Patterns of Healing

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

* Remember that two anthologies are seeking submissions:

1. Jade Miller is working on an anthology about the difficulty of finding a therapist who can work with DID or other forms of dissociation. Write her at thetraumasurvivorstale@gmail.com

2. I am seeking submissions of accounts of forced abortion, sacrifice, or forced adoption of babies in a cult setting. Contact me through the comments section, rahome@ra-info.org or RA Projects, PO Box 14276, 4304 18th St., San Francisco CA 94114.

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When I was much younger, I thought healing always happened in small steps; each hour, each day, I’d get better. And then one day, poof! I’d be all well and able to forget all about it.

Now I am older and wiser (I hope!) Some things work that way. Head colds, for instance. When I had my knee replaced, it got incrementally less painful. There was a base level of pain which worsened when I did the physical therapy exercises, but, after an hour or so, it returned to base level. The pain lessened a tiny bit each day until one day it had disappeared entirely. What joy!

(This lasted two years until I tripped and fell onto the wheels of my walker. Since then it feels like I have bruised a bone whenever I move a certain way. The doctor is not concerned, so I am not concerned. This is a kind of pain that doesn’t heal – it just stays steady. But it is infrequent and minor and thus easy to live with.)

I am talking about osteoarthritis, where pain increases as the disease progresses. There is an initial flare up, which leaves a small residue of pain. Then another flare up, which increases the level of pain. And another and another. If you made a graph, it would look like a flight of stairs.

When I look back at all the years I have been dealing with ritual abuse, these models don’t seem to apply. Healing didn’t proceed evenly, in a straight line to completion. Luckily, I was not stuck forever at a steady amount of emotional pain and dysfunction. Nor did I heal something, then take on something else, heal that, etc., creating a stair-like pattern leading to “all better.”

There is a pattern that people often speak of, and that is a circular, or spiral form of healing. You deal with something once, then go on to something else. Later, you come back and revisit it, but at a deeper level. It’s as if you needed time to absorb what you had learned. Each time it is really tough, but each time, you can do it. I’ve experienced this, but it isn’t my usual pattern.

This is how my journey looked. Without doing anything, I got used to my new reality. Perhaps it was like moving to another country; in time, just by living there, I picked up the language and got used to a new culture. I’m not entirely comfortable in my new identity, but at least I don’t feel crazy or evil any more.

At various times, I had a lot of flashbacks to different things that were done to me. I was distraught, but I bulled through it. I wrote about what had happened, I told people, sometimes I drew it. Gradually the flashbacks faded in intensity and became further apart. Each time I worked through a wave of flashbacks, I felt there was more of me, if that makes any sense.

Yesterday I had a flashback to something that hadn’t bothered me for fifteen years. What happened? New situation, unfamiliar people, same old triggers.

This involves dentistry, I had been going to a wonderfully kind dentist who patiently worked with me for about ten years of memories of dental torture. Then we had clear sailing for about fifteen years until he inconsiderately retired. 

I thought I knew how to explain to my new dentist how to prevent me from going into flashback by talking to me throughout the procedure. He didn’t understand: he thought I wanted him to explain what he was going to do. That was not enough to keep me in present-day reality. 

So does this mean I’m “not healed” from those experiences? I don’t think so. I think it means that being with strangers, in an unfamiliar setting, made me feel more vulnerable. Then the coping mechanism I had relied on for fifteen years failed. Since I didn’t know it would fail, I had no back-up plan. Before the next procedure, there will be a back-up plan;  hopefully, one that will work. I like this guy and don’t want to start over looking for a new dentist.

Having flashbacks after so many years of calm did not feel like a dismal failure on my part. It felt like a normal part of living long-term with the effects of ritual abuse. Something to cope with, nothing to freak out about. Just another pothole on the road of life.

This is why I don’t think in terms of healing or not-healing – or even getting better or regressing. I think in terms of understanding why I react the way I do to certain situations and then managing those reactions. I have figured out why I had that flashback and I have a plan for how to handle the next visit. That’s enough.

The more I learn about my past and the ways I deal with its after-effects, the more I accept how very different I am from people who have not been severely abused. And also how very much the same we all are in our common humanity. 

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Upcoming Holidays

June
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

August
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/15 Full moon
8/15 (?) Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups

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)

 

  

  

 

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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About BASK Flashbacks

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

I realize that new readers don’t always find some of the more useful old posts, and new ones may have forgotten all about them. I know I forget, because I often say, “Oh, I haven’t written about this,” and then I look it up and lo and behold I have.

So today I’m going to write about flashbacks and pull together some of the more important points that I’ve already covered.

