Anger: sitting with sensations in my body

Catching Up Slowly

The short version is that I spent a lot of time sitting with the new feelings and sensations inside my body.  By that I mean all of the feelings buried underneath the anger revealed themselves and started moving in my body.

It felt like going through puberty again, although without the hormones to make everything feel more confusion.  Those feelings and sensations include: sexuality, sensuality, physical attraction, femininity, and masculinity.

I still experienced anger and frustration, but not in the same way or with the same overwhelming intensity as before.  In fact, the anger didn’t feel like anger until I started paying attention to the sensations in my body every time I felt angry.  The sensations flared up at the peak of my anger and drained away as I acknowledged and sat with them.

What sensations for anger?

Tensing of my jaw and neck muscles.  My eye lids tightening around the corners.  Increased heartbeat.  Stabbing pain in my mid back.  Sudden discomfort, bloating, and lack of appetite around my abdominal/middle back area.  A surge of adrenaline that made me want to MOVE, but not hurt anyone.  And a feeling that something sludgy was moving around inside me trying to get out.

“Doing” versus “Sitting with”

For someone who hasn’t lived in her body for about 30 years, all of these sensations and feelings felt new and scary.  I didn’t know how to cope with them. What could I do?  How do I keep from getting distracted?

Talking with my counselor validated my decision to not try to “do” anything to the feelings and sensations.

By “do” I mean use coping strategies to contain or balance or change them in some way.

Instead, we agreed that I would “sit” with these feelings and sensations to learn about and from them.  Sitting with uncomfortable feelings is not new to me.  I developed a process for doing this around 2010 to help dial down the intensity of physical panic attacks and created the acronym AEVAR and mantras to chant with the acronym words.

  • AEVAR
  • Acknowledge – I acknowledge all of the feelings and sensations in my body, mind, and spirit
  • Experience – I experience all of the feelings and sensations moving in, around, through, and out of my mind, body, and spirit with friendliness, love, and compassion
  • Validate – Each sensation and feeling is valid, real, deserving of respect, and a valued source of information
  • Accept – I accept all of the feelings and sensations as valid, real, and useful in sharing information with me
  • Release – I let go of all the feelings and sensations with love and acceptance knowing that they will come and go like waves in the ocean
  • The chanting helps all parts of me feel grounded and safe enough to be patient until the intense feelings and sensations release themselves.

Chanting the words (and believing in them) is a mantra in itself.  You can add others that fit your circumstances or not use a mantra at all.

What does this have to do with the break and spiritual quest?

The Break

Sitting with my feelings instead of employing a coping strategy takes a lot of time, focus, and energy.  It required changes to my daily routines in order to meet basic needs and maintain self-care.  More meditation and deep breathing.  More relaxation techniques to help me rest or sleep.  And more grounding/mindfulness exercises to help me stay focused on my job as work got busier and busier instead of slowing down like usual.

art boiling eruption fog
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After a while, though, doing this on my own brought out more questions and insecurities than answers.  I was working through major family breakthroughs at the time and experiencing intense hyper-vigilance that negatively impacted my relationship with neighbors in the building.  Everything felt sharper, more intense.  Energy or something was building up inside of me, and I didn’t know how to let it go without causing an explosion.

So I turned back to my spiritual practices.  During meditation, I asked God, guardians, guides, the universe, angels, and archangels for support and guidance.  I practiced listening to my intuition and using that knowledge to make choices.  And moved into the next step of my spiritual quest.

Spiritual Quest

Without the anger buffering me from all of the hidden feelings and sensations, all parts of me started having more flashbacks and intense dreams.  I felt fear differently and confusion all the time.  The outside world seemed more unfriendly and dangerous than before.  And all parts of me were feeling frustrated with a lack of resources about certain topics related to our past history of sexual and physical abuse in the Western Medicine canon.

We used the month off to explore other healing methodologies, spiritual practices, and ways of thinking that might offer information about the feelings and sensations of something moving through our physical body and spiritual self.  Astrology, a tarot reading, books about chakra systems (from spiritual and psychological perspectives) and life force energy (aka qi, kundalini, auras, magnetic fields, energy fields, etc.) from practitioners and healers were some of my resources.

