Archives for the month of: October, 2015

This week is a bit crazy for me.  I hate Halloween.  So do my alters.  It brings back terrible memories and causes all kinds of stress.  So we decided to post early just in case something distracts us from the usual routine.

What is Solitude?

My alters and I consider solitude an essential part of our self-care.  It is dedicated personal time (or quiet time) every day where all of us get to be alone at home or in a safe place to recharge and rest.  The environment is low stimulation, and we get to choose to be together or by ourselves in our safe spaces.  We can sleep the whole time, cook, bake, knit, etc.  But, essentially, it is our body/self away from other people and living beings and able to relax any way we want by choice.  And we stay connected via telephone, email, text messaging, social media, etc.  And if we want to go out, we do.  Another part of solitude comes from being busy at work and wanting to focus on the tasks at hand so do not interact with others as much.  Finally, sometimes we are busy taking care of our inside world when we are flooded.  On those occasions, we turn inward for short periods of time to take care of ourselves and each other and seem distracted or distant from everyone else.

What is Isolation?

Isolation for us is deliberately avoiding people, relationships, interaction with others because of fear (even if the fear is not recognizable at the time).  It means staying closed off from people and connections instead of making friends or being active in ways that we used to enjoy.  It means not reaching out or asking for help because that stops us from ever being rejected or failing or being hurt again.  Isolation means staying at home and not doing anything fun or enjoyable; not relaxing or recharging; not practicing self-care.  But mostly, Isolation means hiding from life.  Because if we avoid being part of life, we can’t fail again.

Why is one Positive and the other Negative?  How can one tell?

My therapist says I can tell if solitude or isolation are helpful if I feel better after practicing it.  And harmful if I feel more anxious or frustrated with myself and my environment because I am letting my past keep me from doing what I want to do.

Solitude is essential because it gives me time with my alters and by myself – time for us to not have to hide from the rest of  the world – so we can act as we please and switch as often as we like and hold conversations with each other without having strangers look at us like we’re crazy for having conversations with invisible people.

Sometimes solitude slips into isolation because I am mildly agoraphobic and cannot leave my residence when I have intense panic attacks, flashbacks, body memories, or triggers going on inside.  The safest thing for me to do is stay inside and practice self-care.  One day or one weekend by choice is fine.  3 days or 4 days because I am afraid to be seen even though I am in a safe neighborhood but want to go out is a form of isolation.  This usually occurs during holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc.

Conclusion

A lot of self reflection and thought helped me understand that I have an introverted personality.  This means I get my energy by having dedicated alone time at regular intervals – for me at least an hour every day.  This does not mean I prefer not to be around people or parties or events.  It doesn’t mean I am not talkative or friendly or a people person or shy.  it does mean I prefer small groups to large crowds; interesting and deep conversations to chitchat and small talk; being around people I know and feel safe with instead of a crowd of strangers.  It also means I like being alone as much as I like being around people – sometimes more than I like being around people.

Being a trauma survivor has made me reserved and skeptical of people; not comfortable in strange environments or crowds of people; feel unsafe around strangers or anyone who sets of my internal alarms; and need to not feel trapped anywhere ever.  It has taught me to appreciate having a safe space or haven to go home to – one that is completely mine and under my control so I don’t have to worry about enemies intruding on my boundaries and taking what’s mine.

The line between isolation and solitude can be thin sometimes.  But it exists.  And when I go too far in one direction or another, my friends and support network are around to help pull me out.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, I honestly believe everyone can use a little personal time to take care of themselves.

It’s fall in the United States.  Except for the South and desert areas, this means cold weather, lots of wind, and having to winterize living spaces.

Last year we all moved into a new apartment with big bay windows and skylights (third floor under the roof) that provided amazing views with lots of sun.  The bad news was that it also made the apartment super cold and drafty.  For the first time, we put up plastic window covers all by ourselves.  It was so scary, that we messed up pretty bad and had to redo them a couple times.  Two windows, by the way, were 5′ wide by 4,.5′ long (5.5 including space for the sill).  The third window was about 3.5′ wide and just as long.  They are also placed about 3 feet above the floor so we had to use a ladder and a travel blow drier to do this.

