Coping Challenges: Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Learning to Love my body again


Part of my trauma came from many authority figures and adult sources making fun of, criticizing, and shaming my body.  The messages about being fat and so beautiful I am ugly and that because of my physical appearance I deserved the abuse dished out to me made me hate my looks.  The way my mother brushed and styled my hair for me; then punished me and criticized me until I failed to style and care for it myself made me believe I couldn’t groom myself.  The insults and shaming that came from being made fun of for wearing mascara and lipstick, and always being told that I’m not strong enough or skinny enough or pretty enough or smart enough to be as good as my brother and cousins took it’s toll on my self-esteem and self image.

I thought the negative self image and body hate had to do with having so many different alters and being anorexic.  Some of my alters are male; some are female.  They are all different ages, and many will never go through puberty – they are child alters or symbolic alters (aka non-human living beings).  And each of them hated the body that houses us for many years, possibly decades.  And back in  the nineties/early 2000s, many people thought anorexia was all about looking and feeling fat and wanting to lose weight.  It’s not all about weight loss.  My anorexia had to do with punishing myself and denying that puberty happened to please others.  It might also have had to do with hating my body, but I prefer to believe that seeing my adult body triggered bad memories that made me feel anxiety, hatred, etc.

Some Challenges

Main point is that I don’t actually see what my body looks like in the mirror.  I see fat, red rashes, cellulite, scars, big butt, wide hips, thunder thighs, bad teeth, and so on.  It took 4-5 years before I could acknowledge that I am not ugly, just plain.  And another 7 years before I could acknowledge my physical attractiveness and stop hiding.  But multiple times every year I get to a point where all of the body hate comes flooding back.  I start seeing a big belly where one doesn’t exist.  Instead of my body, I see one that is wider than tall with a spare tire and fat, jiggly thighs.  I see double chins and yellowed, crooked teeth with halitosis (bad breath) that never goes away.  And not even looking in a mirror, these visions come as I look down at my body.

Then come the critical thoughts inside my head (voices).  The voices bring back memories and feelings I’d rather not face right now.  They always seem to come at times when I feel most vulnerable and stressed out and physically ill.  Also during spring and winter when a) people start wearing less and showing more skin because of the nice weather; and b) people start obsessing about holiday goodies and overeating.  When I get stressed out, I forget to eat.  Sometimes I deliberately don’t eat.  I forget to hydrate or just don’t bother.  And when I do eat, the food is not stuff I enjoy or even crave – it’s food that will ease the obsessions and compulsions in my mind.

And if I lose enough weight, my body automatically starts going into the “she’s starving herself; we need to start feeding off of the available fat and muscle sources, then replace with water (bloating)” response that makes me feel 2x my actual size and about 4-9 pounds lighter than I was before the triggers turned me inside out.

Learning to cope

I don’t have a lot of ways to cope with this.

Mostly I force feed myself using blender smoothies, soups, and savory/sour/slightly bitter/umami flavored foods that are nutrient dense and easy to digest.  I also make appointments with my dietitian to go over any food struggles and anxieties I might be experiencing.  And I stop trying to “eat healthy” or according to any of my past rules.  Instead I try to enjoy my food and eat a variety of flavors.

If I get a compulsion that won’t go away, I eat the food without shame; acknowledge that parts of me did want that food while others did not; and then tell myself that it’s ok to eat certain foods even though they are taboo in my mind or might make me feel gassy or sick afterwards.  The consequences are worth the enjoyment – like with ice cream and cheese and red meat for me.

Sometimes, I practice gratitude too.  This helps with the shame and body hate feelings, but is not something I can do all the time without feeling backlash too.  I remember how thankful I am that my body is healthy and not diseased in spite of the trauma it’s been through.  I am thankful that my body is strong enough to get me to work and exercise without pain and suffering.  I am thankful to have fingers that work and feet that can support me as I walk through life and so on.

And I increase my self care rituals.


I might not be able to stop my body from going into automatic routines that saved me in the past every time, but I can do my best right now in this moment.  So even though I’m still in a bad place where my body hurts and I hate going outside because I keep having to deal with my past, I am working towards coping better and getting ready to enjoy at least part of my day.  Then maybe I can relax and sleep long enough to rest and be ready for the next day.

