Resources: Alcohol Treatment & Addiction website

Disclaimer 1: This post is not an advertisement. It is a review of the organizations’ website and available resources that could be helpful to guests. 

Disclaimer 2: Please use your own judgement (after reviewing the information) to decide on any next steps. 

Last month a coordinator from AlcoholTreatment.net reached out via the contact form asking if I would add their organization to my resources page.  With September being a bit hectic, I didn’t get a chance to update the resources page until today.

Since I also realize that many of my guests go straight to the blog without visiting any of the other pages, I’ve added the link to my resources page to this post.

 

Resources AlcoholTreatment.net
Click here to visit the website

Why I decided to add this organization

  • User friendly website with all of the most relevant information available by clicking links or images on the home page
  • A dedicated blog and Resources section about addiction, recovery, mental health, and other related issues set up in a format that is easy to navigate and easy to read
  • Marketing Statement of Ethics – rare in many organizations – that clearly states this organization’s mission statement, values, goals, and how they handle private and/or proprietary client information
  • Transparency about financial options (it’s listed right on  the home page)
  • Resources to help with addiction recovery if this organization is not a good fit now

Related resources & posts

Another organization that helps with addiction recovery and mental health treatment programs is DrugRehab.org. I’ve written a couple posts about this organization as their representatives have contacted me about being a resource in the past.

Resources DrugRehab.org
Click here to visit  the website

What I like most about DrugRehab.org are:

  • They are a non-profit organization whose goal is to connect callers with appropriate recovery programs and resources throughout the USA
  • Their articles are well-written, frequently updated, and easy to read
  • You can find out more here

Thanks to both organizations for reaching out and sharing their resources with Untangled Connections and the blog’s guests.

Thanks for reading

Family: Birthday Reflections

pink green and yellow ribbon illustration
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Birthdays always feel odd to me.

On one hand, I enjoy celebrating life and am always grateful for my second chance.  Every moment is precious, and all parts of me look forward to the day laugh lines appear on our face.

On the other hand, I feel extremely annoyed about all of the expectations that used to come with birthday celebrations.  Parties, going out, being around people, and all kinds of activities that were meant to be “fun” ended up something else in my personal experience.

My favorite kind of gift is when someone close says “happy birthday” and means it.  If the individual chooses to give me something too, that’s always appreciated and valued.

person holding inflatable decor
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Giving and receiving of gifts means a lot to many people.  I have a hard time accepting gifts sometimes.  It goes back to my past trauma, triggers, and fears.  Wanting something and asking for it as a gift – didn’t always get me what I wanted.  Sometimes it got me the opposite.

But these days, I can trust the people who want to give me gifts to give me something I will enjoy instead of something they think I will enjoy.

My best gift today was talking with my dad on via video chat.  We talked for an hour about so many different topics.  I got to see his smile and hear him laugh.  He passed the device around so I got to talk with my aunts and uncles too.

It was a great start to my day and brings out hope that things will keep getting better.

My last birthday wish (or hope) is for all of my guests to have a fun day or peaceful sleep after reading this birthday post.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Quiet Revolution Newsletter Discusses NeuroDiversity

Okay, so what is neurodiversity, and why would you put it here?

In my words:  An individual’s brain is thinking, responding, feeling, acting, or functioning differently than the cultural norm.  Examples from the article: ADHD, HSP (highly sensitive person), Asperger’s syndrome.

I put it here because trauma survivors and people with mental illness think, act, feel, and react differently than the rest of society.  Some of the difference is biochemical and part of DNA.  Other parts of the difference come from developmental and physiological changes based on experience.  The rest are learned behaviors in the form of coping techniques/strategies and survival skills.

The last group can sometimes be changed or removed or adapted to current circumstances, but the first two not so much.  This article celebrates differences and promotes acceptance, so it belongs here.

Article Information

You can find the whole article here.  FYI, this article is an essay on the Quiet Revolution website.  While one goal is to empower introverts, another is to find ways for introverts and extraverts to live and work harmoniously.  So please don’t think the website is not for you if you are an ambivert or extravert.

A few interesting quotes from the article linked above:

About Depression

“Unfortunately, it took me a long time to find a workaround, so in the meantime came undiagnosed, debilitating depression and anxiety for years, which often accompanies those who unknowingly mask neuroatypicalities while trying to cope and survive. I can’t say what triggered the depression exactly, but it felt like a slow, creeping fog that thickened more intensely over the years. Finding the right therapist and a helpful medication finally made the skies clear,” – Jenara Nerenberg

About Neurodiversity

“Now, I’m 33, and they’re calling these neuroatypicalities ADHD or HSP (Highly Sensitive Personality) or even Asperger’s. Shows such as Invisibilia give us the language of Synesthesia and Empaths. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all somewhere along this continuum, this spectrum of personalities, with diverse traits. This is the beauty of what we call neurodiversity.” – Jenara Nerenberg

Being authentic self

“Re-joining the jungle like Mr. Tiger means embracing the beauty of my inner nature and sharing that with others. And I’ve found that others who observe me start to feel and act the same, freed up by letting go of some of our cultural conditioning.” – Jenara Nerenberg

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Changing self perception

I struggle with being body positive and having a positive self-image.

  • Part of that is because of past experiences.
  • Part of it is because my body shape, size, and appearance do not fit any “ideal” standards, so shopping and feeling good about how I look isn’t always easy.
  • The rest has to do with looking like either parent or following “appearance expectations” – my rebellion against this

This struggle shattered my self-confidence, built up on existing shame, and gave me many reasons to “hide” from the world.

