Archive for April, 2009

To integrate or not to integrate – that is the question for many people diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) or other forms of dissociative disorders. Is there a right or wrong answer to the question, “Should I integrate?” You will likely get a different answer to this question depending upon who you ask.

Before I answer this question, let me share a metaphor of how I view DID. Imagine that the soul is a pond. The abuse freezes it over. The continued abuse causes the ice to crack and eventually split into a bunch of different pieces. This is how I see DID. All of the alter parts feel separate, but they are ultimately all part of the same pond.

Now, imagine that that sun warms the pond. Each separate piece begins to melt and then merges back into one pond. Nothing is lost or “killed off.” Instead, the pond is restored to the state it was in before being frozen. This is how I view integration, with the sun being self-love.

I believe that internal self-harmony is a step toward integration. As the parts become aware of one another, they begin to melt through self-love and recognize that they are part of a system. Some people with DID fear integrating their parts because they do not want to “lose” any part of themselves. My experience has been that all of the parts are still there but experienced in a different way, just as the part of the pond that was once frozen in ice still exists, just in a different way.

My goal in healing was always integration. I joined an email list serve where most of the people with DID did not have this goal. We chose to respect each other’s choices. Each person must find what works for him or her.

In my case, I still have some parts that remain separate, even though I have “invited” them to integrate for a long time. I have come to recognize that this is okay, too. I still feel unsafe when I sleep, so I still feel the need to have a separate alter part watch over me as a sleep. I love this part dearly, and I welcome integration, but I guess that I still feel the need for this part to exist in the way that it does. I do not view myself as any less “healed” because of this.

I do think it is extremely helpful for the host personality to integrate into the core. Until this happens, you might still continue to lose time, which is scary. I found integrating the host personality to be transforming in many wonderful ways.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One particularly distressing part of working through flashbacks involves your body losing control. If you are dealing with a particularly traumatizing memory, your body might lose control during the present just as it did when the traumatizing event took place. Your bladder or bowels might empty, or you might find yourself vomiting. This is all a normal aftereffect of the trauma. However, because losing control of bodily functions is embarrassing as an adult, many child abuse survivors are too ashamed to talk about this aspect of flashbacks.

Two of the most traumatizing events I experienced ended with me vomiting. When I recovered the memories of these events, my body felt the uncontrollable urge to vomit again. Unfortunately, I had an empty stomach. My body retched and retched until a little bit of stomach acid finally came up. I felt completely fine physically both before and after the vomiting. However, upon recovering the memory, I had no power to stop the retching.

In the remake of the movie Sybil, Sybil experienced a loss of bodily function. (I cannot remember if this scene was in the original version, too.) One of her alter parts was triggered by the music that her abusive mother used to play. This part held the memory of being tied to the piano while her mother played. As a child, she kept begging to use the bathroom, but her mother would not let her go and threatened her if she wet her pants. Eventually, her bladder gave out, leading to more abuse. As an adult, this alter part caused her to lose control of her bladder when triggered.

When you experience a flashback, you relive the trauma. Many people mistakenly believe that flashbacks are only visual, but they can involve any of the senses. Our bodies hold memories of the trauma as well. It makes perfect sense that, as we recover the memory by reliving the event, our bodies will react in the same way that they did when the abuse happened in childhood.

The good news is that, if you choose to face the memory and heal from the trauma, losing bodily control should not be an ongoing problem. Now that I have faced and mostly healed from those particularly traumatizing memories, I no longer feel the urge to vomit if I think about those events.

Related Topic:

Losing Control of Bodily Functions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Words of Wisdom from “The Shack”: The Beauty and Pain of Emotions, a reader posted the following comment:

My therapist and I were just talking about this today. She says that the emotion has to be linked to the memory before healing can happen. It helps me to try to remember that… because it really sucks!! ~ Else

This has been a challenging part of healing for me, but it is so true. Not only did I split into alter parts in the reaction to the abuse, I also split apart the memories. A particularly traumatizing memory might be stored in numerous parts – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the anger, the pain – all encapsulated apart from one another. In order to heal fully from one particularly traumatizing experience, I had to connect all of the pieces back to the source.

