Archives for the month of: March, 2016

Background

Part of my trauma came from many authority figures and adult sources making fun of, criticizing, and shaming my body.  The messages about being fat and so beautiful I am ugly and that because of my physical appearance I deserved the abuse dished out to me made me hate my looks.  The way my mother brushed and styled my hair for me; then punished me and criticized me until I failed to style and care for it myself made me believe I couldn’t groom myself.  The insults and shaming that came from being made fun of for wearing mascara and lipstick, and always being told that I’m not strong enough or skinny enough or pretty enough or smart enough to be as good as my brother and cousins took it’s toll on my self-esteem and self image.

I thought the negative self image and body hate had to do with having so many different alters and being anorexic.  Some of my alters are male; some are female.  They are all different ages, and many will never go through puberty – they are child alters or symbolic alters (aka non-human living beings).  And each of them hated the body that houses us for many years, possibly decades.  And back in  the nineties/early 2000s, many people thought anorexia was all about looking and feeling fat and wanting to lose weight.  It’s not all about weight loss.  My anorexia had to do with punishing myself and denying that puberty happened to please others.  It might also have had to do with hating my body, but I prefer to believe that seeing my adult body triggered bad memories that made me feel anxiety, hatred, etc.

Some Challenges

Main point is that I don’t actually see what my body looks like in the mirror.  I see fat, red rashes, cellulite, scars, big butt, wide hips, thunder thighs, bad teeth, and so on.  It took 4-5 years before I could acknowledge that I am not ugly, just plain.  And another 7 years before I could acknowledge my physical attractiveness and stop hiding.  But multiple times every year I get to a point where all of the body hate comes flooding back.  I start seeing a big belly where one doesn’t exist.  Instead of my body, I see one that is wider than tall with a spare tire and fat, jiggly thighs.  I see double chins and yellowed, crooked teeth with halitosis (bad breath) that never goes away.  And not even looking in a mirror, these visions come as I look down at my body.

Then come the critical thoughts inside my head (voices).  The voices bring back memories and feelings I’d rather not face right now.  They always seem to come at times when I feel most vulnerable and stressed out and physically ill.  Also during spring and winter when a) people start wearing less and showing more skin because of the nice weather; and b) people start obsessing about holiday goodies and overeating.  When I get stressed out, I forget to eat.  Sometimes I deliberately don’t eat.  I forget to hydrate or just don’t bother.  And when I do eat, the food is not stuff I enjoy or even crave – it’s food that will ease the obsessions and compulsions in my mind.

And if I lose enough weight, my body automatically starts going into the “she’s starving herself; we need to start feeding off of the available fat and muscle sources, then replace with water (bloating)” response that makes me feel 2x my actual size and about 4-9 pounds lighter than I was before the triggers turned me inside out.

Learning to cope

I don’t have a lot of ways to cope with this.

Mostly I force feed myself using blender smoothies, soups, and savory/sour/slightly bitter/umami flavored foods that are nutrient dense and easy to digest.  I also make appointments with my dietitian to go over any food struggles and anxieties I might be experiencing.  And I stop trying to “eat healthy” or according to any of my past rules.  Instead I try to enjoy my food and eat a variety of flavors.

If I get a compulsion that won’t go away, I eat the food without shame; acknowledge that parts of me did want that food while others did not; and then tell myself that it’s ok to eat certain foods even though they are taboo in my mind or might make me feel gassy or sick afterwards.  The consequences are worth the enjoyment – like with ice cream and cheese and red meat for me.

Sometimes, I practice gratitude too.  This helps with the shame and body hate feelings, but is not something I can do all the time without feeling backlash too.  I remember how thankful I am that my body is healthy and not diseased in spite of the trauma it’s been through.  I am thankful that my body is strong enough to get me to work and exercise without pain and suffering.  I am thankful to have fingers that work and feet that can support me as I walk through life and so on.

And I increase my self care rituals.

Conclusion

I might not be able to stop my body from going into automatic routines that saved me in the past every time, but I can do my best right now in this moment.  So even though I’m still in a bad place where my body hurts and I hate going outside because I keep having to deal with my past, I am working towards coping better and getting ready to enjoy at least part of my day.  Then maybe I can relax and sleep long enough to rest and be ready for the next day.

