Flashback Sunday

please read with caution for this post as references to sexual abuse and PTSD symptoms

Sunday 2:00am I’m not sleeping yet. Why am I not asleep? I really need to sleep.

Sunday 4:00 am I wake, with a start, my heart pounding, anxiety sky rocketing, something is wrong. But, nothing is wrong. Everything is fine. And it’s only been 2 hours since the last time I checked the clock.

Sunday 5:40 am half awake, half asleep, and the flashback hits me. It’s not fully a dream, not fully a flashback because I’m still in bed, still laying in the dark. This isn’t a new memory, and yet it is. It’s new because there’s more. Gaps filled in, and sound is added– in peices. Snapshots flash by, and emotions overwhelm. Physical memories hit me, full force. Everything at once. I’m frozen there, unable to move out of it, terrified and alone. I’m small. I can’t do anything, I have no power. I’m scared. I need to do everything right. I just need to make it okay, please him, follow directions. Oh God, I’m so scared. Why can’t I just do it right? He’s so much bigger. I have to listen. He’s nice to me, he does nice things, he is not mean. He says I’m a good girl.


I’m jolted from the flashback as Hubby’s alarm goes off. His alarm is the loudest, most annoying alarm you ever heard.

Hubby gets up, and I resort to all my tricks for grounding. Lavender. Mints. Looking in the mirror and telling myself I’m an adult, I am 31 years old and it’s 2014 and I’m safe. Eventually I resort to hiding under the covers.

When Hubby leaves for work, I stuff my face with ice cream while I make a cup of coffee without even realizing it. Once I realize it, I eat more ice cream. And then I run for the bathroom. I’m stupid. Gross. Bad. I’ve ruined everything. I’m evil. Terrible. Corrupt. I throw up the ice cream. Again and again, until I know it’s all gone. Some of the pressure is received, it’s better. I’m better. I might be able to face the day. I’m still bad.

Then, I shower. I stay in the shower until Kat gets up. I feed her breakfast, play with her, maybe cuddle. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I was too dissociated.

When the Nanny shows up, I go back in the bath tub. I’m dirty, I’m gross, I need to bathe. I end up frozen and unable to move, and I stay in the tub almost all day. I’m crazy. Literally, crazy. Who does that? It’s not normal. People don’t spend hours in the bath because they feel dirty and then get frozen and can’t get out. It’s not normal.

Later, I write in my journal about it, including an attempt to write about the memory. I plan to give it to Bea on Momday. Except I don’t give it to her on Momday, because I can’t face the memory. And I don’t tell her I spent Sunday in the bathtub because I am afraid she will think I’m insane.


this post continues talk of childhood sexual abuse, please read with caution, it may be triggering to some people

I walk in, my head down. I’m unable to really meet her gaze. On Monday, we discussed the beginning of my nightmare. The nightmare that we are now accepting as memory. Between Monday and today, I stupidly sent her the rest of the memory, including what happens when I wake up.

Bea, for her part, is calmly sitting in her chair, catching up on emails. I go about setting my stuff down, my back to her, and then settle myself in place on the couch, curled in a ball already. I don’t hide my face, but I don’t look at her, either.

I finally manage a weak, “hi.”

Bea smiles, says, ” Good morning,” and decides to take the indirect route to therapy this morning. “I’m catching up emails. It’s amazing how many emails I get sometimes.” She smiles when she says this.

“It’s because you let people email you,” I say.

“Sometimes, it’s easier for people to write than talk. You aren’t the only one who finds it safer to email, or to write. Lots of people prefer writing to talking.” She says.

Okay, then. Maybe she didn’t plan this, but she sure is making a point, now. I tell her that sometimes I feel bad for emailing so much, and that I wish she would just bill me for my emails.

“Well….I don’t believe insurance allows for that, so I won’t bill for it. And emails aren’t a big deal for me. It’s an easy way for people to keep in touch, stay connected, and get things out when it’s too hard to say the words. It’s okay, emails are okay with me.”

We talk about insurance for a while, because I happen to know a lot about billing procedures and codes and how companies work— thanks to the work I did in getting hubby’s company to adopt autism coverage— and then I tell her that if it’s ethical, she can always give families my email if they would like help with any autism stuff. I have a lot of knowledge, and a bit of a different view of receiving a diagnosis than most families. When Kat was diagnosed, it was a relief; we knew what was going on, we could help her now. The hard part was finding the help, getting the insurance coverage, and getting the services put together. Bea agrees with me that I would be an excellent resource and says that she just might take me up on that offer one day for some families.

And then we begin discussing Kat, and her feelings, her trauma. She has been saying she is “bad” lately, alternating with saying the little girl who hurt her is “bad.”

“It’s part of that magical thinking. When you’re four, you think the world revolves around you. If something bad happens, you believe you caused it. It’s developmentally where she is. We just keep teaching her that she didn’t cause it, as she grows and we keep teaching this, she will believe it. And then the next step is that we provide her with some good play date experiences so she can see that not all kids will hurt her, ” Bea says.

I can’t follow the conversation. I’m stuck on the “magical thinking” and believing it is your fault. I’m stuck on Bea saying Kat will grow to believe it’s not her fault, that she isn’t bad. I never grew to believe that. I’m terrified Kat is going to be me one day. I can’t move past that thought, it’s circling around and around in my head.

Bea has stopped talking. She looks at me. I look back, I’m so upset, I can’t stand it. I’m holding back tears with all that I have. I finally mange to say “I didn’t…..” And I can’t say more, because the tears will fall, and surely if they start to fall, they will drown me.

“Didn’t what?” Bea asks, gently.

“Didn’t stop thinking that it was me.”

“Oh,” Bea says, understanding crossing her face, “Well, what happened to you was secret. Kat has been protected, the situation has been stopped, she is in therapy, she is being allowed to process it, we are talking about it, everything you should have had, that you didn’t have, you have given to Kat. She’s getting everything she needs. This trauma will be processed and filed away properly. It won’t be like yours. Will the emotions be triggered at a later time in her life? Maybe. But I imagine it would be like when we lose someone close to us, and it triggers feelings of other losses we have experienced. It’s not like we relive those losses. It’s not the same as your memories and feelings.”

Tears are streaming down my face now, I can’t stop them, and I’m not even trying. “She won’t be me?” I ask.

