re-traumatized and coping skills

Today, while volunteering with the Transgender Support Group at the local arts festival, we were walking back to our booth when we saw our primary abuser not only walking in our general direction but also staring at us. Fortunately, we were very close to our booth so we ducked in there immediately, telling our friend what was happening. She helped to both shield us from his gaze but to also calm us and kept us in the present moment, which we were able to do, for the most part.

Thanks to our DBT skills, visualizations and especially our friend, we were able to avert a complete collapse, which has happened during similar circumstances in the past. Once the event was over we didn’t dwell upon it. Yay! We clearly have come a long way, to be able to process the occurrence and move on about our day.

Looking back on it we can see how we were triggered instantly, upon our recognizing who was walking towards us as was our realization that he had been, and still was, staring at us. Time slowed down to a crawl as this happened. Our physical body experienced a near immediate fear response, which included slight dizziness, tight chest, and coldness in our upper body. We could feel our heart pounding.

We arrived at our booth mere seconds later and told our friend what was transpiring and pretty much let her take the lead from then on. She used comforting words and words to remind us that time has passed since those awful days, as she used her body to shield us from his gaze. We aren’t entirely sure how long this all took, but guess a few minutes.

One thing we did do during this time was to glance around, here and there, so we wouldn’t get lost in one internal image, which worked. We also did a swift internal meeting of our Circle of Love and Strength as well, telling everyone that it is 2018, that we are safe, that nobody can hurt us, that our friends are with us to support us, that sort of thing. We also practised some slow deep breathing, always a good tool to help relax the body.

The body, mere seconds into a triggering event, is within a primal fight or flight response, with the expected accompanying effects. When triggered, it can be helpful, indeed crucial, to focus upon tools to relax the body itself. Deep breathing, as we mentioned, is one immediate thing one can do to fight the effects of a triggering event, which has very specific physiological effects. A feeling of odd alertness is one such effect as is a sensation of coldness in the upper body and extremities. All one’s senses can feel somehow clearer and enhanced. In extreme cases one can experience time dilation in that the world around them will seem to slow down around, allowing for time to assess the situation one is facing at the time. Though it feels as though time has slowed down to a crawl what has actually happened is that one’s senses and reflexes have become heightened, affecting one’s perception. At the extreme end of the spectrum is tunnel vision, and at the fully extreme end is complete dissociation from the event itself, a fragmenting off from the whole self in an attempt to protect oneself from the trauma of the event.

We can recall the events of our being in a near-car wreck some years ago while living out west in excruciating detail, recounting how the vehicle we were a passenger in skidded across a Provincial highway in the direction of a small pond on the other side of the highway. During that event time ‘slowed down’.

We are still somewhat astonished at how well we coped with today’s earlier encounter. There was a time where a similar sighting would result in our being suicidal. We feel it is a testament to our new DBT knowledge, our family and friends, and our generally positive state of mind. We would consider these elements of our safety net.

Hope

It has been a while now that we can claim to, for the first time in some time to have hope, actual hope for a better future. We were populating the outskirts of hope for far too long and we now feel far more positive than we once did. We have not experienced a suicidal episode for a couple months now.

Part of our hope revolves around our plans to return to Walt Disney World, as Disney holds a very special place in our heart. Disney magic has meant a lot to us over the years, and continues to enchant us. Walt Disney’s words, “Keep Moving Forward,” is a motto we have chosen to represent our wish for a better future, while also recognizing that not every step need be forward. It is the will to keep moving forward which resonates within us.

We feel the twenty week classes of DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) have been key in our progress, as has, of course, our continuing trauma therapy. We have made new friendships, and enjoy their company.

We considered giving this entry the title of Magic, or perhaps Passion, for it is passion which has re-awoken in us and it is Disney Magic specifically which we believe in. There are reasons for this of course. As we have recounted before, or at least we think we may have (thank you Swiss Cheese Memory), we had a childhood friend whose family went to Walt Disney World yearly, and who brought back with all sorts of interesting things. It was his stories, however, which really captured our imagination; stories of legendary attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, and Haunted Mansion. We recall being especially impressed by his descriptions of the Contemporary Resort with its monorail station inside it. Additionally, there was the Disney Sunday Movie, a weekly delight.

Such magic was desperately needed during our tortured childhood. We need not go into the grim details as we have recounted them here previously. Other magic helped us as child, such as the magic of our Willow tree (before it was cut down anyways). Imagination is a magic too, and our love of reading helped us escape into imaginary worlds such as Middle Earth and Narnia.

Well, we got a little sidetracked there. We aren’t here today to talk about the past, well at least not the traumatic past. Whether we title this piece Magic, Passion, or Hope, all three play a part here. We all have our passions. For some people it is gardening, a favourite sports team, running long distance races, or writing.

