This is a long post so feel free to read it at your own pace

Background

Every year between May and August I would get nightmares in the morning, just before waking up.  And I would have sleepless nights full of nightmares and body memories waking me up in sleep paralysis (awake and unable to move or speak or see or hear anything around me).  I would stay up all hours and sleep during the day as often as possible.  Every year between September and May, I would dissociate and lose time, not remembering anything that happened during those months.  That was how I coped with the abuse from the donors and other people in my life until four years ago.

Four years ago, I stopped dissociating all of the time.  I would go for a couple months at a time without the nightmares and panic attacks preventing me from sleeping or waking up in the morning.  And I would remember what I did in the fall, winter, spring.  I would remember what happened during holidays with family and connections.  But I would get violently ill with viral colds, sinus infections, allergies, etc. all of the time.  And the pain was terrible.  Looking back on this, I can say that I wasn’t ready to remember (and to accept) what everyone was sharing at the time.  And the internal conflict made everything painful and scary all over again.

Now

Years of therapy with specialists in depression, anxiety, and eating disorders helped me effectively learn to cope with the mental and emotional symptoms / side effects of the PTSD and the DID.  I think the most effective skills and strategies I learned have to do with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness practices.  Runners up include: strategies from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy modules about emotion regulation and effective interpersonal communication; and redefining my relationship with health and nutrition; and finding spiritual faith again.

The last five years with my current therapist have helped me deal with the panic attacks brought on by triggers, flashbacks, nightmares and rediscovered memories.  Sometimes also with body memories, but that is a different topic for another post.  Internal Family Systems therapy; Contracts for Safety; and Self Care strategies are my most effective coping strategies for these symptoms.  Runners up include: all aspects of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; learning to self-soothe; talking with safe people in my support network; establishing safety and boundaries; and having compassion for myself and others.

What is Different?

The triggers that used to bother me most, hardly get a reaction from me or any alters at all.  The idea of encountering people from my past does not scare any of us into anxiety and dissociation.  Instead of acting on the feelings of shame and guilt that got triggered by an interaction with a friend, we talked it out and both felt better afterwards.  Thinking about the egg donor or hearing friends talk about family members and their family experiences brings on flashbacks sometimes, but does not cause panic attacks or other symptoms in the moment.  The reaction is delayed and less distressing so that I can get home safe and put together a plan for the evening.

Journaling is effective for me, but not as writing, typing, or drawing.  The connection comes because those were the only ways I could communicate and be “heard” most of the time growing up in an abusive family.  I was silenced; not allowed to talk and be heard or acknowledged in that whole time.  My voice was met with heavy, accusing, silent treatment.  Spoken words turned against me and used as excuses to ignore me at all times.  So I journal by calling the hotline and verbally processing experiences and memories, sometimes feelings, with them.  And all of us in the system are grateful that the hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free.  You can find out more about it here.

The most amazing experiences to date happened last week.  I will share parts of them here because I and my parts believe it important to remember that reactions will and do change for the better as survivors work hard and progress forward on their recovery journey.

  1. I’ve talked a lot about what the egg donor did in other articles; you can search through the archives for them if you want to know more, but there are too many to re-link back to from here.  I remembered that the sexual and physical abuse did not stop until I left them 3 years ago.  The sperm donor used drugs and got the egg donor and sometimes the blood sibling to render me helpless when I went home for long weekends and holidays.  Then he would sexually and physically abuse me.  My parts and I dissociated and only remembered being scared and confused and very sick with a cold coming back from those trips.  My therapist and physician confirmed this during past conversations.  The unusual part is that I did not have a panic attack.  I did not have body memories come up and cause pain.  I did not feel anger, shame, or guilt except when I called the hotline for help in processing what happened because my therapy session wasn’t until later ion.  All I did feel was a mix of confusion, sadness, and hurt.  I wanted to curl up and cry.  This never happened before and scared me.  Ever since talking with my therapist and the hotline, the nightmares have receded.
  2. For the first time in my life, I felt sexual attraction to a male; flirted with him; and did not feel scared or the need to run and hide.  I felt scared about my non-reaction to this.  And because I planned to go back to the restaurant where we met again knowing that he will be there working the bar.  All previous experiences were forced on me and not voluntary, so any time I felt sexual attraction I was triggered into various “keep away from me” or “run and hide” reactions.

Coping Strategies

I mentioned a few new strategies above and will explain them in more detail here.

  • Internal Family Systems therapy; a type of psychotherapy used to assist in DID and PTSD mostly that believes humans are made up of parts integrated together to create the whole self identity.  My therapist addresses all of us in each session and emphasizes the importance of letting “every voice be heard”.  She communicates with all of us and encourages us all to communicate with each other so we work together – “every part in exactly the right place each other” or something similar – to be a whole, united, integrated individual.
  • Contracts for Safety: originally used as a promise to foster accountability and prevent self-harm; my parts and I also use this when some of us feel scared and / or unsafe emotionally and want to ensure we accomplish our goals.  Most of our contracts lately had to do with getting rest or sleep; waking up on time; and then getting to work safely in spite of the morning nightmares and triggers.  My therapist also uses it to ensure safety and boundaries in session when she uses hypnotherapy.  I learned more about this from The PTSD Handbook and Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation books listed in the resources section of the website.
  • Establishing Safety: I’ve written a couple of posts about safety here and here.  But I have to tell you honestly that if I hadn’t established emotional and physical safety over the last couple of years, I would not have been able to cope with remembering and experiencing what I shared above without severe repercussions.  My mind and body just wouldn’t have been ready.  So before anyone does or tries anything too far outside of the comfort zone, please remember to establish safety first.  Also remember that safety comes in many forms and is different for every individual.
  • Setting effective boundaries: Setting boundaries is part of establishing safety, maybe the most important part of the process.  It is more than saying “no” and backing it up with actions.  It is about creating personal rules and guidelines related to the individual’s own values about life and safety.  The boundaries keep the individual and the living beings around the individual safe.  They foster effective communication and can prevent escalation of issues to triggering points. An example: I work hard to always be honest with the people in my life and to not trust anyone who lies to me more than 2x on purpose.  Growing up, I became an experienced liar; I can still tell a lie and have people believe it without any inkling that I lied.  On the other hand, I can also tell when someone is lying to me; depending on the situation and the person(s) involved, I may or may not share that I know the person(s) is lying.

Can you see how this boundary creates safety?