Archives for category: Recovery

Halloween is tomorrow.  From an objective perspective, I enjoy people watching and seeing the families with young children trick-or-treating.  From a personal perspective, my triggers are still too raw for my to actually enjoy the holiday.

So here is Wednesday’s post a few days early.

Background

Saturday afternoon, I was doing errands and visiting friendly people in the neighborhood.  It was the first day all week that I felt somewhat energetic and able to go out.  Not sure about you, but sometimes, in spite of using every coping strategy possible and trying to stay healthy, the flashbacks, triggers, pain, and exhaustion win.  And it comes down to choices: stay in, rest and be able to work; or go out, enjoy the nice weather, do errands, and come home feeling tired/sick/unable to work then next day?

But Saturday, started off pretty good and continued that way until obligation reared its ugly head.  Not sure if you recall, but I wrote a few posts back in August/September about toxic relationships and communication with people in my life.  My choice was to share the posts as a way of discussing the issues with them and then let those individuals make the next move since verbal conversations turned into stressful arguments or worse.

Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4.

Well, one of those individuals reached out indirectly; not through email, Facebook, text or anything like that.  Maybe this person expected me to come back and visit or reach out in some way?  When that didn’t happen, a mutual acquaintance “casually” asked if I was stopping by a  particular store to visit there too.

The situation

Personally, I knew that I would talk to the individual eventually because I would want closure in the future.  But I wanted to do that on my terms.  That meant walking away from a triggering situation with a potentially toxic individual for a while.  Then using that time to reflect on conversations, interactions, and changes in perspective.  I honestly did not expect her to reach out in any way.

But I also knew that if this individual did, I would be walking into a trap of some kind.  And by trap, I mean a situation where the other individual controlled the setting, manipulated our interactions, and tried to incite a reaction (negative) that shook my confidence or made me feel less than her.

The goal: to put me in my place by making me realize I had no control in the relationship.  That I conformed or got excluded from the community.

The set up was pretty obvious from the time I walked in.  Two friends were in the store with the individual; people close in age with shared interests and perspectives on life.  All three went out of their way to show me with their body language and own personal stories how little my update mattered to them and how boring my apartment decorating was.  When that didn’t incite a defensive or shamed reaction, they moved on to discuss other topics.

I listened to them and observed the store owner; that’s why I was there you see.  I wanted to confirm that this individual was not someone I wanted in my life.  Listening to the store owner talk to someone else my age, some other older customers, and answer a question I had about store credit confirmed that we would not ever be able to be friends or have a relationship in the future.  Put downs disguised as teasing.  Emotional manipulation in the form of “helpful” advice or suggestions.  Passive aggressive comments about body shape from the friends all spoken in sugary, polite tones.

But what really got me was when one of the friends talked about her “terrible childhood” and then condescended to tell me that I “was probably too young to know” what they were referring to.  The condescending part didn’t bother me.  I look 10 years younger than my age and told them so.  Then mentioned some other shows from that time period.  Not the reaction they expected, so the conversation ended with: “You’re a baby” from a person 9 years older than me.

Inspiration for this post

The female friend’s description of a “terrible childhood” struck me.  You see, the store owner befriended me when I first moved to the new state and was vulnerable – alone and getting to know the neighborhood – thanks to my social experiment.  So she knew a fair amount about my past, but not all the details.  One thing she knew about was my traumatic past and toxic family situation.

What she didn’t realize until later was the following:

  • I may be soft spoken and quiet, but I am not a pushover
  • I may not act confident all the time, but I feel and am confident in myself as an individual
  • I cultivate and live by the following concepts: radical acceptance, unconditional love, respect for all living beings, unconditional compassion, and forgiveness
  • Doesn’t always show because my triggers get in the way, but I am secure enough in myself to fight back, speak up, and assert myself when people try to take advantage of me or manipulate me or bully me or be mean in any way
  • I hardly ever start fights/arguments/etc. but I always finish them
  • I am strong, am resilient, and fight to survive – that means I fight to win and/or escape every time – and am well versed in how to fight dirty with words or fists
  • Finally, I work hard to cultivate only supportive, positive relationships while minimizing and removing toxic or negative ones.

So when she and her friends texted each other and brought up so many potentially triggering topics (personal finance, repairing/decorating the apartment, family) to try and manipulate me, I realized that I don’t need or want people like that in my life.  Listening to their conversations without reacting frustrated them more than it did me.

Observing them in action and talking about their childhoods got me thinking about my past.  It also got me thinking about the definition of an unhappy or horrible childhood.  Because honestly, I’m not sure that having a traumatic childhood is the same as having an unhappy or horrible one.  Yes, trauma causes many unhappy, horrible, unsafe, and dangerous childhood experiences.  Yes, trauma has a long-lasting negative influence on child/adolescent/adult development.

