Coping Challenge: Grief and the movie “Groundhog Day”

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*

Grief

Every February – March, I experience crushing amounts of grief about my past. People who have died. People I’ve lost in other ways. People who lost me. Experiential loss – failed achievements, shameful experiences, guilt, and so on. It almost always happened between February and March; sometimes as late as April.

For many years (decades really), I would go through the year and do what was necessary or required of me; then wake up one morning and feel like a blank slate – happy and looking forward to life instead of sad and confused. I had a routine that did not change much. But anything new or interesting that happened before the “wake-up” was lost. I would make friends and forget them. I would make plans and not follow through because I didn’t remember making the plans. And I would learn skills, but then not remember how to use them months, weeks, years, or days/hours/minutes later.

It was scary and felt shameful – another secret to keep from everyone – not something I could explain to the adults in my life. But it did earn me a reputation with my teachers and lots of time with the special education department instructors.

Odd part about this: even though my mind and cognitive memory could not remember or do the tasks, my body and muscle memory did remember and could do the tasks as long as I used “instinct” instead of logic.

Later on as an adult in trauma-informed therapy, I realized that the “instinct” was actually letting my alter personalities take control of my body to accomplish the tasks. They remembered the lessons and the practice. They could do what I could not. In school, though, my alters rarely showed themselves or got involved in day-to-day activities. They understood their place much better than I did.

The sense of loss and failure combined with teasing from peers and instructors crushed me so often that I started to avoid competitions and learning anything interesting.

What was the point if I tried and tried only to forget and fail every time?

And so my teen and college years went through this cycle every year. The ignorance of this pattern continued until 2011/2012 when I decided to try working with a dog trainer to self train a service animal to help with the PTSD. You (and I thought so too) would think it’s hard to forget all the love, care, training, and work and time spent with a puppy over 4 months, yes?

Well I did forget. I literally woke up one Saturday morning and couldn’t remember anything the pup and I worked on together. I couldn’t remember his favorite treats or games. I couldn’t remember writing a blog or notes in a notebook. I am lucky I remembered the dog and his name; at one point I might have forgotten the pup’s name too.

And as I tried to remember working with the pup, I started to realize how much other stuff I had forgotten too. Work-related tasks and achievements. Bills to pay. Plans made. Grocery shopping. Appointments. Memories with friends and acquaintances. And how something similar happened every year and often caused problems at work that I couldn’t explain, especially in the last few years working for the same company with the same people.

It was one heck of a wake up call.

p.s. The pup ended up having serious digestive problems and was re-homed to a loving family with a large back yard and the time/money to give him the life he deserved. And I learned that it’s not safe to live with beings who depend on me until I get my s**t together.

Groundhog Day – the 1992 movie with Bill Murray

Hans Haase / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) from Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1992, when I was 10 years old, there was a time travel movie called “Groundhog Day”. It was a grown up drama/comedy that I didn’t really understand or remember; not even when I re-watched one weekend as a bored teen. Still don’t understand a lot and am not interested in re-watching to get all the details.

What I do remember (and this is why it sticks in my memory) is that the main character (played by Bill Murray) had an awful day – that just happened to be Groundhog Day – and went to bed wishing he could do it all over again. So he wakes up the next day. Starts his routine. And realizes part way through he is re-living the events of Groundhog Day. Over. And over. And over again. Until the main character gets frustrated enough to reflect on what could be keeping him locked in a time loop and how to get out of it.

Eventually, the main character resolves the conflict keeping him in the time loop by making changes in his life and interactions with the people around him. How he does it and what those changes are, I don’t remember. All I do remember is feeling queasy and anxious whenever I thought about the movie. That continued until I got really frustrated a few years ago and looked up the movie on the internet. Once I read the description and watched the preview, the connection clicked.

