Resources: The Center for Self Leadership – More about Internal Family Systems Model

Two articles from the Center for Self Leadership website:

First article explains some history and defines the “Self” versus “Parts” and is written by Dr. Richard Swartz, Ph. D.  For those of you who prefer other media, this page also has a video that summarizes the article.

Second article is an “(o)utline of the Internal Family Systems Model“.  I like the breakdown and explanation of “basic assumptions” that are the foundation of this theory.

Why share so much about Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

  • I am doing research to support important work going on in the AlterXpressions system – internal as parts are “growing up” and changing roles; external because they are ready to communicate with the outside world and our counselor in particular
  • I honestly believe that most people, even without DID and alter personalities, are made up of parts or characteristics.
    • Sometimes those parts are in harmony; other times they are in conflict.  Conflict makes coping with and healthy expressions of feelings difficult for anyone, but especially trauma survivors who’ve learned to shut down instead of feel.
    • The techniques and strategies here give options for working with and holding conflicting feelings at the same time without feeling helpless.
  • IFS can be used as a tool to bridge conversations with people who are wary of mental illness or have a hard time understanding/accepting/making sense of how symptoms appear to outsiders, but really do want to learn and help and be part of your/my/our lives.
  • IFS is what I used to explain all of this to my boss and supervisors back when everything almost blew up in my face.  Before the legal name change, but after I separated from my family.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: AlterXpressions – the host reveals herself

Hello Guests,
My name is TJ.  I guess you can call me the host of our expansive system.  But it’s not quite accurate because none of us is ever the host full time.  Not even in the past before anyone knew about alter personalities and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I’ve always heard voices and made intuitive leaps that defy logic.  And I’ve always been different.
As a child, different meant being a target for bullies and racism.  It meant being too smart for my own good and labeled a nerd with no personality among my peers.  Within my family, being different got me excluded from group activities and punished or made fun of for being too slow, emotional, mouthy, disobedient, or ditsy.  Never for being smart or capable.
I had friends for a little while, but then they slowly disappeared.  As they left, I retreated to my amazing inner world.  When that didn’t work, books were my escape.  Crafts helped too unless Mom found out and decided to interfere.  Then crafts became a punishment.  Either I was with the cult, alone at home, or somewhere supervised by my mother.
The memories are fuzzy, but I do remember the following:
  • Climbing up high to hide from “monsters”
  • Crawling under sofas, beds, etc. to “escape” from something
  • Hiding in cabinets, boxes, closets, etc. and getting punished because no one could find me; then having my hiding places blocked
  • Lots of pain and fuzziness from “medication”
  • Lots of adults and secret games
  • Shame and despair and suicidal thoughts
  • Middle school hell because I got stuck with the “popular” kids
  • High school drama and worse because of “popular” kids, death of family members, being forced to go to prom, and graduation
  • Suddenly losing time  and being abusive and angry all the time without understanding what was happening or why
  • Hating my body and wanting to be invisible – aka negative body image and sense of self
  • Being a social outcast for most of my life because I never learned “proper” social skills
Who am I now?
I am one of many in our system and the face most people in the outside world meet or interact with.  I have a stable job in Corporate America, friends, and loved ones.  Lucky for me, I’ve had the same job for more than 10 years and earned the respect of my co-workers.  They accept my panic attacks and PTSD as part of working with me and value my skills.
The job provided me with mentors and an alternative family that taught me how to be a real person.  From those people, I learned how to be respectful, accepting, honest, and trustworthy.  They taught, through modeling and personal experience, how to interact with people and be social in positive, safe ways.  Without this job, I’d never have gotten away.
My favorite hobbies are: reading, cooking, writing, walking, and sleeping.
When not triggered, I also enjoy knitting, sewing, discovering my personal style, working with my hands, and learning about a variety of topics.
I am interested in alternative medicine, nutrition, personal finance, mental health, intuition, spirituality, wellness, and living a conscious, authentic lifestyle.  I am an empath, a highly sensitive person interested in learning more about angels, spirit guides, guardians, and energy healing.  I want to find ways to work with my alters and integrate so that we all can enjoy life in the outside world.
Personal relationships are difficult because most people can only accept part who I am and reject everything else.  Friendships take time, work, patience, and trust.  Do I want an intimate relationship someday?  Yes.  Will that happen in this life time?  I don’t know.  Do I have hope?  Yes.
Finding a man (because I am heterosexual) who can accept all parts of me sometimes feels like searching for a unicorn.  I mean who could ever accept, not only the darkness inside me, but also that I am a multiple?  Yet I still have hope and am open to all of the possibilities my future holds.  So maybe one day…
Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Internal Family Systems explained by Psychology Today

