Archives for category: Dissociation

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

One of the hardest parts about living and interacting with the outside world is being able to regulate my emotions when I dissociate.  Many times, anger triggers dissociation and switching.  Then an alter comes out to deal with the situation.  Once over, that alter retreats, and I or one of the other “in-charge” alters comes back with no clue what just happened.

That’s scary.  It feels out of control.  The memories of what happened don’t always come back right away.  Used to be those alters wouldn’t share what happened for weeks, months, years, even decades.  Now, they share within hours or days.  But the sharing comes as nightmares or daydreams out of context of when/where/how anything happened.  Like living in 2 realities.

The past few days, I’ve been working on an exercise to write down what I am doing, thinking, and feeling whenever I feel even a little anger.  Only problem is that I have not felt any anger this week.  I felt sad, scared, and upset.  I felt guilt and shame too.

Now I have to wonder if maybe one of these emotions is the real trigger.  And then everything else gets expressed as anger.

Maybe someday, this will stop.  And then I will feel more confident interacting and socializing with people.  I will remember what happens when my boundaries get crossed and why people are treating me a certain way.  I will remember why they feel the right to treat me that way and why I feel the need to be wary of them even though being polite is a must.

Finally, maybe this will help with some of the feelings of shame and guilt that come with the periods of not remembering.

Thanks for reading today’s ramble.

Background

In past posts, I’ve talked about boundaries and my view of relationships in general being finite or having an inevitable end.  Growing up, I never had boundaries; did not know they existed.  As an adult in therapy, I learned about boundaries.  I learned how they are created and why they keep me safe.  I also learned that boundaries keep the people around me safe too.  These lessons also taught me that maintaining and respecting boundaries goes both ways.

An individual cannot expect others to respect his or her boundaries if she or he does not respect others’ boundaries.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of boundaries or understands how healthy and important having/mainlining boundaries is for a balanced life.  Abusers and perpetrators hate boundaries and do everything they can to ignore them or make them disappear.  Boundaries are invisible protection that keeps abusers and perpetrators from getting or doing what they want to their victims.  Boundaries help build resilience to bullies and other forms of intimidation too.

This is why I did not have boundaries growing up.  And any time I tried to set and enforce boundaries, the abusers in my life punished me; ignored and violated them anyways; pretended to understand and then undermined my efforts; and all around made it clear that I could have them in my life on their terms or keep my boundaries and be rejected by them and everyone else.

Boundaries and Friendships

As a child, adolescent and young adult, I wasn’t allowed to develop and maintain real friendships with anyone.  So my view of any relationship was based on the ones I had with my family (description above).  So I behaved with people I wanted to be friends with the same way I did with family.  That meant a lot of people thought I was nice, malleable, sweet, and easy to manipulate/take advantage of.  When they got to know me and realized I was not really malleable, sweet, or a pushover, I got rejected.  That would trigger me into flashbacks and shame and panic attacks; reinforcing the lessons and negative self image from childhood.

So, on one hand I knew I would always lose friends because there was something wrong with me.  On the other hand, I never knew what I did or what happened to cause the break in friendships and other relationships.  And when I asked, no one told me.  Or people would say I am too pushy, that I don’t respect them, that I am annoying and do care about their feelings.  Which confused me more because on the inside, the secret places no one else at the time got to see, I did care – maybe too much – and truly want to help and understand what was going on.

It wasn’t until I started sessions with my current therapist that I realized part of the problem was switching personalities whenever I got stressed out.  My alters and I have been working together for a long time even if we haven’t always been in direct communication with each other.  One of our greatest strengths is being able to assess a situation and switch personalities so that the one best qualified to handle the stress is in charge.  And the lightning changes in mood and personality can be hard for others to handle especially when the typical dominant personality is unaware that any of this is is happening.

Epiphany and Conclusion

Three weeks ago, a long time friendship got thorny.  He was upset because of something that had me reinforcing my boundaries.  On a personal front, he was having difficulties and under a lot of stress even if he wouldn’t admit to it.  That led some of our discussions to be fraught with anxiety on my part because I never knew if something I said would cause him to blow up at me.  And later, whenever I was happy about something and went to share with him, he would say something negative or in such a way that it sounded complimentary but was actually insulting or shame inducing and had me questioning my choices.

And when he started ignoring me and being rude, I realized that he expected me to come over and apologize for reinforcing my boundaries and being myself.  That irritated me and made me feel angry.  I realized then, that I was not going to apologize for being myself.  And I was okay with him acting childish because I didn’t let him walk all over me.  But then I was worried about why I wasn’t triggered.  But I had other things on my mind.  Like deadlines, troubleshooting other issues with my work, packing and going on vacation, etc.  So I put this away for a while and waited to see what would happen.

