. I was damn close to psychotic then, in tears most of the time, and I had body memories that lasted three months apiece. I had so many intrusive thoughts that there was no room for regular thoughts. I hated myself, I was suicidal, I had strong urges to cut myself, and I felt deeply guilty over everything. And the pain! I never knew I could feel so much emotional pain. It doubled me over.

Today I still feel guilty over inconsequential things and I still put myself down sometimes. But I recognize it and know where it is coming from. I’m no longer obsessed with suicide and self-harm and, boy, life is a lot better. But I have no idea when or how these changes happened. They just did, and I didn’t see them at the time.

There was one major change that I did keep track of. At first, in order not to feel crazy, I had to have regular validation that Satanism did, indeed, exist. That’s why I read so much on the subject and that’s why I sought out other survivors. Otherwise I couldn’t retain the concept and I drifted off into denial. Little by little I became able to hold onto my own truth without constant validation. First it was a matter of hours, then a couple of days. Today I can go at least two weeks, probably a lot longer. The reason I saw this change was that each time I traveled away from my home base I was scared that I would go nuts. I spent a lot of time worrying about how long I could hold out and reassured myself by remembering how long I’d lasted the other times.

I try to look back often so that I can keep this perspective. It makes me realize that the thought “I will never change” is a lie, because I have already changed immensely. I wouldn’t mind having the rate of change speed up, but the direction is perfectly fine.