Resources: Quiet Revolution Newsletter Discusses NeuroDiversity

Okay, so what is neurodiversity, and why would you put it here?

In my words:  An individual’s brain is thinking, responding, feeling, acting, or functioning differently than the cultural norm.  Examples from the article: ADHD, HSP (highly sensitive person), Asperger’s syndrome.

I put it here because trauma survivors and people with mental illness think, act, feel, and react differently than the rest of society.  Some of the difference is biochemical and part of DNA.  Other parts of the difference come from developmental and physiological changes based on experience.  The rest are learned behaviors in the form of coping techniques/strategies and survival skills.

The last group can sometimes be changed or removed or adapted to current circumstances, but the first two not so much.  This article celebrates differences and promotes acceptance, so it belongs here.

Article Information

You can find the whole article here.  FYI, this article is an essay on the Quiet Revolution website.  While one goal is to empower introverts, another is to find ways for introverts and extraverts to live and work harmoniously.  So please don’t think the website is not for you if you are an ambivert or extravert.

A few interesting quotes from the article linked above:

About Depression

“Unfortunately, it took me a long time to find a workaround, so in the meantime came undiagnosed, debilitating depression and anxiety for years, which often accompanies those who unknowingly mask neuroatypicalities while trying to cope and survive. I can’t say what triggered the depression exactly, but it felt like a slow, creeping fog that thickened more intensely over the years. Finding the right therapist and a helpful medication finally made the skies clear,” – Jenara Nerenberg

About Neurodiversity

“Now, I’m 33, and they’re calling these neuroatypicalities ADHD or HSP (Highly Sensitive Personality) or even Asperger’s. Shows such as Invisibilia give us the language of Synesthesia and Empaths. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all somewhere along this continuum, this spectrum of personalities, with diverse traits. This is the beauty of what we call neurodiversity.” – Jenara Nerenberg

Being authentic self

“Re-joining the jungle like Mr. Tiger means embracing the beauty of my inner nature and sharing that with others. And I’ve found that others who observe me start to feel and act the same, freed up by letting go of some of our cultural conditioning.” – Jenara Nerenberg

Thanks for reading.

Resources: DrugRehab.com website

Introduction

My apologies – I dropped  the ball on updating the main Resources Page for this website.  Life got in the way, and I had to choose between updating the blog and updating the Resources Page while settling into a new lifestyle.  Living on a different coast and working from home takes some getting used to.

Instead, I feel grateful to the outreach counselors at DrugRehab.com for getting in touch with me through the contact form on my website.  Please don’t be mislead by the organization’s name.  The focus is on more than addiction and related treatment programs.  All I ask is that you keep an open mind and take a look through the articles for interesting facts and up-to-date information.  I certainly learned a lot from the articles I read.

Review

At first glance, the website name, DrugRehab.com does not feel relevant.  But MK was thoughtful and professional in her email to me.  She even provided some relevant links and answered my questions for this post.

My inherent personal bias is: what can a website about drug and alcohol addiction help me with?  How is this website different from others I’ve looked at in the past?

My professional curiosity tells me: why not take a look?  Many of our guests struggle with  this kind of addiction and might find the information useful.

Here is what I found on their website:

  • A well organized and easy to navigate website
  • Reader-friendly articles about a variety of mental health issues that are informative and comprehensive
  • Information for a variety of audiences: victims, survivors, loved ones, care givers, and other mental health professionals
  • The articles are organized by topic and audience with general information introduced first and links to ore detailed information later
  • Low-key references to a partner organization that offers treatment programs and a 1-800 number people can call to learn more

Here is what MK – the counselor who reached out had to say:

Drugrehab.com is a free informational resource for those battling mental health or substance abuse disorders. Our hotline number is 877-695-5395. Whether you would like to learn more about a specific treatment program or just have questions, our Recovery Specialist is happy to assist.

Our brand new Sobriety E-Book, is a free comprehensive guide and “how to” for getting sober. Our writers and team of doctors worked hard to make this book happen and we are very excited about it’s release!

ARS Treatment Centers is our sister company. If you don’t have an ARS Treatment Center in your area, we can guide you to our list of recommended treatment centers.

Conclusion

All in all, this is a useful website that I will go back to for facts and other information about mental health and mental illness.  Plus I want to explore their resources page some more.

I am not endorsing or recommending the partner treatment programs or the hotline as I have never used either one.

But I do recommend exploring the website and checking out whether or not the information and programs might be relevant or useful to you.

You can also find a link on my Resources Page.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Power of Positivity website

IMG_7594

I found this on my Facebook feed through some friends who sometimes share the affirmations and quotes on their feeds.  Lately, they’ve been sharing quotes about shame and self care.  Once in a while, they share interesting articles about topics like shame, narcissism, manipulative people, and ways to identify/cope in real life.

This one resonated a lot because I find myself thinking about my past through flashbacks and nightmares during holidays like Labor Day.  Sometimes the urge to reach out and contact them overwhelms me; I have to remind myself that contacting them won’t give me closure.  It will open a door to let that toxicity back into my life.

Later in the week, I found this quote:

IMG_7591

And it reminded me so much of the toxic people I left behind; how they used to bring up my mistakes and embarrassing moments to remind me that I am still the person I was and  will never be able to change.  At least in their minds, I will stay the same.  Nothing I say or do will stop them from believing what they want to believe about me.

So I hope these quotes help you too.  When you are triggered, they might offer some grounding through reality testing.  When you are not triggered, yet feeling uncomfortable or anxious, these quotes might remind you to think of your present and your accomplishments instead of the past.

That is what they do for me.  And for my alters, these quotes are lifelines or bridges to a new way of remembering the past.

