Coping Strategy: Sleep Hygiene Routines

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep Hygiene is a term used to define a consistent set of tasks one completes before going to sleep as to help relax and prepare the mind and body for sleeping.  Medical doctors and sleep research specialists recommend changing one’s environment and surrounds to be more sleep-friendly as part of the sleep hygiene routine.  They also have a research-based list of tasks proven to help one sleep.

Mental health providers include the medical doctor and sleep research checkilst, but are more flexible about what is included or not included in the routine.  They believe the routine can be flexible as long as it is consistent and tailored to the individual.  Some examples include, changing from work clothes to home clothes, hanging up clothes, cooking a meal, watching a movie/reading a book, exercising, making a plan for the next day, meditation, and cleaning.

How does it help?

  • A routine can soothe anxiety because the tasks and the process of completing a task from start to finish is ritualized and occurs around the same time every day.
  • Focusing on one task at a time uses mindfulness techniques and engages the senses; that helps keep the mind and body grounded in the present.
  • As each task or ritual is completed, the individual feels a sense of accomplishment and gets immediate gratification/positive feedback that builds confidence and provides a sense of competence.
  • Going through the sleep hygiene routine relaxes the mind and body as the individual moves around the space and remembers that this room is in a safe environment.  Feeling safe helps relax the anxiety so that sleep can come easier.

My Experience

I learned about sleep hygiene from The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook first.  This book was recommended by my second therapist – one who specialized in anxiety and eating disorders.  After she recommended me to the first parital program, I learned more about relaxing rituals, coping strategies, meditation, self-care, and other tasks that can be included in a sleep hygiene routine.

Setting up the routine was easy enough at first.  Sticking to it, though, was difficult.  At the time I first started, I would switch and dissociate without remembering what happened during lost time.  That included my plans for sleep hygiene routines, coping strategies, etc.  Frustrating does not begin to describe the situation.  But I kept trying.  And I learned to be flexible about my routine.  Some tasks had to happen.  Others I could skip if I felt tired, short on time, etc.

These days, I have 3 similar sleep hygiene routines for work days and 2 for weekends/time off.  Each routine has some core tasks and rituals that I always include.  And then, there are about 4 or 5 others I add or skip depending on how my day went.

My Core Routine:
  • Unlock and open my door*
  • Close the door; then turn on the lights*
  • Take off my shoes; put my purse and/or tote down*
  • Hang up my wallet; put coat in closet*
  • Change into comfortable clothes/hang up or lay flat to put away
  • Eat while watching a movie of reading
  • Turn on sleep sounds
  • Get comfortable in bed
  • Listen to the sounds as I fall asleep

For Days when I go to work or go out on weekends

Other Tasks and Rituals
  • Walking or mindfulness meditation
  • Visualization
  • Preparing my outfit for the next day
  • Having a glass of cold water before bed
  • Play time with my alters
  • Cooking a meal from scratch
  • Recite mantras/affirmations with my alters
  • Hot shower or bath
  • Work on my web site
  • Call the hotline
  • Write a blog post
  • Knit

Reader’s Digest

We all know sleep is important.  And sometimes falling asleep and staying asleep feels impossible.  Everyone has reasons for not sleeping.  Sometimes, the problem is medical and can be fixed by a doctor and a pill.  Sometimes, the cause is harder to define.  Nothing seems to work.

I and my parts are sometimes afraid to sleep. The nightmares and body memories wake us up sweating and scared.  Or the flashbacks and hyper-vigilance create tons of anxiety and adrenaline so our body can’t stop.  Not all of us are on the same sleep schedule.

With a lot of experimenting and persistence, we finally discovered a routine that helps us sleep better most of the time.  Because, like any other strategy, it won’t always work.  Or the existing routine won’t work as it is anymore.  That is why one or all of us change up parts when something feels off.  Or when our sleep patterns change.

