Alter Post: Body Acceptance Stories

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

To be fair to all of you, this post is written by many of us off-the-cuff. You will see spelling errors, grammar errors, etc. as your read. If that is not something you want, please stop here.

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Safe, Respectful, Assertive Communication Grid

Alter Post: Being Assertive & Defending Oneself with Kindness + Honesty and a dash of stubborn

I decided to write about trauma-informed care on Scent Reflections, so here is the link if you’re interested.

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Okay, now all the warnings are in place. You can continue reading or visit another time. I’ve written about Mother’s Day and anniversaries before, so thought I’d share something different this time. You can read about how my alters are learning to use DBT and protect our system (their preferred job) to protect and defend against hostile, rude, triggering, or aggressive people.

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Any good practical philosophy must start out with the recognition of our having a body

Alter Post: When Fear Tries To Take Over

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

This is not an easy post to write. Or share. I struggled with what to put in today’s post and almost did an ADMIN – nothing to write post instead.

But I’m here. And I just finished writing about crystal grids and environmental self protection on the other blog. So I decided to try and give you something more here too.

FEAR

Out of all the emotions I struggle with, fear is in the top 3. Right now, in spite of all the change from COVID-19, I feel joyful. My life has been impacted in subtle ways, not obvious ones. And it’s the subtle changes that scare me.

Now that I don’t have to think about and plan for going out of my apartment, a huge amount of internal energy is being re-directed to improve physical health – i.e. cope with body memories. The “cage” of restrictions brought me freedom from spending 25% or more energy on planning ways to cope with being around people and other beings whenever I leave my apartment.

The benefit is that my “self” continues to heal from the inside out. Internal changes are occurring at a fast pace. Spaces formerly occupied by trauma memories and past experiences are opening up/emptying out. Everything feels different. I move different. My tastes and preferences for food and beverages have changed. Some of my interests have changed.

But my energy levels have not changed much. All parts of me agree that if there wasn’t so much internal healing to do, that energy would be directed outward to more activities and physical movement instead. But since none of us are ready for that, the energy has been directed inside.

And I fear what is filling up those empty spaces that open up way to fast for me to fill them up. Will other triggers move and take over the spaces? If I have too many nightmares and flashbacks, will the past traumas come back and refill the empty spaces; then take over again, leaving me back to what and where I was in the past?

What can I fill those spaces with? Memories? Experiences? Positive energy? Unconditional love? Fear? Anger? Hate? And if I fill them with something temporarily, will that temporary stuff get stuck and turn into something harmful? Will it move out easily once the “right” stuff is found and moved in?

I haven’t remembered more of my past. And I haven’t forgotten anything this year (win for me), but I still struggle with remembering and recognizing people. And that scares me too. What if I never am able to remember people outside of a specific group – and even with them I struggled long and hard to remember specific sensory details and clues associated with each person to recognize them – and go through my life continuously offending people because I can’t remember meeting them and talking with them from one hour or week or class to another?

Yes, trauma changes memory in significant ways. But I never considered that this type of memory loss or challenge could be a permanent side effect of my trauma. How did I learn about this? Well, first I spoke about it out loud with my counselor.

Photo by Tobe Roberts on Pexels.com

Then I was browsing Pinterest for interesting pins about trauma and mental health to put in my board. And came across an interesting graphic explaining how trauma affects the four different types of human memory. Four types of memory. I was aware of 2, and the other two were a complete mystery.

So I pinned the graphic and decided to think more about it before reading the rest of the article. You can find links to my Pinterest boards in the Resources page if you are interested. Before I go off on a tangent with the potential to trigger a shame spiral, I decided to practice an exercise my counselor taught me to help cope with fear.

It starts by writing down what I am afraid of on a blank piece of paper. Then creating a down arrow to the next line.

After the arrow, I say to myself I am afraid of (above fear) because I am afraid of (and write that fear down).

And keep doing that until I drill down to what really scares me.

Then I can reflect on the source of my other fears. aka the BIG FEAR and use other coping strategies to work with it.

