Archives for category: Shame

In past posts, I’ve talked about how journaling triggers anger and other negative feelings inside me instead of helping me cope.

Journaling also felt scary and overwhelming because it brought out thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations I wasn’t ready to acknowledge or accept about myself.  Stuff that made me feel like a monster or an alien or out of place in this world because my sensory perception and intuition are different from “normal” or “average” people.

I didn’t want to put those words on paper.  Not again.  Because putting words on paper makes them real.  And gives others a glimpse into my private world.  Or an excuse to manipulate/abuse/control/shame/hurt me.

But something happened in the last few weeks.  Something inside me has shifted.  Maybe it’s living in a more open and accepting city.  Maybe it’s the next cycle in my recovery.  Or maybe I am finally ready to accept the parts of me that attracted the monsters back then.

Either way, I started journaling again.  And collecting crystals.  And inviting plants into my home as roommates.  The crystals help me feel safe and protected.  The plants bring joy and clean energy into my apartment.  The journaling helps me gain closure with the monsters in my past without having to confront them physically or over the phone.

So, here is the letter I wrote to my shame.  Maybe it will inspire you to accept that whatever trauma happened to you wasn’t your fault either.

Dear Shame,

You think you are still ingrained in me.  But you are not.  That shivery, shaking feeling you experience is the moors connecting us falling apart.  You go home.  To the ones who created you.  To the ones you belong to.

Not me.  Not us.

Them.  The monsters.

As such, you are also a monster.

Monster #23 ->beyond (past, present, future)

When your cause is just, your purpose to educate and inform, you are welcome, valued, respected and accepted by all of us.  Otherwise, shame, please go home and leave us alone.

Thanks for reading

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In this case, the quote “Fake it ’til you make it” can help.  In others, maybe not so much.

The Contradiction

I know I have value.  My parts know they have value.  As a system, we know we have value.  I’m learning to show this and advocate for myself on many levels and in my personal life more, but with work or school or finding a new job?

Our family, friends, and colleagues value us same as we value them.  It’s easy for me to recognize, appreciate, and describe the value in other people.  That’s ingrained in me and something I like to do because I do believe every living being has value.

BUT

Recognizing this, accepting it as true is a whole different ball game.  My training, the voices in my head, the monsters all tell me I don’t have value.  The flashbacks and dreams and nightmares show me getting put down or ignored or embarrassed or shamed every time I try to describe my skills or accomplishments until I started to believe that I couldn’t show people my skills or do anything well because I’d make a mistake or embarrass myself with a panic attack.

Like with doing a self-review at work or updating a resume or writing one’s own job description, I have to sit down and commit words to paper that describe how I add value with my accomplishments and skills.

Every time I try to do this, I panic.  Literally have flashbacks and panic attacks or go into freeze mode – especially brain freeze – and come up empty.

The Shame/Fear component

One of the most effective ways to train someone is to be consistently unpredictable with punishments.  Every once in a while, praise the individual on something.  Then next time she does it, punish her.   Then ask her to do the task or perform the skill again a few times without punishment or praise.  The random and unpredictable changes will confuse and shame/scare her into not wanting to ever participate or do or perform that task/skill again.

That’s how I feel about sewing, knitting, decorating, putting things together, coloring/drawing/painting, and crafting.  I have especially vivid flashbacks of being in third or fourth grade and learning how to make bows to put on barrettes or ornaments for Christmas gifts to my family.  The sense of pride and accomplishment for being able to cut straight lines, ironing the fabric to create flat seams, and hand sewing the bows all by myself with my aunt.

After that, I have about 3 weeks of traumatic amnesia where I see myself opening the drawer I reserved for crafts; looking at the half finished bows, needles, thread, and fabric; trembling in fear with blurred vision as I tried to take one out and work on it; freezing into a blank-minded paralyzed state; and then coming back to myself with the drawer closed.

I never did finish those Christmas bows.  Nor did I pick up a needle or thread or use a sewing machine for years after that.  In fact, the fear was so bad, that I failed my sewing home economics class.  Even though I knew how to sew; I knew how to thread a bobbin and what all of the part of the machine were called, I couldn’t pass the test or demonstrate knowledge in front of the teacher or the class.

When I tried to take sewing classes a few years ago (before the move), the same thing happened again.  I froze in fear and moved way to slow to keep up with class.  And embarrassed myself in front of my classmates.  I still try to sew, put things on the walls of my apartment, knit, etc.  Sometimes I can accomplish the goal.  Other times, not so much.

