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Archive for June, 2008

Bush and houses (c) Lynda BernhardtEven after doing all of the hard work of healing from child abuse and being in a place where I consider myself “healed,” I still sometimes have dreams about issues that arose from the child abuse. They are always intense, and I wake up feeling “off” in the morning.

Once upon a time, those kinds of dreams were my norm, so I feel grateful that they only happen every once in a while now. Also, it helps that I can analyze the dreams after I wake up and observe my progress.

When I used to have dreams about the abuse (which was pretty much every night), I was a victim and passive. Now, I fight back and feel much more in control.

Last night, I dreamt that I was in the house of my most sadistic abusers, S & L. I was using their bathroom. (Bathrooms are always a symbol that I am dealing with my most private thoughts and emotions.) I had trouble washing my hands in their sink because the faucet was this bizarre doll, and it was hard to turn the tiny handles on the doll’s body. I feared that I broke it but didn’t.

L (the husband) walked in. I apologized for the trouble with the doll faucet. He asked why I was using his bathroom. I told him it was the only one I could find in the house. I concentrated very hard on not blacking out. I did not want him to abuse me again.

Then, I was making love with hub. We stopped and decided to walk to a shopping center. He was fully dressed, and I was wearing nothing but a cheap white towel like the ones you get in hotel rooms. A group of men passed us walking the other way. One of them grabbed me and kept walking like it was no big deal. I tried to scream to hub, but as often happens in my dreams, I had no voice.

This kind of scenario played out a lot in my dreams in the past. Somebody would just “help himself” to my body. I would scream, but nobody would hear me. Sometimes my body would be immobilized so I would just lie their while another person – often a complete stranger – harmed me.

In this dream, I fought back. I could only move my head, so I bit the man as hard as I could in multiple places until he dropped me. That made my sister, who was suddenly in the dream next to hub, notice and come help me.

I felt shaky when I awoke, but I am pleased with the power that I am taking back in these kinds of dreams. I am a victim no longer. Nobody is going to take me without a fight.

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Purple plants (c) Lynda BernhardtOftentimes, the alter parts of people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) find themselves in conflict with one another. While movies like the remake of the movie Sybil give the impression that each alter part must “take a turn” being “out,” that was not my experience. Yes, there were many times that my host personality completely blacked out (such as during incidents of abuse). However, for the most part, my host personality would stay out while another alter part was co-present.

I can remember this happening from a young age. When I was around eight years old, I was sketching a toy horse. I left the room to use the bathroom. When I returned, I was thinking about how I wanted to reposition the horse when I stubbed my toe. I was jumping around in pain. Nevertheless, as I did this, I still reached out and repositioned the horse as I howled with pain. My mother/abuser, who was in the room when this happened, was baffled as to why I cared about the position of the horse when I was clearly in enough pain to be crying. While my host personality did not care about the toy horse, another alter part did, which is why my body did both things.

I have had odd moments like that throughout my life. I (from the perspective of the host personality) would be upset about another person taking advantage of me. From out of nowhere, I would suddenly have the assertiveness to stand up for myself and rectify the situation. Then, I would go back to being a doormat and completely baffled that I had the guts to do what I had just done. This dynamic confused people around me as well.

Another time, a “friend” was pushing my buttons while I was driving a car down the highway. I was 17. My father had recently passed away, and my mother had started raping me again. The last thing I needed was a mind-f@#$, and that is exactly what this person was trying to do.

This triggered an alter part that wanted to scratch her eyes out. However, another part of myself (my host personality??) would not allow that to happen, so it turned on me. I started mauling my own arm and my face as I drove. This also triggered another alter part that let out blood-curdling screams. Needless to say, this “friend” about wet her pants as I was speeding down the highway, screaming at the top of my lungs, and clawing myself until I was pouring blood. I finally pulled myself together, but it was a very intense period (perhaps five minutes) that had to have scared that “friend” to death.

Throughout my life, I would have “urges” to harm myself, such as to crash my car into a barrier while driving down the highway. However, another part of myself would never let me do it. I used to think that I was “crazy.” I now realize that this was a suicidal alter part that needed to be healed.

Even though alter parts can be in conflict, they all have the same interest of protecting the child. Even the suicidal alter parts are trying to “protect” the child in their own way (by permanently ending the abuse). As I learned to love and embrace each part as “me,” I stopped experiencing these kinds of conflicts.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtWhen I watched the remake of the movie Sybil, I found it interesting that Sybil’s host personality became upset about one of her alter parts being very talented in playing the piano while the host personality did not have that talent. The same thing happened to me, only with me, it was singing.

