Archives for category: Series

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about going back to basics and provided a list of some basic strategies and techniques that get used the most.  These “back to basics” posts are meant to share experiences about how and why they work so others can understand better and try out something when nothing else seems to work.  I and the rest of the alters will alternate writing and sharing experiences so be prepared for different levels of writing skill in each post.

Some of us are adults and write well.  Others are adults and not so good at writing.  The adolescents and young adults vary too.  And once in a while one of the child alters will chime in and share a story.  We will try very hard to change the font or let our guests know when the author has changed in an obvious way, but it might not always happen.  You have our sincere apologies for this in advance.

Some of what gets discussed here will be triggering.  But since these are meant to be resources, we will try not to get into too much detail about the scary stuff.  Instead, the goal is to share only enough through examples so that our guests can understand how different strategies and technique works.

REMINDER: I am not a therapist or a professional counselor.  What gets written here is based on personal experience and shared stories through therapy and groups.

Some of the topics (might be discussed more than once in different ways) are:

  • Mindfulness (DBT version and others)
  • Distress Tolerance (DBT version)
  • Emotion Regulation (DBT version)
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness (DBT version)
  • Thought awareness and changing negative thoughts (CBT version and others)
  • Obsessions and Compulsions
  • Distractions
  • Grounding
  • Self Soothing
  • Comfort
  • Compassion
  • Meditation
  • Food

Thanks for reading.

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Childhood

I wanted to be a writer growing up.  I also wanted to be a doctor of some kind – specialize in herbs and the kind of folksy medicine that helped me through the worst of my injuries as a child.  Some parts wanted to be an ice skater or a gymnast or a dancer too.

We fell in love with science.  Words were an escape – reading and learning couldn’t be taken away from us – but science was like cooking and baking; full of questions, answers, and investigating.

But then all of these blocks got in the way.  Random people who were once friendly turned against me.  People I thought were friends humiliated me.  Instead of helping, teachers made everything more difficult.  Even when I excelled and did everything correct, I still “failed” and got punished.  When I made mistakes or gave up, I was told that it’s ok because I am a failure.  Trying again or trying harder wouldn’t change the outcome so giving up or giving in was good.  Better not to try at all.

Adolescence

And so my life went until I went to college.  There I found a different part of myself.  One that enjoyed challenges and classes, but not people and socializing.  The triggers in my head; the nightly phone calls home; the nightmares and ugly thoughts circling inside me; the lost time scared me.  Instead, I gave in to the pressure and finished at a local state college with high school “friends” to offer “support” and “help” when I needed it.  Relatives also lived close by and offered “escapes” too.  But the part that opened up refused to close again.

The alter voices and the monster voices fought inside my head and spoke through our mouth.  Everyone on campus thought I was crazy.  I encouraged this because I didn’t want friends.  Friends were people who might try to stop me from my (at the time) main purpose: do well; learn; live as much as possible on my terms until I died.

But I didn’t die.  Not sure, but maybe the counseling center had something to do with that.  And maybe someone inside (one or more alters) refused to let the monsters win.

Young Adulthood

Letters got lost in the mail.  Phone calls never received or returned; or answered by family.  Networking opportunities lost.  All because the organ donor and sperm donor and blood sibling (mom, dad, younger brother to those unaware of my classification system) would hack my cell phone and email to get my contacts and then proceed to trash me or harass potential clients/employers on my behalf.  And when that wasn’t enough, they enlisted their relatives and connections to assist them.  Or lie and block my ability to get resources that would allow me to take advantage of opportunities around me.

Twelve years later

I am still alive.  We are still alive.  Every year we live past 21, we celebrate with joy.  Because none of us were meant to live past 21.

I am a professional writer.  This blog is one avenue; everyone in the system helps make the blog and website work.  My day job is the other one.

The healers in me (alters who want to pursue a career in healing arts – not medicine) are working with a graduate school program for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Either way, we did not stop.  We did not give in.  We did not give up.  We did not fail.  We stopped.  We changed our mind.  We went in a different direction for a time.  We stopped again.  We changed our mind again.  We pursued and achieved our goals.

