Recovery: Re-Defining the Past

Dental work update

My dental surgery (officially called dental rehabilitation) went well.  Mouth and lips are still swollen and a little sore, but nothing terrible.  I’ve only had to take 2 pain pills between Monday and Tuesday.  The most important thing is taking my antibiotics and following the mouth cleaning instructions.

I’m really happy this happened in May.  Too many of my past medical and dental traumatic experiences occurred between March and May.  The body memories and flashbacks increase and everything goes haywire.  If you visit often, you might have noticed this.

By June, I’m back in crisis care mode – trying to come out of the black hole and “fix” the damage from the last few months.  One thing that always flares up is my book addiction.

Yes, I admit it.  I am addicted to reading and purchasing books.  If I could, I’d have a whole room in my house dedicated to my collection.  As it happens, I recently switched to an electronic book library because of all the moves.  Hopefully, my next one will be the last for a while.  Then I can bring my paper books home where they belong.

So what does all of this have to do with re-defining the past?

Simple.

The goal is to substitute negative experiences with positive ones.  This dental surgery went really well.  All of us in the system cooperated.  No one woke up in the middle of the surgery.  No one has gotten really sick or nauseous from the medication.  Other than the swollen lips and jaw, I look relatively normal and feel pretty good.

The landscape inside my mouth has changed.  It feels good and right to have the bits and pieces (i.e. teeth) that were causing trouble finally gone.  And maybe, just maybe, all of us will be able to “start fresh” with dental hygiene.  No more loss of teeth.  No more cavities.  Actually have a healthy mouth and be able to brush/floss/rinse with mouth wash without flashbacks and body memories.

That’s the goal.

And the care routine the dentist has me on brings me one step closer to creating a routine that doesn’t feel like an addiction or a habit.  Instead, it becomes part of my self care regimen.

Yes, I’m playing with semantics (word meaning) here, but sometimes the minor differences mean a lot.  “Regimen” has positive associations for me.  “Routine” or “habit” have negative associations.

So how else do I cope with the body memories and flashbacks?  Especially when I refuse to self-harm anymore and nothing else is working?

I book binge.

Buy books.  Purge books from personal collection.  Borrow books from library.

And read.

Read lots of books whenever I have a moment of free time.  Spend weekends reading – eating, drinking, sleeping optional – and reading.

I speed read certain types of books.  Others take more time until I learn the author’s rhythm.  Or the professional/academic writing style.  Then I can read it faster.

How is Book Binge different from Reading?

Reading for pleasure and education as a hobby is great.  It’s relaxing and distracting and fun.  I get caught up in the world building and the characters, but I can stop at a reasonable time and sleep.

Reading as an obsession or compulsion to relieve anxiety – not so great.  I worry about buying/borrowing the book.  I worry about starting the book.  I can’t wait to finish and skip to the end; then go back and read the rest of the book (sometimes).  I can’t stop reading even when I’m tired and have to work.

Buying books from favorite authors to re-read when I have the money – great use of my discretionary funds.

Buying books from a variety of authors I like, but don’t love, and may never read again to relieve anxiety – not so great and puts me in debt I can’t afford or crowds an overcrowded apartment.

Conclusion

I’m hoping this dental procedure helps re-define a really bad month of flashbacks and body memories by giving me something good to think about and work with when the darkness feels overwhelming.

And maybe by working on this routine, I will feel less compelled to hide inside books.  I will be able to do something besides immerse myself in fantasy worlds created by amazing authors.

And when nothing in my library or the public library holds my attention (I’ve read or re-read the books too many times in the recent past), I can find something else to do besides buy books and finish them in the same day.  Luckily, Amazon.com has an excellent return policy.

How do you re-define your past so it doesn’t affect the present so much?

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Embrace the hate, then let it go

A Truth: I’ve talked a lot about how acknowledging and accepting my feelings has helped me move past many difficult moments in recovery. 

Another truth: I’m afraid of the negative feelings inside me.  I’m afraid to acknowledge them, accept them, validate them because they might just take over and turn me into a monster.

Coping Strategy: Denial

Coping Challenge: Find a substitute

Solution: Do what I did with the positive emotions that scared and overwhelmed me until I got used to them.  Then let the negativity go instead of keeping it as part of my life.

What does that mean: I use a Tibetan meditation practice called Mara to help me sort out my overwhelming feelings and fear when nothing else works.  This practice is something I learned from reading Pema Chodron’s books and listening to her audio books.

