Coping Challenge: Being Myself In Spite of Backlash

Introduction

I’ve been in therapy for 11 years.  The first 3 years, I worked with a psychologist who helped me rebuild my foundations, but also made me feel like I was crazy because she did not believe in trauma and abuse.  We parted ways after I realized a) she wasn’t helping anymore; and b) trying to fit sessions in between grad school and work was impossible.

The next 4 years were spent with an LICSW who specialized in eating disorders and anxiety.  She flat out told me that she did not work with trauma and was willing to help with the other stuff if I was ok with that.  I agreed, and we had a great relationship until the trauma got worse in 2009.  From her, I learned the tools to manage emotions and triggers that caused relapses in anorexia.  She also helped me learn to improve my self-confidence and feelings of self worth in spite of the pressure from outside sources to go back to what I was.

The past 5 years have been about understanding and learning to cope with my trauma history.  That meant remembering, coping with anxiety and overwhelming feelings, working through shame, setting boundaries, and ensuring my safety.  It mean accepting that PTSD and DID were part of my identity now.  It meant acknowledging I was a victim of domestic violence and other abuse.  It meant acknowledging I was a survivor who did what was necessary to get through hell.  It also meant making the choice to be me with all of my weirdness and quirky characteristics and alternate personalities or be part of a family system that hurt and abused me.

The Event

When I decided to separate from my family and disappear, I didn’t know it would lead me to where I am now.  The first two years were all about making sure they couldn’t contact me (phone, email, work, home).  The third year was about trying to feel safe where I lived in spite of people from my past continuing to stalk and harass me.  That is when I started the process to change my name and move out of the city.  This past year has been about not hiding anymore.

Part of the not hiding goal was to develop a personal style so that my outside (physical appearance) self matched my inside self.  I wanted to show myself in my appearance; be me and have that reflected in my clothing choices, accessories, etc.  Because wearing clothes that fit and feel comfortable are stepping stones to rebuilding confidence in self image and appearance – two parts of myself that were taken away a long time ago through hate and shame.

My genetic history blessed me with looking physically beautiful and having an attractive body.  Not hiding anymore meant I’d be getting a lot of unwanted and triggering attention.  But hiding wasn’t an option anymore.  Wearing ugly clothes and playing down my physical appearance made me feel awful.  The journey to finding my style started in April of this year with a personal style program and is ongoing.

The not-hiding part was completed last week when I attended the company holiday party in a stylish and comfortable outfit that brought out my inner confidence and personality.

Post-Event Backlash

And I know I had a good time, that all of this was real, because of backlash the next day.  Started with a dreamless sleep that left me waking up in terror.  Continued with a moderate headache and lots of distraction at work.  Culminated with knots and lumps inside no matter what coping strategies I and the alters employed on the way home.

Once we got home, the urge to self-harm came back.  And nothing we tried could make the compulsion ease or go away.  The flashbacks, the memories, the shame knocked us out.  Talking to a counselor on the hotline helped a lot.  We walked through the feelings to understand where the trigger came from.  Then she helped me create a safety contract.

Coping

We were expecting backlash.  We were not expecting the compulsions for self-harm or the flashbacks.  It didn’t happen at the previous holiday party.  Why would it happen this time?  And how come everything we tried was necessary but not sufficient?

The list of coping strategies for this backlash goes as follows:

  • Distraction – books, music, work, Facebook style groups, chatting with co-workers and friends, cooking, playing games, making budget and shopping strategies for next year
  • Self-Care – doing one of the style challenges for the day; remembering to eat all of my meals and drink fluids; putting on chapstick; taking walks; laughing with a friend; downloading books; wearing comfortable shoes; going in to work later and staying later to make up time
  • Self-Soothing – eating chocolate; drinking juice and bubbly water; enjoying flavors that remind me of happy times; wearing clothes that felt good against my skin; staying warm and dry; getting enough rest; going to safe spaces in our mind
  • Emotion regulation – sitting with my feelings; acknowledging the turmoil inside and letting it pass; listening to my alters share stories and movies; laughing with them as we used lucid dreaming to change scary nightmares into successful adventures; identifying and naming our feelings; doing the opposite of how we feel to change our thoughts
  • Comfort – cuddling with stuffed animals; playing dress up; wrapping up tight in a blanket; listening to nature sounds; keeping in touch with close friends
  • Asking for help – when all else fails, reaching out for extra support from people who understand trauma and are willing to offer help