“No,” Bea says, “she won’t have memories like yours, she won’t hurt like you do over this.”

“I can’t have her be me, I can’t have her hurt like this. She can’t. It can’t happen.” I’m a mess now, hiding my face, I can’t stop crying.

“I know. She won’t be. She will be okay.”

Bea gives me a few minutes, and then she asks me if I slept last night.

I shake my head. “I’m afraid to sleep. And then I had it again last night.”

“My heart really grieves for that little girl, for all the things she went through in just that one memory,” Bea tells me. I’m not looking at her, but her voice is full of compassion.

I don’t want to hear this. It’s too much. How can she think like this? Doesn’t she see? Doesn’t she see that child is bad? I say nothing, I can’t get any words out, can’t question her on why she can’t see what I can so plainly see.

Bea continues, “I think it’s really poignant that such simple childhood things are so tainted by this memory. An episode of Full House, a favorite nightgown, with a matching one for your doll, sewn for you as a birthday gift by an Aunt with love, a back rub– something that should make a child feel safe and loved, cared for. All those little things, so many of us take for granted as happy symbols of childhood. And they are all entwined with this terrible thing that happened to you.”

Bea asks me then, “He helps you change into your nightgown, and you clearly state that you are too big to need help. Do you remember what you were feeling? Do you know?”

I’m back there, then, just so suddenly, I’m on the edge of here and there. I can’t answer her right away, I’m lost for a minute, stuck in the memory. Finally, I manage to tell her, “I didn’t want him to touch me. It…it….” My stomach feels sick, nauseas, “it felt yucky.”

“Yeah,” Bea says softly, kindly, as if she is speaking to a little child, “You didn’t want him to touch you.”

I say nothing then, I’m curled into myself, lost in my memory, yet I’m in that strange place of being there, but not, here, but not. It’s the edge of being in a trauma memory, where you can remember, but where you aren’t so far gone that you don’t realize where you are. It’s an odd place to be, and something you can not really begin to understand if you have never been there. I suppose it’s similar to being in that half awake, half asleep state, when you can still remember your dreams, and yet you realize your dreams aren’t really real, but the real world seems a bit fuzzy, a bit off. It’s a bit like that, except my memories are real, and I’m very much awake.

“I let him touch me,” I tell Bea. My voice sounds far away to my own ears.

“Let him? Or had no choice? No options? You just very clearly stated to me that you didn’t want him to touch you.”

“I move toward him! He’s touching me and I move to him!” I whisper it, I’m ashamed, vulnerable in saying this out loud. Bea has read this in my email of the memory; she has read all the ugly, shameful details. But saying it out loud holds new fear, it makes it more real. I move back into the couch, as far as I can get and curl my legs into myself as much as I can. I want to disapear. If I could move, I might get up and walk out. But I’m frozen in place.

I hear Bea sigh. It is a sad sigh, and she says quietly, like she is talking to a terrified person (which I suppose she is, at that point), “Because some of those things feel good. Because our bodies are made to respond to touch. Because he groomed you from a young age to accept this as okay, because you had nowhere else to go. That’s part of the trauma; you weren’t developmentally ready to feel those things physically or emotionally. That’s why you felt so confused, it’s why you were sick and scared, and felt good. Even when teenagers, or young audits start having sex for the first time, it can be overwhelming physically and emotionally, a lot to deal with. How is a child supposed to deal with that? That’s where dissociation comes in. And that’s what happens at the end of this memory, right? You dissociated. You protected yourself the only way you could.”

I don’t answer, I’m crying again. Too many emotions are swirling through me, and I don’t know what they are.

“I don’t understand. I just don’t understand.” I say, finally.

Bea sits with me, but she lets me cry, lets me have the space to do so. I’m still fighting the damn tears.

I finally gather my courage and ask her something that is killing me, not knowing…..I think I know, but I don’t know for sure, but everything in me tells me that something happened even though I have no memory of it— or at least, no memory as an adult would understand it—- but I am simultaneously doubting myself and berating myself. And I can’t look at it, sift through it, think about it too much.

“Bea….do you think….I mean….did he……did…..I can’t say it. You asked me on Monday, if it happened in this nightmare memory.”

“Do I think he had sex with you?” She asks me.

I cringe, try to move farther away, but I nod.

Bea pauses, I can tell she is thinking, even though I’m not looking at her. “I guess, I want to know why you are asking, what you think, what an answer would mean to you,” she says.

“No,” I say, “just answer my question. I NEED to know.”

“I don’t want my answer to be more traumatizing, or upsetting, I’m asking those questions to try to figure out what you are thinking, why you are asking me,” she says.

I don’t want to talk about this, I just want an answer, if I wanted to look at things, think about things, I wouldn’t have asked her.

“Because…I don’t want to look at it….because I feel like it matters. Because I don’t know why. I’m fine, I’m okay. I just need to know. You’ve read all my memory cards, you know everything I know. I just need to know what you think.” I say this almost desperately, because I don’t want to tell her what I think, I don’t want to admit it out loud, I can’t.

But then Bea asks me, anyway, and I tell her. I say, “yes.”

“I think so, too,” she says, sounding sad. She sounds sadder than I feel.

But then I’m crying, and I’m mad. I don’t know who or what I’m mad at, or how I’m crying and mad, it just is.

WHY? WHY?” I scream it at Bea.

She doesn’t answer right away, but when she does, she tells me she doesn’t know, that there are no answers, that no one really knows.

“What did I do? What’s wrong with me?” I ask.

“Nothing. Nothing. You did nothing, there is nothing wrong with you. You aren’t bad, you weren’t bad.” She reassures me.

I cry a while longer, and finally calm down. The rest of my session is spent on grounding, and calming. I leave feeling raw and exposed, but pretending to be okay. I don’t know how else to get through this.

Progress, however slow

if you have an eating disorder, if you self-harm, if you have been sexually abused, those things are mentioned in this post. Please read with caution

I’m making progress. It’s slow and twisty, and doesn’t really feel like progress right now, but still, it’s progress.

Driving to therapy today, my stomach was a twisted bunch of knots. I could feel, in my body, that I was anxious. I was running late, I knew what Bea was planning to talk about, and I knew what I was planning to talk about. I also hadn’t seen her since admitting that I wasn’t really okay; that cutting and restricting my eating are now daily occurrences. But still, I was feeling an emotion in my body, and recognizing it. I’m not sure that has ever really happened in my life.

