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Archive for March, 2012

Thatched RoofOn my blog entry entitled Aftereffects of Child Abuse Beyond PTSD but not DID, a reader posted the following comment:

I would not work with any professional whose view was so simplistic they did not understand that all classification systems have no value other than to appease insurance companies. ~ Michael

I am glad that Michael wrote this because it is an excellent springboard for the next topic I want to cover.

Labels such as dissociative identity disorder (DID), dissociative fugue, dissociative amnesia, and dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (DD-NOS) come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). I do understand that mental health professionals need a way to categorize what they are viewing from the outside. However, as I see DID from the inside rather than the outside, I personally see more similarities than differences in all of these disorders. I suspect that might be why some readers find my blog helpful even without a DID diagnosis.

A mental practitioner is going to go down the checklist when diagnosing a patient. Loses time? Check. Has more than one part inside? Check. I suspect that reactions to child abuse are more complex than can be quantified through a checklist.

Over at isurvive.org, a member once called DID a “create your own disorder” disorder. I, personally, think this is the most accurate description of the aftereffects of child abuse that go beyond post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I would apply this descriptor to all of these other ways of splitting that go beyond PTSD but don’t fit the label of DID. (Yes, I am aware that some readers disagree with having “chosen” the way in which they split.)

I use the term “healing from DID” to describe myself because that label no longer fits me under the DSM-IV-TR, yet I did once fit the label. My internal experience has not changed – what has changed is that I am continually in the process of healing, so I no longer exhibit the same symptoms that I once did.

I have always said that if a label is helpful to you, embrace it. Otherwise, don’t let a label limit or define you. My therapist felt it was important for me to recognize the label of PTSD as applied to me, and he was correct. However, he has never worried about a DID label for me. His focus was always on encouraging me to love and accept myself as well as talk about what happened until I no longer feel the need to talk about it any longer.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am using yesterday’s blog entry to launch a new section of my blog. Up until this point, my blog has only included Aftereffects Categories for post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder (DID) because I have personal experience with both of these labels. However, there are thousands of child abuse survivors who experienced trauma that went beyond PTSD but did not result in DID. Those child abuse survivors need resources, too.

I have launched a new Category called Aftereffects: Other, which is a working title until we can collectively come up with more descriptive name. (Any ideas welcome!) This will be a category for blog entries that include, but are not limited to, other types of child abuse aftereffects that go beyond PTSD but don’t fit under DID, such as…

  • Dissociative Amnesia
  • Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DD-NOS)
  • Dissociative Fugue
  • Multiples who are not DID (for example, there is no “host personality” who loses time)
  • Splitting into one adult alter part with a buried child part

A particularly interesting aftereffect that I have heard from two different people is splitting into colors. (Both were diagnosed with DD-NOS.) Instead of splitting in alter parts (people), they split into colors. As an example, for one of these people, Red held the anger, Blue held the sadness, and Brown held the memories that were too traumatizing to view. If this person looked into the brown, she would lose time. The other one also split into colors, but there were some variations. I think that each knowing about the other’s experience would be incredibly helpful.

I am sure there are other types of aftereffects that I am not familiar with, so please educate me! If you have reacted in a particular way, there is likely at least one other person on the planet you can relate to your particular aftereffect. I want this blog to provide hope and healing for them as well.

Here is where I need your help … I know that I don’t personally know enough about these different types of reactions to child abuse. I have read many stories and spoken with many child abuse survivors, but repeating what I have heard is not the same as having experienced it.

I have never done this before, but I would like to invite guest blogs to add material to this category. You may take credit for your blog entry under your reader name, choose a pen name, or request that I credit the writing to “Anonymous.” I will not divulge any identifying information, and I will only edit your submission for grammar and punctuation if needed for clarity. You are welcome to provide your own image (please let me know who to credit with the image – you must have permission for me to use the image if it is not your own.) Otherwise, I’ll choose an image for you. If you have questions about how this would work or would like to submit a guest blog, please email it to faith_amom@hotmail.com.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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StatueI have encountered a handful of child abuse survivors who split into an adult and a child alter part. They would not be classified as having dissociative identity disorder (DID) because there is no loss of time or an interchange of personalities. My guess is that they would receive a label of dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (DD-NOS), but the label is irrelevant for the purpose of this blog entry. I want to provide a place where people who experienced this split have a place to be recognized.

The people I encountered in person, online, and through books who experienced the type of split I am talking about explain their experience along these lines … They might have experienced some level of abuse or trauma in their early years, but the trauma that caused the split seems to have happened in the age range of five to eight years old, with age six being the most common age for the split to have happened. Admittedly, I have only been able to observe the experiences of a small sample, so this is definitely not written in stone.

At the time of the split, the person “buries” the wounded child part and continues on with the part that grows into an adult. The person has two parts, but the child part does not come out, which is one reason this person would be unlikely to be diagnosed with DID.

