Coping Challenges: When People Avoid You because…

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Life is awkward on the best of days. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding oneself in unknown situations. Other times there is something going on, and people who care avoid you for their own reasons. Or you avoid them. No one communicates. Or everyone communicates without really saying anything aka addressing the cause(s).

That ends up with: confusion, hurt feelings, breaking of relationships, etc.

In my case, I learned a long time ago that people are transient guests in my life. The more they learn about me, the less they want to be around me. On rare occasions, I do meet people and build long term relationships outside of professional ones.

But I can count on 1 hand the number of true friends and loved ones that I interact with more than 3x a month – whether by phone, email, or in person – who have earned my complete trust and respect.

More often than not, people read this blog out of general interest and then start avoiding me in real life. Or they make friends with people who dislike me for some reason and start avoiding me in favor of the “new” people. Or have some other reason to “ghost” me as younger people say these days.

That used to hurt a lot. I didn’t understand what about me made people react this way.

Then I realized the problem was not with me, but with the other people.

You see, something about them made interacting with me uncomfortable. Instead of acknowledging this and working with me to figure out a solution, they denied anything was wrong and avoided me or blamed me instead.

How did I figure this out?

Not on my own. Over the course of my recovery, in counseling sessions and self-improvement workshops, this lesson has been reinforced many times.

I am who I am. I change constantly because life is change. Most of the time I am willing to compromise and work with people. Other times, I flat out refuse to change in order to conform or fit in with cultural norms or peer pressure. But I always try to be respectful and accepting of people as they are even if they don’t return that courtesy.

And because I practice unconditional love and acceptance for all beings, I can accept and forgive people who act and react to life with avoidance, denial, blane, or rejection.

They are who they are and coping with life as best they can. When it happens, no hard feelings.

People come and people go. Feeling hurt or blaming myself only triggers shame and guilt for something that is not my responsibility. I asked questions. I tried to make it right. Did my best. Now it’s over and done with.

I wish those people well and move on.

Other people have told me that attitude is harsh and mean. Maybe it’s true. But trying to hold on to something that doesn’t exist anymore…how is that healthy, good, or (insert your word here)?

My only goal is to live my life full of unconditional love and acceptance. For me, that brings out the best qualities in life: joy, fun, prosperity, safety, resilience, strength

And allows me to weather the worst life sends my way.

I hope maybe this story will inspire you, my guests, to reflect on how you can take control of your choices by changing your attitude and intention towards yourself, life, and others.

It’s not easy. It’s a continuous work-in-progress, a life-long endeavor. But it can truly change your relationships for the better like it did (and coninues to do) mine.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversaries: a letter to my father

Dear Dad,

It’s been four years since I left, and seven years since you shunned me.  Happy Father’s Day from the daughter who never meant anything too you.  The daughter you “loved and spoiled” until your precious son came into existence.  The daughter you hugged and cuddled until your wife’s tantrums made you stop.  The daughter you sacrificed to keep peace in your household.  The daughter you threatened to keep away from your mother and siblings if they interfered with how she was being raised.

Do you remember me at all?  Did you ever love me or see me as a human being?  When you touched me and played secret games with me as a toddler, did you know you were sexually abusing me?  Did you care at all?  When you caught your wife treating me the same way, did you try to stop her?  When the religious people came to “babysit” me or the contractors spent “private time” alone with me, did you try to stop them?  Was the money worth selling your daughter?  You treated my wounds and protected me from your wife’s physical abuse, but you let me be your housekeeping slave.

Did you enjoy having sex with me?  Did you enjoy forcing me to service you?  Did you enjoy punishing me by starving me?  Did you make me get good grades because you cared or because pride wouldn’t let you have a dumb daughter?  Why did you force me to do my brother’s homework?  Why did you punish me for getting a bronze medal in a Tae kwon do tournament?  Because my brother didn’t win or get a medal?

Mostly, though, I want to know why you let your wife hurt me and say terrible things about me.  Why you ignored me and also said terrible things about me.  Why did you sell me to the cult?  Why did you let my pediatrician rape and drug me?  And why did you rape me?  Blame me for getting pregnant?  Try to keep me a child and a slave instead of becoming an independent young woman?

I will never know the answers to these questions.  Every day, the fog of denial dissipates more.  And I realize my whole childhood was a lie.  You never cared about me.  You never wanted to see me.  You never acknowledged me unless I was useful.  And you taught me to hide my light or risk being rejected.

I loved you unconditionally growing up.  You were my super hero and number one favorite person.  I admired you and wanted to be like you.  You could do no wrong back then.  Not even mom, hard as she tried, could change that.  Then I hit adolescence.  My body changed.  I wasn’t your little girl anymore.  Other men tried to take my attention away from you.  And you hated that.

