Anniversaries: Celebrating a different way

My Biased Perspective of Past Holidays

Holidays make me feel crazy an inadequate most years.  Also scared.  This is the time of year when everyone is “on a diet” or “off a diet” or “going crazy with the shopping and the parties and the party planning” and “making travel arrangements”.

People compete with each other to get the hottest trend item or have the best, most talked about party.  Everyone talks about gifts they’re buying or getting, vacations they’re going on, and the stress of holiday cheer.

Too many people.  Too busy.  Too loud.  Too much anxiety-provoking, stressful environmental factors in the outside world this time of year.

A New Goal: Fun, Relaxing Holidays

I was raised to believe holidays were about spending time with loved ones; enjoying good food, conversation, and games together.  Or for introverts like me, spending time around family, listening to conversations while playing puzzles or relaxing with a good book.  It meant helping my aunts and uncles cook and set the table for family dinner.  Or playing elf on Christmas morning at my grandma’s house and seeing everyone enjoy their gifts.

Those are my best and most favorite memories  of Christmas.  And they all happened before I turned 8 with my father’s side of the family.

These days, I don’t decorate or go to parties.  I do send messages to my friends and cook something good for myself.  Then relax with some books and movies if I’m not sleeping the day away.

But this year, I’m trying something different.  Since letting family back into my life, I have more reasons to be thankful and to celebrate.  I also have more triggers to cope with.  But I live far away from my friends and family now.  And connecting with them is not as easy as before.

So I’m reinstating a tradition.  Holiday cards.  By snail mail.

My only problems?  The cards might not all arrive in time.  I had stamps.  But not enough.  Friday was not a day I could go out – my cold decided to clear out and left me exhausted – and left me without enough stamps.  Then I realized I didn’t have enough cards.  One more…that’s all I need.

Fingers crossed I can get stamps and a card tomorrow.  With luck, the cards will be in the mail and delivered by Saturday.

Instead of blame & shame, a positive reminder of life’s surprises


Thanks for reading

Anniversaries: A birthday and flashbacks


Another quote from the Power of Positivity website (via Facebook)

Ever since moving to my new home, I’ve been recovering memories during sleep.  This is difficult because the memories come as dreams and sometimes interfere with or interrupt my regular sleeping.  That means I’m not getting as much rest as usual even though my sleeping habits have not changed.  Sleep deprivation and its resulting symptoms set in.  And I stop wanting to go out.

This quote resonates a lot with me because the exact scenario happened more than once as I reclaimed independence from my father.  His birthday was last Thursday; a few days after Labor Day; two week’s after my mother’s birthday; a little more than one month before mine.  In the past, memories of the trauma and abuse from my father were hazy and blurred.  Nothing concrete except feelings and fragments.  Now, I am remembering.  And the more I remember, the more I realize how covertly abusive he was.  And not just to me.  To my mother and brother too, but in different ways.

Sometimes I think my parents fed on each other’s negativity and enabled each other to be more abusive and destructive in our family system.  Maybe that is co-dependence; maybe it is something else.  But whatever the case, dad took out his frustration with my mom’s refusal to get consistent treatment and care on me.  And he put all of this projected hopes and dreams for the future on my brother.

And when I moved so far out of their control that they couldn’t force me into compliance anymore, my parents & sibling went out of their way to control how everyone else in our family system and community saw me/treated me.  None of those people are safe.  Not when they all see my mom and ask her how I am.  Not when they ask my brother, father and maternal relatives the same questions instead of asking me.  Not when those people tell lies and make up stories about me that I can’t refute or deny since I have not idea what they’re saying.

The persona they created for me lives on in many minds.  The truth of who I am is a mystery wrapped in an enigma both to me and everyone in my circle of trusted people.  I’m still learning who I am.  I am still becoming the woman I aspire to be.  Like an onion, I have to peel away the layers of denial, amnesia, trauma fragments, and disguises that kept me safe in order to find the authentic person underneath.

And when times are bad; when the switching is almost constant; when the depression sets in, I remember this quote.  And then I go to sleep.  My alters come out and do what they need to do; sometimes we cry; sometimes other chores get accomplished; sometimes exercise; sometimes we have lucid dreams.  A day might pass.  Two days might pass with a few wake-ups to use facilities, get a drink or food, etc.  And then, our mind relaxes into restful sleep.  And I/we awaken feeling refreshed.  And the cycle starts fresh again.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversary: Family Reunions, Birthdays & Shame


End of July and most of August are typically the time of year when out-of-town relatives stay at my aunts’ houses and visit for a long family reunion that ends with the maternal grandmother’s birthday.  Some used to stay with my parents, but that changed sometime when I was in college.  This is speculation because no one ever told me anything, but I guess my relatives couldn’t face the truth of who was acting out against (aka abusing and scaring) their young children.  It’s easier for them to blame the scapegoat than to face a reality they refuse to acknowledge.

Why this anniversary is so scarring

But back to family reunions.  As scapegoat, I was mostly ignored or bullied by everyone.  And made to be the de facto babysitter as a young teen to keep me separated from the rest of my age-mate cousins and younger brother.  I didn’t mind because that gave me something to do with my time.  As I got older, though, so did the kids.  And the next generation of young children came from my older cousins – people who didn’t trust or like or respect me – and other relatives by marriage who didn’t want my help.  So I suddenly had nothing to keep the anxiety away.

And that generation of children were raised to treat me the same way as the adults.  And they did it with relish.  No one scolded them for being mean or indulging in bad habits around me, so they constantly made up ways to antagonize me.  And then with the silent treatment and shunning from the adults, I basically had no place to hide at family reunions.  No one to offer empathy, compassion, friendly conversation, etc.  And no place to go and cope with my anxiety or triggers.  I was on a stage with bright lights pointed at me all the time; they used every word, every gesture to humiliate and condemn me.