I finally had words to describe what I was feeling and going through to my counselor. And something concrete to use as an analogy for the counselor. And for me too. Some of my best coping strategies come from reading books and watching movies. Being 2013/2014 when I finally looked up the movie and shared it with the counselor, we had been working for about 3-4 years by then. She had observed this happening every year and waited for me to bring it up. Once I did, we began working together to create plans and strategies to manage this recurring event.

Hope Arrives in 2019; continues in 2020

2019 was the first year I did not wake up sometime between February and April with significant memory loss or some other manifestation of grief that left me injured, impaired, or triggered in some way. I experienced the grief and felt the depression that wasn’t really depression. Expressing it safely was not as easy, but no one got hurt either. I didn’t lose weight. My physical and emotional health stayed relatively stable.

Instead, my body memories erupted as a rash that lasted months. When not experiencing the rash, other parts of me stopped feeling numb. I looked fatter from bloating and puffiness around certain muscle groups, but did not gain weight from it. Pain increased. Energy and the need to move did too. Luckily, my current counselor, Chinese medicine practitioners, and primary health physician were/are aware of these changes and helped me cope.

Having my parents and other relatives back in my life and being supportive helped too. That continues to help in many different ways.

Now, in March 2020, I recognized the signs of grief when they started last weekend and have been doing my best to cope with them. So far the only major crisis was exploding the plastic lotion bottles when I tried to get soap (made myself and poured in) out of them multiple times in the week. That resulted in having to clean and rinse the pumps; then put them back together and onto the lotion bottles. Funny – yes. The next part, not so much.

Water got stuck in the pump parts and contaminated the soap blends I made. And since I made them with soap, essential oils, and aloe vera gel (a water-based carrier), mold and fungus grew at the bottom of both containers after 5 days. Yes 2 containers because I made a hand soap and a shower gel. So, after examining the bottoms of each container a few days ago and seeing the white strands floating up from the bottom, I dumped out the soap; rinsed the containers too.

Now, they are waiting to be recycled because I don’t trust myself using the containers again. Not after I caused the pumps to pop off and the pieces to come apart after trying to pump soap through the mechanism multiple times.

If that pump exploding experience is the worst that happens this year, I will be so grateful. If not, well, I’m trying not to fall into anticipation and catastrophic thinking. Not easy, mind you. But I’m trying. And succeeding sometimes.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Maryville University Supports Veterans Earning College, Graduate, and Post-Graduate Degrees

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.

Disclaimer: Resource Posts provide information and links to the organization sharing information with guests here. I DO NOT promote, advertise, or receive any benefit/compensation for sharing the information and links.

Short Sabbatical Break; Extra Post this month

My partial sabbatical is going well so far. I’ve been concentrating on family stuff and the paid job. Aromatherapy certification requirements are on hold. Herb classes online work as a TV alternative and fun hobby to relax and learn something interesting after work. So does creating aromatherapy blends.

I continue to brainstorm new ideas for Untangled Connections and figure out where it’s headed in 2020. My plan was to write a post on Halloween since it is an Anniversary I never shared much about here in the past.

But then I got an email from an outreach coordinator at Maryville University’s Online college program about 1.5 weeks ago asking me:

  1. Am I still updating Untangled Connections?
  2. Would I add their article about Veterans, PTSD, and higher education to my Resources page if I was still updating the site?
  3. This article can help Veterans and people working with Veterans succeed in college and other higher education pursuits.
  4. Our University also offers other resources and support for veterans and active duty soldiers who want to enroll in college or graduate school

At first, I didn’t know what to say. This would be a big opportunity for me, but also triggering, in many ways. Talking with my counselor helped, and so I decided to share this resource with you. All of the links go back to Maryville University

In Support of Maryville University’s Active Work with Veterans and Active Duty Soldiers

I work with Maryville University, a nationally recognized private institution offering comprehensive and innovative education.

Our health guides aim to spread awareness on various mental conditions and break the stigma surrounding them. Seeing your page, I thought our guide would be a great addition to it. You can review it below:

https://online.maryville.edu/online-bachelors-degrees/psychology/understanding-a-veteran-with-ptsd/

This resource provides valuable information that your audience may find helpful.