But I did it.  So did everyone else who participated.  And we learned what not to do for next year.  The skylights are more problematic because they are set in.  Our solution – diy blackout or thermal curtains.  It works so far for lower ones in the bedroom.  If the living room gets too cold, and our heating bill goes up again, a team of us will cut/sew/attach the sheer thermal curtains to those too.  Not that anyone is looking forward to it – putting those up requires our body to be standing close to the top of a 6′ ladder the whole time – because some are afraid of heights.  And sewing is a major trigger for the child/adolescent parts.

But we got the first part of winterizing finished today.  The first window we did was the bedroom one.  Thought it worked well.  But a week later, part of it fell off.  Had to stick it back on, find the hole, and repair a hole side and corner.  But it’s working now.  Yesterday, we tried a different process and ended up shrinking a side too much; it left a 6 inch gap that had to be fixed with extra tape and plastic.  Took so long, we had to stop and get a snack even though the instructions say not to.  And it was frustrating and tiring; 3 hours holding a travel blow drier and shrinking wrapping plastic around a window is not fun.  So after we finished, we fell asleep.  Instead of waking up unhappy and upset, we woke up feeling good and hungry.

No one planned to work on the third window today.  We had other things to do like cooking, laundry and preparing for work.  But as the day passed, we realized that the window had to get finished today if we wanted to keep the electricity bill down.  The last two successes had our confidence up.  And we remembered to eat big before starting.  And kept a drink nearby too.  We started in a different direction and knew what to look for to prevent problems before they appeared.  That meant, everything except one area went as planned.  Yay!  And even that section did not cause triggers or anxiety or frustration this time.

Lessons we learned:

  1. Do one window a day or a week
  2. Eat first.  And keep a drink handy
  3. Start and finish in daylight if possible
  4. Take our time and check for gaps as we shrink the plastic
  5. Keep extra plastic and tape around to plug the holes
  6. Take a break if you need it
  7. Then go back and fix the rest of the loose parts
  8. Nothing is perfect.  Expect to make repairs

Conclusion: small successes build on each other.  Each success adds to the feelings of competence and confidence.

Doing this last window felt so good, other alters were able to fix the blackout curtains in the bedroom to keep more heat in and get the room to stay darker too.  And so the first part of apartment winterizing is finished.

Not much to write today.  The quote from Web of Benefit pretty much says it all.

Whatever happens, I hope you all take a small step towards the life you deserve.

Introduction

Part of my recover that has not discussed here before is the anorexia nervosa.  While our mind has recovered to the point where we do not practice anymore, our body has not.  Under stress or floods of flashbacks, it reverts back to what it knows to handle the stress, relieve the pain of backlash, or let the rest of us know something is wrong.  It starts slow in the subconscious.  We are not as hungry and thirsty.  Do not have to use the bathroom as much.  Crave foods we normally don’t want.  Not want to eat foods we normally enjoy.  Feel tired.  Start skipping meals.  Stop drinking as much fluids.  Have trouble sleeping.  Forget to eat.  Feel physically weak.  Lose weight.

Realization and Facing Facts

And that is when we realize something is happening.  Something not good.  Only none of us are actively practicing anorexia; consciously restricting or starving ourselves; over exercising or using laxatives on purpose.  It used to confuse everyone and make us question whether or not we are in remission/recovery for the eating disorder.

Around this time, different alters start panicking; others start putting the recovery plan into place; and one or more email/call the dietitian for assistance.  As we start to gain weight, parts of our body bloat and look “fat” while others do not change.  Usually it’s our abdomen and stomach that bloats.  Sometimes our lower back.  The bloating is normal as our body tries to protect and heal our organs while we start the weight gain process.

Problem is, not everyone in our system is aware that the bloating is normal.  Or that it happens when bodies get activated too.  Because the anorexia combined with physical abuse damaged a lot more internal organs than can be accounted for or diagnosed by current medical science.  The bloating triggers us into flashbacks and nightmares related to negative body image, sexual abuse, etc.  It makes everyone want to lose weight again on purpose to make the “fat” go away.  Or try extreme dieting again.  And when the bloat doesn’t go away, we are confused.  Because nothing that we use to cope with anorexia is working.