The BASK model of flashbacks is useful because a lot of people can get an overview of what is going on in what seems like a totally chaotic moment. Although, at first, they probably don’t think of it while in the middle of a flashback, when they catch their breath it organizes their understanding of what they just experienced. In time, it’s often possible to remember the intellectual framework while in the middle of a flashback. This provides some welcome distance – one foot in the present and the other in the past.

Bennet Braun’s created this model of flashbacks back in 1998. You can download his original article at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/36679914.pdf. It’s very theoretical and I found it hard to read and understand in places. So I will paraphrase the part that I have found most useful.

When a child is terrified, parts of the experience get separated from each other and stored in different parts of the brain. They can therefore come back separately. You often don’t get the whole memory all at once – you get it in bits and pieces. Bennet Braun organized the separate parts in this way:

BASK: B = behavior. A = affect (emotion), S = sensations, and K = knowledge.

B (Behavior) I find behavior to be the hardest part to identify as a flashback because it seems like a totally appropriate reaction to the present situation. Let’s look at a few examples.

A man keeps falling for alcoholic women. He may not realize that his mother was alcoholic and that he is unconsciously replicating the patterns of the mother-child relationship. He just keeps being attracted to alcoholic women and deep down hopes that the ending will be different and that he finally will be loved and treated well. A survivor may be anorexic, not knowing that she was forced to eat body parts or things that contained drugs. Now that she is able to say no, she refuses defiantly, even though it hurts her body. (Me, I tend to cower before anybody in authority, expecting them to demolish me.)

These days, “acting out” means doing something that others disapprove of, getting into trouble. But the original meaning is that you are compulsively repeating the story of what happened to you. You are using action as an art form to tell your story, just like you are when you draw in your journal.

A (Affect or emotion) is easier for me to spot. A feeling sweeps over me when something happens that triggers me. Sometimes I know what event was triggered, sometimes I just recognize the trigger and the feelings that were aroused. Sometimes it seems to come out of the blue because I do not have the vaguest idea what the trigger was, let alone the event.

Before a person remembers the abuse, there is no understanding of triggers and flashbacks. The feelings, therefore. either seem totally warranted by whatever is going on or they seem like proof of craziness.

S (Sensation) This covers a wide range of things. An internal picture of something that happened, voices of your abusers threatening or belittling you, songs used in your programming, a weird taste in your mouth, a sense of pressure around your wrists where you were bound. It also covers pain.

Body memories generally involve pain. It’s important, though, not to assume that all pain comes from a body memory. There may be a present-day source of the pain which requires medical attention. If there is, it may well evoke a body memory, so you have two sources of pain to deal with – one in the present and one from the past. Pretty damn confusing!

K (Cognition Guess BASC didn’t look as catchy, or maybe that acronym was already taken.) I get this kind of flashback often and I always find it a little spooky. I just open my mouth and out comes things that I have no way of knowing unless I learned them back in the cult. Yet I don’t remember who told me or who taught me this, when or where or how I learned it. I also don’t know what I am going to say it until I am saying it.

In the beginning, I often thought I was making things up when I experienced this kind of flashback. My voice was totally even, matter of fact, with not a trace of emotion. I might as well have been discussing the distance between the sun and the earth. But come to think of it of it, how would I know *now* how far away the sun was if I hadn’t known it earlier? If I was guessing, surely I would have been wrong by orders of magnitude. And if I were guessing I would have paused for a moment to collect my thoughts. No, I knew what I was talking about, I just didn’t know I knew it until I said it.

Of course the more of the dissociated parts of an experience come together in a flashback, the more intense it is. Intensity makes it really hard see that it is a flashback and that it won’t last forever. That’s why I found that having an intellectual model helped me put a box around the experience, helped me understand what what was happening, and helped me keep a tiny bit of calm alongside the terror.

This has nothing to do with the BASK model, but I just have to share it anyway. My dear, wonderful Mike, the first therapist to really help me, not just watch me spin my wheels, had an annoying phrase he used all too often. “A flashback is a gift from the unconscious.” Guess what, Mike? You were right all along!

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Upcoming Holidays

September
9/22 Fall Equinox
9/24 Full Moon
October

10/13 Backwards Halloween
10/24 Full Moon
10/31 Halloween/Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve/ Hallomas/ All Souls Day/Start of the Celtic new year.
November

11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/22 US Thanksgiving
11/23 Full Moon
December
12/21 Yule/Winter Solstice
12/22 Full Moon
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/25 Christmas Day
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates important to Neo-Nazi groups

9/1 N Start of WW2
10/12 Hitler’s half birthday
10/15 Death of Goering
10/16 Death of Rosenburg
11/9 Kristallnacht
(Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lamas, Halloween