Monthly Archives: February 2011

Oh- you mean it’s ok to take the mask off?

I was suffocating.  Tears were streaming down my face and snot was beginning to block my nose but my mouth remained closed.  I was not going to ‘disappoint’ or be a bad girl.  Regardless of the pain and fear.  Regardless of the pillow jammed against my face I was not going to give him a reason to prolong the agony.  I knew that by staying as quiet as I could that it would soon be over.  Either by my dying or his leaving, it would soon be over.

The beep from the machine was a welcome sound.  It meant I’d soon be freed from this horror.  My body was shaking and still partly in past but my mind was mercifully in present once again.  I was safe.  It was okay.  I was in a room in a doctors office having a test done.  The monster from 47 years ago was nowhere near me.   The door opened and the nurse came in to remove the mask that had triggered the flashback.

The scenario above happened to me yesterday.  I started my morning going for a metabolism test that requires the wearing of a mask for about 15 minutes.  The mask covers your nose and mouth with a tube connected to a machine that measures ‘stuff’.  (Not sure what exactly ‘what stuff’ because I really just wanted to get the hell out of there.  I’ll find out later this week)  The people at this place are great and the nurse was surprised to find me crying and still wearing the mask despite my obvious distress.  Naturally she asked what was wrong.  When I told her it was a flashback, a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), she asked why I had not just taken the mask off.  TAKE THE MASK OFF??!!!!   That’s what most people would have done if they were uncomfortable.  Anyone who had a cold, or was feeling uncomfortable in any way, would have simply removed the mask, opened the door to the room and told someone they were having difficulty.  I’m not ‘most people.’

The effects of childhood sexual abuse on adult survivors are numerous.  Physical, psychological, spiritual damage is done.  And while we can go on to live healthy and amazing lives, there are still some challenges and a long list of symptoms.  Yesterday’s event brought to the surface a few of mine that I share below.  These don’t apply to everyone, but they are my truth.  I am sharing them to help other survivors know they are not alone, to help others understand the impact of sexual abuse and to remind myself how important the work of Voice Found is.

These are a few of the ways that being sexually abused by a trusted neighbour from the time I was 5 till age 7  has affected me:

1) Wanting to please, to not disappoint in any way,  regardless of personal discomfort.

2) Slipping back into the role of ‘little girl’ and not questioning someone of perceived authority.

3) Feelings of extreme panic that spring out from nowhere.  Flight or fight responses so intense that it takes a day to recover.

4) Addiction.  My drug of choice right now is food.  Considering other addictions that I’ve beat – at least this one is legal.

5) Fear of dentists, darkness and being alone in the woods.  I face each one of them regularily and refuse to let the fear keep me from living.

6) Struggles with depression.  I’ve been on medication for about 25 years to manage depression that once had me suicidal.

7) Flashbacks or triggers that surprise me.  Seriously sucks to have some random thing trigger a response that is inappropriate to the situation or time.  I hate most when I start crying.  It’s freaking embarrassing to have tears fall at a routine dental exam or some seemingly little thing that someone says.  It starts a cycle of self-chastising that causes more tears.

The good news?  You BET there’s good news.  GREAT news in fact.   I am strong, resilient, compassionate, genuine and (mostly) positive.  I’m courageous and loving.  I’ve discovered that it is possible to live a full and wonderful life and that there are good people in the world.  It is a choice.  A choice to be whole.  At times it is not an easy choice but my life and the life of the people I love make the journey to wholeness worthwhile.

Grief and Anger along the way

I’ve been looking at my healing journey lately and discovered a place that needed to be revisited.  Healing is like that.  Whether a physical or a psychological wound, healing is a process that is not entirely linear.  Yes, there are stages and for the most part a sort  of  ‘gate’ that you pass through from one stage to the other, but there can be setbacks.  I think it’s important that I share this publicly so others going through this do not feel alone.  There is no need to hide or feel like a ‘failure’ if you take what seems like a step back.   We’re so damned good at beating ourselves up – it’s time to stop!

