Alter Post: A story about anger, pain, and suicide – beware of triggers

Beginning of September always brings back memories and flashbacks because it’s the time when school starts.  Summer was easy.  I was me or some version of me all the time.  Bud during school, I was one person in public society (elementary school, activities, etc.) and someone else in the private society that occupied the rest of my time.

I didn’t have friends in the public society world.  Everyone there looked down on me, bullied me, and pretended I didn’t exist.  I helped by being rude, annoying, and quiet as possible to avoid attracting attention.  But it didn’t make school easier.  I thought school would make life easier because it took me out of the other world.

But it turns out, I enjoyed being in the other world more.  The other world – the world of pedophiles, traffickers, dug dealers, predators, and other monsters – is where I made friends and learned life skills.  It’s where I found family, a soul mate, and a purpose for surviving/living.

Those life skills and experiences may have turned me into a monster not fit for “regular” society in the legitimate world.  But they gave me a secure and valued position in the criminal world and the gray world between legal and illegal.  After I was freed – no longer belonging to the cult or human traffickers as a slave – I spent a good part of my life in  the gray world while trying to forge a life in the legitimate world too.

Part of me didn’t want to give up the gray world.  I had friends and family there.  I had a purpose and helped many people.  My job was exciting and fulfilling even if it was dangerous and involved lots of violence.  Most important though, the people in that gray world accepted me as I was.  I could be my real self with alter personalities, a quirky sense of humor, a bad temper and so on.

But in the legitimate world with my corporate job, I couldn’t be my whole self.  My connections to the gray world and the criminal world put it in jeopardy.  And as that personality, I didn’t recognize or have access to my friends and support network in the gray world.  I couldn’t remember that other life without causing migraines and intense body pain.

But then my soul mate made a choice to leave on his terms.  Other friends died or moved on.  Instead of being free, keeping those friendships and connections made starting over more difficult.  The criminals who remembered me kept harassing me and trying to recruit me.  Kids I taught or helped before tracked me down and asked me to help again. My body gave out on me; I was in so much pain all the time.

Work wasn’t fun anymore.  I tried to retire.  I referred these people to the organizations I worked and volunteered for instead.  And I focused on keeping the promises to my soul mate.  To use my second chance at life wisely; be happy and free; and start fresh as my authentic self someplace else without the anger and pain holding me back.

I met my soul mate in a punishment cage when we were 3 or 4 years old.  His family was rich enough that his parents  traveled or worked a lot and paid people to take care of him.  His parents trusted the friend who referred the caretakers not knowing or realizing where their son was all the time.  Sort of like my parents  trusting references from my pediatrician and taking advantage of free babysitting from local organizations.

It was my third day in training, and I was back in the punishment cage for talking back or not following the rules.  I can’t remember exactly.  Anyways, he came up and started talking to me.  That became our pattern.  I got punished (a lot).  He came to talk with me. Then his trainers took him away.  If he got punished (rarely at that time), I would walk over and talk with him.

Our friendship bloomed from there.  Both of us were prostituted and raped, so our relationship never involved sex.  We cared about each other too much to want to be involved that way after our shared experiences with human trafficking and cults.

Unfortunately for him, though, he didn’t share my  problems with chemicals and other substances.  Nor could he continue to separate his mind like I did to survive  living two lives.  The medicine, dugs, and alcohol did work on him.  He got addicted and tried so many times to clean up.

But the memories, the shame, the anger, the pain were all too much for him.  He couldn’t cope with our shared past.  And he didn’t want me be stuck in that gray world forever even though that kept both of us safe.  We made plans to get legitimate jobs in the real world and fulfill our dreams after college.  We laughed and pulled each other out of trouble, but more often it was me finding and taking him home after a night of drugs and booze.

Sometime in our software year, we had a spring break that matched up – same weeks off – and decided to hang out together.  But spring break has always been hard for both of us.  My other family found him at a party with a bunch of people from the old gang – kids and adults who did jobs for the traffickers and the cult hoping to move up the ranks one day.  He was still sober, but had the needle in his hand.

We talked.  The others interfered.  There was a fight.  One that finally convinced those people wasn’t involved anymore; that I didn’t want to be involved and would stay out of their way as long as they didn’t target my loved ones.  After the fight, my soul mate handed me the full syringe and asked me to help him get through the rest of the day and evening.

