Back to Basics: Anger Management and Putting Me First

An unedited post…

There are 4 parts of DBT: Emotion Regulation, Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Effective Interpersonal Communication.  I learned them during my first time in a partial program.  They helped with anger management and emotional control.  At the time, I did not know about Dissociative Identity Disorder, alternate personalities, or triggers.  All I did know was that my anger and fear overwhelmed me to the point where I stopped thinking, stopped talking, and started reacting.

The partial program helped me deal with my present distress by teaching me to stop and think before reacting (mindfulness).  And after the experience, look back and analyze what happened to identify feelings and reactions to feelings (mindfulness).

Once I understood my feelings and reactions to them, I could plan ways to change my reactions or not react at all (distress tolerance) through coping strategies like distractions, self soothing, meditation, exercise, etc.

In order to do the above, though, I had to learn what emotions were and how they affected my body/mind/self (emotion regulation).  Then find ways within my control (diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, positive experiences, self-talk) to help me regulate my feelings when I felt overwhelmed or distressed (emotion regulation).

And then I could find a language to help me communicate my feelings to myself and others without crossing boundaries or compromising safety (interpersonal communication).

This all worked great until I discovered that my distress feelings and triggers were not from the present time.  Most came from flashbacks, body memories, or remembered experiences triggered during stressful encounters with people or certain environments.  And as much as I tried to use DBT, it didn’t work.  And I got really frustrated.  Especially when my family shunned me and turned up the pressure to fall in line or else.

That brings me to the second partial experience.  It was not helpful or positive like the previous one.  But it did help me better understand the people in my family and their struggles.  It also helped me get in touch with my alters.  For the first time, I could clearly hear them in my head and recognize when I switched.  And we could communicate with each other.

My time with these people: younger and older, but not really in my age group, from different life situations and cultures reminded me that I am only responsible for myself and my choices.  I can’t change or help people who aren’t interested.  I can’t be around people who have issues accepting my real self too.  All three of those situations combined make for a very unhappy individual in an unsafe environment.

So I took what I learned from them and shared it with my therapist.  We agreed that my family wasn’t safe to be around at the time.  It was necessary to put my emergency plans in place and walk away for real.  And also to learn more about the voices in my head.  They needed the coping strategies and tools in my tool box as much as I did.

And when they started practicing DBT too, life got a lot less scary.  Communication at work improved.  My work environment got more comfortable.  I was able to take better care of myself at home because advocating for myself was easier.

And my alters had something to keep them busy while I worked.  Yes, multitasking again.  Different alters, alone or in groups, practiced DBT and other coping strategies on the inside while I or someone else lived and worked and did chores on the outside.  It became a main staple in “acting normal” and surviving in the outside world.  We set up an elaborate communication and transportation system so that everyone had immediate access to each other, but also privacy and alone time.

And I learned that solitude is very important because the “alone time” gives all of us in the system dedicated periods of “together time” like family time.  They all get a chance to be in control of the body and interact safely with the outside world.  We all get to do activities together and share information.  And there’s time for meditation or exercise and self care.  Everyone gets a voice and an opinion.  Sometimes the adults act like adults and make the final decisions.  Other times, it’s a community decision.

But we’d never have known this or be able to put ourselves first without having learned DBT.

And this is why I and others who write here struggle with how to write about what DBT means to us.  Because DBT is meant to be used in groups with other people and a moderator.  But we use it to help our internal system and work sometimes with our therapist, but not a professional moderator (like group therapy).  And our way of meditation is more like in martial arts (original training) or Buddhist practices not what Ms. Linehan teaches.

Now that I spend more time in the outside world, my solitude means a lot.  The times I spend walking from place to place during commutes are less about interacting with people on the street and more about catching up with my alters.  If that makes me less approachable, appear snobbish or remote, or act confused/abrupt, etc. then I’m okay with that.

I don’t want or need a lot of people in my life.  And the people in my life are ones I cherish and value; relationships to nurture and build on.  So yes, I put myself first and everyone else next.  Then I put time into relationships I care about with people I care about.  The rest will come as life changes.

Thanks for reading.

AlterXpressions

 

Anniversaries: Body Memories, Pain, and Anger

Some Background

There are very few holidays that my family and relatives did not celebrate.  To be more American (I guess), my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins embraced every major US, religious, and Chinese holiday they knew about as an excuse to get together, eat, and celebrate.  Those gatherings were full of family members, family friends, neighbors, co-workers, and their children.  And also full of danger for me.

Days off from school meant more time being abused by my mother and other perpetrators who came to the house.  Holiday parties and family get-togethers were times I got bullied and humiliated by my relatives and their friends.  Mostly verbal, sometimes physical, always emotional when I was compared to my sibling/cousins and found lacking.  Sometimes physical, sometimes verbal, sometimes sexual, always emotional when I was taken to private rooms by adults.

