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*

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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

Celebrate a new year of beginnings and endings

Anniversaries: 2019 Year in Review and Looking Forward to 2020

Gratitude

First, thanks to all my guests for continuing to visit Untangled Connections in spite of challenges that made posting regularly difficult.

I appreciate all of you and your contributions towards keeping this website and blog safe for any guests who visit anonymously.

And thank you for keeping my identity safe too as I shared more and more of myself with you all.

Recovery Cycles and Transitions

Back when I started this blog in 2014, I referenced a book called Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. It was a pivotal resource in my recovery shared with me just after I started graduate school in 2006-2007. The book was updated in 2015, but original concepts remain the same.

Ms. Herman’s concepts about recovery and healing as a cyclical journey that often overlaps remain the cornerstones of my healing process. What I call “survival mode”, she refers to as “establishing safety” or part 1 in the recovery process. Part 2 (Remembrance and Mourning) and Part 3 (Reconnection) are concepts I didn’t really understand back then, but kept in the back of my mind.

I didn’t have much hope back then. And dreaming that my life might not be dominated by the past was too scary.

Parts 2 and 3: What to Write?

Recovery Part 2: Remembrance and Mourning began with Untangled Connections in 2014 even though I didn’t realize it then. I started sharing my story with the hope of helping others in similar positions in spite of my overriding fear of talking about the past. If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you might remember that I’ve gone back and forth between Recovery Part 1 and Part 2; often working through challenges in both cycles at the same time.

2018/2019 began my entry into Part 3: Reconnection as I shared some of the most painful secrets that kept me apart from my family of origin all these years here.

That sharing of secrets made me feel extremely vulnerable as I juggled what to write here and how to cope with family of origin re-entering my life. Then work got busy with many new challenges, and I started working on case studies for aromatherapy certification. All the while, I struggled with pain management as the body memories got worse in some ways and better in others. What worked before didn’t work anymore, and I spent a lot of time experimenting with different kinds of alternative medicine and coping techniques to find strategies that did help.

In spite of all that, I felt (and continue to feel) happy, loving, grateful, full of laughter about my life. So how could I write about that here and make it relevant or meaningful? You could say I felt scared and vulnerable to the point where ideas dried up. You could say I wasn’t sure if the changes in my recovery and stories I had to share adhered to the values and themes of this blog. You could also say that I was scared about what to write and how to approach certain topics when I knew family members, friends, and connections would be reading these posts.

As much as I wanted to keep up my usual routine, it got to be too overwhelming. I couldn’t keep up with balancing self care, family re-integration, work, and this blog. So I reduced the volunteer work and blogging to increase self care and work on my family relationships.

Changes in 2020 – Rebranding, New Readers, and Scent Reflections

First, I’ve “come out” to my parents and certain other family members about having alter personalities and many struggles associated with my past. My parents accepted the truth with respect and asked to learn more about those experiences. I decided to share Untangled Connections with them in 2020 and also my favorite book about alter personalities: Amongst Ourselves by Tracy Alderman to learn more about Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Second, Untangled Connections has some limitations in order to stay safe and anonymous. That means I can’t sell products, offer consulting services, or offer educational tools that answer guest questions in depth to help pay for all the work and expenses that go into creating Untangled Connections. For example: more posts about starting a blog, creating a website using WordPress or similar products, and writing.

That brings me to the third and final change: re-branding Untangled Connections as part of my small business Scent Reflections: Trauma-informed, integrated healing support through aromatherapy.

Scent Reflections is still in development even though all the paperwork is in place. I’m working on an aromatherapy product line to help with panic attacks and pain relief that is portable, discreet, and affordable. My goal is to open for business next summer in 2020.

Between then and now, I plan to start posting information about:

  • aromatherapy, essential oils, and herbs
    • How they support health and wellness goals in every day life
    • Recipes for DIY blends
    • How to integrate these concepts and techniques into existing coping techniques and strategies
  • Different kinds of sensory grounding strategies
    • Expand on the self protection series from earlier this year
    • Share meditation techniques
    • Offer more affirmations and quotes
  • Share writing, blogging, and website development tips

As for Untangled Connections, you may see some changes to the theme colors and and the Scent Reflections logo added on different pages. I will continue posting about the usual topics here too. What I post on Scent Reflections is relevant here, but not everything here is relevant to Scent Reflections. So I’ll be re-posting some Scent Reflections articles here too.

Finally, I will be creating some “business” social media accounts for Scent Reflections that include sections for Untangled Connections too. It’s going to be a lot of work on top of my regular job and life, but definitely worth the effort.

