What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

#ds450 - Closet SpaceI’m trying to write a chapter on coming out as an incest or child sexual assault survivor for the book.

There are a lot of reasons to come out, and a lot of reasons not to. I’m not going to say one is always better than the other. You need to decide for yourself what you’re up for and what you need. What I believe is that the situation, persons involved, purpose and your own tolerance for social isolation all have bearing on when and to whom you should disclose you are an abuse survivor. Continue reading What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

Managing Cortisol Levels for People with Complex PTSD

One of the problems with having been in a chronic state of fear and anxiety for years and years while surviving the abuse, and then while healing from it, is that the cortisol levels in the blood get really high. High cortisol levels make it almost impossible to lose weight, and are linked to all kinds of diseases, as if we didn’t need more negative effects from the abuse.

Here’s some tips I researched to reduce cortisol levels. I’ve added my notes next to them about how they’ve worked out for me:

  1. Avoid caffeine, which can elevate cortisol levels. [I avoid cafeine, which does make me anxous, but still eat chocolate. If I feel the need for a latte, I have steamed milk, which is just as satisfying. ]
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Cortisol levels are generally lower in the middle of the night while you’re asleep, and sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels. [Hard to do if you’re already anxious. But I do modify my life to prioritize not having to wake to an alarm in the morning. ]
  3. Exercise regularly, but avoid intense or prolonged exercise as it stimulates cortisol release. [This is interesting, intense or prolonged exercise does make me really uncomfortable – I feel hyped up, anxous and emotional. When I work out, I now stop and take a walk around the gym if I get like that, and won’t do an exercise that doesn’t permit this kind of break when I need it. It’s really made exercise possible for me. ]
  4. Try music therapy, massage therapy, and dancing, all of which have been shown to reduce cortisol levels. [I like all these things, interestingly dancing is one of the vigorous exercise types I can tolerate well without getting anxous or adrenalized.]
  5. Consider supplementation with vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, black tea, or phosphatidylserine. [I don’t know what this last thing is, but I have been taking more vitamin C and Omega 3 fatty acids. I take 6 or more salmon oil capsules a day, after reading how good it is for the brain, especially those of us with gunk.]
  6. Laugh and cry – research has shown that both reduce cortisol levels. [This must be why crying always makes me feel better. I’ve been looking for more opportunities to laugh.]
  7. Eat regular meals and stick to low-glycemic foods to maintain a constant blood sugar level. [Always a struggle, but I think this helps too when I can pull it off. I don’t like sugary foods anyways so it’s not as hard for me as it might be for others, and I actually like whole grain foods. ]

Since it’s been a while since I posted.

Update: Things are a lot better with my wife. We’re communicating a lot more, and she’s reading an excellent book “Pagan Polyamory” which is starting some good discussions. We had a lovely romantic weekend a couple of weeks ago, which went really well. I also read my Car Crash post out at a workshop I was at last weekend. Afterward I felt like I’d overshared, but my friend who was there pointed out that it was a similar time I thought I’d overshared that had resulted in our friendship, so I think it was okay.

Rape dreams and release

So I had ‘fending off rape dreams’ this morning, three consecutive ones. Not a big surprise, given how angry I’ve been lately. I tend to have ‘monsters/men are hurting me’ dreams when I’m angry. In my dreams I was successful at fighting the men off and not so successful at getting the police involved. My unconscious tried to solve my recurring dream problem of being unable to make phones work when calling for help by asking someone else to use the phone to call 911, which almost worked. Interesting.

I had another session with my massage therapist, who is working out great. Like everyone else does, she commented on how tight my back was (big surprise). I said, “well, I’ve had some, shall we say, ‘difficult life experiences’, which leads to a lot of stored tension in the muscles.” she agreed, good naturedly, and pointed out that I might have flashbacks or feelings after she worked on me. Yup, I’m aware of that. But her pointing it out gave me explicit permission to have feelings. Shortly afterward, I ended up having a good shaking cry while she worked on my back, feeling the anger “that bitch!” toward my mother and the little girl betrayal feelings. Worked beautifully. My back feels a lot better.  She also worked on my neck, which went fine as well. I kept breathing deep from my belly and consciously relaxing, which helped a lot to remind me that my breathing was not restricted by what she was doing. I realized there’s a specific place that corresponds to the memory of having my windpipe crushed, and she wasn’t touching it, so it all worked out nicely. She also moved around the bones in my head a little, which were apparently a bit crooked and out of place, which cleared the fogginess in my head a lot. Between the two of them, I’m not feeling so spacey any more. She thought perhaps the blood flow in my head might be a bit congested, which could have made it harder to think.

Anyhow, I feel a lot better.

My wife pointed out that the stuff I’m going through now is the same as what my mom did to me for about a year when she would tell me she was going to leave my father/abuser on such and such a date, and then not do it, and then set another date. Me waiting for my mother to do something, hoping she’ll come through for me (like give me useful information or a confession) has a predictable result, and is an old game of hers. At that time, she advised me to cut off communication with my mom until she actually left, which I did, and which worked nicely.  Alcoholics set up a pattern where they expect to get full credit for just promising to do something and not delivering, my mom, although a workaholic rather than an alcoholic,  plays the same game. She claims ‘good mom’ credit from her sister for ‘reaching out to her daughter’  but hasn’t actually sent the letter, and hasn’t even given a deadline for doing so.

I’m going to try and write some music today, I have an idea for a survivor mothers day song.  I need a ‘hook’ for the song that can’t be dismissed as generic mother’s day blaming. Something that makes it clear that some things are just too much, some things invalidate the social contract between mothers and daughters. Blood is thicker than blood, perhaps. Something about blood (the bleeding wounds) is thicker than blood (blood relations), a bleeding heart will never get it, a bleeding. Maybe look at all kinds of metaphors around blood. Blood of my blood, blood feud, blood oath, blood relations. Hmmm…. blood relations, relations being a  euphemism for intercourse. I’ll let you know if I write something worth sharing.

PTSD Spaciness triggered waiting for letter from mom

Lightning; My First TrySo I’ve been extra spacey lately since the news about the impending letter from my mom replying to the one I sent her three years ago. It’s not like I really notice the spaci-ness myself much, but my wife has noticed and pointed out a few things.

This morning I forgot to feed my beloved dog, and then when reminded, promptly forgot again until reminded a second time. My poor good doggy.

I’ve lost my favourite pair of glasses. No clue where they are. My wife can’t even find them and she’s usually very good at finding things I lose.

My wife tells me things and I forget them. What are they? I forget…

I ran a red light today because I got too distracted when my wife was trying to say something about what lane I was in.

I had a creepy dream where my father was my boyfriend and I was being all nice to him, behaving like his girlfriend. Creepy! The morning I went to the dentist too, as if being triggered wasn’t the last thing I needed before seeing the dentist.

What I did well was to let my wife know that I’m just going to be spacey over the next few days and there’s nothing I can really do about it.  I’m not sure if that’s true. Perhaps if I really grounded or something I’d feel whatever feelings I’m dissociating from and then I wouldn’t need to dissociate. That’s what I’d have tried back when I was a therapist and I was working with a survivor who was dissociating, although it’s harder to do for oneself. I’d book an appointment with my therapist, but really, what is there to say? I saw my brother and it went well, and my mother’s going to send me a letter, but I haven’t gotten it yet. What’s to talk about?

When the letter comes, I’m going to give it to my wife to keep in her locker at work, so it’s not in the house. I don’t know why I want to do that, but it feels better somehow. It will help me avoid the temptation to open it before I have enough support.  I’m likely to freak out afterward, so I need to make sure the timing is right.

On the up side I went to the dentist yesterday and had a filling. I’d avoided making an appointment for a couple of months, because I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but got up the courage. It was way in the back up near the gum and I was worried I’d be on my back with my mouth jammed open in pain for ages, with gunk going down my throat, something I figured would trigger me bad. I explained to the dental assistant that I was concerned I might be anxious with my mouth open for a long time, and that I thought it would help if I could close my mouth whenever  I needed to. She said that would be fine, and pointed out that there was one point in the procedure where the glue wouldn’t stick if I closed my mouth and saliva got on it. I asked how long that was likely to be and said it would help if during that time she explained what was happening. It turned out to be no big thing, ten or fifteen minutes all together and the dentist was told I was anxious and distracted me by chatting about our vacations. She didn’t even have to freeze me, which worked great. Kind of an incentive to make sure I don’t get any more cavities though.

Warrior WomanWhat do I think is at the root of my spaciness? Rage. Having contact with my stinking psychopath-enabling weak martyr of a hypocrite faux-feminist mother really fucking pisses me off. How DARE she want to have ‘a relationship’ with me? How can she really be this dense and want me to f’ing overlook that she didn’t help me at all when she knew that my vagina was ripped so bad I had two tears from one side of my vulva to the other!!!! Who the hell does she think I am? She hasn’t even admitted to the crime and I’m supposed to forget and forgive (ideally in that order)? I want to rip her apart with my bare hands, and I’m going to get words from her, words that will be full of bullshit as usual. I can’t even imagine what she would say that would be enough. If she goes on about how my letter hurts her or something I’m going to freaking blow up!

The parts of me that don’t want to pound her senseless with something heavy, are thinking that any information will be useful, and I don’t even have to respond to the letter, although, realistically I should or she’ll contact me again. However, I could wait three freaking years to respond just like she did and see how she likes it.

I may end up saying “I have now seen the scars on my vagina and vulva.  You knew I was raped. I was too seriously injured for you not to have known. You have lied to me for the last time. No, I will never have a relationship with you.  You can’t come back from this. You are dead to me. Go to hell. ”

Go to freaking hell, Mom!!

Dear teachers (who saved my life)

Apples by Mike Ryan via Flickr

Dear Teachers,

I know some of you remember me. I was gifted and quiet, well behaved, used big words solemnly, like the bookworm I was and still am. When I first came to school at the age of 5, I cried easily, so much so that I earned a reputation as a crybaby. I don’t remember how you handled that. I remember cowering in the cloakroom, crying it out where no-one could see me, or waiting in the hallway till I calmed down. Even so, the school was a safer place to cry than home, even if I did not know to tell you why.

