Archives for the month of: January, 2016

Introduction

I am re-reading one of my favorite book series right now.  It’s called World of the Lupi (WOTL) by Eileen Wilks.  This series is different from some others I have mentioned.  For example, the female main character in the series is an American born Chinese homicide detective turned FBI agent.  The male main character is a werewolf (lupus) who is second in command of his clan and the public face of his people in a magic-hating, werewolf-fearing society.  The series starts in San Francisco, California and moves all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

In each book, magical crimes are committed; a mystery has to be solved; a thorny personal life involving the melding of two different cultures has to be navigated; and another clue about who is trying to take over the world as they know it is revealed.  The path to find answers requires the main and supporting characters to utilize traditional and non-traditional resources like history, the elderly, messages from deities, and faith.  Their journey to discovery is what continues to bring me in every time.

Meaning of the Title

Yesterday, as I re-read book 5, I came across an interesting quote:

“‘Grandmother says that parents are trying to raise temslevels all over again, repair the things their own parents did wrong.’  Grandmother said it in Chinese, and more eloquently.  But that’s what she meant.” ~ Lily Yu to Rule Turner

This had me thinking about my family and the families of other survivors.  Does the saying apply to abusers too?  What are they trying to fix by hurting their victims?  Do the abusers realize who they are hurting and why?  Does that matter?  And how do victims choose to continue the cycle or step away from it?

I never wanted to be like the people who gave birth to and raised me; neither did my parts.  Their actions and words influenced many of my choices.  At a crossroads or point of uncertainty, I’d ask myself: “What would Mom do?  What would Dad do?  How would my aunts/uncles/cousins/brother act and react?”  And then I chose to do or say the opposite even when doing so got me into more trouble and brought on more abuse.

Conclusion

My alters and I are fairly certain that we don’t want to have children.  The genetic material that created me is tainted in some way.  I promised myself a long time ago that I would not perpetuate the cycle by continuing the family line.  That does not mean adoption and foster care are out of the question.  In this case, I and my alters are confident that we could create a safe, nurturing environment without abuse to raise children if we wanted to.  But I don’t trust my genetic inheritance.

And maybe that is what the quote means.  Adults don’t want to do to their children what their parents did to them.  And since everyone is raised differently, the “do to their children” means something different to every parent and guardian.

Either way, I’d like to feel some confidence that I have the time, resources, support network, strength, and endurance to raise a child before I take on a responsibility like that.  Meaning, children and family are a nice dream, but probably not likely in this life time.  I am still busy figuring out how to take care of myself to be a good provider and caregiver.

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Introduction

I started this blog eleven years into my recovery.  Many of the worst symptoms were reduced to manageable levels or stopped.  It felt good because I was emotionally stable and grounded in spite of constant physical pain.  Being grounded meant being able to take a look at my life and examine the true causes of my issues with perspective.  Then I could to make concrete changes about my beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors so that my lifestyle and my personality matched my values.

On one hand, I made myself stronger and safer.  On the other hand, the pressure to go back to what I was before got worse.   Overt actions and behaviors legitimized the thoughts and fears that I had (before) dismissed as false lies.  The actual lies were me believing my family and connections loved, protected, respected, accepted, and did not abuse me.  Denial had been a great coping strategy for many years, but not so much as I moved forward.  I needed tools to help me face my past and present then safely cope with the sensations so that my past did not control my present or future anymore.

Relapse and Circle Back

The trauma specialist helped me learn other ways to process recovered memories and keep myself safe during bad flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks.  One significant breakthrough was acknowledging my alters as real.  That happened after a relatively unhelpful month-long stay in a partial program.  It had been my first experience being a conscious observer when I switched personalities (even though I don’t know what I or anyone else said), and I was scared.  I thought I was truly going crazy and that my symptoms had increased again to the point of not being able to follow through on my escape plans.

2011 was the year I decided to leave my current life and disappear (as much as one can while living in the same small state).  But family and connections wouldn’t leave me alone.  They found ways to bring me back in (including death of a family member) and try to control me.  I thought I could disappear on my own.  Had planned very carefully where to move, etc.  But then I relapsed with anorexia; my nightmares increased; I stopped sleeping; lost weight; had more panic attacks and hallucinations; heard voices and lost control of my body sometimes.  And got scared every time I saw my grandmother’s name pop up on my phone screen.

