creation and recreation quote

Life Quirks: Movement Challenge starts in 6 days

You don’t have to join in or participate. It’s not something I’ve really shared or done much with before here.

Anonymity is safe and precious, I get that.

Took a lot for me to reveal myself. But it was time and necessary since so many people at work and in Portland, OR know of this site.

As I mentioned before, my life is changing. I am changing. You are changing too. And I promised to do my best to include you all in the changes.

So here goes. Anticipation feels good sometimes. Anticipation laced with fear – not so great.

But here I am. Excited and Scared. Thinking about photos. Planning posts. Considering stories. Making myself vulnerable by going on Facebook Live.

And yes that was real. I’m not sure when or where it will take place. But 1 week from this coming Sunday, I will be on Facebook live recording a video as myself.

I don’t expect anyone to be there.

I feel scared that people will be there.

Moving. Creating. As myself. No makeup. Maybe bald. Maybe with a hat or scarf on. Talking to whoever decides to join or watch later.

And between now and 2 Sundays from now, I will be posting about the different kinds of movement that goes on daily. Not the same posts here as on Scent Reflections. If you want to see what’s going on there, please visit.

But I am remiss in sharing a video with you all. It’s the first one I made and has to do with aromatherapy blending. Since that is not popular here, I didn’t post it right away.

But not sharing it here feels wrong too. Here is the link to the video if you’re interested.

No, I have not forgotten my promise to make a video for you guests too. But I’m struggling with a topic to use for said video.

Being that I respect your choice not to comment often, I didn’t want to put this out there. However, if you do have a video idea and want to share it, please do in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Body Memories, Movement, and Sensory Grounding

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grapes and Sensory Information

Grapes are an interesting fruit. As a sensory grounding tool, they can be used with all five senses. Taste, touch, sound (have you ever squished a grape by accident…or maybe on purpose?), smell, and sight. Plus, finding a stock photo of grapes is a lot easier than one about the five (or four) senses. So today’s featured photo is of ripe grapes on a vine.

Personally, all parts of me prefer to use semi-sweet dark chocolate or frozen blueberries for sensory grounding meditation or breathing exercises, but we like grapes, raspberries, apples, tea, and cheese in a pinch. Coffee works great too, but none of us like the taste enough to drink it. And chocolate was easy for me (any version of me) to get as it did dual jobs as comfort food too.

Fruits were not always as easy to get and store for an emergency, middle-of-the-night trigger. Or an “I’m on my way into work on public transit and am having a flashback” type of situation. You get the idea. So I experimented with a lot of different types of food and snacks. Cookies, brownies, cake, pizza, sandwiches, granola bars, and so on. Many of them engaged 3 or more senses, but they were not strong enough to reach through the anxiety and fear blocking out everything.

And so the experiments continued until I discovered dark chocolate (candy, bar, morsels, and hot chocolate drink; but not chocolate milk or ice cream) worked 99% of the time to engage all of my senses and bring me to the present moment. That was actually the beginning of my obsession with finding portable items that worked for panic attacks and flashbacks on-the-go.

But, it was also my introduction to learning how to use sensory information in present time and on purpose instead of instinctively in the background of life (i.e. hyper vigilance or chronic pain).

Body Memories vs Flashbacks – or not?

At the beginning of my recovery I thought flashbacks and body memories were two completely different symptoms of my past trauma. And only flashbacks were “medically approved” as symptoms because they were listed under PTSD and other anxiety disorders in the DSM (IV at the time and V now). So I approached coping techniques and strategies for each symptom separately.

All I ever felt in my body was a) numbness; or b) pain. There was never any in-between. More pain or less pain. Numbness or less pain. I didn’t experience or noticed that I expressed emotions – couldn’t feel them even if my body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions showed something else.

Yes, I was that separated from all parts of myself for over 2 decades.

