Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties

Writing & Blogging: Writer’s Block, Affirmations, & Reader Comments

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.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last post. I appreciate your kind words and suggestions. I read all of them just now and tried to at least “like” all of them even if I didn’t reply. Sometimes I’m not sure what to say…

Funny how sharing fear makes it less scary

After I wrote the last post and shared my fears, some of the block disappeared. Still have not written anything yet, but I did find 5 useful articles on PubMed and some interesting references in an aromatherapy chemistry book. Next step, read the articles and start the note taking.

Thanks all of you for reading my post and sharing your stories in the comments. I feel less alone and more connected to a community who can relate to my fears and struggles. That always helps me cope with the fear the crops up whenever I try something different.

Maybe (I hope) it helps you cope with some of your fears too?

Sharing some Affirmations – 2019 reader comments

Back in 2019, I finished a 365 days of Affirmations challenge but didn’t write about it much here. The challenge was a personal one to help me change my perspective about, well, everything going on between 2018 and 2019 when I felt stuck in negativity and trapped. I think maybe 4 posts were dedicated to this challenge and sharing about the “About Page” too, but many guests commented about wanting more posts.

I promised to write more, but not in 2019. The reason? My family of origin came back into my life, and finding balance with them took up most of my available time. Their stories were not something I could share here without permission, and everything I normally would write about was colored by our interactions together.

To make up for that, I’m going to share 5 affirmations from 2018 here. They are yours to borrow and use if you want. Definitely to share too. And, if you’re interested, you can use them as writing prompts.

Writing prompts? Sure. If you want to challenge your skills and your thoughts a lá Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, you can use the affirmations as inspiration for journal entries, short essays, stories, poems, your own affirmations, etc.

Perseverance: I open myself up to the universal healing energy that surrounds us.

AlterXpressions

Rainy days give life to plants while making beautiful music.  I welcome all of nature’s symphony into my world.

AlterXpressions

I open my heart to universal unconditional love and compassion.

AlterXpressions

Cooking is an expression of self care and joy.  The combined aroma of cooking food grounds me in the present.  I immerse myself in the sensual pleasure of cooking.

AlterXpressions

I do my best to live within my values no matter what kind of stress fills my inner self.  Self compassion and kindness help me over come my mistakes with people.

AlterXpressions

Guest Comments

Many guests this week asked about my web site theme and Internet browser operating errors. They also asked for some tips about writing and blogging. Since I don’t know what platform you use as a web host, here are some general suggestions:

  1. Check your account’s help sections and resource pages for information. They often have useful articles about how to check for errors on your web site or blog and then fix the errors.
  2. Contact customer service. Sometimes the errors have to do with the platform and not your account. That happened to me a few times in the past.
  3. Review and update your themes at least 1x every other year. More often if you are still working on your design. There are many free themes with customization options to help you create something that fits you.
  4. When choosing themes, look for ones that include mobile browsing options. Both of my sites have the capability to convert their user view to fit a desktop, tablet, and other mobile devices. Not every theme (free and paid) offers this flexibility, so you have to include it in your search criteria.
  5. For Optimization and speed, learn the limits of your account and work within them. Adjust your settings and test them out – by visiting the site yourself or asking others to visit and test the pages/posts for you – and make adjustments. Once you find settings that keep your site/blog safe and allow for optimized loading speeds, etc. you can start pushing those limits.

Honestly, I contact WordPress customer support at least 2x a month with questions when I make changes to either site. In between that, I take the free classes and read the articles to try and figure things out myself first. But I know my limits and the chaos that ensues when I try to fix certain things myself. Lesson learned: know when to ask for help and ask before you make things worse.

If you have suggestions or affirmations you want to share, please write them in the comments.

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.

 

Coping Challenge: undoing the memory distortion

 My recovered memories come back in fragments and feelings with some kind of physical sensation attached.  The reality of those memories are different from my concepts of the past; often they contradict each other.  The contradictions confuse me (alters included) and bring feelings of anxiety that trigger obsessions, compulsions, and automatic coping strategies.

This weekend I realized that leaving my family was less stressful than the fear of their reprisal for walking away.  They systematically shunned me for months that turned into years as I became more successful amd whole (recovery).  By the time I left, almost everybody was rude and ignored me  except to shame or insult me whenever we saw each other.  

And the one time I did go back and try letting them back into my life led me to taking a one month leave of absence from work to sort out my feelings.  I went back because an uncle by marriage died after fighting cancer for many years.  Going back was selfish in that I needed the closure – to see for myself that he was really, truly dead.  The rest was to see what reactions I would get from different family members and if their opinions of me changed.

Some were happy to see me.  Others were resentful and ignored me.  Most were curious about how I was doing.  They all expected me to come back to the fold and treated me as if I never left.  Except for one aunt who ignored me as pumishment for standing up to her before the blow up.

But 3 months of being back around them confirmed that I needed them out of my life.  And so, every year between January and May, I get angry and depressed.  My body experiences extreme pain.  Amd I relive all of the interactions that had me contemplating suicide so many times.