No matter what I did or how I tried, something about me always attracted attention.  Something always gave others an excuse or rationale to be mean/rude, etc.  And I believed them when they told me it was my fault for making them act that way.

I still believed that, deep down in a secret part of me, until last week.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An unexpected award at work gave me the push I needed to stop procrastinating about getting professional photos for business/school, etc.  Here’s the short version:

The company I work for in my day job has over 1,000 employees worldwide and a commitment to encourage continuous learning.  They promote this internally by giving employees free accounts to LinkedIn Learning and internal classes.  At every half-year, the people in “people teams” use some metric or formula to find out who took the most classes, etc. and gives them a small award using an internal award system.

I get a lot of down time between projects and hate being bored, so the online classes through LinkedIn were ways to me to feel like I wasn’t getting paid for doing nothing.  The award was unexpected, yet much appreciated.  But it wasn’t until after I answered the survey questions, that someone from “people teams” reached out with a request.  The company liked my answers and wanted to use them as part of a promotional campaign.  Would I allow this and also send a photo to go with the answers?

At first, I freaked out and said “absolutely not” on the inside.  But then I paused.  This was an opportunity, a big one to help me reach the next step of “not hiding” and achieving outside goals.  If I said no, I’d be going backwards.  If I said yes, I’d have to face a whole lot of fears, including putting my face out on the Internet.

I said yes and asked for some time to get them a decent photo.  We agreed on a date, and I booked my first photo shoot in 14 years (since college graduation photos).

WHY IS THIS A LIFE CHANGING MOMENT?

My style group friends have been cheering me along on my journey to self-discovery and being my authentic self always, but especially in how I present myself to the outside world.  With their help, I chose an outfit and makeup that felt 100%, authentically me.  Surprisingly, I didn’t see

  • a little girl playing dress-up in the mirror
  • A woman dressing to look “like a lady” according to parental expectations
  • My mother, father, aunts, cousins, or grandparents looking back at me
  • A clown or over made-up woman trying to be something she’s not

I saw myself – all parts of myself expressed as a single, adult woman wearing a dress & blazer with fun accessories and subtle makeup – as I got ready for the photo session.

The photographer was amazing.  She helped me feel completely at ease and comfortable posing outside.  The whole experience felt like chatting with an old friend and taking photos for fun.  Never before had I felt so relaxed with a stranger taking photos of me.  Part of it was location – we took photos in a beautiful park – and part of it was the overall feeling of rightness that stayed with me throughout the day.

I got to see myself through the photographer’s eyes and camera lens that afternoon.  She accepted my quirks and even appreciated some of them.  Before her, I’d not met many people who also talked to ladybugs or openly expressed a reverence for nature.  We connected over a mutual love and respect for trees; some of my favorite “fun” shots are of me sitting on exposed roots or posing against trees.

Together, we narrowed down to 3 photos that fit the main purpose of this photo shoot: business headshots for work & professional networking profiles.

But I also chose one for school and “fun” profiles too.  My current day job is segregated from my other hobbies and work choices on purpose.  They do not play well together, and I am very private.  Not many businesses want someone with my kind of mental health issues working for them, no matter how good I am at my job.  So 3 photos:

  • One for internal work/business (like email, profiles, messaging, etc.) that showed me and my “professional” personality with hints of non-work life
  • One for business and networking or job hunting profiles that expressed my business professionalism, creativity, and unique personality
  • One for school and personal profiles (personal email, WordPress account, Facebook, etc.) that showed me in a happy, confident, relaxed, open way.

WHAT CHANGED?

My self-perception, self-image whatever you want to call it.

When I look in a mirror, I finally see me.  A beautiful (inside out kind), confident, secure-in-herself woman.  An authentic, person with many alternate personalities who thrives in her chosen life style with family of choice, a support network, and a fulfilling life in spite of many challenges.

MY HOPE

For all people, with and without mental health or trauma issues, to experience a positive change in self-perception too.  I share this story with the hope that someone can relate to the experience, realize he or she is not alone, and have the courage to make positive steps 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.

DID Posts: My Beef with how TV portrays people with DID

This is one time when I wish I had already upgraded my WordPress membership to a Premium account.  Then I’d be able to link to YouTube videos too.  But, the alters really want to get this post out now, so here goes…

TV as a distraction & affirmation of Good winning over Evil most of the time

I admit it.  I love watching certain procedurals and investigative TV shows.  They remind me that the justice system really does work more often than not, and that some police and/or law enforcement are trustworthy.

What I am not comfortable with is how many of these shows portray people with DID as serial killers, murderers, victims of their mental illness, or violent criminals while not portraying how they could also be victims of crime, witnesses, or minor suspects who end up helping solve the case instead.

So why discuss this now?

Because we’ve been binge watching/listening to Criminal Minds Seasons 1-12 and watching episodes of Hawaii 5-0 as background noise to distract from a noisy neighbor.  In Hawaii 5-0 only one alter in the system was a murderer.  But the way the psychologist described how the different alters appear to people seemed off.  Not all of hosts are submissive or appear submissive.  Not all of the protectors are violent or take on the worst characteristics of their abusers.  And I’m not sure that in every case of DID, the host is not responsible for what the other alters say or do.