Thanks for reading

My name is Angora.  I am one of the alters who writes or co-writes a lot of the posts here.  There is a name for those of us who stay in charge most of the time, but I don’t remember it.  Instead, I will say that my main role is managing the internal communications and strategies to maintain daily routines.  Others manage the external communications; I only talk with outside people when necessary, i.e. protection from aggressive or potentially unsafe individuals and groups.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with anger.  The other alters in our system have been remembering past experiences and not forgetting afterwards.  Good for us because we need those memories in order to make good decisions for the present and near future.  Anxiety and anger provoking because remembering means reliving and re-experiencing the trauma all over again without the usual safety nets in place.  Negative coping strategies work, but bring shame afterwards.

More than anything, though, is my difficulty with frustration that turns into anger.  I want for all of us to be able to walk outside and not fear running into someone from the past.  I want for us to go into a small business and not get bad service because the manager or sales person is a former classmate from high school/college/grad school or a friend of someone in my family.  I want to go into a bar or a restaurant or a club and enjoy the scenery (music, drinks, dancing, socializing)  instead of acting hyper-vigilant because people are staring or feeling unsafe because places like that bring back bad memories.

Most important, though, I want my alters to have positive associations and experiences if and when they choose to come out and interact with the outside world.  And that won’t happen for another few months when we move out of state.  The downside to living in a small state with close-knit communities even in the city is that I can’t meet new people or start fresh without my past history getting in the way.  A past history full of trauma and bullying that makes meeting people and socializing feel like walking on eggshells all the time.

And so often, these days I and the rest of the alters don’t recognize (not consciously anyways) those people.  But they recognize me.  I am blessed or cursed with youthful features and distinctive looks because of my Asian genetics and alopecia areata.  In my teens, I looked like a child – as long as you ignored my body.  In my twenties, I looked like a teenager.  Now, in my early thirties, I look like I am in my early twenties.  The point is, people recognize me and treat me according to what they remember or think they know about me or the alter they had most contact with.

Doesn’t matter that I/we hold ourselves/act/dress differently.  Most of that just brings out envy and anger because we survived and am enjoying life as much as possible under the circumstances.  They tend to react with shocked stares, disgusted looks, and derisive comments thrown out as loud comments to their social group as I walk by.  Or they turn around and walk away with head averted to avoid me because they think I am going to approach them.  Why would I want to approach the men and women who bullied and shunned me in high school and college?

And some, very few, try to initiate a vaguely friendly contact using the old name.  Or look at me with recognition; then disappointment/anger that I don’t or won’t recognize them too.  That brings fear and combinations of guilt/shame.

The fear because it’s usually a male with whom there was flirting or something going on in the past.

The guilt/shame for two reasons: 1) because I am not the other person anymore and can’t acknowledge the individual without explaining about the name change and the past; and 2) because I am ashamed of what I said/did during interactions with that person and can’t remember to reality test the truth of that shame.

When the alters and I decided to permanently change our legal name, we also decided to change our identity to match the new name.  That meant letting go of the past and not using the old name or references except with close friends from the old life.  It’s easier sometimes to ignore and let them be rude/angry/upset because I acted snobbish or whatever than to trust and open up even if doing that brings feelings of shame too..

Moving out of state can’t happen fast enough.  Sure, there’s a whole lot of crap to organize and wade through before August.  But it’s days like this, managing ok because of the work-from-home accommodation, that I really wish I lived someplace else so the triggers and fear wouldn’t cause physical problems that prevent me from going outside.  Or sleeping.  Or taking care of myself.  Or doing something I enjoy.  And prevent my alters from feeling safe, comfortable, happy, and confident in their coping strategies to get through this rough patch.

Living someplace where no one knows my past and treats me poorly because of it.  Knowing that anyone who does act negatively around me does so because of a personality or lifestyle clash instead of a shared past relieves me and the alters of many triggers.

That is our dream.  It’s been our dream for a long time.  And soon that dream will come true.  Thanks for reading

Some Background

There are very few holidays that my family and relatives did not celebrate.  To be more American (I guess), my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins embraced every major US, religious, and Chinese holiday they knew about as an excuse to get together, eat, and celebrate.  Those gatherings were full of family members, family friends, neighbors, co-workers, and their children.  And also full of danger for me.

Days off from school meant more time being abused by my mother and other perpetrators who came to the house.  Holiday parties and family get-togethers were times I got bullied and humiliated by my relatives and their friends.  Mostly verbal, sometimes physical, always emotional when I was compared to my sibling/cousins and found lacking.  Sometimes physical, sometimes verbal, sometimes sexual, always emotional when I was taken to private rooms by adults.

