Series: 2017 Reflections Part 2

Facing Past Fears

This year, I spent 3 months living in emotionally and verbally abusive situation beyond my control.  3 months because that’s how long it took to acknowledge the truth of my situation, go through the proper steps, and find the courage to get out of the situation using legal and banking resources.  The two individuals involved in this situation acted and treated me like the female figures in my past – maternal, care-taking, educational, authoritative, peers, and bullies.

Before this, in spite of all the work I’ve done to heal and trust outsiders, I’ve never really shaken the belief that I don’t deserve help from legal services, government, financial services, etc. or that asking for such help is a viable option.

The deal is done.  I spoke with the attorney.  He listened to my story; reviewed the documentation, and agreed to help me.  Within 1 day, the letter was written, lease broken, and freedom on the horizon.  The financial situation is not asa good as I want, but a bank loan will help with that.  Fingers crossed that the loan goes through in time, so I can make the necessary payments.

2018 Resolutions & Goals

This year’s resolution is simple.  It’s five words:

Gratitude

Compassion

Acceptance

Love

Forgiveness

What this means…

Live, laugh, prosper in safety and good health.
Not just for me, but for my loved ones, my enemies, and others in this world.

Be vulnerable and my authentic self as often as possible
No matter how much it hurts.  No matter what challenges I face.  Because in finding and expressing my authentic self at all times, all parts of me integrate and work together as on whole person no matter the stress or triggers or whatever that comes my way.

Work towards improving my physical health
untangle the connection that confuse pain with any other sensation I feel when moving or active.  Then maybe start biking and feel more physically confident to travel and do things.  Accept and view my body in a positive way instead of a neutral way.  To not automatically connect my physical body and appearance with my past and instead connect it with my present.

Feel more comfortable with being an adult female and accepting aspects of my personality related to the trauma aka sexuality
I’ve abstained from sexual contact for almost 18 years and have no desire to try it again any time soon.  But I’d like to be able to acknowledge and accept my sexuality without being triggered or automatically connecting sexuality to abuse.  I’d like to feel comfortable in my own body/skin, accept my appearance in a way that is body positive instead of body neutral.

What are your resolutions and goals for 2018?

Thanks for reading

Quotes & Affirmations: Empathy & Acceptance

Last post I shared a quote from Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh featuring the heroine. This post’s quote is from the hero, Jason.

Why?

I’m sharing this for many reasons, but mostly because it’s important for my male guests to feel included and acknowledged too. He says this to Mahiya after misjudging her actions early in their relationship.

“I apologize.  I do not know anything of the battles you’ve already fought or the choices you’ve had to make to survive”

Because Jason, like Mahiya, is an adult angel who has lived a long time (approx. 700 years according to the book).  He’s also a survivor of trauma.  In this world, angels do not become adults until about 200 years.  Under 100 years  angels are still considered children/pre-adolescent and look that way too.

Can you imagine a young child with wings too big for his or her body just learning to fly?  Can you imagine growing up on a remote island with only your parents?

Then one day both of your parents are dead.  You survived because your mother hid you, told you to stay quiet until she came for you.  But she didn’t come back.  And as a child, you had to survive alone until your body was physically able to fly all the way back to the angel stronghold where children are raised.

Does that make Jason bitter?  Does that close hi off from feelings?  Does it allow him to also feel empathy?  Does it along with natural talents make Jason a natural at his chosen profession – spymaster?

Here is the final quote from Jason.  Maybe it will answer the questions above.  Maybe not.  If you want to know more than the spoilers here, please read the book.

You’re not hard enough for such a task” – almost gentle words – “and I honor the strength it must’ve taken to fight the bitterness, to refuse to allow your heart to petrify to pitiless stone.”

Because Jason is afraid that exact thing has happened to him after so many centuries alone.

Like Jason and Mahiya, I sometimes fear that my anger and shame will take over and turn me into the perpetrators and predators who raised me.  I fear that my inability to connect with people face to face is a sign of permanent damage that marks me as something less than human.  Unworthy of healthy relationships, a job I love, and a life full of joy.