And generalizing like that could cause more damage to how people with DID are treated in the outside world than anyone realizes.  As for Criminal Minds, the diagnosis is used as information in the profiles with respect and sensitivity, but most of the characters with DID end up being murderous or some other type of dangerous criminal/victim.

What We All Wish for

That these procedural shows and others treat DID and other so-called trauma-based mental illnesses with the respect, acceptance, and sensitivity NICS has done with PTSD and PTS for civilians, active duty military, and veterans on its show.  Not that NCIS is perfect because it’s not.  But many of the recent episodes dealing with trauma and trauma-related issues have been treated with care instead of being disregarded or looked down on or considered unreliable witnesses, etc.

On the Other Hand….

We are all grateful that shows like these are addressing issues of trauma, anxiety disorders, and other issues that usually get brushed off in mainstream television.  In spite of some errors or (in my opinion) erroneous generalizations, these shows also portray main characters with abusive or traumatic incidents in their pasts as admirable, compassionate, strong, ethical, successful individuals at work, in intimate relationships, and with family.

Final Thoughts

While I am upset about how people with DID get characterized in many of these shows, I am grateful that people are interested enough in learning about the disorder to use it as part of their episode plots.

Darkness and Silence really wish we could upgrade sooner instead of later because then they can FINALLY write their post about SSA Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds.  For any male survivors of sexual assault/abuse, you might want to look up his story line and watch Season 8, Episode 18 in particular.

Thanks for reading

Body Memories: Accepting the physical changes

Halloween is next Monday.  I’m not sure I can post on Sunday, not with so many memories of why the time around Halloween scares so much flowing through my mind right now.

The holiday itself is not the problem.  The events and experiences that happened on and around Halloween are.

Instead, I’m writing early.  And I’m sharing something that scares me in ways that I have a hard time describing.  Like the title says, I’m talking about my physical body and the changes it is going through right now as the internal damage heals.

If this is too triggering, please stop reading.  If not, continue.

Read More »

Resources: Power of Positivity website

IMG_7594

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:

IMG_7591

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.

Back to Basics: Organizing my Disordered Eating Habits

Different Post format today

Background

I practiced anorexia/was anorexic for 15-20 years; starting with childhood neglect (not always being fed) and “participation” in my mother’s diets as she tried to lose “baby weight”.  Diagnosis and recovery started in 2004.  Remission or full recovery started in 2015.  I wouldn’t be where I am now without a lot of help and support from my care team – especially the dietitian who helped recreate a healthy relationship with food.

Food has always been a big deal in my family.  Weight loss and weight-related illness is a big struggle for many family members.  Part of the anorexia started because I didn’t want to be like them – obsessed about food; unable to stop eating; sick all the time; having to take lots of medicine; being made fun of and criticized for my weight and looks.  Another part had to do with self-punishment and being in control of some small part of my life when everything else was out of my control; I love food and cooking so not letting myself eat and not cooking hurt a lot.  Finally, the anorexia was about body hate; I hated being female and having a curvy female body.

Recovery, Relapse, Restart

The first thing I did when my therapist finally convinced me I was anorexic (and this took 3 months of weekly counseling sessions) was buy a book about anorexia nervosa.  The second thing I did was try to talk to my parents.  Third, I asked my primary care physician for assistance.  Finally, I took matters into my own hands and started research/recovery with my therapist at the time in secret.

I started gaining weight and got really bloated.  The weight gain was noticed; I started getting concerned looks from some and gleeful looks from others.  Concerned by family members who worried that I was getting overweight and might develop diabetes.  Gleeful from family members who were jealous of my skinny body and happy that I was looking fat or fatter than them.  Then came the lectures on behalf of my mom who was “worried about me” since I “refused to listen to her”.

Those comments hurt, but I was committed to getting better.  I didn’t want to be in pain all the time or allergic to 35 different kinds of food.  I didn’t want to be tired all the time or constantly sick.  I wanted to be healthy and active again.  I wanted to walk and practice martial arts or yoga without knee and back pain that plagued me since adolescence.

Starting the Process

My first real relapse came in 2007 after I moved out on my own for the first time.  I lost about 8-10 lbs in 3 months.  It was the weight loss that spurred me into getting help again.  First a primary care doctor who I could trust.  She recommended me to a dietitian who specialized in eating disorders.  Later both suggested I start therapy again, so I started looking for someone.  This therapist did not work in trauma, but she helped with everything else.

Between the two of them (dietitian and therapist), I learned that I was:

  • Afraid of food
  • Afraid of my body
  • Afraid of looking attractive
  • Clueless about nutrition
  • and Confused about diets and dietary needs

Then my dietitian moved to another department within the program, and I got someone new.  Her approach was different, and I was wary at first.  We’ve been working together for the last 8 years with a lot of success.  The second dietitian helped me understand more about diets and nutrition.  We addressed my food fears and body fears with facts about how different kinds of food help improve different body functions – mini anatomy and physiology lessons.

Redefining What Food Means to Me

Through my work with the second dietitian, I rediscovered my love of food and learned to separate my body negativity from my desire to be healthy.  The last few years have been focused on getting healthy and discovering what healthy means to me not about weight gain or appearance (that didn’t come until last year).

So what does food mean to me?

