So many survivors of sexual abuse suffer from flashbacks. They can be a major disruption to life or they can be minor nagging memories that can be controlled. Unfortunately, a lot of your life is determined from where you fall on that spectrum. The good news is that they can slowly be controlled and managed over time, but it takes a lot of hard work, patience, and strength. BUT don’t worry… you got strength covered. You are still here!
I have mentioned the “small stuff” before. For some reason, they seem to be the nagging memories for me. I have come to the conclusion that is because they are just fragments of larger memories that my mind has protected me from. Because of that, they pop up from time to time when little things remind me. Then I find myself stopped and thinking… trying to put some pieces together. They never really fall into place for me, which I am THANKFUL for. I know enough… no need to add to my collection of memories for me.
One instance of the pieces falling into place are the memory clips of the dread I would experience when my father bathed me from about 3 to 8 or 9 years old. I remember the panic, the pain, the burning… just wanting bath-time to be over. I have lots of puzzle pieces for that. One weekend a few years ago those memories had me and wouldn’t let go. I knew something big was coming… oh the dread of that weekend.
I remember bath-time with my father and dread; I could remember my mom smiling; I could remember my younger brother, who was about two, smiling, splashing, playing. I would have been four. Those were my pieces but they didn’t fit and I always put them in the “small stuff” category. Well this fateful weekend, they fell into place.
My brother and I were sitting in the tub waiting to be bathed while my parents chatted and got things ready. Then there was a conversation about who would bathe whom. I remember sitting in the tub with my hair in a bun on top of my head praying for it not to be my dad. Please let my mom choose me, please. But the decision was made. My dad got me. Mom was in charge of my brother. Oh the panic that fell over me like a wave. I wanted to cry and say no please, but I didn’t. By four years old, I had learned better.
So I sat there… still. Completely still. I watched my mom and my brother. My mom talking and smiling. I remember the sun shining in the bathroom window onto her red hair. She was pretty. I looked at my brother and he was sitting there splashing, laughing, being two in a tub. As I sat there without moving, in pain, burning, uncomfortable, I wondered why or how they could be so happy while I was in so much distress. I never looked at my dad. His presence was palpable… no need to see his face. I knew what it looked like… the smirk.
That was my last puzzle-piecing flashback. It was enough. My mom has asked me at least five times in my life if I was molested by “someone”. While there it is, mom. Your answer that I will never tell you; yes, right in front of you. That does something to a person that is so unbelievably unexplainable. I was literally protected by no one and yet she had the nerve to ask me. That is one of my deepest wounds.
But here is the thing with flashbacks for me… new flashbacks. Once I had the “big one” in October 2009, it started a lovely trend in my life. It went like this… remember something, grieve, mourn, collapse, fight to stay alive, start to recover, start to get strength back, BOOM and REPEAT! I lived like that for about three or four years.
It got to the point where I just wanted to know everything and just get it over, so I went to a hypnotherapist. I had to sign a release form that if I underwent hypnotherapy I was aware that I could never be used to testify against my father, which meant he would never legally “pay” for what he did to me in the justice system. I signed it. To me it was worth making the flashbacks stop, so I could rest… Actually rest, have peace, and maybe get my life back.
Unfortunately (I guess… not sure), I did not remember anything. My mind is a steel trap, apparently. The hypnotherapist (A legit guy by the way. He was paid for by my insurance as a counselor.) said he had never come across anyone with their memories so guarded. I couldn’t even remember the things my brother told me about being beaten. The therapist stopped because I got such a terrible headache from it that I couldn’t go on. He said I could come back, but he didn’t see me ever remembering anything taking this route. I’d just have to wait it out and my mind would release each memory as I became strong enough for a new one…. YIPPIE!
It’s a horrible way to live. It’s like you know something unbelievably tragic is going to happen any second, but you don’t know when and you can do nothing to stop it. It affects EVERY part of your life. Fortunately for me, they stopped for a couple of years until the weekend of the bath-time puzzle. That was almost as horrific as the first. Something about your mother being in the same room and doing nothing really effects a kid… a little sarcasm folks.
I guess with time and healing. I just became okay with what I knew and okay with what I didn’t know. I don’t need to know anymore. I don’t need the holes filled in. I don’t need any more questions answered. I’m just okay.
There is something liberating about just being okay. It’s peaceful. I thank God for that every day, because it sure didn’t happen under my own power or understanding or dramatically becoming enlightened. It’s God.
So much of my story is God. I would never be here without Him.
Here is what I did that got me through:
- I went to church every week no matter what. It was my place of being recharged and having a little bit of peace. I cried there A LOT, but it helped. It let some things be healed… just crying at church.
- I prayed ALL the time. During all my weak moments… driving over bridges, taking just one pill, when I got to work to make it to lunch, at lunch to make it the rest of the day, at the end of the day to make it home without driving into a tree or off a bridge, before I walked into my house that I’d have strength for my four children, when they went to bed and I cried, when I went to bed that I wouldn’t hurt myself and remember anything, and that I’d only take one pill.
- I put bible verses everywhere to counteract my thoughts.
- My third daughter slept with me quite a bit… not really recommending this, but I am being honest. Have to stay alive with your child next to you.
- I tried to be as involved with my kids as possible. They kept me alive. Although, I’ll be honest I wasn’t always good at that. Thank God I’d been a great mom before that October night.
These are my things that helped. I pray you can find your things. I know how dreadful you feel when stuck in flashback mode. This may sound contrite, but find God. Truly find Him. He is waiting for you and He wants to help, but you have to go to Him. You have to want it with all of your being. Healing is NOT easy and God is the only answer that I can give as to why I am okay now.
So please read these verses. Post them where you will see them when you need them. And find your own that speak to you. I pray that you find and experience what they promise.
Dear Lord, Please help these wonderful women as you have helped me. Please help them to think of all things lovely in every situation and when they can’t that they will come to you to take their anxiety away. Please let them know what it is like to have their hearts and minds guarded by You. Let them experience the peace that I have now only through Your mighty power and help that truly surpasses all of my earthly understanding. Let all of us have strength to get through this day and the next and choose to live. We praise you Jesus. I thank You and I love You. Amen! ❤
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Phil 4:6-7 (NIV)
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Phil 4:8-9 (NIV)
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” – Phil 4:13 (NIV)
I have two for you today. First one is my life theme at the time. “What I wouldn’t give to just forget, so I could remember how to live.” What I Wouldn’t Give by Holly Brook Choose your life. ❤
Second is my God song to get through each moment. It was a prayer and worship every time I listened to it. The song says “every hour I need you” but it was more like every second and sometimes I’d actually substitute “second” for “hour”… lol. True story cause I’m a weirdo. Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher
Footnote: I live in the city with the second most bridges in the United States… bridges were a PROBLEM for me. Can’t go anywhere without driving over a bridge. Wish I had a head-shaking, eye-rolling emoji here. God bless! ❤
2/12/18 Update: I must admit that this was a hard blog for me. Definitely had trouble resting after typing it. It seems the fear of a flashback never quite looses its grip. But the good news is that I am still here… today. Pressing forward. Never stopping. With God, I am going to win this fight.