Life Changing Moments: Home for the Holidays

Dear Guests,

This time next week, I will be back in my home state (the one where I was born) getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my parents, brother, and father’s side of  the family for the first time in 7 years. Maybe longer. All of us will get together at an aunt’s house on the morning of Christmas Day to open gifts, hang out, and (later) eat a holiday dinner together. Dinner as in lunch…not the evening meal (aka supper).

I admit to feeling many conflicting emotions. Fear, excitement, guilt, joy, anxiety are a few of them. In terms of my immediate family, I’m excited to see my dad. We’ve been talking (FaceTime) and emailing regularly since August. He’s excited to see me too and has been keeping me updated about the rest of the family. I have mixed feelings about seeing my mom and brother (and his wife) again. We didn’t part on good terms, and my child parts are upset about being close to them again. But the adult parts of me are happy to see them again.

For my Dad’s side of the family, I’m excited and anxious to see them again. We don’t relate very well for a lot of reasons, so sometimes sharing space can be difficult. It’s part of why I choose to stay in a hotel or AirBnB during visits home. We love each other, but live completely different lives. And a lot of my life is not something many of my relatives on either side can acknowledge, approve, or accept. Other than some social topics or basic questions and answers, we don’t have much to talk about.

For my Mom’s side, the timing worked to visit with one group of cousins the day before I leave. As I’m only staying for 4 days, I’m grateful for that much and excited to see them. Yes I’m also nervous, but that’s mostly because it’s a new relationship with all of us being adults now. Luckily, we are all foodies and can spend a few hours chatting and enjoying good food.

Have you noticed the food theme? A lot of my family gatherings revolve around food – it was how different generations came together to prepare food, set tables, cook, share stories, and enjoy conversations while eating – as a party or event was often how my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents brought us together.

Why do  this?

The simple answer is closure.
I’m in a positive, healing place that allows me to open up and face some of the scariest parts of my past so that moving forward is less stressful. Plus, I do miss my family. I love them and want the best for them – best as in what works for and with their current goals and lifestyles. Closure allows my heart wounds to finally drain and start to heal.

The complicated answer is more nuanced.
I am going to visit my grandmother. She hasn’t been doing well since her accident back in January. If I can give her anything, it’s one holiday with all of us together like before. We can spend some time together, and I can reassure her that I’m happy, healthy, and safe even if I live all the way across the country.

I’m going for my father. Seeing him in person, giving and receiving a real hug is a gift in itself. We don’t have a lot in common, but we are interested in each other’s lives and actively listen, accept and respect each others choices. Besides that, my Dad is really funny and always finds a way to share his fatherly wisdom with humor.

I’m going for myself, to prove that I can spend time with them as an adult whose triggers don’t get in the way and cause problems. We can be ourselves, share space together, and enjoy the holiday time with less tension and negativity. I don’t have to hide parts of myself and can accept that different relatives will and do hide behind masks – but the hiding is not personal. And I won’t get in trouble for being me. Or cause problems by being me.

In doing this, I can

try to resolve my conflicting feelings about letting any family into my life and being part of their lives.

Conflict part 1: I am happy as I am now being connected again, was happy before reconnecting with any family at all, and am not sure how much I want to be connected with any of them. If I want to be connected at all.

Conflict part 2: I love my family and am happy to be peripherally connected to some of them. But I’ve left behind the dreams of being close with them or having a strong connection where we keep in touch regularly, etc.

In other words, I’m facing some of my biggest fears in less than a week. Wish me luck?

And luck to any and all of you who might be in similar situations with the holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Reclaiming My Body…struggles, steps & successes

Trigger Warning: explicit details and word usage about past sexual abuse and body image issues

Ramble Warning: this long post is written by many alters and might not be very coherent…read at your leisure

A Continuous Struggle

This is not a subject I talk about often on the blog. Thinking about my body feels scary more often than not. I still experience a lot of physical pain from tight muscles and body memories. And what I see in the mirror often reflects my negative self-image.

Different alters control different parts of my body; each of us hold memories in those places. Sharing the burden is easier now than it was before. Yet all parts of me cringe at the thought of ending celibacy or trying to date now.

Some alters never want to engage in sexual activity again. A few dream about having a husband, lover, or partner to share our life with. Most others are intellectually curious about the connections between sexuality, femininity, masculinity, and vitality or life force. All wish for platonic friends or family members to share physical contact with – i.e. hugs, pats, cuddles, holding hands, kisses on the forehead, gestures of intimate yet platonic affection. Maybe a pet some day? Cats probably as our body is not physically healthy enough to care for a dog yet.