Maryville University Outreach Coordinator

When this email appeared, my first thoughts were:

  • I’m not qualified to write about this
  • Wow, this is a first – a higher education institute requesting to be added here – exciting and scary
  • But I really want to share this resource here and help guests who are part of the military or military families.
  • How can I do justice to this topic and this resource?

Then I reached out to the coordinator (forgot to ask permission to include this person’s name here) and explained the reason for a delayed response (sabbatical) and my process for adding a resource. If this process was acceptable, I’d do the research and publish the post on the next Sunday (today).

Also, was there anything else the coordinator wanted to share with my guests? Answer below

Maryville’s Understanding a Veteran with PTSD guide aims to spread awareness on our heroes’ off-field worst nemesis: PTSD. The guide contains information on how we can understand their situation more and how to help them get through the situation as well.

Maryville University Outreach Coordinator

In Support of Veterans and Active Duty Soldiers

As you know, I am not a veteran and have never been part of the US Military or a government employee. I do not claim to know anything about being a soldier or what it’s like to serve the US or any country in this capacity.

My time as a soldier was for the paramilitary branch of a human trafficking organization disguised as a cult. The leaders were predominantly pedophiles who trained kids they got tired of as child soldiers instead of killing or throwing them away. It wasn’t voluntary, but it taught me how to survive.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to know and learn from many veterans and soldiers. One of my favorite uncles was a Navy veteran who shared his love of cooking with me growing up. Many of my mentors at the paid job are veterans too. Finally, some of my TCM or acupuncture providers at the teaching clinic have been veterans.

Choices, Experiences, Trauma

One topic that often comes up in our conversations is perspective about trauma and PTSD. They can acknowledge my experiences as traumatic easily, but have difficulty applying the word “traumatic” to some of their military experiences.

One person told me it’s because soldiers choose the military life and what it entails to follow orders from command. Sometimes those orders include actions they would not otherwise commit outside of military life. Therefore, they were not really traumatized or victims of trauma.

In some ways, I can agree with that. But not in other ways. Because not all trauma survivors are victims or victimized. Many are. But not everyone.

Plus, he and other soldiers or veterans may have chosen their career paths – chosen to follow orders – but they did not choose to be traumatized by the experiences of being a soldier. They chose to follow orders, not to commit acts that would scar them in so many ways.

I believe this because I experienced it. What many people don’t realize (and I hardly ever share anywhere or with anyone) is that I chose to go back to the scary other life in college. I chose to be part of that world for many years because it felt safer and more secure than exploring the unknown other world.

It wasn’t until I got the permanent, paying job and learned how to function in the “legitimate” “normal” world with friends and peers that I decided to leave the other world behind.

So yes, like the soldiers and veterans, I chose to go back to that familiar world and be an active part of traumatic experiences that only reinforced childhood lessons for many years even though I had many opportunities to leave.

Was I a victim because I chose to go back to that world? I don’t know.

Does serving in the military make soldiers and veterans victims of trauma? I don’t know.

It’s a matter of perspective to be honest. Not just how the world views us, but also how we view ourselves

Helping Ourselves by Helping Each Other

If you or anyone you know may find this information beneficial, please share it how ever you choose.

Thanks for reading

Anger: sitting with sensations in my body

Catching Up Slowly

The short version is that I spent a lot of time sitting with the new feelings and sensations inside my body.  By that I mean all of the feelings buried underneath the anger revealed themselves and started moving in my body.

It felt like going through puberty again, although without the hormones to make everything feel more confusion.  Those feelings and sensations include: sexuality, sensuality, physical attraction, femininity, and masculinity.

I still experienced anger and frustration, but not in the same way or with the same overwhelming intensity as before.  In fact, the anger didn’t feel like anger until I started paying attention to the sensations in my body every time I felt angry.  The sensations flared up at the peak of my anger and drained away as I acknowledged and sat with them.