In the school yard, I avoided the rough games of my peers, and stayed with the trees and rocks behind the school, where it was quiet and beautiful. I would defend those places, even then, and went to the principal when some workmen were disturbing my play place, because I believed in your justice.

I believed in justice then and you did not fail me completely. Your school was a place, one place at least, where people were supposed to be fair.

Your school was a refuge to me. You could be counted on to listen to me and value me, a service I knew, later on, that I purchased with my intelligence and good behavour, as I saw it was not offered to everyone. I needed your help so desperately, I made sure to always be a good student, even when the other kids teased me for it.

For many years I was angry with you, my safe havens of foster parenthood, you who kept me safe during the day, that you could not have made me safe at night too. You never noticed the horrible harm being done to me at home, masked by my good behaviour at school, or if you did, nothing was done to rescue me from the monsters.

But really, you saved my life. By having a place, one place at least, where I could buy approval at not too high a price, where I was valued for being gifted, my words listened to and heard. You kept me from seeking attention from less benign sources, you gave me a place where I had worth, and I am so grateful.

I ask you, please, to look closer at the crybabies, the serious and studious ones, the little girls with too-solemn faces, the ones who are well behaved and not acting out. Sometimes we have horrible secrets to share, and do not even know we can seek help from you or that our parents would not be permitted to harm us if the right person knew about it.

Please be that right person for other children. I know we do not often give proof of the harm being done to us. We have no words for it, other than the ones the abusers give us. We have been tortured, sometimes from before we could talk, and the path to speaking of it is filled with monsters.

Please look closer, ask questions. I know you have many children to care about, but you could literally safe our lives. And if you cannot, please be kind to children like me. You are an oasis in a desert of pain and abandonment, and we need you desperately. You can save our lives. Some of you saved mine.

Memories of childhood sexual assault – why are they different? how can we trust them?

Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn
Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn

One of the most difficult things about suviving childhood sexual assault is coping with the fragmented and taboo nature of our memories.

This breaks down into three main issues:

  • Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.
  • Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular trauma memories.
  • Memories of childhood sexual assault are different from regular memories of childhood trauma.
  • How do you trust your memories, particularly when people go on about ‘false memories’.

Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.

Traumatic events overwhelm the normal systems in the brain that store memories. A traumatic event isn’t just a very unpleasant or very stressful event. People experience trauma when they experience or witness something that’s going to kill or seriously harm you or someone else. During a true traumatic event the person feels strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

Because trauma is so overwhelming, the brain gets flooded with the information and can’t store it in the usual way. I think some information just flows over the edge of the cup and is lost, while other information comes in but isn’t properly catalogued. It’s stored in little boxes, separate from one another, some linked together and some not. The touch, taste, smell, sight and thought memories get put in completely different boxes.

Normal memories work like this:

You eat an ice cream cone and you taste the chocolate and it reminds you that you had chocolate ice cream with your friend Sally on her birthday and it was a sunny day and you were down by the ocean, and it was nice. You haven’t seen Sally in a while, maybe you’ll give her a call. Who was that guy she was dating again? You can’t remember his name. You have the taste, visual, emotional and context memories of the event with Sally all in one block, and they are being triggered by something relevant, the taste of ice cream. You may not have all the details, but the important ones are there, and they make sense in connection with one another.

A traumatic memory is like this.

You turn a corner and smell where some beer has been spilled and there is a stale beer smell. You feel panic. You don’t know why, and you don’t even necessarily know the panic is connected to the beer smell. You try and calm yourself down.  Here, you’re getting the smell and emotional part of the memory linked together, but the sight, sound and context information is stored in a different box. You can’t get there from here, so the panic doesn’t make sense to you.

This can work a different way, where you have information without the body or emotional memory. You can have the information, such as: ‘I was raped in my dorm bedroom’, divorced from the information about who raped you, what they looked like and a large part of how it felt while it was happening. You also have almost no feeling in your vagina, and a crushing feeling on your chest sometimes. You know he was a short, dark-haired man, because short dark-haired men now freak you out. You can’t see his face in your mind though. You feel numb about the rape, and are dreading remembering the pain and fear, which you can intellectually imagine is in there somewhere, but which you can’t reach. You don’t put this together with your sudden panicky distaste for stale beer.

Non-survivors often don’t get why people who have experienced trauma don’t remember the events in the connected way, like Sally and the ice cream cone. Their distrust is what fuels myths like the ‘false memory syndrome’.  Traumatic memory is different, but a lot of information is in there.  It just takes quite a bit of sleuthing to sort out.

Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular traumatic memories

On top of all that, traumatic memories stored in childhood have some key differences. First of all, children’s brains are still developing, and this affects how we store information. There have been studies that show that children aren’t able to tell the difference between television violence and violence occurring in real life until they reach age 7. This does not mean that children are going around ‘fantasizing’ being sexually abused. How could they? Even non-survivor adults have a hard time even imagining the kind of crap that happens to kids, why would a kid?  Children are normally so uninformed about sexuality, that “inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts” is a key sign that a child has been sexually abused.

Children young enough won’t have the self-talk we have that makes sense of what is going on such as labels for sensations or experiences:  “chocolate”, “warm”, “that’s daddy”. They will instead only have the sensations, which means that the context for the abuse “I was in my crib and someone who was angry picked me up and hurt me.” is missing, making it hard to classify in your mind later.

Children don’t yet have a mature self-identity, so that severe, conflicting traumatic demands upon them at a young enough age can force them to develop multiple identities to cope. As far as I know, instead of splitting myself, I instead split my father into two people, one who was my father, a mean, controlling drunk but who I could love and deal with, and ‘the monster’ who was the person who came out at night and raped and terrified me. I told people about ‘the monster’ I was terrified of , but since everyone knows that monsters aren’t real, especially when children talk about them, nothing came of it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that the information that my father was the monster was safe to remember. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard, overwhelming, terrifying and confusing to remember, just that it became possible to do so.

When we don’t have separation and experience to give us context to analyse information, and if we are abused by a caregiver, we likely accept the abusers explanation for what happened. For example, I literally did not know that my father wasn’t entitled to rape me (or kill me for that matter), until I was 14 years old.

Memories of childhood sexual assault are different from regular memories of childhood trauma.

“The taboo against talking about incest is stronger than the taboo against doing it.” – Maria Sauzier, M.D.

There are taboos about talking to children about sex, even in age-appropriate ways. Children are supposed to be innocent and non-sexual, and are shut down from talking about even normal or healthy sexuality or more importantly, the things they unfortunately need to know to label and report abuse.

A friend of mine ran away from home at age 14 and then was recruited by a pimp. When the pimp (who she thought was her boyfriend) groomed her with protection and drugs and then started having intercourse with her, she didn’t know what they were doing was sex. She’d heard of sex, of course, she just didn’t connect it to what they were doing.

I didn’t know that what my father was doing was sex or rape either. When I first had consensual intercourse with a guy in university, I believed I was losing my virginity. I knew what sex was too, my mom had given me a book and I understood the basics. I knew very little more than that it was something that happened in bed and that the thing that guys pee with went into a hole in the woman’s body and could result in pregnancy. I, however, did not know exactly where my own vagina was, or that I had a clitoris until the guy I slept with identified it for me. He, luckily was European and had heard of the clitoris.

Children are not told what the real names of the parts of their body are and not given safe situations where they can talk about them. Adult women can ask about a lesion on their vulva or pain in their anus in the doctors office, for example (if they get up the nerve) but a child will not usually have a person other than their mother (if that) who they can talk to about problems with the private parts of their body. If mother is an abuser or enabler, that’s not going to be any help.

Children are not routinely told that no-one, not even your parents, should touch the private parts of your body or make you touch the private parts of another person’s body. This is not the case in Sweden, where sex education has been mandatory in schools since 1956 starting at age 7, something that has run afoul of Muslim fundamentalist immigrants wishing to ‘protect’ their daughters from the information. The desire and determination to disempower girls and to keep children in the dark about the private and sexual parts of their body is something a variety of religions and ideologies share, unfortunately.

Children aren’t told how to tell the difference between safe genital touching, like an adult putting diaper cream on a baby, or gently washing with a washcloth, from abuse. Familial abusers take advantage of this by passing off abuse as normal care-giving  Children as a rule don’t know that if someone does inappropriate touch, it is important to tell a safe adult, even if (especially if) the person who did these things warns them not to. The don’t know that if they tell someone they think is a safe adult, and that person doesn’t help them, that they need to keep telling until someone does.

This means that information stored about sexual abuse will not have the context that an adult’s memory would have. If an adult woman is fondled by some creep in an elevator, she knows he’s not allowed to do it, and that it’s a crime, and she is within her rights to knee him in the balls and report him to the police. If a child is fondled in an elevator, she knows it’s icky and scary and that’s it.

Telling about sexual abuse means breaking several taboos and norms of behaviour. Children are supposed to be good and do what adults tell them to do, they are supposed to be innocent and not speak or know about sex or sexual assault.

So all this means that, if you were raped as a child, you don’t have the language to discuss it, and it is associated with shame. If you were in a traumatic car accident as a child, you could talk about it with your relatives and teachers without anyone freaking out too much, and no-one thought you were a bad girl or boy for bringing the topic up. When sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member, the child is cut off from their natural source of that support and help. Discussing the information and getting social support soon after an event are protective against developing post traumatic stress disorder. When the trauma is sexual, it is unlikely a child will get the information, social support and opportunities to talk about it that they would get for a non-sexual trauma.  You probably won’t get to talk about it for decades, until you are an adult. Since you can’t process it at the time, the mind and body file the disjointed information away, until it gets triggered later.

False Memory Syndrome has no scientific validity and was made up by an accused incest perpetrator

At this point, a discussion of the abuser and enabler propaganda tool that is ‘false memory syndrome’ comes into play. Let me be very clear, false memory syndrome is a completely bogus construction. It was literally made up by someone credibly accused of sexually abusing his daughter, and is promoted by this abuser and his wife in order to discredit his daughters allegations of abuse. Survivors know that most child predators deny having abused children; this is just a more elaborate version of the usual.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by medical professionals to classify what is wrong with people, has no entry called ‘false memory syndrome’. No mainstream professional association of doctors, psychologists or social workers has endorsed this fiction. It is completely and utterly a made up thing by abusers and their apologists.