  • Food comes from a plant, a fungus, a bacteria, or a living organism (fish, fowl, animals, etc.)
  • Food does not come from a laboratory or genetically modified living organism
  • Food can be created by processes like fermentation (beer, miso, tempeh, pickling, canning) and dehydrating to name a few, but not by chemicals and additives
  • Food is nutrient dense with a variety in calories.
  • Food is colorful like a rainbow and goes through a decomposition process after it ripens
  • Food can be eaten raw, cooked, or baked
  • A variety of food per meal is more tasty, interesting, and nutritious than the same foods all the time
  • Food has to taste and feel good going in (chewing), going through (digesting), and going out (removing toxins) in order to help me maintain my health
  • Food is separate from how I look in the mirror or what others think of my body

And how does that relate to health?

 

Once I learned to separate my negative body image and body self-hate from my food thoughts, I started to heal.  After I decided to let myself enjoy food, my food allergies started to go away.  Once I decided it was okay to be “fat” and gain weight, my weight normalized.

This means I eat when I am hungry; drink fluids when I am thirsty; used the bathroom when my body says it needs to release toxins; and exercise as much as possible to maintain flexibility, stamina, bone density, and muscle development.

My focus is on nutrient dense foods that I don’t have to eat a lot of and are easy to cook 80% of the time and everything else 20% of the time.  That gives me leeway to experiment or to try out new/different foods for grounding and self-soothing purposes as part of a coping strategy.

“New” Eating Habits 

  • Flexibility is key
  • Eat a lot of nutrient dense food in small portions throughout the day
  • Eat until I am full and then stop; I can always eat later
  • Remember to hydrate or drink soup with one or two meals to get enough liquids
  • Smoothies can be meals too and are easy to digest
  • It’s okay to eat junk food sometimes
  • Denial and restriction only make me feel worse not better
  • Too much dairy and animal protein causes digestion problems so eat sparingly
  • Eat what I love and love what I eat
  • It’s okay to NOT enjoy eating sweet foods, chips, and desserts; it’s like others not liking chocolate or ice cream

Final Thoughts

Diet books did not help much as I researched information about anorexia and food allergies.  Regular cookbooks did not help much because all recipes included foods that made me sick.  So I started looking at “alternative food lifestyle” cookbooks – aka vegan, vegetarian, raw foodist, and allergy friendly cookbooks – for inspiration and ideas.  That is partly how I rediscovered my love of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains.

I am not vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian, or meatitarian as I’ve heard people refer to themselves.  I am a woman who enjoys eating real food that comes from plants (most of  the time) and living organisms (sometimes).  Most of the food is minimally or not processed, but a lot of it is processed in some way.  I eat a variety of different foods so that most vitamins and supplements are unnecessary.  High processed and chemical-laden food products make me ill and cause problems, so I avoid or eat them in small amounts.

I still have issues with body image and having a curvy female body, but those are topics for a different post.

Thanks for reading

 

 

Back to Basics: “It takes a village…” – taking responsibility for my own care

A different post format today.

“It takes a village to raise a child”

I am not sure where that quote came from, but my therapist mentions it often in our sessions.  It’s a reminder that one person alone cannot handle everything, especially not something like recovery.  But finding trustworthy people to help and support recovery (support network) is not easy, especially not for people who feel helpless, hopeless, trapped, unsafe, or confused.  And putting oneself out there to meet new people; interview them; talk to them about such scary and personal experiences without really knowing them can be triggering.

Creating a support network takes courage, persistence, self-trust, and access to resources.  Courage to reach out and accept help that is offered through research and resources.  Persistence to follow through on research and utilize the resources available.  Self-trust to trust in one’s instincts about the people being interviewed as potential members of the support network.  And yes, this includes family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and professionals of all kinds.

Why talk about it now?

Two reasons:

  1. I am leaving much of my existing support network when I move out of state in a few months and want to share some of what I have learned as I reflect on how to recreate a support network in my new home
  2. I feel less anxious about sharing some of my struggles with finding safe providers on the blog right now

Taking Responsibility for My Recovery and Care

Parents and legal guardians are responsible for the majority of their children’s care and support.  They choose doctors, schools, activities, social experiences, and even friends sometimes.  If, like me, the parents or legal guardians are also abusers, the child or children do not always get proper care.  But they learn that the care they receive is “proper” and “all they should expect”.

My pediatrician was also one of my abusers.  He got me pregnant and then forced an abortion when I was 15.  Before that, he kept me on a variety of allergy medications and other drugs to help my parents “manage” me and my constant illnesses better.  Shortly after the abortion, he died of a heart attack.  And I was told to “choose” a new pediatrician.  Except this pediatrician was the same one my cousins used.  She did not abuse me, but she also turned a blind eye to (what I now realize) all of the inconsistencies in my file and my symptoms.

Then I turned 18 and had to find a new doctor.  I also had my first experiences with doctors outside of my local community (college).  These doctors did not constantly brush off my symptoms and give me drugs to “feel better”.  They asked questions and followed up on any inconsistencies.  In fact, one told me that maybe the drugs were making everything worse; I might want to try not using them and letting the cold go away on its own.

Then I went back home to meet my new doctor.  This doctor who happened to be my mother’s doctor, and had been her doctor for most of my life.  I didn’t like her.  And she didn’t care about me.  Going to see her caused lots of anxiety.  And she didn’t care about my concerns or mental health problems unless they were treatable with medicine or by a specialization she approved of (aka physical therapy and orthopedic doctors)

Four years later, I graduated from college and started treatment with a clinical psychologist who treated one of my cousins previously.  We worked together ok, but she also wanted me on medication.  And she did not acknowledge trauma in any way even though she saw and heard (from interviews with my parents) that I was being controlled and abused by them before I did.

