Coping Challenges: Finding Language to describe body memory challenges

DISCLAIMER 1 – no photos today.  I couldn’t think of anything relevant and didn’t want to include book covers.  Also, this is a long, potentially triggering post.

DISCLAIMER 2 – what you read here is my opinion only and based on personal experiences. This information is provided as an alternate perspective and optional coping strategy from one survivor to another and does not replace professional recommendations from medical and/or mental health providers

Background

When I first started blogging, I mentioned many books as my favorite resources, but never explained why.  Same went for books that did not help or had unexpected results.

Shame is one reason – a personal shame that belittles me every time I think about sharing an opinion.

Lack of language to explain my feelings, thoughts, and experiences was the other reason. It’s really hard to say “my instincts did not react well to … in the book” and be taken seriously.

Now I have words and language to describe my experience of using Peter Levine’s process.  The experience was neither negative nor positive. It was overwhelming and opened up avenues into the trauma that no one predicted. Not any part of me could cope alone, and we weren’t able to cope together back then. It was before we re-connected with each other.

The process of movement, bodywork, integrating feelings with sensations, and releasing energy is what I described here in the post about Anger. The exploration of bodywork and so on started with Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger and continued with Sexual Healing as feelings and sensations started coming back to my body awareness. Plus I was genuinely confused and distressed about not being able to “feel” or “experience” sexual feelings at the time.

So what happened?

As with many steps in my recovery journey, my mind/feelings heal faster than my physical body. Spirit/soul/spirituality/religion helped keep me on the path to recovery through faith and belief in a higher power, but it couldn’t help me bridge the divide between my mind and body. The lack of communication and integration between the two fit the whole “two steps forward, one giant step backward” scenario.

My mind and spirit were and are on the fast track to recovery.  But my body (the parts of me that experienced the worst and most significant amounts of trauma) is taking longer to find its recovery path.

Psychotherapy helped heal the emotional and mental wounds; and partial programs taught me how to safely experience feeling. Neither technique helped me cope with the body pain and other sensations that got worse as my mind healed.

Waking the Tiger taught me a different way of looking at the mind/body/spirit connections and how to identify if a physical sensation related to an emotion or feeling.  But all I felt when inside my body was varied degrees of pain.

Every feeling was connected to pain of some kind. I didn’t have the tools, knowledge, or skill set to work with the pain and find out what was underneath.  Other sensations were hiding underneath the pain.  Part or parts of me knew that, recognized that not every feeling equals pain.

But past conditioning is hard to break.  And my trainers excelled at their specialties. They linked all of my feelings back to pain in childhood so that my body experienced pain every time I felt and emotion. This epiphany did not appear until years later and occurred while I was reading the Pay/Changeling book Series by Nalini Singh.

Reading a series about the recovery process of a whole race that spent 100 years not feeling provided hope that I could feel again too. Someday.  But I wouldn’t have made the that connection without the knowledge from Peter Levine’s books. And I wouldn’t have started searching for information about mind-body therapy techniques either.

Present Time

In the 3 years before I moved across the country, my counselor and I explored different types of mind-body therapy.  She and my other providers encouraged me to try alternative medicine and learn more about the mind-body trauma connection. I read Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book and listened to a variety of webinars about his approach. I tried sensorimotor psychotherapy with different practitioners and also Deirdre Fay’s classes too. And I tried taking exercise classes in a gym or working out on my own in different places.

Each resource helped me learn about myself and my body – limitations, boundaries, strengths, and vulnerabilities – so that I could say “yes, this is worth trying again” or “no, I’m not ready for this yet”. Figuring out my limitations helped more than I understood at the time.  Without knowing how far I could go before my body shut down, I kept wandering into the “no trespassing zone” and passing out.  Then getting mad at myself for doing too much.

What are my limitations?

Agoraphobia – it’s a reaction to not feeling safe and not trusting my body to signal me when we need to get someplace safe ASAP.

