Archives for the month of: August, 2016

Background

I don’t often share information that can be linked directly back to the rest of my life.  As much as I enjoy blogging here and sharing resources on the website, I am compulsive about maintaining my safety and privacy too.  But some incidents happened in one of the private Facebook groups I belong to that had a rippling negative effect the rest of us are still recovering from.

The group owner/moderator wrote the following article in response to one member’s negative, bullying, and abusive comments towards others via the groups, email, and private messages.  It’s an amazing and beautiful article about how the messages we tell ourselves and internalize have an impact in how we treat others too.  And while this message is written about style from a female perspective, the contents apply to males struggling with self-esteem and body image issues too.

Personal Style as a Positive Coping Strategy for Body Image and Self Esteem

That said, I want to share an article from one of my favorite role models and bloggers whose style programs and free information have helped me learn to love and embrace my unique body through positive self talk and personal style.

This is the link: How Your Language Impacts Profoundly On Your Style

This is her blog: Inside Out Style Blog

I joined her programs a little over a year ago when I decided to stop hiding / being invisible.  She introduced me to a new way of thinking about myself, my body, my appearance, my sense of self and how all of this is represented in the clothes and accessories I wear through Evolve Your Style and 7 Steps to Style.  Both programs also introduced me to groups of amazing women and female role models who have become friends and part of a world-wide support network.

Conclusion

Through the kind words and examples in blog articles and comments on posts, I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and others.  Positive self talk is more than encouraging statements and affirmations that one might not believe when feeling negative.

Positive self talk is as simple as saying: I am doing the best I can right now, and that’s ok.

I hope you all click on the link and give this article a chance.  The author is a survivor like us and speaks from a perspective of compassion and strength.

Thank you for reading.

 

A quick review of my thoughts about and experience with meditation

I started meditating as a child in Taekwondo classes.  We had 5-15 minutes of meditation every class 2-3 times a week.  The purpose of that meditation was to practice focus and calmness – we focused on breathing in and out, sitting quietly, not moving.  As we got older, the focus transitioned to clearing our minds and letting thoughts flow in and out while focusing on our breath.  It was a sitting meditation with our eyes closed, posture straight.

As I got older and went to college, I learned about yoga and moving meditation too.  This was more like mindfulness meditation where the focus was on being present and acknowledging the sensations brought on by moving slow (yoga) or by the environment (walking meditation).  We let our feelings and thoughts flow in and out, acknowledging each bit while focusing on the deliberate, slow movement our bodies made with each position.

Then I started learning about Buddhism and meditation to clear my mind or free myself from the clutter of incessant thoughts and feelings.  This meditation was the most difficult for me as an adult because every time I started to clear my mind, my past memories (blocked by amnesia) would surface and cause flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  That kind of ruined the whole clear-my-mind and look into the emptiness goal.  Visualization worked better for me because I got to “paint a picture” with my imagination; less scary than looking into clear water or dark nothing.

Different kinds of meditation suit different purposes

The meditation taught in most therapy groups, sessions, and programs is mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness can help keep an individual grounded in the present while also teaching how to slow down and be more aware of self/surroundings.  Mindfulness teaches individuals how to be more aware of one’s internal landscape and offer tools to cope with overwhelming feelings.

Focused meditation is about learning mental and emotional self control by letting go of feelings and staying calm.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps build clarity of thought, compassion, and resilience depending on the goal of each session.  The hardest part about focused meditation is clearing one’s mind of stray thoughts and focusing on breathing or emptiness.

When I was in the partial programs, many of the moderators skipped meditation and dismissed it as too hard and not useful because of their failures to achieve positive mediation practice.  I felt angry when I heard this repeated; it made me rethink everything they taught.  Meditation helped me get to where I am and was my frame of reference so I could understand their emotion regulation concepts.

I use focused meditation to help with my shame and compassion work more than any other type.  It helps all of us (my alters and I) get in touch with the scary feelings from a safe and grounded place inside of ourselves.  The mindfulness meditation helps with the severe physical pain that comes from anxiety and body memories; we use this most often during panic attacks, nightmares, and insomnia.  And the moving meditation helps us cope with too much energy or compulsion to over exercise.  It offers a stretch and tone without a lot of exertion.

