Alter Post: The Struggle to Trust Myself (all parts of me)

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reflecting on a Different Perspective

Last week I shared a post about counseling as a tool and coping technique on Scent Reflections, but did not go into details about personal use. That kind of story is more suite to this safe space.

Either way, the inspiring post got me thinking about how and why I continue to go to therapy with a trauma specialist. Is the relationship a co-dependent one? And if so, how can that be changed? If not, what kind of dependent relationship is it? And how can I become more independent?

You see, there comes a time in my recovery when the therapeutic relationship changes. Communication sometimes becomes difficult, and I struggle with verbalizing my internal frustration about the process. It has happened with every therapist and counselor. And happened before with this counselor too.

In a healthy and safe therapeutic relationship, the client and counselor both trust each other and feel safe enough to bring up sources of frustration, fear, boundary issues, or other trouble and communicate in session to work them out. That requires a lot from both parties – including respect, assertiveness, trust, and open communication. But when it works, it really works and brings about an even stronger trust bond that can improve the client’s recovery.

In an unhealthy or unsafe therapeutic relationship, one or both parties feel threatened in some way and the communication breaks down even more than before bringing up the issues. In my case, one therapist got mad at me; shamed me; manipulated me; told me I was crazy and would never be normal; then refused to see me anymore. Another therapist (my first one), tried to convince me that trauma wasn’t real; I needed medication in order to not be crazy, and used hypnosis to manipulate my feelings. She also manipulated and shamed me into never contradicting her, never challenging her, and never questioning her expertise

As for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, I only had one that earned my trust. He was gruff, professional to the point of being abrupt, focused on data and nothing personal, but never forced me to take medications or try something unsafe once he learned of my history and experience with medication.

Questionable Choices: Trusting the Wrong People; Being Smart Enough to Acknowledge/Accept I don’t Know Everything – nor do I want to

If you are a regular guest, you may already know this about me. Or maybe not – I can’t always remember what I shared here before. But if you’ve read this already, feel free to move on.

Fact 1: I don’t know the different between pain and pleasure. In my world there is pain, less pain, and more pain. Less pain allows me to feel a range of emotions (joy, excitement, sadness, anxiety, fear, calm, anger, etc.) More pain is distracting and brings out my grumpiness/depressive attitudes.

Fact 2: I still have trouble understanding the different between self care and self harm for myself (not other people) and often make harmful choices instead of caring ones when triggered or under stress. Intention is part of the equation, but more is involved in understand the difference between self care and self harm behaviors.

Fact 3: Reality Testing is one of the best tools to help me decide between self care or self harm. However, I made the mistake of asking peers, colleagues, friends, and family for help with this in the past. Let’s just say that ruined many relationships and added more damage to my reputation. But this is not something I can do for myself.

Fact 4: In times of stress + flashbacks + triggers, etc., I experience an increase in symptoms. Increase in symptoms lead to shame spirals and OCD behavior. OCD behavior = uncontrollable urges to hurt myself (not others) to relieve the anxiety

What is the solution, you ask?

  • Therapy with a trauma specialist I trust
  • Calls to a crisis hotline with volunteers who listen with acceptance, respect, and empathy and are trained to offer support – not counseling – or coping strategies or just be there in the moment
  • Talking with a spiritual mentor I trust
  • Learning about other types of coping strategies from workshops and group sessions.

Being confident to acknowledge I am smart enough to know I don’t know everything and don’t want to know everything. That takes away the mystery and beauty of life’s journey.

Trust – or Lack of It – vs Fear of Myself

I don’t trust myself to make good choices when under certain kinds of stress. All parts of me feel this way.

That ability requires knowledge we don’t have, but others do have. It’s an opportunity for us to learn, practice, make mistakes, and experience success in a safe space

…once all parts of me find someone willing to do this with us.

That is where long term counseling or therapy (trauma specialist for me, but some other generalist or specialist for you?) come into play.

In times of great need (like now), I have weekly sessions with my counselor. In times of decreased symptoms, I visit once a month or once every other month.
Between those extremes, session frequency varies.

Throughout that process, I continue to learn and utilize outside sources.

My dependency comes from a need to test reality with someone I trust – a professional who understands my concerns and can teach me how to navigate them so that eventually I trust my judgement and can make good choices on my own.

So yes, I am dependent on my therapist and the hotline for specific kinds of support and education because I don’t trust myself to do that work on my own yet. They are my safety net.

So no, I am not in a co-dependent relationship (something I question often and fear getting into with anyone) with my therapist. Every session ends with me learning something or resolving an inner conflict that allows me to move (not always forward) instead of stay stuck in my rut. Movement eventually creates progress – at least for me it does.

Therapy as a Tool

All in all, I do believe therapy is a useful tool when used for a specific purpose.

