Life Changing Moments: When Emotional Self-Harm stops working…

Introduction

This past month has been busy with a lot of changes.  When not writing a post, working, or going to necessary appointments, I’ve been sleeping and trying to practice self care.

Coping Strategies

Thankfully, where I live offers grocery delivery service and food delivery options.  This kept me fed no matter how tired I felt.  But every once in a while I did try to go out and walk.  I did try to talk with friends and acquaintances.  Or at least act friendly when we ran into each other; this includes dogs and other friendly animals.  I also tried to do some cleaning and trash removal.

The Trigger

But I also felt some shame about not keeping in touch, especially with people and dogs in my building.  That shame mixed with my usual March depression created this compulsion to put myself in an emotionally compromising situation yesterday.  It was the first day in a couple of weeks where I felt good in the morning, dressed in a cute outfit for myself, and was focused on enjoying the day instead of the discomfort from feeling sick.

I don’t know what possessed me to do this (maybe missing my neighbor’s dog?), but I opened the door when I heard my neighbor’s dog bark.  His bark is distinctive, but I wasn’t sure if I missed him or not.  Well, I didn’t miss him.  We spent some quality time cuddling together, and then I brought him back to his human.

And this is where the emotional self-harm kicks in.  

 

Upon seeing her again, (I brought the dog downstairs to her while she was chatting with a potential renter) I suddenly felt the need to apologize for not being in touch over the last few weeks.  My mind got cloudy, and I started to feel really far away (desensitization) even though we stood less than 3 feet apart.  I didn’t want to say a lot or stay long, so I apologized and told her I’d been busy; she replied by saying we should catch up some time.  I agreed, then left.

Then I went upstairs and wrote her an email.  In the email I was more honest and explained in more detail what happened the past few weeks.  Who would want to be around people when they feel sick?

Then I sent the email, not expecting a response.

And I didn’t get one.  I won’t get one.

But I also didn’t feel upset or ashamed of myself for not getting a response.  I didn’t feel good or bad about myself.  The negative self talk did not arrive.  The trigger is still there.  The past memories and experiences tried and continue to try to shame me by bringing up memories of high school and college that used to unleash floods of shame and embarrassment.

Instead, the anxiety I feel now is because the expected response to this unsafe situation I put myself in did not occur.

As both my therapists would say: this is a sign of significant internal change.  And the anxiety over the different response – normal.

How did I cope?

  • I watched some episodes of Glee on Netflix and got in touch with the preteen and teen parts who were feeling the grief and shame.
  • Then I packed and put the accumulated recycling in the outdoor bins.
  • Before I treated myself with an amazing chocolate dessert, I brought the return packages to the mailbox.

Conclusion

My mind tried to trick me into feeling awful with past memories.  It used someone I consider a friend, but feel wary around now because of some semi-recent experiences that were part projection (triggers) and part reality.

I had not consciously put myself in an emotionally unsafe situation in over a year before now.  For two years, I was careful and chose to avoid people who seemed emotionally unsafe – i.e. they reminded me of my parents or others from the past with their words and actions.

And now I realize that I really have changed.  What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Emotional/Physical Disconnect Part 2

Late with this post…life got in the way

CONSEQUENCES

Negative

Some people think I am lying when I tell the truth about my past.  They think I don’t have feelings or am snobbish because of my lack of physical expressions.  My words and actions get misinterpreted often – flirting or friendly? happy or sad or angry or frustrated? – because people don’t have any visual cues to help them understand.

Some people think I am easy to take advantage of because I smile even when I’m upset or angry or confused.  They blame me for being weird and different; use it as an excuse for being manipulative or mean.  If my facial expression and body language are accepting and open to whatever they’re saying, they can turn around my words to make it seem like the disagreement is my fault.  I’d believe that in the past, before I learned about facial expressions and body language as part of communication.

My social anxiety for is often mistaken for a lack of confidence and treat me accordingly.  I am never sure how I come across to other people because I know about my lack of facial and body language cues.  That makes me feel anxious and afraid to connect with people.  And it causes me to ask questions about facial expressions and body language for clarification.  Questions that make other people uncomfortable and feel like they have permission to lash out at me or treat me with condescension since I don’t understand such basic human skills.

