About Me: About Labels

I’ve read other bloggers who share information about their own recovery journeys and found them very helpful.  They offer resources, visuals, graphs, charts, and how-tos.  Their posts are well written and appealing to many different kinds of learners.  Their websites are free of many ads too.  Many thanks to any and all who break the silence barrier by writing and sharing their experiences.

One thing I most appreciate about their blogs is how they can define in specific terms what category their abuser fits into or what type of abuse they survived if the writer is a survivor of trauma.  If not a survivor or victim, then I appreciate how the writer can define so clearly the type of mental health issue he or she suffers from and all of the different types of coping strategies that work or don’t work with those particular struggles.

Because I can’t do that.  Not without leaving out or neglecting a group of individuals who have suffered in some way and come here for anonymous, safe support and resources.  Also not without delving deeper into memories and experiences not yet accessible to my conscious mind.  Many of my alters like to take turns and write posts here on the blog too. That means the quality and content are sometimes inconsistent and may seem unprofessional or unrelated to the topic.  But every post is some how related to trauma, abuse, neglect, recovery, and resources; that much I guarantee.

What I’ve shared so far is the tip of  the iceberg.  The focus has been on current events and present coping strategies.  I will continue to do that.  And as often as possible, one or all of the alters will try to remind the post author to include a photo or quote or something visual to go with the words.  That is difficult because at heart, I am a writer.  Words are my best communication tool.  But I want to connect with other types of learning and processing styles too, so adding in audio/visual elements is a personal goal to improve this blog.

And this is my hobby.  I wish I could dedicate more time, but work and life, maybe even graduate school in the near future, will take precedence.  If I knew of a way to get this site to pay for itself without using ads, I would do that.  Then I could dedicate more time to building the resource pages and more interesting posts.  And I could expand the website to offer other kinds of resources too.

But for now, this is it.  I write what I know.  I share what I learn.  And I hesitate to label anything because I am not a professional.  My therapist does not put labels on my parents other than  to call them sociopathic and psychopathic.  Nor does she label me or any of there other clients other than to call us trauma survivors.

She understand that I was a victim of incest by both parents and some family members by marriage; along with that was neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, bullying, shaming, and financial abuse from my parents, sibling, family members, educators, physicians/providers, and community; finally  the sexual abuse from my pediatrician and his ring of pedophiles, cult abuse and ritual torture from the religious cult who ran under the guise of Mormons and had connections with the pedophile ring and drug connections within the community.

I’m 33 going on 34, a victim and a survivor.  I changed my name and moved across the country to try to get away from the negative influences of my past.  Now I have a chance to live without worrying that my past will haunt me every moment of every day.

So no, I don’t use labels.  I don’t try to figure out what kind of abuser my parents or other perpetrators were.  I do read a lot of books about internal family systems, intergenerational trauma, toxic relationships, shame, compassion, coping techniques, coping strategies, and whatever disorders are symptoms of my main diagnosis (PTSD).  Then I work on my own (with my alters) and with therapists to apply what I’ve learned.  Knowledge is power.

Understanding them and their motivations helps me understand myself and my reactions to the world around me.

It also gives me perspective so that I can separate the individuals from the behaviors and thoughts.  By doing this, I can hold the perpetrators responsible, can hate their words and actions, without blaming the human beings.

Blame enables shame, anger, and victimization.

Accountability, aka holding them responsible, fosters forgiveness, compassion, empathy, acceptance, knowledge, and healing.

Which would you choose?

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Choosing Different in Spite of Cultural Bias

Beware: THIS IS A RANT

Introduction

Chinese culture does not believe in or talk about emotional health or mental health problems.  People with emotional and mental issues are considered “lazy” and “stupid” or “weak” or “sick”.    In terms of physical appearance, a woman is supposed to look like a well-groomed woman with a delicate, petite, slender body, perfect makeup, and hair.  Anyone who does not meet the standard gets “helpful” criticism about diets, clothing choices, skin care, and exercise regimens from family members.  Also reminders and reprimands for shaming the family pride by not meeting the family standards and embarrassing the family in public with a not perfect physical image.  And other Asian or Chinese people who see a bald Chinese woman walking down the street will stare in fear and horror before walking across the street to avoid her, whisper about her ugliness and shameful behavior, and shun her for fear of being contaminated by her presence.

How do I know this?  Because I and the other alters in my system have experienced this first hand over and over by family members and community members and people in the street who are visitors to the United States.  In fact it happened a couple hours ago while I was walking back to work from getting lunch.  Two young women saw me stop next to them as I waited for the light to change and decided to step around and risk crossing the street instead of waiting next to me.  They were both between 18 and 30, Asian background, with long dark hair and perfect makeup, and backpacks that signaled their student status.  It hit hard today since I was already feeling anxious about some other negative encounters on the train and at a library that left me feeling frustrated and wondering when people will stop harassing me because of my past.