Connecting it all

For me and the alters in our system, matching my insides and outsides means developing, strengthening, and expressing who I really am from the inner foundations to the outer physical representations the rest of the world uses to judge people.

I did not start to heal from past hurts until I was able to figure out who I was and what I valued.  The answers to those two questions became the foundation for who I am now.  Without them, I would not have had the courage to accept my alters; let alone leave my family and start fresh in another city.

Lies by themselves are neutral.  I truly believe that because words without context and emotions lack coherent meaning.  Even neutral though, lies can cause more damage than help.  Deception means hiding, causing misdirection on purpose and indicates a lack of trust in some part of the relationship.

“I don’t want to hurt his/her/your feelings” means I don’t trust you / me to respect or accept my honest feelings and opinions about the topic; answers to the question.  Or I am afraid you are going to be insulted  and mean to me if I am honest so I will tell you what you want to hear.  Or I don’t really care about you and am going to tell you something to hurt you and make me feel better because I pulled one over you.  Or I can’t let you feel good about anything because your happiness is a threat to me; you are competition and have to be put down so I feel powerful and stay in control of you.  You are not allowed to have confidence and your own opinions because I own you and am in control of you; you are not a person.  You are everything I hate about myself in another body.

That is how I was raised.  That is the story of my childhood, adolsecent, and young adult experiences with everyone in my world at the time.  It is how I believed everyone interacted with everyone else until I got to college.

And acting like that; telling those lies; being who I was expected to be instead of who I was made me ashamed of myself.  The self-hatred and anger were so strong that I started punishing myself in elementary school.  By middle school, I had full-blown anorexia nervous and had attempted suicide twice.  Once by starvation.  Once by suffocation.The last time I attempted suicide and almost succeeded was in college, just after I turned 21 and before I started sessions with the first therapist.

She helped me learn to like and respect myself by finding ways to allow me the freedom to live my values.  I stopped lying on purpose that year.  The only exception being for survival.  Even though I hated myself for lying to survive and punished myself afterwards, I still lied to stay alive.  

Eleven years later, I can honestly say that I love myself and all of my parts.  And I don’t punish myself for lying to survive as often.  Some day that will become “do not punish anymore”

Coping is difficult when the negativity and doubts being you down.  

Recovery feels impossible as long as you feel like you don’t deserve it.

But you do deserve recovery.  So do I.  So does every survivor of any kind of trauma. 

This is my idea of recovery:

To live a full life on my terms.  No one else’s.  To thrive and not let my past make present and future decisions for me.

That dream is what I want for all survivors too.  So I share my personal struggles with wanting to be a genuine person 100% of the time with every individual and still protect myself.

What about you?

Coping Techniques Explained

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The first effective coping technique I learned in therapy was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  The psychologist used this to help with my original diagnosis: clinical depression with anorexia nervosa and generalized anxiety disorder.  Practicing this taught me how to identify emotions and negative thinking patterns so I could change them.  The psychologist also taught me how my emotions and thoughts influenced my behavior.  By changing one, I could change the others.

Self-Help Books, Websites, etc.

The next group of techniques came from a series of books.  Working through lessons in the books taught me how to identify triggers, calm myself down when I felt the anxiety, relax, and refocus on the present.  By using those strategies, I could recognize patterns in my behavior and work to stop self-harm behaviors by using different coping strategies instead.  They helped me find new and creative ways to apply my CBT skills and improve on existing skills like meditation and deep breathing too.  I have a list of my favorite self-help resources here.

Caveats for self-help resources:

  • These resources are guides, not substitutes for qualified professional assistance
  • They can provide factual information, lessons for learning the basic techniques, and useful suggestions
  • They cannot solve your problems and make the issues go away
  • Not all resources are created equal; be wary of anything you read and/or listen to, especially if the resource claims it can solve your your problem
  • If you get frustrated or don’t understand, it’s not your fault.  This may be a good time to reach out and find other supports to assist you on the recovery path.
  • Finally, read, visit, or listen to multiple information sources on the same topic before deciding which techniques to use

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

The third coping technique I learned was dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).  The creator of this therapy is a survivor and renowned therapist named Marsha Linehan.  Ms. Linehan has Borderline Personality Disorder and created DBT to help her cope with overwhelming emotions and her reactions to them.  I use DBT for feelings of anger, shame, and guilt.  And to help me cope with body memories.  My parts use DBT to help with distress tolerance and emotion regulation that comes from being triggered into flashbacks and nightmares all the time.

