Alter Post: Body Acceptance Stories

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

To be fair to all of you, this post is written by many of us off-the-cuff. You will see spelling errors, grammar errors, etc. as your read. If that is not something you want, please stop here.

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Safe, Respectful, Assertive Communication Grid

Alter Post: Being Assertive & Defending Oneself with Kindness + Honesty and a dash of stubborn

I decided to write about trauma-informed care on Scent Reflections, so here is the link if you’re interested.

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Okay, now all the warnings are in place. You can continue reading or visit another time. I’ve written about Mother’s Day and anniversaries before, so thought I’d share something different this time. You can read about how my alters are learning to use DBT and protect our system (their preferred job) to protect and defend against hostile, rude, triggering, or aggressive people.

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Any good practical philosophy must start out with the recognition of our having a body

Alter Post: When Fear Tries To Take Over

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

This is not an easy post to write. Or share. I struggled with what to put in today’s post and almost did an ADMIN – nothing to write post instead.

But I’m here. And I just finished writing about crystal grids and environmental self protection on the other blog. So I decided to try and give you something more here too.

FEAR

Out of all the emotions I struggle with, fear is in the top 3. Right now, in spite of all the change from COVID-19, I feel joyful. My life has been impacted in subtle ways, not obvious ones. And it’s the subtle changes that scare me.

Now that I don’t have to think about and plan for going out of my apartment, a huge amount of internal energy is being re-directed to improve physical health – i.e. cope with body memories. The “cage” of restrictions brought me freedom from spending 25% or more energy on planning ways to cope with being around people and other beings whenever I leave my apartment.

The benefit is that my “self” continues to heal from the inside out. Internal changes are occurring at a fast pace. Spaces formerly occupied by trauma memories and past experiences are opening up/emptying out. Everything feels different. I move different. My tastes and preferences for food and beverages have changed. Some of my interests have changed.

But my energy levels have not changed much. All parts of me agree that if there wasn’t so much internal healing to do, that energy would be directed outward to more activities and physical movement instead. But since none of us are ready for that, the energy has been directed inside.

And I fear what is filling up those empty spaces that open up way to fast for me to fill them up. Will other triggers move and take over the spaces? If I have too many nightmares and flashbacks, will the past traumas come back and refill the empty spaces; then take over again, leaving me back to what and where I was in the past?

What can I fill those spaces with? Memories? Experiences? Positive energy? Unconditional love? Fear? Anger? Hate? And if I fill them with something temporarily, will that temporary stuff get stuck and turn into something harmful? Will it move out easily once the “right” stuff is found and moved in?

I haven’t remembered more of my past. And I haven’t forgotten anything this year (win for me), but I still struggle with remembering and recognizing people. And that scares me too. What if I never am able to remember people outside of a specific group – and even with them I struggled long and hard to remember specific sensory details and clues associated with each person to recognize them – and go through my life continuously offending people because I can’t remember meeting them and talking with them from one hour or week or class to another?

Yes, trauma changes memory in significant ways. But I never considered that this type of memory loss or challenge could be a permanent side effect of my trauma. How did I learn about this? Well, first I spoke about it out loud with my counselor.

Photo by Tobe Roberts on Pexels.com

Then I was browsing Pinterest for interesting pins about trauma and mental health to put in my board. And came across an interesting graphic explaining how trauma affects the four different types of human memory. Four types of memory. I was aware of 2, and the other two were a complete mystery.

So I pinned the graphic and decided to think more about it before reading the rest of the article. You can find links to my Pinterest boards in the Resources page if you are interested. Before I go off on a tangent with the potential to trigger a shame spiral, I decided to practice an exercise my counselor taught me to help cope with fear.

It starts by writing down what I am afraid of on a blank piece of paper. Then creating a down arrow to the next line.

After the arrow, I say to myself I am afraid of (above fear) because I am afraid of (and write that fear down).

And keep doing that until I drill down to what really scares me.

Then I can reflect on the source of my other fears. aka the BIG FEAR and use other coping strategies to work with it.