He wanted to spend one last day with me sober and clear headed because we needed to talk.  I took the syringe and tossed it aside.  It wouldn’t go to waste in that room.  Then we left for my other family’s house.

He and I, we spent the afternoon talking and cooking our favorite snack food.  That’s when he told me about his choice to leave on his terms.  He wasn’t as strong as me, strong enough to live without the haze of drugs to take the edge off of his memories.  But he didn’t want me to be stuck in our shady life or to see him spiral down into addiction.  He wanted me to fulfill our dreams and keep my promises to live every moment with joy.

My soul mate wanted  to leave in a dream where all of our wishes and ideals came true.  I chose to support his choice.  After all of his struggles, he deserved peace.  The only promise I asked of him was that he wait until after college graduation to leave.  We graduated college in 2004.  He overdosed and died a year later.

I never saw him again after that spring break sophomore year in college.  But I knew he kept tabs on me.  And after my failed suicide attempt in 2004, he sent me a message reminding me of my promise to get help if I survived.  I got help.  Graduated.  Started seeing a mental health professional and putting my life back together.

So you see, I can’t condemn suicide or people who want to commit suicide.  In my mind, in my world, suicide is a legitimate choice – a fail safe option when nothing else feels right or good or safe – for people who’ve tried everything and anything and lost hope.

But I can’t support suicide – not the way it’s discussed these days – either.  My soul mate lost hope.  He didn’t want to drag me or the others in our circle down either when we still had chances to change.  He made his choice after hours of talking (not just that day) with me and our circle, months/years of rehab and counseling, and working out issues with his family.

I couldn’t go through with any of my suicide attempts, but I never stopped looking at suicide as a fail-safe option until about 5 years ago when I decided to change my name and implement hazy plans to move across the country based on a recurring dream I couldn’t quite recall.

More than 10 years later, in the first two weeks of September when school starts and training started, I finally remember my soul mate and our friendship.  So I guess the last two weeks of sleep deprivation, flashbacks, panic attacks, and pain were worth it.  This story (with some details omitted), came to me between Friday and this morning.

We met 33 years ago and became secret best friends for over 20 years.  I like to believe and have complete faith that my soul mate moved on to a better place where he can work on his plans for the next life.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Eating Disorder is not the same as disordered eating

Eating Disorder History

I have anorexia nervosa.  Right now, it’s in remission.  But stressful times casue a loss of appetite.  If I am mot careful, I start skipping meals, eating less, and forgetting to hydrate.  My body interprets the pattern of skipping meals and eating less as a signal to start hoarding calories and retaiming water to protect vital organs.  It falls back into the cycle instincitvely to protect my body from wasting away because past experience says “who knows when the body will be fed again?”

Even after I got the anorexia under control and found ways to make the allergies go away, I still had problems with disordered earing habits like:

  • food fears
  • dieting restrictions
  • obsessive/complusive behaviors related to food
  • shopping, preparation, cooking, meal times, and so on

I was taking in calories but unable to enjoy eating or maintain a healthy weight.  Low energy, sleep problems, lowered immune system…you name it I experienced it in some way.  My doctors and I are constantly surprised that the only long term sign of decades of malnutrition a d starvation is pale skin because of lack of melatonin production.  That means I have problems absorbing vitamin D and have to be careful of sun exposure.  It also means I have to take supplements.

Present

That was about 4 years ago.

These days my skin is a healthy  warm/neutral skin tone – neither pale white nor a obviously brown, but somewhere in between – and my weight stays mostly the same within a 5 lb range.  This isn’t my target weight or my ideal weight, but it’s the weight my body/mind/spirit believes is best for overall health.

When I do lose weight, it’s less than the 10 lb cut off that tips me into an official relapse.  Problem is that I’m already petite & slim, so can’t afford to lose any weight.  Being slim also means that any weight loss is easily noticed.  Same with weight gain.

I might not notice that my eating habits changed right away.  Probably won’t notice if my sleep patterns or food thoughts have changed either.  But I will and do notice when my tops feel too loose/tight or my pants and skirts start bagging at the waist or feeling too tight.

My stomach and abdominal area is really sensitive to pressure so bloating and discomfort from disordered eating usually catches my attention first.

