Anniversaries: A Different Kind of Birthday

My birthday was last weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Alter Posts: Living in a Cult or with Abusive Parents

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anniversaries: A Wish for Everyone to Stay Health & Safe this weekend

Hello,

This weekend is a holiday weekend in the USA.  That means we have a 3 day weekend to celebrate Labor Day.

Not sure about any of you but most major holidays bring about some anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and so on.  Triggers are everywhere, and a lot of places don’t feel safe.  I worry about what could or will happen if I interact with people when I feel this way.

Staying home feels right unless there is something I HAVE TO do that requires leaving.  Delivery works best too since it helps me meet my self care needs without causing anxiety or panic attacks.

Depression is something that comes and goes in waves.  Last month, it took over for quite a few weeks as I struggled to process so many changes and cope with flashbacks.  Funny how (for me at least) working through anger and shame eases the feelings of depression in my mind/body/spirit.

At times like this (read almost any anniversary), Self Care and Self Soothing are super important to maintain, increase, start again, continue, or follow up on – depends on where you are in the moment – so that the symptoms and scary stuff don’t take over as easily.

So I wish you all a safe, healthy, relaxing weekend full of sleep/rest, self care, and positive energy.

xx AlterXpressions

p.s. Yes there is a post going up tomorrow.  This is a bonus for all of us 🙂

Recovery: Creating a home

A mobile home

For decades, I carried home inside.  The most important bits (feeling safe, creating a sense of safety, meeting basic needs, self-soothing) were not tied down to anything physical.  That enabled me to de-clutter until only a few boxes of treasures remained and let me leave reminders of my past (with emotional baggage) behind.

The positive

  • Every item in my possession was something I bought for myself
  • Every item carried a positive attachment – emotional, spiritual, physical
  • Every item suited my current lifestyle
  • All items with negative attachments were removed

The negative

  • I never invested making the apartments feel like home
  • I never put down roots
  • I spent a lot of money on moving instead of saving
  • I always worried about finances

A temporary home

Moving to a new state allowed me to change perspective and get out of the vicious moving cycle.  While I hoped that my next place would be my last one, I planned for at least one more move.  Renting an apartment long distance means a lot of unknowns have to be addressed after move-in.  Working remote also has to be taken into consideration.

And living small has different meanings – minimalist?  tiny house?  micro-apartment? studio?  loft?  one bedroom/bathroom?

Can any of these spaces also fit a home office?

Creating a home

So what does a home look and feel like to me?

Home defined
feels safe; brings joy; allows space for play/relaxation/hobbies; meets physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; and reflects who I am

Wait, what?  How can a home do that?  Tall order, don’t you think?

NO.  Not anymore.

Potential triggers

What do I mean?  Well, 10 years of moving (yikes!?) has shown me that sometimes even spaces that look “right” at first glance or on paper are not.

Ignoring my instincts = unhappy living situation.

Why is this important?  I hope to learn from past mistakes and not let shame or fear triggers guide me into choosing another “wrong” place.  Here are some examples of triggers I ignored in the past:

  • lots of walls – walls remind me of being trapped and enclosed with abusers and perpetrators
  • lots of space – I can’t properly protect and defend myself or my environment without spending a lot of money
  • noisy neighbors or neighborhood – parties, nearby restaurants & bars, highway/street traffic, construction
  • obvious lack of maintenance in apartment and around building – If pests can get in, how safe am I really?  What else can be hidden inside those cracks?

Hope

Before, I didn’t feel like I deserved a real home.  Neither did my alter personalities.  Past experience of “home” did not feel safe.  Redefining the meaning of “home” has been one of our many projects.  Now, all of us feel like we deserve a real home.

Guest/Reader Questions to think about

  • What does “home” mean to you?
  • Is your home “mobile” or “stationary” or “permanent” or “temporary” or “something else”?
  • How do you create a home for yourself?
  • Do you listen to your instincts?