I arrived, and walked in, and my defense of “perfect me” kicked into high gear. I went into chatty mode.

“Good morning, ” I said, setting my things down, and sitting in my usual spot on the couch.

“Good morning,” Bea said. She seemed to be sizing me up, trying to figure out what was going on in my head. Before she could get out a question, or start with any serious talk, I jumped in with a Kat story, and some updates on how things had gone after Kat’s last session with Bea. We chatted about that for a little bit, and then, finally, she looked pointedly at the clock and said, “well, we should really switch gears, and try to talk about some of your stuff.”

I hid my face. This was not what I wanted to do. Not at all. It’s hard, to be an adult and be in therapy. No one is making you go. No one is forcing you to be there. You have chosen to be there, of your own free will, because you know you need help, yet it’s still so hard to talk, to get out the words, to say what needs to be said. I always feel like I am being a difficult teenager by not speaking, instead of the 30 year old woman that I am.

“Did you bring you drawing?” Bea asked me. She was referring to a drawing I had done, last week, of how I see the inside of my head. It gets difficult to explain (and is really another post in and of itself) but I feel like I have a “room” in my head I go to when I want to be more detached from things, more numb. It’s not true dissociation, exactly, but perhaps a precursor, or a very, very mild form of it. In trying to explain how I had been numb and dissociated and in the room and now was back in the room because I wasn’t okay to her last week, I ended up drawing out how I picture the inside of my head for her. Unfortunately, the one I drew in therapy wasn’t exactly right, and so I went home and drew it again. I took a picture, and sent it to her, along with a very detailed explanation. After that, Bea “got” it. And then she wanted to know what it was like to be out of the room.

I nodded, In answer to her question, and pulled out my drawing of my “internal landscape”, as well as my explanation of what it is like to be out of the room. And then I handed them over.

“This is awesome, so rich,” Bea told me, “This visual just puts it all in perspective, it all makes perfect sense.”

I don’t say anything, I just stare at her, feeling a little bit silly and exposed.

“Can I read this? The what it’s like to be out of the room?”

“Yeah,” I say.

And so she reads. Bea is a fast reader. She’ll read about how I felt more connected, how if felt like I could feel what others were feeling and not just intellectually understand, she’ll read about the giggle fest I had with Kat and how I couldn’t stop being silly. She’ll read about how I started to feel like I could maybe give up the idea of who I “should” be and just be who I was, or at least have the freedom to find who I was. She’ll read about how all these emotions hit me from all sides, the anger and shame at myself that might have swallowed me whole if I named it, the guilt, the fear and anxiety that were stronger than I ever felt. She’ll read about how I was more connected to my body than I remember being, and how that’s when those terrorizing physical memories started.

She nods, and looks up. “This is all good stuff, so much good stuff. But then there is some scary stuff too, isn’t there? That’s why the cutting started? And the restricting?”

I’m looking down now, but I manage to whisper, “yes.”

We sit in silence for a minute, and then Bea asks me what I’m thinking.

I struggle to get the words out, and when I do they are choppy and whispered. I’m afraid of the answer; a yes or a no is frightening. “Can nightmares be memories?”

“Sometimes. It depends on the nightmare, on the symbolisms, how much symbol is is in it, what is happening in it. But, yes, they can most definitely be memories, or parts of them can be memories.”

I’ve managed not to hide my face, but I’m still looking down, and I can’t get anymore words out. Thankfully, Bea helps me. “Are you having a new nightmare?”

I nod. And then, feeling terrified to even speak, I say, “it’s all new.”

“Do you want to try to tell it to me?” Bea asks.

I had written it down a few nights ago, it never changes, it’s always the same. I pull it out of my notebook, and hand it over to her. And in that moment, I thank God that she just accepts my difficulty and fear of speaking, and that she takes the papers and reads them. I also hide my face, I don’t want to see her reaction, and I don’t want her to see me.

“Is it the same, everytime?”

I nod my head, whisper, “exactly the same. Nothing changes.”

“How long have you been having this nightmare?”

“A week? Two?” I guess. Time smushes together, I can’t be sure.

“It’s very vivid, it feels too real to be just a nightmare. I agree with you that it’s a memory,” Bea says, and I feel,better, less crazy.

“It’s so real. So, so real,” I say.

“Does the nightmare end where you stopped writing, or does it go beyond this?” She asks. Oh, Bea knows me too well by now. I couldn’t write the rest, I can’t face the rest.

“There’s more,” I say, and I think I can’t breathe now, but I manage to hold it together somehow, “I’m so scared in it.”

“Yeah,” she says, “when you wake up, do you remember what you feel? Or do you feel anything?”

I’m curled into myself now, as far back from her as I can be, and as small as I can make myself. I can’t focus, I’m not really “here” anymore, I’m more “there.”

“I’m scared. I’m alone. All alone. No one to help me. I need to hide, just go hide……” My voice is a whisper, and my words are choppy and laced with fear.

“Alice. Alice,” Bea says, “We need to back up. We need to come back a little bit…..”

Her voice is fuzzy sounding, but eventually I’m listening, and she’s naming 5 things she sees, 5 things she hears. I’m more grounded.

We talk, but no more about that nightmare. Bea tells me about an eating disorders conference she went to this weekend. I listen, and I know she wants to ask me what I have been doing, food wise, but she doesn’t.

When I’m more calm, I ask her if I’m crazy. She tells me no. “But I feel crazy,” I say.

“Well, yes, trauma therapy can make you feel that way. All these emotions bubbling up, and memories that you didn’t know you had, and flashbacks popping up, and nightmares, and lack of sleep, and anxiety…..it’s crazy making, and can make you feel crazy. But you aren’t crazy.”

“I do crazy things, though,” I tell her.

“They aren’t crazy things. You aren’t bad, either. You needed some heavy duty coping skills for what you were dealing with all your life. You found those coping skills in disordered eating and cutting. They aren’t the best tools for your tool box, but they work, you know they work, they are hard for you to give up, they give you that sense of control you so desperately need to have. The more you heal, the less you’ll need those things. You aren’t crazy, you don’t do crazy things.”

I’m afraid I’m going to wear her out, but I risk it anyway, ” Are you tired of waiting for me to stop taking this so slow? Are you getting annoyed with me yet?”

