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Having a Breakthrough

We all have flashbacks at some point in our lives. Sounds, smells, or familiar sights that transport us back to a time and place that we most likely had forgotten about over the course of our lives. Most of the time these flashbacks last just a few moments; we either have a fond memory or are reminded of something that makes us tear up and remember something hard we endured.

I get those flashbacks; good and bad. I smell a fresh loaf of bread that I just pulled out of the oven and am reminded of the smell that came out of Mom’s kitchen when I was a child. I’ll hear a song on the radio and I am transported back to the country roads with my friends when I was sixteen. Or I’ll see an old television show and am reminded of hearing it in the background during one of Mom’s beatings.

But I get other weird flashbacks too and I call these my “mini breakthroughs”. These flashbacks are triggered just like my other ones; sight, smell or hearing something that transports me back to my childhood, but the difference is that these certain flashbacks cause me to truly understand why I act in certain ways. These flashbacks are like a light bulb going off in my head and I have a breakthrough into my own mental health and the way I think.

Confused yet? Let me explain.

I am engaged to a wonderful man who lets me be exactly who I want to be. He understands my past, my active lifestyle, and he also knows that I like to play as if I am a tomboy. I like to wrestle and race and compete with anyone who feels like challenging me and I won’t back down from much of anything. He is as active as I am and wrestling around and playing around is one of our favorite things to do together.

It was during one of these wrestling matches just the other day that I had one of my mini breakthroughs. During these matches; I like to charley horse my fiancée’s leg; I know it sounds so mean and weird, but he just laughs and gives me one right back. It hurts of course, but I will get him right back and so on, until my leg hurts as bad as my sides do from laughing.

I remember him asking me one time why I got so much enjoyment out of the charley horses and I didn’t have an answer for him. I believe I said, “I just want to show you how strong I am!” “Well, I love you, but I’m going to charley horse you back when you do it to me!” he replied with a chuckle and he let it go.

Then the other night while we were wrestling around and while I was doing my feat of strength on his leg, I ended up having a massive flashback. Something I had never remembered before in my life until that moment. I remembered a game Mom used to play with me; a game where she used to give me charley horse’s on the couch until my leg was so bruised I couldn’t take it anymore. This wasn’t one of her typical beatings; this was truly Mom’s way of playing with me. She wasn’t mad at me, I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I would sit next to her on the couch and she would raise her arm in the air and then punch me in the leg as hard as she could over and over.

Her face would light up when she did that and she would laugh when I would grip my thigh in pain. “Oh come on princess!” she would exclaim. “Toughen up; I’m just playing with you!”

Mom never played with me; in fact, the only time she would touch me was to hurt me so I was very confused. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh with her while she charley horsed my leg over and over; but it was nice to see her happy around me for once. It was nice to see that I could bring a smile to her face in some way; and if it meant I sat and took some leg punches once in a while – then so be it. It began to make me happy when she did it because that meant she was in a good mood and that maybe for a few seconds, she would like being around me.

I had this flashback right in the middle of our wrestling match and I sat up with tears in my eyes. “What’s wrong baby?” my fiancée exclaimed, thinking he had hurt me accidentally or something. “I know why I punch your leg; I know why I think charley horsing you is fun. And the reason is sick, just sick.” I told him the story of the “game” Mom used to play with me and he put his arms around me and squeezed me tightly.

“It’s OK” he said as he rocked me back and forth. “It isn’t sick; it’s something that made you happy during your screwed up childhood. It’s something that you think makes someone else happy. I love you regardless, just know that.”

That flashback made me remember something I hadn’t thought about in years; it must have always been in the back of my brain somewhere, but I hadn’t been able to recall it. I hadn’t been able to stop myself from continuing this “game” with my fiancée because I never understood why I did it in the first place.

But because of that flashback, I remembered and I understood a little bit more about myself. I vowed from that day forward to never play that “game” again. I’ll still play around and wrestle; but there is no need in punching someone’s leg, thinking that is going to make anyone happy. There is no need in carrying on anything Mom did to me and subjecting another person to it. Breaking the cycle of child abuse is a long and arduous process; it’s just not enough to not hurt your children the way you were hurt; in order to truly break the cycle you have to deal with the flashbacks and learn from them. That is the only way to truly move forward.

Having a Breakthrough

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Having a Breakthrough. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Jan 2017
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