Typical Response

Dissociate, not leave the house, feel hyper-vigilant and scared all the time, stop sleeping, have nightmares, miss time from work, have panic attacks, severe body pain and memories, get sick, pass out, not eat, etc. for days or even weeks.  Lose time, lose memories, switch and practice self harm.

Response in new environment

Some disturbed sleeping, lots of anxiety, some flashbacks, lots of shame and tears, problems with my digestion and visit the bathroom a lot, increased body memories and body pain but not so much that I stay home and am incapacitated.  Some switching and reckless behavior – but that is more due to mistakes and learning a new environment that the shame capitalizes on than anything deliberate.

I am:

  • still working 5 days a week
  • going out with friends
  • active on the blog and website
  • going shopping/cooking/to restaurants
  • exercising
  • decorating my apartment
  • keeping in touch with safe family and friends (another post)
  • Utilizing my coping strategies (especially the hotline) while I try to find a provider here
  • making and keeping appointments for graduate school, scholarship research, etc.


The 2 months of anniversaries are tough.  Remembering how I was treated brings back lots of negative feelings that are hard to accept and cope with.

But being here in my new place, I truly feel safe and able to move beyond the typical fear.  Yes, it hurts.  yes I cry a lot.  Yes my body loses control sometimes.  Yes I feel aggression rise to the point where I scare myself of what could happen.

But it all goes away much faster.  I can let myself cry and experience all of these sensations instead of blocking them out.  And because of that, the pain and fear and anxiety lessen each time.  And each experience takes less out of me too.

So yeah, I’m still in rough shape.  The shame overwhelms me and causes me to apologize and over explain and feel terrible about good decisions.  It is constantly messing with my mind.  But I can get help from the hotline and my friends; they listen and help me find self-compassion through validation and reality testing.

I need my quiet evenings and 1 day a week of staying inside.  But I can spend that time being productive and happy (either doing something or doing nothing) instead of out of my mind with fear and disorientation.

Thanks for reading

Anniversaries: a letter to my father

Dear Dad,

It’s been four years since I left, and seven years since you shunned me.  Happy Father’s Day from the daughter who never meant anything too you.  The daughter you “loved and spoiled” until your precious son came into existence.  The daughter you hugged and cuddled until your wife’s tantrums made you stop.  The daughter you sacrificed to keep peace in your household.  The daughter you threatened to keep away from your mother and siblings if they interfered with how she was being raised.

Do you remember me at all?  Did you ever love me or see me as a human being?  When you touched me and played secret games with me as a toddler, did you know you were sexually abusing me?  Did you care at all?  When you caught your wife treating me the same way, did you try to stop her?  When the religious people came to “babysit” me or the contractors spent “private time” alone with me, did you try to stop them?  Was the money worth selling your daughter?  You treated my wounds and protected me from your wife’s physical abuse, but you let me be your housekeeping slave.

Did you enjoy having sex with me?  Did you enjoy forcing me to service you?  Did you enjoy punishing me by starving me?  Did you make me get good grades because you cared or because pride wouldn’t let you have a dumb daughter?  Why did you force me to do my brother’s homework?  Why did you punish me for getting a bronze medal in a Tae kwon do tournament?  Because my brother didn’t win or get a medal?

Mostly, though, I want to know why you let your wife hurt me and say terrible things about me.  Why you ignored me and also said terrible things about me.  Why did you sell me to the cult?  Why did you let my pediatrician rape and drug me?  And why did you rape me?  Blame me for getting pregnant?  Try to keep me a child and a slave instead of becoming an independent young woman?

I will never know the answers to these questions.  Every day, the fog of denial dissipates more.  And I realize my whole childhood was a lie.  You never cared about me.  You never wanted to see me.  You never acknowledged me unless I was useful.  And you taught me to hide my light or risk being rejected.

I loved you unconditionally growing up.  You were my super hero and number one favorite person.  I admired you and wanted to be like you.  You could do no wrong back then.  Not even mom, hard as she tried, could change that.  Then I hit adolescence.  My body changed.  I wasn’t your little girl anymore.  Other men tried to take my attention away from you.  And you hated that.

I grew up.  Started my own life away from you.  You couldn’t control my life anymore.  And I realized the painful truth.  You don’t care about me.  Funny, but I still love you.  You are my biological father even though you are not my dad.  I call you “dad” out of respect for the food and shelter you provided me growing up.  Nothing else.

Who is my real Dad?  Uncle Teddy is my dad.  He loved me and cared about me; taught me lessons about respect and boundaries; bandaged my scrapes and dried my tears.  My real Dad died when I was eight years old, and I never really got over that.  You never forgave me for wanting Uncle Teddy to be my dad either.  The night we learned of his death is the first time you raped me.  It killed you that I wasn’t a virgin, but how could you know Mom and Dr. D had been raping me for two years before that?  And of course it was my fault for letting them rape me.

But life is different now.  I gave you 29 years of my life in exchange for raising and sheltering me through childhood and adolescence.  You gave me the courage to walk away when you shunned me.  Now I am my own person.  Not your daughter anymore.  Part of me still grieves for the shattered illusions.  Part of me rejoices in the freedom of saying Goodbye forever.

And this is goodbye.  Good bye biological father.  You don’t have a hold on me anymore.  Good bye Dad.  I love you and miss you always.  Never again will I forget you.


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.


Anniversary Post: Chinese New Year

Today is Chinese New Year’s (aka Lunar New Year) eve and the beginning of celebrations for the Spring Festival.  In observance of the traditional values, I am going to share this quote from Maya Angelou:


Celebrating the Lunar New Year is about embracing the possibilities of a happy, healthy, prosperous beginning with family, friends, and community.