Considering the vast quantity of trauma that I endured as a child, this can be a daunting task. I have found that I do not have to piece together every single individual memory, but I do have to piece it all together enough that I can heal.

For example, I have dealt with seemingly endless sadness in my life. A little thing like a TV commercial can trigger the sadness, and I cannot hold back the tears. And yet, I can recover an extremely traumatizing memory and be unable to cry. That is my red flag that I have not yet integrated the emotions back into that memory. So, instead of crying when I think about my slaughtered dog, I cry when I see a story on TV about a dog dying. My overreaction to the dog on TV is the missing part of my under-reaction to the trauma that caused the tears.

Now that I have wept the tears for my slaughtered dog, I do not struggle as much with uncontrollable tears for dogs on TV. Because I integrated the emotions back with the memory, I was finally able to heal that part of myself. Yes, I will always be susceptible to triggers that remind me of that trauma, but the pain is now all in one place. I can experience that memory in a different way now that I have put the puzzle pieces back together again.

Related Topic:

Associating Emotions with Traumatic Memories

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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When I was in high school, my teacher showed the class the movie The Three Faces of Eve, which is about one of the first documented cases of dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. In this movie, the narrator talked about how three women were sharing one body. At the end of the movie, two of the people “disappeared,” and the woman was left with only one of the women inside. That woman held all of the childhood memories.

I vehemently disagree with this explanation of DID. A person with DID does not have a bunch of “people” living inside of her sharing a body. Every person is born with only one spirit. In reaction to severe and ongoing trauma, young children (typically under age 6) have the gift of being able to “split” or “splinter off” parts of their spirit to separate traumatic memories, emotions, and feelings from conscious awareness. The more a person with DID rejects a part of herself, the more separate that part will feel. The part might feel so separate that it feels like another person, but it is not. All of the parts are still interconnected, however minimally, because they are all parts of one spirit.

In my experience, the parts that felt like completely different people (or animals) felt more separate from the perspective of the host personality. For most of my life, my host personality would be tucked safely inside (causing me to lose time) while my wolf alter part came out at night to protect me. If I was abused, the wolf or another part would take the abuse so that my host personality could remain safe.

As I began to heal, my host personality began stay co-present, which means that I (from the perspective of the host) would observe another part when it came out. It felt like I (the host) was being pushed to the side. I would feel what the other part was feeling (such as sadness or rage), but the emotions did not feel like “mine.”

When I finally integrated the host back into the core, I stopped losing time, which meant that I had healed from the DSM IV definition of DID . However, I still had many separate parts. Each held a memory, emotion, or feeling that I was not yet ready to face. Integrating the parts meant having to accept each part as “me.” I had to accept that **I** was the one who was abused, not another little girl that I watched from the ceiling. It was **my** body that was harmed, not someone else’s.

I have come to realize that every single part is just a part of myself that needs healing. As I accept each part as “me” and choose to love that part of myself, I no longer need to keep that part separate. I need to worry about “controlling” another part because they are all me and always have been.

Related Topic:

Understanding Integration

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have shared before that the article I have written on this blog with the most page views is one entitled Recovering from Childhood Animal Rape. That one blog entry has had over 6,000 views. I also wrote an article for eHow.com entitled How to Heal from Animal Rape. That one article has had over 12,300 views.

I believe there are two reasons for these high numbers: (1) There are many people who have experienced animal rape; and (2) there are woefully few healing resources for this form of abuse on the Internet. Whenever I search for the term “animal rape,” I only see my own writings available as healing tools.

This changed a few weeks ago when I stumbled across a message board for survivors of animal sexual abuse called Animal Sexual Abuse Survivors. I joined the forum and then carried on an email dialogue with the board owner. It looked like the board was not very active. I learned that the board owner had only recently launched it. I offered to advertise it on my blog and, hopefully, get some discussions going on this very important topic. I just noticed that she has posted a link over to my blog from there. :0)

Until finding this resource, the only place I found to talk about my own experiences with animal rape was over at Isurvive, which remains my favorite online healing resource. We have had quite a few discussions on the topic of animal rape in the Survivors of Ritualized Abuse forum.