Her solution was for me to move out and start living my own life. That caused tension and a lot of distrust on my side; how was I supposed to do that when I couldn’t even find a regular job, let alone take care of myself?  Eventually I stopped seeing her.  The psychiatrist didn’t bother with me after I stopped taking the medicine he prescribed; and he was upset with me because he believed that I lied when I said the medicine was making me sick and sleepy and numb.

Around this time, I also tried working with a chiropractor; that was a positive experience until some new people were hired to work the front desk.  The new front desk people took a lot of pleasure in bullying me, and none of the other staff stopped him.  In fact, they egged him on.  So that place didn’t feel safe anymore.  I didn’t feel safe bringing up to my provider.  I left and never went back.

Then I moved out and had to find new doctors close to me.  I also had to buy medical insurance and make sure the premiums were paid on time.  A few months later, I also had to find a new mental health provider.  By now, I already knew what I did and did not want in a provider.  And I knew that finding one would require me to talk to people and engage them.  But working with the psychologist did help before.  And doing these scary activities was worth the effort if I could start sleeping and eating again.

That is how I took responsibility for my own recovery and care.

Shared Knowledge

Here are some of the criteria I used to find a primary care physician (PCP) – the cornerstone of my support network.

  • Location: Moving out meant giving up my car.  I needed to find a clinic and hospital that was easily accessible by public transportation
  • Accepted my medical insurance
  • Had staff experienced in working with mental health and/or trauma patients and who were taking new clients
  • Was female, mid-thirties to early sixties, and a fair amount of practical experience
  • Had an open mind about not using a lot of medication, was willing to work with me about mental health treatment, cared about finding causes more than symptoms, did not mind writing referrals to other specialists or that I went with a mental health provider outside of the care group, felt safe and listened without judging me

Here are some of the criteria I used to decide whether or not to stick with my dietitians for medical nutritional therapy

  • Location: accessible by public transportation
  • Accepted my medical insurance
  • Had staff experienced in working with mental health and/or trauma patients
  • Listened without judging or pushing a program/agenda on me
  • Answered questions; offered suggestions, guidance, and outside resources I could follow up on in my own time
  • Focused on teaching me how to help myself become healthy and stay that way
  • Checked in with me and allowed trust to build based on open communication and mutual respect – did not shame me or get offended when I expressed uncertainty about wanting to work with her during our first meeting

Here are some of the criteria I used to find and choose a mental health provider

  • Location: accessible by public transportation
  • Accepted my medical insurance
  • Or as an alternative was open to sliding scale fees, payment plans, etc. to help with costs of outpatient treatment
  • Specialized in trauma (or depression, anxiety, eating disorders if I couldn’t find a trauma specialist)
  • Female, between forty and seventy years old, with at least 20 years of experience working with a vareity of age groups
    • Female only because I am more comfortable with female providers than male providers; none of my childhood or adult female providers were abusive
  • Listened with respect and acceptance
  • Did not talk down to me, condescend to me, shame me, or dismiss my concerns/questions/issues in any way
  • Did not make me feel unsafe, unheard, or crazy during our first meeting
  • Felt safe and comfortable in her office during the first meeting

Here are some of the criteria I used to find and choose a psychiatrist

  • All of the above for mental health, plus did not try to push drugs on my once he or she realized the drugs were making me sick with symptoms and side effects

Here are some general tips

  • If you already have providers you trust
    • Ask what medical insurance they take and make sure you are on one of those plans for a primary care physician and specialists (psychiatrist, dietitian, podiatrist, etc.)
    • Work out a payment plan with the financial department (many major hospitals and clinics have programs and are supportive about helping figure out options as long as you talk to them) or your mental health counselor if you get into financial trouble
  • If you don’t have providers you trust
    • Try calling the phone number on the back of your insurance card
    • Try using the insurance company’s website to search their directory of providers
    • Then be prepared to make a lot of dead end phone calls and set up appointments to interview the providers
      • Dead end because many sites do not have up-to-date contact information
    • If the prospect of doing all of this research and follow up on your own is anxiety-provoking or triggering, try a third party organization or non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find providers
  • Always be as honest as possible and communicate your needs, concerns, or issues clearly when talking with providers.

Any provider who brushes your concerns and questions off is not safe or trustworthy.  Find someone else

Thanks for reading

 

 

Recovery: Invisible Strength

Background

Today is the 4th and second hardest anniversary in May.  As I think about getting ready for bed and how I can face the nightmares hovering at the edge of my awareness, I remember what the hotline counselor told me earlier – you are strong, strong enough to cope with this – in different words and different ways throughout the conversation.

I called because I had some chores to do that I had been putting off and was scared because I felt unsafe and frustrated.  Unsafe because doing those chores triggered memories of my mother and aunts.  Frustrated because those triggers also brought back memories of more recent experiences that made me feel unsafe too.  As I shared my feelings and the experiences behind them, the connections were revealed.

This (experience or event) reminded me of that (seemingly unrelated experience or event) because I felt the same way both times and reacted instinctively even if I used different coping strategies to work through each experience.  And each experience or event past or present brought out emotions and memories of similar ones.  Together, the counselor and I untangled the connections enough for me to understand why I was scared and make 2 plans, one for tonight and one for later this week.

