Alter Post: School of Hard Knocks – and what it taught me about knowledge

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.

Hey All,

All of us in the AlterXpressions system (i or we) decided to share some more about our personal story as a follow up to last week’s post.

A winding path through trees...destination unknown
Destination unknown

First because our journey to where we are now has been filled with directional changes.

Second because many guests have been asking about how we got to where we are now.

Finally, because all of us are here to emphasize that this place is about sharing knowledge and resources – not telling people what to do or how to live their lives.

Being smart doesn’t get a person anywhere unless the individual knows how to use and apply those smarts. Same with education and experience.

It takes courage, resilience, compassion, love, acceptance and an open mind to pick up the pieces of life after trauma and figure out how to live again. We mean how to have the

  • Courage to believe in, love, and accept ourselves as we are in that moment knowing we are different and will never be who we were again
  • Resilience to learn how to roll with the changes that life throws at us as we learn our new “normal”
  • Compassion for ourselves and the people around us as mistakes happen, hurt triggers all kinds of emotions and sensations, and we fall
    • Because everyone falls, makes mistakes, hurts self/others, and gets hurt
  • Open mind to ask for/accept help, learn the tools we need to be who we want to be, and thrive as our authentic selves – happy, loving, loved, safe, – in alignment with our personal values

All parts of me agree to share this with you, so please don’t be surprised by shifts in language or writing style. We tend to interrupt, talk over, or repeat each other writing like this.

College did not exactly prepare me for “real world” work. But it did give me insight into how much I didn’t know about life and people because of how I was raised. The classes and instructors provided lots of book learning, but living on campus taught me about hope and made “happy ever after” seem possible. It was a break from the reality of my other life – almost like a bubble – until my past caught up with me there too.

7 geese in a meadow. One is not like the others...pairs of 2x2x2...then one?
One of these geese is not like the others. Two by two by two…

That”s when I realized college life didn’t fit me in the same way high school didn’t fit because my life experience taught me to value different life goals/career objectives. I was in survival mode and didn’t realize it.

Graduate school taught me that I wasn’t meant to spend my life in a rigid classroom. It also gave me the opportunity to explore skills that I disregarded as useless in high school or college. It also highlighted areas where I was completely lacking in knowledge and experience. Like interpersonal communication and time management; saying “no” and setting boundaries.

University buildings, a parking lot, food trucks...typical academic setting
Typical academic setting

Still, graduate school helped me find a temporary job that turned into a 13-year long career with the same company and allowed me to start this website/blog. I learned foundational skills in architecture and design from graduate school. Combined that knowledge with my writing and organizational skills to land a job helping a project manager create deliverables for a client.

My hard work, eagerness to learn and apply knowledge, and commitment to meeting deadlines caught the attention of other managers and people in the department. They mentored me and taught me more than I can ever express. In that organization, I got to be myself. Acceptance and respect was based on my actions and reactions instead of rumors and assumptions.

My past didn’t matter to them when they learned about it. Instead of firing me or suspending me, they offered support and helped me find ways to keep working no matter how bad my symptoms got. As long as I was honest with them, they worked with me to create flexible schedules and go through the red tape so I got to keep my benefits and job.

Now, thirteen years later, I have job security and a role that allows me to continue doing what I started while also taking on new challenges that help my team and enjoy work again.

EPIPHANY

College education and graduate school classes gave me the foundation skills to understand the work I do, but the school of hard knocks provided me the important life lessons that helped me earn credibility, respect, and acceptance.

Without both parts of that equation, I would not be as valuable or useful in my day job or here on the blog.

Finally, I acknowledge that I am lucky and blessed to have found an organization that accepts me, values me, and allows me to continue on the winding path that is my career with them.

As always, thanks for reading.

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: Choosing Love as a form of vengeance

 

This week, the OCD is really strong.  I am struggling with compulsions to be self-destructive, let shame take over, and push people away because I don’t deserve to be around good people.  Instead of being self-destructive, I chose to watch crime dramas, procedurals, and super hero shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  When TV & movies didn’t work, I re-read one of my favorite books about overcoming obstacles.