Resources: An article about Positive Self-Talk and Body Image

Background

I don’t often share information that can be linked directly back to the rest of my life.  As much as I enjoy blogging here and sharing resources on the website, I am compulsive about maintaining my safety and privacy too.  But some incidents happened in one of the private Facebook groups I belong to that had a rippling negative effect the rest of us are still recovering from.

The group owner/moderator wrote the following article in response to one member’s negative, bullying, and abusive comments towards others via the groups, email, and private messages.  It’s an amazing and beautiful article about how the messages we tell ourselves and internalize have an impact in how we treat others too.  And while this message is written about style from a female perspective, the contents apply to males struggling with self-esteem and body image issues too.

Personal Style as a Positive Coping Strategy for Body Image and Self Esteem

That said, I want to share an article from one of my favorite role models and bloggers whose style programs and free information have helped me learn to love and embrace my unique body through positive self talk and personal style.

This is the link: How Your Language Impacts Profoundly On Your Style

This is her blog: Inside Out Style Blog

I joined her programs a little over a year ago when I decided to stop hiding / being invisible.  She introduced me to a new way of thinking about myself, my body, my appearance, my sense of self and how all of this is represented in the clothes and accessories I wear through Evolve Your Style and 7 Steps to Style.  Both programs also introduced me to groups of amazing women and female role models who have become friends and part of a world-wide support network.

Conclusion

Through the kind words and examples in blog articles and comments on posts, I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and others.  Positive self talk is more than encouraging statements and affirmations that one might not believe when feeling negative.

Positive self talk is as simple as saying: I am doing the best I can right now, and that’s ok.

I hope you all click on the link and give this article a chance.  The author is a survivor like us and speaks from a perspective of compassion and strength.

Thank you for reading.

 

DID Post: Different Parts; Different Symptoms to Address

CAVEAT

This will not be an in-depth post.  Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all  of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system.  The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms.  Finding and confirming the source may take a while.

This is a very big topic with multiple layers.

It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts.  If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification.  Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing.  It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.

Why is this important to understand?

To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis.  As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.

In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities.  About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met).  Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees.  This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.

Confusing and scary, yes?  Or no?

A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Body Memories
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
  • Dissociation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Severe body pain
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
  • Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
  • Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload

Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above.  But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them.  The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old.  But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.

My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming.  Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems.  They have a hard time accepting our body.  The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.

The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to  isolate and remove opportunities to move forward.  They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it.  But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.

Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.

Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood.  Females and males sexually abused our body/self.  They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters.  Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood.  Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.

And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame.  Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence.  They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.

Conclusion

When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms.  One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation.  Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term.  But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.

As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about.  Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult.  That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.

With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc.  That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.

I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.

Thank you for reading.

About Me: About Labels

I’ve read other bloggers who share information about their own recovery journeys and found them very helpful.  They offer resources, visuals, graphs, charts, and how-tos.  Their posts are well written and appealing to many different kinds of learners.  Their websites are free of many ads too.  Many thanks to any and all who break the silence barrier by writing and sharing their experiences.

One thing I most appreciate about their blogs is how they can define in specific terms what category their abuser fits into or what type of abuse they survived if the writer is a survivor of trauma.  If not a survivor or victim, then I appreciate how the writer can define so clearly the type of mental health issue he or she suffers from and all of the different types of coping strategies that work or don’t work with those particular struggles.

Because I can’t do that.  Not without leaving out or neglecting a group of individuals who have suffered in some way and come here for anonymous, safe support and resources.  Also not without delving deeper into memories and experiences not yet accessible to my conscious mind.  Many of my alters like to take turns and write posts here on the blog too. That means the quality and content are sometimes inconsistent and may seem unprofessional or unrelated to the topic.  But every post is some how related to trauma, abuse, neglect, recovery, and resources; that much I guarantee.

What I’ve shared so far is the tip of  the iceberg.  The focus has been on current events and present coping strategies.  I will continue to do that.  And as often as possible, one or all of the alters will try to remind the post author to include a photo or quote or something visual to go with the words.  That is difficult because at heart, I am a writer.  Words are my best communication tool.  But I want to connect with other types of learning and processing styles too, so adding in audio/visual elements is a personal goal to improve this blog.

And this is my hobby.  I wish I could dedicate more time, but work and life, maybe even graduate school in the near future, will take precedence.  If I knew of a way to get this site to pay for itself without using ads, I would do that.  Then I could dedicate more time to building the resource pages and more interesting posts.  And I could expand the website to offer other kinds of resources too.

But for now, this is it.  I write what I know.  I share what I learn.  And I hesitate to label anything because I am not a professional.  My therapist does not put labels on my parents other than  to call them sociopathic and psychopathic.  Nor does she label me or any of there other clients other than to call us trauma survivors.

She understand that I was a victim of incest by both parents and some family members by marriage; along with that was neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, bullying, shaming, and financial abuse from my parents, sibling, family members, educators, physicians/providers, and community; finally  the sexual abuse from my pediatrician and his ring of pedophiles, cult abuse and ritual torture from the religious cult who ran under the guise of Mormons and had connections with the pedophile ring and drug connections within the community.

I’m 33 going on 34, a victim and a survivor.  I changed my name and moved across the country to try to get away from the negative influences of my past.  Now I have a chance to live without worrying that my past will haunt me every moment of every day.

So no, I don’t use labels.  I don’t try to figure out what kind of abuser my parents or other perpetrators were.  I do read a lot of books about internal family systems, intergenerational trauma, toxic relationships, shame, compassion, coping techniques, coping strategies, and whatever disorders are symptoms of my main diagnosis (PTSD).  Then I work on my own (with my alters) and with therapists to apply what I’ve learned.  Knowledge is power.

Understanding them and their motivations helps me understand myself and my reactions to the world around me.