We feel our passion for Walt Disney World is a gift, and for us to be able to maintain a child’s sense of wonder when we are there even more so. It helps tremendously that we have a number of child alters who have needs of their own and need magic just as much, if not more so, than all of us.

living a multiple life

The challenges facing a multiple are unique; indeed, they are challenges we face daily with little respite. Having voices, parts of self, alters, or however one wishes to describe their multiplicity, is not for the faint of heart and nor is it easy. That said, it does have its positives; being able to pretty much automatically call upon a given alter to deal with a particular situation has been what has kept us alive, quite literally.

Multiplicity is born out of the dark and profound depths of childhood trauma, much of what we experienced during our early and formative years. As we have mentioned before dissociation generally, and identity fragmentation specifically are a form of defence mechanism developed at an early age to combat unbearable trauma. The theory, put simply, is that a child, incapable of dealing with trauma fragments away to protect itself, often blocking the memory of specific trauma from the greater whole.

What this means, and where things become complex, is that each alter, or part of self, is holding onto, through no fault of their own, the memory and, more importantly, the feelings associated with their time trauma, and in some cases have been for long decades, since very early childhood.

One of the challenges facing us, as a multiple, is what we have often referred to as our Swiss Cheese memory. Events occurring a mere day ago can, and often do, feel like they have occurred much earlier in time, clouding our memory. We can simply forget events, or get time lines mixed up, or remember only little pieces of what has happened. We are terrible at remembering people’s names, for example, or remembering exactly what day it is.

Another challenge, and of the greater ones, is our switching. Switching means to switch from one alter to another, which can happen instantly and frequently. We can switch due to being triggered or for other less obvious reasons, such as when we are in a toy store and a little comes out to play. What this results in at times is a surfeit of emotional states in quick succession.

It doesn’t help that society has a generally skewed view of what multiplicity is, though one might claim it makes it easier to be multiple, for what one sees on TV and in film is nearly always a gross exaggeration of what it truly means to be multiple. It also should be noted while multiples tend to share some similarities and commonalities we also can differ greatly in how our individual multiplicity manifests itself.

Switching is, for us, can be terribly exhausting, not to mention be rather confusing at times, especially when we switch in rapid succession. Also, alters tend to trigger other alters so what we end up with can be a real muddle. Fortunately, we have learned some coping skills through our DBT classes as well as things learned in therapy. For instance, we have learned to draw upon all of our alters in a sort of group meeting visualization exercise, during which we use positive self-talk and affirmations.

We are also fortunate to have friends who also face the challenges of dissociation. These friends are a great comfort for us, as when we are with them we need not explain ourselves and they are familiar with things such as switching and being triggered. Together we can help each other and we feel blessed by their company.

anger and progress

During trauma therapy last week we ended up talking about a topic we had never really discussed before; anger, anger at the childhood trauma we suffered. We talked about how anger scares us, in others and in ourselves. We have never been good, if one can use that term, at expressing anger about, well, anything, for as long as we can remember.

We also recognize we have great difficulty in coping with anger external to ourselves. For example, should we be at the library and we hear someone raise their voice it will immediately trigger a fear response, even though the situation in question has not a thing to do with us. This is an all too common experience but it should be noted we feel we are becoming better at grounding ourselves at such times.

There was a time we would flee the building, but now we mostly stay in place, doing deep breathing and the like to calm ourselves. One such coping strategy is positive self-talk about what is happening around us which essentially involves us talking to our selves in a comforting way in our head. Occasionally we have to speak aloud to our selves but fortunately not too often and usually while we’re alone.

There are several reasons for our fear of anger, primarily stemming from childhood trauma. We have an accompanying fear of confrontation as well which is the reason for our alter Naomi, who is docile and suggestible. Other alters, mostly the younger ones, behave similarly.

Something occurred today; we completed our twenty week course of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy at CMHA. It was an emotional event, as we have made friends in the group and have, for the most part, enjoyed the group. There is a small group of us who have decided to stay in touch with each other beyond the group itself which is heartening.

The topic of anger is a very delicate subject to us. One might think that somewhat odd considering our history of trauma, for it would seem we have more than plenty to be angry, at the very least, about. Clearly we do in fact have great anger in us; anger at those who abused us, and anger at ourselves for not being able to stop it. The younger the alter, the more primal the anger. It has been the job, for lack of a better term, for these alters to hold onto paralyzing amounts of pain and rage, for our greater consciousness could not, at the time, be able to exist in such suffering, and so we splintered away our parts of self to hold onto the feelings, to hold onto the trauma.

It seems we have come to a place where we may be becoming capable of beginning to process these angers. When it came up, unexpectedly in last weeks therapy session, we were surprised at some of what we said. The topic appeared from out of the blue, on a tangential thread of thought but has proven to be of great import.