Why am I sharing this?

I am sharing because that conversation reminded me that every survivor of trauma, no matter what kind, has invisible strength.

By invisible, I mean not always apparent, recognizable, or appreciated by “normal” people, but always recognized and valued by others with shared experiences or on the recovery path.

What does Invisible Strength mean?

Invisible strength is getting up every morning and doing one act of self care in spite of the previous night’s setbacks.

Invisible strength is talking about the scary secrets and acknowledging what happened in spite of fear and possible rejection and accusations of being a liar or worse.

Invisible strength is relapsing and getting up to start recovery again no matter how much time has passed.

Invisible strength is knowing that you have to make difficult choices and choosing the best ones for yourself even if that means breaking away from everything familiar.

Invisible strength means using whatever coping strategies you have to in order to get through the moment and forgiving yourself for doing something that induces shame.

Invisible strength means accepting that you can’t change other people, your environment, or their thoughts about you while also knowing that their thoughts and choices and failures and problems are not your fault.

Invisible strength comes from doing what you know is right for you even if no one else accepts or approves of your choices.

For me right now, invisible strength means:

  • I can love and accept and forgive my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and relatives in spite of their abuse and still not want them in my life.
  • I can let other aunts, uncles, and cousins who are willing to meet me part way and develop new relationships based on who we are now slowly back into my life as long as we respect each others’ boundaries.
  • I can feel compassion for my parents, brother, relatives, and other abusers and the experiences that made them who they are without shame or guilt
  • I can accept that part of what they did was not their choice or within their control, but other parts of it were and hold them responsible for their past words and actions without blaming them.
  • I can learn to accept that my feelings of shame and guilt come from fear and learned behaviors that are not my responsibility
  • I can finally recognize that connecting with “normal” people will always be difficult because I am not willing to settle for shallow or insincere relationships – whether friendship, familial relationship, intimate relationship, etc. – with people who I cannot trust or respect on a basic level.
  • I can face the fact that not many people are as “strong” as I am and that my “strength” can feel intimidating to others whose values and ethics do not align with mine.
  • I am not willing to settle for an intimate relationship with a man who is not my equal in values or invisible strength – someone I feel safe and comfortable with, respect, like, and trust not to hurt me on purpose or use his knowledge about me to manipulate or control me; someone who feels safe and comfortable, respects, likes, and trusts me not to hurt him on purpose or use my knowledge about him to manipulate or control him.
  • I may never find my dream man in this life time.
  • I could find my dream man in this life time.
  • I may never have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I could have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I hope and dream that my next life will be different from this one – free from abuse and trauma, but not the ups and downs of sadness, joy, pain, serenity, good health, and freedom that come from living.
  • I am grateful for this second chance at life in spite of all the challenges that slow me down

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: How do I Cope with happy, positive feelings? Part 2 – Why do using my existing strategies feel wrong?

Recap

I gave background in Part 1.  The tattoos are healing nicely and a great reminder of the positive, happy experiences happening in the present.  They are symbols of the positive direction my life is taking now.  And looking at them, touching them reminds me of happy past memories too.  They are a great grounding strategy to use anytime.

The Challenge

All of the positive feelings are overwhelming and anxiety provoking.  I am not used to feeling them and experiencing the sensations they create inside me.  I do not want to tone them down.  I do not want to bring them down to calmer or less reactive levels.  Nor do I want to bring them down to neutral.  I want to ride the waves of feeling and sensation until they go away on their own.

All of my coping strategies are designed to help me dial down overwhelming feelings or anxiety.  They bring me back to the present; distract me with something so that I can step back and be objective about the sensations instead of panicking; and give me an outlet for excessive energy when my adrenaline gets tapped.  The relaxing and calming strategies help me learn to sit with uncomfortable sensations and feelings so that I am not distracted by them or triggered into flashbacks as often.

But positive feelings were so few and far between in my past as to be nonexistent.  Now I’m not sure what to do or how to react to them.

The Goals

  • Learn to experience the positive feelings without getting overwhelmed and feeling anxious.
  • Let the positive feelings flow through me until they go away on their own.
  • Remember that I won’t get hurt for feeling happy.
  • Remember that I deserve to be happy.

Conclusion for Part 2

If only I could figure out my options.  I feel like I’m being twisted into pieces with the happy present and scary past coexisting inside me … sometimes fighting for the dominant position in my mind/body/self.

Alter Post: Dreams for a Better Life

My name is Angora.  I am one of the alters who writes or co-writes a lot of the posts here.  There is a name for those of us who stay in charge most of the time, but I don’t remember it.  Instead, I will say that my main role is managing the internal communications and strategies to maintain daily routines.  Others manage the external communications; I only talk with outside people when necessary, i.e. protection from aggressive or potentially unsafe individuals and groups.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with anger.  The other alters in our system have been remembering past experiences and not forgetting afterwards.  Good for us because we need those memories in order to make good decisions for the present and near future.  Anxiety and anger provoking because remembering means reliving and re-experiencing the trauma all over again without the usual safety nets in place.  Negative coping strategies work, but bring shame afterwards.

More than anything, though, is my difficulty with frustration that turns into anger.  I want for all of us to be able to walk outside and not fear running into someone from the past.  I want for us to go into a small business and not get bad service because the manager or sales person is a former classmate from high school/college/grad school or a friend of someone in my family.  I want to go into a bar or a restaurant or a club and enjoy the scenery (music, drinks, dancing, socializing)  instead of acting hyper-vigilant because people are staring or feeling unsafe because places like that bring back bad memories.

