Alter Post: Reclaiming My Body…struggles, steps & successes

Trigger Warning: explicit details and word usage about past sexual abuse and body image issues

Ramble Warning: this long post is written by many alters and might not be very coherent…read at your leisure

A Continuous Struggle

This is not a subject I talk about often on the blog. Thinking about my body feels scary more often than not. I still experience a lot of physical pain from tight muscles and body memories. And what I see in the mirror often reflects my negative self-image.

Different alters control different parts of my body; each of us hold memories in those places. Sharing the burden is easier now than it was before. Yet all parts of me cringe at the thought of ending celibacy or trying to date now.

Some alters never want to engage in sexual activity again. A few dream about having a husband, lover, or partner to share our life with. Most others are intellectually curious about the connections between sexuality, femininity, masculinity, and vitality or life force. All wish for platonic friends or family members to share physical contact with – i.e. hugs, pats, cuddles, holding hands, kisses on the forehead, gestures of intimate yet platonic affection. Maybe a pet some day? Cats probably as our body is not physically healthy enough to care for a dog yet.

Many of us in the alter system don’t like how our body and face looks. Some of us feel shame and embarrassment. Others feel frustration or sadness. Both tend to bring out feelings of or negative attitudes in others. Or attract unwanted attention.

The Coping Challenges

In spite of the many positive steps I have taken to improve my body image, holiday season brings out all of my insecurities. Going back home for the holidays – seeing my parents and sibling for the first time in many years – could be part of that. In general, though, I often get flashbacks of having to “dress up” or “being dressed” and “put on display” by my mother for different holiday get-togethers. And it makes me feel down about my body.

For me, the hardest part about having this negative body image and these feelings of insecurity is not feeling like my body and face are mine. For most of my life, my face and body were under someone else’s control. Other people decided what I looked like, how I dressed, when I ate, who I interacted with, and the types of activities I could participate in alone or with others. Even after I got out of that place, there were family obligations and cultural expectations that told me how to look and act based on my place (bottom) in the hierarchy.

In my head, I still hear all of those people (owners, predators, offenders, abusers, slavers, customers, teachers, class mates & age mates, friends, or relatives) calling me a slut, a whore, a prostitute, a dirty lesbian or bisexual cunt, a chink, slant eyes, beautiful temptress, satan’s get, evil witch, and submissive bitch. I hear them telling me I am fat and scrawny or slender and beautiful just before they rape me or attack me.

Acknowledge the Hard Truths

Well, I was a child prostitute. And I was a beautiful, gifted child turned awkward teen who found ways to hide in plain sight by being an outcast nerd in ugly clothes as an adult. I did have sex with both genders – if rape and forced prostitution count – and multiple partners. So maybe that technically makes me a lesbian and bisexual instead of heterosexual.

Clarification of Insults

But it does not make me a slut or a whore. For one thing, the sex was not my choice. For another, I only engaged in sex when being raped or pimped out. Once I had the choice, I stopped all sexual activity. So while I am okay with being called some of the names listed above, the words “slut” and “whore” really push my buttons.

Sure, I tried to date a few times in college and later on, but it never went past a first date or got physical. I ran first. Or fought second. Eventually, I simply shut down whenever someone tried to flirt with or hit on me. It felt like giving up, but it was also safer for everyone involved.

Expressing Femininity & Vitality in Healthy Ways

I’ve mostly come to terms with the sexual abuse. But I am still working on hating my femininity and sexuality. Still working on hating my face and body. Still working on seeing an over weight, flat chested, pimply girl in the mirror. Or seeing a skinny, straight, flat, weak girl who can’t control her own body in the reflection. Still working to reclaim my sexuality or vitality without having to engage in sexual activity.

My Fear and Hatred of…

I fear not having control over my reproductive system – choosing to get pregnant or not – if some day I become sexually active again before menopause. Considering how quirky my body is about everything, typical birth control methods might not be enough. Plus, I’ve been pregnant. Just the thought of that happening again sends panic signals through all of me. My family history is a mess. I really don’t want to pass on my genetic material. Plus, if I ever do want children, adoption and foster care are options.

I hate not being able to get regular health checks and dental exams without anasthesia. My triggers around medical and dental professionals are among the strongest and most vicious coping challenges. The automatic defense mechanisms and system shut down protocols get triggered every time I start working with someone new. And they bring out my most dangerous alters.

And I hate how often I get triggered by other people giving me nasty looks or making rude/insulting comments about my body parts. People used to pity me and gossip about my awful taste and weird habits behind my back, but were relatively polite and/or friendly unless irngoring me before I stopped hiding. After I stopped hiding, though, lots of people felt justified making nasty comments about my appearance and judging me based on my large bust and curvy shape. Being petite and Asian just made the cat calls and pettiness worse.