Will that work? I don’t know. But I’m trying it out now using the example from our last session.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Body Memories, Movement, and Sensory Grounding

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grapes and Sensory Information

Grapes are an interesting fruit. As a sensory grounding tool, they can be used with all five senses. Taste, touch, sound (have you ever squished a grape by accident…or maybe on purpose?), smell, and sight. Plus, finding a stock photo of grapes is a lot easier than one about the five (or four) senses. So today’s featured photo is of ripe grapes on a vine.

Personally, all parts of me prefer to use semi-sweet dark chocolate or frozen blueberries for sensory grounding meditation or breathing exercises, but we like grapes, raspberries, apples, tea, and cheese in a pinch. Coffee works great too, but none of us like the taste enough to drink it. And chocolate was easy for me (any version of me) to get as it did dual jobs as comfort food too.

Fruits were not always as easy to get and store for an emergency, middle-of-the-night trigger. Or an “I’m on my way into work on public transit and am having a flashback” type of situation. You get the idea. So I experimented with a lot of different types of food and snacks. Cookies, brownies, cake, pizza, sandwiches, granola bars, and so on. Many of them engaged 3 or more senses, but they were not strong enough to reach through the anxiety and fear blocking out everything.

And so the experiments continued until I discovered dark chocolate (candy, bar, morsels, and hot chocolate drink; but not chocolate milk or ice cream) worked 99% of the time to engage all of my senses and bring me to the present moment. That was actually the beginning of my obsession with finding portable items that worked for panic attacks and flashbacks on-the-go.

But, it was also my introduction to learning how to use sensory information in present time and on purpose instead of instinctively in the background of life (i.e. hyper vigilance or chronic pain).

Body Memories vs Flashbacks – or not?

At the beginning of my recovery I thought flashbacks and body memories were two completely different symptoms of my past trauma. And only flashbacks were “medically approved” as symptoms because they were listed under PTSD and other anxiety disorders in the DSM (IV at the time and V now). So I approached coping techniques and strategies for each symptom separately.

All I ever felt in my body was a) numbness; or b) pain. There was never any in-between. More pain or less pain. Numbness or less pain. I didn’t experience or noticed that I expressed emotions – couldn’t feel them even if my body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions showed something else.

Yes, I was that separated from all parts of myself for over 2 decades.

Traditional psychotherapy and group counseling helped me learn to recognize and cope with my emotions and overwhelming mental states. But did not talk much about body sensations or physical pain.

Never mentioned the connection between emotions and physical body sensations at all.

Not every Physical Sensation is Pain
It's our body's way of communicating with us
How we move and think about moving matters
#movementmatters

That was a not-so-happy accident all parts of me discovered during a series of bad panic attacks – one after the other – while working with the first trauma specialist.

The nightmares and emotional flashbacks were lessening in strength and severity, but the physical panic attacks that left me passed out on my bed for hours after experiencing hot flashes, cold chills, and muscle cramps from my legs to my shoulders got worse. Over the counter medications didn’t help. I refused to try anything else or anything stronger because of my past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Movement was not possible; only made the pain worse.

Meditation practice from Jon Kabat Zinn’s audiobook classes did help me learn the difference between pain sensations and other body sensations. He provided mantras and medication practices that helped promote body awareness and “making friends with pain” instead of rejecting or denying it.

I used the mantras and meditation or breathing for the body memories/physical panic attacks.

Then used sensory grounding and everything else for the flashbacks and emotional panic attacks.

But that was partially effective – as in it reduced the frequency, but not the intensity or length of each panic attack fueled by triggers, flashbacks, or body memories.

And that’s when it clicked – a light bulb kind of moment – that I could use sensory grounding strategies to learn the different sensations moving through my body. Maybe even connect them to different emotions I experience at or around the same time the pain or sensation occurs.

The body memories and flashbacks were not different at all. They were/are two parts of the same symptom – experiencing triggers in my mind (flashbacks) and body (body memories) at the same time.

