Phobias and Counter-Phobias

There is an entry on the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas on December 15, 2012.

I’m really looking forward to running away over Christmas. A friend from Arizona has invited me, and she does not do anything at all for Christmas. There will be no tree, no Christmas lights on the cactus, no presents, no traditional meal with traditional left-overs. We probably won’t even know which day Christmas falls on.

Instead, there will be drives through the desert, bird watching (hope I see a road runner!), real Mexican food, and lots of talking and catching up. I’ve been there before and know you can see rabbits from her kitchen window and quail and their babies from her living room window. I also know that the thrift store and discount stores are great and I can find real pretty clothes for next to nothing. Perhaps best of all, there will be a three-day powwow with lots of drumming and dancing.

When I stay home, I also avoid celebrating Christmas, but it’s an effort. I get invited for dinner and feelings are hurt if I decline. I am given presents even though I insist I don’t want them and a few Christmas cards float in. Some years, though, I have gotten brave and bought a table top tree and made miniature decorations.

I know that I cannot avoid every situation that brings up bad feelings and horrible memories from the past. It just isn’t possible, because almost every single thing has a bad connotation. As it is, my life is constricted by my fear of having the past stirred up. I don’t watch TV or see movies, for example, because even the most innocuous movies have violent scenes. By the age of five I had seen enough violence to last many, many lifetimes.

There are many things I am afraid of that I absolutely cannot avoid. Banks, telephones, mail boxes, weekends, new places, etc. etc. etc. So it feels great to pick something big, like Christmas, and avoid it completely. And it is empowering, because now I am in control enough that I *can* run away, whereas when I was a kid I was held prisoner and could not move.

I’m not peculiar, given my history. It’s a natural reaction to try to avoid situations and objects that were used to hurt you in childhood. Makes sense.

There’s another trauma-based reaction, though, and that is to rush head first into scary situations. Scared of drowning? Learn to surf. Scared of guns? Collect them and go to the shooting range every weekend. Sacred of sex? Become promiscuous. You get the idea.

This time you can recreate the situation and make sure it doesn’t end in the death or torture of you or anybody else. This time it’s going to turn out okay. Or if it doesn’t, at least it will end badly in a totally different way than it did in the cult.

I was going to say that I can’t write much more about being counter-phobic because that’s just not me. Then I realized that is nonsense. Like most people, I am phobic sometimes, counter-phobic other times. For decades I was petrified of anybody finding out about the ritual abuse (including myself) and here I am writing about it on the Internet. Again and again and again. Certainly this is a bigger deal than making a phone call or decorating a Christmas tree. And yet it seems easier.

Go figure.

Flashback Worksheets

There is an entry on the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas on December 15, 2012.

I found it far less upsetting to have a flashback if I knew it was a flashback. Otherwise, it never occurred to me that what I was experiencing was a memory; I thought I was crazy or had a brain tumor. Once I learned to recognize a flashback, I could say “Oh fuck, here we go again!” and brace myself. It’s a lot easier theses days.

Caryn Stardancer designed a flashback worksheet and published it in Survivorship. * When I tried to use it, I found I got stuck on identifying the trigger.  I was so immersed in the flashback that I had no attention to spare and could not scan my environment for possible triggers.  I rewrote the worksheet and omitted the whole concept of triggers, which helped a lot.

My Worksheet:
1. What am I thinking/feeling?
2. What in the past could have set off this reaction?
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction?
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present?
5. If it’s in the
Present – what action can I take to solve the problem?
Past – what can I do to calm myself down?

Modifying the Worksheet
I like questions because they jump-start me. Many people don’t, however. If you feel interrogated or intimidated by questions, you can use phrases:
“I am thinking/feeling ….”
“…. from the past might be causing my reaction.”
“…. in the present might be causing my reaction.”
“I can test if it is past or present by ….”
“A present problem could be handled by ….”
“I can soothe myself and calm past feelings by …”

If you don’t like the way I have designed the worksheet, start from scratch and write something different. Whatever works best for you is the way to go!