Traditional psychotherapy and group counseling helped me learn to recognize and cope with my emotions and overwhelming mental states. But did not talk much about body sensations or physical pain.

Never mentioned the connection between emotions and physical body sensations at all.

Not every Physical Sensation is Pain
It's our body's way of communicating with us
How we move and think about moving matters
#movementmatters

That was a not-so-happy accident all parts of me discovered during a series of bad panic attacks – one after the other – while working with the first trauma specialist.

The nightmares and emotional flashbacks were lessening in strength and severity, but the physical panic attacks that left me passed out on my bed for hours after experiencing hot flashes, cold chills, and muscle cramps from my legs to my shoulders got worse. Over the counter medications didn’t help. I refused to try anything else or anything stronger because of my past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Movement was not possible; only made the pain worse.

Meditation practice from Jon Kabat Zinn’s audiobook classes did help me learn the difference between pain sensations and other body sensations. He provided mantras and medication practices that helped promote body awareness and “making friends with pain” instead of rejecting or denying it.

I used the mantras and meditation or breathing for the body memories/physical panic attacks.

Then used sensory grounding and everything else for the flashbacks and emotional panic attacks.

But that was partially effective – as in it reduced the frequency, but not the intensity or length of each panic attack fueled by triggers, flashbacks, or body memories.

And that’s when it clicked – a light bulb kind of moment – that I could use sensory grounding strategies to learn the different sensations moving through my body. Maybe even connect them to different emotions I experience at or around the same time the pain or sensation occurs.

The body memories and flashbacks were not different at all. They were/are two parts of the same symptom – experiencing triggers in my mind (flashbacks) and body (body memories) at the same time.

By working with them together and using integrated coping strategies that address all aspects of the trigger, all parts of me (or I as we) learned how to cope with and reduce the effects of our flashbacks, body memories, and panic attacks.

Chinese Medicine + Sensory Grounding + Spiritual Practice = Energy Healing from the inside out

That was enough to convince me to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (includes herbs, energy work, body work/massage, and a holistic approach to health/wellness) again.

And spark my curiosity about energy movement in my body. Why can I short out or freeze electrical and mechanical equipment? Why do I break computers and mobile devices so often? How come credit card machines stop working when I get stressed out?

And yes, all that and more has happened when my internal energy is out of whack.

So I used the lessons from Jon Kabat Zinn and other Buddhist teachers to learn about energy medicine through different meditation and moving meditation (yoga, tai chi, and qigong are popular versions) practices. That gave me a level of awareness that let’s me feel inside my body where and how energy is moving through my body. With my fingers and hands, I can palpate muscle groups and feel where energy is blocked and stuck inside me. During treatments, I can track what the needles or acupuncture tools are doing inside my body – i.e. where they are moving and stirring or drawing and releasing energy as it travels inside me.

Remember back at the beginning when I mentioned that this was all instinctive to me at first? I thought it was my hyper vigilance…

And in past posts I mentioned turning weaknesses or challenges into strengths…

Well this is a coping challenge turned into coping strategy.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to believe in energy healing or energy medicine. That people could sense movement and problems in their bodies or be tuned in to energy of other people. But the more I denied it, the worse the physical pain and panic attacks got.

So I embraced it. Used patience and persistence to find faith that it would end soon. And it did. Each one got progressively shorter with less intense periods of shame spirals afterwards. I did not feel the need to self harm as often either.

That was one more step into embracing my authentic (if distinctly weird and unconventional) self.

Body Remembers – Finally Reveals Trauma and Ready for Healing

These days, my body is starting to trust the rest of me and our practitioners with its secrets. What secrets?

Well, the scars for one thing. And the muscle kinks and puffy places in my body that are not actually fat for another.

Wait, I’ve seen a few of the photos you shared and your skin doesn’t have physical scars. Are you talking about emotional scars? or (gasp) invisible scars?