If you haven’t noticed already, my internal and external lives are very different with their own perspectives, priorities, and experiences.  Living on the inside and the outside simultaneously requires cooperation and compromise from everyone involved.  It also requires a lot of trust and the development of a system to keep our internal world functional and running smoothly.  That brings me to the final coping technique addressed in this post: Internal Family Systems.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model

We are lucky because we are all aware of each other and want to live a full, enjoyable, healthy life together.  That means we work together and help each other instead of working against each other and hurting each other.  We feel safe enough to ask for help, to set individual and group boundaries, and to use open communication to address problems instead of holding it in or casting blame.  Not everyone with DID is that lucky.

I learned about IFS from my current therapist and started using it actively in 2012.  The main point of IFS is that every part has a voice and gets heard.  On the inside, all important decisions are made by committee using 1) majority vote; or 2) unanimous vote.  We have also created a “family hierarchy” of sorts so that everyone shares essential chores and responsibilities equal to their age, developmental stage, and ability.  For example, adults take on adult responsibilities like work, transportation, finances, etc.  Adolescents have chores, responsibilities, and time to explore.  Children get to be children and have chores to complete every day.

We all work together to establish and maintain communication lines.  We all have to compromise and find solutions that work for the system when flashbacks and other symptoms threatens to overwhelm us.  We are all responsible for making good choices, working together, making our internal and external worlds safe, and learning coping strategies to weather the ups and downs of recovery.  Especially when parts get stuck in the past, trapped by traumatic memories (monsters), or lost and get triggered to the point of using automatic defense mechanisms and self-harm to cope.

Without learning and using IFS, none of us would be in the healthy, safe, happy place that allows us to share this information on the blog and the website.

Other Info

Here is a list of some other useful coping techniques.  I do not mention them above because they require assistance from an experienced mental health provider to be most effective.

  • Hypnotherapy
  • EMDR
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
  • Trauma sensitive yoga and other types of moving meditation

Medication

Medication is not a coping technique or strategy I use except under certain conditions:

  • Not sleeping for 36 or more hours
  • Intense physical pain that keeps me awake and unable to move
  • Real physical illness like a cold or the flu

I choose not to use medication because medication makes me physically ill.  I am extremely chemical sensitive and will get the side effects from even the smallest doses (the 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 100 person described in the small print).

This does not mean I am against using medication.  If medication works, please use it.  But don’t expect to see many posts about the benefits of medication as a healthy coping strategy here.  I cannot speak to that topic and work hard not to pass judgement or bias readers for or against any strategies here.

Challenges in not using self-harm as a coping strategy

There are many challenges to stopping self-harm.  The ones listed below are what I have to deal with most often:

Finding Effective Substitutions

Before I started therapy, anorexia, self-harm, dissociation, and switching were the only effective coping techniques in my tool box.  I used them relentlessly to block out the monsters in my mind.  And when that did not work, I isolated myself and developed OCD type rituals.

Therapy, partial programs, and a lot of personal research with books (and then the Internet) taught me a lot of useful coping techniques to help me understand that I did have feelings and how to safely express them in a healthy way.  The four main techniques I use are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Self-Help Workbooks like: The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, The PTSD Handbook, and The Anorexia Workbook
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Internal Family Systems Therapy

I use “technique” here because each behavior, or group of behaviors, can be learned and used alone or in combination to create effective coping strategies tailored to individual needs.

Breaking Habits

According to scientific research (multiple sources), habits are easy to create and difficult to stop.  A habit can form after a few repetitions.  Breaking a habit can take a at least a month or longer.  Some habits are easy to break.  Others are not.  An addiction is more difficult to break than a habit.