Internal Family Systems Therapy – From Psychology Today magazine.

Recovery is cyclical.

Trauma never goes away, but the patterns and symptoms it leaves inside ebb and flow depending on context, experience, and life.

For a while, our system was stable.  We were in a good place and able to work on other coping challenges that required attention.   Challenges that interfered with living in the outside world.

Now, a lot of these challenges have changed into coping strategies, techniques or learning paths for future references – i.e. resources.  The others are tangled with issues not ready to be addressed yet, so have moved to the background for now.

And it’s time to focus back on adapting our family system.  My alters and I, we, are ready to start working on integration, self-awareness, and creating ways to live in both worlds. That means trying new coping techniques with our counselor and revisiting past ones too.

Why Internal Family Systems therapy? – it coincides nicely with the whole/parts theory of personality and is what our first trauma counselor used to help us get sorted.  Plus, it’s great for helping people learn to cope with feelings/thoughts/opinions that seem overwhelming or conflicting without shame or guilt or anxiety.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

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.

Alter Post: Mindfulness meditation frustration

Mindfulness meditation frustration

Lots of people discuss mindfulness meditation and how beneficial it can be.    But how often are the other meditation styles discussed and used?  As much as we love mindfulness meditation, sometimes it just doesn’t help.  We are not interested in being mindful or grounded in the present. No when we’re struggling with understanding which reality (past/present/flashback/nightmare/daydream) we are in at the moment.

Our goal is to ALL BE IN THE SAME MOMENT AT THE SAME TIME

It’s rather disorienting and confusing for the host not knowing when she is in the outside world.

In moments like this, something hat attracts everyone’s attention and pulls us together helps more than anything else.  What can do that?  A different kind of meditation called visualization sometimes helps us.  Maybe it could be called mindfulness since the focus is on recreating every detail of the object in our mind?  But our visualizations are based on imaginary places, not real ones, and use all of our senses, so not sure either way.

Our preferred visualization is always tree or earth-related.  Something about trees feels especially safe, comforting, and grounding.

But anything can be used for the visualization.

The Visualization practice

We learned a variation of this meditation from the hotline volunteers.  You can do this alone or with a partner or in a group.

In a quiet, safe space
    Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
    Breathe deep and slow – inhale, pause, exhale – 3-4 times
    Close your eyes
    Breathe in for count of 5, then out for count of 5
    Notice the sensations and/or thoughts passing through
    Continue breathing deep and slow

 

Imagine a tree in front of you
Notice the trunk
    What color?
    How old or young?
    How big/small, skinny/thick?
    What shape is the trunk?
    What does the bark look, feel, smell, sound like?
Notice the branches and leaves
    What do you see?  Shapes, sizes, colors, textures..
    What do you hear?
    How do the branches and leaves feel?
    Do the branches and leaves have a scent?  Can you describe it
Notice the ground under the trunk
    Is the ground solid?  muddy?  grassy?  sandy?
    How does it feel, smell, sound?
    What colors?
Imagine you can see under the ground
    What do the roots look like?
    How long or short?
    How thick or thin?
    How strong or weak?
Observe all around the tree
    Is there anyone or anything near by?
    Describe what your observe
Breathe in for a count of 5, pause for a count of 5, then breathe out for a count of 5
Breathe deep and slow – inhale, pause, exhale – 3-4 times
Notice how you feel – stress levels, sensations in your body/mind, feelings you’re experiencing
When ready, open your eyes

We hope this visualization can be a tool in your toolbox to help you when other strategies are less than helpful.

