Archive for July, 2009

On my blog entry entitled Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): Opening up Internal Communication, a reader posted the following comment:

Im so scared. Ive been diagnosed for a yr now. I dont believe any of it. I dont understand. I feel forced to believe worse things happened but I dont recall. Im just lost. The therapy is unbearable. Im so stuck. Does anyone have any support Im desperate. ~ Wanda

Being diagnosed with DID, or recognizing for the first time that you have alter parts, is terrifying to the host personality, which is the part of yourself that you view as “me.” It is only disturbing from your perspective, though, because most of the rest of you has known about the “others” all along. The rest of you has also always known about the child abuse.

The sooner you accept your diagnosis and start to understand your disorder, the sooner you will stop feeling so freaked out. I strongly recommend that you read the book Safe Passage to Healing by Christine Oksana. Skip over the ritual abuse stuff and go straight to the chapters on DID and dissociation (Part Three: Dissociation, p. 101). Being dissociative and having DID a blessing, not a curse. You would not have survived the childhood trauma without it.

After you stop fighting the diagnosis and start accepting that you did suffer from severe trauma as a child, you will begin to integrate. This means that you will begin to “awaken” to all of the truths that you have been hiding from yourself. You needed to keep yourself (from the perspective of the host personality) “in the dark” about the abuse to stay safe. Now that you are safe as an adult, you have no need to continue having a host personality. You are ready to begin the process of accepting each part, memory, and emotion as “me.”

As you do this, you will begin staying co-conscious as other parts emerge. Eventually, you will integrate back into your core, and you will marvel that you ever believed that you were ever whole. At this point, you will stop losing time. (Doesn’t that sound great??)

Healing from DID is a journey of self-love and self-acceptance. Imagine a life in which you no longer degrade yourself in your head. Imagine being comfortable in your own body and having access to various emotions (such as anger) when you need it. It is time to stop lying to yourself about your past and start accepting the truth – You are a wonderful, amazing, and precious person who deserves to be loved.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Repetitive Thoughts, a reader posted the following comment:

I mostly shut out any thought that is remotely spiritual. ~ Sarah

Many child abuse survivors do the same thing as Sarah, particularly those who have suffered from spiritual abuse. Because our spirituality was used against us as children, we reject it as adults. This choice can hamper your healing from child abuse.

Before I continue, let me clarify that spirituality is not the same thing as religion. You can get back in touch with your spirituality without ever setting foot in a church, temple, or mosque. While you can use religion to assist you in getting in touch with your spirituality, it is not necessary to do so. Therefore, those of you who are triggered by religion do not have to be cut off from this very powerful healing tool.

In my last post, I provided some advice about getting in touch with your spirituality and why it is helpful. I won’t repeat all that I already said about yoga and meditation.

As I stated in that post, I began my healing journey trying to “think” my way through the process. I eventually hit a glass ceiling. I felt like my healing progress had stalled out, and I did not understand why because I was certainly working and thinking hard enough. Some of my online friends at Isurvive encouraged me to do some spiritual healing work. I had no idea what that meant, but I was eventually willing to give it a shot.

I was “converted” after my first Reiki session. My first Reiki session brought me healing in places that I did not even know were wounded. Until that moment, I did not appreciate that it was not only my mind that was damaged by the child abuse. I was damaged physically, mentally, and spiritually. Therefore, I was going to need healing in all of these areas.

The good news is that these three parts of yourself are all interconnected, so healing in one place brings a certain amount of relief to the others. However, if you decide that you will only use your head to heal without also healing your spirit, you will reach a place where it feels like your healing has “stalled out” (getting “stuck”). Engaging in some spiritual activities, such as yoga, meditation, and Reiki, can get you “unstuck” and propel your healing forward.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Techniques for Accessing the Subconscious Mind: Free Association Writing, a reader posted the following questions:

1. What if what you write is just the same over and over again? Nothing new, just the same thing? This is so frustrating, another block. I want to be able to unlock hidden areas, but I cannot get there, even by doing this exercise.

2. Is what we write a memory, or simply a creation of our current mindset? The reason I ask is because I am wondering whether I am able to trust what I write as being the truth, or is it just fiction? Certainly, I am always questioning myself about the abuse, but I’m feeling especially confused about this particular issue. ~ Little Bird

My first impression of your questions is that you are putting too much reliance on your head instead of your intuition. I had a big problem with this early on my healing. I wanted to think through and reason my way through the healing process, but that is not how it works. So much of healing involves learning how to get back in touch with your intuition, that little voice inside of you that guides you through the healing process. I wanted a step-by-step plan for how to “do this healing thing,” but healing is much more complex than that.

