Recovery: Reflecting on Friendship

This is (for me) a short post.  500 words or less including these sentences.

Any kind of abuse makes trust difficult.  Being surrounded by people not your age during childhood and adolescence makes connecting with peers difficult.  Being abused by teens and adults makes connecting with older people difficult.  Being bullied by peers and younger people makes socializing and putting myself “out there” difficult.

Can you see the connections?

When I moved to the new city, I planned on making acquaintances – people to chat with and talk to in every day life – but not friends for the first year or so.  Socializing is not high on my list of priorities.

Safety, solitude, learning the city and how people here interact are my priorities.
Someday, I plan to make friends, go out more, socialize and interact.
Someday, I will go out more and stay home less.
Someday, I will feel confident about interacting with people.

But not today.  And not tomorrow.

The few friends I have, the few people I do know here are wonderful people.  They have established routines and friendships and social circles.  Through them, I meet a variety of people and opportunities to participate in events that would not have been on my radar even a month ago.

So why reflect on this now?

The topic of friends and “knowing” people came up recently in a conversation.  I call 1 person friend here and have met members of her family; people I am slowly including in my circle.  These people I go out with and socialize with a few times a month.  The other person lives here part time, so we will meet up when she gets back.

I guess I didn’t expect the person who told me to invite “my other friends” to the public event to be surprised when I said that I only know him and his wife.  It’s been about 3 or 4 months since I moved here.  But he was surprised.  And I didn’t feel like explaining my lack of friends at the time.

Before anything else, though, I want to feel safe and comfortable in my neighborhood.  I want to feel like I belong and am part of the community before opening myself up.  But, most important, I want to be able to walk outside, talk with a variety of different people, and pass by people without feeling the prickles of dissociative anxiety coming on.

I still feel scared right now.  The memories come fast and furious.  Too many new things all at once.  And a schedule that’s not a schedule.

So, routine first.  Socializing next.  Then, maybe, friendships later.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Accepting Help

My name is Darkness.  I am between 6 and 10 years old.  My name comes from holding some of the darkest memories and feelings in our system.  It was my job to protect the other parts from the monsters by creating walls between them and reality – aka a darkness that veiled the scary truth.  I was and still am a protector – strong and independent and capable.  I didn’t think that I needed any help; in fact asking for help was considered a weakness back then.

It wasn’t until the adults started going to therapy that I realized help is not a weakness.  Offering help feels good and lessens the feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to protect everyone all the time.  But accepting help?  Admitting I couldn’t handle all of the memories, feelings, and triggers by myself?  Admitting that I couldn’t do everything, protect everyone, prevent the others from remembering, maintain the dark veil?  That I refused to believe for a long time.

Because what would I do?  How could I be a useful part of the system if I wasn’t protecting everyone and myself from the scary memories?  How would I cope with the voices and the pain that came from lifting the darkness?  Who would want to help a monster like me?  One who lived in perpetual darkness reliving what the monsters did to our mind and body?

No, I didn’t believe anyone would offer to help me unless that offer was a trick of some kind.  I didn’t believe I deserved to be helped either.  So I ignored the offers.  And I denied needing anyone’s help.

Until the day, or was it evening, that I got caught in a trap that stuck me in the past and couldn’t get out on my own.

A whole group of alters (different ages and genders) came to find me.  They told me I could get out of this easily.  All I had to do was accept their offer of help.  I didn’t believe them at first.  I fought them.  I insulted them.  I hurt them.  I fought myself.  I insulted myself.  I hurt myself.  I pushed them away.  I hid from them.

They always found me.  They protected themselves without hurting me.  They offered compassion.  They stayed down in the pit with me and never, not once, left.

It felt like days, but was only hours – that last battle.  I was so tired.  I gave in and accepted their help.  As soon as I opened up to the offer, the trap disappeared.  No one was stuck anymore.  We climbed out of the pit and made our way home.  It was kind of embarrassing that the girl alters were stronger and faster than me fora long time as I recovered.

Boys are supposed to be stronger than girls.  Smarter and faster too.  But that’s a lie too.  Maybe boys are physically stronger because of the differences in body shapes.  But not stronger or smarter or faster in the other ways that count.  Anyone can be strong and fast and smart; it has to do with the individual not the gender.