It also gives me perspective so that I can separate the individuals from the behaviors and thoughts.  By doing this, I can hold the perpetrators responsible, can hate their words and actions, without blaming the human beings.

Blame enables shame, anger, and victimization.

Accountability, aka holding them responsible, fosters forgiveness, compassion, empathy, acceptance, knowledge, and healing.

Which would you choose?

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Choosing Different in Spite of Cultural Bias

Beware: THIS IS A RANT

Introduction

Chinese culture does not believe in or talk about emotional health or mental health problems.  People with emotional and mental issues are considered “lazy” and “stupid” or “weak” or “sick”.    In terms of physical appearance, a woman is supposed to look like a well-groomed woman with a delicate, petite, slender body, perfect makeup, and hair.  Anyone who does not meet the standard gets “helpful” criticism about diets, clothing choices, skin care, and exercise regimens from family members.  Also reminders and reprimands for shaming the family pride by not meeting the family standards and embarrassing the family in public with a not perfect physical image.  And other Asian or Chinese people who see a bald Chinese woman walking down the street will stare in fear and horror before walking across the street to avoid her, whisper about her ugliness and shameful behavior, and shun her for fear of being contaminated by her presence.

How do I know this?  Because I and the other alters in my system have experienced this first hand over and over by family members and community members and people in the street who are visitors to the United States.  In fact it happened a couple hours ago while I was walking back to work from getting lunch.  Two young women saw me stop next to them as I waited for the light to change and decided to step around and risk crossing the street instead of waiting next to me.  They were both between 18 and 30, Asian background, with long dark hair and perfect makeup, and backpacks that signaled their student status.  It hit hard today since I was already feeling anxious about some other negative encounters on the train and at a library that left me feeling frustrated and wondering when people will stop harassing me because of my past.

In essence, I get treated poorly because I am female, Chinese, a survivor of trauma and domestic violence with a “mental illness”, bald, and a well dressed nerd.  This comes from people of all ages, races, cultures, etc. because I am breaking taboos and ignoring biases.  Most of the time, I am okay with that.  I’ve learned to pick my battles and find like-minded people to spend time with instead of other types.  I don’t take it personally when people cross the street or don’t acknowledge me when they see me walking towards them (since I didn’t choose to avoid them) because a lot of times I do the same thing to people around me.  My walking time is part of my solitude regimen and a time for me to spend with my alters before having to engage with people.  The anxiety and triggers come when people’s body language signals that they are engaging or avoiding me for other reasons besides politeness or avoidance.

Choosing Different

My parents marked me as different and shamed me for being myself from the time I was born.  My mother’s family did the same.  I was compared to my cousins and sibling and found lacking.  My elementary school teachers, peers, and neighbors found me lacking and bullied me because my parents approved of it by not interfering or defending me.  So I decided to be different.  And embraced my differences.

But choosing different is not easy.

Sometimes the secret shame and sense of worthlessness comes back to haunt me.  It happens a lot in summer when everyone is wearing less and spending lots of time outside.  And it’s more than body image or low self-esteem.  It’s about a sense of self and the values that self is based on.  My sense of self was battered and broken and torn apart until the shreds gathered together and hid deep inside where only the non-verbal alters could reach.  Seven years of therapy and self-reflection brought those values back out and repaired the foundation of that core sense.

These days I am secure in my sense of self because all of us alternate personalities agree with the core values that we live by.  That sense of self makes itself known to others subconsciously in how we choose to treat ourselves and others around us.  It makes others nervous to be around us sometimes.  And other times it sparks other feelings too.  But that core sense of self has helped me help my alter partners and the system in general survive and become the woman we are today.

A lot of the time, it’s easy to remember that most people’s reactions are about them and their internal conflicts than about me or one of the alters or the system as represented by our body.  And it’s easy to ignore those people and move on.

Other times, like today, I wonder what it would be like if I wore a wig and dressed dowdy or slutty or ultra feminine and then passed them on the street.  Would they treat me differently?  Or would they treat me the same?  And how would I feel about it?  People used to treat me worse when I had hair than they do now.  But also, I was in a different situation then.  And surrounded by people who supported my abusers.

But then I think to myself, I like how I look bald.  I like talking about my coping strategies and my challenges – sharing information with others to help them get through rough times too.  And I like being me.

The Dilemma

How do I still be myself, stick to my values, achieve my goals and work with administrators and others with biases who have influence over my ability to get into school, pass classes, learn, and so on?

EXAMPLE: But if I want to work in traditional Chinese medicine field and go to graduate school, I will have to deal with people who are biased against my appearance, attitude, and mental health.  The administrators at a school  I tried to apply to earlier this year blocked my application and didn’t tell me until I reached out with an inquiry.  Then they told me it was a “miscommunication” and that I was all set to apply next year.

I followed up 3 days ago with another email addressing that “miscommunication” and some other hypothetical questions from earlier conversations.  I also pointed out my upset about how the miscommunication was handled and that the experience will influence how I interact with them and others at the school in the future.  Yes, it was aggressive, and they will probably take it to mean I am holding a grudge even though I said I am not.

To me holding a grudge means treating these people poorly and maintaining anger; lashing out at them and finding ways to make their lives harder if I do become a student there.  That is not what I mean.  Remembering what happened and being wary of trusting them again; being more diligent about clear communication and wary of trusting them at face value when we talk – that is what I mean.

Yes, picking battles is important.  Remembering that this has more to do with them and their internal monologues than me is important too.  But still, spending time with people who act like that goes against our core values.  So the conflict remains…

I am determined to succeed.

My path so far has taken me on many adventures and introduced me to wonderful people and experiences.  Something good will happen.  And this will work out, maybe not on the timetable I want, but it will happen.

thanks for reading my rant 🙂

Back to Basics: Acknowledgement – yes, I have feelings…now what the #%*?! do I do with them?

