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Archive for April, 2011

On my blog entry entitled Battling Self Hate after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

By the way, on a related note, can you write a post about body image after child abuse? I have terrible issues with body image, some stemming from the fact that I have DID (so my alters are not adjusted to the fact that they live in an adult body), but some others probably stemmed from the hurting. ~ Astrid

Body image issues are very common for child abuse survivors. Some child abuse survivors, particularly those who suffered from sexual abuse, wear baggy clothing so their bodies are covered. (I am guilty of this – I don’t want anyone looking at my body in a sexual way.) Many people who self-injure in ways that leave scars (such as cutting or burning) will wear long sleeves, even in the heat of the summer, to hide their scars. Many sexual abuse survivors insist on wearing shirts over their bathing suits, even in the water, so they can keep their bodies covered.

These body image issues can spill over into eating disorders. People with anorexia often wear baggy clothing to cover how small their bodies are. People with bulimia or binge eating issues might hate their bodies for being larger, even though their larger bodies are a direct result of the way the person is managing her emotions.

If you think about it, having body image issues after child abuse really does make sense. I experienced my trauma through my body as it was violated, so I rejected my body because it provided the means for my abusers to hurt me in ways that ran much deeper than physically. The physical wounds healed, but I carried the emotional wounds with me for decades after the abuse ended. Rejecting my body makes logical sense to the wounded little girl inside of me.

Mixing in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can make body image issues even more complex. I was a thin little girl but then got fat at age 12 through an eating disorder. I have skinny little girl alter parts who are appalled at the size of my adult body. Even though my body objectively looks pretty good (especially after lifting weights for a year, working out regularly, and losing 20 lbs.), my body feels “off” to some of my alter parts. While some is due to weight issues, a lot is simply due to a little girl part feeling out of place in a woman’s body. It’s just another layer of complexity in healing my body image.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Can an Adult Create an Alter Part?, a reader posted the following comment:

But other than to create a helper part or to survive the unbearable, not sure why you’d want to create more parts. Think the only way to really heal is to accept everything that happened and really feel the emotions connected to it, and re-associate all our dissociated parts, either through integration or through developing co-consciousness, making new parts would run contrary to that, I think. ~ Bay

A couple of years ago, I would have agreed with Bay 100% on this topic. However, I have more recently come to recognize that I can, in fact, use alter parts to help meet my needs in a very loving way that does not involve rejecting a part of myself.

I agree with Bay that the parts that have been separate since childhood are separate due to distancing myself from them – from their memories, emotions, etc. So, the foundation of those alter parts is based upon a form of self-rejection, which is ultimately unhealthy for me now that the abuse has ended. I need to love and accept each part as “me.” Loving them back into my core is a very loving and healing thing to do for myself.

However, the good mother alter part I discussed in this blog entry is not created out of self-rejection but out of self-love. There is not one part of myself that rejects her. I love her deeply, and her love for me is very much a reflection of the self-love that I have developed.

To use a metaphor to describe the difference, I see my core as a pond and the alter parts from childhood as pieces of ice that were frozen in time through self-rejection. I need to melt the ice through the warmth of self-love and invite them back into the pond. However, the good mother alter part that I created was not created through “freezing her out.” Instead, she was molded out of the warm water, perhaps like putting the water in a cup temporarily because the temporary separation is healing for me. She feels different, probably because I have never rejected her and she has never rejected me.

I am not sure if I am explaining this well. She just feels different. It’s like I have the gift of creating “forms” temporarily to help meet my own needs in a loving way, and it is very different from the “freezing out” method I used in childhood. The best part is that the good mother and other alter parts created in love are fluid and pour themselves back into the core whenever I don’t need them to be separate. Does that make sense?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Passed the 30-Day Mark with Eating Disorder!, a reader posted the following comment:

I was wondering do you struggle to do anything for yourself as a treat? Today I was at the hairdressers and nearly had to leave I felt so evil for trying to make myself look nice and worthless for making any kind if effort with my appearance, I get that with a lot of things similar (clothes shopping for example) and I wasn’t sure if it was just what I was told by my particular abuser or something common to a lot of abuse survivors? ~ Sophie

Yes, I used to struggle with this, but I don’t any longer. I think this is a common issue for many child abuse survivors. We view ourselves through our abusers’ eyes and believe that we are unworthy of any sort of kindness.