When does a habit or a routine become an addiction?  I honestly don’t know.  But that is less important than understanding the how and why the habit or addiction was formed.  And what purpose it serves in one’s life.

A habit becomes an addiction when the habit starts to take over my life.  When all I can think about is the next opportunity to hurt myself,  Most of the time I used self-harm to help me feel in control of my environment while also distracting me from overwhelming emotions and extreme pain.  The anorexia nervosa was the worst one.  I started that when I was six years old and didn’t start recovery until I was twenty-one.  Twelve years later, I am officially recovered, or in remission.  Like alcoholism, an eating disorder never really goes away.  Relapse is always possible.

These days, my only self-harm habits are food and skin-related: scratching, clumsiness causing bruises, tearing at my nails, eating food that makes me feel  sick afterwards, etc.  And they only come out during a combination of the following situations:

  • feeling unsafe
  • backlash
  • anniversaries
  • bad triggers
  • body memories
  • emotional overload

Any one of these by themselves might cause me to use or feel the urge to use self-harm, but often do not.

I have a variety of strategies to help me when the urges come now.  Most of the time they work.  And when they don’t, I work hard to minimize the backlash that comes with using self-harm.

Relapse Backlash

These broad categories are based on my experiences and discussions with therapists. Please remember that as you read this section.

Anyone who has ever relapsed or failed at something has experienced the negative emotions and thoughts that come with a setback (aka mistake).  Some people and move past these easily because they learned positive, healthy ways to cope from role models.

Others pretend these feelings don’t exist, put them away someplace and forget (or try) their existence; then these people put on a “brave face” and work harder, obsess over mistakes and solutions, to ensure success the next time.  They acknowledge the failure without blaming their sense of self; might or might not hold grudges; and often will try again or decide the task is not worth the time and effort so move on.

Then their are people like me (and maybe you too), survivors who for some reason or other (and to different degrees) have been taught that they do not have feelings; every setback is a failure because they, the human, is a failure and will never succeed; and success is not real success because their is always something wrong with how the task was accomplished; nothing they do is right or good enough, will ever be right or good enough.  And they always get punished for failure.

Backlash is just that: punishment for failure.  Self-inflicted or other-inflicted, it does not matter.  What matters is that some people are compelled to punish themselves for failure of any kind.  Often that punishment is physical; sometimes it is emotional or spiritual or a combination of these.

But punishing oneself for lapsing or relapsing starts a downward spiral back into addictive self-harm behaviors.  I know because I am struggling not to punish myself for relapsing over the last few weeks.

Alters

Many times, my parts and I are co-conscious.  This means we are all aware of what is happening around us – not a complete switch in personalities.  And different parts can/will take control of our body while someone else is in charge of speaking and interacting with outside people.

Many of my alters do not feel like other coping strategies are as effective of as what they already know and turn to like a blankie.  Or they are very young/old and have difficulty remembering the other strategies and techniques under stress.  If they remember the strategies and techniques, they also have to remember how to use them.

Teaching my child parts, adolescent parts, adult parts, and ageless parts these techniques while also working full time, managing day-to-day life, and writing this blog takes a lot of time, patience, and practice.  We practice when we can; try to treat ourselves gently, with compassion and empathy, when there is a set-back or a mistake.

Because it is never failure.  It is always an opportunity to learn.

Finding effective support with therapy

There are a lot of resources available for learning these techniques.  Therapy is not required.  Neither is participation in a program or a group.  But if you are like I was when I first started, working with a professional can help you learn these techniques while providing a safety net to help cope with the backlash, emotions, or memories that can appear as you move through this process.

Some of my favorite affirmations come from Louise Hay.

This one is a particular favorite because it helps me remember one of my most important values: accepting responsibility for myself while letting others be responsible for themselves

Forgiveness doesn’t come easily to me.  Neither does trust.  Instead, I have learned to practice Tara Brach’s concept of Radical Acceptance.

This has allowed me to separate words and actions from individuals.  I can forgive individuals because humans are fallible, make mistakes, and have the freedom of choice granted by virtue of life.