Conclusion

This is happening right now.  Our whole abdomen from below the rib cage all the way down past our stomach is bloated with a cushion of water.  It looks and acts like fat.  It makes our clothes fit funny by giving us a muffin top.  And just this weekend we realized that the bloat is not going to go away until the memories and related internal damage are healed.  This could be a while.  And it will take some research and experimentation to figure out what coping strategies and resources will help.  Has this ever happened to you?  How did you cope?

Background

In past posts, I’ve talked about boundaries and my view of relationships in general being finite or having an inevitable end.  Growing up, I never had boundaries; did not know they existed.  As an adult in therapy, I learned about boundaries.  I learned how they are created and why they keep me safe.  I also learned that boundaries keep the people around me safe too.  These lessons also taught me that maintaining and respecting boundaries goes both ways.

An individual cannot expect others to respect his or her boundaries if she or he does not respect others’ boundaries.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of boundaries or understands how healthy and important having/mainlining boundaries is for a balanced life.  Abusers and perpetrators hate boundaries and do everything they can to ignore them or make them disappear.  Boundaries are invisible protection that keeps abusers and perpetrators from getting or doing what they want to their victims.  Boundaries help build resilience to bullies and other forms of intimidation too.

This is why I did not have boundaries growing up.  And any time I tried to set and enforce boundaries, the abusers in my life punished me; ignored and violated them anyways; pretended to understand and then undermined my efforts; and all around made it clear that I could have them in my life on their terms or keep my boundaries and be rejected by them and everyone else.

Boundaries and Friendships

As a child, adolescent and young adult, I wasn’t allowed to develop and maintain real friendships with anyone.  So my view of any relationship was based on the ones I had with my family (description above).  So I behaved with people I wanted to be friends with the same way I did with family.  That meant a lot of people thought I was nice, malleable, sweet, and easy to manipulate/take advantage of.  When they got to know me and realized I was not really malleable, sweet, or a pushover, I got rejected.  That would trigger me into flashbacks and shame and panic attacks; reinforcing the lessons and negative self image from childhood.

So, on one hand I knew I would always lose friends because there was something wrong with me.  On the other hand, I never knew what I did or what happened to cause the break in friendships and other relationships.  And when I asked, no one told me.  Or people would say I am too pushy, that I don’t respect them, that I am annoying and do care about their feelings.  Which confused me more because on the inside, the secret places no one else at the time got to see, I did care – maybe too much – and truly want to help and understand what was going on.

It wasn’t until I started sessions with my current therapist that I realized part of the problem was switching personalities whenever I got stressed out.  My alters and I have been working together for a long time even if we haven’t always been in direct communication with each other.  One of our greatest strengths is being able to assess a situation and switch personalities so that the one best qualified to handle the stress is in charge.  And the lightning changes in mood and personality can be hard for others to handle especially when the typical dominant personality is unaware that any of this is is happening.

Epiphany and Conclusion

Three weeks ago, a long time friendship got thorny.  He was upset because of something that had me reinforcing my boundaries.  On a personal front, he was having difficulties and under a lot of stress even if he wouldn’t admit to it.  That led some of our discussions to be fraught with anxiety on my part because I never knew if something I said would cause him to blow up at me.  And later, whenever I was happy about something and went to share with him, he would say something negative or in such a way that it sounded complimentary but was actually insulting or shame inducing and had me questioning my choices.

And when he started ignoring me and being rude, I realized that he expected me to come over and apologize for reinforcing my boundaries and being myself.  That irritated me and made me feel angry.  I realized then, that I was not going to apologize for being myself.  And I was okay with him acting childish because I didn’t let him walk all over me.  But then I was worried about why I wasn’t triggered.  But I had other things on my mind.  Like deadlines, troubleshooting other issues with my work, packing and going on vacation, etc.  So I put this away for a while and waited to see what would happen.

