DID Posts: Multi-level triggers

What happens when different alters in a system get triggered and start having flashbacks at the same time?

For other people, I don’t know.  Not everyone communicates with all of their alters the way I do.

For me, usually the different triggers happen by age group, time of year, type of anniversaries, and past experiences.

My adult and non-human (aka symbolic) alters tend to get triggered by environmental factors and sensory information most often.  Grounding, DBT, and CBT along with meditation and breathing exercises help them a lot.  So do distractions like cooking, reading, and music/TV/Videos.

My teens get triggered by interpersonal communication and human interaction – harassment/bullies, family, community members, educators.  Movement, meditation, breathing, DBT, affirmations, and distractions help them feel grounded and safe.  So do sensory or cognitive grounding techniques.

My child alters get triggered by life situations that remind them of feeling powerless, unsafe, in an uncertain environment, potential deprivation, and sensory memories (often tactile in our physical body).  Cartoons, cuddling with a stuffed animal, coming out to experience the world in the present, and music are often necessary but not sufficient coping strategies.  They help sometimes, but not enough.

The challenges

All of us struggle with helping our child parts feel safe and grounded when they get triggered.  They don’t always tell the rest of the system when a trigger affects one or more in the system because they’re trying to protect the rest of us.  Or because of shame, fear, lack of trust in the present safe spaces, etc. prevent them from asking for help.

When one or more alters in our system gets triggered, others can get triggered too.  The more alters that get triggered, the more confusing and difficult calming down and utilizing coping strategies becomes.  The internal noise/sensory activity levels rise as more and more alters start to experience flashbacks and heightened anxiety or other emotions.  Distinguishing past from present also becomes difficult.  And increased physical pain distorts everything.

Trusting ourselves, our perspectives, our opinions, etc. when feeling emotional and confused is extremely difficult for all alters, but especially our child alters.  Trying to parent ourselves and comfort/soothe the child and teen alters while also trying to choose and use coping strategies is a big challenge.

Our Solution

Calling a trusted resource and talking through the situation with an objective, compassionate, empathetic third party who can also offer potential coping strategies or solutions through validation of feelings and acceptance.

Friends & family are not good options for us.  For one thing, our family tries to understand but their triggers and personal stuff get in the way.  Plus they can’t always accept or relate to our internal struggle.  It just doesn’t make sense to them because they never experienced what we experienced or have a hard time accepting our experiences as valid and real.  So friends & family are not objective enough to help in this situation.

Our therapist would be able to help, but only in session or in the case of an emergency that made an off-hours call necessary.  But this type of trigger often happens outside of sessions and is not problematic enough to be considered an emergency.  Besides, an emergency situation means a visit to the ER could happen.  We all try to avoid ER visits.

Next on the list is a phone or text crisis line.  I like and often use the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) 24-hour hotline.  It’s anonymous and reliable with a variety of volunteers who offer support in a variety of ways.  They are NOT licensed therapists and do not offer therapy or that kind of advice.  Nor do they offer easy solutions.  What they do offer is validation, compassionate, objective, active listening, and feedback with coping strategies and techniques to help get through the tense moments.

My child and teen alters trust the volunteers to be objective and will accept the reassurance they offer along with coping strategies and help creating safety plans to get through triggering moments.  As they calm down, the sensory overwhelm and confusion in our minds calm down.  Then we all can work together to figure out triggers & grounding or coping strategies to come back to the present.  From there we all can calm down.

Conclusion

With alter personalities, triggers come in many forms and are experienced on many levels.  Our struggle comes from the sensory overload that creates “noise” and confusion to block access to our tool box of coping strategies & techniques.  One trigger with multiple options in the tool box is one situation.  Multiple triggers within the same alter or group of similar alters is another situation.  One trigger for alters of different age groups or experiences creates its own unique situation.  Same for multiple triggers for alters of different age groups or experiences.

How can a system be objective and use both emotion and logic (DBT’s WISE MIND) with so many different “voices” speaking out at the same time?

It’s something we’re working on.  And maybe someday we won’t need an outside party to help find the path that calms everyone down enough to identify triggers and utilize coping strategies.

Thanks for reading.

“Complex Trauma: Understanding and Treatment” — Courage Coaching

Thanks to Athina at Courage Coaching for sharing this video about complex trauma!

