I hope you are all doing well. Apologies for the late post.
You won’t get much from me this week. Maybe not this upcoming Sunday either.
I am down with a head cold and a bad rash on my body and arms. It started end of last week and got really bad over the weekend. Tomorrow I’m going to the doctor – yes it’s that bad – to get everything checked out.
A lot of guests have asked (in one way or another) me to expand on what I wrote in my About pages. (no I am not linking them here 🙂 you know how to find them)
Specifically, they want to know more about my thoughts on life after surviving trauma and why I believe that rebuilding a life after surviving the trauma sometimes feels harder than surviving the trauma that created me.
All of my posts address these topics indirectly as I share parts of my life and personal experiences in them. But I have not yet written a full post about either topic. My reasons are same as with writing about my mother’s abuse or body memory coping strategies. Creating posts about these topics, writing about them (not sharing), brings up a lot of triggers and flashbacks I am not always prepared to cope with later.
Today, though, I will share a little about the purpose behind each About page and the topics underlined above. They are intertwined.
My Thoughts on Life After Trauma
As my counselor told me in session yesterday – and I am paraphrasing because I don’t remember the exact wording, “You have to be looking for, open to and ready for (insert activity, experience, etc. here) in order to bring it into your life.” If I am open to the change, but not ready for it, the change won’t take. If I am ready, but not open, the change will pass me by.
I share this with you because I truly believe that surviving trauma and getting out of that environment is only part of the battle. My body can leave physically even if my mind is still stuck in those old patterns and putting me into similar situations again and again. My mind might be in a better place, but my body experiences illness or pain that brings me back to dangerous situations because I used past coping strategies that worked fast.
On a spiritual level, I might have got my mind and body out of the toxic or abusive environment and on healthier tracks, but I lack faith in myself and belief that I deserve to live and feel happy. That lack of faith puts roadblocks on achieving my goals and sabotages my efforts to learn new or different coping strategies. Even if I have faith, feeling undeserving of joy, success, and a “good” life undermines everything I work for because it prevents me from learning, being curious, and succeeding at any task that brings joy into my life.
When I talk about living in darkness, gray spaces and light, I’m talking about the journey and struggles to feel deserving of living a life on my terms when everything in my past taught me the exact opposite.
I went back into the darkness often because I felt safest and most comfortable there. I knew the rules and how to relate to that environment. While I wasn’t happy or safe, I had a place that offered some security and belonged there.
The transition into gray spaces occurred when I started caring about myself and believing I did not have to punish myself all the time with a job and living environment that made me do, act, think, talk, live in ways opposite to my personal values. At first, the difference between darkness and gray were unnoticeable. I had done everything possible to remove myself from the external (environmental and physical) danger and now had to work on the internal (mental, emotional and/or spiritual) danger.
That is where counseling, nutrition therapy and alternative medicine helped the most. Through these resources, I found safety and a support network willing to teach me how to help myself. Counseling and alternative medicine also put me back in touch with my spiritual self and interest in spiritual practices around the world. From there, the gray spaces got lighter and lighter until I stepped into the light one day.
The light blinded me. It felt so uncomfortable because I thought I had to be perfect all the time. Felt so much pressure to conform and fit in that I rebelled and went back into the darkest gray areas I could reach. That was about the time I remembered the truth about what happened with my mother and started feeling emotions for the first time – about 10 years ago.
It’s also around the time I met my first trauma specialist counselor. She deserves the credit for helping me realize I could live in the lighter parts of the gray and still be myself because not everyone is meant to live in the light all the time.
Four years into my work with her, I started feeling more secure living life on my terms as my authentic self and started this blog.
But that whole process took 10 years of falling, struggling, and getting up again.
And this is why I believe that learning to live and thrive after surviving trauma sometimes feels more difficult than surviving the trauma.