But does the experience of a traumatic past really = an unhappy childhood?

My perspective

Feel free to disagree with me on this.  After all your experience is just as true and valid as mine, and this blog/website is about accepting and valuing all perspectives and experiences of trauma.

When I started this website, about 28-30 years of my past was a blur of fragments and sensations that didn’t make much sense.  I couldn’t trust my memory of past events because of all the holes from traumatic amnesia.  And I didn’t know that my dreams and nightmares were sometimes interpretations of my childhood memories intertwined with the traumatic events.

There were times I woke up one morning and couldn’t remember what happened for the last 6 months.  Or times I was at work in the middle of a report, dissociated and/or switched, and couldn’t remember what happened for 5, 15, 20, 60 minutes at a time.  I had to go back and redo all of my work because I couldn’t remember what I started or finished.

That memory problem lessened as I started working with a trauma informed counselor.  And as the tangled trauma memories sorted themselves out, other memories surfaced.  Memories of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood that brought smiles and laughter.  Memories of accomplishments and small successes that strengthened my resolve and helped me understand where my values come from.

Memories, that when separated from the trauma triggers and shame, that reminded me of how wonderful and happy the most important parts of my childhood were.  Experiences where adults modeled tolerance and acceptance and forgiveness and compassion in their daily interactions.  Experiences that showed me how to bounce back from mistakes, be an individual instead of part of the crowd, own my flaws and turn them into strengths, and always have a plan.

Most important: anything is possible as long as I believe in myself and not let fear stop me from trying, making mistakes, learning, and trying again until I succeed.

Sure, I am flawed.  My family is flawed.  Some of them are outright dangerous and toxic and unsafe.  But others are safe and trustworthy and loving and accepting of everything in their own ways.  And the safe relatives, those are the people who taught me the skills I needed to survive and then let me go when I needed to leave in order to find myself.  When I did come back, they welcomed me with open arms and unconditional love and acceptance and forgiveness for hurting them – unintentionally or not.

Conclusion

So while traumatic situations can cause unhappy and horrible experiences in any phase of life, I truly believe that individuals choose their own perspectives of childhood or any other part of their life.

I choose to acknowledge and value what my traumatic past taught me while living without regrets and focusing on the gifts that same past gave me so that I could become the woman I am now and who I will be in the future.

And I hope that sharing this story helps other guests find the little bits of positivity that comes from any experience to help them move forward in their recovery or healing journey – whatever they choose to call it.

Thanks for reading

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A thoughtful, discussion type post today.  Everything is inter-related so no subtitles.

Sometimes I get caught up in the stories my mind creates.  The emotional stress from fear or anxiety combine to drown out what my instincts or inner self is trying to say, especially when they are on opposite sides.  If I only listened to the feelings generated by the nightmares and flashbacks, would I have the courage to keep getting involved in life?  Or to develop healthy relationships?  Or accept that some “negative symptoms” or “coping strategies” are healthy, natural inclinations instead?

Do you, guests, also question whether or not your habits are healthy or unhealthy?  Positive or negative?  Useful or interfering?  If so, you are not alone.  Many survivors and others who are not survivors tend to question/challenge everything at one point or another.  It’s part of growing and adapting to both change – life, recovery, personality, work, inner/outer self – in order to become closer to our authentic selves.  I say closer because becoming one’s authentic self is a lifelong journey.

At this point in my journey, I am remembering more and more of the past in order to take the next step to trusting guidance from my inner voice instead of letting reality or perspective get distorted when my instincts trigger “danger” signals.  My inner voice is different from my instincts in the same way that emotions are different from intuition.

  • Instincts are based on sensory information – sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, proprioception
  • Inner voice is based on an interpretation of what my senses are telling me based on knowledge, experience, and perception of the present situation

e.g. my instincts tell me that a certain set of sounds could mean danger.
My inner voice(s) look in the direction of the sound, take in the surroundings as a group of boisterous people enjoying outdoor music and drinks, and decide it’s wise to be cautious when going past them.
My trigger reacts like this: flashback to the past and tell me to defend myself and/or avoid the sounds because I’m in danger from the sound maker(s).

Right now, the trigger is louder than the inner voice and hijacks control over all reactions.

The goal is to build more trust in the inner voice and allow that to guide reactions and actions to my/our instincts.