Before integration from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I had an average singing voice. I could stay on key, but my voice was nothing to write home about. However, there were times in which I would sing, and my voice sounded beautiful. It was not some trained, professional-sounding voice, but it was very pretty. I did not know why my “pretty voice” would come and go.

The reason for this was that an alter part held my love and talent for singing. As part of protecting this beautiful part of myself from being destroyed by my abusers, I split this talent off into an alter part and buried it deep inside of myself. As I began to heal from my history of child abuse, that part of myself felt safe enough to come out on occasion.

What was interesting was that I would be able to access this part of myself easier when singing certain songs that made me happy. For example, if one of my favorite hymns was sung during a church service, my “pretty” singing voice would come out. However, it wouldn’t be there during the next hymn. I had no control over when it came or left.

After integration, I still had to “invite” that part of myself out and reassure myself that it was safe for me to sing with my “pretty voice.” Now, I have full access to that part of myself as long as I feel safe. If I am feeling anxious or upset about something, then I have trouble coaxing that part of myself out. However, as long as I am feeling safe and present, it comes out naturally.

The other interesting thing is that this part of myself “hides” to the left. I would often feel only my left vocal chords doing the singing. I had to be very relaxed for the “pretty voice” to make use of all of my vocal chords. After integration, my “pretty voice” mostly uses all of my vocal chords, but I still feel a tingling in the left side of my neck when I sing.

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Purple flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtBefore I integrated from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), my memory was like Swiss cheese. I had a few vivid memories from my childhood, but they all involved my younger sister and me playing together without anybody else around. I have a few vivid memories from elementary school and can even tell you the name of each teacher throughout elementary school. However, so much was just gone, but I never realized it.

One fascinating thing about DID is a person’s ability to fool herself into believing that her memory is good when it is not. It was only after I started having flashbacks and analyzed what I actually remembered about my childhood that I realized how few memories were actually in my memory bank. That concerned me because people do not generally block out positive memories.

I saw the movie The Three Faces of Eve, which ends with the title character integrating after DID. She suddenly had the complete memory of her childhood. I always wondered if I would have the same experience. While I have recovered many more memories, my experience was a bit different.

In the movie, Eve wound up having all of her memories available to her. While many of mine have been restored, I still have some holes. My therapist is not concerned about this. He says that I probably “wasn’t there” for many things that happened. Also, I was probably in such a survival mode that I never imprinted many memories in the first place.

One wonderful thing has been the recovery of positive memories. One in particular was from when I was in the third grade. My family spent the day outside in the backyard doing yard work. I played in the grass and relished just being alive. I was so present that day. It was the perfect day. When we had to go inside, it was to watch my favorite television show, which was The Wonderful World of Disney. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Before recovering this memory, I had the wrong belief that every minute of my childhood was filled with horror. While there was plenty of horror in my childhood, there was also beauty. It was only through choosing to remember my childhood that I finally had access to the positive memories as well.

Also, my memories are not always linear. I have many memories that I can place within a certain time frame, but they are not necessarily in the order in which they happened. I guess the actual order does not matter, as long as I have access to the whole picture.

I do believe that I now have access to the whole picture. Some things exist in my head as memories. Other things I just “know” without being able to say how I know. Too many of those “knowings” have been corroborated by my sister, who was there, for me to doubt their authenticity.

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Flowers (c) Lynda BernhardtI recently went on a weekend getaway with five friends from high school. The woman with whom I shared a hotel room (R) was my closest friend in high school. R has always been extremely perceptive. While I always liked her, I would sometimes gets nervous around her in high school because I feared that she would “see me,” and I could not risk “being seen.” However, I did not know why this frightened me so much because I was unaware of having Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

In my post Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the Movies, I stated that I was only aware of one person ever “catching” me switch from one alter part to another. As it turns out, R saw it, too – she just did not know what it was.

According to R, I used to have a mannerism that she chalked up to being a personal quirk. I would bend my head down, swallow, and then look up. I have no recollection of doing this, and nobody has ever mentioned this mannerism to me before. I could rattle off a long list of quirks and mannerisms that I have, but this would not be one of them.

R also talked about different things that I did not remember but that she remembered very well. One was the time that she and I went shopping with a third friend. The friend was talking about how the secret to getting customer service to take you seriously was to “practice being a b@#$%.” According to R, I said, “R does not need to practice being a b@#$%.” However, when she mentioned this conversation to me a few years later, I did not remember it.

