Recovery: 2018 Reflections – family & life

What a year it’s been…

So many changes and discoveries. Reconnecting with family. Enjoying time with family.

Creating new paths. Learning different ways to live and thrive beyond survival. Opening up to the wonders of the universe.

Finding a spiritual path & a way to make dreams come true.

CATCHING UP…

Last Week with Family

Other than typical air travel issues, the visit went well. My family and I spent quality time together enjoying each other’s company, giving gifts, and eating great food. My dad and I got to spend some alone time together and with the rest of the family. My brother and sister-in-law are happy; we hugged and talked and laughed on Christmas.

As for time with mom, we carefully started rebuilding the bridge again. It got tense at times, but someone was always around to help smooth things over. In the end, we shared contact information; this way she can reach me if she feels like it.

My mom’s side and I didn’t get to meet after all. Between the flight delay and busy schedules, 4 days became 3 days full of other activities. In the end, we promised to see each other next time I travel back east.

My dad’s side of the family hosted Christmas this year. Seeing my younger cousins for the first time in a while was filled with anxiety on both sides. We weren’t sure how to interact at first, but things got easier with time. We ended up laughing and talking by the end of the visit – that felt great.

My aunts and uncle and I spent some quality time together too. We talked and caught up with life before giving gifts. Things got a little tense with one aunt, but that was expected. Her way of coping with fear is to push people away. Some time apart (and maybe conversations with others) helped both of us work it out for a pleasant rest of the visit.

Finally, I got to spend some quality time with my grandmother. She wasn’t doing well on Monday – my first day visiting – and spent a lot of ¬†time sleeping. On Christmas Day (Tuesday), she was awake and more present – enough to enjoy opening gifts, talk, and eat dinner with us.

We had a chance to talk in private. I told her how much I love her and that she doesn’t have to worry so much about me anymore. I’m healthy and happy and safe, so she can focus on taking care of herself and doing what she needs to do to feel healthy and pain-free.

Milestones, Changes & Goals

For the first time, maybe ever, I completed all of my goals for 2018. That felt good and acts as a symbol of the many positive changes that happened this year.

Of the many changes that occurred this year, the biggest ones have to do with the transition from survival mode to living to thriving. Here are 3 on my list:

  • Open up to others in the outside world – making friends & connections; going to workshops; participating in events & activities at work – because I feel safe on every level of being (spiritual, emotional/mental, physical)
  • Change my self-image in order to be assertive at work and act on my dreams – job changes, go back to school, continue writing this blog, work on my spiritual practice
  • Find closure with my past by embracing my shadows and connecting face-to-face with family again

As for milestones, my biggest one is letting go of the fear that held me back for so long by finding my faith again and choosing to live a life rooted in unconditional love and acceptance. For every individual, finding that faith in a higher power; believing she or he is deserving of unconditional love and acceptance; then opening up to receive those gifts is a unique and difficult journey.

The New Website & Aromatherapy

My other web site and blog is in progress, but on hold for right now. Other priorities got in the way of completing the pages and starting the new blog, so it’s empty and will be for another few months.

As for aromatherapy, I’m still taking the online classes in between work and life. It’s slow going, but lesson 1 of 7 is finally finished. The aromatherapy blends work well and smell great. I used them to help with some cold and sinus problems that affect me every fall/winter season. Lesson 2 is in progress.

Questions for Guests

What will/do you reflect on for 2018?

How do you feel about the milestones, changes, successes, or lessons learned?

What will you leave behind or take with you into 2019?

Final Thoughts

2018 was an incredibly positive year. Many unexpected successes and positive changes tempered by some losses, more than a few lessons learned, and much confusion. I’ve discovered a spiritual practice that suits my solitary nature and allows me to believe in God and other wise beings or deities without having to choose a specific religion. The openness of this spiritual practice helps me develop my other gifts instead of fearing them and teaches me how to listen to my intuition too.