Bea just looks at me kindly, and shakes her head no, “I told you when we first started meeting that safety comes before all else. You need to feel safe. If taking things slow is what makes this safe, then that’s good, that’s all that matters. I told you I was committed to take this journey with you, I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere.”

I nodded, “okay.”

I really hope she’s telling the truth.

It took strength, and it took courage

Hubby knows. He knows about the sexual abuse from childhood, and he knows about my abusive relationship in college. He doesn’t know about the eating disorders, the cutting, the aftermath. But he knows about a major part of my history. And, he still loves me. Let me say that one more time. In his own words, Nothing about how I view you has changed, except I maybe have more respect for you. I still love you.

Shall we rewind, and start at the top, as they say?

Yesterday 8:00am

I walk into Bea’s office, nerves flying around. She had emailed me the night before, in response to my email stating that I wanted to cancel the appointment we had set to tell hubby. I sat on the couch in my customary position; as far back as I could, knees drawn up to chest, curled into myself.

She didn’t waste much time, she said good morning, and then, “We need to meet with Hubby. We need to keep that appointment, Alice.”

I sighed. I hid my face. I counted in my head. I picked my fingers. I looked up. “I’m not ready. I don’t want to do this.”

“He needs to know. It’s not fair for him to not know, he’s left in the dark. He needs an explanation. What is going to make you feel ready?”

I don’t answer. Nothing will make me feel ready. I’ve held this secret inside for so long, that letting it out seemed wrong. Letting it out to Bea, however, was fairly safe, the secret was still contained. Letting it out to hubby was a whole different can of worms.

Finally Bea sighs. She looks sad. “I really didn’t want to be this direct. I spoke with Marge. Hubby indicated to her that he didn’t want to stay in the relationship if things didn’t change.” She’s looking at me with so much empathy that I can’t stand it, I hide my face.

My heart feels frozen. I think it might break, if it weren’t froze. I think I might feel hurt, pain, maybe mad, confusion, fear, I feel abandoned. He wants to leave. I knew It. I can’t speak. There is a lump in my throat, and words can’t get past.

“That’s hard, isn’t it?” Bea says. I nod. “That’s why we need to keep the appointment.”

I find my voice, although it cracks. “I…I am not…not telling him if he is leaving.”

“I don’t think he wants to leave,” she says,”I see love, when I see him with you. I think he is really confused by some of your behaviors.”

We talk, and because I had not yet told hubby I wasn’t going with him to see Marge, I send him a text message that reads:

Bea and Marge talked and decided it would be better if we meet with Bea first. Would Tuesday at 4:30 work?

Hubby responds with “ok”.

The rest of my session was spent on my mom. (That will have to be a whole separate post).

After therapy, I went to the park, and spent some time in the quiet, writing a letter to hubby. I told him all the reasons I was afraid to tell him my trauma. I also began to think about how far away Tuesday was. The more I thought, the more I didn’t want to wait. I finally sent Bea a text. One thing led to another, and the next I thing I knew, the appointment was moved to 5:30pm that night.

4:45pm Thursday night
I’m not sure what hubby is thinking about the session we are on our way to, or what he thinks we will be doing there. I haven’t said a thing about it all afternoon, and on the drive there, I keep dissociating. I’m fighting to remain grounded, but it’s hard. We chat off and on during the drive there, and I send several panicked text messages to Bea, as well.

Once we get there, my stomach begins to feel like I am on a free falling elevator. Heading upstairs, I lead the way. Bea greets us with a smile, and she gives me a reassuring look. I sit down in my usual spot and curl up like I normally do. Hubby sits next to me, but not too close. It’s almost as if he is aware of the walls I have around me. I am half hiding my face, not looking at hubby or Bea. Hubby must have given Bea a look regarding how I was sitting — he had never seen me like that– because she said, “This is really hard.” Hubby replied that he could see that.

Bea asked me if I had said anything about tonight’s session, and I shook my head. She said okay. I felt a little bit like I was the “naughty child” who had neglected to do what she was supposed to do, but Bea seemed to be calm about it. I said I had written a letter, and I got the letter out. I had hubby go out to the waiting room to read it.

While he read the letter, I had a mini freak out. Bea asked about the letter. I told her it referenced trauma in general, and that I had tried to explain my reasons for being afraid of this comversation. She reassured me things would be okay, and I was about to practice saying my two sentences, when hubby let himself back in.

He sat back down, and started off by saying that he was really glad I brought him to Bea’s with me, and that if I couldn’t or wasn’t ready to say more, he was okay with that. He could see how hard this was. I ended up back in my hiding position, with my face down, and picking at my fingers. The three of us sat like that for a few minutes.

Bea finally broke the ice by beginning to speak about trauma, and childhood trauma specifically. She talked about how as a child the trauma is usually done by someone bigger, stronger, and is usually a secret. She told hubby that even as an adult, it’s so hard to tell anyone about childhood trauma because a part of the adult still feels like that child, and it feels wrong to be telling that secret. She told him that from the outside they can see I did nothing wrong, but from the inside, there is a lot of shame and blame and fear and anger at the self. She talked then about PTSD and dissociation, telling hubby how I might just seem not really there, or might seem a little “out of it”, or how I might seem to be there but I might not really remember events like he would expect me to. She asked me then if I wanted to talk, and explained to Hubby that I had two sentences to say– if I could, because it was hard.

I shook my head. I couldn’t do it. I think if I had told him to go back out and been able to say those words with Bea, alone first, I might have been able to. Those are serious words. And scary. I think it might be important to say them, one day. But last night was not that day.

Bea said them for me, as she had assured me she would, when I was going around in “what if I can’t say it” circles. Hubby reacted the way you would want a person to. Shocked, but not too shocked. Sad, but not so sad they need you to support them. Supportive, and loving. He just wants me to be okay. My big fear is that he may not realize that “okay” could take a long time. Bea told him healing takes a long time. She told him the college relationship is bad, but it is the childhood piece that really forms people and is so hard to heal from.

He finally asked how old I was, and how long? Bea looked at me, and I nodded, so she explained about hazy memories, and dissociation as a defense and how it really is something learned in childhood. It’s why hubby’s version of “checking out” and mine are the same, but different. She told him the best guess we have at this point is age 5 to maybe 10. She also made sure to explain to him that I don’t typically talk about this, she has learned more from email, and then we might circle around it in a therapy session.