Try Again

Eventually, I moved into a different space.  That apartment was exactly what I wanted except for the mice and the noise.  I tried using a self-trained service animal to help with PTSD.  They are legitimate and helpful with the right training, resources, and support network.  Mine was a disaster waiting to happen because I lacked the resources and support network.  The puppy went to a new home and is very happy now.  I learned valuable lessons about my own strengths, weaknesses, ability to trust, and symptom management.

The mice were something I just couldn’t live with.  My apartment didn’t feel safe anymore.  If mice could enter my apartment any time, who knows what else could get in or be there.  And I learned that many of my neighbors were either friends of my sibling/cousins/relations or not safe to be around; they set off my instincts in a bad way.  And so started my three years of moving as I tried to find a safe place to live that was also on public transportation.

Each new place I moved to taught me about resilience and self-reliance.  For a little while (usually a few months at a time), I felt safe enough to relax and show my real self.  It’s not a self that many people were comfortable with and refused to accept.  That taught me to examine my relationships with the rest of the people in my life and the types of people I was drawn to at the time.  I realized I sought out relationships with people who treated me like my family did.  That disturbed me a lot.  The trauma specialist understood my concern; she provided me with terms and book references so that I could learn more on my own.  Those references were handy distractions from nightmares while also teaching me new coping strategies.

I was still under weight and having panic attacks, but not relapsed anymore.  The anxiety was lessening, and I was sleeping more.  Until one day I got a message from a mutual friend or maybe my godfather (hard to remember) told me my only living grandparent was in the hospital. A few phone calls through the hospital switchboard made me feel so unsafe I stopped sleeping for days.  Then came nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, dissociation, a cold, and many weekends of lost time when I passed out and slept from exhaustion or overload.

Reaching Out

That’s when I realized I needed more help.  I had to face some more hard truths and then take action.  One was telling my god father that I couldn’t maintain contact with him anymore.  Another was acknowledging I was a victim of domestic violence before and am both a victim and a survivor now.  Finally, I wasn’t helping myself by keeping quiet when I felt like someone was treating me poorly.  All it did was trigger anger, flashbacks, and self-harm.  So I did what I always do in times like this: read and research information.

That is when I rediscovered the hotline and the relocation project.  Both resources helped me find emotional stability and physical safety as I started the process to change my name, move someplace in the state no one would think to look for me, and get away from the people from my past harassing me on behalf of their relationship with past connections.  That was 2014.  And I was finally safe.

My alters and I had learned to communicate and cooperate enough that daily life was more tolerable.  The nightmares and flashbacks lessened.  I was eating normally and healthy again.  Only had issues when I went to work; and most of those were because of location not the workplace.

Having a safe haven to go to at the end of the combined with asking my supervisor for help with work issues made all the difference in feeling safe.  For the last two years, I have felt happier than I can remember.  Safe, content, and only having to deal with triggering people in the city made life so much better.  Enough that I started reaching for dreams (like this website and blog) again.

Going Back

After three months of documenting different coping challenges and experiences here on the blog, I realized that I wasn’t just “sick with a cold”.  The symptoms I felt: chest pain, sinus pain and stuffiness, sleep deprivation, ears clogged, headaches and migraines were exactly what I lived with until 2009/2010 when I went to my first partial program and then started seeing a trauma specialist.

It was caused by what I call a cascade of stressful and triggering events or experiences that cause adrenaline rushes and crashes without leaving any recovery time to process what happened (or a cascade).

On the good side, I know this will go away.  My alters know this will go away too.  On the bad side, none of us remember or know how to cope with this unless we use negative coping.  And that is not an option.  So here I am with my alters in a relatively happy and safe place full of positive changes and experiences suffering from physical reactions to stress again.

Conclusion

Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, reminds the reader of this throughout her book.  Neither I nor my alters are sure how to cope.  We do the best we can and are transparent with each other when one is having more difficulty than others.  The ones who work are transparent with the supervisor and co-workers, letting them know that symptoms have increased and we might need some temporary accommodations until they pass.  Best we can do is practice self-care, self-soothing, reclaim our personal time, and try to re-establish emotional/physical/spiritual safety on the inside and outside.