During my last Mara meditation, I realized that I was afraid to let the negative feelings out because they might turn me into a monster like my parents or the other perpetrators.  But after the session, those negative feelings didn’t seem so scary.  And the only person I hurt by keeping these feelings inside was myself.

So I’m embracing the hate.

Then I’m letting it go.

Because hatred, violence, pain, meanness, and hurt don’t have a place in my life anymore.

Will I still experience negativity and negative feelings? YES

Will I still experience violence, pain, meanness, hatred, and hurt?  YES

Will that negativity continue to define my life?  I sincerely hope not.

How will I work through this?  One moment at a time with lots of support from loved ones.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: the internal litmus test

Background

How do you feel on the inside?

That question is what my therapist asks me whenever I question a choice, action, or reaction to a triggering event/experience.  She calls it my internal litmus test.

The first time she asked me this question, I was so shocked that my voice dried up.  My brain stopped.  Everything blanked out, and she had to bring me back with grounding questions and comments.  Then she explained how the test worked: if I feel happy and positive about my choice on the inside, it was the right one; if I feel unsure or uncomfortable, the choice could be a mistake and something to learn from; if I feel bad, angry, negative, guilty, etc., it was not the correct choice.

I felt awful about my choice the first time she asked me that question.  As we discussed the whys in session, I started to understand what felt wrong and how to fix the mistake.  No matter my answer, though, the test always works.

The Good

This test helped me work on the following topics:

  • Stop and Think objectively
  • Get perspective
  • Trust my instincts
  • Learn from my mistakes
  • Make alternative plans to correct mistakes
  • Feel compassion for myself
  • Learn to be gentle with myself
  • Listen to my alters as they communicate
  • My alters listen to me as I communicate with them
  • Cooperation

The Difficult

  • This test challenged me:
  • To work with my backlash instead of against it
  • Recognize and ask for help in coping feelings of shame and guilt
  • Discover new ways to use my existing coping skills with backlash instead of falling back on self harm
  • To work with my alters as a team to face  our fears and recovered memories
  • Build my alters’ confidence in communication and switching so they stopped feeling shame every time they came out and defended us from perpetrators, bullies, and people from the past
  • Be assertive and set boundaries for internal and external living to promote a healthy self
  • Let go of toxic relationships without shame and guilt
  • Remove toxic people from our life
  • Not get into relationships with toxic people
  • Be open to reconnecting with family members who are willing to respect my boundaries and build a relationship based on acceptance and respect of who we are now
  • To test present reality against the thoughts and feelings overwhelming my inner self

Conclusion

The internal litmus test is scary and full of potential pitfalls.  It requires honesty and persistence and resilience in shattering the denial and lies that prevents me from moving forward with recovery.  Every time I or one of the alters uses this test, we know that the results are honest and true.  Finally, the test offers us a safe way to experiment with challenging our triggers and monsters within a supportive framework (counselor, coping strategies, respective).

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Safe, Respectful Touch and why it’s so hard to find

An extra post this week…seemed important

Today has been one of those stressful, difficult days when everything seems designed to send a person straight into a panic attack or relapse.  Luckily for me, I had good friends and safety plans in place to help me out.  And I also got the bonus of cuddle time with a canine friend – safe, respectful touch.

Platonic touch.

That brings me to the point of this post.

Many survivors of trauma have a fear of or aversion to touch and physical contact.  I know I do.  And that isolation (touch isolation as termed in the article) hurts.  Safe, respectful touch is considered one of the basic human needs.  I get mine from canine and feline friends, acupuncture/body work, and massage with trusted professionals.  Sometimes friends are allowed to give and receive hugs too, but rarely.

However, there is also another group who is isolated from being able to give and receive safe, respectful touch: males of all ages in our culture/society.

A friend of mine shared this article on Facebook:

How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men

It explains so much in a thoughtful, respectful, compassionate way.  The author is a man writing to both genders about the importance of bringing safe, respectful touch back to society.  Platonic touch that offers affection, caring,  and gentle  without being sexual, aggressive, or violent.  Male to male.  Male to female.  Female to male.  Female to female.

why share now?

I was still feeling low and triggered, trying to find something to help me relax and let go of the shame when this popped up.  I read the comments first.  Then I read the article.  The contents resonated with the vulnerability I felt after dealing with the unexpected stressors.

I empathized with this man and all of the other males in the world who also felt the effects of this isolation.  Through this empathy, I felt validated and connected to a group instead of isolated and alone in thinking this way.

