Back to Basics: Sleep heals many wounds

An odd thing happened earlier this week.

I was late meeting the Uber and ended up in the wrong car.  My lateness triggered a panic attack that increased when I realized I was in the wrong car.  The driver couldn’t wait to get me out even though he was polite and courteous.  The panic attack led me to being late for my acupuncture appointment.

Lucky for me, my practitioner and the people in reception knew me well and helped calm the attack.  Our treatment focused on easing the anxiety through grounding and balancing my chi.  We didn’t have time for the bodywork and massage, but I left feeling calmer and more clearheaded.  This time, I got the right Uber and home on time.

One thing I always have to remember is that these treatments take a lot out of my body.  In stimulating my chi and forcing stagnant blockages to move, the acupuncture and bodywork promote internal healing of my organs too.  That means more sleep, more liquids, more food and more movement are needed to replenish what’s being used.  Sometimes meditation can be substituted for sleep.  Sometimes not.

But this week especially, I realized something was different.  When I lay down at night, my body buzzed on the inside from toes to head.  I wasn’t shaking or trembling.  My external self (skin, arms, legs, torso, head, neck, toes, fingers) wasn’t moving.  But I was trembling on the inside.  I could feel my blood circulating, my chi moving along the veins and through muscle.

It scared me.  And it made calming into a sleep state feel wrong.  But I was so tired.  Reading books didn’t help.  My eyes and head were tired.  Music was too stimulating.  Audio books came to my rescue.  I listened to them as I fell asleep.  Thank technology for wireless headphones.

Audio books also drowned out the trauma memory voices telling me to hurt and punish myself.  They distracted my alters and my body from reliving those experiences through backlash and shame until all of us were ready to cope with the new set of memories unleashed by the slow balancing of my chi.

I mentioned a lot of needles on my abdomen; needles also went into my legs, neck, and head to help clear stagnant chi from my mind, spirit and digestive system.  By forcing those blocked up places to move and clear out, the pain in my back and along my spine eased too.  And the swelling/water retention around my abdominal/lower back areas lessened too.  Nausea faded.  And other issues related to that improved.

As my body heals, the memories held there reveal themselves in fragments.  The fragments travel to my subconscious self and appear in dreams.  Dreams come in sleep and in meditation.  Alters switch during the sleep state, but not waking anyone up unless absolutely necessary.  I’m lucky they feel secure and safe enough here to wake up get things (like showering, getting a drink, etc.) done and then go back to sleep without disturbing anyone else.

It’s too bad that all the switching and dreaming makes for less than restful sleep.  Instead, whoever is involved spends the time processing, categorizing, and storing the fragments in bubbles until the rest appear.  The focus seems to be on what happened between ages 10 and 17; relationships, ownership, possession, secret friendships, survival, feelings vs. numbness, and loss.

So I spent most of my time not working in a state of rest.  Either sleeping or eating or doing something relaxing/meditative while drinking as much fluids and massaging my abdomen and back as much as possible to stimulate movement.  Last weekend’s panic attack taught me (and everyone else too) that massaging the abdominal area, sides, and lower back promotes movement, detoxifying, cleansing, and ease of pain.

I’m not sure what is in my future.  I’m not sure if I will ever rebuild relationships with family and people from my past into something meaningful.  I’m not sure (even if my new counselor is) whether or not my body will catch up to my mind in terms of recovery/healing health.

But I’m going to stay open to the possibilities.

I am going to stay positive.

I am going to do everything I can to promote wellness and integration for my mind/body/spirit.

How do you promote a slow detoxification of memories and illness from your self?

Thanks for reading

Alter Post: tell stories in dreams

****Please remember this is from an ALTER POV, not a counselor or provider POV***

I am darkness, a male child alter.  I am dawn-to-dusk, a male child alter.  I am Bree, a female child alter.  I am Sienna, a female adolescent alter.  I am Silence, a hermaphrodite adolescent alter.  I am Willow, a tree alter.  I am Rowan, a tree alter.  I am Bamboo, a grass alter.  I am Angora, an adult alter and twin to the part who interacts most with the outside world.  We are the 5, 5 male alters all brothers with different names and age ranges.  I am Purple, a female child alter.  I am Blue, a female child alter.  I am Night, a male child alter.  I am Mist, a male child alter.

These are not our official names.  We don’t have names by choice, but these work for the purposes of this website/blog.  For every male child alter, there is also a female child alter, like twins.  Not all of us decided to share names today.  Many of us can’t speak or write even though we can communicate with each other.  So one of the adults is helping us with the writing.

DREAMS

Most of the time, we communicate with each other in dreams.  Sometimes we talk, but mostly we share daydreams and nighttime dreams.  Most of the voices we hear inside are trauma memories that are lost and need to go home where they belong.  Their home is someplace else with others who love and accept and respect them.  And the ONLY time we can all really connect with each other is when our body is asleep.