Alter Post: Scary Spider Knockout Story

GOOD MORNING, AFTERNOON, EVENING,

I am writing this the day after it happened.  Please excuse the spelling and grammar errors.  I am not as good at writing as some of the other parts or alters.  On the inside, we are a family system working together to create a unified self.  Each of us plays an important role in making sure our system functions well.  My job is to protect us from the rapists and torturers.

I know those males and females aren’t physically part of our life now.  The adults in our system work hard to keep us safe that way.  I am ageless.  So are my partners. Age is meaningless to us because it is not necessary to our jobs.  We protect and support the parts who struggle with the difficult memories.  They are often stuck in the past and don’t remember we are safe when the flashbacks and nightmares hit.

Yesterday was a unique experience.  My partners and I don’t usually spend time outside.  It’s scary and always changing.  But I came out yesterday morning.  A blond spider got into the house earlier in the week and kept scaring the child parts.

We kept seeing a shadow move out of the corner of our eye and couldn’t tell if it was real or fake.  Spiders in general tend to scare us.  The males and females who hurt us liked to put spiders on us and then scare the spiders into biting.  Being tied up or held down meant no escape from them.  Before that, no one had issues with spiders.  Now it’s different.  Years of spider torture took its toll on us.

So what happened?

The spider climbed onto our bed and then our body.  Most of us were sleeping.  Staying awake and keeping busy Saturday took a lot out of everyone.  But Some of the kids are early risers and were playing when they felt something climbing on their leg.  They tried to brush it off, but it wouldn’t go away.

Someone opened their eyes and saw a spider on us.  Maybe there was a scream.  Maybe just panic.  That part is blurry.  The kids panicked, and rolled around trying to get the spider off.  Someone ran to get help.  I took over and got the spider off, but not before it bit us on the leg hard enough to leave a penny-sized red welt.

Yes, we are allergic to spider bites. I grabbed the closest hard object and tried to kill it, but the blankets were too soft.  It ran off the bed and disappeared on to the floor.  I grabbed our slippers and left to find the electric bug zapper while other parts scrambled to comfort the kids and other distressed parts.

The spider bite sent most of us into panic mode. Adrenaline surged.  The not always human parts joined me in the spider hunt.  By now, no one would feel safe until that spider died.  So it had to die.  But the apartment suddenly heated up to boiling.  Sweat poured off our head and face like in a sauna.  And everything itched.

On the way back to our bedroom someone stopped and turned on the air conditioner.  Then we stumbled back to bed and passed out.  Why?  The adrenaline combined with anxiety and fear shut down our senses for a time.  Gives our body a break and time to relax until coordination and movement came back.

Soon as it did, the spider hunting continued.  I found it hanging on the open window and used electricity to zap it dead.  Unfortunately, the spider was on the other side of the screen when it curled up and died.  I shut the window to keep the cool air in and went back to sleep.

The caretakers took over and used some meditation and DBT techniques to help calm everyone down.  Then we took turns telling stories about how the brave young girls and boys grew up to be strong adults who fought evil.  Some stories got acted out as dramas; got told under starry skies.  And everyone took turns killing the evil spider monsters and the demons who created them.

This took most of the day.  I think the adults in charge woke us up 4 times after the spider bite to make sure we ate and used the bathroom.  And someone turned off the air conditoner.  One of us downloaded books and tried to read, but we were too tired to pay attention.

This morning, the adult in charge woke up and noticed the spider bite.  She didn’t know how it got there because last weekend was her vacation.  After we told her the story and how no one felt comfortable using the shower without supervision from someone in charge of body care, she found someone to help us out.

We took a hot shower and picked out nice clothes for work.  The spider bite stopped itching too.  All of us felt good about how this was handled.  No one got hurt.  There weren’t any accidents.  The meditation worked.  We survived the flashbacks, nightmares, and body memories of the day to still be able to work today.

So cool…I finally figured out why the last few posts had weird formatting.  Have to remember to share with the other posters

Coping Strategies: Spirituality and Meditation for Fear

My first experience with this quote came from reading the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.  I love this series because the characters are tested and allowed to grow in spite of or because of their internal and external struggles to live in an uncertain world.  Happy ever after comes at a price, and these characters make choices throughout each book to define and fight for their happy ever after.

