Archive for March, 2008

Microscopic ViewI have received so much positive feedback about my series on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) that I have decided to continue writing on this topic. I have received comments and questions about integration.

I went back through my journal and found something I posted on Isurvive back in July of 2005. I had recently recovered the memory of being vaginally raped by a man, and that was the truth that I had most deeply repressed. Since I started healing in November 2003, I had told myself that I could handle any memory that came along as long as I was never vaginally raped. I had recovered quite a few traumatizing memories, but I was not ready to face that truth.

When I finally did face that even this was taken from me, I took it very hard. My host personality was inconsolable because I had built my identity (my identity = the host personality’s identity) around being a virgin until marriage. However, once I accepted this truth, I no longer had a reason to keep the host personality separate. I was ready to integrate.

The post was very long, so I will post a little each day. It will take four days to read through all of it. I hope what I recorded back then will be helpful to those of you who are struggling with DID and questioning what integration will feel like.



What I am about to share is the biggest breakthrough I have had in my healing process. I hope that I can put it into words because I can see where it can be very confusing for someone who isn’t experiencing it.

Before I get started, I have to say something that will affect all future posts. I have been using “Faith Anne” to represent [real first name] [real middle name]. My multiple system has embraced the name “Faith” as “me” – the sum total of the parts. So, from now on, my [real first name] will be referred to as Faye (system likes it because it is close to “fake”). So, here’s the breakdown:

* Faye = [real first name] = host personality who was clueless about the abuse
* Anne = [real middle name]
* Annie = Original soul = inner child who went to sleep
* Faith = The sum total of the parts = core = “me”

As you know, Faye took a huge blow a couple of days ago when she learned that her virginity was taken when she was 8. Faye has been inconsolable because being a virgin was such a big part of her identity. This is because this is what the multiple system needed her to think. Faye had an important role to play. She was the “host personality” – the one who was “out” whenever there was no abuse occurring. The system’s and body’s survival depended upon having an innocent personality who interacted with the world when the body wasn’t being abused. Faye was a virgin all along – she was never “out” when the abuse occurred. Her first time really was with her husband.

Continued here.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtIntegration is the way to heal from DID. While many people find ways to live successfully as “multiples” by teaching their alter parts how to “share,” choosing to stay a multiple means choosing to stay separate. Alter parts are created through self-rejection. The only true way to heal is through self-love, and self-love comes from self-acceptance. Accepting each alter part as “me” is the key to healing from DID and integrating back into a “singleton.”

Integration is very hard work, so nobody should judge a person who chooses not to embark upon this difficult journey. Integration means facing once and for all that there was not a legion of “people” standing up to the abusers. There was only me, a helpless little girl who had no power. Integration also means facing that all of these horrible things happened to me. I can no longer live in denial by viewing the memories from the perspective of someone else being harmed. It was my body and my spirit that were harmed. Integration also means losing the illusion that a part of myself was spared from the abuse. No part remained innocent. That is a hard truth to face.

Despite all of the struggles, integration is an amazing experience. After living a lifetime of feeling as if I only occupied a small sliver of my body, I now live in my full body. Integration felt as if I could finally put my arms down after holding them up in the air for 30+ years. Even with the pain of holding all of my own memories, the underlying melancholy that I experienced throughout my life has been replaced with an underlying peace. It feels great to love and accept every single part of myself as “me.”

Integration comes with a price. I now have access to all of the memories from my extremely painful childhood, and that can be hard to face at times. I rejected those memories in the first place because they were so unbelievably painful. However, as I have focused on healing each traumatic event and the accompanying emotions, I remember the experiences in a different way. They no longer carry the punch they once did, and I view them from the perspective of knowing that I survived them.

Learning how to feel multiple emotions at once was a challenge for me. Ambivalence was a new experience for me because I was used to feeling very black and white about things. If I had mixed emotions, then one alter part would hold the black while another held the white. Conflict solved. However, integration has been amazing because I now face my emotions and memories against the backdrop of all of my life experiences. So, if I friend violates my trust, I no longer have the “pure” feeling of devastation and betrayal that I used to have. Instead, I can process the pain against the backdrop of all of my other life experiences, which makes the pain much more bearable.

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Green plant (c) Lynda BernhardtI have heard Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) described as a “create your own disorder” disorder, so it can manifest in many ways. Unless a person’s experience meets the criteria laid out in the DSM-IV for DID, the person is not diagnosed with DID, even though her multiple system might be just as complex. Those situations are labeled as DD-NOS (Dissociative Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).

