Shame: When You/I/We always fear “when will the other shoe drop?”

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*

The one constant in life is change. Some of us flow with change. Maybe work with change. Or embrace change.

Others fear change. Reject or ignore or resist change. Maybe fight change.

Still more people try to control change. Or influence and manipulate it for their benefit.

No matter what though, change happens.

And how you or I or we or he or she or it copes with the change – the choices we all make – decides whether or not the change helps us or hurts us.

For most of my life, anything good always precedes something bad. Positive paves the way for something negative to happen to me, around me, through me as an instrument to hurt others. And so I spent most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Always fearing positive successful situations and experiences because they never lasted or were remembered. The achievements were overshadowed by my mistakes and failures – all gleefully pointed out in the most shaming and humiliating ways in public and in private.

Not until I went to college did I realize the truth: good things were NOT always followed by something negative.

It was a lesson I learned and believed in for others, but not myself. In my mind and the mind of relatives, friends, etc. nothing good would ever happen to me because I didn’t deserve it. But I was intrigued by the concept that people did not have to live in fear of something bad happening all the time. Curious too. And so I observed these people who always seemed positive that good things will happen, do happen, in spite of their negative experiences.

Therapy and counseling in college was my first taste of supportive people. They saw something in me and encouraged me to continue making appointments no matter how much I resisted. And I did resist. Until something happened in my senior year that made me choose to get help.

I don’t remember much about what was discussed in those sessions. Not even sure I remember going to all of them. But some part of me went. And other parts of me chatted with different college counselors in the mental health department of the student center. It’s when I realized that most people around me were interested in being around me because they pitied and/or felt superior to me. These people could say “Oh I am so glad not to be her. I am much better than she is” and get a confidence boost without having to confront their own insecurities.

That pattern continued for a while even after college. sometime in my mid-twenties, that changed because I changed on the inside. And the people who used to invite me to go places stopped. Instead, they were more open in their rudeness and gossip and insults. They made others who I was genuinely friendly with choose between me and them.

I made the choice easy by walking away from it all. Depression is never fun. but coming out of a depressive mode tends to put a lot in perspective. Especially when you have a supportive counselor on your side willing to challenge your perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors through careful, thoughtful, and respectful conflict (i.e. conversations and questions).

Many people don’t like conflict. Believe it’s negative “a dirty word” and problematic. But conflict is like change. Neutral until applied a certain way based on choices. Then conflict becomes positive or negative; good or bad or evil; constructive or destructive. You get the idea.

Personally, I’ve alternately avoided and run face first into conflict. It’s not in my nature to stand passively and let life happen around me. But I’ve learned to be sneaky about how and when I challenge people, organizations, systems, groups, etc. Not subtle or discreet or controlling or manipulative. Sneaky.

The only times I avoided conflict were when my anxiety and triggers got in the way. Then fear took over, survival instincts kicked in, and I walked away to stay safe. From the outside looking in, many people took that survival mode skill as being passive and easy to manipulate; afraid and lacking courage; and unable to handle conflict or stand up for herself.

I used to believe that too until my parts (alter personalities) shared the truth with me. They shared memories and emotions and experiences from their perspective. Because of that and their commitment to not ever go to jail, we avoided a lot of fistfights and verbal augments that could have turned violent and/or lost me my job in many situations.

Still, there is always a price for winning a challenge, being successful, or achieving a goal. Some people will call that price a REWARD. Others will call it PUNISHMENT. Me/We personally call it “Consequences of Choice” – neutral until someone puts a subjective value on the results.

To me, the consequences of my choices – be they winning, losing, or something else – are “the other shoe falling”. Many parts of me still struggle with the idea that these consequences can be positive and useful, even supportive and constructive in some ways, instead of dangerous, evil, negative, etc.

And so, every time any part of me embarks on something new, then completes the challenge or makes the choice or finishes the project, we all wait together for the other shoe to drop. Anxiety and fear turn our mind to mush, and time becomes fluid. Sometimes I/we can get ourselves out of that space without help. More often, though, one or some or all of us require outside assistance to move back into the timeline.

Not the present or the past or the future per se. Because all of us are grounded and aware of being present in the “now”. But mindfulness works best when time follow a clock and moves in one direction – forward. When time becomes fluid, it moves any direct it feels like. And so while most or all of us alters are in the present moment, we feel like we are also in the past and the future and some other place at the same time.

That’s how I lose time and memories.