Many of us in the alter system don’t like how our body and face looks. Some of us feel shame and embarrassment. Others feel frustration or sadness. Both tend to bring out feelings of or negative attitudes in others. Or attract unwanted attention.

The Coping Challenges

In spite of the many positive steps I have taken to improve my body image, holiday season brings out all of my insecurities. Going back home for the holidays – seeing my parents and sibling for the first time in many years – could be part of that. In general, though, I often get flashbacks of having to “dress up” or “being dressed” and “put on display” by my mother for different holiday get-togethers. And it makes me feel down about my body.

For me, the hardest part about having this negative body image and these feelings of insecurity is not feeling like my body and face are mine. For most of my life, my face and body were under someone else’s control. Other people decided what I looked like, how I dressed, when I ate, who I interacted with, and the types of activities I could participate in alone or with others. Even after I got out of that place, there were family obligations and cultural expectations that told me how to look and act based on my place (bottom) in the hierarchy.

In my head, I still hear all of those people (owners, predators, offenders, abusers, slavers, customers, teachers, class mates & age mates, friends, or relatives) calling me a slut, a whore, a prostitute, a dirty lesbian or bisexual cunt, a chink, slant eyes, beautiful temptress, satan’s get, evil witch, and submissive bitch. I hear them telling me I am fat and scrawny or slender and beautiful just before they rape me or attack me.

Acknowledge the Hard Truths

Well, I was a child prostitute. And I was a beautiful, gifted child turned awkward teen who found ways to hide in plain sight by being an outcast nerd in ugly clothes as an adult. I did have sex with both genders – if rape and forced prostitution count – and multiple partners. So maybe that technically makes me a lesbian and bisexual instead of heterosexual.

Clarification of Insults

But it does not make me a slut or a whore. For one thing, the sex was not my choice. For another, I only engaged in sex when being raped or pimped out. Once I had the choice, I stopped all sexual activity. So while I am okay with being called some of the names listed above, the words “slut” and “whore” really push my buttons.

Sure, I tried to date a few times in college and later on, but it never went past a first date or got physical. I ran first. Or fought second. Eventually, I simply shut down whenever someone tried to flirt with or hit on me. It felt like giving up, but it was also safer for everyone involved.

Expressing Femininity & Vitality in Healthy Ways

I’ve mostly come to terms with the sexual abuse. But I am still working on hating my femininity and sexuality. Still working on hating my face and body. Still working on seeing an over weight, flat chested, pimply girl in the mirror. Or seeing a skinny, straight, flat, weak girl who can’t control her own body in the reflection. Still working to reclaim my sexuality or vitality without having to engage in sexual activity.

My Fear and Hatred of…

I fear not having control over my reproductive system – choosing to get pregnant or not – if some day I become sexually active again before menopause. Considering how quirky my body is about everything, typical birth control methods might not be enough. Plus, I’ve been pregnant. Just the thought of that happening again sends panic signals through all of me. My family history is a mess. I really don’t want to pass on my genetic material. Plus, if I ever do want children, adoption and foster care are options.

I hate not being able to get regular health checks and dental exams without anasthesia. My triggers around medical and dental professionals are among the strongest and most vicious coping challenges. The automatic defense mechanisms and system shut down protocols get triggered every time I start working with someone new. And they bring out my most dangerous alters.

And I hate how often I get triggered by other people giving me nasty looks or making rude/insulting comments about my body parts. People used to pity me and gossip about my awful taste and weird habits behind my back, but were relatively polite and/or friendly unless irngoring me before I stopped hiding. After I stopped hiding, though, lots of people felt justified making nasty comments about my appearance and judging me based on my large bust and curvy shape. Being petite and Asian just made the cat calls and pettiness worse.

I hate how uncomfortable and defensive I feel talking about my “single on purpose” and “celibacy by choice” thoughts with friends & family. And both stances are choices. But it’s even more difficult trying to explain this to males and females who are flirting or coming on to me. Or who think my being friendly is flirting, etc. Confusing for someone with zero experience flirting, dating, etc.

Coping Strategies & Reclaiming My Body

It’s easier now to cope with many of these triggers and obsessive thoughts when the flashbacks come. All parts of me have made personal and life style changes to foster a loving, positive self-image and body image. Next year, I will finally be in a position to take other steps towards reclaiming my body as mine.