Most people with DID have a host personality, which is the part that the person identifies as “me.” That part is not the original inner child. Instead, this is an “innocent” alter part that was created to perpetuate the illusion of innocence despite the abuse. That part stays present most of the time when no abuse (or threat of abuse) is present. However, when the threat of abuse triggers other alter parts to take over, the host personality is tucked away safely inside, which is why people with DID lose time. After a person integrates the host personality, she ceases to lose time. The host personality either has no awareness of the abuse or is only aware of the tip of the iceberg.

Most people with DID also have alter parts that hold their repressed anger. This is the part that creates so much buzz in the movies. When that part is triggered, a lifetime of repressed anger surfaces, and the person can wind up appearing to overreact to the circumstances. In actuality, the reaction is completely rational in relation to the abuse that the child suffered. When this alter part is triggered, the person feels anger in isolation without the backdrop of all other life experiences, so the feelings can be very intense.

Some people with DID have alter parts that are animals. Those alter parts are protector parts to help the child feels safe. They are frequently an animal that the child would have found scary, such as a wolf or a snake. The person might lose time at night because an alter part is present to “protect” the child while she sleeps.

Alter parts come in all shapes and sizes, and they correlate with the child’s experiences. Some are very young because they stopped developing at the age in which the abuse occurred. These child alter parts hold the person’s unmet needs from childhood. Some are protector parts, such as animals or large men. Others hold grief or terror. Truddi Chase, author of the book When Rabbit Howls, had a rabbit alter part that came out to experience the worst abuses. Whenever Rabbit was triggered, she would howl like a wounded rabbit, which is where the book gets its title.

All of these parts together hold the child’s life experiences. All of these parts fit together like pieces of a puzzle. None of the parts is “good” or “bad” – they just “are.” They broke apart because the experiences were too severe for the child to handle in isolation. By creating alter parts, the child had the illusion of not being alone. This is one reason that many “multiples” (people with DID) resist the idea of integration. They see integration as “killing off” their friends. In actuality, integration is a gift that enables all of the parts to be “out” all the time. Integration is the ultimate act of self-love.

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtOne of the biggest misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is that the person has two or more “people” sharing a body. This is not correct. Instead, the person has compartmentalized her memories and emotions to such a degree that they feel foreign or as if they are “not me.” Every separate part is a part of the whole person.

When a very young child (under age six) experiences trauma, she has no way to fight back. Her body is too little to have a chance of fighting off her abusers. Her only option is to flee into her own head. While the abuse is happening, she distances herself from the abuse in her head. This is called dissociation. She tells herself that the abuse is happening to “someone else.” A very young child has the ability to compartmentalize that experience by “splitting off” that experience from her conscious memory. This skill enables her to behave as if the trauma had not just occurred immediately afterward.

Immediately after the abuse happens, the child does not process or even think about what just occurred. Instead, she separates that experience from her conscious mind. The part of herself that she has “rejected” becomes its own little capsule from that experience. Some of the capsules are small, holding only one emotion or experience. Those capsules are called personality fragments. Other capsules are larger and manifest as alter personalities. All of these are called alter parts. Personality fragments are one-dimensional while alter personalities are three-dimensional.

The purpose of an alter personality is to protect the inner child. By splitting off the painful experiences and emotions, the inner child is able to continue to function as if the abuse had not occurred. This enables the child to perpetuate the illusion of innocence after innocence is taken. The part of the child that interacts with the world (which is called the host personality) is generally an innocent part that is shielded from the abuse. The child “blacks out” when the abuse is occurring because alter personalities take over to experience the abuse. The child winds up with holes in her memory because she is “not there” when the abuse is happening.

A multiple system like this (having alter parts) is a highly functional way of surviving ongoing and severe trauma. Instead of being “freaky,” DID is ingenious. If prisoners of war had the ability to do this while being tortured, I am confident that they would do it, too. It is only when the abuse ends that DID becomes dysfunctional.

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Tree branch (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Thanks to Hollywood’s portrayal of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), most people think of a person with DID as “crazy” with a mental illness in which they are completely unpredictable. One person who read Truddi Chase’s book, When Rabbit Howls, commented about how amazed she was that Truddi was able to be a successful business woman while having DID.

If you understand the profile of a person with DID, you will realize that this is not “amazing” or surprising. DID is an amazing coping tool that enables a young child to survive extreme trauma, so why is it surprising that the same child would grow into an adult who was successful in business?