My physical body – While it looks healthy, whole, etc. on the outside, it’s still healing on a massive scale on the inside. Every molecule, every cell in my body holds some kind of trauma memory. Right now, it holds everything inside and doesn’t know how to let go of or move memories, feelings, experiences, etc. around and out.  i.e. let go of the past.

Lack of knowledge – I couldn’t find answers using conventional methodologies. All of their strategies were too overwhelming for my body to cope with on a sensory level. These days I explore all kinds of healing methodologies.

What works for right now?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – a combination of herbs, body work, and acupuncture that helps move my chi to promote integrated healing and wellness. Works on mind/body/spirit at the same time

Qigong in all of its forms – physical exercise (like tai chi), meditation (standing/sitting/lying down), and energy healing (sound, meditation, physical movement) works on an energetic level to heal by removing blockages, etc. that prevents chi from circulating through my body.

Energy healing education – chakras, kundalini, prana, etc. is a general term for using energy movement for integrated healing of the mind/body/spirit connection.  Qigong is a specific type of energy healing.

Nutrition & diet – eating nutrient dense, whole foods and drinking lots of water.  I do not follow a specific diet because my body does not react well when I try to feed it something it doesn’t want.  Instead, I pay attention to the physical sensations and use that knowledge to inform my food and beverage choices.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Blog Break – Spiritual Quest – Back 4 Sundays from today

Dear Guests,

I hope you are enjoying summer or winter (depending on where you live).

A lot has changed in the last few weeks.  More change is coming up faster than I want to think about.

The last two years have open-end up whole new worlds (not quoting Disney’s Aladdin here – no t on purpose) and opportunities.

I’ve met some incredible people and discovered other ways of thinking/consciousness that provide different kinds of insight into my current struggles.

But it wasn’t until the anger left that I realized I was on a spiritual journey.

A spiritual journey is different for every person.  It’s not the same as recovery or a recovery journey.  I could be a healing journey, but not all healing journeys are spiritual.

The memories coming back now remind me of how lucky I was to grow up in religious and spiritual diversity even if that education came with a steep price.

Judeo-Christian religions taught me about community, love, and sacrifice.

The Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons) taught me the value of volunteer work and cooperation.

Buddhism taught me about compassion and walking the middle path to see through illusions and reduce personal suffering.

Wicca taught me to understand, accept, trust in, and appreciate my connection with the natural world.

Daoism taught me about qi and provided me a path back into my body so that I could start living in the present instead of the past.

All of these different religious and spiritual practices are teaching me other lessons and opening up other paths to explore.

But underneath it all, what I learned and value most from all of these religions and spiritual practices is that they all have one theme in common: UNCONDITIONAL, UNIVERSAL LOVE.

That LOVE is expressed and taught in different ways, but it exists in all of the practices listed above.

Not sure what will happen next, but now is a time for me to be patient and observed.  So, I will catch up with you all Four Sundays from today.

Thanks for reading.

AlterXpressions

Alter Post: When two worlds collide

Pip is retired.  She wants to stay retired and find a way to integrate with everyone else.  i.e. participate in co-conscious awareness with our host and everyone else in the real world.

Angora enjoys working and taking classes online.  She’s starting to get more comfortable talking with people in the outside world too.  But not interested in being a host full time.

Some of the younger alters are growing up.  They’re trying to decide if they want to maintain separate identities or merge with others and fade away.

The teen alters are growing up and making changes too.

What we all thought was the worst possible decision now seems like a possible option if we all want to live in the same present reality together.

I hoped moving across the country would stop the evening jaunts to potentially dangerous experiences.  Pip was so excited about finally having down time and a safe place to heal all of our physical injuries.  Angora looked forward to dancing and listening to music again.  Everyone else couldn’t wait to create a real home.

And yet, that past followed us here.  Only now has Pip shared that she had to come out of retirement during our first year in the new city.  The ones who recognized us from before and their friends here tried to cause trouble.  They tested and challenged us until we proved that retirement didn’t mean vulnerable.  That none of us had any interest in resuming the other work here.