R brought this conversation up again, in conjunction with the discussion of my quirky mannerism, and I did remember that conversation this time (now that I have integrated). What I remember is that I was complimenting R’s ability to be forceful in appropriate situations and not let other people take advantage of her. However, that would not have been the perspective of the host personality, who thought that being called a b@#$% was the worst possible thing imaginable. So, I totally get why my saying that to R was very hurtful at the time.

Apparently, I switched during that conversation. It was probably Irate who made the comment. Irate (as the name implies) did not take any crap off anyone. I used to joke that I had the world’s longest fuse – that I would be a doormat most of the time but then, about once a year, I would snap and put people in their place. That was Irate coming out, only I did not recognize this about myself. All I knew is that, in certain circumstances, I suddenly had a backbone and did not fear confrontation.

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Flower (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my post Contrasting My DID Integration Experience with Sybil’s, a reader left the following comment:

Please keep writing the personal experience stuff – it is so much more useful and informative from someone who as been there. – Emily

This week, I will focus on more of the “personal experience stuff” that relates to my history with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Feel free to post comments or to email me with specific question you have or topics that you would like for me to cover.

Many years ago, I read Truddi Chase’s book, When Rabbit Howls. I remember noting that the book mentioned several times that Truddi could not use a watch. Whenever she tried to wear a watch, it did funky things like speed up or slow down, so she had to get by without a watch.

My sister has always had the same problem. She tends to carry a pocket watch or a watch that clips onto her purse because watch batteries die on her very quickly.

I used to not have a similar issue, but that changed when I started focusing on healing from my history of child abuse. I had one watch that I had used for many years. The watchband broke, so I decided to buy myself a new watch. I had the same problems that Truddi Chase reported. Sometimes the watch would run slow. Other times the watch would run fast. However, the one thing that the watch would not do was keep accurate time.

I exchanged the watch for a different one, and the same thing happened. By this point, I figured out that I was the problem and not the watch. One watch salesman verified that some people have stronger magnetism that affects the ability of a watch to work. I wound up buying a new band and going back to my old watch, which continues to work just fine.

My sister has always had freakish-level magnetism. In fact, she used to do bar tricks with it. She would ask for a knife and a pile of paperclips. After holding the knife in her hands for a few moments, it would magnetize enough to pick up not only a paperclip but an entire chain of paperclips. I do not know many people who can do this.

I do not know the scientific explanation for all of this. Perhaps all of the brain energy involved in repressing memories results in a higher state of magnetism than most people experience?? All I know is that I have experienced the phenomenon firsthand and watched my sister do her bar tricks, even with knives that other people gave her, so she could not have done something to the knife in advance.

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda Bernhardt

If you have a history of child abuse, then you need a therapist. Period. Healing from child abuse is incredibly grueling, and you are at risk for self-injuring or attempting suicide if you try to heal without the guidance of a therapist.

You do not have to see a therapist forever. I saw mine weekly for the first six months. Then, we moved to every other week for a year and a half. Finally, we dropped down to monthly and then to “as needed.” I have not seen my therapist in a couple of years now, but I know that he is only a phone call away if I ever need him.

It is very important that you choose an experienced therapist with a degree in psychology or psychiatry who has experience in counseling people with a history of child abuse. It might be tempting to go the pastor route or work with a Christian counselor who does not have a degree in psychology or psychiatry due to the reduced cost, but I strongly recommend not doing this. I know too many people whose therapy actually made things worse because the counselor had no experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

My sister saw a Christian counselor (the preacher’s wife), who had no professional counseling education, about her guilt and shame over being sexually abused as a child. The woman had her write down her “sins” (including being sexually abused) on a piece of paper and then burn it. (Considering my sister self-injured through burning, that was a doubly unfortunately recommendation.) Of course, “burning her sins” did not heal her PTSD, so the counselor told her that she had a demon inside of her. How is this constructive in helping a child abuse survivor recover from PTSD?

I know adults who have had similar experiences with Christian counselors with no PTSD education. They post on my favorite online message board for child abuse survivors about their counselors telling them that they have demons inside of them, which causes them to despair that they can never heal from their child abuse issues. I always tell them to run away as far and as fast as they can.

I am not meaning to slam on anyone who provides therapy through a Christian environment. I found my own therapist through the Methodist Counseling Center, and he is wonderful. However, he was a psychologist first, with a real psychology degree from a real university and 20+ years of experience in counseling people with child abuse issues. That is the type of therapist you need. Not everyone who calls himself a counselor has the credentials to back it up. Be sure to check a therapist’s credentials before you begin working with him.

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