My family consists of the people who love, respect, and accept me as I am; and who allow me to love, respect, and accept them as they are.  Most do not share blood and probably do not think of me in that sense.  That is ok because family means something different to everyone.

My friends are people I enjoy spending time with; who accept me as I am; and support me no matter how much they may disagree or not understand my choices.  Friends know parts of me as I know parts of them; we share some of our lives with each other, but are not as close as family.

My community is the group of people I spend the most time with: family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, storekeepers, etc.  I have two communities: one in the neighborhood where I live; and one in the neighborhoods where I work.  A third community is slowly embracing me: Chinatown.

I am thankful for many changes that occurred over the past year because those changes enable me to embrace the opportunities opening up this year.  Opportunities like not being afraid of my heritage anymore; like going back to Chinatown and being part of the Chinese community again; like celebrating and enjoying my favorite holiday from beginning (tonight) until end (15 days from now).

Maya Angelou’s quote is one I plan on adding to my affirmations list.  It reminds me of how being supportive and honest helps me help others while also bring like-minded people into my life.  I hope it brings some positive energy to yours as well.

Gong Hay Fat Choy! (Happy New Year)

Anniversaries: Reclaiming The Meaning of Holidays

Dear Guests,

The time between Halloween and New Year’s Eve can be stressful and triggering for many people, especially survivors and their connections.  It can be hard to cope with the memories, emotional overload, and overwhelming triggers in positive and healthy ways.

Personally, I’ve disliked holidays, holiday seasons, and celebrations of many kinds for years.  Even more, I’ve hated what they represent and remind me of.  The first years after I left my family, I hid and slept through most of them.  Then I started staying awake more; did not remember much as I was dissociating at the time, but I was awake.  And eventually, I started being active while I was at home.

And as I reflect on anniversaries this year, I’ve realized that sometimes escape is healthy and positive.  Even if it means doing something that appears wrong, crazy, sick, or just plain weird to outsiders.  As long as it helps me cope without causing harm, why not try it?  So this year, I started substituting memories by creating new ones before, during, and after an anniversary.

It’s not easy.  And it’s not always fun.  Sometimes I do too much and get triggered into flashbacks.  Other times, I don’t do enough and get overwhelmed by a panic attack.  But each time I try to make new memories, I succeed in letting go of scary ones.  Then next time is less difficult.

Whatever you celebrate or not celebrate, however you choose to spend your time off, I and my alters wish you a safe, healthy, happy, peaceful next few days.




Anniversaries: Gratitude, Friendship & Speaking Out


Some weeks are harder than others.  It seems like everything converges at the same time; one after another the triggers hit.  Downtime is nonexistent.  Coping becomes an olympic sport.  As my therapist put it: “descent into triggering hell” becomes reality.  Then I lose 6 or 7 months of the year to traumatic amnesia.

Or that used to be my normal.

My alters and I have hope that this time will be different.  The changes came slowly like water eroding rock.  The child alters feel safe and confident enough to let go of past memories.  The adolescent alters feel safe and self-assured in their protection and coping skills to let go of past memories.  And we adults feel confident in ourselves, the system, and our combined experience to maintain safety no matter what happens.


We are grateful for many things in life.  This time of year, though, we are especially grateful for our true friends and connections.  They made the difference between scary hell of flashbacks and coping with overwhelming feelings in healthy ways.

We are grateful for a warm apartment; a fulfilling job; unexpected gifts; nice weather; clothes; food; and self-acceptance.  By meeting these basic needs, we have the tools to take care of ourselves and be safe.

We are grateful for our therapist, providers, and support organizations like the hotline.  Without their unconditional support and belief in us, maintaining the balance between our inside world and outside world would be that much more difficult.

Inspiration from a friend

Last week was tough.  But one friend in particular helped me through a lot of it.  She called to check on me; offered me support and a sounding board without judgement; and sent me inspirational news articles and posts.  Reading it made me smile and turned my whole day around.  I hope it does for you too:

Giving myself permission to (fill in blank)

This is one of those times when nothing works.  Every coping strategy, every technique I’ve learned helps a little or not at all.  Whatever the others come up with, we try.  Sometimes it offers a little relief.  Sometimes it makes the anxiety worse.  This is when someone calls the hotline.  We talk through the triggers with a volunteer; brainstorm ideas; make a plan; sometimes all of them in one call.  Sometimes over multiple calls.

The lesson we learned: sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to do nothing.  Or feel crappy.  Or cry.  Or be kind to ourselves.  And so on.

Then we follow through with action or inaction.  And doing this with the intention to help ourselves brings unexpected relief.  It also feels scary the first few times.  DBT helps with that.  Emotion regulation and Distress Tolerance work well.  And for readers with alters, I’d add Effective Interpersonal Communication and Assertiveness modules as well.


Feeling safe provides a framework for self-confidence and security in one’s identity.  With that security comes a belief in one’s ability to cope with anything that could happen and the skills to do it.  The changes do not happen over night.  They take time and practice like everything else.  To us, the investment is worth the payoff.

What do you think?

Anniversaries: Substituting Memories

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving.  Tomorrow is the infamous Black Friday.

The last few years, my alters and I have worked to substitute difficult memories of this holiday with better ones.  Create new experiences and new emotions to link with this time of year.