That’s when all of the barriers in the physical world go down, and we only have to worry about what happens inside the brain.  The brain is where we created our internal world and spend most of our time.  But now we’re learning that we have to include other parts of our body in the world too if we want to fully recover from the past.

Some of those voices can’t go home because they’re missing parts too.  Those parts are stored in different memory banks, i.e. our body parts, and need to be reunited with the scary voices and trauma memories in the brain so everyone can go home.  Before we moved to the new home state, none of us (not even the know-it-alls) understood why those voices were howling at us and making our body hurt so much.  They were moving deeper into our body.

And none of us could follow.  We were separated by a force field and couldn’t move past the base of the skull.  Everything below that was completely dark and empty-looking.  What would happen if we did make it through the darkness to the other side?  How would we survive the new place?  Why did that darkness hurt so much?  Where did it come from?  And why did the pain get worse the closer we got to the darkness?

It got so bad that none of us wanted to sleep or be alone.  That was hard on the adults and older adolescents.  They were busy making sure everything was in order for the move and working at the job.  So we started sharing our information during the sleep times and when no one was working.  And the dreams unfolded like stories and movies.  We always made sure to try to end them before work, but the trauma memories would sneak in and take over.  They didn’t want the dreams to stop.  And especially didn’t want anyone going to work.

Work and outside of the home base was too scary.  Our body was vulnerable, and they wanted to keep attacking the force field.  Eventually, the adults figured out what was happening.  And ALL of us worked together with the trauma memories to make the pain stop until everyone was safe again.

After the move, the memories started attacking the force field again.  And we child alters got curious.  Feeling adventurous, we started checking out the force field too.  And the black darkness made our bodies hurt.  Made everyone tired.  We started experiencing feelings that had been locked away for a long time.  Remembering people who died or disappeared.  Dreaming of past experiences without the holes.

Each time we fall asleep, that force field weakens.  The darkness lightens up, becoming a lighter and lighter gray color.  We feel scared and excited about what’s behind the force field.  Already memories are leaking through on both sides.  Good memories, bad memories, neutral memories.  Feelings are leaking through too.

Maybe that’s why reconnecting with family is easier and less scary right now.  Either way, something inside is changing.  And feeling that force field separating our mind and body slowly erode inspires hope.

Thanks for reading.

Body Memories: Reflecting on Coping techniques for pain management

Body Memories

The traumatic experiences (aka memories) of past abuse held in one’s physical body.  Can cause feelings of physical pain, illness, muscle tension, digestive problems, and other issues related to the body.

Coping Techniques – a short analysis

 

I (we mostly think of ourselves as a single unit these days so “I” is appropriate) have been searching for coping strategies that help with body memories for quite a few years now.  In past posts, I’ve mentioned trying some strategies that were partially effective or not effective at that point in my recovery.  Part of the lack of success had to do with my place in recovery.  Part had to do with environmental triggers.  And part had to do with shame.

  • Sensori-motor psychotherapy – I was ready to try something new.  My alters were ready to try something new.  None of us really  trusted the individual recommended to us.  And the scheduling became an issue.  Then, something happened in a session (only the alters involved remember exact details), but suddenly this person and this treatment didn’t feel safe anymore.
  • Trauma-sensitive yoga – My mind was ready.  My body wasn’t.  I didn’t know how much physical pain I carried until after trying different types of yoga at different studios and with different instructors.  With recurring nightmares, triggers, dealing with so many people around me, not always feeling emotionally safe, and instructors sometimes being rude, stopping for a while seemed to be the right thing to do.
  • Acupuncture part 1 – in my old home state, I tried acupuncture.  It helped a little.  But then I stopped feeling comfortable with the person who treated me.  And I started feeling anxiety about the long commute.  The treatments stopped working.  And the nightmares started up again.  So I decided to wait on continuing this.
  • Acupuncture part 2 – in my new home state, acupuncture is combined with other parts of Traditional Chinese medicine like body work and massage.  I feel very safe at this clinic and trust both the intern practitioner and the supervisors there.  My body memories are starting to lessen and cause fewer incidences of moderate/severe symptoms.  The physical pain is also lessening.  My body is changing and getting healthier on the inside where the worst damage is.
  • Chiropractic part 1 – Chiropractic helped a lot when I went to a practitioner I trusted.  My spinal health and back muscles improved a lot.  I started to be mobile again.  Optimism and hope propelled me forward in the first phase of recovery.  Then I moved away from that practice and started with a recommended group closer to my new place and job.  But I didn’t feel as safe or comfortable there.  And I didn’t trust those people as much.  After 1 year or so without progress (I think I actually regressed), the main chiropractor talked to me about next steps in a private meeting.  We agreed that I could stop for now since the spinal manipulation wasn’t working.
  • Chiropractic part 2 – Part of the reasons the second round of treatments didn’t work was because my parents stepped up the pressure with more emotional and verbal abuse.  I was making a lot of progress; had a well-paying job; lived on my own; and started making plans for my future.  Plans that were opposed to what they wanted of me.  Between their manipulations and the stress of being “independent” for the first time, my trauma memories and nightmares trumped any progress the chiropractor might have made.  I learned, then, that trust between myself and the practitioner was a key element to progress and recovery.
  • Chiropractic part 3 – In the new home state, I am ready to look for a chiropractor and start treatments again.  My counselor says that a multi-pronged approach to physical healing will help a lot.  Since chiropractors focus on spinal health and spinal manipulation, I feel hopeful that my next round of treatments will help.
  • Massage Therapy – Yesterday I had my first massage in a long time.  It felt amazing.  And I trusted this massage therapist a lot.  We had a long conversation before my first visit and also discussed the approach and boundaries before starting the session.  I felt safe in the massage therapist’s care.  And my muscles felt so much better afterwards.  By better I mean less painful and tense.  Physically, my head, neck, shoulders, and back felt lighter too.  Yesterday evening, I slept better than I had in a long time.  So I am hopeful this will help too.