They discussed the fact that until I told Bea, in a round-a-bout type way, I had never told, so no adult had been informed when I was a kid. She told him I thought my mom maybe had suspicions at one point, and that caused a lot of anger on my part recently. They talked about how alone I had to have felt, and they both cried a little over that (I feel guilty over that). They talked about how he can help, what I might need on therapy days. I stayed quiet. Bea made suggestions of things he could ask, and did a lot of explaining about random reactions to trauma. In short, I am slowly learning that most of what I do or feel or worry about can be seem as a normal reaction to trauma.

I’m glad Hubby knows. It’s a little weird, but I feel free, lighter. I feel like I don’t have to hide in my own home, in my own life anymore.

Flashback email

What follows is the email conversation between Bea and I regarding the flashbacks of my childhood sexual abuse. These are two instances among many. As far as I can remember, the abuse started when I was around 5 or 6, and ended when I was around 9 or 10. Because my memory is extremely hazy, and I have so many blank spots, I can’t be exactly sure when it started or ended. I debated about sharing this here, and decided that in the end, I want a true account of sexual abuse, and not a sugar coated one. Some may not consider the details below graphic. I would consider them to be graphic. If you are a fellow sexual abuse survivor, please read cautiously, as I am describing 2 separate instances of my abuse. I hope that if you choose to read this post, it gives you understanding of what a sexually abused child goes through, and why an adult still struggles on a day to day basis. It is often harder to share these types of details with our loved ones, than it is with strangers, or therapists, or people on message board support groups. I hope that by sharing the truth of what survivors go through, I can bring awareness to someone’s corner of the world.

I’m frusterated and mad at myself for not being able to talk about this on Monday. I wanted to talk, but I couldn’t. I think I would rather email my memories. I don’t really want to have to sit there and watch you read them. I have 2. Well, I have more than 2, but just 2 that I want to try to talk about. They aren’t full memories, so I don’t have a story to tell you. They are just peices, I guess just like the puzzle peices you were talking about. It feels wrong somehow, not having a whole story to tell… Like I should have the beginning, what happened earlier that day, what the context is, where other people were….but I don’t, I just don’t. You asked me if I could tell it from the end, and I said I didn’t think so. I feel like there isn’t an ending, I don’t know. But these are the “flashbacks” I was dealing with this weekend. I still couldn’t use the words for the “things”. I think you are right. I don’t want to think of those words in relation to childhood. I don’t know. The words just seem too big, too scary, too much. Maybe too real. So you are going to end up having to fill in the blanks anyway. I’m sorry. I still want to try to talk about it. It might only be a few sentences on a page, but they are extremely overwhelming. I told you before I wasn’t scared when I was a kid. That’s true. I don’t remember feeling scared. But now, the scared feeling is very big. I don’t know if it’s because it seems more horrible now that I’m actually (I don’t know what to call it) “looking” at the memories and not doing everything I can to block them out? Or if it’s what you were saying about needing to process something a little bit to be able to have the feelings? Or if it’s because I can’t help but think of it in relation to my own child, and see it as a mother and it horrifies me? Or a combination? And I’m embarrassed. Even though I believe you won’t be judging me, even though you have never made me feel embarrassed over anything. I’m still embarrassed. So, ok. Here’s my ugly stuff

They may just be two “pieces,” but what scary, confusing pieces for a little girl who feels she is with a trusted “friend.” This little girl had to learn to dissociate so that she could keep the idea of this person as a “friend” because the reality of what he was doing was really so terrible that she couldn’t reconcile both views of him (friend and abuser) at the same time. This is how she protected herself.

Was it really that bad? I tell myself it wasn’t– that I shouldn’t be so overwhelmed and confused. You think I was already dissociating before the boyfriend? I was thinking that came from that relationship. I guess that would explain all the blank spots in my memory? And why I can and always have been able to compartmentalize everything– just block out what I don’t want to think about or kmow or feel? I feel like crying– I won’t becasue I don’t cry over big things– I feel very sad. I don’t really even know why. I’m just sad.

I’m sure you started dissociating as a little girl. I have something great to read to you about this tomorrow that will help you understand it all better.

As I said before, you learned to dissociate while this was happening as a protective defense. Truthfully, it really was horrifying and scary–so much so that you had to alter your sense of reality to deal with it.

I’m scared. I feel like it’s going to be important to talk about these things. But even writing them out, I could feel,the same scared I was feeling in your office on Momday– when you told me I looked scared. You said I had to feel the feelings to process these memories. I’m afraid of the feelings. Really afraid. Not so scared that I don’t want to try to deal with this. But scared.

I think every little step brings fresh fear–that’s why we have to let the trauma out little by little, process it, and move on. I think it will get easier as you realize that as you “get used” to the fear it begins to go away. Think about the first thing you talked about, with the boyfriend. There was much fear brought up by that. Does it seem a little less scary when you have that memory now? When you write about it I don’t sense the same level of intensity.

I remember him wanting me to put it in my mouth, to kiss it. Like a Popsicle, he said. I thought it was weird, maybe gross but I did it anyway. I went along with the idea, I didn’t argue, and it’s not like I was threatened or even forced into anything. I just said okay. I don’t really remember the actual “act”of it…it’s just a flash, a picture, a feeling , it’s quick, so I know what I did and I can feel the confusion and…apprehension? I don’t know. I can feel gagging, like I was choking. And then I do remember that there was something more, liquidy and gross warm in my mouth and I thought maybe he had peed in my mouth and I really gagged and I’m trying to move away and get it out of my mouth but he’s holding my head and I can’t move. I just can’t move. then it’s over and he’s my friend again. And he got me the trash can so I could spit the yucky stuff out, and was rubbing my back while I spit up telling me I was okay and then got me a glass of water, and then it really was okay again.

Do you see the total parallel to the scene with the abusive boyfriend? The acting normal afterward, getting you soup? I think you wrote that in an email–if so, go back and read it. The parallel is unmistakeable.

I thought that, when I was writing this. I had a flashback to that other memory. I didn’t write that one to you– I actually spoke it, face to face. 🙂 It was the end of the terrible memory. I do have it written out, I had written it out just in case I couldn’t tell it.

You are proud of having spoken about that!

They both always acted normal later. Well, as much as I remember anyway, they always acted normal. I think I kind of thought it was normal. I don’t know.