Normally, I don’t remember anything that happens between January and May.  Sometimes the memory loss starts as early as Halloween.  Normally I start to have problems just after Thanksgiving.  But always, by mid-January, I will wake up one morning and not remember what happened for 2 weeks or more.  And the memory loss continues.  Notes, reminders, calendar appointments are viewed with confusion.

Before this year, I would have said that not many holidays and anniversaries occur between January and May.  So why do I experience traumatic memory loss, body memories, and severe pain every year during those months?  Turns out, I was wrong about the holiday part.  Here is the list of holidays I’ve participated in so far:

  • January 1 – New Year
  • January 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. day
  • February 2 – Groundhog day
  • February 8 – Chinese New Year (lasts 14 days as part of spring festival)
  • February 10 – Ash Wednesday (beginning of Lent)
  • March 13 – Daylight Savings
  • March 16 – St. Patrick’s Day
  • March 20 – Spring Equinox

Coming up are: Christian Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Tax Day, Jewish Passover and Orthodox Easter, Cinco de Mayo (for Spanish class in middle and high school), Mother’s Day, and a variety of birthdays in May.

What this means to me

It means that I am always in physical pain from body memories.  From my head to my shoulders, tension seeps in and causes migraine worthy pain that won’t go away on its own.  From my shoulders to my hips, all of my joints, my stomach, and the muscles in between ache and knot up.  From the legs down, my knees, heels, and and muscles swell, knot up, tighten and cause sharp pain.  On a scale of one to ten, I am usually between 5 and 9 every day.  On bad days, I get as far as 12.

And with the pain comes anger.  Anger from remembering.  Anger from frustration at my inability to get relief without causing more pain or damage to myself.  Anger at the people who hurt me so badly that I still feel the echos in my body decades later.  Anger at remembering the past and not forgetting.  Anger that my alters have had to cope with this on their own for decades because they were too scared to ask the rest of the system for help.  Anger at feeling helpless to cope with the pain in healthy ways.

So now everyone in the system is present and accounted for.  No one is stuck in the past or trapped by the memories anymore.  What we remember now will not be forgotten.  That is the best part of these last few months.  It also gives me hope that all of us will survive this and come out stronger for it.  I will learn to cope with my part and be able to help the others with theirs.  The other alters will learn to cope with their parts and be able to help me too.  That is our goal.

But the anger is fierce.  And with the pain and anger come the voices.  The voices telling us to give up, give in, grovel and go back to our parents.  I try hard not to listen and pay attention.  Most of the time, I can tell they aren’t real.  The other alters are not as lucky.  They have a hard time discerning which voices are real and which are from the trauma.  So many times, the anger wells up and thoughts of vengeance and killing tempt me to be reckless.  I think about calling my family members and yelling at them.  I think about going to their houses and killing them.  I think about writing them scathing letters and mailing to their homes.  And not just my family members, I think about doing this to the other perpetrators in my memory too.

Because Lent was a time when many Christians and Mormons gave up something for 40 days.  And the perpetrators in my life used that as an excuse to beat me and sexually abuse me without skin to skin contact as punishment for tempting them to break their religious vows.  The perpetrators; what a name for those men and women who paid to use me.  And the more I remember, the more places I remember being abused.  The more valid reasons I have for not wanting to visit churches, synagogues, religious houses, elementary schools, bathrooms, public recreation centers, etc.  I wasn’t safe anywhere.  And I wonder how I got into such a predicament.  But then I remember: a well established pediatrician, an elementary school principal, a cult within a cult of Mormons soliciting people door-to-door with free babysitting and bible study classes, and a greedy mother.

Is it any wonder why I hate this time of year so much?  Oh well.  I am trying coloring books again.  Maybe it will help, maybe not.  At least the negative association is starting to fade, so I can add the coping strategy back to my tool box.

Thanks for reading my rant.

 

This last post in the series is in essay or story-telling format.  The Q&A doesn’t work this time.

Introduction

I hear voices.  Lots of voices from different parts of my mind.  Not all of them are from my alters.  In fact, most of the time, my alters choose video, images, story-telling, play-acting, music, writing, and sensation to communicate with me.  They only talk when the other communication formats don’t work.   That is how I learned to tell the difference.  Most of the time.  My alters learned to recognize when the voices are triggering them by realizing we only talk to each other when nothing else works.  The rest of the time, we find other ways to show love, respect, acceptance, affection, and information.