It’s up to the individual or individuals engaging in a therapeutic relationship, with mental health professionals to do the hard work that gets results. They need to trust each other to make the relationship work in a way that allows the individual(s) to learn/grow/see results.

Reflection question: What would your purpose be for starting/continuing/stopping therapy and why?

Thanks for reading

Life Quirks: Coping Challenges, Confusion, and Check-ins

*Trigger Warning – all opinions and information shared here are mine and mine alone; will be discussing certain topics in detail…read at your pace*

*Caveat 1 – This is a journal-entry style post so it looks like a first draft with errors, etc. *

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Coping Challenges – Self Harm.

Last week, I posted about self-harm and how it happens less often, but is still prominent in my life in spite of 15 years in recovery. Then I shared links related to past posts about this topic. It seemed like a better option and re-inventing the wheel with background, followed by (maybe) repeating myself again.

What is new or changed enough to make me re-visit this challenge?

For every positive feeling, success, or accomplishment in my life, I experience backlash.
Backlash is the need to punish oneself for positive feelings, thoughts, or actions because the individual feels undeserving of joy in her or his life. For me, the backlash is always triggered by feelings and thoughts of shame – shame reminds me how undeserving and unworthy I am to be alive, let alone thriving and happy – underscored by past lessons learned at the hands of my abusers.

Now, in the present time, I find myself experiencing triggers and flashbacks from 20 and 30 years ago. Sensations in my body connect to emotions I can’t identify, but scare me because I have not experienced them without dissociation or worse before. My existing coping strategies take the edge off the worst impulses, but the thoughts and memories about how self-harm works really well to make those sensations go away are insidious. They quietly burrow into my mind, from subconscious to conscious, as intrusive thoughts I can’t hear until after I’ve said or done something out of character with who I am now.

That is what I realized two weeks ago. And why I wrote the post last week. The percent of success-to-backlash is till high (80-90% success to 20-10% backlash for each experience). But ideas and thoughts about self-harm coping strategies occupy a lot of that 10-20%.

Our current goal: figure out strategies that discourage self-harm and can be substituted for self-harm behaviors that will work in the present.

Coping Challenges – My Gifts (empath)

Last week, I wrote more about my gifts. I even gave myself a label “empath” and described what energy and emotions (others and mine) feel like to me. For about 15 years, I hid, rejected, and denied my empathic abilities. And maybe I would have continued to do that if something inside me hadn’t broken in my late 20s. That break allowed me to start experiencing my own feelings/emotions/energy, not just other peoples’ feelings, etc. in my physical body and emotional mind. Spirituality wasn’t a big part of my life back then, so no mention here.

Why is this a coping challenge then?

First, I don’t know anything about being an empath and am still looking for mentors and reliable resources to teach me about the unique combination of gifts that make me an empath.

Second, many of the current flashbacks and triggers I am experiencing (yes the ones related to self-harm) have to to with my empathic gifts and how they were used by my owner and other abusers to hurt other people. Maybe, if I can learn more about my gifts and how to embrace them, the triggers and anxiety-related symptoms will ease up enough for me to take a breath…or two…without fear.

Finally, there is a connection between my body memories and empathic gifts. As acupuncture and TCM help reduce and relieve the pain, my body memories become regular memories connected to my mind and emotions. The charge of pain/fear/guilt/shame/responsibility goes away, and it shows. The strange puffiness around the back of my head and ears, the “fat” around my back and abdomen, the rashes on my skin are all going away as the body memories leave.

Confusion

As with most types of self-learning or self-study, I feel confused right now. My mind is full of facts, opinions, and information from books and sessions with medical professionals, audio webinars about highly sensitive people/intutives/empaths, and videos about shame (Brene Brown on Netflix). Nothing makes sense or seems to relate to one another.

And yet I can’t stop learning more, asking questions, and trying to connect the dots between the (maybe) random sources.

The worst part? Confusion turns the rest of my mind into a maze. I get stuck in the maze and cannot find my way to my goal: the tool box(es) full of coping techniques and strategies we (all 88 alters) have put together for situations like this.

Lucky for me, my alters also created emergency kits and scattered them throughout the maze. Each emergency kit has 3-5 coping strategies and techniques designed to help me (or us) out of the maze.

Check-Ins

The main coping strategy in my emergency kit.

I find that talking to someone who understands my situation (in relative terms) and works with me in a compassionate and accepting way to work through the confusion in my mind helps a lot.

First choice is always my mental health counselor. But that individual is not always available. Nor do I want to rely only on a counselor. That is not healthy for either of us.

Second choice is a crisis hotline or text line. There are many options out there with volunteers dedicated to helping people in crisis. I’ve tried a few different hotlines and always come back to BARCC’s 24 hour rape crisis hotline. I’ve been using BARCC’s services on an off for more than 15 years and always have good experiences with them.