Its power to convince comes from non-survivor’s discomfort with the topic of child sexual abuse by family members, and desire to make it go away.

Delayed memories of abuse are the norm rather than the exception for child sexual assault. The majority of survivors have some amnesia. There is an online database of hundreds of corroborated cases called the “Recovered Memory Project” connected to  Brown University where a person has remembered in adulthood a traumatic thing that happened, and then had the remembered facts externally validated.

My own life is an example of a memory of abuse being suppressed in childhood, remembered as an adult, and then finding physical corroboration much later. I remembered, when I was about 21, being raped at the age of approximately 5 by my father. I remembered intense pain, a lot of blood and an aftermath of pain while it healed.  When I was about 40, during the time I was writing this blog, I asked my medical practitioner if there were any scars, and she showed me scars and vascular damage corroborating my memory of rape, extensive tearing and a lot of blood.

Until I saw the scars, there was always a tiny doubting voice. That voice asked why didn’t I remember more detail and why were the memories so fragmented, with almost none of them having all the pieces in one box. I now know that’s the way it usually works, but it still made me doubt. Then I would have to remember all the corroborating information I had, the intensity of the memories, the effects on my life, and remind myself that with an effect there must be a cause. It helped, of course that my memory of the first time I was raped was the clearest and most detailed. It is the one memory I’ve been most sure of.  I know other stuff happened from the fragments I have, but I am much more certain about that one time. The most compelling part of the memory for me was that I remembered how it felt to be so young and to be so emotionally open, to love and trust my daddy, and how shocked I was with the pain and his brutality. It was nothing I could make up, and I knew it immediately.

You may never remember all of it. It’s frustrating but true. The more extreme, extensive or prolonged the abuse was, the more likely you are to have a hard time piecing it together. You may remember things, and then go back into denial about them while you process their impact on your life and relationships. You may be sure about what happened one day, fresh from a vivid flashback, and doubtful the next because important details are missing or vague.

What people don’t always know, is that this is completely normal, even typical, for survivors of childhood sexual assault.

What I learned about anxiety – for child sexual abuse survivors

Feel whatever is there in a safe place

The first time I remember not being anxious was after a 12 step meeting. My shoulders were relaxed. This had never happened before, I was certain.  It  was after an adult children of alcoholics meeting.

I found 12 step meetings really helpful in my early recovery, because I could be real there about what was really going on, and because of the structure (no crosstalk) no-one could try and rescue me. I attended almost one meeting per day. At the time it was the only place I could be real about the intense memories and feelings I was experiencing.

I shared my first flashbacks and some very intense things in meetings in those days, so much so that afterward, people would come up to me with the ‘are you all rrriiiight…” and a pitying tone to their voice like they were pretty sure I was a complete basket case. I always took no more than my share of the time, normally about 10 minutes per person, and could get a lot done in that time. I’d always say (and feel) “yes, of course, I just got it out and had a cry, of course I’m all right.” And I was. I refused to let them pity me. I was just having a feeling, and I’d expressed it fully, and could move on to being calm.

This is the first thing I learned about anxiety and other strong feeling states, that being direct and honest about it in a safe space makes all the difference.

Ramping down the hyperarrousal

The second thing for me was the strong link for me and perhaps other survivors between anger and anxiety/fear, which is so big a part of being a survivor of childhood sexual assault that I wrote quite a bit about it in my post on night fears, so I’ll just refer you there.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder. I don’t think of it as a mental illness, but as a nervous system injury. Anyone who went through what I went through, with the lack of support that I had, would have it. The trauma is the cause. My nervous system was set on fear, legitimately, so high and for so long, that it got stuck that way, among other things. Anything that ramps down the PTSD hyperarousal is a good thing.

Physical solutions help a lot more than you’d think.

Exercise: I can often manage my anxiety best by looking after it in completely physical ways. Walking for exercise, which gets the good endorphin benefits without getting me adrenalized the way more active exercise or classes do, helps a lot.

Food: Eating whatever I feel like and whenever I am hungry (and stopping when I’m full) seems to reduce any anxiety my mind and body has about there not being enough food available, and if I’m consistent about it, it helps keep me calm.  Stress-eating can calm me down, but is more of a band-aid thing. Consistently meeting my body’s needs ramps down my anxiety.

Sleep: I play all kinds of tricks to help me sleep, but hypnosis has been the most effective. I particularly like a cd called ‘deep sleep with medical hypnosis‘ and listen to two of the tracks from it (healing sleep and deep sleep) back to back almost every night. Safe routines are good.

Medication: I know nothing about medication for anxiety. I’ve never taken any for my PTSD. However I have taken chamomile tea, skullcap, and melatonin to help me sleep.  The thing I pull out if I’m desperate is one of the old school antihistamines (not the no-drowsy kinds) which works but makes me groggy in the morning. I also almost never consume caffeine, aside from the occasional chocolate.

However, vitamins help my anxiety. I take two multivitamins, six fish oil capsules, a vitamin D3 and a low dose coated aspirin daily. Since I’ve been doing that I feel a lot better. Apparently, there is some research to show that physical and emotional pain are connected. I take the aspirin because apparently when you are over 40 it is recommended to reduce inflammation, but I think it helps my mind ramp down too, by reducing my aches and pains. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, after all.

Safe touch: Curling up with my wife, skin to skin, reduces my anxiety. Petting my dog reduces my anxiety. Hugs that last more than 10 seconds apparently release positive chemicals in the body. Getting a foot rub reduces my anxiety.

Writing it down

Writing: Other than feeling the feelings when they come up, as fully as possible, I haven’t found a lot of mind/emotional things that work, other than journalling. I’ve journalled at night, and in the morning, artists way style where you write non stop for 3 pages, and both help clear out worries and obsessive thoughts. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night when I’ve had a nightmare and written in this blog. It helps.

What I learned about night fears and sexual abuse survivors

In this post, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about night fears resulting from sexual assaults as a child and how to reduce them.

I started out with night fears which were more of the usual type. I had a real sociopathic perpetrator, in my house, with real access to me, and I was afraid. Straight up, regular, warranted fear. My mother was no help. This was a lot of real, justified fear and I lived in real risk of being raped at any time for at least a decade. So you might say I was conditioned to associate laying in my own bed at night with, if not being raped, at least with the persistent fear of being raped.

Over time, I developed what I called ‘monsters’, which I still don’t fully understand. They were compilations of my fear and rage that seemed to haunt me, give me a target for the fear in my body, other than the one I couldn’t admit into awareness, that it was my father who was the source of the danger and injury. When I’d be in bed, it would feel like a ‘monster’ was there just outside of my awareness (or in it) that was waiting to harm me if I dropped my guard. I had these from early childhood onward through my 20’s.

When I left home I still had the monsters of course, and it took me a couple of years to even begin to figure them out. I’d started attending an adult children of alcoholics (ACoA) meeting that was for women only, and it was there I started to have some support and validation. It was also the first place in my own memory that I’d felt safe.

One afternoon or evening, I was sitting on a couch in the common area of the student housing where I lived with a friend who was a survivor, and she was asking about the monsters, about what would happen if I let one of them come close. I trusted her, and I tried to do this. Once the monster came close enough, I suddenly knew it was my father, that it was my father who had hurt me.

This is the first learning about night fears. It helps to find out, even roughly, what real life person, location, experience or whatever they are about. From then on, when I had monsters, I could say, “this is from being abused by my father”, and I didn’t feel like I was going crazy.

I started to notice I’d get what I called ‘monstery’ when I was triggered by something, usually something I’d seen on tv, but sometimes contact with my family. The types of things that triggered me were depictions of women-hating violence like rape, or scary movies with a supernatural element (reinforcing my fear that the monsters were real). If I avoided triggers like that the monsters were under a bit more control. I could also do things as part of my going to bed procedure that would make me feel more safe, such as having a candle lit by my bed and blowing it out last, or by writing in my journal and clearing out all my worries by writing in bed, just before turning off the light. I wrote my journal as a letter to the Goddess, so it was the same as praying before bed.

A major breakthrough came a few years later, when a friend from ACoA said I could call her the next time I had a monster, no matter how late it was. I called her and with her prompting, described the monster in enough detail to try and figure out what event or fear it was associated with.  I still remember that phone call, and how helpful it was to have someone there with me when I was so afraid. Over time, I became good at letting the ‘monsters’, which were really flashbacks and the fears of flashbacks, come to my awareness during therapy sessions and then allowing them to come closer to me so I could feel what information they might hold about my life.

People have these misconceptions about survivors, they think it would be best if we just forgot all the bad stuff that happened to us. What they don’t get is that we may be able to forget the facts and details in our heads, but our body never forgets on it’s own. the memory isn’t all stored in the same place like a regular memory. It doesn’t fade until all or most of the pieces are brought together into a bundle, and that takes psychological detective work.  If I didn’t remember and assimilate all the traumatic events, I’d still be terrified every night going to sleep. When healing from chronic trauma or complicated PTSD, I believe the only way out is through.

Some other random things that helped:

1) Giving myself permission – I was terrified to get out of bed in the night to go to the bathroom. I got myself a chamber pot to use for awhile so I didn’t have to.

2) Pets – Pets are excellent company for keeping away night terrors. They don’t mind if you wake them up for company in the middle of the night and they are always alert for real-world dangers. If you feel like someone is in your room or hallway to attack you and the dog hasn’t noticed, it’s not a real-world attacker.

3) Feeling anger – once I’d cleared out the fear of being raped that was stored in the monster experiences, I became aware gradually and with some help from a therapist, that anger was actually the main trigger, or even rage. While it may seem odd for me to fantasize a monster hurting me rather than the other way around, that’s how it worked. Anger was so dissociated from my awareness – I never consciously felt anger – that my mind had somehow decided it was safer to have the monsters angry at me than me at them. The monsters were in fact my own rage. This convoluted theory was proven right when I started acting as if this was correct. When I had the ‘monster kind of scared’ going on, I’d assume I was angry. I looked in the mirror, into my own eyes and told myself “I’m angry, I’m angry” over and over. I found it was impossible to feel both angry and fearful at the same time. I tried to both feel the anger, and see myself in the mirror believing and hearing me. I tried to feel the anger in my body. This completely dissolved the monsters! It was like I’d found a magic wand to turn them off.