Expenses and Scheduling

All of these treatments cost money and time.  I am lucky to live in a place that has a lot of options within walking distance and others that are accessible by Uber or public transportation.  Medical insurance helps with more traditional therapeutic modalities like psychotherapy,  medicine, and medical doctors.  If you are lucky, sometimes your insurance also provides discounts for alternative medicine providers in their network.  Other times, it’s a matter of deciding what is necessary and then figuring out how to find affordable, reliable, professional care.

For example:

  • psychotherapy with a trauma specialist is #1 on my priority list, so I found someone in-network with my medical insurance.  This means I pay a monthly premium for medical insurance and a reasonable co-pay at every session instead of the full fee; my insurance covers the rest.  Luckily, I found a practitioner within walking distance of my apartment, so transportation doesn’t cost anything unless I have to pay for Uber during bad weather.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (the acupuncture and body work parts) helps a lot, but the treatments are expensive without insurance.  And finding a practitioner in my neighborhood and with evening/weekend scheduling options can be difficult.  So I go to the student clinic at a teaching college for treatments.  The price per treatment is reasonable; the interns and supervisors provide quality care; but transportation can get expensive since I have to either use public transit or a Uber ride.  Still, the combined costs are less expensive than if I went with a private practice for weekly treatments.
  • Massage Therapy is new to me.  I could find someone in-network so that a discount is applied to pricing, but I prefer referrals from people I trust for this sort of hands-on experience.  Finding someone closer would lower the transportation cost.  But since I won’t have to go for massage treatments as often as the other kinds of therapy, I think I’ll be sticking with this massage therapist team for a while.  Besides, they have evening appointments (big plus).
  • Chiropractic is one treatment that I will use my medical discounts for.  Also I will hope to find someone within walking distance of my apartment.  From what I remember, chiropractic treatments are sometimes a lot harder on my body than the other kinds.  Being local means I can take my time walking home and not have to stress out about transportation or anxiety attacks on the commute.  There are many safe places I can stop in for a break if necessary.
  • Routine medical treatment is something I plan on using my medical insurance for also.  But finding a practitioner who is also trauma sensitive has been difficult.  I definitely will have to build in transportation costs, extra travel time, and time spent looking for a provider on this.  Patience will get me what I want though.  Last time I rushed into making this kind of decision, I ended up really sick and with an upswing in PTSD symptoms.  Lesson learned.  And hopefully the small co-pay will even out the transportation cost.

Conclusion

I am lucky to have a full time job with flexibility in my work schedule.  The money I make allows me to cover the cost of medical care and still be able to make ends meet.  Living in my new city helps too.  Except for food, the cost of living here is a lot lower than where I used to live.  And my work/travel expenses are lower since I work from home.

But even when I lived in the other place, recovery treatment and managing my money properly were high on my priority list.  Sometimes I worked a lot of over time and had crazy hours.  Sometimes I couldn’t save a lot of money or zeroed out my accounts to pay all of  the bills.  Sometimes, I had to go into a little bit of debt to make myself safe.  But having a plan and understanding my finances (i.e. how much I made and where my money went) helped me make good choices of where to live and how to make the most out of what I had with limited resources and lack of a support network.