Steps like:

  • sterilization (aka tubes tied),
  • safely & confidently interacting with people in social situations,
  • herbal and aromatherapy remedies to support my health without making me sick,
  • (maybe) breast reduction surgery

Now that I am physically healthy and able to maintain a healthy body weight with job security and decent benefits these options are possible. I am not sure what is in my future, but at least now I have more options to feel safe and in control of my self and my body.

What kinds of steps could you, would you, are you willing to take in order to reclaim your body in a positive, safe way?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenge: What is fun? What is play?

This is a reflective post…

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And so it begins…

As part of my recovery and spiritual work, I’m working with all of my parts to learn how to play and have fun. It’s part of bringing joy and happiness back into all parts of my life.

Not all the time, mind, but often enough to balance out the sad or down times and give everyone one more reason to wake up in the morning excited to start the day.

Coping strategies involving fun….

Part of self care is doing things I enjoy.

Part of self soothing is working with feelings/sensations, objects, ideas, etc. that bring comfort or peace.

Part of grounding is bringing back or recalling good memories, pleasurable moments, or fun acuities/times.

Way back when…

IMG_0715Whenever someone used to ask me: “What makes you feel (good/happy/joyful/peaceful)?” My answer was: “I don’t know.” and I felt embarrassed every  time I answered that question.

Whenever people ask me: “What do you do for fun?” or “What are your hobbies?”…I distracted with a different question. Or mentioned typical stuff that seemed hobby-like – cooking, reading – and then turned the conversation to something else.

Most often, though, I would get a panicked look on my face and become really quiet. So quiet the other person thought something was wrong with me and chose to not spend time with me anymore.

These days…

I’ve found that joy scares me. The emotions and sensations feel uncomfortable in my body. I am never sure how to act, react, not act, or not react when the sensations move through me.

But I have started finding joy, peace, and happiness in all phases of my life. The best part, though, is that all parts of me are finding and experiencing these emotions and sensations too as they grow and change.

But fun, fun still eludes me. I am never sure if what I feel is fun or not. Play is the same way. I don’t know what play is. Not sure I ever truly experienced it as a child. Or if I did, the memories are locked in one of the amnesia vaults for now.

IMG_0736Right now, my plants bring a lot of joy. They are all different shapes, sizes, and shades of green. Some flower, but most don’t. My succulents (right) live on the sunniest window sill.

But what surprises me most is that each of my plants has its own personality They communicate with each other and with me in “plant speak”. Sometimes I burst out laughing just “listening” to their observations.

Working with crystals brings joy and feels good overall. Studying aromatherapy brings excitement, anticipation, joy, and anxiety. The whole school aspect brings out triggers and sometimes feels overwhelming, so I’m a bit stalled on my aromatherapy studies. But the crystals, I try to visit my favorite store at least once a month to play with the crystals there and photograph my designs. Here are a few of my latest creations:

Maybe the crystal work is “play” and “fun”?

Final Questions….

So what does “fun” mean to you? And how do you bring play into your life if you don’t already make time to play?

Thanks for reading

Body Memories: Wellness exams, doctor visits & triggers

I had my annual wellness visit  this past week.

Any kind of doctor visit is triggering for me. But annual exams have more triggers than other kinds of exams.

Anxiety

Anxiety comes from traveling to and from the doctor’s office, making time during the work day to go to the appointment, and meeting (sometimes) new people who will be working on my body.

Body Memories

Body memories come back throughout the rest of the exam and sometimes cause problems getting my vitals, etc. Certain tests can’t be administered either. Not because I don’t want them, but because of how my body automatically reacts (based on past experience) to the exam tools. Shots and blood work have a 50/50 chance of working.

How I Cope

Luckily for me, I have a physician who accepts me as I am, is compassionate, and works with me to get as much done as possible with minimal distress.

Then came the matter of getting used to the new nurses and physicians assistants at the location my doctor moved to this year. They all are kind and caring, but my body and my alters did not care. These people were strangers. While I had a choice of letting them work on me or not, what was the point of a visit if not for the check up?

What worked

  • Being honest about my fears and any potential challenges
  • Repeating myself until the person took notice
  • Using grounding affirmations and deep breathing (silently) when talking to the person didn’t work
  • Letting my body and my alters do what they needed to do in order to protect themselves as long as it didn’t involve harming anyone
  • Being patient with the person and explaining again what is happening and why
  • Talking with my alters and checking with them to decide what happens next – try again or make another appointment
  • Throughout the experience – being respectful, using open communication, asking questions and listening actively, practicing patience, and accepting the other person’s choices without judgement – after all these people are professionally trained and experienced in what they do; I’m the oddball

In the end, my alters only took issue with the blood work. In spite of having to try twice and use two different needles, the physician’s assistant got the blood. Some of the results are a little iffy to me (I didn’t fast that morning), but most are on target.

