Dear Controller

Dear Controller

We go way back.  Don’t get me wrong, I go way back with the other parts too, but you are the one I remember the most.  You are the one I always heard, always followed, always believed.  Honestly, you are the one I thought was me.  You sound exactly like me, or at least I thought you did.  You are so logical and rational.  You sound just like all the other adults I know.  You know all the rules of society.  You know the laws.  You know how to avoid the pitfalls of life.  You sound just like what I was told I should be.  Why wouldn’t I think you were me?

Of course, I know you ARE me.  You are the part who took all the messed up experiences and created the perfect mask for me to use when I faced the horrible, evil, untrustworthy world.  You use incredibly detail-oriented skills to watch the world like very few can.  You are the best project manager ever (if I do say so myself).  You never miss an appointment.  You are never late.  You make things happen no matter what.  Honestly, you are impressive.

But there were issues.  You know what I mean.  How many times did the boss compare you to a “bull in a china shop”?  He would laugh, but we knew he meant it.  There is a dark side to your regime.  You don’t do relationships.  You don’t do people.  It would be fair to say you chew them up and spit them out.  If they get in your way, you plow right through them.  You don’t care who likes you and who doesn’t.  It is about finishing what you start, getting stuff done, beating the clock.  The people don’t matter. read more…

You Might Not See It But It’s There

You Might Not See It But It’s There

I have many clients who struggle with the possibility they can be loving, compassionate, grounded, patient and any other characteristic they need for recovery work.  They tell me they can’t possibly be this way because they have never been shown how to be that way.  Their parents didn’t behave that way, and they certainly haven’t felt any inkling of those characteristics since entering adulthood.  And I really get it.  When I started this journey, I felt the same way.

How in the world was I going to parent my inner and outer children when nobody ever parented me?  How was I going to love myself (or anyone else) when nobody ever loved me?  How was I going to be compassionate with my inner parts when nobody ever gave me the benefit of the doubt?  How was I going to have patience after a lifetime of fear, of watching everything I ever loved be ripped from my grasp?  That wasn’t possible.  I was basically screwed.  Recovery would never work for me.

But for some reason, I didn’t give up.  Those beliefs were strong, but I sensed there was something else.  It was a tiny something else, but it was still there.  For some reason, I had a semblance of understanding that I could learn these things.  I had an even smaller semblance of understanding that I already knew these things.  So I stuck with the idea that something better was possible.

And as we do when we live in our heads, I spent an exorbitant amount of time researching things.  I thought I could teach myself how to be what I wasn’t.  I read the parenting experts.  And believe me, there are some awesome parenting experts.  I read the spiritual folks.  I read so many spiritual books, I went in to bypass at times.  I learned what it was supposed to look like.  I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe I can just fake it.  I know what it needs to look like, so that should be enough right?”  Wrong.  Love, compassion and patience cannot be faked … not forever … and certainly not in parenting. read more…

Changing Relational Patterns

Changing Relational Patterns

4 Reasons We Struggle in Relationship & 4 Things We Can Do About It

Let’s face it.  Relational trauma leads to less-than-stellar relational patterns.  And while some healing must happen in relationship, re-traumatization is almost guaranteed.  So as I mentioned in another post, there are some aspects of trauma recovery that must happen in isolation or with professional helpers only.  But when we are ready to venture in to the world of relationship again, we have to be aware of how we perpetuate our relationship patterns.  And believe me, that is painful.  It might be the most painful part of recovery.

So I want to take this opportunity to help you with it.  I want to show you some examples of how you might be perpetuating your trauma patterns based on your own expectations.  What do I mean?  When we expect the world to work a certain way, it does.  Now there a million reasons that statement might trigger you.  It sounds awfully victim-blamey.  It sounds very new-agey.  It sounds like you have tried that and it has failed.  But stay with me here.  Consider what I have to say about it.  It is not your conscious beliefs that are driving this fiasco.  It is your inner parts.  And while I love them dearly, they need to be taught some new things.  Their expectations are ruining lives.

So how do those expectations ruin your life?  Here are some examples. read more…

It’s Not About Perfection

It’s Not About Perfection

In my early life, my perfection mask was the best.  I covered up all of my insecurities with accomplishments and acquisitions.  But I had unconscious beliefs that I knew were the “truth”.  I unconsciously knew there was something horribly wrong with me.  I unconsciously knew that horrible things had happened to me.  I unconsciously knew it was my fault they happened to me.  So I was damaged.