Grief and anger are the places I’ve been revisiting.  It’s not a conscious choice but rather emotions that surprise me at their intensity.  Sadness just seems to swoop in and leaves me exhausted.  I sob deeply as if I am going through the first stage of healing again.  Thankfully I have the tools and wisdom of experience now to know that this will pass, that it is ok, that life IS worth living.  I grieve all the many losses.  I will never know what it is like to have the gift of virginity to give to a man from a loving place.  I will never know what a carefree childhood feels like.  I have much to grieve.  It is then that the anger comes.  So much f**king anger that I even have to feel this anymore.

Does this revisiting mean I am slipping backwards?  Does what I am feeling make me weak somehow?  I say no.  I say that it is what I need to do or feel at the time.   No one can or should tell me – or you – what is right in your journey.  There IS no right or wrong.  Whatever you feel or experience is valid.  Just don’t go it alone.  If you have only just made the choice to heal, you need support.  If you are in the ’emergency’ stage, it is CRITICAL  to have support and resources.   A couple of great online resources are: ASCA and 1in6.

I’ve been an addict. I’ve been abused.  I’ve faced death and I’ve almost taken my own life.  Know that you CAN and WILL move through and that you can create a life worth living.  To do otherwise is to let the bad guys win.

Copied below is a synopsis of the stages of healing taken from  ‘The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse’ by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass *

The decision to heal
Once you recognize the effects of sexual abuse in your life, you need to make an active commitment to heal. Deep healing only happens when you choose it and are willing to change yourself.

The emergency stage
Beginning to deal with memories and suppressed feelings can throw your life into utter turmoil. Remember, this is only a stage. It won’t last forever.

Remembering
Many survivors suppress all memories of what happened to them as children. Those who do not forget the actual incidents often forget how it felt at the time. Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling.

Believing it happened
Survivors often doubt their own perceptions. Coming to believe that the abuse really happened, and that it really hurt you, is a vital part of the healing process.

Breaking the silence
Most adult survivors kept the abuse a secret in childhood. Telling another person about what happened to you is a powerful healing force that can help you get rid of the shame of being a victim.

Understanding that it wasn’t your fault
Children usually believe that abuse is their fualt. Adult survivors must place the blame where it belongs – directly on the shoulders of the abusers.

Making contact with the child within
Many survivors have lost touch with their own vulnerablity. Getting in touch with the child within can help you feel compassion for yourself, more anger at your abuser, and a greater intimacy with others.

Trusting yourself
The best guide for healing is your own inner voice. Learning to trust your own perceptions, feelings and intuitions becomes a basis for action in the world outside.

Grieving and mourning
As children being abused and later, as adult struggling to survive, most survivors haven’t felt their losses. Grieving lets you honour your pain, let go, and more into the present.

Anger: The backbone of healing
Anger is a powerful and liberating force. Whether you need to get in touch with it or have always had plenty to spare, directing your rage squarely at your abuser, and at those who did not protect you even if they could have done so, is essential to healing.

Disclosures and confrontations
Directly confronting your abuser is not for every survivor, but it can be a dramatic, cleansing tool.

Forgiveness
Forgiveness of the abuser is not absolutely required as part of the healing process, although it is often the most recommended. The only essential forgiveness is to forgive yourself.

Spirituality
Having a sense of a power greater than yourself helps you in your healing process. Your spirituality is unique to you. You might find it through traditional cultural practices, through organized religion, meditation, nature, or a support network.

Resolution and moving on
As you move through these stages again and again, you will reach a point of integration. Your feelings and perspectives will stabilize. You will come to terms with your abuser and other family members. While you won’t erase your history, you will make deep and lasting changes in your life. Having gained awareness, compassion, and poer thorugh healing, you will have the opportunity to work toward a better world.
*Exerpt from:
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass
Harper & Row, New York, 1988