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Thanks to Athina at Courage Coaching for sharing this video about complex trauma!

Originally posted on A Broken Blue Sky: The following video is one of the best videos I have watched on Complex PTSD. If you suffer from C-PTSD, it will be very emotional to watch. But it will also be very validating of all that you went through and help you to understand your reactions to…

via “Complex Trauma: Understanding and Treatment” — Courage Coaching

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Background

Earlier this week (Sunday to Monday), I took a red eye flight across the country to visit family and friends.  When I arrived, I got off the plane and went to work first.  4 days of work and 8 days vacation make sense so I can spend time with both families.  I didn’t anticipate many problems because I usually sleep most of the plane trip.  And I pay extra for the plane upgrades – extra space, early boarding, early advantage for carry on space – and conveniences that make  flying easier.

Main Concerns

  • Panic attack
  • Body memories
  • Physical Pain
  • Digestion/bladder/bowel issues
  • Confusion
  • Dissociation

The biggest Surprise
My alter personalities were restless and active the whole time I slept
What happened:

  • I fell asleep with my sleep headphones and a sleep mask wearing my comfy airplane outfit (knee length dress, head scarf, long sleeve wool cardigan, and sleep socks).
  • My alters came out, and I started switching in my sleep.
  • They started taking over our body and moving me around in the chair.  A Lot.
  • Then they objected to the seat belt and kept sending pain signals to my left side.
  • Later, I had to use the restroom, but they wouldn’t wake up an adult to deal with this.
  • Eventually, I had to get up and move around; used that time to visit the restroom.
  • I offered to buy us a travel blanket so we could curl up and get comfortable without exposing too much skin, but they kept saying “no”.
  • Then our body temp lowered as we relaxed into rest mode.
  • Half way through the flight, I gave up trying to sleep and just listened to music or TV instead.

The Challenge of Restless Alters on a Plane:

  • Disturbing my neighbors while they slept
  • Feeling shame and over apologizing to my seat mates
  • Anxiety over how I appear to the flight attendants and other passengers
  • The discomfort and pain of sitting in one position so long without any of the meditation techniques working to relieve the pain

The Second Biggest Surprise
Riding the bus from the airport to the office.

What Happened:

  • The bus was crowded so I had to stand in an awkward position
  • At the stop after mine, an older woman came on the bus and kept staring at or through me
  • The bus driver had to get off for about 10 minutes at the third stop; we didn’t know if he would come back or not
  • While the driver was off, the woman kept looking at me as if it was my fault.  I kept looking her in the eye, shrugging, and then looking away
  • Then an Asian girl got on the bus.  And the woman started talking to the other passengers in a strong local accent
  • The accent triggered me and made me feel so nauseous I got off early
  • The next bus was almost empty, but I ended up at work later than I wanted
  • The nausea didn’t go away until I used pressure points on my wrists; then kept coming back throughout the day

Rest of the Challenges

  • I lost my liquid items and toothpaste out of anxiety and stress
  • (forgot to take them out of my bag and then put them in again after my bag went through the machine again)
  • In Chinatown, people were extremely rude because my bald scalp showed through my head scarf
  • At lunch, I had to interact with people who were not exactly nice to me before I left
  • By lunch I was feel jet-lag and started crying in the bathroom from overwhelming feelings (good and bad)

Coping Strategies

  • Focusing on the positive
  • Acknowledging the potential triggers & negative feelings; then letting them go
  • Using grounding techniques
  • Allowing myself to feel everything
  • Giving and receiving lots of hugs
  • Getting my work done
  • Keeping in touch with my relatives
  • Asking for a ride home instead of using public transportation
  • Getting a good night’s sleep

Next on the list to research

  • Strategies for stretching and relaxing on a long flight
  • Strategies for helping my alters calm down during sleep
  • Strategies for dealing with the shame that comes from too much activity that disturbs my seat neighbors

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

***Disclaimer: All DID posts are written from the perspective of one or more alters and not in any way paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting/misquoting from other sources.***

ALL ALTERS

Just after Christmas 2016, my quiet alter started “talking” to me in dreams.  She shared information in fragments, sometimes blanking out because the fear and shame were overwhelming to the point of creating nightmares.  But she persisted.  And every evening, all 88 of us gathered in front of our library fireplace with our comfort objects and listened to her share the pain she’d been holding in for 30 plus years.

