Archive for the ‘Alternative Healing Methods’ Category

Through my job, I am taking a workshop on positive psychology. I knew that the workshop would be helpful in the classroom, but I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the ways I already use some positive psychology in my life as well as on this blog.

As an example, the workshop recommends building strategies that encourage others to feel hopeful. One way to do this is by sharing coping strategies to help the other person deal with a challenging area in his or her life.

As you know, this blog is filled with numerous “tools for your emotional toolbox” — not only tools that I have shared but also many wonderful tools that readers have provided. I will write about how much yoga has helped me, and then a reader might say, “Yoga doesn’t work for me, but I find Tai Chi to be helpful.” Collectively, we have managed to provide many tools for the emotional toolbox.

Not every coping strategy is going to work for every person, but enough tools have been provided on this blog (be sure to read the comments!) that anyone who visits the blog will hopefully find some tool that is helpful.

Another point the workshop made is to focus on your positive traits rather than only your negative ones. It pointed out that this can be an issue even in therapy. This was true for me. I entered into therapy with a very long list of all of the things that were “wrong” with me that I wanted to fix. My therapist continuously pointed out my strengths so I could see that I had those as well. (It took me a long time to “hear” him, though.)

The workshop points out that simply focusing on positive things is not going to magically fix all of your problems, but using your strengths daily and taking an inventory of the blessings in your life can go a long way toward giving you a reason to keep fighting your way toward emotional health.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Microscopic ViewOn my blog entry entitled Returning to Isurvive’s Ritualized Abuse Forum, a reader posted the following comment:

Staying present is wrong wrong wrong for a multiple anything like me. It is the opposite. Some professionals now get that it is not about dissociation for some people. I had to discover that on my own. ~ Michael

This is the first time I have heard that staying present is “wrong” for any child abuse survivor. It is entirely possible that Michael has tried to tell me this on numerous occasions, but sometimes I need to hear a particular comment in several different ways before I can process the idea. (Sorry, Michael!)

Michael had previously told me that yoga was very bad for him. I believed and respected him but did not understand why. Considering that the point of yoga is presence, it makes complete sense in light of staying present being “wrong” for him.

Most of the literature that I have read as well as my own personal therapy has put a great deal of focus on learning how to stay present. If this advice is wrong for an entire subset of survivors, I can understand Michael’s (and others’) frustration with the mental health profession.

Michael also told me that being a multiple is not the same thing as having dissociative identity disorder (DID), which I did not understand but did accept and respect. I wonder if perhaps that is the distinction for when staying present is helpful or harmful??

The reason I say this is people generally tend to divide child abuse survivors into “singletons” (people who are not divided into parts) and multiples or DID (used interchangeably). Both Michael and I would fall under the umbrella of people who divided into parts, but staying present is incredibly healing for me and damaging for him.

Here’s one important difference between me, as someone healing from DID, and what I believe Michael’s experience to be (and, Michael, please chime in if I misrepresent you in any way). I always had a “core” inside of myself – one part that oversaw my multiple system. For most of my life, I saw myself as Faye (a host personality), but the core was running the show. I integrated Faye into my core, which technically moved me out of a DID diagnosis because I stopped losing time. Because there was always one central part “in charge,” perhaps staying present moves me toward integrating back into one single part.

I believe that Michael has never had a central part or core – that his development was such as there never was a “me” at any point – his soul/spirit was never a whole that split. Instead, I believe he actually grew from day one as a multiple. (Michael – Am I right about this?) If that is the case, then “staying present” is trying to force a unity that has never existed, which could explain why staying present is wrong for him.

Does this sound like a reasonable theory? Or am I off the mark?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I shared how I overcame my fear of flying. That experience ran so much deeper than making plane trips less stressful – it actually helped me conquer my fear of death.

So much of the trauma in my childhood centered around the fear of death. I was forced to kill a kitten. I saw my dog killed. My abusers frequently threatened to kill my sister and even made me believe they had done so on one occasion. I was almost killed (to punish my sister) and resuscitated. The fear of death was my abusers’ trump card. As long as I feared death, they had control over my actions in their presence.