This week, back at work, nothing has changed with his attitude.  But something changed inside me.  I realized that our friendship was over.  And that it ended because I protected myself by reinforcing my boundaries in a polite way instead of backing down and letting him have his way.  This felt good because I did not get triggered into shame.  I got triggered into confusion and anxiety because my parts were confused and worried about how this would affect mutual friendships, etc.  It also got us thinking about past relationships and why they ended.

The reason was always the same: I stood up for myself (or an alter stood up for us) and maintained a boundary the other person kept violating.  And that person got mad and walked away.

Because as much as I don’t mind being flexible and accommodating, I will eventually reach a point where I (or an alter) take a stand.  Sometimes I lose my temper and get angry.  Other times, I simply let my actions speak for me.  And I continue to treat the person as always.

So I have to ask myself (and the alters), is this really rejection and loss of friendship?  Or is this removing unsafe people from my life?

Introduction

My kitchen is a scary place.  I go there and remember all of the times I had to deal with family and friends and strangers either with cooking, baking, preparing food, cleaning, or doing something not at all related to food.  Traditional cookware is a trigger.  Bakeware is a trigger.  Knife blocks, cutlery, utensils, tools, silverware, dishes, etc.  All are triggers.

And as I contemplate what to keep and what to get rid of, I realize that brands, types, styles, even materials the cookware, etc. are made of are more triggering than the memories.  I love the idea of having a wok again.  Cooking with a wok means I can make traditional Chinese food I grew up with.  But every time I look at a wok I feel anxiety.  Every time I try to choose one to buy, I feel anger and other negative feelings.  At home, I have a small/medium stainless steel sauce pan with a cover.  Every time I use it, I feel shame.  After I use it, I can’t bring myself to clean it right away.

I used to have a knife set that I got for my first apartment.  If was one of my first purchases for the rental because I wanted a good set of knves to cook with.  And because knives are expensive, I kept it even after I left my family.  Two weeks ago, I realized that looking at the knives made me feel scared and angry.  It was one of the main reasons I had been avoiding my kitchen.  The same thing happened with the set of cooking utensils I bought around the same time.  Getting rid of them was the best decision I ever made.
What Happens Now

Now, when I look for anything kitchen related (whether it’s dish towels or cake pans), I have to ask all of us, is this item something that will trigger us once we bring it home?  Will buying it make us feel good or anxious?  Will we use it or hide it?  Will having this item at home cause anxiety or excitement?  Will a part of us come out during its use and break it because the anxiety and other emotions got so overwhelming the need to destroy the trigger overcame everything else?  Because yeah, that’s happened to us in the past too.  broken cups & plates; tarnished silverware; rusted cast iron, etc.

And buying what I like, what I choose for myself is a trigger in itself.  The fear that someone will come and take what is mine away from me exists in some of my parts.  The urge to destroy what I like as punishment exists in other parts.  And the need to hurt the self because of the rule breaking drives me and some parts to not buy anything out of paralyzing fear.  The triggers start thoughts ruminating; the rumination feeds into obsessions; obsessions trigger compulsions until one or all of us finds relief by giving in to those compulsions or having a panic attack because the coping strategies aren’t working so well.

The Trigger Cycle

Which brings me back to my original feelings of:

Why buy cooking utensils?  Why bother trying to cook?  Is the enjoyment that comes from cooking and baking worth this hassle?  Why not continue to avoid it?  Eating isn’t necessary, and you don’t deserve to be healthy anyways.  It’s not like you’re an important person who does important work.  No one will miss you.  But if you go out and get (insert item here), you will (insert threat here).

This cycle happens whenever I try to do something good for myself.  Examples:

  • Buying clothes that fit
  • Sticking to a budget
  • Deciding to replace my cookware/bakeware/etc
  • Cleaning my apartment
  • Buying garbage bags
  • Wearing accessories and looking stylish
  • Eating food I enjoy

How do you handle your triggers?

The OCD and Rumination Cycle

I’ve been avoiding buying what I need – not exactly the best coping strategy, but it works for now because I am trying to avoid buying too much stuff right now.  Where I live now is great.  All of us enjoy it and are relatively happy.  We feel safe.  But we also know that this place is where we grew up; full of triggers just walking around outside or going to work; and often end up encountering people from the past.

So the decision has been made (by all of us) to move to another state as far away as possible from this one where no one from our family or past that we know of resides.  This will happen around the end of next summer.  And since the price of moving a lot of stuff cross country is ridiculously expensive, why not take the opportunity to sell/get rid of everything unnecessary and use the savings to buy after moving in?