Then, in our new building, both Pip and Angora along with a few of the males came out to protect our neighbors and our building.  This time was more and less than people from the past.  It was people who witnessed what happened the first year and caused trouble as neighbors.  It was local homeless people and addicts making noise at night and disturbing us.  It was neighbors with young children worried about the impact of these night disturbances.

So one last time, Pip came out to try and make it stop.  None of the neighbors got hurt.  Not in our building or the others nearby.  None of the innocent or uninvolved got hurt either.  But now the building doesn’t smell like pot.  The homeless people and partiers make less noise at night.

Maybe this time they’ll all believe in our communal retirement.  And understand that retirement DOES NOT equal going soft or being unable to protect ourselves.

But at least it explains how so many of the younger people in this neighborhood recognize me and look at me with mixed expressions of dislike, hate, disdain, horror, fear, or anxiety. And why the host doesn’t always recognize or remember them.  On the plus side: defending ourselves, protecting neighbors and the building without harming them, finally earned some trust.  Now the neighbors are respectful and polite, sometimes nice too.

And the amnesia that comes with a switch happens less often.  We’re looking forward to a day when all of us can work and move together as a united person in mind, body, and spirit.  When our body becomes fully adult instead of going back and forth between pre- and post-adolescence, it will go through normal female stuff instead of stopping or changing under stress.

Until that happens, the moments of fear and confusion when speaking with people will continue.  Maybe, though, this time around people will accept that part of us instead of shunning us.  And maybe we can stop feeling shame about not recognizing and remembering people who greet us.

Thanks for reading.

Quotes & Affirmations: Tara Brach about “Shoulds”

2018-03-07 20.53.26

This week I had to put aside many “shoulds”.  Life felt too overwhelming, yet not overwhelming at all.

All the typical stuff from this time of year occurred.  But my reactions were different.  My mind felt different.  My body felt different.

The body memories were intense, but not painful.

The flashbacks and nightmares felt scary, but did not fade back into amnesia like they normally did.  I woke up remembering why my body was paralyzed with fear or shaking with adrenaline.

ALL PARTS OF ME had to step back and act like scientists.  Yes scientists.

Observe from a distance.  Use logic to find a way into our tool box.  Analyze our symptoms – anxiety, depression, anger management, emotional overload, numbness, etc. Figure out what coping strategies and techniques to try next.

instead of…

I should feel this way but I’m not.

I should do this even though it feels wrong.

I should not react this way; it’s not “normal”.

I should not use this strategy because ____

THROW OUT THE SHOULDS or SHOULD NOTS….

and let my authentic self with natural/instinctive reactions and choices for effective coping strategies take charge

Maybe this will help you remember to give yourself space too.

Thanks for reading.

Series: 2017 Reflections Part 1

The many voices of me

This year, my guests got to know the many voices of me in a way different from years past.  They read well-written, articulate posts with few grammatical errors.  They read off-the-cuff first drafts written by single or groups of alters.  Some shared affirmations or quotes; reviews about resources; stories about themselves; and a variety of interests or revelations that changed how coping techniques and strategies were utilized.  The voices of children, adolescents, and adults colored every post.

That made reading or following a lot of what’s been on here difficult for some guests, scary for others, triggering for many (us included), and frustrating for all of us.  Several times this year, each one of us got writer’s block or simply didn’t know what to write here.  It’s supposed to be about resources, but no one has had a lot of time to follow up on that since moving and working through a variety of difficult situations in our new home.

Plus, no one was sure if anyone wanted to read about how different alters coped with the same situation or different situations at the same time.  We were scared to put our voices out there and change the tone of this website and blog.

Gratitude

But we’re happy we did.  In sharing our voices here, more of us have been able to share in the outside world too.  So thanks for giving us a safe space to share ourselves and express out feelings or opinions or thoughts and explore.

