Back to Basics: A Tool Box, a Magic Bag, and a Safe Place to Practice

Introduction

Like everything else, learning a coping strategy and remembering it takes practice and some kind of organization.  We in the AlterXpressions system use a tool box (or many tool boxes), a magic bag (or many magic bags), and at least one safe place to practice our coping strategies and techniques.  The terms can be changed to suit individual needs (pick something that reminds you of safety, happiness, or something positive); whatever helps the individual or system remember where the coping strategies (tools) are stored and how to access them.

Definitions

Tool Box – internal storage space/container for coping strategies and techniques (like a memory box maybe?)  We use a vault inside the library as our main tool book.  Some of us hide our tools in candy boxes or recycled food tins. Mine looks like a prism.

Magic Bag or Grounding Bag – physical container to carry when out and about; I use the phrase magic bag because everyone in the systems believes in magic and coping strategies are like magic for us.  My therapist uses grounding bag; she learned it from a training workshop run by an EMDR specialist and trauma therapist

Safe Places to Practice – internal and external places with some quiet and privacy to learn and use coping strategies; we little kids love practicing on the jungle gym and obstacle courses.  The trees like practicing in meadows or looking over the bluffs to see water below.  Some of the boys work best in a sound proof radio station.

Helpful Skills

The skills and personality characteristics we practice in developing our tool box, magic bag, and safe place are:

Imagination/Creativity – our tool box is a library inside a maximum security vault with an intercom system that connects it to all of our internal safe spaces.  Our body tends to wear the “magic bag” in terms of clothes, jewelry, tattoos, and accessories; the rest goes into a backpack or plastic bag.

Visualization – The library is like a bee hive or cave system with sunny places, access to the ocean and forest, cozy fire places, lounge chairs, book shelves, a kitchen, blankets and pillows, stuffed animals, a craft corner, etc.  And everything is movable.

Focus/Concentration – Each alter has his/her/its own tool box.  We also have group tool boxes and community ones.  We create these as our go-to places when someone wants solitude or alone time or small group time.  Or for different age groups because not all tools are appropriate for all ages and genders.  Takes focus and concentration to create, store, and remember them.

Persistence – keep trying to create the ____ until each one feels right; and make changes when something doesn’t feel right anymore

Thinking outside the box – sky is the limit; use a scarf and hat as a magic bag or underneath the bed as a safe place.  One of my favorite safe spaces is a walk-in closet with locked doors

Self-Confidence – success builds on success; every time we accomplish something positive, our confidence goes up

Independence – we can learn how to use the tools and build each piece, but it’s up to us to create and utilize our knowledge to the best of our ability

Accomplishment or Success – finish something = accomplishment or success; success brings positive feelings and builds on itself

Final Thoughts

Basic coping strategies are like automatic defense mechanisms.  They get used without conscious thought.  Taking time to think about behaviors and thoughts that help us cope with every day anxiety and triggers helped us develop the first tool box.  As different alters cycled through periods of remembering and forgetting, it seemed like the best option was to create an accessible internal tool box like a library with security and safe places so that everyone could access all of our tools.

And once we learned about physical grounding and started reading about magic bags of holding (fae and Celtic mythology) from some of our favorites fantasy books, a magic bag that holds our favorite coping tools without being obvious was born.  Our magic bags change in shape, size, and contents all the time.  Depends on who is in charge, who is the most distress, and what tasks have to be accomplished.  Yes we have grounding tools in and around our bedroom.  A magic bag is in the works too.

But most important is having a safe place to practice these tools so they are available no matter what kind of stress, distress, panic, or anxiety hits.  And the best way to practice is when we feel relatively calm and safe.  This way, the tools come out of the tool box, get used for a specific purpose, and get put back in the tool box when we are clearheaded.  Like muscle memory, repetition works.

Repetition, not a routine or a workbook.  We practice when we can, as often as we can.

Thanks for reading.

 

Back to Basics Series: Introduction Post

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about going back to basics and provided a list of some basic strategies and techniques that get used the most.  These “back to basics” posts are meant to share experiences about how and why they work so others can understand better and try out something when nothing else seems to work.  I and the rest of the alters will alternate writing and sharing experiences so be prepared for different levels of writing skill in each post.

Some of us are adults and write well.  Others are adults and not so good at writing.  The adolescents and young adults vary too.  And once in a while one of the child alters will chime in and share a story.  We will try very hard to change the font or let our guests know when the author has changed in an obvious way, but it might not always happen.  You have our sincere apologies for this in advance.

Some of what gets discussed here will be triggering.  But since these are meant to be resources, we will try not to get into too much detail about the scary stuff.  Instead, the goal is to share only enough through examples so that our guests can understand how different strategies and technique works.

REMINDER: I am not a therapist or a professional counselor.  What gets written here is based on personal experience and shared stories through therapy and groups.

Some of the topics (might be discussed more than once in different ways) are:

  • Mindfulness (DBT version and others)
  • Distress Tolerance (DBT version)
  • Emotion Regulation (DBT version)
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness (DBT version)
  • Thought awareness and changing negative thoughts (CBT version and others)
  • Obsessions and Compulsions
  • Distractions
  • Grounding
  • Self Soothing
  • Comfort
  • Compassion
  • Meditation
  • Food

Thanks for reading.