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Archive for July 21st, 2008

This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

From July 2003 (when my mother-abuser had surgery) until November 2003, I spent much of my time trying to figure out what in the world was going on with me. I had always been such a doormat who very rarely got angry. Now, I was angry a lot.

I kept feeling an alter ego “step into my face.” I reached a place of accepted that I did, in fact, have an alter ego. However, I did not know what to do with this. I did not know why I had one, and I did not know the protocol for dealing with one. I feared that this meant that I was “crazy,” which I had feared for most of my life, anyhow.

I had read the story of Truddi Chase, and I had seen both The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil. So, I did know something about alter egos and dissociative identity disorder (DID). However, I had nothing in my conscious memory bank to explain my having an alter ego.

I did lots of research online and discovered a term that I had never heard before called dissociation. Here is a definition of dissociation from dictionary.com:

A psychological defense mechanism in which specific, anxiety-provoking thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations are separated from the rest of the psyche.

When I read about different examples, such as seeing the world through the wrong end of a telescope, this term resonated with me deeply. So, I decided to learn more.

I looked for resources in my local library and found Martha Stout’s book, The Myth of Sanity. This book explained dissociation, DID, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a way that I could understand it.

In a nutshell, dissociation runs on a continuum. On the far left is normal dissociation that everyone experiences, like “losing yourself” in a good movie and “forgetting” that you are in a crowded theater. On the far right is DID, which is the most extreme form of dissociation. In the middle is PTSD, and there are a wide range of dissociative disorders that are more severe than PTSD but not to the degree of DID.

What’s funny in retrospect is that I was baffled by where I fell on the continuum. I knew that I had an alter part, which would put me on the right side of the dissociation continuum. However, I was certain that I did not have PTSD because what I had been through was not that bad.

I “knew” that I never suffered any form of abuse other than emotional, but the emotional abuse I remembered was not as extreme as what was experienced by the patients that Dr. Stout discusses in her book. Yet I could relate so deeply to the patients she described. I went around in circles trying to make sense of my experiences because I was certain that I had never been abused as a child.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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