What sensations for anger?

Tensing of my jaw and neck muscles.  My eye lids tightening around the corners.  Increased heartbeat.  Stabbing pain in my mid back.  Sudden discomfort, bloating, and lack of appetite around my abdominal/middle back area.  A surge of adrenaline that made me want to MOVE, but not hurt anyone.  And a feeling that something sludgy was moving around inside me trying to get out.

“Doing” versus “Sitting with”

For someone who hasn’t lived in her body for about 30 years, all of these sensations and feelings felt new and scary.  I didn’t know how to cope with them. What could I do?  How do I keep from getting distracted?

Talking with my counselor validated my decision to not try to “do” anything to the feelings and sensations.

By “do” I mean use coping strategies to contain or balance or change them in some way.

Instead, we agreed that I would “sit” with these feelings and sensations to learn about and from them.  Sitting with uncomfortable feelings is not new to me.  I developed a process for doing this around 2010 to help dial down the intensity of physical panic attacks and created the acronym AEVAR and mantras to chant with the acronym words.

  • AEVAR
  • Acknowledge – I acknowledge all of the feelings and sensations in my body, mind, and spirit
  • Experience – I experience all of the feelings and sensations moving in, around, through, and out of my mind, body, and spirit with friendliness, love, and compassion
  • Validate – Each sensation and feeling is valid, real, deserving of respect, and a valued source of information
  • Accept – I accept all of the feelings and sensations as valid, real, and useful in sharing information with me
  • Release – I let go of all the feelings and sensations with love and acceptance knowing that they will come and go like waves in the ocean
  • The chanting helps all parts of me feel grounded and safe enough to be patient until the intense feelings and sensations release themselves.

Chanting the words (and believing in them) is a mantra in itself.  You can add others that fit your circumstances or not use a mantra at all.

What does this have to do with the break and spiritual quest?

The Break

Sitting with my feelings instead of employing a coping strategy takes a lot of time, focus, and energy.  It required changes to my daily routines in order to meet basic needs and maintain self-care.  More meditation and deep breathing.  More relaxation techniques to help me rest or sleep.  And more grounding/mindfulness exercises to help me stay focused on my job as work got busier and busier instead of slowing down like usual.

art boiling eruption fog
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After a while, though, doing this on my own brought out more questions and insecurities than answers.  I was working through major family breakthroughs at the time and experiencing intense hyper-vigilance that negatively impacted my relationship with neighbors in the building.  Everything felt sharper, more intense.  Energy or something was building up inside of me, and I didn’t know how to let it go without causing an explosion.

So I turned back to my spiritual practices.  During meditation, I asked God, guardians, guides, the universe, angels, and archangels for support and guidance.  I practiced listening to my intuition and using that knowledge to make choices.  And moved into the next step of my spiritual quest.

Spiritual Quest

Without the anger buffering me from all of the hidden feelings and sensations, all parts of me started having more flashbacks and intense dreams.  I felt fear differently and confusion all the time.  The outside world seemed more unfriendly and dangerous than before.  And all parts of me were feeling frustrated with a lack of resources about certain topics related to our past history of sexual and physical abuse in the Western Medicine canon.

We used the month off to explore other healing methodologies, spiritual practices, and ways of thinking that might offer information about the feelings and sensations of something moving through our physical body and spiritual self.  Astrology, a tarot reading, books about chakra systems (from spiritual and psychological perspectives) and life force energy (aka qi, kundalini, auras, magnetic fields, energy fields, etc.) from practitioners and healers were some of my resources.

All of these practitioners embodied love, compassion, and acceptance as part of their lifestyles.  It showed in their speech, body language, and interactions with others.  And all of them incorporated teachings from eastern religions, western religions, and mythology from around the world in their practices.  They shared information and wisdom with me, provided direction, and offered resources so that I could continue on my journey.

Today’s Featured Image

I found this quote on my Facebook feed – gratitude to the friend who shared it – and saved it to share here too.

