Archive for Traumatic Memories

Children Who Remember Sexual Abuse

summer

Many children who have been sexually abused don’t remember the events that traumatized them. Their brains have the capacity to “forget” trauma. (Trauma describes events that are both inescapable and intolerable.) As a race, we humans survived famines, wars and other terrible events, thanks to the brain’s ability to “forget.” Without this adaptation, maybe we’d have died out as a species.

The brains of modern babies, like of the brains of the caveman’s babies, are shaped by the circumstances into which they’re born. A baby who is welcomed by love, soft sounds and warm, caring arms develops a brain that knows when to trust. This baby will likely be open to life’s relationships and adventures. On the other hand the brain of the infant experiencing neglect or a lack of safety and love, will be toughened to be suspicious of humans, won’t expect good things from life and will be subject to all our society’s common illnesses and psychiatric diagnoses (Refer to the ACE Studies) Above all, this brain will protect its owner from remembering what is intolerable and inescapable. It’s common for children to simply forget that the adults on whom they depended traumatized them.

In my own history, I didn’t remember being sexually abused by family members until I was in my late 40’s. That turns out to be a common age. It’s as if our pain and shame remain hidden until we’re mature enough to deal with it. Many of us who had delayed memories managed to live relatively normal lives, before being shaken by the surfacing of traumatic memories. We probably knew something was wrong, but we were spared from dealing with it until we were older. The worst was finally realizing the terrible toll child sexual abuse had taken on our lives.

As a child who believed she came from a perfect family, this is how I describe myself in my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: A Memoir of Healing and Transformation.

“Looking at me during my childhood years you would have seem a spoiled rich kid always smiling and never causing any trouble. On the inside, life was different. Under the placid exterior I existed in a wet, grey fog, never quite sure of what was happening around me.” (p. 3.)

Sweet, fat and smiling: this is a common appearance of children who are being sexually abused, but can never clear their brains enough to know what is happening to them.

I’m grateful I was able to dissociate. As an adult I managed to get an education in spite of my daydreaming and spacing-out. I married, had my son, and immersed myself in yoga, social work and 30 years of fulfilling work as a trauma therapist. If I’d realized what was going on in my home, how would I have found the energy or the will to live my life?

Nancy Brown, author of Facing Life: A Memoir of Addiction never forgot. Her child’s brain didn’t dissociate the knowledge that the neighbor across the street held her and his little daughter, Ruthie, hostage as sexual rewards for his card-playing buddies. The pain was intolerable and she believed her situation was inescapable. She believed there was something about her that caused Ruthie’s father and later other men prey on her. Her perpetrator assured her silence by threatening Rusty, her beloved dog, and Peter her little brother, that they’d wish they’d never been born if she didn’t shut up and stop wriggling.

“Once I made a noise when it hurt and he said he’d skin Rusty alive if I didn’t stop (p. 16.)”

To dull the intolerable pain, she soon started stealing candy from little corner stores in her neighbourhood. She made sure never to be without her secret hordes of sweets. Even when she went to camp at age eight, she worried she wouldn’t be able to sneak enough candy to last two weeks. She filled the stomach of her stuffed toy with candy and chose a top bunk where she could eat her candy out of sight.

Once in high school, she discovered alcohol. It worked even better than sweets. She figured out how to get a steady supply of booze from the local bootlegger. Prescription pain killers helped dull her terrible pain. Eventually her life was one of isolation, bad hygiene and a routine of swallowing enough pills and alcohol in the morning to face the day.

She never told her worried parents. Why? This is the subject for my next post Why Children Don’t Tell.

References:

The ACE Studies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is one of the largest investigations ever to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being.

How Do You Know You’re Getting Better?

on the lake

Guest blogger Cathy has shared with us her struggles to come to terms with a traumatic childhood. She has detailed for us her attempts to find a therapy that would ease her terror and clear her foggy brain. Neurofeedback has proved effective for Cathy. In this letter to her therapists, Cathy describes what it feels like to be healing.

Hi Jessica and Martin,

Today my husband had a day off work and we spent the day fishing together out on our boat on Moreton Bay.

It was a really nice day

I noticed that I was different.

I noticed that was more aware, more alert and more proactive, I was more helpful and more effective in working with my husband on our boat. I was less vague and my attention and focus were more available to me and to my husband.

I noticed that I had more self awareness and more choices.

I felt calmer, more in control and less chaotic than usual.