Lessons from almost 2o years of meditation practice

  • Meditation is hard
  • Meditation takes practice, persistence, and patience to learn
  • Trying to practice a focused meditation with DID and many alters is scary, confusing, and frustrating because the thoughts and feelings of other alters enter and flow through the same consciousness as the one trying to meditate.
  • Maintaining a level of physical stillness for some meditation practices with DID might be a big challenge
    • So far I have not found a way to stop my eyes from moving (sign of switching alters) when I practice a focused standing or sitting meditation with my eyes open.
  • Remember that meditation practice can be fluid and flexible to a degree
    • Try to accommodate personal quirks like alters or injuries in ways that still allow for beneficial practice
  • Clearing one’s mind is not exactly the goal – calming one’s mind is a better option
  • Calming one’s mind is scary for everyone because once you calm down, you can see everything you’ve been hiding from or ignoring or denying about yourself
  • The goal is not to attain emptiness or numbness, but to be able to  observe and acknowledge your internal feelings and sensations without having them take over your life.
  • The goal is to feel and let feelings/thoughts/sensations inform you and help make choices in every day life
  • Meditation helps me pause and step back when I feel overwhelmed, confused, or stressed out so that I can calm down and make choice based on emotion and logic instead of only emotion or only logic

Conclusion

Meditation is a skill worth learning.  There are many ways to learn, but I think that in-person lessons with an experienced practitioner are the best option for anyone with doubts and questions.  Instructors have experienced many of the barriers that frustrate people on all levels and can help students work through them one-on-one.

As with any strategy discussed here, practice, patience, and persistence make the difference between a useful and a not-helpful tool in the tool box.  Please take your time and go into each experiment with an open mind if you try out any of these options.  Then, if the strategy still doesn’t feel right, please move on or tweak the strategy in ways to make it useful to you.

Thanks for reading.

Background

End of July and most of August are typically the time of year when out-of-town relatives stay at my aunts’ houses and visit for a long family reunion that ends with the maternal grandmother’s birthday.  Some used to stay with my parents, but that changed sometime when I was in college.  This is speculation because no one ever told me anything, but I guess my relatives couldn’t face the truth of who was acting out against (aka abusing and scaring) their young children.  It’s easier for them to blame the scapegoat than to face a reality they refuse to acknowledge.

Why this anniversary is so scarring

But back to family reunions.  As scapegoat, I was mostly ignored or bullied by everyone.  And made to be the de facto babysitter as a young teen to keep me separated from the rest of my age-mate cousins and younger brother.  I didn’t mind because that gave me something to do with my time.  As I got older, though, so did the kids.  And the next generation of young children came from my older cousins – people who didn’t trust or like or respect me – and other relatives by marriage who didn’t want my help.  So I suddenly had nothing to keep the anxiety away.

And that generation of children were raised to treat me the same way as the adults.  And they did it with relish.  No one scolded them for being mean or indulging in bad habits around me, so they constantly made up ways to antagonize me.  And then with the silent treatment and shunning from the adults, I basically had no place to hide at family reunions.  No one to offer empathy, compassion, friendly conversation, etc.  And no place to go and cope with my anxiety or triggers.  I was on a stage with bright lights pointed at me all the time; they used every word, every gesture to humiliate and condemn me.

Typical Response

Dissociate, not leave the house, feel hyper-vigilant and scared all the time, stop sleeping, have nightmares, miss time from work, have panic attacks, severe body pain and memories, get sick, pass out, not eat, etc. for days or even weeks.  Lose time, lose memories, switch and practice self harm.

Response in new environment

Some disturbed sleeping, lots of anxiety, some flashbacks, lots of shame and tears, problems with my digestion and visit the bathroom a lot, increased body memories and body pain but not so much that I stay home and am incapacitated.  Some switching and reckless behavior – but that is more due to mistakes and learning a new environment that the shame capitalizes on than anything deliberate.

I am:

  • still working 5 days a week
  • going out with friends
  • active on the blog and website
  • going shopping/cooking/to restaurants
  • exercising
  • decorating my apartment
  • keeping in touch with safe family and friends (another post)
  • Utilizing my coping strategies (especially the hotline) while I try to find a provider here
  • making and keeping appointments for graduate school, scholarship research, etc.