Thanks for reading

Resources: Aromatherapy & essential oils

Full disclosure: The individual mentioned in this post is a friend of mine.  While I try to stay unbiased in all of my reviews, this one might not be as objective.

Background

I have been interested in essential oils and aromatherapy since 2007/2008 when some serious skin conditions convinced me to switch from conventional cleaning products to green cleaning products.  From conventional body care to plant and essential oil based products.  I read some books, did internet and database research, and listened to interviews about the wonders of “natural” products.

Some of the interviews mentioned local practitioners knowledgeable in aromatherapy.  The practitioners shared information about essential oils, but did not put much value in aromatherapy.  Then authors started publishing recipes for home made cleaners and diffusers using essential oils.

So I experimented with these recipes and stopped investigating aromatherapy for other purposes.  But I kept my ears open for more information and educational opportunities.

Why?

I was still interested, but did not have the time or opportunity to explore at the time.

Fast Forward 10 years

Quite a few different practitioners mentioned aromatherapy to me once they discovered my sensitivity to chemicals and petroleum based products.  Then a friend of mine (Corey H.) mentioned she was finishing her certification to become an aromatherapist and was looking for case study volunteers.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try using essential oils and aromatherapy with minimal risk.

She sent me some intake questionnaires and instructions for sending the information back.  We corresponded a few times for clarification and decision making about what symptoms to address.  Then she sent me a special blend of massage oil for topical pain/anxiety/PTSD symptom management.  That was in October.

The massage oil arrived around the time my body hurt a lot and I got sick with a cold.  I used it on my head and neck at first.  Then tried it on my arms and shoulders.  My back, hips, thighs, and knees were next.  The ideal time for me was after a shower or just before bed unless there was acute pain during the work day.

The scent helped me stay grounded when I felt myself slipping into dissociation.  The oil itself helped my muscles relax and activate again.  It was scary at first because I didn’t recognize the sensations in those parts of my body; they had been numb for a long time.  But then I noticed my feet changing position and my balance improving.  My knees hurt less, and my inner thigh muscles started flexing and relaxing – something that hasn’t happened in over 15 years.  When I used it on my abdominal area, my digestion and breathing improved.  And some of the bloating/swelling from muscle pain and body memories went away.

As  this trend continued, I started to use the massage oil less.  Not because it was less effective, but because I started to feel anxious and overwhelmed by the new sensations in my body and needed a break.  The positive changes have continued and still help me move better, experience less pain, and manage the body memories better.

Another Case Study

As part of her final coursework, Corey is doing a case study about how aromatherapy helps survivors of trauma and is looking for more volunteers.  If you are interested in learning more about how aromatherapy can help with trauma or mental health, check out Corey’s website: www.coreyhalls.myoilsite.com .  She has information about her practice goals and current case study.  Or contact her through this email address: Corey.halls@gmail.com

But please, only contact her if you are seriously interested in aromatherapy or in participating in her case study.

Final Words

Even if Corey wasn’t my friend, I’d still recommend her as an aromatherapist and aromatherapy as a coping technique for mental health symptoms.  She has been professional, compassionate, respectful, thoughtful, and supportive throughout the entire process.

So if you are interested, here is Corey’s information again:

Thanks for reading

DID Posts: Multi-level triggers

What happens when different alters in a system get triggered and start having flashbacks at the same time?

For other people, I don’t know.  Not everyone communicates with all of their alters the way I do.

For me, usually the different triggers happen by age group, time of year, type of anniversaries, and past experiences.

My adult and non-human (aka symbolic) alters tend to get triggered by environmental factors and sensory information most often.  Grounding, DBT, and CBT along with meditation and breathing exercises help them a lot.  So do distractions like cooking, reading, and music/TV/Videos.

My teens get triggered by interpersonal communication and human interaction – harassment/bullies, family, community members, educators.  Movement, meditation, breathing, DBT, affirmations, and distractions help them feel grounded and safe.  So do sensory or cognitive grounding techniques.