Then I remember that I survived.  That I have healthy, happy relationships with people who love, value, and accept me as I am.  That these people are my family and friends; people I love, value, and accept as they are.  That there is hope because recovery takes a long time.

And for every person that gives in to the bitterness, there is another who chooses love.  The feelings come so intensely, they feel like they’ll never go away.  But the feelings do go away eventually.  Acknowledgment and acceptance each time the feelings appear helps them feel less intense and go away faster.

So, I will be like Jason too.  He survived 700 years before meeting the one woman who helped him find joy again.  I can survive this cycle of intense feelings too.

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

Life Changing Moments: Self-Acceptance

A Panic Attack Makes the Difference

After Wednesday’s post I had a panic attack and felt very frustrated with myself.  On the one hand, I was happy that I followed through on the personal challenge to socialize, be friendly, and show all parts of myself to everyone I met.  On the other hand, I felt upset and overwhelmed because the cultural and social norms are so different than anything I am used to dealing with.  Talking feels so frustrating sometimes.  And the discomfort of when to speak or not to speak and how much or little gets confusing.  But I wasn’t upset with anyone on the outside – my friends and family, the people in my neighborhood – because they are who they are and speak/behave as they will.

No I was upset with myself for falling into the pit again.  I gave myself a year to experiment with “fitting in” in this new place.  I would observe and follow the local customs as best as possible while also staying true to myself and letting people really “see” me.  Not an easy task, but something that did happen over time.  Without the cloud of my past hanging over my head, I learned to separate different kinds of triggers and how to cope with some better than others.

Hence the panic attack.  People and environmental triggers still send me into flashbacks that distort my perceptions of reality.  Sometimes I am aware of this, and sometimes I am not.  When I am aware, I usually stay inside and avoid people/circumstances that will make things worse.  When I am not aware, I use the complicated experiences as teachable moments to help for next time and hope that whatever happened did not destroy any budding positive relationships.  This time though, I still went out and interacted with people I thought were safe – i.e. friends who knew about my past and accepted the differences in my worldview as I did theirs – in different social situations.

Ever hear of the phrase “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”?

Well that’s kind of how I feel right now.

I chose to open up and see what would happen.  I chose to believe people when they said that I could be all of myself around them – including asking for help when I felt panic, anxiety, or triggering in public/social situations – without judgement.  I chose to take these people up on their offers to help me with issues of perception and understanding social situations.

And I chose to ask them for help when something like this did happen.

So why do I feel so shamed and upset with myself for other people’s inability to accept that my perceptions and worldview are different?

And why do I continue to try to explain a situation to a close minded individual who holds up past examples of why she or he is correct and only hears what supports that belief?

Why get myself into these traps with people?

  • Because I care.
  • Because those traps are triggering and remind me of  the convoluted, crazy-making conversations from my past even though they are not the same.
  • Because even though arguing hurts, sometimes it has to be done. The consequences coped with like any other trigger or anxiety situation.
  • And because I don’t want these people thinking something wrong about me – they are friends or acquaintances close to becoming friends – because of something I didn’t understand or a social faux pas.

Questioning My Beliefs

Arguing always upsets me.  Asserting myself makes me feel queasy and shaky for days.  But I’d rather feel upset, queasy, shaky, etc. than helpless, hopeless, powerless, and without choices because I didn’t stand up for myself.  And I’d rather challenge someone and feel good about using open, direct communication than letting stuff fester until it explodes.

So while I may not be a “traditional” or “typical” person who epitomizes an empath, I am one.  I am also a new to being an empath – the memories of past experiences and mistakes from this extra perception have been flooding my mind lately – and freely admit this to anyone who asks.  It does get confusing sometimes because I have alter personalities with their own feelings & memories.  Some of them share the empathic senses while others do not.  And when one of them senses danger from a trigger, I am more than happy to help test reality and see if this perception is true or not.

This “reality testing” coping technique is often part of what makes talking with people challenging.  I will ask question or make comments and ask for their perspective.

