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

Alter Post: Mother’s…Daughters…Secrets & Confessions

Trigger warning…this post discusses what many consider a taboo topic related to sexual abuse. The post is written by alter personalities, uses a journal format, and is shared unedited.

I have a confession.
A secret not yet shared here on the blog.
One that I have accepted, am not ashamed of anymore, yet still have trouble talking and writing about anywhere.

I’m not trying to tease you by drawing this out. I am trying to be careful, considerate, and kind to myself as I write this and share it with you.

Have you ever heard of mother daughter sexual abuse?
It’s real.

So if you want to know learn more, use the “Read More” tag below.

Read More »

Life Quirks: Technology Troglodyte

*This is for the guests who comment on my Home and About This Site Pages. *

The Trigger:

Technology scares all of the alters in our system.  For us, technology is a means to an end that allows us to avoid depending on paper for organization.

Some technology is also a trigger.  But other technology is useful enough that it’s become an integral part of my life (skip to the end for more on this).

Comment Question Addressed – you can stop here if you want…

Point is: this website, blog, etc. came about because I had to face my fear of technology for work and decided to apply the lessons here to create this website and blog too. Technology and electronics are a big weakness in my knowledge, experience, and lifestyle choices.

I learn what is needed to do my job and make life easier. The rest passes me by faster than cars pass each other on the highway’s fast lane.

Why? Learning is fun and appeases my curiosity. Technology, not so much. So I balance my need to understand technology with the fun of learning to improve this site.

Read More »

Coping Strategy: EMDR Trial 2

Credit to: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. The information below is for educational and support purposes only. Please discuss any changes you want to make with your provider first.*

BACKGROUND

In past posts, either my alters or I mentioned trying EMDR with different counselors. The results were good in session, but not so great between sessions or in real life. The coping strategies we practiced to help with the side effects of EMDR were sufficient but not enough to quote a past counselor. I couldn’t cope with the side effects of EMDR while living my old life, so put it aside to focus on techniques and strategies that did help.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

So what is EMDR? And why is it helpful (depending on the individual) for PTSD, Trauma, and Anxiety?

You can find an excellent definition and resources here at the EMDR Therapy website

This article defines EMDR

This website is for the EMDR International Association and offers training, education, and resources.

Q&A

Why try EMDR again after so many years?

Short answer:

Different counselor, different approach, different overall living situation

Longer answer:

  • My memories were coming back, and the emotions/sensations/triggers that came with them started interrupted daily life or nightly sleep too often
  • The hyper-vigilance and panic attacks kept increasing because of new or more sensitive environmental and internal triggers
  • Increased sensitivity to internal triggers – existing coping strategies and techniques were less helpful than usual; sometimes  made the overwhelming feelings or anxiety worse
  • My current counselor asked me if I was willing to try EMDR again and explained her process. Then showed me different options to use for the bi-lateral stimulation part of the process.
  • Overall, I felt safe, confident, and ready  to try this again

How did the EMDR work this time around?

The EMDR worked well and helped a lot to reduce my sensitivity to certain triggers and feel more confident about my reactions to situations in real life. The memories are just memories now. Any lingering trauma sensations or triggers left with each EMDR session.

Each Session?

Yes, I have had two sessions so far: one earlier this summer and one in October.

Why wait to share?

As mentioned earlier in the post, there are side effects or after effects that linger for a period of time after the EMDR session. The time period for long those effects last differs from person to person.

For me, the effects last about 2-3 months. During this time period, my focus is narrowed to: meet basic needs and self-care as I work with or through the emotional and physical changes brought out by the EMDR.

Will you share tips and suggestions for preparing for an EMDR session?

Yes. I broke the list down into three sections.

Discussing with or finding an experienced counselor

  • Learn as much as you can about EMDR and how it could benefit you because it does not help everyone
  • If you are seeing a counselor, have a conversation about how EMDR could help you
  • If your counselor is trained in EMDR, ask if you can try it in a future session
  • If your counselor is not trained and you want to try EMDR, ask for a referral to work with an EMDR specialist along with regular sessions
  • If you do decide to work with a specialist, make sure you feel safe and comfortable with her or him before you start anything.