Here is the quote from Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

“I’ll find my vengeance in living a life overflowing with happiness,” Mahiya vowed, “In drowning myself in love, not hatred.”

This quote reminds me that I have choices.  And so does anyone whose survived trauma and abuse.

Mahiya survived over 300 years living with a narcissistic father who hated the sight of her and blamed her for the fact that his wife wouldn’t forgive him for cheating on her with her twin sister.  Mahiya’s aunt was the ruler of the territory she lived in.  The aunt used her as a tool for vengeance and tortured her for fun as long as she was useful.  Then Mahiya’s father dies, and the aunt no longer has a reason to keep her alive.

If Mahiya can survive living in that kind of situation for 300 plus years, I can get through one or more nights of flashbacks & nightmares that trigger OCD.

So can anyone else as determined and courageous and resilient as Mahiya.  Because survival is one thing.  But living a life of joy & love in spite of past trauma is something else.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: Trusting the inner self

A thoughtful, discussion type post today.  Everything is inter-related so no subtitles.

Sometimes I get caught up in the stories my mind creates.  The emotional stress from fear or anxiety combine to drown out what my instincts or inner self is trying to say, especially when they are on opposite sides.  If I only listened to the feelings generated by the nightmares and flashbacks, would I have the courage to keep getting involved in life?  Or to develop healthy relationships?  Or accept that some “negative symptoms” or “coping strategies” are healthy, natural inclinations instead?

Do you, guests, also question whether or not your habits are healthy or unhealthy?  Positive or negative?  Useful or interfering?  If so, you are not alone.  Many survivors and others who are not survivors tend to question/challenge everything at one point or another.  It’s part of growing and adapting to both change – life, recovery, personality, work, inner/outer self – in order to become closer to our authentic selves.  I say closer because becoming one’s authentic self is a lifelong journey.

At this point in my journey, I am remembering more and more of the past in order to take the next step to trusting guidance from my inner voice instead of letting reality or perspective get distorted when my instincts trigger “danger” signals.  My inner voice is different from my instincts in the same way that emotions are different from intuition.

  • Instincts are based on sensory information – sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, proprioception
  • Inner voice is based on an interpretation of what my senses are telling me based on knowledge, experience, and perception of the present situation

e.g. my instincts tell me that a certain set of sounds could mean danger.
My inner voice(s) look in the direction of the sound, take in the surroundings as a group of boisterous people enjoying outdoor music and drinks, and decide it’s wise to be cautious when going past them.
My trigger reacts like this: flashback to the past and tell me to defend myself and/or avoid the sounds because I’m in danger from the sound maker(s).

Right now, the trigger is louder than the inner voice and hijacks control over all reactions.

The goal is to build more trust in the inner voice and allow that to guide reactions and actions to my/our instincts.

Another way to look at this is through coping strategies & habits.  Some of my questionable coping strategies & habits include:

  • preference for solitude & quiet
  • need for privacy & limited social relationships
  • Urge to “reset” my sleep cycles every few months by staying up 24+ hours or not sleeping much for days/weeks at a time until I crash for as many hours as needed to recuperate
  • Compulsion to use a “resting meditation” technique that allows all alters to be active at the same time and communicate to work through large amounts of memories/feelings/flashbacks/stress in an 8+ hour period of time throughout the year.

The solitude is questionable because almost every self-help guide, program, and counselor I’ve talked to or worked with has warned about the dangers of isolation and loneliness.  They’ve also talked about the importance of making connections with people, having a support system, emotion regulation/tolerance, and importance of interpersonal communication in recovery.  But no one has discussed how some people, whether more towards introversion or extraversion, are more naturally inclined towards solitude than others.

These people may or may not be highly sensitive, but they have found other ways of creating meaningful connections and relationships with people, animals, plants, etc. that don’t necessarily require a lot of social interaction.  Not exactly hermits, but not interested in an expansive social life either.  That’s me, and something I am learning to accept instead of question or worry about.