Another way to look at this is through coping strategies & habits.  Some of my questionable coping strategies & habits include:

  • preference for solitude & quiet
  • need for privacy & limited social relationships
  • Urge to “reset” my sleep cycles every few months by staying up 24+ hours or not sleeping much for days/weeks at a time until I crash for as many hours as needed to recuperate
  • Compulsion to use a “resting meditation” technique that allows all alters to be active at the same time and communicate to work through large amounts of memories/feelings/flashbacks/stress in an 8+ hour period of time throughout the year.

The solitude is questionable because almost every self-help guide, program, and counselor I’ve talked to or worked with has warned about the dangers of isolation and loneliness.  They’ve also talked about the importance of making connections with people, having a support system, emotion regulation/tolerance, and importance of interpersonal communication in recovery.  But no one has discussed how some people, whether more towards introversion or extraversion, are more naturally inclined towards solitude than others.

These people may or may not be highly sensitive, but they have found other ways of creating meaningful connections and relationships with people, animals, plants, etc. that don’t necessarily require a lot of social interaction.  Not exactly hermits, but not interested in an expansive social life either.  That’s me, and something I am learning to accept instead of question or worry about.

As for privacy & trust, well I didn’t have a lot of that growing up.  And while I am good at making it appear to others that I am an open book by sharing some information about myself, in reality those people only see/know/understand what I allow them to see.  Less than 5 people in the world know all parts of me, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  Many 20 or less people know most parts of me.  Everyone else gets to meet the “survivor”, “insecure”, “grumpy”, “social”, “professional”, or “ambivert” me; maybe a combination of them too.

More stuff than I can put words to happens inside on a daily basis.  That takes up more than 50% of my energy (mental, physical, spiritual) right now.  The other 50% is used to go to work, do chores, cope with external symptoms, and enjoy life.  Sometimes, I get overstimulated into an adrenaline state that makes sleep difficult to impossible – it’s a combination of flashbacks & nightmares with body memories and fear responses working their way through all parts of me.

Other times, my energy gets used up too fast, and I can’t replenish in time; not just food energy, but mental and spiritual too.  “Being normal” or focusing on life outside of my inner worlds becomes too much.  I need to take a break and let my inner world settle down after all of the changes.  That means more or less sleep and lying down meditation to allow everyone a chance be involved in the coping strategy.

The sleep & meditation used to cause untold amounts of shame and self-hate because that’s what mom did to escape the world.  She slept for hours or days at a time with the excuse of being sick.  Then there was the family shame of “being lazy” by sleeping too much.  Or the label “just like your mom” because I didn’t do enough (from outsiders point of view) to help my parents and brother.

Now, getting enough sleep & practicing meditation is part of my self-care routine.  I feel less shame and guilt about taking care of myself because self-care means I can do more with life and stay healthy.  I feel more empowered to resist the negative voices and keep going in spite of the flashbacks, fear, anxiety, body memories, pain, or nightmares that trigger panic attacks.  Sure, I may need an extra hour or two in the morning or have to take a break and work later, but at least I don’t have to take the whole day off and sleep through the anxiety anymore.

Why?
Because now I and all of my parts can hear, trust, and listen to the inner voice interpreting our instincts with a balance of emotion and logic that is based in the present reality instead of the past one.

Is it easy?  Medium?  Difficult?
Yes and no.  Like any challenge, some parts are easier than others.  It depends on the individual and her or his perspective on life, willingness to change, reactions to stress, resilience, courage, and persistence.

Wait, what if I don’t have an inner voice?
Everyone has an inner voice and instincts.  Not everyone chooses to believe in or listen to the inner voice or instincts.  And some people who do might decide that the inner voice and instincts are wrong because the short term outcome is unexpected or unwanted so choose not to listen.  As with hindsight being 20/20, so is listening to one’s inner voice.  Learning how to interpret what the inner voice is communicating takes time, practice, and mistakes.

Is this like a conscience or a moral compass?
Maybe.  For some people, their inner voices and instincts align with their values and moral compass or ethics.  For others, the conscience could be separate.  For me, they are separate.  My instincts and inner voice are non-judgemental and neutral.  They share information and guidance that I can accept or refuse or interpret in different ways.

Either way, whether you (guests) choose to explore your inner voice or instincts, I hope you all find a path to self-acceptance through recovery.  Self-acceptance makes living and enjoying life that much more interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Background

Often I get asked about forgiveness and being able to forgive, not just myself, but also the people who hurt me in the past.

If I do/can/have forgiven those people, how/when/why did I forgive them?  What is the importance of forgiveness?

If I do/can/have forgiven myself, how/when/why?

What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance?  Are both important?  And again, why?

My Thoughts

Disclaimer: any content written here is based on my personal experience combined with education via trauma informed therapy, self-help resources, psychology books, and learning from other victims/survivors/educators.  They are NOT professional opinions, facts, or theories based on academics, professional education, etc.