Thanks for reading

Alter Post: Dreams for a Better Life

My name is Angora.  I am one of the alters who writes or co-writes a lot of the posts here.  There is a name for those of us who stay in charge most of the time, but I don’t remember it.  Instead, I will say that my main role is managing the internal communications and strategies to maintain daily routines.  Others manage the external communications; I only talk with outside people when necessary, i.e. protection from aggressive or potentially unsafe individuals and groups.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with anger.  The other alters in our system have been remembering past experiences and not forgetting afterwards.  Good for us because we need those memories in order to make good decisions for the present and near future.  Anxiety and anger provoking because remembering means reliving and re-experiencing the trauma all over again without the usual safety nets in place.  Negative coping strategies work, but bring shame afterwards.

More than anything, though, is my difficulty with frustration that turns into anger.  I want for all of us to be able to walk outside and not fear running into someone from the past.  I want for us to go into a small business and not get bad service because the manager or sales person is a former classmate from high school/college/grad school or a friend of someone in my family.  I want to go into a bar or a restaurant or a club and enjoy the scenery (music, drinks, dancing, socializing)  instead of acting hyper-vigilant because people are staring or feeling unsafe because places like that bring back bad memories.

Most important, though, I want my alters to have positive associations and experiences if and when they choose to come out and interact with the outside world.  And that won’t happen for another few months when we move out of state.  The downside to living in a small state with close-knit communities even in the city is that I can’t meet new people or start fresh without my past history getting in the way.  A past history full of trauma and bullying that makes meeting people and socializing feel like walking on eggshells all the time.

And so often, these days I and the rest of the alters don’t recognize (not consciously anyways) those people.  But they recognize me.  I am blessed or cursed with youthful features and distinctive looks because of my Asian genetics and alopecia areata.  In my teens, I looked like a child – as long as you ignored my body.  In my twenties, I looked like a teenager.  Now, in my early thirties, I look like I am in my early twenties.  The point is, people recognize me and treat me according to what they remember or think they know about me or the alter they had most contact with.

Doesn’t matter that I/we hold ourselves/act/dress differently.  Most of that just brings out envy and anger because we survived and am enjoying life as much as possible under the circumstances.  They tend to react with shocked stares, disgusted looks, and derisive comments thrown out as loud comments to their social group as I walk by.  Or they turn around and walk away with head averted to avoid me because they think I am going to approach them.  Why would I want to approach the men and women who bullied and shunned me in high school and college?

And some, very few, try to initiate a vaguely friendly contact using the old name.  Or look at me with recognition; then disappointment/anger that I don’t or won’t recognize them too.  That brings fear and combinations of guilt/shame.

The fear because it’s usually a male with whom there was flirting or something going on in the past.

The guilt/shame for two reasons: 1) because I am not the other person anymore and can’t acknowledge the individual without explaining about the name change and the past; and 2) because I am ashamed of what I said/did during interactions with that person and can’t remember to reality test the truth of that shame.

When the alters and I decided to permanently change our legal name, we also decided to change our identity to match the new name.  That meant letting go of the past and not using the old name or references except with close friends from the old life.  It’s easier sometimes to ignore and let them be rude/angry/upset because I acted snobbish or whatever than to trust and open up even if doing that brings feelings of shame too..

Moving out of state can’t happen fast enough.  Sure, there’s a whole lot of crap to organize and wade through before August.  But it’s days like this, managing ok because of the work-from-home accommodation, that I really wish I lived someplace else so the triggers and fear wouldn’t cause physical problems that prevent me from going outside.  Or sleeping.  Or taking care of myself.  Or doing something I enjoy.  And prevent my alters from feeling safe, comfortable, happy, and confident in their coping strategies to get through this rough patch.

Living someplace where no one knows my past and treats me poorly because of it.  Knowing that anyone who does act negatively around me does so because of a personality or lifestyle clash instead of a shared past relieves me and the alters of many triggers.

That is our dream.  It’s been our dream for a long time.  And soon that dream will come true.  Thanks for reading

Survival Mode: A different kind of survival part 3 – obsessions, compulsions, hearing voices – and getting through one moment at a time

This last post in the series is in essay or story-telling format.  The Q&A doesn’t work this time.