When I lost my fear of flying through that meditation, I also lost my fear of death. For the first time, I knew at a heart level that shedding the body in this lifetime does not mean that I (or anyone else) ceases to exist, which freed me from fearing death. By letting go of the fear of death, I found a way to embrace life. I didn’t have to fear my life’s end – I could, instead, enjoy my life!

Those of you with a Christian faith might have difficulty embracing a belief in reincarnation (I definitely did!), but I don’t believe that G*d would use a false theology to perform such a miracle in my life. I think I needed a miracle of this magnitude for me to stop resisting the reality of reincarnation.

** religious triggers **

The following Bible verse helped me understand my newfound freedom from the fear of death:

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? ~ I Cor. 15:55

Losing my fear of death and embracing reincarnation freed up many things for me. I no longer see suicide as “the murder of yourself” – I see it as a soul’s way of escaping a carnation that is perhaps too difficult for that soul’s level. I still encourage people to push through their suicidal urges, but I also don’t view suicide as a horrible travesty like many people do. I see life or death in this carnation as a choice, which is freeing for me.

Embracing reincarnation has enable me to let go of my bitterness toward my abusers. I believe that hell is not a place of fire and brimstone but, instead, having to experience the way you made other people feel in your last carnation. I believe that my abusers who have passed away have had to experience the “hell” of what they put me through, and that is a far more painful experience than fire and brimstone. The thought of them having to experience what they did to me has enabled me to let go of the need for vengeance in this lifetime – justice will prevail after they finish this incarnation.

** religious triggers **

Finally, embracing reincarnation has answered many questions I had about my faith, such as why a loving G*d would tell the Israelites to slaughter men, women, and children in a society. With only one lifetime, He is condemning those children to hell. With reincarnation, he is releasing those souls from institutionalized repression. I always had trouble with the pass/fail nature of heaven and hell, especially when different people have different struggles to overcome in this lifetime. Finally, I always had trouble understanding how an evil person who asked for forgiveness in his last breath would be ready to spend eternity with God.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. This isn’t a blog on theology, but this happens to be one of my favorite topics, and I know few people in my offline life who will engage in this topic with me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I had an interesting “vision” (for lack of a better word) last night. The first half is safe for all readers. I have included religious triggers for the second half of the blog entry.

As I have shared before, the holidays are tough for me from Halloween through New Year’s Day. I still don’t know why. I feel tense as bedtime approaches, have trouble staying asleep, wrestle with nightmares, and then feel exhausted the next day. Last night, I was praying about all of this, especially for relief from the pressure and emotional pain. Here is what I “saw”…

I was walking in the parking lot of my church toward the church building. I “zoomed out” so I could see myself from the outside, and I was this buff warrior woman, like an Amazon. (Trust me – Nobody would describe me physically like this!!) I had bulging, strong muscles, and I was tall. I was a powerful warrior.

Then, I looked in a full-length mirror and saw a skinny, scared little girl. She was wearing a thin, cotton nightdress holding a teddy bear in one hand, and she looked terrified. She was the complete opposite of the powerful warrior looking in the mirror.

That imagery was powerful for me. I have grown into a powerful warrior, but I still see myself as a scared little girl, which means that I ACT like a scared little girl rather than a powerful warrior when I feel threatened. I was able to see the irony of a huge, powerful warrior hiding in a corner when the “threat” could be easily overpowered. I am no longer the helpless little girl I see in the mirror. I need to see the warrior when I look in the mirror.

***** religious triggers *****

So, then I prayed about how to stop seeing myself as a helpless little girl and start seeing the truth. I immediately remembered what we have been learning in our Beth Moore Bible Study, Believing God:

  1. God is who He says He is.
  2. God can do what He says He can do.
  3. I am who God says I am.
  4. I can do all things through Christ.
  5. God’s word is alive and active in me

In our last lesson, we focused on #3, which is the hardest one for me – believing that I am who God says I am, not who my abusers said I am. Beth Moore recommended memorizing the following things that the Bible says about God’s children: they are forgiven, accepted, blessed, chosen, adopted, and redeemed, all because they are loved. It is going to take me a while to get there, but at least know where to focus my energy. That vision is a powerful way to do this.

