Switching, new memories and feeling rough around the edges

It’s been a hard week. I went looking for my diploma in the boxes where I keep stuff packed away. I didn’t consciously focus on anything as I dug through photos, old clothes and paperwork. I didn’t find my diploma. And then everything began to fall apart. It started with some massive dissociative episodes, then my sleep became disrupted and anxiety, paranoia and cognitive shutdown set in.

By yesterday, I was in a state I haven’t experienced in well over a year. I was vacillating between being in my sympathetic and dorsal systems. Feeling like fleeing or dizzy and shut down. Woven in and out of those two states, were the memories of a fancy handmade dress I had when I was little (something I found in one of my boxes) and a man’s hand grasping at the dress while he said “dirty little princess”. The memories were intrusive and I was terrified of what else might arise. Half the time I was riding in the passenger seat as Little took over and felt anxious and confused.

I have my boys this week so I did all I could to keep it together while showing up for them as much as possible. I let them know I was having a hard time so they would understand why I couldn’t always respond to them.

The memory wasn’t a particularly awful one, comparatively, but it felt gross and unavoidable. I certainly tolerated it better than I have when similar things have come up in the past. I am trying to make space for this experience, meanwhile am also pissed off that my carefully constructed routine and ground were temporarily dismantled and broken.

I slept a little better last night and am so far not struggling today. Someone I know recently said that we have to get rid of our attachments to the past in order to move forward in life and feel good. Tell me, how do you stop being attached to something that literally informed every aspect of your being? That continues to demand processing and attention every day even though it happened 30-45 years ago?

Memory, Trauma & Alters: walking the tightrope of recovery

My therapist and I have been trying to get an accurate count of my alters, as well as their names and ages. It’s been difficult, to say the least. I know a few of them quite well but there are others who hang back in the shadows. I have a sense that one was born when I was doing parts work twenty years ago. The therapist wasn’t skilled at the work and pressured me into it. As a result, I had a psychotic break in the middle of writing my master’s thesis and taking care of my first child.

I admire the tenacity of my brain. The person I’d been couldn’t cope with the tsunami of feelings that came with exploring my alters, especially the small ones who carry the memories of my childhood abuse, so someone else was born who could put the lid on all of that. The person who had the psychotic break got left behind in some dark place in my mind, while her replacement finished my degree, became a good mother to baby and pretty quickly packed up and left my alcoholic husband. It was as if the parts work had never happened

After each of my other babies were born, the previous alter returned and I experienced post-partum depression and psychosis again. I didn’t understand it at the time because I had decided I no longer had DID. I was diagnosed with post-partum issues but, thinking back, I was experiencing the same symptoms I’d had while doing the parts work. I became paranoid that my babies were aliens or demons, had the urge to leave them laying in their cribs instead of holding and feeding them, and sometimes saw people who weren’t there.

I remember so little about my life. My therapist explained to me that long term memories often aren’t made when we’re in our sympathetic nervous system. This is why it’s not uncommon for abuse and assault survivors to remember seemingly insignificant things about the violence perpetrated on them, but have fragmented memories of the specifics. Those specifics might not be committed to long term memory but the body, the nervous system, remembers.

I live in a body that clearly remembers being violated and harmed. I’ve worked hard to spend more time in the ventral vagal system, the part of the nervous system that feels safe and in which we can feel connection. Even so, I still have at least one or two nights per week in which I wake with flashbacks or night terrors. I still have a sensitive startle response. It’s confusing. I appreciate having been protected from the full force of the memories of 22 years of childhood domestic abuse. AND, the disconnect I experience because my alters hold most of my memories feels disconcerting. I want to be whole but I’ve experienced so much splitting that I’m afraid that might be impossible.

At the same time, I recognize that I’ve only just begun doing parts work and I’m taking it quite slowly. Perhaps I need to make more of an effort. It’s so hard to know how much I should push myself. Doing this work is like walking an invisible tightrope that doesn’t go in a straight line. I have to keep moving forwards on the tightrope if I’m to get to a place of steadier ground but I’ve fallen off the rope before and gotten lost in psychosis. I’m terrified of that happening again so I’m being super cautious. Maybe too cautious to move forward towards more integration.

Further confusion is caused by the things I say while I’m dissociated sometimes. There seems to be an alter in there who consistently comes up when I’m dissociated but I don’t remember or understand the things she says. I think she might be the part of me that got lost in psychosis because she babbles about things that have happened throughout the day and very much wants to make her experience more organized. But she seems lost in her own internal process.