Most important, though, I want my alters to have positive associations and experiences if and when they choose to come out and interact with the outside world.  And that won’t happen for another few months when we move out of state.  The downside to living in a small state with close-knit communities even in the city is that I can’t meet new people or start fresh without my past history getting in the way.  A past history full of trauma and bullying that makes meeting people and socializing feel like walking on eggshells all the time.

And so often, these days I and the rest of the alters don’t recognize (not consciously anyways) those people.  But they recognize me.  I am blessed or cursed with youthful features and distinctive looks because of my Asian genetics and alopecia areata.  In my teens, I looked like a child – as long as you ignored my body.  In my twenties, I looked like a teenager.  Now, in my early thirties, I look like I am in my early twenties.  The point is, people recognize me and treat me according to what they remember or think they know about me or the alter they had most contact with.

Doesn’t matter that I/we hold ourselves/act/dress differently.  Most of that just brings out envy and anger because we survived and am enjoying life as much as possible under the circumstances.  They tend to react with shocked stares, disgusted looks, and derisive comments thrown out as loud comments to their social group as I walk by.  Or they turn around and walk away with head averted to avoid me because they think I am going to approach them.  Why would I want to approach the men and women who bullied and shunned me in high school and college?

And some, very few, try to initiate a vaguely friendly contact using the old name.  Or look at me with recognition; then disappointment/anger that I don’t or won’t recognize them too.  That brings fear and combinations of guilt/shame.

The fear because it’s usually a male with whom there was flirting or something going on in the past.

The guilt/shame for two reasons: 1) because I am not the other person anymore and can’t acknowledge the individual without explaining about the name change and the past; and 2) because I am ashamed of what I said/did during interactions with that person and can’t remember to reality test the truth of that shame.

When the alters and I decided to permanently change our legal name, we also decided to change our identity to match the new name.  That meant letting go of the past and not using the old name or references except with close friends from the old life.  It’s easier sometimes to ignore and let them be rude/angry/upset because I acted snobbish or whatever than to trust and open up even if doing that brings feelings of shame too..

Moving out of state can’t happen fast enough.  Sure, there’s a whole lot of crap to organize and wade through before August.  But it’s days like this, managing ok because of the work-from-home accommodation, that I really wish I lived someplace else so the triggers and fear wouldn’t cause physical problems that prevent me from going outside.  Or sleeping.  Or taking care of myself.  Or doing something I enjoy.  And prevent my alters from feeling safe, comfortable, happy, and confident in their coping strategies to get through this rough patch.

Living someplace where no one knows my past and treats me poorly because of it.  Knowing that anyone who does act negatively around me does so because of a personality or lifestyle clash instead of a shared past relieves me and the alters of many triggers.

That is our dream.  It’s been our dream for a long time.  And soon that dream will come true.  Thanks for reading

Survival Mode: A different kind of survival part 1 – PTSD

Introduction

I’m late with this week’s post.  The last few days have been difficult with high anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and an adrenaline high that wouldn’t stop; my reactions to recovered memories involving physical violence combined with seasonal body memory pain.  It’s a different kind of survival mode for me and one that I struggle with a lot.  Instead of typical essay format, I’m using a Q&A interview style for this series

Questions and Answers

Q: What is an adrenaline high?

A: I get triggered into panic without having a panic attack.  Adrenaline surges through my system.  I suddenly have extra acute senses, strength, mental clarity, etc. in order to run, fight, or freeze until I can escape.  But once I realize the threat is over, the adrenaline keeps on flowing.  The hyper-vigilance stays and increases over time.  I am jumpy and anxious and unable to concentrate.  I can’t relax.  The adrenaline does not stop.

Q: Why doesn’t the adrenaline stop?  Isn’t there a physiological on/off switch built into our bodies/minds?

A:  My on/off switch was permanently disabled because of past experiences.  Yes most people have an on/off switch that automatically controls how, when, and for what length of time the adrenaline flows and then slows down without crashing too hard.  I have to find ways to manually turn the adrenaline off without causing harm to myself and (potentially) others.

Q: How does it relate to PTSD specifically?

A: Symptoms of PTSD get exacerbated.  Agitation, irritability, anger easily, frustration, lack of focus, increased anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  PTSD is considered an anxiety disorder.  For me that means all of my “natural” alertness and environmental sensitivity get put on steroids to make flashbacks, nightmares, and triggers both more likely to occur and more intense with each occurrence.  That sends more adrenaline into my system until I am flying on super high energy levels and awareness even as I start to crash from being physically and emotionally drained of energy from the last wave.  No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to relax, the adrenaline and hyper-vigilance won’t let me because my brain senses a threat that doesn’t exist anymore.  Once I identify the cause of this state (that I call Adrenaline High), I have to find ways to slow down the adrenaline until it stops.

Q: How do I know when my adrenaline starts/stays on/stops?

A:  My first signs are physiological.  As in my body reacts to the adrenaline first.  Sweating, chills, shaking/trembling limbs, chest tightness, muscle tension, headaches, face pain, joint pain, extra saliva in my mouth, skin feels itchy, flushed or pale skin/skin changes color.  Then comes acute senses: everything is more sensitive and reactive; I jump at noises, can smell or scent objects from longer distances, flavors increase or decrease – taste too much or nothing at all, etc.  And then comes the distraction, loss of vision (everything is blurry), and an increase in mental static/confusion caused by the “hearing voices” that are not my alters trying to convince me that the past is reality and present is a dumb fantasy that will get me (put your idea of a threat here).