4) Being brave / exposure. I began getting up in the night to pee. When I felt a monster coming on, I would practice thought-stopping. “no, I’m not going there” I would tell myself firmly, and although the awareness of the monster feeling was still there, I’d go through with my plan to get up and pee and come back to bed. If I had to turn on all the lights, so be it, if I had to run back to bed afterward, fine. I would remind myself that monsters were just my unconscious letting me know I was triggered or angry. I would tell myself “I’m angry I’m angry I’m angry” instead. I’m not going to tell you this wasn’t hard, but over time the night fear conditioning I’d gotten as a child gave up. I almost never experience it any more. More recently, I would read about how exposure therapy, progressively desensitizing yourself to the fearful situations, gradually and under your own control, is an accepted treatment for anxiety. Before I actually got up though, I tried some easier things, like allowing myself to lay on my back (a trigger) when the lights were on or  allowing my foot to stick out of the covers (where apparently I was afraid a monster would grab it). If I couldn’t deal on a particular night, I kept the chamber pot as a backup.

I’m happy and proud to say that most of the time I don’t have a single fear to get up in the night to pee any more. Unless something incredibly triggering is happening in my life, I also never have monsters any more. If I can do it, you can too.

You know, I was realizing as I was putting the categories on this post, that this qualifies as perseverance. Perhaps I am perseverent after all, I just have had a harder time doing regular life perseverance while I have been caught up in persevering on the healing tasks that I needed to do.

Car Crash – or what PTSD is like – novel

Photocredit: Kel Patolog via Flickr

[Note: Since I first wrote this, this piece has gotten a lot of attention for being a really good way to explain to people in your life what it’s like to have PTSD and Complex PTSD in particular and why there aren’t any quick fixes. I hope it’s helpful for you and your loved ones.]

I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) and the following excerpt is what I wrote today on it.

The novel this year is about sociopaths, a people making sense of a past including child abuse, disconnection with nature and people trying to do the right thing in the face of it. I don’t know exactly what shape the pieces will take yet. I didn’t know last year at this stage iether really, but I suspect it will be more complicated this year. Last year was a simple time-travelling love story.

This is an installment of my novel, in progress. More pieces here.

Excerpt:

It’s like this.

Imagine you are a mother driving home from a family function with your nine year old daughter in the passenger seat. You have had one or two drinks but it was awhile ago and you decided you were okay to drive.

The night is rainy and you get into a serious car accident. You are thrown forward in your seat and injure your body where the steering wheel strikes you. Your daughter is killed. You are helpless, pinned inside the car, unable to reach her as she dies before your eyes, convulsing, screaming, blood coming from eyes and ears.

The experience is so overwhelming, emotionally that your brain can’t process it, can’t store it in the usual way. The information flows in to fast and too intensely to be properly filed in one place, all together. The sensation of the steering wheel and the pain in your abdomen gets put in one place, completely separated from the visual memory of your daughters face as she struggled and died. That memory is separate as well from the contempt in the voice of the rescue worker who asked if you had been drinking. That memory is separate from the lights of the semi high beams in your eyes which blinded you for a moment, contributing to the accident. The pain from your chest. The emotional pain of watching your daughter die. Your daughter’s last words.

Those snippets of memory, and hundreds of others from that night are stored in little boxes in your mind, with no connection to the other pieces. They don’t form a whole memory at all, and you have no ability to put them in the correct order or link them to one another. It is too painful and overwhelming when you try, so you don’t.

You receive medical attention but everyone drifts away from you after that and you move to a new place where no-one knows. You vaguely remember that your daughter died in a car accident, but don’t remember details. People think you are lucky not to remember any of it, and are relieved you have nothing to tell them. Knowing it happened at all is bad enough for them, and the uncomfortable look on their faces soon teaches you to not even go that far with them. You can’t tell anyone about what you do remember, because it feels like it was your fault. After awhile you seem to forget it happened at all.

Then one day you are riding the bus and someone pushes you hard, in your abdomen. Suddenly the memory fragment of the crushing sensation in your chest is triggered, which in turn has a connection to the box holding the emotional pain that you don’t know is from watching your daughter die. They both ‘fire’ in your mind simultaneously.

You feel the pain in your chest as if it was happening now, along with a loss so great and horrifying that you panic. There is no other information to explain what this is about. You freeze, ashamed, and people are well meaning but think you are crazy, or think you need a doctor. You think you are crazy too.

Later on, this type of thing happens again and again. Lights in your eyes trigger some part of the memory, or a particular phrase, or seeing a simulated car crash on tv, or seeing someone who looks like your daughter did, seeing a rescue worker in uniform, or being around your family members at the holidays, who carefully do not talk about what happened.

You feel anxious and fearful a lot of the time, but couldn’t say exactly why.

If you are lucky, you will be able to stand the sensation during the gift of memory that is a flashback long enough to put the pieces together a little and don’t try to numb it very often with drugs, or alcohol, food or work. You do remember that your daughter died, and you think that maybe this has something to do with it.

You find a therapist and tell her what you remember consciously, which isn’t much. Your daughter died. You were driving. The rest is a blank. One day you have a session after a particularly intense flashback. While telling her about it, in the safety of a non-judgmental relationship, you have another flashback that fits with the first and make the connection with what you already know. You realize that the lights in your eyes you’ve been having nightmares about are the headlights of the truck you saw that night. The next time you have a nightmare about them, you tell yourself this and it calms you down. The better you get at doing this, the less often you have these nightmares, and you gradually find you can look at headlights at night without feeling much panic. Eventually they are sometimes just headlights, unless you are having a particularly stirred up day.

One day, with a lot of support from your therapist, you get the courage to ask after the accident reports. You travel back to the town you lived, practicing deep breathing to keep from having panic attacks when you see familiar landmarks. The day you go to the station and get access to the report, you are terrified. Some of what is written is not exactly as you remember it, it is told from a different perspective. It reads like it happened to another person. When you read in the police station archives, that it said you’d indicated you’d had a drink at the party prior to driving, you become unable to read further and freeze. You run into the bathroom, find a stall and break into deep sobs in the police office. You hope no-one comes in and hears you, or worse, asks what is wrong.

However, the report helps because it gives you a framework to attach the snippets of sensation and memory that intrude into your consciousness or have been invited during therapy sessions. You find that they all fit at some place in the story, and you begin to have compassion for the woman who experienced this tragedy, that woman who doesn’t quite feel like yourself.

Now imagine that the situation is not a car accident, witnessed and documented by police, so you can check the validity of your memory fragments. Imagine that an incident equally horrifying or worse was perpetrated on you by a loved and trusted person while you were a child under their control. Imagine that there was no medical attention, even though you were seriously injured, and no one to help or tell. Imagine that it wasn’t a single traumatic incident’s worth of sensation fragments to piece together, but fifty, spread out over a decade or more. Imagine that as a result of the first couple of incidents, you had walked around in a self-protective haze for most of your childhood. Imagine that as a result, your brain didn’t bother to store the kind of information that provides context and meaning for these later traumas, but only the sensations of pain or horror. You are missing a large number of key pieces of several of the memories, meaning that without outside validation, you will likely never be able to explain or integrate them fully for yourself, make them whole and stop them from intruding into your life.

Imagine that your family members refuse to talk to you about what they remember of what happened, because it is too painful for them, or because they don’t want you to remember what happened, they blame you or they don’t want you to remember their part in condoning it. Imagine that they tell you that you are lying, making it all up, that you are crazy, either directly or indirectly. Or imagine that instead they say they believe you that this person hurt you, but don’t think it was a big deal and still spend christmas every year with the family member who hurt you. They expect you to do the same.

If you are lucky, you will divorce your family, get good therapy, and find some friends with similar experiences who understand and normalize what happened. If you are lucky you will have a spouse who becomes trained to hold you and calm you at night when you have nightmares, or if you have flashbacks during lovemaking, does not take it personally and learns not to touch you in ways that trigger the minefield of memory fragments. With luck and time, you connect the puzzle pieces you can, and develop what explanation you can for those you cannot connect. You learn, in the midst of the panic, to tell yourself, “this is abuse stuff” and that you are safe now, and most of the time that helps enough. If you are lucky and face it as square on, for as long as you can, then the memory fragments intrude less and less, and eventually they stop. You make peace with the mysteries you can’t solve, and protect yourself from further harm effectively.

You don’t tell most people about all this, as it upsets them and often they say stupid things that make it worse. They ask why you aren’t over it by now. They say “parents do the best they can with what they know at a time” or “forgiveness will set you free”. Their own experiences with minor wounds and misdeeds tell them that these are the truth, so they think it applies to you.

Friends you trust enough to tell how it really is are uncomfortable with the anger you have worked hard to feel and express, because turning it inside poisons you. They tell you that forgiving the sociopath who hurt you solely for his or her own enjoyment will magically make all the aftereffects disappear, forcing you to make the decision to tell them what naïve fools they are or just change the subject. Sometimes you want to ask them, “will forgiving the truck that hit you make the broken bones go away?”

If you are lucky, you will have some people in your life who never say these things, or you will soon have no friends at all. You learn not to tell most people things they can’t understand, which means that sometimes your behaviour is unexplainable.

Without being able to share the facts, it becomes impossible to explain in a compelling enough way to strangers, that unless they want to hold your hand, remind you to breathe, listen to you tell them the disjointed snippets of what you remember about being trapped and tortured in a small box, and comfort you afterward, all of which would actually healing, you simply cannot ride in an elevator today.

Some days you can do it with no more than some attention to deep relaxing breathing, and focusing on the elevator musak and the knowledge that you are safe and an adult. Doing this often enough will make things permanently better, but takes a lot of internal fortitude each time. However, you know from experience that if you do succumb to pressure and ride in the damn elevator (or whatever) when you’re not ready, you will pay by going numb for days, and spend days on high emotional alert and nights of nightmares. Because  they don’t or won’t understand why you have needs they don’t, people find you rigid and odd. They have no idea how courageous you are.

A good apology

This song often makes me cry. It’s about the Australian government’s apology to the aboriginal peoples of Australia, but…. imagine it is an apology from the people of your home town, extended family or community for not seeing or helping you when you were abused or for not stopping the sexual offenders they knew were active from hurting children. Imagine a day when people recognize the injustice of shunning incest survivors in all the subtle and overt ways it happens. Imagine allowing this apology to sink in.