Will that work? I don’t know. But I’m trying it out now using the example from our last session.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Body Memories, Movement, and Sensory Grounding

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grapes and Sensory Information

Grapes are an interesting fruit. As a sensory grounding tool, they can be used with all five senses. Taste, touch, sound (have you ever squished a grape by accident…or maybe on purpose?), smell, and sight. Plus, finding a stock photo of grapes is a lot easier than one about the five (or four) senses. So today’s featured photo is of ripe grapes on a vine.

Personally, all parts of me prefer to use semi-sweet dark chocolate or frozen blueberries for sensory grounding meditation or breathing exercises, but we like grapes, raspberries, apples, tea, and cheese in a pinch. Coffee works great too, but none of us like the taste enough to drink it. And chocolate was easy for me (any version of me) to get as it did dual jobs as comfort food too.

Fruits were not always as easy to get and store for an emergency, middle-of-the-night trigger. Or an “I’m on my way into work on public transit and am having a flashback” type of situation. You get the idea. So I experimented with a lot of different types of food and snacks. Cookies, brownies, cake, pizza, sandwiches, granola bars, and so on. Many of them engaged 3 or more senses, but they were not strong enough to reach through the anxiety and fear blocking out everything.

And so the experiments continued until I discovered dark chocolate (candy, bar, morsels, and hot chocolate drink; but not chocolate milk or ice cream) worked 99% of the time to engage all of my senses and bring me to the present moment. That was actually the beginning of my obsession with finding portable items that worked for panic attacks and flashbacks on-the-go.

But, it was also my introduction to learning how to use sensory information in present time and on purpose instead of instinctively in the background of life (i.e. hyper vigilance or chronic pain).

Body Memories vs Flashbacks – or not?

At the beginning of my recovery I thought flashbacks and body memories were two completely different symptoms of my past trauma. And only flashbacks were “medically approved” as symptoms because they were listed under PTSD and other anxiety disorders in the DSM (IV at the time and V now). So I approached coping techniques and strategies for each symptom separately.

All I ever felt in my body was a) numbness; or b) pain. There was never any in-between. More pain or less pain. Numbness or less pain. I didn’t experience or noticed that I expressed emotions – couldn’t feel them even if my body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions showed something else.

Yes, I was that separated from all parts of myself for over 2 decades.

Traditional psychotherapy and group counseling helped me learn to recognize and cope with my emotions and overwhelming mental states. But did not talk much about body sensations or physical pain.

Never mentioned the connection between emotions and physical body sensations at all.

Not every Physical Sensation is Pain
It's our body's way of communicating with us
How we move and think about moving matters
#movementmatters

That was a not-so-happy accident all parts of me discovered during a series of bad panic attacks – one after the other – while working with the first trauma specialist.

The nightmares and emotional flashbacks were lessening in strength and severity, but the physical panic attacks that left me passed out on my bed for hours after experiencing hot flashes, cold chills, and muscle cramps from my legs to my shoulders got worse. Over the counter medications didn’t help. I refused to try anything else or anything stronger because of my past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Movement was not possible; only made the pain worse.

Meditation practice from Jon Kabat Zinn’s audiobook classes did help me learn the difference between pain sensations and other body sensations. He provided mantras and medication practices that helped promote body awareness and “making friends with pain” instead of rejecting or denying it.

I used the mantras and meditation or breathing for the body memories/physical panic attacks.

Then used sensory grounding and everything else for the flashbacks and emotional panic attacks.

But that was partially effective – as in it reduced the frequency, but not the intensity or length of each panic attack fueled by triggers, flashbacks, or body memories.

And that’s when it clicked – a light bulb kind of moment – that I could use sensory grounding strategies to learn the different sensations moving through my body. Maybe even connect them to different emotions I experience at or around the same time the pain or sensation occurs.

The body memories and flashbacks were not different at all. They were/are two parts of the same symptom – experiencing triggers in my mind (flashbacks) and body (body memories) at the same time.

By working with them together and using integrated coping strategies that address all aspects of the trigger, all parts of me (or I as we) learned how to cope with and reduce the effects of our flashbacks, body memories, and panic attacks.