Why I believe Rebuilding a Life After Surviving the Trauma Feels Harder Than Surviving the Trauma That Created Me
No matter the type of experience(s) an individual survives, trauma changes her or him from the inside out because it affects perspective about life, belief systems, and sense of self. Nature (through our physiology) blessed us with our physical and mental capabilities through the unique combination of our parents’ and ancestors’ genetics. Nurture showed us how to behave, modeled belief systems to help us fit in with our community social structure, and informed our developing sense of self as we grew up.
One did not occur separate from the other. They worked together to to help us learn (through modeling and experience) who we were, who we are, who we want to be, and who we could be.
Then comes change. With change comes different perspectives, new experiences, and knowledge. Some change is easy to accept and incorporate into our lives. It doesn’t shake up our belief system or sense of self while opening us up to different experiences. Hobbies, sports, school and jobs are some examples.
Other changes are more difficult to accept and incorporate, but do not permanently alter anything. Moving to a new neighborhood, getting fired, going to college, first boyfriend or girlfriend, getting bullied or being a bully are some examples.
Finally, there are changes that affect all parts of our self in a permanent and life-altering way. One we experience these changes, we can’t go back to our old lives as if nothing happened. Everything feels, looks, sounds, etc. different and new…maybe even scary. By everything I mean, what or who we believe in, about ourselves, about the people around us, and so on.
This is like being at a crossroads. We have choices and options – born with free will even if that doesn’t always feel true – and different paths to take. Or we can choose to stay on the same path, pretend the changes didn’t happen. We can stay with the same routines even though they make us feel unhappy and hurt us because it’s easier than making another change with unknown consequences. Or maybe we believe what others say about not having any other choices and change being impossible.
Change is part of life. Free will is part of life. No matter what anyone or anything tells us, we always have choices.
Survival is difficult. We do, say, act, react in ways that keep us alive while hurting us in other ways. I know this from personal experience. The shame and guilt of that knowledge still affects me; probably always will.
Yet, if I had to make those same choices again, I would not change anything. Back then, my choices were:
Do/be/say/(insert verb) what we want and survive
Rebel and get abused, tortured or killed
Keep rebelling and causing trouble and your loved ones will get abused, tortured and killed
Once I got out of that, my choices changed. I was and am responsible for how I treat myself and others. I could continue behaving as if I was living in my old community and communicating with my parents, peers, relatives, neighbors, etc. Or I could change from the inside out and find people who loved, accepted, and supported me for being me. Not having awareness of how my words and actions affected other people put me in some serious negative spaces as I learned how to blend in with the outside world and conventional society again.
I still fall into those spaces as I spread my wings and try new activities and experiences. The difference now is that I have more tools and coping strategies along with a support network to help me when I fall.
These days, I am a lot happier and feel deserving of all the positive experience life wants to offer me. Joy, peace, kindness, unconditional love, and radical acceptance make up most of my foundation these days.
A Wish for My Guests
This blog was created to provide a basic support network and safety net for others who found themselves in situations like mine – without obvious support or resources and with a determination to make different choices.
I hope this post helps you understand why I created the About pages and do not update or change them often. They share the blueprint or outline of my journey. A journey whose structure hasn’t changed much even though the details and experiences change often.
My wish for all of you is that you learn to believe in yourselves and believe that you deserve all of the positive experiences life offers you.
This week, especially, had all parts of me reflecting on the so-called rigidity and busyness of my life right now. Starting something new often brings up boatloads (and I mean cruise ship or air carrier sized) triggers and flashbacks. Enough that I used to get discouraged from trying something new or beginning a project outside of my comfort zone.
Uptight, Rigid, or Something Else?
Something I am often accused of (in my personal life more than professional these days) is being a rigid, uptight, type-A personality, stick-in-the-mud whose life is too regimented to ever be fun.
My face often lacks the appropriate facial expressions to show others I am enjoying myself, etc. Body language is the same way.
What these people don’t (or maybe can’t/refuse to) understand is that I relax when I feel safe and comfortable.
The less safe or comfortable I feel, the more tense and rigid my exterior self appears to people.