Present Time

These days, I’m getting ready to make some big changes.  Kind of like diving into the deep end of a cold pool instead of starting at the shallow end and easing my way in.  Beyond doing basic stuff for pleasure or fun (hobbies listed above), I am also taking online classes in aromatherapy and reviewing my current skill set for work.  Plus I am taking training classes through work to get better at interviewing, working in a team, using Excel, and so on.

Why?

Because I want to be able to talk about my job or career with confidence when asked professional or academic questions – working with colleagues, school interviews, reviews, meetings with my team mates, group, department, or colleagues in other departments no mater their role/rank/status.

I want to be able to recognize my value without having a panic attack or letting the negative voices in my head take over to stop me from being me.

But more than anything else, I want to show by example that race, religion, ethnicity, gender, size, sexual orientation, age, etc. mean less than nothing when an individual has achieved a secure sense of himself through knowing, respecting, valuing, and accepting all of himself as he grows and changes throughout life.

This means EVERYTHING including: the GOOD, the BAD, the IN BETWEEN, the STRENGTHS, the WEAKNESSES, the DARK, the GRAY, the LIGHT

How Do I Do This?

No idea.  Right now, my plan is trial and error.  Then learn from my mistakes.

Sure, this sends me into a confused state more often than not.  But I always come out of it with insight, information, sometimes knowledge or wisdom, and a little more confidence that I am on the correct path for me.

Maybe someday you will try this too.  If you do try it, know that at least one person is by your side cheering you on.

Thanks for reading

Introduction

Lots of posts tonight.  I’ve been saving them up since most of my time is spent with grandma and other family or hanging with old friends

So in continuing the themes from the first and second posts of today, this post is about facing my conversational fears.

Fear of Sharing Ideas outside of work

I and my alters often feel shame about sharing our interests with outside people.  We also are not comfortable making small talk, although the adult host personalities are getting better with that in the home state.  We also have limited control over the automatic switching between alters who feel compelled to take over and speak without identifying themselves.

We also tend to be so focused on not offending or insulting someone else, that whoever is talking can end up offending & insulting the individual regardless.  Or the repeated apologies, I statements, questions to check in on the situation, and projected insecure behavior from all this stems from these fears:

  • rejection
  • humiliation
  • public speaking
  • socializing
  • making verbal mistakes – i.e. stuttering, switching and not knowing what comes out of my mouth, dissociating, being talked over and unable to express myself
  • anger/frustration/disappointment because I keep repeating myself trying to say something but can’t verbalize without being interrupted and losing my train of thought

The Shame connection

I have consistently been told that I am:

  • not smart
  • lacking social skills
  • not loud enough
  • too loud
  • full of stupid ideas & opinions
  • not worthy of being listened to
  • going to embarrass and humiliate myself when talking or sharing ideas out loud
  • talking funny/confusing/weird
  • a boring conversationalist
  • not supposed to talk because my opinions, interests, ideas, etc. are not interesting
  • not supposed to ask questions because the response will always be negative and/or demeaning or (worse) silent treatment
  • not allowed to talk because I always embarrass the people with me by opening my mouth
  • so scared about talking that I start switching alters and am unable to follow a conversation or control what’s coming out of my mouth
    • usually conflicting opinions and words, sometimes gibberish, sometimes stuttering or stumbling over my words

These lessons have been embedded in me since I started talking and then (either consciously or unconsciously) reinforced by life experiences as I grew up.  On the negative side, it means verbalizing anything is painful to an almost physical degree.  On the positive side, these experiences forced me to become a better listener (when I’m not switching) and a better writer.

But those coping strategies, while effective, did not and do not address the trigger being discussed here.  And my issue with switching personalities and sounding self-centered because of all of the talk about myself.