We would be fooling ourselves if we did not admit to feeling a good deal of trepidation about this development though we do trust our therapist to not let ourselves go someplace we are not yet ready for…

… In recent weeks we have been receiving more and more compliments from people who can see our progress. No longer are we the near inanimate soul who was in the tortured depths of clinical depression. The twenty week DBT therapy program we completed this week has taught us new coping skills. Our antidepressant medication is clearly working as promised, though it took weeks for it to take proper effect and we are taking our medications as prescribed, something we had issues with in the past.

We welcome the nicer weather here. It means we can soon begin our routine of long walks. We do enjoy the outdoors and it’s a healthy pastime. It also helps with our maintaining a routine. We have been socializing more too, with old friends and new. Being social is healthy for us.

It can be difficult to see our own progress at times; mostly after we’ve gone through a triggering episode, something we have little control over. On the positive side is our ability to, for the most part, use our distress tolerance skills during such episodes with the result that we are not in a distressed state for lengthy periods of time as would happen in the past.

Positive self-talk is key to this. So is visualizing our circle of trust and strength, and our castle for that matter. This week, when we went to trauma therapy we did not, as we usually do, have our teddy bear, Duffy with us. This was accidental on our part, but we summoned up a virtual Duffy at the beginning of session which helped. We also find ourselves leaving Duffy at home more often than not.

We have, of late, been captured by our love of Walt Disney World. We hope to return either late this Autumn or early Spring of 2019. A Disney vacation takes planning and that is what we have been doing, planning.

stability

BLOG – 20180502 – stability

During our weekly trauma therapy session our therapist this week asked us a few fundamental questions. Among them were an inquiry as to what our goals in our therapy are. After some thought we answered that we wanted to end up with healthy multiplicity, and that it is paramount that none of us wish to be deleted via integration (at least not on purpose, which sort of brings up a whole new can of worms, but we digress). We also stated that we want our alters to be happy and free of pain and fear.

As a result of these inquiries, though everything still requires introspection, it was posited that we may be becoming prepared to begin dealing directly with our past trauma. Up until know, when discussion has ended up about individual traumas we have generally been steered away from such specificity as it can serve to re-traumatize us (and has at times).

This is a daunting challenge and an interesting thing happened when we were first approached with these questions, which we were not expecting at all. Our body went cold from fear when we were asked, “What are your goals in therapy?”

After our initial discussion we brought up our reacting with fear to such a simple question and after some thought we decided an internal part of self had interpreted the question to mean that our therapist might really be preparing to put an end to our therapy. This analysis seems to fit with some of our little selves who are by nature suspicious of any adult’s motives. The impression seems to be that there was a fear of abandonment present in an alter or alters. Our therapist assured us she was in no way suggesting termination. Yay.

Now, the reason why some of us felt such a strong reaction to her question would, on its face, appear to be fairly simple. Our younger alters come from our formative years, a time of great turmoil and uncertainty in our young life so it follows they would interpret her question the way they did. The somatic cold of fear we felt alerted us to our inner turmoil, which we then tried to figure out.

We suppose we should also mention that our psychiatrist has, in our most recent appointment a couple weeks ago, also told us we seemed to far less depressed than we have had been in the past. We came to an agreement about our new medication, which he credits with our improved affect and overall moods. He explained that the side effects which had been bothering us (the seeming loss of our creative spark and dwindling of our emotions) would soon begin to taper off as our body gets more used to the medication. This theory seems to be accurate as we are finding writing easier now and have found ourselves on the verge of tears several times a day for a short while now.

We talked about this in our therapy session and we mentioned we needed our tears, and, in fact, could use a good cry. We were asked to elaborate upon that answer and we simply replied that our tears are precious to us and are a health expression of emotion, which we feel we are in regular need of. We are a very sensitive soul and it doesn’t normally take much for us to cry, so we are pleased this is now slowly returning to us. Yay!

Walt Disney World

First of all we would like to apologize for not writing here in a while. Things in the real world were taking up so much of our time. This post is fairly light reading, and illustrate what our true passion is.

There is, in this world of turmoil, a place where smiles are the norm, where the wonder of childhood meets the bright stuff of dreams, a place of magic, a place where dreams come true. That place is, of course, Walt Disney World.

We have been enamoured of Walt Disney Word since our childhood friend regaled us with stories of his family’s annual trips to that fabled place. At the time the televised Disney Sunday Movie would often show previews of coming park attractions at Walt Disney World and we could only dream of someday going ourselves to that place whose magic we already believed in.

There is a top ten list of world-wide attendance attendance at theme parks out there which sees the top six spots, if memory serves, taken by Disney Parks, including all four parks at Walt Disney World, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and Tokyo Disneyland. The Walt Disney World Resort itself holds the distinction of being the number one holiday destination in the world by a large margin, and for good reason.