Forgivness and Acceptance are two separate but inter-related concepts.

Forgiveness is very personal and subjective – depends a lot on an individual’s personal goals – that can help individuals move beyond recovery & living towards thriving after surviving trauma.

Responsibility is not the same as Accountability.  I do not hold myself or others accountable for choices, actions, or reactions because I do not expect anything from myself or others.

I do hold myself and others responsible for choices, actions, or reactions because I or they chose to act or react a certain way.
Then I can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but I don’t HAVE TO do that.
Same with other people; they can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but no one expects them to.

Making reparation for a mistake or apologizing is something learned based on morals and ethics.  And the concepts are learnable at any age.

**Forgiveness is a never-ending work in progress that moves in cycles and can transform lives**

Forgiveness of Others

Yes, I have forgiven the people who hurt me, especially my parents, immediate family, and relatives.  I forgave them a few years before starting this website and blog.  And continue practicing forgiveness as more and more memories come back.

But forgiveness is hard.  I struggle with not being able to forgive these people all the time or unconditionally because the pain and memories can feel so strong.  Plus sometimes I still think that forgiveness comes with strings attached when it doesn’t.

So I can forgive my parents and still maintain a no-contact stance.  Same with other people in my family. I can forgive friends and still feel afraid of interacting with them in person or letting them back into my life.  Finally, I can forgive other relatives and feel good with the choice to maintain limited contact with them.

Why?

  • Holding on to anger and grudges only hurts me by reinforcing my fears and holding me hostage within the limitations these people created for me
  • These people are human beings with pasts and experiences beyond their control that influenced their choices and actions as adults
  • Blame doesn’t help anyone; it only shifts responsibility and choices away from responsible parties
    • they can rationalize, justify, make excuses and find ways to turn the blame back on victims with guilt, shame or emotional blackmail
  • Holding these people responsible for their choices is a positive perspective on what happened that validates anger without the negativity of shame, or guilt that causes blame
  • These people made choices and are responsible for those choices, so I can feel angry with their behavior and hold them responsible without blaming them
  • I am learning about compassion and perspective as part of my recovery.   Part of compassion is being able to understand experiences from another’s point of view or perspective and understanding that forgiveness is part of compassion
  • By forgiving these people I am also reducing the influence my past has on present choices, experiences, and goals

Forgiveness of Self

One thing predators and abusers excel at is shifting blame to the victims and convincing the victims they are both responsible and at fault for experiences and circumstances beyond the victim’s control.

It took me a long time to be able to forgive myself for not being able to escape sooner.  And even longer to stop blaming myself for what happened to me.  Some parts of me still blame themselves for what happened.  Others are now capable of feeling compassion for themselves and understanding the difference between blame/fault and responsibility of one’s choices.

But I couldn’t make progress until I learned to at least forgive myself and really know in all aspects of my sense of self that I wasn’t responsible for the trauma of my past.  Without awareness of my behavior/thoughts/feelings and how they were influenced by my past, I couldn’t consciously make choices with conscious awareness either.  So my past was controlling my present, and I felt ashamed because my life was out of control.

Therapy in group and individual settings helped me learn to forgive myself instead of blaming, shaming, guilting, and feeling angry with myself for how I acted and reacted sometimes.  Then these professionals gave me the tools to help take back control of my life and my choices.  The small successes built on each other and helped me realize something important:

  • I am not responsible for my past or what happens when I feel triggered without awareness – in my mind I am protecting myself
  • I am responsible for my choices once I do have awareness of these triggers because I can change the negative reactions into positive ones or apologize & make reparation for mistakes or misunderstandings or miscommunications caused by me
  • Finally, I am human and make mistakes because mistakes are part of how humans learn, so I can forgive myself for making mistakes and take the opportunity to grow instead of shutting down

Conclusion

Like compassion, forgiveness can help heal wounds and offer perspective that allows victims and/or survivors or anyone really to move past negative feelings or blocks.  The concept is easy to understand.  The practice is difficult and not something that is accomplished once and then done forever.

Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, a life choice, and a way of life like compassion that can help ease suffering.  There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, but it’s up to each of us to question what we know and challenge ourselves to look for different answers.

That’s how I stumbled onto this definition of forgiveness.

And learned:

  • that forgive does not equal forget
  • that a person who can forgive while holding the other party responsible is stronger and more resilient than a person who holds on to anger and grudges
  • that accepting responsibility for my part only doesn’t make me weak; it makes me stronger and more confident because I am taking control of my life and my choices

I hope that someday even if my guests can’t forgive the people who hurt them, they can forgive themselves.

