RECOVERY: Reflections & A New Phase in My Recovery

The One Month Break

Taking a month off was healing in some ways and enlightening in others.  Not posting allowed me to focus on self care and moving to a better living situation.  I spent more time packing, planning, focused on work, resting when I could, apartment hunting, and eventually moving too.

NEW APARTMENT YAY!

My living situation is much improved.  I love the new apartment and am getting used to living in/near a college again.  As much as I love old buildings with their creaky noises, eccentric quirks, and character, the new space is a challenge for unpacking and settling in.  Beyond that, the building is run by an excellent (so far) management team that really cares about its tenants.  And I finally have a bath tub!

And now there’s space for me to set up a craft/learning space – knitting, sewing, aromatherapy, etc. – in my living room while the other room is reserved for work & sleeping.  Plus there’s the challenge of unpacking and decorating to make this space home.  But at least no one will be criticizing me for it or accusing me of hoarding because of my slow methods.

Unpacking and decorating has also inspired me to start using Pinterest again.  I’ve added some new boards and new pins to existing boards if you’re interested.  You can find links to Pinterest on the Resources page.

BYE BYE TOXIC LIVING SITUATION

The toxic living situation kept taking up more and more of my mental space as the upstairs neighbor escalated.  At some point, I stopped sleeping and started meditating/resting instead.  Cooking saved me from bursts of anger.  Packing did too.

But my survival instincts and automatic defenses were roused.  Some of them, I’ve talked about in the past.  Others I haven’t, not yet, because those memories were hidden or caused too much pain when triggered.  But now, those instincts are close to the surface.  And with them, come the memories too.

Instead of having to cope with a lot of emotional/mental triggers, I’m working through physical and environmental triggers that make me want to protect myself with violence.

If my past experiences taught me one thing really well, it was that anyone who  tried to make physical contact or get close to me was attacking me.  And I had to protect myself in any and every way possible.  When running didn’t work, fighting back did.  Doesn’t matter how much pain I feel or what condition my body/health is in.

If these instincts are triggered or I am put in a position of having to defend/protect myself, I fight to survive at any cost.  With that knowledge in my mind, I’ve spent a lot of time alone or around “safe” people for limited time periods lately.  Without a mechanism to make me stop and pause, it’s not safe for me to be around other people like this.

Luckily, my body and other alters have some awareness of when these instincts are triggered.  They give the rest of us advance notice so that we can plan to say inside instead of going out.

Questioning My Ability to Share Useful Resources

The time away also provided time to reflect on my current mental space and ability to share useful resources here.

While telling parts of my history here is part of what makes this blog authentic, it’s not the main reason I started sharing here.  Lately, I’ve struggled to come up with new ideas and posts, useful information and resources that might be helpful or useful to others beginning their journey or struggling at a complex/difficult place in recovery.  People who are learning how to live and cope after surviving or getting out of toxic situations that made them question everything and not trust anything at first glance.

What I’m learning now, the resources opening up to me, are coming from a different place now.   It’s a different phase of recovery, a scary (to me) one where my past coping strategies are useful, but not as helpful as before because the challenges are different.  I”m sharing my authentic self with the world.  And I’m finally able to accept all parts of myself – violent/nonviolent, male/female, victim/survivor/individual – with compassion and love.

Instead of surviving or putting my toe in the shallow pool of living, I’m wading into the deeper waters where my feet don’t always touch the ground.  I’m living and thriving and using my flashbacks/triggers as reminders or guides to help me learn from past mistakes to make better choices now.  I’m being vulnerable and moving forward with personal, professional, and academic goals.  Sometimes even achieving them.

But how relevant is that to my guests?

How will reading books about personal finance or minimalism, or personal style, or training in skills help them cope with the internal and external struggles that come with trauma and recovery?

How will going to lectures, taking classes, challenging oneself to meet new people, or learning about resilience/vulnerability and shame via many channels give my  guests the hope and courage or inspiration to keep on going?

I’m not asking for answers or reassurance that this resource website and blog is useful.  If anyone wants to comment, you are welcome to do so.  Feedback is always welcome.