In essence, I get treated poorly because I am female, Chinese, a survivor of trauma and domestic violence with a “mental illness”, bald, and a well dressed nerd.  This comes from people of all ages, races, cultures, etc. because I am breaking taboos and ignoring biases.  Most of the time, I am okay with that.  I’ve learned to pick my battles and find like-minded people to spend time with instead of other types.  I don’t take it personally when people cross the street or don’t acknowledge me when they see me walking towards them (since I didn’t choose to avoid them) because a lot of times I do the same thing to people around me.  My walking time is part of my solitude regimen and a time for me to spend with my alters before having to engage with people.  The anxiety and triggers come when people’s body language signals that they are engaging or avoiding me for other reasons besides politeness or avoidance.

Choosing Different

My parents marked me as different and shamed me for being myself from the time I was born.  My mother’s family did the same.  I was compared to my cousins and sibling and found lacking.  My elementary school teachers, peers, and neighbors found me lacking and bullied me because my parents approved of it by not interfering or defending me.  So I decided to be different.  And embraced my differences.

But choosing different is not easy.

Sometimes the secret shame and sense of worthlessness comes back to haunt me.  It happens a lot in summer when everyone is wearing less and spending lots of time outside.  And it’s more than body image or low self-esteem.  It’s about a sense of self and the values that self is based on.  My sense of self was battered and broken and torn apart until the shreds gathered together and hid deep inside where only the non-verbal alters could reach.  Seven years of therapy and self-reflection brought those values back out and repaired the foundation of that core sense.

These days I am secure in my sense of self because all of us alternate personalities agree with the core values that we live by.  That sense of self makes itself known to others subconsciously in how we choose to treat ourselves and others around us.  It makes others nervous to be around us sometimes.  And other times it sparks other feelings too.  But that core sense of self has helped me help my alter partners and the system in general survive and become the woman we are today.

A lot of the time, it’s easy to remember that most people’s reactions are about them and their internal conflicts than about me or one of the alters or the system as represented by our body.  And it’s easy to ignore those people and move on.

Other times, like today, I wonder what it would be like if I wore a wig and dressed dowdy or slutty or ultra feminine and then passed them on the street.  Would they treat me differently?  Or would they treat me the same?  And how would I feel about it?  People used to treat me worse when I had hair than they do now.  But also, I was in a different situation then.  And surrounded by people who supported my abusers.

But then I think to myself, I like how I look bald.  I like talking about my coping strategies and my challenges – sharing information with others to help them get through rough times too.  And I like being me.

The Dilemma

How do I still be myself, stick to my values, achieve my goals and work with administrators and others with biases who have influence over my ability to get into school, pass classes, learn, and so on?

EXAMPLE: But if I want to work in traditional Chinese medicine field and go to graduate school, I will have to deal with people who are biased against my appearance, attitude, and mental health.  The administrators at a school  I tried to apply to earlier this year blocked my application and didn’t tell me until I reached out with an inquiry.  Then they told me it was a “miscommunication” and that I was all set to apply next year.

I followed up 3 days ago with another email addressing that “miscommunication” and some other hypothetical questions from earlier conversations.  I also pointed out my upset about how the miscommunication was handled and that the experience will influence how I interact with them and others at the school in the future.  Yes, it was aggressive, and they will probably take it to mean I am holding a grudge even though I said I am not.

To me holding a grudge means treating these people poorly and maintaining anger; lashing out at them and finding ways to make their lives harder if I do become a student there.  That is not what I mean.  Remembering what happened and being wary of trusting them again; being more diligent about clear communication and wary of trusting them at face value when we talk – that is what I mean.

Yes, picking battles is important.  Remembering that this has more to do with them and their internal monologues than me is important too.  But still, spending time with people who act like that goes against our core values.  So the conflict remains…

I am determined to succeed.

My path so far has taken me on many adventures and introduced me to wonderful people and experiences.  Something good will happen.  And this will work out, maybe not on the timetable I want, but it will happen.

thanks for reading my rant 🙂

Back to Basics: Acknowledgement – yes, I have feelings…now what the #%*?! do I do with them?

Authors’ Note: this post took longer than expected, so we decided to polish this one instead of breaking up the series to post something else over Memorial Day weekend.  Sorry for the lateness.