I have to take a vitamin D supplement (normal) because my body does not make enough or make it as easily as I hope and keep an eye on my iron. If my mind can’t stop ruminating on some of the other results, then I’ll have to follow up with the doctor about that too.

Lessons Learned:

  • Try to have my exam on a Thursday or Friday. My mind and body need time to cope /recover and can’t do that if I have to work
  • Call ahead and ask about fasting; then set a reminder the day before
  • Remember to check in with everyone before the needles go in, especially if the physician’s assistant or nurse or technician does not seem to be taking what I say seriously
  • Then remember to meditate and use grounding so that everyone stays calm and agrees to let the tests, etc. happen – remind them the alternative is having to come back again…
  • When in doubt, skip the online portal and make time for a phone call. It saves a boatload of frustration, anxiety, and panic
  • Facing my fear of doctors feels scary and overwhelming until it’s over. I have hope that some day the scary, overwhelming emotions will feel less intense or (maybe) go away for good.

How do you cope with triggers for necessary events and activities in your life?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Finding Language to describe body memory challenges

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present Time

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

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

What are my limitations?

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

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

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

What works for right now?

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategies: Day 94 of “365 Days of Affirmations” challenge

Background

About 3 months ago, I decided to try to write a unique affirmation every day for 365 days.  You can read about it here in this post.  Today’s featured image is an affirmation from Louise Hay whose book You Can Heal Your Life inspired me to persist on my recovery journey after my first big relapse.  Maybe it will help you too.

As a writing challenge, I was pushed to sit and put time/effort/discipline into practice on a regular basis.

As a mental health challenge, this was a way to get all parts of me to change perspective from negative or neural to positive and friendly.

As a personal challenge, this helped (and continues to help) cope with and work through fears of failure, rejection, worthlessness, and shame.

How and Why?

Writing Challenge:
My writing style (not work related) is rather undisciplined and spontaneous.  That works okay for some things like Alter Post stories and so on, but it’s not that great when I try to organize ideas and improve my skills to provide useful, concise, well-written content overall.  The discipline of having to write even a few words every day has helped a lot with organization and self-discipline for writing.

Mental Health Challenge:
Change is difficult for anyone.  For me (especially when the I is more like them, us, we, him, her) staying positive and changing our perspective about life from negative to positive is a challenge.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Action Commitment Therapy (ACT) can only do so much if the rest of me isn’t willing to put in the work.Writing at least 1 positive affirmation about my intention for the day forced everyone to think outside the box and get creative.  Imagination and curiosity always gets everyone in my system excited and willing to try something new.

Personal Challenge
Fear of failure as in stop trying because you can’t win or aren’t good enough.

Fear of rejection as in why bother because no one cares?  Anyone who finds you writing this is going to criticize and insult or make fun of you.

Fear of worthlessness (lack of confidence) and shame as in you can’t do this.  You’re not smart enough or good enough at writing to create affirmations.  You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you can write affirmations, let alone the disciplined enough to write one every day.  You’re too lazy and irresponsible.

Those have been the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and voices in my head for as long as I can remember.  Most of the time, I can use coping techniques and strategies to get around them.  That’s not enough anymore.

This challenge was and is a way to use “small successes” and “determination” to keep writing the affirmations even when I miss one or more days in a row because life got in the way.

Celebrating Day 94

Today is Day 94 of the challenge.  At my lowest point, I missed writing 5 affirmations/quotes in a row.  On my best days, I wrote up to 3 affirmations and/or quotes in a day.  Some are phrases.  Some are poems.  Some are paragraphs.

All of these affirmations are unedited first drafts right now.  The first 10 or so are awful and require some revising.  But I’ve decided to be vulnerable and share some of my favorites with you.

Affirmation 94: “I love my family unconditionally and accept them as they are”

Affirmation 79: “The universe is full of friendly people.  Universe is friendly, not scary.”

Affirmation 8: “I am safe and secure in my home.  Today is an excellent day for laundry.”

Mantra 31:

“I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Memories can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Family can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  The mail will be delivered without fuss.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Lyft is faster and safer than a bus.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Therapy today is right for us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  I/WE believe in us”

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

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.

Coping Strategy: Internal Family Systems explained by Psychology Today

Internal Family Systems Therapy – From Psychology Today magazine.