And when I brought this up to my friend, she told me that I could:

  • talk about ideas
  • ask how the other person is doing
  • find something other than myself to talk about if I really wanted to or tried

Did you read the last bullet?  IF I REALLY WANTED TO AND TRIED TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE

What that friend doesn’t realize is:

  • I am aware of doing this to people for different reasons
    • Sometimes I do it on purpose as a coping strategy to drive people away when nothing else works – annoying/rude/off-putting/abrasive/self-centered
    • Sometimes I do it to test if an individual is listening to me or not
    • Most often I do it because the other person or persons have a habit of making assumptions and interrupting me without letting me finish so this becomes a conversation pattern that is difficult to disrupt
  • I am not always able to control or stop it from happening, especially in stressful or triggering situations
    • Awareness is key, and I am not often aware any switching occurred until too late
  • I am not always able to tell the individual I am talking to that my alters are the ones talking to them.
    • i.e. “Oh, hey, it might sound like I’m talking about myself a lot and acting self-centered, but I’m really not. My alter personalities like you and feel comfortable talking to you as individual alters so are using “I” for themselves.  Complicated, yes, but true.  Not all of the “I” statements  are about the “me” you know best.  They are from the other “me” personalities.”
  • Less often these days, I do this in conversations sometimes when I switch without awareness because talking is triggering

FROM Rude/Offensive Language TO the Socially Appropriate Language Process

And yes, this is a process – one I can’t do alone – that requires asking a counselor from the BARC Hotline, my therapist, or a trusted friend for assistance.

Although I am starting to realize that asking friends (even close, trusted, good friends) for help with this is NOT such a good idea.  But lessons learned and all that.

In order for me to verbalize my thoughts, I have to go through the DBT process for expressing my feelings to be able to verbalize what to say to anyone in a conversational tone.  So here are the steps:

  • Identify my feelings
  • Identify the cause of those feelings with words
  • Identify the goals or purposes of the future conversation
  • Use “I” statements in this phase to clarify my feelings and opinions and boundaries
  • Call the BARCC Hotline and ask the counselor for help:
    processing and reality testing the situation
    my experience of the situation
    and my potential verbal response to handling the situation
  • Work with the counselor to refine the goal and possible ways to approach the conversation without it sounding rehearsed or like a therapy session
  • Repeat as needed with another counselor or my therapist while in session

YES, it’s a long and clunky process, but this coping strategy has helped me improve many conversations and work through the backlash of having such conversations without rehearsal too.

BUT, I can’t use this process EVERY TIME with EVERY conversation I talk to in ANY situation.

Why is this fear & shame so important to clarify and work through right now?

  1. It’s the single biggest stumbling block to becoming more social & living a full life in the present moment
    1. Find a way for alter personalities to feel safe enough to reach out to each other in our system so that we can help and support each other – understand and find ways to cope together without blame/shame/guilt/frustration/anger/fear getting in the way
    2. Making & keeping friends
    3. Socializing without anxiety
    4. Feeling confident in myself and being able to portray that in my conversations
    5. Find a balance so that my alters stop automatically switching and talking during potentially stressful or triggering conversations
    6. Find a way for all parts of me to be able to converse and verbalize when they feel like it instead of interrupting or causing issues
    7. Dating and potentially being part of an intimate relationship
  2. It’s a major trigger I have to face in order to accomplish my professional goals in the future
    1. go back to graduate school
    2. get my degree in alternative medicine
    3. work as an alternative medicine practitioner
    4. make this website & blog a self-sustaining business so that I can continue to improve the website design and expand the Resources page
    5. make my existing job less stressful
    6. networking & future job hunting

How am I going to cope with this?

I don’t know.  We don’t know.  It would be different if we lived separate lives.  But we are “integrating” into one unified self.

By “integrating”, I mean we are becoming a balanced and unified personality without any alters disappearing.

Yes that defies the conventional meaning of Integration for Dissociative Identity Disorder.  But, none of us want any alters to poof out of existence.  We’ve lived together for 34 years and want to continue doing so – only now as a merged, single personality to the outside world.

This topic is something for all of us to discuss with our current therapist.

Thanks for reading

Introduction

There have been a lot of good experiences and positive changes in my life lately.  There have also been some unsettling realizations and uncomfortable changes about how I see myself and interact with the world.

The Pain of June (past)

One of the most difficult parts of June is pain management.  When I am awake, my body hurts.  As I try to sleep, my body still hurts.  I want to stay home and rest because the pain keeps me awake.  None of my “regular” coping strategies work.  In the past, the more I tried to use any coping strategies, the more pain I felt.  The more I tried to relax, the more tension my body experienced.

I felt at war with myself, and giving in to my OCD self- harm compulsions was the only way to get relief.  Because self-harm made the obsessive thoughts, voices, and words go away.  But the self-harm provided temporary relief and was addictive.  The window of relief shrunk as my body got used to the distraction.  And like any other addict, I had to increase the pain and self-harm to get any relief.