The Voices

The voices are different from my hallucinations because they sound real to me; they are the voices of my family members, abusers, bullies, and fake friends telling me to hurt and punish myself because I am worthless.  They insult me; verbally abuse me; taunt me; and constantly tell me ways to hurt myself; then urge me to act on those thoughts.  And if the voices are not working on me, they work on my alters.  It’s a mental loop of negativity that seems impossible to break, let alone stop or ignore.

Sometimes the voices sound like me talking to myself.  Sometimes they sound like a parent or sibling or relative.  Sometimes they sound like a medical professional or an authority figure.  The voices play on my weaknesses, insecurities, and fears.  They use those insecurities and fears to persuade me  to hurt myself and others.  Sabotage my plans for going forward.  Or freeze up so that I can’t study or pass a test or complete assignments or put myself in situations where I will be emotionally hurt and shamed.

Then the voices hit me with shame and guilt for not accomplishing my goals.  They reaffirm my inability to do anything right.

And they don’t stop.  The voices speak to me, to my alters, waking and sleeping.

Why and when and how they appear, none of us know.  My therapist thinks it is a symptom of increased anxiety and a form of backlash or flashbacks or nightmares.  I tend to agree with this.  But that’s not the only time the voices visit.

Only one successful way to stop the voices permanently: give in and hurt myself.

Other less successful ways to stop the voices: take a knock out pill; watch a funny or feel good movie; distract myself; listen to music; use affirmations and positive self talk; reality test my thoughts and fears

 

Obsessions

 

When I don’t give in to the voices, I start to obsess about ways to make them stop talking to me.  And then I think about what the voices are saying and remember all or many past experiences where their predictions of current outcomes came true.  And I get anxious; start to doubt myself.  Then try to use coping strategies to get myself out of the mental loop.  And when the strategies don’t work, feel more angry and depressed.

 

Compulsions

 

One way I learned to deal with the obsessive thoughts and feelings of anxiety from hearing voices was giving in to compulsions or compulsive routines.  I try not to give in to the compulsions because they tend to take over my life.  I get so caught up in using the activity or routine that the rest of my life suffers; not going to work, missing deadlines, procrastinating, feeling shame for doing something I don’t want to do, etc.  Not all compulsions are bad ones, but even safe ones can become problems when I can’t do anything or go anywhere until I finish my compulsion first.  It’s one reason why I am so careful with my habits and routines.  I don’t want them to become compulsions.

 

Giving In

 

Sometimes, when nothing else works and I absolutely need temporary relief, I give in to the voices, obsessions, and compulsions.  I try to find the least harmful behavior or activity that will also soothe the anxiety and do it.  I am not proud of this.  I prefer to find alternatives instead.  The backlash is painful.  But worse, the temptation to give in gets stronger every time I use a negative coping strategy.  And when I am coming off of an adrenaline high with the voices in my mind telling me to use this energy for revenge or punishment, the temptation to get relief instead of waiting it out is strong.

“Waiting it out” means: going without sleep or rest; listening to the voices fighting us (our internal system); experiencing all of the headaches, migraines, physical pain that comes with the internal fighting; not dissociating or switching and forgetting for a while; living with the memories and experiences all of this brings back; and continuing with life and work while coping with it all.

One Moment at a time

Sometimes the best strategy is also the hardest concept to understand.  When I first started therapy/recovery, I was in crisis mode aka survival mode.  Every moment felt like a thousand years.  So I learned to live one moment at a time.  Dissociation and daydreaming helped a lot here.  But that doesn’t help as much now because all of my parts and I have different daydreams.  And lack of focus in the outside world is dangerous.  So now it’s time to find another version of “one moment at a time”  that works for us.  I guess that means going back to basic survival strategies.

I hope anyone else caught in some form of survival mode makes through this round too.

Late again.  Unexpected business with taxes and such yesterday.  Will try to be more on time this week.

Introduction

Last post discussed how survival mode affects my PTSD.  This post discusses how it affects the DID and alters in the system.  Survival mode feels different to children, adolsecents, and adults.  Each group reacts and responds to the stress differently.  Now imagine all that in the same body happening at the same time.

A word of warning…my therpaist tells me that my experience of DID is different from many because I “grew up” with my alters so to speak.  They were my playmates and imaginary friends; then appeared in my day dreams; finally began to take over and manage some parts of life without my realizing it until we reunited four years ago.  This can make our co-consciousness and ability to cooperate/integrate much easier and more frustrating for others to read about or understand.