Structure, DID, and Meeting Basic Needs (aka functioning)
During the years when I would lose time or forget as part of my traumatic amnesia, an ingrained routine was all that kept me functioning moment to moment and day to day.
I might not wake up knowing where I was. Lunch time could turn into an adventure that left me on the other side of town in an unknown to me neighborhood and no public transportation. After work, I might get on the same commuter train as always (time and berth are correct) and end up in another city all together. Mirrors used to piss me off because I never recognized the face or body reflected back at me.
And those are some of the big items that get attention. Smaller stuff like walking into walls and furniture, forgetting a process for work, not being able to learn a dance routine or martial arts technique, were less obvious items affected by DID and traumatic amnesia while also more embarrassing. Adults often chastised me for being inattentive, forgetful, etc. because I was so “book smart” and yet so uncoordinated within my body. Peers used that as yet another excuse to bully and make fun of me when I lived as a “normal” little girl in public school or among blood family.
But that same structure allowed me to live both lives without mixing them up often. Punishment for mixing up my two lives included a lot of pain and sensory overload. When those triggers visit, all I remember is unbearable noise followed by feeling sensations of extreme pain throughout my head and body.
And so, even when I lose a weekend or wake up not remembering what happened for weeks at a time, the structured survival routine embedded in my muscle memory ensures that I and my alter personalities remember to meet our basic needs until awareness and memory comes back. Even for small things like:
staring at a computer at work, getting triggered into a dissociative or alter personality switch for seconds or minutes, and coming back not remembering what happened in all that time. But the screen looks different and a quality check of my work shows errors I wouldn’t normally make…
And as I experience the pain again, I think to myself “well yes it hurts, but I’m still here. Alive, present, happy, busy doing what I enjoy.”
My life is not “typical” in any way, but it works for me. I get 99% of my work and personal stuff accomplished from within the relative safety of my apartment. Work is balanced with “fun-to-me” activities and hobbies. Communication with the outside world is often limited to email and phone or video chat, but that feels safe and comfortable.
I don’t feel busy, but people who hear about what’s going on right now often tell me I am exactly that. But maybe it doesn’t feel busy or negatively stressful because I chose each activity and feel joy working on each task?
And these activities are not substitutes for a “more active social life” either. They are how I like to fill my time and enjoy life. Socializing, for me, is a big trigger. When I need person-to-person contact, I check mail at the UPS store, go for a walk outside, get on public transit, or visit a store full of people. Maybe a restaurant or a park instead.
You might be wondering about these “activities”, so here is a short list not in any specific order:
my day job with opportunities to learn new skills and utilize my existing ones in creative ways (aka job 1)
aromatherapy, herbalism, incense, etc. certification or continuing education classes to develop a new business venture (aka job 2)
this website and blog (aka job 3)
my plants – talking to them, dancing with them, learning to enjoy having roommates again
cooking – my memories are finally coming back so I feel more comfortable and confident here
reading books, listening to music, or watching a funny movie
bath time – never again will I compromise on renting an apartment without a bath tub. A good soak with epsom salt or essential oil based soap works wonders for self care and relaxing
So my questions to you are:
how does structure (or lack of it) impact your life?
what activities, work, or hobbies bring you joy and fulfillment?
if you had a choice, would you include more joyful activities even though they will or could cause pain from triggers and flashbacks?
Disclosure 1: I am a happy, engaged, biased student at the Aromahead Institute and have completed 5 different aromatherapy courses there so far.
Disclosure 2: I am not getting paid to share this information or promote the class described below.
As you’ve read in past posts, I am taking classes to become a certified aromatherapist. All of my classes are online at the Aromahead Institute School of Essential Oil Studies. Essential oils and aromatherapy has helped me a lot with my anxiety and related pain management issues, so I wanted to share this learning opportunity with you too.
Webinar Class Details
Andrea Butje is the head instructor and will be teaching a live webinar about how certain essential oils are scientifically proven to help reduce anxiety and stress on March 28, 2019 for $30.