Learning how to listen to your intuition can be a real challenge for child abuse survivors because we were taught not to listen to that voice. Our abusers’ wishes and whims were to override what our intuition was screaming until we finally silenced that voice inside of ourselves. I suspect that this is the reason for your “block.” You are thinking about what you think you should be saying rather than sitting back and releasing what is locked inside.

I recommend that you step away from the free association writing for now and, instead, start doing yoga and meditation. I am not talking about taking a yoga class, which is pretty much just a stretch class. Instead, I am talking about burning a vanilla scented candle in your bedroom (or somewhere else where you feel safe), playing some relaxing music, and doing a few asanas. (I used the book Yoga Made Easy by Howard Kent to learn a few.) Follow that up with meditation.

To meditate, you want to be very relaxed (which is the reason for the yoga, music, and candle). Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight, close your eyes, and silence your inner chatter. Behind that inner chatter is your spirit/intuition.

After you have connected with your intuition, try the free association writing again. I suspect you will find the activity to be much easier, and you will no longer question the truth because your intuition will guide you.

Related Topic:

Positive Coping Tools: Yoga & Meditation

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): Losing Time vs. “Normal” Memory, a reader posted the following comment:

Today I was at a meeting and I “woke up” in the middle of some kind of discourse fully unaware of what I was saying. I tried to catch up with myself but felt like the people with me were confused. Now I know it, recognize it when it happens. Usually I am co-present, but lately that is not the case an indication for me that I’m getting ready to remember something pivotal…Now, at this stage, I wonder about explaining to the confused what is happening. My gut tells me no. But I do wonder. ~ Esther

I would recommend against “going public” with your diagnosis. To the extent that most people have heard of DID, their impressions have been shaped by movies like Sybil and more recently the The United States of Tara. I would not want people to assume that I am going to do some of the “freaky” stuff that was portrayed in the movie. (I have not seen “Tara” because I don’t have Showtime, so I cannot speak to that show.)

Depending upon your age, you can always blame it on “the memory being the first to go.” I am forty, and my peer group is constantly losing the train of thought mid-sentence, even without DID. You can always blame it on that. You can even make a joke like, “There’s that early onset Alzheimer’s rearing its ugly head again.”

Now, if you have a couple of close friends in your life who you think can handle hearing about your diagnosis, I would start there. I do have a handful of friends who know about my history (including the DID), and they are very supportive. I start by making sure they can handle hearing about the abuse first. If they can’t handle hearing about the abuse, then they definitely cannot handle hearing about the DID.

Even though I am very vocal about DID on my blog, I write under a pen name. I have only shared my blog with a handful of off-line friends because, even this far along in healing, I am not ready for everyone in my life to know this about me. However, I am very open about having been abused as a child. That is much easier for me to talk about publicly than the DID stuff.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On Friday, I wrote about learning how to “sit with” painful emotions after child abuse. A reader posted the following question to that blog entry:

Have DID and the memory am dealing with is held by a young very sad part. I am not sure how to cope with what seems like “her” emotion which wells up in “me” and she is sad because the past is present to her. Does that make any sense? I do my best to comfort and nurture internally, but sometimes the sorrow in her seems inconsolable. May be that’s the “sitting with” idea? ~ ruby

The question boils down to how “sitting with” painful emotions applies to people who have dissociative identity disorder (DID). In a nutshell, this is the same thing.

Remember that an alter part is a part of you. You split off the pain because it was unbearable at the time you experienced the trauma. In order to survive your childhood, you needed to isolate that pain so you would not have to experience it at the time that you were hurt. It is like you froze that pain when you were a little girl. Now that you are an adult and are safe, the ice has melted, and that pain is ready to be released.

What you described in your comment is similar to what I have been experiencing after having this latest flashback. The alter part that held the pain is in the process of integrating into the core. I have already integrated the memory, but the associated emotions are much more complex.

I frequently split off each emotion into fragments, so I might have to process the sadness today, then the anger, and then the terror. At least that enables me to pace myself, right?

Like you, have been doing things to self-nurture, such as visualizing the adult me wrapping the wounded child in a blanket, holding her close, and rocking her. I have also told her that I love her and that it was not her fault. (I just felt that part of myself “come out” when I wrote that.) Later, I told this part that, if she will choose to integrate, then the core will absorb her pain, and she will experience this one incident against the backdrop of a lifetime of experiences rather than as an encapsulated event.

