Alter Post: School of Hard Knocks – and what it taught me about knowledge

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Hey All,

All of us in the AlterXpressions system (i or we) decided to share some more about our personal story as a follow up to last week’s post.

A winding path through trees...destination unknown
Destination unknown

First because our journey to where we are now has been filled with directional changes.

Second because many guests have been asking about how we got to where we are now.

Finally, because all of us are here to emphasize that this place is about sharing knowledge and resources – not telling people what to do or how to live their lives.

Being smart doesn’t get a person anywhere unless the individual knows how to use and apply those smarts. Same with education and experience.

It takes courage, resilience, compassion, love, acceptance and an open mind to pick up the pieces of life after trauma and figure out how to live again. We mean how to have the

  • Courage to believe in, love, and accept ourselves as we are in that moment knowing we are different and will never be who we were again
  • Resilience to learn how to roll with the changes that life throws at us as we learn our new “normal”
  • Compassion for ourselves and the people around us as mistakes happen, hurt triggers all kinds of emotions and sensations, and we fall
    • Because everyone falls, makes mistakes, hurts self/others, and gets hurt
  • Open mind to ask for/accept help, learn the tools we need to be who we want to be, and thrive as our authentic selves – happy, loving, loved, safe, – in alignment with our personal values

All parts of me agree to share this with you, so please don’t be surprised by shifts in language or writing style. We tend to interrupt, talk over, or repeat each other writing like this.

College did not exactly prepare me for “real world” work. But it did give me insight into how much I didn’t know about life and people because of how I was raised. The classes and instructors provided lots of book learning, but living on campus taught me about hope and made “happy ever after” seem possible. It was a break from the reality of my other life – almost like a bubble – until my past caught up with me there too.

7 geese in a meadow. One is not like the others...pairs of 2x2x2...then one?
One of these geese is not like the others. Two by two by two…

That”s when I realized college life didn’t fit me in the same way high school didn’t fit because my life experience taught me to value different life goals/career objectives. I was in survival mode and didn’t realize it.

Graduate school taught me that I wasn’t meant to spend my life in a rigid classroom. It also gave me the opportunity to explore skills that I disregarded as useless in high school or college. It also highlighted areas where I was completely lacking in knowledge and experience. Like interpersonal communication and time management; saying “no” and setting boundaries.

University buildings, a parking lot, food trucks...typical academic setting
Typical academic setting

Still, graduate school helped me find a temporary job that turned into a 13-year long career with the same company and allowed me to start this website/blog. I learned foundational skills in architecture and design from graduate school. Combined that knowledge with my writing and organizational skills to land a job helping a project manager create deliverables for a client.

My hard work, eagerness to learn and apply knowledge, and commitment to meeting deadlines caught the attention of other managers and people in the department. They mentored me and taught me more than I can ever express. In that organization, I got to be myself. Acceptance and respect was based on my actions and reactions instead of rumors and assumptions.

My past didn’t matter to them when they learned about it. Instead of firing me or suspending me, they offered support and helped me find ways to keep working no matter how bad my symptoms got. As long as I was honest with them, they worked with me to create flexible schedules and go through the red tape so I got to keep my benefits and job.

Now, thirteen years later, I have job security and a role that allows me to continue doing what I started while also taking on new challenges that help my team and enjoy work again.

EPIPHANY

College education and graduate school classes gave me the foundation skills to understand the work I do, but the school of hard knocks provided me the important life lessons that helped me earn credibility, respect, and acceptance.

Without both parts of that equation, I would not be as valuable or useful in my day job or here on the blog.

Finally, I acknowledge that I am lucky and blessed to have found an organization that accepts me, values me, and allows me to continue on the winding path that is my career with them.

As always, thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: When will I stop punishing myself?

*CAVEAT: This post is based on my personal experience and reflects my opinions, thoughts, and feelings about the topic discussed below. No one else’s opinion or information is shared here.*

I didn’t have time to read and respond to comments this weekend. Life got busy. And I feel uncomfortable responding to comments when my mind is such a mess.

Also, no photo for this week’s post. That kind of creativity is a trigger for anger – like journaling, coloring, and drawing – when I already feel overwhelmed with past stuff coming up and interfering with life.

*Yes I will write more on this topic again*

Back to the question

I’ve written about self-harm and self-punishment in the past. It’s an on-going theme in the story of my recovery and self-healing and one of the biggest obstacles I face now. The more joy I feel, the more intense the backlash becomes. As the backlash moves out of my mind and into my body, I feel helpless and less able to cope than normal.

Hence my body shutting down so often.

It hit home hard this week as I struggled with positive successes and backlash that put me to sleep/meditation for a couple days this week. Luckily, my day job was not so busy with billable work; writing projects require thinking and processing time – not something I need to be in front of a computer to do.

While my body and parts of my mind worked on processing triggers and flashbacks, the rest of my mind mapped out new sections for a first draft.

Friday felt better, but not great. Picked up billable work at my day job, so busy until late in the day. A schedule change for me. Flexible hours changed my personal plans and triggered circular thinking about self care, deadlines, and sacrifice.

Because changing my plans felt like sacrificing my personal time and projects for a job I like, but don’t love or want to take over all my time. That feeling triggered flashbacks to anorexia, being an empath who is also a walking lie detector, food fears, etc.

Explain about the lie detector please?

If you have met me or know me and wonder why I know things about you that you never talked about or can catch you in a lie, that’s why. I don’t purposely look into people’s minds or feelings. I don’t purposely absorb other people’s energy/feelings/thoughts. All that comes to me of its own free will as people and other living beings unconsciously project outwards.

To me, energy and emotions are a sensory experience. I feel them as sensations in my body or vibrations against my skin; I hear them as sound vibrations moving through me; I smell them and taste them in the air sometimes; and I see them in rainbow colors when I close my eyes.

Overwhelming, yes. Uncomfortable, yes. Combined with hyper-vigilance and other increased anxiety or symptoms…well what do you think about the phrase “HOT MESS”?

Reinventing the Wheel…Or Not

Instead of re-writing thoughts about punishment and self-harm, here is a short list of past posts.

Read or not.

If you want the full list, please use the search bar called “look around” to the right.

Short Reference List

Often, I prefer to give you the choice to learn more through the search bar instead of putting links here. It’s counter-intutiive to promoting my site and building a larger readership, but feels right to my authentic self.

Allowing my guests to choose when and how they learn more here means more  to me than getting more followers, etc.

This is one time when I feel comfortable sharing some links to past posts here.

Thanks for reading.

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