I started this blog eleven years into my recovery. Many of the worst symptoms were reduced to manageable levels or stopped. It felt good because I was emotionally stable and grounded in spite of constant physical pain. Being grounded meant being able to take a look at my life and examine the true causes of my issues with perspective. Then I could to make concrete changes about my beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors so that my lifestyle and my personality matched my values.
On one hand, I made myself stronger and safer. On the other hand, the pressure to go back to what I was before got worse. Overt actions and behaviors legitimized the thoughts and fears that I had (before) dismissed as false lies. The actual lies were me believing my family and connections loved, protected, respected, accepted, and did not abuse me. Denial had been a great coping strategy for many years, but not so much as I moved forward. I needed tools to help me face my past and present then safely cope with the sensations so that my past did not control my present or future anymore.
Relapse and Circle Back
The trauma specialist helped me learn other ways to process recovered memories and keep myself safe during bad flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. One significant breakthrough was acknowledging my alters as real. That happened after a relatively unhelpful month-long stay in a partial program. It had been my first experience being a conscious observer when I switched personalities (even though I don’t know what I or anyone else said), and I was scared. I thought I was truly going crazy and that my symptoms had increased again to the point of not being able to follow through on my escape plans.
2011 was the year I decided to leave my current life and disappear (as much as one can while living in the same small state). But family and connections wouldn’t leave me alone. They found ways to bring me back in (including death of a family member) and try to control me. I thought I could disappear on my own. Had planned very carefully where to move, etc. But then I relapsed with anorexia; my nightmares increased; I stopped sleeping; lost weight; had more panic attacks and hallucinations; heard voices and lost control of my body sometimes. And got scared every time I saw my grandmother’s name pop up on my phone screen.
Eventually, I moved into a different space. That apartment was exactly what I wanted except for the mice and the noise. I tried using a self-trained service animal to help with PTSD. They are legitimate and helpful with the right training, resources, and support network. Mine was a disaster waiting to happen because I lacked the resources and support network. The puppy went to a new home and is very happy now. I learned valuable lessons about my own strengths, weaknesses, ability to trust, and symptom management.
The mice were something I just couldn’t live with. My apartment didn’t feel safe anymore. If mice could enter my apartment any time, who knows what else could get in or be there. And I learned that many of my neighbors were either friends of my sibling/cousins/relations or not safe to be around; they set off my instincts in a bad way. And so started my three years of moving as I tried to find a safe place to live that was also on public transportation.
Each new place I moved to taught me about resilience and self-reliance. For a little while (usually a few months at a time), I felt safe enough to relax and show my real self. It’s not a self that many people were comfortable with and refused to accept. That taught me to examine my relationships with the rest of the people in my life and the types of people I was drawn to at the time. I realized I sought out relationships with people who treated me like my family did. That disturbed me a lot. The trauma specialist understood my concern; she provided me with terms and book references so that I could learn more on my own. Those references were handy distractions from nightmares while also teaching me new coping strategies.
I was still under weight and having panic attacks, but not relapsed anymore. The anxiety was lessening, and I was sleeping more. Until one day I got a message from a mutual friend or maybe my godfather (hard to remember) told me my only living grandparent was in the hospital. A few phone calls through the hospital switchboard made me feel so unsafe I stopped sleeping for days. Then came nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, dissociation, a cold, and many weekends of lost time when I passed out and slept from exhaustion or overload.
That’s when I realized I needed more help. I had to face some more hard truths and then take action. One was telling my god father that I couldn’t maintain contact with him anymore. Another was acknowledging I was a victim of domestic violence before and am both a victim and a survivor now. Finally, I wasn’t helping myself by keeping quiet when I felt like someone was treating me poorly. All it did was trigger anger, flashbacks, and self-harm. So I did what I always do in times like this: read and research information.
That is when I rediscovered the hotline and the relocation project. Both resources helped me find emotional stability and physical safety as I started the process to change my name, move someplace in the state no one would think to look for me, and get away from the people from my past harassing me on behalf of their relationship with past connections. That was 2014. And I was finally safe.
My alters and I had learned to communicate and cooperate enough that daily life was more tolerable. The nightmares and flashbacks lessened. I was eating normally and healthy again. Only had issues when I went to work; and most of those were because of location not the workplace.
Having a safe haven to go to at the end of the combined with asking my supervisor for help with work issues made all the difference in feeling safe. For the last two years, I have felt happier than I can remember. Safe, content, and only having to deal with triggering people in the city made life so much better. Enough that I started reaching for dreams (like this website and blog) again.
After three months of documenting different coping challenges and experiences here on the blog, I realized that I wasn’t just “sick with a cold”. The symptoms I felt: chest pain, sinus pain and stuffiness, sleep deprivation, ears clogged, headaches and migraines were exactly what I lived with until 2009/2010 when I went to my first partial program and then started seeing a trauma specialist.
It was caused by what I call a cascade of stressful and triggering events or experiences that cause adrenaline rushes and crashes without leaving any recovery time to process what happened (or a cascade).
On the good side, I know this will go away. My alters know this will go away too. On the bad side, none of us remember or know how to cope with this unless we use negative coping. And that is not an option. So here I am with my alters in a relatively happy and safe place full of positive changes and experiences suffering from physical reactions to stress again.
Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, reminds the reader of this throughout her book. Neither I nor my alters are sure how to cope. We do the best we can and are transparent with each other when one is having more difficulty than others. The ones who work are transparent with the supervisor and co-workers, letting them know that symptoms have increased and we might need some temporary accommodations until they pass. Best we can do is practice self-care, self-soothing, reclaim our personal time, and try to re-establish emotional/physical/spiritual safety on the inside and outside.