I have had to allow that part of myself to grieve, which involved allowing myself to shed the tears that I should have cried when I was six. Now, I just have to sit back and let the sadness “be” for a while without fueling it or denying it. As long as I do that, I am okay. I also remind myself that all emotions pass. After I release this sadness, I will have no need to feel it again.

As you “sit with” the pain and allow it to run its course, you are integrating that part of yourself back into your core. This is all part of healing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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All day yesterday, I felt sad. I was able to recognize that this sadness had nothing to do with today. This is the lingering sadness from the flashback I recovered recently. I tried very hard to follow my therapist’s advice and allow myself to “sit with” the pain rather than try to stuff it down or fuel it.

I don’t like feeling sad. For most of my life, I ate whenever I felt sad. I have been making lots of progress on conquering an eating disorder (have lost 13 lbs!), so I have not been turning to food whenever I feel sad. If I don’t “stuff down” the sadness through food, then my next alternative is typically to fuel the sadness. I think about something in my day-to-day life that could be causing the sadness, and it is like pouring gasoline on a candle. I take a small sadness and turn it into a really big deal.

I just realized that my reaction is so typical of a trauma survivor. I go to one extreme or the other: I deny the pain, or I fuel it into a full-fledged depression.

This time, I am trying very hard to follow my therapist’s advice. He told me that I needed to learn how to “be” with painful emotions. I don’t have to stop them or fuel them. It is okay just to “sit with them” for a little while, and then they will pass.

My yoga instructor put it another way. She said that I am the fire hose, and the emotion is the water coursing through it. I don’t need to get “attached” to the emotion. Just let it flow out of me and back into the universe. I have been doing some visualizations and “seeing” the sadness flow out of me. I am not denying or encouraging it. I am just trying to “be with it.”

This is a new skill for me, so it will probably take some practice. So far, so good. I feel sad, but I also recognize that the sadness is an echo of the past and not about today. I can still have a good day, even when I am feeling blue.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Do People with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Know That They Have It?, a reader posted the following question:

Dear Faith, I was just running through this blog and am hearing about lost time which I have heard of many times before and never really understood what it meant in terms of someone’s experiences with it. Is it……

Is it 1.) Not remembering what you did yesterday or the day before or the day before who you were with, etc. or it being like a shadowy memory that the memory can be triggered if a friend reminds you sometimes, sometimes not.

Or is part of it having to 2.) I write everything down on my calendar, keep lists and journal to form a sense of order and compensate for severe memory problems or maybe losing time (not sure) and completely not knowing that I am? I would lose all sense of order and then I would really crack-up. I even write on my calendar what I did that day, when my bills are due, appt.’s etc. IF not I would be completely in the deepest dark. IF someone like Mother asks what I have been doing all week I can refer to the calendar. what is happening that day or what transpired in the last week. Otherwise I’d be running around in circles having no grip of time, place, events, people etc. I would just stupidly say, “Duuuuh….”.

This is only for the week. As far as memory retrieval for things in the recent past, my adulthood, things are really sketchy there too! My brother would say,” Remember when we went to LA and went ice skating?’…I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings even thought I didn’t remember and just say, “Oh yeah..”

As far as my childhood that is like a black out of sorts. Yet I am comforted to know that it is part of the disorder.

Does it go something like this in your own experience?? Or is what you can make out of what I am describing have more to do with memory problems than loosing time.
Any thoughts? ~ Blessings, Kim

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to get to this question. I wanted to wait to respond until my life calmed down enough to write a thorough response. As you can see, my life has been a bit hectic lately.

The answer to both #1 and #2 is YES. That has not necessarily been my experience, but it is a normal experience for someone with DID who frequently switches.

I used to believe that I had a great memory. That was just another lie I told myself to hide the DID and trauma from myself. I pointed to the fact that I had two vivid memories from age 2 (when my sister was born) and numerous memories of specific games that my sister and I would play together when I was 4. However, as I “woke up” to my reality of childhood trauma and DID, I had to face the fact that my memory was filled with holes like Swiss cheese.

Before the flashbacks, I had no memory whatsoever with either parent in it until I was in seventh grade. That’s not normal. I had memories about them, such as being angry with my mother for saying no to something I wanted, but I had no memory of either of their faces.

