Remembering your childhood sexual abuse helps you get to know who you really are. It's not important to remember everything. What is important is understanding the effects of the abuse on your life.
Some researchers say that everything that happens to us, every sensation of pain or pleasure, every sound and conversation, every action we take, every smell and taste, is recorded and stored within our brain as memory. Others say all memory is at cellular level -- in the body.
Some memories are immediately available to us while others are more distant, stored far back in our minds as though in a deep freezer. You will only remember what happened to you when your psyche is primed. In other words, when you are strong enough and able to cope with the reality of what happened in your life.
Flashbacks are like instant replays of the past – seconds-long snapshots that burst without warning into your ordinary thoughts. They are triggered by something in the present – a smell, sound, taste, touch, a sensation in your body, or visual reminders. You may experience bodily sensations, visual images or both.
Anything can trigger a flashback or memory:
Touch – by a friend, lover or stranger
Smell – after-shave, perfume, tobacco or alcohol, mustiness, bad breath, food
Taste – toothpaste, soap in your mouth, vomit, blood, food or beverage
Sound – footsteps outside the door, telephone ringing, emergency alarm, a child crying
Visual reminders – rings, fat fingers, shoe laces, ceiling lights, baldness, eyeglasses
The list is literally endless.
If you have body pain such as uterine cramps or other repeated physical symptoms accompanying body memories, it's important to get a medical doctor to check you out. You should rule out anything being medically wrong.
After the flashback subsides you may feel disoriented for a while. Remember to breathe. Sip a glass of water. Wash your face and wrists with cool water. Rinse out your mouth. Brush your hair.
SUGGESTION: Do something to honor what you've accomplished.
Breathing is the Number One tool. Breathing consciously helps move us from a victim place into a place of empowerment, like calling ourselves survivors rather than victims. When we breathe in we take in oxygen or fresh energy. When we breathe out we rid ourselves of carbon dioxide or stale energy that's no longer useful.
Breathing with awareness helps moves whatever is blocking our progress. If we hold our breath it's usually because we're afraid. Either we don't want to let in what's outside us, or we don't want to let out what's inside us.
Breathing consciously calms you any time you feel afraid, anxious, or overwhelmed. It will ground you if you feel spaced out (dissociated). It can help you get back into your body if you feel numb. Some people find it helpful to “remember” to breathe by setting an alarm once an hour. Or buy some coloured stickers – the kind used to code books and papers – and attach one on your watch strap, the toe of your shoe – anywhere where you'll see it. If you want to look less conspicuous, wear an elastic band around your wrist. Twang it – and BREATHE – whenever you remember.
Place your hand on your abdomen. Breathe in slowly to a count of three. ONE … TWO … THREE. Feel your tummy (abdomen) rise under your hand. Breathe out to a count of three. ONE … TWO … THREE. Feel your tummy (abdomen) fall again.
Remember: Breathing is our Number One tool. It reduces stress.
During the 1970s, when I taught prenatal education, I used to tell my clients I would give them a toolbox to help them through the birth process. This imaginary box had several levels containing everything from breathing and relaxation to information and practical suggestions. No matter how long or how difficult the labour, there was always something in the kit to keep the expectant mother going.
While I healed my incest and other child abuse issues the process felt every bit as intensive and demanding as giving birth. In a way I was giving birth – to myself.
Here is a check list you can refer to any time you need. It's a sort of basic toolbox for healing:
Take a breather
List what to do in crisis
Action plan for dealing with memories and flashbacks
Pace Em technique
Relax – take a power nap
Balance your day
List your tasks and goals
Be your own best friend
Check your coping skills
Choose a counsellor
Get clean and sober
Beat insomnia / shadows / nightmares and nasty dreams.
Please feel free to print this list if it's helpful. You might want to make it small enough to fit your wallet to carry with you as a reminder. Next blog I'll start to describe each step in more detail.
Fun is mandatory: Do something nice for yourself.
This is the icing-on-the-cake stage that comes three or four years into healing. Not that healing stops after this -- as I've mentioned in an earlier blog it continues in a spiral. Yet it is never quite as intense as the first go-round.
By now, flashbacks and memories no long rule your life. You've probably remembered about as much as you need to make sense of why you are the way you are. Or were. It's not necessary to remember everything.
You may make major changes as you move on:
- in your relationship with yourself
- in your interactions with others
- in how you respond to the world
With what you learned during the first three stages of healing and understanding how abuse affected you -- in the 4th stage -- you see more clearly how patterns of behaviour, needed in childhood to survive, continue in your present life. You realize you have choice in everything you say and do and be; in how you relate to friends, to your partner, to family members; with work colleagues and bosses; in how you raise your children.
At this stage you may decide to go back to school. Or move across country, or even to the other side of the globe, to sever ties with a previous lifestyle or relationship. You may become politically active in a cause close to your heart. Or become creative for the first time. Or deepen your creative urge. Or learn a skill you never thought you could manage.
This is an exciting adventurous time.
Reminder: You are not invincible.
Remember: Nurture and nourish yourself, make boundaries and take space just for you.