Archives for the month of: June, 2015

Some of my favorite affirmations come from Louise Hay.

This one is a particular favorite because it helps me remember one of my most important values: accepting responsibility for myself while letting others be responsible for themselves

Forgiveness doesn’t come easily to me.  Neither does trust.  Instead, I have learned to practice Tara Brach’s concept of Radical Acceptance.

This has allowed me to separate words and actions from individuals.  I can forgive individuals because humans are fallible, make mistakes, and have the freedom of choice granted by virtue of life.

It has also allowed me to hold the people who hurt me responsible for their actions while also releasing the pain and hurt of the past.  Instead of accepting responsibility for events and experiences beyond my control, I accept that my parents and the others who hurt me chose to act that way and are responsible for their words and actions.

I am only responsible for my reactions and my choices in how I reacted.  I forgive myself for what I had to do to survive and do not regret those words, actions, and reactions anymore.  Those experiences are life lessons and reminders of how I used to be and how I choose to act differently now when similar situations appear in my life.

If I had a choice to go back in time, I would not do anything different.  Because changing one part of the past results in me being someplace different now.

I love my family.  I respect them as humans and individuals.  I hate their actions and words towards me, towards, themselves, towards each other, and towards others.  I feel compassion for them and wish they did not hate themselves so much that they choose to hurt others in order to feel better.

And some day, all of my parts will come to a place where this is true.  Until then, we struggle with nightmares, fear, anger, resentment, hurt, shame, guilt, and stress from the burden of our memories.  Because even when on her medication, my mom chose to hurt and manipulate everyone around her.  We were allies/competition or enemies to be destroyed.

Anyone who tried to help her, tried to get her to see a psychiatrist or counselor for medication adjustments or assistance got yelled at, talked about behind their back, silent treatment, missing or destroyed items, and a flood of tears.  Because trying to help her meant trying to hurt her and punish her.

So eventually, I stopped taking responsibility for my mom’s actions.  I stopped taking care of her.  And when I did, the entire family turned on me.  I don’t hate them for it.  Not anymore.  Some of my parts do.  Because the shaming, the accusations, the shunning hurt.  I was trying to do the right thing.  To be my own person and help my mother.  I stopped taking responsibility for my father’s frustration with her too.  And my brother’s embarrassment and anger at her actions and reactions, her scenes and her problems.

I did not make them that way.  I am not responsible for them.  I am not meant to live my life under their control.  My role in life is not to be an extension of any of them, invisible, taking care of their needs and bearing responsibility for their problems.

This affirmation means a lot to me.  I created my own versions to keep in my mind and heart when the anger boils over:

I accept myself and all that I am.

  • My past, my present, my future are mine to choose and be responsible for.
  • I love my family.  I am not responsible for them or their choices.
  • I accept that I am changing for the better, learning to live and be my authentic self.
  • I accept my family for who they are and the choices they make.
  • I loved them then. I love them now.  I will love them no matter what happens.

Thank you Ms. Hay for your inspiration and thoughtful sharing of affirmations.

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For more information about some of the resources I have mentioned, please check out the resources page.  I have links to some Pinterest boards with my favorite books, quotes, and websites along with a basic table with links to some of helpful resources of information or assistance.

What is backlash?

My therapist describes backlash like this (my summary of our many conversations):

Trauma survivors have a difficult time letting go of the hyper-vigilance or relaxing.  They also have a hard time accepting the good things happening in their lives.  Because in order to let go and enjoy the good experiences, they have to feel safe enough to let down their guards and relax.

Instead, survivors are waiting for the other shoe to drop.  They don’t believe the good will last.  Past experience has taught them that safety doesn’t exist; the price for good experiences is too high; they don’t deserve the good things happening; and any good experience must be balanced with some kind of punishment or negative experience.  And when this occurs during an anniversary period, all symptoms increase.