I read this quote and think about my internal conflict to work with my parts instead of against them to do what is best for all of us.  Each part of me likes to think about choices before deciding on a course of action.  This way, we are not in doubt and do not have regrets.

Choices are important to us.  Knowing we have choices lessens our fear of the unknown.  

And reminds us to believe in faith.

Having faith in a higher power feels wrong sometimes.  The people who raised us believed in the many versions of the one true God and His related religions.  I am skeptical of any organized religion.  My parts flat-out disbelieve in organized religion of any kind.

But we accept that not everyone feels this way and respect other people’s religious beliefs.

At times like this, when all of us on the inside are experiencing conflict, confusion, and fear, we all turn to our faith in the higher power.  The one who gave us our intelligence, strength, empathy, and resilience as children and showed us how to use them as we aged.

We are not religious in the traditional sense.  Sometimes the fear and rage overwhelm our good sense.  Then one of us gives in to the confusion and fear.  React without stopping to think first.  The only goal is to make “it” (fear, confusion, conflict) go away.  We don’t have any choices.  “It” is now in control of body and mind with only one goal: hurt anyone and everyone in both worlds out of revenge and hatred before everything dies.

Scary isn’t it?  The “it” is actually me, or all of us, believing what the abusers taught us to believe about ourselves.  And for a long time, that persona is who the outside world interacted with.  That persona is only a small part of all of us, one created to protect us and remind us of all the rules we needed to follow in order to survive.

And now, every part of me is breaking that rule…and the others beaten into us as children.  The backlash is horrible. It feels and acts differently because this time all parts are involved.  It used to be only one or a few parts were suffering, so our therapist could help the ones involved process the memories and move to a better place.  Eventually, we all learned to help each other move there in between therapy sessions because sometimes the time between sessions is too long to wait.

We are breaking the rules.  All of them.  And living by our values instead.  The punishment hurts.  There is no escape or distraction.  Not this time.  Not when everyone is experiencing the same feelings, thoughts, sensations.  And not when self-care, self-soothing, and all of the other coping strategies mentioned before bring more anxiety instead of relieving it.

So what to do?

I and my parts go to the one coping strategy that never fails us:

Spirituality or belief in a higher power

That means Buddhism for us.  For you, maybe it’s something else.  Buddhism offers choices and opportunities to learn as we challenge our thoughts and perspectives about everything while also teaching us how to cope with suffering.

Reader’s Digest

Right now I feel a soul deep anger combined with a fear of the unknown as I acknowledge my past and honor the experiences in every way before letting the memories and feelings go back to where they belong.  Remembering is hard because I and my parts still feel shame and hurt about the choices we had to make in order to survive.  Ivy Baker Priest (first quote) says it well.

For the first time ever, all 88 of us are feeling backlash at the same time.  We are breaking the rules beaten into us as children.  Rules for behavior, for thought, for living, for surviving.  They are not applicable anymore.  The pain that comes from breaking these rules comes out as fear, body memories, anger, shame, and hurt.  None of these are easy to let go of or soothe with traditional coping strategies.  So we turn to our faith in a higher power to help us get through.  That higher power is Buddhism.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s words and books help us a lot.  We hope they help you too.

Coping Strategy: Affirmations About Anger

Some of my favorite affirmations come from Louise Hay.

This one is a particular favorite because it helps me remember one of my most important values: accepting responsibility for myself while letting others be responsible for themselves

Forgiveness doesn’t come easily to me.  Neither does trust.  Instead, I have learned to practice Tara Brach’s concept of Radical Acceptance.

This has allowed me to separate words and actions from individuals.  I can forgive individuals because humans are fallible, make mistakes, and have the freedom of choice granted by virtue of life.

It has also allowed me to hold the people who hurt me responsible for their actions while also releasing the pain and hurt of the past.  Instead of accepting responsibility for events and experiences beyond my control, I accept that my parents and the others who hurt me chose to act that way and are responsible for their words and actions.