What is the difference between Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating habits?

One can have disordered eating habits without an eating disorder.

For example, I used to have a lot of rules about what I could eat, how often I could eat it, and where I could eat it.  The rules didn’t include how much or little I at at one meal or what had to happen if I over/under ate.  It was almost like a restrictive diet that allowed me to feel like I was in control, but still eating healthy.  These rules and restrictions would make sense if they were related to a medical or physiological issue that made me sick if I ate something.  But they didn’t make sense for a healthy, young woman without any food allergies or sensitivities.  The restrictions were based on fear and avoidance.  Fear of triggering flashbacks or panic attacks; and avoidance as my coping strategy to not get triggered.

*Main difference here: I was aware of this and able to make the conscious choice to challenge these fears with support from medical nutrition therapy and mental health counseling.*

One cannot have an earing disorder without a history/pattern of existing disordered eating habits.

Example of my thoughts while practicing anorexia:
I’m too heavy.  I don’t deserve to eat this food or even enjoy food.  My parents, these teachers, are all trying to control me and force me to (insert physical activity here).  If I’m too weak, they can’t make me do it.  I hate my body.  It’s the reason why these monsters want to hurt me.  If I don’t eat, my body will change; they won’t want to use me anymore.  I have to punish myself for losing control at (insert family event), so not eating (insert favorite food) anymore will prove that I have will power, etc.

Can you tell the difference in my thought processes?

Why is this important?

Stress does odd things to mental and physical processes.  It changes internal chemistry too.  Trauma causes changes in development.  All of this can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Advertising and the internalized messages from caregivers also have an impact on body image, self-esteem, and eating habits.

As a child, I starved and had to scrounge for food when my parents forgot or didn’t feel like cooking/feeding me.  Most of what I ate were sandwiches, pastries, toast, and junk food (cookies, chips, canned whatever) that got stored in the pantry.  The refrigerator was too heavy to open until I was about 5 years old.

As I got older, my mom put me on the same diets she was on.  And punished me by taking away any food I liked whenever the diets didn’t work.  She fed me less so she could eat more because it was my fault she gained weight.  Yeah, fhat doesn’t make sense.  But it’s how she justified her eating habits.

Then came the constant criticism about:

  • how I looked
  • my eating habits
  • food choices

Finally, there were (inevitable) comparisons to cousins of a similar age and generation from everyone.  Too fat, too skinny, too clumsy, too weak…

Connection: Stressful Situations & Self Care (i.e. eating habits)

I don’t know about you, but many of the survivors I have met and talked to have weight problems, immune system problems, and health problems that seem to stem from A) food choices; B) thoughts and beliefs about nutrition; C) beliefs about what their bodies deserve or don’t deserve in relation to food and health; and D) a lack of their own sense of self.  For myself, I still struggle with all four of these topics and probably will for the rest of my life.

Life transitions are among the biggest stressors in my life.  By transition, I mean lots of small changes that accumulate to create a BIG change.

Some examples: legal name change; moving cross country; reconnecting with family; changing jobs; deciding not to hide anymore; advocating for myself at work; decorating my apartment; talking with an attorney; getting my first bank loan approved; becoming more active on social media; changing my self-perceptions for improved self-image.

Hope

But even after all of this, I feel hope and joy whenever a change comes my way.  Each experience taught me that a positive outlook, faith in myself and in the universal energy (aka spirtual or religious belief system) being there to support me as long as I welcome it into my life.

I know that each time something like this comes up, I will feel stressed out.  My body might go into these automatic patterns, or they might not.  The big difference is that I am aware this can happen and can put together safety plans to help recover faster once the stress eases up.

And as long as I stay within the criteria my medical nutrition counselor gave me, I will not fall into a relapse of anorexia no matter what my mind and body are telling me.

Options

If you are not sure whether you are experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, maybe it’s time to talk with a professional.

Mental health counselors who specialize in eating disorders and have trauma experience are a good first step.

If you are not comfortable talking with a counselor, talking with your primary physician is also a good first step.  He or she can get you a referral to meet with a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist.  Or maybe refer you to a program that offers food and nutrition support.

Finally, there are many non-profit organizations and social media groups (legitimate ones) who offer support for people with diet and eating challenges.  A lot of their resources are free and available in a safe, non-judgmental (sometimes anonymous) location too.