The Pain of June (present)

This year, the pain arrived on schedule.  The OCD compulsions to self-harm DID NOT follow.  The body memories, flashbacks, and hallucinations did follow the pain.  I’ve been living with the hallucinations for a week now.  The pain has ebbed and flowed…some days worse than others.  But the weekly Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments have helped a lot.

I use TCM because each visit includes acupuncture and body work in the form of cupping, massage, or gau sha.  My intern practitioner also teaches me self-massage techniques I can use between appointments.  Together, the acupuncture, massage, and body work helps manage my pain to acceptable levels in spite of triggers.  This allows me to sleep less, feel more energetic, and do more with my time.  (all positive changes)

The Shame of Backlash

The downside is intense backlash and triggering that feels different and is difficult to cope with.  Shame is one of the few emotions we all still struggle with.  It’s something that requires help and perspective from an objective third party who can listen with empathy and help clear out the confusing bits.

Once the shame trigger is identified, healing with coping strategies can begin.  Why the hotline?  Because my counseling sessions take place every week or 1.5 weeks and this type of trigger often occurs between sessions.  If the hotline can’t help, I do reach out to my therapist.  But only when all other resources have been utilized first.

The hotline helped me and my triggered parts calm down enough until our weekend session.  Calm down as in be able to sleep and quiet the anxiety the evening before therapy; not as in make the backlash go away.  My therapist witnessed how the backlash affected me in real time.  She asked some questions and helped me understand why this version of backlash felt different:

Therapist: how do you feel?
Me: I feel fine; just tired.  My emotions are calm even though I am experiencing backlash.
Therapist: how does your body feel?
Me: tense.  All of my muscles hurt, but especially around here (pointing).
Therapist: you’re braced for an attack.  Am I correct in thinking this?
I paused
Me: yes, you’re right.  I do feel braced for an attack – a slap of some kind or my head being pulled back by my hair.

The backlash is my younger par way of saying:
don’t do this!  It’s dangerous.  Our body is going to get hurt.  Then ALL of us will feel t he pain.  And we’ll be humiliated in front of everyone.  And then be punished even worse.

Conclusion

This time, backlash has to do with memories of physical abuse for showing confidence or accomplishments instead of hiding and letting someone else take the credit.  It happens most often when I interact with the world by sharing my experience, skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and abilities with confidence.

The more often I step out and do this, the more often I experience backlash.  When combined with anniversaries or other flashbacks, the pain increases.  Emotional distress remains the same or decreases.  With this new information, my therapist and I are working on coping strategies and techniques for pain-related flashbacks.

As I learn more, I will share the information in future posts.

 

 

Thanks for reading

 

 

Introduction

My child parts are asking questions about their past memories – thoughts, feelings, experiences.  They are sharing information through images, feelings, sounds, smells, & tastes and then asking the rest of us for help. (reality testing, perspective, validation, compassion, support coping strategies)

I’m lucky to work remotely right now.  This gives us the opportunity share inner thoughts and support each other even at work.  My child parts feel safe and connected at all times, so sharing with us is not a distraction from “acting normal” and “staying safe” outside of home.  There is no shame or guilt or fear that comes from caring about the rest of the system and not wanting to be a distraction.

Past

Before, this couldn’t happen because our life was very compartmentalized.  Only work at work.  Focus on getting home safely before and after work.  Then only a few hours at home to decompress, do self-care, rest, sleep, and cope with triggers.  Our living situation and general environment wasn’t always safe or didn’t feel safe because of past experiences and present issues with unsafe people.

Present

As we remember, the experiences get processed.  The child parts feel safer and more comfortable with themselves and the rest of the system.  The shame from sharing information, exposing secrets, asking for help, and letting go of the past changes into self-compassion, acceptance, respect, and improved communication skills.  The guilt goes away as each part of me learns to accept the truth: it wasn’t his/her/its fault; none are responsible.

Conclusion

These changes to inner self-talk / self-thoughts are reflected in how I view and interact with the rest of the world.  In being able to communicate with myself better, I also learn how to communicate with others in the outside world.  I can be more objective and learn from my mistakes easier.  My alters can access these thoughts and use the experiences to help them do the same with their memories and experiences.

Then they share what they’ve learned with me.  We all benefit by feeling more at ease with ourselves and each other; feeling safe on the inside and outside; reflecting a new sense of self and confidence in social situations; and being less reactive to many exterior triggers.