I did some research into what is “normal” memory. What I learned was that, starting around age six, most people can remember at least one basic fact about that time period from both home and school. I can remember specific details about school, such as all of my teachers’ names in elementary school, but I can recall very few memories of home from elementary school (when the worst of the abuse was happening). Most of those memories are about being at the horse stable, not in my house. Once again, the memories are only with my sister, and I cannot place them as being from one year versus another.

My memory is spotty (but less spotty) into adulthood. I will think that my memory is good because, again, I have a great recollection of certain events, but any memory of being around my mother/abuser is missing. For example, I know that I got engaged right before Christmas (when I was 23) and spent Christmas at my mother’s house with my sister. I remember going out to buy a wedding gown (even though my mother was along – I remember her creeping me out with something she said about “being a woman now), and I remember getting very angry with my sister for leaving on Christmas day. I was there a whole week, but I can recall nothing else. That is not normal memory.

The last time saw my mother (December 2003), she and I drove for four hours round trip to meet my sister for lunch and a short visit. I remember thinking how much she was irritating me and how annoying she was, and I remember feeling very lightheaded and dizzy. When I got home, I had a very difficult time telling my husband anything my mother and I talked about, even though we kept up a steady stream of conversation the entire time.

I told my therapist that I had to write down what he said in therapy because I frequently “forgot” what he said after the session. He said that I am dissociating because it is so hard to talk about, and that is normal. I also told him about my shoddy memory from childhood. He said, “That’s because you weren’t there.”

That is what I suspect you are doing as an adult, Kim. You don’t remember because that part of yourself wasn’t there. Whenever you don’t feel safe, your alter parts take over. If you rarely remember, it is because you rarely feel safe. I am not a therapist, so I cannot diagnose you, but I can tell you that your experience is similar to the experience of others with DID or DD-NOS (Dissociative Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) who lose time.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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For those of you with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), how many of you have trouble wearing a watch? My sister (who does not have DID but who has been diagnosed with severe PTSD) has never been able to wear a watch. Within a day or two, the watch will stop. She can replace the battery, but that one will die within a day or two as well. She has finally given up and carries a pocket watch on her purse. (She cannot even carry it in her pocket, or the watch will stop.) Now that she has a cell phone, she mostly uses the time on it.

Now here is the really freaky part – My sister is “magnetic.” She used to do “bar tricks” for people. She would pick up a knife, hold it for a few minutes, and then use the knife to pick up paperclips. How bizarre is that?

When I read the book When Rabbit Howls, I was fascinated by the multiple references to Truddi Chase’ watches malfunctioning. It made me think about my sister, but I did not make the connection back then. (This was before I started recovering memories of the child abuse.)

I never had a problem wearing a watch until I started having flashbacks. Since then, whenever I am in a period of intense healing, my watch is likely to malfunction. As someone who is obsessed with being on time, that can be very annoying.

I even tried to replace my watch, but I found that newer watches are even worse. I make some run fast and others run slow. The only watch I can wear is one that I received as a high school graduation present back in the 1980’s. Even that one fritzes out on me when I am about to deal with some heavy duty stuff.

The last time was a few months ago. The battery place checked the battery and said it was completely fine, even though my watch was running slowly. It has been working fine ever since (probably because I started dealing with my latest round of intensity). — It just happened again! I wrote this blog yesterday. Today, I found out some bad news. I cried hard, and my watched slowed down.

The weirdest thing my watch has ever done is slow down by exactly one hour. It was on a Saturday a couple of years ago. I wound up being an hour late somewhere. I never suspected that my watch was “off” because the minute hand matched what I saw on various clocks throughout the day. I feared I was losing time and reset the watch, but I came to recognize that this was just another one of these weird things that I get to deal with in my life.

Do any of you have malfunctioning watch stories to share? I would love to hear them.

Related Topic:

Trauma Tuesday: Body Magnetism

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a college graduation at which Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder.com, was the keynote speaker. As he spoke, I kept thinking about all of you as well as my Blooming Lotus blog.

His keynote address focused upon three points:

  1. Use what you know for social good.
  2. Never stop learning.
  3. Educate others about what you have learned.

What is this blog if not all three of these elements?

1. Use what you know for social good.

If there is one thing I know, it is about trauma – both what it feels like and how to manage it. (Admittedly, I do better “managing” trauma at some times than others.) I read many books, talked to many people, invested many hours in therapy, and developed many ways of managing the aftereffects of trauma. I have worked much too hard for all of my efforts to be used only for one person.

Since I know how to manage flashbacks, why wouldn’t I share that with others? My therapist told me that I was under no obligation to invest myself in other child abuse survivors, but why wouldn’t I? That would go against who I am.