  • If the person knows me really well, she or he understands I am feeling anxious or triggered and responds with reassurance and acceptance.
  • If the person is aware of my past, but doesn’t truly understand me, he or she will call me “dramatic” or “over-sensitive” or “paranoid” and lecture me about looking for the worst in people and situations.
  • If the person is aware of my past and gets triggered by my comment or question, she or he will attack or accuse me of “making assumptions” or “being rude & arrogant” or “reading too much into something” and then try to “help” me by pointing out my flaws (with examples) and try to “change my behavior”.

What happens next?

  • Option 1: I express gratitude, let go of the triggered perception, relax and move on.
  • Option 2: I feel triggered, try to explain again & again without getting through to the person who’s mind is made up and end up feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself
  • Option 3: I get mad and start mirroring the other persons actions until we have time apart.  Then I use self-reflection and talk with someone objective to figure out a solution. Eventually, I assert myself and the miscommunication gets cleared up – sometimes with a positive ending; other times with a negative ending.  If lucky, with a neutral ending that we can build on in the future.

 

AS you can see, I’m not perfect.  I get mad.  I lose my  temper.  I say or do things I don’t mean when angry or upset.

BUT I don’t lash out on purpose.  I don’t hurt people on purpose.  I don’t blame others on purpose.  And I work really hard to listen, respect, and accept what the other person is saying no matter my personal opinions or beliefs.

In the end, I question whether or not I:

  1. Can interact with lots of people in positive ways
  2. Can make new friends or develop more relationships
  3. Can go back to school or pursue group activities
  4. Can ever talk and make sense to outside people (not victims or survivors or professionals who work with both)
  5. Can be a good friend or partner or cousin, etc.
  6. Have changed for the better and can pursue my goals in spite of my challenges

ACCEPTANCE helps me realize that while I can do all of these things, it’s not going to change the other people’s beliefs and reactions.  They will believe what they want and stick to those opinions no matter how much of my words make sense.  So I can continue making myself crazy or I can understand that these people are not going to change their opinions of me and let it go.

Self Acceptance

The answer is YES as long as I can accept myself and feel good about my choices.

I put myself out in the world.  I let many people see my vulnerabilities and challenges.  Sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed.  I met a few people whose opinions matter; we are slowly working to build a friendship.  I met a few people who will make good acquaintances instead of friends.  I met old friends and colleagues after a year away and realized that change comes to us all; how we cope with change defines what happens next.

I realized that no matter what I say, sometimes the words fall on closed minds and deaf ears.  These people can’t or won’t accept my words because it challenges their self-perceptions and worldviews too much.   Instead, I have to be wrong.  And our relationship can’t change.  Who are they, what role do they play when they realize I am self-aware and not in need of their mentoring/guidance etc. or willing to play their games anymore?  Where does that leave our relationship?

Where it leaves the other people, I don’t know.  And honestly, as long as it doesn’t cause major harm, illness, or death in their world, I don’t care.

For myself, it gave me choices.  And helped me understand certain realities.

Like the fact that I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have before.  That I have changed and opened up for the better and want to continue.  This opening up and internal change has brought out visible external changes too.  One external change being self-assurance and security in who I am.  Not so much self-confidence which is part of assurance, but acceptance of self with the goal to continue changing and improving.

Like the fact that parts of me will always feel and act upon the negative self-perceptions from Wednesday’s post, but those perceptions will not inform thoughts, feelings, or behavior as much anymore.  Or like the fact that positive for me tends to sound negative to everyone else.  And positive to everyone else often sounds unrealistic or rosy to me.

So I can accept that these people who might or might not continue to be friends, but will always be friendly acquaintances, view me in a somewhat negative light even if they admire my strength and resilience.  And I can accept that it’s time for me to let them go.  I wrote them an email thanking them for their honesty and friendship and sent a link to the post explaining my communication issues.

What happens next is up to  them.  Because I am finished.  Finished letting my fear of sounding funny or not making sense stand in my way.  Finished trying to be something I am not.  Finished trying to “have friends’ and “be social” on acceptable levels.  Who’s idea of “acceptable” is it anyways?

I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that already exist.  I am grateful for the limited but fulfilling family relationships that exist.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet lots of people and have interactions that always teach me something.

Now it’s time to go back to being my happy, solitary self.

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