There is still a lot to work on, but this is a good start.

Thanks for reading

 

Not much to write at this time.  My head aches too much.  But I do recognize a connection between Oriental medicine treatment helping my body feel better and increased feelings of shame or distress in the form of scalp/forehead pain.

Almost like an invisible force is punishing me for remembering, feeling, letting those trapped body memories free.  And since I’m experiencing less fear/guilt/distress over body pain (i.e. I can cope and work through it more and more), the force is going back to basics and using something that scares all of us in the system to make us stop.

That something is head/neck pain.  Triggers all kinds of negative feelings and thoughts.  Triggers flashbacks.  Causes distractions and mistakes.  And makes all of us just want to lie down and sleep OR take a pain pill and sleep.

So work is finished for today.  I ate food.  Had something to drink.  Used the restroom.

Time for sleep or at least some better rest than the last few nights.

Thanks for reading.

Sometimes life throws a curve ball.  Plans change.  Priorities change.

I thought my Chinese medicine treatments were over for the semester (winter break) and didn’t plan on one over the weekend.  Instead, the goal was knitting on Saturday and sewing on Sunday with some cooking and relaxing thrown in.  My friend’s scarf has been delayed long enough.  And I need to show some progress for the lessons I paid for.

But I had a treatment on Saturday.  I use treatment because each one is more than acupuncture; the needling is only one aspect of practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Along with the acupuncture, my practitioner used cupping and massage to help with the memories and muscle tension along my spine.  She warned me that the intensity of this  treatment (our goals were less anxiety and helping with cold symptoms) might cause some discomfort for a day or two as my body continued to heal.

This has happened before, so I wasn’t worried.  What I forgot to take into account was the over time and lack of sleep from the week before along with lots of memories.  So instead of sewing and cleaning house, I slept most of the day.  Was awake for maybe 8 hours total throughout the day.

And so, here I am writing my post a day late and feeling like a bad person for not meeting my self-imposed deadline.  And while I know I’m not a bad person, I still feel bad about not posting a late message.  On the other hand, I recognize that I am not perfect.  I do make mistakes.  And sometimes life gets in the way and there’s nothing to be done about that.

I needed to sleep.  My alters needed to regroup.  Our body needed to rest and feel safe.  Yesterday was a lesson.  Self-compassion. Self-care.  Listen to those inner voices.  Some do care.

Because the weekend got me thinking about anxiety, here’s a quote from the Dalai Lama.  I hope it helps you as much as it helps me.

dalai-lama-quote

Thanks for reading xo

Introduction

This time of year I think about (read obsess over) my body and its “flaws” as told to me by others.  My body is in pain – joints, muscle, skin, sinuses, bone, etc. – and prevents me from enjoying the fresh air that comes with warmer weather.  March and April are months when people first noticed my body start changing with puberty 20 plus years ago.  It is when the body shaming started.  And the body violence increased.

Between 7-15, the perpetrators who liked to use me sexually started being physically violent too.  The violence got worse as my body matured and clients needed to find other ways to “get it up” or “get in the mood” depending on gender.  With the sex and violence came shaming phrases: you want (fill in) because of the way you look; you’re asking for (fill in) with your body language and clothes; I wouldn’t have to (fill in) if you looked like you did before (child body); you are a slut; if you stopped fighting, I wouldn’t have to hurt you so bad…

Epithets like: thunder thighs, big butt, fat belly, flat as a board, big boobs/small boobs, bad skin/nails, hairy legs, vain child, arrogant, self-centered and so on dogged me as I tried to understand the changes happening inside me.  Comparisons to my female cousins made me feel small and worthless and nerdy – invisible and shamed for taking attention away from them – when compared to their popularity and style and social skills.

Being told I was dumber, uglier, quieter, and less adept at anything than my parents and brother with words and actions by everyone reinforced my body and self shame.  In every possible way, I was taught that my body was inferior, unhealthy, ugly, worthless, and not mine.  Basically, I should be dead.  I don’t deserve a healthy, slim body with womanly curves when the rest of my more worthy female relatives are less blessed in those areas.