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Green PlantI went to the beach this weekend with a friend. Both of us desperately needed a weekend “off” from being responsible for our families. It was amazing to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, even when what we wanted was to do nothing at all.

My friend wanted to go get a massage. I have never had a professional massage before. I was not comfortable undressing in front of a stranger and having a stranger put his or her hands all over my body.

When I was in the early stages of healing, online friends who were farther along in healing encouraged me to do some spiritual healing work. I opted for Reiki since no touch is involved. Even being alone in a dark room for a Reiki session was scary the first time, but Reiki wound up being a wonderful healing experience. I had Reiki sessions on and off for years.

My experience with Reiki helped me ease into having a massage. I decided to go with a hot stone massage. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but I thought that having an inanimate object between the other person and me would be easier for me to handle. The room was very much like what is used in Reiki with the New Age music and aromatherapy. I also hit it off with the masseuse, which really helped.

I have talked with numerous women who have had massages. They all told me how relaxing and “wonderful” massage was, but not one person told me about the spiritual elements of massage. (This was my only massage, so I guess it’s possible that I happened upon a place that incorporates spiritual elements and that it is not the norm. I’d love to hear from readers if this is typical or not.)

One of the first things the masseuse did was place hot stones at two of my chakras, and they stayed there throughout the massage while I was lying on my back. We got to talking about spiritual healing, Reiki, etc. (I was also thrilled that I did not have to lie there quietly for 90 minutes. I was much more relaxed having a dialogue with the masseuse.)

The hot stones felt really great. Having the massage helped me to recognize that my body is not my enemy. I wrestle with hating my body because it was the gateway to harm – my abusers traumatized my body and caused emotional pain. Being in my body felt wonderful during the massage and helped me make the connection that being in my body can be a good thing.

It was much easier for me to stay present after the massage for the rest of the evening. I enjoyed the view of the waterway over dinner so much more than I would have if I had not stayed present.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled How to Move Past Betrayal by a Mother Figure, a reader posted the following question:

Question: Are you able to create an alter part as an adult? I’ve never been diagnosed as DID, only have severe PTSD….am I able to create an alter “good mother” part to help comfort me when in need? Or is it simply a visualization technique? ~ AllyValentino

I can only speak for myself – I started creating alter parts when I was very young, and I have always held onto the ability to do so. So, yes, I do have the ability today to create an alter part if I feel that I need one. This is not something I choose to do very often, but it was incredibly healing for me to create a “good mother” alter part at the time that I did. I used that alter part in ways to meet my needs.

I would visualize her rocking my frightened parts when I was triggered. I would practice making eye contact with her as she said the words, “I love you,” to me. I still cannot do that with anyone in real life, but I find “receiving” love that way to be incredibly powerful and healing. When I have insomnia, I will visualize the “good mother” sitting next to my bed or outside my door with a shotgun in hand. I trust that she will keep me safe (even though I know she is just an alter part) and am able to sleep.

My guess is that anyone could do similar visualizations and potentially reap some benefits, although I cannot speak for anyone else since my experience is different. I have used visualization in powerful ways without creating alter parts, such as visualizing sitting in a chair across from my deceased father and telling him the things that I needed him to hear. There were no alter parts involved, but the visualization helped me achieved much-needed closure. For this reason, I am hopeful that doing a similar visualization could be healing for some of you who do not have alter parts.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This past week has been an incredibly intense and empowering week for me. After dealing with feelings of despair in the prior weeks, I decided to fight back. I went to the gym every day this week. I did yoga and meditation four days. (I would have done five days, but my son’s school sent him home for an alleged fever although he had no cold symptoms whatsoever at home.) I did my Bible study. I took an afternoon off to rest and nap. (I try to take a full day each week, but I was too triggered and wound up to take the morning off. However, I did still go to the gym.)