Third choice is to talk to myself out loud or try to journal about what is creating the maze. This has a 50/50 chance of working. The other 50% of the time? I get triggered into angry feelings and thoughts.

Last resort choice is to talk to a friend or family member or loved one. Why last resort? This often has an 80% failure rate for me. I end up comforting and soothing and helping the person I’m talking to cope with what I shared. Or I get angry, frustrated, and upset because the person I’m talking to is not able or prepared to help me in this situation.

No blame or shame on them or me. Many people try to solve my problem for me or tell me to stop thinking about it or think positive thoughts to make the situation go away. Because it’s over and in the past right? Or (worse) these people deny my feelings, get triggered on their own, and try to blame/shame/guilt me into recanting my story – aka say I lied.

But when it works that 20% of the time, boy does it work well. The individual and I deepen our positive relationship by being authentic, respectful, supportive, and caring with each other and ourselves. The call ends with both of us feeling better.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: When will I stop punishing myself?

*CAVEAT: This post is based on my personal experience and reflects my opinions, thoughts, and feelings about the topic discussed below. No one else’s opinion or information is shared here.*

I didn’t have time to read and respond to comments this weekend. Life got busy. And I feel uncomfortable responding to comments when my mind is such a mess.

Also, no photo for this week’s post. That kind of creativity is a trigger for anger – like journaling, coloring, and drawing – when I already feel overwhelmed with past stuff coming up and interfering with life.

*Yes I will write more on this topic again*

Back to the question

I’ve written about self-harm and self-punishment in the past. It’s an on-going theme in the story of my recovery and self-healing and one of the biggest obstacles I face now. The more joy I feel, the more intense the backlash becomes. As the backlash moves out of my mind and into my body, I feel helpless and less able to cope than normal.

Hence my body shutting down so often.

It hit home hard this week as I struggled with positive successes and backlash that put me to sleep/meditation for a couple days this week. Luckily, my day job was not so busy with billable work; writing projects require thinking and processing time – not something I need to be in front of a computer to do.

While my body and parts of my mind worked on processing triggers and flashbacks, the rest of my mind mapped out new sections for a first draft.

Friday felt better, but not great. Picked up billable work at my day job, so busy until late in the day. A schedule change for me. Flexible hours changed my personal plans and triggered circular thinking about self care, deadlines, and sacrifice.

Because changing my plans felt like sacrificing my personal time and projects for a job I like, but don’t love or want to take over all my time. That feeling triggered flashbacks to anorexia, being an empath who is also a walking lie detector, food fears, etc.

Explain about the lie detector please?

If you have met me or know me and wonder why I know things about you that you never talked about or can catch you in a lie, that’s why. I don’t purposely look into people’s minds or feelings. I don’t purposely absorb other people’s energy/feelings/thoughts. All that comes to me of its own free will as people and other living beings unconsciously project outwards.

To me, energy and emotions are a sensory experience. I feel them as sensations in my body or vibrations against my skin; I hear them as sound vibrations moving through me; I smell them and taste them in the air sometimes; and I see them in rainbow colors when I close my eyes.

Overwhelming, yes. Uncomfortable, yes. Combined with hyper-vigilance and other increased anxiety or symptoms…well what do you think about the phrase “HOT MESS”?

Reinventing the Wheel…Or Not

Instead of re-writing thoughts about punishment and self-harm, here is a short list of past posts.

Read or not.

If you want the full list, please use the search bar called “look around” to the right.

Short Reference List

Often, I prefer to give you the choice to learn more through the search bar instead of putting links here. It’s counter-intutiive to promoting my site and building a larger readership, but feels right to my authentic self.

Allowing my guests to choose when and how they learn more here means more  to me than getting more followers, etc.

This is one time when I feel comfortable sharing some links to past posts here.

Thanks for reading.

Survival Mode: When everything just feels wrong

Yesterday was the first day all week that I left my apartment and the building.

Sometimes life is too overwhelming.  Thoughts stick in my head; refuse to leave.  Everything tastes funny.  My body feels off, but I”m not sure how or why.  My mind is foggy.  So tired, yet unable to sleep.  Everything feels wrong.

But then, it is March.  My mind tells me I”m supposed to feel sick and lethargic.  My body is trying to recapture those sensations through body memories.  Runny nose, allergies, blocked sinuses, colds, infections, and a swollen face are my spring norm.

Instead, the opposite is happening.  The herbs are working; all of the clogged up spaces around my eyes, nose, ears, and jaw are opening up.  Sure, it feels like a major head cold.  The sensations of stuff moving inside surprise and distract me sometimes, but they don’t hurt like in the past.