Authors’ Note: this post took longer than expected, so we decided to polish this one instead of breaking up the series to post something else over Memorial Day weekend.  Sorry for the lateness.

Introduction

First thing I learned in therapy is that I have feelings.  I may not know what they are and how they relate to my thoughts or behaviors, but they exist and influence my life choices.  The first emotion I got in touch with was anger.  And only because the medication separated me so much from my body and mind that I could “see” volcanoes seething and erupting inside of me during therapy sessions.

Not until 2007 when I started with a different therapist did I start to recognize “fear” and “anxiety” and “sadness” as they overwhelmed my mind and body.  She didn’t tell me at the time, but a lot of what we did together was DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.  Part 1 of Emotion Regulation is acknowledging and identifying feelings.  Part 2 is using certain strategies to cope with those emotions and not let the emotions influence thoughts and behaviors.

The women only partial program I went to in 2009 focused a lot on DBT.  Depending on how long an individual stayed in the program, she could go through all 4 parts before leaving.  DBT group sessions were daily and mandatory.  I loved them; did not always say a lot, but I listened and learned.

My second time in the same voluntary partial program did not go so well.  The people running it in 2012 were different from the ones in 2009, and groups were run differently too.  Not that it was bad, but my needs were different.  And most of what I learned the first time was repeated again; not much new to learn and experience in terms of coping strategies and techniques.

OK, I can feel.  Now what?

The biggest takeaway from both times in partial programs was how others experienced and showed their feelings.  By observing the women in my groups (I went to a female only partial program because I wasn’t ready to deal with men in that kind of setting yet; and I understood males better than females having worked in a male dominated office for many years), I learned about how different women expressed feelings; how the experiences were different and similar from mine; and how important facial expressions and body language are in expressing feelings clearly.

To some people words mean everything.  To others, actions and expressions tell the truth instead of words.  The rest of the people are somewhere in between; words and expressions are used to understand emotions.  Between 2007 and 2009, I couldn’t articulate a feeling if I tried.  I could easily mold my features and body to express whatever feeling I was supposed to show.  But none of my real feelings showed; not in my voice; not in my eyes; not anywhere except inside my mind.

And there, I always saw destruction: witches toiling over a bubbling cauldron; sleeping volcanoes ready to erupt; the eruption; tornadoes and hurricanes blowing everything in their paths.  Rarely, a quiet lake appeared below a mountain ridge.  Or a meadow clearing deep inside a dark, twisted forest.  But getting there was akin to a hero on a quest.  And I wasn’t ready for that.  Neither were my alters.  Each of us had to go on a quest to find our quiet place.  And from there, find each other.

Knowing of each other; having limited interactions once in a while; hearing voices intermingled with the monsters is not the same as finding each other and working together to be whole.

The second time in partial focused on learning techniques, but not so much about trauma or real life application of said techniques.  In essence, I felt like I was teaching instead of learning to the point where some of my group members said in front of the leaders that I “should teach a group”.  My alters did not like being excluded from group interactions and ignored as if they did not exist – something I had to do in order to get through the different sessions with some sanity.

Definitions

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Psych Central offers a good description with links: This website offers an introduction to DBT

Emotion Regulation (mine): Strategies to help me (us) not be controlled by our feelings and emotions. The often used phrase “think before you act”.  In my case, “think before you react”.

Partial Inpatient treatment programs: sometimes extra support is needed, but not to the point of being committed to and inpatient program.  Partial programs (voluntary or court-ordered) offer the extra support and group sessions in an outpatient setting.  Different programs specialize in different mental illnesses, treatment strategies, gender, age and so on.

Mimicry or Learning by doing:  By observing how people we liked and respected acted towards themselves and others, we learned how to treat ourselves and others with respect and acceptance.  By watching others who had and expressed feelings, we learned how to do the same.

The skills and personality characteristics we practice

Persistence: Ignoring feelings makes them stronger and more powerful.  Fighting them does that too.  We can’t make the feelings go away.  We can acknowledge and identify the feelings that come and go.  Odd thing is that acknowledging the feeling takes some of the feeling’s power away.  Identifying the feeling and welcoming it also takes power away.  The feeling is not so overwhelming; it’s not in control anymore.  But doing this is scary because it means that we have to experience all of the physical and mental sensations (thoughts, behaviors, etc.) that come with it too.  Eventually, though we can say to ourselves, “I feel ___.  ___ is expressed as _____ in my body and ____ in my mind.  If I welcome all of it, the feeling will go away faster and on its own.”  And the feeling does go away eventually.

Active Listening: I learned that feelings expressed in sounds are easier for me to understand, yet also very triggering.  Noise tends to disrupt me far more than anything else.  Specifically voices and movement are triggering.  Growing up, listening to voices and body movement kept me out of danger more often than any other sense.  So I stopped hearing actual words for a long time.  My focus was on listening to tone, pitch, and volume.  Those three pieces would let me know how much danger I was in and what kind in each environment.  Not until I started college did I realize that I had stopped hearing actual words, sentences, conversations, etc.  Most of the time I lived inside my head with ears tuned for danger or potential danger.  Then I realized that if I wanted to participate and socialize I had to listen to what people actually said and respond with my own words.  Later, when we all started communicating with each other, every alter had to re-learn how to listen actively, interpret the verbal and non-verbal cues, and respond using positive interpersonal communication skills.  By using active listening, we can identify how other people feel and react to our words so that there are less problems with communication.

Solitude: looking inside and working with feelings requires time with safe people, time with instructors, and time alone to practice and learn.  Solitude is not loneliness.  It is a way of making friends with oneself and enjoying one’s own company.  It’s a time to explore different ideas and skills without fear.  It’s personal “me” time in which the individual can do anything or nothing or something in between as long as the task is done with purpose.