Thanks for reading

Schedule Change this week: I may not be able to post on the regular days due to anniversaries – PLUS ANOTHER LONG POST

The Story

Between January of last year and March of this year, I went through the process of applying to graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  That & aromatherapy are what I’d like to be my second career, so it seemed like a good thing to do and provide opportunities to meet people in a new city.  Plus, I had been going there for a few months to get treatment at the teaching clinic and really liked the school’s philosophy, training approach, professionalism, etc.

Many of my friends, co-workers, and family members were happy for me.  Almost all of them knew how much I wanted to work in the healing arts and couldn’t take those steps during the first round of college.  I was still scared and worried that my PTSD and DID would get in the way, but I also felt hopeful because everything was different.   Interpersonal communication, socializing, and interacting with people was still difficult.  The fears, panic attacks, and communication issues still existed, but I was ready to face these challenges head on.

I applied for the masters program.  And I persisted even when my application got put aside due to human error/glitch in the admissions department.  My application was accepted, and I was asked to come in for an interview (step 2).  Now, speaking in groups is extremely triggering and scary, not just for me (the host interacting with people), but for everyone in our system.  It brought back a lot of bad memories.

So I coped in the best way I knew: gather information, practice with different people, and focus on what I can control instead of what I can’t control.  Namely, my outfit, accessories, and travel plans.  Then work out a group of coping strategies I could take with me to use.  People who didn’t know me well got the impression that I was not focusing on the important stuff – namely acing my interview questions – and too much on my appearance.  But that’s okay.  Certain forums are NOT the best place for personal confessions.  Not everyone needs to know everything about anything.

The interview was lively with a good flow and many laughs.  They asked the required questions and then some based on the conversation.  Then I asked questions to follow up on some of their comments. But I was brutally honest about all of my personal challenges and possible issues with being in classes and classrooms during the interview.  I felt accomplished about getting through the interview without switching or having a panic attack.

I didn’t expect to get accepted.  Nor did I truly want to be accepted into the program at the time.  Either I would be waitlisted or rejected.

I got wait listed and offered a chance to “sit in” and observe some of the potentially triggering classes; then write an essay about my experiences and have a second interview.  But all of this had to happen before the admissions deadline.  And all of the classes were during the day.  Thankfully, my boss understood and allowed me to change my work schedule for 3 weeks.  It was a great opportunity for me to see if my plan (school and work together) was workable or not.

 

So, I worked, went to acupuncture appointments, went to counseling, blogged, and attended classes for 3 weeks in the spring.  The students and teacher included me in many activities and made me feel like part of the class.  It gave me a perspective I would not have had otherwise and a chance to test myself in a real life situation.

Then came the time for my second interview.  My essay was strictly about experiences related to whether or not I could succeed in a graduate school program in spite of the current challenges.  It did not touch on how I felt or reacted or coped with life in general.  My blog posts touched on that; and in an effort to be transparent and honest, I let the committee members have access to the blog posts during that period too.

The differences in my professional essay to the committee and my blog posts in the same period were glaring and could be misinterpreted by those who don’t understand what it’s like to live on the inside and the outside.  So I explained the differences in the interview.

The blog shares experiences about my whole life (the internal one my alters and I cope with all the time) and all of the recurring coping challenges that come with having PTSD & DID.

The essay focused only on my experiences with the college and whether or not I’d be able to cope with the stress of that and continue my current lifestyle/work.

To reiterate:
What is expressed here on the blog is my whole life including 90% of what people in the outside world DON’T SEE OR KNOW ABOUT ME AND WHAT I HAVE TO COPE WITH ON A DAILY BASIS.

I got rejected for 2017/2018 admissions.

Instead of feeling sad or upset or angry or shamed, I felt happy, grateful, hopeful, and relaxed.

My Perspective & Goals for this Experience

Goal
I went through this process to test my ability to cope and interact with many different kinds of people in a triggering environment full of potential pitfalls.

My learning Style is: Kinesthetic followed by Cognitive
That means I learn best by DOING or PARTICIPATING in the activity or experience followed by Thinking & Processing information I read or learned through all senses.

Like I told the Admissions Committee in both interviews:
My life now is not the same as it was last time I went through graduate school.  I am not the same person then as I am now.  My coping strategies/techniques are different.  My sense of self is different.  My reactions to triggers and stimuli are also different.

HAPPY because I accomplished my goal and learned where I need to improve so that going back to school will be a success

GRATEFUL because the school gave me a unique opportunity to challenge myself and test my skills in a safe, but honest real life situation

HOPEFUL because someday I know that I can and will succeed at graduate school & my second career as long as I work on coping strategies to deal with overstimulation & communication challenges through small steps & successes

RELAXED because now the challenge is over, and I have the information I needed. It was tough, scary, triggering, and full of stress, but also fun, exciting, interesting, and filled with life lessons I am still processing and integrating into the present.

