Recovery: not wanting to be pretty or beautiful is okay

Busy day tomorrow so posting early…

iris-apfel-1225701

Introduction

When I first started recovery, I did not want to be pretty or beautiful.  In fact, I went so far as to look as awful as possible on purpose.  Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “attractive” were my version of four-letter curses.  “Stylish”, “fashionable”, and “trendy” were included as I got older.

Growing up, all I received was contradictory information about physical appearances.

On one hand, it was a good thing.  I got lots of attention and compliments.  My parents got compliments and praise.  People gave me leeway when I got into trouble.

On the other hand, it was not so great.  People made assumptions.  They tried to take advantage of me.  And used my appearance as one excuse for abusing me.

Through the Years of Recovery

After a few years of therapy, I think it was with my second therapist, the anorexia and negative body image coping techniques started to resonate.  And I realized that my aversion to certain words was making recovery difficult to impossible.  I had to make peace with the curse words and what they meant to me.

  • That’s how I discovered three important phrases:
  • Body negative (me at the time)
  • Body neutral (what I strove for in that phase of recovery)
  • Body positive (my future goal)

This is where being an avid bookworm and English major in college helped a lot.  My love of words, meaning, and research provided the tools to redefine what “Beautiful”, “pretty”, “attractive” and similar words meant to me.  Took them from having negative and toxic connotations to positive and healthy ones.

The journey started with accepting that I was “plain” or “bland” instead of “ugly” or “gross” at the time.  Skinny, underweight, bad skin, pale, with acne and rashes, ill-fitting clothes worked.  The real goal was “healthy” and to discover what “healthy” meant to me.  If “healthy” meant bad skin, boniness, bloating, and weight gain, I was all for that.

Then came the time I had to accept that weight gain meant “curvy” and “pretty” and “attractive” because the “skin and bones” look was replaced with “slim and strong”.  The bad skin cleared up as my eating habits improved.  And I realized that I didn’t feel safe in my body anymore.  It, my body, was attracting way too much attention.

Time to Hide Again

I went back to wearing frumpy, over sized, ugly clothes mixed with more fitted items underneath.  Except for pants…because I hated wearing belts and wanted my pants to stay up.  But that was the ONLY criterion – that they stay up.  So of course there are many unflattering styles of pants available.  And I indulged in all of them to hide behind.

Only, there’s only so much a person can do to hide when her backside is not straight, flat, or hipless.  Same with her front when the girls are not small anymore and wearing the wrong size causes pain.  I think that was the turning point,  the beginning of moving from viewing myself as “plain” to “attractive” to “pretty” and my body as “unhealthy” and “skinny” to “slim” to “curvy” and “healthy”.

Time to Stop Hiding

Thus began my obsession with body shape, femininity, fashion vs. style, and clothes that fit/felt good/flattered/reflected me.   I discovered the world of blogging.  That was scary.  So much contradictory information.  So many choices.  And so much frustration because nothing ready-made fit me or my body shape without alterations.  And alterations were a trigger.

I went back to my invisibility cloak for a few years.  But then I realized I was in a good place.  I was safe.  I had friends and connections.  I had a job and was financially independent.  I was strong enough to face my body fears.  I was confident enough to be me.

Most important: I wanted people to see the real me;  to have my outsides match my insides.

Present

And that’s when I decided to discover my personal style.  What did that mean?

I wanted to be viewed as beautiful in a timeless, unique way that only people who are comfortable with themselves can be.

It was time to make my insides and outsides match.  That journey started with visiting fashion and style blogs.  Then it moved on to defining what personal style meant to me and how it fit my values, lifestyle, and goals.

2014 marked the beginning of my style journey.  While I look and feel a lot better about my choices, this one will be ongoing.  As I change, my personality changes, my style changes.

Conclusion

I hope this quote from Iris Apfel helps you the way it helped me.  Before watching her documentary on Netflix, I didn’t realize some of the most important words in my life came from a woman who considered “pretty” less than interesting.

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenge: Panic Attack and Missed Appointment

Background

Last week I was very tired.  My muscles hurt.  My brain was fuzzy, i.e. I lacked mental clarity.  Wasn’t hungry or thirsty.  Coped with 1 birthday, 1 holiday, and over time at work.

The nightmares started Thursday.  Waking up frozen in fear and unable to breathe started late Friday/early Saturday.  Waking up in the middle of the night for no reason started late Wednesday/early Thursday.  The gas and abdominal pain decreased after acupuncture treatment on Tuesday, but flared up again on Friday.

The Challenges

I have to say that rubbing my tummy in a clockwise position really does help to get things moving in there and relieve some of the pain.  Hard to imagine, but gas really does hurt until the body lets it out.  So does everything else that gets stuck in there.  Cause pain I mean.