Conclusion

The 2 months of anniversaries are tough.  Remembering how I was treated brings back lots of negative feelings that are hard to accept and cope with.

But being here in my new place, I truly feel safe and able to move beyond the typical fear.  Yes, it hurts.  yes I cry a lot.  Yes my body loses control sometimes.  Yes I feel aggression rise to the point where I scare myself of what could happen.

But it all goes away much faster.  I can let myself cry and experience all of these sensations instead of blocking them out.  And because of that, the pain and fear and anxiety lessen each time.  And each experience takes less out of me too.

So yeah, I’m still in rough shape.  The shame overwhelms me and causes me to apologize and over explain and feel terrible about good decisions.  It is constantly messing with my mind.  But I can get help from the hotline and my friends; they listen and help me find self-compassion through validation and reality testing.

I need my quiet evenings and 1 day a week of staying inside.  But I can spend that time being productive and happy (either doing something or doing nothing) instead of out of my mind with fear and disorientation.

Thanks for reading

CAVEAT

This will not be an in-depth post.  Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all  of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system.  The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms.  Finding and confirming the source may take a while.

This is a very big topic with multiple layers.

It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts.  If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification.  Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing.  It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.

Why is this important to understand?

To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis.  As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.

In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities.  About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met).  Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees.  This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.

Confusing and scary, yes?  Or no?

A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Body Memories
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
  • Dissociation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Severe body pain
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
  • Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
  • Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload

Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above.  But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them.  The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old.  But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.

My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming.  Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems.  They have a hard time accepting our body.  The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.

The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to  isolate and remove opportunities to move forward.  They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it.  But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.

Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.

Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood.  Females and males sexually abused our body/self.  They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters.  Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood.  Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.

And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame.  Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence.  They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.

Conclusion

When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms.  One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation.  Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term.  But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.

As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about.  Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult.  That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.

With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc.  That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.

I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.

Thank you for reading.

It has come to my attention that the tone and perspective of the posts written in the DID Posts category may be mistaken or misunderstood by guests and readers.

Many of the posts about DID are written by one or more alternate personalities who prefer to use a “locked vault” system of writing.  That means I (the one in charge of dealing with the outside world most of the time) am not directly involved in  the creation and editing of all of them.  Nor am I always the one to post the articles, re-read, edit, or check for potential miscommunications in tense, tone, or point of view (POV).  And the authors do not always realize how their words and writing styles could be interpreted by our guests on  the blog; especially the younger ones.

For this, we all want to apologize for any miscommunications or accidental insinuations that came from the post 2 weeks ago entitled: “DID Post: What does my internal system look like“.  This post was written from the perspective of 2 alters between 10 and 12 years old with help from some of the other adults who related better to them.  One alter is female; the other is male.  They want everyone here to know that the post is written from the perspective of how they used the tools our therapist gave them and the process they used to get around, through, and away from many triggers that caused failure, frustration, anger, and grudging acceptance.  The post is not at all about the approach or method that our therapist uses.  In fact, it is the OPPOSITE of her approach in many ways.

The girl alter and the boy alter explain a bit about why they wrote what they did in that post at the end.

This will happen often with DID posts because writing a post about the DID experience is full of conflicting feelings, perceptions, attitudes, thoughts, and reactions.  For many posts, there will be a “process” or “method” type post written from the perspective of the alter or alters sharing their story that focuses less on introspective feelings and thoughts and more on the steps, strategies, and tools involved.  Later on, after the alters have had some down time to reflect on any changes between then and now, they might write about a similar experience with the introspective feelings and thoughts that show more of the therapist’s approach in offering strategies or homework; what their reaction was to that approach; and why they used that process.  We write our posts this way because trying to incorporate process and feelings into the same post gets too messy and complicated – not to mention LONG.

IT IN NO WAY REFLECTS THE THERAPIST’S ATTITUDE, APPROACH TO WORKING WITH CLIENTS, OR POINT OF VIEW ABOUT THERAPEUTIC METHODOLOGIES.

As a reminder, I will say once again that these posts are written from my or my alters’ point of view and perception of how any one or all of us used the tools.  It in no way reflects/assumes/insinuates/intimates the approach, attitude, therapeutic process, feelings, or intentions of any of the therapists written about here unless specifically noted within the article.