By working with them together and using integrated coping strategies that address all aspects of the trigger, all parts of me (or I as we) learned how to cope with and reduce the effects of our flashbacks, body memories, and panic attacks.

Chinese Medicine + Sensory Grounding + Spiritual Practice = Energy Healing from the inside out

That was enough to convince me to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (includes herbs, energy work, body work/massage, and a holistic approach to health/wellness) again.

And spark my curiosity about energy movement in my body. Why can I short out or freeze electrical and mechanical equipment? Why do I break computers and mobile devices so often? How come credit card machines stop working when I get stressed out?

And yes, all that and more has happened when my internal energy is out of whack.

So I used the lessons from Jon Kabat Zinn and other Buddhist teachers to learn about energy medicine through different meditation and moving meditation (yoga, tai chi, and qigong are popular versions) practices. That gave me a level of awareness that let’s me feel inside my body where and how energy is moving through my body. With my fingers and hands, I can palpate muscle groups and feel where energy is blocked and stuck inside me. During treatments, I can track what the needles or acupuncture tools are doing inside my body – i.e. where they are moving and stirring or drawing and releasing energy as it travels inside me.

Remember back at the beginning when I mentioned that this was all instinctive to me at first? I thought it was my hyper vigilance…

And in past posts I mentioned turning weaknesses or challenges into strengths…

Well this is a coping challenge turned into coping strategy.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to believe in energy healing or energy medicine. That people could sense movement and problems in their bodies or be tuned in to energy of other people. But the more I denied it, the worse the physical pain and panic attacks got.

So I embraced it. Used patience and persistence to find faith that it would end soon. And it did. Each one got progressively shorter with less intense periods of shame spirals afterwards. I did not feel the need to self harm as often either.

That was one more step into embracing my authentic (if distinctly weird and unconventional) self.

Body Remembers – Finally Reveals Trauma and Ready for Healing

These days, my body is starting to trust the rest of me and our practitioners with its secrets. What secrets?

Well, the scars for one thing. And the muscle kinks and puffy places in my body that are not actually fat for another.

Wait, I’ve seen a few of the photos you shared and your skin doesn’t have physical scars. Are you talking about emotional scars? or (gasp) invisible scars?

Like everything else on this blog, the truth surprised me as much as it may surprise you:

Yes I have scars. No they are not often visible to the eyes. I think only one scar is visible all the time. The rest appear as textural differences in my skin or sometimes rashes and blemishes (acne). They show up when they feel like it and then disappear until the next time a trigger brings them to the surface.

As for the textural scars, no one notices those unless they can feel my skin or examine it under a magnifying glass. You can guess how many people get that privilege…

The physical pain in my body is caused by my muscles and tissues being frozen in place or numb for many years as a form of self-protection. The puffiness and “knots” under my skin are the tightened forms the muscles and water retention took on to protect themselves from harm.

Only now, 3.5 years after moving west and 16 years into recovery, is my body starting to reveal its secrets and start physically healing. I have rashes in unusual places, but at the same time less physical pain and less knotted muscle groups. I can feel sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t experienced in decades – yes decades.

My youthful looks are a genetic gift/curse/quirk. But I haven’t felt my lower and middle back muscles move since I was 5 years old – 32 years ago. My shoulders used to lock up every time I started to stretch and do more than lift laundry baskets and groceries until 2019-2020.

So this is all new to me. And exciting too. Because now that I can understand and communicate with my body, all parts of me can start moving more and enjoying more of life.

Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Thanks for reading.

EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

Alter Post: Self Care in a triggering environment

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

You can find the latest Scent Reflections blog here. FYI, I re-posted from the Emotional Sobriety blog; a place to gain insight into other recovery strategies, challenges, and options

Background

Life is full of challenges. Some more difficult than others. Finding a sanctuary that suits emotional, physical, basic, and lifestyle needs within a specific budget is one of the difficult challenges.