Life Lesson

It’s times like these when Robert Frosts’ poem “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind.

The people who know, love, & accept me as I am might not always understand why I do things the way I do, but they accept that it’s the right way for me and support my choices.

The opposite is true too.

The path we take to recovery & life after surviving trauma is a lot like the road less traveled:
Full of pitfalls, traps, and head-scratching to other people, but exactly right for each and every one of us.

And that’s part of why I write this blog
Everyone deserves to have someone in your corner who values, supports, and accepts them as they are and their choices too.  Someone gave that to me, and it changed my life.  Now I’m grateful to give that to others too.

Thanks for reading

Confession:

I hate August (the month) and what it makes me feel/remember/think/relive

Epiphanies:

  • Someone once told me (or maybe I read it in different self-help books??) that sometimes people who criticize or complain about my character flaws are actually complaining about ones they have but can’t or won’t admit to having.
  • Especially people who feel less confident or are insecure and want to make the other individual feel worse to feel better about themselves – I learned this is true during my vacation home.
  • What turned me around most about people’s negative comments is that they have a grain of truth in them.  Before I started recovery and therapy to express myself instead of parroting my parents’ and caregivers’ beliefs, I acted that way toward other people.
  • It’s okay to love family from a distance.  Send cards, email, text messages, or voice mail messages on holidays and birthdays.  Maybe a phone call once in a while.  And (rarely) an in-person visit when in the same geographical area.  That keeps the family happy and allows me to maintain my sanity.
  • The people who cause me the most pain and discomfort can be my best teachers as long as I have someone I trust to help me reflect and process the experiences.

Transition:

  • A new home, a real home
  • Cooking and baking
  • A new therapist until my other one comes back from maternity leave
  • A new intern Chinese medicine practitioner
  • A new exercise regimen (trauma sensitive yoga)
  • A different hygiene routine

Conclusion

Sit back and enjoy the ride.  Try not to take anything too seriously.  Use the Back to Basics strategies.  Try not to let backlash take over.  Remember I am safe and happy in my new space.  Accept that my family and I will never be able to spend time together comfortably.  We are too different.

Thanks for reading

A mobile home

For decades, I carried home inside.  The most important bits (feeling safe, creating a sense of safety, meeting basic needs, self-soothing) were not tied down to anything physical.  That enabled me to de-clutter until only a few boxes of treasures remained and let me leave reminders of my past (with emotional baggage) behind.

The positive

  • Every item in my possession was something I bought for myself
  • Every item carried a positive attachment – emotional, spiritual, physical
  • Every item suited my current lifestyle
  • All items with negative attachments were removed

The negative

  • I never invested making the apartments feel like home
  • I never put down roots
  • I spent a lot of money on moving instead of saving
  • I always worried about finances

A temporary home

Moving to a new state allowed me to change perspective and get out of the vicious moving cycle.  While I hoped that my next place would be my last one, I planned for at least one more move.  Renting an apartment long distance means a lot of unknowns have to be addressed after move-in.  Working remote also has to be taken into consideration.

And living small has different meanings – minimalist?  tiny house?  micro-apartment? studio?  loft?  one bedroom/bathroom?

Can any of these spaces also fit a home office?

Creating a home

So what does a home look and feel like to me?

Home defined
feels safe; brings joy; allows space for play/relaxation/hobbies; meets physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; and reflects who I am

Wait, what?  How can a home do that?  Tall order, don’t you think?

NO.  Not anymore.

Potential triggers

What do I mean?  Well, 10 years of moving (yikes!?) has shown me that sometimes even spaces that look “right” at first glance or on paper are not.

Ignoring my instincts = unhappy living situation.

Why is this important?  I hope to learn from past mistakes and not let shame or fear triggers guide me into choosing another “wrong” place.  Here are some examples of triggers I ignored in the past:

  • lots of walls – walls remind me of being trapped and enclosed with abusers and perpetrators
  • lots of space – I can’t properly protect and defend myself or my environment without spending a lot of money
  • noisy neighbors or neighborhood – parties, nearby restaurants & bars, highway/street traffic, construction
  • obvious lack of maintenance in apartment and around building – If pests can get in, how safe am I really?  What else can be hidden inside those cracks?

Hope

Before, I didn’t feel like I deserved a real home.  Neither did my alter personalities.  Past experience of “home” did not feel safe.  Redefining the meaning of “home” has been one of our many projects.  Now, all of us feel like we deserve a real home.

Guest/Reader Questions to think about

  • What does “home” mean to you?
  • Is your home “mobile” or “stationary” or “permanent” or “temporary” or “something else”?
  • How do you create a home for yourself?
  • Do you listen to your instincts?