Recovery is cyclical.

Trauma never goes away, but the patterns and symptoms it leaves inside ebb and flow depending on context, experience, and life.

For a while, our system was stable.  We were in a good place and able to work on other coping challenges that required attention.   Challenges that interfered with living in the outside world.

Now, a lot of these challenges have changed into coping strategies, techniques or learning paths for future references – i.e. resources.  The others are tangled with issues not ready to be addressed yet, so have moved to the background for now.

And it’s time to focus back on adapting our family system.  My alters and I, we, are ready to start working on integration, self-awareness, and creating ways to live in both worlds. That means trying new coping techniques with our counselor and revisiting past ones too.

Why Internal Family Systems therapy? – it coincides nicely with the whole/parts theory of personality and is what our first trauma counselor used to help us get sorted.  Plus, it’s great for helping people learn to cope with feelings/thoughts/opinions that seem overwhelming or conflicting without shame or guilt or anxiety.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Medication for alcohol addiction too?

Extra post because April is Alcohol Awareness Month…

Article Link – Medication for Alcohol addiction?

Some Background

One of the scariest things I ever did was start networking on LinkedIn.  It meant taking pride in my professional self and celebrating success in the outside world – extremely scary considering my fears around success.

BUT…learning to use LinkedIn, and especially the different groups, connected me to resources I never imagined possible outside of a paid journal subscription.  One group I belong to now is called “Mental Health”, and professionals from all aspects of the Mental Health world along with other businesses write about how emotional health affects employees, employers, and careers.

Benefits of Medication for Addiction and Trauma?

One topic that interests me, but is hard to learn about, has to do with the benefits of medication as part of addiction treatment programs.  Many people have issues with addiction and trauma, so deserve to learn about all available resources. And maybe this information will help a guest find a successful path to her or his goals.

I read this article a few days ago, but didn’t have time to share it until now.  It’s written by the CEO of the company that manufactures one medication used to help with alcohol addiction (article’s words).  He discusses the potential benefits of adding medication by comparing statists to the opiate medication treatment programs and reflects on why this option is not as widespread or openly discussed in the recovery/treatment community.

The article DOES NOT promote its drug as a cure or something to buy.  And I DO NOT endorse or support the purchase or use of this manufacturer or other manufacturer’s medications for treatment.   However, why not explore options directly from the source?

My Reasons for Sharing now

While not something mentioned often here, I have personal experience with loved ones whose lives were changed by alcohol addiction and abuse of over-the-counter drugs.  And lots of experience watching classmates I started elementary school with drop out of high school, die, end up in jail, or commit suicide because of drug and alcohol related problems.  Besides that, April is a month of loss and grieving for me.  One I wasn’t able to mourn in the past, but can mourn now.

My memories of past drug and alcohol use are coming back, have been coming back a lot this April.  Like why I can’t stand the smell of pot smoke in my personal space, but cigarette smoke leaves a neutral impression.  Or dreams of being forced to ingest/inject/inhale/absorb through my skin whatever combinations my owner and his people gave us before training.  Then their anger and disgust when I passed out or vomited and then passed out because my body rejected the substances.

As you might guess, substance use and abuse is a sensitive topic for me.  I feel inadequate to write about the topic, so hope that you check out the article for yourself and make your own choices.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Mental Health info and resources for firefighters and first responders

About Firefighters and mental health resources

This was written by a firefighter and has some potentially valuable information.

I AM NOT endorsing the last section of the article – it is a request for votes in the authors community – that asks for support and donations for a campaign election.

But the resource link connects to the IAFF Recovery Center  If you are a firefighter, member of IAFF or know someone who is a firefighter and can benefit, please share the link however you choose.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Crisis Text Line Review

A couple of triggering events happened today.  One was related to my past sexual trauma.  The other was more recent – the living situation.  They combined to make a big soupy mess inside me.

The first call to the regular hotline helped me realize I needed to do something else to release the pressure.  Thankfully, my aunt was available to talk.  The immediate issue was express my anger so I could accomplish the rest of my errands.  Talking with her and making a plan did that.

Accomplishing the other tasks and some self care (groceries, aromatherapy diffuser, walking meditation), I finally made it home.  Instead of being able to relax, though, everything started to feel more intense.  But I wasn’t sure what was causing the problem – the living situation or the past anniversaries.

So I called the Crisis Text Line instead.  You can learn more about the history on Wikipedia here.  You can go to the actual website and read how the text line works before trying it here.  The Crisis Text Line is a non-profit organization and free.