My experience this past week has been being triggered and fighting my way back to calm. Triggered…fighting…calm…triggered…fighting…calm. I feel like a Weeble Wobble that keeps getting knocked down but then still winds up in an upright position. I decided to write this blog entry while I am in a calm place. I don’t know how long it will last, but I plan to savor it as long as it lasts.

My therapist told me that I will never “get over” the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Instead, I will learn how to manage it better. Instead of being triggered for weeks, I will recover within hours or days. I found that very hard to believe in therapy, but he was right. I think this is why some of you have commented that my blog seems much more hopeful that what I write when I am in my dark places. While in the dark place, it feels like I have always been there and always will be. However, the bad times really don’t last that long. I don’t think I give myself enough credit.

Through this recent experience, I have learned that I simply cannot skimp on my healing tools. I must go to the gym at least three days a week (and preferably five). I must do yoga and meditation as close to daily as possible. I need to be doing Bible study at least a couple of times a week. I also need to get back to playing the piano. (Thank you to the reader who reminded me of the beauty of playing a musical instrument!)

It all gets back to the battle of the wolves going on inside of me (and inside of each of us). I have to feed my good wolf. I do this by taking care of myself, being compassionate to myself, and bringing joy and rest into my day-to-day life. It is so easy for me to buy into “The Voice” in my head that repeats my abusers’ lies. The more I take care of myself, the easier I find it to fight off The Voice. However, the more I skimp on my tools, the louder The Voice becomes, and it drags me right back down into the well of darkness and despair.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Here is what I am wrestling with right now. I hope that someone has an answer or a suggestion for me…

My healthiest state of being is staying present in my life. When I am able to stay present, my weight drops very quickly because I only eat until I am no longer hungry. Weight loss is effortless. The issue isn’t just weight, though. When I stay present, I am not so tense and intense. I am able to appreciate the little things, such as the warmth of the sun or the beautiful blue sky. Life feels like it is worth living when I can stay present in my body.

Thanks to so many illnesses in my family immediately followed by another deep layer of healing work to do (including lots of flashbacks, nightmares, and body memories), I am having trouble getting back to staying present. I am not binge eating anywhere near what I have done in the past, so my weight isn’t too bad (fluctuating by about five pounds – in past years, I could jump 10 to 20 pounds in a very short period of time). However, because I am having trouble staying present, I am also having trouble determining when I am no longer hungry. That’s a real problem when I eat out on the weekends, and restaurant portions are so much larger than my body needs.

This isn’t just about weight, although I am frustrated with that part of my life. It’s also about losing touch with the beauty of being alive. I have only had three or four “good” days since November, and that is too low of a ratio to make it feel like all of my hard work is worth it. There really isn’t another choice – my subconscious is going to keep spewing out these memories no matter what I do – but this hard work would seem more purposeful if there was some sort of payoff, and the payoff I am looking for is more than 3 or 4 “good” days every four months, which basically breaks down to one good day a month or a 1:30 ratio of good days to bad ones. That’s not okay with me.

I know the key is to get back to staying present, but how do I do that? How do I stay present while, at the same time, sorting through so many hellish memories and emotions? I worked out this morning, including yoga and meditation. Those tools will help, but I don’t know if they will be enough or not. I need a way to convince myself that I can stay present and work through the past issues at the same time. How do I do that? Just looking forward to the absence of physical or emotional pain from time to time is not enough for me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am not typically one for making a New Year’s Resolution. Quite frankly, I don’t need the pressure – I don’t need one more thing to make me feel badly about myself when I mess up. So, I am not going to call this my New Year’s Resolution. Instead, it will be my “goal” for 2011.