All of these practitioners embodied love, compassion, and acceptance as part of their lifestyles.  It showed in their speech, body language, and interactions with others.  And all of them incorporated teachings from eastern religions, western religions, and mythology from around the world in their practices.  They shared information and wisdom with me, provided direction, and offered resources so that I could continue on my journey.

Today’s Featured Image

I found this quote on my Facebook feed – gratitude to the friend who shared it – and saved it to share here too.

Why put it with a post about anger?

This quote embodies the main lesson learned from each reading session with a practitioner of tarot, astrology, etc. during the past two months.

Love – universal, unconditional, compassionate, and accepting – really can manifest positive changes in oneself and in life.

Without letting down my guard and changing my beliefs about the outside world, and the universe in general, I would not have had the courage and faith to believe in this kind of love and let it protect all parts of me from the inside out.

That love and protection provided the support and tools to finally drain out the seeming bottomless pit of anger.

Without that love protecting and healing all parts of me on the inside, I would not have had the courage to keep sitting with the feelings and sensations until my intuition guided me to unexpected answers.

So I’m sharing that love with all of you.  It’s a gift freely given.  Yours to accept or not.

Thanks for reading.

 

Self Care: An off-the-cuff story

I had something else planned for today, but decided to share an unedited story instead.

Verbal communication is a big trigger for me.  I tend to not talk as much as possible because a fear of what could/will come out of my mouth when the automatic defense mechanisms kick in.  The range is extensive:

From mildly irritating and insulting to verbally/emotionally abusive, mean, evil, manipulative, shaming, and purposefully hurtful in such a way that will get me fired and/or blacklisted from work or other places.

Actually, that probably did happen in the past – work or friend circles or socializing – and one of many reasons why I deliberately isolated in the past.

And it’s one of the ways my PTSD still expresses itself: dissociation, depersonalization, hyper-vigilance, extreme reactions to stimuli or “normal” situations, anger management issues, irritability, anxiety, etc. all here

What does that mean exactly?
It means that I can talk and work well with others when my anxiety and triggers don’t interfere.  But I hesitate to do this because the triggers and anxiety are so strong that my automatic defense mechanism kick in without any self awareness.  In counseling, I shared that maybe (and this is optimistic) 50% of the time I can feel the trigger before my defenses kick in.  And less often than that, I can stop the automatic defenses.

This whole verbal communication issue is going to be a life long coping challenge.  The amount of self care and coping strategies just to manage work meetings is enormous.  When I have work meetings combined with managing social situations (interacting with neighbors, friends, family, and store/restaurant employees), well something has to give.

My alters took over some of the socializing (for a few it was their first time in the outside world), but then got triggered and had panic attacks inside our mind.  On one hand this is good because it means we all are recovering and healing.  On the other hand, it leaves in new territory trying to figure out how to cope with alters wanting to participate in the outside world too.

Lessons learned

That’s part of the reason why I’ve been quiet this week.  And why the shared info posts have been less descriptive than usual.  My brain is kind of mushy.  Everyone is tired and grumpy.  Lots of mistakes and lessons learned from internal and external experiences.  There are deadlines at work, and chores to do – chores no one enjoys – that require facing other triggers.  Bathrooms and basements are still scary.  Laundry is scary.  And at this point, none of us really want to be social.  With anyone.  But going out of the apartment to do laundry or take out trash, etc., means the potential to run into other people.

And while all of us had hoped that moving someplace else would bring out positive changes and less of the hate/negativity, etc., we accept that certain hostilities exist everywhere.  And being different, looking different, living on our own  terms makes us a target wherever we go.  Bullies are everywhere.  Racists are more open about their prejudices.  If they can get away with intimidation and harassment, they will and do.

Unless I/we choose to live in a remote cabin off the grid and get everything delivered, there is no escaping people and problems like that.

Self Care and Coping Strategies

Instead, all 88 of us are choosing to work within our limitations and enjoy life as best as possible.  That’s our updated version of self care.

What does the Self Care look like?