Analytical or Critical Thinking:  a pause is an opportunity to use the logical side of the brain and ask “why am I feeling this way?  How will I react?  Do I want to react like that?  Or do I want to react differently?  How do my thoughts influence my feelings?  Am I feeling something else under this feeling that is pushing me to react?”  And by answering one or some of these questions, I/we have a chance to change our thoughts and reactions from negative to neutral or positive instead.  This gives us control over ourselves instead of letting the feelings control our reactions.

Empathy: empathy is difficult to understand, respect, and accept because many people equate it with weakness.  And others will be cruel by telling them that no one can feel what others feel because they didn’t “experience” it exactly the same.  But empathy is not about “knowing what others feel” so much as “being able to relate to others’ feelings and situations through shared or similar experiences.”

Observation: Please refer to any of the characteristic explanations above.  Each one provides many examples of observation.

Final Thoughts

I’d rather have feelings than live in a numb, colorless world.  My alters agree and disagree. Understanding feelings and how to express them is one step closer to being able to understand ourselves.  From there, we can understand others and use empathy to inform our choices and decisions.

No one gets hurt on purpose.  Learning from mistakes is not so costly.  And every success is a reminder to be grateful for the gifts we have and use to survive in a hostile world.

We all prefer to try any possible technique and strategy at least once.  That’s why we tried the partial program again.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: Resilience means more than bouncing like a rubber ball

Introduction

Throughout my recovery, many people praised or derided me for my resiliency.  I thought I knew what they meant about being a resilient person.  But I didn’t.  In my mind, resilience was just a word people used to describe how flexible and malleable I was.  Flexible meaning I was easily manipulated.  Malleable as in I was a doormat without my own thoughts who could be taken advantage of and treated carelessly and used.  They compared me to a rubber chicken, Gumby, a rubber ball who always bounced back, a puppy with too much energy – that was resilience.

And resilient meant weak, not strong, in my family.

But resilience is not weak.  Flexibility does not equal doormat.  Malleable does not mean easily taken advantage of or manipulated.  And bouncing back is not an indication of stupidity.

So what is Resilience?  And why is it so important to recovery?

Resilience is a mix of characteristics and values that allow a person to learn from experiences and move forward with knowledge and perspective.  Resilience means learning:

  • When to keep going
  • When to stop and think (reflection and perspective)
  • When to change one’s mind and try something else (not failure, making choices)
  • When to make the mistake and use the experience to try from a different angle
  • When to say no in spite of pressure to say yes
  • When to say yes in spite of pressure to say no
  • When to hold on
  • When to let go
  • How to accomplish all of this when drowning shame, guilt, fear, doubt, or negativity get in the way

Recovery is like growing pains.  It hurts a lot, feels overwhelming, and trips you up when everything finally seems to be going right.  

Two steps forward; one step to the right; three steps left, two steps backward; five steps forward…who knows what will happen next or how to make progress?

Every survivor is resilient because:

  • He is still alive
  • She fell and got up again
  • He stopped counseling; got into a bad place; started counseling again
  • She is still alive
  • He tried to reconcile with his family and had to walk away again
  • She relapsed; reached out for help; and accepted it
  • He failed a class in spite of hours with the tutor and extra help sessions; took the class with a different teacher and different set of people; passed; and didn’t have to take the final
  • She said no and fought back long enough to escape and get help; then took martial arts and self-defense classes only to become an expert trainer who volunteers at shelter for trauma survivors
  • Two friends walked away from each other after a surviving a car wreck that almost killed them and did permanently injure 4 others.  Years later, one reaches out to the other, and they start a respectful dialogue; their friendship blossoms and stays strong

What resilience means to me

I make mistakes.  I learn from my mistakes.  

I can be flexible like steel and break under too much pressure.  Or I can be flexible like grass and bend one way or the other until the pressure passes.

I can let fear win and be a medicated vegetable.  Or I can get up every time I fall and try another way to keep on going.

  • Every experience has value and can teach me a lesson that will help in the future
  • Failure means I got stuck and need to rethink the solution
  • Regrets mean I still have something to learn from the experience
  • I forgive, but never forget
  • My past comes back to remind me of lessons learned so I can make better informed choices now
  • A flexible mind helps me understand someone else’s perspective and be a more thoughtful person
  • Malleable means I can set safe boundaries and change them to suit who I am now
  • I shape the world around me instead of letting the world shape me
  • When no one listened to me talk, I started writing and didn’t stop

If you’re reading this, you are resilient too.  

And thanks for reading.

 

Recovery: Invisible Strength

Background

Today is the 4th and second hardest anniversary in May.  As I think about getting ready for bed and how I can face the nightmares hovering at the edge of my awareness, I remember what the hotline counselor told me earlier – you are strong, strong enough to cope with this – in different words and different ways throughout the conversation.

I called because I had some chores to do that I had been putting off and was scared because I felt unsafe and frustrated.  Unsafe because doing those chores triggered memories of my mother and aunts.  Frustrated because those triggers also brought back memories of more recent experiences that made me feel unsafe too.  As I shared my feelings and the experiences behind them, the connections were revealed.

This (experience or event) reminded me of that (seemingly unrelated experience or event) because I felt the same way both times and reacted instinctively even if I used different coping strategies to work through each experience.  And each experience or event past or present brought out emotions and memories of similar ones.  Together, the counselor and I untangled the connections enough for me to understand why I was scared and make 2 plans, one for tonight and one for later this week.

Why am I sharing this?

I am sharing because that conversation reminded me that every survivor of trauma, no matter what kind, has invisible strength.

By invisible, I mean not always apparent, recognizable, or appreciated by “normal” people, but always recognized and valued by others with shared experiences or on the recovery path.