I felt as though my terror dropped from a 10/10 to an 8/10. I felt as though I could see ‘around’ my internal mass of terror (ie. my terror was present but contained in a way that it felt manageable to me, not overwhelming or completely consuming as it has felt to me so often in the past).

I felt as though I could see the edge of my terror (like the horizon or the mainland or an island off in the distance, rather than a vast blank sea of helplessness).

My experience today was a really exciting step forward for me. I feel as though today, I grasped a glimpse of how different my life could be with less terror, more calm and a healthy level of control and organisation.

Then I had a multitude of entrepreneurial ideas ‘bubble’ up to my surface. This was an exciting, inspiring and encouraging experience.

Today was great! I’m really thrilled!!

 I’m really looking forward to experiencing more steps forward.

Hope that you are both having a good holiday.

Best wishes,

Cathy

Have you had a similar experience? Is there something you wish to tell Cathy and others dealing with trauma? Please comment below.

Neurofeedback’s Rewards

darkness

Before I tell you about Cathy’s recent success with Neurofeedback, I want to catch you up on my personal news and explain why you haven’t heard from me for a while. As I write this, I’m sitting in my new study surrounded by piles of boxes. Stacks of books are piled on the floor beside me.

I’ve been consumed with downsizing and moving from Toronto to Kingston, to live near by son, daughter-in-law and three-year-old granddaughter. The end is in sight. Soon I’ll be able to turn my attention to this website and to my writing.

Right now, I bring you Cathy’s latest report about her Neurofeedback therapy:

Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of very angry and violent thoughts arising in my mind (don’t worry I won’t act on them).

Is this something you would expect to arise from Neurofeedback?

I wonder if it’s dormant anger from the past that I’ve held inside for a long time instead of expressing?

Yesterday afternoon I had a significant session of releasing … loads of burping and not just regular, run of the mill burps either, deep, rumbling guttteral burps arising from the depths of my being. Followed by sneezing.

Today, my brain feels ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ and clearer and lighter.

I’m aware that I still have much work to do but I’m also really enjoying noticing my progress as well.

 —-

Have you experienced similar responses to therapy? Could you share your thoughts and reactions with Cathy and others? I urge you to comment.

Story of a Memory Making Itself Known

freeimages.co.uk medical images

Over the last week, my mouth has spontaneously fallen open and my head has begun to shake / tremour very rapidly from left to right, generating an odd noise within both of my ears.

I wonder if my recent head and jaw tremouring is helping me to finally get to the bottom of what happened to me?

I wonder if it’s possible that this happened ‘just’ once? Or more than once … ???

Hard to believe that it’s possible that my tiny, possibly toothless, gummy one year old mouth cavity may have had to deal with an adult sized penis AND possibly cum as well …

Suffocating and drowning all at once …

“Not actually sex” …

Horrid, horrid, horrid, horrid …

Vomitous …

Nauseating …

Sickening …

Disgusting …

Vile …

Evil …

Cowardly …

Weak …

Greedy …

One-sided …

So selfish …

Sick …

Overpowering …

Nullifying

How?????

Why????

I’m regularly retching now when I wake up in the morning too … coughing up flem.

I’ve felt the urge and need to cough, burp, sneeze and vomit (all means of ejection from my throat and from deep down in my innards) …

I’ve always felt a tightness in my throat too … I once described this sensation to a former therapist as like “swallowing a golf ball with several razorblades sticking out of it, burning and cutting the inner walls of my throat”.

And difficulty with getting my words out …

Possible that my authentic voice was literally physically repressed, buried, drowned, killed before it barely even had time to surface and develop …

Ingestion …

Ingression, rather than expression …

Implosion …

Internalisation …

Withdrawal …

Literally swallowing myself …

Desperately gulping for air …

Desperately gulping for life …

A series of multiple ‘mini’ deaths

Loss of self

So hard to believe.

So hard to fathom.

My body is giving me clues.

Re-enacting my infant nightmare …

Just as I have witnessed others re-enact their own past trauma experiences at trauma workshops

I hand my head over to my body …

My analytical mind bows down in reverance to my body’s superior, unshakeable knowing.

My head gives way to my body’s greater wisdom …

My head relents …

My exhausted,  over used mind gladly ‘steps’ aside …

Could this be the absolute worst that I have to learn about my past? My early childhood?

Is it possible that there are no further hidden ‘surprises’ in my past??

Is it possible that I can now cease my lengthy, comprehensive search for missing fragments of memory, for the unknown?