And abdominal pain causes pain in other places too.  For me, it causes low back pain and pain further up my chest.  Then breathing deep becomes a challenge.  Then breathing shallow becomes a challenge.  Finally, I have to consciously remember to breathe.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.

Waking up Saturday morning, I felt fine in bed.  Going down the ladder was slightly uncomfortable because I felt off balance.  Then I go to the floor.

My body rebelled.  Said: “Get me to the bathroom ASAP”

In I went.  And so started the panic attack with my body in pain as it tried to eliminate waste.

Normally, this is not a big deal.  Panic attacks like this have eased up a lot with coping strategies in place.

But this time was different.  We had a time limit.  By we, I mean all of us mental alters and our body (considers itself an alter too).  And the time limit caused even more  triggers.  Caused a regression back to those times when nothing but passing out into unconsciousness made the pain stop.  Without the time limit, maybe we could have made it to therapy.

But with less than an hour to work through the panic attack, everything quickly got worse instead of better.  Not until I texted the counselor to tell her that we couldn’t go because of a panic attack did the pain ease.  50 minutes later, the panic attack was over.

And I missed counseling.  Takes about 10 minutes to dress and leave.  Takes about 15 minutes to walk  there on a good day.  By  the time I arrived, the session would be mostly over.

Coping Strategies that worked:

  • Repeating the following mantra: “I love you.  You love you.  We love you.  I love us.  You love us.  We love us.  I trust you.  You trust you.  We trust you.  We trust our body.  I am safe.  You are safe.  We are safe.” to start.
  • Reminding ourselves: “We are safe at home.  This is our bathroom.  We can stay as long as we want.  We can leave and come back any time.”
  • Finally: “Pain is a warning system and reminder. Pain eases as our body does its job.  We trust our body to do what is necesssary to keep us safe.”
  • Belly rubs and back massage to help stuff on the inside move out.
  • Removing any layers that felt uncomfortable against the skin.
  • Breathing and changing position as needed to ease physical discomfort.
  • Cleaning up; putting on clothes or not; taking care of other needs like food and water; sleeping again.

Conclusion

Staying at home was  the best thing to do.  Following the panic attack, I had a light meal and slept for about 5 hours straight.  During that sleep, my mind and body waged war with whatever was causing the heightened anxiety and panic attack symptoms.

Woke up feeling refreshed and hungry for the first time all week.

Was it my grandmother’s birthday?  Was it Chinese New Year and my conscious choice not to celebrate?  Was it working over time?  Was it an email from my cousin?  Was it an email from the college admissions team requesting a call next week to inform me of their decision?

I honestly don’t know.  All I do know it that I’m tired and grumpy.  Today, for the first time in over a week, I actually woke up feeling rested and like myself.  I worked some more; did laundry; cooked a few meals.  And now I’m exhausted.

Also a little worried.  Missing appointments is a big deal and something I work hard not to do.

How do you handle missed appointments?

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Anniversaries: Do you know any centenarians?

I have one grandparent still alive.

She turns 101 today.

We spent 4 years apart because I had to walk away.  The year she turned 100, we reconnected again.

I saw her 2-3 times before I moved across the country.  She never doubted me, always believed in me, consistently loved me even if she couldn’t protect me.

Hard choices all around.  Choose one person or the whole family?  She chose the whole family, and I think I’m better for it.  After all: I got to be part of her, my aunts, my uncles, and my cousins lives then.  Still have them now.

So today, I’m feeling gratitude and love.  I’m celebrating life.  And I’m thanking the universe for both of us still being alive.

My grandmother survived marriage, war, immigration, births, deaths, children, grandchildren, and so much more.

Still, when I saw her today, she smiled and asked if I ate yet.  Then told me I’m wearing a pretty hat.

She’s 101 years old.  She still wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night.  She uses a walker and watches her favorite TV shows during the day.

I love you Grandma.  You inspire me to keep on going, living, enjoying life.

Thanks for reading…

Coping Challenge: Agoraphobia

Introduction

During certain times of the year, the pain gets worse and the memories overwhelm my logical thinking abilities.  I start to feel vulnerable outside of my apartment.  Too vulnerable and my brain automatically starts sending out “not safe” signals to the rest of my parts.  So I stop leaving my apartment building.  And then I stop leaving my apartment except when absolutely necessary.

Description

And even the “absolutely necessary” going out causes a problem sometimes.  But then I go outside and feel confused.  Being out of my apartment feels good at first.  I enjoy the scents and sounds from trees, restaurants, people, and dogs.  But the further I get from my building, the more vulnerable I feel.  What if the pain escalates?  What if I can’t get home?  What if I embarrass myself by having a panic attack in front of these strangers?

