Alter Post: AlterXpressions – the host reveals herself

Hello Guests,
My name is TJ.  I guess you can call me the host of our expansive system.  But it’s not quite accurate because none of us is ever the host full time.  Not even in the past before anyone knew about alter personalities and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I’ve always heard voices and made intuitive leaps that defy logic.  And I’ve always been different.
As a child, different meant being a target for bullies and racism.  It meant being too smart for my own good and labeled a nerd with no personality among my peers.  Within my family, being different got me excluded from group activities and punished or made fun of for being too slow, emotional, mouthy, disobedient, or ditsy.  Never for being smart or capable.
I had friends for a little while, but then they slowly disappeared.  As they left, I retreated to my amazing inner world.  When that didn’t work, books were my escape.  Crafts helped too unless Mom found out and decided to interfere.  Then crafts became a punishment.  Either I was with the cult, alone at home, or somewhere supervised by my mother.
The memories are fuzzy, but I do remember the following:
  • Climbing up high to hide from “monsters”
  • Crawling under sofas, beds, etc. to “escape” from something
  • Hiding in cabinets, boxes, closets, etc. and getting punished because no one could find me; then having my hiding places blocked
  • Lots of pain and fuzziness from “medication”
  • Lots of adults and secret games
  • Shame and despair and suicidal thoughts
  • Middle school hell because I got stuck with the “popular” kids
  • High school drama and worse because of “popular” kids, death of family members, being forced to go to prom, and graduation
  • Suddenly losing time  and being abusive and angry all the time without understanding what was happening or why
  • Hating my body and wanting to be invisible – aka negative body image and sense of self
  • Being a social outcast for most of my life because I never learned “proper” social skills
Who am I now?
I am one of many in our system and the face most people in the outside world meet or interact with.  I have a stable job in Corporate America, friends, and loved ones.  Lucky for me, I’ve had the same job for more than 10 years and earned the respect of my co-workers.  They accept my panic attacks and PTSD as part of working with me and value my skills.
The job provided me with mentors and an alternative family that taught me how to be a real person.  From those people, I learned how to be respectful, accepting, honest, and trustworthy.  They taught, through modeling and personal experience, how to interact with people and be social in positive, safe ways.  Without this job, I’d never have gotten away.
My favorite hobbies are: reading, cooking, writing, walking, and sleeping.
When not triggered, I also enjoy knitting, sewing, discovering my personal style, working with my hands, and learning about a variety of topics.
I am interested in alternative medicine, nutrition, personal finance, mental health, intuition, spirituality, wellness, and living a conscious, authentic lifestyle.  I am an empath, a highly sensitive person interested in learning more about angels, spirit guides, guardians, and energy healing.  I want to find ways to work with my alters and integrate so that we all can enjoy life in the outside world.
Personal relationships are difficult because most people can only accept part who I am and reject everything else.  Friendships take time, work, patience, and trust.  Do I want an intimate relationship someday?  Yes.  Will that happen in this life time?  I don’t know.  Do I have hope?  Yes.
Finding a man (because I am heterosexual) who can accept all parts of me sometimes feels like searching for a unicorn.  I mean who could ever accept, not only the darkness inside me, but also that I am a multiple?  Yet I still have hope and am open to all of the possibilities my future holds.  So maybe one day…
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

Coping Challenges: cultivating gratitude as spiritual self-care

Introduction

I am spiritual, not religious.  I accept and respect all religions as valid and real and beneficial to those who believe in their religions.  I do not believe in organized religion and am not going to discuss it here.  I am going to discuss how cultivating gratitude helps me recover from spiritual aspects of trauma.  That said, here are my definitions of religion and spirituality.

My definition of Religion

Religion is a type faith based around an organized belief system with creation stories, redemption stories, sacrifice stories, and rituals to support, educate, inspire, and bring together its followers under a hierarchy of appointed leaders.  The organized religion has rules to obey and specific practices to learn.  Religion often cannot be practiced alone, but sometimes can.   Individuals and groups can be expelled for questioning or disobeying leaders too many times.

My definition of Spirituality

Spirituality is the belief in a higher power that offers connection, comfort, support, hope, education, respect, gratitude, compassion, and acceptance of the self and others.  The higher power can be God, Goddess, a panacean of spirits and gods/goddesses, nature, elements, individual spirits, a Greater Power, the universe, or anything else.  It stays on the inside and is always close by – like a soul.  Spirituality is based on faith in something that cannot be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or scented in typical ways.  But it exists.

Some background

I was born Christian: one parent was Protestant; the other Catholic.  I was raised Mormon from age 6 to 15 by the cult who “took care of” me for the parents.  Members of the Mormon sub-cult who practiced ritual abuse (sexual, physical, etc.) on children were not all Mormon.  But they were lapsed or angry with their original religion and came to the Mormons as seekers.

Taking with members of Christian, Protestant, Catholic, Hebrew, and Seventh Day Adventist religions in college helped me realize that I was not raised Christian after all.  Only parts of what I learned matched the New Testament and Bible.  Hardly any matched the Old Testament.  And not much at all matched Jewish traditions.  But there were enough similarities to scare me away from claiming any organized religion as my faith.

A literature class re-introduced me to the concepts of Buddhism, Taoism, and spirituality.  That brought back memories of my grandfather (an acknowledged Protestant who also continued to practice his original beliefs) and how he taught me that Chinese ideas of religion and spirituality were not like Western views.

In Buddhism, one can still acknowledge, accept, respect, and practice other faiths.  Taoism and spirituality have similar practices.  The lessons are more like homilies and questions or statements meant to provoke thought and inspire respectful, acceptance of life through self-reflection, compassion, and peace.

Why I Cultivate Gratitude

Shame has been a major factor in my trauma.  So has lack of respect and acceptance for anything outside of my family’s worldview.  My reality was appropriated, turned inside out, and violated with lies and deceit to keep me under their control.  I was taught that the only way to live properly was to treat people with condescension, manipulate them to get my own way, and be mean to them because that would bring joy into my life.

And maybe if I actually believed that, I would have stayed with the family and become what they wanted.  But even as a child I knew that I was different.  That being mean and hurtful was wrong.  Having to act like that while in survival mode damaged me a lot.  I don’t regret it, but I do feel shame and guilt about about what I said and did during those years.  I also feel shame and guilt about not getting out sooner, not standing up for myself more, not being able to protect myself better, etc.

Example of Gratitude Practice

This is where cultivating gratitude comes in.  The ever-changing list reminds me of how far I’ve come and what my past has taught me.  Instead of feeling shame and guilt over the memories, I feel gratitude for the lessons that shaped who I am now.  The practice goes something like this:

  • I feel grateful for being alive
  • I feel grateful for being physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy
  • i feel grateful for being safe
  • I feel grateful for shelter to keep me warm in winer and cool in summer.
  • I feel grateful for the lessons my past taught me
  • I feel grateful for the acceptance of my friends and support network
  • I feel grateful for escaping toxic people
  • I feel grateful for learning compassion
  • I feel grateful for the gift of written communication skill

Some people prefer: “I am grateful for…” instead of “I feel grateful for…”.  I started out suing the first phrase, but it did not feel as right as I learned more about emotions and feelings.  And since I experience gratitude as a feeling, the word “feel” is more appropriate than “am” here.

Thank you for reading.