It’s Happening Now

Yes, I am experiencing backlash as I write this post.  Except this time, it’s different.  Some alters are experiencing backlash while others are not.  And the type of punishment or consequences changes from alter 240to alter.  Yet my body and emotions are feeling everything at the same time.  It’s scary, confusing, and conflicting at the same time.  Right now, I am living in extremes because all of my alters are living in extremes.  This is triggering for all of us because we were raised in an environment of extremes and uncertainty.

FYI – I have 87 alters; 88 including the one writing this post.  We are 44 children under 12; 22 adolescent/young adult, 22 adult to geriatric; both male and female; and often show ourselves as a combination of human, animal, reptile, tree, and symbol to each other.

What Happened Before

In the past, all of us experienced backlash at the same time and with same consequences.  It was physical, emotional, energy draining, and usually resulted in some kind of self-harm.  My parts would be experiencing flashbacks, trigger the other parts into feeling negative emotions and remembering the consequences of success.  Then the shame would flood us.  Finally, whoever was in charge set us up to get hurt by others emotionally, verbally, and/or physically by engineering a conversation or encounter with an unsafe person whose buttons were easily discerned and pushed.

When I tried to cook, clean, or do laundry, I would switch.  The alter who became in charge would ruin the food, break dishes , not do dishes, ruin the laundry, make messes after someone else cleaned.  Or something simple like switch and stop cleaning in the middle of a task to do something else; then leave that to move on to another project.  When that wasn’t enough, the voices started to whisper threats, urging us to die, make ourself bleed, pick a fight, lose our job, walk down a dark street in the city in the middle of the night, or switch with another part and having that part “lose” the house keys or wallet

The pattern would start slow, with whispers and feelings of sadness and heightened anxiety.  Then the pressure to do harm increased until our body experienced physical pain like migraines.  And then the body memories would start.  I would dissociate from my body to the point where I couldn’t feel anything my parts were doing.  Seeing the bruises and cuts, the bleeding, torn nails, etc. always surprised us.  It wasn’t until about 2 years ago, we started making the connection between dissociation and bruising.  And that only occurred because of intense therapy sessions with my current counselor to get all of my parts in communication and co-conscioussness with each other.  This way, at least some of us could be aware of what happened during a full switch or a dissociative period where none of us could connect with the one in charge.

Then came the panic attacks, the loss of coordination, the physical and mental disorientation that kept me at home because I was dizzy and shaking to hard to put on clothes.  My muscles were stiff and locked in place.  I sometimes woke up unable to move any part of my body.  The official term is sleep paralysis.  I would be sleeping and switch alters; sometimes dreaming or having a nightmare.  Other times because of a flashback.  Some alters were and still are afraid to sleep.  Bad people came in the night to hurt us.  Sometimes Mom would wake me up because she wanted someone to keep her company.  Sometimes Dad came in the morning before he went to work.  Or one of the people who paid Mom would visit me.  I would wake up because something was inside me and it hurt.  Other times, I couldn’t see or breathe and woke up choking.  I moved and turned, but it wouldn’t go away.  And then suddenly I could breathe.  And she would laugh and laugh, quietly though because she didn’t want to wake anyone else up.

And all of this happened simultaneously inside my mind while I tried to work and live  a “normal” life.  And at night when I tried to sleep.

It was dangerous for me to go out at times like that.  It’s still dangerous to go out when I feel this way.

This Time Is Different

It’s around 8:00 in the evening where I live as I write this.  The backlash started on Tuesday after my appointment with my therapist.  I noticed it happening after two periods of dissociation on public streets where strangers (an old woman and a police officer) stopped me to ask if I was okay, lost, and needed assistance to get somewhere.  That doesn’t happen often anymore; and I was lucky enough that the part in charge was able to hold a conversation and reassure the concerned citizens.  But it scared me enough to know I needed help.

I called the hotline multiple times throughout the week.  They helped me clarify my thoughts and come up with coping strategies and options to figure out what was happening.  One option was writing about it in my next post.  Another was to figure out who was experiencing the backlash and how it was manifesting.  Because none of us could figure it out.  And of course talking with the hotline is a coping strategy too.  A combined self-reflection and meditation with different parts or alters working together figured out the solution.