Conclusion

I feel compassion and empathy for anyone who lacks safe, respectful touch in their lives.  Personal experience shows me how much I am missing out on.  Some day, I hope to have that in my life again – with humans and animals.  And I wish for anyone who craves platonic , safe, respectful, affectionate, mutually shared touch among friends and relatives receives it.

How do you indulge your need for safe, respectful touch?

 

thanks for reading

Recovery: not wanting to be pretty or beautiful is okay

Busy day tomorrow so posting early…

iris-apfel-1225701

Introduction

When I first started recovery, I did not want to be pretty or beautiful.  In fact, I went so far as to look as awful as possible on purpose.  Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “attractive” were my version of four-letter curses.  “Stylish”, “fashionable”, and “trendy” were included as I got older.

Growing up, all I received was contradictory information about physical appearances.

On one hand, it was a good thing.  I got lots of attention and compliments.  My parents got compliments and praise.  People gave me leeway when I got into trouble.

On the other hand, it was not so great.  People made assumptions.  They tried to take advantage of me.  And used my appearance as one excuse for abusing me.

Through the Years of Recovery

After a few years of therapy, I think it was with my second therapist, the anorexia and negative body image coping techniques started to resonate.  And I realized that my aversion to certain words was making recovery difficult to impossible.  I had to make peace with the curse words and what they meant to me.

  • That’s how I discovered three important phrases:
  • Body negative (me at the time)
  • Body neutral (what I strove for in that phase of recovery)
  • Body positive (my future goal)

This is where being an avid bookworm and English major in college helped a lot.  My love of words, meaning, and research provided the tools to redefine what “Beautiful”, “pretty”, “attractive” and similar words meant to me.  Took them from having negative and toxic connotations to positive and healthy ones.

The journey started with accepting that I was “plain” or “bland” instead of “ugly” or “gross” at the time.  Skinny, underweight, bad skin, pale, with acne and rashes, ill-fitting clothes worked.  The real goal was “healthy” and to discover what “healthy” meant to me.  If “healthy” meant bad skin, boniness, bloating, and weight gain, I was all for that.

Then came the time I had to accept that weight gain meant “curvy” and “pretty” and “attractive” because the “skin and bones” look was replaced with “slim and strong”.  The bad skin cleared up as my eating habits improved.  And I realized that I didn’t feel safe in my body anymore.  It, my body, was attracting way too much attention.

Time to Hide Again

I went back to wearing frumpy, over sized, ugly clothes mixed with more fitted items underneath.  Except for pants…because I hated wearing belts and wanted my pants to stay up.  But that was the ONLY criterion – that they stay up.  So of course there are many unflattering styles of pants available.  And I indulged in all of them to hide behind.

Only, there’s only so much a person can do to hide when her backside is not straight, flat, or hipless.  Same with her front when the girls are not small anymore and wearing the wrong size causes pain.  I think that was the turning point,  the beginning of moving from viewing myself as “plain” to “attractive” to “pretty” and my body as “unhealthy” and “skinny” to “slim” to “curvy” and “healthy”.

Time to Stop Hiding

Thus began my obsession with body shape, femininity, fashion vs. style, and clothes that fit/felt good/flattered/reflected me.   I discovered the world of blogging.  That was scary.  So much contradictory information.  So many choices.  And so much frustration because nothing ready-made fit me or my body shape without alterations.  And alterations were a trigger.

I went back to my invisibility cloak for a few years.  But then I realized I was in a good place.  I was safe.  I had friends and connections.  I had a job and was financially independent.  I was strong enough to face my body fears.  I was confident enough to be me.

Most important: I wanted people to see the real me;  to have my outsides match my insides.

Present

And that’s when I decided to discover my personal style.  What did that mean?

I wanted to be viewed as beautiful in a timeless, unique way that only people who are comfortable with themselves can be.

It was time to make my insides and outsides match.  That journey started with visiting fashion and style blogs.  Then it moved on to defining what personal style meant to me and how it fit my values, lifestyle, and goals.

2014 marked the beginning of my style journey.  While I look and feel a lot better about my choices, this one will be ongoing.  As I change, my personality changes, my style changes.

Conclusion

I hope this quote from Iris Apfel helps you the way it helped me.  Before watching her documentary on Netflix, I didn’t realize some of the most important words in my life came from a woman who considered “pretty” less than interesting.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: From Survival Mode to Long-Term Care Mode

Survival Mode

Since moving out-of-state, my alters and I have moved out of survival mode.  Most of the every day triggers are gone.  All of us feel emotionally and physically safe here.  We are integrating with each other to create an “I” on the inside and integrating with our new community on the outside.

