Often I am asked about how I went from being a psychiatric patient and homeless drug addict to being a registered nurse and a supervisor at some of these facilities. While there is no magical answer to that question, there certainly have been some valuable life lessons learned along the way. These are 10 of the life lessons I have learned over time, which allowed me to continue on this journey.
Yes, I have writer’s block right now. Plenty of ideas, but nothing much that forms into words.
Recovery ends and begins in cycles as symptoms change with life. My life is in flux right now. People entering; people leaving. Family gets more complicated instead of less complicated.
My child and adolescent alters facing their fears. Learning to self-soothe and rehabilitate my body for less pain and more freedom.
But now I question what resources this blog offers guests. I question whether or not my posts help others or give them nightmares.
And frustration overwhelms me sometimes. Keeping in touch with some family feels good. But keeping in touch with others brings on more stress. The ropes of obligation are trying to wind themselves around me again.
This isn’t my last post. I have at least 2 more drafted and waiting for editing. But after that, I have some serious thinking to do about what direction this website and blog will take for next year.
Thanks for reading.
Halloween is tomorrow. From an objective perspective, I enjoy people watching and seeing the families with young children trick-or-treating. From a personal perspective, my triggers are still too raw for my to actually enjoy the holiday.
So here is Wednesday’s post a few days early.
Saturday afternoon, I was doing errands and visiting friendly people in the neighborhood. It was the first day all week that I felt somewhat energetic and able to go out. Not sure about you, but sometimes, in spite of using every coping strategy possible and trying to stay healthy, the flashbacks, triggers, pain, and exhaustion win. And it comes down to choices: stay in, rest and be able to work; or go out, enjoy the nice weather, do errands, and come home feeling tired/sick/unable to work then next day?
But Saturday, started off pretty good and continued that way until obligation reared its ugly head. Not sure if you recall, but I wrote a few posts back in August/September about toxic relationships and communication with people in my life. My choice was to share the posts as a way of discussing the issues with them and then let those individuals make the next move since verbal conversations turned into stressful arguments or worse.
Well, one of those individuals reached out indirectly; not through email, Facebook, text or anything like that. Maybe this person expected me to come back and visit or reach out in some way? When that didn’t happen, a mutual acquaintance “casually” asked if I was stopping by a particular store to visit there too.
Personally, I knew that I would talk to the individual eventually because I would want closure in the future. But I wanted to do that on my terms. That meant walking away from a triggering situation with a potentially toxic individual for a while. Then using that time to reflect on conversations, interactions, and changes in perspective. I honestly did not expect her to reach out in any way.
But I also knew that if this individual did, I would be walking into a trap of some kind. And by trap, I mean a situation where the other individual controlled the setting, manipulated our interactions, and tried to incite a reaction (negative) that shook my confidence or made me feel less than her.
The goal: to put me in my place by making me realize I had no control in the relationship. That I conformed or got excluded from the community.
The set up was pretty obvious from the time I walked in. Two friends were in the store with the individual; people close in age with shared interests and perspectives on life. All three went out of their way to show me with their body language and own personal stories how little my update mattered to them and how boring my apartment decorating was. When that didn’t incite a defensive or shamed reaction, they moved on to discuss other topics.
I listened to them and observed the store owner; that’s why I was there you see. I wanted to confirm that this individual was not someone I wanted in my life. Listening to the store owner talk to someone else my age, some other older customers, and answer a question I had about store credit confirmed that we would not ever be able to be friends or have a relationship in the future. Put downs disguised as teasing. Emotional manipulation in the form of “helpful” advice or suggestions. Passive aggressive comments about body shape from the friends all spoken in sugary, polite tones.
But what really got me was when one of the friends talked about her “terrible childhood” and then condescended to tell me that I “was probably too young to know” what they were referring to. The condescending part didn’t bother me. I look 10 years younger than my age and told them so. Then mentioned some other shows from that time period. Not the reaction they expected, so the conversation ended with: “You’re a baby” from a person 9 years older than me.
Inspiration for this post
The female friend’s description of a “terrible childhood” struck me. You see, the store owner befriended me when I first moved to the new state and was vulnerable – alone and getting to know the neighborhood – thanks to my social experiment. So she knew a fair amount about my past, but not all the details. One thing she knew about was my traumatic past and toxic family situation.
What she didn’t realize until later was the following:
- I may be soft spoken and quiet, but I am not a pushover
- I may not act confident all the time, but I feel and am confident in myself as an individual
- I cultivate and live by the following concepts: radical acceptance, unconditional love, respect for all living beings, unconditional compassion, and forgiveness
- Doesn’t always show because my triggers get in the way, but I am secure enough in myself to fight back, speak up, and assert myself when people try to take advantage of me or manipulate me or bully me or be mean in any way
- I hardly ever start fights/arguments/etc. but I always finish them
- I am strong, am resilient, and fight to survive – that means I fight to win and/or escape every time – and am well versed in how to fight dirty with words or fists
- Finally, I work hard to cultivate only supportive, positive relationships while minimizing and removing toxic or negative ones.