The rest of the blog is Q&A from here.

Questions & Answers

Q: do all of the alters have PTSD?

A: yes.

Q: is everyone good at coping and handling triggers?

A: no.  Everyone is at different levels of recovery and has different skill sets to pull from.  Some strategies work better for adults while otherd work better for children, adolescents, toddlers, babies.

Q: how does everyone react to survival mode?

A: not sleeping; increased hyper-vigilance and feeling suspicious of everything; increased sensitivity to anxiety; confusion; coordination and concentration problems; use less cognitive and more instinctive defense mechanisms; feeling over-protective and worrying about hurting others with reactions to triggers; sleep in shifts or not at all; feel scared all the time; decreased appetite; increased switching and headaches/face pain; finally inability to relax and lower the adrenaline levels back to our normal.

Q: what triggers this kind of survival mode?  How is it different from before?

A: CAUSES: floods of memories; increased body memories; mind and body making connections between memory fragments to recall past experiences as nighhtmares and flashbacks; encpuntering people from the past who trigger overwhelming feelings; all of the above without any down time to process and move through the remembered experiences in a safe way.

DIFFERENCES: before, some alters were still hiding and unable to join with the rest of the system.  They were caught in the past; trapped and unable to reach out for help.  When the experiences they held came as nighhtmares, these alters switched and caused dissociation to protect us; the result being traumatic memory loss or amnesia for extended periods of time.  Could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes longer.

Now, all of us are free and valued members of the system.  When these memories come back, they stay.  No one switches.  No one dissociates.  No one forgets again.  Everyone relives or re-experiences the memories as they cascade through mind and body.  This is especially hard for the child and adolescent alters who are also growing/maturing through missed developmental stages as part of their recovery.  These “growing pains” and sexual feelings/thoughts/sensations triggger anxiety, fear, wonder, and past memories at the same time.

It is an endless cycle feeding into itself.

Q: how do you cope?

A:By learning to be a good caretaker/guardian for ourselves and each other.  That includes self care, boundaries, safe spaces, and coping strategies for every age group, developmental stage, and gender in the system.  Sometimes it means being a parent.  Sometimes it means being parented.  Sometimes I take care of the alters.  Sometimes they take care of me.  And ALWAYS we do our best not to use the negative, but guaranteed to work, harmful coping strategies of the past.

Q: any last words?

A: yes.  It really sucks when all of the reliable routines and strategies stop working or are less effective.  Worse is trying to use something that goes against what the mind and body are doing to protect us by trying to use the coping skills anyways.

Just remember you are not alone.

some experiences are kid only experiences; some are adolsecent only; some are adult only.  My alters and I constantly wort that we are going to hurt or trigger others in the system by letting our memories out, so we try to protect by repressing them.  This causes untold levels of pain amd distress and triggers.

Now we try to use boundaries and safe spaces instead.  It’s a work in prgogress that is less than 10% effective right now.  But we keep on trying to make it work.  Also, it helps to figure out some good parenting skills and comforting techniques; they help calm child and adolescent parts to lower adrenaline like nothing else we have tried so far.

This will pass like it always does.  No matter how difficult it feels right now, we all will survive.

Introduction

I’m late with this week’s post.  The last few days have been difficult with high anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and an adrenaline high that wouldn’t stop; my reactions to recovered memories involving physical violence combined with seasonal body memory pain.  It’s a different kind of survival mode for me and one that I struggle with a lot.  Instead of typical essay format, I’m using a Q&A interview style for this series

Questions and Answers

Q: What is an adrenaline high?

A: I get triggered into panic without having a panic attack.  Adrenaline surges through my system.  I suddenly have extra acute senses, strength, mental clarity, etc. in order to run, fight, or freeze until I can escape.  But once I realize the threat is over, the adrenaline keeps on flowing.  The hyper-vigilance stays and increases over time.  I am jumpy and anxious and unable to concentrate.  I can’t relax.  The adrenaline does not stop.

Q: Why doesn’t the adrenaline stop?  Isn’t there a physiological on/off switch built into our bodies/minds?

A:  My on/off switch was permanently disabled because of past experiences.  Yes most people have an on/off switch that automatically controls how, when, and for what length of time the adrenaline flows and then slows down without crashing too hard.  I have to find ways to manually turn the adrenaline off without causing harm to myself and (potentially) others.