They needed it to be normal, both to control you and make it “okay” in at least part of their own minds.

I’m in my bedroom with him, on my rug. I think we had been playing with my barbies. I’m not sure though. But I remember he was touching me– down there,not just on the outside–I thought it was his fingers that were there, but then it seemed like his hands were by my face so I was confused. This is the only time I remember pain. And I remember staring at my barbie doll that was on the rug. And later, there was some blood in my underwear. So I hid them under the bed because I didn’t want to be in trouble.

So scary! So confusing! Now you see why dissociation is such an important defense–you needed it then, or how would you have coped?
I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like this was so big, so awful. Other times I feel like none of it was that bad. And really, there were a lot of times where he just wanted to touch me or kiss me there and that didn’t hurt. It was weird, or even felt good. I’m so tempted to delete that sentence. But I also think you should know that. Because that is where a lot of my guilt is from. Sometimes, I liked it. Do you see now why I am bad?

It was part of his strategy to keep you involved. Some of it had to pleasant so you would agree to go along with what he really wanted to do. He was desensitizing you and making it seem okay.
Do you have any memories of him telling you not to tell, and if so, did he threaten you at all, or was it more of the “our secret” kind of thing? I may have already asked you this.

It was just a secret. A secret “game”. I don’t think he ever said not to tell, or threatened me. That’s what I mean. I was never threatened or forced, I just always agreed.

And he was very skillful at keeping you engaged and making some of it pleasant and fun.

It sucks that I can’t trust my memory. I can’t say for sure if something did or didn’t happen because I don’t remember. I can’t give a timeline, or when things happened, because I don’t kmow. I never thought about these things, or how many blank spaces I have in my mind from childhood, or the fact that I have to try to relate a memory– even a normal everyday memory– to a grade and them try to think of how old I was. It’s so screwed up.

It will make sense when I read you something from an article tomorrow

So that’s it. Could you email me back just to remind me you don’t think I’m this terrible person? Because on one hand, while I know that’s not what you think and I’m almost relieved to be able to not be alone with this anymore, on the other, I am nervous and scared and feeling a little freaked out to be letting someone else into my head this much.

I’m so glad you don’t have to be alone with this anymore! I’m sure it doesn’t feel very “safe” for the little girl to tell, but it is long over and time to heal! Nothing about this makes you a terrible person. This was so much to keep inside for all these years:(

Thank you for understanding this. Half of me is glad it is out, the other half feels like this was a terrible mistake and I should take it back quickly. I feel like a bad person, like there is something deeply wrong with me.

The article speaks to that as well.
We can start with the article if you like, and then see what you are comfortable with after that. I’ll see you tomorrow!

Weekend flashbacks

I struggle to write to Bea. Each time I sit down to write my flashbacks to her, something stops me. I can’t put them I to words. The dishes need to be done. I have a migraine. Kat needs something. I can’t focus.

Flashbacks are a hard thing to describe. In Bea’s own words “Flashbacks can be physical sensations, images, brief snippets. Trauma memories are stored differently than regular memories, so they don’t have beginnings, middles, and ends. They’re just as you describe, and to varying degrees people do keep their awareness of the present while experiencing them. This is what I was explaining about therapy helping to process these pieces that aren’t integrated as normal memories. Over time we create a coherent narrative about what happened–and then they are just memories.” Flashbacks aren’t like they are described in books, are shown in movies. Or, at least, they aren’t for me, I wouldn’t have called them flashbacks. I didn’t know what they were, I thought of them as really alive memories. Then Bea told me I was describing a flashback. It’s just a picture in my head, a quick flash. I know it’s now, not then, but I can literally FEEL THE FEELING THAT GOES WITH THAT PICTURE AS IF IT WERE HAPPENING NOW and it’s the same feeling I experienced at the time the memory originally happened. Sometimes, I can feel a body sensation, too, if there is something significant to go along with it. This is all very quick, and confusing for me. I think in words. I write novels in my head. I made up stories to help myself escape for years. I am a master with words. And yet, these quick flashbacks are next to impossible to put into words.

I get up at 4:30am on Tuesday. By 9:00am I have 2 sentences of one flashback written. 2 sentences. I am so frusterated. Why is this so hard? To make matters even worse, it turns out I can’t write the sex words, so Bea is going to have to play a fill in the blank type guessing game after all. By 9:00pm Tuesday, I have a few more sentences written. By 9:00am Wednesday, I have both flashbacks written out. They are each only a few sentences on a page.

I look at that and wonder, how can something so overwhelming, so terrible, disgusting, awful, scary, wrong only take up a few sentences on a page? How is that possible?

Once it’s all written out, I paste it into an email. I squeeze my eyes shut, and wonder if Bea is going to think I am a bad person after she knows the truth about me. I tell myself it will be fine. I hit send.

Terrorized weekend

“So what happened this weekend?” Bea asks.

I’m curled into her couch, eating a mint, playing with silly putty, already half hiding my face. She’s asking because this weekend was a family reunion for my mothers side of the family, and my parents hosted. It’s the first time I have been back to my childhood home since I asked the question that changed everything. Bea already has some idea what happened. I sent her several panicked emails. Like the amazing therapist that she is, she responded quickly to each of them.

I finally shake my head. I don’t really know what to say.

Bea tries a different approach. “Did you find any wine you liked?” She knew on Friday, we would be touring several wineries .

“Yes,” I say, excited, “the one winery had my plum wine again. They haven’t had it since we got Kat to sleep through the night. Hubby got me 3 bottles!”

We talk about wine, and how hubby finally was able to make it to the reunion, and how our nanny/ABA therapist was able to travel with us for the third year in a row which is such a blessing for me and for Kat. We talk of regular everyday things, which brings us right to how hard this weekend was. I feel like crying. I don’t cry, and I won’t. It’s really out of character for me to cry like I did in my first session. That breakdown feels very surreal, like it wasn’t me. I cry over Kleenex commercials, but I don’t cry over my own stuff.

“It was just hard.” I say. I don’t know what else to say. There is so much in me that wants to come out. So many, many words, just waiting to burst forth, but somewhere inside me there is a gatekeeper who stops all the words…..and so I just say, “it was really hard.”