The backlash manifested itself as quiet, vicious, verbal self-criticism directed at the most vulnerable parts subconsciously and only came out when writing, sleeping, or dreaming.  Then I started almost “losing” important items.  And my body doubled over in pain at odd times.  I tried using the usual strategies without success.  I was desperate so I used something reserved only for weekends when I have the time to go through the whole process.

This Strategy combination doesn’t have an official name.  And if knowing how to meditate makes the practice easier.  Here is what I did:

  • I checked in with my body
  • Took care of basic needs
  • Turned on the air conditioning in my apartment to make the place cold
  • Piled thick blankets and comforters on my bed
  • Changed clothes – something comfortable and not restricting
  • Turned off all social media, radio, etc.
  • Plugged in my phone with alarms set in case I felt good enough to go to work
  • Checked my locks one more time
  • Climbed in to bed, under the covers
  • Closed my eyes
  • Let all of my parts out to play
  • Let the memories, the feelings, the sensations flood me
  • Let every voice, image, sound, texture, taste, etc. be honored
  • Listened to and watched every expression
  • Allowed alters to control body movement
  • Convinced the sleep-deprived to sleep
  • Played with fireballs, cannons, slingshots, bubbles, and ball launchers – defense against enemy intruders
  • Let them create stories and share with us

I woke up at my usual time this morning and realized the coping strategy wasn’t finished.  We all needed more time.  So I emailed in sick and went back to sleep, waking up only to take care of basic needs.

Today has been all about self care:

making myself and my parts feel safe all around, working through the triggers and feelings inside and outside, soothing the scared alters, comforting ourselves and each other, and reminding ourselves that the backlash will end.  Then we can remember, move on, and get back to living.

So today’s post is rather late.  Also, no reader’s digest this time.  How do you cope with backlash?

****for my safety and security, I do not put any personally identifying information on the website or in the posts.  This includes organization names; I use acronyms or provide web links as appropriate.*****

Introduction

Web of Benefit is a non-profit organization that provides grants to adult female survivors of domestic violence who meet the application criteria.  The organization also writes a blog and a Facebook page for anyone who wants to learn more about survivors changing their lives for the better, positive affirmations, resources, and coping strategies.

This is from their website:

Established in 2004, Web of Benefit, Inc. is a non-profit organization created by women affected by domestic violence for women escaping domestic violence. Our mission is to promote liberation from domestic violence and ensure the personal and financial independence of survivors, while breaking the inter-generational cycle of abuse. We accomplish this by awarding Self-Sufficiency Grants to women who need to create a plan for economic independence as they leave a shelter or transitional living program. Self-Sufficiency Grants provide: housing and housing stabilization; college classes; General Educational Development (GED) certification; English as a Second Language (ESL) classes; laptops for job searches and educational work; micro-business start-up costs; and transportation to attend school or job training. Upon recieving a grant, each recipient is required to “pay it forward” to three other survivors. 

Web of Benefit’s goals are:

  • To empower survivors to advance from safety, to stability, to self-sufficiency and economic independence.

  • To mentor survivors in order for them to rebuild their dreams by dreaming big and focusing small.

  • To create a realistic plan to reach each goal.

  • To create and strengthen partnerships and collaborations with agencies, foundations, corporations and private individuals to achieve our goals.