To that end, we have re-framed what Thanksgiving means to us.  Here are the highlights of then and now:

  1. It’s ok to spend this holiday alone instead of among “friends and family”.
    1. If you have DID like us, then maybe you aren’t really spending it alone.  We are spending Thanksgiving with our favorite loved ones in a safe space and creating memories together.
  2. It’s ok to NOT stuff yourself full of food or cook a big fancy meal with traditional dishes
    1. We made rice congee and bought ingredients to make linguine with clam sauce tomorrow.
  3. It’s ok to NOT watch the Macy’s Day parade or sports of any kind.
    1. I watched the latest episodes of my favorite TV shows online and some Scooby Doo cartoons with my alters
  4. It’s okay to be active instead of lazy.  We had some work to do to meet deadlines.  And some plans to keep us busy and distracted.
    1. Work brings pleasure, feelings of success and confidence, and grounding in the present time
    2. The other activities remind us that we are in control of our choices
  5. When the memories get bad, it’s ok to stop and rest
    1. I used to think sleeping through the holiday was bad.
    2. Many of us used to think that not remembering what we did was worse than sleeping
    3. This year, we made the conscious choice to take naps when the emotional overload hit instead of trying to power through it.
    4. Those naps revitalized us and helped us feel accomplished because we remembered to practice good self care on a stressful and scary day
  6. It’s ok not to go out and interact with others when we feel out of sorts.
    1. This one is self-explanatory

We are thankful to be alive, thriving instead of surviving, and able to help others  in many small ways.

We are thankful for our support network, our job, and this blogging community too.

Most important, we wish for our readers to enjoy some measure of peace and safety during the anniversaries.

Coping Strategies: Solitude vs Isolation

This week is a bit crazy for me.  I hate Halloween.  So do my alters.  It brings back terrible memories and causes all kinds of stress.  So we decided to post early just in case something distracts us from the usual routine.

What is Solitude?

My alters and I consider solitude an essential part of our self-care.  It is dedicated personal time (or quiet time) every day where all of us get to be alone at home or in a safe place to recharge and rest.  The environment is low stimulation, and we get to choose to be together or by ourselves in our safe spaces.  We can sleep the whole time, cook, bake, knit, etc.  But, essentially, it is our body/self away from other people and living beings and able to relax any way we want by choice.  And we stay connected via telephone, email, text messaging, social media, etc.  And if we want to go out, we do.  Another part of solitude comes from being busy at work and wanting to focus on the tasks at hand so do not interact with others as much.  Finally, sometimes we are busy taking care of our inside world when we are flooded.  On those occasions, we turn inward for short periods of time to take care of ourselves and each other and seem distracted or distant from everyone else.

What is Isolation?

Isolation for us is deliberately avoiding people, relationships, interaction with others because of fear (even if the fear is not recognizable at the time).  It means staying closed off from people and connections instead of making friends or being active in ways that we used to enjoy.  It means not reaching out or asking for help because that stops us from ever being rejected or failing or being hurt again.  Isolation means staying at home and not doing anything fun or enjoyable; not relaxing or recharging; not practicing self-care.  But mostly, Isolation means hiding from life.  Because if we avoid being part of life, we can’t fail again.

Why is one Positive and the other Negative?  How can one tell?

My therapist says I can tell if solitude or isolation are helpful if I feel better after practicing it.  And harmful if I feel more anxious or frustrated with myself and my environment because I am letting my past keep me from doing what I want to do.

Solitude is essential because it gives me time with my alters and by myself – time for us to not have to hide from the rest of  the world – so we can act as we please and switch as often as we like and hold conversations with each other without having strangers look at us like we’re crazy for having conversations with invisible people.

Sometimes solitude slips into isolation because I am mildly agoraphobic and cannot leave my residence when I have intense panic attacks, flashbacks, body memories, or triggers going on inside.  The safest thing for me to do is stay inside and practice self-care.  One day or one weekend by choice is fine.  3 days or 4 days because I am afraid to be seen even though I am in a safe neighborhood but want to go out is a form of isolation.  This usually occurs during holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc.


A lot of self reflection and thought helped me understand that I have an introverted personality.  This means I get my energy by having dedicated alone time at regular intervals – for me at least an hour every day.  This does not mean I prefer not to be around people or parties or events.  It doesn’t mean I am not talkative or friendly or a people person or shy.  it does mean I prefer small groups to large crowds; interesting and deep conversations to chitchat and small talk; being around people I know and feel safe with instead of a crowd of strangers.  It also means I like being alone as much as I like being around people – sometimes more than I like being around people.

Being a trauma survivor has made me reserved and skeptical of people; not comfortable in strange environments or crowds of people; feel unsafe around strangers or anyone who sets of my internal alarms; and need to not feel trapped anywhere ever.  It has taught me to appreciate having a safe space or haven to go home to – one that is completely mine and under my control so I don’t have to worry about enemies intruding on my boundaries and taking what’s mine.

The line between isolation and solitude can be thin sometimes.  But it exists.  And when I go too far in one direction or another, my friends and support network are around to help pull me out.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, I honestly believe everyone can use a little personal time to take care of themselves.

A Life Changing Moment in Time: Fiction & Truth

“No, it doesn’t.  This kind of secret hurts.  It crawls inside you and eats at you.  It makes you scared, and it makes you guilty.  The ones who want it to be secret use that – the guilt, the fear, the shame.  The only way you can fight back is to tell.  Tell me who raped you.” ~ Lieutenant Eve Dallas to a murder witness from Naked in Death by J. D. Robb.

In this book, the murderer is a powerful politician who also happens to be the first victim’s grandfather and the witness’s father.  It was first published in 1996, two years before I read it and the other four books available in the series at the time.  As I think back to 1999, I realize that a lot happened to change my perspective and my future choices between 1998 and 1999.

I had my first big rebellion that year.  My closest aunt died of cancer in spring of 1999.  One week later, I took my SATs.  The nightmares got worse.  I started having intense abdominal and knee pain that made me physically ill and miss a lot of school.  The rebellion ended, and I started taking driving lessons.