This week, back at work, nothing has changed with his attitude.  But something changed inside me.  I realized that our friendship was over.  And that it ended because I protected myself by reinforcing my boundaries in a polite way instead of backing down and letting him have his way.  This felt good because I did not get triggered into shame.  I got triggered into confusion and anxiety because my parts were confused and worried about how this would affect mutual friendships, etc.  It also got us thinking about past relationships and why they ended.

The reason was always the same: I stood up for myself (or an alter stood up for us) and maintained a boundary the other person kept violating.  And that person got mad and walked away.

Because as much as I don’t mind being flexible and accommodating, I will eventually reach a point where I (or an alter) take a stand.  Sometimes I lose my temper and get angry.  Other times, I simply let my actions speak for me.  And I continue to treat the person as always.

So I have to ask myself (and the alters), is this really rejection and loss of friendship?  Or is this removing unsafe people from my life?

“No, it doesn’t.  This kind of secret hurts.  It crawls inside you and eats at you.  It makes you scared, and it makes you guilty.  The ones who want it to be secret use that – the guilt, the fear, the shame.  The only way you can fight back is to tell.  Tell me who raped you.” ~ Lieutenant Eve Dallas to a murder witness from Naked in Death by J. D. Robb.

In this book, the murderer is a powerful politician who also happens to be the first victim’s grandfather and the witness’s father.  It was first published in 1996, two years before I read it and the other four books available in the series at the time.  As I think back to 1999, I realize that a lot happened to change my perspective and my future choices between 1998 and 1999.

I had my first big rebellion that year.  My closest aunt died of cancer in spring of 1999.  One week later, I took my SATs.  The nightmares got worse.  I started having intense abdominal and knee pain that made me physically ill and miss a lot of school.  The rebellion ended, and I started taking driving lessons.

Then I read that book.  And my world turned upside down.  But I did not realize it at the time.  All I knew was that the rage and grief from my aunt’s death let out monsters in my mind.  And those monsters sometimes took over and used my body to rage against the world.  It was high school, though, so everyone blamed the mood swings and lightning changes to hormones from a 16 year old.

But those words haunted me.  I tried to find someone to talk to.  But the grief counselor didn’t help much.  And the donors did not like what she was bringing out in me.  As for everyone else, they wanted to hide me until I stopped blurting out whatever was on my mind when certain topics came up – topics that had a pat response to uphold and polish the family image – and embarrassing everyone.

The one thing I do remember my aunt telling me before she died had to do with security.  She told me that I had to do well in school instead of laughing it off.  Get a job that pays well and offers benefits and security so no one can take that away from me. She didn’t, got C’s and D’s and skated her way through college and grad school.  When her divorce was final, the only thing that kept her afloat and had the judge rule custody in her favor was her professional degree and years of working before she stopped to raise her kids.  She knew, even if she never admitted it out loud, what happened to me at home.

So I switched my concentration in high school from art and biology to chemistry and pharmacy.  Not that it did much good.  But the advice came in handy when I made my escape 13 years later.

I just had to share this Facebook post from Web of Benefit.  It applies to anyone who writes, not just writers.

Reposted from: Web of Benefits 

“Your words have more power than you could ever imagine. They’re the origin of your internal and external experience. They’re not the effect. Change your words and watch your life change as well.
Whenever I feel that tinge of “I can’t,” I change my words and quickly, both my internal perspective and my outside world shift. Being conscious of my words has been incredibly powerful.
Here are 10 things you tell yourself that may be stopping you from achieving your dreams.” 
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14359/10-excuses-that-are-keeping-you-from-your-dreams.html 

Connecting it all

For me and the alters in our system, matching my insides and outsides means developing, strengthening, and expressing who I really am from the inner foundations to the outer physical representations the rest of the world uses to judge people.

I did not start to heal from past hurts until I was able to figure out who I was and what I valued.  The answers to those two questions became the foundation for who I am now.  Without them, I would not have had the courage to accept my alters; let alone leave my family and start fresh in another city.

Lies by themselves are neutral.  I truly believe that because words without context and emotions lack coherent meaning.  Even neutral though, lies can cause more damage than help.  Deception means hiding, causing misdirection on purpose and indicates a lack of trust in some part of the relationship.