I am a big fan of the singer Pink. She has a song out called F*ckin’ Perfect that addresses this issue nicely:

You’re so mean, when you talk, about yourself you were wrong.
Change the voices, in your head, make them like you instead. ~ Pink

To overcome this challenge, you have to change those voices in your head – those voices telling you that it is not OK to treat yourself to something nice. This gets back to the Compassion versus Self-Hate battle and the feed the right wolf story. Each time you choose to challenge those internal voices and be kind to yourself, you are building the strength of the “good wolf” and fighting the “evil” wolf.

I had to start with baby steps. I realized that the one “safe” way I could be touched was by my hairdresser when she washes my hair and cuts it. I gave myself permission to schedule a haircut each month, and I allowed myself to enjoy the physical “safe” touch involved in getting my hair cut. Today, I cannot fathom denying myself this pleasure, but it took a lot of strength and courage to give myself permission to enjoy this treat.

The same thing applies to buying new clothes. I would binge eat to manage my painful emotions, and I would “punish” myself for being fat by not buying myself new clothes. I would not buy a new pair of jeans until my old ones quite literally split. Now I do buy myself new clothing from time to time. I am far from a clothes horse, but I do buy myself new clothing that makes me feel good about myself when I wear them.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled “I Don’t Know If I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)”, a reader posted the following comment:

Do any of you readers or Faith have this experience that you initially did not remember your trauma because it was at too young an age? When I ask non-survivors about their memories before age eight (which is the age DID usually develops), they respond that they have hardly any memories, so I’m wondering why so many survivors seem to have so many memories of their trauma at such a young age? Or is it a thing about trauma that you should remember it? ~ Astrid

I have been told that “normal” memory for someone who did not experience childhood trauma includes basic memories of what was going on at home and at school beginning with elementary school, so presumably around age five or six. I did not have a “normal” childhood and cannot attest to this standard being accurate, but others have told me that this is the baseline.

Before recovering flashbacks, I used to pride myself in my very good memory. I have crisp, clear memories from as young as two years old (when my sister was born) that have been independently verified as accurate. There was a snowstorm when she was born that knocked out the power. I remember running in the snow and also sitting in the dark around the fire in the fireplace.

However, when the flashbacks started, I came to realize that my memory had a lot of holes in it. I could recite the name of each teacher and facts about school from age four on up (and still can), but I could not recall any memories at all with my parents in them until middle school. I always had vivid memories of S & L’s house (my most sadistic abusers) but not of the abuse.

The flashback memories filled in many of these gaps in very crisp detail, down to the color of the clothes I was wearing at age 3. When I have a flashback, it feels like I have traveled in a time machine and am re-experiencing the trauma right now. Those memories are very clear when I recover them. Then, by the next morning, they “feel” like all of my other memories. They lose their feeling of happening now and are just another set of memories in my memory bank. I don’t know if my experience is similar to anyone else’s, but that is how the memories work for me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I think I have shared before that I am starting a new job. This is a part-time teaching job that I am excited about. The job is part teaching and part coaching, encouraging students to believe in themselves to be successful as they face the next milestone to their dream job.

The training for the job is very intensive, and then preparing to teach the class is even more so. I need to learn and prepare a 330-page curriculum to do the job well. I know from teaching experience that the first pass is always the most difficult and time-consuming. Once you learn the curriculum, then you can teach it with your eyes closed. However, the start-up involves an enormous investment of time and energy to get prepared to teach the class.

This has been my focus for the past couple of months. I have been putting in 4-6 hours a day on top of my already busy schedule to prepare myself to teach this class. This has not left me much time or energy to focus on healing from child abuse, which, in many ways, has been a blessing. Even though I am not sitting around chilling out and relaxing (not sure how to do that!), this has been another way for me to get a reprieve from all of the work involved in healing from child abuse. Right now, I simply don’t have the time to focus on that.