Past experiences taught me that there isn’t a difference between lies and truth.  Either way, I am a bad person and everything bad that happens to me is deserved.  Everything bad that happens to my family or friends is my fault.  Lies won’t help.  Truth doesn’t work either.  Only the people in control, the ones with power, are good and acceptable.

Connecting with others is difficult because of my honesty, respect, and open communication policy.  I can still be polite about it, but I refuse to accept, respect, or tell lies unless absolutely necessary.  And I have a difficult time not stepping in to defend people when I see others being mean just because.  Spending my time around negativity and meanness is not fun, so why bother?

Positive

I learned how to spot lies from a young age.  Even if I don’t say anything right away, I know when people lie to me.  And when people lie to me, I have two options: 1) call them out on the lie; and 2) let them think I am really that stupid and gullible to believe the lie.  Option 1 gets used with people I care about because I want to build a relationship with them based on respect, open communication, honesty, and acceptance.

Option 2 gets used on people I don’t trust or care much about.  Often these are people I let into my life because of triggers or self-harm type punishments because these people treat me the way my parents and perpetrators did.  Every once in a while, I will catch them in a lie and point it out to them just as a reminder that I know what they are up to.  This is usually my first step in breaking off a friendship.

I learned how to tell and value the truth to compensate for lack of physical expressions.  In school, I heard the phrase “honesty is the best policy” a lot.  In real life, I learned “lying is the best policy” from both parents and the perpetrators.  Lots of kids lied and got caught in school.  Some got punished; others didn’t.  I didn’t often get caught or get punished for lying because the teachers couldn’t read me.  But I watched how the known liars got treated vs. how the truth tellers got treated.  Liars were not trusted or respected.  Truth tellers were.

I learned that lying is neutral.  The person telling the lie and the consequences of the lie make it good or bad.  I lied to survive my childhood and adolescence.  As often as I lied, I also told the truth to the people who mattered.  And I refused to cheat on homework or exams even if  that meant I failed and had to repeat something.  Earning the trust of my teachers felt good even if that had disastrous social consequences with my peers – i.e. suck up, teacher’s pet, nerd, etc.

I learned that sometimes shame comes from hiding secrets and telling lies.  Being honest to myself and others about my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors helps me let go of some shame.  I can put past experiences and events into perspective.  Perspective has a way of revealing the holes in a liar’s story, including the lies I used to tell myself.

Finally, I learned not to feel ashamed of myself for not reacting to feelings like most people do.  And learning the lesson is not the same as consistently applying it.  That part I still struggle with.  But I am lucky enough to have a support network to help out.  And when my friends or support network reaches out to me, I do the same for them.  Support.  Respect.  Acceptance.  It all goes both ways.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Emotional/Physical Disconnect Part 1

LYING

I am an excellent liar.  I can freeze my body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions in neutral  or gullible obliviousness.  People lying to me think I believe them.  People listening to me believe what I’m telling them.  The usual “clues” do not apply when I decide to start lying.  I can project any emotion and feeling on my physical self when I feel nothing, something different, or the opposite emotion internally. But people looking at me believe what they see.

EMOTIONAL/PHYSICAL DISCONNECT

On the other hand, I can’t match genuine feelings with their appropriate physical expressions.  My facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice do not betray my real feelings unless I consciously work hard to portray the correct expressions.   That leaves many people skeptical of when I reveal truths about my background – I can/have/do talk about trauma with an expression and tone of voice matching someone conversing about the weather.

Moderating the intensity of my tone is also difficult.  In spite of acute and sensitive hearing, I have a hard time discerning when my voice rises/lowers and so on.  As my emotional state increases, my sensitivity to such changes decreases.  And my facial expressions change like a movie on fast forward.  People who see me in a state of high anxiety or a panic attack back off fast because I appear crazy in that context.

WHY?