Thanks for reading

Dental work update

My dental surgery (officially called dental rehabilitation) went well.  Mouth and lips are still swollen and a little sore, but nothing terrible.  I’ve only had to take 2 pain pills between Monday and Tuesday.  The most important thing is taking my antibiotics and following the mouth cleaning instructions.

I’m really happy this happened in May.  Too many of my past medical and dental traumatic experiences occurred between March and May.  The body memories and flashbacks increase and everything goes haywire.  If you visit often, you might have noticed this.

By June, I’m back in crisis care mode – trying to come out of the black hole and “fix” the damage from the last few months.  One thing that always flares up is my book addiction.

Yes, I admit it.  I am addicted to reading and purchasing books.  If I could, I’d have a whole room in my house dedicated to my collection.  As it happens, I recently switched to an electronic book library because of all the moves.  Hopefully, my next one will be the last for a while.  Then I can bring my paper books home where they belong.

So what does all of this have to do with re-defining the past?

Simple.

The goal is to substitute negative experiences with positive ones.  This dental surgery went really well.  All of us in the system cooperated.  No one woke up in the middle of the surgery.  No one has gotten really sick or nauseous from the medication.  Other than the swollen lips and jaw, I look relatively normal and feel pretty good.

The landscape inside my mouth has changed.  It feels good and right to have the bits and pieces (i.e. teeth) that were causing trouble finally gone.  And maybe, just maybe, all of us will be able to “start fresh” with dental hygiene.  No more loss of teeth.  No more cavities.  Actually have a healthy mouth and be able to brush/floss/rinse with mouth wash without flashbacks and body memories.

That’s the goal.

And the care routine the dentist has me on brings me one step closer to creating a routine that doesn’t feel like an addiction or a habit.  Instead, it becomes part of my self care regimen.

Yes, I’m playing with semantics (word meaning) here, but sometimes the minor differences mean a lot.  “Regimen” has positive associations for me.  “Routine” or “habit” have negative associations.

So how else do I cope with the body memories and flashbacks?  Especially when I refuse to self-harm anymore and nothing else is working?

I book binge.

Buy books.  Purge books from personal collection.  Borrow books from library.

And read.

Read lots of books whenever I have a moment of free time.  Spend weekends reading – eating, drinking, sleeping optional – and reading.

I speed read certain types of books.  Others take more time until I learn the author’s rhythm.  Or the professional/academic writing style.  Then I can read it faster.

How is Book Binge different from Reading?

Reading for pleasure and education as a hobby is great.  It’s relaxing and distracting and fun.  I get caught up in the world building and the characters, but I can stop at a reasonable time and sleep.

Reading as an obsession or compulsion to relieve anxiety – not so great.  I worry about buying/borrowing the book.  I worry about starting the book.  I can’t wait to finish and skip to the end; then go back and read the rest of the book (sometimes).  I can’t stop reading even when I’m tired and have to work.

Buying books from favorite authors to re-read when I have the money – great use of my discretionary funds.

Buying books from a variety of authors I like, but don’t love, and may never read again to relieve anxiety – not so great and puts me in debt I can’t afford or crowds an overcrowded apartment.

Conclusion

I’m hoping this dental procedure helps re-define a really bad month of flashbacks and body memories by giving me something good to think about and work with when the darkness feels overwhelming.

And maybe by working on this routine, I will feel less compelled to hide inside books.  I will be able to do something besides immerse myself in fantasy worlds created by amazing authors.

And when nothing in my library or the public library holds my attention (I’ve read or re-read the books too many times in the recent past), I can find something else to do besides buy books and finish them in the same day.  Luckily, Amazon.com has an excellent return policy.

How do you re-define your past so it doesn’t affect the present so much?

Thanks for reading

A Truth: I’ve talked a lot about how acknowledging and accepting my feelings has helped me move past many difficult moments in recovery. 

Another truth: I’m afraid of the negative feelings inside me.  I’m afraid to acknowledge them, accept them, validate them because they might just take over and turn me into a monster.

Coping Strategy: Denial

Coping Challenge: Find a substitute

Solution: Do what I did with the positive emotions that scared and overwhelmed me until I got used to them.  Then let the negativity go instead of keeping it as part of my life.

What does that mean: I use a Tibetan meditation practice called Mara to help me sort out my overwhelming feelings and fear when nothing else works.  This practice is something I learned from reading Pema Chodron’s books and listening to her audio books.

During my last Mara meditation, I realized that I was afraid to let the negative feelings out because they might turn me into a monster like my parents or the other perpetrators.  But after the session, those negative feelings didn’t seem so scary.  And the only person I hurt by keeping these feelings inside was myself.