Maybe you’ve experienced that too. Maybe not. There are ways to cope with that – Mindfulness being one of the best options – but many of the most effective coping strategies and techniques are best learned under the supervision of a trained professional who can help you cope with unexpected memories or feelings that may appear as you practice.

I tried learning some without supervision and ended up down the hole again in relapse mode for a while. The lapses were less troublesome and harmful when I worked on the techniques and strategies with supervision – the people I trusted were my safety net so to speak and helped me cope with the aftermath of learning, failure, mistakes, trying again, and (eventually) success.

So what are those other strategies and techniques you ask?

  • Grounding Techniques
    • Sensory
    • Intellectual/cognitive
    • Perception challenges
    • Remembering facts (birth date, day of the week, time of day, etc.)
    • Mindfulness & Deep Breathing
  • Meditation
    • Visualization
    • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
    • Body/Spirit/Energy awareness
    • Reflection
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Spiritual Practice and Rituals
  • Group Therapy – many varieties
  • Support Groups & sponsors
  • EMDR
  • Action Commitment Therapy
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Self Care
  • Self Soothing

I’ve discussed many (or all?) of these in different posts on the blog – so many that I can’t actually share links here. For more info, please use the search tool and category menus to find other posts.

So what do I do now when I feel like the other shoe is dropping? Depends because every situation is different. Last night I used grounding strategies, a diffuser, and a call to the hotline. This morning I used meditation and body awareness breathing techniques while in bed and a diffuser while writing this post.

How you help yourself and cope with the fear is your choice. I can’t and won’t (don’t want to) tell you what to do or promise something will work.

The choice is yours, and I/we are here to support you and your choices.

Thanks for reading.

Sensory Movement Challenge Day 1 – from the ground up

Ground UP – Feet First, then everything else Why start from the bottom up? Well, that’s personal to my recovery journey. My physical health goal this year is to feel grounded and stable as I move. Not wobbly and worried about falling all the time. If you decide to join me on this, you can start anywhere you like. I’ve included 2 specific exercises and 1 general exercise you can try here. Reflection is at the bottom of the post. Exercise 1: Foot Joint exercise from Dynamic Aging by Kathy Bowman

Sensory Movement Challenge Day 1 – from the ground up — Scent Reflections LLC

Coping Challenge: Grief and the movie “Groundhog Day”

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*

Grief

Every February – March, I experience crushing amounts of grief about my past. People who have died. People I’ve lost in other ways. People who lost me. Experiential loss – failed achievements, shameful experiences, guilt, and so on. It almost always happened between February and March; sometimes as late as April.

For many years (decades really), I would go through the year and do what was necessary or required of me; then wake up one morning and feel like a blank slate – happy and looking forward to life instead of sad and confused. I had a routine that did not change much. But anything new or interesting that happened before the “wake-up” was lost. I would make friends and forget them. I would make plans and not follow through because I didn’t remember making the plans. And I would learn skills, but then not remember how to use them months, weeks, years, or days/hours/minutes later.

It was scary and felt shameful – another secret to keep from everyone – not something I could explain to the adults in my life. But it did earn me a reputation with my teachers and lots of time with the special education department instructors.

Odd part about this: even though my mind and cognitive memory could not remember or do the tasks, my body and muscle memory did remember and could do the tasks as long as I used “instinct” instead of logic.

Later on as an adult in trauma-informed therapy, I realized that the “instinct” was actually letting my alter personalities take control of my body to accomplish the tasks. They remembered the lessons and the practice. They could do what I could not. In school, though, my alters rarely showed themselves or got involved in day-to-day activities. They understood their place much better than I did.

The sense of loss and failure combined with teasing from peers and instructors crushed me so often that I started to avoid competitions and learning anything interesting.

What was the point if I tried and tried only to forget and fail every time?

And so my teen and college years went through this cycle every year. The ignorance of this pattern continued until 2011/2012 when I decided to try working with a dog trainer to self train a service animal to help with the PTSD. You (and I thought so too) would think it’s hard to forget all the love, care, training, and work and time spent with a puppy over 4 months, yes?

Well I did forget. I literally woke up one Saturday morning and couldn’t remember anything the pup and I worked on together. I couldn’t remember his favorite treats or games. I couldn’t remember writing a blog or notes in a notebook. I am lucky I remembered the dog and his name; at one point I might have forgotten the pup’s name too.

And as I tried to remember working with the pup, I started to realize how much other stuff I had forgotten too. Work-related tasks and achievements. Bills to pay. Plans made. Grocery shopping. Appointments. Memories with friends and acquaintances. And how something similar happened every year and often caused problems at work that I couldn’t explain, especially in the last few years working for the same company with the same people.