Her name is Pip – it’s because she used to make the perpetrators “laugh” in annoyance with her “bold” comments & actions compared to small size and delicate appearance – and she’s the fourth host in our group (Me (I go by AlterXpressions here), Angora, Shea (male most of the time), and Pip).

Now Pip has a rather interesting skill set – she is athletic, intelligent, has amazing reflexes, perceptive, and tough – because of her time with the pedophiles, the cult, and the traffickers who worked with both groups.  Pip has advanced training with hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, escape arts (from bondage, etc.), and weapons; she has mad research and logistics skills; she can tell when someone is lying; she knows when she is being followed; and she can recognize a potentially dangerous or antagonistic (dislikes her) environment by an energy change in the space.

But she has trouble talking and connecting with most people – in her mind everyone’s a potential threat – except the one’s she considers her family and other survivors like herself.  She is the one who controlled our body and lived a separate life during those times I couldn’t remember what happened in the evenings and on the weekends.  Pip handled the people who got rowdy outside our apartment by disarming and disabling them.

PIP

They enjoyed blocking me from job opportunities and volunteer work; keeping me afraid to go back to the police or other organizations that could help.  How did they know where to look or how to keep track?  My parents and sibling of course.  They knew all of me; invaded my privacy, got my passwords, put tracking and recording devices on my electronics, and often searched my room/apartment/etc.  They copied and stole my identity multiple times too.

When my therapists asked me who was following me?  Who was keeping track of me?  How did I know this?  Did I have proof?

None of us could say anything.  Pip wasn’t talking, and she wouldn’t let any of us talk either.

ALL ALTERS

Instead, she kept all of this from us and encouraged Angora, Shea, and me to create “legitimate” life for ourselves any way we could.  While the three of us worked on that and keeping the rest of our system stable, Pip and a few alters who helped her in her work reconnected with the (now retired) under cover cop who taught and protected us as much as possible while in the cult.

He ran a private investigation firm with a few other people; it specialized in rescuing people from and helping law enforcement take down human trafficking/drug rings and cults.  Turns out some of the the “other people” were boys from the male soldier sects of the cult – aka my brothers; boys I trained and worked with from 7-17.  The rest were former cops and people he served with in the military.  They were happy to welcome us back – all of us even though Pip did most of the hosting here – and let us join the firm with conditions.

PIP

The retired cop loved and treated me like his daughter and asked me to call him “uncle”.  I loved him the same way.  Same with 5 of the men in the company – they became my brothers; I became their sister.

MY REAL FAMILY

We parted ways the first time because I was going to college out of state.  Plus everyone understood that neither I nor my alters wanted to  be part of that world anymore.  What world?  The world of drugs, weapons, violence, poverty/wealth discrepancies, slavery, and trafficking.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t join the military or the police, not then.  First, I was having the anger management and grief problems.  Second, I would have failed the psych profiles and other evaluations since I came out only part of the time while the others handled the rest of our life.  We weren’t ready for the truth to come out.  Finally, my parents and the other perpetrators would have done everything in their power to block me from joining.  Then they would have followed through on their threats to kill me and harm my family.

So I went to college, determined to get out of that world forever.  You can understand why the rest of Uncle’s employees were skeptical of my wanting to work with and for them after 1 school year away.  Plus, many of them hadn’t met me before.  You can understand their skepticism of my skill set and abilities based on physical appearance and lack of communication/socializing with anyone.

The rest of the group and I learned to trust, respect, and accept each other over time; and then they became family too.  It helped that I never took any of that money for my other life.  That money went to programs for helping others out of domestic violence, my bill as a “client”, and a trust to help any victims we rescued who didn’t have the resources to start over.  Yes, I wanted help getting out from under the perpetrator’s thumbs.  That meant getting away from my family too at some point.

When I was in charge, I lived with my real family – had my own suite to keep clean – in their HQ.  We didn’t have a communication protocol, but there were ways for us to keep in touch.  Plus I had a schedule of how many week days (before AlterXpressions got her full-time job) and weekends I stayed with them.