Like everything else on this blog, the truth surprised me as much as it may surprise you:

Yes I have scars. No they are not often visible to the eyes. I think only one scar is visible all the time. The rest appear as textural differences in my skin or sometimes rashes and blemishes (acne). They show up when they feel like it and then disappear until the next time a trigger brings them to the surface.

As for the textural scars, no one notices those unless they can feel my skin or examine it under a magnifying glass. You can guess how many people get that privilege…

The physical pain in my body is caused by my muscles and tissues being frozen in place or numb for many years as a form of self-protection. The puffiness and “knots” under my skin are the tightened forms the muscles and water retention took on to protect themselves from harm.

Only now, 3.5 years after moving west and 16 years into recovery, is my body starting to reveal its secrets and start physically healing. I have rashes in unusual places, but at the same time less physical pain and less knotted muscle groups. I can feel sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t experienced in decades – yes decades.

My youthful looks are a genetic gift/curse/quirk. But I haven’t felt my lower and middle back muscles move since I was 5 years old – 32 years ago. My shoulders used to lock up every time I started to stretch and do more than lift laundry baskets and groceries until 2019-2020.

So this is all new to me. And exciting too. Because now that I can understand and communicate with my body, all parts of me can start moving more and enjoying more of life.

Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: Self Soothing is Positive instead of Negative

Background

I struggle with self soothing.  My alters, especially my child and adolescent ones, struggle with self soothing.  We all had questions about what that term meant.  Some of us still have questions like:

  • What is self soothing?
  • How is it different from self care?
  • Why is self-soothing a positive coping strategy?
  • How does it work?
  • Can you provide examples?

My adult self tried to apply answers from a variety of sources, but the suggestions triggered anger, fear, shame, and grief.  Then panic attacks.  So I avoided thinking about self soothing until recently.

Present Day

Physical pain requires other types of coping strategies.  Strategies that trigger me and cause fear or anger to manifest into panic attacks or worse – self-harm.  Unfortunately for me, those same strategies are tried and true for body memories.  These strategies include:

  • Trauma sensitive yoga
  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy
  • Self-soothing
  • Movement or exercise therapy

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

sensorimotor psychotherapy does work and can be useful, but requires a lot of trust between the client & counselor.  It also requires the client to be at a certain level of recovery with support in place for any increased symptoms.  Deirdre Fay is one of the foremost practitioners.  Her work is great; I tried one of her online workshops, but wasn’t ready for it yet.  Maybe you will be.  I recommend doing your own research and talking with a professional before trying any of her programs.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Trauma sensitive yoga is something I recently started once a month.  Our first session was great.  I learned a lot and am hopeful this will help with my physical symptoms in  a variety of ways.  But more on  this later, after I’ve had another session and more time to try the practice at home too.

Exercise & Movement Therapy

Bessel Van Der Kolk promotes yoga as his number one form of movement therapy.  But drama, dance, martial arts, tai chi, or any form of gentle, meditative movement can produce similar results.  What matters most with this type of therapy is A) doing something the victim/survivor/partner/loved one enjoys; and B) choosing an instructor or group that feels safe, supportive, inclusive, and positive.  A strong support system to help out when symptoms increase or triggers start to overwhelm is important too.

Self-Soothing Coping Technique

Self Soothing has been a struggle to define and understand up until the past month or so.  My current counselor/therapist helped me understand that my child and adolescent alters define self-soothing as hurting others or being destructive/aggressive to feel better.  That is what they learned from their providers and caretakers.  And a volunteer on the hotline defined self soothing as: a conscious act of choosing self care and comfort instead of destruction, aggression, blaming, or self-harm.

What do you think of the

The Challenge

Re-learning that Self Soothing is positive and means comforting myself instead of hurting myself or others.

Helping my child and adolescent alters understand and accept this so that they can use the self soothing too.