I hear voices.  Lots of voices from different parts of my mind.  Not all of them are from my alters.  In fact, most of the time, my alters choose video, images, story-telling, play-acting, music, writing, and sensation to communicate with me.  They only talk when the other communication formats don’t work.   That is how I learned to tell the difference.  Most of the time.  My alters learned to recognize when the voices are triggering them by realizing we only talk to each other when nothing else works.  The rest of the time, we find other ways to show love, respect, acceptance, affection, and information.

The Voices

The voices are different from my hallucinations because they sound real to me; they are the voices of my family members, abusers, bullies, and fake friends telling me to hurt and punish myself because I am worthless.  They insult me; verbally abuse me; taunt me; and constantly tell me ways to hurt myself; then urge me to act on those thoughts.  And if the voices are not working on me, they work on my alters.  It’s a mental loop of negativity that seems impossible to break, let alone stop or ignore.

Sometimes the voices sound like me talking to myself.  Sometimes they sound like a parent or sibling or relative.  Sometimes they sound like a medical professional or an authority figure.  The voices play on my weaknesses, insecurities, and fears.  They use those insecurities and fears to persuade me  to hurt myself and others.  Sabotage my plans for going forward.  Or freeze up so that I can’t study or pass a test or complete assignments or put myself in situations where I will be emotionally hurt and shamed.

Then the voices hit me with shame and guilt for not accomplishing my goals.  They reaffirm my inability to do anything right.

And they don’t stop.  The voices speak to me, to my alters, waking and sleeping.

Why and when and how they appear, none of us know.  My therapist thinks it is a symptom of increased anxiety and a form of backlash or flashbacks or nightmares.  I tend to agree with this.  But that’s not the only time the voices visit.

Only one successful way to stop the voices permanently: give in and hurt myself.

Other less successful ways to stop the voices: take a knock out pill; watch a funny or feel good movie; distract myself; listen to music; use affirmations and positive self talk; reality test my thoughts and fears




When I don’t give in to the voices, I start to obsess about ways to make them stop talking to me.  And then I think about what the voices are saying and remember all or many past experiences where their predictions of current outcomes came true.  And I get anxious; start to doubt myself.  Then try to use coping strategies to get myself out of the mental loop.  And when the strategies don’t work, feel more angry and depressed.




One way I learned to deal with the obsessive thoughts and feelings of anxiety from hearing voices was giving in to compulsions or compulsive routines.  I try not to give in to the compulsions because they tend to take over my life.  I get so caught up in using the activity or routine that the rest of my life suffers; not going to work, missing deadlines, procrastinating, feeling shame for doing something I don’t want to do, etc.  Not all compulsions are bad ones, but even safe ones can become problems when I can’t do anything or go anywhere until I finish my compulsion first.  It’s one reason why I am so careful with my habits and routines.  I don’t want them to become compulsions.


Giving In


Sometimes, when nothing else works and I absolutely need temporary relief, I give in to the voices, obsessions, and compulsions.  I try to find the least harmful behavior or activity that will also soothe the anxiety and do it.  I am not proud of this.  I prefer to find alternatives instead.  The backlash is painful.  But worse, the temptation to give in gets stronger every time I use a negative coping strategy.  And when I am coming off of an adrenaline high with the voices in my mind telling me to use this energy for revenge or punishment, the temptation to get relief instead of waiting it out is strong.

“Waiting it out” means: going without sleep or rest; listening to the voices fighting us (our internal system); experiencing all of the headaches, migraines, physical pain that comes with the internal fighting; not dissociating or switching and forgetting for a while; living with the memories and experiences all of this brings back; and continuing with life and work while coping with it all.

One Moment at a time

Sometimes the best strategy is also the hardest concept to understand.  When I first started therapy/recovery, I was in crisis mode aka survival mode.  Every moment felt like a thousand years.  So I learned to live one moment at a time.  Dissociation and daydreaming helped a lot here.  But that doesn’t help as much now because all of my parts and I have different daydreams.  And lack of focus in the outside world is dangerous.  So now it’s time to find another version of “one moment at a time”  that works for us.  I guess that means going back to basic survival strategies.