For the first time since childhood (maybe), the red, puffy, stuffy, tender places around my nose and cheeks are normal colored, smooth, and comfortable to touch.  As those areas drain and heal, so do other parts of my body – including the muscles that usually tighten and prevent me from being active.

Why does that feel so wrong?

something-wrong-eagle
From Google search of “Feels Wrong” images

Probably because I shouldn’t be feeling this healthy, happy, and good, not according to the rules the monsters drummed into my head.  I’m supposed to feel miserable and sick.  To gross out my peers and teachers with my constantly runny, dripping nose and sneezing.  To have to stay inside because of my colds.

How did I get that way?  Still can’t remember.  But the dreams share fragments of stories.

Between this and what I learned among family, my mind has been blown.  Literally.

Survival Mode

Next week, I go back to therapy and counseling.  IT can’t get here soon enough.

Until then, I’m coping as best as possible with the conflicting feelings and sensations inside me.

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If you’ve read past posts, you’ve seen this quote before.  But it’s a good reminder for me right now.

Do as much as I can.  Remember to feel everything and let go of what doesn’t belong.  Keep on moving; there is an end even if I can’t see it.  Finally, backlash is OKAY; it mean’s I’m doing something right.  I survived backlash before.  I’ll survive it again.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: Self Soothing is Positive instead of Negative

Background

I struggle with self soothing.  My alters, especially my child and adolescent ones, struggle with self soothing.  We all had questions about what that term meant.  Some of us still have questions like:

  • What is self soothing?
  • How is it different from self care?
  • Why is self-soothing a positive coping strategy?
  • How does it work?
  • Can you provide examples?

My adult self tried to apply answers from a variety of sources, but the suggestions triggered anger, fear, shame, and grief.  Then panic attacks.  So I avoided thinking about self soothing until recently.

Present Day

Physical pain requires other types of coping strategies.  Strategies that trigger me and cause fear or anger to manifest into panic attacks or worse – self-harm.  Unfortunately for me, those same strategies are tried and true for body memories.  These strategies include:

  • Trauma sensitive yoga
  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy
  • Self-soothing
  • Movement or exercise therapy

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

sensorimotor psychotherapy does work and can be useful, but requires a lot of trust between the client & counselor.  It also requires the client to be at a certain level of recovery with support in place for any increased symptoms.  Deirdre Fay is one of the foremost practitioners.  Her work is great; I tried one of her online workshops, but wasn’t ready for it yet.  Maybe you will be.  I recommend doing your own research and talking with a professional before trying any of her programs.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Trauma sensitive yoga is something I recently started once a month.  Our first session was great.  I learned a lot and am hopeful this will help with my physical symptoms in  a variety of ways.  But more on  this later, after I’ve had another session and more time to try the practice at home too.

Exercise & Movement Therapy

Bessel Van Der Kolk promotes yoga as his number one form of movement therapy.  But drama, dance, martial arts, tai chi, or any form of gentle, meditative movement can produce similar results.  What matters most with this type of therapy is A) doing something the victim/survivor/partner/loved one enjoys; and B) choosing an instructor or group that feels safe, supportive, inclusive, and positive.  A strong support system to help out when symptoms increase or triggers start to overwhelm is important too.

Self-Soothing Coping Technique

Self Soothing has been a struggle to define and understand up until the past month or so.  My current counselor/therapist helped me understand that my child and adolescent alters define self-soothing as hurting others or being destructive/aggressive to feel better.  That is what they learned from their providers and caretakers.  And a volunteer on the hotline defined self soothing as: a conscious act of choosing self care and comfort instead of destruction, aggression, blaming, or self-harm.

What do you think of the

The Challenge

Re-learning that Self Soothing is positive and means comforting myself instead of hurting myself or others.

Helping my child and adolescent alters understand and accept this so that they can use the self soothing too.

Discovering all of the ways self soothing can help with muscle pain, body memories, and physical discomfort in order to build a tool box of useful strategies for present and future use.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes the strategies that can help us most are the scariest and most challenging to learn.  I am not afraid to admit that I am afraid of my body.  I am afraid of my appearance.  I am afraid of the sound of my voice.  I am afraid of showing my face on this blog or any social media.

That fear gets in the way of doing most positive actions or tasks to help me feel better.  Instead of moving, everything freezes.  I freeze.  They freeze.  We all freeze into paralysis.  Can’t move our body.

But if you’ve learned anything about our system, you might remember how stubborn and persistent we are.  And so all parts of us are talking with our current counselor/therapist to work on this.  In another week or two, maybe we will share the results of our new practice.

What scares you?  How helpful or harmful would it be?

May all of you who read this find ways to choose self care and support instead of self-harm or harm to others when triggered.

Thanks for reading