Conclusion

If the last 5 months have taught me anything, it’s that life will always be full of challenges and triggers.  How we react and act to meet those challenges defines how interesting, fun, boring, miserable, joyful, or blah our life becomes as time passes.  And sometimes life throws one a curve because it knows that individual has what it takes to succeed this time around.

But people also grow and change in unexpected ways.  Their lives, thought processes, goals, and beliefs change too.  People sometimes move on or move in a different direction as experience and perspective open up different paths.

Whatever happens, if I stop posting or adding new articles, this site will stay up and available to anyone searching for help.  The Resource page and Home Page will be updated to reflect this.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Series: 2017 Reflections Part 1

The many voices of me

This year, my guests got to know the many voices of me in a way different from years past.  They read well-written, articulate posts with few grammatical errors.  They read off-the-cuff first drafts written by single or groups of alters.  Some shared affirmations or quotes; reviews about resources; stories about themselves; and a variety of interests or revelations that changed how coping techniques and strategies were utilized.  The voices of children, adolescents, and adults colored every post.

That made reading or following a lot of what’s been on here difficult for some guests, scary for others, triggering for many (us included), and frustrating for all of us.  Several times this year, each one of us got writer’s block or simply didn’t know what to write here.  It’s supposed to be about resources, but no one has had a lot of time to follow up on that since moving and working through a variety of difficult situations in our new home.

Plus, no one was sure if anyone wanted to read about how different alters coped with the same situation or different situations at the same time.  We were scared to put our voices out there and change the tone of this website and blog.

Gratitude

But we’re happy we did.  In sharing our voices here, more of us have been able to share in the outside world too.  So thanks for giving us a safe space to share ourselves and express out feelings or opinions or thoughts and explore.

Over the years, different alters have instituted their own personal gratitude practices as coping strategies.  This year, all 88 of us agreed to use a morning and evening gratitude practice every day to see how reminders of the positives in life helped us stay grounded.  Sometimes we all meditated together.  Other times we practiced alone or in groups.

We might hear everyone communicating or no one – sometimes our thoughts and wishes occurred on a sub-conscious level.  Either way, each of us expressed gratitude for something before going to bed each evening and after waking up each morning.  We also asked for guidance, protection, and to meet others who can teach us how to help ourselves continue to move forward.

Communication

This year’s big goal was about practicing and improving our interpersonal skills – especially the voice and face-to-face kind – for better communication and relationships.  The focus was for work mostly because a lack of verbal skills means trouble for my reviews.

In terms of personal relationships, I wanted to be able to engage in conversations and understand the cues without feeling upset, shamed, frustrated, or confused every time one ended.  I also wanted to be able to remember conversations even if there was switching or dissociation ASAP instead of hours/days/weeks/months/years later.

It’s hard to participate in a conversation when you are not always present or able to follow what the other person(s) is saying whether in a personal or professional setting.

But if I can accept my limitations and turn them into strengths, then maybe, just maybe I will also be able to face my family again without fear choking me.

Family vs Loved Ones

Family are the people whose blood I share.  Loved ones are the people in the family we created together with bonds of friendship, acceptance, respect, love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness and trust.  I love my family, but do not trust/am not friends with all of them.  Some of my family are included in the group of Loved Ones; we share blood as well as the other bonds.

This year felt so scary because I reconnected with 5 more members of my family.  Each one offered acceptance, love, and respect – all things I hoped for, but did not expect.  As some loved ones reminded me – keep expectations low and hopes high.  Meeting with them either over email/text or in person felt like parts of my heart mended together again.  The hole is shrinking or maybe being emptied of toxic emotional wounds and healing with a balm of love and acceptance.

Either way, having family again feels really good.  The situation is still complex.  The ties between them and my parents or the others from my past still exist.  And finding a solution for reconnecting and staying safe is in the beginner stages.  We have hope though.  Hope and a lot of people willing to work on it.

Feelings

My alters and I learned we had feelings at 27 years of age.  That was 8 years ago.  Since then, it’s been a BIG learning curve to acknowledge, understand, express, and accept our feelings.  That was what the partial programs and non-trauma specialist counselors taught us the first time around.  What they shared and taught us helped a lot in many ways.