So when she and her friends texted each other and brought up so many potentially triggering topics (personal finance, repairing/decorating the apartment, family) to try and manipulate me, I realized that I don’t need or want people like that in my life. Listening to their conversations without reacting frustrated them more than it did me.
Observing them in action and talking about their childhoods got me thinking about my past. It also got me thinking about the definition of an unhappy or horrible childhood. Because honestly, I’m not sure that having a traumatic childhood is the same as having an unhappy or horrible one. Yes, trauma causes many unhappy, horrible, unsafe, and dangerous childhood experiences. Yes, trauma has a long-lasting negative influence on child/adolescent/adult development.
But does the experience of a traumatic past really = an unhappy childhood?
Feel free to disagree with me on this. After all your experience is just as true and valid as mine, and this blog/website is about accepting and valuing all perspectives and experiences of trauma.
When I started this website, about 28-30 years of my past was a blur of fragments and sensations that didn’t make much sense. I couldn’t trust my memory of past events because of all the holes from traumatic amnesia. And I didn’t know that my dreams and nightmares were sometimes interpretations of my childhood memories intertwined with the traumatic events.
There were times I woke up one morning and couldn’t remember what happened for the last 6 months. Or times I was at work in the middle of a report, dissociated and/or switched, and couldn’t remember what happened for 5, 15, 20, 60 minutes at a time. I had to go back and redo all of my work because I couldn’t remember what I started or finished.
That memory problem lessened as I started working with a trauma informed counselor. And as the tangled trauma memories sorted themselves out, other memories surfaced. Memories of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood that brought smiles and laughter. Memories of accomplishments and small successes that strengthened my resolve and helped me understand where my values come from.
Memories, that when separated from the trauma triggers and shame, that reminded me of how wonderful and happy the most important parts of my childhood were. Experiences where adults modeled tolerance and acceptance and forgiveness and compassion in their daily interactions. Experiences that showed me how to bounce back from mistakes, be an individual instead of part of the crowd, own my flaws and turn them into strengths, and always have a plan.
Most important: anything is possible as long as I believe in myself and not let fear stop me from trying, making mistakes, learning, and trying again until I succeed.
Sure, I am flawed. My family is flawed. Some of them are outright dangerous and toxic and unsafe. But others are safe and trustworthy and loving and accepting of everything in their own ways. And the safe relatives, those are the people who taught me the skills I needed to survive and then let me go when I needed to leave in order to find myself. When I did come back, they welcomed me with open arms and unconditional love and acceptance and forgiveness for hurting them – unintentionally or not.
So while traumatic situations can cause unhappy and horrible experiences in any phase of life, I truly believe that individuals choose their own perspectives of childhood or any other part of their life.
I choose to acknowledge and value what my traumatic past taught me while living without regrets and focusing on the gifts that same past gave me so that I could become the woman I am now and who I will be in the future.
And I hope that sharing this story helps other guests find the little bits of positivity that comes from any experience to help them move forward in their recovery or healing journey – whatever they choose to call it.
Thanks for reading
A thoughtful, discussion type post today. Everything is inter-related so no subtitles.
Sometimes I get caught up in the stories my mind creates. The emotional stress from fear or anxiety combine to drown out what my instincts or inner self is trying to say, especially when they are on opposite sides. If I only listened to the feelings generated by the nightmares and flashbacks, would I have the courage to keep getting involved in life? Or to develop healthy relationships? Or accept that some “negative symptoms” or “coping strategies” are healthy, natural inclinations instead?
Do you, guests, also question whether or not your habits are healthy or unhealthy? Positive or negative? Useful or interfering? If so, you are not alone. Many survivors and others who are not survivors tend to question/challenge everything at one point or another. It’s part of growing and adapting to both change – life, recovery, personality, work, inner/outer self – in order to become closer to our authentic selves. I say closer because becoming one’s authentic self is a lifelong journey.
At this point in my journey, I am remembering more and more of the past in order to take the next step to trusting guidance from my inner voice instead of letting reality or perspective get distorted when my instincts trigger “danger” signals. My inner voice is different from my instincts in the same way that emotions are different from intuition.
- Instincts are based on sensory information – sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, proprioception
- Inner voice is based on an interpretation of what my senses are telling me based on knowledge, experience, and perception of the present situation
e.g. my instincts tell me that a certain set of sounds could mean danger.
My inner voice(s) look in the direction of the sound, take in the surroundings as a group of boisterous people enjoying outdoor music and drinks, and decide it’s wise to be cautious when going past them.