My New Year’s “Goal” for 2011 is mindfulness. I want to make a conscious effort to “stay present” as much as I can throughout the year. I know I am going to mess up, so this isn’t a New Year’s Resolution. I recognize that after living most of my life in a dissociated state, it is not going to be possible to “flip a switch” in my head and suddenly be mindful all of the time. In fact, I am not sure if being mindful 100% of the time is even possible.

Instead, this is just a goal I have for myself in 2011 (and hopefully beyond that). I want to get in the habit of returning my focus to the present moment. I want to stop spending my time fretting about the past and worrying about the future. Of course, there is always time for reflection as well as planning, but I don’t want that to be my “normal” state of being.

This is a big leap for me after the weeks I had during the holidays. I was constantly triggered and doing everything I could to stay away from the present. However, the holidays are now over, and it is time for me to get back to living in my body again.

As I write this, I am recovering from a cold, so staying in my body is more of a challenge right now. I really need to be able to do yoga, exercise, and engage in other activities that help me want to be in my body. However, I have to start somewhere, so I am doing the best I can until I can physically engage in these activities again. I am reaching toward this goal through self-love, not through self-hatred.

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution or goal this year? If so, what was it? Have you built in room for falling down and getting back up again?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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As I write this, I have been focusing on trying to stay present (mindfulness) for roughly 10 days. I thought I would share my observations so far and then check in from time to time on my progress. (Yes, I am hoping to continue to make progress!)

First, mindfulness is definitely a skill to be developed. I have a leg up on many people because I had practice staying present (at least during meals) for 11 months a few years back before a big trigger derailed my progress. It has taken me this long to get back to it. Because I had 11 months of practice being mindful (at least at mealtimes), doing this does not feel as foreign as it did the first time. Still, it is a skill, and I have to focus and recognize when I have “slipped.” Not being present feels very “normal” to me, so I have to stay mindful about being mindful.

Some of the results I expected after 10 days are already happening. I am effortlessly eating less, and my body is gradually losing weight. I have lost three pounds since I started staying present, and that includes going on a four-day trip. (I tend to gain weight or, at best, hold steady, when I travel due to eating out so much.) The compulsion to overeat is not magically gone, but it is frequently not present during meals.

When I feel the urge to overeat, I am following Geneen Roth’s advice in Women Food and God and asking myself why I feel the need to overeat right now. I focus on staying present and observe how my body is feeling. I find that I frequently feel ice in my stomach at night, which is when I most struggle with the urge to overeat. I believe that is my body’s reaction to terror – the terror I felt as a little girl at night – and I am trying to comfort the terror. For me, expressing and integrating the terror has been one of the more challenging emotions, which might explain the continued presence of “ice in my stomach.”

I have been surprised by some results so far that I did not see coming – I have not felt the need for Xanax or wine since I started focusing on staying present. I typically drink a glass of wine in the evenings or take a Xanax, doubly so at this time of year when I tend to be easily triggered. The surprising part is that I had not even noticed the absence of Xanax or wine. It just hit me yesterday that it has been over a week since I have taken either, and one or the other has been a staple every evening for a month or two.

Another surprise is the change in my dreams. Since I have begun focusing on staying present, I have stopped having intense nightmares. Intense nightmares have been such a normal part of my life that I had just accepted that that always would be. I no longer bother showering before bed because I am so used to awakening in terror with night sweats that I just have to bathe again in the morning, anyhow. It occurred to me that I haven’t had any intense nightmares in a while. I continue to dream, and they are certainly not dreams of bunnies and marshmallows, but they aren’t intense dreams that make my heart race.

Also, I have had no issues whatsoever with insomnia since I started practicing mindfulness. I am more relaxed when I go to bed, and I have been falling asleep fairly quickly. Most nights, I sleep straight through until morning. My “normal” pattern has always been to awaken from a nightmare at around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. with my heart racing, and I had trouble falling back to sleep. I would sometimes have to take a Xanax to succeed.

I recognize that I am only 10 days into this new way of living, but I am encouraged by all of the changes that I am seeing. I am doubly surprised because this time of year (during the holidays) is typically a very difficult time of year for me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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