PROCESS

Texted the phone number with a request.  Receive an automated response

Shared some information; received an automated response and took their questionnaire.

Received a text from a trained volunteer.  Text chatted with the volunteer for about an hour.  The volunteer helped me feel less alone and made some good suggestions.  I tried the suggestions.  They helped a little.  Offered some suggestions and reasons for those suggestions.  The reasons made sense, so I tried knitting again – even knowing it might be triggering.

Then I texted STOP to end the session.

REVIEW

For people who prefer to send text messages and have a service plan with either a lot of minutes or unlimited minutes, this is a great option.  The first response time is quick – within 4-5 minutes – unless you send a message during busy times.

My volunteer responded within 3 minutes after I finished the questionnaire.  Her responses, while slow in coming, were empathetic and respectful while also professional.  I explained the situation.  She offered empathy and suggestions.  I explained how and what I felt.  She reminded me I am not alone, and it’s okay to feel what I feel.

I explained about what strategies I have tried and why I felt frustrated.  She helped me get some perspective and try something I normally wouldn’t try.  Not because I don’t want to, but because physical tasks are usually not on my list when I am in pain.

The pauses between my responses and hers felt too long and anxiety provoking for me.  The generality of the suggestions and brainstorming did not feel as comfortable as when I talk to someone on the phone.

But then I didn’t share everything  that was causing the anxiety.  So that part also contributed to the anxiety.  My past experiences get in the way here.  For me, the act of calling and speaking to someone, verbalizing my feelings and experiences, is integral to the coping strategy of asking for help.

But the volunteer did help me refocus on the present and accomplish a small task.  One that did feel good and was distracting enough to help me reflect on what really disturbed me once I got home.

RECOMMEND?

Yes, I do recommend this Crisis Text Line as a resource.  I would use it again in similar situations or ones where talking didn’t feel comfortable.

Plus, the Crisis Text Line website has a wonderful and carefully curated list of referral/resource organizations for anyone looking for more or something else.

I also recommend this for anyone who might feel uncomfortable reaching out or asking for help in more traditional ways.  Or is using a coping strategy/technique like this for the first time.

Making that first call or text is the hardest step.

If your experience has been different from mine, please comment and share.

Thanks for reading.

Self Care: Appreciating Our Special Gifts

An Extra Post This week.  **Potential Triggers or Skepticism as New Age, Psychic, Extrasensory thoughts are included – feel free to disagree and skip**

(My opinion – one shared by my specialists)
Trauma forces victims to get creative in order to survive and cope with the experience(s).

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What kind of trauma?
Any kind – natural disaster, surgery, accident, victim of crime, victim of abuse or assault, difficult pregnancy/birth, bullying, racism, prejudice, etc.

That creativity forces victims/survivors to use parts of the brain that usually stay dormant in other people.  Those parts of the brain can:

  • make our senses more acute
  • enable us to tell when people are lying just by observing and listening
  • allow our intuition to warn us of possible danger or dangerous people ahead of time
  • improve our reflexes so that we can move to stay safe
  • Be sensitive to our environment and other peoples emotions in order to protect ourselves
  • “Know” things about people, places, animals, plants, objects or environments without understanding how or why (intuition?  empathy?  ESP?)
  • Develop talent for logical thinking, communication, biology, math, history, visual arts, etc.

Why call them gifts instead of curses?
Because all of the above have helped me on my path to recovery in some way.  My perception of the world is influenced by my past.

I learned to use the environment and my senses/perception to protect myself without knowing or understanding that in the past.  Therapy helped me understand how my hyper-vigilance worked, what triggered it, and why my senses reacted in ways that didn’t make sense according to “typical” developmental processes.

Rejecting Labels, Moving Past Bias, Embracing Gifts
Once school started, I started rejecting my gifts.  Considered them curses and ignored what they were telling me.  I was already being abused and bullied and rejected by my family, peers, and community.  Having unique talents, extrasensory or psychic gifts, or being interested in New Age philosophy only made me more of a target back then.

Labels:
Here on this blog (and throughout the website) I openly reject labels and aim for inclusivity instead.

Inclusive = radical acceptance, open mind/heart/spirit, 100% compassion, respect, and validation of all perspectives

Doesn’t matter what you want to call them.  They can embraced and turned into useful, productive life skills.

Moving Past Bias
It took me a long time to start accepting this part of myself again.  In fact, I didn’t start opening up to it until after moving to a place that discussed the paranormal at Starbucks and grocery stores.  It gave me courage to start talking about it in therapy and how these perceptions affected my coping strategies.