If I could survive extreme trauma as a little girl, why is it surprising that I can succeed in whatever I set my mind to as an adult? Anyone who knows me in my off-line life will tell you how organized I am. People marvel at how I am able to juggle as many things as I do in a given day. I am very active in my church, my kid’s school, with my new adoption website, and my friends, and I still set aside time to nurture myself through yoga, meditation, and exercise. I make daunting tasks look easy. This is not in spite of my DID history; it is because of it.

If you look up DID in the DSM-IV, you will see the following description of the disorder:

  • Person has two or more distinct identities
  • At least two identities take control of the person’s behavior
  • Loss of time or unexplained forgetfulness, like finding clothes in the closet that you don’t remember buying

I am paraphrasing for brevity, but that is the basic gist.

That description comes from observation from the outside by people who have not experienced DID. My profile would be much different. This profile is based upon my own experience as well as those of the many people with DID that I have met and/or read about over the years:

  • Began experiencing ongoing and severe trauma before age 6
  • Fear they are fundamentally warped in the head
  • Feel detached from their emotions
  • Inability to trust
  • Intelligent
  • Large holes in childhood memories
  • People-pleaser (tries to be who others want them to be)
  • Reject parts of themselves with strong emotions (particularly anger and grief)
  • Sometimes say or feel things that seem to come from “somewhere else”
  • Strong will to survive
  • Underlying feeling of melancholy without knowing the cause

Rather than having “two people” sharing a body, all of the parts make up one “person.” DID is nothing more that compartmentalization in order to endure severe trauma.

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Sunlight shining through trees (c) Lynda BernhardtI am going to spend this week focusing on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly knows as Multiple Personality Disorder. For some reason, this topic is harder for me to talk about, especially because I have some off-line friends who know about this personal blog but do not know about my history with DID. (I guess they do now!!)

You would think that after discussing heavy topics like mother-daughter sexual abuse and animal rape that talking about DID would be easy, but it is not. The abuses were done to me, whereas the DID is something that I did to myself in reaction to the abuse. Also, thanks to Hollywood, most people think that DID = freak, and I don’t want people thinking of me as a freak.

I have chosen to talk about DID for two reasons. The first is that people who are struggling with DID need to know that they can fully integrate and heal. Unless people who have fully integrated from DID (like me) speak out, then others struggling with DID will question whether or not full healing is even possible. I searched for this answer myself because I was not willing to rest until I was fully integrated. However, I found very limited support for the hope of integrating.

Many people with DID, like Truddi Chase, the author of When Rabbit Howls, choose not to integrate and, instead, learn how to make the parts work together to be functional. Others, like in the book Beyond Integration by Doris Bryant and Judy Kessler, offered the hope of integration but with limitations. I was not willing to settle for limitations. I wanted to know that full healing was possible.

I finally found that reassurance in an article on the Sidran Institute website called Understanding Integration by Rachel Downing. This article is a “must read” for anyone with DID. This article served as my roadmap to complete healing from DID.

My other reason for speaking out is because my silence on the subject will only perpetuate the myths that society has about DID. They will think that The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil are indicative of what DID is like. Most people that I know think that DID is a mental illness with multiple people sharing a body, and that is simply not true. DID is simply an extreme form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a disorder caused by trauma, not a mental illness. By “going public” with being someone who has recovered from DID, I can encourage some people and educate the rest. So, with trepidation, I will step out and write about this topic.

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Fire (c) Rosanne MooneyMany people who suffered child abuse struggle with night terrors. Unfortunately, that is my story, too. I still remember my first night terror back in college. I awoke as an anxious mess in the safety of my dorm, but I could not even cry about it without waking up my roommate. The night terror haunted me for years. To this day, I can get worked up if I think about that one.

Night terrors are different from nightmares, and you can definitely tell the difference when you have one. They occur in a different stage of sleep, making it much more difficult to pull yourself out of the dream. I have had night terrors in which I have tried to wake myself up at least seven times in the dream, only to find myself still stuck in that scary place. For me, this drives home the reality of how unsafe I was as a child.

I have had many night terrors over the years. All of my night terrors tie into the child abuse. I had another one last night, which is why I am writing about it this morning. I am still very shaken and will likely stay anxious and “off” for the rest of the day. Happy Easter, Faith. I believe that Easter is what caused the night terror. I suffered from ritual abuse as a child, and Easter is one of the days that ritual abusers desecrate through their sick ceremonies.