Whatever your eating challenges may be, I wish that you all find the support and resources you need to be successful.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: AlterXpressions – the host reveals herself

Hello Guests,
My name is TJ.  I guess you can call me the host of our expansive system.  But it’s not quite accurate because none of us is ever the host full time.  Not even in the past before anyone knew about alter personalities and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I’ve always heard voices and made intuitive leaps that defy logic.  And I’ve always been different.
As a child, different meant being a target for bullies and racism.  It meant being too smart for my own good and labeled a nerd with no personality among my peers.  Within my family, being different got me excluded from group activities and punished or made fun of for being too slow, emotional, mouthy, disobedient, or ditsy.  Never for being smart or capable.
I had friends for a little while, but then they slowly disappeared.  As they left, I retreated to my amazing inner world.  When that didn’t work, books were my escape.  Crafts helped too unless Mom found out and decided to interfere.  Then crafts became a punishment.  Either I was with the cult, alone at home, or somewhere supervised by my mother.
The memories are fuzzy, but I do remember the following:
  • Climbing up high to hide from “monsters”
  • Crawling under sofas, beds, etc. to “escape” from something
  • Hiding in cabinets, boxes, closets, etc. and getting punished because no one could find me; then having my hiding places blocked
  • Lots of pain and fuzziness from “medication”
  • Lots of adults and secret games
  • Shame and despair and suicidal thoughts
  • Middle school hell because I got stuck with the “popular” kids
  • High school drama and worse because of “popular” kids, death of family members, being forced to go to prom, and graduation
  • Suddenly losing time  and being abusive and angry all the time without understanding what was happening or why
  • Hating my body and wanting to be invisible – aka negative body image and sense of self
  • Being a social outcast for most of my life because I never learned “proper” social skills
Who am I now?
I am one of many in our system and the face most people in the outside world meet or interact with.  I have a stable job in Corporate America, friends, and loved ones.  Lucky for me, I’ve had the same job for more than 10 years and earned the respect of my co-workers.  They accept my panic attacks and PTSD as part of working with me and value my skills.
The job provided me with mentors and an alternative family that taught me how to be a real person.  From those people, I learned how to be respectful, accepting, honest, and trustworthy.  They taught, through modeling and personal experience, how to interact with people and be social in positive, safe ways.  Without this job, I’d never have gotten away.
My favorite hobbies are: reading, cooking, writing, walking, and sleeping.
When not triggered, I also enjoy knitting, sewing, discovering my personal style, working with my hands, and learning about a variety of topics.
I am interested in alternative medicine, nutrition, personal finance, mental health, intuition, spirituality, wellness, and living a conscious, authentic lifestyle.  I am an empath, a highly sensitive person interested in learning more about angels, spirit guides, guardians, and energy healing.  I want to find ways to work with my alters and integrate so that we all can enjoy life in the outside world.
Personal relationships are difficult because most people can only accept part who I am and reject everything else.  Friendships take time, work, patience, and trust.  Do I want an intimate relationship someday?  Yes.  Will that happen in this life time?  I don’t know.  Do I have hope?  Yes.
Finding a man (because I am heterosexual) who can accept all parts of me sometimes feels like searching for a unicorn.  I mean who could ever accept, not only the darkness inside me, but also that I am a multiple?  Yet I still have hope and am open to all of the possibilities my future holds.  So maybe one day…
Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: When two worlds collide

Pip is retired.  She wants to stay retired and find a way to integrate with everyone else.  i.e. participate in co-conscious awareness with our host and everyone else in the real world.

Angora enjoys working and taking classes online.  She’s starting to get more comfortable talking with people in the outside world too.  But not interested in being a host full time.

Some of the younger alters are growing up.  They’re trying to decide if they want to maintain separate identities or merge with others and fade away.

The teen alters are growing up and making changes too.

What we all thought was the worst possible decision now seems like a possible option if we all want to live in the same present reality together.

I hoped moving across the country would stop the evening jaunts to potentially dangerous experiences.  Pip was so excited about finally having down time and a safe place to heal all of our physical injuries.  Angora looked forward to dancing and listening to music again.  Everyone else couldn’t wait to create a real home.