The Meat of It

I spent high school and college avoiding relationships as often as possible and hiding my body with clothes that did not flatter or suit me.  I spent time around people who hated and made fun of me under the guise of being friends.  I wore hand-me downs and clothes that were decades out of fashion (given to me by my aunts and mother).  Any clothes I bought for myself had to be approved by my parents – I couldn’t shop alone for fear of what I might by.  Grooming wasn’t allowed; not the way most teenagers are allowed to experiment and spend hours in the bathroom or alone in the bedroom trying out makeup and hygiene products.

And I was always on a diet.  Because my parents thought I was fat.  I wasn’t fat – in fact I was dangerously underweight at less than  or equal 90 lbs. for most of high school – but I had curves that both my parents hated and wanted to not see.  Basically, they tried to stop me from going through puberty.  It didn’t work though.  I eventually made 100 lbs and stayed close to that the last two years of college unless I was in a downward spiral.  In college, I gained the freshman 15.  That summer, I dropped down to less than 90 lbs. again.

Senior year in college, many concerned people (none who were friends, just good people who cared enough to help out troubled peers) stepped in and convinced me I needed help.  Free counseling got me through graduation, but didn’t prevent the weight loss or attempted suicide.  Professional counseling after graduation started me on the path to be kinder to myself by getting healthy and rebuilding my sense of self to start.

Conclusion

Being skinny and weak kept me safe.  Being strong and healthy made me a target.  Looking like a woman made me less valuable to the cult (only wanted and paid for child-like bodies) and worthless to my parents.  My father hated my body and made me cover up all the time.  My mother was jealous of my body and liked to criticize my body for her own amusement.  She also liked to hurt me under the guise of “checking for wounds” or “helping me clean hard to reach areas”.

My only thoughts from that time until about 12 years ago were to hurt, punish, hide, destroy my body and feminine parts.

Then I decided that I wanted to stop feeling ashamed of my body.  And I wanted to be healthy.  Every time I tried to do something positive, family stepped in with the shaming.  Then the voices in my head triggered shaming thoughts and compulsions driven by an obsession to look a certain way or not look a certain way.  In all honesty, I thought I was 170 lbs with rolls of fat hanging down everywhere and that I had secretly had breast augmentation surgery because how else could I have large breasts when everyone else had small ones unless they were overweight/obese?

And even some overweight family members (mother included) still didn’t have large breasts to go with the extra weight.  And that was extra shame.  Because I never, ever wanted to have that kind of surgery.  An overtly feminine body would get me unwanted attention and keep me from being invisible.  But every year, I’d be obsessed with thoughts of breast implants, butt implants, feminine curves, padding, etc. and compelled to find information about it.  And I’d look down at my body or in a mirror and see rolls of fat, jiggly body parts, and stretch marks.  Then I’d feel shame and hate.

Until one of my early therapists started questioning me about my thoughts and compulsions.  Together we reality tested each of my beliefs.  Not really assumptions because these were my “set in stone truths” as taught by life.  Little by little, she forced me to look at each body part and decide how much “fat” really existed.

Then came nutrition therapy and the concept of loving kindness towards myself.

And every time I heard a “body shaming” thought, I had to stop and rephrase that thought to something “body neutral”.  Then rephrase the thought to “body positive” after a time.

And every time I felt the urge to hurt my body, I taught myself  to stop and understand where the compulsion came from.  Then remind myself that I like/love my body and don’t want to hurt it.  Hurting my body hurts me too.

Eventually, I started reminding myself that it’s ok to make mistakes and relapse sometimes.  That’s my mind telling me some part is in trouble; time to step back and think before moving on.

These days, being kind to myself means the following:

  • Stop criticizing myself when I experience backlash and shame for using “last resort coping strategies”
  • Remind myself that I am doing the best that I can; it’s ok to give in to the compulsions and obsessions sometimes
  • To feel gratitude that I am coping with the shame and making positive changes to my body image
  • To remind myself of the positive steps I am taking to be body positive – and how much fun it is
  • Making sure I take care of myself no matter how crazy work gets or how depressed I feel when the pain and memories overwhelm me.
  • And to not feel bad when I have to post before or after Wednesday and Sunday because of work and personal deadlines.

Thanks for reading.

Introduction

I’ve been in therapy for 11 years.  The first 3 years, I worked with a psychologist who helped me rebuild my foundations, but also made me feel like I was crazy because she did not believe in trauma and abuse.  We parted ways after I realized a) she wasn’t helping anymore; and b) trying to fit sessions in between grad school and work was impossible.