Q: How does it relate to PTSD specifically?

A: Symptoms of PTSD get exacerbated.  Agitation, irritability, anger easily, frustration, lack of focus, increased anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  PTSD is considered an anxiety disorder.  For me that means all of my “natural” alertness and environmental sensitivity get put on steroids to make flashbacks, nightmares, and triggers both more likely to occur and more intense with each occurrence.  That sends more adrenaline into my system until I am flying on super high energy levels and awareness even as I start to crash from being physically and emotionally drained of energy from the last wave.  No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to relax, the adrenaline and hyper-vigilance won’t let me because my brain senses a threat that doesn’t exist anymore.  Once I identify the cause of this state (that I call Adrenaline High), I have to find ways to slow down the adrenaline until it stops.

Q: How do I know when my adrenaline starts/stays on/stops?

A:  My first signs are physiological.  As in my body reacts to the adrenaline first.  Sweating, chills, shaking/trembling limbs, chest tightness, muscle tension, headaches, face pain, joint pain, extra saliva in my mouth, skin feels itchy, flushed or pale skin/skin changes color.  Then comes acute senses: everything is more sensitive and reactive; I jump at noises, can smell or scent objects from longer distances, flavors increase or decrease – taste too much or nothing at all, etc.  And then comes the distraction, loss of vision (everything is blurry), and an increase in mental static/confusion caused by the “hearing voices” that are not my alters trying to convince me that the past is reality and present is a dumb fantasy that will get me (put your idea of a threat here).

Q: Do automatic defenses and coping strategies kick in during adrenaline?

A:  Yes.  I try everything in my arsenal first.  All of positive, healthy, healing coping strategies and techniques from therapy, programs, hotlines, books, etc. get used and reused until I get frustrated.  Then I try last resort strategies.  Hopefully they work.  And if not, there are the strategies I refuse to consciously use: my past automatic coping and defense mechanisms: chemical help (something stronger than Tylenol like prescription anti-anxiety meds); inducing a panic attack that causes me to pass out; self harm (emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual).  As I’ve mentioned before, self-harm comes in many forms and is not always noticeable.  Luckily for me, I have caring friends and co-workers who gently point out and remind me when this happens so that I know it happened and can be more careful next time.

Q: What are some ways to make the adrenaline stop?  Are they positive/neutral/negative?

A:  I don’t know.  This is where I am still experimenting and learning.  The only ways I know for me to successfully make the adrenaline stop are negative (see question above).  Some neutral ones suggested by others include: exercise; deep breathing; hobbies and activities that allow adrenaline-based energy to be released and do not require a lot of focus; listening to music or lullabies; distractions like favorite books, TV, and movies.  I call those neutral because they can be triggering to some and not to others.  As for positive, I am still working on that.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: Yes.  The backlash from using what’s necessary to come down from an adrenaline high can be worse than the adrenaline itself.  It can cause guilt and shame and more triggers or memories to resurface.

If you can ride it all out with minimal harm to self and others, you have won.  That is the attitude I have to take or else I’d be swimming in shame and guilt every time it happens.  Instead of healing, I’d be back in the downward spiral.  So, when nothing works, ask for help.  Reach out to supports if you can.  Help comes in many forms.  Sometimes I ask myself for help and support to get  through the next (time period varies).  Or I ask for spiritual help.

If you can’t reach out, do what you have to do to stay safe and protect yourself. 

And always remember: this is not going to last.  You got through it last time.  You will get through it again.

When I have a flashback, I get stuck in the past.  When I have nightmares, I feel like I am in an alternate reality.  Everything in my mind is clouded by fear.  Everything in my body is clouded by adrenaline and pain.

Sometimes I go blind during a flashback.  Sometimes I go deaf too.  Other times, my body heats up; then gets chills.  During the worst ones, all of that happens as my body cramps up and I lose control of bodily functions.  That is the fear and adrenaline alternately makeing me run (flight) and paralyze (play dead) myself to get  away from overwhelming experiences beyond my control.

At times like this, sensory grounding doesn’t help much.  I have to rely on my intelligence, trust in self, and creativity to search out facts or truths about my present.  If I can get beyond the fear and pain to the sacred vault that holds this infornation, I can use it to calm down and stop the panic.

