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…

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A reader wants to know what my experience was in consciously recognizing that I had dissociative identity disorder (DID). For me, recognizing that I had alter parts was a gradual process. Looking back, the signs were there all along, but I truly had no idea about having DID or a child abuse history.

I always knew that I was fundamentally f@$%ed in the head because I struggled with so many seemingly unrelated issues – eating disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), suicidal urges, etc. I didn’t know this was a profile. I just thought I was “crazy.”

A couple of years before I recognized the DID, I started to notice a feeling of someone “stepping into my face” when I was lying down in my bed at night. I had read enough books and watched enough movies about DID to recognize that this could be an alter part. I would run to the mirror to see if my face looked different, but I never could tell. I once even asked myself if I had been abused and, if so, by whom. (I knew about a link between alter parts and child abuse). I recovered a body memory of my mother abusing me. I wasn’t ready to deal with it and woke up the next morning with that experience dissociated away.

In 2003, when my son was two, my mother had surgery. My son and I stayed with her for a few days. I was very triggered (but didn’t know what that “floaty feeling” was). My mother sent me out to run an errand in the middle of the night and went into my son’s room while I was out. When I returned and found this out, an alter part took over. I stayed co-conscious as someone else was in the driver’s seat apologizing to my son for leaving him alone with “that crazy woman” and asking him over and over if he was OK. My mind and body was flooded with intense fear that my mother had sexually abused my son, and I was viewing all of this from a corner of my head, absolutely perplexed.

After that experience, an alter part named Irate came out repeatedly while I stayed co-conscious, and we had multiple “dialogues” in my head. I did not “hear voices.” Instead, it was like I would experience thoughts that did not originate from me, and I would “think” responses back. I recognized that Irate was an alter part, which began my journey toward questioning why I had one.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Microscopic ViewOn my blog entry entitled Returning to Isurvive’s Ritualized Abuse Forum, a reader posted the following comment:

Staying present is wrong wrong wrong for a multiple anything like me. It is the opposite. Some professionals now get that it is not about dissociation for some people. I had to discover that on my own. ~ Michael

This is the first time I have heard that staying present is “wrong” for any child abuse survivor. It is entirely possible that Michael has tried to tell me this on numerous occasions, but sometimes I need to hear a particular comment in several different ways before I can process the idea. (Sorry, Michael!)

Michael had previously told me that yoga was very bad for him. I believed and respected him but did not understand why. Considering that the point of yoga is presence, it makes complete sense in light of staying present being “wrong” for him.

Most of the literature that I have read as well as my own personal therapy has put a great deal of focus on learning how to stay present. If this advice is wrong for an entire subset of survivors, I can understand Michael’s (and others’) frustration with the mental health profession.

Michael also told me that being a multiple is not the same thing as having dissociative identity disorder (DID), which I did not understand but did accept and respect. I wonder if perhaps that is the distinction for when staying present is helpful or harmful??

The reason I say this is people generally tend to divide child abuse survivors into “singletons” (people who are not divided into parts) and multiples or DID (used interchangeably). Both Michael and I would fall under the umbrella of people who divided into parts, but staying present is incredibly healing for me and damaging for him.

Here’s one important difference between me, as someone healing from DID, and what I believe Michael’s experience to be (and, Michael, please chime in if I misrepresent you in any way). I always had a “core” inside of myself – one part that oversaw my multiple system. For most of my life, I saw myself as Faye (a host personality), but the core was running the show. I integrated Faye into my core, which technically moved me out of a DID diagnosis because I stopped losing time. Because there was always one central part “in charge,” perhaps staying present moves me toward integrating back into one single part.

I believe that Michael has never had a central part or core – that his development was such as there never was a “me” at any point – his soul/spirit was never a whole that split. Instead, I believe he actually grew from day one as a multiple. (Michael – Am I right about this?) If that is the case, then “staying present” is trying to force a unity that has never existed, which could explain why staying present is wrong for him.

Does this sound like a reasonable theory? Or am I off the mark?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I just had an epiphany which might explain some of why I am feeling so exhausted. I think I am in a phase of restructuring. It’s going on all around me, but I also suspect that this is also a metaphor for what is going on inside of me.

The epiphany came to me as I was working. As I have shared before, I work as an adjunct online college instructor. We had a new curriculum put into place a few months ago. It took a lot of work to restructure all of my materials to adapt to all of the changes. Sadly, the new curriculum appears to have been rushed through and doesn’t make logical sense. This is not just my opinion – multiple faculty are having the same issues in the same places.

I took a step back and examined the course from a global perspective. I thought about the course objectives and how best to cover those objectives. The result was another massive restructuring of the curriculum. I am still covering all of the same material, but now the students are set up for success. I am completing the first week with the new curriculum, and so far, so good. I am already seeing improvements, and I am excited about the long-term implications of all of the hard work that I have done.

It was exhausting to overhaul a curriculum twice. This took a lot of time and energy, but I was willing to invest the time and energy because the end result was going to be better growth for the students.

I had an aha moment that I see this pattern repeating in other areas of my life. My husband has reached a place of not being able to continue “as is” in his professional life. He is in the process (with my support) of restructuring his professional life in a way that works better for him.

I am working closely with another restructuring project as part of a committee. It is so much work to do right now, but the restructuring is necessary. I can see how great things will happen at the end of the project, but being in the middle of the project is daunting.

It occurred to me that perhaps it is not a coincidence that I am involved in so much restructuring in my day-to-day life. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the restructuring going on inside of myself. In all of these day-to-day situations, I am willing to invest the time, even though the work can be draining, because I can see the big picture of a great harvest at the end. I need to apply that same viewpoint to the restructuring that is going on inside of me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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