Then I read that book.  And my world turned upside down.  But I did not realize it at the time.  All I knew was that the rage and grief from my aunt’s death let out monsters in my mind.  And those monsters sometimes took over and used my body to rage against the world.  It was high school, though, so everyone blamed the mood swings and lightning changes to hormones from a 16 year old.

But those words haunted me.  I tried to find someone to talk to.  But the grief counselor didn’t help much.  And the donors did not like what she was bringing out in me.  As for everyone else, they wanted to hide me until I stopped blurting out whatever was on my mind when certain topics came up – topics that had a pat response to uphold and polish the family image – and embarrassing everyone.

The one thing I do remember my aunt telling me before she died had to do with security.  She told me that I had to do well in school instead of laughing it off.  Get a job that pays well and offers benefits and security so no one can take that away from me. She didn’t, got C’s and D’s and skated her way through college and grad school.  When her divorce was final, the only thing that kept her afloat and had the judge rule custody in her favor was her professional degree and years of working before she stopped to raise her kids.  She knew, even if she never admitted it out loud, what happened to me at home.

So I switched my concentration in high school from art and biology to chemistry and pharmacy.  Not that it did much good.  But the advice came in handy when I made my escape 13 years later.

Anniversary Post: thoughts about anniversaries, memories, and triggers

Anniversaries Coming Up

  • Labor Day: In the US almost everyone has Monday off to celebrate the holiday.  Except for retail, transportation, and a few other jobs where employees get a half day or reduced hours day instead.  For me, it means barbecues with family; going out to activities and events; getting bullied by cousins and shamed or ignored by everyone else; sometimes abusers found me and did stuff too.
  • Sperm Donor’s Birthday: He is 30 years older than me and does not like to celebrate his birthday.  My memories as a little girl are warm and fuzzy – I was the quintessential Daddy’s girl until I started school.  Probably because I filled two important roles: 1) kept the egg donor occupied and out of trouble; and 2) easily controlled and dominated (never physical abuse, but everything else for sure).  Then I started school.  The egg donor was left alone to her own devices.  And he started sexually abusing me.  But once I hit puberty, I was persona non grata.
  • School Starts: Every year, I looked forward to escaping my home life by going to school; even if that meant I would get bullied by my peers and teachers.  At least they weren’t physically or sexually abusing me.  Except for the principal, but that’s another story.  And at school, the other abusers (not related by blood or marriage) couldn’t get to me either.  But being ridiculed, bullied, the victim of racism and prejudice, etc. wasn’t easy either.  And then came middle school/high school with all that angst on top of everything else.  By then, everyone ignored me because I was “rude and annoying” to many, but also set up by the egg donor who worked in the juniors department at a department store and told my female classmates stories about me.
  • Moving to College and/or Apartments: September 1st is the most popular moving day for everyone where I live.  The first few moves, my donors coordinated and organized everything.  Then I had the responsibility of doing it myself.  They hated my going to college.  They hated more when I moved out and took every chance to bash me about those choices.  Then they complained enough to have the rest of the blood relatives and other connections harass me about it too.

Weekend Coping Strategies

This year is different in a lot of ways.  Here are a few:

  • I am safe – living in a place where they can’t find me that is all mine
  • I can stay home or go out on my terms
  • I do not have to move this year
  • My mental and emotional self is in a healthier, happier place than it was before
  • I have weekend projects to keep me busy
    • My favorite is making shades for hard-to-fit windows
    • Cooking and baking at home
    • Laundry and dying some of my white t-shirts a less bright white
    • Knitting – finish a scar for my friend
    • Write Monday’s blog post
  • I have movies to listen to in the background
  • Three days means I can make my own hours and not have to worry about lack of sleep and having to work on Monday

My goal is to not sleep the weekend away.  I might not be able to leave home – that gets difficult because of the fear and anxiety that comes from going out (all of us feel this way) – but at least there is plenty to do at home.

Here are my coping strategies that utilize the list above.  I am using them starting end of work today:

  • Redirect thoughts by stating facts about the present, future plans, solving problems or getting answers to questions
  • Go shopping and have everything in place for the weekend
  • Practice emotion regulation and distraction by doing the activities on my list
  • Making sure I also stop and take regular breaks – either by doing something fun and relaxing or by not doing anything at all (includes naps)
  • Use my self-care compulsion rituals to help relieve the OCD stress that comes from triggers sometimes
  • And if I don’t end up doing anything on my “Want to do” list, then that’s okay too.

I’m ending this post with one of my favorite Lin Yutang quotes

Recovery Challenge: Multiple Diagnoses aka Comorbidity

In honor of the egg donor’s birthday, and extra post this week.

What is Comorbidity?

I don’t usually trust Wikipedia as a primary source, but this definition fits my thoughts on multiple diagnoses.

“In medicinecomorbidity is the presence of one or more additional disorders (or diseases) co-occurring with a primary disease or disorder; or the effect of such additional disorders or diseases. The additional disorder may also be a behavioral or mental disorder.

In medicine, the term “comorbid” can be either medical condition(s) existing simultaneously but independently with another condition; or it can indicate a related medical condition or conditions. In psychiatric diagnoses it has been argued in part that this “‘use of imprecise language may lead to correspondingly imprecise thinking’, [and] this usage of the term ‘comorbidity’ should probably be avoided.”” – from Wikipedia

11+ Diagnoses Become 1 Primary with a Secondary diagnosis

Between 2004 and 2007, I was diagnosed with 11+ different mental illnesses including:
  • clinical depression
  • 5 different anxiety disorders
  • mild agoraphobia
  • anorexia nervosa
  • a variety of other phobias
  • panic attacks
  • obsessive/compulsive disorder
  • and an anger management issue.

I wish I could remember all of the names, but I can’t. What frustrated me the most at this time was that they kept giving me these labels because I did not fit any of the mental illness categories exactly.