Bea nods. She doesn’t speak. I know she is waiting for me to elaborate. In the beginning of therapy this made me uncomfortable, and so she wouldn’t do it so much. Now, though, she pushes me a little. I start to pick at my fingers, and Bea notices. “Say whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be a complete thought.”

“You know I won’t do that.” I remind her. I’m far to much concerned with perfection to say whatever comes to mind without thinking it over a hundred times before saying it.

“But you said something,” she tells me, grinning.

I smile, in spite of myself.

“I’m not mad at my mother.” I tell her. It’s a sentence that has been hiding in the back of my mind since I got in the car to drive to therapy. The truth is, I might be mad at my mom, but if I admit that, then I might never ever be able to take it back and put the mad feelings back away.

Bea doesn’t say anything for a while. When she does, she speaks so kindly, so full of understanding, I think I can’t handle the understanding she is giving to me. “It’s hard to be mad at the ones who were supposed to love and protect us. We can be mad at someone and still love them. It’s confusing to have conflicting feelings, but it’s possible and okay to have those feelings. If you were mad at your mom, it wouldn’t mean you didn’t love her. You could be mad at her and still love her.”

I don’t say anything back, but part of what she says is what I have been struggling with. Perhaps it’s a concept that most adults are already familiar with. It’s not one I learned. It’s an idea I will tuck away, and think about again and again. Perhaps one day, I will begin to internalize it as a truth.

“I’m so angry at myself!” I scream this out, except my head is down, tucked between my knees and I’m as curled into myself and as tucked into the corner of the couch as I can be. I’ve gone from thinking of why I am mad at my mom to reliving a memory. I’m shaking and mad and scared and confused. Mostly, I’m confused and scared.

The scared is something new. I had told Bea before I was never scared when I was a kid. Now, I’m feeling scared. I think it’s scared. The feeling is so out of place in this memory that it literally takes me a few minutes, and Bea’s help to name.

“Are you still here?” Bea asks.

“Not really.” I tell her.

“Where did you go? Can you tell me?” She asks me.

“Back home– my paremts, when I was a kid. I’m back there, with him. You know.” I tell her.

“You look scared.” She tells me. She’s calm, though. Very calm, suggesting that there is nothing scary happening at all right now.

“No, I don’t.” I say.

“You do,” she says firmly, yet patiently, “the look on your face, the way your eyes are kind of widened, you look scared. Is this a scary memory?”

I pause. I think about it. I’m so confused. “No. I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.” I stop talking and just look at Bea, completely overwhelmed. Finally I say, “I am so confused. And I really want to tell you this, but I can’t because I can’t say the you know what words.”

Bea nods. She knows what I am talking about. She has hypothesized that I am still thinking of the situation from the point of view of my child-self, and so I have no words, because what words would a child have?

“Didn’t you have a solution you wrote in one of our emails?” She asks me.

My face turns red. “I was joking! Well. Mostly joking. I mean, it’s one way I could talk, I guess. But I feel really dumb.” I had said we could write the sex words on flash cards, and whenever I got to a sex word I could just hold up a card instead of saying it. The biggest problem is I don’t think I can write the words on the cards. So I would need Bea to do it, and I feel like a stupid, silly little girl asking her to do that. So, I laugh the whole idea off, and we don’t do anything with it.

Bea circles our session back around to lighter talk. She asks me to fill her in on Kat and how ABA is going. We talk about that for a while until I begin to feel more of my normal level of dissociation. Then, we decide that I will write down and email Bea my two flashbacks from the weekend before my Thursday session, and we will talk about them then.

Grounding solutions

to my fellow abuse survivors, as always, please read with caution. I have put triggering material in italics to the best of my knowledge.

Bea is talking, but I can’t hear her. Things are too hazy, I’m too far gone to really pay attention to what she is saying. Nothing is okay.

“I have no idea what we have been talking about the last twenty minutes,” I finally manage to say.

Bea looks at me, kindly. She has nothing but compassion on her face and I can barely stand it. “I know. That’s why we need to find grounding techniques that work for you. To help you stay in the present. So it’s not so easy for you to fall into your trauma memories.”

By this point, we have had this conversation many times, in session and in email. I know exactly what happens when we start with the grounding techniques, but I don’t have the words to explain why. Just the idea of starting to “ground” myself at this point is enough to raise my anxiety level. I don’t want to talk about why, I don’t want to say the words.

“Can you tell me what you are thinking?” Bea asks me.

I shake my head no. I don’t want to go there. I can’t say the words. It’s embarrassing. It seems silly.

We sit in silence for a few minutes. She seems comfortable with it. I struggle, picking at my fingers, starting at the floor, scooting back into the corner of the couch as far as possible. Finally, I say, “Ok. I can try to explain…….explain why grounding is scary.”

Bea nods, but she doesn’t say anything. Feeling really stupid, I tell her I think I want to turn around. Bea, being Bea, shows no judgement and simply says, “okay.”

I turn around, and then I start telling one memory of my relationship with my abusive ex-boyfriend. I decided to start with telling the end of the memory, as Bea and I had talked about before I fell down the rabbit hole.

I threw up. I couldn’t help it. Luckily I’m close enough to the tile lining the fireplace in the living room that I manage to turn my head and miss most of the carpet. He’s nice again because he’s proved his point, and so he cleans up the vomit and settles me on the couch with a blanket. He says he going to go get me soup and I mumble something that sounds incoherent to my ears about taking a shower. I could have left then. But I didn’t. He’s being nice again and I’m really confused. And no one can know. So I go to the bathroom. Bea remarks on how extremely confusing that had to be. She seems to understand, even now, how I can’t get it straight in my head.
I take a shower. A long shower. It’s as hot as I can stand it but I think I could boil myself in bleach water and I would still feel dirty. I’m so surprised when, during one of my pauses in telling this story, Bea starts talking and she understands this need to shower, this feeling of never ever getting clean again. I believed no one would ever understand this ever. And she really gets it.I use my room mates soap and shampoo because I ran out earlier in the week. Cucumber melon body wash. Bioloage shampoo. Two smells that still can make me sick. The water gets cold and I sit down. I’m freezing now but I feel stuck, like I can’t move. I got out eventually. Got dressed, put myself to bed. But I don’t remember that.
The very end of the story is he brought me vegetable noodle soup and a movie. A walk to remember. And he was nice. So nice, taking care of me like I was really sick. And I’m more confused. It’s like he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Where’s the switch so next time I can flip it back to the nice guy sooner? I don’t remember the movie. I haven’t watched it since, and I spent the night really zoned out, I’m counting down the hours until chem class in the morning. Then I can get out of here for a while.