For most of my life I settled for “good enough” in terms of living spaces and environmental sanctuaries. All parts of me did not believe we deserved a safe home and community that fulfilled more than the basic needs. Part of the self punish,ent and shame cycle was living in such places that were physically safe, but not emotionally or spiritually safe.

If you want to know more about my thoughts on self protection and safety, check out these posts from 2019.

If you want to read about some challenges and coping strategies for feeling safe, use the search bar with key words “self care”, “safety”, “feeling safe”, “DBT” to start. Or look the Coping Challenges and Coping Strategies categories in the archives.

“Good Enough” isn’t really good for me. What about you?

Settling for “good enough” is so much easier. Sometimes necessary, but often less scary, anxiety-provoking, triggering, etc. at the beginning. Over time, however, it’s scarier, more triggering, and extra anxiety-provoking

But for now, my alters and I will share some insights we’ve learned about triggering environments.

Growing up, people used to tell me I wouldn’t succeed in life and should settle for “good enough” since that was…maybe…the best I could achieve. Even if my work was better laid out, more creative, etc., teachers, parents, and other people told me my efforts were “ok” or “not as good as so-and-so” or “(insert name)’s work is better; work harder”.

Or they accused me of cheating, stealing someone else’s ideas, etc. Or other people (in group work) took credit for my ideas. And I let this happen instead of trying to get the acknowledgement for myself. Instead of fighting back against a community of people determined to put me in my place – beneath them.

That worked for a long time – and still does in some circumstances – to the point where I didn’t think I deserved or could achieve anything good in my life. That included an apartment that met more than my basic needs, acted like a sanctuary, and felt safe – emotionally, spiritually, environmentally, physically.

Being Different Brings Out the Best in Me – but not always in others

I didn’t – and still don’t – think I am a good person. I have too much darkness, live too often in the gray areas, and embrace my flaws/failures/negative attributes too much to ever be good and light and positive. But I like being me.

FOR EXAMPLE

  • My temper is scary and terrible; it intimidates people
  • My facial expressions and body language don’t match my tone of voice or what I talk about
  • I don’t remember or recognize people I meet on the streets; let alone remember names.
  • I sometimes talk over people and interrupt without meaning to do so; it’s an anxiety response
  • I am messy and struggle with housekeeping.
  • I stutter and lose words in group conversations or stressful experiences.
  • I can be abrasive, blunt, rude, and annoying when I feel like it.
  • I apologize too much
  • And I offend people with my unique perspective on life and comfort sharing those opinions.
EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

And yet, these flaws are as much a part of me as the positive characteristics people attribute to me. They show my personality and allow people glimpses of who I really am.

I developed these so-called flaws into effective strategies that help me cope with life before recovery. They kept people away from me. Kept them from learning my secrets or exposing me when I wanted to be invisible.

After recovery started, they became useful communication tools that helped me as I practiced DBT on myself (internal dialogue with alter personalities, negative self-talk, flashbacks) and other triggering people in my life. It wasn’t perfect, but it taught me this:

every part of my personality – aka every part of what makes me me – has value and purpose

TJ/AlterXpressions

By embracing, learning from, and turning into strengths these flaws (aka weakness), I learn how to accept myself as I am and create effective coping strategies or techniques that also work within the laws/guidelines/terms of my residence/place of business, etc.

The Triggering Environment, Coping Strategies, Moving on My Terms

First, the triggering environment is living in an emotionally unsafe apartment. Yes, it sounds a lot like the previous apartment where I needed help from an attorney to get out of that mess.

This situation is similar and different. I am on good terms with building management. The apartment itself and my close neighbors are great. I have enjoyed living and working here for the past two years.

The apartment amenities can be challenging sometimes because the building is more than 100 years old with original electrical wiring. My job and this website are dependent on Internet and electronics. Plus the bathroom ventilation system allows smells from my apartment to get into my upstairs and downstairs neighbors’ apartments. Finally, the noise from above can be heard easily below.

The reverse is also true.