I hope anyone else caught in some form of survival mode makes through this round too.

Survival Mode: A different kind of survival part 2 – DID

Late again.  Unexpected business with taxes and such yesterday.  Will try to be more on time this week.


Last post discussed how survival mode affects my PTSD.  This post discusses how it affects the DID and alters in the system.  Survival mode feels different to children, adolsecents, and adults.  Each group reacts and responds to the stress differently.  Now imagine all that in the same body happening at the same time.

A word of warning…my therpaist tells me that my experience of DID is different from many because I “grew up” with my alters so to speak.  They were my playmates and imaginary friends; then appeared in my day dreams; finally began to take over and manage some parts of life without my realizing it until we reunited four years ago.  This can make our co-consciousness and ability to cooperate/integrate much easier and more frustrating for others to read about or understand.

The rest of the blog is Q&A from here.

Questions & Answers

Q: do all of the alters have PTSD?

A: yes.

Q: is everyone good at coping and handling triggers?

A: no.  Everyone is at different levels of recovery and has different skill sets to pull from.  Some strategies work better for adults while otherd work better for children, adolescents, toddlers, babies.

Q: how does everyone react to survival mode?

A: not sleeping; increased hyper-vigilance and feeling suspicious of everything; increased sensitivity to anxiety; confusion; coordination and concentration problems; use less cognitive and more instinctive defense mechanisms; feeling over-protective and worrying about hurting others with reactions to triggers; sleep in shifts or not at all; feel scared all the time; decreased appetite; increased switching and headaches/face pain; finally inability to relax and lower the adrenaline levels back to our normal.

Q: what triggers this kind of survival mode?  How is it different from before?

A: CAUSES: floods of memories; increased body memories; mind and body making connections between memory fragments to recall past experiences as nighhtmares and flashbacks; encpuntering people from the past who trigger overwhelming feelings; all of the above without any down time to process and move through the remembered experiences in a safe way.

DIFFERENCES: before, some alters were still hiding and unable to join with the rest of the system.  They were caught in the past; trapped and unable to reach out for help.  When the experiences they held came as nighhtmares, these alters switched and caused dissociation to protect us; the result being traumatic memory loss or amnesia for extended periods of time.  Could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes longer.

Now, all of us are free and valued members of the system.  When these memories come back, they stay.  No one switches.  No one dissociates.  No one forgets again.  Everyone relives or re-experiences the memories as they cascade through mind and body.  This is especially hard for the child and adolescent alters who are also growing/maturing through missed developmental stages as part of their recovery.  These “growing pains” and sexual feelings/thoughts/sensations triggger anxiety, fear, wonder, and past memories at the same time.

It is an endless cycle feeding into itself.

Q: how do you cope?

A:By learning to be a good caretaker/guardian for ourselves and each other.  That includes self care, boundaries, safe spaces, and coping strategies for every age group, developmental stage, and gender in the system.  Sometimes it means being a parent.  Sometimes it means being parented.  Sometimes I take care of the alters.  Sometimes they take care of me.  And ALWAYS we do our best not to use the negative, but guaranteed to work, harmful coping strategies of the past.

Q: any last words?

A: yes.  It really sucks when all of the reliable routines and strategies stop working or are less effective.  Worse is trying to use something that goes against what the mind and body are doing to protect us by trying to use the coping skills anyways.

Just remember you are not alone.

some experiences are kid only experiences; some are adolsecent only; some are adult only.  My alters and I constantly wort that we are going to hurt or trigger others in the system by letting our memories out, so we try to protect by repressing them.  This causes untold levels of pain amd distress and triggers.

Now we try to use boundaries and safe spaces instead.  It’s a work in prgogress that is less than 10% effective right now.  But we keep on trying to make it work.  Also, it helps to figure out some good parenting skills and comforting techniques; they help calm child and adolescent parts to lower adrenaline like nothing else we have tried so far.

This will pass like it always does.  No matter how difficult it feels right now, we all will survive.