The coping challenges are different.  The strategies that help are not quite the same either.  We all have more down time between panic attacks and other escalating symptoms now.  No one is worried about maintaining calm and sanity every moment of every day.

None of us feel crazy or insane or bad anymore.  We go for days without major dissociation and lost time.  We can focus better and be slightly more active.  We can cook and do some basic housekeeping with better self-care too.

Present Care Mode

Problem-solving and working on issues that cause problems every day:

  • physical pain from body memories
  • internal body injuries related to spine and muscles
  • digestion problems
  • dental care and rehabilitation
  • lack of energy
  • mild agoraphobia
  • hygiene

These issues focus on different kinds of strategies and self-care that have not yet been explored on this blog.

The other issues and mental coping strategies will not be ignored or abandoned.

If at any time someone wants me to re-visit a mental coping strategy or some other issue, please let me know in the comments.

But there will be more focus on strategies and techniques for physical coping and related issues as our recovery moves to different phases.

Some of the issues being discussed this year include:

  • Pain management without medicine
  • Chiropractic medicine
  • Massage therapy
  • Financial planning and strategies for repayment
  • Dental-related coping strategies
  • Working to find providers with and without insurance
  • Oral hygiene in spite of panic attack level triggers
  • And planning a timeline for all of this to happen before I go back to graduate school

Conclusion

I am grateful for my job, my co-workers and colleagues, my early lessons in financial planning and debt repayment, and medical/dental insurance.  I am grateful for a support network of mental health and physical health providers that will expand this year.  And I am grateful for you guests who visit this website and blog.

You are part of a different kind of support network and community that I never thought I could be part of.

And while many of you might wonder how advanced planning and being financially savvy are coping techniques for physical and body related issues, I do know how important knowledge in both areas are from personal experience.  Maybe these tips and experiences will help.  Maybe not.

All I ask is that you read with an open mind.  Use what helps, and ignore the rest.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: How Feeling Safe Changes Perspective

This could also go under life-changing moments, but I prefer it here.

Not a long post because still processing and learning to use coping strategies effectively.

Main Point

Feeling safe can change perspectives and long-held beliefs about oneself and one’s relationships with others.

First Change

Recovering memories from body and mind; then piecing them together with help from alters via dreams and nightmares.

Second Change

Interacting with the outside world more as my real self and with less dissociative experiences even in high stress situations.

Third Change

Allowing family back into my life on a limited basis; and through those blood relations, my parents and sibling are back too.

Fourth (and last on this list) Change

The beginnings of an integration where all alters work together as a single unit and allow our body to heal/become/look the way it’s supposed to look based on genetics and a higher power.

What does this mean?

I feel confident and able enough to protect myself from anything my parents or younger sibling might try.

The danger is not so much from my parents as from acquaintances and community members whose identities I don’t remember except in nightmares.

My biggest challenges have to do with facing my fears and triggers without using dissociation as my automatic coping strategy.

Conclusion

I am in a new phase of recovery.  I don’t have any reference points, past experience, or internal guides to start with.  My go-to strategies are dissociate and avoid.  They don’t work anymore.

But something must be going right.  I’m still alive and sane.

Step by step.  Moment by moment.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery:Uncertainty in a new phase of recovery

Not sure how others receive information about their past, but mine come in a few ways.  The main ones are: dreams/nightmares, flashbacks, & body memories.

The PTSD makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the automatic reactions that get triggered each time I remember something.

The DID makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the way my brain developed and learned to store memories, sensation, & experiences.

Back in my old living area, I was constantly bombarded by triggers and memories.  It was all my therapist and I could do to keep me relatively sane and focused on the present instead of spiraling out of control.  I never truly felt safe there and could not move on to work on other aspects of recovery even though I was ready to do so.  Every time I tried, the flashbacks and dreams and body memories bombarded me with warnings.

Now, in my new living area, I am safe to delve into these memories, work on pain management and merging the fragmented sensations from body memories, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks into whole memories of my past.  I am physically and emotionally safe here.  I can go outside and walk around any time.  I can use public transportation without fear of getting harassed.

I can shop at stores and know that bad service is because of the individual’s issues and not my past.  I can reconnect with safe family members.  I can enjoy hobbies and practice self care that was impossible before.  I can let my body heal and look the way nature intended for it to look instead of how my past molded it.

But with all of that comes learning how to cope with the shame and fear and distress that comes from confronting those triggers.  My tool box is full of options.  I’m learning new ones all the time just by observing how people interact with each other in real life.  Did I mention that people-watching is one of my favorite things to do?

