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)

What Is the Matter with Me?

It echoes through the years…a refrain, sometimes soft, sometimes loud. “What is the matter with me?”

It’s nothing medical. “I have this horrible pain in my tummy — what is the matter with me?” Nope, those words never appear when I am worried that I am sick.

They are put-downs. If I mislay my glasses, if I forget somebody’s name, if I drop a glass.  “What is the matter with me?” Well, nothing, actually. Those things are perfectly normal. Everybody does them occasionally. There is no need to worry — I’m not becoming demented.

It’s an old tape from childhood. Adults said, “What is the matter with you, Jean? You know better than that!” when I did something that annoyed them. Their voices sounded critical and had a frustrated, angry edge. What was their problem?

The problem was that they believed that children learned when they were told something once. They don’t. It takes patiently repeating over and over and over until they do what you want automatically. Eventually they become like Pavlovian dogs, saying “please” every time they ask for something. But for years they had to stop and think before they said “please” — and what little kid has the self control to do that when they want something now! Right now!!!

In the best case, hearing those words made me stop and think and I remembered what it was they wanted me to do. In the worst case, I froze and tried to figure out what was the matter with me. I couldn’t come up with anything and I didn’t remember what they wanted me to do so I just stood there in silence, which annoyed the grown up even more.

Nowadays nobody says that to me. It’s only a little voice inside me. That little voice doesn’t sound like a frustrated, angry grown-up. It sounds like a younger me. How many times I must have thought, “What is the matter with me?” I was trained like that dog in Pavlov’s lab to question myself and now I think that anytime I make a mistake.

Oddly enough, it’s only little mistakes that call forth that voice. Big ones, like trusting an untrustworthy person or running a red light get an entirely different response. After an emotional storm, I react like a mature, problem-solving adult and do something sensible. (I guess when I was a kid I didn’t get to run red lights.)

I have learned to re-parent myself when I hear those words. I carefully explain out loud that there is nothing the matter with me, that I am normal and smart and trying my very best to do things right. Everybody makes mistakes, and it is no big deal. It would have been great to hear that when I was a kid and needed reassurance, but better late than never.

Did you notice that this has nothing to do with ritual abuse? Not every little neurotic thing stems from ritual abuse. The world is large enough that your mind can get messed up by something outside of the cult! Something normal, something shared by lots of people without a cult background. Amazing!