My night terror was all about the ritual abuse. In the dream, I was sleeping in my bed when I heard/sensed someone entering my room. I opened my eyes and saw a hooded man, and all I could see of his face was eyes glowing out of the darkness of the hood. This was the way my ritual abusers dressed (without the glowing eyes), and it scared the h@#$ out of me.

I tried to wake myself up, and I “woke up” in my dream to see sunlight shining through the blinds. I looked at the clock and saw that it said 6:00 a.m. I knew I had no chance of falling back to sleep unless I did things to comfort myself, so I got up and went to the closet. I took out a comforter and focused on feeling the material to make sure I was really awake. Then, I took out a blanket and did the same thing. I piled both on my bed and snuggled up under them. (Piling on lots of covers makes me feel safe because I always knew more abuse was coming when I felt the absence of covers on my body as a child.)

I closed my eyes to sleep and sensed the presence of more people again. I opened my eyes and panicked when I saw two hooded figures with glowing eyes coming for me. I jumped up and tried to force myself awake. I even clawed my face to make sure I would wake up. Again, sunlight was shining through the window. I looked at the clock, and it had been turned off. I banged it on my night stand several times, but it would not work. I clawed myself again and then went to the closet and removed the blankets, focusing on their feel to make sure I was awake. I laid back down to sleep.

Once again, I sensed the presence of the hooded figures, and they were there when I opened my eyes. I heard a young child and reached out to grab and protect the child from them. I said, “It’s okay, ____ (younger sister),” and the child said, “No, mom. It’s me, ___ (my son).” Before I could completely panic about protecting my son from the hooded figures, my body jolted into my son, who had climbed into my bed during the night, and I woke up for real. Fortunately, my son had his elbow aimed right at me, and my body jerking into it woke me up. Thank goodness.

The weird thing is that I did exactly what I did in my dream. I looked at the clock, which said 1:00 a.m. There was no sunlight shining through the blinds. I got out the comforter and the blanket and piled it onto my bed. I was shaken as I tried to sleep. I am still shaky this morning.

If you struggle with night terrors and have lucid dreaming (where you know that you are in a dream), try screaming. That is how I usually wind up getting myself out of the night terrors. When I scream in the night terror, I have no voice, which freaks me out. However, if I keep trying, eventually my body will make a noise, and that will be enough to pull me out.

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Looking out over ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than to hear people make sweeping generalizations about the overall “goodness” of mothers. Fathers can be piles of manure, but all mothers are presumed to have “done the best they could.” That is a bunch of BS, and I cannot help but rise to the bait whenever this is said around me.

This most recently happened at a book club meeting last week. We were discussing the book The Glass Castle, which is a memoir about Jeannette Walls’ childhood while being raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother. While the children were digging through dumpsters in order to find something to eat, the mother was gaining weight eating chocolate bars that she hid in the house. Both parents did numerous things that were extremely neglectful to the children, and yet people seemed to have more sympathy for the mom because “she did the best she could.”

No, she did not.

Even with the limitations of mental illness, she could have left her children in the care of her mother (the children’s grandmother), who had plenty of money and food to meet the children’s basic physical needs. She could have shared her chocolate bars with her four children instead of stuffing her own face while her children starved. She could have done whatever it took to provide food for her children or put the children into foster care, where they would have had food to eat and a bed not made out of cardboard.

Whenever people say, “She did the best she could,” I think about all of the things that my mother did. People want to excuse her because of her mental illness, but there is no excuse. When I started recovering memories of the abuse and realized that I had amnesia about much of my life, I feared that I could have harmed my then-two-year old child and not remembered. I told my therapist that if I recovered any memories of harming my son, I would kill myself to save him from me. I meant it. That would have been doing the best that I could. My therapist assured me that I would never harm my son, and he is correct. I would do whatever it took to keep him safe, even if it meant taking my own life.

Instead, I take comfort from this saying:

Just because someone doesn’t love you with all that you need, doesn’t mean she isn’t loving you with all that she has. – Author unknown

I do believe that my mother loved me with all that she had. Unfortunately, she was very limited. However, I will never agree that she did the best she could because she did not.

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Plant (c) Lynda BernhardtIn my last post, No Big “Bomb” in Letter from Mother/Abuser, I shared that my mother/abuser wrote me a letter in the hopes of getting us to reconcile. That is not going to happen until she takes responsibility for the pain she inflicted and allowed others to inflict upon me. She was the common denominator to all of the abuses that I suffered. My most severe abuses never would have happened if she had not provided my abusers access to me. She has a lot to take responsibility for, and she has made no effort to do so.