*remember it’s important to trust the counselor and feel safe sharing these experiences in order for any kind of therapy or coping technique to be effective*

Before the EMDR session

  • Listen to the counselor’s process: intake questions, building resources, practicing coping strategies so that you remember them even in distress, discussing memories and choosing which one to work on in each session, etc.
  • Work with the counselor to answer questions as honestly as possible; provide enough information to help you both make informed decisions about the session and after care
  • If a coping strategy does not work for you, say so and work with the counselor to find an alternative
  • The counselor may ask you what type of EMDR tool you want to use for the bi-lateral stimulation part. The choice is yours, and it’s okay to ask if you can try out each one before making your choice

After the EMDR session

  • You will feel tired after your session, so it’s best to try scheduling your session after work or on a day with minimal activity
  • You may experience emotions and sensations differently – that makes coping with and reacting to them difficult sometimes
  • Your body may feel different – especially if you experience body memories
  • You could have more memories resurface – not all traumatic – and have to cope with them too
  • If you are like me (aka open about your unique gifts), you might also have some interesting experiences within your environment or during interactions with people. Traditional coping strategies might not work for those experiences, but your spiritual or religious practice could help. My spiritual practice helps me cope with them

Remember, EMDR is not for everyone. These tips are for informational purposes only and based solely on my personal experience. Please discuss with a medical or mental health professional before making any decisions or changes to your current treatment plan.

Thanks for reading.

DID Post: Follow Up of Last Week’s Coping Strategies

Catching Up

Last Sunday, I couldn’t post because all parts of me got hit with intense body memories and flashbacks.

Literally, the monsters in my mind tried to take over by staging a coup. The traumatized parts of my alters got triggered and sent mixed signals to my brain. It felt like getting sick with a cold and the flu at the same time all over again. Plus, I still had to work and finish tasks before my vacation last week.

Types of Change in My Life

There are times when change happens so fast, a person is left flailing around unable to keep up with it all.

There are times when change happens, and the individual has enough awareness to fight it, roll with it, or try something else. Either way, the change(s) does not overwhelm the individual.

Then comes the slow change  that silently creeps up on a person, the kind that goes unnoticed until something happens to make it obvious. Kind of like an “I should have known that would happen” situation.

A Quick Detour to Explain Hallucinations vs Intuitive Communications

Option 3 is what happened to me two weeks ago. Unlike a lot of people I talk to about PTSD, I am completely aware of my hallucinations as they occur. I can tell the differences between them and reality in the present moment. My hallucinations are obvious to me because they are consistent in their appearance – hearing voices, seeing exaggerated and transparent forms of beings/cartoons/creatures (aka ghosts), and feeling certain body sensations – and different from the sensations and vibrations my plants use to communicate with me.

Sometimes I still get confused when my empathic senses or intuition tries to share information. But that is a case of “am I hallucinating or is my intuition talking to me?” Working with my spiritual mentor has helped me a lot with that question. I feel a lot more confidence sorting through the different sensations and information that triggers my hyper-vigilance and body memories.

Back to Last Weekend

It started on Wednesday when I woke up feeling sick and had to take a “sick day” from work. My nightmares were getting worse and bleeding into day dreams that distracted me from…well everything. I started wanting to be awake all night and sleep all day. While I was awake, the voices kept up a steady stream of shaming insults about anything and everything.

I was tired, distracted, confused, and congested with a lingering head cold. All that increased my palpitations (side effect of high anxiety levels) and made breathing difficult. The high anxiety made tense head and neck muscles tighten even more. No matter what, I just couldn’t get comfortable. So I slept as best as possible and drank lots of tea. Distracted myself with podcasts about essential oils, aromatherapy, and herbalism. Focused on trying to figure out why the pain increased no matter what coping strategy I tried.