I’m going to make an effort to actively work with my DID this week, while also being cautious and trying to listen to myself so I can begin to understand what my limits are. This work still terrifies me but my goal for this year was to live in the present with whatever’s most true. Feelings, memories, breath, body, and alters.

Yoga Journal Day 29

Theme: Be Brave

Sometimes when I get on the mat, my mind is set aside and I’m able to abide in my body and just experience. Today is the day after my kids left to go back to their dad’s. I did yoga every day this last week, including a one hour practice with the trauma center’s virtual trauma informed yoga .

Today I had some truly awesome glimmer moments on the mat. Stillness, laughter, patience, and self-love.

Today is my self-care day. I have a week ahead of me without my kids and I have a rather daunting therapy assignment. I have to go back and read journals from when I was in my late teens and early twenties. My therapist is trying to help me reconnect with my anger and she suspects I might find some in those journals. I’m anxious because I don’t remember much about those years except that I was an out of control wreck with no idea of how to care for myself in healthy ways. I don’t know exactly what I’ll discover in those pages, but I’m guessing they’ll bring up a lot of feelings. I’m hopeful that my daily yoga practice will provide some ground from which to approach those journals. If nothing else, yoga is helping me accept that my experience is constantly shifting and that I have some agency in what I experience.

Yoga Diary Day 23

written November 15, 2020

Got the the mat for day 23 of Adriene’s True journey.

The wind is howling today, something which always unsettles me; it’s almost as though the wind could blow my stability away. Thoughts were all over the place this morning and lots of inner dialogue with my alters.

Theme: Balance
Right up front she suggests we choose an intention for today’s practice. I chose Acceptance. Let me accept whatever happens on the mat. I may not be able to balance today. I tried not to have expectations.

I let myself be super present. Let the morning so far drop away. Let the sounds of my kids in the next room fade. The poses were challenging but I stayed in my body and noticed what the practice of balance feels like. The pull of gravity against my body rising up. I’ve been thinking a lot about balance lately because the process of healing is, for me, all about balance.

My experience of Complex PTSD (part 1)

I am a forty-eight year old survivor of incest (and multiple other abuses) with complex PTSD. You probably already know what PTSD is but when you add the complex to that it means that the abuse was prolonged and very likely included more than one perpetrator. When PTSD is complex several symptoms are added to the list of what survivors experience. This may include: lack of emotion regulation, changes in consciousness (dissociation), negative self-perception, difficulty with relationships, distorted perception of abuser/s, and somatic symptoms that may include chronic illness.

‘Recovery’ can take years or a lifetime and doesn’t generally resolve the effects of trauma completely; more often, survivors learn over time to live with and accept some symptoms. Take me, for example. I’ve been in and out of therapy my entire adult life and have been doing intensive trauma informed therapy for the past year and a half and I’m just now living in a body that’s in a mostly regulated state about two thirds of the time. That’s a tremendous shift and I’ve worked so hard to achieve it, but the one third of the time I spend in a disregulated state is still a living hell. I’m just better at tolerating, surviving and moving through it.

I don’t want to speak for others with C-PTSD so I’ll try to address my own experience with healing without making generalizations. There are as many unique manifestations of trauma as there are trauma survivors.

Since my ex-husband and I separated in January, I’ve been inhabiting my own space and working ceaselessly to learn self-care so I can feel more grounded and experience peace and joy more often. As a child living in a home with a father who was both raping me and an unpredictable alcoholic, the self-care I learned was very different from what my friends without an abusive parent were learning. I will never forget going to a new friend’s house for a sleepover and watching her wash her face over the sink and splashing water about everywhere. It had never occurred to me to wash my face and I certainly wouldn’t have left water all over the counter.

I was having to learn skills to survive and I didn’t recognize that until years later. While my friends were learning to co-regulate & self-regulate, I was learning hyper-vigilance. This meant that rather than blocking everything else out as I played, I actively listened to the tones of the voices around me, the force used to close a door (was it casual, slightly amped up or aggressive?), the vibration feet made as an adult walked towards my room (soft and sneaky, sleepy or unrhythmic and pounding, By the time I was 5 or 6, I could read sounds and vibrations to determine whether I was in danger and, if I was, how much.

I’m finally at a place in my life in which I spend very little time in the heightened, all hands on deck, state. Even so, as I began thinking about what I learned growing up as a result of my trauma, I felt my stomach sink into that wriggly place, arm pits begin to sweat and my hands start to quiver just a bit. My memory is most certainly linked to the part of my nervous system that is active when I experience hypervigilance. I also recognize that being able to be aware of my physical state and experience is another accomplishment I’ve made. It still feels messy and super uncomfortable but it’s part of integrating my trauma and the work of recovery.