As a child, I learned how to project whatever feelings/emotions/thoughts would keep me from getting abused.  It was survival.  It was necessary.  It taught me how not to have feelings.  Expressing joy got me punished.  Expressing anger got me a beating or inappropriate touching as punishment.  Expressing fear, sadness, anxiety, or worry got me the silent treatment.  Talking out of turn (i.e. telling the truth of what happened or anything different from my parent’s version of the truth) got me accused of lying, exaggerating, causing problems, etc.

So I denied having feelings.  I buried them deep and forgot about them.  But I had random explosions of tears and rage growing up.  There were temper tantrums.  There was fighting back.  There were instances of “rebellion”.  There were times my mind clouded, and I disappeared.  When I came back to myself, everyone was mad at me.  Hurt feelings, I was accused of being mean and exploding with anger for no reason.  And everyone from my parents to my younger brother to my so called friends used this to shame me, manipulate me, take advantage of e, and set me up as a “crazy, unstable, lying” person to the rest of my community.

No one wanted to be friends with a rude, annoying, crazy, raging, unstable, liar who otherwise had no personality.

This was my life for 27 years.  I did not have a personality, was not an interesting person, was looked down upon by everyone around me.  I did not have feelings except for facsimiles to appease other people.  Problems like this made developing friendships difficult.  It made getting jobs and keeping jobs hard too.  At least in my community or any community where my classmates and family had connections.  All of which I was interested in working at the time – healthcare, non-profits, colleges, newspapers, magazines, and other jobs related of my degree.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Not until I started my first “real” job in an office that valued my skills and opinions did I realize there was something “wrong” with my responses to other people.  I had just started therapy with my second counselor and was feeling very stressed out about all of the changes over the past few months: new job, new apartment, new neighbors, new commute, leaving school, new doctors, new therapist.

She helped me for 3 years; we worked on my anorexia, anxiety, low self-esteem, and OCD.  When the trauma issues started taking over, I had an emotional breakdown.  Crying, nausea, pain, sleeplessness…you name it, I experienced it all in a flood.  It was like everything I held in for 27 years came flooding out in 2 days.  Only, I didn’t know these were feelings.  Or that I was physically reacting to all of these feelings.

She sent me for a crisis evaluation.  When we first started, the therapist told me outright that she did not work with trauma.  I told her that was okay because the trauma was not the main problem  then.  My anorexia and anxiety disorders (according to the previous people) were.  As soon as she realized the trauma had taken over our sessions, she sent e for additional help and slowly transitioned me to another therapist.

During the transition, I went for my first partial in-patient program.  There, I learned about what feelings were, that I had feelings, and that the physical/mental problems I had were because of those feelings.  After about 6 weeks there, I was in a much better place with a rudimentary understanding of feelings, aka emotions, and how they made my symptoms worse when allowed to take over and control me.

DBT (Dialiectical Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to recognize, control, and balance my feelings so that I could make choices about how to handle situations instead of just reacting to them.  CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to follow the trails left behind by my feelings to understand triggers that led to thoughts and behaviors.  Grounding taught me how to come back to the present when feelings overwhelmed my senses.

But none of this really taught me how to get my face, voice, and body to align with my actual feelings or thoughts.

Or how to manage the pain that continually discourages me from trying to integrate my mental/emotional self and physical self so that the feelings and expressions/body language match.

As for the lying…the only time I purposely lie is for survival.  Any other time, I am scrupulously honest.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: To vote or not to vote?

This post IS NOT about judgement or defending my choices.  It’s about the complexity of a dilemma that comes every four years in this country.

Every four years, I face a dilemma.  Do I register to vote or not?  And if I register, do I vote or not?

Since I turned 18, I’ve voted 3-4 times in my life.  Election years always happened during times I was moving from one county to another and had to register again.  Or the voting booths were in locations I couldn’t get to without a car.

When I joined the address confidentiality program in 2014, I was told not to register my new address with the USPS or register to vote.

Not because they didn’t want me to vote or be able to get mail delivered to my home.

Because both registrations put my information on public record.  An official public record that can be accessed by anyone in the US or other foreign country by computer or a specific set of forms; shared or sold to other people for direct mail marketing and other purposes; and leaves me vulnerable to being found by the people I’m hiding from.