You might consider dating the worksheets and saving them in a notebook or folder. That way you can flip through them and see if you have had this particular flashback before. (I once had the same flashback for three straight months. No fun.) And you can look back and see how you have changed over the months or years.

A Personal Example

1. What am I thinking/feeling? “I am anxious, almost panicking, because I have to drive to a new place. My heart is pounding. I am afraid I will get lost and never be able to find my way back again. I’ll never see anybody I know ever again.”
2. What in the past could have set off this reaction? “Well, I did get taken to strange places for rituals and other horrible things. I didn’t know where I was going, or whether I would get back alive. I had no choice and no control, no options. It was terrifying.”
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction? “I am going to a supermarket in a different town. There  is no logical reason to have this kind of reaction”. Or: “I am planning to drive across Death Valley. Lots of people have gotten in trouble in Death Valley. My anxiety is realistic.”
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present? “If I’m not sure whether I’m over-reacting (in a flashback) or not, I can ask a friend who doesn’t have a trauma background. If I don’t have a friend handy at the moment, I can ask myself “How would So-and-So react?”
5. If it’s in the present? “If I am going to Death Valley, I might really get into trouble. I might run out of gas or water or blow a tire. I would be dependent on somebody finding me and helping me, and I understand desert roads are pretty untraveled. It would be sensible to do some research at AAA or the Park Department website to see what I need to do to protect myself. It also would be sensible to carry a cell phone. I need to take some real action in the present in order to stay safe.”
If it’s in the past? “If I’m going to the supermarket, though, chances are I am having a feeling flashback, so I need to soothe myself. I can tell myself that it’s okay, I’m in control and at the wheel now, and I have a map, a full tank of gas, and a charge card. If I get lost I can ask somebody. I have made lots of similar trips successfully, and nothing bad happened.”

Of course, it could be a bit of past and a bit of present. In that case,you need to take sensible  precautions and reassure the frightened parts of yourself.

One you have used your worksheet for a while, you will find that you don’t need it anymore. Differentiating between past and present becomes automatic. So does preparing yourself for a present-day challenge and soothing yourself if the past comes welling up.The worksheet is a simple tool that will help you get to that point a little faster. And it’s nice to know you have an old friend you can always fall back on if you need to.

* I think it is called “Reprogramming Worksheet” and was published in the Survivorship Journal, Volume 3 Number 8 (August 1991) and Volume 4 Number 3 (March 1992.) You can order back issues from
If anybody happens to have a copy, please post it in the comments section. We are okay copyright-wise: it is “fair use” and we cite the source and credit the author and publication.

Yule/Winter Solstice

A summary of traditions from European cultures is presented here in the hope that something will “click” and help make some of your memories less confusing.

Some of the old pagan customs, such as Christmas trees and feasting, were subsumed by Christianity and live on today. Satanic cults pervert both Christian and pagan holidays and so pagan customs are also preserved in their rituals. Since cults observe both the Winter Solstice and Christmas, some pagan traditions may appear twice within a few days. Outside of Neo-Pagan groups, the solstice generally goes by without notice in the larger society.

The solstice is the end of lengthening nights and the beginning of shorter nights and longer days. In many cultures it was a time of hope, even though warm days were far in the future. Symbolically, the solstice was connected with the death and rebirth of the sun.

In England, the solstice was always very important. Stonehenge, dating from about 2000 BC, was built to bring in the light of the solstice sunset. There is a structure in Ireland, Newgrange, which is even older (about 3000 BC) and a similar structure in Scotland which were designed to let in the solstice sunrise.

The word Yule comes from The old Norse jol; geola in Old English. These days it is Jul in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, Jol in Iceland, Joulu in Finland, and Jõulud in Estonia. It was the name of a mid-winter festival lasting twelve days and has come to mean Christmas in England.