My child alters get triggered by life situations that remind them of feeling powerless, unsafe, in an uncertain environment, potential deprivation, and sensory memories (often tactile in our physical body).  Cartoons, cuddling with a stuffed animal, coming out to experience the world in the present, and music are often necessary but not sufficient coping strategies.  They help sometimes, but not enough.

The challenges

All of us struggle with helping our child parts feel safe and grounded when they get triggered.  They don’t always tell the rest of the system when a trigger affects one or more in the system because they’re trying to protect the rest of us.  Or because of shame, fear, lack of trust in the present safe spaces, etc. prevent them from asking for help.

When one or more alters in our system gets triggered, others can get triggered too.  The more alters that get triggered, the more confusing and difficult calming down and utilizing coping strategies becomes.  The internal noise/sensory activity levels rise as more and more alters start to experience flashbacks and heightened anxiety or other emotions.  Distinguishing past from present also becomes difficult.  And increased physical pain distorts everything.

Trusting ourselves, our perspectives, our opinions, etc. when feeling emotional and confused is extremely difficult for all alters, but especially our child alters.  Trying to parent ourselves and comfort/soothe the child and teen alters while also trying to choose and use coping strategies is a big challenge.

Our Solution

Calling a trusted resource and talking through the situation with an objective, compassionate, empathetic third party who can also offer potential coping strategies or solutions through validation of feelings and acceptance.

Friends & family are not good options for us.  For one thing, our family tries to understand but their triggers and personal stuff get in the way.  Plus they can’t always accept or relate to our internal struggle.  It just doesn’t make sense to them because they never experienced what we experienced or have a hard time accepting our experiences as valid and real.  So friends & family are not objective enough to help in this situation.

Our therapist would be able to help, but only in session or in the case of an emergency that made an off-hours call necessary.  But this type of trigger often happens outside of sessions and is not problematic enough to be considered an emergency.  Besides, an emergency situation means a visit to the ER could happen.  We all try to avoid ER visits.

Next on the list is a phone or text crisis line.  I like and often use the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) 24-hour hotline.  It’s anonymous and reliable with a variety of volunteers who offer support in a variety of ways.  They are NOT licensed therapists and do not offer therapy or that kind of advice.  Nor do they offer easy solutions.  What they do offer is validation, compassionate, objective, active listening, and feedback with coping strategies and techniques to help get through the tense moments.

My child and teen alters trust the volunteers to be objective and will accept the reassurance they offer along with coping strategies and help creating safety plans to get through triggering moments.  As they calm down, the sensory overwhelm and confusion in our minds calm down.  Then we all can work together to figure out triggers & grounding or coping strategies to come back to the present.  From there we all can calm down.

Conclusion

With alter personalities, triggers come in many forms and are experienced on many levels.  Our struggle comes from the sensory overload that creates “noise” and confusion to block access to our tool box of coping strategies & techniques.  One trigger with multiple options in the tool box is one situation.  Multiple triggers within the same alter or group of similar alters is another situation.  One trigger for alters of different age groups or experiences creates its own unique situation.  Same for multiple triggers for alters of different age groups or experiences.

How can a system be objective and use both emotion and logic (DBT’s WISE MIND) with so many different “voices” speaking out at the same time?

It’s something we’re working on.  And maybe someday we won’t need an outside party to help find the path that calms everyone down enough to identify triggers and utilize coping strategies.

Thanks for reading.

“Complex Trauma: Understanding and Treatment” — Courage Coaching

Thanks to Athina at Courage Coaching for sharing this video about complex trauma!

Originally posted on A Broken Blue Sky: The following video is one of the best videos I have watched on Complex PTSD. If you suffer from C-PTSD, it will be very emotional to watch. But it will also be very validating of all that you went through and help you to understand your reactions to…

via “Complex Trauma: Understanding and Treatment” — Courage Coaching

DID Posts: Pip: an introduction

***Disclaimer: All DID posts are written from the perspective of one or more alters and not in any way paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting/misquoting from other sources.***

ALL ALTERS

Just after Christmas 2016, my quiet alter started “talking” to me in dreams.  She shared information in fragments, sometimes blanking out because the fear and shame were overwhelming to the point of creating nightmares.  But she persisted.  And every evening, all 88 of us gathered in front of our library fireplace with our comfort objects and listened to her share the pain she’d been holding in for 30 plus years.

