Survivor Aftereffects List #8

8. Phobias, panic attacks.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I shared earlier about my fear of sharks when going to bed as a teenager after reading the book Jaws. That was just one of my big fears, though not at all based in the realm of possibility. I had never been to the ocean.

Perhaps I was projecting my fear of sex offenders onto the killer shark. In which case, the fear made perfect sense and was a reasonable amount of fear.

I have a lot of phobias. All the ones that have been explained to me where in flashbacks. They were all caused by my mother. For a long time I thought that they were all caused by being ritually abused. After all many of my fears are ones that ritual abuse survivor sometimes share. But I subsequently learned the fears were in place in my life before the ritual abuse and due to specific abuse incidents by the mother.

I won’t go into detail about them. I get concerned about telling someone my fears and triggers and trusting them with that information. I trust survivors. I just don’t trust abusers and there are plenty of those out there.

My ex-boyfriend was like that, gathering information like a spy to only use against me later, pretending to be supportive, while trying to make me hate and doubt myself more and more, making me more vulnerable and easier for him to control and keep. He was a real mind abuser, just like my mother. Actually, exactly like my mother.

Yes on the panic attacks. I have memories of having panic attacks as a child. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe and would pass out, falling over onto the floor. Some people around me, who were loving, knew how to deal with them, how to distract me, and how to calm me down. I am forever thankful for that and for them. 

I will say that I have gotten a lot of control over panic, although they do sometimes come up when someone thoughtlessly triggers me into an attack.

Being in the DBT, dialectical behavior therapy, program contained so many triggers that I had to stop the program, twice. The first class I had a panic attack and had to leave the room and go sit on the floor outside the meeting room until I could breathe normally and could stop crying and shaking.

This past week I was close to having one and tried really hard to use my coping skills to put the thoughts aside for a while. It helped. I still have a feeling of floundering on the sea and someone trying to pull me under. (A little too much like my actual life with my mother when I was very tiny and very defenseless. She often tried to pull me under the water when I was in the tub.) It feels better.

Survivor Aftereffects List #7

7. Self-injury (cutting, burning, etc.) (physical pain is manageable) (this is an addictive pattern); self- destructiveness.

I used to think that I did not engage in self-injury. But that is not true.

When I was around five years old I started having problems with this. I would classify it as picking. I’m not sure exactly how the problem started, because I don’t have a lot of early memories of doing picking with thoughts about it, I just know that I did and I remember the damage it caused.

I remember now the family environment that I was living in. My mother was abusing me. I was being abused by a male adult that my parents let live with us. And I was being abused by a ritual abuse group that this adult was taking me to. I was very suicidal.

I don’t know if I started scratching my face or if I broke out in hives or some kind of reaction from the stress and abuse. I had painful open sores on my face, around my nose, especially under it. They would start to heal and I would scratch them off again. I couldn’t stand it. It was painful and there seemed to be no way to stop the pain. It all must have itched painfully, but really I don’t remember.

It was very serious, because this was one of the rare times that my parents took me to the doctor and got any medication of any kind for me. It was a white cream that was horrible to have to have on my skin. This did not seem to help me to heal. It seemed to trap the heat in on my skin and make me itch even more. Slowly it got better and healed.

Over the years any time that I had a scab over a wound anywhere on my body, I would pick it off. It was compulsive. I had no control over it. I was about in my mid-twenties before I was able to exert any control over this behavior.

Sometimes I will wake up with deep scratches on my skin and not know how they happened. I bite my nails down very low, so it seems difficult to see how I am doing this in my sleep, but I must be.

The worst times are when I wake up and see that I was doing this on my face. That has only happened a few times and they were deeply troubling times. If I addressed the prominent issue in my life at the time, the scratches would heal with no new injuries.

Biting my nails was often something that I did to myself as a child to the point of injury. I still do it sometimes, though I try really hard not to.

At other times I would say that my behaviors or lack of proper self-protection has seemed self-destructive. I am just very lucky I guess that I survived those times in my life, especially when I trusted my safety and life in the hands of someone who was not trustworthy or safe. 

Some of the time I see this as due to the dissociation and disconnection from your body that all survivors go through. At other times I see this as being due to being a survivor and not knowing how to take proper care of yourself, not knowing who and what is safe, not having good and healthy boundaries, not having good role models all your life and on and on.

It is a work in progress. I see myself as half-way around the world from where I started on these issues. And that is a good thing.