I grew up.  Started my own life away from you.  You couldn’t control my life anymore.  And I realized the painful truth.  You don’t care about me.  Funny, but I still love you.  You are my biological father even though you are not my dad.  I call you “dad” out of respect for the food and shelter you provided me growing up.  Nothing else.

Who is my real Dad?  Uncle Teddy is my dad.  He loved me and cared about me; taught me lessons about respect and boundaries; bandaged my scrapes and dried my tears.  My real Dad died when I was eight years old, and I never really got over that.  You never forgave me for wanting Uncle Teddy to be my dad either.  The night we learned of his death is the first time you raped me.  It killed you that I wasn’t a virgin, but how could you know Mom and Dr. D had been raping me for two years before that?  And of course it was my fault for letting them rape me.

But life is different now.  I gave you 29 years of my life in exchange for raising and sheltering me through childhood and adolescence.  You gave me the courage to walk away when you shunned me.  Now I am my own person.  Not your daughter anymore.  Part of me still grieves for the shattered illusions.  Part of me rejoices in the freedom of saying Goodbye forever.

And this is goodbye.  Good bye biological father.  You don’t have a hold on me anymore.  Good bye Dad.  I love you and miss you always.  Never again will I forget you.

Love,
AlterXpressions

Back to Basics: Denial Works, Dissociation & Distractions help, but education matters too

Introduction

Sometimes the coping strategies and techniques (aka tools) that work the best are also the most harmful to ourselves.  By harmful, I mean that the way they are used now is disruptive to everyday life and dangerous to self and others.  In a different situation or used with a different set of feelings, these harmful tools could be useful.  That’s happened to us often in the last few years.

But until we figured out how to change the tools from harmful to helpful, using them only caused more distress and backlash.  Still, none of us wanted to “get rid of” or “remove” them from our skill set.  They worked when nothing else did with a range of consequences.

This is how the In Case of Emergency or First Aid tool box came about.  It’s where medicine like Tylenol and other OTC meds go because meds make our body sick.  It’s where self harm and coloring, exercise, sketching, etc. go because those tools trigger anxiety and flashbacks.

Finally, the Last Resort tool box came in to play during times when I or one of the alters felt/feel compelled to self harm or not sleep because of unidentifiable, overwhelming sensations causing overload.  These tools are: psychiatric medications, various forms of self harm, relapse into anorexia, and reckless behaviors that cause emotional harm.

Four of the most useful strategies that defined my life pre-recovery and continue to assist all of us now are: Denial, Dissociation, Distractions, and Education.

  • Denial allowed me to graduate high school and college while still living with my family.  It allowed me to maintain pseudo-friendships and relationships with people until I was able to find real friends.  It helped me block out nasty, scary stuff as I navigated my way through graduate school and a job I learned to love.
  • Dissociation aka daydreaming, deja vu, an altered state of mind, or a meditative state.  Dissociation allowed the one in control to separate the abuse from everyday life in order to go to function like a “normal” child in public most of the time.  Dissociation facilitated switching alternate personalities during times of trauma and abuse.  Dissociation allowed all of us to retreat to safe places in our mind when bad stuff happened or feelings got overwhelming.
  • Distractions kept me from thinking and feeling what happened inside me before I was ready to handle it.  Reading allowed me to escape anywhere and everywhere while still being in the same physical space as the abusers.  Now distraction helps all of us pause when any of us get triggered by something.  That pause and step back allows us to find and use/utilize the appropriate tools in our tool box for the situation.
  • Education taught me skills that no one wanted me to learn.  Under the guise of learning, I had more freedom to experience positive influences that helped me survive the tough times.  No one can take away what we learn.  Even in times of traumatic amnesia, the information is somewhere inside waiting to be let out and used again.

Definitions

  • Denial/Avoidance: not thinking about, putting aside, refusing to acknowledge events and experiences that have taken place or are happening in the present
  • Distraction: an activity or behavior that allows the user to think about and work on something other than what is currently causing anxiety and stress
  • Dissociation: mental separation of mind and body; like daydreaming and deja vu and meditative states.
  • Education: any opportunity to learn, explore, and expand one’s horizons through reading, listening, observing, and hands-on experience
  • In Case of Emergency box:  a group of coping strategies and techniques that work and are useful but have serious negative or questionable side effects
  • Last Resort box: a group of coping strategies and techniques that work in the short-term; that have not been successfully replaced with more positive or healthy tools; and have harmful, dangerous side effects and consequences

The skills and personality characteristics we practice

Problem Solving: Here is the tool box.  Here is a pile of tools all jumbled together.  Now what?