Chinese Medicine + Sensory Grounding + Spiritual Practice = Energy Healing from the inside out

That was enough to convince me to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (includes herbs, energy work, body work/massage, and a holistic approach to health/wellness) again.

And spark my curiosity about energy movement in my body. Why can I short out or freeze electrical and mechanical equipment? Why do I break computers and mobile devices so often? How come credit card machines stop working when I get stressed out?

And yes, all that and more has happened when my internal energy is out of whack.

So I used the lessons from Jon Kabat Zinn and other Buddhist teachers to learn about energy medicine through different meditation and moving meditation (yoga, tai chi, and qigong are popular versions) practices. That gave me a level of awareness that let’s me feel inside my body where and how energy is moving through my body. With my fingers and hands, I can palpate muscle groups and feel where energy is blocked and stuck inside me. During treatments, I can track what the needles or acupuncture tools are doing inside my body – i.e. where they are moving and stirring or drawing and releasing energy as it travels inside me.

Remember back at the beginning when I mentioned that this was all instinctive to me at first? I thought it was my hyper vigilance…

And in past posts I mentioned turning weaknesses or challenges into strengths…

Well this is a coping challenge turned into coping strategy.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to believe in energy healing or energy medicine. That people could sense movement and problems in their bodies or be tuned in to energy of other people. But the more I denied it, the worse the physical pain and panic attacks got.

So I embraced it. Used patience and persistence to find faith that it would end soon. And it did. Each one got progressively shorter with less intense periods of shame spirals afterwards. I did not feel the need to self harm as often either.

That was one more step into embracing my authentic (if distinctly weird and unconventional) self.

Body Remembers – Finally Reveals Trauma and Ready for Healing

These days, my body is starting to trust the rest of me and our practitioners with its secrets. What secrets?

Well, the scars for one thing. And the muscle kinks and puffy places in my body that are not actually fat for another.

Wait, I’ve seen a few of the photos you shared and your skin doesn’t have physical scars. Are you talking about emotional scars? or (gasp) invisible scars?

Like everything else on this blog, the truth surprised me as much as it may surprise you:

Yes I have scars. No they are not often visible to the eyes. I think only one scar is visible all the time. The rest appear as textural differences in my skin or sometimes rashes and blemishes (acne). They show up when they feel like it and then disappear until the next time a trigger brings them to the surface.

As for the textural scars, no one notices those unless they can feel my skin or examine it under a magnifying glass. You can guess how many people get that privilege…

The physical pain in my body is caused by my muscles and tissues being frozen in place or numb for many years as a form of self-protection. The puffiness and “knots” under my skin are the tightened forms the muscles and water retention took on to protect themselves from harm.

Only now, 3.5 years after moving west and 16 years into recovery, is my body starting to reveal its secrets and start physically healing. I have rashes in unusual places, but at the same time less physical pain and less knotted muscle groups. I can feel sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t experienced in decades – yes decades.

My youthful looks are a genetic gift/curse/quirk. But I haven’t felt my lower and middle back muscles move since I was 5 years old – 32 years ago. My shoulders used to lock up every time I started to stretch and do more than lift laundry baskets and groceries until 2019-2020.

So this is all new to me. And exciting too. Because now that I can understand and communicate with my body, all parts of me can start moving more and enjoying more of life.

Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: The Struggle to Trust Myself (all parts of me)

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reflecting on a Different Perspective

Last week I shared a post about counseling as a tool and coping technique on Scent Reflections, but did not go into details about personal use. That kind of story is more suite to this safe space.

Either way, the inspiring post got me thinking about how and why I continue to go to therapy with a trauma specialist. Is the relationship a co-dependent one? And if so, how can that be changed? If not, what kind of dependent relationship is it? And how can I become more independent?

You see, there comes a time in my recovery when the therapeutic relationship changes. Communication sometimes becomes difficult, and I struggle with verbalizing my internal frustration about the process. It has happened with every therapist and counselor. And happened before with this counselor too.

In a healthy and safe therapeutic relationship, the client and counselor both trust each other and feel safe enough to bring up sources of frustration, fear, boundary issues, or other trouble and communicate in session to work them out. That requires a lot from both parties – including respect, assertiveness, trust, and open communication. But when it works, it really works and brings about an even stronger trust bond that can improve the client’s recovery.

