Happy Holidays to All Who Celebrate!

As part of my traditions to reclaim the holidays, I send out holiday cards by regular mail and (only if I don’t have a mailing address) email to loved ones, friends and colleagues.

This year, as part of my “add creativity to life” self-care strategy, I created holiday post cards based on a theme of low-stress, fun times, and fostering positive relationships.

To all who celebrate – and whatever holiday(s) you celebrate…This card is for you.
Season’s Greetings & Holiday Wishes

Best Regards,

AlterXpressions

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Anniversaries: Grateful Thanksgiving

Child to mid-twenties

Thanksgiving used to be celebrated 3x every year over the course of 2-3 days: once at my parents’ home with certain family members; once with my father’s side of the family; once with my mother’s side of the family.  There were tables full of food; children, teens, and adults everywhere; noise levels similar to stadium concerts (at least from my perspective) with so many people and televisions on loud; and secrets.  So many secrets and people sneaking off for minutes or hours at a time.

By the time I was in college, Thanksgiving was celebrated 2x every year with less and less family/friends and lots of tension.  Most of us were grown and had other places to be.  The next generation of children were second or third cousins removed on my mother’s side, and I was disconnected to them.  On my father’s side, people cooked while others watched tv or read books (me) and ignored or were ignored by everyone else.  Then my younger cousins and brother scattered to be with their friends while my parents kept me isolated and ignored.

You may be wondering why or how they managed that.  Part of it was me – I isolated myself and chose not to make friends or trust people at that time.  Part of it was them limiting access to my car – they always blocked me in and parked their cars in front of the driveway so I’d have to move their cars to get out.  And I did not want to drive their cars.  Asking them to move the cars was like banging my head against a brick wall.

Mid-twenties to early thirties

Then I walked away from my family.

Holidays became something different.

For the first time in my life, I could celebrate any way I wanted.  I could sleep through the day.  I could be alone.  I could cook or not cook.  I could decorate or not decorate.

Bottom line: I had choices.
And for a long time, I chose not to celebrate.  Instead, I let my alters out to play on those days.  Together, we worked through the scary memories, anxiety, anger, shame, and negative experiences associated with those anniversaries.  We stayed inside; read books; watched movies; slept; and took care of ourselves.

Thanksgiving 2017

My favorite foods of Thanksgiving:
Gravy
Stuffing
Butternut Squash or Yams

After everything that happened over the last few weeks, buying pre-made food to reheat made more sense than cooking from scratch.  Cooking from scratch triggered memories, but re-heating didn’t.

Text messages kept me in touch with close friends and family while keeping me safe from the toxic people.

Instead of sleeping through the day, I put together part of my sofa.  By part, I mean the sofa is in use, but the sectional and sleeper parts still need to be put together.  By the time I finished the main sofa and realized the rest had to wait, my muscles were saying “we’re done.  No more please.”   But the rest of me felt happy and accomplished.

So happy, in fact, that we slept on the sofa that night.  It’s surprisingly comfortable.  In spite of the muscle discomfort and stress from the upstairs neighbor’s musicals, putting together the sofa brought out feelings of accomplishment, joy, and contentment – aka endorphins.   Not even phone calls with my family and flashbacks could get me down.

Gratitude

Maybe it’s petty of me, but I also felt grateful that having a secondary place to sleep pissed off my upstairs neighbor.  She couldn’t disturb my sleep because I wasn’t using my bed.  Therefore, her musical of dropping stuff on the floor above my head didn’t work.  It was the first night in a while that I managed to sleep undisturbed and wake up on my own time.

But then I was also grateful her musical dropping of stuff on the floor woke me up the next day.  It was early enough that I had time to call Ikea, get my replacement parts for the sofa sectional, then go out to visit friends and see a movie.  It was Black Friday, and I was afraid that going to a mall would make things worse.  Instead, it was cathartic.  I felt calm, relaxed, and grounded inside myself.  The movie was good too, but I’m still not a Thor fan.  And I really need to put together a magic bag for crowded movie  theaters.

The musicals still occur just after I settle for bed and randomly throughout the day, but the sleep headphones and a favorite playlist make it all tolerable.

Mostly, I am grateful to have enjoyed Thanksgiving awake and grounded in the present instead of dissociated, hyper-vigilant, and upset.

Conclusion

I am still a solitary person who prefers alone time instead of crowds.  After so many years of being alone and/or lonely in a crowd of people, celebrating alone without any obligations feels good.  Maybe someday the other people in my life will understand that being physically alone does not equal being unconnected to my loved ones.