I hate how uncomfortable and defensive I feel talking about my “single on purpose” and “celibacy by choice” thoughts with friends & family. And both stances are choices. But it’s even more difficult trying to explain this to males and females who are flirting or coming on to me. Or who think my being friendly is flirting, etc. Confusing for someone with zero experience flirting, dating, etc.

Coping Strategies & Reclaiming My Body

It’s easier now to cope with many of these triggers and obsessive thoughts when the flashbacks come. All parts of me have made personal and life style changes to foster a loving, positive self-image and body image. Next year, I will finally be in a position to take other steps towards reclaiming my body as mine.

Steps like:

  • sterilization (aka tubes tied),
  • safely & confidently interacting with people in social situations,
  • herbal and aromatherapy remedies to support my health without making me sick,
  • (maybe) breast reduction surgery

Now that I am physically healthy and able to maintain a healthy body weight with job security and decent benefits these options are possible. I am not sure what is in my future, but at least now I have more options to feel safe and in control of my self and my body.

What kinds of steps could you, would you, are you willing to take in order to reclaim your body in a positive, safe way?

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategy: EMDR Trial 2

Credit to: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. The information below is for educational and support purposes only. Please discuss any changes you want to make with your provider first.*

BACKGROUND

In past posts, either my alters or I mentioned trying EMDR with different counselors. The results were good in session, but not so great between sessions or in real life. The coping strategies we practiced to help with the side effects of EMDR were sufficient but not enough to quote a past counselor. I couldn’t cope with the side effects of EMDR while living my old life, so put it aside to focus on techniques and strategies that did help.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

So what is EMDR? And why is it helpful (depending on the individual) for PTSD, Trauma, and Anxiety?

You can find an excellent definition and resources here at the EMDR Therapy website

This article defines EMDR

This website is for the EMDR International Association and offers training, education, and resources.

Q&A

Why try EMDR again after so many years?

Short answer:

Different counselor, different approach, different overall living situation

Longer answer:

  • My memories were coming back, and the emotions/sensations/triggers that came with them started interrupted daily life or nightly sleep too often
  • The hyper-vigilance and panic attacks kept increasing because of new or more sensitive environmental and internal triggers
  • Increased sensitivity to internal triggers – existing coping strategies and techniques were less helpful than usual; sometimes  made the overwhelming feelings or anxiety worse
  • My current counselor asked me if I was willing to try EMDR again and explained her process. Then showed me different options to use for the bi-lateral stimulation part of the process.
  • Overall, I felt safe, confident, and ready  to try this again

How did the EMDR work this time around?

The EMDR worked well and helped a lot to reduce my sensitivity to certain triggers and feel more confident about my reactions to situations in real life. The memories are just memories now. Any lingering trauma sensations or triggers left with each EMDR session.

Each Session?

Yes, I have had two sessions so far: one earlier this summer and one in October.

Why wait to share?

As mentioned earlier in the post, there are side effects or after effects that linger for a period of time after the EMDR session. The time period for long those effects last differs from person to person.

For me, the effects last about 2-3 months. During this time period, my focus is narrowed to: meet basic needs and self-care as I work with or through the emotional and physical changes brought out by the EMDR.

Will you share tips and suggestions for preparing for an EMDR session?

Yes. I broke the list down into three sections.

Discussing with or finding an experienced counselor

  • Learn as much as you can about EMDR and how it could benefit you because it does not help everyone
  • If you are seeing a counselor, have a conversation about how EMDR could help you
  • If your counselor is trained in EMDR, ask if you can try it in a future session
  • If your counselor is not trained and you want to try EMDR, ask for a referral to work with an EMDR specialist along with regular sessions
  • If you do decide to work with a specialist, make sure you feel safe and comfortable with her or him before you start anything.

*remember it’s important to trust the counselor and feel safe sharing these experiences in order for any kind of therapy or coping technique to be effective*

Before the EMDR session

  • Listen to the counselor’s process: intake questions, building resources, practicing coping strategies so that you remember them even in distress, discussing memories and choosing which one to work on in each session, etc.
  • Work with the counselor to answer questions as honestly as possible; provide enough information to help you both make informed decisions about the session and after care
  • If a coping strategy does not work for you, say so and work with the counselor to find an alternative
  • The counselor may ask you what type of EMDR tool you want to use for the bi-lateral stimulation part. The choice is yours, and it’s okay to ask if you can try out each one before making your choice

After the EMDR session

  • You will feel tired after your session, so it’s best to try scheduling your session after work or on a day with minimal activity
  • You may experience emotions and sensations differently – that makes coping with and reacting to them difficult sometimes
  • Your body may feel different – especially if you experience body memories
  • You could have more memories resurface – not all traumatic – and have to cope with them too
  • If you are like me (aka open about your unique gifts), you might also have some interesting experiences within your environment or during interactions with people. Traditional coping strategies might not work for those experiences, but your spiritual or religious practice could help. My spiritual practice helps me cope with them

Remember, EMDR is not for everyone. These tips are for informational purposes only and based solely on my personal experience. Please discuss with a medical or mental health professional before making any decisions or changes to your current treatment plan.