Why put it with a post about anger?

This quote embodies the main lesson learned from each reading session with a practitioner of tarot, astrology, etc. during the past two months.

Love – universal, unconditional, compassionate, and accepting – really can manifest positive changes in oneself and in life.

Without letting down my guard and changing my beliefs about the outside world, and the universe in general, I would not have had the courage and faith to believe in this kind of love and let it protect all parts of me from the inside out.

That love and protection provided the support and tools to finally drain out the seeming bottomless pit of anger.

Without that love protecting and healing all parts of me on the inside, I would not have had the courage to keep sitting with the feelings and sensations until my intuition guided me to unexpected answers.

So I’m sharing that love with all of you.  It’s a gift freely given.  Yours to accept or not.

Thanks for reading.

 

Anniversaries: Grateful Thanksgiving

Child to mid-twenties

Thanksgiving used to be celebrated 3x every year over the course of 2-3 days: once at my parents’ home with certain family members; once with my father’s side of the family; once with my mother’s side of the family.  There were tables full of food; children, teens, and adults everywhere; noise levels similar to stadium concerts (at least from my perspective) with so many people and televisions on loud; and secrets.  So many secrets and people sneaking off for minutes or hours at a time.

By the time I was in college, Thanksgiving was celebrated 2x every year with less and less family/friends and lots of tension.  Most of us were grown and had other places to be.  The next generation of children were second or third cousins removed on my mother’s side, and I was disconnected to them.  On my father’s side, people cooked while others watched tv or read books (me) and ignored or were ignored by everyone else.  Then my younger cousins and brother scattered to be with their friends while my parents kept me isolated and ignored.

You may be wondering why or how they managed that.  Part of it was me – I isolated myself and chose not to make friends or trust people at that time.  Part of it was them limiting access to my car – they always blocked me in and parked their cars in front of the driveway so I’d have to move their cars to get out.  And I did not want to drive their cars.  Asking them to move the cars was like banging my head against a brick wall.

Mid-twenties to early thirties

Then I walked away from my family.

Holidays became something different.

For the first time in my life, I could celebrate any way I wanted.  I could sleep through the day.  I could be alone.  I could cook or not cook.  I could decorate or not decorate.

Bottom line: I had choices.
And for a long time, I chose not to celebrate.  Instead, I let my alters out to play on those days.  Together, we worked through the scary memories, anxiety, anger, shame, and negative experiences associated with those anniversaries.  We stayed inside; read books; watched movies; slept; and took care of ourselves.

Thanksgiving 2017

My favorite foods of Thanksgiving:
Gravy
Stuffing
Butternut Squash or Yams

After everything that happened over the last few weeks, buying pre-made food to reheat made more sense than cooking from scratch.  Cooking from scratch triggered memories, but re-heating didn’t.

Text messages kept me in touch with close friends and family while keeping me safe from the toxic people.

Instead of sleeping through the day, I put together part of my sofa.  By part, I mean the sofa is in use, but the sectional and sleeper parts still need to be put together.  By the time I finished the main sofa and realized the rest had to wait, my muscles were saying “we’re done.  No more please.”   But the rest of me felt happy and accomplished.

So happy, in fact, that we slept on the sofa that night.  It’s surprisingly comfortable.  In spite of the muscle discomfort and stress from the upstairs neighbor’s musicals, putting together the sofa brought out feelings of accomplishment, joy, and contentment – aka endorphins.   Not even phone calls with my family and flashbacks could get me down.

Gratitude

Maybe it’s petty of me, but I also felt grateful that having a secondary place to sleep pissed off my upstairs neighbor.  She couldn’t disturb my sleep because I wasn’t using my bed.  Therefore, her musical of dropping stuff on the floor above my head didn’t work.  It was the first night in a while that I managed to sleep undisturbed and wake up on my own time.