I’ve been listening to a self-hypnosis tape on lately every morning before I get up. It gets some positive thoughts in my head and I’ve followed it in my mp3 player with some happy uplifting music. It’s a meditation on confidence and seems to be a good fit for where I get stuck in inaction. I wouldn’t have said I lacked confidence, but this is helping. The guy who recorded it seems to be quite good at what he does. I went to his website to see if he had anything else I might want to buy but got put off by the Tony Robbins style marketing. Ick. However, this recording is very helpful. It’s not the least religious, for those with religious triggers, and he has a pleasant British or perhaps Australian accent. ( I note that the amazon.co.uk description I linked to above warns not to listen to this if you have a ‘nervous psychiatric condition’, I’m wondering if this is some sort of blanket British legal thing about hypnosis. I suppose PTSD is a nervous psychiatric condition, but I don’t see what harm a nice calming positive thought meditation would do.)

Because of the meditation and music, I wake up dancing. That and the rolfing and I’m walking tall these days. I told my therapist I wanted to take a break, and that I’d call her when the old bastard dies, but for now I need to work on practical problem solving around my business and health. For right now, I need to be working on earth (practical) and fire (will creation), not just water (emotion, intuition) and air (thought) to balance my life out.

I’m going to my first singing lesson in awhile today. I’m getting my lung capacity tested this week to help me figure out how to exercise without getting dizzy and nauseous (something my NP says is tied to my vagus nerve and not getting enough oxygen). I’ve been taking my vitamins regularly and dosing myself with a fairly large dose of Omega 3 fatty acids daily, which are good for the brain and anxiety. I feel much more calm and relaxed than usual.

May we all be well and happy (except you know who…)

Non-Random Events

One of the things I believe as part of my religion is that communication with the Gods is not just a one way flow.  Events that feel significant in one way or another, probably are. Many people believe that their Gods answer their prayers for help or guidance in this way.

Photocredit:  Zanastardust
Photocredit: Zanastardust

I went downtown on the weekend where there was a big community festival and stumbled into a speech given by an aboriginal woman who was an Olympic gold medalist. She talked about how she had gotten severe PTSD from being near-fatally stabbed by a Canadian soldier during a historic conflict between the military  and her nation that happened when she was a child.  The conflict is a shameful event in Canadian history when the Canadian military supported developers wanting to turn her people’s burial ground into a golf course. Since her nation, like many aboriginal cultures (and my Pagan tradition), practices ancestor worship/veneration, desecrating a burial site is a sacriledge. She was speaking to a mostly aboriginal audience, and talked about how her determination to be the best in her sport saved her life by giving her meaning. It had affected her powerfully when a person from her first nation had won a gold medal in the Olympics, how it counteracted the racist prejudices and beliefs of the majority culture against aboriginal people, and she wanted to give that gift to other aboriginal children. She said to consider how your descendants would remember you. She also said that her people alive today are survivors, and by the process of survival of the fittest, were therefore the best of her people.

This had me in tears and I left the hall and went out into the street where I walked away from the crowds. A few blocks away there was a bagpiper in traditional dress just standing on the sidewalk, playing traditional songs I’d heard in my highland sword dancing days. Again I had a strong emotional reaction and thought immediately of the sword dance. I  felt a strong sense that this was important.

I continued down the street and went into a cafe and ordered a latte and some cake. I sat down and a few minutes later, in came a woman I had met at a Pagan conference about a year ago, and run into recently at another Pagan event. She came over and greeted me in a friendly way and we spoke for a couple of minutes.

Three events occuring at a time that affected me emotionally and spiritually, like there was something inside that resonated with each.

Making meaning of trauma by providing inspiration…Sword Dance…Pagan

I should have prefaced this with the fact that I’ve been seriously considering what I’m meant to do with this new evidence about the abuse, and how to make meaning of what happened.

These events helped me come to the conclusion that the best way on is forward.  It’s like I got permission from the Goddess not to go to court, that it’s okay, he doesn’t have some little girl held captive I need to rescue. The sword dance is enough. Perhaps knowing about the scar tissue will help me be more definitive when talking about what happened. I certainly feel more confident that what I remember is correct.

Photocredit: Wigwam Jones
Photocredit: Wigwam Jones

Like Cazaril, I need to trust that the talents I have been given are the ones I am to use for good. Like the speech-giver (I’m withholding her name not to deny her honour but for my own privacy), I have a duty to give hope to the survivors and children who come behind me. My Scottish heritage has given me a tool to reframe how society sees survivors, as warriors and veterans who fight for justice and virtue. My Pagan training and faith gives me a way to structure that fight that is meaningful and powerful, as well as, in my faith, a spell that actually changes reality for the better and focusses people’s will on stopping child abusers.  

I think I’m finally ready to be at peace with my father/abuser’s death (if it ever comes) and to celebrate surviving him with a sword dance.

Now would he please just die already?

Photocredit:  byronv2
Photocredit: byronv2

Boxed in

Photocredit: Erix! Title: Circle

Last night I watched a show called ‘the listener’ where the hero is this paramedic with the ability to listen to people’s thoughts. Often this leads to him helping people. The episode I watched, he hears/sees in the brain of a street kid about a young girl being held captive in a steel box and begging to be released. The girl looks a lot like I did as a young girl, same hair and everything.

I wasn’t particularly scared during the episode, my wife was there, and it worked out well in the end, with the girl being released and the guy who captured her committing suicide by cop. However, you know that she’s been assaulted by this guy all this time, and she’s just frantic to get out of that box. I had that suspense feeling, waiting for her to be rescued (I was pretty sure she would be, it’s that kind of show, thankfully.) which normally I try to avoid. I’ve been trying to learn to tolerate and invite anxiety lately (I read something fairly convincing that avoidance reinforces the anxiety and by ‘welcoming’ anxiety, I could dial it down), and it was manageable and once I started watching it I had to keep watching till she was all right.

Anyhow, so at 5 this morning (I normally wake around 9, so that’s early for me) I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. Maybe it was the green tea I had last night too, but regardless, here I am, wide awake. For once my wife is asleep (she has menopause sleeping problems), so I couldn’t really get comforted by her without waking her, and I wasn’t distressed enough to feel okay about doing that.

And I get to thinking about my mom and how I should probably confront her about the scars on my vulva/vagina, and hear her explanation about how she didn’t know her 5 year old girl had torn her perineum. Or hire a lawyer to coerce my father into confessing or sue him. Now that I’ve got my aunt as witness that he tried to assault her too, it kind of makes sense.

Wait a minute.

My aunt is quite a bit younger than my mom. Like 8 years or so. My mom married my dad when she was 21 and the assault happened when they were still living in Winnipeg, which was when my older brother was very little. My aunt could have been as young as 14 when he ‘got fresh’ with her. I think of my aunt as an adult, but she wasn’t then. I need to ask her. It’s amazing I didn’t think of that before.  More validation. I wonder if my grandfather knew. My mom said once that he’d have killed my dad/abuser if he’d known about the rapes.

If I sue my dad and my aunt was as young as I think she was, she could witness for me. I bet my other aunt that he insulted would too.

I skipped last week at the boxing gym, and am going to try and go this week. This morning I feel like it would feel good to hit something. Now that I’ve given my self permission not to hit ‘Bob‘ or do the ‘lay on your back and kick your attacker in the small of the back’ exercises it should be better. I also found a ‘sea band’ that presses an acupressure point to suppress nausea. Last time I almost threw up after exercising. My friend who also works out at the gym says she sometimes gets nauseous too and she’s in way better shape than I am. It’s kind of crazy really, that we pay money to do this stuff.

Tonight I’m going to the first rehearsal of  a choir a friend is in. It’s supposed to be a nice choir, so I’ll see. I’m not a choir person exactly any more, but I thought it would be social and help me get my voice going a bit.

My wife is doing a bit better. She’s on hormones for the menopause thing, and has been more attentive. We’ve been doing a lot better this week, and yesterday was particularly good. I keep forgetting my promise not to nag her about her health, but after my therapist reminded me, I’ve been able to stay off her about it for about a week. I made a promise I’d leave her to do her health stuff without nagging until March, and I’m going to keep it. In March, if things are still rocky between us, I’ll push hard for couples therapy, but perhaps we won’t need it by then. One can hope.

You know, I was looking at my categories, and realize that I don’t talk about spirituality and sexual abuse much any more. Faith has always been my main antidote for fear and anxiety. I was talking to a friend yesterday about spells. She’s feeling hopeless about her love life and I suggested a love spell. I was explaining how spells work. When casting a spell properly, you focus on the one essential thing about what you need to happen. It’s like a lever. You have to apply the small amount of energy to a specific point to change the course of something. Or it’s like sailing a boat, you need to take into account the winds and water of reality, and even if they’re blowing against you, if you set your wind and tiller right you can still go where you want if you are clear and firm about it.

I had a student once who got frustrated with me because she had wanted me to teach her how to cast prosperity spells. She said she kept trying and it wasn’t working. When I tried to tell her what was wrong, she wouldn’t listen. She wanted exactly what she wanted in lots of detail, against considerable real world obstacles. This was the equivalent of trying to steer your boat into a headwind. She wasn’t willing to tack. I said, focus on the one small thing that is the core of what you want. You don’t really want a million dollars, you want to feel safe. Or you don’t want a tall, brown- haired woman who speaks another language and owns her own house, you want someone perfect for you. By leaving open all the variables that don’t really matter and letting go of the need to control how it happens, you can get what you need. It’s like the rolling stones song.

So if I approach the situation with my father that way, what is the core of it? What do I really want to happen?

Photocredit: deVos Title: Dome - Passage - The Hague

I want my experience to have meaning – I want what happened to me to be part of the Goddess’ plan for making the world a better place.

That’s not quite it.

I want to be happy.

I want justice.

I want to reclaim my power from him. (This one is closer to core, I think)

I want to not be afraid of him any more. (this is also close)

I want social support. I want allies. (so I am safe from betrayal by his collaborators)

I want to walk tall in my own space.

I want the body feeling of being strong and assertive and unafraid more of the time. I want to stop being controlled by PTSD anxiety.(this is also more like it)

I want to push back against the abusers, to feel my strength there and make them afraid.(this too)

I want a public sex offenders registry in Canada so parents can vett the people who have access to their children. I want the justice system to lock anyone they can’t cure up for life. (this would satisfy my meaning making)

I want meaning and justice.