The struggle now is learning how to utilize my toolbox for these new and different challenges.  It’s like starting from square 1 all over again.

So the posts here will continue to be about the same topics, but the perspective will continue to change as my journey changes.  Thanks for reading and understanding.

Recovery: When the secret life is not so secret anymore

Yesterday was difficult.  I had to work hard to concentrate on finishing work and projects for the week while my mind swirled with memories and feelings.

Today was difficult because I talked with my cousin about future plans.  Plans that recalled memories and experiences that were hidden for a long time.  Memories and experiences I would have thought were hallucinations or nightmares or deja vu before I started therapy with a trauma specialist.

Now, I’m trying to reconcile that secret life with my other life, the one I lived in broad daylight, and my current life.  The nerd, the warrior, the woman who is both.  The “good girl”, the “rebel”, the woman who defies labels.  The fighter/the runner.  The raging monster who hurts people/the defender who can’t stand to see herself or others crushed under the pain of being put down all the time.

A good girl doesn’t do drugs, smoke, drink while underage, have sex without a commitment, listen to certain kinds of music, steal, etc.  I don’t and never have stolen anything.  As for the rest, it wasn’t voluntary.  But I did all of those things before I hit puberty.  Does that make me a bad girl?  Or a rebel?  And does choosing not to smoke or use drugs or have sex anymore once I could make my own choices make me a born-again virgin or good girl?  Does being able to fight make me tough?  Does being a pacifist make me a coward?  Does having a temper make me a monster?  Does not having control over my body make me weak?  Am I crazy because I feel so conflicted?

I want my body back.  My body wants me back.  All parts of me want to be physically active again.  We want to be able to fight in the daylight and use our nerd skills in the shadows.  And combine everything to combat the darkness threatening to pull us under.  I want to stop using food to hurt myself.  I want to stop using people to hurt myself.  I want to start exploring my true likes and dislikes.  I want to finish my projects so that my obligations are fulfilled and I can move on.

More than anything else, I want my secret life to shine in the light, unhidden and acknowledged with pride instead of shame.  My parts and I, we did what was necessary to survive.  We accomplished incredible feats together.  And those parts of me deserve the acceptance, respect, honor, compassion, trust, and welcoming that was refused to them before.  What they did kept us alive; taught us skills we needed to get through high school and college; helped us stay on track when the depression and suicidal thoughts tried to get us killed; and cut through the bullshit of family pressure and denial to keep us safe as adults.

And now that I’ve reconciled with one side of my family, the other side is hopeful that I might reconcile with them too.  But the relationships between me and each side of my family is different.  My experiences with them are different.  I am still so mad at some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins that I honestly don’t think I can speak with them again without letting the hurt loose on them.  I forgave those people when I forgave myself years ago.  I understand why they said and did what they said and did back then.  But I don’t want that in my life now either.

And there’s no guarantee that walking back into the fire will  have a different outcome.  That those family members have changed their opinions of me and will treat me differently.  Or that they are trustworthy to keep my secrets.

And that is the origin of my trust issues.  I am suspicious of everyone except the few people who have proven themselves to me.  Letting people in is difficult.  Balancing my need for solitude and privacy with socializing and valuing connections with people gives me a headache too.

So I am conflicted.  I am confused.  I am grieving.  And I feel so much that sometimes I go numb.  And when the dam bursts, my feelings explode.  And there are consequences to that too.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.  Thanks for your patience and for reading my post.

Recovery: Reflecting on Friendship

This is (for me) a short post.  500 words or less including these sentences.

Any kind of abuse makes trust difficult.  Being surrounded by people not your age during childhood and adolescence makes connecting with peers difficult.  Being abused by teens and adults makes connecting with older people difficult.  Being bullied by peers and younger people makes socializing and putting myself “out there” difficult.

Can you see the connections?

When I moved to the new city, I planned on making acquaintances – people to chat with and talk to in every day life – but not friends for the first year or so.  Socializing is not high on my list of priorities.

Safety, solitude, learning the city and how people here interact are my priorities.
Someday, I plan to make friends, go out more, socialize and interact.
Someday, I will go out more and stay home less.
Someday, I will feel confident about interacting with people.

But not today.  And not tomorrow.

The few friends I have, the few people I do know here are wonderful people.  They have established routines and friendships and social circles.  Through them, I meet a variety of people and opportunities to participate in events that would not have been on my radar even a month ago.