Feelings still confuse me. Being in crowds still has a negative effect on my memory. I am not (nor will I ever be) 100% comfortable or relaxed outside of my home, but I can utilize coping strategies to get at least 80% comfortable or relaxed now. Most important, I feel safe interacting with other people even when triggered or feeling severely anxious.

Personally, I’m looking forward to many surprises and possibilities in 2019 ūüôā

I wish all of you a happy, healthy, prosperous 2019!

Thanks for reading

Alter Post: Reclaiming My Body…struggles, steps & successes

Trigger Warning: explicit details and word usage about past sexual abuse and body image issues

Ramble Warning: this long post is written by many alters and might not be very coherent…read at your leisure

A Continuous Struggle

This is not a subject I talk about often on the blog. Thinking about my body feels scary more often than not. I still experience a lot of physical pain from tight muscles and body memories. And what I see in the mirror often reflects my negative self-image.

Different alters control different parts of my body; each of us hold memories in those places. Sharing the burden is easier now than it was before. Yet all parts of me cringe at the thought of ending celibacy or trying to date now.

Some alters never want to engage in sexual activity again. A few dream about having a husband, lover, or partner to share our life with. Most others are intellectually curious about the connections between sexuality, femininity, masculinity, and vitality or life force. All wish for platonic friends or family members to share physical contact with – i.e. hugs, pats, cuddles, holding hands, kisses on the forehead, gestures of intimate yet platonic affection. Maybe a pet some day? Cats probably as our body is not physically healthy enough to care for a dog yet.

Many of us in the alter system don’t like how our body and face looks. Some of us feel shame and embarrassment. Others feel frustration or sadness. Both tend to bring out feelings of or negative attitudes in others. Or attract unwanted attention.

The Coping Challenges

In spite of the many positive steps I have taken to improve my body image, holiday season brings out all of my insecurities. Going back home for the holidays – seeing my parents and sibling for the first time in many years – could be part of that. In general, though, I often get flashbacks of having to ‚Äúdress up‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúbeing dressed‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúput on display‚ÄĚ by my mother for different holiday get-togethers. And it makes me feel down about my body.

For me, the hardest part about having this negative body image and these feelings of insecurity is not feeling like my body and face are mine. For most of my life, my face and body were under someone else’s control. Other people decided what I looked like, how I dressed, when I ate, who I interacted with, and the types of activities I could participate in alone or with others. Even after I got out of that place, there were family obligations and cultural expectations that told me how to look and act based on my place (bottom) in the hierarchy.

In my head, I still hear all of those people (owners, predators, offenders, abusers, slavers, customers, teachers, class mates & age mates, friends, or relatives) calling me a slut, a whore, a prostitute, a dirty lesbian or bisexual cunt, a chink, slant eyes, beautiful temptress, satan’s get, evil witch, and submissive bitch. I hear them telling me I am fat and scrawny or slender and beautiful just before they rape me or attack me.

Acknowledge the Hard Truths

Well, I was a child prostitute. And I was a beautiful, gifted child turned awkward teen who found ways to hide in plain sight by being an outcast nerd in ugly clothes as an adult. I did have sex with both genders – if rape and forced prostitution count – and multiple partners. So maybe that technically makes me a lesbian and bisexual instead of heterosexual.

Clarification of Insults

But it does not make me a slut or a whore. For one thing, the sex was not my choice. For another, I only engaged in sex when being raped or pimped out. Once I had the choice, I stopped all sexual activity. So while I am okay with being called some of the names listed above, the words ‚Äúslut‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúwhore‚ÄĚ really push my buttons.

Sure, I tried to date a few times in college and later on, but it never went past a first date or got physical. I ran first. Or fought second. Eventually, I simply shut down whenever someone tried to flirt with or hit on me. It felt like giving up, but it was also safer for everyone involved.

Expressing Femininity & Vitality in Healthy Ways

I’ve mostly come to terms with the sexual abuse. But I am still working on hating my femininity and sexuality. Still working on hating my face and body. Still working on seeing an over weight, flat chested, pimply girl in the mirror. Or seeing a skinny, straight, flat, weak girl who can’t control her own body in the reflection. Still working to reclaim my sexuality or vitality without having to engage in sexual activity.