Originally posted on A Broken Blue Sky: The following video is one of the best videos I have watched on Complex PTSD. If you suffer from C-PTSD, it will be very emotional to watch. But it will also be very validating of all that you went through and help you to understand your reactions to…

via “Complex Trauma: Understanding and Treatment” — Courage Coaching

DID Post: Sleeping on an Airplane with Alters

Background

Earlier this week (Sunday to Monday), I took a red eye flight across the country to visit family and friends.  When I arrived, I got off the plane and went to work first.  4 days of work and 8 days vacation make sense so I can spend time with both families.  I didn’t anticipate many problems because I usually sleep most of the plane trip.  And I pay extra for the plane upgrades – extra space, early boarding, early advantage for carry on space – and conveniences that make  flying easier.

Main Concerns

  • Panic attack
  • Body memories
  • Physical Pain
  • Digestion/bladder/bowel issues
  • Confusion
  • Dissociation

The biggest Surprise
My alter personalities were restless and active the whole time I slept
What happened:

  • I fell asleep with my sleep headphones and a sleep mask wearing my comfy airplane outfit (knee length dress, head scarf, long sleeve wool cardigan, and sleep socks).
  • My alters came out, and I started switching in my sleep.
  • They started taking over our body and moving me around in the chair.  A Lot.
  • Then they objected to the seat belt and kept sending pain signals to my left side.
  • Later, I had to use the restroom, but they wouldn’t wake up an adult to deal with this.
  • Eventually, I had to get up and move around; used that time to visit the restroom.
  • I offered to buy us a travel blanket so we could curl up and get comfortable without exposing too much skin, but they kept saying “no”.
  • Then our body temp lowered as we relaxed into rest mode.
  • Half way through the flight, I gave up trying to sleep and just listened to music or TV instead.

The Challenge of Restless Alters on a Plane:

  • Disturbing my neighbors while they slept
  • Feeling shame and over apologizing to my seat mates
  • Anxiety over how I appear to the flight attendants and other passengers
  • The discomfort and pain of sitting in one position so long without any of the meditation techniques working to relieve the pain

The Second Biggest Surprise
Riding the bus from the airport to the office.

What Happened:

  • The bus was crowded so I had to stand in an awkward position
  • At the stop after mine, an older woman came on the bus and kept staring at or through me
  • The bus driver had to get off for about 10 minutes at the third stop; we didn’t know if he would come back or not
  • While the driver was off, the woman kept looking at me as if it was my fault.  I kept looking her in the eye, shrugging, and then looking away
  • Then an Asian girl got on the bus.  And the woman started talking to the other passengers in a strong local accent
  • The accent triggered me and made me feel so nauseous I got off early
  • The next bus was almost empty, but I ended up at work later than I wanted
  • The nausea didn’t go away until I used pressure points on my wrists; then kept coming back throughout the day

Rest of the Challenges

  • I lost my liquid items and toothpaste out of anxiety and stress
  • (forgot to take them out of my bag and then put them in again after my bag went through the machine again)
  • In Chinatown, people were extremely rude because my bald scalp showed through my head scarf
  • At lunch, I had to interact with people who were not exactly nice to me before I left
  • By lunch I was feel jet-lag and started crying in the bathroom from overwhelming feelings (good and bad)

Coping Strategies

  • Focusing on the positive
  • Acknowledging the potential triggers & negative feelings; then letting them go
  • Using grounding techniques
  • Allowing myself to feel everything
  • Giving and receiving lots of hugs
  • Getting my work done
  • Keeping in touch with my relatives
  • Asking for a ride home instead of using public transportation
  • Getting a good night’s sleep

Next on the list to research

  • Strategies for stretching and relaxing on a long flight
  • Strategies for helping my alters calm down during sleep
  • Strategies for dealing with the shame that comes from too much activity that disturbs my seat neighbors

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

DID Posts: Pip: an introduction

***Disclaimer: All DID posts are written from the perspective of one or more alters and not in any way paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting/misquoting from other sources.***

ALL ALTERS

Just after Christmas 2016, my quiet alter started “talking” to me in dreams.  She shared information in fragments, sometimes blanking out because the fear and shame were overwhelming to the point of creating nightmares.  But she persisted.  And every evening, all 88 of us gathered in front of our library fireplace with our comfort objects and listened to her share the pain she’d been holding in for 30 plus years.

Her name is Pip – it’s because she used to make the perpetrators “laugh” in annoyance with her “bold” comments & actions compared to small size and delicate appearance – and she’s the fourth host in our group (Me (I go by AlterXpressions here), Angora, Shea (male most of the time), and Pip).

Now Pip has a rather interesting skill set – she is athletic, intelligent, has amazing reflexes, perceptive, and tough – because of her time with the pedophiles, the cult, and the traffickers who worked with both groups.  Pip has advanced training with hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, escape arts (from bondage, etc.), and weapons; she has mad research and logistics skills; she can tell when someone is lying; she knows when she is being followed; and she can recognize a potentially dangerous or antagonistic (dislikes her) environment by an energy change in the space.

