Coping Challenge: Working through Backlash

What is backlash?

My therapist describes backlash like this (my summary of our many conversations):

Trauma survivors have a difficult time letting go of the hyper-vigilance or relaxing.  They also have a hard time accepting the good things happening in their lives.  Because in order to let go and enjoy the good experiences, they have to feel safe enough to let down their guards and relax.

Instead, survivors are waiting for the other shoe to drop.  They don’t believe the good will last.  Past experience has taught them that safety doesn’t exist; the price for good experiences is too high; they don’t deserve the good things happening; and any good experience must be balanced with some kind of punishment or negative experience.  And when this occurs during an anniversary period, all symptoms increase.

It’s Happening Now

Yes, I am experiencing backlash as I write this post.  Except this time, it’s different.  Some alters are experiencing backlash while others are not.  And the type of punishment or consequences changes from alter 240to alter.  Yet my body and emotions are feeling everything at the same time.  It’s scary, confusing, and conflicting at the same time.  Right now, I am living in extremes because all of my alters are living in extremes.  This is triggering for all of us because we were raised in an environment of extremes and uncertainty.

FYI – I have 87 alters; 88 including the one writing this post.  We are 44 children under 12; 22 adolescent/young adult, 22 adult to geriatric; both male and female; and often show ourselves as a combination of human, animal, reptile, tree, and symbol to each other.

What Happened Before

In the past, all of us experienced backlash at the same time and with same consequences.  It was physical, emotional, energy draining, and usually resulted in some kind of self-harm.  My parts would be experiencing flashbacks, trigger the other parts into feeling negative emotions and remembering the consequences of success.  Then the shame would flood us.  Finally, whoever was in charge set us up to get hurt by others emotionally, verbally, and/or physically by engineering a conversation or encounter with an unsafe person whose buttons were easily discerned and pushed.

When I tried to cook, clean, or do laundry, I would switch.  The alter who became in charge would ruin the food, break dishes , not do dishes, ruin the laundry, make messes after someone else cleaned.  Or something simple like switch and stop cleaning in the middle of a task to do something else; then leave that to move on to another project.  When that wasn’t enough, the voices started to whisper threats, urging us to die, make ourself bleed, pick a fight, lose our job, walk down a dark street in the city in the middle of the night, or switch with another part and having that part “lose” the house keys or wallet

The pattern would start slow, with whispers and feelings of sadness and heightened anxiety.  Then the pressure to do harm increased until our body experienced physical pain like migraines.  And then the body memories would start.  I would dissociate from my body to the point where I couldn’t feel anything my parts were doing.  Seeing the bruises and cuts, the bleeding, torn nails, etc. always surprised us.  It wasn’t until about 2 years ago, we started making the connection between dissociation and bruising.  And that only occurred because of intense therapy sessions with my current counselor to get all of my parts in communication and co-conscioussness with each other.  This way, at least some of us could be aware of what happened during a full switch or a dissociative period where none of us could connect with the one in charge.

Then came the panic attacks, the loss of coordination, the physical and mental disorientation that kept me at home because I was dizzy and shaking to hard to put on clothes.  My muscles were stiff and locked in place.  I sometimes woke up unable to move any part of my body.  The official term is sleep paralysis.  I would be sleeping and switch alters; sometimes dreaming or having a nightmare.  Other times because of a flashback.  Some alters were and still are afraid to sleep.  Bad people came in the night to hurt us.  Sometimes Mom would wake me up because she wanted someone to keep her company.  Sometimes Dad came in the morning before he went to work.  Or one of the people who paid Mom would visit me.  I would wake up because something was inside me and it hurt.  Other times, I couldn’t see or breathe and woke up choking.  I moved and turned, but it wouldn’t go away.  And then suddenly I could breathe.  And she would laugh and laugh, quietly though because she didn’t want to wake anyone else up.

And all of this happened simultaneously inside my mind while I tried to work and live  a “normal” life.  And at night when I tried to sleep.

It was dangerous for me to go out at times like that.  It’s still dangerous to go out when I feel this way.

This Time Is Different

It’s around 8:00 in the evening where I live as I write this.  The backlash started on Tuesday after my appointment with my therapist.  I noticed it happening after two periods of dissociation on public streets where strangers (an old woman and a police officer) stopped me to ask if I was okay, lost, and needed assistance to get somewhere.  That doesn’t happen often anymore; and I was lucky enough that the part in charge was able to hold a conversation and reassure the concerned citizens.  But it scared me enough to know I needed help.

I called the hotline multiple times throughout the week.  They helped me clarify my thoughts and come up with coping strategies and options to figure out what was happening.  One option was writing about it in my next post.  Another was to figure out who was experiencing the backlash and how it was manifesting.  Because none of us could figure it out.  And of course talking with the hotline is a coping strategy too.  A combined self-reflection and meditation with different parts or alters working together figured out the solution.

The backlash manifested itself as quiet, vicious, verbal self-criticism directed at the most vulnerable parts subconsciously and only came out when writing, sleeping, or dreaming.  Then I started almost “losing” important items.  And my body doubled over in pain at odd times.  I tried using the usual strategies without success.  I was desperate so I used something reserved only for weekends when I have the time to go through the whole process.

This Strategy combination doesn’t have an official name.  And if knowing how to meditate makes the practice easier.  Here is what I did:

  • I checked in with my body
  • Took care of basic needs
  • Turned on the air conditioning in my apartment to make the place cold
  • Piled thick blankets and comforters on my bed
  • Changed clothes – something comfortable and not restricting
  • Turned off all social media, radio, etc.
  • Plugged in my phone with alarms set in case I felt good enough to go to work
  • Checked my locks one more time
  • Climbed in to bed, under the covers
  • Closed my eyes
  • Let all of my parts out to play
  • Let the memories, the feelings, the sensations flood me
  • Let every voice, image, sound, texture, taste, etc. be honored
  • Listened to and watched every expression
  • Allowed alters to control body movement
  • Convinced the sleep-deprived to sleep
  • Played with fireballs, cannons, slingshots, bubbles, and ball launchers – defense against enemy intruders
  • Let them create stories and share with us

I woke up at my usual time this morning and realized the coping strategy wasn’t finished.  We all needed more time.  So I emailed in sick and went back to sleep, waking up only to take care of basic needs.

Today has been all about self care:

making myself and my parts feel safe all around, working through the triggers and feelings inside and outside, soothing the scared alters, comforting ourselves and each other, and reminding ourselves that the backlash will end.  Then we can remember, move on, and get back to living.

So today’s post is rather late.  Also, no reader’s digest this time.  How do you cope with backlash?