My experience has been that many child abuse survivors are reluctant to discuss experiencing animal rape. When I first recovered my own flashbacks, I felt a level of shame that ran so much deeper than any I had experienced to date, even though I had already been working through memories of mother-daughter sexual abuse, ritual abuse, and other shame-inducing forms of abuse. For some reason, the animal rape memories rocked me so much deeper.

I am not trying to lure anyone away from Isurvive because that place is near and dear to my heart. However, if you feel the need to be even more anonymous and talk about your feelings surrounding animal rape somewhere that nobody will know who you are (even by your online name), this might be the place for you. As that message board grows, you will hopefully find strength from healing alongside others who have survived similar forms of abuse.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I know I have mentioned this before, but I am going to revisit the issue. I hate security questions. You know the ones I am talking about – What is your mother’s maiden name? What street did you live on as a child? Yes, I understand the need for them, but can’t at least some of them have something to do with the present and not the past? How about What is your favorite color? or What is your favorite TV show?

I recently went to my cell phone provider to renew my plan. Part of the process involves choosing a security question. The choices are just awful for a child abuse survivor:

  • What is your mother’s maiden name? You mean the maiden name of the woman who raped me throughout my elementary years?
  • On what street did you live as a child? You mean the street in which I was tortured throughout my childhood?
  • What was the name of your childhood pet? You mean the dog that was slaughtered right in front of me?

Why would I possibly want to think about this horrible trauma whenever I need to inquire about an issue with my cell phone? Why should I have to think about these awful memories to access my bank account?

Yes, I understand that not every person on the planet has suffered childhood trauma like I have, but quite a few have been abused. I have seen statistics as high as 1 in 3 women and 1 in five men. That is a lot of people who don’t want to think about their mother’s maiden name, childhood home, or first pet whenever they need to access information about their accounts. There has got to be a better way to offer security without having to retraumatize the customer.

Fortunately, some places do have other questions that are not as upsetting to me. I like the ones that ask about my high school mascot or the name of my first school. Those memories do not bother me. I just don’t want to talk about my family every time I access my accounts.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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As I shared recently, my beloved 16-year-old beagle passed away. I was heartbroken all that day and spent many hours crying and grieving his loss. By the next day, I was okay. In fact, I was even able to appreciate the ways in which my life was easier, such as not having to administer two pain medications and carry the dog in and out to use the bathroom all day.

Some people might assume that I did not love this dog because I adjusted to life without him so quickly, but that simply is not true. I raised him from an eight-week-old puppy. As with the book Marley and Me, his life story is the story of my family. My husband and I were newlyweds when we adopted this dog, and so many of my memories of my son are intertwined with memories of this dog. Yes, I loved him.

So, how can I adjust so quickly to his passing? I think this about resiliency, not a lack of caring. Many people believe that if they spend years in mourning after a loved one passes away, refusing to adjust to a life without the loved one, they are somehow proving the depth of their love. Instead, I believe this is just a lack of resiliency and inability/refusal to adjust to a new reality.

Those of us who survived child abuse also survived many losses. We learned at a young age that loss was a part of life – the loss of innocence, safety, loving relationships, etc. My life has been filled with loss, so why is it so shocking that I am resilient and can adjust quickly when I experience a loss?

I have only experienced two losses that I did not recover from quickly. The first was the death of my father, although even then, I did not understand why I should struggle since he was rarely around. I have since recovered the flashbacks of my mother starting up the abuse again. So, my issue was not with adjusting to my father’s absence so much as to the lack of safety that resulted from his passing.

The other loss was that of infertility. The problem with infertility is that there is a monthly hope followed by a monthly loss. It was the emotional rollercoaster of the ups and downs that really got to me. Once I accepted my infertility as a permanent fixture in my life, I was able to grieve my infertility loss and heal that pain.

My mother-in-law passed away suddenly a few months ago. Hub took my strength as a sign of not caring or not loving deeply enough. The reality is that I have become resilient in my grief. I have no expectation of those that I love being in my life forever. We will eventually part, such as through growing apart, moving away, or one of us dying. That is just a reality of life. Therefore, when a loss happens, I am not “shocked” that life can be cruel. Instead, I try to appreciate the relationships I have in my life while they are in it, knowing that they are a gift for now rather than a fixture forever.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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