I want wholeness.

Obsessing about all the ways I’ve come out as an incest survivor, rather than sleeping, at 5:20 am

It’s 5:20 am and I can’t sleep.
I’m not one of those poor people who actually gets up at 5 am for work or the insane ones that get up at 5 am to do yoga or something.

My bedroom is hot, the comforter is too warm, my stomach is upset and I’m running over in my head all the people I’ve come out to in the last week or so. I’m having a cumulative sense of shame and fear about it, analyzing their reactions at the time and since, feeling afraid that my credibility has been damaged.

I really should get out more if I care so much what a few people think, some of whom I don’t even like. There’s nothing I can do about how others perceive me – I can only be a good, honest and reliable person and let the rest fall as it may. It’s hard to go out and be sociable when you feel crappy.

However, it’s important to me to be taken seriously. Having a history of being the scapegoat of my family has reinforced the necessity of making sure people don’t slot me into that role. I will not be blamed for having the normal effects of being assaulted. I feel like that has happened too much already.

At 5am what is it I’m worried about? I’m feeling less able to be honest on this blog, for fear someone I know will read. I have two non-cyber friends who have this URL, plus I my wife has occasionally read it when it’s left up on the screen. Since I’ve complained about her a bit, that’s kind of dodgy, but I let myself out of that one since she knows it’s anonymous and she’s really not that interested in my abuse stuff, so is unlikely to read much.

I think she’s worried I’ll fall apart. I did once, from her perspective, when we were living together in a shared house with some other people. We’d invited a new roommate to move in, someone I considered a friend. I knew she’d had problems controlling her anger and had been fired for yelling at colleagues on the job. I knew she had a violent fantasy life. I knew she had impulsivity around money and food. But I’d known her for years, she was a survivor, and I thought she’d be an ally in my home of 12 years. What was I thinking?

She moved in and left the living room filled with boxes and furniture for several weeks. She was bossy and cut me down. She started yelling at me and intimidating me when other people weren’t around. She was like living with my father again. I was terrified, I was triggered and because of that I couldn’t seem to access my amazon assertiveness or my brain to think of a way out of this.

For complicated reasons, one of my other housemates wanted me and my wife gone from the house, so I think she was secretly delighted I was so miserable. She would not consider kicking this woman out. I complained, again much more ineffectively than usual, at house meetings, but was not supported, perhaps because people interpreted my desperation and overreaction (I was triggered) as dishonesty or being high maintenance. My wife came home one day while this woman was in full swing standing over me and yelling at me, and took charge of making her stop. After that she believed me (why did she need to be shown?) but being my partner, was expected to be on my side anyway so didn’t have much influence.

It was right during the last time my father was seriously ill, about five years ago, and I was already at my wits end about that. It’s like all ability to be assertive, to stand up to this woman had been sucked out of me by that and I ended up living in fear, walking on eggshells. My housemates choosing this clearly belligerent and abusive woman over me knocked me flat with betrayal and shame.

I was ready to give in. I made a ‘date’ with the housemate who wanted me gone, to tell her we were moving out. She beat me to it, which surprised me a lot, by telling me first she was leaving. The balance of power in the house shifted with this, making it possible to force this woman out. The woman flatly refused to leave. Finally, my wife came to my defense, although she resented it deeply. Since the household was run as part of a coop, she told the woman that she and I would not be endorsing her for membership, which meant that she would be publicly embarrassed at the membership meeting by being an unwanted person who wouldn’t leave.

The woman left a couple of weeks later and during that time I went and stayed at the apartment of a friend of mine, another survivor. Because of our dog, and perhaps because she was mad at me, my wife stayed at home.

We were down two housemates and had worn out a third with all the fighting. It was really hard to find new ones, especially since we couldn’t honestly tell the new housemate that things were good at the house. We limped along for another year or so and then got our own place, which was much better.

With my father sick again (could he please DIE already and get it over with!) I’m back into feeling vulnerable and off-centre. I’m sure it scares her a bit too, waiting to see what will happen to me, needing me to hold it together since I earn a lot more than she does and we have a mortgage. I have held it together under a lot worse conditions, but I don’t know that I’m willing to pay that price again.

All I want is to be understood, to be validated by the fact that someone else sees me and doesn’t think I’m hopelessly damaged and embarrassing. I’m ashamed of things I know logically I shouldn’t be ashamed of.

When I told my chiropractor I had PTSD it went down like this:

Her: Something about not being in my body.
Me: Well I do tend toward dissociating a bit. I have PTSD and it’s part of it.
Her: (Concerned, awkward look) Do you take medication for that?
Me: {in my head: That’s a weird question. Surely other patients have had PTSD before, from car accidents or whatever. Is she trying to ask if I’m on psychiatric meds? Does that mean she thinks I’m really nuts? or does she just not know what PTSD is?} aloud: “No, I’ve never needed them.” [changes subject]

Here’s how the coming out at the work meeting went down as far as I can remember:

Me: [to guy with PTSD who runs a self-help CBT group for anxiety disorders] Do you know of any CBT programs specifically for PTSD?
Him: Well, there’s our website, have you seen it?
Me: Yes. I found it a bit high level, PTSD is a bit different from other anxiety disorders.
Him: Yes, I have PTSD, I know what you mean.
Me: Me too.
Stuff I don’t remember, with him saying his PTSD was from childhood abuse and me saying yeah, me too. Here’s where I imagine the ears perking up around the room with the people who are still drifting out.
Him: Are you looking for yourself or someone else?
Me: [Awkward] Well, I’m really well, but I’m getting to the point where I’d like to find some ways to help others and give back. [nobody think I’m defective please here!]
Him: Mentioning something about how there is some stuff with PTSD and CBT and I could do a literature search.
Another woman: Has anxiety too, involves self in conversation.

Now around the table I know that two manage a mental illness (depression I think, including the woman with the anxiety) and one has a daughter with anxiety. All have disclosed these facts during meetings, so you’d think this would be a normal, basic conversation to have. The meetings are somewhat adversarial (non-profits competing for funding) so maybe it’s just that I think at least one of them would try and find a way to use it to discredit me if she could.

Here’s another one:
Me: [talking to friend with intense history of mental illness] I’ve been blogging about the stuff with my dad dying.
Her: [not knowing much about blogs, that’s interesting, you should give me the url and I’ll check it out]
Me: (actually why did I say that, I don’t want to give her the URL) It’s helpful and supportive and I really like the writing I’m doing, like real essays and stories and song and poetry. [Changing topic]
Later as we’re saying goodbye:
Her: About your blog, you could send me the url and I could look at a poem or something. I’m not a therapist but I could look at it as your friend. [Why did she say that “I’m not a therapist”? I’m the one that was a big part of nursing her through a serious breakdown where she had to be hospitalized and she’s warning me against being overly self-disclosing or needy? ]( I realize as I write this that she was probably just disconcerted by me shifting the role between us, since I’m usually the normal okay one.)
Me: That’s not what I’m looking for, I just want to be honest about my life.

Maybe I’m afraid I’ll fall apart again. Listing up all those reasons why my dad should have died by now from cancer, or flesh eating disease or alcoholism made me think, yes, he really is going to die this time. I know I’ve been saying it, but it sunk in a little more. I’ve got no updated information about his health, and it seems victimy to just be waiting helplessly for him to die, like waiting for an earthquake that is predicted to be ‘the big one’.

Now, the wise part of myself would say – what would she say?
You are a good person and people will either see that or they won’t. There’s nothing you can do about it, so turn it over to the Goddess. You are powerless over other people and what they think. Stay in your body, trust your inner knowing and things will be all right. This is a big time for you, you don’t have to achieve anything but keeping going and nurturing yourself through this and putting one foot in front of the other. Eat well. Take your vitamins. Do your work. Slow down a little on taking over the world. Just do one thing and complete it. Listen to a relaxation recording. This is just the anxiety talking.

Runaway train

This morning I went for an hour long massage.

Photocredit: Cindy47452 on Flickr
Photocredit: Cindy47452 on Flickr - or is my life like this? This looks much more appealing...

I really like my massage therapist. I don’t see her that often, but she’s this nice, smart woman and we have lively conversations while she unknots me.

Today she commented on my back, how profoundly solid and unmovable with tension it was. I seem to be in a ‘coming out’ frame of mind lately, and so I said in the plain calm and collected (I’m just fine) voice I use when telling most people anything about the abuse “I’ve been under some stress. I’m a child sexual assault survivor, and my abuser, who is a relative, is dying. I expect I’ll be on high alert for the next year.” I still can’t believe I said it. Sometimes I’m excessively honest when I’m stressed or tired.

She said “I’m sorry.” and I changed the topic, saying “I’m trying to just be matter of fact about it.” Later on in the massage she was working on my neck from the front and I was starting to feel uncomfortable. I could have numbed out, but instead I said “I’m starting to get triggered, could you tell me what you’re doing?”. She removed her hands and said “sorry”. I said “no problem, I just need to know why you’re doing that? She said something about fascia, which helped,  and did it a little more, but moved on.

I did the “I’m a perfectly capable person and am not going to get all needy on you” thing and immediately started a conversation about politics.

I just want to be able to tell the truth about my life.

Yesterday I was in a meeting – I have a client who is a mental health agency, and all the people at the table were representing mental health agencies. We were talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which looks to be pretty effective, actually, for anxiety and depression mainly. Anyhow, there were these two guys from an anxiety disorders organization. One of them I’d met before and knew he had PTSD like me. At the end of the meeting, I asked him collegially if he knew of a specific CBT program for PTSD, we ended up getting into a conversation about it, with some of the other people in the room listening in, and couple involved in the conversation. During the conversation I outed myself as having my PTSD from child sexual assault. You have to understand this is a business environment where it is fine to disclose you’ve had mental health stuff, and I knew the health status of several people in the room. It went over just fine, with the sense that I’d made some allies, but was a little stressful. Sometimes I just do these brave things without thinking about it, and then afterwards wonder ‘what the hell was that?’ However, it’s usually something that I can stand behind, in retrospect.