So why reflect on this now?

The topic of friends and “knowing” people came up recently in a conversation.  I call 1 person friend here and have met members of her family; people I am slowly including in my circle.  These people I go out with and socialize with a few times a month.  The other person lives here part time, so we will meet up when she gets back.

I guess I didn’t expect the person who told me to invite “my other friends” to the public event to be surprised when I said that I only know him and his wife.  It’s been about 3 or 4 months since I moved here.  But he was surprised.  And I didn’t feel like explaining my lack of friends at the time.

Before anything else, though, I want to feel safe and comfortable in my neighborhood.  I want to feel like I belong and am part of the community before opening myself up.  But, most important, I want to be able to walk outside, talk with a variety of different people, and pass by people without feeling the prickles of dissociative anxiety coming on.

I still feel scared right now.  The memories come fast and furious.  Too many new things all at once.  And a schedule that’s not a schedule.

So, routine first.  Socializing next.  Then, maybe, friendships later.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: celebrating the small steps

A couple weeks ago, I went to the dentist for the first time in over 10 years.  I was so scared that I shook on my way to the dentist’s office.  It turned out to be a very pleasant interaction.  I left feeling excited and hopeful for the first time in a long time.  I even bought a new tooth brush.

Well, I did not start brushing right away.  That felt like too much at first.  All I and my alters wanted was to relax and cope with the backlash and triggers of going to a dentist before anything else.  But Monday brought a surprise, and the brushing began again.  This time with a new toothbrush head (we all really love the type with disposable toothbrush heads instead of having to buy a new toothbrush every few months) and the recommended toothpaste.

The dentist suggested starting with 1x a day brushing and see how that works.  She also said be very gentle and brush downwards over the surfaces to remove plaque; nothing else for now.

Today is the 7th day in a row that we have brushed our teeth 1x a day without serious side effects or an increase in symptoms.

I still can’t look at my teeth.  Neither can the alters.  Nor can any of us watch the brushing take place.  We set everything up and  then brush with eyes closed.  Not until the toothbrush is out of our mouth and we are ready to spit/rinse do our eyes open.  And only because no one wants to miss the sink and clean up the mess.

This accomplishment has led to many other small steps being completed since the last post.  And has helped counterbalance the negative experience from last Wednesday.

What small steps can you celebrate?

Thanks for reading!

Recovery: The search continues

IMG_7594

I met with another potential counselor yesterday.  The session went well, but we both have concerns about travel and consistency for continued care.  So I am thinking and still working with my other therapist over the phone.

Later, I met with people who run a non-profit tai chi organization.  Their building is across the street from this counselor’s current office.  The people were nice and welcoming.  The class was low-key; the cost for joining fit within my budget even with extra for transportation.  The organization’s values are consistent with my personal ones.

Everyone in the system wants to join.  And we all want to run away and pretend we never sat and observed, never drank tea and conversed with compassionate, caring people; never swayed and moved in the chair along with the practitioners; never remembered watching and following our uncle practice during childhood.  The shame of remembering joy and peace from practicing tai chi with my uncle and other people who practiced in Chinatown when I visited my grandparents almost made me cry in front of these people.

I want to sign up.  I want to practice again.  I want to learn and be part of this compassionate, caring community.  But I’m scared.  I feel like by doing this I am running back into the experiences that broke me the first time.  And the second.  And the third.  Can I separate the abuse from the act of practicing tai chi?

And earlier today, I had training at work.  One of the participants is the person who caused me so much trouble over the Christmas holiday.  He heard my name and got really silent.  The tension was palpable over the phone conference.  And then I heard him yelling in the background.  But after that, things calmed down and became professional again.

But I was left triggered, trying to pay attention and participate, then leave and go back to work without crying and passing out from the headache.  A short break and lunch helped.  So did playing mahjong on my tablet.

The fear and shame came back again when I answered a call from the dentist’s office.   I am afraid of dentists.  I hate my mouth, my teeth, and everything associated with them.  It’s one part of my body that I have not been able to separate from my trauma or care for consistently.  But I’m going to a dentist in 1 week for the first evaluation in almost 10 years.

Now, the headache is still with me.  I have tears in my eyes.  The shame is overwhelming.  The internal conflict makes me dizzy.  Do this or that?  Go this way or that way?  Use this strategy or that one?  Eat or not eat?

I wish I could be positive right now.  I wish I could tell you that my tools will work, and I will be ok.  But I am not sure if the tools will work.  And lying is not part of my lifestyle anymore.