I am only responsible for my reactions and my choices in how I reacted.  I forgive myself for what I had to do to survive and do not regret those words, actions, and reactions anymore.  Those experiences are life lessons and reminders of how I used to be and how I choose to act differently now when similar situations appear in my life.

If I had a choice to go back in time, I would not do anything different.  Because changing one part of the past results in me being someplace different now.

I love my family.  I respect them as humans and individuals.  I hate their actions and words towards me, towards, themselves, towards each other, and towards others.  I feel compassion for them and wish they did not hate themselves so much that they choose to hurt others in order to feel better.

And some day, all of my parts will come to a place where this is true.  Until then, we struggle with nightmares, fear, anger, resentment, hurt, shame, guilt, and stress from the burden of our memories.  Because even when on her medication, my mom chose to hurt and manipulate everyone around her.  We were allies/competition or enemies to be destroyed.

Anyone who tried to help her, tried to get her to see a psychiatrist or counselor for medication adjustments or assistance got yelled at, talked about behind their back, silent treatment, missing or destroyed items, and a flood of tears.  Because trying to help her meant trying to hurt her and punish her.

So eventually, I stopped taking responsibility for my mom’s actions.  I stopped taking care of her.  And when I did, the entire family turned on me.  I don’t hate them for it.  Not anymore.  Some of my parts do.  Because the shaming, the accusations, the shunning hurt.  I was trying to do the right thing.  To be my own person and help my mother.  I stopped taking responsibility for my father’s frustration with her too.  And my brother’s embarrassment and anger at her actions and reactions, her scenes and her problems.

I did not make them that way.  I am not responsible for them.  I am not meant to live my life under their control.  My role in life is not to be an extension of any of them, invisible, taking care of their needs and bearing responsibility for their problems.

This affirmation means a lot to me.  I created my own versions to keep in my mind and heart when the anger boils over:

I accept myself and all that I am.

  • My past, my present, my future are mine to choose and be responsible for.
  • I love my family.  I am not responsible for them or their choices.
  • I accept that I am changing for the better, learning to live and be my authentic self.
  • I accept my family for who they are and the choices they make.
  • I loved them then. I love them now.  I will love them no matter what happens.

Thank you Ms. Hay for your inspiration and thoughtful sharing of affirmations.

Recovery & Life After Recovery

Who am I?

I am a survivor of long term domestic violence and various forms of abuse at the hands of family, friends and others from childhood to young adulthood.  Ten years ago, I started the recovery process.  Two and a half years ago, I finally separated from my abusers and am safe.  Now my focus is on life after recovery because, while recovery is a process I am still going through, my focus is more on living and thriving than merely surviving.

What is recovery, and what does it mean?

On this blog, recovery means reclaiming one’s life after experiencing trauma or traumatic events that impact and alter one’s life in negative ways.  For me specifically, this means domestic violence and abuse that caused complex posttraumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder.

What does life after recovery mean?

Life after recovery is that special place where a survivor can focus on putting her life back together, focus on living and thriving instead of surviving.  It means making friends, going back to school, building relationships, achieving goals, travel, dream jobs, financial security, having fun, or whatever your definition of living is to you.

So why this blog now?

Part of my recovery coping strategies and one of my values is being able to help others.  This blog is a safe place for me to write about and share my knowledge and experience with recovery and finding resources with others looking for help, and the website allows me to offer a safe place to find other kinds of resources (i.e. books, website links, hotline phone numbers, resource centers) for help, recovery, coping, and survival.  These resources come from my personal library or are recommended to me by trusted medical professionals.

The Reader’s Digest Version:

Welcome to the blog and website.  It offers a safe place for trauma survivors looking for help and resources related to recovery and life after recovery.  I am a survivor, not a medical professional, so these resources are options to be used in conjunction with professional help, not medical advice and therapy.  In the blog, I share my personal experiences with recovery and life after recovery from complex posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder and related topics.  Some might help, some might not.  Please use what you can and disregard the rest.