But then I was also grateful her musical dropping of stuff on the floor woke me up the next day.  It was early enough that I had time to call Ikea, get my replacement parts for the sofa sectional, then go out to visit friends and see a movie.  It was Black Friday, and I was afraid that going to a mall would make things worse.  Instead, it was cathartic.  I felt calm, relaxed, and grounded inside myself.  The movie was good too, but I’m still not a Thor fan.  And I really need to put together a magic bag for crowded movie  theaters.

The musicals still occur just after I settle for bed and randomly throughout the day, but the sleep headphones and a favorite playlist make it all tolerable.

Mostly, I am grateful to have enjoyed Thanksgiving awake and grounded in the present instead of dissociated, hyper-vigilant, and upset.

Conclusion

I am still a solitary person who prefers alone time instead of crowds.  After so many years of being alone and/or lonely in a crowd of people, celebrating alone without any obligations feels good.  Maybe someday the other people in my life will understand that being physically alone does not equal being unconnected to my loved ones.

Relationships, connections, and interactions come in many forms.   And my heart, my mind, my spirit is always open to them even if my physical self shuns sharing space with others.  I keep all of these people and places in my heart and my mind during the holidays, so they are always with me.

Thanksgiving and similar holidays used to anger me, all parts of me.  I could honestly say that I hated the holidays and mean it.  But that hate gradually changed as different parts of me opened up to the rest of us.  We shared our pain, our grief, our fear, and our shame.  Then we learned how to cope with those feelings and associated memories with lots of help and support from outside people.

So thank you guests, family of choice, mental health providers past & present, family of blood, and other providers past & present who’ve helped me get to a place where holidays are fun instead of stressful.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Fear Responses

My Fear Response

I haven’t discussed FEAR much because the words get strangled in my throat or stuck in my mind/body/spirit and refuse to budge.

That’s what FEAR does – it paralyzes me – without my consent or awareness most of the time.

FEAR also triggers a physical response.  My muscles tense.  Adrenaline flows.  Senses get heightened.  Body starts to tremble and shake.  Head hurts.

The urge to make myself small and hide is intense.  If not hide, make myself invisible.

DO NOT DRAW ATTENTION or else…

my brain and body tell me at the same time.

“Fighting” back

What do I mean?

Learning to acknowledge and make friends with FEAR so that I use it instead of letting it use me.

Becoming more aware of the internal signals that tell me when FEAR could be triggered so I can put coping strategies or techniques into play before it is triggered.

Persisting with my goals in spite of the fear and the backlash that comes with it.

Remembering to start small and celebrate every success as a stepping stone forward.

Being kind to myself when the FEAR does take over and cause stickiness or problems with people, places, events, etc.

Letting myself and all parts of me feel FEAR instead of burying or denying it.

Recognizing that FEAR is an emotion, a protective one designed to alert our minds and bodies to avoid potential danger, not something negative or shameful that has to be exorcised.

How I “Fight” Fear

Tall order, huh?  

Baby steps.

Progress is all about baby steps.  So for now I can live with the sore neck and jaw muscles; the minor headache; and the shakes.  It will ease up and go away eventually.

Why not stop doing whatever is triggering the FEAR response?

I like speaking up for myself, talking with people, and being visible all the time.

Being me, expressing myself, writing, knitting, cooking, talking to people on my terms feels good.

I’m not going to stop just because being me triggers a built-in, past life fear response.  That was then.  This is now.  And each time this happens, the FEAR Response lessens.

It’s taken more than 10 years to get here.  It will take the rest of my life to recover with or without setbacks.  Fear is NOT in control anymore.

Conclusion

FEAR is part of life.  It can take over everything and stop people from living or enjoying life.  It can help save lives too.  There is a necessary balance to FEAR responses.  Not everyone learns that balance early in life.

BUT anyone can learn to find that balance and use it as adults.  Like anything else written on this blog, finding that balance takes courage, resilience, persistence, and patience.

I believe in you.  Maybe someday you will believe in you too.  Then we can enjoy more of life together.

Thanks for reading