But it didn’t help any of us understand how to express or cope with those feelings when one or many or all of us felt overwhelmed.  Nor did it help us understand what to do with those feelings once they were expressed or coped with.  Observing many other people and how they coped with or expressed their feelings taught us that many people struggle with this too.

A lot of the self help books and books about anxiety or PTSD or healing, etc. skim over this too.  Not on purpose.  But the immediate issue is often learning how to calm down, relax, ground oneself, etc.  What do do after that is not as important in the moment.  And maybe other people don’t struggle the way we in our system have with what to do with the energy and feelings that still exist after coping, grounding, expressing etc.

This year taught all of us how to let go of those feelings once they’ve been acknowledged/expressed/accepted (any of these or other words work too) and we’re grounded or calm again.  Letting go is like learning not to hold grudges.  But the lesson applies to all feelings, especially the neutral and positive ones.  Feelings are supposed to come and go.  They are meant to be expressed and let out not held in.

Holding in feelings is like holding in toxic secrets.  They eat you and hurt you from the inside out.  Personal experience – my anorexia was all about self-hate and self- harm.  I couldn’t kill myself – some alter part of me refused to let it happen – so I held in all of those feelings and destroyed my body from the inside out.

Now, letting go of those feelings allows space for the body memories to surface and be expressed.  Then those memories are acknowledged, the feelings expressed, experiences accepted and let go.  Each time this happens, our pain lessens.  Our confidence and feelings of safety/security increase.  Our foundation strengthens.  And living in the past & present during trigger periods is less scary.

Thanks for reading

Anniversaries: A Different Kind of Birthday

My birthday was last weekend.

I turned 35.  Oddly, I felt a lot of anxiety along with the usual joy and gratitude that comes from being alive one more year.  Why this year instead of past years?  Honestly no one in our system can answer that.

35 just feels like a big year.  A turning point.  A crossroads perhaps.  So much good is happening that the memories are flooding in fast & furious.  Body memories connecting with emotional or cognitive memory fragments create complete memories of past experiences.  Those memories come in dreams and immense pain from my neck down.

In spite of all that, waking up to birthday wishes from friends and family made me feel blessed.  The warm messages brightened my morning and had me excited to start the day.  And it was an amazing day in spite of the pain.

I did not do anything special.  It was a day for self care and exploring spent in blissful solitude broken up with visits to appointments and interesting people in different stores. Time did not manage me that day.  After my appointments, I took my time enjoying the beautiful day as I headed back home.

For the first time that I can remember, my birthday was spent in an enjoyable way with full awareness of everything that occurred.  Not one of us (the alters or myself) dissociated, split, switched, or forgot anything that happened.  We laughed and played and watched movies or read books or knitted while relaxing and waiting for the stew to finish.

The pain did not stop any of us from enjoying the day.  We simply adjusted to the physical limitations of neck/shoulder pain by carrying the shoulder bag on the other arm and using both hands to cook.  Took a lot of breaks in between our travels.  And remembered to eat or drink fluids throughout the day.

And maybe that is what made us all feel so anxious.  A birthday without expectations or obligations to anyone.    Pure joy.  Simple fun.  Interesting, kind people.  Yummy food.  A good night’s rest.

The joy and peaceful feelings continue even now.  A different set of Chinese herbs are helping with triggers, sleep, and pain issues.  I did not expect help with the pain, but it’s been helping.  The herbs have made everyone sleep a lot, but that’s okay.  We needed the rest.  And something has changed inside too because the adults finally managed to do laundry!

Plus, the colder temperatures are not bringing up scary feelings or memories for the children as much this week.  It helps that many of the shopping packages were delivered over  the last few days.  But really, the herbs are working with our body and mind this time instead of trying to manipulate changes.  And that feels really good.