Introduction

First thing I learned in therapy is that I have feelings.  I may not know what they are and how they relate to my thoughts or behaviors, but they exist and influence my life choices.  The first emotion I got in touch with was anger.  And only because the medication separated me so much from my body and mind that I could “see” volcanoes seething and erupting inside of me during therapy sessions.

Not until 2007 when I started with a different therapist did I start to recognize “fear” and “anxiety” and “sadness” as they overwhelmed my mind and body.  She didn’t tell me at the time, but a lot of what we did together was DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.  Part 1 of Emotion Regulation is acknowledging and identifying feelings.  Part 2 is using certain strategies to cope with those emotions and not let the emotions influence thoughts and behaviors.

The women only partial program I went to in 2009 focused a lot on DBT.  Depending on how long an individual stayed in the program, she could go through all 4 parts before leaving.  DBT group sessions were daily and mandatory.  I loved them; did not always say a lot, but I listened and learned.

My second time in the same voluntary partial program did not go so well.  The people running it in 2012 were different from the ones in 2009, and groups were run differently too.  Not that it was bad, but my needs were different.  And most of what I learned the first time was repeated again; not much new to learn and experience in terms of coping strategies and techniques.

OK, I can feel.  Now what?

The biggest takeaway from both times in partial programs was how others experienced and showed their feelings.  By observing the women in my groups (I went to a female only partial program because I wasn’t ready to deal with men in that kind of setting yet; and I understood males better than females having worked in a male dominated office for many years), I learned about how different women expressed feelings; how the experiences were different and similar from mine; and how important facial expressions and body language are in expressing feelings clearly.

To some people words mean everything.  To others, actions and expressions tell the truth instead of words.  The rest of the people are somewhere in between; words and expressions are used to understand emotions.  Between 2007 and 2009, I couldn’t articulate a feeling if I tried.  I could easily mold my features and body to express whatever feeling I was supposed to show.  But none of my real feelings showed; not in my voice; not in my eyes; not anywhere except inside my mind.

And there, I always saw destruction: witches toiling over a bubbling cauldron; sleeping volcanoes ready to erupt; the eruption; tornadoes and hurricanes blowing everything in their paths.  Rarely, a quiet lake appeared below a mountain ridge.  Or a meadow clearing deep inside a dark, twisted forest.  But getting there was akin to a hero on a quest.  And I wasn’t ready for that.  Neither were my alters.  Each of us had to go on a quest to find our quiet place.  And from there, find each other.

Knowing of each other; having limited interactions once in a while; hearing voices intermingled with the monsters is not the same as finding each other and working together to be whole.

The second time in partial focused on learning techniques, but not so much about trauma or real life application of said techniques.  In essence, I felt like I was teaching instead of learning to the point where some of my group members said in front of the leaders that I “should teach a group”.  My alters did not like being excluded from group interactions and ignored as if they did not exist – something I had to do in order to get through the different sessions with some sanity.

Definitions

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Psych Central offers a good description with links: This website offers an introduction to DBT

Emotion Regulation (mine): Strategies to help me (us) not be controlled by our feelings and emotions. The often used phrase “think before you act”.  In my case, “think before you react”.

Partial Inpatient treatment programs: sometimes extra support is needed, but not to the point of being committed to and inpatient program.  Partial programs (voluntary or court-ordered) offer the extra support and group sessions in an outpatient setting.  Different programs specialize in different mental illnesses, treatment strategies, gender, age and so on.

Mimicry or Learning by doing:  By observing how people we liked and respected acted towards themselves and others, we learned how to treat ourselves and others with respect and acceptance.  By watching others who had and expressed feelings, we learned how to do the same.

The skills and personality characteristics we practice

Persistence: Ignoring feelings makes them stronger and more powerful.  Fighting them does that too.  We can’t make the feelings go away.  We can acknowledge and identify the feelings that come and go.  Odd thing is that acknowledging the feeling takes some of the feeling’s power away.  Identifying the feeling and welcoming it also takes power away.  The feeling is not so overwhelming; it’s not in control anymore.  But doing this is scary because it means that we have to experience all of the physical and mental sensations (thoughts, behaviors, etc.) that come with it too.  Eventually, though we can say to ourselves, “I feel ___.  ___ is expressed as _____ in my body and ____ in my mind.  If I welcome all of it, the feeling will go away faster and on its own.”  And the feeling does go away eventually.