Someone who split this way might remember some or all of the abuses experienced by the now-adult part. When some talk about the abuse, they might seem detached, such as explaining something horrific that they know happened to them without attaching emotion to this experience. Also, at least one person I know who split this way succeeded in dissociating away some particularly traumatizing abuse that happened after the split, storing the memories of these experience with the buried child.

As we have talked about many times on this blog, I don’t think this form of splitting or healing from this type of split is “easier” or “harder” than other reactions to abuse, just different. From what observed from one person who invited me into watching some of her healing process, “unburying” the wounded child seemed to be more daunting than what I experienced in integrating one of many alter parts because of the depth of the pain. Because my pain was fragmented into many different parts, I seemed better able to pace myself whereas the other person would feel as if she was drowning in the unmet needs of this one huge needy inner child.

I would encourage anyone who split this way to try different tools that have been useful to other child abuse survivors, such as reaching out to your buried child and inviting her out. Love her. Accept her. Heal her.

I would recommend doing this healing work alongside a qualified therapist with experience working with child abuse survivors who were severely traumatized. From what I have observed from the outside, dealing with the very deep pain of the wounded buried child can be overwhelming at times. A good professional therapist can help you along the process.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I received an interesting email that, among other things, commented upon what the reader had learned about conflict resolution on my blog. The reader was referring to a succession of conversations I had been having in the comments with another reader. Because of the relationship I have built with reader I was debating (for lack of a better word), I never thought about our conversations as being “conflicts,” but I can see how others reading our conversations could perceive them as such.

This got me thinking about a very important part of healing from child abuse – learning that it is OK to disagree with someone without that disagreement harming the relationship. That will be the focus of this blog entry.

My sister knew that I was going through a rough time in my offline life, so she gave me a “heads up” when she read one of the comments this reader had posted. She was concerned that the disagreement would be triggering or upsetting to me in light of what else was going on in my life at the time. As soon as I ascertained who the reader was, I assured my sister that I was completely OK – that this reader and I have these types of conversations periodically and that they don’t upset me. Why? Because this reader and I have developed a relationship over the years in which I trust that we can completely disagree on a topic without undermining the online friendship we have developed. I know that this reader respects me and “gets” me – knows that my heart is in the right place even when my words miss the mark.

This is a lesson it took me a long time to learn – that it is OK to disagree … and even vehemently disagree – with another person without losing the relationship. For most of my life, I tried to be what the other person wanted me to be because I feared I would lose the relationship if I did not. Two things have changed since then: (1) I have confidence that I will be OK no matter what relationship I might lose; and (2) I now recognize that a healthy relationship has room for me to mess up or simply disagree.

Now, this reader and I have never met face-to-face, but this same concept is developing in my offline relationships as well. I am gradually learning that healthy relationships provide room for me to be me, even when the other person disagrees with something that I might say or do.

I also must confess that developing relationships that provide room for disagreement are actually kind of fun! It’s draining to have to read the other person and always be what the other person wants you to be. For me, it is an exciting new world to be able to debate an issue with another person without having to worry about hard feelings. It’s empowering to be able to discuss issues and disagree, knowing that both parties’ respect is not going to disappear just because they don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Being Protected versus Taking Responsibility for Managing Triggers, a reader posted the following comment:

You mentioned in your post that you now knew what tools you needed to employ to get through your triggering. When you have time, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about those tools..? (if it’s not too personal that is) Besides deep breathing and running away, my toolbox is a little empty I’m afraid! ~ Mia

As always, some of these tools might work for you and other might not. I think it is helpful for each child abuse survivor to figure out what works for him or her and keep adding to your toolbox. What is in your toolbox might be completely different from what is in mine, or there might be lots of overlap. What matters is that each child abuse survivor try different ways to bring yourself down when you are triggered. For me, it helps to have a variety of tools. As I build up my confidence in some tools, I am able to remove others.

The first tools I had in my toolbox were not the healthiest choices, but they did help when I was triggered. These tools included binge eating and banging my head. It was important for me to recognize that these behaviors, which I hated and wanted to stop, were serving the purpose of helping me manage my triggers. As I built up my confidence in other ways to manage my triggers, I was able to let go of those.

In the so-so category for me are tools that alter my mental state physically, such as drinking wine or taking a Xanax. Again, these might not be the “best” tools, but they are less unhealthy than binge eating or banging my head. Transitioning these tools in helped me to let go of the other behaviors over time. It might surprise you that I am starting this blog entry with behaviors that many people might classify as “less healthy” than where I am going, but I think it is important to recognize the role of self-care that “less healthy” behaviors can serve. For me, this second category belongs in my toolbox, and the tools in my first category, which are physically harmful to me, have mostly fallen by the wayside.