Aside from iconic attractions such as the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Disney does one thing better than anyone else and that is customer service. We have been three times since 2015 and have only once had reason to be disappointed in the service we have received while there. We encountered, during our most recent trip, an incident which was dealt with swiftly, with professionalism, impressive attention to detail, and by several layers of management in the Magic Kingdom, whose sole concern was for our well-being.

We often tell people we waited 47 years to go to Walt Disney World and it was worth the wait, and also, that we had very high expectations which were not only met but exceeded. We will never forget our first steps through the entry archway into the Magic Kingdom, our first set of Mickey Ears, and how profoundly overwhelmed we were to finally be where we had, for so very long, wanted to be.

So… Why Disney? One might say why not Disney, but that is too simple of an answer. It could be that it is an ideal, for us at least, a place which personifies the magic and wonder of childhood. We have seen some pretty incredible things in our life; an amazing view from atop a mountain of British Columbia, a summer meadow full of wildflowers and butterflies on an island which photographs would not do justice, the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island on a deserted beach which served only to increase the impressive sense of scale of where we were, to name a few, but none of them compare with our first sight of Cinderella Castle, an image we’d seen thousands times throughout our life brought to life.

In a top twenty list of most popular amusement parks in North America, Disney Parks take up six spots, including the top five, with Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom taking the first spot with 20.49 million visitors per year. In Second place is Anaheim, California’s Disneyland, the original of Disney parks world-wide, with 18.28 million visitors. In third place is EPCOT, with 11.8 million visitors.

One interesting statistic not mentioned in the article is that Walt Disney World’s two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, had they been included in the top 20, would take eleventh place with 4.4 million visitors, more than such iconic amusement parks such as Cedar Point, Busch Gardens Tampa, and Canada’s Wonderland.

We also seem to recall reading somewhere that of the average 52 million annual visitors 50% are repeat visitors. When recounting statistics about Walt Disney World one cannot help being impressed. A few examples; Walt Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the United States, has 23 000 hotel rooms on property, sells ten million hamburgers and six million hot dogs a year from its 300 restaurants, and takes up more space than San Francisco plus two Manhattans. 250 000 people travel on the boats, buses and monorails of the Walt Disney World Transportation System daily.

Walt Disney World is our passion, our source of hope and magic!

memory

20180414 – memory

What is memory? During our research we have found there are several types, among them being explicit, implicit, as well as long term and short term memory. As we have mentioned before our short term memory seems to be Swiss cheese in that our recall of recent events is miserable at best. The nature of memory is multifaceted, to say the least. The way memory is created is dependent upon a variety of factors.

Memory, to us, is a delicate subject for obvious reasons. We have learned in therapy that our alters hold traumatic memories from their time of trauma, whether that be of a four year old or a teen. Our work in therapy is focused upon bringing alters to the present, hopefully permanently, but it is slow going. In a doctoral thesis by Margaret Barlow, she describes DID as, “a coping mechanism for sectioning off knowledge of unbearable trauma.”, which is an accurate description to our understanding of dissociation.

One might think that memory for traumatic events would be crystal clear due to the strong emotions involved, and for some events this is true (at least for us) but due to identity fragmentation, our primal defence mechanism, many traumatic events remain unknown to us, one might say thankfully.

Throughout our life we have wondered about the nature of our memory recall, or lack thereof. We recall being astonished at friend’s detailed memory of their elementary school years for example, for ours is fragmentary. The nature of dissociation allows, of course, for some recall to be painfully (literally) clear for particular traumatic memories, too clear one might feel in fact. Alternatively, memory for known trauma may be inaccessible due to amnesiac dissociation, or when specific memories are kept hidden by specific Alters.

Memory is a strange critter. We have, for a particularly traumatic episode in our late teens, very specific but also very brief memory for part of the episode. Our memory for the rest of the episode is nonexistent (which we are grateful for). Of what little we can recall, we recall being dissociated from the situation, very much so in fact, now that we know about dissociation, knowledge we did not possess at the time. Looking back at the event we feel we were in a profound state of both derealization and depersonalization.

There are other events in our life which were traumatic, which we have only an observer’s view of, that we have not the slightest memory of. Due to our multiplicity this is no surprise. There are things we don’t want to remember, as we are not yet (according to our therapist) to be addressing specific traumas directly as yet. Trauma therapy for those with dissociative disorders proceed in three Phases and we are still in Phase One, which is “establishing safety, stabilization, and symptom reduction.” Only in Phase Two does one, “confront, work through, and integrate traumatic memories.” Phase Three is, “integration and rehabilitation.”, which, for us, will be in the distant future.