GIRL ALTER’S EXPLANATION OF THE POV: I spent too many years having to nag or repeatedly ask questions or do my own investigations to get answers from any female adults.  The answers they gave me were evasions at best and lies at worst.  Any creativity or intelligence/outside-the-box-thinking I showed got everyone in our system punished with verbal attacks, public humiliation, private beatings, bullying or increased sexual duties on top of doing my homework, by brother’s homework, laundry, housekeeping, and covering for my mom when she went into one of her moods.  So yeah, I was angry and upset.  I didn’t want to do the mapping exercise, but I wanted to know the rest of my family.  I tried and failed so many times.  I got lost in the dark.  I got eaten by the monsters.  I got trapped, stuck in mud holes up to my neck, dumped on, and had to relive every single punishment that came from being creative each time I tried to participate in the mapping exercise.  It wasn’t until one of the other alters was passing by and stopped to help me rescue myself from the flashbacks that I understood what the mapping and communication meant to all of us.  So yeah, I was pissed, angry, upset and confused.  I knew there were more like me inside, but I’d never really “met” them; only hear our therapist and didn’t understand why she never talked directly to me before until I met that alter.

BOY ALTER’S EXPLANATION OF THE POV: I hated being trapped in a weak girl’s body.  I was full of anger and resentment and confused about why I couldn’t be in charge all the time.  I was a boy, much stronger than anyone else (not that I believed anyone else existed at the time) and exactly what mom and dad wanted.  They wanted their first born to be a son not a daughter.  It wasn’t a big deal until the body turned 10 years old; that’s when weird things started to happen.  Instead of the penis appearing like it was supposed to according to mom, the body grew breasts and hips.  And our stomach started feeling weird sometimes.  I heard the therapist in session and always liked listening to her; she didn’t judge or push or force programs and lesson plans on me.  She didn’t pretend I was invisible either when I talked to her.  But I was in charge when I was out.  And I didn’t want to give that up.  I was the oldest, strongest, best and wanted everything to stay that way.  The mapping exercise made the monsters come out more often and gave them ore power over me.  I didn’t want or need help from the other imaginary people in here.  Or that is what I thought until I got kidnapped and forced into reliving the secret rituals again.  The alters who came and rescued me made time to teach me how to escape and protect myself first.  That’s when I learned I wasn’t the only one there.  They let me help rescue the others too; we all made it out safely.  And that’s how I became part of the map.  Grudgingly, with a chip on my shoulder.  So yeah, that attitude was all me, not our therapist.

IMG_7206

Not every time, but often I wish this could be true.  I wish there was at least one safe person in my life who could see inside and offer me this.

This time I am offering a virtual hug to my guests through the quote.  We are not alone.

May we all find that special someone when we are ready.

Thanks for reading

What is whole/parts theory?

I am almost positive that this is the incorrect name for the actual psychological theory, but “whole/parts theory” is how I and my alters (aka parts) remember it.

This theory is based on the belief that a human personality/identity is made up of many parts, or characteristics/thoughts/feelings/beliefs, that work together to create the complete individual.  This is how one person can have conflicting wants and needs or trouble making a decision.

Some Examples: 

  • Person A hates romantic movies, but really likes the actor playing the lead in a new romance in the theaters.  Does he go or not go?
  • Person B is invited to go out with her friends on the same day she normally visits her cousins to go fishing.  What does she choose?
  • Person C is popular and girly, but loves working on cars and motorcycles with her father.
  • Person D is in college; he wears lots of leather and chains, rides a motorcycle, is pre-med, and is a member of the student government.
  • Person E is asked out on a date by someone she really likes, but her parents told her she isn’t allowed to date yet.  Does she say no or sneak out to go on the date?
  • Person F is a geek who really enjoys anything related to computers, but he is also a great Rugby player and plays for the local team.

How does this relate to DID?

By using the whole/parts theory and the tree metaphor, I have a frame of reference to use in understanding what kinds of coping strategies and techniques will support different alters and our system as a whole.

To the outside world, I am one person with one body and one personality/identity.  It is relatively homogenous, but people who know me well, know that I am a bit eccentric and quirky too.  Coping strategies that help all of us work through system wide triggers (aka anxiety or panic in the outside world) are like safety blankets that comfort and help all of the systems while not completely addressing the root cause or primary trigger.