Her name is Pip – it’s because she used to make the perpetrators “laugh” in annoyance with her “bold” comments & actions compared to small size and delicate appearance – and she’s the fourth host in our group (Me (I go by AlterXpressions here), Angora, Shea (male most of the time), and Pip).

Now Pip has a rather interesting skill set – she is athletic, intelligent, has amazing reflexes, perceptive, and tough – because of her time with the pedophiles, the cult, and the traffickers who worked with both groups.  Pip has advanced training with hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, escape arts (from bondage, etc.), and weapons; she has mad research and logistics skills; she can tell when someone is lying; she knows when she is being followed; and she can recognize a potentially dangerous or antagonistic (dislikes her) environment by an energy change in the space.

But she has trouble talking and connecting with most people – in her mind everyone’s a potential threat – except the one’s she considers her family and other survivors like herself.  She is the one who controlled our body and lived a separate life during those times I couldn’t remember what happened in the evenings and on the weekends.  Pip handled the people who got rowdy outside our apartment by disarming and disabling them.

PIP

They enjoyed blocking me from job opportunities and volunteer work; keeping me afraid to go back to the police or other organizations that could help.  How did they know where to look or how to keep track?  My parents and sibling of course.  They knew all of me; invaded my privacy, got my passwords, put tracking and recording devices on my electronics, and often searched my room/apartment/etc.  They copied and stole my identity multiple times too.

When my therapists asked me who was following me?  Who was keeping track of me?  How did I know this?  Did I have proof?

None of us could say anything.  Pip wasn’t talking, and she wouldn’t let any of us talk either.

ALL ALTERS

Instead, she kept all of this from us and encouraged Angora, Shea, and me to create “legitimate” life for ourselves any way we could.  While the three of us worked on that and keeping the rest of our system stable, Pip and a few alters who helped her in her work reconnected with the (now retired) under cover cop who taught and protected us as much as possible while in the cult.

He ran a private investigation firm with a few other people; it specialized in rescuing people from and helping law enforcement take down human trafficking/drug rings and cults.  Turns out some of the the “other people” were boys from the male soldier sects of the cult – aka my brothers; boys I trained and worked with from 7-17.  The rest were former cops and people he served with in the military.  They were happy to welcome us back – all of us even though Pip did most of the hosting here – and let us join the firm with conditions.

PIP

The retired cop loved and treated me like his daughter and asked me to call him “uncle”.  I loved him the same way.  Same with 5 of the men in the company – they became my brothers; I became their sister.

MY REAL FAMILY

We parted ways the first time because I was going to college out of state.  Plus everyone understood that neither I nor my alters wanted to  be part of that world anymore.  What world?  The world of drugs, weapons, violence, poverty/wealth discrepancies, slavery, and trafficking.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t join the military or the police, not then.  First, I was having the anger management and grief problems.  Second, I would have failed the psych profiles and other evaluations since I came out only part of the time while the others handled the rest of our life.  We weren’t ready for the truth to come out.  Finally, my parents and the other perpetrators would have done everything in their power to block me from joining.  Then they would have followed through on their threats to kill me and harm my family.

So I went to college, determined to get out of that world forever.  You can understand why the rest of Uncle’s employees were skeptical of my wanting to work with and for them after 1 school year away.  Plus, many of them hadn’t met me before.  You can understand their skepticism of my skill set and abilities based on physical appearance and lack of communication/socializing with anyone.

The rest of the group and I learned to trust, respect, and accept each other over time; and then they became family too.  It helped that I never took any of that money for my other life.  That money went to programs for helping others out of domestic violence, my bill as a “client”, and a trust to help any victims we rescued who didn’t have the resources to start over.  Yes, I wanted help getting out from under the perpetrator’s thumbs.  That meant getting away from my family too at some point.