But she has trouble talking and connecting with most people – in her mind everyone’s a potential threat – except the one’s she considers her family and other survivors like herself.  She is the one who controlled our body and lived a separate life during those times I couldn’t remember what happened in the evenings and on the weekends.  Pip handled the people who got rowdy outside our apartment by disarming and disabling them.

PIP

They enjoyed blocking me from job opportunities and volunteer work; keeping me afraid to go back to the police or other organizations that could help.  How did they know where to look or how to keep track?  My parents and sibling of course.  They knew all of me; invaded my privacy, got my passwords, put tracking and recording devices on my electronics, and often searched my room/apartment/etc.  They copied and stole my identity multiple times too.

When my therapists asked me who was following me?  Who was keeping track of me?  How did I know this?  Did I have proof?

None of us could say anything.  Pip wasn’t talking, and she wouldn’t let any of us talk either.

ALL ALTERS

Instead, she kept all of this from us and encouraged Angora, Shea, and me to create “legitimate” life for ourselves any way we could.  While the three of us worked on that and keeping the rest of our system stable, Pip and a few alters who helped her in her work reconnected with the (now retired) under cover cop who taught and protected us as much as possible while in the cult.

He ran a private investigation firm with a few other people; it specialized in rescuing people from and helping law enforcement take down human trafficking/drug rings and cults.  Turns out some of the the “other people” were boys from the male soldier sects of the cult – aka my brothers; boys I trained and worked with from 7-17.  The rest were former cops and people he served with in the military.  They were happy to welcome us back – all of us even though Pip did most of the hosting here – and let us join the firm with conditions.

PIP

The retired cop loved and treated me like his daughter and asked me to call him “uncle”.  I loved him the same way.  Same with 5 of the men in the company – they became my brothers; I became their sister.

MY REAL FAMILY

We parted ways the first time because I was going to college out of state.  Plus everyone understood that neither I nor my alters wanted to  be part of that world anymore.  What world?  The world of drugs, weapons, violence, poverty/wealth discrepancies, slavery, and trafficking.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t join the military or the police, not then.  First, I was having the anger management and grief problems.  Second, I would have failed the psych profiles and other evaluations since I came out only part of the time while the others handled the rest of our life.  We weren’t ready for the truth to come out.  Finally, my parents and the other perpetrators would have done everything in their power to block me from joining.  Then they would have followed through on their threats to kill me and harm my family.

So I went to college, determined to get out of that world forever.  You can understand why the rest of Uncle’s employees were skeptical of my wanting to work with and for them after 1 school year away.  Plus, many of them hadn’t met me before.  You can understand their skepticism of my skill set and abilities based on physical appearance and lack of communication/socializing with anyone.

The rest of the group and I learned to trust, respect, and accept each other over time; and then they became family too.  It helped that I never took any of that money for my other life.  That money went to programs for helping others out of domestic violence, my bill as a “client”, and a trust to help any victims we rescued who didn’t have the resources to start over.  Yes, I wanted help getting out from under the perpetrator’s thumbs.  That meant getting away from my family too at some point.

When I was in charge, I lived with my real family – had my own suite to keep clean – in their HQ.  We didn’t have a communication protocol, but there were ways for us to keep in touch.  Plus I had a schedule of how many week days (before AlterXpressions got her full-time job) and weekends I stayed with them.

ALL ALTERS

She did this type of work for 15 years, not so much because she wanted to, but because it was a guaranteed way to protect all of us from the monsters who weren’t in jail or dead.  The high-powered individuals who the police did not have enough evidence to charge or convict, but knew of and kept track of us even after the trial.  Some were members of the police force.  Others worked in different civil and government offices.  More were medical and business professionals.

And before this work, she spent a lot of time within the cult and the trafficking rings (they eventually combined businesses to increase profit) rescuing her classmates and others who had been kidnapped.  The result being many people from her past, people she didn’t back down from and honed her verbal “beat-down” skills on, dislike/hate her and sometimes take it out on the other alters.  None of us blame her for that, but she blames herself and often feels shame.

This is our way of trying to show and tell Pip and her helper alters that they have NOTHING to be or feel ashamed of.

Thanks for reading

DID Posts: Communicating With Outside People/apartment hunting/being me

Beware this is a long rambling post…

Being watched – paranoia or reality?

One thing I as the host often say to people is that I feel like people are always watching me.  And no one in my circle of friends really challenges that.  Except for the people in my new home state; they challenge me on this often because no one here really does watch me the same way as before.  And in spite of knowing about my past, they really do believe I am worrying too much about what others think of me.