Symptoms like hallucinations and dissociation were evidence of a psychotic disorder; but they couldn’t call me something I wasn’t.  And I wasn’t psychotic.  The psychologists and psychiatrists kept treating each condition as something separate.  I began to believe I really was crazy.

Between 2004 and 2014, I had visited 3 therapists (1 psychologist and 2 LISCWs), 2 partial programs with teams of mental health providers and 3 psychiatrists, and 11 private psychiatric professionals (psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse).  The therapists kept recommending medication to make the symptoms go away.  The psychiatrists kept giving me medication – increasing doses or changing medications – until they got frustrated and gave up on me because nothing worked.  I take the medication and get sick.  The symptoms go away, and I become a catatonic zombie.  I stop taking the medication and become independent again.  The symptoms come back worse than before.

Ironically, it was an academic advisor in graduate school who figured out my correct diagnosis: complex post traumatic stress disorder.  The academic advisor was a domestic violence survivor and in the process of getting out of the relationship when we met.  She recommended the book Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman to read.  That was the first turning point in my recovery.  I realized that everything I had remembered was the driving factor in my diagnoses.

Then I learned that each diagnosis can be its own disorder or symptoms of a more complex mental illness like post traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders.

Lessons Learned from Multiple Diagnoses

Along with medicine, the therapists helped me by teaching me strategies to rebuild my internal sense of self – the foundations based on my values, beliefs, and self-trust.  My problem was and continues to be that I do not trust anyone until they have proven themselves to me with their actions.  This can take a while or not happen at all.  The trust issue and pressure to stop going from the sperm donor caused the first therapy relationship to break up.

I still go into every potential relationship knowing that, unless I feel both emotionally and physically safe, it’s going to be temporary.  I met my closest friend during my junior/senior year in college.  We reconnected a few years later through a mutual friend and have remained friends since then.  Up until 3 years ago, I waited for the moment when something one of us said or did would break up our friendship.  Even now, when I or one of my parts are having a particularly difficult time, we wonder when all of the people in our support network are going to stop being supportive – either they walk away or I walk away.

The voluntary programs taught me that everyone, even mental health providers, has an agenda.  Maybe not a conscious one, but definitely an agenda / purpose driving their approach to helping others.  The first time, a program helped for two reasons:

  • 1)I learned that I wasn’t alone
  • 2) there were people in the world who could accept an eccentric, weird, individual with “unique perspective of yourself and the world” (paraphrasing my program clinician)

The second program taught me that I wouldn’t get anything out of groups unless:

  • 1) I trusted the clinicians to do their jobs
  • 2) the people around me to be supportive, respectful, willing to speak up and help other clients in the group, and accepting of others.

And even though I didn’t get the same kind of assistance as the first time (different people working in the program), I learned to trust my instincts.  By observing the people in the program, I learned about my values and what I want in any kind of relationship.  The people in the program (clients and clinicians) reminded me of people in my family and circle of friends.  The same family and friends whom I was considering a permanent separation from.  Not knowing I had Dissociative Identity Disorder made things even more difficult.  I didn’t remember interactions with other clients or understand why they treated me different from moment to moment.

The other part was my “unique perspective” because I was in a different recovery place than the others.  I couldn’t relate to anyone.  And the more I talked, the more I felt separated from them.  The other clients started to resent me and avoid me – partly my fault because I was obviously cautious and had mood swings from dissociation/switching; partly theirs for feeling frustrated/angry/upset with me because they couldn’t be where I was – which caused tension whenever I was in a group or tried to connect with others.  The clinicians were not happy with me because I was too assertive and knew more about the coping techniques they tried to teach us than they did.  This was routinely said by clients in groups where the clinicians and moderators could hear.

That’s when the subtle condescension and shaming started.  And not just with me, but with other clients too.  The whole atmosphere made me uncomfortable.  And it was only after I learned about shame that I realized why I felt uncomfortable and not inclined to trust anyone in the program.  But the month off from work gave me time and perspective; two things I needed to make the final decision to walk away from my family and current relationships.


Anniversaries bring up a lot of stuff.  Remembering the past is not a waste of time if one learns from those experiences.  Today is my mother’s birthday.  Sometimes she is referred to as the egg donor.  Most of us prefer not to attribute the word “mother” to her, but old habits are hard to break.  I and my parts always get stuck in memories and feelings before, during, and after her birthday.

I think about her and get angry.  I think about her and promise myself not to spend time around people who act in similar ways towards themselves and others.  I think about her and feel proud that I am able to choose who to spend my time with even if that means having a very limited social circle.   I think about her and wonder if she can still hide her craziness without me there to take the blame.

Most important, I think about her and feel relief that we are not in each other’s lives.

When I think of now, I wish that all survivors and their connections are able to find supportive, compassionate, knowledgable mental health providers who can offer them the correct diagnosis and options for symptom management instead of having to go through what I did.

Coping Challenge: Body Memories, Pain, and Triggers

Today’s Quote

I learned a lesson about doubt this week.

As mentioned in previous posts, August is a trigger month for me.  The first half of the month has to do with family reunions, get togethers with friends and connections, and camps.  The second half of the month is birthdays – egg donor and her mother’s birthdays to be exact.  With my therapist on vacation and an unusual increase in remembering, I and my alters doubted we would be able to get through the last week on our own.

But, I forgot about all of the wonderful people in my life now.  And my alters forgot about the toolbox of shared coping strategies in our memory banks.  But most important, we forgot about how far we’ve come since those first baby steps.  Doubt, fear, shame, and pain clouded our senses and distorted reality for a while.  So we hope this quote helps you the way it helped us.