Normally, I don’t remember anything that happens between January and May.  Sometimes the memory loss starts as early as Halloween.  Normally I start to have problems just after Thanksgiving.  But always, by mid-January, I will wake up one morning and not remember what happened for 2 weeks or more.  And the memory loss continues.  Notes, reminders, calendar appointments are viewed with confusion.

Before this year, I would have said that not many holidays and anniversaries occur between January and May.  So why do I experience traumatic memory loss, body memories, and severe pain every year during those months?  Turns out, I was wrong about the holiday part.  Here is the list of holidays I’ve participated in so far:

  • January 1 – New Year
  • January 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. day
  • February 2 – Groundhog day
  • February 8 – Chinese New Year (lasts 14 days as part of spring festival)
  • February 10 – Ash Wednesday (beginning of Lent)
  • March 13 – Daylight Savings
  • March 16 – St. Patrick’s Day
  • March 20 – Spring Equinox

Coming up are: Christian Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Tax Day, Jewish Passover and Orthodox Easter, Cinco de Mayo (for Spanish class in middle and high school), Mother’s Day, and a variety of birthdays in May.

What this means to me

It means that I am always in physical pain from body memories.  From my head to my shoulders, tension seeps in and causes migraine worthy pain that won’t go away on its own.  From my shoulders to my hips, all of my joints, my stomach, and the muscles in between ache and knot up.  From the legs down, my knees, heels, and and muscles swell, knot up, tighten and cause sharp pain.  On a scale of one to ten, I am usually between 5 and 9 every day.  On bad days, I get as far as 12.

And with the pain comes anger.  Anger from remembering.  Anger from frustration at my inability to get relief without causing more pain or damage to myself.  Anger at the people who hurt me so badly that I still feel the echos in my body decades later.  Anger at remembering the past and not forgetting.  Anger that my alters have had to cope with this on their own for decades because they were too scared to ask the rest of the system for help.  Anger at feeling helpless to cope with the pain in healthy ways.

So now everyone in the system is present and accounted for.  No one is stuck in the past or trapped by the memories anymore.  What we remember now will not be forgotten.  That is the best part of these last few months.  It also gives me hope that all of us will survive this and come out stronger for it.  I will learn to cope with my part and be able to help the others with theirs.  The other alters will learn to cope with their parts and be able to help me too.  That is our goal.

But the anger is fierce.  And with the pain and anger come the voices.  The voices telling us to give up, give in, grovel and go back to our parents.  I try hard not to listen and pay attention.  Most of the time, I can tell they aren’t real.  The other alters are not as lucky.  They have a hard time discerning which voices are real and which are from the trauma.  So many times, the anger wells up and thoughts of vengeance and killing tempt me to be reckless.  I think about calling my family members and yelling at them.  I think about going to their houses and killing them.  I think about writing them scathing letters and mailing to their homes.  And not just my family members, I think about doing this to the other perpetrators in my memory too.

Because Lent was a time when many Christians and Mormons gave up something for 40 days.  And the perpetrators in my life used that as an excuse to beat me and sexually abuse me without skin to skin contact as punishment for tempting them to break their religious vows.  The perpetrators; what a name for those men and women who paid to use me.  And the more I remember, the more places I remember being abused.  The more valid reasons I have for not wanting to visit churches, synagogues, religious houses, elementary schools, bathrooms, public recreation centers, etc.  I wasn’t safe anywhere.  And I wonder how I got into such a predicament.  But then I remember: a well established pediatrician, an elementary school principal, a cult within a cult of Mormons soliciting people door-to-door with free babysitting and bible study classes, and a greedy mother.

Is it any wonder why I hate this time of year so much?  Oh well.  I am trying coloring books again.  Maybe it will help, maybe not.  At least the negative association is starting to fade, so I can add the coping strategy back to my tool box.

Thanks for reading my rant.

 

Alter Post: Being like The Hulk

When I was a kid I liked watching The Incredible Hulk on TV – not the cartoon, but the sitcom version.  It always amazed me how the mild mannered scientist turned into a monster and a hero when he lost his temper.  And in learning to live with his inner monster, he became a better human.

Fast forward about 20 years, and the Marvel comes out with the first Avengers movie.  In that movie, the scientist explains how he learned to control The Hulk: by always being angry and not shutting out his feelings.

My name is Darkness.  I am one of the few make parts in this system who grew up with the other adults.  Sometimes I forget my age and go back to being a child or teen.  Other times, I feel older than dirt.  And before we started using ISF to communicate, I was like the scientist before he learned the secret to controlling The Hulk.

These days, I am much better about not taking out the anger on innocents.  But sometimes, I forget that I am innocent too.  I turn the anger on myself.  That hurts everyone in the system.  And brings me to my knees with shame.

I used to take over and force us into scary, dangerous situations.  And I used to hurt people, not on purpose, because I did not know my physical strength.  Verbalizing is not something I learned, so I write instead.  Or I share images with the other parts.