My Story

Last March I was working hard to help myself feel emotionally and physically safe.  My therapist and I had been talking about my other, more extreme, options in session; the costs and benefits of moving again, changing my name, etc. and figuring out how to disappear when my family, connections, and I lived in the same state.
One weekend before an anniversary, I was looking up resources and grants for women and survivors.  The searches left me feeling frustrated because I appeared to not meet any of the criteria for them.  So I looked up some of the key words and phrases that appeared on the criteria list again and again: victim, domestic violence, child neglect, partner rape, etc.
As I read the definitions, I thought to myself how can I meet this criteria?  I am not a victim anymore.  Does domestic violence match my situation?  It’s been over a year since I separated from my family.  I am not in a domestic violence situation anymore.  Is what they did considered domestic violence?  I am an adult, not a child.  I don’t have any proof other than my memories.  I am not a victim.
And then it hit me.  I am not a victim now.  I am a survivor.  But I was a victim.  Therefore I qualified for this help.  And the language from these grants and organizations might focus on the victim part of the equation, but victims become survivors.  So they probably help survivors too, right?
Before I could ask for help, the epiphany told me, I have to acknowledge the truth: I was a victim, and the parts of me still stuck in the past are victims.  We deserve assistance.  It’s there waiting for me, for us to reach out and ask.
inally, the criteria made sense.  And I realized there were more resources than grants available to me.  That is how I re-discovered BARCC, the organization and hotline.  Through BARCC, my advocate told me about a grant for women to help them take the first steps in achieving  their dreams.  I qualified, and my advocate filled in the program management part.
We put in the application.  I met with the organization representative for the interview.  After an hour, the representative accepted my application.  Then she explained the contract and what I had to complete within one year to keep the money.  There was only one task: to help 3 other women in similar positions (survivors trying to make a new start) with some kind of non-monetary assistance.
Part of the money went to legal fees for my name change and related paperwork.  The rest went to career counseling sessions to help me find a different career path and job that took me one step closer to achieving my dream career.

Approximate timeline

  • July 2013 I started designing this website
  • September 2013 marked my official name change, entry into the state-run address confidentiality program, and move to the new apartment
  • November 2013 marked a change in my career counseling focus: the company I work for got acquired.  The new parent company offered many opportunities, so I stayed
  • March 2015, I had all of my new identification and paperwork changed to my new name
  • May 2015, I started joining social media and decided to stop hiding
  • June 2015, I launched this website and blog – the first real step to achieving my dream
All this because the Web of Benefits representative believed in the plan I described during our interview.

More than a grant-giving organization

I provide the name of this organization because any woman in the United States who meets the criteria and has an advocate to verify the application, is eligible to receive a grant.
And while the grant-giving part of the organization is for female survivors of domestic violence (and dependents if any), the other resources are free to anyone with an Internet connection.  I have found some of my favorite affirmations and mantras on their blog and Facebook page.  And when I feel down, viewing the success stories, the poems, the artwork, and the quotes inspires me to keep moving on.

I am thankful for organizations like this.  In accepting the terms of that contract, I

  • learned to accept being a victim and a survivor; these labels are not mutually exclusive
  • became aware of how many people I encounter every day who struggle with similar obstacles
  • Realized how easily I could help someone without the fear and anxiety that came with joining an organization
Next month, is the one year anniversary and end of my contract.  More than the money, the people I met through this experience enriched my life and offered me choices I never had before.

F

Thank you so much for being there when I needed you most Web of Benefit.
If any of the readers are interested, here is the website:
Http://www.webpfbenefit.org

Reader’s Digest

Before I could take the next steps toward my goal, I had to accept being a victim as much as being a survivor.  Because victims become survivors and vice versa.  Once I got past the denial of being a victim, I was able to look at these resources from a different perspective.  One that allowed me to reach out and ask for help.  But more importantly, listen and accept that help.  Because (at least for me), finding help is the easy part.  Asking for help is not that difficult.  But accepting help, and the fact that I need help, seems impossible sometimes.  Working with these organizations has opened my eyes to the fact that many of the people who work in places like this are compassionate, accepting, and supportive of survivors and their struggles to live full lives.
Are you willing to ask for help?  Accept help?  Do you struggle with labels and not feeling like you deserve assistance?  I hope this post helps you realize that you deserve assistance and to live the life you want instead of accepting something less.

Why Safety?

