Archives for category: Recovery

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

Busy day tomorrow so posting early…

iris-apfel-1225701

Introduction

When I first started recovery, I did not want to be pretty or beautiful.  In fact, I went so far as to look as awful as possible on purpose.  Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “attractive” were my version of four-letter curses.  “Stylish”, “fashionable”, and “trendy” were included as I got older.

Growing up, all I received was contradictory information about physical appearances.

On one hand, it was a good thing.  I got lots of attention and compliments.  My parents got compliments and praise.  People gave me leeway when I got into trouble.

On the other hand, it was not so great.  People made assumptions.  They tried to take advantage of me.  And used my appearance as one excuse for abusing me.

Through the Years of Recovery

After a few years of therapy, I think it was with my second therapist, the anorexia and negative body image coping techniques started to resonate.  And I realized that my aversion to certain words was making recovery difficult to impossible.  I had to make peace with the curse words and what they meant to me.

  • That’s how I discovered three important phrases:
  • Body negative (me at the time)
  • Body neutral (what I strove for in that phase of recovery)
  • Body positive (my future goal)

This is where being an avid bookworm and English major in college helped a lot.  My love of words, meaning, and research provided the tools to redefine what “Beautiful”, “pretty”, “attractive” and similar words meant to me.  Took them from having negative and toxic connotations to positive and healthy ones.

The journey started with accepting that I was “plain” or “bland” instead of “ugly” or “gross” at the time.  Skinny, underweight, bad skin, pale, with acne and rashes, ill-fitting clothes worked.  The real goal was “healthy” and to discover what “healthy” meant to me.  If “healthy” meant bad skin, boniness, bloating, and weight gain, I was all for that.

Then came the time I had to accept that weight gain meant “curvy” and “pretty” and “attractive” because the “skin and bones” look was replaced with “slim and strong”.  The bad skin cleared up as my eating habits improved.  And I realized that I didn’t feel safe in my body anymore.  It, my body, was attracting way too much attention.

Time to Hide Again

I went back to wearing frumpy, over sized, ugly clothes mixed with more fitted items underneath.  Except for pants…because I hated wearing belts and wanted my pants to stay up.  But that was the ONLY criterion – that they stay up.  So of course there are many unflattering styles of pants available.  And I indulged in all of them to hide behind.

Only, there’s only so much a person can do to hide when her backside is not straight, flat, or hipless.  Same with her front when the girls are not small anymore and wearing the wrong size causes pain.  I think that was the turning point,  the beginning of moving from viewing myself as “plain” to “attractive” to “pretty” and my body as “unhealthy” and “skinny” to “slim” to “curvy” and “healthy”.

Time to Stop Hiding

Thus began my obsession with body shape, femininity, fashion vs. style, and clothes that fit/felt good/flattered/reflected me.   I discovered the world of blogging.  That was scary.  So much contradictory information.  So many choices.  And so much frustration because nothing ready-made fit me or my body shape without alterations.  And alterations were a trigger.

I went back to my invisibility cloak for a few years.  But then I realized I was in a good place.  I was safe.  I had friends and connections.  I had a job and was financially independent.  I was strong enough to face my body fears.  I was confident enough to be me.

Most important: I wanted people to see the real me;  to have my outsides match my insides.

Present

And that’s when I decided to discover my personal style.  What did that mean?

I wanted to be viewed as beautiful in a timeless, unique way that only people who are comfortable with themselves can be.

It was time to make my insides and outsides match.  That journey started with visiting fashion and style blogs.  Then it moved on to defining what personal style meant to me and how it fit my values, lifestyle, and goals.

2014 marked the beginning of my style journey.  While I look and feel a lot better about my choices, this one will be ongoing.  As I change, my personality changes, my style changes.

Conclusion

I hope this quote from Iris Apfel helps you the way it helped me.  Before watching her documentary on Netflix, I didn’t realize some of the most important words in my life came from a woman who considered “pretty” less than interesting.