In an unhealthy or unsafe therapeutic relationship, one or both parties feel threatened in some way and the communication breaks down even more than before bringing up the issues. In my case, one therapist got mad at me; shamed me; manipulated me; told me I was crazy and would never be normal; then refused to see me anymore. Another therapist (my first one), tried to convince me that trauma wasn’t real; I needed medication in order to not be crazy, and used hypnosis to manipulate my feelings. She also manipulated and shamed me into never contradicting her, never challenging her, and never questioning her expertise

As for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, I only had one that earned my trust. He was gruff, professional to the point of being abrupt, focused on data and nothing personal, but never forced me to take medications or try something unsafe once he learned of my history and experience with medication.

Questionable Choices: Trusting the Wrong People; Being Smart Enough to Acknowledge/Accept I don’t Know Everything – nor do I want to

If you are a regular guest, you may already know this about me. Or maybe not – I can’t always remember what I shared here before. But if you’ve read this already, feel free to move on.

Fact 1: I don’t know the different between pain and pleasure. In my world there is pain, less pain, and more pain. Less pain allows me to feel a range of emotions (joy, excitement, sadness, anxiety, fear, calm, anger, etc.) More pain is distracting and brings out my grumpiness/depressive attitudes.

Fact 2: I still have trouble understanding the different between self care and self harm for myself (not other people) and often make harmful choices instead of caring ones when triggered or under stress. Intention is part of the equation, but more is involved in understand the difference between self care and self harm behaviors.

Fact 3: Reality Testing is one of the best tools to help me decide between self care or self harm. However, I made the mistake of asking peers, colleagues, friends, and family for help with this in the past. Let’s just say that ruined many relationships and added more damage to my reputation. But this is not something I can do for myself.

Fact 4: In times of stress + flashbacks + triggers, etc., I experience an increase in symptoms. Increase in symptoms lead to shame spirals and OCD behavior. OCD behavior = uncontrollable urges to hurt myself (not others) to relieve the anxiety

What is the solution, you ask?

  • Therapy with a trauma specialist I trust
  • Calls to a crisis hotline with volunteers who listen with acceptance, respect, and empathy and are trained to offer support – not counseling – or coping strategies or just be there in the moment
  • Talking with a spiritual mentor I trust
  • Learning about other types of coping strategies from workshops and group sessions.

Being confident to acknowledge I am smart enough to know I don’t know everything and don’t want to know everything. That takes away the mystery and beauty of life’s journey.

Trust – or Lack of It – vs Fear of Myself

I don’t trust myself to make good choices when under certain kinds of stress. All parts of me feel this way.

That ability requires knowledge we don’t have, but others do have. It’s an opportunity for us to learn, practice, make mistakes, and experience success in a safe space

…once all parts of me find someone willing to do this with us.

That is where long term counseling or therapy (trauma specialist for me, but some other generalist or specialist for you?) come into play.

In times of great need (like now), I have weekly sessions with my counselor. In times of decreased symptoms, I visit once a month or once every other month.
Between those extremes, session frequency varies.

Throughout that process, I continue to learn and utilize outside sources.

My dependency comes from a need to test reality with someone I trust – a professional who understands my concerns and can teach me how to navigate them so that eventually I trust my judgement and can make good choices on my own.

So yes, I am dependent on my therapist and the hotline for specific kinds of support and education because I don’t trust myself to do that work on my own yet. They are my safety net.

So no, I am not in a co-dependent relationship (something I question often and fear getting into with anyone) with my therapist. Every session ends with me learning something or resolving an inner conflict that allows me to move (not always forward) instead of stay stuck in my rut. Movement eventually creates progress – at least for me it does.

Therapy as a Tool

All in all, I do believe therapy is a useful tool when used for a specific purpose.

It’s up to the individual or individuals engaging in a therapeutic relationship, with mental health professionals to do the hard work that gets results. They need to trust each other to make the relationship work in a way that allows the individual(s) to learn/grow/see results.

Reflection question: What would your purpose be for starting/continuing/stopping therapy and why?

Thanks for reading