I will tell you  that I am going to be ok.  Because I am.  And so are my alters.  We are resilient, flexible, patient, and strong.  And persistent or stubborn.  So yes, the depression and shame and sadness are overwhelming.  The pain is at level 9+ right now.  And everything feels like too much.

But, one moment at a time.  That’s all I have to get through.  One.  Moment.  At. A. Time.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: An article about Positive Self-Talk and Body Image

Background

I don’t often share information that can be linked directly back to the rest of my life.  As much as I enjoy blogging here and sharing resources on the website, I am compulsive about maintaining my safety and privacy too.  But some incidents happened in one of the private Facebook groups I belong to that had a rippling negative effect the rest of us are still recovering from.

The group owner/moderator wrote the following article in response to one member’s negative, bullying, and abusive comments towards others via the groups, email, and private messages.  It’s an amazing and beautiful article about how the messages we tell ourselves and internalize have an impact in how we treat others too.  And while this message is written about style from a female perspective, the contents apply to males struggling with self-esteem and body image issues too.

Personal Style as a Positive Coping Strategy for Body Image and Self Esteem

That said, I want to share an article from one of my favorite role models and bloggers whose style programs and free information have helped me learn to love and embrace my unique body through positive self talk and personal style.

This is the link: How Your Language Impacts Profoundly On Your Style

This is her blog: Inside Out Style Blog

I joined her programs a little over a year ago when I decided to stop hiding / being invisible.  She introduced me to a new way of thinking about myself, my body, my appearance, my sense of self and how all of this is represented in the clothes and accessories I wear through Evolve Your Style and 7 Steps to Style.  Both programs also introduced me to groups of amazing women and female role models who have become friends and part of a world-wide support network.

Conclusion

Through the kind words and examples in blog articles and comments on posts, I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and others.  Positive self talk is more than encouraging statements and affirmations that one might not believe when feeling negative.

Positive self talk is as simple as saying: I am doing the best I can right now, and that’s ok.

I hope you all click on the link and give this article a chance.  The author is a survivor like us and speaks from a perspective of compassion and strength.

Thank you for reading.

 

Recovery: Resilience means more than bouncing like a rubber ball

Introduction

Throughout my recovery, many people praised or derided me for my resiliency.  I thought I knew what they meant about being a resilient person.  But I didn’t.  In my mind, resilience was just a word people used to describe how flexible and malleable I was.  Flexible meaning I was easily manipulated.  Malleable as in I was a doormat without my own thoughts who could be taken advantage of and treated carelessly and used.  They compared me to a rubber chicken, Gumby, a rubber ball who always bounced back, a puppy with too much energy – that was resilience.

And resilient meant weak, not strong, in my family.

But resilience is not weak.  Flexibility does not equal doormat.  Malleable does not mean easily taken advantage of or manipulated.  And bouncing back is not an indication of stupidity.

So what is Resilience?  And why is it so important to recovery?

Resilience is a mix of characteristics and values that allow a person to learn from experiences and move forward with knowledge and perspective.  Resilience means learning:

  • When to keep going
  • When to stop and think (reflection and perspective)
  • When to change one’s mind and try something else (not failure, making choices)
  • When to make the mistake and use the experience to try from a different angle
  • When to say no in spite of pressure to say yes
  • When to say yes in spite of pressure to say no
  • When to hold on
  • When to let go
  • How to accomplish all of this when drowning shame, guilt, fear, doubt, or negativity get in the way

Recovery is like growing pains.  It hurts a lot, feels overwhelming, and trips you up when everything finally seems to be going right.  

Two steps forward; one step to the right; three steps left, two steps backward; five steps forward…who knows what will happen next or how to make progress?

Every survivor is resilient because:

  • He is still alive
  • She fell and got up again
  • He stopped counseling; got into a bad place; started counseling again
  • She is still alive
  • He tried to reconcile with his family and had to walk away again
  • She relapsed; reached out for help; and accepted it
  • He failed a class in spite of hours with the tutor and extra help sessions; took the class with a different teacher and different set of people; passed; and didn’t have to take the final
  • She said no and fought back long enough to escape and get help; then took martial arts and self-defense classes only to become an expert trainer who volunteers at shelter for trauma survivors
  • Two friends walked away from each other after a surviving a car wreck that almost killed them and did permanently injure 4 others.  Years later, one reaches out to the other, and they start a respectful dialogue; their friendship blossoms and stays strong

What resilience means to me

I make mistakes.  I learn from my mistakes.  