This is true for me because the primary trigger resides with a single alter or a group of alters in our system.  One alter gets triggered, and that causes a domino effect in the rest of the system.  We have safety protocols and coping strategies to help in times like these, but they are a stopgap to help until we get home or to a safe place where the alters can come out and utilize individual coping strategies to help with specific symptoms and triggers unique to their experiences.

That is where the “parts” part of the theory comes in handy.  To our internal world, we are 88 unique personalities who make up the identity of a single person.  We work together and cooperate to ensure every part is heard, accepted, valued and included in the choices we make as a person to the outside world.  “Every part in exactly the right place” to paraphrase my therapist.  Part of my need for and love of solitude comes from being an introvert.  The rest comes from needing extra time to help parts of myself struggling with the past and present cope with the trauma effectively and safely.

And since each alter carries a unique piece of the trauma history, he/she/it needs to utilize different strategies from others during the same panic attack, moment of anxiety, etc.  One alter at a time can be in charge of our body.  But every one of us feels the pain and memories when our body is triggered.  We experience the pain differently and have different memories surface.

How do we all use different coping strategies when inside one body?

That is a work in progress.  But here are some tried and true tips that have worked over the past year and a half:

  • Listen to your alters with ALL of your senses.  Some may speak, but most do not.  I can tell the difference between memories and alters because my memories ONLY speak, but my alters prefer sending pictures, movies, cards, notes, dance routines, songs, food, lyrics, stuffed animals, etc. to communicate their thoughts and feelings
  • Use a ?? for any questions; try sending images at first – they tend to be easier for some alters, especially child ones, to understand
  • If and when you do try and “let all of the alters out”, make sure you are in a safe place and either sitting or lying down.  I personally prefer lying down and closing my eyes; it lowers the chances of my getting dizzy or accidentally falling out of the chair.
  • When trying grounding or self-soothing (aka comforting yourself) techniques, pay attention to the sensations and feelings or avoidance of both.  Usually that is how alters express positive, neutral, and negative responses to a coping strategy or technique
  • Sometimes you have to be the parent or responsible parent-like figure in your system.  That’s okay because healthy boundaries make alters feel safer the same way children feel safer.

Conclusion

DID is confusing and scary.  Not many therapists are willing to work with someone who has DID, let alone try outside of the box strategies.  I am lucky because my therapist does specialize in DID and has helped me feel confident in pushing the boundaries of “acceptable” coping strategies.

Not everyone’s experience of DID is like mine, so please read with an open mind and only try out suggestions that have meaning for you.

Thanks for Reading

875d5f0d12bcdb70aaf1913a4fceb9c4

I haven’t written much about DID lately.  That is because my alters and I have been quietly working on internal strategies related to communication and organization.  We’ve been creating a map of where everyone lives and trying to establish coping strategies to help with shame and backlash that comes from self-expression and communication related to switching.  This way, even when alters go away for alone time or get lost, they have a way to find home again.

My first DID homework

After my therapist finally admitted to me that I had DID and why she didn’t tell me sooner, she gave me a homework assignment.  It was a long-term, multipart project that ended up taking months.

The assignment: identify my alters and map out what the system looked like visually.

My first attempt identified 20 alter personalities and looked like an idea map (brainstorming tool) of bubbles.  The next one had 60 alters and looked like a flow chart.  Finally, a flow chart and idea map became a spider web.  But no one inside liked that version.  For almost a year, I believed our system topped out at 60 alters, including me.  But then I started hearing a voice speaking in Spanish.  And another two or three played songs related to how they felt.  Many sent pictures or movies.

In fact, 80 alters showed up for the next roll call.

By now, we’d stopped trying to map out the ever-changing landscape and trying to identify the alters with names.  No one had a concrete visual of safe spaces.  And many alters changed their names as they grew and changed through the recovery process.  When I explained this to my therapist, she agreed to put this exercise aside and concentrate on other parts of IFS therapy.