Summary of Part 1

In Part 1, we provided examples of situations, conflicts, coping challenges, coping strategies, and possible solutions for addressing triggers and anxiety in the whole DID system.  Many of the strategies were combinations of coping techniques previously discussed on the blog.  Some were new and probably scary-sounding to readers.  Either way, it was a lot of information condensed into one post.

The main point of that post was: sometimes coping challenges require us to step outside of our comfort zones and be brave in order to find calm again.  That means observing the internal struggle like a third party and finding ways to address each trigger on its own.

When people say “multitasking isn’t possible; scientific research…”

We don’t know about you or anyone else who visits here, but the quote above is one of our most hated ones.  Too often, people would tell us to stop, slow down, do one at a time.  Multitasking makes things worse not better.  And how can we tell those educators or family members or co-workers, etc. that we are doing one at a time?  To someone with DID, multitasking is each part working on a single task.  We just happen to occupy one body and appear to be doing multiple tasks at the same time.

In that sense, finding a coping strategy to help each alter in the system when all of us are overwhelmed makes sense right?  And if this coping strategy requires mental and emotional energy (read imagination and feelings) instead of physical energy (body-related activities), then everyone has a chance to find their calm center while also allowing our physical and spiritual parts time to sleep, relax, energize, and find their calm centers too.

Please understand that we are not promoting permanent separation of alters in a system.  Nor are we devaluing the idea of integration at any level.  Instead, we are advocating for us alters to work within our current situation to promote cooperation, collaboration, and semi-integration so that our mind, body, and spirit help each other instead of working against each other during triggering situations.  It is not always possible.

In fact, sometimes we are our own worst enemies because none of us want to hurt or burden the others with our pain when it gets overwhelming.  Therapy and life are teaching us that sharing the pain and the burden with each other helps us more because we can stand together and support each other when one falls.

Ever heard of the quote “Different Strokes for different folks”?

Each of us is similar and different.  We are different ages, genders, and types of living beings.  And we have different needs at different times.  That is why self-care and self-soothing can be so difficult.  How to address the needs of many over a set period of time?  And this quote reminds us to be open-minded and allow for multiple options during a session of multiple coping strategies.

 

Background

A few months ago, I and the alters started writing about the challenges that come with the holiday season along with revelations that came from using effective coping strategies.  One of the challenges I mentioned had to do with hallucinations.  Others had to do with maintaining safety outside of the house; coping with triggering encounters at stores; switching and dissociation around people from the past; and backlash.  Very few had to do with sleeping, finding calmness, and effective ways to deal with the aftermath of such encounters.

Update

I am still hallucinating, but not as often.  The number encounters with people from my past has decreased.  I’ve ended two friendships with toxic people.  One is the woman whose holiday party I went to; I do not like being used to hurt other people no matter what they did to me in the past.  The other had to be resolved through work channels so not something to discuss here.  As for the rest, intentional switching to let the alter with the most experience and skill to handle the situation is the strategy that helped and also caused other triggers.  Finally, distractions and sleep got me through the big holidays.

Present Challenges

In the form of a list:

  • Not sleeping
  • Lingering cold/sinus infection from a run-down immune system
  • Flashbacks and remembering in my sleep
  • Dealing with racist/rude people at a local grocery store
  • Having to call the police because I witnessed a not sober individual come into said grocery store and cause a verbal altercation that lasted more than 15 minutes without de-escalating; and then being watched by said individual’s friends as I left to go home
  • Standing outside for an hour or more in the cold weather waiting for the public transit to arrive (delayed because of mechanical problems)
  • Having a snow day because I forgot my computer
  • Not taking any vacation time or giving myself down time to cope with the adrenaline crash that comes from dealing with all of the above situations in less than 3 weeks
  • Feeling hyper-vigilant and not-quite-safe in my home and work neighborhoods, but also not wanting to stay inside
  • Feeling depressed and angry and anxious because I want to get away, leave, and just give up because all of this came before my grandmother’s birthday (last weekend) followed by a school holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) that also brought up a mix of feelings and memories

Conclusion

So, yes I am feeling stressed out, angry, depressed and alone when the emotions and sensations overwhelm me.  In my heart and wise mind (DBT), I know that I am not alone; there are many people in my support network for me to reach out and connect with.  But I also know that the nightmares and monsters in my head right now are not anything I would share with any of my close friends.