Survivor Aftereffects List #6

6. Eating disorders, drug/alcohol abuse (or total abstinence); other addictions; compulsive behaviors (including compulsive busyness).

Yes and frankly I don’t see how survivors can survive and not be dealing with these issues. I have always thought that I have much less issues than some other survivors, but that is only in the degree that I have acted on these issues, rather than their impact in my life and how much they have affected me and cost me in coping and combatting the urges to act on them.

I don’t have an eating disorder. Though I do believe that I have always had what is now called “disordered eating.”

I heard recently by experts on The Today Show that more people have disordered eating issues than anorexia and bulimia combined and perhaps in the future it will be classified as an eating disorder.

I am not sure how I have avoided having an eating disorder. I think a large part of that is that my mother’s abuses of me when I was a pre-schooler and later would be classified as an eating disorder.

My female parent used food as a weapon to coerce my cooperation in her sexual abuse of me. She was particularly sadistic in her sexual abuse of me, making my cooperation highly unlikely. I can confidently say that what she did to me was forced starvation.

She would let me eat breakfast with my other siblings. After they went to school she would often try to sexually abuse me. If I was uncooperative or managed to stop what she was doing, then I paid the price.

She would often get enraged at me and forcefully cause me to vomit up breakfast. I would get no lunch. I would have supper in the evening and that was often my only meal, for a pre-schooler.

My mother did not believe in giving children snacks during the day, not even something healthy, saying it would ruin the child’s appetite. Seriously, nothing in heaven or earth could have ruined my appetite.

So I can say that I was abused in a manner that replicated an eating disorder, except I was not the person whose actions were in control of my body. Though I suppose to say that any survivor who acts out an eating disorder can truly be the cause of their eating disorder, but rather the aftermath of the abuse.

I have never used drugs. As a teenager and older I was always concerned about the health consequences and so have never considered doing drugs. It is easy for me to say no to that. 

I have only rarely drank alcohol, mostly in a context of social interactions with co-workers after a shift and when going out dancing. I haven’t had a drink in over ten years and that was only one night. I would say that the last time I drank before that was about twenty years ago.

My father was an alcholic. The thought of the smell of stale beer in leftover bottles the next day is something that still sickens me. I have never liked alcohol, the taste, or how it feels in my stomach or body. It is easy for me to say no to that.

So I guess I definitely fall on the side of abstinence when it comes to drugs and alcohol use. I feel fortunate in that respect. As I have heard many survivors have used them to push down the pain and to numb themselves out. Another obstacle that I have not had to overcome on the path to healing. 

I think that my rigidity in this respect is also just a reaction to the abuse rather than a true life choice that I made, just as I think my celibacy is a reaction to the abuse rather than a true life choice.

Compulsive behaviors and thoughts, including OCD features seems something so many survivors deal with. Me too. I think I am getting worse in that respect rather than better. But perhaps that is because more inners share more “out” time and sharing what they are dealing with and so I am absorbing and feeling their issues. I am working on coping with that. It is a very hard and intractible issue.

Recently some inners have shared a marked difficulty with the number 13. I am really trying to address that while trying not to make the issue worse. We have a lot of anxiety and sometimes it is just better to try to alleviate the anxiety by honoring their limitations than addressing the issue head on. It is an ongoing project.

As in all survivor issues I see how far I have come. It is a huge amount. I have dealt with so many memories in these categories and come out the winner, due to healing. I know and believe in healing. I believe in hope.

Survivor Aftereffects List #5

5. Wearing a lot of clothing, even in summer; baggy clothes; failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so (while swimming, bathing, sleeping); extreme requirement for privacy when using bathroom.

Yes, but I didn’t really get to wear baggy clothes until I was an adult. Before that my clothes were mostly monitored and approved by my mother and sister. Once on my own I started gravitating to baggy and oversize clothes because they made me feel less watched and more safe. Especially if I was going to be in an environment where there were guys and they might be watching me.

I think that part of the reason I did this was the sexual abuse. The other part was the consequences of sexual abuse; I hated my body, thought I was ugly and fat and did not want to be seen or watched.

I really think that I had body dysmorphic disorder until about ten years ago. It affected me a great deal. I think that it was caused by my mother’s abuses of me. I would look in the mirror and see all kinds of ugliness and evil.

It impacted how much I thought of myself. It made me painfully shy and reserved. It stopped me from being involed socially. I couldn’t partipicate in school sports because being watched in the school’s short shorts while being athletic was too repugnant to me. Now I know that it was not seeing the truth. I tried to cover that all up with clothes, lots and lots of clothes.