Safety has been on my mind a lot because I start to feel unsafe when the memories and intrusive thoughts overwhelm me and trigger nightmares and flashbacks.  I have to find ways to remind myself that I am safe; that many of the steps I’ve taken in the last few years have been all about ensuring my safety.
And by safety, I mean physical and emotional safety.  I separated from my abusive family; cut ties with people whose presence made me feel bad about myself; learned how to create and set boundaries; moved every year for 3 years; changed my phone number multiple times; joined a state address confidentiality program; legally changed my name; learned grounding, self-care, and self-soothing techniques to help me feel present and safe; practiced DBT so my feelings stopped controlling me.
All of those tasks helped me build my confidence until I internalized two important beliefs:
1) I can keep myself safe; my parts can keep themselves safe; we can keep ourselves and each other safe by working together.
2) it’s ok to feel safe because the ones who hurt us before can’t hurt us anymore.

From Confusion to Clarity

Between 2006 and 2009, a lot of changes took place in my life:

  • I got my first real job as an adult and earned enough money to move out on my own the next year
  • My graduate school counselor took me aside one day and told me about a book called Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman
  • I read the book and realized I was a trauma survivor who probably had PTSD of some kind and needed help
  • I went out and found new doctors.  Asked those doctors for help in finding counseling
  • Started counseling with my second therapist; learned a lot about cognitive behavioral therapy, strategies for coping with anxiety, and positive self talk to help with the anorexia
  • Quit graduate school and went to work full time as an independent contractor for the job that got me out of my parents’ house
  • Had a melt down and asked my dad if I could come home; he said no I am better off in my own place.  And I got what I deserved for being arrogant and not obeying them
  • Work picked up; I moved to a better apartment in another city; stayed there for 4 years
  • Tried to be what I was before to my family when I lived at home and be my own person
  • Continued to use harmful, negative coping strategies; contemplated suicide; believed all of the terrible things my mother and sibling said about me (my father mostly ignored me except to make me do what the others wanted); and felt unsafe
  • The depression got worse; the nightmares and insomnia got worse; I started hallucinating and getting physically ill; turned out to be effects of my panic attacks and flashbacks
  • My therapist sent me for a crisis evaluation because she did not work with trauma and realized I needed more help than she could provide
  • That led to my first voluntary participation in a partial in-patient program for mental health where I learned about DBT, self-care, safety contracts, emotions, and healthy communication

And here, in this program, I finally learned what feeling safe felt like.  Judith Herman’s words about recovery being cyclical and overlapping made sense.  I wouldn’t be able to move forward until I felt safe in my mind.  After I left the program, my current therapist and I agreed it was time for me to find a different therapist, one who specialized in trauma and could help me with my next phase of recovery.

And that is how I met my current therapist.  We have been working together for 5 years now.  Most of what I learned about creating and maintaining safety comes from her.  She helped me come to the following painful realizations:
  • If I truly wanted my own life, to feel safe, recover, and be me, I had to stop denying the truth about my family and my past
  • Every time I tried to set boundaries and develop a healthier relationship with my parents and sibling, they ignored, shunned, and convinced the rest of the family to punish me for not playing the role I was born into
  • I still maintained relationships with people who treated me badly
  • Every time I went to visit with or talk to my family or connections, I came home feeling triggered and helpless; I got physically ill and increased symptoms for weeks afterward
  • There was a lot more to my trauma history than a dysfunctional family system full of abuse and scapegoating
  • My family and connections were not going to change their attitude and treatment of me no matter how much I changed
  • That my parents and sibling chose to treat me the way they did because they want to hurt me and put me down
    • mom’s bipolar disorder, refusal to take her medications, is not an excuse to abuse me
    • Dad’s anxiety and frustration, his chauvinism, is not a reason to abuse me and leave me to take care of my mother so she doesn’t bother him
  • I was never going to feel safe as long as my family and connections were part of my life
  • I had to leave it all behind and start fresh if I was going to feel safe

How I Maintain Safety

Emotional Safety:

  • Container – create a container with a lid in my mind; put anything I am not ready to deal with in there; open the container and work on items one at a time
  • Safe Space (internal) – I create a safe space in my mind that only I can access; I control who visits; the safe space is filled with colors and items that remind me of comfort, happiness, fun, etc.  each one of my parts has a safe space
  • Self-Soothing and grounding – I keep lists of reminders and favorite items like stuffed animals around me to look at, touch, and listen to whenever I start to feel unsafe
  • Mantras and positive affirmations through books, meditation, philosophy, and alternative medicine – this is a whole post in itself, maybe more.  Louise Hay, Tara Brach, Lama Surya Das, John Kabat-Zinn are the people who taught me about the power of affirmations.  Please look them up for more information
  • Cutting ties with emotionally unsafe people – I deserve to spend my time around safe people who do not lie, cheat, emotionally blackmail, shame, insult or act aggressively to me when I act and talk like myself and so do you

Physical Safety

  • Safe Spaces & Exit Plans – choose not to spend time with people who hurt me, try to make me feel bad about myself, etc.  if I do encounter people like that, have a plan in place to leave and go someplace I feel safe – for me that is the library or bookstore, work, my apartment, my therapist’s office, certain friend’s homes
  • Choosing to surround myself with people who like, respect, and accept me for who I am
  • Practicing self reflection so that I can learn who I am on the inside and what my values are; then match them to my thoughts, words, and actions
  • Remember to have compassion for myself because I am going to stumble, regress, make mistakes, and so on
  • Remember that I am in control of my life
  • Remember that I can choose to let others hurt me or I can choose the opposite even if it means letting those people go
  • Create a space in my home and at work where I feel safe and protected and able to be me

Reader’s Digest

Safety is important to recovery.  Feeling safe means different things to different people.  Not everyone has to cut ties with their family and past to feel safe. But without establishing safety first, the rest of my and anyone else’s recovery is that much harder.
What does safety mean to you?

What is an anniversary?

An anniversary is an important event or experience that brings back a flood of memories and feelings triggering anxiety, depression, or other symptoms that negatively affect an individual.  For me days like this trigger feelings of anxiety and shame among others.  My body reacts physically.  Flashbacks start to overwhelm me.  I get disoriented and start to feel hyper-vigilant more than normal.
Father’s day is one of these days.  An anniversary is personal to the survivor, so what can be an ordinary day to you is something else to me.  And the symptoms that I described in the first paragraph are not limited to the day of the event.  They can start at any time before or during the anniversary and not end for days, weeks, months afterwards.  And depending on where I am in my recovery, the symptoms change.

Who does the anniversary affect?  How?  Why?

Me.  My alters.  Anyone I interact with during the affected period. The hardest time is face to face.  Phone comes second.  Writing is not as difficult, but trickier in the sense that I have to be careful about my word choice.
When my symptoms increase, I have a hard time staying present.  I am less social.  I act in ways unlike the self most people recognize.  I speak in different tones of voice.  My body gestures/facial expressions do not match each other or my words.  I am more sensitive to triggers.  I react to people based on what is happening inside of me instead of their verbal and non-verbal cues.
This has caused me many problems and misunderstandings with friends, family, co-workers, and clients.  In the past, I blamed myself and withdrew from the world.  I dissociated and engaged in more harmful coping strategies.  Then I started therapy and counseling.  These people taught me how to express myself, how to communicate effectively, and the best ways to set boundaries.  So I have replaced most of the harmful ones with healthy ones.