Relationships, connections, and interactions come in many forms.   And my heart, my mind, my spirit is always open to them even if my physical self shuns sharing space with others.  I keep all of these people and places in my heart and my mind during the holidays, so they are always with me.

Thanksgiving and similar holidays used to anger me, all parts of me.  I could honestly say that I hated the holidays and mean it.  But that hate gradually changed as different parts of me opened up to the rest of us.  We shared our pain, our grief, our fear, and our shame.  Then we learned how to cope with those feelings and associated memories with lots of help and support from outside people.

So thank you guests, family of choice, mental health providers past & present, family of blood, and other providers past & present who’ve helped me get to a place where holidays are fun instead of stressful.

Thanks for reading.

Back to Basics: Gratitude – Meditation, Affirmations, Positive Self-Talk, Prayer, etc. – Practices

The Past

There was a time in my life when expressing gratitude was difficult.  Fear, shame, anger, disbelief in the positive made believing in anything good too much to handle.  I felt grateful for being alive, relatively safe, and able to recover.  I thought about the blessings almost as much as the curses and reflected on both in and out of therapy.  But I couldn’t say or think or share the words/expressions/behaviors with my conscious self and others in the outside world.  That made me feel too vulnerable.

Round 1 of Therapy

My first official therapist was a clinical psychologist who had previously treated a first cousin so was familiar with some family dynamics.  We focused more on rebuilding my internal foundations – repairing cracks, identifying & “disabling” automatic defense mechanisms, keeping me in the present while minimizing “psychotic” symptoms – and coping strategies for anxiety & anorexia.  Her favorite strategies involved Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and challenging the beliefs in my mind.  We touched on gratitude, but not much.  Some words here are in quotes because this therapist did not believe in trauma or DID.  All signs of trauma-related symptoms were deemed “psychosis” or “psychotic” in nature and required medication.

Round 2 of Therapy

My second therapist did not work with trauma – she told me that up front – but she helped me with anxiety and anorexia until the trauma symptoms took over; then I had to find someone else.  But this therapist started teaching me about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and gratitude affirmations or prayers.  She also talked to me about the different 12-step programs and how they are designed around spirituality and connecting to a higher power more than a specific religion.  We practiced creating and saying gratitude prayers (aka affirmations) together in session.  The ones I liked, I wrote down or memorized to use later.

Round 1 of Partial In-Patient programs

Here I learned more about DBT, Positive Affirmations (previously discussed with a doctor-sponsored life coach and touched on in past therapy sessions), and the power of spirituality in healing.  There was also some talk about meditation and deep breathing, but not much.  Mostly centered on mindfulness or visualizations and how to combine affirmations with deep breathing & meditation practices.  But this was a big turning point in my life.  For the first time, I wasn’t alone.  And I wasn’t different from anyone else.  These people cared a lot.  And they tried hard to help us in many ways (including by example) learn the lessons in our groups – especially about boundaries.  I soaked up the information like a sponge and came out with a newer, more positive perspective on everything.

Round 3 of Therapy

I was working with this therapist, a trauma specialist, when I started this website and blog.  She taught me about self-acceptance, the power of gratitude in all of its forms, and how to safely express gratitude so that I welcome the positive energy, influences, and opportunities available just by “saying thank you” and “asking for guidance” by example too.  While this therapist uses all of the strategies and techniques listed above, she also uses EMDR, Hypnosis, other trauma-specific types of strategies, and meditation.  But her meditation styles and practices are rooted in Buddhism, and she was able to share resources like Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Han, and the Dalai Lama for me to explore on my own time.  Through her, I discovered compassion meditation, gratitude meditation, ways to breathe so that I can make friends with my fear and be objective as I reflect on my past.  This is when my alters and I acknowledged each other; and we opened ourselves up to the world together for the first time.

Round 2 of Partial In-patient programs

Let’s just say that the break from work gave me the time and space I needed to make some important decisions about family relationships and my personal life.  The people running the program this time were new and completely different.  Their approach was more clinical and detached; they didn’t care the same way as the last group of people who ran the program.  I didn’t learn as much or find their lessons or mentoring as useful as last time.  But then, I was also a different person and my alter personalities were emerging and causing all kinds of interesting experiences in the outside world then too.  But I am grateful for the experience because being there, around so many different women with similar challenges and alternative approaches, gave me the strength and resolve to break from my toxic family situation.

