Bookmark and Share

Monday, October 19, 2009

Memories - Bubbling to the Surface...

Bookmark and Share

WARNING: This blog is written by an adult survivor of severe childhood abuse. While specific graphic details are not offered, it is entirely possible that this material may be uncomfortable for some readers. If you have any doubt as to whether this may “trigger” you or make you feel unsafe in any way, please STOP reading and click elsewhere. If, while reading this or at any other time, you find yourself feeling unsafe or contemplating hurting yourself, please IMMEDIATELY contact a crisis line or mental health professional. Please – be safe, and be well.

If you or anyone you know is having a crisis and feeling alone or potentially unsafe, please consider using one of these resources. You'll notice there are organizations around the globe, including LGBT-targeted groups like PFLAG, and groups for survivors of different kinds of violence.

Here's a link to a list of resources.

Please know that I care, and many people in your life care. It's a sign of true strength to reach out if you're hurting; people want to offer their support. You are NOT alone.


"Children's talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives." - Maya Angelou

Childhood memories… Most adults can simply think back through accumulated childhood memory “data,” and review what happened in their young lives. This review virtually always includes elements and experiences that are poignant or sad. For those children who were allowed to process their childhood experiences at the time they took place, the associated feelings were able to be processed, at least to some degree, at the time of the original experiences. Many children suffered great losses, via the death of a loved one, an abrupt change in the family structure, or other significant and painful changes or other stressors, and these losses are an inherent part of their childhood memories.

For others, however, one’s childhood can be a vast wasteland of the Unknown. Until I was in my 20s, I didn’t remember anything in my childhood prior to age 14. It was as if I suddenly appeared, fully formed at that age, and from there, moved forward through adolescence and onwards toward adulthood. Since it was all I had known, I assumed most or all of my peers experienced something similar; I knew no other model.

In my 20s, I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew and (wrongly) thought I could trust. The assault was so extreme that I had bruises literally from my head to my toes, and I was bleeding from several locations. I endured over six hours of violence, and only when the guy passed out was I able to crawl away, find my clothing, and drive myself home, crying all the way. This was in 1987; still the Dark Ages for sexual assault victims.

On some instinctive level, I knew there was NO way I could endure the horrific invasiveness ~and~ the callous disregard that was typical for that era’s processing of a Rape Kit. I drove myself home, and stood under the shower, sobbing hysterically until the hot water ran out. The man who had assaulted me was the son of an Ambassador to the United States, and I knew even if had tried to have him prosecuted, he would have found refuge under the Diplomatic Immunity umbrella. Fortunately, since we lived in different parts of the state, it easy to avoid seeing him in the future.

In the aftermath of that assault, I found myself unspeakably angry. Not just at the man who had assaulted me, but in a much broader sense. I was angry at the world at large, it seemed. Frankly, my reaction terrified me, because until then, I’d kept my anger bottled up tight in a dark place within me, a place that even I had never previously explored.

I decided I needed help to deal with the anger, and so began therapy. In the course of this work, I gradually allowed myself to face the painful truth that I’d grown up as a child of an alcoholic (my mother). This insight led me to Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), whose meetings I attended for well over a year. A very helpful organization based on the 12-steps that are the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), ACOA provided a much-needed sense of community. I was able to connect with others whose adult lives had been shaped by the instability and outright danger that are inherent in the life of any child whose parent(s) is/are alcoholic.

(NOTE: I’d left home at the age of 14 because of my mother’s pronounced alcoholism. I knew I needed to leave that environment or I’d “go crazy or die,” as I told my biological father. The particulars of my exodus from my mother’s household are a story in themselves, one I won’t bother to tell in this posting – however, look for it either in future blog postings, or certainly in my upcoming book…)

A few years later, as I approached the age of 30, I found myself in a state of pronounced anxiety and depression. I couldn’t understand or even pinpoint the origins of this unease. Returning once again to therapy, I asked for help in addressing these issues. And thus began the work of opening my own personal Pandora’s Box…

As the work continued, I found myself dealing with an onslaught of images that were like something out of a truly awful horror film, one in which my childhood self was the central figure. Unbidden, and certainly not “suggested” by my therapist, the flashbacks were vivid, very specific, and absolutely repugnant. Over time, I learned that these were recovered memories, experiences so horrible that my young self had simply shelved them. It was impossible for me to retain conscious knowledge of these experiences and also be the “perfect” little girl who was expected to get straight A’s in school – and who was punished severely for even the most minor transgression.