But I didn’t consciously know until I was pregnant with my twins.  At that point, something started to shift.  My insecurities started to come forward.  My panic that my children would not be safe began rising from the depths of my repressed trauma.  I started to get in touch with my intuitive understanding that everything I thought was real was not real.

And by the time the twins were born, I was in a full panic most of the time.  I had no idea how to care for kids.  I knew I had not been taught by my own parents although I didn’t know why I knew that yet.  As the memories came back and the emotions were felt, I made several promises to my kids.  I would never traffic them.  I would never sexually abuse them or allow anyone else to do that.  I would never physically abuse them or allow anyone else to do that.  I would not neglect them.  I would love them unconditionally and be emotionally available to them.  I would be a real mother and protector.

I wanted to do these things because I didn’t want my children to feel as damaged as I felt.  I wanted them to feel safe in the world.  I wanted them to wake up each morning without the dread, the terror, the anxiety, the depression that haunted me.  I wanted this so bad.  I wanted this more than I wanted to stay alive.  But I was too late. read more…

5 Ways Groups Heal

5 Ways Groups Heal

I have been coaching trauma survivors for a few years and I love it.  I love it so much, I have been known to jump around my office and cheer for the amazing progress a client is making.  I love it so much, I struggle to find balance because I always want to check in with my email and Facebook.  It isn’t coming from obligation.  It is coming from purpose.  And I love that feeling, even when I have to focus on balance because of it.

But when the intuitive message came through loud and clear that I was supposed to start my first group, I was hesitant.  It was one thing to coach clients on a 1-on-1 basis, but it was very different to run a group.  Let’s face it, those of us with relational trauma can struggle in groups.  I wondered what I was getting myself into.  How many triggered survivors would I have to talk out of leaving the group?  How many times would I cringe as I watched conversations with varying opinions go in a defensive direction?  I worried.

Mostly, I worried whether or not I would be capable of moderating a group of survivors in a way that would feel safe.  I did not want to be a part of the problem.  I did not want to run a group that became another source of invalidation for a survivor.  I have heard the stories.  It’s hard to find a home when we already have a tendency to separate and isolate as a defense.  And when someone disagrees with us, we might take that all-or-nothing stance:

“We disagreed, so now they hate me.” read more…

Helping the Healing

Helping the Healing

I’m going to get real about helpers today.  Helpers can come in many forms.  They can be therapists, life coaches, energy workers, EFT practitioners, mentors and more.  All of these professionals have the potential to help trauma survivors.  But these relationships have the potential to get off track, to cause harm, to re-traumatize.  In social work school, I had one professor who had us frequently repeat the mantra, “Don’t sleep with your clients.”  It was sort of tongue and cheek and it sort of wasn’t.  But I am not talking about the obvious stuff today.

The stuff that throws us off guard is the stuff we don’t see coming.  Maybe we don’t see it because it is subtle.  Or maybe we don’t see it because we are repeating our unconscious patterns and haven’t developed awareness yet.  Either way, we can be thrown off our recovery path when we repeat patterns with our helpers.  So here is my list of what not to do if you are a helper or a help-seeker.

Helpers:

  1. Don’t deny a self-diagnosis. When a client is exploring whether a particular mental illness describes them, don’t dismiss it.  Your clients might have a tendency toward “catastrophizing” or even hypochondria, but examine it with them.  Explore the possibilities.  I find this to be especially necessary with dissociative identity disorder.  We have seen the Hollywood version of D.I.D. and we assume this means we would know immediately if we met someone with this disorder.  But that’s not true.  It can be very subtle.  Parts are great at disguising themselves, especially in front of helpers.  If you are thinking, “my client is not messed up enough to have that”, allow the exploration anyway.  You might be surprised.
  2. Don’t tell a client to avoid memory recovery. Let me put it another way.  Don’t tell a client they can heal without recovering their memories.  They can’t.  They locked those memories away with their emotions, and to fully heal, they have to recover the memories and feel the emotions.  Do they need to examine every minute of their childhood?    But they need to know the truth about what they went through and how that has impacted their belief systems.  So you may feel the need to advise a client against memory recovery for a variety of reasons, but don’t tell them they can heal without that work.
  3. Don’t tell a client to think positive to feel better. While managing thoughts are helpful in stopping the cycle of emotions feeding thoughts feeding emotions, thinking positive when we feel like crap is putting lipstick on a pig.  It is a mask and it doesn’t heal anything.  Allowing our traumatic emotions is the best thing we can do for our own healing.
  4. Do your own work. When we are invalidating our pain, we are likely to project that invalidation on to our clients.  If we haven’t allowed ourselves to feel the deep pain of our own past traumas, we can’t guide our clients through it.  I work with many helpers as clients.  I am proud they made the choice to go deeper.  I know they will heal more people because of their own healing.  There are many degrees you can get in the trauma field, but the most important expertise is your own healing experience.