Thanks for reading

Back to Basics: A Tool Box, a Magic Bag, and a Safe Place to Practice

Introduction

Like everything else, learning a coping strategy and remembering it takes practice and some kind of organization.  We in the AlterXpressions system use a tool box (or many tool boxes), a magic bag (or many magic bags), and at least one safe place to practice our coping strategies and techniques.  The terms can be changed to suit individual needs (pick something that reminds you of safety, happiness, or something positive); whatever helps the individual or system remember where the coping strategies (tools) are stored and how to access them.

Definitions

Tool Box – internal storage space/container for coping strategies and techniques (like a memory box maybe?)  We use a vault inside the library as our main tool book.  Some of us hide our tools in candy boxes or recycled food tins. Mine looks like a prism.

Magic Bag or Grounding Bag – physical container to carry when out and about; I use the phrase magic bag because everyone in the systems believes in magic and coping strategies are like magic for us.  My therapist uses grounding bag; she learned it from a training workshop run by an EMDR specialist and trauma therapist

Safe Places to Practice – internal and external places with some quiet and privacy to learn and use coping strategies; we little kids love practicing on the jungle gym and obstacle courses.  The trees like practicing in meadows or looking over the bluffs to see water below.  Some of the boys work best in a sound proof radio station.

Helpful Skills

The skills and personality characteristics we practice in developing our tool box, magic bag, and safe place are:

Imagination/Creativity – our tool box is a library inside a maximum security vault with an intercom system that connects it to all of our internal safe spaces.  Our body tends to wear the “magic bag” in terms of clothes, jewelry, tattoos, and accessories; the rest goes into a backpack or plastic bag.

Visualization – The library is like a bee hive or cave system with sunny places, access to the ocean and forest, cozy fire places, lounge chairs, book shelves, a kitchen, blankets and pillows, stuffed animals, a craft corner, etc.  And everything is movable.

Focus/Concentration – Each alter has his/her/its own tool box.  We also have group tool boxes and community ones.  We create these as our go-to places when someone wants solitude or alone time or small group time.  Or for different age groups because not all tools are appropriate for all ages and genders.  Takes focus and concentration to create, store, and remember them.

Persistence – keep trying to create the ____ until each one feels right; and make changes when something doesn’t feel right anymore

Thinking outside the box – sky is the limit; use a scarf and hat as a magic bag or underneath the bed as a safe place.  One of my favorite safe spaces is a walk-in closet with locked doors

Self-Confidence – success builds on success; every time we accomplish something positive, our confidence goes up

Independence – we can learn how to use the tools and build each piece, but it’s up to us to create and utilize our knowledge to the best of our ability

Accomplishment or Success – finish something = accomplishment or success; success brings positive feelings and builds on itself

Final Thoughts

Basic coping strategies are like automatic defense mechanisms.  They get used without conscious thought.  Taking time to think about behaviors and thoughts that help us cope with every day anxiety and triggers helped us develop the first tool box.  As different alters cycled through periods of remembering and forgetting, it seemed like the best option was to create an accessible internal tool box like a library with security and safe places so that everyone could access all of our tools.

And once we learned about physical grounding and started reading about magic bags of holding (fae and Celtic mythology) from some of our favorites fantasy books, a magic bag that holds our favorite coping tools without being obvious was born.  Our magic bags change in shape, size, and contents all the time.  Depends on who is in charge, who is the most distress, and what tasks have to be accomplished.  Yes we have grounding tools in and around our bedroom.  A magic bag is in the works too.

But most important is having a safe place to practice these tools so they are available no matter what kind of stress, distress, panic, or anxiety hits.  And the best way to practice is when we feel relatively calm and safe.  This way, the tools come out of the tool box, get used for a specific purpose, and get put back in the tool box when we are clearheaded.  Like muscle memory, repetition works.

Repetition, not a routine or a workbook.  We practice when we can, as often as we can.

Thanks for reading.