“I don’t want to hurt his/her/your feelings” means I don’t trust you / me to respect or accept my honest feelings and opinions about the topic; answers to the question.  Or I am afraid you are going to be insulted  and mean to me if I am honest so I will tell you what you want to hear.  Or I don’t really care about you and am going to tell you something to hurt you and make me feel better because I pulled one over you.  Or I can’t let you feel good about anything because your happiness is a threat to me; you are competition and have to be put down so I feel powerful and stay in control of you.  You are not allowed to have confidence and your own opinions because I own you and am in control of you; you are not a person.  You are everything I hate about myself in another body.

That is how I was raised.  That is the story of my childhood, adolsecent, and young adult experiences with everyone in my world at the time.  It is how I believed everyone interacted with everyone else until I got to college.

And acting like that; telling those lies; being who I was expected to be instead of who I was made me ashamed of myself.  The self-hatred and anger were so strong that I started punishing myself in elementary school.  By middle school, I had full-blown anorexia nervous and had attempted suicide twice.  Once by starvation.  Once by suffocation.The last time I attempted suicide and almost succeeded was in college, just after I turned 21 and before I started sessions with the first therapist.

She helped me learn to like and respect myself by finding ways to allow me the freedom to live my values.  I stopped lying on purpose that year.  The only exception being for survival.  Even though I hated myself for lying to survive and punished myself afterwards, I still lied to stay alive.  

Eleven years later, I can honestly say that I love myself and all of my parts.  And I don’t punish myself for lying to survive as often.  Some day that will become “do not punish anymore”

Coping is difficult when the negativity and doubts being you down.  

Recovery feels impossible as long as you feel like you don’t deserve it.

But you do deserve recovery.  So do I.  So does every survivor of any kind of trauma. 

This is my idea of recovery:

To live a full life on my terms.  No one else’s.  To thrive and not let my past make present and future decisions for me.

That dream is what I want for all survivors too.  So I share my personal struggles with wanting to be a genuine person 100% of the time with every individual and still protect myself.

What about you?

FYI, this post looks different because I am posting from a mobile app

Making Changes in Secret

In the last post, my alters and I shared some of our values and hopes of what type of individual we strive to be.  Those hopes and beliefs were shared for the following reasons:

  1. To remind readers that not everything on this blog will be welcome or liked or read; the topics are chosen with care and how important they have been to our recovery with the hope that some part will help others too
  2. To reassure guests that this website and blog will remain a safe place for survivors and connections to read, learn, explore, and respond without negative, critical, shaming, or abusive responses.  The Blog Rules are enforced so anyone who disagrees or dislikes the content here, please leave and forget this URL
  3. Anything shared here is for examples and explanation only.  We hope that readers and guest understand this and DO NOT COMPARE THEMSELVES OR THEIR CHOICES TO OURS and come up with negative or disparaging or shameful conclusions
  4. Part of the process is learning to be selective about what we read so our hope is that readers will learn this too and be able to protect themselves from blogs and bloggers whose posts make their instincts tingle

Without explaining this first, the rest of the post might not make sense.

Secret Explorations

The donors, or parents, gave us a lot of medicine and used different kinds of abuse at the same time to control every aspect of our lives when we lived with them.  Room searches took place all the time.  The sibling got rewarded for listening to phone conversations and tattling.  Every family member, friend, and connection had to go through one of them to get to us and vice versa because no one wanted to talk to us directly.  They disliked and hated and looked down on is because of all the stories the donors told them over the years.

Talking about recovery and therapy brought silence and lies and doubt about how it was helping not hurting us.  The donors set and sprang traps by putting us in situations designed to cause panic attacks and loss of temper (anger management issues) that reinforced everyone’s negative opinions of us. So talking about changes were not safe to do.

The first therapist had one goal for us: rebuild our foundations to develop a solid sense of self

She gave us homework and puzzles to do in private.  Then we discussed the results in session.  I did not know it then, but all of the challenges were strategies in CBT.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) challenged my beliefs about myself and the world around me.  That is when parts started communicating again.  Reminding me and anyone else in charge that this might not work because we aren’t safe.  

