You often here survivors of sexual abuse talk about the term “flashbacks” I describe my experience throughout my memoir Stolen Innocence about the flashbacks I have experienced of the sexual abuse I endured. It is an experience of going from present day to suddenly images and sounds flash before your face in your memory making it seem as if you are reliving the abuse.
An example I can give is a time when I was sitting in class in high school when I was a junior and I remember the teacher asking us what were our weekend plans. She called on a girl in class who told the class she was going to be babysitting her cousins. In that moment I suddenly found myself going from the present day as a 17 year old to suddenly this terrible feeling came over me as if a ton of bricks fell on me. Soon I felt myself trapped and this terrible rush come over me and I found myself no longer a 17 year old sitting in my English class but memories flooding my mind of being locked in my aunt/uncle’s bedroom while my cousin held me down laughing in my face. His smile so real and his laughter echoed through my ears. The memory of it all began to play out as if I was reliving the entire moment. The worst part is at that time in my life I did not know how to get myself out of these terrible flashbacks. It was like being stuck and no way of hitting the pause button as I had to be constantly retraumatized. Trying to explain it to someone that has never experienced it is difficult but I would describe it as going through a photo album and you come across a photo of a time in your life where suddenly the image brings you back to the day that photo was taken and in a sense it replays through your mind. This is the same way a flashback happens the only difference is the photo album is carried in the memory of our mind stored there and the only person that sees it is the person who carries the memory.
I was taught years ago in therapy about grounding yourself that brought you back to the present. That never worked for me. For some it does but for me I felt trapped with a photo album that fell from the shelves of my memory with no control on my part.
This is the part in this blog where it all begins to come together on how I did not learn to control the flashbacks but live with them without having them interrupt my life. One way I went about it is giving up this idea of having to be in control. Instead of trying to close that photo album up I allowed it to stay open and instead used a form of therapy with myself called narrative therapy. It is a way of changing the events of how things happened. So when I felt myself being pulled into one of these photos that made me relive everything I was able to rewrite the pain I was reliving by changing the outcome. For years I used to struggle to fall asleep at night for the darkness brought out these terrible memories since it was often the lights going off or a door closing keeping me in darkness when abuse occured. So my struggle came when I turned my light off at night and suddenly memories of pain I experienced in darkness began to replay in my mind. I had to teach myself to turn the lights back on in the memories I was experiencing which often brought that security I needed allowing meto fall asleep.
So your probably asking yourself what is my point. My point is in the memories we hold onto from our past that we think we have no control over in a way we do. We can allow ourselves to become our own life saver by rewriting that chapter of your life, turning the lights back on, and in a sense saving yourself from anymore trauma.
Another technique I would recommened is carrying with you an actual photograph from an event in your childhood that you remember. A photo that you can pull out and remind you of that day it was taken. That way when you are experiencing painful memories of abuse it allows you to bring yourself to a different memory in your childhood by focusing on the photo in a photo album from your childhood. It is like jumping from a painful experience to a wonderful memory that brings you back to that good time in your life rather then the painful memory.
So tonight I close with a photo of a wonderful time during my childhood. I was four years old. This image was taken in my bedroom at the time in my life. I clearly remember my bedroom was the duck room. The entire room was designs of ducks from wallpaper and pictures hanging on walls. My bedroom was the room my mom used to lay in bed reading to me at night. I clearly remember other times I would lay in this bed with my sisters and listen to the book “Never Endging Story,”that our mom would read. Then there is the orange tiger stuffed animal. I brought my Tiger everywhere with me. My bedroom was the place in my childhood I felt the safest. The walls protected me from the evil I met outside these walls. Which is why it is easy for me to look at a photo of me in my bedroom as a child and remember such positive memories.
So for those of you who struggle with flashbacks give it a try. Try to narriate the outcome of the situation and pull out a photo and use it as a positive reminder of your life.
Signing off for now it is late and my eyes wont stay open.