My Fear and Hatred of…

I fear not having control over my reproductive system Рchoosing to get pregnant or not Рif some day I become sexually active again before menopause. Considering how quirky my body is about everything, typical birth control methods might not be enough. Plus, I’ve been pregnant. Just the thought of that happening again sends panic signals through all of me. My family history is a mess. I really don’t want to pass on my genetic material. Plus, if I ever do want children, adoption and foster care are options.

I hate not being able to get regular health checks and dental exams without anasthesia. My triggers around medical and dental professionals are among the strongest and most vicious coping challenges. The automatic defense mechanisms and system shut down protocols get triggered every time I start working with someone new. And they bring out my most dangerous alters.

And I hate how often I get triggered by other people giving me nasty looks or making rude/insulting comments about my body parts. People used to pity me and gossip about my awful taste and weird habits behind my back, but were relatively polite and/or friendly unless irngoring me before I stopped hiding. After I stopped hiding, though, lots of people felt justified making nasty comments about my appearance and judging me based on my large bust and curvy shape. Being petite and Asian just made the cat calls and pettiness worse.

I hate how uncomfortable and defensive I feel talking about my ‚Äúsingle on purpose‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúcelibacy by choice‚ÄĚ thoughts with friends & family. And both stances are choices. But it‚Äôs even more difficult trying to explain this to males and females who are flirting or coming on to me. Or who think my being friendly is flirting, etc. Confusing for someone with zero experience flirting, dating, etc.

Coping Strategies & Reclaiming My Body

It’s easier now to cope with many of these triggers and obsessive thoughts when the flashbacks come. All parts of me have made personal and life style changes to foster a loving, positive self-image and body image. Next year, I will finally be in a position to take other steps towards reclaiming my body as mine.

Steps like:

  • sterilization (aka tubes tied),
  • safely & confidently interacting with people in social situations,
  • herbal and aromatherapy remedies to support my health without making me sick,
  • (maybe) breast reduction surgery

Now that I am physically healthy and able to maintain a healthy body weight with job security and decent benefits these options are possible. I am not sure what is in my future, but at least now I have more options to feel safe and in control of my self and my body.

What kinds of steps could you, would you, are you willing to take in order to reclaim your body in a positive, safe way?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Body Shaming – Internal & External

Apologies for the late post…I slept late and then fell asleep after exercise and a phone call with my mentor yesterday. ¬†By the time I woke up, it was time to go back to sleep again.

Body Shaming

It’s a big deal, especially in today’s world where anything can pop up in the mainstream media or on social media (on purpose or by accident) and anyone can comment.

I had another post in mind for this week, but Grant Gustin of CW’s The Flash spoke out about body shaming in this article on Digital Spy. ¬†Gustin fights back and speaks out against body shaming – in general and by addressing comments directed at himself.

The Flash is one of the few TV shows I enjoy and follow via Internet news. ¬†It addresses a lot of interesting topics from alternative and unique to me perspectives without a lot of bias or stereotyping. ¬†My other favorite CW show is¬†DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for similar reasons.

But back to the main topic – Body shaming is a form of bullying. ¬†Depending on the circumstances, context, content, and perpetrator, it can also be a form of sexual & physical harassment or abuse. ¬†It’s something I still struggle with as an adult and experienced from many people growing up.

Body shaming is more than talking about how physically attractive or unattractive a person is. ¬†It goes deeper and can affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and¬†one’s sense of self. ¬†Body shaming covers a lot of topics. ¬†Here are a few:

  • How I smell
  • A flabby belly instead of a flat one
  • Being short
  • Having slanted eyes
  • Being curvy and Asian
  • Wearing Glasses
  • Looking younger than I am
  • How I dress (style and type of clothes I wear)

And just for fun…since you already know my face…here’s a photo of me in one of my favorite summer outfits – no makeup as per usual.

IMG_0599

BODY NEUTRAL & BODY POSITIVE – Body Image alternatives to shame/negativity

I’ve mentioned these terms before. ¬†And I try to stay true to them in real life – for myself and for the people around me.