ALL ALTERS

She did this type of work for 15 years, not so much because she wanted to, but because it was a guaranteed way to protect all of us from the monsters who weren’t in jail or dead.  The high-powered individuals who the police did not have enough evidence to charge or convict, but knew of and kept track of us even after the trial.  Some were members of the police force.  Others worked in different civil and government offices.  More were medical and business professionals.

And before this work, she spent a lot of time within the cult and the trafficking rings (they eventually combined businesses to increase profit) rescuing her classmates and others who had been kidnapped.  The result being many people from her past, people she didn’t back down from and honed her verbal “beat-down” skills on, dislike/hate her and sometimes take it out on the other alters.  None of us blame her for that, but she blames herself and often feels shame.

This is our way of trying to show and tell Pip and her helper alters that they have NOTHING to be or feel ashamed of.

Thanks for reading

Beware this is a long rambling post…

Being watched – paranoia or reality?

One thing I as the host often say to people is that I feel like people are always watching me.  And no one in my circle of friends really challenges that.  Except for the people in my new home state; they challenge me on this often because no one here really does watch me the same way as before.  And in spite of knowing about my past, they really do believe I am worrying too much about what others think of me.

From their perspective and experience, it’s true.  And without the added trauma history of my past, I’d agree with them 100%.  But, and this is a big BUT, even though my perspective may be skewed (I always appreciate friends helping me adjust perspective and kicking my ass when necessary), the origins of these feelings are real.  I can’t always verbalize these thoughts in a way that makes sense to outsiders.

So both perspectives are true.  And each perspective matches alter personalities in our system.  In general, I lack confidence in speaking to people because I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth.  Then I worry about offending other people (trigger from past experience) with my opinions.  Where I live now, I am not being watched by other people except in the usual sense.

Never Alone, always observed

But, sometimes I feel like I’m being watched.  And in a conversation today, I realized that I am being watched.  Not by outside people, but by my alter personalities who are observing and protecting me as I start to relax and be more myself around lots of people.  They are feeling hyper-vigilant while the adult parts of me are ready to let go, relax, and show confidence in socializing and communicating verbally with people.

Sounds strange right?  But maybe not so much to someone else with DID or who is close with an individual who has DID?  It feels strange that right now I am my own worst enemy towards moving forward.  At the same time, it also feels right and true because the parts of me who are scared and feeling hyper-vigilant are also the ones who were abused, shamed, criticized, and humiliated in public/private/around family/in the community all the time.

They are trying to protect the system (aka us) from experiencing that again.  In doing so, they focus on everyone else’s communication and behavior while ignoring how we are appearing to everyone else.  And my attention as host is split.  Then other alters try to help by taking over and socializing or communicating.  And if many of us try to communicate at the same time?  Well that never ends in a good place either.

Stress of Communicating with Family While also Apartment Hunting

So this week was full of strangeness.  I had to communicate with various family members – trying not to play favorites – and also spent a lot of time interacting with strangers as I went apartment hunting.  In my world – talking to people = untold amounts of stress.  I can only do that comfortably for short periods of time after a lot of internal preparation.

But I had goals to accomplish this week.  Lots of them.  One goal was to nail down an apartment I could call home for many years.  Another was to go out someplace new and experience peripheral socializing.  i.e. find someplace outside of my apartment where I could relax and maybe write blog posts or read or research information for the Resources page.  I kind of did both by apartment hunting.

Now my choices are narrowed down to two options:  

Option 1 offers a lot of amenities, but is kind of pricey.  The space is large enough to accommodate my home office and living space while still small enough for me to feel comfortable.  And it’s an open plan studio in a new construction building.

Option 2 is a smaller open plan studio in a renovated boarding house with less amenities and a price well within my budget.  The space is open plan and has built-in shelving to help utilize the space in the best possible way.  I’d have to think creatively and work with the owner, but can definitely fit office and living space.

 

 

Hiding Behind a Shield of Insecurity

I’ve spent a lot of time downplaying my skills and experience, hiding my natural strength and confidence under layers of shame or abuse-induced insecurity.  Slowly but surely, those layers are being peeled away.  But it’s at times like this – when I get wrapped around and twisted inside those memories without even realizing it – that I am holding myself back because of fear.