Thanks for reading

Survival Mode

Since moving out-of-state, my alters and I have moved out of survival mode.  Most of the every day triggers are gone.  All of us feel emotionally and physically safe here.  We are integrating with each other to create an “I” on the inside and integrating with our new community on the outside.

The coping challenges are different.  The strategies that help are not quite the same either.  We all have more down time between panic attacks and other escalating symptoms now.  No one is worried about maintaining calm and sanity every moment of every day.

None of us feel crazy or insane or bad anymore.  We go for days without major dissociation and lost time.  We can focus better and be slightly more active.  We can cook and do some basic housekeeping with better self-care too.

Present Care Mode

Problem-solving and working on issues that cause problems every day:

  • physical pain from body memories
  • internal body injuries related to spine and muscles
  • digestion problems
  • dental care and rehabilitation
  • lack of energy
  • mild agoraphobia
  • hygiene

These issues focus on different kinds of strategies and self-care that have not yet been explored on this blog.

The other issues and mental coping strategies will not be ignored or abandoned.

If at any time someone wants me to re-visit a mental coping strategy or some other issue, please let me know in the comments.

But there will be more focus on strategies and techniques for physical coping and related issues as our recovery moves to different phases.

Some of the issues being discussed this year include:

  • Pain management without medicine
  • Chiropractic medicine
  • Massage therapy
  • Financial planning and strategies for repayment
  • Dental-related coping strategies
  • Working to find providers with and without insurance
  • Oral hygiene in spite of panic attack level triggers
  • And planning a timeline for all of this to happen before I go back to graduate school

Conclusion

I am grateful for my job, my co-workers and colleagues, my early lessons in financial planning and debt repayment, and medical/dental insurance.  I am grateful for a support network of mental health and physical health providers that will expand this year.  And I am grateful for you guests who visit this website and blog.

You are part of a different kind of support network and community that I never thought I could be part of.

And while many of you might wonder how advanced planning and being financially savvy are coping techniques for physical and body related issues, I do know how important knowledge in both areas are from personal experience.  Maybe these tips and experiences will help.  Maybe not.

All I ask is that you read with an open mind.  Use what helps, and ignore the rest.

Thanks for reading.

This could also go under life-changing moments, but I prefer it here.

Not a long post because still processing and learning to use coping strategies effectively.

Main Point

Feeling safe can change perspectives and long-held beliefs about oneself and one’s relationships with others.

First Change

Recovering memories from body and mind; then piecing them together with help from alters via dreams and nightmares.

Second Change

Interacting with the outside world more as my real self and with less dissociative experiences even in high stress situations.

Third Change

Allowing family back into my life on a limited basis; and through those blood relations, my parents and sibling are back too.

Fourth (and last on this list) Change

The beginnings of an integration where all alters work together as a single unit and allow our body to heal/become/look the way it’s supposed to look based on genetics and a higher power.

What does this mean?

I feel confident and able enough to protect myself from anything my parents or younger sibling might try.

The danger is not so much from my parents as from acquaintances and community members whose identities I don’t remember except in nightmares.

My biggest challenges have to do with facing my fears and triggers without using dissociation as my automatic coping strategy.

Conclusion

I am in a new phase of recovery.  I don’t have any reference points, past experience, or internal guides to start with.  My go-to strategies are dissociate and avoid.  They don’t work anymore.

But something must be going right.  I’m still alive and sane.

Step by step.  Moment by moment.

Thanks for reading.

Not sure how others receive information about their past, but mine come in a few ways.  The main ones are: dreams/nightmares, flashbacks, & body memories.

The PTSD makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the automatic reactions that get triggered each time I remember something.

The DID makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the way my brain developed and learned to store memories, sensation, & experiences.

Back in my old living area, I was constantly bombarded by triggers and memories.  It was all my therapist and I could do to keep me relatively sane and focused on the present instead of spiraling out of control.  I never truly felt safe there and could not move on to work on other aspects of recovery even though I was ready to do so.  Every time I tried, the flashbacks and dreams and body memories bombarded me with warnings.