Active Listening: I learned that feelings expressed in sounds are easier for me to understand, yet also very triggering.  Noise tends to disrupt me far more than anything else.  Specifically voices and movement are triggering.  Growing up, listening to voices and body movement kept me out of danger more often than any other sense.  So I stopped hearing actual words for a long time.  My focus was on listening to tone, pitch, and volume.  Those three pieces would let me know how much danger I was in and what kind in each environment.  Not until I started college did I realize that I had stopped hearing actual words, sentences, conversations, etc.  Most of the time I lived inside my head with ears tuned for danger or potential danger.  Then I realized that if I wanted to participate and socialize I had to listen to what people actually said and respond with my own words.  Later, when we all started communicating with each other, every alter had to re-learn how to listen actively, interpret the verbal and non-verbal cues, and respond using positive interpersonal communication skills.  By using active listening, we can identify how other people feel and react to our words so that there are less problems with communication.

Solitude: looking inside and working with feelings requires time with safe people, time with instructors, and time alone to practice and learn.  Solitude is not loneliness.  It is a way of making friends with oneself and enjoying one’s own company.  It’s a time to explore different ideas and skills without fear.  It’s personal “me” time in which the individual can do anything or nothing or something in between as long as the task is done with purpose.

Analytical or Critical Thinking:  a pause is an opportunity to use the logical side of the brain and ask “why am I feeling this way?  How will I react?  Do I want to react like that?  Or do I want to react differently?  How do my thoughts influence my feelings?  Am I feeling something else under this feeling that is pushing me to react?”  And by answering one or some of these questions, I/we have a chance to change our thoughts and reactions from negative to neutral or positive instead.  This gives us control over ourselves instead of letting the feelings control our reactions.

Empathy: empathy is difficult to understand, respect, and accept because many people equate it with weakness.  And others will be cruel by telling them that no one can feel what others feel because they didn’t “experience” it exactly the same.  But empathy is not about “knowing what others feel” so much as “being able to relate to others’ feelings and situations through shared or similar experiences.”

Observation: Please refer to any of the characteristic explanations above.  Each one provides many examples of observation.

Final Thoughts

I’d rather have feelings than live in a numb, colorless world.  My alters agree and disagree. Understanding feelings and how to express them is one step closer to being able to understand ourselves.  From there, we can understand others and use empathy to inform our choices and decisions.

No one gets hurt on purpose.  Learning from mistakes is not so costly.  And every success is a reminder to be grateful for the gifts we have and use to survive in a hostile world.

We all prefer to try any possible technique and strategy at least once.  That’s why we tried the partial program again.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: Resilience means more than bouncing like a rubber ball

Introduction

Throughout my recovery, many people praised or derided me for my resiliency.  I thought I knew what they meant about being a resilient person.  But I didn’t.  In my mind, resilience was just a word people used to describe how flexible and malleable I was.  Flexible meaning I was easily manipulated.  Malleable as in I was a doormat without my own thoughts who could be taken advantage of and treated carelessly and used.  They compared me to a rubber chicken, Gumby, a rubber ball who always bounced back, a puppy with too much energy – that was resilience.

And resilient meant weak, not strong, in my family.

But resilience is not weak.  Flexibility does not equal doormat.  Malleable does not mean easily taken advantage of or manipulated.  And bouncing back is not an indication of stupidity.

So what is Resilience?  And why is it so important to recovery?

Resilience is a mix of characteristics and values that allow a person to learn from experiences and move forward with knowledge and perspective.  Resilience means learning:

  • When to keep going
  • When to stop and think (reflection and perspective)
  • When to change one’s mind and try something else (not failure, making choices)
  • When to make the mistake and use the experience to try from a different angle
  • When to say no in spite of pressure to say yes
  • When to say yes in spite of pressure to say no
  • When to hold on
  • When to let go
  • How to accomplish all of this when drowning shame, guilt, fear, doubt, or negativity get in the way

Recovery is like growing pains.  It hurts a lot, feels overwhelming, and trips you up when everything finally seems to be going right.  

Two steps forward; one step to the right; three steps left, two steps backward; five steps forward…who knows what will happen next or how to make progress?

Every survivor is resilient because:

  • He is still alive
  • She fell and got up again
  • He stopped counseling; got into a bad place; started counseling again
  • She is still alive
  • He tried to reconcile with his family and had to walk away again
  • She relapsed; reached out for help; and accepted it
  • He failed a class in spite of hours with the tutor and extra help sessions; took the class with a different teacher and different set of people; passed; and didn’t have to take the final
  • She said no and fought back long enough to escape and get help; then took martial arts and self-defense classes only to become an expert trainer who volunteers at shelter for trauma survivors
  • Two friends walked away from each other after a surviving a car wreck that almost killed them and did permanently injure 4 others.  Years later, one reaches out to the other, and they start a respectful dialogue; their friendship blossoms and stays strong

What resilience means to me

I make mistakes.  I learn from my mistakes.  