Then it hit me. Maybe one or two weeks before, while shopping for holiday gifts at my favorite store, I ran into a different spiritual teacher. We talked, and she suggested that maybe part of my anxiety came from holding on to the past without realizing it…that maybe I (or parts of me) was projecting my hopes and dreams onto others and forging connections the rest of me didn’t want. It could be that my alters were growing, changing, and afraid to let go of the familiar.

That made a lot of sense. Headaches and pain that won’t go away no matter what I try usually means some kind of internal conflict.

I haven’t used the phrase “monsters in my mind” in a while, so let me explain. I and every one of my alter personalities experienced severe trauma of some kind. We all hold the memories in different ways (mental/emotional/spiritual) and in different parts of our physical body. The memories are attached to the “other stuff” (emotions / thoughts / behaviors / actions / reactions) we experienced and couldn’t process back then.

Our memories are neutral. The “other stuff” is what creates the monsters in our mind – the voices telling us how awful we are and that we are worthless, etc. Essentially, I and my alters are fighting ourselves when this happens – hence the term internal conflict. Sometimes a call to the hotline helps; the volunteers listen objectively and can help sort through the confusion. Other times, though, only meditation can help.

By meditation, I mean lying down someplace warm and safe (usually my bed), closing my eyes, and letting all parts of me out to communicate at the same time. We do a roll call to make sure all 88 are present. if anyone is missing, we go looking for them. We protect each other from the monster traps and any other potential problems that come with high anxiety and flashbacks.

On the outside, our body looks like it’s sleeping. Sometimes sleep talking and sleep laughing occur too. Our body might move on the bed, roll around or change positions, but it does not get up and move around. That kind of vertical movement is too dangerous. On the inside, though, all of us are aware of the different body sensations moving through our physical form as we check our internal home and its safeguards.

The safeguards are boundaries that protect our inside home and its safe spaces from the monsters. This worked well in the past because many of the triggers that caused these kinds of panic attacks and flashbacks came from outside of our body/mind self. We could retreat inside and do what was necessary to keep the monsters from invading and taking over.

This time, though, our safeguards were intact. The monsters were inside the safeguards and causing havoc.

How did they get in? They were already inside. These monsters were the hallucinations body memories given form as we alters learned to cope with and let go of our past. And the monsters wanted to leave just as much as we wanted them to go. But no one knew how to get them out.

A meditation that combined 2-3 different practices.

  • LovingKindness or Compassion: all parts of me opened up our home and safe spaces to everyone – especially the “monsters” and “outcasts” – with open minds and open hearts – kindness, compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love
  • Mara – in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition: They could stay and be part of the community for as long as they wished as long as they followed our rules. If at any time they wanted to leave,  the could do so knowing that leaving was permanent.
  • Visualization – The monsters liked to talk, so once one said “I want to leave” or something similar, a rainbow portal appeared – sometimes in front / side/ back, sometimes above, sometimes below the monster. Then the monster – who was decidedly not an alter personality – stepped through the one-way portal to go home.

Imagination and a love of fantasy combined with a belief in magic, miracles, and the paranormal helped all parts of me design this meditation.

Since all 88 alter personalities changed and had monsters ready to leave, the meditation took a long time. It started on Friday after work and continued through Sunday. There were times of actual rest and pause for food/drink, etc. throughout the weekend. But most of it was spent lying down in meditation.

One week has passed since that big self-care weekend, but I still get requests for portals.

And yes, if at any time one or more alter personalities decided to leave our system, I would open a portal for that personality. Before he/she/it left, I’d give a big hug and say good-bye. Then probably cry for a bit at losing part of myself. But I’d let that part go because trying force something to stay against its will goes against my values.

Yes, I am afraid that will happen some day. But if it does happen, there will be an excellent reason.

Until then, all parts of me continue to work on recovery together.

Thanks for reading.