All I see is the negative.  All I see is how people are reacting to me.  All I feel is blame and responsibility for offending those people with my lack of (whatever) and inability to stay focused on the conversation during the interaction.  I fear miscommunicating – being misheard and misunderstood – more than anything else.

DID makes following a conversation difficult sometimes.  I switch unconsciously when I feel safe and comfortable.  My alters and I all share thoughts and speak with the same voice and face most of the time.  Only when feeling scared or angry do physical changes manifest.  So most people don’t know if I am speaking to them or myself, and I’m not even sure sometimes.

It’s like living in a crazy-making world where everything I say is twisted around until I get into trouble.  Past triggers meet present.

If I remember the conversation, great I can cover up alter opinions as thinking out loud or reflecting on information.  The times when I don’t remember or when I switch because I feel threatened during social interaction or conversation are the ones that cause the most trouble.  And also the experiences that cause my alter personalities to “watch” or “react to” everything with hyper-vigilance.

Conclusion

As I settle in to my new home, I find myself more and more frustrated with this insecurity about communication.  For some reason, I feel more scared in the summer than I do any other time of the year.  Yes, I deal with worsening symptoms, body pain, flashbacks, and so on other parts of the year.  But I never feel as scared and mute then as I do now.

I chose to live alone, to be alone.  And I enjoy my current lifestyle.  But I feel so much anxiety and discomfort socializing because of internal expectations I never knew existed.  As my alters share these expectations with me, we all realize that they are the foundations for this fear and insecurity.  Something else to work on in therapy.  Thanks alters for finally opening up.

Thanks for reading today’s ramble.

Background

Something not often mentioned is that different alters (or parts) have different experiences in the same body.  It’s why doctors and medical professionals could have trouble diagnosing illnesses or interpreting lab tests.  Or why nurses have trouble finding veins to take blood or give IVs.  This can even explain why one person can be sick with the flu, but not exhibit any physical symptoms except through a blood test.  Sometimes, it also changes physical appearance and healing rates.

Personal Experience

For me, some of my alter personalities don’t have to eat.  Other alter personalities (mostly my child parts) love eating meat, dairy, poultry, fish/seafood, and eggs (aka animal products) because they bring back good memories with family.  Most of my adolescent and adult alter personalities (me included) prefer a nutrient-focused, vegetarian or vegan (whole foods, plant based) eating style.  None of us really enjoy eating processed or fast food except for a treat once in a while; usually it tastes too salty, too sweet, or too much like chemicals.

The nutrient-focused, whole foods path works because plants are easy for our body to digest, bring a variety of pleasurable flavors & textures to meals, and are fun to cook.  Eating animal products and even some processed foods

  • When I eat meat and animal products, the vegetarian and vegan alters don’t get involved in digesting those meals.
  • When I eat plant based meals, everyone except the alters who don’t eat help with digestion.
  • My child parts and adolescent parts (up to mid-twenties probably) were anorexic and still struggle with triggers and the possibility of relapse.
  • My adult parts struggle with weight fluctuations and finding a diet with a label that helps the system stay healthy, tastes good, and limits potential triggers and small lapses.
  • We all struggle with making good food and hydration choices about 4-5 times a year when these triggers appear.  Past experiences with shaming and lack of support make this more difficult than it has to be.

The Challenge

Right now, the challenge is maintaining an interest in eating and hydrating.  I feel frustrated with my food options and hydration options.  I do not feel hungry or thirsty or interested in eating.  And by “I”, I mean everyone in my system.  No one wants to cook or get delivery or visit a restaurant or purchase takeout.

The first internal conflict: is the choice to eat mostly plant-based, whole foods style

  1.  rebellion against family
  2.  the beginning of a relapse for anorexia
  3. A personal choice that makes everyone in the system happy?

The second internal conflict: is the choice to animal products

  1. A self-harm compulsion triggered by obsessive thoughts about having to eat according to family and cultural/societal rules
  2. A self-harm compulsion to hurt myself and make myself sick as punishment for feeling happy and getting healthier
  3. A personal choice that makes the minor discomfort manageable because it helps younger alter personalities feel grounded and connected to happier times?