It was one heck of a wake up call.

p.s. The pup ended up having serious digestive problems and was re-homed to a loving family with a large back yard and the time/money to give him the life he deserved. And I learned that it’s not safe to live with beings who depend on me until I get my s**t together.

Groundhog Day – the 1992 movie with Bill Murray

Hans Haase / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) from Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1992, when I was 10 years old, there was a time travel movie called “Groundhog Day”. It was a grown up drama/comedy that I didn’t really understand or remember; not even when I re-watched one weekend as a bored teen. Still don’t understand a lot and am not interested in re-watching to get all the details.

What I do remember (and this is why it sticks in my memory) is that the main character (played by Bill Murray) had an awful day – that just happened to be Groundhog Day – and went to bed wishing he could do it all over again. So he wakes up the next day. Starts his routine. And realizes part way through he is re-living the events of Groundhog Day. Over. And over. And over again. Until the main character gets frustrated enough to reflect on what could be keeping him locked in a time loop and how to get out of it.

Eventually, the main character resolves the conflict keeping him in the time loop by making changes in his life and interactions with the people around him. How he does it and what those changes are, I don’t remember. All I do remember is feeling queasy and anxious whenever I thought about the movie. That continued until I got really frustrated a few years ago and looked up the movie on the internet. Once I read the description and watched the preview, the connection clicked.

I finally had words to describe what I was feeling and going through to my counselor. And something concrete to use as an analogy for the counselor. And for me too. Some of my best coping strategies come from reading books and watching movies. Being 2013/2014 when I finally looked up the movie and shared it with the counselor, we had been working for about 3-4 years by then. She had observed this happening every year and waited for me to bring it up. Once I did, we began working together to create plans and strategies to manage this recurring event.

Hope Arrives in 2019; continues in 2020

2019 was the first year I did not wake up sometime between February and April with significant memory loss or some other manifestation of grief that left me injured, impaired, or triggered in some way. I experienced the grief and felt the depression that wasn’t really depression. Expressing it safely was not as easy, but no one got hurt either. I didn’t lose weight. My physical and emotional health stayed relatively stable.

Instead, my body memories erupted as a rash that lasted months. When not experiencing the rash, other parts of me stopped feeling numb. I looked fatter from bloating and puffiness around certain muscle groups, but did not gain weight from it. Pain increased. Energy and the need to move did too. Luckily, my current counselor, Chinese medicine practitioners, and primary health physician were/are aware of these changes and helped me cope.

Having my parents and other relatives back in my life and being supportive helped too. That continues to help in many different ways.

Now, in March 2020, I recognized the signs of grief when they started last weekend and have been doing my best to cope with them. So far the only major crisis was exploding the plastic lotion bottles when I tried to get soap (made myself and poured in) out of them multiple times in the week. That resulted in having to clean and rinse the pumps; then put them back together and onto the lotion bottles. Funny – yes. The next part, not so much.

Water got stuck in the pump parts and contaminated the soap blends I made. And since I made them with soap, essential oils, and aloe vera gel (a water-based carrier), mold and fungus grew at the bottom of both containers after 5 days. Yes 2 containers because I made a hand soap and a shower gel. So, after examining the bottoms of each container a few days ago and seeing the white strands floating up from the bottom, I dumped out the soap; rinsed the containers too.

Now, they are waiting to be recycled because I don’t trust myself using the containers again. Not after I caused the pumps to pop off and the pieces to come apart after trying to pump soap through the mechanism multiple times.

If that pump exploding experience is the worst that happens this year, I will be so grateful. If not, well, I’m trying not to fall into anticipation and catastrophic thinking. Not easy, mind you. But I’m trying. And succeeding sometimes.

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: Finding Language to describe body memory challenges

DISCLAIMER 1 – no photos today.  I couldn’t think of anything relevant and didn’t want to include book covers.  Also, this is a long, potentially triggering post.

DISCLAIMER 2 – what you read here is my opinion only and based on personal experiences. This information is provided as an alternate perspective and optional coping strategy from one survivor to another and does not replace professional recommendations from medical and/or mental health providers

Background

When I first started blogging, I mentioned many books as my favorite resources, but never explained why.  Same went for books that did not help or had unexpected results.

Shame is one reason – a personal shame that belittles me every time I think about sharing an opinion.

Lack of language to explain my feelings, thoughts, and experiences was the other reason. It’s really hard to say “my instincts did not react well to … in the book” and be taken seriously.