read more…

We Must Feel Bad to Feel Good

We Must Feel Bad to Feel Good

The holidays are hard for survivors of trauma. I know that’s not a shocking statement. Our circumstances are usually less than stellar. Either we spend it without the majority of our family or we spend it with them but wish we hadn’t. Our external situation can create so much angst.

In the past several years, I have come to terms with my holiday situation. I have come to enjoy my small holiday gatherings, usually involving one or two friends and my children. I really do like it. It is so much less complicated. And there is room for the creation of my own traditions. All the fretting I did about my kids getting the bad end of the family deal has been for naught. My kids don’t know what they are missing. And believe me, that’s a good thing. That family sucks.

But there’s another side to the holidays for survivors. It is the unpredictable inner world. You never know when it will rear its head. For me, I was introduced to a new part on Thanksgiving Day. He seemed like a pretty amiable part in the scheme of things. I was okay with this part. I was working through the memories and emotions without too much fanfare or resistance. It’s never pleasant, but I was doing okay with it. But two days before Christmas, it all took a turn for the worst. The expression from this part made a massive shift. It got nasty. I came to understand this part was repeating my father’s words, but I didn’t know that at first.

I was inundated with the horrific language and emotions associated with the “yuck” that was my childhood … on Christmas Eve … on Christmas Day. I was attempting to hold together the massive Christmas responsibilities of a single mother while living in a nasty memory. I was able to work through Christmas as best I could, but there were parenting fails and mood swings and exhaustion to contend with. The past emotions were convincing and my external circumstances seemed to support them. I could certainly justify them in my head. read more…

It’s Not Fair

It’s Not Fair

5 Reasons Recovery is Not Fair & 3 Things You Can Do About It

During the past ten years, I have been on a recovery journey full of miracles and pain which surpassed my greatest imagination.  And over the past three years, I have worked with many survivors of trauma who are taking their own trek to find a better way of living.  I have learned many lessons about life from my own journey and the journeys of others.  But there is one life lesson that rises to the top.

It’s not fair!

That may sound like the ranting of a two-year-old, but it’s also true.  There is nothing particularly fair about this life.  And when it comes to a childhood of trauma, it is the most unfair.  What do I mean?  I thought you would never ask.  I’ve been creating a list just to prove my point.

  1. We have to treat our inner parts like nobody ever treated us. You may have heard of the term “re-parenting” during your recovery journey.  It may have even triggered you.  How dare anyone suggest that you have to do the job your parents never did.  It isn’t fair that we have to be compassionate, accepting and loving to our inner parts when we never experienced it.  How are we supposed to do that?  How do we express love we never had?  Where do we start?
  2. There was nobody to save us in childhood and there is nobody to save us now. Despite our deep longing for a savior, human beings are not capable of saving another.  They may be able to do it for a while, but it is not sustainable.  It is not sustainable because it is a lie.  Our only path forward is to recognize the power within us, the fact that we are meant to save ourselves.  How do we recognize a power we lost so many years ago at the hands of abusers?  How do we find it again?
  3. We have to trust to heal, but we rarely knew anyone we could trust. After years of relational abuse, the idea of trusting others is absurd.  It is also highly unlikely to be fruitful in the early years of recovery.  We are still holding too much inner turmoil to attract trustworthy people.  But after some time in recovery, we have to dip our toe in the deep, scary waters of trust.  How are we supposed to trust after years and years of abuse, manipulation and victimization?  How do we allow it?
  4. We have to experience the same cycle of pain in adulthood until we heal. When it comes to healing, we can ignore it all we want.  But it isn’t going anywhere.  We will spend a lifetime in the patterns of our childhood until we recognize we have healing to do.  I affectionately refer to these patterns as baseball bats from the universe.  And they hit harder as we ignore them.  But when our trauma is unconscious, it feels like we are being victimized over and over with no explanation.  How do we see what we have trained ourselves not to see?
  5. We were abused in isolation and we must heal in isolation. Recovery is a lonely experience.  It is rare that we find others in recovery.  If we do, they may or may not be prepared to take their recovery as deep as we are willing to go.  And the people who prefer our pre-recovery self are almost never safe as we explore healing.  Not to mention, society has very little patience for expressing emotions and truth.  This leads to invalidating experiences at every turn.  It can become necessary to go it alone if we want to avoid triggering invalidation from others.  Once we become grounded in our new truth and have built positive relationships with our inner parts, we can start attracting healthy and validating people in to our lives, but it seems like too little too late.  Why can’t we have validation when we need it most?  Why can’t we feel less isolated in recovery?