What does Invisible Strength mean?

Invisible strength is getting up every morning and doing one act of self care in spite of the previous night’s setbacks.

Invisible strength is talking about the scary secrets and acknowledging what happened in spite of fear and possible rejection and accusations of being a liar or worse.

Invisible strength is relapsing and getting up to start recovery again no matter how much time has passed.

Invisible strength is knowing that you have to make difficult choices and choosing the best ones for yourself even if that means breaking away from everything familiar.

Invisible strength means using whatever coping strategies you have to in order to get through the moment and forgiving yourself for doing something that induces shame.

Invisible strength means accepting that you can’t change other people, your environment, or their thoughts about you while also knowing that their thoughts and choices and failures and problems are not your fault.

Invisible strength comes from doing what you know is right for you even if no one else accepts or approves of your choices.

For me right now, invisible strength means:

  • I can love and accept and forgive my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and relatives in spite of their abuse and still not want them in my life.
  • I can let other aunts, uncles, and cousins who are willing to meet me part way and develop new relationships based on who we are now slowly back into my life as long as we respect each others’ boundaries.
  • I can feel compassion for my parents, brother, relatives, and other abusers and the experiences that made them who they are without shame or guilt
  • I can accept that part of what they did was not their choice or within their control, but other parts of it were and hold them responsible for their past words and actions without blaming them.
  • I can learn to accept that my feelings of shame and guilt come from fear and learned behaviors that are not my responsibility
  • I can finally recognize that connecting with “normal” people will always be difficult because I am not willing to settle for shallow or insincere relationships – whether friendship, familial relationship, intimate relationship, etc. – with people who I cannot trust or respect on a basic level.
  • I can face the fact that not many people are as “strong” as I am and that my “strength” can feel intimidating to others whose values and ethics do not align with mine.
  • I am not willing to settle for an intimate relationship with a man who is not my equal in values or invisible strength – someone I feel safe and comfortable with, respect, like, and trust not to hurt me on purpose or use his knowledge about me to manipulate or control me; someone who feels safe and comfortable, respects, likes, and trusts me not to hurt him on purpose or use my knowledge about him to manipulate or control him.
  • I may never find my dream man in this life time.
  • I could find my dream man in this life time.
  • I may never have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I could have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I hope and dream that my next life will be different from this one – free from abuse and trauma, but not the ups and downs of sadness, joy, pain, serenity, good health, and freedom that come from living.
  • I am grateful for this second chance at life in spite of all the challenges that slow me down

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Me Time

I’ve been working a lot and focusing on getting ready for my big move in a few months lately.  Money and saving for the big move; medical insurance problems; organizing how to get rid of my belongings before I move; and increased socializing; and increasing self care so I can work, sleep, cope with all of the new-to-me challenges that come with not forgetting what I remember has eaten up a lot of the time I would take for myself.

The upside to increasing self care and working more is extra money to help with my “needs” list and saving for the big move.  The downside is less sleep, more stress, increased self-care, and less time for me to do what I like during down time.  Most weekends and week days, I miss my blog deadlines because I am sleeping.  Spring time for me means wanting to be up all night and sleep all day.  Not that I understand why; it’s what my body and brain decide for me.

That means less time to go grocery shopping; cook food I enjoy; stay healthy; go out and enjoy the sun; write blog posts to share here; update the website; and so on.  It means more potential of getting sick; feeling irritable and grumpy all the time; and getting stuck in mental loops.  It means lower energy, getting sick, sleeping more, and lots of coordination problems.

It also means being less prepared for anniversaries and anniversary months like May.  This past weekend I experienced 2 anniversaries.  Today is another anniversary.  Tomorrow will be the 4th anniversary.  This weekend and next week are two more.  Memorial Day is the last anniversary this month.  If you haven’t been counting, that makes 7 anniversaries in one month.

In spite of all of this, I am going to work hard to take back some “me time” starting with going out after work today.  Maybe I won’t get a lot of groceries or buy anything special.  But I will get to walk in the sun in a pretty outfit and enjoy the evening weather.  And  I will pick up a treat for myself to go with whatever dinner I choose to make and some other foods I have been craving.  And I will finally pick up that new toilet bowl cleaner and brush that I’ve been procrastinating on.

Tomorrow I work from home again.  So my mornings will be mine; work during the day; and relax at night.  When I am in the office the next three days, “me time” will be harder to achieve.  But I’ve got some ideas brewing.

How do you enjoy your “me time”?

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: Sometimes a Song Changes Everything

Introduction

I love music.  My alters love music.  But for the longest time none of us could listen to music without getting triggered.  Most of my CDs and music choices were taken away from me, made fun of, used or broken by people in my life who didn’t want me to enjoy music or got tired of me listening to the same songs all the time (college dorms and visiting family members).  At home, nothing belonged to me so my parents “borrowed” my music whenever they wanted and kept what they liked for themselves.  And my brother loved music too so he didn’t want me to be interested in music at all.  Because anything I was interested in became evil, boring, etc.

But music is everywhere.  And it’s hard to stop songs from being heard when people like listening to the radio in the car, at the stores, and so on.

The life changing moment

Back in high school, a lot of traumatic events took place.  Some I’ve written about here.  Others are waiting to be told.  But I felt trapped and hopeless until I heard a song called “To the Moon and Back” by a semi-popular pop band called Savage Garden.  The lyrics resonated so well with my life at the time, I thought the artists had been flies on the walls of my life.  Hearing this song was y first real experience with empathy and not feeling alone – like I was the only person in the universe experiencing these problems and feelings.

Here is the YouTube link if you are interested in checking out the song.  Maybe it will inspire you to keep going; maybe not.