It’s not easy to change the tapes in your head when the people who are supposed to guide, support, and protect you are the ones making these comments. ¬†The person who body shamed me the most was my mother. ¬†Being sexually and physically abused further damaged myself and made me hate my physical appearance to the point where I didn’t trust anyone who made a comment about me; positive or negative.

What helped me most was putting aside concepts of attractiveness and beauty in favor of learning how to love, accept, respect, and value my physical self for all of the positive blessings it provides me as I work to achieve my goals of overall wellness and independence.

Something else that helps is to stop making negative comments (in my head or out loud) about my own and other’s appearance, whether on purpose or by accident. ¬†It took me many years to stop automatically thinking in the negative about bodies (etc) in general.

I still don’t see myself the way other people see me. ¬†Looking in a mirror can be tricky depending on who is watching through my eyes. ¬†Every alter has a different perception of our physical self. ¬†And none of us really enjoy the attention we receive. ¬†Our goal is to blend in, not stand out.

But I/we also want to feel comfortable, confident, secure, and happy with our physical appearance/body/self too.  And that means creating and using a personal style to guide how we present ourself to the outside world.

Maybe these concepts and tips will resonate with you. ¬†Maybe they won’t. ¬†but you are not alone in experiencing the body shame.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Slowing Down & Self Care

Short post today.

I am recovering from a week of panic attacks and flashbacks today, so have not got much to write about. ¬†After this post, I plan on sleeping some more to get ready for Monday’s work, etc.

In other news, I continue to slow down my life to focus on what feels meaningful and important while letting go of what doesn’t with joy and grace. ¬†But more on that later.

Finally, apologies to anyone whose blogs I follow for not being an active commenter. ¬†I am following your progress and cheering you on from the sidelines (aka as a lurker) even though I can’t keep up with all of your updates. ¬†I’ve been on an Internet cleanse on and off for the past few months – only checking in with school, work, and existing author sites on my “read” list – to understand my anger and frustration towards technology.

Social media, in general, is not something I am comfortable with no matter how hard I try to learn and feel safe using it. ¬†If not for the fact that I need some kind of presence to exist for work and this blog, I’d shun it all together and live happily with phone/text, email, and letter-writing.

So please keep me on your lists. ¬†I am following, reading/viewing your updates, and cheering you on from the sidelines. ¬†But I will never be active and seldom will comment. It’s just not who I am or how I choose to live my life. ¬†If I do have something to share, I will comment or use the comment box to send an email thorough your website/blog.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: Blog Break – Spiritual Quest – Back 4 Sundays from today

Dear Guests,

I hope you are enjoying summer or winter (depending on where you live).

A lot has changed in the last few weeks.  More change is coming up faster than I want to think about.

The last two years have open-end up whole new worlds (not quoting Disney’s Aladdin here – no t on purpose) and opportunities.

I’ve met some incredible people and discovered other ways of thinking/consciousness that provide different kinds of insight into my current struggles.

But it wasn’t until the anger left that I realized I was on a spiritual journey.

A spiritual journey is different for every person. ¬†It’s not the same as recovery or a recovery journey. ¬†I could be a healing journey, but not all healing journeys are spiritual.

The memories coming back now remind me of how lucky I was to grow up in religious and spiritual diversity even if that education came with a steep price.

Judeo-Christian religions taught me about community, love, and sacrifice.

The Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons) taught me the value of volunteer work and cooperation.

Buddhism taught me about compassion and walking the middle path to see through illusions and reduce personal suffering.

Wicca taught me to understand, accept, trust in, and appreciate my connection with the natural world.

Daoism taught me about qi and provided me a path back into my body so that I could start living in the present instead of the past.

All of these different religious and spiritual practices are teaching me other lessons and opening up other paths to explore.

But underneath it all, what I learned and value most from all of these religions and spiritual practices is that they all have one theme in common: UNCONDITIONAL, UNIVERSAL LOVE.