I seem to be busting out. Last night I had the ‘our marriage is in trouble’ talk with my wife, and it went better than I thought it would. There’s something about being married, that makes it safer to talk about how dire things really are, since we both know we are too committed to make any hasty decisions.  We came up with a plan to fix things – both with some ideas to work on our non-sex life, and to find some things that are fun to do together that she can do with her injured foot. We also agreed that going back to couples counselling might be a good thing.

This morning before the massage, we did one thing we’d agree to do to work back into having a more regular sex life. Part of the problem is she’s too tired to have sex at night (and doesn’t feel like it) and I’m too spacey to have sex in the morning (and don’t feel like it). When we were first together the hormones take care of such trivial matters, but after eight years, there aint no hormones left.

I found out something I didn’t know before, the real reason why I don’t have sex in the morning.

My abuse happened late at night. I tend to prefer to have sex then, and sleep better afterward. It’s a wierd thing like, “now that the sex is over, it’s safe to sleep”. It’s not quite as creepy as it sounds, and for the most part, when I have sex at night, I can keep stray abuse images out of my head and concentrate on the here and now.

However, whenever I have sex in the morning, if it’s at all intimate or intense I end up crying or near tears. For years I’ve thought of it as being that I’m kind of raw in the morning, but now I don’t think so. This morning, I couldn’t keep the flashbacky stuff out of my head, but the unwanted intrusive images were not of my abuser, but of someone else. A woman.  I’m pretty sure the person I thought it was did not abuse me (please Goddess, no…), but the images were ghastly and intrusive. I managed to fend them off finally after a bit of a silent struggle and my wife ended up holding me as I cried. I didn’t tell her.

It’s like morning is safe time. I always feel good in the morning, raw yes, open yes, but more because it’s safe to be open and raw that out of anything raw.  This likely accounted for the brick-back I brought into the massage therapist an hour later.

It’s really going to piss me off if I was abused by more than one person. I’m not even completely sure who these images referred to, I’m used to just batting away flashback stuff during sex, like horseflies. “Yes, yes, you’re trying to terrify me, let’s think about something else. What was I doing again? Sex, right. Back to that.” Sex must be so simple for non-survivors. I can’t imagine it.

I was trying to come up with a title for this post and what came to me was ‘runaway train’. It feels like things are just progressing in my life just slightly ahead of me, gaining speed. No wonder my body is trying to put on the brakes. I don’t want to lose positive momentum, but I don’t want to go any faster. I’ll have to think on how to do that.

Photocredit: Jeff McCrory
Photocredit: Jeff McCrory Is my life like this?

Letter #1 – My Mother is not a saint

I like this picture - to me it speaks to breaking the false story of my mother as saintly and martyred, but also speaks to being truthful in one's heart.
I like this picture - to me it speaks to breaking the false story of my mother as saintly and martyred, but also speaks to being truthful in one's heart.

Hi Mom,

I’ve been thinking about how to mend my relationship with you. I thought I’d start by sending letters.

What I thought is that, in 14 years where we had almost no contact, you really hadn’t gotten much chance to know who I’ve become. I was 19, then I was 35 and now 40, with hardly any contact during that time. I think some of the tension we have with one another is that you might be expecting me to behave toward you in the ways I did back when you saw me more. Part of this is my fault, because often it has been easier and more familiar for me to just be fake with you than to be honest with you about how things really stand between us. I grew up needing desperately for you to love me and protect me, so I’ve gotten into some bad habits of protecting you from the truth when I know you won’t like it.

I have changed an awful lot in those 14+ years and I know that when people close to you change, it’s hard. Perhaps learning more about what has changed might help you understand some things about me.

I have an anxiety disorder called complex post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Complex post traumatic stress disorder is not a mental illness, but an injury that happens when a person is exposed to chronic, repeated trauma, in a situation that goes on for months or years where they are under total control by another. Anyone who survives that type of situation will have these symptoms, regardless of how healthy they were beforehand. I’ve printed off a fact sheet about complex post traumatic stress disorder for you to read.

From my perspective, you were there and are a part of the system that harmed me for almost a decade. It’s as if I was a prisoner in a concentration camp and you were one of the guards, maybe not a very powerful one, but still with more power than me.

A person who gets raped once, or a soldier who sees or participates in horrible things, might get post traumatic stress disorder. It turns into ‘complex’ post traumatic stress disorder if you are abused for a long time over a period of months or years, and can’t get away. This is what happened to me.

I need you to accept that I’ve been changed forever by what happened. I need you to accept that I hold you responsible for not saving me, and most particularly for staying with [abusers name] after you got my letter about what happened. The crown council also told me you refused to speak to the police when they were investigating after I reported him. I can’t prove you knew he was abusing me, but I really think you should have known something was terribly wrong. You’re right, I can’t hold you responsible for what [abusers name] did, but I do hold you responsible for what you did, and in these things alone you’ve got a lot to answer for.

I have spent nearly as much time and money on therapy to recover from your betrayal in staying with [abusers name] , as I spent on recovering from the abuse.

Complex post traumatic stress disorder gets better with effort, and mine is a lot better than it was, but the effects, while lessening, are permanent and affect my life daily. Little things that remind me of those horrible times still produce strong fear reactions and have profoundly changed how I view the world.

Who am I now?  I have fought hard to feel at home in my body. For many years, I had a spacey, unreal feeling in my body, and wasn’t aware of how it felt. I have fought hard to reclaim my voice. When I was 19, I had a soft, almost inaudible voice when speaking at school or in groups and didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I dressed in long sleeves and pants, even in hot weather, so that none of my body would be exposed. I didn’t want men to be interested in me, because I thought that meant that they would rape me. I averted my eyes from men so they didn’t think I was encouraging them. When I saw films with anything that reminded me of the abuse, I would get so terrified I’d have to walk out of the theatre right away. Afterward I would have weeks of nightmares and fear about what I’d seen and what it reminded me of. Now, I choose not to see movies I think might have suspense, captivity or sadistic violence, but if something comes on the TV I can usually tolerate it for a short while without having terrible nightmares. I went from hating myself for what happened and avoiding thinking of anything to do with it, to keep my fear under control,  to being able to face my past, grieve it and make sense of it. I went from being so terrified of the dark that I couldn’t get up in the night to go to the bathroom to pee, to being able to feel safe in my home with my wife and dogs. I am grateful that I never used drugs and rarely used alcohol, which I knew instinctively would make things worse.

Where were you when I was learning to do all that? You were living with my abuser. He’s a sadistic, controlling, evil rapist. You chose him over me. Were you held captive? Were you threatened with death if you left? Did you have no relatives, friends or places to go to? You never once asked me for help leaving, or asked if you could come stay with me. You seemed to be able to travel freely and not be captive in your home. If you were forced to stay, then I need to hear details about that.

How does this affect you and I? Why can’t I just be ‘normal’ with you? I need you to understand how insulting it is that you want me to have a ‘normal’ relationship with you at all.

Now maybe you have post traumatic stress too, it’s certainly possible. You sometimes behave like someone who has PTSD.  There may well be horrible things that happened to you I don’t know about, but up till now I haven’t seen any evidence that what you went through was even close to what I went through.

I realize that when I was young that you did help keep [abusers name] from hurting me as often as he might otherwise have done. Things like the time you turned him away from going in my bedroom, or just his need to keep it from being too blatant, did help reduce his opportunities to hurt me. Because of this, as a child, I very much wanted you to be as strong as possible so that I would be safer. Now, how that affects our relationship now is that I try to fix you, to make you calmer (so your anxiety doesn’t make me anxious and I am more comfortable) and look after yourself better. Since I’m completely unsuccessful in this (as most people’s attempts to change other people are), it doesn’t help how I feel at all. When I see you relying on [brother] to make your decisions for you and not looking after your physical and financial needs in ways I would think necessary if it were me, I feel an echo of the fear I felt then, that you would fall apart and I would have no protection at all from [abusers name] . I also get angry or irritated at you, since when you do those things, I am reminded about how ineffective you were in helping and protecting me.  I realize I am an adult now and can protect myself effectively from [abusers name] , but old habits and reactions die hard.

How I would like to handle this differently in future is for me to mind my own business and not worry about you so much. I need to have faith that you will sort out  the rest of your life and your retirement for yourself, and to remind myself that you’re no longer in any immediate danger. When I was in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) they talked about it being unhealthy for a person to do for someone else what that person can and should do for themselves. I’m going to try and take that more to heart. This might take a few tries to do gracefully!

As a result of being betrayed by my parents, I’m very conscious of people’s integrity and cautious not to be betrayed. I look closely at people’s words and actions to see if they match. If they don’t, I try not to associate myself with the person. This is because the tension/suspense of knowing that they might betray me makes me anxious, and I need to keep my anxiety down. With you, that affects our relationship a lot. You said you believed me about [abusers name] , but didn’t think his actions were worth divorcing him over. That is the second worst thing anyone has ever done to me. I really don’t know if I can forgive you or trust you because of it. I have spent almost as much time in therapy sorting out my feelings and the effects of that betrayal by you as on anything else. I am absolutely, lividly furious with you that you could have the lack of integrity to not stand by your professed feminist beliefs and your professed love for me.

Because you have betrayed me in this important and painful way, I don’t trust that you will do what you say when it really matters, or act in accordance with the values you say you have. Another thing that is confusing for me is that you also don’t seem to remember some things about my childhood that [brother’s name] and I remember clearly, like when we didn’t have enough money to buy groceries and [brother’s name] and I went hungry.

Aside from the betrayal I experienced, what I think most gets in the way for me in being comfortable around you now is your denial about how bad the abuse was, and your suggestion that since things were hard for you too, any mistakes you might have made should be excused by that. I do not accept this. I agree that things were hard for you, and you need to heal that somehow, but that doesn’t excuse you from being responsible for your decisions.

I say these things, not to hurt you, but to  correct my misrepresentation of how things are between us. I have been trying to be kind, to be generous, to give you the benefit of the doubt, to give you time to make explanations and amends on your own.  I think this was a mistake, as it may have given you the impression that things aren’t as serious as they are. This is what might have given you the impression that I was willing to accept your version of events. I think it has come time to be honest, to make it clear that we have some serious issues between us, and I’m not willing or able to brush them under the rug. I know you birthed me and looked after me, and that most mothers feel entitled (and are entitled) to expect a certain amount of attention and sacrifice from their children because of that fact, but in light of your 14+ years of betrayal and refusal to assist the police in their investigation, I need to tell you that I don’t owe you any of those things.