Over the years, different alters have instituted their own personal gratitude practices as coping strategies.  This year, all 88 of us agreed to use a morning and evening gratitude practice every day to see how reminders of the positives in life helped us stay grounded.  Sometimes we all meditated together.  Other times we practiced alone or in groups.

We might hear everyone communicating or no one – sometimes our thoughts and wishes occurred on a sub-conscious level.  Either way, each of us expressed gratitude for something before going to bed each evening and after waking up each morning.  We also asked for guidance, protection, and to meet others who can teach us how to help ourselves continue to move forward.

Communication

This year’s big goal was about practicing and improving our interpersonal skills – especially the voice and face-to-face kind – for better communication and relationships.  The focus was for work mostly because a lack of verbal skills means trouble for my reviews.

In terms of personal relationships, I wanted to be able to engage in conversations and understand the cues without feeling upset, shamed, frustrated, or confused every time one ended.  I also wanted to be able to remember conversations even if there was switching or dissociation ASAP instead of hours/days/weeks/months/years later.

It’s hard to participate in a conversation when you are not always present or able to follow what the other person(s) is saying whether in a personal or professional setting.

But if I can accept my limitations and turn them into strengths, then maybe, just maybe I will also be able to face my family again without fear choking me.

Family vs Loved Ones

Family are the people whose blood I share.  Loved ones are the people in the family we created together with bonds of friendship, acceptance, respect, love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness and trust.  I love my family, but do not trust/am not friends with all of them.  Some of my family are included in the group of Loved Ones; we share blood as well as the other bonds.

This year felt so scary because I reconnected with 5 more members of my family.  Each one offered acceptance, love, and respect – all things I hoped for, but did not expect.  As some loved ones reminded me – keep expectations low and hopes high.  Meeting with them either over email/text or in person felt like parts of my heart mended together again.  The hole is shrinking or maybe being emptied of toxic emotional wounds and healing with a balm of love and acceptance.

Either way, having family again feels really good.  The situation is still complex.  The ties between them and my parents or the others from my past still exist.  And finding a solution for reconnecting and staying safe is in the beginner stages.  We have hope though.  Hope and a lot of people willing to work on it.

Feelings

My alters and I learned we had feelings at 27 years of age.  That was 8 years ago.  Since then, it’s been a BIG learning curve to acknowledge, understand, express, and accept our feelings.  That was what the partial programs and non-trauma specialist counselors taught us the first time around.  What they shared and taught us helped a lot in many ways.

But it didn’t help any of us understand how to express or cope with those feelings when one or many or all of us felt overwhelmed.  Nor did it help us understand what to do with those feelings once they were expressed or coped with.  Observing many other people and how they coped with or expressed their feelings taught us that many people struggle with this too.

A lot of the self help books and books about anxiety or PTSD or healing, etc. skim over this too.  Not on purpose.  But the immediate issue is often learning how to calm down, relax, ground oneself, etc.  What do do after that is not as important in the moment.  And maybe other people don’t struggle the way we in our system have with what to do with the energy and feelings that still exist after coping, grounding, expressing etc.

This year taught all of us how to let go of those feelings once they’ve been acknowledged/expressed/accepted (any of these or other words work too) and we’re grounded or calm again.  Letting go is like learning not to hold grudges.  But the lesson applies to all feelings, especially the neutral and positive ones.  Feelings are supposed to come and go.  They are meant to be expressed and let out not held in.

Holding in feelings is like holding in toxic secrets.  They eat you and hurt you from the inside out.  Personal experience – my anorexia was all about self-hate and self- harm.  I couldn’t kill myself – some alter part of me refused to let it happen – so I held in all of those feelings and destroyed my body from the inside out.

Now, letting go of those feelings allows space for the body memories to surface and be expressed.  Then those memories are acknowledged, the feelings expressed, experiences accepted and let go.  Each time this happens, our pain lessens.  Our confidence and feelings of safety/security increase.  Our foundation strengthens.  And living in the past & present during trigger periods is less scary.

Thanks for reading