Maybe even good enough that mornings will stop being scary too someday.  And maybe good enough that bathrooms and small dark spaces like under sink cabinets will also feel safer too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Posts: Living in a Cult or with Abusive Parents

So this is a very personal post with a lot of triggers.  It’s being written freestyle using the stream of consciousness method.  No one is exactly sure what will come out or how long the post will be.  Or what secrets will come out.

All we know is that it’s time to tell you about how we were raised.  So thanks in advance for reading

As with any triggering content, please read with care.  We seriously hope the “Read More” tag works this time.  To be sure though, some extra spaces between this content and everything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More »

Life Changing Moments: Self-Acceptance

A Panic Attack Makes the Difference

After Wednesday’s post I had a panic attack and felt very frustrated with myself.  On the one hand, I was happy that I followed through on the personal challenge to socialize, be friendly, and show all parts of myself to everyone I met.  On the other hand, I felt upset and overwhelmed because the cultural and social norms are so different than anything I am used to dealing with.  Talking feels so frustrating sometimes.  And the discomfort of when to speak or not to speak and how much or little gets confusing.  But I wasn’t upset with anyone on the outside – my friends and family, the people in my neighborhood – because they are who they are and speak/behave as they will.

No I was upset with myself for falling into the pit again.  I gave myself a year to experiment with “fitting in” in this new place.  I would observe and follow the local customs as best as possible while also staying true to myself and letting people really “see” me.  Not an easy task, but something that did happen over time.  Without the cloud of my past hanging over my head, I learned to separate different kinds of triggers and how to cope with some better than others.

Hence the panic attack.  People and environmental triggers still send me into flashbacks that distort my perceptions of reality.  Sometimes I am aware of this, and sometimes I am not.  When I am aware, I usually stay inside and avoid people/circumstances that will make things worse.  When I am not aware, I use the complicated experiences as teachable moments to help for next time and hope that whatever happened did not destroy any budding positive relationships.  This time though, I still went out and interacted with people I thought were safe – i.e. friends who knew about my past and accepted the differences in my worldview as I did theirs – in different social situations.

Ever hear of the phrase “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”?

Well that’s kind of how I feel right now.

I chose to open up and see what would happen.  I chose to believe people when they said that I could be all of myself around them – including asking for help when I felt panic, anxiety, or triggering in public/social situations – without judgement.  I chose to take these people up on their offers to help me with issues of perception and understanding social situations.

And I chose to ask them for help when something like this did happen.

So why do I feel so shamed and upset with myself for other people’s inability to accept that my perceptions and worldview are different?

And why do I continue to try to explain a situation to a close minded individual who holds up past examples of why she or he is correct and only hears what supports that belief?

Why get myself into these traps with people?

  • Because I care.
  • Because those traps are triggering and remind me of  the convoluted, crazy-making conversations from my past even though they are not the same.
  • Because even though arguing hurts, sometimes it has to be done. The consequences coped with like any other trigger or anxiety situation.
  • And because I don’t want these people thinking something wrong about me – they are friends or acquaintances close to becoming friends – because of something I didn’t understand or a social faux pas.

Questioning My Beliefs

Arguing always upsets me.  Asserting myself makes me feel queasy and shaky for days.  But I’d rather feel upset, queasy, shaky, etc. than helpless, hopeless, powerless, and without choices because I didn’t stand up for myself.  And I’d rather challenge someone and feel good about using open, direct communication than letting stuff fester until it explodes.

So while I may not be a “traditional” or “typical” person who epitomizes an empath, I am one.  I am also a new to being an empath – the memories of past experiences and mistakes from this extra perception have been flooding my mind lately – and freely admit this to anyone who asks.  It does get confusing sometimes because I have alter personalities with their own feelings & memories.  Some of them share the empathic senses while others do not.  And when one of them senses danger from a trigger, I am more than happy to help test reality and see if this perception is true or not.

This “reality testing” coping technique is often part of what makes talking with people challenging.  I will ask question or make comments and ask for their perspective.