Discovering all of the ways self soothing can help with muscle pain, body memories, and physical discomfort in order to build a tool box of useful strategies for present and future use.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes the strategies that can help us most are the scariest and most challenging to learn.  I am not afraid to admit that I am afraid of my body.  I am afraid of my appearance.  I am afraid of the sound of my voice.  I am afraid of showing my face on this blog or any social media.

That fear gets in the way of doing most positive actions or tasks to help me feel better.  Instead of moving, everything freezes.  I freeze.  They freeze.  We all freeze into paralysis.  Can’t move our body.

But if you’ve learned anything about our system, you might remember how stubborn and persistent we are.  And so all parts of us are talking with our current counselor/therapist to work on this.  In another week or two, maybe we will share the results of our new practice.

What scares you?  How helpful or harmful would it be?

May all of you who read this find ways to choose self care and support instead of self-harm or harm to others when triggered.

Thanks for reading

 

Coping Strategy: A new pillow, Knitting & walking

Spring triggers

End of April brings out my “allergies” and many head colds.  My sleeping patterns and eating habits change too.  Beginning of May equals many family birthdays and Mother’s Day combined with Memorial Day and end of spring semester in college.  Dissociation is common.  Nightmares get worse.  The usual stuff.

Here, though, the sun rises around 7:00 AM and sets around 8:00 PM.  I can sleep late on weekends and still have plenty of time to go out for a walk in the sun.  Taking the trash and recycling out feels like less of a chore and more of a task on my to-do list.  With the weather in the high 40s or 50s (Fahrenheit), my big window can stay open while my loft remains warm and cozy.  Love fresh air.

A new pillow

Pillows have been a burden for many years.  Between chemical sensitivities and night sweats, I have yet to find a pillow that lasts more than a year or two.  Even the wool-filled ones from the last few years flattened out and stopped being supportive.  It’s hard to get comfortable and stay asleep, especially when the night sweats manifest.

But this weekend I found a new alternative.  There’s a local store that specializes in chemical free, natural & home furniture and bedding.   Last night, I slept easier and longer than I have in a while.  Not exactly nightmare free, but also not a night filled with bad dreams and sweat waking me up.  I hope investing in a new pillow continues to help with my sleep hygiene.

Knitting

Knitting is something I and my alters enjoy, but can also be triggering.  It’s also physically intensive and can be calming with repetitive action.  But this weekend, I feel happy, calm, proud, and accomplished.  My first infinity scarf is almost finished.  My arms and shoulders got some decent exercise, and no triggering this time.  It was a great distraction from my other discomfort and worry because still not feeling hungry or eating like I’m supposed to.

Walking – exercise & moving meditation

After some self massage and lying down meditation this morning, I felt good enough to do some apartment cleaning.  Picked up trash, collected recycling, and did some vacuuming.  Still have some laundry sorting to do, but that can wait a bit longer.  By treating these tasks as a moving meditation, I calmed down enough to go outside for a short walk and get a real meal at the grocery store.

That gave me a chance to check out new store products, eat outside, and enjoy the fresh air while thinking about what kinds of food and drinks to put together this week.  Being outside felt good and helped me feel better about myself.  Getting out the door isn’t easy this time of year, so any advantage to help me leave the building is welcome.

Conclusion

Sometimes changing seasons can affect mood and triggers.  Many people ask me if lack of sunlight or changing seasons increases my chance of depression.  The short answer is no.  The long answer is, not depression but my anxiety and hyper-vigilance get triggered.  I start to fear going outside and interacting with the world while also feeling angry with myself because I want to be outside enjoying the spring weather.

These coping strategies are hit or miss, but ones I love to put into practice as often as possible.  My young alter personalities enjoy the knitting as much as the teens and adults.  The moving meditation helps all of us relax and connect mind/body/spirit while also getting chores done.  Replaces scary or negative experiences with positive ones.  Finally, anything that helps us all sleep better is worth saving up the money to purchase and use.

I and my alters hope these examples might help you find a way to cope with unexpected triggers or seasonal changes too.

Thanks for reading.