I couldn’t cover up my face especially, and that was the source of the worst of my self-hatred. I still struggle with this, but it has gotten better.

Privacy in the bathroom is something that I didn’t have much as a child. My family seemed to enjoy shaming one another constantly about bodily functions. Due to my particular abuses, I found it that much worse to deal with.

When I was a teenager I was finally able to insist that when I was in the shower no one could come into the room. My family were invasive in the extreme. It took a long time to get this enforced. There was a lock on the door, but I was constantly coerced into not locking it. Finally I did. I had a right to my privacy. One thing that I have no desire to ever be involved in is another person who thinks that pee breaks should be shared.

Survivor’s Aftereffects List #4

4. Gastrointestinal problems; GYN disorders (including spontaneous vaginal infections); vaginal/internal scarring; headaches; arthritis or joint pain; aversion to doctors (esp.gynecologists, dentists).

This issue really makes me feel sick. I was going to write about it two days ago and keep putting it off. Guess you can see how it is affecting me.

I have always had a very sensitive stomach, easily upset and easily nauseated. I had bleeding ulcers when I was a little child. It was horrible.

My whole digestive system is still very sensitive and I get very upset, very easily. I am so sensitive to any stress, family arguments, any issue coming up and feel like vomitting or turmoil in my digestive system. That has slowly gotten better.

A few years ago I would wake up every day, get up, and dry heave. I couldn’t eat for hours, sometimes up to five hours after I woke up, my system would feel so upset. I finally got that calmed down after several months and more issues emerged.

I finally got diagnosed with h phylori, the bacterium that causes ulcers. It took months after the treatment for my stomach to finally stop hurting and settle down.

Still I am, as I always have been, very sensitive to foods. Any spicy, even mild, has always been very difficult for me and my system to tolerate. My mother used to make me eat foods that were upsetting to my stomach and had told her they were. It made things much worse for me while I was a child.

Yes on the gyn issues as well. I have always been amazed at how many times one woman can get yeast infections. Now I can accept that was a part of being a survivor.

Yes on the headaches. Though I am never sure how much of that is due to the physical trauma and damage caused by my mother beating me, the ear infection issues that have been on-going since I was a child, and being multiple and having switching and control headaches versus just being a child sexual abuse survivor. I guess it is okay to say now they all contribute to this issue.

Yes on the aversions to the doctors and dentists as well. I think that with complex health issues and very little support or helpful appointments, it is not that surprising that my aversion has not lessened.

I have heard from so many survivors that doctors are a big issue for them. Gyn appointments even much worse and avoidance to the point of potentially effecting our health. 

Dentists, I think, are even worse to see. I have heard from many survivors that they have issues with dentists. I found a wonderful oral surgeon. It was still very difficult to get to appointments.

Yes on arthritis and joint pain. I have heard chronic pain is such a common issue for survivors. The rheumatologist that I saw said that child abuse is now considered to be a percursor to fibromyalgia. Yeah, that makes sense to me.

I do think that even despite dealing with a lot of health issues, I am optimistic for myself and for other survivors. I know that facing our abuse histories, remembering, feeling and healing, going to therapy, and working on healing from the emotional pain can significantly impact the physical pain and issues we as survivors are go through. I believe in healing.

Survivor Aftereffects List #3

3. Alienation from body, not at home in own body; failure to heed signals of body or take care of it; poor body image; manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention; compulsive cleanliness, incl. bathing in scalding water; or, total inattention to personal appearance or hygiene.

Yes. Alienation. I remember when I first heard that word and learned it’s definition. I was in a Social Studies class in junior high. I thought, that’s me, yeah, that’s me. I remember being surprised there was a name for it and that there were so many people who felt it.

So yes on alienation from my body. I think that every survivor goes through this one. We numb out physically, making it more difficult to know what our body is needing and feeling, so we are not as attentive to it. We dissociate away from our bodies so much that it is a challenge to actually live our life, let alone be there to take care of our body needs.

We feel as though our bodies betrayed us. We blame ourselves. We carry around self-loathing and self-hatred to the point of not being able to see the truth when we look in the mirror. Survivors carry a heavy burden; we have been violated and betrayed. We feel that. Our bodies carry that as well as everything else we go through. I think these issues are worsened if we had one abuser who is the same sex as us.