My typical response is dissociation followed by ammesia and many negative coping straegies like picking my skin and scabs, pulling out hang nails in ways that cause bleeding, pain, and possible infection (usually goes away when I reopen the scab and clean with iodine before using antibiotic ointment), acting reckless, etc.

I also would lose enough weight to trigger relapse symptoms in my body and get sick.  And all of his stress opened up space for the obsessions and compulsions to take over my life…until the pain eased and I could think clearly again.

My challenges are many:

  • Finding successful alternitve coping strategies that are healthy and positive
  • Finding ways to counter the obsessions and compulsions
  • Learning to accept my depression instead of fighting it
  • Letting myself feel all emotions so I can sleep
  • Being ok with the need to get rid of stuff by throwing it in the garbage instead of finding a more sustainable solution that aligns with my values
  • Accepting that my beliefs are contradictory to my recovered memories for good reasons
  • Learning to accept that my memories are real and balid and more true than the beliefs drummed into my head for decades
  • Accepting that some of my habits will take as many years to undo as took to settle in
  • Fearing habits and rituals becuase they can become obsessions and compulsions

My strategies are many; and I learn more all the time.  But nothing is ever perfect.  Mistakes happen. Life goes on one moment at a time.  I am safe.  My alters are safe.  That is enough for now.

Thanks for reading.

Survival Mode: A different kind of survival part 2 – DID

Late again.  Unexpected business with taxes and such yesterday.  Will try to be more on time this week.

Introduction

Last post discussed how survival mode affects my PTSD.  This post discusses how it affects the DID and alters in the system.  Survival mode feels different to children, adolsecents, and adults.  Each group reacts and responds to the stress differently.  Now imagine all that in the same body happening at the same time.

A word of warning…my therpaist tells me that my experience of DID is different from many because I “grew up” with my alters so to speak.  They were my playmates and imaginary friends; then appeared in my day dreams; finally began to take over and manage some parts of life without my realizing it until we reunited four years ago.  This can make our co-consciousness and ability to cooperate/integrate much easier and more frustrating for others to read about or understand.

The rest of the blog is Q&A from here.

Questions & Answers

Q: do all of the alters have PTSD?

A: yes.

Q: is everyone good at coping and handling triggers?

A: no.  Everyone is at different levels of recovery and has different skill sets to pull from.  Some strategies work better for adults while otherd work better for children, adolescents, toddlers, babies.

Q: how does everyone react to survival mode?

A: not sleeping; increased hyper-vigilance and feeling suspicious of everything; increased sensitivity to anxiety; confusion; coordination and concentration problems; use less cognitive and more instinctive defense mechanisms; feeling over-protective and worrying about hurting others with reactions to triggers; sleep in shifts or not at all; feel scared all the time; decreased appetite; increased switching and headaches/face pain; finally inability to relax and lower the adrenaline levels back to our normal.

Q: what triggers this kind of survival mode?  How is it different from before?

A: CAUSES: floods of memories; increased body memories; mind and body making connections between memory fragments to recall past experiences as nighhtmares and flashbacks; encpuntering people from the past who trigger overwhelming feelings; all of the above without any down time to process and move through the remembered experiences in a safe way.

DIFFERENCES: before, some alters were still hiding and unable to join with the rest of the system.  They were caught in the past; trapped and unable to reach out for help.  When the experiences they held came as nighhtmares, these alters switched and caused dissociation to protect us; the result being traumatic memory loss or amnesia for extended periods of time.  Could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes longer.

Now, all of us are free and valued members of the system.  When these memories come back, they stay.  No one switches.  No one dissociates.  No one forgets again.  Everyone relives or re-experiences the memories as they cascade through mind and body.  This is especially hard for the child and adolescent alters who are also growing/maturing through missed developmental stages as part of their recovery.  These “growing pains” and sexual feelings/thoughts/sensations triggger anxiety, fear, wonder, and past memories at the same time.

It is an endless cycle feeding into itself.

Q: how do you cope?

A:By learning to be a good caretaker/guardian for ourselves and each other.  That includes self care, boundaries, safe spaces, and coping strategies for every age group, developmental stage, and gender in the system.  Sometimes it means being a parent.  Sometimes it means being parented.  Sometimes I take care of the alters.  Sometimes they take care of me.  And ALWAYS we do our best not to use the negative, but guaranteed to work, harmful coping strategies of the past.

Q: any last words?

A: yes.  It really sucks when all of the reliable routines and strategies stop working or are less effective.  Worse is trying to use something that goes against what the mind and body are doing to protect us by trying to use the coping skills anyways.

Just remember you are not alone.

some experiences are kid only experiences; some are adolsecent only; some are adult only.  My alters and I constantly wort that we are going to hurt or trigger others in the system by letting our memories out, so we try to protect by repressing them.  This causes untold levels of pain amd distress and triggers.

Now we try to use boundaries and safe spaces instead.  It’s a work in prgogress that is less than 10% effective right now.  But we keep on trying to make it work.  Also, it helps to figure out some good parenting skills and comforting techniques; they help calm child and adolescent parts to lower adrenaline like nothing else we have tried so far.

This will pass like it always does.  No matter how difficult it feels right now, we all will survive.