That LOVE is expressed and taught in different ways, but it exists in all of the practices listed above.

Not sure what will happen next, but now is a time for me to be patient and observed.  So, I will catch up with you all Four Sundays from today.

Thanks for reading.

AlterXpressions

Recovery: Dad, family, letters = closure

Short post today. ¬†I don’t have a lot to write about and too many ideas percolating.

Last Thursday, I hand wrote 3 letters and put them in the mailbox for Friday pick up.

  • One letter to my Dad
  • One letter to family I talked to last December
  • One letter to the rest of my mother’s family

Handwritten letters felt more authentic and right than computer printed letters.  A blue mailbox eliminated the need to provide a return address.

It’s been 3 days since I sent the letters. ¬†Yes, I am still scared. ¬†Yes I am not happy about having to send the letters. ¬†Yes I wish I didn’t have to do any of this.

But our lives are going to mix again in the future. ¬†It’s inevitable since I am close to my paternal grandmother. Going back to visit friends and loved ones increases my chances of running into one of them by accident.

And that’s my closure. ¬†I wrote to them; gave them a means to connect if they want it; and kept myself safe so that this life can keep growing and changing.

What does closure mean to you?

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: 14 Lessons Learned

My recovery started in 2014, a couple months before college graduation. ¬†Since then, I‚Äôve been blessed with many mentors and guides along the journey. Here are 14 (of many) lessons Recovery has taught me: People everywhere sometimes say one thing, believe something else, and act on their beliefs more than their words. Self-awareness in our […]

Recovery: Life Lessons from Taking the Mask Off

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.

via 10 Life Lessons I Learned as a Psychiatric Nurse- and Patient ‚ÄĒ takingthemaskoff

Recovery: Writer’s Block, Frustration, Cycles end & begin

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.

Recovery: Does a traumatic past = unhappy or terrible past?

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.

Background

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.

Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4.

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.

The situation

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?

My perspective

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 Рunintentionally or not.

Conclusion

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

Recovery: Trusting the inner self

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.

Why?
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.

Recovery: Thinking about forgiveness

Background

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?

My Thoughts

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.

Why?

  • 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

Conclusion

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.

And learned:

  • 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

Recovery: A Story about Perspective & Goals

Schedule Change this week: I may not be able to post on the regular days due to anniversaries – PLUS ANOTHER LONG POST

The Story

Between January of last year and March of this year, I went through the process of applying to graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). ¬†That & aromatherapy are what I’d like to be my second career, so it seemed like a good thing to do and provide opportunities to meet people in a new city. ¬†Plus, I had been going there for a few months to get treatment at the teaching clinic and really liked the school’s philosophy, training approach, professionalism, etc.

Many of my friends, co-workers, and family members were happy for me. ¬†Almost all of them knew how much I wanted to work in the healing arts and couldn’t take those steps during the first round of college. ¬†I was still scared and worried that my PTSD and DID would get in the way, but I also felt hopeful because everything was different. ¬† Interpersonal communication, socializing, and interacting with people was still difficult. ¬†The fears, panic attacks, and communication issues still existed, but I was ready to face these challenges head on.

I applied for the masters program.  And I persisted even when my application got put aside due to human error/glitch in the admissions department.  My application was accepted, and I was asked to come in for an interview (step 2).  Now, speaking in groups is extremely triggering and scary, not just for me (the host interacting with people), but for everyone in our system.  It brought back a lot of bad memories.

So I coped in the best way I knew: gather information, practice with different people, and focus on what I can control instead of what I can’t control. ¬†Namely, my outfit, accessories, and travel plans. ¬†Then work out a group of coping strategies I could take with me to use. ¬†People who didn’t know me well got the impression that I was not focusing on the important stuff – namely acing my interview questions – and too much on my appearance. ¬†But that’s okay. ¬†Certain forums are NOT the best place for personal confessions. ¬†Not everyone needs to know everything about anything.