It’s still rather disgusting to me to have someone staring at me and looking like they are interested in me. Perhaps part of that disgust is the kind of men who do that kind of thing. None of them are ever anyone I would ever choose to speak with, let alone go out with on a date. Another part is I object to being treated like that by anyone. The final part is about being a survivor and not wanting to be surveyed like that because, it makes me feel unsafe and uncomfortable as a survivor.

My body image was so inaccurate. When I was little, and I can say this without any shame for bragging, I was beautiful. I mean cute, pretty, all that. I had beautiful dark brown eyes and dark brown/black hair. I look at the pictures and I see the truth of that. I was very thin, but still very attractive.

I thought I was ugly. I thought I was disgusting. I thought that no one would ever love me. My mother had systematically brainwashed me.. So much so that the combination of sexual abuse by her and emotional abuse convinced me.

All my life I would look at those pictures and see the ugly girl. It’s only been about the last ten years that I have been able to look at the pictures, see the truth, and see a beautiful girl. In those pictures, I finally see the beautiful, inside and out.

Survivor’s Aftereffects List #2

2. Swallowing and gagging sensitivity; repugnance to water on face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings).

Yes these are still issues for me. I have trouble swallowing and gag easily. I could never learn to swim certain strokes properly due to the fear of putting my face down in the water. I don’t like to wash my face and usually don’t shut my eyes when doing it. I use an astringent most of the time instead of soap.

My mother abused me in the tub, so there is that added issue. She would often smother me or try to drown me. I often wonder if she meant to kill me and didn’t and feel fortunate that I survived her.

I’m still not sure if my fear of water is only based on my sexual abuse history. My parents were notoriously bad at supervision at the beach when I was a child. No one taught myself and my siblings how to swim.

We were often left in the shallow end of any body of water and told to stay there. I had a few near drownings as a child because I tried to slowly go out to deeper water and hit a drop-off. I think that my fear of water was made worse by the fact that I didn’t know how to swim.

My father would often say that the proper way to learn to swim was to do what his father had done to him as a young child; rowed him out to the middle of a lake, thrown him in, and commanded him to swim and to follow the boat back to shore.

That story, with my fear of water, made me shudder. I was thankful, at all times, that we didn’t live near a lake and that my father did not own a rowboat. I would think that would be a method to drown a child rather than one to teach them how to swim.

This culminated in an incident in junior high when I almost drowned in the high school pool because I was required to too soon jump into the deep end, with the two teachers standing by poolside. After going down for the fourth time one of them decided to jump into the pool.

Last summer I tried to overcome some of this by going to the local gym and walking the pool, swimming a little and hanging out there. This summer I am planning on going to a local beach and swimming there.

Survivor’s Aftereffects List #1

I have used this list many times. It is called The Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist and is from the book Secret Survivors by Sue E. Blume.

There are 37 points on the list. Many survivors have told me that they are all 37 points. I think that there are usually a couple that I don’t have, but otherwise I still deal with most of the aftereffects listed.

Sometimes you have to take a good look around and survey the land to get a good idea of what you are dealing with. At the same time it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the evidence of how being sexually abused as a child has negatively impacted you and your life. 

1. Fear of being alone in the dark, of sleeping alone; night terrors, nightmares (especially of rape, pursuit, threat, entrapment, blood).

Yes. I don’t like being in the dark. I get a panic attack if the electricity goes out. I get all shaky and can’t manage to cope well. Even after I put on a candle or grab a light I will be triggered and up all night until the morning light.

I don’t like sleeping in the dark. I tried to sleep with a small light on, for a time, but that meant that I slept even less deep than before and since I sleep very lightly to begin with, I wasn’t getting much rest.

I don’t think that I have night terrors, as they have been described to me. I do have a long history of laying in the dark terrorized with fears of being raped  or attacked and not being able to fall asleep. I have been able to get to sleep much easier over a number of years by living in denial about this possibility. I pretend that I live in a world where women don’t get abused in their beds. It took me a long time to get there. At least I get some sleep. 

I have nightmares or very disgusting dreams, when I remember them. I purposely try not to remember them. I try not to dream. Sometimes they are about my mother and she is an evil old lady. I am someone else and everyone else is someone else in the dream, but in my mind I know it is a dream and I know who they are in my waking life and it disturbs me. I don’t feel like I get any rest from that kind of stuff.

I don’t mind sleeping alone, but I hate living alone. I have done that for a long long time, but I still hate it. If I have a roommate I feel so much safer. Even if they are not home.

Even though this issue seems huge I know that I have come a long way and that I am healing. I see the landscape, but I also see how far I have traveled.