Instead, I share with my counselor; the volunteers on the hotline; and this blog.  And every day, I go through my list of coping strategies and techniques to help me get through the day:

  • Affirmations as I wake up in the morning
  • Mental reminders of promises and commitments that make up my daily to-do list get me dressed and on my way to the train station
  • A book; mahjong; music; a nap; or catching up on posts from my style group members on social media get me through the train ride into and out of the city
  • A variety of grounding techniques; deep breathing; affirmations; distractions; and self-care strategies help me stay calm and focused so I can work and do errands
  • Sleep hygiene; a call to thehotline; streamed TV or movies; knitting; maybe cooking or getting takeout; and other self-care and soothing strategies help me relax for bed

But most important right now are:

  1. Reminding myself and the alters that the stressful times will end.  It’s not the first time we’ve experienced overhwleming triggers and events.  It won’t be the last time either.  We got through them before and will get through them this time too.
  2. Remembering, acknowledging, and feeling good about the the positive events going on at the same time.

thanks for reading

this blog discusses safety issues a lot.  Most of the time, the safety issues are related to coping challenges and coping strategies for internal or emotional safety.

This post is different.

It is about physical safety.  Sometimes survivors can stay in the same neighborhood/town/city/state as the abusers and be physically safe.  Other times, relocating and hiding is the better option.  The abuser’s investment in the survivor determines a lot of this.  By investment, I mean how much of the abuser’s lifestyle and health is dependent on being able to hurt the survivor anywhere and any time.

If the abuser is not very invested or believes a replacement can be easily found, he or she might let the survivor go without much retaliation or work to bring the survivor back.  If the investment is moderate, the abuser might oersist for a while before eventually moving on.  And if a large part of the anuser’s lifestyle, identity, or self image is dependent on her or his relationship with the survivor, the abuser might never stop harassing and searching for the survivor.

My situation is number 3.  I couldn’t leave the state or the city when I first decided to break ties with my family of origin.  My job, my counselors, my life was centered around the city I worked in.  And I didn’t have any outside supports to help me even if I tried. So I started with basics: change phone; change email; change address.

That didnt stop them though.  They knew my work address and phone number.  My grandparents had my cell phone number.  The donors convinced my grandparents to call on their behalf and coached them on what to say while listening to the conversations.  They sent letters and cards to my work address.  So for returned mail, I gave the reason that I don’t work there anymore.

That is when life got really complicated.  The donors had family friends call my office number to see if I still worked there by using an excuse of calling the sibling instead more than once.  The sibling has lots of friends who live and work and go to school in the same city as me.  He got them to give me dirty looks and keep track of my whereabouts as I used public transportation to get around.  Some even went so far as to physically and verbally harass me.  And they found out where I lived through old school mates (mine, younger sibling, cousins), students from when I taught martial arts, and friends of friends.

I also had to worry about the people I didn’t remember: ones I met in grad school and was rude to, people my alters met and didn’t want to be around, and childhood perpetrators I didn’t recognize but felt scared around.   So I moved every year for three years looking for a way to escape the stalking and harassment, not dealing that it was real, prosecutable, and causing a lot of triggers.  Because I was dissociating and switching so much, I often forgot events or dismissed them as part of my craziness.  It wasn’t until after I got mugged, that I realized there wasn’t going to be a safe place for me to relax and take care of myself unless I took steps to really disappear.

How to disappear without moving out of state?

I started looking up resources and asking for help about legal name changes for domestic violence survivors.  That got me in touch with the relocation program and an attorney who helped me join a lot of programs designed to keep my information confidential.  I did this before my last move 2 years ago.