In Scandinavia, bonfires were lit to symbolize the heat and light of the returning sun. A Yule log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the god Thor. The tradition of the Yule log spread through Europe. In some countries, a piece of the log was kept for good luck and to light the next year’s log. In others, it was completely burned and the ashes were added to the animal’s feed, used to fertilizer fruit trees, kept for luck, or used as medicine. In England, bonfires were lit and the hearth fires were extinguished and relit from the bonfires, signifying new beginnings.

Even though people were not sure they could make it through the winter without starving, the solstice was universally celebrated with a feast. Cattle and pigs were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed through the winter and meat was, for once, plentiful. (Today roast beef and ham are traditional Christmas meals.) The wine, beer, and cider made in the fall was ready to drink. In some parts of England people wore disguises and danced, in others they went from house to house wassailing (drinking), or gave each other presents.

The Christmas tree goes back to pre-Christian times.  Evergreens were sacred to many peoples, including the ancient Greeks, Celts, and Germans. In Rome, priests cut a sacred pine and brought it into the temples. The Celts brought offerings to pine and firs in the forest because their green needles represented life enduring through the long, cold winter. Decorating the trees with dried fruit and berries was both an offering and a way to hasten the return of spring.

Evergreen boughs and branches of holly and ivy — both were considered magical —  were cut and made into wreathes. The shape of the wreath symbolized the cycle of the year; holly represented the Goddess and ivy the God. Sometimes whole trees were cut and brought into the houses.

Mistletoe comes from the Druids, not the Celts. It was revered because it grew in oak trees, which were sacred, and because it had berries in mid-winter. It had many properties; it protected against illness and misfortune and spread good will, even between enemies. The berries made women fertile. Thus kissing under the mistletoe meant that the couple promised themselves to each other.

The Vikings also used mistletoe in the winter solstice celebration.  Frigga, the mother of Balder, god of truth and light, personification of the Sun, dreamed that he would die. She begged all the plants and animals on earth not to kill him.  Loki, god of mischief and chaos, personification of darkness, told the mistletoe that because it didn’t have its own roots it wasn’t obligated to refrain from killing. Loki then shot Balder with an arrow poisoned by the mistletoe. Frigga cried so hard that her tears turned the red berries of the mistletoe white and brought Balder back to life. She was so happy she went around kissing everyone while holding the mistletoe.

In Rome, one winter festival was called Brumalia (from bruma, the shortest day) and lasted a whole month, from November 24 to December 25. It was celebrated as late as the 6th century AD. Brumalia was in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, and culminated in a big feast on the eve of December 24.

Another festival, called Saturnalia, commemorated the building of the temple to Saturn in Rome. (Saturn was the god of agricultural plenty.) It usually started December 17 and could last from three to seven days. Social hierarchies were reversed and slaves were allowed to act as masters, while their owners waited on them. Candles were lit, gambling was permitted, schools were closed, and no work took place. Gifts, some modest, some expensive, were exchanged. There was a public banquet on December 17 and feasts and lots of drinking continued through the festival period.

Ancient Greece didn’t seem to have a solstice festival per se. But in February, they celebrated Lenaea, when women danced in the mountains in honor of Dionysus (Bacchus’ counterpart.) A man or a bull, representing Dionysus, was torn to pieces and eaten, and then a baby, representing the reborn Dionysus, was presented to the women and nurtured. In later years, a goat was sacrificed instead of a man or bull. Several centuries later, plays and poetry were entered into competition, though it is not clear what meaning this held.

Most of these customs seem harmless, even beautiful. But remember that cults are very good at finding ways to reverse ideas and customs to make them torturous. Death is substituted for birth, starvation for feasting. If you ask yourself, “How could they have perverted this?” you may find that you trigger a memory or a feeling.

The days preceding Christmas and lasting through New Year’s are very difficult for almost all ritual abuse survivors. Take some time now, if you haven’t already done so, to think ahead and plan ways to take care of yourself. Have written plans to keep yourself safe from others who may be dangerous and from your own self-destructive impulses, if needed. Think of ways to soothe yourself when you become upset and try to create some healthy, joyous activities to replace the sick ones forced on you by the cult. You, all of you, deserve to be treated with gentleness and understanding.