Flashbacks in the Time of Coronavirus

* You can find more information on the following holidays at:

Summer Solstice (corrected text): https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
August Ritual Dates: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/august-ritual-dates/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-feast-of-the-beast/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/feast-of-the-beast-part-ii/
Fall Equinox: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/the-fall-equinox/
Halloween (personal): https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/
Halloween (background): https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/
Thanksgiving: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
Yule/Winter Solstice: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/
Candlemas: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/
Valentine’s Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/
Spring Equinox: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-spring-equinox/
Easter: (personal): (for background, see Spring Equinox) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-blues/
Walpurgisnacht/May Eve: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/walpurgisnacht
Beltane: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/
Mothers’ Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/

* So nice to be able to think about something other than myself!


I was talking to a friend the other day and said that I see flashbacks as layered, one on top of another. The simile I used was that of nested Russian dolls. Each doll is larger than the previous one because it has to contain all the smaller dolls.

So it is with my flashbacks. When I was three, they did something awful to me. When I was four, they did something similar, and I had a flashback to what they had done the year before. Therefore, I had to deal with the terror of both the present and the past at the same time.

When a similar thing was done to me once again, my experience included the emotions from the two previous events as well as from whatever was going on in the present.

The layering of flashbacks explains why holidays are so very intense. Similar things were done on the same day year after year after year. It also explains why spring seems like a series of unhappy days, and no one day stands out as unbearable. Easter wanders around, and the flashbacks are spread out, not concentrated on one particular date.

With holidays, it’s easy to figure out what I am flashing back to. But with this virus, it takes work to make sense of my feelings. The things that are happening to me are not sharp or painful, and they do not seem to have Satanic (or pornographic) connotations. They are diffuse – they develop over time.

Take cabin fever, for example. The first couple of days I didn’t experience any cabin fever at all. Then one day, there was a twinge of resentment when I wanted to go out and didn’t. Now I have been pent up for so long (85 days) that I have regressed to being agoraphobic.

So let’s say staying at home all the time is the biggest Russian doll? What is inside her?

1. Helplessness
2. Fear of dying a horrible death
3. Not believing this is happening
4. No physical contact with other people
5. Not being able to choose the food I want
6. Fear I will forget how to breathe

The first three items are very general. The present-day emotion could be stirring up emotions from any number of different cult events. From just about all of them, as a matter of fact! The best I can do is say to myself, “Yes, I used to feel this way a lot as a kid. But this is very different. No adult is hurting me – it’s precautions that I am taking to stay safe from a virus. It’s not the same at all.” That is good enough, for sure.

The last three items bring up instant images from my childhood. My mother used to push me away, not wanting to touch me. When I had trouble eating something (because I was in flashback), I was left sitting at the table alone, staring at the food on my plate. I had been told that I could not leave until I ate it. I either finally managed to choke it down, or it was removed and given to me again at breakfast. The final one reminds me of lying in bed, wide awake, afraid to fall asleep for fear I would “forget” how to breathe. This fear did not occur before I was about eight, so that must have been a period when I was repeatedly being suffocated.

At times it feels like my experience of sheltering-in-place is buoyed by a sea of flashbacks. They come and go, like ripples on the surface of the water. Their number seems infinite, wide and deep as the ocean, and their variety also seems infinite. Just as it is impossible to see one molecule of water, I cannot grasp one flashback, isolate it, and examine it apart from all the others floating through my consciousness. I try, of course, despite the confusion.

In struggling to untangle past from present, it helps me to review the B.A.S.K. model of flashbacks, developed by Bennett Braun over twenty years ago. (Bennett BraunDissociation (1998) Vol.1, No.1, pp.4-23.) It’s just as useful today as it was then. You can read the whole article (and then browse every issue of Dissociation) at https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/1276.

Braun organizes flashbacks into four categories.

B stands for behavior. If you repeat something in the present that you did in the past, that’s a behavior flashback. Therapists often call this “acting out” because you are acting out a scene from the past.

An example might be walking into the kitchen and picking up a knife, not knowing why you are doing this. It’s a repetition of past behavior; during the time you were being abused, you may have picked up a knife and then dissociated. The knowledge of what came afterward is not available to you anymore. Another example is more complex and involves trying to “save” people over and over again because you tried and failed to protect other children in the cult.

A is for affect, the fancy word for emotions. Dissociated emotions can come back and reappear in the present. They are real emotions, and you are really feeling them. They just belong to something that happened in the past. Something in the present that evokes the same emotion has triggered the return of the past, dissociated emotions.

S is sensory. You can have flashbacks of memories recorded by any of your senses. Sight, sound, smell, touch, pressure, hot/cold, pain, and proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space.)

Finally, K stands for knowledge. That’s when you just know something, but don’t know how you know it. I open my mouth, and something comes out. I think, “Now, where did that come from?” I have no idea, but I just know it is true. It’s a little spooky, and it is hard to explain away as belonging to the present.

Even though I read that article twenty-two years ago, I still use the B.A.S.K. model to sort out my thoughts when I am in flashback. I hope it may help you, too.


Upcoming Holidays

5/31 Pentecost

6/5 Full moon
6/5-6 Penumbral lunar eclipse. The moon will turn a shade darker during the maximum phase, visible in Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa. Most penumbral lunar eclipses cannot be easily distinguished from a usual full moon. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-june-5
6/19 Summer solstice
6/21 Fathers’ Day
6/21 Annular solar eclipse. Visible from parts of Africa (including the Central African Republic, Congo, and Ethiopia), south of Pakistan, northern India, and China. Partial eclipse is visible in south/east Europe, much of Asia, the north of Australia, and much of Africa, Pacific, Indian Ocean. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-june-21
6/23 Midsummer’s Eve
6/24 St. John’s Day

7/4 Independence Day
7/4 Full moon
7/4-5 Penumbral lunar eclipse. The moon will turn a shade darker during the maximum phase, visible in North and South America, and Africa. Most penumbral lunar eclipses cannot be easily distinguished from a usual full moon. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-july-5
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God

8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/3 Full moon
8/15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
6/6 D-Day: invasion of France in WW2
7/30 Tisha B’Av (Day of Mourning)
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.)

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!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upcoming Holidays

9/22 Fall Equinox
9/24 Full Moon

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.

11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/22 US Thanksgiving
11/23 Full Moon
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