The next 4 years were spent with an LICSW who specialized in eating disorders and anxiety.  She flat out told me that she did not work with trauma and was willing to help with the other stuff if I was ok with that.  I agreed, and we had a great relationship until the trauma got worse in 2009.  From her, I learned the tools to manage emotions and triggers that caused relapses in anorexia.  She also helped me learn to improve my self-confidence and feelings of self worth in spite of the pressure from outside sources to go back to what I was.

The past 5 years have been about understanding and learning to cope with my trauma history.  That meant remembering, coping with anxiety and overwhelming feelings, working through shame, setting boundaries, and ensuring my safety.  It mean accepting that PTSD and DID were part of my identity now.  It meant acknowledging I was a victim of domestic violence and other abuse.  It meant acknowledging I was a survivor who did what was necessary to get through hell.  It also meant making the choice to be me with all of my weirdness and quirky characteristics and alternate personalities or be part of a family system that hurt and abused me.

The Event

When I decided to separate from my family and disappear, I didn’t know it would lead me to where I am now.  The first two years were all about making sure they couldn’t contact me (phone, email, work, home).  The third year was about trying to feel safe where I lived in spite of people from my past continuing to stalk and harass me.  That is when I started the process to change my name and move out of the city.  This past year has been about not hiding anymore.

Part of the not hiding goal was to develop a personal style so that my outside (physical appearance) self matched my inside self.  I wanted to show myself in my appearance; be me and have that reflected in my clothing choices, accessories, etc.  Because wearing clothes that fit and feel comfortable are stepping stones to rebuilding confidence in self image and appearance – two parts of myself that were taken away a long time ago through hate and shame.

My genetic history blessed me with looking physically beautiful and having an attractive body.  Not hiding anymore meant I’d be getting a lot of unwanted and triggering attention.  But hiding wasn’t an option anymore.  Wearing ugly clothes and playing down my physical appearance made me feel awful.  The journey to finding my style started in April of this year with a personal style program and is ongoing.

The not-hiding part was completed last week when I attended the company holiday party in a stylish and comfortable outfit that brought out my inner confidence and personality.

Post-Event Backlash

And I know I had a good time, that all of this was real, because of backlash the next day.  Started with a dreamless sleep that left me waking up in terror.  Continued with a moderate headache and lots of distraction at work.  Culminated with knots and lumps inside no matter what coping strategies I and the alters employed on the way home.

Once we got home, the urge to self-harm came back.  And nothing we tried could make the compulsion ease or go away.  The flashbacks, the memories, the shame knocked us out.  Talking to a counselor on the hotline helped a lot.  We walked through the feelings to understand where the trigger came from.  Then she helped me create a safety contract.

Coping

We were expecting backlash.  We were not expecting the compulsions for self-harm or the flashbacks.  It didn’t happen at the previous holiday party.  Why would it happen this time?  And how come everything we tried was necessary but not sufficient?

The list of coping strategies for this backlash goes as follows:

  • Distraction – books, music, work, Facebook style groups, chatting with co-workers and friends, cooking, playing games, making budget and shopping strategies for next year
  • Self-Care – doing one of the style challenges for the day; remembering to eat all of my meals and drink fluids; putting on chapstick; taking walks; laughing with a friend; downloading books; wearing comfortable shoes; going in to work later and staying later to make up time
  • Self-Soothing – eating chocolate; drinking juice and bubbly water; enjoying flavors that remind me of happy times; wearing clothes that felt good against my skin; staying warm and dry; getting enough rest; going to safe spaces in our mind
  • Emotion regulation – sitting with my feelings; acknowledging the turmoil inside and letting it pass; listening to my alters share stories and movies; laughing with them as we used lucid dreaming to change scary nightmares into successful adventures; identifying and naming our feelings; doing the opposite of how we feel to change our thoughts
  • Comfort – cuddling with stuffed animals; playing dress up; wrapping up tight in a blanket; listening to nature sounds; keeping in touch with close friends
  • Asking for help – when all else fails, reaching out for extra support from people who understand trauma and are willing to offer help

Lesson Learned

Not hiding feels great.  But the reasons for hiding still exist.  The shame and fear that caused us to hide hasn’t gone away.  And now the memories are back with clarity that comes from hindsight.  That means more change, more unsettled feelings, and more coping challenges.  Someday, though, this will get easier.

That belief, the hope that coping will get easier as I move on, keeps all of us going.

 

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?