Body Memories

With remembering comes pain.  Sometimes the pain is physical; other times it is emotional or spiritual.  Often the pain is a combination of sensations that trigger other memories, thoughts, or feelings.  I am always in pain; what level of pain I experience determines how functional I will be throughout the day.  My body hurts from the damage I did with anorexia and from the damage done to me when I was abused.  Pain management without drugs, alcohol, and other chemicals has been one of my long-standing quests.

Working with my therapist and reading about trauma has taught me that trauma lives in my body as much as or more than it lives in my mind.  Talk therapy helps with my emotional and spiritual (mental) symptoms – i.e. nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, feeling emotionally unsafe, dissociation – but not so much with my physical symptoms – i.e. panic attacks, body memories, somatic symptoms masking as colds, allergies, asthma, muscle pain, migraines, joint stiffness, lack of coordination. We have both been searching for more resources to help cope with the body memories and physical pain that worsens or lessens depending on the amount of triggers and anxiety occurring at the time.


Pain is our constant companion.  It comes in many forms: soreness; aches in muscles and joints; discomfort; bruises; tendon and cartilage stiffness; cramps, etc.  And it manifests in different places at different times.  The scary part comes when the pain is triggered by body memories.  For anyone who is not comfortable reading descriptions about physical or sexual body memories, please skip to the next section.

Some of our best friends are of varied and different sexual orientations.  That does not matter to us.  What matters is that they are amazing, unique, compassionate, wonderful, reliable friends and connections.  Please remember that we strive to celebrate and accept all individuals as they are as you read this section.

I’ve been plagued with body memories where I relive sexual abuse.  My body gets aroused, flushed, goes cold, calms down, feels sensitive in places I did not know could feel sensitive, and so on when I am asleep or get triggered by a sensation that reminds me of past experiences.  It scares different alters, wakes everyone up, causes sleep paralysis, nightmares, night sweats, and a whole host of other problems.

During the day, at work or outside the home, it gets embarrassing sometimes because my body re-enacts the trauma when triggered.  I and my parts are not homosexual, but we were sexually abused by many females.  So when certain kinds of interactions between us and other females take place, triggers occur and sexual feelings get aroused.  Sexual behaviors sometimes get expressed even though none of us are experiencing sexual interest in the female(s).  That causes misinterpretations and other problems along with feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion.  We are heterosexual; this was discovered late in high school and in college.  But arousal feelings scare us because were sexually abused by males.  They trigger similar memories as described earlier and cause us to panic and hide or get angry to push the interested / interesting males away.

These conclusions came at a high cost of working through many tangled memories and fragments.  And now, we struggle to cope with the memories as they come together to narrate mind/body experiences that deserved to be honored and understood in order to move forward.

Alternative Coping Techniques and Strategies

I added a new Pinterest link with images and videos of some alternative coping techniques you might be interested in learning about to my Resources page.  Yes, the page still says it is under construction.  We have decided to leave it up there for now because the page will be evolving as more links and information gets added.

Some of the coping techniques on the Pinterest page are:

  • Qigong
  • Tai Chi
  • Sound healing
  • Chiropractic
  • Massage therapy with trauma trained professionals
  • Bodywork therapy with trauma trained professionals
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture

I have tried almost all of these with different degrees of success.  The ones I go back to most are qigong, sound healing, massage, and acupuncture.  Chiropractic helped me at the beginning of my recovery when I stopped being able to exercise because of serious knee pain that physical therapy couldn’t fix and the specialist said required knee replacement surgery; the MRIs, X-rays, etc. couldn’t find anything wrong.  But I was 22 at the time, and no one wanted me to have replacement surgery; instead the specialist told me I had to stop exercising and live with the limited movement caused by the pain.

Yoga is amazing and wonderful in so many ways.  I wish I could practice it, but my body memories surface and cause panic attacks/flashbacks that make me physically and emotionally ill.  Someday, when I am more comfortable in my body, I will practice yoga on a regular basis.  Not everyone has this strong a reaction to yoga.  And I tried yoga in regular classes, not trauma-sensitive classes.  So please do not be discouraged.  It may work for someone in similar situation with different body reactions.

Qigong is a form of energy healing that combines sound healing, meditation, and movement.  I am not sure how to describe it.  All I can tell you is that the meditation practices combined with standing and moving exercises are not as triggering as yoga and still effective at calming my internal systems when I can use them.  Tai Chi is a martial art that has its roots in qigong and is good for people who want something more like yoga – a routine and set of movements in a pattern and rhythm that also teach individuals how to protect themselves physically.

Acupuncture is relatively new to all of us.  When we tried it, the needling helped manage the pain and anxiety so that everything was calm and quiet for a time.  But the backlash was too hard to handle.  And the commute after work was very triggering.  So we stopped for now.

If any of you readers and guest suffer from body memories or pain, I hope some of these resources offer you some new avenues to explore.  Be well.

Coping with Anniversaries Series: Father’s Day

What is an anniversary?

An anniversary is an important event or experience that brings back a flood of memories and feelings triggering anxiety, depression, or other symptoms that negatively affect an individual.  For me days like this trigger feelings of anxiety and shame among others.  My body reacts physically.  Flashbacks start to overwhelm me.  I get disoriented and start to feel hyper-vigilant more than normal.
Father’s day is one of these days.  An anniversary is personal to the survivor, so what can be an ordinary day to you is something else to me.  And the symptoms that I described in the first paragraph are not limited to the day of the event.  They can start at any time before or during the anniversary and not end for days, weeks, months afterwards.  And depending on where I am in my recovery, the symptoms change.

Who does the anniversary affect?  How?  Why?