When I was in charge, I lived with my real family – had my own suite to keep clean – in their HQ.  We didn’t have a communication protocol, but there were ways for us to keep in touch.  Plus I had a schedule of how many week days (before AlterXpressions got her full-time job) and weekends I stayed with them.

ALL ALTERS

She did this type of work for 15 years, not so much because she wanted to, but because it was a guaranteed way to protect all of us from the monsters who weren’t in jail or dead.  The high-powered individuals who the police did not have enough evidence to charge or convict, but knew of and kept track of us even after the trial.  Some were members of the police force.  Others worked in different civil and government offices.  More were medical and business professionals.

And before this work, she spent a lot of time within the cult and the trafficking rings (they eventually combined businesses to increase profit) rescuing her classmates and others who had been kidnapped.  The result being many people from her past, people she didn’t back down from and honed her verbal “beat-down” skills on, dislike/hate her and sometimes take it out on the other alters.  None of us blame her for that, but she blames herself and often feels shame.

This is our way of trying to show and tell Pip and her helper alters that they have NOTHING to be or feel ashamed of.

Thanks for reading

Body Memories: Coping with changes in my physical body continued

In other posts I’ve talked about how difficult watching my body change is for everyone in the system.  Every part of me (including my body as it is an alter personality) struggles with the sensations that signal memories, trauma, illness, or healing as body parts change in:
texture (firm/soft/squishy/hard/bumpy/smooth), size (grow/shrink/expand/contract), color (red/pale/yellow/green/blotchy/tan/normal), and shape.

Right now, my biggest concerns are related to physical pain, recovering memories that trigger changes in my body, coping with both memories and pain, and understanding how to improve my lifestyle (diet and exercise and self-care) to accommodate these changes.

  • Four months into my new home, and I’ve had to face some hard facts:
  • Internal healing means my body mass is shifting even if I’m not actually gaining or losing weight
  • I’m doing slightly more exercise than I used to and using different muscle groups because of the layout in my new apartment.
  • More and different exercise means more calories burned and clothes fitting differently
  • The weather here is milder, but still cool in autumn.  More clouds, less sun equal vitamin D supplements and maybe others too to help with fatigue and other deficiency-related issues.
  • The spinal pain, abdominal pain, persistent cold that won’t go away, bloating around my middle and other odd places, and sinus pressure are all related to my current food choices and lowered levels of activity.

How did I learn this?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) including acupuncture and gua sha (type of massage) treatments with a student and supervising practitioner who have been helping me pinpoint where and how the pain manifests to find a root cause.

In TCM terminology, I have a persistent dampness and some heat causing circulation problems with my qi.  That means:

  • I’m having trouble digesting food and getting nutrition
  • I’m having trouble eliminating toxins in my body
  • This is causing sinus pressure, swelling, fatigue, lack of appetite, headaches, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, mucus/phlegm buildup and so on.
  • It’s also causing the swelling around my spine and abdominal area to increase/decrease depending on what I eat, how much, and when.
  • Acupressure (massaging points related to those problems), dietary changes, and moving around more along with my regular acupuncture treatments will help in the long term
  • The process is slow

Why this is triggering

When I started nutrition therapy, I was eating mostly vegetarian/vegan style because meat products (chicken, beef, eggs, etc.) were too difficult to digest and made me feel sick/not hungry, etc.  But I wasn’t getting enough nutrients at the time.  And I was mostly making this decision from anxiety.  Eating food my family enjoyed triggered lots of anxiety and made eating/digesting food that much harder.

Since then, I’ve become adventurous about food again.  I’ve faced and conquered many of my food-related fears and enjoy trying new foods.  My alters have also faced many food fears and learned to enjoy eating, cooking, shopping, and preparing food.  The cleaning and storage parts are still difficult, but that’s another topic for a different post.  Part of that facing fear was eating different kinds of meat and dairy products again.

Another part was recognizing my cravings and urges to eat or not eat certain foods as triggers and anxiety reactions to hurt/punish myself instead of nourish myself.  And as the memories come back, I’ve been indulging in those foods while ignoring how they make me feel – sick, tired, heavy, low energy.  But eating the food reminds me of happy  times with my uncle and father’s side of the family.