Either way, happy Friday and wishes for a relaxing weekend.

 

Coping Challenge: How do I Cope with happy, positive feelings? Part 2 – Why do using my existing strategies feel wrong?

Recap

I gave background in Part 1.  The tattoos are healing nicely and a great reminder of the positive, happy experiences happening in the present.  They are symbols of the positive direction my life is taking now.  And looking at them, touching them reminds me of happy past memories too.  They are a great grounding strategy to use anytime.

The Challenge

All of the positive feelings are overwhelming and anxiety provoking.  I am not used to feeling them and experiencing the sensations they create inside me.  I do not want to tone them down.  I do not want to bring them down to calmer or less reactive levels.  Nor do I want to bring them down to neutral.  I want to ride the waves of feeling and sensation until they go away on their own.

All of my coping strategies are designed to help me dial down overwhelming feelings or anxiety.  They bring me back to the present; distract me with something so that I can step back and be objective about the sensations instead of panicking; and give me an outlet for excessive energy when my adrenaline gets tapped.  The relaxing and calming strategies help me learn to sit with uncomfortable sensations and feelings so that I am not distracted by them or triggered into flashbacks as often.

But positive feelings were so few and far between in my past as to be nonexistent.  Now I’m not sure what to do or how to react to them.

The Goals

  • Learn to experience the positive feelings without getting overwhelmed and feeling anxious.
  • Let the positive feelings flow through me until they go away on their own.
  • Remember that I won’t get hurt for feeling happy.
  • Remember that I deserve to be happy.

Conclusion for Part 2

If only I could figure out my options.  I feel like I’m being twisted into pieces with the happy present and scary past coexisting inside me … sometimes fighting for the dominant position in my mind/body/self.

Recovery: Body Neutral or Body Positive? Rethinking Cultural Body Image and Sexual Attractiveness Ideals

Background Perspective

Society and culture has an enormous influence on perceptions of ideal body shapes and beauty – for males and females.  The focus used to be more on female shapes and standards, but now even males are under more obvious pressure to conform to magazine image standards.  For persons raised in multi-cultural or non-western family systems, the ideal standards of physical health and beauty can and do come in conflict the Western ideals displayed all over the media.

I lost interest in physical attractiveness and beauty standards back in childhood.  This comes from the variety of perpetrators who influenced my body image.  Male or female; young or old; beautiful, pretty, handsome, plain, attractive, or ugly; perpetrators come from all ends of the spectrum.  And all of them in some way or other will blame the victim and/or  (at least in my case) blame the victim’s appearance as the main reason for committing acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

A plain face and skinny body is just as threatening as an ugly face and fat body or attractive face and perfect body when that individual can overpower and control you.

Body Neutral

This is where I and my alters are now.  Body neutral, for us, means that we all acknowledge the unique beauty and health of our body as it works to help us live a happy life.  Some body parts are more interesting or attractive than others.  The whole package is perfect for us because everything works and is in good health.

Flaws are positive instead of negative because they are the parts of our body unique to us.  Being physically attractive and having body parts that can attract more attention than others are acknowledged as part of our self image instead of ignored out of shame.  Accepting that it’s ok to look good and interesting without shame and hate is body neutral.

Fat is only a problem when it negatively affects personal health.  I love my small belly; it took me a long time to accept it, but having that small rounded part where my female organs rest reminds me that I am not too skinny anymore and have enough fat to properly regulate my hormonal system without medication.  Some of the people whom I most admire are not slim – the women are curvy and round; the men are more rectangle or square or oval and rounded but strong and muscular and healthy.

Practicing good self care and eating for pleasure are body neutral and body positive actions.  Eating nutritious and junk foods in balance with the body’s needs is body neutral.  This is an important part for me because I’ve always been under weight.  Gaining weight is difficult and made recovery from anorexia more challenging.  But relearning how to enjoy food and to eat a variety of nutrient dense (mostly healthy) food has helped a lot.  Being adventurous, flexible about the definition of healthy and nutritious, and willing to experiment or break rules also helps find the fun in eating again.

Body Positive

I am working on this part – it will be a work in progress for the rest of my life.

Beliveing and internalizing that it’s ok to look good and interesting without shame and hate is body positive.

Wearing clothes that fit, accessories that are comfortable and express personality, and looking like the best version of ourselves is a step towards body positive.  Learning to love each and every part of our body along with the whole package is a step towards body positive.  Looking in a mirror and loving the body/face reflected back at me is body positive.

Defining my personal style; learning to dress according to my unique shape and personality; putting time and effort into my appearance for my own confidence and pleasure – these are all steps towards being body positive that I am working on.  As a female, I have more resources for female style and positive image than for male style and positive image.

Therefore the links I post in the conclusion are not about male positive body image, but have valuable information that relates to positive body image in general.  i.e. the posts and information comes from a female perspective, but the knowledge can be applied to males too.

If anyone has resources to share (especially for males), feel free to post links in the responses below.  I will share them in a future post with acknowledgements.

Conclusion

I don’t hate my body or myself anymore.  My alters do not hate themselves or this body anymore.  My body does not fit the ideals for Western or Asian physical beauty.  And that is ok.  I have a personal style now thanks to the program I joined last year and am not invisible anymore.  That personal style is still evolving as I learn what I like and dislike and replace wardrobe pieces to suit who I am now instead of who I was before.

Body neutral is a good place to be.  Body positive is where I land at some point every day for a few moments.  Body negative is where I go when I get triggered or feel overwhelmed with internal stressors.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the fear that I will relapse and get so stressed out that I start skipping meals again.  But in the front of my mind is the knowledge that I am not alone and can reach out to ask for help.  I hope someday others can feel this way too.

Thanks for reading.