Here are some questions my therapist started me with first time I tried it in  session:

  1. What day is it?
  2. What year is it?
  3. What month is it?
  4. What is your name?
  5. Where are you now?
  6. How old are you?
  7. Where do you live? City, street, state?
  8. Where do you work?
  9. How long have you worked there?

Here are some other questions that help me:

  1. How long have you lived at your residence?
  2. What is your favorite color?
  3. Who is your favorite cartoon character?
  4. How long have you been (insert hobby or sport here)?
  5. What is your favorite fruit?
  6. What color is the sky

So many lists of questions can be made depending on the person’s life and activities.  Sometimes I state facts I know to be true about myself and my life if questions are too hard to come up with.  Here are some examples:

  • My name is….
  • I am _ years old
  • I was born in _
  • I have 87 alternate personalities
  • We are 88 in our system
  • I am safe; you are safe; we are safe
  • The monsters are not part of my life anymore
  • I am financially stable

It feels and sounds a lot like mantras and affirmations, yes?  The biggest difference here is that instead of saying something I want to be true, I am reminding myself of who I am now.  And the energy gets redirected from fear and adrenaline to cognitive thinking.  My system calms down.  And the panic attack symtpoms decrease as the adrenaline stops.

It works great coming out of nightmares and in busy, crowded public places too.  How and where else can it work?  I guess the versatility depends on how one applies the strategy.

Sometimes I get wrapped up in the eye of a storm called triggers.  When that happens, everything I’ve learned and experienced gets lost amid the chaos of memories and emotions and sensations.  If I’m lucky, I remember earlier instead of later.  Then starts the process of finding my center so that I can use my resources.

Often, this means going outside of myself to get help.  An objective and compassionate third party (often for me a hotline volunteer or my therapist; sometimes a friend) can help me out of the chaos. Then remind me of why I want to get out when I feel trapped and ready to give up.

As an introvert, one of my biggest triggers is being put down by extroverts who ask my opinion and then attack me when I make them stop and think with cautions and questions instead of saying, “yes, go do it.  Damn the consequences.”

This trigger is on my mind a lot right now as I remember past experiences as an introvert living in a family of extroverts and then having difficulties in groups because of my refusal to keep quiet about what I believe in.  Also too, I struggle to be gentle with myself and to recognize when I am being gentle with myself.  Shame and guilt tend to blind me from it.

The quotes below resonate with my concept of reminders.   I hope they can help others too.

“There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions.” ~ from Quiet by Susan Cain

Many times, I and different alters who take over get into trouble for speaking out against the majority.  Whether with words or silence or actions or a combination, I go my own way.  I guess that’s where the high tolerance for pain was learned.  And maybe I was quiet for a long time, but my internal life never gave up on the beliefs that shaped who I am today.

I don’t regret speaking out.  And now, I am happy to live in a world where introversion and speaking out is valued instead of derided.  Keeping secrets made me feel shame and guilt and responsibility for actions and experiences beyond my control.  The monsters’ voices sometimes reverberate in my head, trying to convince me that I can’t go on.  But a platform to speak my truths (in therapy, with trusted friends, on the blog, with volunteers on a hotline), helps me remember that I am not my trauma.  My alters are still me, and I am the sum of my alters.

 

Kudos to anyone who speaks out their truths no matter the consequences.  Kudos to the resilient and courageous survivors to continue to persevere with recovery and coping in spite of the challenges that come with taking a different path.  May this quote bring hope and comfort when you are down.

 

“Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can.” found through Web of Benefit

A hard lesson to learn; even harder to put into practice.  My alters and I are not superhuman.  We are not advanced or special or better than or empowered with unnatural gifts that allow us to go beyond limits without consequences.  Learning to live within the limits of mind and body and spirit allows each of us to accomplish more and build self-confidence from small successes and positive actions.  Sometimes pushing boundaries is  good.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  And sometimes pushing boundaries is the easiest/best/fastest/only way to discover where the limits are.

For me, I have to remember that some “shoulds” and expectations in my mind are not always my or my alters’ expectations.  Others are idealistic instead of realistic and require adjustments.  Finally, I have to remember that I instinctively do my best (it’s almost hardwired into my mind and body) and so do my alters.  The memories and trauma bring out the critical and abusive voices telling me otherwise.  And no matters what, all I can do is my best.

So congratulate myself for doing the best possible with what is available and move on – my way of being gentle with myself.

Then I congratulate anyone and everyone who tries and sometimes succeeds in being gentle with themselves too because I am grateful for their existence to remind me I am not alone in this.