From their perspective and experience, it’s true.  And without the added trauma history of my past, I’d agree with them 100%.  But, and this is a big BUT, even though my perspective may be skewed (I always appreciate friends helping me adjust perspective and kicking my ass when necessary), the origins of these feelings are real.  I can’t always verbalize these thoughts in a way that makes sense to outsiders.

So both perspectives are true.  And each perspective matches alter personalities in our system.  In general, I lack confidence in speaking to people because I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth.  Then I worry about offending other people (trigger from past experience) with my opinions.  Where I live now, I am not being watched by other people except in the usual sense.

Never Alone, always observed

But, sometimes I feel like I’m being watched.  And in a conversation today, I realized that I am being watched.  Not by outside people, but by my alter personalities who are observing and protecting me as I start to relax and be more myself around lots of people.  They are feeling hyper-vigilant while the adult parts of me are ready to let go, relax, and show confidence in socializing and communicating verbally with people.

Sounds strange right?  But maybe not so much to someone else with DID or who is close with an individual who has DID?  It feels strange that right now I am my own worst enemy towards moving forward.  At the same time, it also feels right and true because the parts of me who are scared and feeling hyper-vigilant are also the ones who were abused, shamed, criticized, and humiliated in public/private/around family/in the community all the time.

They are trying to protect the system (aka us) from experiencing that again.  In doing so, they focus on everyone else’s communication and behavior while ignoring how we are appearing to everyone else.  And my attention as host is split.  Then other alters try to help by taking over and socializing or communicating.  And if many of us try to communicate at the same time?  Well that never ends in a good place either.

Stress of Communicating with Family While also Apartment Hunting

So this week was full of strangeness.  I had to communicate with various family members – trying not to play favorites – and also spent a lot of time interacting with strangers as I went apartment hunting.  In my world – talking to people = untold amounts of stress.  I can only do that comfortably for short periods of time after a lot of internal preparation.

But I had goals to accomplish this week.  Lots of them.  One goal was to nail down an apartment I could call home for many years.  Another was to go out someplace new and experience peripheral socializing.  i.e. find someplace outside of my apartment where I could relax and maybe write blog posts or read or research information for the Resources page.  I kind of did both by apartment hunting.

Now my choices are narrowed down to two options:  

Option 1 offers a lot of amenities, but is kind of pricey.  The space is large enough to accommodate my home office and living space while still small enough for me to feel comfortable.  And it’s an open plan studio in a new construction building.

Option 2 is a smaller open plan studio in a renovated boarding house with less amenities and a price well within my budget.  The space is open plan and has built-in shelving to help utilize the space in the best possible way.  I’d have to think creatively and work with the owner, but can definitely fit office and living space.

 

 

Hiding Behind a Shield of Insecurity

I’ve spent a lot of time downplaying my skills and experience, hiding my natural strength and confidence under layers of shame or abuse-induced insecurity.  Slowly but surely, those layers are being peeled away.  But it’s at times like this – when I get wrapped around and twisted inside those memories without even realizing it – that I am holding myself back because of fear.

All I see is the negative.  All I see is how people are reacting to me.  All I feel is blame and responsibility for offending those people with my lack of (whatever) and inability to stay focused on the conversation during the interaction.  I fear miscommunicating – being misheard and misunderstood – more than anything else.

DID makes following a conversation difficult sometimes.  I switch unconsciously when I feel safe and comfortable.  My alters and I all share thoughts and speak with the same voice and face most of the time.  Only when feeling scared or angry do physical changes manifest.  So most people don’t know if I am speaking to them or myself, and I’m not even sure sometimes.

It’s like living in a crazy-making world where everything I say is twisted around until I get into trouble.  Past triggers meet present.

If I remember the conversation, great I can cover up alter opinions as thinking out loud or reflecting on information.  The times when I don’t remember or when I switch because I feel threatened during social interaction or conversation are the ones that cause the most trouble.  And also the experiences that cause my alter personalities to “watch” or “react to” everything with hyper-vigilance.

Conclusion

As I settle in to my new home, I find myself more and more frustrated with this insecurity about communication.  For some reason, I feel more scared in the summer than I do any other time of the year.  Yes, I deal with worsening symptoms, body pain, flashbacks, and so on other parts of the year.  But I never feel as scared and mute then as I do now.

I chose to live alone, to be alone.  And I enjoy my current lifestyle.  But I feel so much anxiety and discomfort socializing because of internal expectations I never knew existed.  As my alters share these expectations with me, we all realize that they are the foundations for this fear and insecurity.  Something else to work on in therapy.  Thanks alters for finally opening up.

Thanks for reading today’s ramble.