Now, in my new living area, I am safe to delve into these memories, work on pain management and merging the fragmented sensations from body memories, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks into whole memories of my past.  I am physically and emotionally safe here.  I can go outside and walk around any time.  I can use public transportation without fear of getting harassed.

I can shop at stores and know that bad service is because of the individual’s issues and not my past.  I can reconnect with safe family members.  I can enjoy hobbies and practice self care that was impossible before.  I can let my body heal and look the way nature intended for it to look instead of how my past molded it.

But with all of that comes learning how to cope with the shame and fear and distress that comes from confronting those triggers.  My tool box is full of options.  I’m learning new ones all the time just by observing how people interact with each other in real life.  Did I mention that people-watching is one of my favorite things to do?

The struggle now is learning how to utilize my toolbox for these new and different challenges.  It’s like starting from square 1 all over again.

So the posts here will continue to be about the same topics, but the perspective will continue to change as my journey changes.  Thanks for reading and understanding.

Yesterday was difficult.  I had to work hard to concentrate on finishing work and projects for the week while my mind swirled with memories and feelings.

Today was difficult because I talked with my cousin about future plans.  Plans that recalled memories and experiences that were hidden for a long time.  Memories and experiences I would have thought were hallucinations or nightmares or deja vu before I started therapy with a trauma specialist.

Now, I’m trying to reconcile that secret life with my other life, the one I lived in broad daylight, and my current life.  The nerd, the warrior, the woman who is both.  The “good girl”, the “rebel”, the woman who defies labels.  The fighter/the runner.  The raging monster who hurts people/the defender who can’t stand to see herself or others crushed under the pain of being put down all the time.

A good girl doesn’t do drugs, smoke, drink while underage, have sex without a commitment, listen to certain kinds of music, steal, etc.  I don’t and never have stolen anything.  As for the rest, it wasn’t voluntary.  But I did all of those things before I hit puberty.  Does that make me a bad girl?  Or a rebel?  And does choosing not to smoke or use drugs or have sex anymore once I could make my own choices make me a born-again virgin or good girl?  Does being able to fight make me tough?  Does being a pacifist make me a coward?  Does having a temper make me a monster?  Does not having control over my body make me weak?  Am I crazy because I feel so conflicted?

I want my body back.  My body wants me back.  All parts of me want to be physically active again.  We want to be able to fight in the daylight and use our nerd skills in the shadows.  And combine everything to combat the darkness threatening to pull us under.  I want to stop using food to hurt myself.  I want to stop using people to hurt myself.  I want to start exploring my true likes and dislikes.  I want to finish my projects so that my obligations are fulfilled and I can move on.

More than anything else, I want my secret life to shine in the light, unhidden and acknowledged with pride instead of shame.  My parts and I, we did what was necessary to survive.  We accomplished incredible feats together.  And those parts of me deserve the acceptance, respect, honor, compassion, trust, and welcoming that was refused to them before.  What they did kept us alive; taught us skills we needed to get through high school and college; helped us stay on track when the depression and suicidal thoughts tried to get us killed; and cut through the bullshit of family pressure and denial to keep us safe as adults.

And now that I’ve reconciled with one side of my family, the other side is hopeful that I might reconcile with them too.  But the relationships between me and each side of my family is different.  My experiences with them are different.  I am still so mad at some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins that I honestly don’t think I can speak with them again without letting the hurt loose on them.  I forgave those people when I forgave myself years ago.  I understand why they said and did what they said and did back then.  But I don’t want that in my life now either.

And there’s no guarantee that walking back into the fire will  have a different outcome.  That those family members have changed their opinions of me and will treat me differently.  Or that they are trustworthy to keep my secrets.

And that is the origin of my trust issues.  I am suspicious of everyone except the few people who have proven themselves to me.  Letting people in is difficult.  Balancing my need for solitude and privacy with socializing and valuing connections with people gives me a headache too.

So I am conflicted.  I am confused.  I am grieving.  And I feel so much that sometimes I go numb.  And when the dam bursts, my feelings explode.  And there are consequences to that too.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.  Thanks for your patience and for reading my post.