I am very proud of how well I have improved my PTST and how well I manage it. It has been a long, expensive and time-consuming struggle. I think I have done very well. My most important coping strategy is my faith. Part of what kept me going, even as a child, was my spirituality, which has always been more about the Earth and the strength I draw from nature. When I grew up, I found religious beliefs that fit well with what I already believed and found strength in. Something you told me as a child, helped me survive spirituality, and to not lose hope and become suicidal. You told me repeatedly that ‘things always turn out for the best’ even when things looked bad. I took that to heart, and it probably kept me alive. Thank you for giving me that.

If we are to continue seeing one another from time to time, what I would like to do in future is to limit our visits to about 2 hours. Perhaps things will change between us, but since I can’t make you own up to the harm you have done me, I need to keep our visits short so I can maintain my composure around you. Because I have a long history of pretending I’m fine when I’m not, of putting your emotional needs before mine automatically, and numbing out to tolerate bad situations, I can seem fine when in fact I feel horrible. I spent many years learning not to automatically dissociate or ‘space out’ when things became uncomfortable, a process that has a lot of bad memories for me, and can exhaust me for days afterward. I sometimes do that when I am with you for too long, and I don’t want to have to do that any more. If I start to feel like I am doing that, I’m going to choose to just walk away, even if it’s less than two hours, when I feel anxious, frustrated or angry. I would say something like “I think I’m going to go now” and [Spouse] and I will leave. Knowing I can leave with no explanation if it gets too much will also help a lot. This will work better as an ‘escape valve’  if you avoid check ing in with me about whether I am becoming anxious or spacey, because I will then feel pressured to make you feel better by hiding my discomfort, which I’m not willing to do anymore.

Because you live so far away, when you visit I feel obligated to make it a longer visit than I want to make your effort worthwhile. If you lived in my city, we could do something routine and familiar like go grocery shopping together for an hour and then go home, which is about my speed. It’s pretty much impossible for me to think of coming and staying at your place, even with [wife’s name] there as a buffer. At some point, I might be able to visit your town if [wife’s name] and I stay at a hotel, and then drop in and visit with you for a couple of hours in the midst of doing other sight-seeing by ourselves.

I value honesty a lot in myself and in others. I need to have people around me I can be myself with, so my close friends are very important to me, and fill the space of family for me. I need you to respect that they have equal status to yourself and [brothers’ names] in my life. When you thought you had the right to un-invite [friend’s name] for Christmas (at MY house, no less!) so we could be ‘just family’, you were way out of line.

It was great how you and my other relatives came together for the wedding. I will always treasure that, and I know you were a big part in making that happen. Thank you. Thank you also for helping [wife’s name] and I buy our house by co-signing our mortgage. This is something no-one else would do for us and we appreciate it very much. Because of your help, we have some security for ourselves, and it makes both of us very happy and will help keep us safe in our retirement.

I realize I can’t be angry with you forever. I can hate [abuser’s name] forever, because he’s so evil that no sane person would ever forgive him. With you, I think we could have a decent, if not terribly close, relationship, if you can take responsibility for what you’ve done that has harmed me, and we can find ways of relating honestly with one another.

With so much left unsaid about the abuse between us, it really feels false and insincere to talk with you about anything else until we have that resolved. In my opinon resolving it means you fully appreciating the harm you have done me and changing some of your behaviour and expectations toward me.  I realize you may not see things the way I do, and you may not want to see me under these conditions. I’ve reached the point where I can be at peace with not seeing you again, if that is your choice.

What would help me in a practical way would be, a  signed letter acknowledging formally, in writing, unequivocally, that you believe the abuse happened and that I am telling the truth. This is because one thing I would very much like to do when [abusers name] is dead, is to speak out to help prevent what happened to me from happening to other children. I can’t stop men from abusing children, but I’d like to help stop the silence about it, which provides camouflage for abusers, and prevents kids in the situation I was in from getting help as soon as they need it. It would help me make my lifetime of stuggle to repair what happened have some value to the world. Because [abusers name] wasn’t criminally convicted of his crimes, and can’t be now that the statute of limitations is past, it is difficult from a legal and media perspective to refer to my own experiences in the way that would be most helpful. I would like to be able to refer to myself publicly as an incest survivor as part of helping to stop the silence and inaction around incest.

My friend, who is a newspaper editor, says that since I am telling the truth, if any of [abusers name] ’s heirs sued me for defamation that I would win. It would be horrible, though, if we had to go through all that, and your letter would reassure any media, for example, that referring to me as an incest survivor would not be a legal problem for them. I hope you will support me in this important work by giving me a written statement acknowledging that the abuse happened, and ideally providing all the reasons you know it to be true. This would is something you can do to make amends to me, and surely is in line with your values? By helping stop the silence and denial around child abuse, our experiences would be made meaningful and useful in some small way to others. I may also write to him and ask for a written confession from him as well, but I’m not holding my breath.

What I hunger for from you is truthful information from you about my past. You were an adult during times that I was so young and traumatized and it would be very helpful to compare what I remember with what you and others who were adults during that time remember. I don’t want to hear that you didn’t know, I want to hear what you now realize were signs he was abusing me. What has been hard so far for me when I ask you about the past, is that you don’t seem to remember some of the bad things I remember and [brother’s name] clearly remember, like not having enough to eat. When you do this, it is very frustrating for me and I think you don’t want to remember the truth or think a lie will be more pleasant for me. I know painful or shameful things are hard to remember accurately sometimes, but your courage in being honest with me about how things were would be much more helpful and would help rebuild my trust.

Why would this be of practical use? Part of healing PTSD is putting all the pieces together and grieving them. Once they are known and grieved, the impact lessens. When memories are stored during a time when a person is traumatized they get stored in a different way, similarly to how a person who learns something when they are really tired only remembers it again properly when they are again really tired. Although there are some things I remember clearly and have been able to heal, for other things what I am left with is the feelings that go with some of the memories, with only some of the information. Lttle details can help put things together and the truth is very important. It would be very helpful to me if you could help me remember some more details of what my childhood was like, not just the abuse. I would also like to know more about what [abusers name] was like then, from your perspective, and who else was around the family. I would like to sit down with you and a tape recorder and ask you questions about everything you can remember from that time. I would also appreciate it if you could write down for me everything creepy/abusive [abusers name] did that you observed and can remember, and everything you now realize was a sign that he was abusing me. For example, I know from [brother] that Uncle L—- said that [abusers name] called Aunt R—- a whore (or something similar), and that Uncle L—– and Aunt R— didn’t associate with our family after that. Were you there when he said that? Can you tell me more about that? Were there any other women or children you saw him make inappropriate or offensive remarks to? Did he have affairs? He spoke to me about his conversations with prostitutes and I got the impression he’d hired them – did you suspect that he hired prostitutes? What made you suspect if you did? I remember him fixing bicycles for neighbourhood children on [street]. Given how selfish he seemed to me to be, that doesn’t sound like something he would do without an ulterior motive. I know it’s not likely to be something you want to think about, but I think that he may have abused other children there. If I don’t know the truth, I will always wonder and therefore be afraid I will remember gruesome details unexpectedly, which is quite unpleasant. I’d rather remember on my own terms. Because of all this, it would also be really helpful to me if you could draw me a floor plan of the place we lived on [street] of the main floor and the basement.

These are real, practical ways you can help me, and also prove to me that you can be truthful and follow through about things to do with being accountable for the harm you have done me. I don’t want to go shopping with you, or go to dinner in fancy places or resorts. It’s too easy for me to fall into my habit of making you comfortable insead of being honest with myself. Instead I want to talk about the abuse until I have the answers I need.

It has taken me several weeks to write this letter. I find writing to be a good way for me to be sure I am saying what I really mean, and explaining myself well. If you would like to reply to my letter, you may, but I’m not ready for phone calls or visits yet.

Sincerely,

Sword Dance Warrior

Model Mugging

I was in therapy this week unraveling a chain of reactions, as we survivors often have to do. My mom is anxious, and I have PTSD, which makes you anxious, and being around her, you guessed it, makes me anxious. So I try and pad her up, fix her, so she won’t be anxious (which doesn’t work), but also so she’ll be strong and brave and stand between me and my abuser/father like she did so ineffectually back then. Never mind that I haven’t seen him in about 20 years and don’t plan to.

Now, once I realized that is why I do that, I also realized that of course, I’m quite capable of defending myself from a physical attack from my father now. He’d be nutless before he hit the floor if he ever tried anything. The important thing is to convince my inner child of that.

Suddenly I had an inspiration, a kinesthetic memory of what it actually feels like to knee a man in the groin full force. I felt myself kneeing him hard in the groin and the fear of him was defeated.

The first time I kneed a man in the groin was in my first Model Mugging class. This, is not, as it sounds, a class where we mug skinny adolescents with fake boobs, but a self defence course where we actually ‘modeled’ what it’s like to fight full force against a male assailant. The teacher is a woman, and our ‘target’ is a specially trained (and carefully padded) man, who co-instructs but mostly gets knocked around.

The male co-instructor, in his padded suit, but not wearing his helmet, came up to each of us in the first class and invited us to knee him in the groin. I did so, half heartedly. I’d never hit another person before, except one brief schoolyard tussle, and it just felt wrong. He quite correctly pointed out that I hadn’t done it hard enough, and that by bringing my knee up solidly between his legs from underneath his testicles, that it would hurt a lot more.  During the course of this two week course, I got familiar with the feeling of kneeing a man properly in the groin, jabbing him in the eyes with my hands, and even stomping on his head once he was down (used if help is far away and you need to insure he’s unconscious for long enough to get away. ).  We would set up a ‘model’ incident or fight simulating a real attack, starting from a standing, walking or laying down position, and practise kicking ass, with our team of classmates yelling instructions that still echo in my head. Elbow! Eyes! Groin! Stomp!

So when I remembered with my body what it felt like to knee a man in the groin and applied that to my father, it gave me more than an intellectual realization that I am no longer in any physical danger from him.

Living or dead, spiritually, intellectually, socially and physically, I can kick his ass.