Survivors of ritual abuse come from all over the world. This is not a phenomenon limited to the United States or Europe.
John, a survivor outside the U.S., shares his process of remembering: I did not always remember. As with many sexual assault survivors and because of the violence and threats done to them, I was not able or allowed to remember. In 1974 I was 16 and I saw the movie, The Exorcist. It triggered an uncomfortableness and because of the brainwashing and lies “my family would be killed” I couldn’t get consciousness and clarity. I ran away though on this subconcious and yet still powerful fear. I then got brainwashed again and it blotted out all my memory and the abuse that was happening then. In 1992, I met a ritual abuse survivor in an incest survivors group and after about six months of listening to her, I realised that I had been, and was then also being, ritually abused. The brainwashing was so strong that it took six months of listening to another survivor to assist me to have consciousness and clarity.
Abigail is another survivor who has always remembered some things: We always had part memories indicating such, though we didn’t know what to label it, i.e. going to grade school and then my father would show up with an excuse to take me out of school. He would take me to the grocery store he worked at and sit me in the cooler room to sort numbers for pricing. Even though it was very cold in that room, he would tell his co-workers that I was sick and he was taking me to the Doctor. We would leave at noon time and then there would be no memory for the next 3 days. I know it was 3 days because the note my mother wrote for me to give my teacher always said that I was absent with a 3 day flu. Other things were almost life-long inexplicable fears and reactions to things that are otherwise pretty much commonplace. Still can’t light a match but do ok with a lighter. The fear with an unlighted match in my hand is overwhelming panic and terror feeling very young. There are many others, too long to list here but they are this specific rather than general. Definition of ritual abuse came later in adulthood during a support group for sexual abuse survivors. We, as a group of survivors, were reading and working out of a book together. There were lists for identifying sexually abused girls and boys and then a chapter and list for identifying ritual abuse. All our fears were listed, our reactions, our body pains. All never had explanation before were now explained within the context of ritual abuse and as things fell into place, things began to make sense. Our reaction to this was more, “Oh no, no, that can’t be so!” then it was the “Ahhh, now it makes sense.” For us, memories have surfaced more in an age-based chronological order with only few exceptions, i.e. related issues at a later age.
Ian, an eleven year old child, shares his experience: I always knew I had inside people. I could see them and talk to them. One time, I remembered something, and two nights later, one of my inside people told my leader that I remembered, it was an inside kid who “squealed” on me. They hit me, and then they shocked me, yelling at me I was to never remember, ever, or it would be worse for me. They then made me run, shooting bullets over my head, and laughing. I was really afraid then, when I first remembered again, when I got away from them. I was sure someone was going to come and get me, or hurt me. In fact, at night, I need someone with me so I can fall asleep. Night is the worst, because that is when we would go to meetings. Daytime is great for me.
Svali also remembered gradually: I had struggled with depression all of my life, but without a reason. I was labeled “endogenous” depression. My ex-husband and I entered marriage counseling for conflicts. One day the therapist told me, “Won’t it be good when the tremendous guilt that I see in you is gone.” Guilty was out then, and I ran to a corner and crouched, saying “But if the guilt is gone, then I will be gone.” I then had a spontaneous memory of being hurt. The counselor had no idea what it was, and neither did I. That night, when I got home, while washing the dishes, I remembered my father abusing me. I ran into my bedroom, stuffed a pillow in my mouth, and screamed as the memory came out. The rage, the hurt, the pain were all there. As time went on, other memories came forward, all spontaneously, usually at home. I had always remembered my family’s dysfunctionality: that my stepfather was an alcoholic, that my mother would beat her children, that my sister and brothers and I all tried to commit suicide many times growing up. They had to cut my 8 year old brother down when he tried to hang himself. But other things I had blocked, because it hurt too much until I felt safer and was older, able to deal with it.
Frank remembers: I knew I was different. I would find things in my room that I had never bought, or would wake up in a strange city with no idea how I got there, would find out I had a job for several months, a bank account, a girlfriend! I moved around a lot, was afraid to get close to anyone, or they would find out my “secret”. But one day, I was in drug rehab several years ago, and it happened. My grandfather, one of my biggest perpetrators died, and I had flashback after flashback about him. I was given his masonic ring, and just looking at it, I remembered more. I went into therapy, and right away inside people came out and started talking. They figured that once he was dead, it was safe to talk.
Alex, a survivor from the West Coast, shares: I had no idea that it was happening until last year when I started to remember. I’m over 50, so there’s a lot to remember! I don’t talk about this with my family, I don’t want to hurt them. I have all of this stuff about my life growing up that makes sense now. I always knew my family wasn’t normal, that things weren’t right. I always had a lot of rage, I would throw things against the wall and scream and yell without knowing why. But now, I’m finding out where the rage came from. I am getting better now, and feel better than I ever had in my life, because before all that rage was bottled up inside, and now it is getting released and healed. Someday I will tell my sister, because I want her to get out too, but it isn’t time yet. I need to heal more.
As clearly illustrated by these accounts, many survivors HAVE remembered some things all of their life – or had indications that something traumatic happened. Others have progressed through a more gradual process of remembering. All, however, are courageously working at dealing with some of the most overwhelming abuse that a young child or adult can experience (and still survive): Ritual Abuse. I am greatly inspired by their courage and honesty in sharing here.
copyright 2000 Svali