Is it possible that my lifelong search for answers is now over??

Is it possible that I can now finally stop wondering and looking and ‘simply’ move on to focusing exclusively on my inner healing and recovery???

Is it possible that I can finally drop my consuming compulsive need to know and need to search?

I hope so!!

Cathy’s Dark Night of the Soul

moon
Guest blogger Cathy is going through the dark night of the soul, having decided to try neurofeedback in her search for relief from the pain of childhood trauma. Here is her letter about those terrible struggles. Since receiving this message, Cathy has gone in search of a new practitioner, one who will offer her more compassion. We eagerly await her next report and send her our love and our prayers.
—-

Dear Mary,

The truth is that the last 4-6 weeks have been really, really, really tough for me.

The truth is that I’ve had suicidal thoughts of my own over the last 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I haven’t wanted to die, instead I’ve felt overwhelmed by the relentless ‘invisible’, incomprehensible, unexplainable, unbelievable, apparently boundless pain that I have felt inside, so much so that I have felt utterly desperate for some relief, some peace and some calm.

I’ve felt so tired of feeling broken. I’ve felt so tired of feeling wounded beyond belief in my inner core. I’ve felt so tired of trying to heal. I’ve felt so tired of feeling as though my psyche is fragmented resulting in my inner sense that I have to expend enormous amounts of energy every moment binding my fragmented psyche / self together, to ensure that all of these vital fragments of me remain somewhere within me, together yet not bonded, somehow remaining clumped together through the sheer moment to moment, constant force of my will, to ensure that all of the pieces of my fragmented psyche stay together within me, to ensure that none, not even the teeniest, tiniest fragment of my inner core comes adrift, flying freely, drifting aimlessly away from me into nowhere (my darkest fear).

The truth is that I was unable to attend my 13 year old cousin’s funeral following her recent suicide because, for me, this would have been like ‘looking into the mirror of what could have been’ … or at times, over recent weeks … ‘what still may be for me’ … just way too close ‘to the bone’.

I couldn’t go to my 13 year old cousin’s funeral and stare into the eyes of my stunned and grieving family members knowing that I have tiptoed on the precipice of causing them a similar degree of shock, pain, grief, hurt, gutwrenching sadness, disbelief, confusion, guilt and utter bewilderment.

The truth is that I have been living in a fog of overwhelm and inner pain for the past 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I have willed myself through many, many extremely heavy, dark, gruelling seconds, minutes, hours and moments in the days of the last 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I have experienced almost zero joy in the past 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I have experienced almost zero lightness, zero clarity, zero calm and zero peace during the past 4-6 weeks.

I have felt intensely agitated, overwhelmed, confused, exhausted, dejected, hopeless, helpless, battle weary and completely defeated over the last 4-6 weeks.

How is it possible that I have committed myself tenaciously and steadfastly to my healing journey for almost 20 years, only to find that I still experience such mammoth depths, widths and lengths of darkness, heaviness and despair?!!!

How can I pick myself up, yet again, from the extent and depths of my own internal darkness?

How can I keep going?

Where can I find the strength?

Where can I find the solutions?

After using a wide range of conventional and unconventional healing modalities to address my deep inner wounds, where do I go next to heal further?

Where is the next upward rung on my ladder?

Where is the next upward knot on my rope?

Where is the next upward step on my apparently never-ending ‘staircase’ of healing?

As always, the answers to all of these questions lie in imagining myself staring into the eyes of my husband and our two young daughters (aged 9 and 6). They are my three utmost reasons for continuing to fight my way through my own thick and thorny inner wilderness and my unwavering commitment to breaking the cycle of intergenerational pain and trauma in my family.

The truth is that I’ve felt that I’ve been drowning in my own internal historical lingering terror over the past 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I’ve set my sights soley and firmly on finding ways to reduce my overwhelming, utterly consuming historical lingering inner terror.

And here I am.

Now.

Experiencing a sense of flickering hope on my horizon.

A spark.

A light.

A life raft.

A sense of relief from the drowning sense of my overwhelming, utterly consuming, paralysing, life draining, almost completely defeating inner historical lingering terror.

My eternal dream of deep and complete healing still alive somehow, somewhere within me.

Here I am now.

Experiencing the joy and lightness that comes with full disclosure in a place of utter safety, non-judgment, understanding and acceptance.

Thank you Mary for this priceless gift, this wonderful privilege.

My heartfelt gratitude to you now and always,

Cathy xx