Present Time

I practice gratitude multiple times a day – always in the morning and before bed – because the reminders and affirmations help me stay grounded in the present.  Sometimes I pray, sometimes I use an affirmation, sometimes a compassion meditation, sometimes positive self-talk as I breathe deep for a few minutes.  Either way, it connects me to the life energy found in nature and the universe; and then I feel less alone, less scared, and less stuck in one place.

***I might have mentioned this before, but I will mention it again because this is important***

I do not believe in organized religion – that comes from being raised in a cult – but I do believe in God in all of his/her/their/its many forms.  Each of my alters and have an inclusive attitude towards religion and spirituality.

It’s hard not to when some of the most positive and life sustaining influences were and are: Jewish, Christian (Protestant, Methodist, etc.), Catholic, or agnostic.

Also when some of the most negative influences were and are: Jewish, Christian (see above), Catholic, agnostic, Mormon, Pagan, Satanic, or Greek Orthodox.

So while I do believe in God, I do not assign a specific gender, religion, or form to this higher, universal power.  And I separate my gratitude practices from religion and focus on spiritual connections with nature.  All of us in the system believe that nature in all of its forms are God’s every day miracles.  By connecting with them and sharing thankfulness, compassion, acceptance, and respect we open ourselves to so an amazing support network.  And find answers to questions or directions at a crossroads.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversaries: Experiences become Benchmarks turn into Anniversaries

The past few months have helped me realize that sometimes experiences become benchmarks.  And benchmarks become anniversaries.  Not all anniversaries are bad ones.

These are some of the good ones I feel grateful to remember and want to share:

  • 22 years of keeping secrets and choosing not to address rumors about my sexual orientation that got me ignored, bullied, harassed, etc. by “friends”, family, class mates, teachers, and community members
  • 20 years since one rapist got me pregnant and then forced an abortion
  • 18 years of celibacy by choice – I chose not to have sex or sexual relations until a time came when I changed my mind
  • 13 years into recovery and in the “live” phase instead of “crisis” phase
  • 12 years since I learned about posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma therapy
  • 10.5 years working at the same job
  • 10 years since I started choosing my own medical and mental health providers
  • 5 years since I walked away from my family and started to take my life back
  • 5 years since I learned that the “voices” in my head were real (DID) and not my imagination making me crazy
  • 3 years since I legally changed my name and started to feel safe in all parts of my life
  • 8 months since I reconnected with safe family members
  • 8 months since I moved out of state and started fresh
  • 6 months until I turn 35 years old – 14 years beyond what I assumed by expected life term

Sometimes it takes a look backwards to remember all of the good that happened in spite of the bad.  I feel grateful for the opportunity to remember and celebrate these benchmarks this week.

Thanks for reading

ADMIN: Technical Issues (Potential & Actual)

Viewing Issues / Slow Page Uploads

It’s come to my attention that there have been some issues with slow page uploads and trying to navigate the website/blog posts.

Sorry about that.  I had some issues earlier in December/January when WordPress wouldn’t let me in  to the main website on Google Chrome and Safari, but thought they had been resolved.

Holidays are always busy and stressful, so not much has been updated on the static pages.  I will try and troubleshoot the problem on a free weekend, but please remember that this is a FREE website and blog run by a person with limited e-skills.  And not having a paid account limits what resources are available to fix slow page uploads.

SPAM and comments

I don’t check the comments directly often.  Most of  the time, the alerts link informs me if someone makes a comment or “likes” a post, etc.

If it’s not already in the blog rules (and I will check  to make the update), please do not include websites or links in your comments unless the topics are directly related to resources or other relevant blogs here.  

Anything else will be considered SPAM from now on and not approved to show in the comments sections.

This is to protect and preserve the SAFETY, ANONYMITY, & CREDIBILITY of this website, the blog, and the guests who visit.

Resources

Most of my resources are the same as before.  I am looking into some new alternatives and information, but the sources need to be verified or fact checked first.  I’m also unsure how to graphically represent strategies like gratitude, laughter, and so on on Pinterest.

The other pages have been designed to need minimal updates and be relevant over long periods of time.  Only the blog gets regular updates.

Thank you

I appreciate all comments and feedback.  All suggestions for improving the website are taken into consideration.  Thanks to people who point out or let me know when something isn’t working properly too.

I don’t look at the website from the reader view and am grateful to my guests for caring enough to inform me of such occurrences.

Thanks for reading.