  • Work at a job with flexible hours that doesn’t require working in an office or extensive commuting
  • Choose distance learning with self-learning options instead of structured timelines for course completion and attendance requirements
  • Focus on improving our internal family systems’ communication and participation in life
  • Limit socialization and feeling comfortable staying inside instead of feeling shame about choosing solitude and feeling anxiety about running in to neighbors/people at the building
  • Face certain triggers to put up decorations around the apartment and let go of unnecessary clutter
  • Make choices and budget money/time to accomplish home decorating and organizing tasks
  • Continue with meditation and crystal work as part of every day coping strategies
  • Find a park or grassy/wooded/beach area to visit and meditate or exercise or relax and enjoy nature
  • Resolve lingering issues with my mom’s side of the family – find a way to safely communicate and be part of each other’s lives if only in a peripheral sense
  • Take small steps to improve self trust and remove more past conditioning

Life is always interesting and never lonely for us.  Often scary, weird, and loud, but we are never alone.

Thanks for reading

Alter Post: Mindfulness meditation frustration

Mindfulness meditation frustration

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

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

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

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

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

But anything can be used for the visualization.

The Visualization practice

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

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

 

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

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

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategy: 365 Days of writing affirmations or mantras

What is an affirmation?

An affirmation is a statement of positive intention.  It can be a phrase, a sentence, a group of sentences, or a quotation.

What is a mantra?

A mantra is a phrase, statement, slogan, or quotation that can be repeated frequently.  It can be used for comfort, inspiration, support, a renewal of faith, etc.

Why both instead of one or the other?

Both words have similar uses that can be hard to distinguish sometimes.  Affirmations can be used as mantras.  A mantra (whole or parts) can be used as an affirmation.  Since I can’t tell what category mine go into, I write out my intention and then decide if it’s a mantra or an affirmation later.

Inspiration comes from?

  • Other bloggers – So many bloggers are creating their own or sharing inspiring affirmations that I decided to be brave and try writing mine down too
  • Tara Brach – Understanding grief & loss, coping or healing through faith, meditation, and communication – I personally like her free “Tara’s Talks” videos
  • Pema Chodron – Lessons in spiritual resilience, faith (whether or not you are Buddhist), meditation, and compassion (loving kindness and mindfulness meditations)
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn – Mindfulness meditation to help with pain, stress, and other uncomfortable feelings through Harvard Medical School
  • Brene Brown – lessons in authentic living, shame, resilience, and vulnerability
  • Deirdre Fay’s classes – affirmations as part of meditation or breathing techniques to help cope with trauma
  • other self-help books – The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook was the second self-help book that helped me start making sense of the coping challenges and learn how to use affirmations even if I didn’t believe in them at the time.  My other favorite self-help and coping strategy books are on Pinterest if you want to look there too, but beware I also have some personal boards up there.  You might learn more than you care to about me…
  • Louise Hay – her affirmations helped me through some of my darkest moments; I’m grateful for the person who introduced me to her writing way back in the first years of my recovery journey

How does it help so far?

  • The affirmation or mantra sets my intention for the day
  • Makes my thoughts concrete and visible to anyone who reads it
  • Reminds me to feel gratitude and practice what I’ve learned to help cope no matter how I feel at the time
  • Gives me a place to visit and remember positive thoughts when my mind decides to go blank
  • Teaches me patience, consistency, perseverance, and follow-through on my goals and objectives
  • Let’s me practice self-kindness and self-compassion when I make mistakes by not writing down an affirmation or mantra every day

But 365 days?  Why?

Yes, 365 days or approximately 1 year.  It’s time for me to expand my boundaries and try to do this in spite of the triggers that stopped me in the past.  Plus this is an activity that all parts of me can participate in, remember, go back to, and enjoy together.  We are all involved and motivated to succeed.  This gives us all a better chance at accomplishing our goal.

Other thoughts

Some people will tell you that affirmations are crap or bs or (my personal favorite) hogwash.  You can’t change your life with positive affirmations.  And even if you can, how can you say them and have faith if you are in a negative mindset?  Or you have a negative self-image?  Or, like people in group once said, maybe these things can happen for other people, but not for me because I’m not worthy.