I spent years making peace with these recovered memories, and the broader issues surrounding their creation. During this time, I stopped speaking to my mother entirely. She’d long professed her claim that my childhood was idyllic, and that it was I who was a troublemaker and a problem for HER. She certainly was no alcoholic, for God’s sake – at least not in HER mind. I’d learned enough to understand that I was never going to change my mother, so I stopped trying. And for my own sanity, I simply gave up any contact with her, because it was such a toxic experience.

I continued the work on my issues for a number of years, and got to a place where things were relatively stable, and I felt pretty healthy. I’d gained a lot of insight on my own experiences, and how best to move forward after acquiring the explosive and previously forbidden memories of my childhood.

Eventually, I pursued in-depth spiritual studies as a way to find not just the answers, but the much more important questions. Years of self-study and informal classes in spiritual matters led me to a Multi-Cultural Shamanic apprenticeship, which I undertook for the period of a year. At the end of this, I was ordained as clergy, and I was also attuned as a Reiki Master healer and teacher. And yet, the more I’ve learned, the more I realize that the universe is a vast, mysterious and wonderful place. There are endless volumes of information about what I don’t yet know. I have a deep respect for each person’s spiritual path – that which calls to them is right for them, and I don’t believe anyone has a right to second-guess that. A sense of humility underlies my own practice and approach to healing and spirituality.

For a year or more, I’ve felt a deep sense of unease throughout the depths of my psyche. I’ve known also that the roots of this unease were tied to life events which took place in early childhood – events of which I had very little recollection, or none whatsoever. I’ve found myself dodging the feelings, and having very little interest in what was behind them. On some instinctive level, I know that the foundation of these feelings is substantial, and something that threatens to shift my entire world in ways that I cannot anticipate, and for which I’m not prepared.

During my adult life, I’ve learned that many or most of the moments and influences during my childhood were not something I could simply “remember” like most people. And the more extreme the experience, the more pronounced the containment features that were put in place to prevent me from consciously knowing the information, then or even now – at least, until recently. Yet, rather like a nuclear waste repository within a mountain, eventually the containment breaks down.

The flashbacks have begun unbidden, intruding on my consciousness in ways that are disruptive, unpleasant, and quite surreal. These are the “worst of the worst,” so horrible as to truly be something I cannot attempt to describe, even in the broadest terms, without a very real risk of psychic or emotional damage to the reader or listener. Additionally, I’ve found that even some experiences which I’ve been able to recall for a brief time are often re-submerged into the inky depths of my psyche after an initial, brief appearance in my conscious knowingness. After horrific flashbacks, I’ll talk about them with my partner, or write about them in my journal or book, and then the memory dissipates from my conscious mind, like fog on a winter’s morning. I understand that this is a form of self-protection, and so have given up on my insistence that the memories stay available to me at this point.

I’ve come to the realization that all of my learning, all of the time I’ve spent in therapy, all of my spiritual training, all of my training as a Peer Counselor – all of my life experiences and knowledge, period – have brought me to this place. I am now faced with the most difficult work of my entire life. It is scarier than anything I have known or attempted previously, and I’m not ashamed to say that some days I simply don’t want to “go there.” I also know that I’m better off not making this journey of exploration and recovery without assistance, especially given all I’ve learned about my own rather complex coping mechanisms.

I will be working with a psychiatrist to fine-tune the anti-depressant piece and offer short-term assistance with the night terrors and insomnia, as well as the most extreme PTSD anxiety I’ve ever experienced. Many days, I find myself in an adrenaline overload, shaking, nauseated, and confused. I’m not someone to reach for medication as an answer to life’s everyday issues, but in this case I would be negligent in my self-care if I didn’t ask for the resources that are so obviously needed in the short term.

Finding a psychiatrist who both takes my insurance ~and~ who’s willing to deal with my particular set of issues has been a real challenge. The first doctor I consulted, after a rather exhaustive search, is now known in our household as “Doctor Asshat.” The guy talked a good game, and then – after two sessions – proceeded to inform me that he didn’t even know how to bill insurance, and so couldn’t see me anymore. (He still has my insurance card, even after multiple requests for its return. I’ll be contacting the State Medical Board about him.)

I am also looking for a therapist who is a good fit for my particular experiences. I need someone who can manage their counter-transference, especially, since I have ended up feeling like I have to “protect” other therapists in the past. The experiences I’ve had are so bad that I’ve had previous therapists in tears, even when I describe them in broad terms, omitting as much detail as possible. This time around, things promise to be even bumpier, and I need to have the freedom to vent (at least to some degree) without having to worry about “taking care of” the person who’s helping me to negotiate the dark wilderness of these recovered memories.