Thanks for reading.

DID Post: Follow Up of Last Week’s Coping Strategies

Catching Up

Last Sunday, I couldn’t post because all parts of me got hit with intense body memories and flashbacks.

Literally, the monsters in my mind tried to take over by staging a coup. The traumatized parts of my alters got triggered and sent mixed signals to my brain. It felt like getting sick with a cold and the flu at the same time all over again. Plus, I still had to work and finish tasks before my vacation last week.

Types of Change in My Life

There are times when change happens so fast, a person is left flailing around unable to keep up with it all.

There are times when change happens, and the individual has enough awareness to fight it, roll with it, or try something else. Either way, the change(s) does not overwhelm the individual.

Then comes the slow change  that silently creeps up on a person, the kind that goes unnoticed until something happens to make it obvious. Kind of like an “I should have known that would happen” situation.

A Quick Detour to Explain Hallucinations vs Intuitive Communications

Option 3 is what happened to me two weeks ago. Unlike a lot of people I talk to about PTSD, I am completely aware of my hallucinations as they occur. I can tell the differences between them and reality in the present moment. My hallucinations are obvious to me because they are consistent in their appearance – hearing voices, seeing exaggerated and transparent forms of beings/cartoons/creatures (aka ghosts), and feeling certain body sensations – and different from the sensations and vibrations my plants use to communicate with me.

Sometimes I still get confused when my empathic senses or intuition tries to share information. But that is a case of “am I hallucinating or is my intuition talking to me?” Working with my spiritual mentor has helped me a lot with that question. I feel a lot more confidence sorting through the different sensations and information that triggers my hyper-vigilance and body memories.

Back to Last Weekend

It started on Wednesday when I woke up feeling sick and had to take a “sick day” from work. My nightmares were getting worse and bleeding into day dreams that distracted me from…well everything. I started wanting to be awake all night and sleep all day. While I was awake, the voices kept up a steady stream of shaming insults about anything and everything.

I was tired, distracted, confused, and congested with a lingering head cold. All that increased my palpitations (side effect of high anxiety levels) and made breathing difficult. The high anxiety made tense head and neck muscles tighten even more. No matter what, I just couldn’t get comfortable. So I slept as best as possible and drank lots of tea. Distracted myself with podcasts about essential oils, aromatherapy, and herbalism. Focused on trying to figure out why the pain increased no matter what coping strategy I tried.

Then it hit me. Maybe one or two weeks before, while shopping for holiday gifts at my favorite store, I ran into a different spiritual teacher. We talked, and she suggested that maybe part of my anxiety came from holding on to the past without realizing it…that maybe I (or parts of me) was projecting my hopes and dreams onto others and forging connections the rest of me didn’t want. It could be that my alters were growing, changing, and afraid to let go of the familiar.

That made a lot of sense. Headaches and pain that won’t go away no matter what I try usually means some kind of internal conflict.

I haven’t used the phrase “monsters in my mind” in a while, so let me explain. I and every one of my alter personalities experienced severe trauma of some kind. We all hold the memories in different ways (mental/emotional/spiritual) and in different parts of our physical body. The memories are attached to the “other stuff” (emotions / thoughts / behaviors / actions / reactions) we experienced and couldn’t process back then.

Our memories are neutral. The “other stuff” is what creates the monsters in our mind – the voices telling us how awful we are and that we are worthless, etc. Essentially, I and my alters are fighting ourselves when this happens – hence the term internal conflict. Sometimes a call to the hotline helps; the volunteers listen objectively and can help sort through the confusion. Other times, though, only meditation can help.

By meditation, I mean lying down someplace warm and safe (usually my bed), closing my eyes, and letting all parts of me out to communicate at the same time. We do a roll call to make sure all 88 are present. if anyone is missing, we go looking for them. We protect each other from the monster traps and any other potential problems that come with high anxiety and flashbacks.

On the outside, our body looks like it’s sleeping. Sometimes sleep talking and sleep laughing occur too. Our body might move on the bed, roll around or change positions, but it does not get up and move around. That kind of vertical movement is too dangerous. On the inside, though, all of us are aware of the different body sensations moving through our physical form as we check our internal home and its safeguards.