Sometimes I forget that I”m part of a system who loves and accepts me as I am.  Sometimes I forget how important I am to the system; without me we wouldn’t be the AlterXpressions system (a unique, independent woman) and able to do so much.  And without them, I wouldn’t be able to learn, grow, and do my job as part of the system that makes up the woman we are.

A woman with masculine and feminine characteristics who is learning to embrace all parts of herself as I learn to accept myself and my part in our system.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery Challenge: illness or colds as triggers for emotional distress

I caught my first cold of the season and spent the last two weeks trying to take care of myself.

Between that and cramps, last week felt like an emotional roller coaster.  And the triggers kept piling on themselves.  The voices, the negative self talk, the memory fragments deisgned to shame me into self-harm or reckless behavior, and the pressure of feeling sick without knowing if I was sick or experiencing body memories made for a tiring week.

Emotion regulation is something I struggle with a lot.  When my temper is loosed or my internal defense mechanisms get triggered, the words and tone of voice coming out of my mouth are harsh, blunt, honest, to-the-point, and designed to bring the indiviual’s weakest points or insecurities in his or her face.  The tone of voice deep, loud, and commanding – aka harsh and bitchy to some – and does not take prisoners.

I don’t always remember what I say to people – usually this kind of reaction triggers a switch in alter personalities – in the moment.  But I find out afterwards in dreams and dissociative moments.  I also know this happened by the way people react to me afterwards.  With coldness – silent treatment or the cold shoulder or chilly politness – and insulting rudeness whenever I try to talk to them or they have to talk to me.  And they rale the anger out in smeaky passive-agressive ways like saying one thing and doing something else, spreading nasty rumors, making promises and not keeping them, lying, and trying to blame me for all of it.

That is some of what I have been remembering this past week.

On the flip side, I have also been remembering what my third therapist taught me about these moments:

1) I have a right to feel angry and express myself with assertive/ non-aggressive tone and language that is honest without being mean or insulting.

2) The language I used (my alters recounted my words and sometimes the other individual’s words too) was not inappropriate for the situation.  My tone was not as modulated as I would have liked, but it was not aggressive either.

3) My body language does get confusing because I automatically go into a protective stance that can read as agressive to others.  Plus my aura and energy spikes so I appear larger and stonger than my physical presence suggests.

4) I was taught to hold everything in and then trapped or baited into losing my temper/raging by my abusers as proof to everyone else how mean and unstable I was.  They shamed me and taught me I was uncontrolled and dangerous and abusive and scary for no reason so I couldn’t ever be angry. I couldn’t control the feelings or the words or the violence that came with getting angry for a long time.  And people used it against me because of the obvious guilt and shame every loss induced.

5) I am not the type of person who deliberately is mean or insulting to others.  That comes out as a defensice mechanism to protect myself.  However, I am perceptive and learned how to read people at an early age – survival skill.  That skill comes into play when I lose my temper and put one or more persons in their place.

6) I am not responsible for how other people act or react towards me, but I am responsible for how I act or react to myself and others.  That said, I do step up and try to make amends if I am wrong.

7) Often the people who call me harsh and bitchy are the ones who have crossed my boundaries more than once and did not listen the first, second, or many times I respectfully and politely let them know and reset the boundary.  They don’t like hearing what I have to say or that I won’t take responsibilty for their part in what happened along with my part.  Nor are they happy I caught them in lies, broken promises, and acts of trying to manipulate me.  So they blame me, project on me, and treat me poorly to try and shame me into obeying their rules instead of sticking to my boundaries.

It’s a conundrum because I still don’t really understand the difference between friendly polite and friendly crossing boundaries well.  Small talk is difficult and my opinions, when I give them, are strong.  I also am not very subtle or smooth; I am blunt in my speech.  And I don’t take insults well; in fact I tend to turn them around on the givers and piss them off.

But even know all of this, using emotion regulation coping techniques, realizing that I did not do or say anything shameful, mean, or insulting does not stop me from being triggered and sxperiencing the backlash that comes from expressing my anger and frustration and sadness.

When I get sick, my emotions are all over the place.  My alters get scared.  Do I have to take medicine?  Will I have to go to the doctor?  Am I safe?  How will I tale care of myself?  How will I sleep and rest with everything on my to-do list?  How can I still get everything done to acoid punishment?  Am I really sick or just being lazy like my mom?