read more…

Recovery is Complicated

Recovery is Complicated

Recovery is complicated. I know I am not saying anything new. You already get this. You would not read my blog if you had not determined this for yourself. But I feel the need to say it today. Today is a tough day because I have to face my “humanness”. I have to face my shame. I am not talking about the unwarranted shame. That shame is different. I am good at talking with my inner parts about that. I can have the inner conversation about how the abusers handed us their shame. I can talk about handing it back to them. We can let that go now.

This shame is harder. This shame is justified to a point. This shame is coming from my parts who have done bad things to good people in an attempt to stay safe. It might not have been blatant. It might have been very passive. But that doesn’t make it better. My inner parts have learned some interpersonal skills that are disturbing at best. They learned them because of a horrible past. They learned them from people who were supposed to care but never did. And it is important to understand that. But they used these skills at the wrong times with the wrong people. They used these skills in adulthood after safety had been established.

And while my job is to understand and accept my inner parts as much as possible, I have moments where I have to cringe. I have to ask my inner parts the question, “Really guys?” “Maybe that was overkill. Maybe we could have found another way. Maybe you could have left me in charge.” In reality, I know why they couldn’t. There were triggers. They were not small. But my initial response is to judge them. My initial response is to wonder why the hell I have been given the gift of D.I.D. even if it did keep me alive.

Today I left a voicemail for someone who was affected by several of these moments. I don’t know if she will respond. I have interacted with her since the incidents in question, but I was not consciously aware of how damaging my behavior had been. She was pretty darn kind considering what I know now. But that may have been forced. I would not be surprised if I didn’t hear from her. I can’t help but think two things. read more…

Getting Ahead

Getting Ahead

In the past year, life has been a little less predictable than I prefer.  I can sense my controller screaming under the surface of my daily life.  She is very unhappy about the direction I have taken my life.  From her perspective, she considers it to be a decline in circumstances.  I have gone from a well-paying corporate job with a 401K and quality health insurance to self-employment, no savings and intermittent health insurance.  I am living day by day, week by week, month by month.  And my controller hates it.

She lectures me every day about where the income will be to cover the next bills or the next emergency.  She reminds me of how mean the universe has always been to me.  She tells me I am crazy to trust my intuition when I have no proof it will work.  She considers my higher self to be another untrustworthy partner.  She believes I am being tricked and manipulated once again.  She is furious with my naiveté and inability to ensure safety at all costs.

Several years ago, when this conversation first started, I had no proof this plan would work.  The conversation was much different then.  All I could say was, “Let’s try it.  We can always choose to stop before it is too late.”  My controller thought that was stupid, but was willing to let me “waste away” my savings in the pursuit of stupidity.  But as the money diminished with very little proof of sustainability, she became more and more furious.  She considered it irresponsible and childish to “chase dreams” like this.  I was an adult and I needed to act like one.  I needed to stop playing with life in this way and get down to business.  I had responsibilities and I needed to attend to those.  For God’s sake, what would happen to my children if we were homeless?

I heard her loud and clear, but I kept going.  There were many sleepless nights listening to her tell me the world was ending.  And I’ll be honest, many times, I thought it was me.  It sounded like me.  The controller is pretty smart and logical in the scheme of things.  Everything she had to say sounded just like what society reinforces.  And that made it harder not to take the rants seriously. read more…

Beating Trauma

Stepping Up:

3 Steps to Overcoming the Awareness Challenge

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