Side note: I use hydrating because “drinking” can sometimes trigger negative feelings – something I hope to avoid for any guests who read this post – or be misinterpreted.  Maybe it’s over-explaining, but that distinction is as much for my benefit as it is for the readers’ benefit.

Epiphany

Part 1

The first week after my dental surgery, I ate 100% whole foods, plant based meals.  With the exception of serious gas and constipation issues from the anesthesia and first few days of antibiotics, my digestion was fine.  I am grateful for acupuncture and food medicine for that turnaround.  What surprised me most was:

  1. how great I felt physically in spite of the pain
  2. how emotionally stable I felt in spite of the triggering experiences
  3. how rapidly my body healed with minimal pain killers with lots of rest & minimal activity
  4. how well I slept in spite of the pain and anxiety that came from flashbacks and food triggers
  5. the root of my food triggers centered around
  6. fear that this choice is based on PTSD food fears and anorexia nervosa relapse symptoms
  7. food and diet shaming
  8. lack of support from past medical and mental health professionals along with family members and friends

Part 2

  1. all alter parts feeling frustrated by these conflicting internal thoughts and feelings
  2. fear that that each time I ate animal products was giving into self-harm compulsions because of obsessive internal thoughts
  3. we all justified eating those meals as experiments to help child alters understand and experience the negative reaction our body has to eating animal products
  4. helping our system make peace with the conflict by explaining that eating animal products is fine as long as we are willing to accept the consequences – gas, constipation, slow digestion, nausea/stomachaches, backaches, lethargy – for a limited time
  5. acknowledging that the frustration stems from wanting to cook and eat a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle 90% of the time
  6. acknowledging that nothing is being excluded – we can eat animal products & processed food any time as long as we are willing to feel physically ill for a little while afterwards
  7. Alcohol is not included here because it’s in a different category – none of us like the taste of alcohol, but we do enjoy drinking once in a while with close friends.
    1. Problem is: we metabolize alcohol fast like with most other drugs and get drunk really easily.
    2. So 1 alcoholic beverage drunk over an hour = a drunk me for about 2-3 hours.  Then I’m fine except for the hangover headache.  If I fall asleep within the 2-3 hours, I wake up hungover.
    3. Very perplexing and makes drinking hard to enjoy…
  8. Processed foods are something I happily live without most of the time because they do not satisfy my hunger anymore.  When I do make an exception, it’s because of a craving for comfort food.  And then we all can enjoy the treat.

Conclusion

I and everyone in my system feel conflicted still.  It’s going to take a long time to sort out.  This time around, though, I have a mental health and a medical professional supporting me in the transition.  I also have many friends who support me as I try to stay healthy and make good coping strategy choices.

With knowledge comes power to make informed choices.  With trust comes the benefit of a real support network that can/will/does lift me up when I fall, encourage me when I doubt myself, and kick my ass when needed.  As for coping strategies, I’m not sure what to try or what will work.  If I find anything that helps, I will share in a future post.

If any of you are struggling with food choices, food addiction, or an eating disorder, I encourage you to learn more about different kinds of nutrition and diets, explore eating styles, and ask lots of questions.  Then (and I know this can be triggering) if you feel ready, listen to your body and how it feels before, during, and after you eat or hydrate.  My body always finds a way to tell me if it likes or dislikes something; maybe yours will too.

Thanks for reading

With memories coming back and alters being more active, I miss my physical book collection.  Many of the books I kept are about DID and dissociation.  They helped fill in the information gaps between visits to my therapist.  The books also helped me be able to explain some issues to people at work so that I could get accommodation and assistance with communication problems.

But I had to leave them with family last summer.  My apartment was too small, and I didn’t plan in advance – needed more boxes to ship the books – well enough.  No one in  the system thought it would be too big an issue.  We felt safe and stable enough to not have those resources at hand.  And there are many more bookstores where I live now than where I lived before.

Should have been easy to borrow from the library or find a book to read at a bookstore, correct?  Well, not so much when the topic is Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I found some books from the library.

But now I’m having trouble reading them.

Not sure what’s holding me back.

But maybe (I hope) this weekend I will get to one of them.

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.

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

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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.