I can be flexible like steel and break under too much pressure.  Or I can be flexible like grass and bend one way or the other until the pressure passes.

I can let fear win and be a medicated vegetable.  Or I can get up every time I fall and try another way to keep on going.

  • Every experience has value and can teach me a lesson that will help in the future
  • Failure means I got stuck and need to rethink the solution
  • Regrets mean I still have something to learn from the experience
  • I forgive, but never forget
  • My past comes back to remind me of lessons learned so I can make better informed choices now
  • A flexible mind helps me understand someone else’s perspective and be a more thoughtful person
  • Malleable means I can set safe boundaries and change them to suit who I am now
  • I shape the world around me instead of letting the world shape me
  • When no one listened to me talk, I started writing and didn’t stop

If you’re reading this, you are resilient too.  

And thanks for reading.

 

Recovery: Invisible Strength

Background

Today is the 4th and second hardest anniversary in May.  As I think about getting ready for bed and how I can face the nightmares hovering at the edge of my awareness, I remember what the hotline counselor told me earlier – you are strong, strong enough to cope with this – in different words and different ways throughout the conversation.

I called because I had some chores to do that I had been putting off and was scared because I felt unsafe and frustrated.  Unsafe because doing those chores triggered memories of my mother and aunts.  Frustrated because those triggers also brought back memories of more recent experiences that made me feel unsafe too.  As I shared my feelings and the experiences behind them, the connections were revealed.

This (experience or event) reminded me of that (seemingly unrelated experience or event) because I felt the same way both times and reacted instinctively even if I used different coping strategies to work through each experience.  And each experience or event past or present brought out emotions and memories of similar ones.  Together, the counselor and I untangled the connections enough for me to understand why I was scared and make 2 plans, one for tonight and one for later this week.

Why am I sharing this?

I am sharing because that conversation reminded me that every survivor of trauma, no matter what kind, has invisible strength.

By invisible, I mean not always apparent, recognizable, or appreciated by “normal” people, but always recognized and valued by others with shared experiences or on the recovery path.

What does Invisible Strength mean?

Invisible strength is getting up every morning and doing one act of self care in spite of the previous night’s setbacks.

Invisible strength is talking about the scary secrets and acknowledging what happened in spite of fear and possible rejection and accusations of being a liar or worse.

Invisible strength is relapsing and getting up to start recovery again no matter how much time has passed.

Invisible strength is knowing that you have to make difficult choices and choosing the best ones for yourself even if that means breaking away from everything familiar.

Invisible strength means using whatever coping strategies you have to in order to get through the moment and forgiving yourself for doing something that induces shame.

Invisible strength means accepting that you can’t change other people, your environment, or their thoughts about you while also knowing that their thoughts and choices and failures and problems are not your fault.

Invisible strength comes from doing what you know is right for you even if no one else accepts or approves of your choices.

For me right now, invisible strength means:

  • I can love and accept and forgive my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and relatives in spite of their abuse and still not want them in my life.
  • I can let other aunts, uncles, and cousins who are willing to meet me part way and develop new relationships based on who we are now slowly back into my life as long as we respect each others’ boundaries.
  • I can feel compassion for my parents, brother, relatives, and other abusers and the experiences that made them who they are without shame or guilt
  • I can accept that part of what they did was not their choice or within their control, but other parts of it were and hold them responsible for their past words and actions without blaming them.
  • I can learn to accept that my feelings of shame and guilt come from fear and learned behaviors that are not my responsibility
  • I can finally recognize that connecting with “normal” people will always be difficult because I am not willing to settle for shallow or insincere relationships – whether friendship, familial relationship, intimate relationship, etc. – with people who I cannot trust or respect on a basic level.
  • I can face the fact that not many people are as “strong” as I am and that my “strength” can feel intimidating to others whose values and ethics do not align with mine.
  • I am not willing to settle for an intimate relationship with a man who is not my equal in values or invisible strength – someone I feel safe and comfortable with, respect, like, and trust not to hurt me on purpose or use his knowledge about me to manipulate or control me; someone who feels safe and comfortable, respects, likes, and trusts me not to hurt him on purpose or use my knowledge about him to manipulate or control him.
  • I may never find my dream man in this life time.
  • I could find my dream man in this life time.
  • I may never have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I could have sex or sexual experiences again in this life time.
  • I hope and dream that my next life will be different from this one – free from abuse and trauma, but not the ups and downs of sadness, joy, pain, serenity, good health, and freedom that come from living.
  • I am grateful for this second chance at life in spite of all the challenges that slow me down

Thanks for reading.