It doesn’t change what happens when I run into people from my past during day to day activities.  But it does change how I feel and react to those occasions.  Because of the legal name change and the address confidentiality, I am more physucally safe.  I can tell those people they have the wrong person when they start to bother me and walk away knowing I am safe.  I don’t have to worry that they will find me where I live now.  Or that they have people who can bother me where I live.  None of them have connections to this city or friends in my area.

that has allowed me to take control of the dislocation and only use it when necessary.  As for the switching, the alters and I communicate and cooperate more so that information gets shared.  That builds trust and allows everyone to be aware of situations even if they were not involved so we can all take part in maintaining health and safety.  And with less dissociation comes more recovered memories, trust in ourselves and each other, and confidence that I or whovever is in charge can take care of everyone or switch to let another alter take care of everyone.

That confidence allows me to remember that I can physically protect myself and do not have to be afraid of accidentally hurting someone if my automatic defense mechanisms get triggered.  I try to avoid situations that get physically or verbally aggressive.  But I also am  at a point in my life/recovery where I am not willing to step back and let others hurt me without defending myself in some way.  That is where DBT has helped a lot. DBT taught me effective verbal communication skills to help me protect afainst and deflect verbal or emotional abuse without lowering myself to the other individual’s level: i.e. mean, insulting, aggressive, etc.

So yeah, until I leave the state I live in, this will continue to happen.  I and my alters will get triggered.  One or more of us will defend ourselves.  Then will come backlash and increased symptoms until the coping strategies start to help and everyone in the system feels safer again.  Because even though our home neighborhood is relatively safe, our work one is not.

The hope for this year is our relocation out of state.  Our circumstances have changed for the better.  Financial stability; minimal debt; being able to keep my job as a remote employee; and a stable support network is making this all possible.

Relocating, changing my name, and doing all of this is and was scary.  It was like starting over from scratch without any safety or support cushions to help me if I fell.  But the peace of mind is worth every bit of the struggle.

Good Evening,

I am busy with work and challenging people, so cannot write any posts this week.  Focusing on self care right now.  Will try for one post next week.

Thanks for understanding.

AlterXpressions

Every year my alters and I decide on a goal for the year.  Then we break it down into smaller parts or objectives to work from now until December.  Sometimes the goals are big and have to be broken down into parts.  Other times, the goals are simple and straightforward.

Last year’s goal was to stop hiding.  It was broken down into 6 parts:

  • Take classes about personal style
  • Create and define a personal style
  • Improve interpersonal communication (face to face)
  • Go out and socialize more
  • Learn to love my physical self and start shopping for clothes that suit my personal style
  • Let outsiders see and meet who I really am by wearing clothes that express my personality and using confidence to interact with others

This year’s goal is part of a life long commitment that involves all of my parts working together.

Self-compassion; being kind to ourselves and each other; reaching out to each other for comfort, soothing, support without fear of triggering everyone in the system; and learning to depend on each other for assistance is the overarching goal.

It’s big and ambitious, true.  It also will help us cope with anything that threatens our emotional safety outside of our safe places.  That means we are free to travel, socialize, and enjoy new experiences with less fear of triggers taking over and causing problems.

So here is our goal for the year: learn to be kinder to ourselves and each other through compassion and multi-tasking coping strategies that help every alter in the system.

  • The multi-tasking part is relatively simple for us; we’ve been doing it for a while.  Learning to feel safe and confident enough to reach out and use multiple coping strategies together is tougher.
  • Help child and adolescent parts feel safer and more confident with themselves and the adult alters so that they are not afraid to reach out and ask for comfort when triggered
  • Find ways to let child and adolescent parts take part in learning new skills and spending time with adult parts; i.e. spending quality time together either doing nothing or working on a hobby, etc.
  • Finally, have child and adolescent parts be more assertive and learn to advocate for themselves when they require assistance or comfort so they can express what they want or need and get the help, support, etc. they deserve

And if this goal goes into next year, that’s ok too.  We all want every alter in the system to feel like he or she belongs and to know that she or she is a valued member of our family.

Thanks for reading!

Today is the last day of the new year.  For some it’s a cause to celebrate.  For others it’s a cause to do anything and everything possible to distract from internal storms.

My alters and I prefer to be home in the quiet and safety of our apartment with books and cooking and our bed nearby.  By the last day in December, we’re exhausted from coping with the unique challenges that come from living in the same state as our perpetrators.