Lesson Learned

Not hiding feels great.  But the reasons for hiding still exist.  The shame and fear that caused us to hide hasn’t gone away.  And now the memories are back with clarity that comes from hindsight.  That means more change, more unsettled feelings, and more coping challenges.  Someday, though, this will get easier.

That belief, the hope that coping will get easier as I move on, keeps all of us going.

 

Recovery: Matching my Inside and my Outside Part 3

Connecting it all

For me and the alters in our system, matching my insides and outsides means developing, strengthening, and expressing who I really am from the inner foundations to the outer physical representations the rest of the world uses to judge people.

I did not start to heal from past hurts until I was able to figure out who I was and what I valued.  The answers to those two questions became the foundation for who I am now.  Without them, I would not have had the courage to accept my alters; let alone leave my family and start fresh in another city.

Lies by themselves are neutral.  I truly believe that because words without context and emotions lack coherent meaning.  Even neutral though, lies can cause more damage than help.  Deception means hiding, causing misdirection on purpose and indicates a lack of trust in some part of the relationship.

“I don’t want to hurt his/her/your feelings” means I don’t trust you / me to respect or accept my honest feelings and opinions about the topic; answers to the question.  Or I am afraid you are going to be insulted  and mean to me if I am honest so I will tell you what you want to hear.  Or I don’t really care about you and am going to tell you something to hurt you and make me feel better because I pulled one over you.  Or I can’t let you feel good about anything because your happiness is a threat to me; you are competition and have to be put down so I feel powerful and stay in control of you.  You are not allowed to have confidence and your own opinions because I own you and am in control of you; you are not a person.  You are everything I hate about myself in another body.

That is how I was raised.  That is the story of my childhood, adolsecent, and young adult experiences with everyone in my world at the time.  It is how I believed everyone interacted with everyone else until I got to college.

And acting like that; telling those lies; being who I was expected to be instead of who I was made me ashamed of myself.  The self-hatred and anger were so strong that I started punishing myself in elementary school.  By middle school, I had full-blown anorexia nervous and had attempted suicide twice.  Once by starvation.  Once by suffocation.The last time I attempted suicide and almost succeeded was in college, just after I turned 21 and before I started sessions with the first therapist.

She helped me learn to like and respect myself by finding ways to allow me the freedom to live my values.  I stopped lying on purpose that year.  The only exception being for survival.  Even though I hated myself for lying to survive and punished myself afterwards, I still lied to stay alive.  

Eleven years later, I can honestly say that I love myself and all of my parts.  And I don’t punish myself for lying to survive as often.  Some day that will become “do not punish anymore”

Coping is difficult when the negativity and doubts being you down.  

Recovery feels impossible as long as you feel like you don’t deserve it.

But you do deserve recovery.  So do I.  So does every survivor of any kind of trauma. 

This is my idea of recovery:

To live a full life on my terms.  No one else’s.  To thrive and not let my past make present and future decisions for me.

That dream is what I want for all survivors too.  So I share my personal struggles with wanting to be a genuine person 100% of the time with every individual and still protect myself.

What about you?

Coping Strategy: Affirmations About Anger

Some of my favorite affirmations come from Louise Hay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I accept myself and all that I am.

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

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

Recovery & Life After Recovery

Who am I?

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

What is recovery, and what does it mean?

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

What does life after recovery mean?

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

So why this blog now?

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

The Reader’s Digest Version:

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