And I start to lose control over my emotions and how they are expressed or communicated to others.  That scares all of me because it’s when I am most vulnerable to getting into emotionally dangerous situations.

In spite of all of this, I have discovered that people in my new city tend to have very good or very bad boundaries.  And interacting with them is teaching me a lot.  Especially the people who judge me at face value and then get pissed off because I politely disarm their veiled insults amd condescending attitude by sharing facts and more detailed information to counter their assumptions.  Only one time did that not happen; and I made my point by staring her down and politely refusing to make any purchases or sign up for store promotions.  All I can say is that I will not be going back their to shop.

Thanks for reading tonight’s rant about struggling with emotional distress and emotion regulation. 

Resources: Tara Brach & the concept of RAIN

Hello,

After a relaxing weekend, I’d like to share a new-to-me resource from Tara Brach.  Her name might or might not have been mentioned before, but I can’t remember.  I really enjoyed her first book about incorporating Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices into coping strategies and techniques without practicing or following Buddhism.  She has many free resources on her website and Facebook feed that I view and look into with my current therapist/counselor.

One practice that caught my eye recently is the acronym RAIN

R = recognize
A = allow
I = investigate
N = non-identification (my therapist uses nurture)

The acronym is a process that helps me learn to identify and cope with any emotions I feel in the moment.  From there, I can learn to step back and accept them without feeling so overwhelmed or wanting to escape from them (good/bad/indifferent I always want to escape in some way).

In our last meeting, my new therapist walked me through the exercise a couple times so that I understood how the process worked.  To be honest, I struggled with it in session and kept forgetting what the acronym meant outside.  One of us would almost get it right.  Then another would try.  Finally, we searched “Tara Brach” and “RAIN” online to get the words right.

Monday and yesterday, I was overwhelmed with feelings.  Probably was not a good idea for me to go to knitting or allow a friend to come over on a holiday when I knew there was a lot of potential for emotional triggers.  But I did it.  And got triggered.  Using the RAIN method helped everyone in our system stay focused during the work day in spite of this sleepy, floating sensation (depression or insomnia) that permeated my mind.

But, instead of the depression and/or insomnia, the alters in trouble figured out the trigger.  Then we all worked together to understand how the trigger (and the sensations it brought up) affected us as individuals and as a whole.  Because we all felt it.  And we all were affected by it.

If you want to learn more about RAIN, I’d recommend starting with this link and then checking out the free audio and video resources on the website.

Thanks for reading.

Body Memories: Recovering Memories and working through pain

My focus is on safety, self-care, and comfort or self-soothing to help with the body memories and pain.

Many of the coping strategies I use for pain management are not available right now because the food options here are different from where I used to live.  There is not much of a Chinese community with authentic foods through restaurants.  What is available is hard to get to without a car and tends to be very salty.  Cooking has been interesting with community kitchens and lack of pantry space for utensils, etc.

And cooking or food is a major coping strategy for me: provides sensory and physical grounding, soothing smells, nourishment, a connection to loved ones who passed on years ago, etc.  A microwave is useful, but cooking grains and pasta or meat is trial and error right now.  Soon, I will have an electric kettle, rice cooker/steamer, and slow cooker to make cooking easier.  But they are low priority right now.

The same is t rue for real dishes, cooking utensils, silverware, etc.  I have chopsticks, plastic bowls, and soup spoons thanks to my aunt.  That plus a Chinese cleaver (like a butcher knife), a paring knife, and disposable utensils are all I want for now.  Buying dishes and silverware is personal, so I am willing to wait until I find exactly what I want – be they new or new to me via thrift stores.

I’ve been remembering again.  And the last few days have taught me that sometimes I have to relive the pain and scary sensations in my body in order to remember.  Then the pain will lessen instead of increase.  And the other symptoms will change too.  But remembering why my spine hurts so much in certain places and causes problems with alignment, joints, and muscles from head to toe is not easy.  Neither is remembering that my parents caused the pain as punishment and a way to keep me in place when other stuff was happening.

Yes, I am being vague.  I am still processing and putting together the memories.  Still working on what tools I have available that can help the most.  And working through the realization that many of the tools I depend on most are not accessible right now.  As I put the pieces together and experience less pain, I will write about why experiencing the physical symptoms of pain, shaking, headaches, etc. is a necessary part of retrieving my memories and then making sense of them.

Thanks for reading.