So I’m embracing the hate.

Then I’m letting it go.

Because hatred, violence, pain, meanness, and hurt don’t have a place in my life anymore.

Will I still experience negativity and negative feelings? YES

Will I still experience violence, pain, meanness, hatred, and hurt?  YES

Will that negativity continue to define my life?  I sincerely hope not.

How will I work through this?  One moment at a time with lots of support from loved ones.

Thanks for reading

Background

How do you feel on the inside?

That question is what my therapist asks me whenever I question a choice, action, or reaction to a triggering event/experience.  She calls it my internal litmus test.

The first time she asked me this question, I was so shocked that my voice dried up.  My brain stopped.  Everything blanked out, and she had to bring me back with grounding questions and comments.  Then she explained how the test worked: if I feel happy and positive about my choice on the inside, it was the right one; if I feel unsure or uncomfortable, the choice could be a mistake and something to learn from; if I feel bad, angry, negative, guilty, etc., it was not the correct choice.

I felt awful about my choice the first time she asked me that question.  As we discussed the whys in session, I started to understand what felt wrong and how to fix the mistake.  No matter my answer, though, the test always works.

The Good

This test helped me work on the following topics:

  • Stop and Think objectively
  • Get perspective
  • Trust my instincts
  • Learn from my mistakes
  • Make alternative plans to correct mistakes
  • Feel compassion for myself
  • Learn to be gentle with myself
  • Listen to my alters as they communicate
  • My alters listen to me as I communicate with them
  • Cooperation

The Difficult

  • This test challenged me:
  • To work with my backlash instead of against it
  • Recognize and ask for help in coping feelings of shame and guilt
  • Discover new ways to use my existing coping skills with backlash instead of falling back on self harm
  • To work with my alters as a team to face  our fears and recovered memories
  • Build my alters’ confidence in communication and switching so they stopped feeling shame every time they came out and defended us from perpetrators, bullies, and people from the past
  • Be assertive and set boundaries for internal and external living to promote a healthy self
  • Let go of toxic relationships without shame and guilt
  • Remove toxic people from our life
  • Not get into relationships with toxic people
  • Be open to reconnecting with family members who are willing to respect my boundaries and build a relationship based on acceptance and respect of who we are now
  • To test present reality against the thoughts and feelings overwhelming my inner self

Conclusion

The internal litmus test is scary and full of potential pitfalls.  It requires honesty and persistence and resilience in shattering the denial and lies that prevents me from moving forward with recovery.  Every time I or one of the alters uses this test, we know that the results are honest and true.  Finally, the test offers us a safe way to experiment with challenging our triggers and monsters within a supportive framework (counselor, coping strategies, respective).

Thanks for reading

An extra post this week…seemed important

Today has been one of those stressful, difficult days when everything seems designed to send a person straight into a panic attack or relapse.  Luckily for me, I had good friends and safety plans in place to help me out.  And I also got the bonus of cuddle time with a canine friend – safe, respectful touch.

Platonic touch.

That brings me to the point of this post.

Many survivors of trauma have a fear of or aversion to touch and physical contact.  I know I do.  And that isolation (touch isolation as termed in the article) hurts.  Safe, respectful touch is considered one of the basic human needs.  I get mine from canine and feline friends, acupuncture/body work, and massage with trusted professionals.  Sometimes friends are allowed to give and receive hugs too, but rarely.

However, there is also another group who is isolated from being able to give and receive safe, respectful touch: males of all ages in our culture/society.

A friend of mine shared this article on Facebook:

How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men

It explains so much in a thoughtful, respectful, compassionate way.  The author is a man writing to both genders about the importance of bringing safe, respectful touch back to society.  Platonic touch that offers affection, caring,  and gentle  without being sexual, aggressive, or violent.  Male to male.  Male to female.  Female to male.  Female to female.

why share now?

I was still feeling low and triggered, trying to find something to help me relax and let go of the shame when this popped up.  I read the comments first.  Then I read the article.  The contents resonated with the vulnerability I felt after dealing with the unexpected stressors.

I empathized with this man and all of the other males in the world who also felt the effects of this isolation.  Through this empathy, I felt validated and connected to a group instead of isolated and alone in thinking this way.

Conclusion

I feel compassion and empathy for anyone who lacks safe, respectful touch in their lives.  Personal experience shows me how much I am missing out on.  Some day, I hope to have that in my life again – with humans and animals.  And I wish for anyone who craves platonic , safe, respectful, affectionate, mutually shared touch among friends and relatives receives it.

How do you indulge your need for safe, respectful touch?

 

thanks for reading