2014 is the year I legally changed my name and finally started to feel safe.  It’s also the year our last 7 alters appeared to the system.  They appeared just after I re-read a book called Amongst Ourselves and started reading/listening to Pema Chodron’s books about fear, courage, and compassion.  And that’s when I realized we were coming at the homework assignment from the wrong perspective.  Instead of going back to our roots (pun intended) and looking for a nature-based metaphor, we had been using logical tools to draw a reasonable representation of an ever-changing, chaotic landscape.

What our internal system looks like

My internal system looks like a bent, twisted, stunted tree with a short trunk and many strong branches that extend in every direction instead of a straight, tall one with a strong trunk and perfect horizontal branches.  Our underground root system is deep and strong like any other tree, but visually, we look different from maples and pines and cedars, etc.  More like an oversized bush that got lifted during a wind storm and continued growing.  Or maybe like a bamboo that a got knotted and twisted into various shapes before continuing to grow to maturity.

IMG_7080  This tree reminds me of the knotted bamboo metaphor above.  I wrote the first draft of this post before finding the photo, but decided not to change either description.  It’s not often I find a mature tree that represents my internal family so well.

But this is important to us because with switching and communication comes a giant helping of shame and self-hatred.  For too many years, we all were taught not to communicate with each other, not to work together.  And when caught, we were abused even more – many of my alters are mouthy and assertive.  They speak their minds and do not hold back.  This was seen as rebellion and defiance; two actions that caused any and all perpetrators to escalate their tactics in order to shut everyone down again.

So you probably will be seeing more posts about DID and coping strategies we use to help with anxiety induced switching, panic attacks, shame, and other triggers.

You will also see a few posts about mindfulness and meditation as relates to trauma and recovery.

Thanks for reading.

I’ve read other bloggers who share information about their own recovery journeys and found them very helpful.  They offer resources, visuals, graphs, charts, and how-tos.  Their posts are well written and appealing to many different kinds of learners.  Their websites are free of many ads too.  Many thanks to any and all who break the silence barrier by writing and sharing their experiences.

One thing I most appreciate about their blogs is how they can define in specific terms what category their abuser fits into or what type of abuse they survived if the writer is a survivor of trauma.  If not a survivor or victim, then I appreciate how the writer can define so clearly the type of mental health issue he or she suffers from and all of the different types of coping strategies that work or don’t work with those particular struggles.

Because I can’t do that.  Not without leaving out or neglecting a group of individuals who have suffered in some way and come here for anonymous, safe support and resources.  Also not without delving deeper into memories and experiences not yet accessible to my conscious mind.  Many of my alters like to take turns and write posts here on the blog too. That means the quality and content are sometimes inconsistent and may seem unprofessional or unrelated to the topic.  But every post is some how related to trauma, abuse, neglect, recovery, and resources; that much I guarantee.

What I’ve shared so far is the tip of  the iceberg.  The focus has been on current events and present coping strategies.  I will continue to do that.  And as often as possible, one or all of the alters will try to remind the post author to include a photo or quote or something visual to go with the words.  That is difficult because at heart, I am a writer.  Words are my best communication tool.  But I want to connect with other types of learning and processing styles too, so adding in audio/visual elements is a personal goal to improve this blog.

And this is my hobby.  I wish I could dedicate more time, but work and life, maybe even graduate school in the near future, will take precedence.  If I knew of a way to get this site to pay for itself without using ads, I would do that.  Then I could dedicate more time to building the resource pages and more interesting posts.  And I could expand the website to offer other kinds of resources too.

But for now, this is it.  I write what I know.  I share what I learn.  And I hesitate to label anything because I am not a professional.  My therapist does not put labels on my parents other than  to call them sociopathic and psychopathic.  Nor does she label me or any of there other clients other than to call us trauma survivors.

She understand that I was a victim of incest by both parents and some family members by marriage; along with that was neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, bullying, shaming, and financial abuse from my parents, sibling, family members, educators, physicians/providers, and community; finally  the sexual abuse from my pediatrician and his ring of pedophiles, cult abuse and ritual torture from the religious cult who ran under the guise of Mormons and had connections with the pedophile ring and drug connections within the community.

I’m 33 going on 34, a victim and a survivor.  I changed my name and moved across the country to try to get away from the negative influences of my past.  Now I have a chance to live without worrying that my past will haunt me every moment of every day.