I’ve had three different groups of people living above me in the 2 years renting this apartment. My first upstairs neighbors triggered me by intentionally being noisy, smoking in a non-smoking apartment, and creating a hostile living environment through their friends and acquaintances who also lived in this building.

That got settled with help from building management (different group than now) and their permission to let me use coping strategies and techniques that worked, but were not common and did not conform to cultural norms.

They left at the end of their lease, and the environmental/emotional triggers went away for a while. I settled in and started to feel comfortable. The nightmares and flashbacks eased up too.

Then the third group of neighbors moved in. These people liked breaking the rules and did not appreciate when the rules were enforced. My current building is a non-smoking building. It has designated quiet hours too.

But these neighbors smoked pot often in their apartments. Or cigarettes. Or herbal blends with pot in them. The smoke kept getting into my apartment. I didn’t know it was them at first. A lot of people moved in and out during that time period, and many of the new neighbors smoked in their apartment.

In the beginning, I used aromatherapy to change the smell in my apartment. My favorite diffuser is strong enough to use in my whole apartment. When that stopped, I used scented candles or a combination of both.

As the smells increased, I started reporting them to management during the day and the management’s’ courtesy patrol/security team in the evenings. Had neighbors come in and verify the smells. Talked with an attorney and non-emergency police lines to get details.

In other words, I followed the rules.

When that didn’t get me anywhere and the neighbors upstairs continued to escalate their intentional negative behaviors, I informed the property management that I was going to use my own coping strategies and techniques to feel safe and comfortable in my own apartment until my lease ended. These techniques could be considered unorthodox, weird, etc., but they wouldn’t break lease terms or the law. I would also be looking for a new apartment and continuing to inform them of the disturbances by email.

From then on, I started using everything in my toolbox to cope with the upstairs neighbors. First, I used them the way I normally do. Then I started experimenting and doing research to find more resources. My family helped too. Rebuilding those connections increased my support network and made some of the worst times more bearable.

Intentions, Gratitude, Humor & Patience = Moving to a better place

Last September, I set my intention.

Work on myself until I believed I deserved a home that met ALL my requirements and needs; then prepare as much as possible to take advantage of the moving opportunity when it presented itself.

I practiced gratitude and self care. Gratitude in thought, emotion, and behavior – towards all parts of myself (internal) and every being in my life (humans, animals, plants, etc.) – to find blessings and miracles everywhere. Learn from reflection and appreciate everything happening now.

I practiced Cognitive Re-Framing (cognitive behavioral therapy) and challenging my cognitive biases techniques on my own, with help from the BARCC hotline, and my mental health therapist.

How? Like this

  • Find humor in my current living situation (and laughing about the drama going on all around me)
  • Acknowledge each incident and then putting it aside
  • Discuss my thoughts and feelings with my counselor and support network
  • Focus on achieving my financial, work, and personal goals (problem solving) as distractions from what’s happening around me
  • Reflect on the situation to understand my emotions
    • Separate my present feelings (how I feel about my neighbors and this situation) from my past feelings
    • Separate my past feelings (triggers and flashbacks) from my present feelings
    • Acknowledge both sets of feelings and express them in safe ways
    • Then let the feelings go when they end
  • React to the present and not the past
  • Use these experiences as Exposure Therapy and learn from them
  • Be honest with my loved ones about the challenges (aka sharing the truth about my mental health disorders with the hope they will still love and accept me)
  • Show gratitude to the people, plants, and other beings supporting me through this challenging time – acknowledgement of their efforts, “thank you”, giving gifts, saying “i love you”
  • Being patient – not something I am good at – in spite of the OCD pressure to react without thinking

Then, when everything falls into place, make the change with courage and faith.

REFLECTION QUESTION: How will you/do you want to cope with triggering environments?

That’s my next step: I found a new apartment and decided to break my current lease.

If you don’t see much from me here or at Scent Reflections over the next two weeks, it’s because I’m busy working, packing, and moving to a new apartment.

I promise to try my best and share posts or updates, but please understand if you don’t get a new post until 2/2/2020.

Thanks for reading