Thank you in advance for being patient with me as these changes roll out. I invite you all to visit Scent Reflections and learn more about my work there in your own time. The first post will go out a week from today.

Thanks for reading

DID Post: Sometimes it’s okay to be an uptight (insert word) clinging to structure

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Background

This week, especially, had all parts of me reflecting on the so-called rigidity and busyness of my life right now. Starting something new often brings up boatloads (and I mean cruise ship or air carrier sized) triggers and flashbacks. Enough that I used to get discouraged from trying something new or beginning a project outside of my comfort zone.

Uptight, Rigid, or Something Else?

Something I am often accused of (in my personal life more than professional these days) is being a rigid, uptight, type-A personality, stick-in-the-mud whose life is too regimented to ever be fun. 

My face often lacks the appropriate facial expressions to show others I am enjoying myself, etc. Body language is the same way.

What these people don’t (or maybe can’t/refuse to) understand is that I relax when I feel safe and comfortable. 

The less safe or comfortable I feel, the more tense and rigid my exterior self appears to people.

Structure, DID, and Meeting Basic Needs (aka functioning)

During the years when I would lose time or forget as part of my traumatic amnesia, an ingrained routine was all that kept me functioning moment to moment and day to day.

I might not wake up knowing where I was. Lunch time could turn into an adventure that left me on the other side of town in an unknown to me neighborhood and no public transportation. After work, I might get on the same commuter train as always (time and berth are correct) and end up in another city all together. Mirrors used to piss me off because I never recognized the face or body reflected back at me.

And those are some of the big items that get attention. Smaller stuff like walking into walls and furniture, forgetting a process for work, not being able to learn a dance routine or martial arts technique, were less obvious items affected by DID and traumatic amnesia while also more embarrassing. Adults often chastised me for being inattentive, forgetful, etc. because I was so “book smart” and yet so uncoordinated within my body. Peers used that as yet another excuse to bully and make fun of me when I lived as a “normal” little girl in public school or among blood family.

But that same structure allowed me to live both lives without mixing them up often. Punishment for mixing up my two lives included a lot of pain and sensory overload. When those triggers visit, all I remember is unbearable noise followed by feeling sensations of extreme pain throughout my head and body.

And so, even when I lose a weekend or wake up not remembering what happened for weeks at a time, the structured survival routine embedded in my muscle memory ensures that I and my alter personalities remember to meet our basic needs until awareness and memory comes back. Even for small things like:

  • staring at a computer at work, getting triggered into a dissociative or alter personality switch for seconds or minutes, and coming back not remembering what happened in all that time. But the screen looks different and a quality check of my work shows errors I wouldn’t normally make…

And as I experience the pain again, I think to myself “well yes it hurts, but I’m still here. Alive, present, happy, busy doing what I enjoy.”

Conclusion

My life is not “typical” in any way, but it works for me. I get 99% of my work and personal stuff accomplished from within the relative safety of my apartment. Work is balanced with “fun-to-me” activities and hobbies. Communication with the outside world is often limited to email and phone or video chat, but that feels safe and comfortable.

I don’t feel busy, but people who hear about what’s going on right now often tell me I am exactly that. But maybe it doesn’t feel busy or negatively stressful because I chose each activity and feel joy working on each task?

And these activities are not substitutes for a “more active social life” either. They are how I like to fill my time and enjoy life. Socializing, for me, is a big trigger. When I need person-to-person contact, I check mail at the UPS store, go for a walk outside, get on public transit, or visit a store full of people. Maybe a restaurant or a park instead.

You might be wondering about these “activities”, so here is a short list not in any specific order:

  • my day job with opportunities to learn new skills and utilize my existing ones in creative ways (aka job 1)
  • aromatherapy, herbalism, incense, etc. certification or continuing education classes to develop a new business venture (aka job 2)
  • this website and blog (aka job 3)
  • my plants – talking to them, dancing with them, learning to enjoy having roommates again
  • cooking – my memories are finally coming back so I feel more comfortable and confident here
  • reading books, listening to music, or watching a funny movie
  • bath time – never again will I compromise on renting an apartment without a bath tub. A good soak with epsom salt or essential oil based soap works wonders for self care and relaxing

So my questions to you are:

  • how does structure (or lack of it) impact your life?
  • what activities, work, or hobbies bring you joy and fulfillment?
  • if you had a choice, would you include more joyful activities even though they will or could cause pain from triggers and flashbacks?

Thanks for reading

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.