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…

quotation-erich-fromm-creativity-requires-the-courage-to-let-go-of-certainties-10-33-76

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