Coping Challenge: Self Soothing is Positive instead of Negative

Background

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

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

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

Present Day

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

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

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

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

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

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

Exercise & Movement Therapy

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

Self-Soothing Coping Technique

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

What do you think of the

The Challenge

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading

 

Coping Strategy: Reviewing my toolbox

A quick post tonight.  Lots going on and not much to share at the moment – still processing.

Last week, I went back to school for the first time in over 10 years.  It’s part of my graduate school application to help me and the admissions board decide if I should be accepted into the program this fall.

I have 5 more classes to sit in on over the next two weeks.  During the first class, I stayed mostly clearheaded and did not get overwhelmed.  But I did react to the loud noise/talking when students finished their work early and waited for the rest to finish.  Also, I discovered that I have to move around in my seat, sitting still in a classroom made my body hurt.  Finally, I have to be wary of my hyper-vigilance and try to relax instead.

The day after I sat in on a class, I experienced some confusion during reflection time.  The confusion led to anxiety because I wasn’t sure I had the coping tools available to help with these “new” experiences.  A call to the hotline and a conversation with the counselor helped me realize I had plenty of applicable coping strategies and techniques in my toolbox.  I just had to figure out which ones worked or didn’t work and how to apply them in this new setting.

My list so far:

  • acupressure for pain management
  • water or a drink for grounding
  • bracelet to play with
  • deep breathing or “tree” exercise in my chair
  • Chocolate or something similar for taste grounding
  • magic bag??
  • extra battery/charger for my phone

What is on your list?

hanks for reading

Resources: books and movies that explore aspects of PTSD,DID, and alter personalities

Due to some technical difficulties, I am writing this post on my smart phone and cannot link to previous posts.  Feel free to use the search box at the bottom or the menu box at the top to explore related posts.

It’s been a while since I wrote a resource post.  Other than reading books, rediscovering a love of jazz music, and watching superhero movies/tv shows (Marvel and DC), I do not have much new info to share.

As I have written before, I am an avid reader and a bookworm.  These days I mostly read commercial fiction.  Science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, romance, or any book that offers character growth, challenges, strong female and male characters, and a happy ending that suits the typ of people these characters become.

If you ever wondered: how does she learn so much about people and how to use the tools in her toolbox?

The answer is: by reading books with complex characters whose journeys drive the plot.

so on to my list:

Movies:

  • Inside Out – have not seen this yet, but many people including my mental health providers have recommended it.  I am waiting for it to be available for rental through Amazon
  • Angry Birds the movie – I found this on Netflix and almost skipped it because of an unreasonable dislike of the game.  But this movie explores the problems with denying angry feelings; and the positive results from acknowledging, feeling, and expressing anger.  In this case, Red Bird and his friends used their anger and the energy from those feelings to save their community.
  • Marvels The Avenger series movies – the first one especially has a place in my heart because Dr. Bruce Banner shares the “secret” to living with the Hulk: always feeling – i.e. Not repressing or denying feelings.  But all of these movies have characters with pasts that could make or break them.  And yet they still find ways to laugh, enjoy company, love, and live with the consequences of their choices.

Fiction books last:

  • Anne Bishop’s Ephemera series – book two is about a young woman struggling with two distinct personalities and trying to find a balance that integrates both sides to become whole again.
  • Anne Bishop’s Ephemera series – Book 3 has a main character who is 3 people sharing one body and trying to survive in a world where her kind are hunted, killed, or shunned whenever they are discovered.
  • The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey – a coming of age story about a young woman who survives a mudslide as a baby and develops an alter personality in childhood.
  • The Coelura by Anne McCaffrey – not about alter personalities so much as coping with difficult family relationships
  • J. D. Robb’s In Death series – the main character is a survivor or childhood trauma who becomes a police officer.  Throughout the series, readers see an isolated, closed off young woman fall in love, open up to friendships, create a family, and start living a full life instead of being trapped by the nightmares of her past
  • Kim Harrison’s the Hollows series – family relationships, loss/grief, and growing up
  • Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series – I have already written about these books in different posts, so not repeating here.

These books helped me in my teens and twenties as I struggled to understand what was happening in my life.  They also gave me hope that I, too, could change my life around for the better like the characters did.  Maybe they can help you too.

Thanks for reading

 

Recovery:Uncertainty in a new phase of recovery

Not sure how others receive information about their past, but mine come in a few ways.  The main ones are: dreams/nightmares, flashbacks, & body memories.

The PTSD makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the automatic reactions that get triggered each time I remember something.

The DID makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the way my brain developed and learned to store memories, sensation, & experiences.

Back in my old living area, I was constantly bombarded by triggers and memories.  It was all my therapist and I could do to keep me relatively sane and focused on the present instead of spiraling out of control.  I never truly felt safe there and could not move on to work on other aspects of recovery even though I was ready to do so.  Every time I tried, the flashbacks and dreams and body memories bombarded me with warnings.

Now, in my new living area, I am safe to delve into these memories, work on pain management and merging the fragmented sensations from body memories, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks into whole memories of my past.  I am physically and emotionally safe here.  I can go outside and walk around any time.  I can use public transportation without fear of getting harassed.

I can shop at stores and know that bad service is because of the individual’s issues and not my past.  I can reconnect with safe family members.  I can enjoy hobbies and practice self care that was impossible before.  I can let my body heal and look the way nature intended for it to look instead of how my past molded it.

But with all of that comes learning how to cope with the shame and fear and distress that comes from confronting those triggers.  My tool box is full of options.  I’m learning new ones all the time just by observing how people interact with each other in real life.  Did I mention that people-watching is one of my favorite things to do?

The struggle now is learning how to utilize my toolbox for these new and different challenges.  It’s like starting from square 1 all over again.

So the posts here will continue to be about the same topics, but the perspective will continue to change as my journey changes.  Thanks for reading and understanding.

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.