5 times in the past 4 weeks, we have encountered people from the past while shopping and doing errands.  Each of those individuals verbally abused and harassed or stalked us until we left the store or wherever we were at the time.  And each one brought on backlash and other consequences that required creative coping strategies and help from external resources.

And what I discovered was that a multitasking approach to coping helped a lot more than trying to have all alters use the same coping strategy.  Different coping strategies for different alters to use at the same time.  Here is the example:

Situation: everyone is triggered into flashbacks and overwhelming feelings because an individual tried to publicly humiliate us in a store and then bait us into acting like the raging crazy person (as happened in the past with parents and sibling).

Resolution: Swtiching alternate personalities so that the alter with the most useful skills was in charge of the body,voice, mind, etc. and interacted with the perpetrator in a polite, civil, assertive manner.  Used DBT skills here.

Aftermath: Child parts got triggered into feeling one way.  Adolescent parts got triggered into feeling another way.  Adult parts got triggered into feeling something or nothing at all (maybe in between?).  Different memories and emotions are brought back to consciousness for each alter.  Each of us reacts to the memories and feelings in a different way.

Coping Challenge: One coping strategy does not work for all alters.  They/we resist being told to use the same one together to cope because that strategy is not universally helpful.  Child alters feel suspicious and hypervigilant; watching everyone else for signs of stress or anxiety and aggresssively refusing to calm down or relax.  Adolescent parts feel unsafe and confused.  They are frozen and unsure how to react or who to trust; fight or flight is next.  Adults are numb.  And then comes the explosion of anger and shame; it is directed internally and externally scaring all of us into a state of confusion.

Resolution: Call hotline and ask for help figuring out different coping techniques that work for different age groups.  3 to 5 ideas get chosen from everything discussed.  One that the child parts are comfortable using.  One for the adolescents to try.  One for the adults.  One they can all use together if they feel like it.  And one that is a safety plan for anyone to use if he or she needs extra help.  A strategy made up of techniques tailored for them to use alone or in groups.

Child coping technique: imagine an adult and a child sitting together quietly.  Both love each other and feel safe together.  The adult slowly brushes a hand against the child’s forehead, stroking down past the temple as if brushing hair away.  Both sit and breathe quietly with the adult continuing this motion until the child relaxes.  Thanks to the BARCC hotline counselor for this visualization

Adolescent coping technique: The adolsecents are trapped in a dark, windowless room.  Black inside.  The walls are made of brick.  Only sounds are like those from a wind storm.  Every once in a while, a bright colorful light bursts in only to fade away.  On the other side of the wall are all of the memories, feelings, thoughts, experiences they need to help them understand the howling sounds in the room.  So they each take a brick and remove it from the wall.  Holding the brick, he or she says: “Thank you for keeping me safe when I needed you.  It’s time to go home.  Good bye” and repeats this until the brick dissolves.  Then the alters take another brick and repeat until the walls are gone.  The lights and sounds mix together, swirling around the room until they integrate and leave behind the stuff that doesn’t belong.  The integrated parts go back to being memories.  The stuff that doesn’t belong gets sucked out by a black hole.

Adult coping technique: Visualizing a safe place to sit with emotions and observe our own feelings.  Our place is a forest near a cliff that looks down to the ocean.  Between the forest and the cliff is a grassy meadow with some shrubs and tall rocks perfect for sitting.  There are birds and animals up there.  A path leads down the cliff to the beach and the ocean.  On the beach are large boulders for climbing and sitting too.  The air smells like salt from the ocean, ozone from a recent rain storm, and living plants/flowers.  I can hear the breeze, the waves crashing against each other, dogs splashing and barking in the distance.  The sun is just rising turning the skies multiple colors.  And the adults sit there or walk or practice martial arts/yoga/etc. alone or in groups until we feel calm and safe again.

All the while, our physical body is sitting or lying down in a comfortable position.  Our eyes are closed.  We appear sleeping or meditating to the outside world.  When instead, all 88 of us are actively working on different versions of the techniques listed above at the same time.

We hope this strategy can be adapted to help others and are grateful for all of the wonderful counselors on the hotline and for support from our regular therapist who taught us the basic lessons to help us create strategies like this.

Happy New Year from all of us here.