The interview was lively with a good flow and many laughs.  They asked the required questions and then some based on the conversation.  Then I asked questions to follow up on some of their comments. But I was brutally honest about all of my personal challenges and possible issues with being in classes and classrooms during the interview.  I felt accomplished about getting through the interview without switching or having a panic attack.

I didn’t expect to get accepted. ¬†Nor did I truly want to be accepted into the program at the time. ¬†Either I would be waitlisted or rejected.

I got wait listed and offered a chance to “sit in” and observe some of the potentially triggering classes; then write an essay about my experiences and have a second interview. ¬†But all of this had to happen before the admissions deadline. ¬†And all of the classes were during the day. ¬†Thankfully, my boss understood and allowed me to change my work schedule for 3 weeks. ¬†It was a great opportunity for me to see if my plan (school and work together) was workable or not.

 

So, I worked, went to acupuncture appointments, went to counseling, blogged, and attended classes for 3 weeks in the spring.  The students and teacher included me in many activities and made me feel like part of the class.  It gave me a perspective I would not have had otherwise and a chance to test myself in a real life situation.

Then came the time for my second interview.  My essay was strictly about experiences related to whether or not I could succeed in a graduate school program in spite of the current challenges.  It did not touch on how I felt or reacted or coped with life in general.  My blog posts touched on that; and in an effort to be transparent and honest, I let the committee members have access to the blog posts during that period too.

The differences in my professional essay to the committee and my blog posts in the same period were glaring and could be misinterpreted by those who don’t understand what it’s like to live on the inside and the outside. ¬†So I explained the differences in the interview.

The blog shares experiences about my whole life (the internal one my alters and I cope with all the time) and all of the recurring coping challenges that come with having PTSD & DID.

The essay focused only on my experiences with the college and whether or not I’d be able to cope with the stress of that and continue my current lifestyle/work.

To reiterate:
What is expressed here on the blog is my whole life including 90% of what people in the outside world DON’T SEE OR KNOW ABOUT ME AND WHAT I HAVE TO COPE WITH ON A DAILY BASIS.

I got rejected for 2017/2018 admissions.

Instead of feeling sad or upset or angry or shamed, I felt happy, grateful, hopeful, and relaxed.

My Perspective & Goals for this Experience

Goal
I went through this process to test my ability to cope and interact with many different kinds of people in a triggering environment full of potential pitfalls.

My learning Style is: Kinesthetic followed by Cognitive
That means I learn best by DOING or PARTICIPATING in the activity or experience followed by Thinking & Processing information I read or learned through all senses.

Like I told the Admissions Committee in both interviews:
My life now is not the same as it was last time I went through graduate school.  I am not the same person then as I am now.  My coping strategies/techniques are different.  My sense of self is different.  My reactions to triggers and stimuli are also different.

HAPPY because I accomplished my goal and learned where I need to improve so that going back to school will be a success

GRATEFUL because the school gave me a unique opportunity to challenge myself and test my skills in a safe, but honest real life situation

HOPEFUL because someday I know that I can and will succeed at graduate school & my second career as long as I work on coping strategies to deal with overstimulation & communication challenges through small steps & successes

RELAXED because now the challenge is over, and I have the information I needed. It was tough, scary, triggering, and full of stress, but also fun, exciting, interesting, and filled with life lessons I am still processing and integrating into the present.

Life Lesson

It’s times like these when Robert Frosts’ poem “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind.

The people who know, love, & accept me as I am might not always understand why I do things the way I do, but they accept that it’s the right way for me and support my choices.

The opposite is true too.

The path we take to recovery & life after surviving trauma is a lot like the road less traveled:
Full of pitfalls, traps, and head-scratching to other people, but exactly right for each and every one of us.