2. Never stop learning.

This is where all of you come in. Every day, I am learning something new and gaining new insights about the healing journey as I read your comments. Not only do I continue to learn, but I frequently find myself having to “relearn” the same lesson again and again. As long as I am drawing breath, I will continue to learn and grow.

3. Educate others about what you have learned.

For me, elements one and two are intertwined with this element. As I educate those who are new to the healing process, I am doing social good. Your comments (particularly your questions) guide me to educate others about what I have learned.

I have also learned that there is more than one way to heal and that my way might not be the “right” way for you. Again, your comments are so helpful with this. Between what I share on my blog and all of your comments, those who are new to the healing journey have lots of advice about how to manage the healing process.

Most importantly, we all offer one another hope. Hope was something I desperately needed when I first started having flashbacks. If I had not been the mother of a young child, I probably would have committed suicide rather than try to push through the initial “breakthrough crisis” because I had no hope. That came from others who were further along their healing journeys who could reassure me that my life would not always feel that dismal.

As I write this blog, I am in an airplane returning home from the graduation. I got to experience the Southwest. I saw the sun rise over the mountains. I saw streets lined with palm trees and cacti along the road. If I had known in 2003 (when the flashbacks started) that I would one day travel to Phoenix and take in the breathtaking beauty of a part of the country that is very different from my own, I would have had more strength to fight back. On the other side of the pain is beauty and deep appreciation of the world around you.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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I had an empowering dream that I just had to share. I was an adult, and I was going to hang out with E, who is one of my real-life friends. We always hang out on Saturdays. I realized that it was Christmas and felt good about not being all depressed and anxious for once. E (who represents my anger parts in my dreams) was not happy. She had to go to a party held by one of her parents’ friends, and she wanted me to come along.

Sure enough, the party is being held at S&L’s house (my most sadistic abusers). I am surprised at how well I am taking this. I keep grounding myself and telling myself that I am not to dissociate under any circumstances. I don’t want anyone to harm me, but I also want to make these people feel d@#$ uncomfortable when they see me.

I see E hiding in the corner crying. She has quite a stream of tears running down her face. The family friends did not like her gift and are making her feel badly about it. I told her that she should just buy them $10 gifts cards to a restaurant next year and not worry about whether they like it or not. (This is a variation of how I handled a similar situation that is not relevant to this dream.)

I notice that E and I are on some sort of kiddie boat and that the room is filled with water tunnels that are kind of like the ride at a water park that is intended for families – like moving down a lazy river. (Any form of transportation in my dreams represents control of the direction of my life. For me to stay on the boat is to let others direct where my life is heading.)

I did not want to be on the boat or have it move, but a cousin from my father’s side of the family (who shares her name with my father’s mother) pulled my boat, making it move. I got very angry and told her to stop. She disregarded me, so I jumped out onto the floor of the house so I could control where I went.

I decided to walk down the hallway toward the bedrooms that I only remember through flashbacks. I built up my courage to look inside. I was afraid that, if they did not match my flashbacks, then maybe my flashbacks were not true. A man walked by, and I feared he would interfere, so I threw open the door and looked inside. Yes, it matched the flashback.

I peered in the other couple of rooms and then saw the stairs leading down to the basement (where most of the abuse happened). I stormed downstairs before anyone could stop me.

I looked around at the basement that seemed much smaller through adult eyes. I then saw the pathetic assortment of worn out children’s toys and got angry. I picked up a stuffed bear and beat it on the ground, yelling out my anger at the place.

I turned around and saw a cowering black puppy. I walked up to him and tried to pet him. I could see in his eyes that he had been abused and was not loved. I told him that he was beautiful and precious. I told him that these people had hurt me, too, but that they were liars. The dog finally said, “I am bad.” I immediately replied, “No! That is their lie! I felt the same way about myself. They kept showing me lies and got me to believe them, but they are LIES! You are beautiful and precious.” During this discussion, my toddler son (represents my inner child) was out, and I told the dog that he was just as beautiful as my son.

The man came downstairs, and I picked up the puppy. He asked what I was doing. I said, “I am taking this puppy home.” He said that I wasn’t, and I said, “Oh yes I am,” with finality in my voice. He said that he couldn’t wait to see “her face” when “she” learned that I was taking the dog.

I walked the dog upstairs and out of the house. Whenever someone tried to stop me, I looked him or her square in the eye and saw them recognize the grown me. Nobody had the courage to stand in my way.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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