Q: Do automatic defenses and coping strategies kick in during adrenaline?

A:  Yes.  I try everything in my arsenal first.  All of positive, healthy, healing coping strategies and techniques from therapy, programs, hotlines, books, etc. get used and reused until I get frustrated.  Then I try last resort strategies.  Hopefully they work.  And if not, there are the strategies I refuse to consciously use: my past automatic coping and defense mechanisms: chemical help (something stronger than Tylenol like prescription anti-anxiety meds); inducing a panic attack that causes me to pass out; self harm (emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual).  As I’ve mentioned before, self-harm comes in many forms and is not always noticeable.  Luckily for me, I have caring friends and co-workers who gently point out and remind me when this happens so that I know it happened and can be more careful next time.

Q: What are some ways to make the adrenaline stop?  Are they positive/neutral/negative?

A:  I don’t know.  This is where I am still experimenting and learning.  The only ways I know for me to successfully make the adrenaline stop are negative (see question above).  Some neutral ones suggested by others include: exercise; deep breathing; hobbies and activities that allow adrenaline-based energy to be released and do not require a lot of focus; listening to music or lullabies; distractions like favorite books, TV, and movies.  I call those neutral because they can be triggering to some and not to others.  As for positive, I am still working on that.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: Yes.  The backlash from using what’s necessary to come down from an adrenaline high can be worse than the adrenaline itself.  It can cause guilt and shame and more triggers or memories to resurface.

If you can ride it all out with minimal harm to self and others, you have won.  That is the attitude I have to take or else I’d be swimming in shame and guilt every time it happens.  Instead of healing, I’d be back in the downward spiral.  So, when nothing works, ask for help.  Reach out to supports if you can.  Help comes in many forms.  Sometimes I ask myself for help and support to get  through the next (time period varies).  Or I ask for spiritual help.

If you can’t reach out, do what you have to do to stay safe and protect yourself. 

And always remember: this is not going to last.  You got through it last time.  You will get through it again.

Recovery: The importance of Reminders

Sometimes I get wrapped up in the eye of a storm called triggers.  When that happens, everything I’ve learned and experienced gets lost amid the chaos of memories and emotions and sensations.  If I’m lucky, I remember earlier instead of later.  Then starts the process of finding my center so that I can use my resources.

Often, this means going outside of myself to get help.  An objective and compassionate third party (often for me a hotline volunteer or my therapist; sometimes a friend) can help me out of the chaos. Then remind me of why I want to get out when I feel trapped and ready to give up.

As an introvert, one of my biggest triggers is being put down by extroverts who ask my opinion and then attack me when I make them stop and think with cautions and questions instead of saying, “yes, go do it.  Damn the consequences.”

This trigger is on my mind a lot right now as I remember past experiences as an introvert living in a family of extroverts and then having difficulties in groups because of my refusal to keep quiet about what I believe in.  Also too, I struggle to be gentle with myself and to recognize when I am being gentle with myself.  Shame and guilt tend to blind me from it.

The quotes below resonate with my concept of reminders.   I hope they can help others too.

“There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions.” ~ from Quiet by Susan Cain

Many times, I and different alters who take over get into trouble for speaking out against the majority.  Whether with words or silence or actions or a combination, I go my own way.  I guess that’s where the high tolerance for pain was learned.  And maybe I was quiet for a long time, but my internal life never gave up on the beliefs that shaped who I am today.

I don’t regret speaking out.  And now, I am happy to live in a world where introversion and speaking out is valued instead of derided.  Keeping secrets made me feel shame and guilt and responsibility for actions and experiences beyond my control.  The monsters’ voices sometimes reverberate in my head, trying to convince me that I can’t go on.  But a platform to speak my truths (in therapy, with trusted friends, on the blog, with volunteers on a hotline), helps me remember that I am not my trauma.  My alters are still me, and I am the sum of my alters.

 

Kudos to anyone who speaks out their truths no matter the consequences.  Kudos to the resilient and courageous survivors to continue to persevere with recovery and coping in spite of the challenges that come with taking a different path.  May this quote bring hope and comfort when you are down.

 

“Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can.” found through Web of Benefit

A hard lesson to learn; even harder to put into practice.  My alters and I are not superhuman.  We are not advanced or special or better than or empowered with unnatural gifts that allow us to go beyond limits without consequences.  Learning to live within the limits of mind and body and spirit allows each of us to accomplish more and build self-confidence from small successes and positive actions.  Sometimes pushing boundaries is  good.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  And sometimes pushing boundaries is the easiest/best/fastest/only way to discover where the limits are.

For me, I have to remember that some “shoulds” and expectations in my mind are not always my or my alters’ expectations.  Others are idealistic instead of realistic and require adjustments.  Finally, I have to remember that I instinctively do my best (it’s almost hardwired into my mind and body) and so do my alters.  The memories and trauma bring out the critical and abusive voices telling me otherwise.  And no matters what, all I can do is my best.

So congratulate myself for doing the best possible with what is available and move on – my way of being gentle with myself.

Then I congratulate anyone and everyone who tries and sometimes succeeds in being gentle with themselves too because I am grateful for their existence to remind me I am not alone in this.