Embracing Gifts
My therapists and medical practitioners encouraged me to pursue these interests and learn more about how these abilities worked.  By doing that, my triggers became less intense and more manageable.

Why Talk About Gifts Now?
Conversations with my loved ones back home convinced me that many of us have unique abilities we hide from, reject, or deny because they are outside of the norm.  Two of them have affinities with crystals both similar and different to mine.  We shared knowledge and enjoyed learning how crystals have helped out in unique ways.  Then they accepted my gifts: crystals from my collection tuned to them.  And one friend told me the crystals are helping with certain activities.

Conclusion

Each of us is born with innate gifts.  Some of them get developed over time; others don’t.  Some don’t ever come out.  Others are activated by life experiences. Without context, they can be scary and feel crazy-making.

 

My gifts are not yours.  And your gifts are not mine.  But you DO have gifts.  And maybe some of the weird, scary stuff happening to you is coming from those gifts – they’r’e trying to get your attention.  Or maybe not.  The possibilities are endless.

What happens next is up to each one of us and how we choose to approach recovery.

But I hope you can keep an open mind and maybe start to reconsider your perceptions of coping challenges.  They could be gifts in hiding.

Thanks for reading

 

Self Care: Sleepy Day & Short Post

I planned to write a follow up post about coping strategies for air travel when everything goes wrong.  That ways my Thursday/Friday experience traveling home.

But I’m too tired.  My body and brain ned to decompress before the work week starts up on Monday.  After crossing 3 time zones in 1 day and being awake for about 40 hours straight (including airplane naps), every part of me just wants to rest.  Our sleep deficit has not been this bad since before moving here.

Happy Sunday to anyone in the Northern Hemisphere.  Happy Monday to anyone in the Southern Hemisphere.

May you all take time for sleep& self care today also.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Martial Arts Can Help with Trauma rom AWMA Blog

**CORRECTION RE Krav Maga below**

AWMA – Martial Arts & Trauma (all photos credited to the AWMA blog)

One of the best experiences in my childhood was taking martial arts lessons.  The other was warrior training in my other life.  Tae kwon do taught me inner strength, resilience, meditation, discipline, and self defense in a protected setting.  Warrior training did the same, but with punishment instead of positive reinforcement.

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The link at the top of this page is an article from the AWMA that describes how martial arts can be used to treat trauma and help victims/survivors empower themselves through learning how to protect themselves and trusting their bodies again.

Martial arts is also a relatively safe way for victims and survivors to channel anger and feelings of violence from something scary and negative into something useful and positive.  I wish I still had that outlet, but my body can’t handle so much activity right now.  Plus my instincts are too close to the surface.  I fear losing control and hurting people too much to try.

Finally, finding a safe place to learn and practice is not always easy.  Not many instructors are trauma informed and/or willing to let someone with my kind of history take lessons with students.

HOWEVER

That doesn’t mean others looking for a physical outlet or activity more active than yoga or dance can’t try taking lessons.

For people who are comfortable with some or limited physical contact, I’d recommend Judo, JuJitsu, Tae kwon do, or wushu.  Maybe even boxing or kickboxing.  These are physically active, but don’t require a lot of sparring or extreme health until advanced levels.

**Edited to reflect guest comment: The amount of physical contact in Krav Maga classes depends on the instructor and the studio.  Thank you for the Correction**

For people who are less comfortable with physical contact, I’d recommend boxing, tai chi, and/or qigong.  Most of these trainings are in groups with limited or zero physical contact.  The pace is also different and can be better tailored to different levels of physical fitness.

Kung fu is great for many levels, requires limited physical contact, but is physically intense.  Maybe it’s the right option for you, maybe not.

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There are many other styles and types of martial arts out there.  Plus things like boot camps, dance groups, cycling, and so on that may work better for you.  Or even paramilitary/wilderness/survivalist training will work.

What I shared above are examples of the styles I’ve tried and practiced in the past with different levels of success.

If you find a school with instructors who teach using a philosophy of self defense and mindfulness, you will learn a lot more than kicks, punches, submissions, holds, and ways to fight.

Those lessons helped me build a flexible structure to fall back on even at my worst moments.  Maybe they will help you too.  Either way, I hope you click on the link and decide for yourself.

Thanks for reading.

RECOVERY: Reflections & A New Phase in My Recovery

The One Month Break

Taking a month off was healing in some ways and enlightening in others.  Not posting allowed me to focus on self care and moving to a better living situation.  I spent more time packing, planning, focused on work, resting when I could, apartment hunting, and eventually moving too.

