Like everything else, learning a coping strategy and remembering it takes practice and some kind of organization. We in the AlterXpressions system use a tool box (or many tool boxes), a magic bag (or many magic bags), and at least one safe place to practice our coping strategies and techniques. The terms can be changed to suit individual needs (pick something that reminds you of safety, happiness, or something positive); whatever helps the individual or system remember where the coping strategies (tools) are stored and how to access them.
Tool Box – internal storage space/container for coping strategies and techniques (like a memory box maybe?) We use a vault inside the library as our main tool book. Some of us hide our tools in candy boxes or recycled food tins. Mine looks like a prism.
Magic Bag or Grounding Bag – physical container to carry when out and about; I use the phrase magic bag because everyone in the systems believes in magic and coping strategies are like magic for us. My therapist uses grounding bag; she learned it from a training workshop run by an EMDR specialist and trauma therapist
Safe Places to Practice – internal and external places with some quiet and privacy to learn and use coping strategies; we little kids love practicing on the jungle gym and obstacle courses. The trees like practicing in meadows or looking over the bluffs to see water below. Some of the boys work best in a sound proof radio station.
The skills and personality characteristics we practice in developing our tool box, magic bag, and safe place are:
Imagination/Creativity – our tool box is a library inside a maximum security vault with an intercom system that connects it to all of our internal safe spaces. Our body tends to wear the “magic bag” in terms of clothes, jewelry, tattoos, and accessories; the rest goes into a backpack or plastic bag.
Visualization – The library is like a bee hive or cave system with sunny places, access to the ocean and forest, cozy fire places, lounge chairs, book shelves, a kitchen, blankets and pillows, stuffed animals, a craft corner, etc. And everything is movable.
Focus/Concentration – Each alter has his/her/its own tool box. We also have group tool boxes and community ones. We create these as our go-to places when someone wants solitude or alone time or small group time. Or for different age groups because not all tools are appropriate for all ages and genders. Takes focus and concentration to create, store, and remember them.
Persistence – keep trying to create the ____ until each one feels right; and make changes when something doesn’t feel right anymore
Thinking outside the box – sky is the limit; use a scarf and hat as a magic bag or underneath the bed as a safe place. One of my favorite safe spaces is a walk-in closet with locked doors
Self-Confidence – success builds on success; every time we accomplish something positive, our confidence goes up
Independence – we can learn how to use the tools and build each piece, but it’s up to us to create and utilize our knowledge to the best of our ability
Accomplishment or Success – finish something = accomplishment or success; success brings positive feelings and builds on itself
Basic coping strategies are like automatic defense mechanisms. They get used without conscious thought. Taking time to think about behaviors and thoughts that help us cope with every day anxiety and triggers helped us develop the first tool box. As different alters cycled through periods of remembering and forgetting, it seemed like the best option was to create an accessible internal tool box like a library with security and safe places so that everyone could access all of our tools.
And once we learned about physical grounding and started reading about magic bags of holding (fae and Celtic mythology) from some of our favorites fantasy books, a magic bag that holds our favorite coping tools without being obvious was born. Our magic bags change in shape, size, and contents all the time. Depends on who is in charge, who is the most distress, and what tasks have to be accomplished. Yes we have grounding tools in and around our bedroom. A magic bag is in the works too.
But most important is having a safe place to practice these tools so they are available no matter what kind of stress, distress, panic, or anxiety hits. And the best way to practice is when we feel relatively calm and safe. This way, the tools come out of the tool box, get used for a specific purpose, and get put back in the tool box when we are clearheaded. Like muscle memory, repetition works.
Repetition, not a routine or a workbook. We practice when we can, as often as we can.
Thanks for reading.