It takes me a few minutes to collect myself, but I’m surprisingly okay. Of course, I know now that I was pretty dissociated while telling the story, but at the time I didn’t realize that. I managed to share the beginning and the middle of the story with Bea that day, and my grounding struggles began to makes sense to her.

Now, dear reader, some things my therapist was already aware of at this point that you aren’t aware of: I was raised in a very Christian home. I believed in waiting for sex or sexual acts until marriage. I had struggled, off and on, with eating disorders, self harm, OCD, and other behaviors prior to leaving for college. I had been dating the boyfriend for a while, and had made a mistake one night and had slept with him. Okay, now you are mostly up to speed.

My room mate is out. She was always out, even on school nights. My parents were paying the majority of the rent on our apartment because Lindsey was supposed to watch me. But she is hardly around, and I’m glad because we aren’t really friends. She’s a family friend, but that’s it. He comes over, like he does most nights. It hasn’t been very long since that first time we had sex. I don’t have a good timeline in my head for back then, so I don’t know how long. A few days, I think. We’re supposed to go out. Tap room has underage night tonight, and that’s the only night I can go. But first I want to talk. I need to explain that I can’t have sex again. That it was a mistake. That I believe God forgave me, and that I’m going to wait for marriage. He kisses me hello, and we move to the couch. We’re kissing on the couch now and I’m thinking that I should be talking to him but it can wait. But when he moves his hands from my hair down to my chest, I move them, pull back. I start talking. Explaining. I don’t remember what I said. I know it was stupid of me to tell him then. You don’t start making out with your boyfriend and then tell him that you can’t have sex again, that it was a mistake.

He argued with me. He told me that he would marry me one day, so it was ok. He told me that once you do it, it doesn’t matter anymore, you can’t just take it back. I argued back. He smacks me. That’s the first time. Open hand. Across my left cheek and eye. Holy cow, does that hurt. It’s out of nowhere. Why did I think this was going to end up ok? He’s so calm. Not yelling, but mad. Or something. Scary. He’s telling me I liked having sex with him, no good Christian boy is going to want me, I’m a slut. And I still don’t know to keep my mouth shut. I tell him that I didn’t like it. The next I know I’m falling of the couch, my head is hitting my coffee table. And then the next thing I remember is I’m on the other side of the coffee table and my clothes are piled next to me. He’s touching me there. Between my legs. He kept saying he would show me how much I did like it. That he would make me….I can’t say it…type it, write it. I just can’t. I just remember feeling cold and stuck in my head. It was like there was no way this was really happening. I didn’t even think to say “no” or to try to get away. I just laid there. He kept telling me what my body was doing, insisting that I liked it. I felt sick. Nauseas and cold and horrified at what he was saying my body was doing. And then his mouth, tongue between my legs. And then… I can’t say it. I didn’t really know what was happening until he told me. So he was right. It’s like those words are burned into my mind. I can hear it, hear his voice like he’s right here, “see. You are a little slut who likes it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have…..” And I just remember thinking he was right about me. And then I rolled over and threw up.

I tell Bea, then, after that first time, he realized that it upset me. It’s like he got some……pleasure from that. So he would hold me down, and do things, and list out what my body was doing. So I have this list in my head, and it’s everything from how I was breathing to if I moved. So you try to get me to focus on my body and all I can hear is his voice and it’s like I’m back there, just right back there in my nightmare again all over.

Bea, of course, understands. She tells me that this makes perfect sense. She says, “no wonder you have disconnected from your body,” as though I am normal.

We come up with things I can do for grounding. I can chew gum, but I discover that mints work better. I find that naming things I can see help me stay in the present. I find that while smells can help put me back in the present, they can be tricky because of my migraines, so mints and naming what I see and hear are the best techniques I have found.

Talking about talking

for my fellow survivors out there, this post talks about sex, and my opinions/associations with sex at the moment. I have attempted to put triggering material in italics, but please read with caution

As I had decided, I emailed Bea. I told her I wanted to talk about things, that I wished I could explain the flashback I was having in her office, but that I didn’t know how. I told her that so many of my memories of the relationship with the boyfriend had to do with sex, and I couldn’t use the words to tell the memories. I also told her that while I believed she believed she wouldn’t judge me, it seemed more like a nice fairy tale than a true story.

She responded that it seemed as though I was really grappling with trust, and that I was trying to decide if it was safe enough to tell any of these more difficult and scary trauma memories yet. She also acknowledged that it can be painful to talk about sex because it goes against the proper demeanor we set out into the world with each day, and that when there are horrible acts associated with sex it can be unspeakable. She suggested we could talk about sex in general as a way to work up to the other stuff.

I felt like I was testing her; that I would really only know if it was safe to talk to Bea about the boyfriend if I shared a memory, and this memory in particular could help her see why her grounding techniques were more triggering to me, not less. But that was only if I could manage to share it. I wrote her back, stating I felt like the only way to kmow if it was safe was to start talking. I also told her about my inability to talk about sex, and explained that even talking about sex in general would be difficult. I may be a married woman, and I may have a child, but I avoid sex as much as possible. I leave the room when sex scenes come on tv when watching a movie, I skip them in books, or better yet, just avoid the books that would have them in the first place.

Clearly, my anti-sex attitude intrigued Bea. She wrote back with many questions, and two statements. She wanted to know :
when did sex become twisted and bad? it just always was
was it ever a good thing?no
were you ever curious?no. I didn’t want to know about it
were there ever positive feelings towards sex? never. Sex is dirty

Bea suggested that I might tell the memory starting from the end. She said that can be easier sometimes. She said it reaffirms to the person doing the telling that they survived the memory, and that often times, the aftermath or the ending of a memory is less emotionally charged.

She also stated in that same email: One thing to remember–sex gets very complicated because there can be arousal and good sexual feelings associated with horrible things. Bodies react and that can be very shaming and confusing for people.

And that was the statement that sent my world into a tailspin. I didn’t know exactly what she meant, but I’m no dummy, and I had a pretty good idea. I didn’t email her back for a few days, and when I did, I dropped the subject of the boyfriend. I sent her the question that changed everything.