NEW APARTMENT YAY!

My living situation is much improved.  I love the new apartment and am getting used to living in/near a college again.  As much as I love old buildings with their creaky noises, eccentric quirks, and character, the new space is a challenge for unpacking and settling in.  Beyond that, the building is run by an excellent (so far) management team that really cares about its tenants.  And I finally have a bath tub!

And now there’s space for me to set up a craft/learning space – knitting, sewing, aromatherapy, etc. – in my living room while the other room is reserved for work & sleeping.  Plus there’s the challenge of unpacking and decorating to make this space home.  But at least no one will be criticizing me for it or accusing me of hoarding because of my slow methods.

Unpacking and decorating has also inspired me to start using Pinterest again.  I’ve added some new boards and new pins to existing boards if you’re interested.  You can find links to Pinterest on the Resources page.

BYE BYE TOXIC LIVING SITUATION

The toxic living situation kept taking up more and more of my mental space as the upstairs neighbor escalated.  At some point, I stopped sleeping and started meditating/resting instead.  Cooking saved me from bursts of anger.  Packing did too.

But my survival instincts and automatic defenses were roused.  Some of them, I’ve talked about in the past.  Others I haven’t, not yet, because those memories were hidden or caused too much pain when triggered.  But now, those instincts are close to the surface.  And with them, come the memories too.

Instead of having to cope with a lot of emotional/mental triggers, I’m working through physical and environmental triggers that make me want to protect myself with violence.

If my past experiences taught me one thing really well, it was that anyone who  tried to make physical contact or get close to me was attacking me.  And I had to protect myself in any and every way possible.  When running didn’t work, fighting back did.  Doesn’t matter how much pain I feel or what condition my body/health is in.

If these instincts are triggered or I am put in a position of having to defend/protect myself, I fight to survive at any cost.  With that knowledge in my mind, I’ve spent a lot of time alone or around “safe” people for limited time periods lately.  Without a mechanism to make me stop and pause, it’s not safe for me to be around other people like this.

Luckily, my body and other alters have some awareness of when these instincts are triggered.  They give the rest of us advance notice so that we can plan to say inside instead of going out.

Questioning My Ability to Share Useful Resources

The time away also provided time to reflect on my current mental space and ability to share useful resources here.

While telling parts of my history here is part of what makes this blog authentic, it’s not the main reason I started sharing here.  Lately, I’ve struggled to come up with new ideas and posts, useful information and resources that might be helpful or useful to others beginning their journey or struggling at a complex/difficult place in recovery.  People who are learning how to live and cope after surviving or getting out of toxic situations that made them question everything and not trust anything at first glance.

What I’m learning now, the resources opening up to me, are coming from a different place now.   It’s a different phase of recovery, a scary (to me) one where my past coping strategies are useful, but not as helpful as before because the challenges are different.  I”m sharing my authentic self with the world.  And I’m finally able to accept all parts of myself – violent/nonviolent, male/female, victim/survivor/individual – with compassion and love.

Instead of surviving or putting my toe in the shallow pool of living, I’m wading into the deeper waters where my feet don’t always touch the ground.  I’m living and thriving and using my flashbacks/triggers as reminders or guides to help me learn from past mistakes to make better choices now.  I’m being vulnerable and moving forward with personal, professional, and academic goals.  Sometimes even achieving them.

But how relevant is that to my guests?

How will reading books about personal finance or minimalism, or personal style, or training in skills help them cope with the internal and external struggles that come with trauma and recovery?

How will going to lectures, taking classes, challenging oneself to meet new people, or learning about resilience/vulnerability and shame via many channels give my  guests the hope and courage or inspiration to keep on going?

I’m not asking for answers or reassurance that this resource website and blog is useful.  If anyone wants to comment, you are welcome to do so.  Feedback is always welcome.

Conclusion

If the last 5 months have taught me anything, it’s that life will always be full of challenges and triggers.  How we react and act to meet those challenges defines how interesting, fun, boring, miserable, joyful, or blah our life becomes as time passes.  And sometimes life throws one a curve because it knows that individual has what it takes to succeed this time around.

But people also grow and change in unexpected ways.  Their lives, thought processes, goals, and beliefs change too.  People sometimes move on or move in a different direction as experience and perspective open up different paths.

Whatever happens, if I stop posting or adding new articles, this site will stay up and available to anyone searching for help.  The Resource page and Home Page will be updated to reflect this.

Thanks for reading.