I can be flexible like steel and break under too much pressure.  Or I can be flexible like grass and bend one way or the other until the pressure passes.

I can let fear win and be a medicated vegetable.  Or I can get up every time I fall and try another way to keep on going.

  • Every experience has value and can teach me a lesson that will help in the future
  • Failure means I got stuck and need to rethink the solution
  • Regrets mean I still have something to learn from the experience
  • I forgive, but never forget
  • My past comes back to remind me of lessons learned so I can make better informed choices now
  • A flexible mind helps me understand someone else’s perspective and be a more thoughtful person
  • Malleable means I can set safe boundaries and change them to suit who I am now
  • I shape the world around me instead of letting the world shape me
  • When no one listened to me talk, I started writing and didn’t stop

If you’re reading this, you are resilient too.  

And thanks for reading.

 

Recovery: Invisible Strength

Background

Today is the 4th and second hardest anniversary in May.  As I think about getting ready for bed and how I can face the nightmares hovering at the edge of my awareness, I remember what the hotline counselor told me earlier – you are strong, strong enough to cope with this – in different words and different ways throughout the conversation.

I called because I had some chores to do that I had been putting off and was scared because I felt unsafe and frustrated.  Unsafe because doing those chores triggered memories of my mother and aunts.  Frustrated because those triggers also brought back memories of more recent experiences that made me feel unsafe too.  As I shared my feelings and the experiences behind them, the connections were revealed.

This (experience or event) reminded me of that (seemingly unrelated experience or event) because I felt the same way both times and reacted instinctively even if I used different coping strategies to work through each experience.  And each experience or event past or present brought out emotions and memories of similar ones.  Together, the counselor and I untangled the connections enough for me to understand why I was scared and make 2 plans, one for tonight and one for later this week.

Why am I sharing this?

I am sharing because that conversation reminded me that every survivor of trauma, no matter what kind, has invisible strength.

By invisible, I mean not always apparent, recognizable, or appreciated by “normal” people, but always recognized and valued by others with shared experiences or on the recovery path.

What does Invisible Strength mean?

Invisible strength is getting up every morning and doing one act of self care in spite of the previous night’s setbacks.

Invisible strength is talking about the scary secrets and acknowledging what happened in spite of fear and possible rejection and accusations of being a liar or worse.

Invisible strength is relapsing and getting up to start recovery again no matter how much time has passed.

Invisible strength is knowing that you have to make difficult choices and choosing the best ones for yourself even if that means breaking away from everything familiar.

Invisible strength means using whatever coping strategies you have to in order to get through the moment and forgiving yourself for doing something that induces shame.

Invisible strength means accepting that you can’t change other people, your environment, or their thoughts about you while also knowing that their thoughts and choices and failures and problems are not your fault.

Invisible strength comes from doing what you know is right for you even if no one else accepts or approves of your choices.

For me right now, invisible strength means:

  • I can love and accept and forgive my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and relatives in spite of their abuse and still not want them in my life.
  • I can let other aunts, uncles, and cousins who are willing to meet me part way and develop new relationships based on who we are now slowly back into my life as long as we respect each others’ boundaries.
  • I can feel compassion for my parents, brother, relatives, and other abusers and the experiences that made them who they are without shame or guilt
  • I can accept that part of what they did was not their choice or within their control, but other parts of it were and hold them responsible for their past words and actions without blaming them.
  • I can learn to accept that my feelings of shame and guilt come from fear and learned behaviors that are not my responsibility
  • I can finally recognize that connecting with “normal” people will always be difficult because I am not willing to settle for shallow or insincere relationships – whether friendship, familial relationship, intimate relationship, etc. – with people who I cannot trust or respect on a basic level.
  • I can face the fact that not many people are as “strong” as I am and that my “strength” can feel intimidating to others whose values and ethics do not align with mine.
  • I am not willing to settle for an intimate relationship with a man who is not my equal in values or invisible strength – someone I feel safe and comfortable with, respect, like, and trust not to hurt me on purpose or use his knowledge about me to manipulate or control me; someone who feels safe and comfortable, respects, likes, and trusts me not to hurt him on purpose or use my knowledge about him to manipulate or control him.
  • I may never find my dream man in this life time.
  • I could find my dream man in this life time.
  • I may never have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I could have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I hope and dream that my next life will be different from this one – free from abuse and trauma, but not the ups and downs of sadness, joy, pain, serenity, good health, and freedom that come from living.
  • I am grateful for this second chance at life in spite of all the challenges that slow me down

Thanks for reading.