Now I have words and language to describe my experience of using Peter Levine’s process.  The experience was neither negative nor positive. It was overwhelming and opened up avenues into the trauma that no one predicted. Not any part of me could cope alone, and we weren’t able to cope together back then. It was before we re-connected with each other.

The process of movement, bodywork, integrating feelings with sensations, and releasing energy is what I described here in the post about Anger. The exploration of bodywork and so on started with Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger and continued with Sexual Healing as feelings and sensations started coming back to my body awareness. Plus I was genuinely confused and distressed about not being able to “feel” or “experience” sexual feelings at the time.

So what happened?

As with many steps in my recovery journey, my mind/feelings heal faster than my physical body. Spirit/soul/spirituality/religion helped keep me on the path to recovery through faith and belief in a higher power, but it couldn’t help me bridge the divide between my mind and body. The lack of communication and integration between the two fit the whole “two steps forward, one giant step backward” scenario.

My mind and spirit were and are on the fast track to recovery.  But my body (the parts of me that experienced the worst and most significant amounts of trauma) is taking longer to find its recovery path.

Psychotherapy helped heal the emotional and mental wounds; and partial programs taught me how to safely experience feeling. Neither technique helped me cope with the body pain and other sensations that got worse as my mind healed.

Waking the Tiger taught me a different way of looking at the mind/body/spirit connections and how to identify if a physical sensation related to an emotion or feeling.  But all I felt when inside my body was varied degrees of pain.

Every feeling was connected to pain of some kind. I didn’t have the tools, knowledge, or skill set to work with the pain and find out what was underneath.  Other sensations were hiding underneath the pain.  Part or parts of me knew that, recognized that not every feeling equals pain.

But past conditioning is hard to break.  And my trainers excelled at their specialties. They linked all of my feelings back to pain in childhood so that my body experienced pain every time I felt and emotion. This epiphany did not appear until years later and occurred while I was reading the Pay/Changeling book Series by Nalini Singh.

Reading a series about the recovery process of a whole race that spent 100 years not feeling provided hope that I could feel again too. Someday.  But I wouldn’t have made the that connection without the knowledge from Peter Levine’s books. And I wouldn’t have started searching for information about mind-body therapy techniques either.

Present Time

In the 3 years before I moved across the country, my counselor and I explored different types of mind-body therapy.  She and my other providers encouraged me to try alternative medicine and learn more about the mind-body trauma connection. I read Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book and listened to a variety of webinars about his approach. I tried sensorimotor psychotherapy with different practitioners and also Deirdre Fay’s classes too. And I tried taking exercise classes in a gym or working out on my own in different places.

Each resource helped me learn about myself and my body – limitations, boundaries, strengths, and vulnerabilities – so that I could say “yes, this is worth trying again” or “no, I’m not ready for this yet”. Figuring out my limitations helped more than I understood at the time.  Without knowing how far I could go before my body shut down, I kept wandering into the “no trespassing zone” and passing out.  Then getting mad at myself for doing too much.

What are my limitations?

Agoraphobia – it’s a reaction to not feeling safe and not trusting my body to signal me when we need to get someplace safe ASAP.

My physical body – While it looks healthy, whole, etc. on the outside, it’s still healing on a massive scale on the inside. Every molecule, every cell in my body holds some kind of trauma memory. Right now, it holds everything inside and doesn’t know how to let go of or move memories, feelings, experiences, etc. around and out.  i.e. let go of the past.

Lack of knowledge – I couldn’t find answers using conventional methodologies. All of their strategies were too overwhelming for my body to cope with on a sensory level. These days I explore all kinds of healing methodologies.

What works for right now?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – a combination of herbs, body work, and acupuncture that helps move my chi to promote integrated healing and wellness. Works on mind/body/spirit at the same time

Qigong in all of its forms – physical exercise (like tai chi), meditation (standing/sitting/lying down), and energy healing (sound, meditation, physical movement) works on an energetic level to heal by removing blockages, etc. that prevents chi from circulating through my body.

Energy healing education – chakras, kundalini, prana, etc. is a general term for using energy movement for integrated healing of the mind/body/spirit connection.  Qigong is a specific type of energy healing.

Nutrition & diet – eating nutrient dense, whole foods and drinking lots of water.  I do not follow a specific diet because my body does not react well when I try to feed it something it doesn’t want.  Instead, I pay attention to the physical sensations and use that knowledge to inform my food and beverage choices.

Thanks for reading