And that’s part of why I write this blog
Everyone deserves to have someone in your corner who values, supports, and accepts them as they are and their choices too. ¬†Someone gave that to me, and it changed my life. ¬†Now I’m grateful to give that to others too.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Temporary Counselor; new beginnings

Confession:

I hate August (the month) and what it makes me feel/remember/think/relive

Epiphanies:

  • Someone once told me (or maybe I read it in different self-help books??) that sometimes people who criticize or complain about my character flaws are actually complaining about ones they have but can’t or won’t admit to having.
  • Especially people who feel less confident or are insecure and want to make the other individual feel worse to feel better about themselves – I learned this is true during my vacation home.
  • What turned me around most about people’s negative comments is that they have a grain of truth in them. ¬†Before I started recovery and therapy to express myself instead of parroting my parents’ and caregivers’ beliefs, I acted that way toward other people.
  • It’s okay to love family from a distance. ¬†Send cards, email, text messages, or voice mail messages on holidays and birthdays. ¬†Maybe a phone call once in a while. ¬†And (rarely) an in-person visit when in the same geographical area. ¬†That keeps the family happy and allows me to maintain my sanity.
  • The people who cause me the most pain and discomfort can be my best teachers as long as I have someone I trust to help me reflect and process the experiences.

Transition:

  • A new home, a real home
  • Cooking and baking
  • A new therapist until my other one comes back from maternity leave
  • A new intern Chinese medicine practitioner
  • A new exercise regimen (trauma sensitive yoga)
  • A different hygiene routine

Conclusion

Sit back and enjoy the ride.  Try not to take anything too seriously.  Use the Back to Basics strategies.  Try not to let backlash take over.  Remember I am safe and happy in my new space.  Accept that my family and I will never be able to spend time together comfortably.  We are too different.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Creating a home

A mobile home

For decades, I carried home inside.  The most important bits (feeling safe, creating a sense of safety, meeting basic needs, self-soothing) were not tied down to anything physical.  That enabled me to de-clutter until only a few boxes of treasures remained and let me leave reminders of my past (with emotional baggage) behind.

The positive

  • Every item in my possession was something I bought for myself
  • Every item carried a positive attachment – emotional, spiritual, physical
  • Every item suited my current lifestyle
  • All items with negative attachments were removed

The negative

  • I never invested making the apartments feel like home
  • I never put down roots
  • I spent a lot of money on moving instead of saving
  • I always worried about finances

A temporary home

Moving to a new state allowed me to change perspective and get out of the vicious moving cycle.  While I hoped that my next place would be my last one, I planned for at least one more move.  Renting an apartment long distance means a lot of unknowns have to be addressed after move-in.  Working remote also has to be taken into consideration.

And living small has different meanings Рminimalist?  tiny house?  micro-apartment? studio?  loft?  one bedroom/bathroom?

Can any of these spaces also fit a home office?

Creating a home

So what does a home look and feel like to me?

Home defined
feels safe; brings joy; allows space for play/relaxation/hobbies; meets physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; and reflects who I am

Wait, what? ¬†How can a home do that? ¬†Tall order, don’t you think?

NO.  Not anymore.

Potential triggers

What do I mean? ¬†Well, 10 years of moving (yikes!?) has shown me that sometimes even spaces that look “right” at first glance or on paper are not.

Ignoring my instincts = unhappy living situation.

Why is this important? ¬†I hope to learn from past mistakes and not let shame or fear triggers guide me into choosing another “wrong” place. ¬†Here are some examples of triggers I ignored in the past:

  • lots of walls – walls remind me of being trapped and enclosed with abusers and perpetrators
  • lots of space – I can’t properly protect and defend myself or my environment without spending a lot of money
  • noisy neighbors or neighborhood – parties, nearby restaurants & bars, highway/street traffic, construction
  • obvious lack of maintenance in apartment and around building – If pests can get in, how safe am I really? ¬†What else can be hidden inside those cracks?

Hope

Before, I didn’t feel like I deserved a real home. ¬†Neither did my alter personalities. ¬†Past experience of “home” did not feel safe. ¬†Redefining the meaning of “home” has been one of our many projects. ¬†Now, all of us feel like we deserve a real home.

Guest/Reader Questions to think about

  • What does “home” mean to you?
  • Is your home “mobile” or “stationary” or “permanent” or “temporary” or “something else”?
  • How do you create a home for yourself?
  • Do you listen to your instincts?

Thanks for reading