Yes, I said it.  I am hiding from my parents, my brother, my mother’s side of the family, people from that community I was raised with/went to school with, and many of the other predators/abusers in my past who I don’t remember or recognize, but who remember and recognize me.

Yes, I changed my name.  Yes, I joined a program that kept them from finding my address and location before.  That didn’t stop former classmates from high school and college from recognizing me and harassing me.  That didn’t stop my cousins and their friends from trying to verbally abuse me in public.  That didn’t stop my brother’s friends from doing all of the above before I moved.

I left the address confidentiality program when I moved across the country.  I did not register my new address with the USPS because this apartment is a “starter” place – i.e. not sure if I’m staying or not for the long term.

I planned on registering to vote.  I filled out the form and sealed it.  But then I stopped before applying the stamp.  And I hid the registration.

Because I got scared.  And I didn’t like any of the candidates.

In some of my Facebook and other groups, I nominally supported Hillary Clinton.  That came because I could not intentionally support a man who promotes and condones racism and abuse of any kind.

As I followed the campaign (sort of), the flashbacks got worse.  The fears increased.  My body reacted negatively to any thought of sending in that voter registration.

I couldn’t do it.

So here’s my dilemma: Do I be a responsible American citizen and vote?  Or do I keep myself safe and protected by not putting my name and information on public record?

And 4 years from now, I will face this moment again.  New candidates, same kind of attitudes.  Will I register or not?  I guess that depends on how safe I feel because self care is more important to me than upholding a country’s ideals right now.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Can’t have friends because everyone around me is a potential target

The more I live in the present and focus on working through recovery, the more I remember my past.  The memories are being unlocked as I learn to work through the pain in my body.

Less pain = more memories recovered

Less pain = more crying and grieving before the letting go process moves on

More pain = less memories and more confusion

More pain = less awareness of my feelings and instincts

Do I want less pain?  Yes.  Do I want to remember what is locked up in my body?  Not really.

Today, after about 3 weeks of acupuncture with the new student and 3 sessions with my new counselor in between sessions with the old one, I can finally put some of the pieces of my childhood and adolescence together.  The recurring dreams that turn into nightmares really did happen.  And those people I remember fighting, they were real friends who became targets for  the monsters controlling my life.  In protecting them, I lost their friendship too.

And other people who could have made decent friends, I had already mastered the art of pushing people away by then.  And it wasn’t safe either way.  No matter where I went, there was always someone who recognized me and spread the rumors behind my back.  Or told someone in my family what I was doing.  And then the harassment (not of me, but of the people who were kind to me) began.  They thought I knew.  But I didn’t.  And instead of talking to me about it, they kicked me out of their lives and avoided me.

Living a double life is not fun.  Being drugged into not remembering that other life completely sucks.  And when the truth hits, the sensation is overwhelming.  The tears fall until no one wants to cry any more.  The movie reels start.  And suddenly, I can see my friends and any family members involved as they were back when we were children.  I hear their voices.  And the memories come flooding back.

The big difference here is that no one tries to stop the flood.  We all sit back in our comfy chairs and watch the memories go by.  From our safe bubble, the memories surround us.  But they don’t hurt us anymore.  Our bubble can float to the surface, bounce from wave to wave, and coast along the flow of movement instead of being drowned.

And the memories tell me that I can’t trust anyone.  I can’t make friends because those friends might be targeted as employees(sex trafficking), members (of the cult), or clients (for drugs and other illegal stuff).  Or they and their families will have to suffer being harassed and stalked and manipulated by my parents and the other people who owned me.

So yea, I and my alters, we all feel kind of sad and depressed today.  People often wonder why I don’t pursue leadership jobs and more social activities.  How can I tell them why that kind of job doesn’t work for me?  That I am afraid to be noticed because the monsters will hurt me again?  Or hurt the people around me.  How can I tell them that I survived by staying below the radar instead of taking charge and being more independent?  How can I say that I am ashamed of my intelligence and skills so have a hard time displaying them in public and around strangers who might not actually be strangers?

Thanks for reading.