The safeguards are boundaries that protect our inside home and its safe spaces from the monsters. This worked well in the past because many of the triggers that caused these kinds of panic attacks and flashbacks came from outside of our body/mind self. We could retreat inside and do what was necessary to keep the monsters from invading and taking over.

This time, though, our safeguards were intact. The monsters were inside the safeguards and causing havoc.

How did they get in? They were already inside. These monsters were the hallucinations body memories given form as we alters learned to cope with and let go of our past. And the monsters wanted to leave just as much as we wanted them to go. But no one knew how to get them out.

A meditation that combined 2-3 different practices.

  • LovingKindness or Compassion: all parts of me opened up our home and safe spaces to everyone – especially the “monsters” and “outcasts” – with open minds and open hearts – kindness, compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love
  • Mara – in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition: They could stay and be part of the community for as long as they wished as long as they followed our rules. If at any time they wanted to leave,  the could do so knowing that leaving was permanent.
  • Visualization – The monsters liked to talk, so once one said “I want to leave” or something similar, a rainbow portal appeared – sometimes in front / side/ back, sometimes above, sometimes below the monster. Then the monster – who was decidedly not an alter personality – stepped through the one-way portal to go home.

Imagination and a love of fantasy combined with a belief in magic, miracles, and the paranormal helped all parts of me design this meditation.

Since all 88 alter personalities changed and had monsters ready to leave, the meditation took a long time. It started on Friday after work and continued through Sunday. There were times of actual rest and pause for food/drink, etc. throughout the weekend. But most of it was spent lying down in meditation.

One week has passed since that big self-care weekend, but I still get requests for portals.

And yes, if at any time one or more alter personalities decided to leave our system, I would open a portal for that personality. Before he/she/it left, I’d give a big hug and say good-bye. Then probably cry for a bit at losing part of myself. But I’d let that part go because trying force something to stay against its will goes against my values.

Yes, I am afraid that will happen some day. But if it does happen, there will be an excellent reason.

Until then, all parts of me continue to work on recovery together.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: What is fun? What is play?

This is a reflective post…

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And so it begins…

As part of my recovery and spiritual work, I’m working with all of my parts to learn how to play and have fun. It’s part of bringing joy and happiness back into all parts of my life.

Not all the time, mind, but often enough to balance out the sad or down times and give everyone one more reason to wake up in the morning excited to start the day.

Coping strategies involving fun….

Part of self care is doing things I enjoy.

Part of self soothing is working with feelings/sensations, objects, ideas, etc. that bring comfort or peace.

Part of grounding is bringing back or recalling good memories, pleasurable moments, or fun acuities/times.

Way back when…

IMG_0715Whenever someone used to ask me: “What makes you feel (good/happy/joyful/peaceful)?” My answer was: “I don’t know.” and I felt embarrassed every  time I answered that question.

Whenever people ask me: “What do you do for fun?” or “What are your hobbies?”…I distracted with a different question. Or mentioned typical stuff that seemed hobby-like – cooking, reading – and then turned the conversation to something else.

Most often, though, I would get a panicked look on my face and become really quiet. So quiet the other person thought something was wrong with me and chose to not spend time with me anymore.

These days…

I’ve found that joy scares me. The emotions and sensations feel uncomfortable in my body. I am never sure how to act, react, not act, or not react when the sensations move through me.

But I have started finding joy, peace, and happiness in all phases of my life. The best part, though, is that all parts of me are finding and experiencing these emotions and sensations too as they grow and change.

But fun, fun still eludes me. I am never sure if what I feel is fun or not. Play is the same way. I don’t know what play is. Not sure I ever truly experienced it as a child. Or if I did, the memories are locked in one of the amnesia vaults for now.

IMG_0736Right now, my plants bring a lot of joy. They are all different shapes, sizes, and shades of green. Some flower, but most don’t. My succulents (right) live on the sunniest window sill.

But what surprises me most is that each of my plants has its own personality They communicate with each other and with me in “plant speak”. Sometimes I burst out laughing just “listening” to their observations.

Working with crystals brings joy and feels good overall. Studying aromatherapy brings excitement, anticipation, joy, and anxiety. The whole school aspect brings out triggers and sometimes feels overwhelming, so I’m a bit stalled on my aromatherapy studies. But the crystals, I try to visit my favorite store at least once a month to play with the crystals there and photograph my designs. Here are a few of my latest creations:

Maybe the crystal work is “play” and “fun”?

Final Questions….

So what does “fun” mean to you? And how do you bring play into your life if you don’t already make time to play?

Thanks for reading