Anniversary Coping Challenges for Father’s Day

  • Flashbacks (mine or my alters): I am at work on the computer.  People are walking by in the background.  A phone is ringing somewhere.   I am 5 years old hiding from the scary people who came to visit.  My Dad is angry because he  can’t find me.  My mom is having a manic episode.  He finds me, but can’t reach.  Then I see a broom handle.  I am back at work looking at my computer screen wondering what I was working on
  • Increased anxiety: my emotions are all over the place, and I have a hard time staying present.  So I start to worry about the next time I get triggered.  Will I be able to come back safely?  What happens next?
  • Hyper-vigilance: I am distracted, anxious, feeling unsafe.  So I am focused on what is happening around me suspicious of danger everywhere
  • Body memories: if you have ever experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or torture, you might have a better understanding of this.  Sometimes my flashbacks include reliving and physically re-experiencing the event through my body.  Every sensation, every pain, is happening in the present time wherever I am and can cripple me.  I’ve gone to the ER when body memories trigger panic attacks, and I double over in pain, then pass out.  It happened once at work; now I make sure I call in sick when I start to feel like that
  • Distracted: intrusive thoughts and flashbacks keep interrupting me.  I can’t control what is happening and have a hard time doing my job when I am trying to hide an increase in symptoms
  • Dissociation: the sensations and feelings are so overwhelming I start reliving my past.  My mind & body can’t handle that.  I leave my body and go someplace safe for a while.  When I come back a minute, an hour, a day, or longer could have passed.  Sometimes I remember what happened during the lost time.  Sometimes I don’t.
  • Increased switching of alters: the more stress I and my parts feel , the more often we switch personalities to help all parts cope with internal and external triggers.  We do this while working, living, and interacting with others in the outside world
  • Feelings of shame and guilt: remembering my past, talking about it, acknowledging the feelings and sensations, using positive coping strategies means going against everything I learned growing up.  So I get backlash, feelings of shame and guilt and the urge to punish or hurt myself for not keeping the secrets anymore.  I also remember what happened, being blamed for it, feeling shame because it was my fault even though my logical self knows that all parts of me do not have anything to be ashamed of.  We did what was necessary to survive
  • Sensory over load: Everything around me: sounds, scents, movement, environment, is too much.  The noise hurts my ears and head.  People moving around me is scary and confusing.  My skin is ultra-sensitive; everything itches or hurts.  My eyes hurt; vision blurry.  I want to get away someplace safe and quiet with minimal distractions.  I feel that way when I have an increase in symptoms, feel under pressure, or have difficulty practicing self care

My coping strategies

  • Increase self care: engage in physical and non-physical activities that help me feel grounded and safe in the present, i.e. Reciting affirmations, creative journaling, cuddling with my stuffed animals, wrapping myself in a blanket, using hot or cold packs to soothe painful or sensitive places
  • Increase self soothing: sleep, read a book, watch a funny movie, knit, take a hot/warm/cold shower. Take a bath, meditate, exercise, anything that comforts you without hurting you and others
  • Make sure I get lots of alone time to relax and recharge: this is NOT isolation.  I am a solitary person who enjoys spending time alone.  This is how I recharge so I can be alert and attentive when I spend time around friends and loved ones
  • Sensory grounding: I use my senses to bring me back to the present.  i.e. Look around and name all of the blue items in my view; listen and name every sound I can hear; smell candles or cook or bake something that I enjoy; eat something sour, sweet, bitter, or savory; bush your skin gently with a soft-bristled brush (current favorite)
  • Sleep hygiene: I have a routine I follow almost every night to help me relax andprepare for sleeping.  The ritual is comforting and requires me to let go any stressors to focus on my routine.  Some tasks are: changing and putting away the outfit I wore during the day; taking out an outfit for the next day; having something to drink; checking my locks; charging my phone; and putting on soothing music or sounds
  • Ask for help: I call the BARCC hotline if I feel overwhelmed or unsure because the above strategies are less effective than usual and I am not sure what to do next.  This hotline is specifically for survivors of sexual trauma, but there are others for specific issues like depressions, suicide, eating disorders, etc.
Before, I used to give in to the urges to hurt myself and then beat myself up over it later.  Now, I call the 24 hour hotline at BARCC and ask for help making a clear choice.  Sometimes I still have to use a strategy I consider borderline or harmful.  The difference is that I do not punish myself or any parts of me who use them.

