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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.

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7/29/05

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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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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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Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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