It has also allowed me to hold the people who hurt me responsible for their actions while also releasing the pain and hurt of the past.  Instead of accepting responsibility for events and experiences beyond my control, I accept that my parents and the others who hurt me chose to act that way and are responsible for their words and actions.

I am only responsible for my reactions and my choices in how I reacted.  I forgive myself for what I had to do to survive and do not regret those words, actions, and reactions anymore.  Those experiences are life lessons and reminders of how I used to be and how I choose to act differently now when similar situations appear in my life.

If I had a choice to go back in time, I would not do anything different.  Because changing one part of the past results in me being someplace different now.

I love my family.  I respect them as humans and individuals.  I hate their actions and words towards me, towards, themselves, towards each other, and towards others.  I feel compassion for them and wish they did not hate themselves so much that they choose to hurt others in order to feel better.

And some day, all of my parts will come to a place where this is true.  Until then, we struggle with nightmares, fear, anger, resentment, hurt, shame, guilt, and stress from the burden of our memories.  Because even when on her medication, my mom chose to hurt and manipulate everyone around her.  We were allies/competition or enemies to be destroyed.

Anyone who tried to help her, tried to get her to see a psychiatrist or counselor for medication adjustments or assistance got yelled at, talked about behind their back, silent treatment, missing or destroyed items, and a flood of tears.  Because trying to help her meant trying to hurt her and punish her.

So eventually, I stopped taking responsibility for my mom’s actions.  I stopped taking care of her.  And when I did, the entire family turned on me.  I don’t hate them for it.  Not anymore.  Some of my parts do.  Because the shaming, the accusations, the shunning hurt.  I was trying to do the right thing.  To be my own person and help my mother.  I stopped taking responsibility for my father’s frustration with her too.  And my brother’s embarrassment and anger at her actions and reactions, her scenes and her problems.

I did not make them that way.  I am not responsible for them.  I am not meant to live my life under their control.  My role in life is not to be an extension of any of them, invisible, taking care of their needs and bearing responsibility for their problems.

This affirmation means a lot to me.  I created my own versions to keep in my mind and heart when the anger boils over:

I accept myself and all that I am.

  • My past, my present, my future are mine to choose and be responsible for.
  • I love my family.  I am not responsible for them or their choices.
  • I accept that I am changing for the better, learning to live and be my authentic self.
  • I accept my family for who they are and the choices they make.
  • I loved them then. I love them now.  I will love them no matter what happens.

Thank you Ms. Hay for your inspiration and thoughtful sharing of affirmations.

Who am I?

I am a survivor of long term domestic violence and various forms of abuse at the hands of family, friends and others from childhood to young adulthood.  Ten years ago, I started the recovery process.  Two and a half years ago, I finally separated from my abusers and am safe.  Now my focus is on life after recovery because, while recovery is a process I am still going through, my focus is more on living and thriving than merely surviving.

What is recovery, and what does it mean?

On this blog, recovery means reclaiming one’s life after experiencing trauma or traumatic events that impact and alter one’s life in negative ways.  For me specifically, this means domestic violence and abuse that caused complex posttraumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder.

What does life after recovery mean?

Life after recovery is that special place where a survivor can focus on putting her life back together, focus on living and thriving instead of surviving.  It means making friends, going back to school, building relationships, achieving goals, travel, dream jobs, financial security, having fun, or whatever your definition of living is to you.

So why this blog now?

Part of my recovery coping strategies and one of my values is being able to help others.  This blog is a safe place for me to write about and share my knowledge and experience with recovery and finding resources with others looking for help, and the website allows me to offer a safe place to find other kinds of resources (i.e. books, website links, hotline phone numbers, resource centers) for help, recovery, coping, and survival.  These resources come from my personal library or are recommended to me by trusted medical professionals.

The Reader’s Digest Version:

Welcome to the blog and website.  It offers a safe place for trauma survivors looking for help and resources related to recovery and life after recovery.  I am a survivor, not a medical professional, so these resources are options to be used in conjunction with professional help, not medical advice and therapy.  In the blog, I share my personal experiences with recovery and life after recovery from complex posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder and related topics.  Some might help, some might not.  Please use what you can and disregard the rest.