My trigger reacts like this: flashback to the past and tell me to defend myself and/or avoid the sounds because I’m in danger from the sound maker(s).
Right now, the trigger is louder than the inner voice and hijacks control over all reactions.
The goal is to build more trust in the inner voice and allow that to guide reactions and actions to my/our instincts.
Another way to look at this is through coping strategies & habits. Some of my questionable coping strategies & habits include:
- preference for solitude & quiet
- need for privacy & limited social relationships
- Urge to “reset” my sleep cycles every few months by staying up 24+ hours or not sleeping much for days/weeks at a time until I crash for as many hours as needed to recuperate
- Compulsion to use a “resting meditation” technique that allows all alters to be active at the same time and communicate to work through large amounts of memories/feelings/flashbacks/stress in an 8+ hour period of time throughout the year.
The solitude is questionable because almost every self-help guide, program, and counselor I’ve talked to or worked with has warned about the dangers of isolation and loneliness. They’ve also talked about the importance of making connections with people, having a support system, emotion regulation/tolerance, and importance of interpersonal communication in recovery. But no one has discussed how some people, whether more towards introversion or extraversion, are more naturally inclined towards solitude than others.
These people may or may not be highly sensitive, but they have found other ways of creating meaningful connections and relationships with people, animals, plants, etc. that don’t necessarily require a lot of social interaction. Not exactly hermits, but not interested in an expansive social life either. That’s me, and something I am learning to accept instead of question or worry about.
As for privacy & trust, well I didn’t have a lot of that growing up. And while I am good at making it appear to others that I am an open book by sharing some information about myself, in reality those people only see/know/understand what I allow them to see. Less than 5 people in the world know all parts of me, and I’m perfectly happy with that. Many 20 or less people know most parts of me. Everyone else gets to meet the “survivor”, “insecure”, “grumpy”, “social”, “professional”, or “ambivert” me; maybe a combination of them too.
More stuff than I can put words to happens inside on a daily basis. That takes up more than 50% of my energy (mental, physical, spiritual) right now. The other 50% is used to go to work, do chores, cope with external symptoms, and enjoy life. Sometimes, I get overstimulated into an adrenaline state that makes sleep difficult to impossible – it’s a combination of flashbacks & nightmares with body memories and fear responses working their way through all parts of me.
Other times, my energy gets used up too fast, and I can’t replenish in time; not just food energy, but mental and spiritual too. “Being normal” or focusing on life outside of my inner worlds becomes too much. I need to take a break and let my inner world settle down after all of the changes. That means more or less sleep and lying down meditation to allow everyone a chance be involved in the coping strategy.
The sleep & meditation used to cause untold amounts of shame and self-hate because that’s what mom did to escape the world. She slept for hours or days at a time with the excuse of being sick. Then there was the family shame of “being lazy” by sleeping too much. Or the label “just like your mom” because I didn’t do enough (from outsiders point of view) to help my parents and brother.
Now, getting enough sleep & practicing meditation is part of my self-care routine. I feel less shame and guilt about taking care of myself because self-care means I can do more with life and stay healthy. I feel more empowered to resist the negative voices and keep going in spite of the flashbacks, fear, anxiety, body memories, pain, or nightmares that trigger panic attacks. Sure, I may need an extra hour or two in the morning or have to take a break and work later, but at least I don’t have to take the whole day off and sleep through the anxiety anymore.
Because now I and all of my parts can hear, trust, and listen to the inner voice interpreting our instincts with a balance of emotion and logic that is based in the present reality instead of the past one.
Is it easy? Medium? Difficult?
Yes and no. Like any challenge, some parts are easier than others. It depends on the individual and her or his perspective on life, willingness to change, reactions to stress, resilience, courage, and persistence.
Wait, what if I don’t have an inner voice?
Everyone has an inner voice and instincts. Not everyone chooses to believe in or listen to the inner voice or instincts. And some people who do might decide that the inner voice and instincts are wrong because the short term outcome is unexpected or unwanted so choose not to listen. As with hindsight being 20/20, so is listening to one’s inner voice. Learning how to interpret what the inner voice is communicating takes time, practice, and mistakes.
Is this like a conscience or a moral compass?
Maybe. For some people, their inner voices and instincts align with their values and moral compass or ethics. For others, the conscience could be separate. For me, they are separate. My instincts and inner voice are non-judgemental and neutral. They share information and guidance that I can accept or refuse or interpret in different ways.
Either way, whether you (guests) choose to explore your inner voice or instincts, I hope you all find a path to self-acceptance through recovery. Self-acceptance makes living and enjoying life that much more interesting.
Thanks for reading.
Often I get asked about forgiveness and being able to forgive, not just myself, but also the people who hurt me in the past.
If I do/can/have forgiven those people, how/when/why did I forgive them? What is the importance of forgiveness?