The webinar is on Thursday, March 28th at 1 PM Eastern USA, and is $30.
On the webinar, I’ll teach you about three essential oil components that have been researched and proven to calm the nervous system.
I’ll also teach you about three essential oils that contain these components.
And three recipes for using these essential oils to keep your heart, mind, and nervous system calm.
That’s 3 components, 3 essential oils, and 3 recipes.
These recipes are simple to make, and convenient to use throughout your day.
I will also include some bonus lessons for you—a FOURTH essential oil that can inspire real peace in your heart, and an easy method for making your own vanilla-infused jojoba.
~from the March 20, 2019 email newsletter by Andrea Butje
Andrea gave me permission to share this newsletter information and link with you. If you are interested in learning more about aromatherapy and can’t afford this class, you can always try the free class here instead. This class served as my introduction and convinced me to continue learning through the school.
Unfortunately for me, I won’t be able to attend this seminar. Life is too busy with work, recovery, and case studies for my certification class right now. But I intend to take this webinar class the next time it’s offered.
Happy blending and hope you get some relief if you take the class.
*This is NOT today’s regular post and comes to you because of today’s comments*
Sharing Blog Content
None of the content on this site is is “officially” copyrighted (aka registered with the US Copyright Office) on purpose. While I would love to spend the money and time filling out the paperwork to put the official “copyright” symbol, etc. on here, I also want to share this content for free and make it available to anyone who finds it beneficial.
Yes, I am proud of my work. No I don’t want to see other people plagiarizing it or using it out of context or for unethical purposes. At the same time, I’ve read through al to of information about what an official copyright can and cannot do. You can learn more too at their FAQ page. But here is the main reason why I will not register this site for copyright on its own.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
~from the Copyright in General (FAQ) page on the US Copyright office site
When I think about registering this site for copyright (and I think about it at least 1x a year), I also consider these three personal values:
Will going through the copyright process help or hinder my goals to provide free, high-quality content to my guests?
How will the stress of worrying about plagiarism and going after plagiarists affect other parts of my life? Especially if I am giving this content away and asking people to share it?
In the event that I do start an on-line blog/web site/business that does get registered with the US Copyright office, will I include Untangled Connections then or leave it out? I don’t make money off of this site or use it for any purposes related to meeting financial needs, so how important is protecting my work from plagiarists and copiers?
Finally, worrying about plagiarism and how to combat it sends me to a dark place full of triggers and flashbacks. Personally, I’d rather not go there unless it’s absolutely necessary for healing or recovery.
If you want to share my content, please do. All I ask is that you give credit to my site or my pen name AlterXpressions when you do share it. If you don’t, that’s your choice too. But please don’t do that in such a way that it does get my attention and force me into changing my sharing policy.
Plagiarism – No I don’t approve of or knowingly participate in any acts of Plagiarism
A guest wrote me a comment today asking about my thoughts on plagiarism and ways to protect my work from being copied and pasted all over the Internet without permission. Unfortunately, I lost the comment going through the spam folder and couldn’t respond directly.
Instead, I’m sharing it here in this impromptu post:
Plagiarism is a serious problem. If I did a search for my own content, I’d probably find sites that have used my work as their own. No, I don’t approve of plagiarism. No I don’t participate in it here or anywhere else. Yes I do believe that paying other people to write for me is a form of plagiarism.
Unfortunately, I don’t know much about preventing plagiarism, fighting back, or stopping it from happening to my work or anyone else’s work short of registering my original work with the Copyright Office and talking to an attorney. However, some of my favorite fiction authors have blogged about and even had to respond to people who plagiarized their work.
These writers, whose original content is their livelihood, also offer writing and blogging tips on their site. I often visit them and read their posts for writing tips and other resources. They are generous in sharing their knowledge with their readers.
So there you have it.
*Please remember that my opinions are just that. Opinions. Take what you want and leave the rest.*