Life Changing Moments: Sometimes Moving On Can’t Happen Without Remembering


Last week, I wrote a little about meditation and how it is different from dissociation.  One aspect of meditation that always astounds me is how easily I can communicate with my alters when I go into a meditative trance.  Visions, sensations, verbalization, body memories all pass through a rotating amphtheater with unusual clarity and consistency.  My alters and I are in the audience looking up as the sensory information reveals itself.

Sliding into that meditative trance is easy.  Why, no one is knows for sure.  Here are some possibilities: Being able to dissociate at an early age helped.  Early meditation training taught me focus and patience.  Practicing exercises and lessons from John Kabat-Zinn’s audio tapes reminded me to acknowledge whatever is going on inside instead of suppressing it.  Reading about Buddhist and Daoist meditation practices, watching qigong videos, and practicing yoga opened me to other kinds of meditation.

Variety helps because I never know when I will need to meditate or for how long.  Meditation is less scary and anxiety provoking than dissociation so my alters and I often try to meditate instead of dissociate during a flashback or panic attack.  And being able to meditate anywhere allows me more freedom to move around.

How does this connect to remembering?

Meditation allows me to step back and view memories as an observer (think amphitheater) alone or with my alters.  The meditative trance offers a safe space where the sensations and feelings are distant instead of acute.  And since meditation is controlled and focused, my breathing stays steady.  Steady breathing controls the nervous system and keeps my mind, body, spirit calm instead of stressed.

I can’t control when the memories come.  I can’t control how my body reacts if a flashback slides in and takes over everything.  I can do damage control and take steps to minimize the onset of a panic attack.  Or I can set alarms in place to alert me when I get triggered.  By “I” I mean everyone in the system.  Different alarms for different alters, etc.  It’s not perfect, but any little bit helps.

What about the moving on part?

Sometimes, a survivor can’t move on without remembering blocked memories.  They are important and necessary to provide a framework that allows the survivor to make informed choices in the present and future.  Problem is, many survivors with traumatic amnesia (myself included) don’t know they are missing vital information until they remember and can make the connections.


Recovering memories causes me to get physically ill and have panic attacks followed by painful body memories for days or weeks, sometimes months.  They come as flashbacks and nightmares over a period of time; bits and pieces from different alters and different times congregating in a part of the internal world reserved for memory puzzles.  The pieces stay there moving around, coming together, pulling apart, reforming themselves until something clicks and becomes a memory.

The Memory

Last week, I remembered while in the shower.  I was grumpy from cramps and PMS; the water and steam helped with relaxation.  My alters and I slid into a flashback without conscious realization.  Suddenly, it was a different bathroom in a different house with a different (younger) body.  And my alters were talking to me trying to bring me back to the present.  Their voices competed with the voices in the memory.

All I heard at first was muffled sound.  As usual, I was blind; coudln’t see anything.  My nose told me there were mold and stinky flowers somewhere close.  My body hurt.  I tasted chemicals in my mouth.  And the water was cold instead of hot.  My belly hurt.  Back hurt too.  Lower back and abdomen, not stomach area, hurt and moved funny.  Suddenly my alter’s past thoughts came back to me.  I cupped my hands around my abdomen and felt sadness.  That’s when I came back to the present.  That’s when I heard one of the adult alters talking to me; reassuring me that I was safe and that the memories my body shared were real.

Then other alters, young and old, confirmed the memories in their own way.  And I had to face a truth I didn’t want to think about days before my favorite holiday.  The memory scared me.  It upset me and turned my world view upside down.  And the memory explained so much about my reluctance to pursue the next part of recovery: intimate relationships.  My therapist, after we discussed the memory and what triggered it, told me that maybe I had to remember this before I could move on to the next big change: moving out of state.


In another post, I wrote about not wanting to have children without knowing exactly why.  I’ve also touched on other fears related to intimacy and sexuality.  Now, I know why.  An unexpected teenage pregnancy followed by a painful, non-surgical abortion.  None of which was my choice.  And that lack of choice, that fear of not having control over my body, keeps me celibate.  I never want to go through that kind of experience again.  And if I want to experience an intimate relationship, I have to figure out a way to cope with this fear.  So meditation, moving on, remembering all comes together in one fell swoop.  And now I have all of this to work through too because moving out of state opens up a lot of avenues for me.