Maybe that’s true for some people.  It was sort of true for me back when I first started listening to people talk about the power of positive thinking, etc.  But then I tried looking at the concept from other perspectives. 

I started reading other affirmations to try to understand what made them positive or inspirational or meaningful. What was a mantra, and how did it relate to affirmations?  Because many people preferred using mantras instead, I wondered if it was language that made the difference.  Language as in how words are perceived by the dominant culture around us.  Later, I wondered if these affirmations and mantras were like prayers.  Instead of going directly to God, they were spoken as a gesture of faith in a higher power or to whatever religious deity the people believed in.

Questioning my spiritual path

That’s when I dropped the word “positive” and kept affirmations.  Also why I prefer “mantras” to “prayers” even though I do pray every night and every morning.  And if I time traveled back to the moment when I was choosing a religion, I’d probably be Jewish because that was the faith that brought me the most love and comfort in childhood.

Maybe some day I will be able to visit a Synagogue without crying – it’s been almost 30 years, and I still miss my Uncle Teddy.  And so I pray.  I practice compassion and gratitude through meditation and random acts of kindness.  I collect prayers, quotes, affirmations, and mantras that connect with my spirit.  Finally, I write my own affirmations and mantras.  Maybe someday I’ll share them here too.

Lessons Learned

And I learned that affirmations, mantras, and prayers all have a few things in common:

  • They share hope for a different outcome
  • They open people up to different possibilities and choices
  • They bring comfort during times of stress or overwhelming sensations
  • They are not always positive
  • They can be as simple as one word or as complicated as a poem
  • They work as long as the one speaking/writing them believes
  • They are the wishes and foundations for everyday miracles in life

Your Choice

*Like most tings in life, you get out of affirmations and mantras what you put into them.*

If you want to try one, why not pick a quote or phrase that is meaningful to you and repeat it once a day for a set time period.  At the end of that time period, reflect on how you feel and if anything has changed between then and now.  Then decide for yourself if you want to continue using them.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Trusting the inner self

A thoughtful, discussion type post today.  Everything is inter-related so no subtitles.

Sometimes I get caught up in the stories my mind creates.  The emotional stress from fear or anxiety combine to drown out what my instincts or inner self is trying to say, especially when they are on opposite sides.  If I only listened to the feelings generated by the nightmares and flashbacks, would I have the courage to keep getting involved in life?  Or to develop healthy relationships?  Or accept that some “negative symptoms” or “coping strategies” are healthy, natural inclinations instead?

Do you, guests, also question whether or not your habits are healthy or unhealthy?  Positive or negative?  Useful or interfering?  If so, you are not alone.  Many survivors and others who are not survivors tend to question/challenge everything at one point or another.  It’s part of growing and adapting to both change – life, recovery, personality, work, inner/outer self – in order to become closer to our authentic selves.  I say closer because becoming one’s authentic self is a lifelong journey.

At this point in my journey, I am remembering more and more of the past in order to take the next step to trusting guidance from my inner voice instead of letting reality or perspective get distorted when my instincts trigger “danger” signals.  My inner voice is different from my instincts in the same way that emotions are different from intuition.

  • Instincts are based on sensory information – sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, proprioception
  • Inner voice is based on an interpretation of what my senses are telling me based on knowledge, experience, and perception of the present situation

e.g. my instincts tell me that a certain set of sounds could mean danger.
My inner voice(s) look in the direction of the sound, take in the surroundings as a group of boisterous people enjoying outdoor music and drinks, and decide it’s wise to be cautious when going past them.
My trigger reacts like this: flashback to the past and tell me to defend myself and/or avoid the sounds because I’m in danger from the sound maker(s).

Right now, the trigger is louder than the inner voice and hijacks control over all reactions.

The goal is to build more trust in the inner voice and allow that to guide reactions and actions to my/our instincts.

Another way to look at this is through coping strategies & habits.  Some of my questionable coping strategies & habits include:

  • preference for solitude & quiet
  • need for privacy & limited social relationships
  • Urge to “reset” my sleep cycles every few months by staying up 24+ hours or not sleeping much for days/weeks at a time until I crash for as many hours as needed to recuperate
  • Compulsion to use a “resting meditation” technique that allows all alters to be active at the same time and communicate to work through large amounts of memories/feelings/flashbacks/stress in an 8+ hour period of time throughout the year.