As for privacy & trust, well I didn’t have a lot of that growing up.  And while I am good at making it appear to others that I am an open book by sharing some information about myself, in reality those people only see/know/understand what I allow them to see.  Less than 5 people in the world know all parts of me, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  Many 20 or less people know most parts of me.  Everyone else gets to meet the “survivor”, “insecure”, “grumpy”, “social”, “professional”, or “ambivert” me; maybe a combination of them too.

More stuff than I can put words to happens inside on a daily basis.  That takes up more than 50% of my energy (mental, physical, spiritual) right now.  The other 50% is used to go to work, do chores, cope with external symptoms, and enjoy life.  Sometimes, I get overstimulated into an adrenaline state that makes sleep difficult to impossible – it’s a combination of flashbacks & nightmares with body memories and fear responses working their way through all parts of me.

Other times, my energy gets used up too fast, and I can’t replenish in time; not just food energy, but mental and spiritual too.  “Being normal” or focusing on life outside of my inner worlds becomes too much.  I need to take a break and let my inner world settle down after all of the changes.  That means more or less sleep and lying down meditation to allow everyone a chance be involved in the coping strategy.

The sleep & meditation used to cause untold amounts of shame and self-hate because that’s what mom did to escape the world.  She slept for hours or days at a time with the excuse of being sick.  Then there was the family shame of “being lazy” by sleeping too much.  Or the label “just like your mom” because I didn’t do enough (from outsiders point of view) to help my parents and brother.

Now, getting enough sleep & practicing meditation is part of my self-care routine.  I feel less shame and guilt about taking care of myself because self-care means I can do more with life and stay healthy.  I feel more empowered to resist the negative voices and keep going in spite of the flashbacks, fear, anxiety, body memories, pain, or nightmares that trigger panic attacks.  Sure, I may need an extra hour or two in the morning or have to take a break and work later, but at least I don’t have to take the whole day off and sleep through the anxiety anymore.

Why?
Because now I and all of my parts can hear, trust, and listen to the inner voice interpreting our instincts with a balance of emotion and logic that is based in the present reality instead of the past one.

Is it easy?  Medium?  Difficult?
Yes and no.  Like any challenge, some parts are easier than others.  It depends on the individual and her or his perspective on life, willingness to change, reactions to stress, resilience, courage, and persistence.

Wait, what if I don’t have an inner voice?
Everyone has an inner voice and instincts.  Not everyone chooses to believe in or listen to the inner voice or instincts.  And some people who do might decide that the inner voice and instincts are wrong because the short term outcome is unexpected or unwanted so choose not to listen.  As with hindsight being 20/20, so is listening to one’s inner voice.  Learning how to interpret what the inner voice is communicating takes time, practice, and mistakes.

Is this like a conscience or a moral compass?
Maybe.  For some people, their inner voices and instincts align with their values and moral compass or ethics.  For others, the conscience could be separate.  For me, they are separate.  My instincts and inner voice are non-judgemental and neutral.  They share information and guidance that I can accept or refuse or interpret in different ways.

Either way, whether you (guests) choose to explore your inner voice or instincts, I hope you all find a path to self-acceptance through recovery.  Self-acceptance makes living and enjoying life that much more interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategies: Quotes, Affirmations & subscriptions

  
I saw this quote on my Facebook feed today.  It sparked hope and joy inside of me in spite of the overhwelming numbness that takes over when the nightmares and anxiety subside.

Most times, I am not fond of subscriptions.  The volume and content annoy me even though O want to be part of whatever I subscribed to.  Maybe it is triggering too.  Being part of something…even a club or professional group…is difficult.  But Web of Benefit is different. 

But this quote, it got me dreaming again.  I always wanted to fly.  And lately, my past has been bogging me down with fear and insecurity. Taking a risk or two seems less interesting than it did before.  And that is not me.

Yes, I like to be well informed and have backup strategies in place before I make a choice, but I still make the choice and do something.

So I hope this affirmation or quote or whatever you want to call it helps you fly too.