It got to the point where the adults who interacted with outsiders avoided contact with everyone because no one knew what would set me off.  And I am extremely protective of my internal family.  But I did not know the difference between “safe” and unsafe” touch or contact then.  So I  attacked everyone on the outside.  Even friends and people who tried to help.

Our female body does not stop me.  The one greatest gift our donors gave us was education in martial arts and self-defense.  I remember every lesson and every technique we learned.  Some memories are fuzzy.  Others are clear.  The other guys and girls who remember workout with me on the inside.  We teach the kids and each other to prepare for attacks.

But we hardly ever use the physical body because that triggers body memories we can’t fight.  Feelings we can’t handle yet.  And anger so intense all I want to do is murder the monsters and blow them up to ash so they can’t regenerate.  As you can imagine, this kind of revenge anger is toxic.  And for a while, the rage took over our life.  It was uncontrollable.

We all thought we were going crazy.  I tried to make it stop by locking myself in a prison.  So did the other parts with uncontrollable rage.  Then I tried to make the memories go away.  It wasn’t until the second therapist and the first program stint that we all learned about anger management and emotion regulation.

That helped with the emotional part, but not the physical part.  The body memories weren’t connected to the cognitive memories then.  And every time a button got pushed, both memories got triggered into flashbacks. And our body instinctively lashed out with physical violence.  Our mouth used verbal and emotional violence.

Our current therapist helped us learn to sit with our feelings and body sensations instead of trying to control them.  The goal is acknowledge, accept, let go, move on.  Like the scientist and The Hulk – stop denying the feelings and learn to live with them.  Most of the time this is true.

But I have trouble controlling my anger when the body memories hit.  I see and hear and feel the others hurting and feel helpless to stop the pain.  My goal now is to figure out how to work with body memories in a safe way.  That means integrating physical activity into our lives.

Because acting like the Hulk after he got his temper and rages under control is a good goal to work on.  Being able to share safe physical contact with friends and connections (maybe a lover for the sexual female alters too) is our ultimate hope.

Coping Strategy: Affirmations About Anger

Some of my favorite affirmations come from Louise Hay.

This one is a particular favorite because it helps me remember one of my most important values: accepting responsibility for myself while letting others be responsible for themselves

Forgiveness doesn’t come easily to me.  Neither does trust.  Instead, I have learned to practice Tara Brach’s concept of Radical Acceptance.

This has allowed me to separate words and actions from individuals.  I can forgive individuals because humans are fallible, make mistakes, and have the freedom of choice granted by virtue of life.

It has also allowed me to hold the people who hurt me responsible for their actions while also releasing the pain and hurt of the past.  Instead of accepting responsibility for events and experiences beyond my control, I accept that my parents and the others who hurt me chose to act that way and are responsible for their words and actions.

I am only responsible for my reactions and my choices in how I reacted.  I forgive myself for what I had to do to survive and do not regret those words, actions, and reactions anymore.  Those experiences are life lessons and reminders of how I used to be and how I choose to act differently now when similar situations appear in my life.

If I had a choice to go back in time, I would not do anything different.  Because changing one part of the past results in me being someplace different now.

I love my family.  I respect them as humans and individuals.  I hate their actions and words towards me, towards, themselves, towards each other, and towards others.  I feel compassion for them and wish they did not hate themselves so much that they choose to hurt others in order to feel better.

And some day, all of my parts will come to a place where this is true.  Until then, we struggle with nightmares, fear, anger, resentment, hurt, shame, guilt, and stress from the burden of our memories.  Because even when on her medication, my mom chose to hurt and manipulate everyone around her.  We were allies/competition or enemies to be destroyed.

Anyone who tried to help her, tried to get her to see a psychiatrist or counselor for medication adjustments or assistance got yelled at, talked about behind their back, silent treatment, missing or destroyed items, and a flood of tears.  Because trying to help her meant trying to hurt her and punish her.

So eventually, I stopped taking responsibility for my mom’s actions.  I stopped taking care of her.  And when I did, the entire family turned on me.  I don’t hate them for it.  Not anymore.  Some of my parts do.  Because the shaming, the accusations, the shunning hurt.  I was trying to do the right thing.  To be my own person and help my mother.  I stopped taking responsibility for my father’s frustration with her too.  And my brother’s embarrassment and anger at her actions and reactions, her scenes and her problems.

I did not make them that way.  I am not responsible for them.  I am not meant to live my life under their control.  My role in life is not to be an extension of any of them, invisible, taking care of their needs and bearing responsibility for their problems.

This affirmation means a lot to me.  I created my own versions to keep in my mind and heart when the anger boils over:

I accept myself and all that I am.

  • My past, my present, my future are mine to choose and be responsible for.
  • I love my family.  I am not responsible for them or their choices.
  • I accept that I am changing for the better, learning to live and be my authentic self.
  • I accept my family for who they are and the choices they make.
  • I loved them then. I love them now.  I will love them no matter what happens.

Thank you Ms. Hay for your inspiration and thoughtful sharing of affirmations.