Makes sense right?  But is this another case of avoiding self-care or of being practical?  Am I hurting myself by not nesting where I’ve lived for a year and plan to spend another year?  Or am I being smart by only buying what’s necessary to facilitate self care and then selling it before I move.  I can always re-buy later or give my self a limit of boxes to ship to my new place rather than move everything.

As you can read here, examples of ruminating thoughts, obsessive thoughts, and inability to make choices.

How the Cycle Is Broken

I break the cycle by using CBT and DBT with a judicious dose of meditation most of the time.  When that doesn’t work, self-soothing and sensory grounding usually do the trick.  And when all else fails, a text message or call to someone I trust for some support will help me clear my head.

I hope the quote helps you remember the importance of self-care the way it does for me.

Introduction

Recovery and coping are two paths intertwined with the same end goal.  The path changes as I change, as my parts change, and move closer to healing the damage to mind, body, spirit.

The effectiveness of resources changes too.  What works now, might not work next time.  Or it could work consistently for years until something changes on the inside.  Then that resources is too much or not enough as is and needs to adapt to the current situation.

Each alter has a purpose in our system and has developed strategies for coping with the memories.  Problem is, what worked then does not always work now – not if we want to participate as active members within society.

All of us used to think we had to get rid of this strategies because they were harmful in some way.  That led some alters to feel scared and unwanted.  They reacted with anger and defiance – lashing out at the rest of the alters and themselves with varied and creative punishments.

We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.  We know which buttons to push to get certain reactions.  And we know how to help, soothe, and support each other.  Compromises benefit everyone; fighting hurts everyone.

Compromise

The language to describe different alters in a system uses words like dominant and submissive.  To clarify, dominant does not mean aggressive or bullying or strong.  Dominant means these alters are protective personalities who happen to be strong enough and willing to take charge and manage the daily tasks necessary for functioning and living.  Submissive does not mean push-over or weak or any similar words.  Some atters work in the foreground while others work in the background.  All are protective, strong, resilient, intelligent.  What matters is how these characteristics are expressed.

Some alters are dominant outside – they are in control most of the time and interact with outside people.  They drive cars, work, buy groceries, manage the budget, etc.

Others are dominant inside – they are in charge of caring for the alters in the family system to ensure that everyone feels safe, works together, communicates and participates in choices, keeps the body healthy, etc.

Then there are the quieter alters, the ones who prefer to work in the background and not interact with outsiders.  They are not more or less dominant than the ones who take charge.  They are as strong and important because they facilitate communication among all alters, help with coping strategies, and work hard to find compromises to keep the system working.

Communication

My system has four dominant alters, 3 females and one male, who grew up together and seamlessly switch from one to another when interacting with the outside world.  Two alters speak, and two do not.  Together, the 4 of us work hard to keep our mind and body grounded in the present and functioning in spite of body memories and anxiety.

But the 4 do not work alone.  Between 15 and 20 alters switch and work together throughout a typical day to ensure everything gets done while also caring for the child alters, teenage alters, and others who prefer not to be classified.  We work outside at our job and inside to manage symptoms and promote self-care / health at the same time.  Parallel tracks and two different lives going on at the same time in the same body.

I am lucky that my alters and I do not hate and blame each other.  The first few years after the official diagnosis and learning about different coping styles for DID were chaotic, painful, and confusing.  A lot of fear and mistrust caused alters to go mute or hide instead of asking for help.  No one wanted to listen, and everyone wanted their own way.  Each of us had coping strategies that worked and were afraid to try something different…to trust themselves, each other, the system as a whole.

Present time

In the last two weeks, our trust in each other and the system as a whole has been tested with symptoms that have not appeared in more than five years.  In trying to remember the coping strategies that worked before, memories were recovered.  Scary, traumatic memories that flooded everyone and everything inside.  The onslaught threatened to spin us inside out and tip the fragile balance of recovery on its side.

One year ago, something like this would have put us on short-term disability and into a partial program.  Six months ago, it would have caused a major relapse in self-harm coping and enough sleepless nights to force the use of a knockout pill.  This time faith, meditation, calls to the hotline, positive affirmations and mantras (I like to think of them as prayers and reminders) to establish safety, DBT, lots of sleep, writing this blog, and sessions with my therapist have kept all of us grounded in the present instead of falling into the past.

Final Word

One psychiatrist told me that recovery is a long, hard road for survivors.  It can take as long as or longer than the expedience(s) that caused the symptoms.  I am lucky to be naturally rebellious – a born fighter – whose parts are the same way.  For those who aren’t natural fighters, please don’t give up.  The symptoms never truly go away, but the future life you want is possible.

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