Reader’s Digest

There are many types of anniversaries.  For trauma survivors, many anniversaries bring back difficult memories and feelings.  My memories of Father’s Day used to be all bad.  Now they are mixed.  I remember the good with the bad.  Part of that comes from working with my therapist.  Part comes with time.  The rest comes from learning positive ways of coping with my internal feelings and memories so I do not hurt myself, my alters, or anyone on he outside.  I wanted to learn, to not let my past control me.  I still make mistakes, use a strategy that is not quite healthy or positive sometimes.  It happens.  Accept that sometimes any coping strategy is better than not using one at all.  And some day, with hard work, I will be able to replace them with healthy, positive, safe coping strategies.
I hope some of these coping strategies can help you.

The Trigger

The most difficult part of my recovery is working with Shame.  Multiple times a year, these feelings sneak up on me when I have flashbacks and linger in the unconscious part of my mind.  They spread out, overpowering my logic and current perspectives of self and life until I start acting out my shame without even realizing it.  The alters who still struggle with the difference between now and then, who have difficulty separating past from present are the most affected and easily triggered by these feelings.  My child alters, adolescent alters, and protective alters are members of the internal family system who prefer not to interact with “outside people” often so are not noticed as much at work or out with friends.
But they are always with me.  We communicate inside, sometimes with words, sometimes with images or sensations.  And when I am struggling internally trying to work with different alters to help the ones in distress cope while maintaining a balance, I withdraw from friends and co-workers.  I start over-explaining and apologizing.  My appetite disappears.  I feel like crying all the time.  I wear shapeless, baggy clothes in the wrong colors for my skin tone.  I feel worthless, guilty, embarrassed.  My stomach hurts.  Talking past the lump in my throat becomes impossible.  I feel tired all the time.  My sleeping habits become irregular.  I get food cravings.  I feel angry with myself.  The flashbacks get worse.  My mind gets draped in a suffocating fog to the point where I feel lost and lonely and helpless.
Sound familiar?  LIke maybe depression?  For me, this is the first step into depression.  And I keep spiraling down, turning the negative emotions inside, hurting myself, until something jolts me out of the fog.

Facing Facts: acknowledging the downward spiral

Something like an interaction with a person; an experience surrounded by strangers; an expedition through my coping strategies tool box while at home; a flashback; a comment from one of my alters.  Something pulls me out of the sensation of overwhelming feelings and turmoil inside and back to reality.  That’s when I realize what is happening.  That’s when the guilt and a different kind of shame flood my mind and body triggering other memories and feelings.  All have to be acknowledged before I and my parts can free ourselves from the tangled web of shame and guilt to figure out and work through the source.

Who am I?

I am a survivor of long term domestic violence and various forms of abuse at the hands of family, friends and others from childhood to young adulthood.  Ten years ago, I started the recovery process.  Two and a half years ago, I finally separated from my abusers and am safe.  Now my focus is on life after recovery because, while recovery is a process I am still going through, my focus is more on living and thriving than merely surviving.

What is recovery, and what does it mean?

On this blog, recovery means reclaiming one’s life after experiencing trauma or traumatic events that impact and alter one’s life in negative ways.  For me specifically, this means domestic violence and abuse that caused complex posttraumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder.

What does life after recovery mean?

Life after recovery is that special place where a survivor can focus on putting her life back together, focus on living and thriving instead of surviving.  It means making friends, going back to school, building relationships, achieving goals, travel, dream jobs, financial security, having fun, or whatever your definition of living is to you.

So why this blog now?

Part of my recovery coping strategies and one of my values is being able to help others.  This blog is a safe place for me to write about and share my knowledge and experience with recovery and finding resources with others looking for help, and the website allows me to offer a safe place to find other kinds of resources (i.e. books, website links, hotline phone numbers, resource centers) for help, recovery, coping, and survival.  These resources come from my personal library or are recommended to me by trusted medical professionals.

The Reader’s Digest Version:

Welcome to the blog and website.  It offers a safe place for trauma survivors looking for help and resources related to recovery and life after recovery.  I am a survivor, not a medical professional, so these resources are options to be used in conjunction with professional help, not medical advice and therapy.  In the blog, I share my personal experiences with recovery and life after recovery from complex posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder and related topics.  Some might help, some might not.  Please use what you can and disregard the rest.