I really do not believe that my mother has a conscious memory of the abuse. I sort of confronted her once when I was in my early twenties. She did something that really upset me. I screamed at her, “You already f@#$ed me as a child. I am not going to let you f@#$ me as an adult.” She hung up the phone and grabbed a gun, intending to blow her brains out. She pulled through her initial reaction and (obviously) did not kill herself. To this day, she has blocked out what we were arguing about. (I remember every detail.) Her version is that I called her on the phone and “was nasty to her.” I was so mean that she wanted to kill herself, but then she decided not to.

My therapist strongly believes that confronting my mother would accomplish nothing other than causing her to have a psychotic breakdown requiring institutionalization. I believe he is correct. I do not want to feel responsible for whom she might harm during such a breakdown. So, my choice not to confront her is a kindness both to her and anyone with whom she might come into contact.

All of this is hard. I hear my friends talk about spending time with their mothers and relying on their mothers, and I feel an emptiness inside of myself. I have found ways to be okay because I had to be, but there will always be a part of myself that wishes I had a mother – not the woman who gave birth to me but an actual mother.

I will sometimes have dreams about women who are nurturing to others in real life, and they will be my mother in my dreams. I do not necessarily want them to fill this role in real life. I know that it is too late for another person to enter into my life and nurture me the way that I needed. This is more about grieving my losses.

I have no parents. My father is dead, and my mother is as good as dead to me. I feel like an orphan, although unlike orphans, I do not have much to miss. I do not grieve the loss of my parents. Instead, I grieve the absence of parenting that I needed. I needed to know unconditional love as a child, and I never knew it other than through what my baby sister provided. I needed to have a safe place to fall, but I was never safe – neither physically nor emotionally. And yet, somehow, I have found a way to be okay.

Grief is not something you “get over.” Instead, it is something you “get through.” You find a way to be okay despite the holes in your heart. However, even after grieving, the holes are still there. Sometimes I wonder if my heart looks like Swiss cheese.

Related Topic:

Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

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Spider web (c) Lynda BernhardtI have written quite a bit about mother-daughter sexual abuse and specifically about my confused feelings toward my mother. I have neither seen nor talked to my mother since December 2003 (by my choice). My mother would like to change this, but I am not ready. Honestly, I don’t know if I will ever be ready.

I have worked out a system where my mother may write to me monthly as long as she keeps the subject about day-to-day stuff and not about the past. I don’t want to have to read yet another apology for not being my Brownie scout leader when that is insignificant compared to the massive abuses she inflicted and allowed others to inflict upon me. Until she “gets” how badly she damaged me, I really do not think I can invest any energy into a relationship with her.

I am also at a loss as to why I would want to other than that “she’s my mom.” So what? Her being my mom did not make her protect me or nurture me. So, of what value would it be to bring her back into my life? I get that she would feel better about herself and less like a “bad mom,” but I fail to see the value that this would bring into my life. I am doing well without her in my life, so why would I want to change this?

Anyhow, my sister is still in touch with our mother, even though she suffered the same abuses that I did. My sister’s opinion is that nothing should drive a child away from a mother and that no person, not even our mother, deserves to be alone. My estrangement from my mother can be uncomfortable for my sister at times, but that is her issue, not mine.

My mother told my sister that she wanted to see me again. My mother has tried different tactics, including ceasing to write in the hopes that I will pick up the phone and call her. She has telephoned me one time regarding a medical question. Thank goodness I was not home and only heard the message on the answering machine because her call triggered a food binge. She periodically writes to ask if we can talk things through. The answer is no – not until she takes responsibility for her actions. Until she does this, there is no point in talking about stuff that doesn’t matter.

So, a few weeks ago, my mother told my sister that she was going to try something else. She was going to write a letter that would compel me to call her. Good luck with that. So, it was with trepidation that I opened her latest letter. I know that she cannot “force” me to do anything any more, but I still revert back to that scared little girl whenever I have any form of contact with her, even in a letter. Fortunately, there was nothing significant in the letter. Whew. She told me that she disconnected her phone but sent me her cell number and invited me to call her sometime. I can handle a message like that.

So, I feel like I have dodged a bullet for now. I know that something else will be coming in the future, but I can breathe easy for the moment.

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Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse

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