The questions, the fears crowd my mind and stiffen my body.  My hips start to ache.  My spine curves.  And I focus one step at a time to the counselor’s office.  Potential treat: a hot chocolate (regular or peppermint) from Starbucks before the appointment.  Potential treat: brunch/lunch on the way home.

Since I love food and hardly ever eat breakfast before my morning appointments, the reward sometimes helps me get from A to B.  Hot chocolate that I don’t have to make also helps.  Other days, visiting some stores to window shop works better.

But sometimes not even a reward for going out or meeting needs like laundry or grocery shopping can get me out of the apartment.

Challenge

Eventually, the agoraphobia passes.

While I experience the agoraphobia, I also feel frustration and shame.  Frustration because I want to be outside.  Shame because my fear and vulnerability prevent me from doing what I want.  Triggers occur.  Panic takes over.  And the only safe place feels like home.

Nothing I’ve tried helps.  Nothing makes the agoraphobia go away.

The trigger causing agoraphobia hasn’t revealed itself.  The trigger to make it go away hasn’t revealed itself either.

Conclusion

I wait out the periods of agoraphobia and hope that this one ends sooner instead of later.  But I still hate it.  I still struggle.

I still persist.

Remembering and pain will not stop me anymore now than it has before.

Thanks for reading.

 

Alter Post: tell stories in dreams

****Please remember this is from an ALTER POV, not a counselor or provider POV***

I am darkness, a male child alter.  I am dawn-to-dusk, a male child alter.  I am Bree, a female child alter.  I am Sienna, a female adolescent alter.  I am Silence, a hermaphrodite adolescent alter.  I am Willow, a tree alter.  I am Rowan, a tree alter.  I am Bamboo, a grass alter.  I am Angora, an adult alter and twin to the part who interacts most with the outside world.  We are the 5, 5 male alters all brothers with different names and age ranges.  I am Purple, a female child alter.  I am Blue, a female child alter.  I am Night, a male child alter.  I am Mist, a male child alter.

These are not our official names.  We don’t have names by choice, but these work for the purposes of this website/blog.  For every male child alter, there is also a female child alter, like twins.  Not all of us decided to share names today.  Many of us can’t speak or write even though we can communicate with each other.  So one of the adults is helping us with the writing.

DREAMS

Most of the time, we communicate with each other in dreams.  Sometimes we talk, but mostly we share daydreams and nighttime dreams.  Most of the voices we hear inside are trauma memories that are lost and need to go home where they belong.  Their home is someplace else with others who love and accept and respect them.  And the ONLY time we can all really connect with each other is when our body is asleep.

That’s when all of the barriers in the physical world go down, and we only have to worry about what happens inside the brain.  The brain is where we created our internal world and spend most of our time.  But now we’re learning that we have to include other parts of our body in the world too if we want to fully recover from the past.

Some of those voices can’t go home because they’re missing parts too.  Those parts are stored in different memory banks, i.e. our body parts, and need to be reunited with the scary voices and trauma memories in the brain so everyone can go home.  Before we moved to the new home state, none of us (not even the know-it-alls) understood why those voices were howling at us and making our body hurt so much.  They were moving deeper into our body.

And none of us could follow.  We were separated by a force field and couldn’t move past the base of the skull.  Everything below that was completely dark and empty-looking.  What would happen if we did make it through the darkness to the other side?  How would we survive the new place?  Why did that darkness hurt so much?  Where did it come from?  And why did the pain get worse the closer we got to the darkness?

It got so bad that none of us wanted to sleep or be alone.  That was hard on the adults and older adolescents.  They were busy making sure everything was in order for the move and working at the job.  So we started sharing our information during the sleep times and when no one was working.  And the dreams unfolded like stories and movies.  We always made sure to try to end them before work, but the trauma memories would sneak in and take over.  They didn’t want the dreams to stop.  And especially didn’t want anyone going to work.

Work and outside of the home base was too scary.  Our body was vulnerable, and they wanted to keep attacking the force field.  Eventually, the adults figured out what was happening.  And ALL of us worked together with the trauma memories to make the pain stop until everyone was safe again.

After the move, the memories started attacking the force field again.  And we child alters got curious.  Feeling adventurous, we started checking out the force field too.  And the black darkness made our bodies hurt.  Made everyone tired.  We started experiencing feelings that had been locked away for a long time.  Remembering people who died or disappeared.  Dreaming of past experiences without the holes.

Each time we fall asleep, that force field weakens.  The darkness lightens up, becoming a lighter and lighter gray color.  We feel scared and excited about what’s behind the force field.  Already memories are leaking through on both sides.  Good memories, bad memories, neutral memories.  Feelings are leaking through too.

Maybe that’s why reconnecting with family is easier and less scary right now.  Either way, something inside is changing.  And feeling that force field separating our mind and body slowly erode inspires hope.

Thanks for reading.