But lately, I’ve been frustrated about my food choices.  Not interested in eating anything really.  Not interested in cooking either.

So when the practitioner told me she could see and feel the physical symptoms of dampness in my body, I decided it was time to make some changes along with regular treatments.  I’m going to try eating more plant based/whole foods style.  When I get a craving for chocolate or dairy or meat, I will pay extra to buy and use one of the substitutes instead.  Instead of buying pre-made juices and hot chocolate, I will experiment with making my own from spices and herbs that are beneficial and can be easily included in those drinks with a blender.

And when I feel like eating a meat product or dairy and my body is feeling healthy again, I will eat a little bit and see what happens next.  If I feel okay still, I will continue to add small amounts.  If I feel bad, I will continue to make alternative choices.

So what do you think?  Is this a good trial?

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.

Anniversaries: A birthday and flashbacks

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Another quote from the Power of Positivity website (via Facebook)

Ever since moving to my new home, I’ve been recovering memories during sleep.  This is difficult because the memories come as dreams and sometimes interfere with or interrupt my regular sleeping.  That means I’m not getting as much rest as usual even though my sleeping habits have not changed.  Sleep deprivation and its resulting symptoms set in.  And I stop wanting to go out.

This quote resonates a lot with me because the exact scenario happened more than once as I reclaimed independence from my father.  His birthday was last Thursday; a few days after Labor Day; two week’s after my mother’s birthday; a little more than one month before mine.  In the past, memories of the trauma and abuse from my father were hazy and blurred.  Nothing concrete except feelings and fragments.  Now, I am remembering.  And the more I remember, the more I realize how covertly abusive he was.  And not just to me.  To my mother and brother too, but in different ways.

Sometimes I think my parents fed on each other’s negativity and enabled each other to be more abusive and destructive in our family system.  Maybe that is co-dependence; maybe it is something else.  But whatever the case, dad took out his frustration with my mom’s refusal to get consistent treatment and care on me.  And he put all of this projected hopes and dreams for the future on my brother.

And when I moved so far out of their control that they couldn’t force me into compliance anymore, my parents & sibling went out of their way to control how everyone else in our family system and community saw me/treated me.  None of those people are safe.  Not when they all see my mom and ask her how I am.  Not when they ask my brother, father and maternal relatives the same questions instead of asking me.  Not when those people tell lies and make up stories about me that I can’t refute or deny since I have not idea what they’re saying.

The persona they created for me lives on in many minds.  The truth of who I am is a mystery wrapped in an enigma both to me and everyone in my circle of trusted people.  I’m still learning who I am.  I am still becoming the woman I aspire to be.  Like an onion, I have to peel away the layers of denial, amnesia, trauma fragments, and disguises that kept me safe in order to find the authentic person underneath.

And when times are bad; when the switching is almost constant; when the depression sets in, I remember this quote.  And then I go to sleep.  My alters come out and do what they need to do; sometimes we cry; sometimes other chores get accomplished; sometimes exercise; sometimes we have lucid dreams.  A day might pass.  Two days might pass with a few wake-ups to use facilities, get a drink or food, etc.  And then, our mind relaxes into restful sleep.  And I/we awaken feeling refreshed.  And the cycle starts fresh again.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge & Alter Post: Financial triggers and flashbacks of shame

I am triggered.  Tomorrow is my father’s birthday.  It never really bothered me before.  But now, my alters are remembering past experiences in dreams.  And the critical voices – mean, rude, negative, manipulative, insulting, and scary – intrude on my waking hours and try to stop me from moving forward with this month’s tasks: get scholarship information and simplify my budgeting system.

Worrying about money always triggers flashbacks and anxiety from the times when my father controlled me by managing my money, taxes, bills, and car for me.  And when he would manipulate me into giving away expensive stuff to my brother or other family members instead of selling or repurposing the items for myself.  