If I do/can/have forgiven myself, how/when/why?
What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance? Are both important? And again, why?
Disclaimer: any content written here is based on my personal experience combined with education via trauma informed therapy, self-help resources, psychology books, and learning from other victims/survivors/educators. They are NOT professional opinions, facts, or theories based on academics, professional education, etc.
Forgivness and Acceptance are two separate but inter-related concepts.
Forgiveness is very personal and subjective – depends a lot on an individual’s personal goals – that can help individuals move beyond recovery & living towards thriving after surviving trauma.
Responsibility is not the same as Accountability. I do not hold myself or others accountable for choices, actions, or reactions because I do not expect anything from myself or others.
I do hold myself and others responsible for choices, actions, or reactions because I or they chose to act or react a certain way.
Then I can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but I don’t HAVE TO do that.
Same with other people; they can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but no one expects them to.
Making reparation for a mistake or apologizing is something learned based on morals and ethics. And the concepts are learnable at any age.
**Forgiveness is a never-ending work in progress that moves in cycles and can transform lives**
Forgiveness of Others
Yes, I have forgiven the people who hurt me, especially my parents, immediate family, and relatives. I forgave them a few years before starting this website and blog. And continue practicing forgiveness as more and more memories come back.
But forgiveness is hard. I struggle with not being able to forgive these people all the time or unconditionally because the pain and memories can feel so strong. Plus sometimes I still think that forgiveness comes with strings attached when it doesn’t.
So I can forgive my parents and still maintain a no-contact stance. Same with other people in my family. I can forgive friends and still feel afraid of interacting with them in person or letting them back into my life. Finally, I can forgive other relatives and feel good with the choice to maintain limited contact with them.
- Holding on to anger and grudges only hurts me by reinforcing my fears and holding me hostage within the limitations these people created for me
- These people are human beings with pasts and experiences beyond their control that influenced their choices and actions as adults
- Blame doesn’t help anyone; it only shifts responsibility and choices away from responsible parties
- they can rationalize, justify, make excuses and find ways to turn the blame back on victims with guilt, shame or emotional blackmail
- Holding these people responsible for their choices is a positive perspective on what happened that validates anger without the negativity of shame, or guilt that causes blame
- These people made choices and are responsible for those choices, so I can feel angry with their behavior and hold them responsible without blaming them
- I am learning about compassion and perspective as part of my recovery. Part of compassion is being able to understand experiences from another’s point of view or perspective and understanding that forgiveness is part of compassion
- By forgiving these people I am also reducing the influence my past has on present choices, experiences, and goals
Forgiveness of Self
One thing predators and abusers excel at is shifting blame to the victims and convincing the victims they are both responsible and at fault for experiences and circumstances beyond the victim’s control.
It took me a long time to be able to forgive myself for not being able to escape sooner. And even longer to stop blaming myself for what happened to me. Some parts of me still blame themselves for what happened. Others are now capable of feeling compassion for themselves and understanding the difference between blame/fault and responsibility of one’s choices.
But I couldn’t make progress until I learned to at least forgive myself and really know in all aspects of my sense of self that I wasn’t responsible for the trauma of my past. Without awareness of my behavior/thoughts/feelings and how they were influenced by my past, I couldn’t consciously make choices with conscious awareness either. So my past was controlling my present, and I felt ashamed because my life was out of control.
Therapy in group and individual settings helped me learn to forgive myself instead of blaming, shaming, guilting, and feeling angry with myself for how I acted and reacted sometimes. Then these professionals gave me the tools to help take back control of my life and my choices. The small successes built on each other and helped me realize something important:
- I am not responsible for my past or what happens when I feel triggered without awareness – in my mind I am protecting myself
- I am responsible for my choices once I do have awareness of these triggers because I can change the negative reactions into positive ones or apologize & make reparation for mistakes or misunderstandings or miscommunications caused by me
- Finally, I am human and make mistakes because mistakes are part of how humans learn, so I can forgive myself for making mistakes and take the opportunity to grow instead of shutting down
Like compassion, forgiveness can help heal wounds and offer perspective that allows victims and/or survivors or anyone really to move past negative feelings or blocks. The concept is easy to understand. The practice is difficult and not something that is accomplished once and then done forever.
Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, a life choice, and a way of life like compassion that can help ease suffering. There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, but it’s up to each of us to question what we know and challenge ourselves to look for different answers.
That’s how I stumbled onto this definition of forgiveness.
- that forgive does not equal forget
- that a person who can forgive while holding the other party responsible is stronger and more resilient than a person who holds on to anger and grudges
- that accepting responsibility for my part only doesn’t make me weak; it makes me stronger and more confident because I am taking control of my life and my choices
I hope that someday even if my guests can’t forgive the people who hurt them, they can forgive themselves.
Thanks for reading