The solitude is questionable because almost every self-help guide, program, and counselor I’ve talked to or worked with has warned about the dangers of isolation and loneliness.  They’ve also talked about the importance of making connections with people, having a support system, emotion regulation/tolerance, and importance of interpersonal communication in recovery.  But no one has discussed how some people, whether more towards introversion or extraversion, are more naturally inclined towards solitude than others.

These people may or may not be highly sensitive, but they have found other ways of creating meaningful connections and relationships with people, animals, plants, etc. that don’t necessarily require a lot of social interaction.  Not exactly hermits, but not interested in an expansive social life either.  That’s me, and something I am learning to accept instead of question or worry about.

As for privacy & trust, well I didn’t have a lot of that growing up.  And while I am good at making it appear to others that I am an open book by sharing some information about myself, in reality those people only see/know/understand what I allow them to see.  Less than 5 people in the world know all parts of me, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  Many 20 or less people know most parts of me.  Everyone else gets to meet the “survivor”, “insecure”, “grumpy”, “social”, “professional”, or “ambivert” me; maybe a combination of them too.

More stuff than I can put words to happens inside on a daily basis.  That takes up more than 50% of my energy (mental, physical, spiritual) right now.  The other 50% is used to go to work, do chores, cope with external symptoms, and enjoy life.  Sometimes, I get overstimulated into an adrenaline state that makes sleep difficult to impossible – it’s a combination of flashbacks & nightmares with body memories and fear responses working their way through all parts of me.

Other times, my energy gets used up too fast, and I can’t replenish in time; not just food energy, but mental and spiritual too.  “Being normal” or focusing on life outside of my inner worlds becomes too much.  I need to take a break and let my inner world settle down after all of the changes.  That means more or less sleep and lying down meditation to allow everyone a chance be involved in the coping strategy.

The sleep & meditation used to cause untold amounts of shame and self-hate because that’s what mom did to escape the world.  She slept for hours or days at a time with the excuse of being sick.  Then there was the family shame of “being lazy” by sleeping too much.  Or the label “just like your mom” because I didn’t do enough (from outsiders point of view) to help my parents and brother.

Now, getting enough sleep & practicing meditation is part of my self-care routine.  I feel less shame and guilt about taking care of myself because self-care means I can do more with life and stay healthy.  I feel more empowered to resist the negative voices and keep going in spite of the flashbacks, fear, anxiety, body memories, pain, or nightmares that trigger panic attacks.  Sure, I may need an extra hour or two in the morning or have to take a break and work later, but at least I don’t have to take the whole day off and sleep through the anxiety anymore.

Why?
Because now I and all of my parts can hear, trust, and listen to the inner voice interpreting our instincts with a balance of emotion and logic that is based in the present reality instead of the past one.

Is it easy?  Medium?  Difficult?
Yes and no.  Like any challenge, some parts are easier than others.  It depends on the individual and her or his perspective on life, willingness to change, reactions to stress, resilience, courage, and persistence.

Wait, what if I don’t have an inner voice?
Everyone has an inner voice and instincts.  Not everyone chooses to believe in or listen to the inner voice or instincts.  And some people who do might decide that the inner voice and instincts are wrong because the short term outcome is unexpected or unwanted so choose not to listen.  As with hindsight being 20/20, so is listening to one’s inner voice.  Learning how to interpret what the inner voice is communicating takes time, practice, and mistakes.

Is this like a conscience or a moral compass?
Maybe.  For some people, their inner voices and instincts align with their values and moral compass or ethics.  For others, the conscience could be separate.  For me, they are separate.  My instincts and inner voice are non-judgemental and neutral.  They share information and guidance that I can accept or refuse or interpret in different ways.

Either way, whether you (guests) choose to explore your inner voice or instincts, I hope you all find a path to self-acceptance through recovery.  Self-acceptance makes living and enjoying life that much more interesting.

Thanks for reading.