Me.  My alters.  Anyone I interact with during the affected period. The hardest time is face to face.  Phone comes second.  Writing is not as difficult, but trickier in the sense that I have to be careful about my word choice.
When my symptoms increase, I have a hard time staying present.  I am less social.  I act in ways unlike the self most people recognize.  I speak in different tones of voice.  My body gestures/facial expressions do not match each other or my words.  I am more sensitive to triggers.  I react to people based on what is happening inside of me instead of their verbal and non-verbal cues.
This has caused me many problems and misunderstandings with friends, family, co-workers, and clients.  In the past, I blamed myself and withdrew from the world.  I dissociated and engaged in more harmful coping strategies.  Then I started therapy and counseling.  These people taught me how to express myself, how to communicate effectively, and the best ways to set boundaries.  So I have replaced most of the harmful ones with healthy ones.

Anniversary Coping Challenges for Father’s Day

  • Flashbacks (mine or my alters): I am at work on the computer.  People are walking by in the background.  A phone is ringing somewhere.   I am 5 years old hiding from the scary people who came to visit.  My Dad is angry because he  can’t find me.  My mom is having a manic episode.  He finds me, but can’t reach.  Then I see a broom handle.  I am back at work looking at my computer screen wondering what I was working on
  • Increased anxiety: my emotions are all over the place, and I have a hard time staying present.  So I start to worry about the next time I get triggered.  Will I be able to come back safely?  What happens next?
  • Hyper-vigilance: I am distracted, anxious, feeling unsafe.  So I am focused on what is happening around me suspicious of danger everywhere
  • Body memories: if you have ever experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or torture, you might have a better understanding of this.  Sometimes my flashbacks include reliving and physically re-experiencing the event through my body.  Every sensation, every pain, is happening in the present time wherever I am and can cripple me.  I’ve gone to the ER when body memories trigger panic attacks, and I double over in pain, then pass out.  It happened once at work; now I make sure I call in sick when I start to feel like that
  • Distracted: intrusive thoughts and flashbacks keep interrupting me.  I can’t control what is happening and have a hard time doing my job when I am trying to hide an increase in symptoms
  • Dissociation: the sensations and feelings are so overwhelming I start reliving my past.  My mind & body can’t handle that.  I leave my body and go someplace safe for a while.  When I come back a minute, an hour, a day, or longer could have passed.  Sometimes I remember what happened during the lost time.  Sometimes I don’t.
  • Increased switching of alters: the more stress I and my parts feel , the more often we switch personalities to help all parts cope with internal and external triggers.  We do this while working, living, and interacting with others in the outside world
  • Feelings of shame and guilt: remembering my past, talking about it, acknowledging the feelings and sensations, using positive coping strategies means going against everything I learned growing up.  So I get backlash, feelings of shame and guilt and the urge to punish or hurt myself for not keeping the secrets anymore.  I also remember what happened, being blamed for it, feeling shame because it was my fault even though my logical self knows that all parts of me do not have anything to be ashamed of.  We did what was necessary to survive
  • Sensory over load: Everything around me: sounds, scents, movement, environment, is too much.  The noise hurts my ears and head.  People moving around me is scary and confusing.  My skin is ultra-sensitive; everything itches or hurts.  My eyes hurt; vision blurry.  I want to get away someplace safe and quiet with minimal distractions.  I feel that way when I have an increase in symptoms, feel under pressure, or have difficulty practicing self care

My coping strategies

  • Increase self care: engage in physical and non-physical activities that help me feel grounded and safe in the present, i.e. Reciting affirmations, creative journaling, cuddling with my stuffed animals, wrapping myself in a blanket, using hot or cold packs to soothe painful or sensitive places
  • Increase self soothing: sleep, read a book, watch a funny movie, knit, take a hot/warm/cold shower. Take a bath, meditate, exercise, anything that comforts you without hurting you and others
  • Make sure I get lots of alone time to relax and recharge: this is NOT isolation.  I am a solitary person who enjoys spending time alone.  This is how I recharge so I can be alert and attentive when I spend time around friends and loved ones
  • Sensory grounding: I use my senses to bring me back to the present.  i.e. Look around and name all of the blue items in my view; listen and name every sound I can hear; smell candles or cook or bake something that I enjoy; eat something sour, sweet, bitter, or savory; bush your skin gently with a soft-bristled brush (current favorite)
  • Sleep hygiene: I have a routine I follow almost every night to help me relax andprepare for sleeping.  The ritual is comforting and requires me to let go any stressors to focus on my routine.  Some tasks are: changing and putting away the outfit I wore during the day; taking out an outfit for the next day; having something to drink; checking my locks; charging my phone; and putting on soothing music or sounds
  • Ask for help: I call the BARCC hotline if I feel overwhelmed or unsure because the above strategies are less effective than usual and I am not sure what to do next.  This hotline is specifically for survivors of sexual trauma, but there are others for specific issues like depressions, suicide, eating disorders, etc.
Before, I used to give in to the urges to hurt myself and then beat myself up over it later.  Now, I call the 24 hour hotline at BARCC and ask for help making a clear choice.  Sometimes I still have to use a strategy I consider borderline or harmful.  The difference is that I do not punish myself or any parts of me who use them.

Reader’s Digest

There are many types of anniversaries.  For trauma survivors, many anniversaries bring back difficult memories and feelings.  My memories of Father’s Day used to be all bad.  Now they are mixed.  I remember the good with the bad.  Part of that comes from working with my therapist.  Part comes with time.  The rest comes from learning positive ways of coping with my internal feelings and memories so I do not hurt myself, my alters, or anyone on he outside.  I wanted to learn, to not let my past control me.  I still make mistakes, use a strategy that is not quite healthy or positive sometimes.  It happens.  Accept that sometimes any coping strategy is better than not using one at all.  And some day, with hard work, I will be able to replace them with healthy, positive, safe coping strategies.
I hope some of these coping strategies can help you.