I am writing this blog entry from the beach, where I went for a walk alongside the beach. This is something that I love to do, combining exercise with thinking about the meaning of life, etc., as I look out over the waves. For once, I was not melancholy as I did this. My therapist used to point out that going to the beach was a very healing experience for me. He noticed that I always had great leaps in healing following a trip to the beach. That did not happen this time, but I mean that in a good way.

As I walked along the beach, I thought about how my life right now is not revolving around healing from child abuse, and it is such a relief to be in this place. I know this is just a season for me, and that season will end. I know I have more healing work to do in the future. However, for right now, in this moment, it is nice for my life not to revolve around healing from child abuse for once.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Hi, everyone!

I am going to take the week off for Spring Break while my family heads to the beach. I’ll try to check in on the comments when I can, but I won’t be writing any blog entries this week. I’ll start back on April 25.

~ Faith

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled How to Move Past Betrayal by a Mother Figure, a reader posted the following comment:

I have read and read and read… about this whole “alter” thing and it still confuses me. I read the book Sybil, and I have watched videos of people with MPD changing into someone else. I was mostly wanting to know if I had it as well. My T says no I do not. I never lose time in the way they describe, but time is weird to me in that a day ago can seem like weeks ago to me. I know I am nothing like Sybil.

I do not have names for different personalities or anything like that. However, I do see different aspects of myself that can seem like whole different entities. When I am doing good, and confident, the person I feel inside cannot even hardly imagine the person I was a few days ago when I felt broken and insecure. It seems like a whole different person to me. When I am insecure, I do not feel like I can do anything. The road to an education seems so ludicrous to me I cannot even believe what I am doing. And then I shift inside and feel confident that I can get 4.0 grade average and I will conquer anything I set my mind too. That is just one example. However, I am fully cognitive of all of these major shifts going on inside of me.

Sometimes within the same few hours, I will feel happy and full of live and the future looks bright. Then in just a matter of a few hours or even minutes at times, life is not even hardly worth living. I am struggling inside.

What is all this craziness anyway? Is it the mid-life crisis? Is it hormones? My physician has assured me that my hormones are pretty stable. ~ Heavenly Places

My therapist is not a big fan of labeling patients. He did apply the label of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) only because he needed it to push through my denial. I kept arguing with them that what I had been through “wasn’t that bad,” “others had it worse,” etc. and simply refused to acknowledge that my abuse had been “that bad.” Seeing the label PTSD on the top of a white board with a list of painfully familiar symptoms was a powerful way to help me break through the denial and give myself permission to grieve the devastation of my childhood abuse.

My therapist is fully aware of my having alter parts and my work in integrating them outside of his office, but he never once attached a label for this. I was so fearful that he would think I was “crazy,” but he didn’t. Instead, he said that he doesn’t want to use labels because healing from trauma happens in the same way no matter what your label is – You need to talk about what happened until you no longer feel the need to talk about it anymore. Upon this foundation, I have added that you need to find a way to love and accept each part of yourself, whether that part is a memory, emotion, feeling, alter part, or any other internal “separation.”

I, too, saw the movie Sybil and did not relate because she was so out of control, and I never have been. My switching has always been seamless, which is the whole point of DID in the first place. I apply the DID label to myself because it helps me understand my healing process, but I see limitations in the label because it has been designed by mental health professionals from the outside rather than multiples who experience it from the inside. For example, I have talked to a couple of people with a Dissociative Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (DD-NOS) label whose experience is very similar to mine, only they split into colors instead of “personalities.” This is an important distinction to the DSM, but it really much is not of a distinction to me. Regardless of the label, I think that DID, DD-NOS, Dissociative Fugue, etc. are just ways that we try to explain to others how we dealt with the trauma in our own heads.

So, my advice is not to get too caught up in the label. If it is useful to you, use it to help you find additional resources for healing. For example, Chrystine Oksana’s Safe Passage to Healing provides some wonderful healing suggestions for people who have alter parts. Other than that, the label itself is not the part that matters. What matters is that you find a way to love and accept each part of yourself – each memory, feeling, experience, emotion, etc. There are many ways you can do this, and you don’t need a label to learn how to love and accept yourself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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