  • If the person knows me really well, she or he understands I am feeling anxious or triggered and responds with reassurance and acceptance.
  • If the person is aware of my past, but doesn’t truly understand me, he or she will call me “dramatic” or “over-sensitive” or “paranoid” and lecture me about looking for the worst in people and situations.
  • If the person is aware of my past and gets triggered by my comment or question, she or he will attack or accuse me of “making assumptions” or “being rude & arrogant” or “reading too much into something” and then try to “help” me by pointing out my flaws (with examples) and try to “change my behavior”.

What happens next?

  • Option 1: I express gratitude, let go of the triggered perception, relax and move on.
  • Option 2: I feel triggered, try to explain again & again without getting through to the person who’s mind is made up and end up feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself
  • Option 3: I get mad and start mirroring the other persons actions until we have time apart.  Then I use self-reflection and talk with someone objective to figure out a solution. Eventually, I assert myself and the miscommunication gets cleared up – sometimes with a positive ending; other times with a negative ending.  If lucky, with a neutral ending that we can build on in the future.

 

AS you can see, I’m not perfect.  I get mad.  I lose my  temper.  I say or do things I don’t mean when angry or upset.

BUT I don’t lash out on purpose.  I don’t hurt people on purpose.  I don’t blame others on purpose.  And I work really hard to listen, respect, and accept what the other person is saying no matter my personal opinions or beliefs.

In the end, I question whether or not I:

  1. Can interact with lots of people in positive ways
  2. Can make new friends or develop more relationships
  3. Can go back to school or pursue group activities
  4. Can ever talk and make sense to outside people (not victims or survivors or professionals who work with both)
  5. Can be a good friend or partner or cousin, etc.
  6. Have changed for the better and can pursue my goals in spite of my challenges

ACCEPTANCE helps me realize that while I can do all of these things, it’s not going to change the other people’s beliefs and reactions.  They will believe what they want and stick to those opinions no matter how much of my words make sense.  So I can continue making myself crazy or I can understand that these people are not going to change their opinions of me and let it go.

Self Acceptance

The answer is YES as long as I can accept myself and feel good about my choices.

I put myself out in the world.  I let many people see my vulnerabilities and challenges.  Sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed.  I met a few people whose opinions matter; we are slowly working to build a friendship.  I met a few people who will make good acquaintances instead of friends.  I met old friends and colleagues after a year away and realized that change comes to us all; how we cope with change defines what happens next.

I realized that no matter what I say, sometimes the words fall on closed minds and deaf ears.  These people can’t or won’t accept my words because it challenges their self-perceptions and worldviews too much.   Instead, I have to be wrong.  And our relationship can’t change.  Who are they, what role do they play when they realize I am self-aware and not in need of their mentoring/guidance etc. or willing to play their games anymore?  Where does that leave our relationship?

Where it leaves the other people, I don’t know.  And honestly, as long as it doesn’t cause major harm, illness, or death in their world, I don’t care.

For myself, it gave me choices.  And helped me understand certain realities.

Like the fact that I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have before.  That I have changed and opened up for the better and want to continue.  This opening up and internal change has brought out visible external changes too.  One external change being self-assurance and security in who I am.  Not so much self-confidence which is part of assurance, but acceptance of self with the goal to continue changing and improving.

Like the fact that parts of me will always feel and act upon the negative self-perceptions from Wednesday’s post, but those perceptions will not inform thoughts, feelings, or behavior as much anymore.  Or like the fact that positive for me tends to sound negative to everyone else.  And positive to everyone else often sounds unrealistic or rosy to me.

So I can accept that these people who might or might not continue to be friends, but will always be friendly acquaintances, view me in a somewhat negative light even if they admire my strength and resilience.  And I can accept that it’s time for me to let them go.  I wrote them an email thanking them for their honesty and friendship and sent a link to the post explaining my communication issues.

What happens next is up to  them.  Because I am finished.  Finished letting my fear of sounding funny or not making sense stand in my way.  Finished trying to be something I am not.  Finished trying to “have friends’ and “be social” on acceptable levels.  Who’s idea of “acceptable” is it anyways?

I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that already exist.  I am grateful for the limited but fulfilling family relationships that exist.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet lots of people and have interactions that always teach me something.

Now it’s time to go back to being my happy, solitary self.

Thanks for reading