And since two of my favorite distraction/grounding/meditation coping strategies are reading and researching information, I used the quest to learn about personal finance and financial planning to help with many sleepless nights.  Maybe it’s too much for you to think about now, but understanding how and where your money goes can provide a sense of emotional safety, self-confidence, and independence.  The best part, though, is that anyone can manage his or her own finances.

It doesn’t matter how bad you are or think you are with math…

It doesn’t matter how much math or thinking about math scares you…

Maybe if math is a trigger, that could cause problems in the beginning…

Personal finance is less about numbers and more about knowing yourself, understanding your spending and saving patterns, and being able to make your own choices about where your money goes.  

Math is the tool that helps you understand these concepts through numbers.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: being emotionally supportive to other family

Since Christmas, I have been struggling with really bad anxiety.  Flashbacks, nightmares, changes in sleep and eating patterns, etc.

The body pain increased too.  That made me wonder what exactly triggered this round of escalation?

two things: letting down barriers and being emotionally supportive of an aunt who is still stuck in the abuse cycle I walked away from.

the barriers: I opened my heart and friendship to a neighbor whose little dog wrapped himself around my heart with one look at his big, dark eyes and some very loud barks.  I walked him a couple times last week to help my neighbor out.  She needed some help since her second job required a schedule change.

This brought back fond memories of when I used to exercise without pain and enjoy it.  Also memories of my puppy from a disastrous attempt at service dog training s couple years ago.  From there, came a tumble of other memories and feelings – some good, others not so great.

Emotional support: I reconnected with family on my father’s side this year.  It has been slow and careful because I don’t want to get sucked back into the toxic system that still exists.  They know that and (for the most part) respect my boundaries.  But I have an older aunt who still gets targeted for the emotional and verbal abuse/bullying/scapegoating by the rest of the family.  We had a conversation about that when she called earlier this week.  The call brought back other memories and familiar pain in my back the next day.  I want to be supportive, but not much else I can do until she is ready to take the steps to protect herself.  Where and how to I set boundaries to protect myself and support her?

I don’t know.  But yesterday was hard to concentrate at work.  I missed my deadline here by falling asleep 1 hour after work finished.

Today, I am taking a mental health day.  Have to because the anxiety is so bad I need to do some serious self care.  Sleep is #1 priority.  Followed by real food and hydration.  Getting outside for the first time in 4 days.  And trying to regain my sense of safety through grounding, soothing, and DBT strategies.

thanks for reading

Coping Strategy: R&R Christmas

This is the first year Christmas has come on a post day.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Usually, I write a post in advance to avoid any commitments or interruptions.

But not this time.

Shame & Anxiety filled holidays

In the past, I struggled with shame about how I preferred to spend my Christmas holidays. So I would evade questions or give breezy answers until people stopped asking me.  It’s easier than getting the pitying looks and having to face the whispers and concern about being lonely or alone for the holidays.  Or feeling the need to explain why I enjoy solitary Christmas days full of quiet and relaxation.  Or having to answer questions about why I choose not to spend time with family or friends.

Rest & Relaxation filled holidays

But this year, I’ve embraced my Christmas experience.  It’s been shaped by past and present memories, by personal values and preferences, and by my choice to honor the spirit of Christmas and Thanksgiving.  It also appeals to the practical side of my nature.

I want to be present as much as possible.  I want to remember what scares me about the holidays and why so that I can reclaim Christmas for myself.  I want to learn how to cope with the trauma and triggers so that some future Christmases can be spent with family and friends too.

This year’s holiday plan:

  • Send holiday cards to friends and family
  • Make a shopping list of grounding/comfort food and items for holiday meals
  • Cook food on Christmas eve
  • Connect with friends and family to say Merry Christmas
  • Do some things that feel good on Christmas eve
  • Download some e-books and borrow others from the library
  • Try to sleep on Christmas Eve night
  • Sleep in/relax on Christmas day
  • Wake up when I feel like it; eat when I feel like it
  • Sleep some more (and let the memories flow in and out)
  • Read, relax, enjoy the quiet so opposite to past holidays

Future holiday plan (for when I stop moving and settle in):

  • Decorate for Christmas with a tree and some wreaths, maybe plants too
  • Go out and enjoy some holiday cheer at community events
  • Maybe spend Christmas Eve/Day with people
  • And almost everything on the other holiday plan

Conclusion

A plan doesn’t always work for everyone.  But having some activities or tools in mind for when the triggers hit helps a lot.  So does dreaming or having hope.

I am not ashamed of how I spend my Christmases anymore.  I relish the idea of rest & relaxation in a time when everyone else is burdened with “have to do” lists that cause more negative stress than pleasure.

If ever there came a time when I did choose to be busy, that would be because I CHOSE to include entertaining and socializing into the holiday.  Not for any other reason.

Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate, I/We all wish you a happy, healthy, safe seasons’s greetings.

Thanks for reading