How?  By making comments about how I wasted time “playing” on these machines or “money” on software or electronics that “didn’t work” right because I was stupid and paid too much.   And by telling me I was in debt and should not waste money I didn’t have.  It would make my credit score worse.  And if I had extra money, why not use it to help my mom instead?  Because I didn’t deserve new or nice things that made me happy.

Back then, I didn’t know he used my credit to buy stuff and then lapse on paying it.  Or that he stole money from me through identity theft.  I know my mom did that through our shared bank account until I moved my money out an had my name taken off of it.  But I didn’t know my dad was until I checked my credit cards and saw a much higher balance than what I put on the cards each month.  But that was after I went to a bank and had the loan officer check my credit to see if I was eligible to buy a house back when I thought I was stuck in my old home forever.

I struggled with the decision to buy a home or go back to graduate school.  My father discouraged both simply by telling me that the only way to accomplish either goal was to follow his explicit plans.  And he had everything mapped out including my budget, transportation routes for both scenarios, and monthly expenses.  He made it clear that I couldn’t do either one on my own because I wasn’t smart enough to get scholarships or have the credit score to get a decent loan.  But worse, he spread his “worry” about me to mom and the rest of the family.  Mom didn’t want me to do either one; buy a house or go back to school because that meant I was doing better than her.  She told dad everything I told her, but in such a way that I was being evil for wanting something different than the life they planned for me.  So between te two of them, I sufdsnly had tons of family discouraging me from pursuing either financial and educational goal.  And you know what, it worked.  I bowed to the pressure and did not pursue either one.

Instead, I used the money to disappear and start over.

Now, every time I spend money on something that helps me or makes me smile, I get flashbacks and anxiety.  The voices start whispering or yelling at me.  I start switching.  My body hurts.  And I wonder if I really am managing my money properly or not.  I start thinking I can’t afford what I bought or invested in.  And I get mad at myself.

Reading, music, distractions, grounding, the usual stuff is not helping.  Mantras, affitmations, maintaining connections with people are somewhat helping, but not really.  And so I find myself struggling to cope with these unexpected triggers.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Power of Positivity website

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I found this on my Facebook feed through some friends who sometimes share the affirmations and quotes on their feeds.  Lately, they’ve been sharing quotes about shame and self care.  Once in a while, they share interesting articles about topics like shame, narcissism, manipulative people, and ways to identify/cope in real life.

This one resonated a lot because I find myself thinking about my past through flashbacks and nightmares during holidays like Labor Day.  Sometimes the urge to reach out and contact them overwhelms me; I have to remind myself that contacting them won’t give me closure.  It will open a door to let that toxicity back into my life.

Later in the week, I found this quote:

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And it reminded me so much of the toxic people I left behind; how they used to bring up my mistakes and embarrassing moments to remind me that I am still the person I was and  will never be able to change.  At least in their minds, I will stay the same.  Nothing I say or do will stop them from believing what they want to believe about me.

So I hope these quotes help you too.  When you are triggered, they might offer some grounding through reality testing.  When you are not triggered, yet feeling uncomfortable or anxious, these quotes might remind you to think of your present and your accomplishments instead of the past.

That is what they do for me.  And for my alters, these quotes are lifelines or bridges to a new way of remembering the past.

DID Post: Different Parts; Different Symptoms to Address

CAVEAT

This will not be an in-depth post.  Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all  of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system.  The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms.  Finding and confirming the source may take a while.

This is a very big topic with multiple layers.

It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts.  If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification.  Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing.  It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.

Why is this important to understand?

To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis.  As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.

In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities.  About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met).  Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees.  This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.

Confusing and scary, yes?  Or no?

A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Body Memories
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
  • Dissociation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Severe body pain
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
  • Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
  • Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload

Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above.  But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them.  The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old.  But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.

My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming.  Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems.  They have a hard time accepting our body.  The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.

The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to  isolate and remove opportunities to move forward.  They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it.  But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.

Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.

Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood.  Females and males sexually abused our body/self.  They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters.  Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood.  Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.

And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame.  Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence.  They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.

Conclusion

When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms.  One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation.  Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term.  But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.

As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about.  Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult.  That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.

With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc.  That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.

I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.

Thank you for reading.