Got to keep it a secret.  

Not having a personality is safer.  

Not having an opinion is safer.

Can’t practice at home or at work or the martial arts school or around family.  Where to practice?

Do this on the inside and forget about the body and everything going on on the outside?

Practice at the library?  Or at school?  At work?  If any of us believed in organized religion and weren’t afraid of joining groups, church and temple and other religious institutions?

If we had the money, our own apartment?

It was easy to hide the changes in the beginning.  All we did was argue and fight and contradict and question ourselves and each other.  That is when the therapist had us start making lists – pro/con lists; priority lists; plus/minus lists; word association lists – to help us organize our thoughts.  The lists were never written down; a room search or car search would have revealed the secret.

Moving out and living alone gave us the opportunity to practice being ourselves and discovering our values safely.  Finding a job that no one in the family had connections in gave me opportunities to be myself around people without any preconceived opinions.  I did not have to hide my skills and strengths; and the professionals around me taught me better interpersonal skills by example.

But moving out; getting this job; experiencing the pleasure of being ourselves without punishment made wearing the masks in the rest of our lives frustrating and angry and anxiety-provoking to the point of going back to depression and hopeless feelings.

Conclusion

Part 2 explains why matching the insides and outsides are so important to us.  The examples of our goals in Part 1 are meant to be examples of how what is inside each individual can be completely different from what the outside presents to the outside world.  We hope the examples of how we managed to experiment and build our foundation in secret her explain why we chose to share certain values and not others at this time.

Introduction

Part of my recovery has been to discover who I am and what I believe in.  Most of my past has been spent living behind masks for survival.  Who I showed the world did not match who I was on the inside.  None of my alters had voices or advocates.  There was not a single safe way to express our real self and be accepted, let alone respected for being different.  And that caused a lot of anger, shame, resentment, and hurt.

About eight years ago, I started reading about the authentic self movement.  It talked about being genuine and taking a path of self-reflection to discover one’s inner values; then changing thoughts and behaviors to live up to those values.  Because not living up to one’s values was the root of guilt, shame, resentment, and self-hatred among other negative emotions.  And living up to one’s values helps individuals feel better about themselves, builds confidence and positive reactions to situations, and fosters self-respect.

If we like and respect ourselves, others will to.  The opposite is also true.

What are Values?

I understand “Values” to be an individual’s internal belief system – ethics, morals, rules or guidelines to live by – that helps him or her live the life he or she wants.  And by “what he or she wants”, I do not mean material or financial wants.  I mean spiritual, emotional, and physical life.  Here are some examples of my values:

  • To not be like the people who raised me
  • To love, respect, accept myself and every living being with all of my pluses and minuses
  • To always and intentionally treat people the way I want to be treated with friendliness, respect, and honesty no matter how they treat me, themselves, or other people
  • To value the opinions and feedback from others (especially loved ones) and use that information to help me make my own informed decisions
  • To make the best choices possible for myself based on the information I have and accept the consequences
  • To learn from my mistakes instead of living with regrets and grudges
  • To have compassion and empathy for myself, my parts, and other living beings
  • To use the skills I’ve learned to foster open, honest communication with people so that misunderstandings can be prevented
  • To walk away from people who intentionally hurt me or others as a way to make themselves feel better
  • To choose to spend my time around people who like and respect me as I am instead of who they want me to be
  • To have zero tolerance for bullies and abusive people
  • To speak up and advocate or fight for what I believe in using words and actions without violence or meanness
  • To use whatever means necessary to survive and not feel shame or guilt about lying, physically hurting another person, etc.

Making Changes, Keeping Secrets

If you’ve read past posts, you understand that making these changes in public would had put all of us in danger.  You probably know that many of our plans from that time were executed in secret.  It’s not that difficult to do if you spend a lot of time living inside your mind like we did.  It’s more difficult for those who live mostly on the outside.  Or for individuals who have a lot of contact with unsafe (abusers) people in their daily lives.  Next post discusses options and plans.

Thanks for reading