And yet, that past followed us here.  Only now has Pip shared that she had to come out of retirement during our first year in the new city.  The ones who recognized us from before and their friends here tried to cause trouble.  They tested and challenged us until we proved that retirement didn’t mean vulnerable.  That none of us had any interest in resuming the other work here.

Then, in our new building, both Pip and Angora along with a few of the males came out to protect our neighbors and our building.  This time was more and less than people from the past.  It was people who witnessed what happened the first year and caused trouble as neighbors.  It was local homeless people and addicts making noise at night and disturbing us.  It was neighbors with young children worried about the impact of these night disturbances.

So one last time, Pip came out to try and make it stop.  None of the neighbors got hurt.  Not in our building or the others nearby.  None of the innocent or uninvolved got hurt either.  But now the building doesn’t smell like pot.  The homeless people and partiers make less noise at night.

Maybe this time they’ll all believe in our communal retirement.  And understand that retirement DOES NOT equal going soft or being unable to protect ourselves.

But at least it explains how so many of the younger people in this neighborhood recognize me and look at me with mixed expressions of dislike, hate, disdain, horror, fear, or anxiety. And why the host doesn’t always recognize or remember them.  On the plus side: defending ourselves, protecting neighbors and the building without harming them, finally earned some trust.  Now the neighbors are respectful and polite, sometimes nice too.

And the amnesia that comes with a switch happens less often.  We’re looking forward to a day when all of us can work and move together as a united person in mind, body, and spirit.  When our body becomes fully adult instead of going back and forth between pre- and post-adolescence, it will go through normal female stuff instead of stopping or changing under stress.

Until that happens, the moments of fear and confusion when speaking with people will continue.  Maybe, though, this time around people will accept that part of us instead of shunning us.  And maybe we can stop feeling shame about not recognizing and remembering people who greet us.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Mindfulness meditation frustration

Mindfulness meditation frustration

Lots of people discuss mindfulness meditation and how beneficial it can be.    But how often are the other meditation styles discussed and used?  As much as we love mindfulness meditation, sometimes it just doesn’t help.  We are not interested in being mindful or grounded in the present. No when we’re struggling with understanding which reality (past/present/flashback/nightmare/daydream) we are in at the moment.

Our goal is to ALL BE IN THE SAME MOMENT AT THE SAME TIME

It’s rather disorienting and confusing for the host not knowing when she is in the outside world.

In moments like this, something hat attracts everyone’s attention and pulls us together helps more than anything else.  What can do that?  A different kind of meditation called visualization sometimes helps us.  Maybe it could be called mindfulness since the focus is on recreating every detail of the object in our mind?  But our visualizations are based on imaginary places, not real ones, and use all of our senses, so not sure either way.

Our preferred visualization is always tree or earth-related.  Something about trees feels especially safe, comforting, and grounding.

But anything can be used for the visualization.

The Visualization practice

We learned a variation of this meditation from the hotline volunteers.  You can do this alone or with a partner or in a group.

In a quiet, safe space
    Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
    Breathe deep and slow – inhale, pause, exhale – 3-4 times
    Close your eyes
    Breathe in for count of 5, then out for count of 5
    Notice the sensations and/or thoughts passing through
    Continue breathing deep and slow

 

Imagine a tree in front of you
Notice the trunk
    What color?
    How old or young?
    How big/small, skinny/thick?
    What shape is the trunk?
    What does the bark look, feel, smell, sound like?
Notice the branches and leaves
    What do you see?  Shapes, sizes, colors, textures..
    What do you hear?
    How do the branches and leaves feel?
    Do the branches and leaves have a scent?  Can you describe it
Notice the ground under the trunk
    Is the ground solid?  muddy?  grassy?  sandy?
    How does it feel, smell, sound?
    What colors?
Imagine you can see under the ground
    What do the roots look like?
    How long or short?
    How thick or thin?
    How strong or weak?
Observe all around the tree
    Is there anyone or anything near by?
    Describe what your observe
Breathe in for a count of 5, pause for a count of 5, then breathe out for a count of 5
Breathe deep and slow – inhale, pause, exhale – 3-4 times
Notice how you feel – stress levels, sensations in your body/mind, feelings you’re experiencing
When ready, open your eyes

We hope this visualization can be a tool in your toolbox to help you when other strategies are less than helpful.

Thanks for reading