So no, I don’t use labels.  I don’t try to figure out what kind of abuser my parents or other perpetrators were.  I do read a lot of books about internal family systems, intergenerational trauma, toxic relationships, shame, compassion, coping techniques, coping strategies, and whatever disorders are symptoms of my main diagnosis (PTSD).  Then I work on my own (with my alters) and with therapists to apply what I’ve learned.  Knowledge is power.

Understanding them and their motivations helps me understand myself and my reactions to the world around me.

It also gives me perspective so that I can separate the individuals from the behaviors and thoughts.  By doing this, I can hold the perpetrators responsible, can hate their words and actions, without blaming the human beings.

Blame enables shame, anger, and victimization.

Accountability, aka holding them responsible, fosters forgiveness, compassion, empathy, acceptance, knowledge, and healing.

Which would you choose?

Thanks for reading.

I attempted suicide 4 times before turning 21.  Some part of me stopped the attempt from being successful 3 times.  The fourth time, though, was almost too late.  I prayed; my alters prayed too.  We all promised that night to get help, to change our path, if we survived the night.  And we did – survive and change paths – that is.

But this didn’t stop any of us from contemplating suicide when times got rough.  It didn’t stop my anyone from creating elaborate plans for various suicide attempts.  It didn’t stop us from putting ourselves into reckless or dangerous situations that could potentially “help us along” – i.e. suicide by car or gang violence or mugging – for many years after that.

BUT I DO NOT CONDONE SUICIDE OR THE TAKING OF LIVES EXCEPT THROUGH ACCIDENTS, LONG-TERM ILLNESS, OR AGE.

I DO SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO TAKE BACK CONTROL OF THEIR LIVES BY GIVING  THEMSELVES CHOICES

And that’s what the idea of suicide was to me back then.  It was a choice.  One of the few choices I had control over in my life at the time.  I woke up every day and decided to live or die.  I went to bed every night instead of dying.  I worked instead of being reckless.  I went home instead of going out late at night and walking by myself.

Last summer, my therapist forwarded me a free webinar by Bessel Van Der Kolk.  Mr. Van Der Kolk was promoting his new book The Body Keeps the Score and used the webinar to highlight interesting research.  One of the things I found most interesting was how he denounced current strategies for talking to victims of trauma contemplating suicide.  He said that the current approach was wrong because the people were punishing the victim for coping with internal struggles the only way he or she knew how.  The punishment caused more shame and reinforced the victim’s belief that suicide was good because the victim was worthless to the world and didn’t deserve to exist.

Instead of trying to talk the victim out of suicide, Mr. Van Der Kolk suggested validating the victims’ choice and method of coping by pointing out the victim made a choice and a decision.  One that doesn’t have anything to do with death, but with living.  Then suggest other methods of coping as choices to try now; and allow the victim to keep suicide as an option for coping if nothing else works – kind of like a safety net in the background.  Eventually, the other strategies replace suicide.  And the practice of making choices, being heard, being seen and validated, helps the victim become a survivor who doesn’t need suicide as an option anymore.

I kept thoughts of suicide as one of my last resort strategies up until last year.  The process of planning suicide is time-consuming and thought-provoking.  There are so many ways and options for each way to commit suicide.  Planning and process; creating a to-do list; researching locations, etc. all distract the mind from painful feelings and memories.  And that’s what I needed then.  A distraction that could take me away for a while and give me some breathing space.

But I never planned to follow through on killing myself.  Nor did I plan to go further than thinking about and planning options for suicide attempts.  I needed that last resort choice for times when nothing else in my tool box worked.  Not the positive strategies I’ve mentioned here.  Not more neutral or negative ones.  Not sel-harm.  Not medicine.  My feelings and memories were too intense; and trying anything positive to “cope” or “put away” for a while only increased the pressure inside me.  I couldn’t calm down; had to ride the wave of sensation without losing control.

That meant keeping my mind occupied without something else stimulating, rebellious, thought-provoking, and full of strategy while letting my body lie down with eyes closed to minimize physical risks.

So, no I don’t condone suicide.

But I believe that anyone contemplating suicide, especially trauma victims and survivors, need to have  their choices validated and be approached in a different way than the norm if counselors and loved ones truly want to help them.

Thanks for reading.