Self Reflection: This is what happened.  This is what I remember.  This is how I felt.  This is where I was.  This is when I reacted.  What is the trigger?  How did I cope?  Which tools did I use?  How do I feel about my reactions and actions?  How do I feel about myself now?  Would I use the tools again?  How effective were the tools?  What would I do differently if it happened again?  Where would I go?

Distress Tolerance: I feel this way.  It’s overwhelming.  I can’t think.  I am going acknowledge my feelings.  Then stop and do something different to give myself a break (distraction).  Or answer a question that’s been bothering me by reading a book, asking people I know, browsing a website or blog, listening to a TED talk, or participating in a related activity (education).  Finally, I will cope with the overwhelming feelings.

Resilience: My idea got shut down again; big mistake.  But I figured out a solution and fixed it.  Now the boss is happy, and I learned something new.  Or, this strategy isn’t working anymore.  What if I tried saying the safety affirmations for morning nightmares next time my body starts sweating and my abdomen cramps up in pain?

Creativity: AlterXpressions as a system is using imagination, education, and experience to our internal world.  Each alter in the system creates individual and community toolboxes too.  And all of this takes place inside our mind – our internal world where everyone in the system is accepted, valued, and supported by self and each other.

Value: in creating these boxes, learning, and finding effective distractions, we learn our value as a whole and as individual parts.  We compromise and work together; and realize that we each bring something important to the process.  Without those bits, our system and tool boxes would not work as well.

Acceptance: In practicing the self-reflection needed to transform our tools from harmful to helpful, we learn to face fears with compassion and accept that trauma is something that happened to us, not something part of who we are.  We learn how to love, respect, value, and feel compassion for ourselves, each other, our body, and people in the outside world.

One workaround = One new tool in the tool box

Back to example 2 in the Skills section.  Certain triggers used to cause physical panic attacks where my body cramped up and started sweating.  I lost control of bodily functions and over a pint of fluid.  Then the cold chills set in, and I passed out from the energy released by my shaking, cramped body.  Nothing helped with the pain or the cramps.  Deep breathing made the cramps worse.  Distractions made the vice like pain around my abdomen intensify.  Denial made everything feel 100x worse.  So I tried an affirmation I made to help me when I started to feel hyper-vigilant and unsafe.  In my mind or quietly under my breath, I repeated a 6 line mantra and combined that with an affirmation about pain lessening to pressure and pressure dissolving into nothingness.

To my surprise, it worked.  Eventually, I was able to decrease the length and severity of the attacks and control the passing out period.  Passing out put me to sleep for 8-20 hours at a time, so not something I wanted to happen during work hours or events.  By doing this, I found another use for two coping strategies in my box and created a new tool.  That success built on itself as my alters and I continued experimenting with the effectiveness of different strategies or adaptations of strategies in other triggering situations.  Each success added another tool to our tool box.  Each failure taught us something about ourselves and what we need to help us cope effectively.

Some days, too many triggers and flashbacks occur and overwhelm my mind.  Distractions don’t help because relaxing allows the feelings and thoughts, etc. to intrude again.

Denial with a time limit does help.
I put the triggers, flashbacks, and associated sensations in a temporary locked container with a timer. That gives everyone involved some breathing space and time to consider how the stuff in the box will be dealt with.  The timer goes off, the stuff comes out.  And we work through the stuff with coping techniques and strategies in our tool box.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  But it’s better than giving in to the panic or using a more harmful strategy.

My favorite kinds of distractions include research, reading, and working with my hands.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to work with my hands often; that and social kinds of learning are major triggers.  But I do read a lot. And use reading to help me learn.  When the anxiety gets really bad, I start to form mental loops or tape recordings that play over and over again.  Asking a question or setting myself up to learn a new task breaks these loops.

First example: I decided that I didn’t want to be in financial debt anymore after successfully breaking away from my parents and starting fresh.  So I decided to learn everything I could about personal finance, frugal lifestyles, and effective strategies to get out of debt.  That included, reading books, viewing a variety of blogs, and going through a non-profit organization to work with a mentor.  Now, I am debt free; pay off my credit cards on time; and even started a small nest egg with help from a financial advisor.

Last Example: My first mental health counselor diagnosed me with anorexia 12 years ago.  It sparked many questions about food, nutrition, and wellness in my mind.  I discovered chiropractic doctors who taught me about integrative medicine through a graduate school internship.  From there, I read books about food allergies and alternative food lifestyles (vegetarian, vegan, raw food, etc.) and began work with a registered dietitian who supported my questing mind and personal goals of nutrition and wellness through real food.

Final Thoughts

Now, all of us are physically healthy and in remission from anorexia.  Our mental health is improving.  It’s hard work, but every survivor and connection has the internal resources, strength, and power to get here and beyond too.

Thanks for reading