 

Shame: Being Kinder to Myself Helps Remove Shame

Introduction

This time of year I think about (read obsess over) my body and its “flaws” as told to me by others.  My body is in pain – joints, muscle, skin, sinuses, bone, etc. – and prevents me from enjoying the fresh air that comes with warmer weather.  March and April are months when people first noticed my body start changing with puberty 20 plus years ago.  It is when the body shaming started.  And the body violence increased.

Between 7-15, the perpetrators who liked to use me sexually started being physically violent too.  The violence got worse as my body matured and clients needed to find other ways to “get it up” or “get in the mood” depending on gender.  With the sex and violence came shaming phrases: you want (fill in) because of the way you look; you’re asking for (fill in) with your body language and clothes; I wouldn’t have to (fill in) if you looked like you did before (child body); you are a slut; if you stopped fighting, I wouldn’t have to hurt you so bad…

Epithets like: thunder thighs, big butt, fat belly, flat as a board, big boobs/small boobs, bad skin/nails, hairy legs, vain child, arrogant, self-centered and so on dogged me as I tried to understand the changes happening inside me.  Comparisons to my female cousins made me feel small and worthless and nerdy – invisible and shamed for taking attention away from them – when compared to their popularity and style and social skills.

Being told I was dumber, uglier, quieter, and less adept at anything than my parents and brother with words and actions by everyone reinforced my body and self shame.  In every possible way, I was taught that my body was inferior, unhealthy, ugly, worthless, and not mine.  Basically, I should be dead.  I don’t deserve a healthy, slim body with womanly curves when the rest of my more worthy female relatives are less blessed in those areas.

The Meat of It

I spent high school and college avoiding relationships as often as possible and hiding my body with clothes that did not flatter or suit me.  I spent time around people who hated and made fun of me under the guise of being friends.  I wore hand-me downs and clothes that were decades out of fashion (given to me by my aunts and mother).  Any clothes I bought for myself had to be approved by my parents – I couldn’t shop alone for fear of what I might by.  Grooming wasn’t allowed; not the way most teenagers are allowed to experiment and spend hours in the bathroom or alone in the bedroom trying out makeup and hygiene products.

And I was always on a diet.  Because my parents thought I was fat.  I wasn’t fat – in fact I was dangerously underweight at less than  or equal 90 lbs. for most of high school – but I had curves that both my parents hated and wanted to not see.  Basically, they tried to stop me from going through puberty.  It didn’t work though.  I eventually made 100 lbs and stayed close to that the last two years of college unless I was in a downward spiral.  In college, I gained the freshman 15.  That summer, I dropped down to less than 90 lbs. again.

Senior year in college, many concerned people (none who were friends, just good people who cared enough to help out troubled peers) stepped in and convinced me I needed help.  Free counseling got me through graduation, but didn’t prevent the weight loss or attempted suicide.  Professional counseling after graduation started me on the path to be kinder to myself by getting healthy and rebuilding my sense of self to start.

Conclusion

Being skinny and weak kept me safe.  Being strong and healthy made me a target.  Looking like a woman made me less valuable to the cult (only wanted and paid for child-like bodies) and worthless to my parents.  My father hated my body and made me cover up all the time.  My mother was jealous of my body and liked to criticize my body for her own amusement.  She also liked to hurt me under the guise of “checking for wounds” or “helping me clean hard to reach areas”.

My only thoughts from that time until about 12 years ago were to hurt, punish, hide, destroy my body and feminine parts.

Then I decided that I wanted to stop feeling ashamed of my body.  And I wanted to be healthy.  Every time I tried to do something positive, family stepped in with the shaming.  Then the voices in my head triggered shaming thoughts and compulsions driven by an obsession to look a certain way or not look a certain way.  In all honesty, I thought I was 170 lbs with rolls of fat hanging down everywhere and that I had secretly had breast augmentation surgery because how else could I have large breasts when everyone else had small ones unless they were overweight/obese?

And even some overweight family members (mother included) still didn’t have large breasts to go with the extra weight.  And that was extra shame.  Because I never, ever wanted to have that kind of surgery.  An overtly feminine body would get me unwanted attention and keep me from being invisible.  But every year, I’d be obsessed with thoughts of breast implants, butt implants, feminine curves, padding, etc. and compelled to find information about it.  And I’d look down at my body or in a mirror and see rolls of fat, jiggly body parts, and stretch marks.  Then I’d feel shame and hate.

Until one of my early therapists started questioning me about my thoughts and compulsions.  Together we reality tested each of my beliefs.  Not really assumptions because these were my “set in stone truths” as taught by life.  Little by little, she forced me to look at each body part and decide how much “fat” really existed.

Then came nutrition therapy and the concept of loving kindness towards myself.

And every time I heard a “body shaming” thought, I had to stop and rephrase that thought to something “body neutral”.  Then rephrase the thought to “body positive” after a time.

And every time I felt the urge to hurt my body, I taught myself  to stop and understand where the compulsion came from.  Then remind myself that I like/love my body and don’t want to hurt it.  Hurting my body hurts me too.

Eventually, I started reminding myself that it’s ok to make mistakes and relapse sometimes.  That’s my mind telling me some part is in trouble; time to step back and think before moving on.

These days, being kind to myself means the following:

  • Stop criticizing myself when I experience backlash and shame for using “last resort coping strategies”
  • Remind myself that I am doing the best that I can; it’s ok to give in to the compulsions and obsessions sometimes
  • To feel gratitude that I am coping with the shame and making positive changes to my body image
  • To remind myself of the positive steps I am taking to be body positive – and how much fun it is
  • Making sure I take care of myself no matter how crazy work gets or how depressed I feel when the pain and memories overwhelm me.
  • And to not feel bad when I have to post before or after Wednesday and Sunday because of work and personal deadlines.

Thanks for reading.