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.
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.