Some of my more positive tools include the following:

  • Calling a friend and venting
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercising
  • Expressing my emotions (crying, punching pillows, etc.)
  • Scheduling an appointment with my therapist
  • Taking a walk
  • Visualization
  • Watching a comedy on TV
  • Writing on my blog or at Isurvive
  • Yoga and meditation

I think the biggest difference in my reaction to triggers now versus seven years ago is my confidence that I am going to be OK. In my early days of healing, I truly did not know this. Something would trigger me, and I would feel “off” for days or even weeks at a time. Today, I am typically over a trigger in a few hours. For serious triggers, I might be rocked for a few days. Even when I am badly triggered, I know that these feelings won’t last. Whatever I am feeling right now – either good or bad – is going to pass.

If I am badly triggered, I remember that I am the fire hose and that the emotions are the water coursing through me. I am not the emotions. I will do deep breathing and visualize the emotions passing through me. This helps me ground myself and recognize that the feelings of being triggered will pass.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This blog entry completes a series of three on the topic of my experience of becoming aware that I had dissociative identity disorder (DID). You can read the other blog entries here and here.

One issue I wrestled with in the early years of healing from child abuse was how I could have had DID for my entire life without having any symptoms or signs. Once I took a retrospective view of my life, the DID was the missing link to many questions I had always had about my life.

I had the symptom of people knowing me who I did not know. I apparently bonded with a high school sophomore while I was a junior at band camp. I have no memory (other than what I recovered through flashbacks ) of attending band camp at all, although I was always aware that I had attended band camp. I have always remembered this sophomore going out of her way to say hello to me by name and being baffled by who this person was and why she thought she knew me when I did not know her.

I had the symptom of people having strong feelings toward me with no explanation as to why. In my freshman year of college, one student in my dorm HATED me and would harass me by leaving ugly messages on my door. My friends asked me repeatedly why this young woman hated me because – believe me – she was NOT subtle about her intense dislike for me. I had absolutely no idea why she disliked me so badly. I even asked her one time and tried apologizing for however I had offended her, and she was not receptive in the least. She said I knew darn well why she hated me – I truly did not.

In my sophomore year of college, my ex-boyfriend spread rumors that I was pregnant with his baby. Since we had never had intercourse (I believed I was a virgin), I was baffled as to why he would say such a thing and assumed he was just trying to ruin my reputation.

I would visit with my mother and have no recollection of what we had talked about immediately afterward. I would try to remember the annoying things she said to tell my husband, but I simply could not remember. I also thought I had blood sugar issues because I would feel very lightheaded whenever I was around my mother.

My husband would tell me about conversations – sometimes long conversations – that we had that I did not remember. I believed I was talking in my sleep, but he said I seemed awake during these conversations. I had no recollection of those conversations even after his prompting.

Yes, the signs were all there – I just wasn’t ready to deal with them. I was so determined to believe that I was a “normal” person who had not been abused that I found a way to lie to myself and hide an awareness of having DID.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yesterday, I began answering a reader’s question about whether I always knew I had dissociative identity disorder (DID) or alter parts. You can read the first part of the story here.

I did not question that Irate was real or that she was an alter part. I knew about multiple personality disorder (had never heard the term DID) and that it was linked to severe child abuse. I couldn’t understand why I would have an alter part because, as far as I remembered, I had not been abused as a child other than comparatively minor emotional abuse.

I researched what was going on with Irate “stepping into my face” and that floaty feeling I would get around my mother. I realized the term for the floaty feeling was called “dissociation.” I went looking for a book to explain why I would dissociate. I read Martha Stout’s The Myth of Sanity and was perplexed because I related so much to her DID patients but “knew” that I had not suffered from child abuse.

I finally asked Irate to explain why I had an alter part, and that’s what kicked off my healing journey. I thought Irate was the only alter part, but then I “met” more and more parts. My multiple system consisted of hundreds of parts, many of which were personality fragments (smaller parts holding only one piece of a memory or only one emotion).

What I had read about DID was different in many important ways from what I was experiencing. Martha Stout’s book was one of the most helpful resources I found because it explained that DID is on the extreme end of a continuum of dissociation. I had trouble accepting this label for a long time because I was convinced that my experiences had not been “bad enough” to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was not as far along the continuum as DID.

Before reading Martha Stout’s book, I thought DID was several separate people sharing a body, which was not what my experience felt like. For me, it felt like one big piece of my spirit had been shattered into many smaller pieces. Also, as I stated, many of these pieces were not “whole people” but, instead, just fragments of different feelings or experiences.

Once I started having flashbacks and knew for certain that I did not have a conscious memory of the abuse, I faced that I had no idea what had actually happened to me as a child. My focus shifted from struggling with labels to struggling with how to manage and heal the many memories that had been “uncorked.”

Final thoughts on the topic tomorrow…

Image credit: Amazon.com

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