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Archive for March, 2012

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?

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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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I have been trying to convey an important concept, but I am clearly using the wrong words because I keep having to explain what I mean. The phrase I have been using is “farther along in healing,” which at least some readers are hearing as comparing the mile marker I have reached to the mile marker that someone else has reached. That’s not what I mean, and I can understand why believing that is my intent would frustrate someone else. So, let’s work together to come up with better terminology to explain the concept I am trying to convey.

Some of this is repeated from a comment I posted to a reader, so if you get deja vu while reading it, that would be why.

When I started l healing from child abuse, I wrestled with the following questions:

  • Was I abused at all?
  • Was the abuse really “that bad?”
  • Does what I experience qualify as abuse or as a particular type of abuse (physical, ritual, sexual, emotional, etc.)?
  • Can I survive the healing process?
  • Is healing from child abuse really possible?

Different child abuse survivors might wrestle with one, a few, or all of these questions, or they might wrestle with completely different questions that fall under the same umbrella. This category is what I have been defining as “earlier” in healing. One survivor might work through these issues in a few months while another might take decades. My guess is that for most survivors, processing these questions probably takes years. At least, that was my own personal experience.

The second category, which I have been calling “farther along in healing,” encompasses child abuse survivors who have resolved most or all of these questions. I no longer doubt that I was abused. I recognize that the abuse was “that bad.” I have settled on the labels that work for me (and in some cases have decided that a label is irrelevant), and I know at a heart level that the healing process is survivable.

For me, there wasn’t a particular moment when I crossed that line for good. I spent years going over and back, over and back, over and back. However, I am now solidly on the other side of the line. I will likely never fully heal from every wound, but I am solid in accepting my history and knowing at a heart level that I am going to be OK.

I think there is value in people who have crossed that line, whether only in some ways or in all ways, interacting with those who have not. The support I received from people on the other side of the line was immensely helpful to me in my own healing journey, and I want to pay it forward.

Can someone please suggest terminology that explains this concept? I feel like I keep going in circles with people thinking I am judging their experiences, building myself up as an expert on things I am not, etc., when all I am trying to say is that I want to offer others the same hope that was once offered to me. Anyone?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Safe Passage to HealingToday’s topic will likely be most meaningful for people with dissociative identity disorder (DID) or other forms of being a multiple, but I hope it is helpful even without that diagnosis. I’d like to talk about how to process the same memory from different perspectives.

As an example, I recovered a memory of my mother sexually abusing me. My first pass at this memory was what happened in a linear fashion. It started with what I was doing right before the abuse, went through the event, and then continued through my reaction to what had happened. I viewed most of this from an out-of-body perspective. I later recovered memories of this same event from different perspectives. One memory held my anger, and another held the sensory stuff (smells, taste, etc.).

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this. I didn’t understand why this one memory was coming to me in pieces like that. I have since learned that children with DID (or other forms of being a multiple or dissociative disorders) split apart what they cannot handle at one time. That one event was simply too much for my two-year-old brain to process, so the one memory broke off into pieces.

In the book Safe Passage to Healing, Chrystine Oksana calls the process of putting all of the pieces back together “associating” the memories. I wrote about that topic here. Healing the one event might involve several passes and connecting back the different pieces.

Where it gets trickier is when you have/had conflicting feelings about what happened. For example, my father (the “good” parent) was coerced into abusing my sister while I watched. (It was part of ritual abuse. He was blindfolded and drugged.) A part of myself loved him and saw him as my “savior” because he stopped my mother from sexually abusing me once he found out about it. This part was in direct conflict with another part that was angry and hated him for abusing my sister. The adult me sees that he was a victim of evil people, which is reinforced by the fact that he never took a sip of alcohol again after that night for the rest of his life. The challenge is finding a way to honor all of those feelings, even the ones that directly conflict with each other.

Experience conflicting feelings is something that is foreign to many people with DID. It certainly was for me. If I felt conflict, I simply split it into two parts – problem solved. Healing and melding back into one core part has been challenging because I have had to learn to deal with conflicting feelings.

Friends without DID have assured me that everyone feels conflicted about something and that it is part of the human experience. It’s a new experience for me, though. Just knowing it is normal helps.

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One area of healing that has been a balancing act for me is allowing myself to be protected versus taking responsibility for finding ways to heal and/or adapt in areas of my life that the abuse has affected. As an example, I developed a phobia of Russian nesting dolls because of their use during my abuse. In the early stages of healing, a friend and I took our children to the library for story time. The story was about Russia, so the librarian brought in a Russian nesting doll set for the children to see. I was triggered by seeing the doll while she read the book, but I was able to hold it together. However, when she started to open the doll (which was a trigger of a specific threat to my sister’s life as a child), I had to leave the room and had a full-fledged panic attack in the bathroom. Thankfully, my friend knew about my phobia and watched my son until I composed myself.

Clearly, I needed to be protected from my trigger in the early stages of healing. I had little experience with working through triggers and managing my anxiety when faced with such a severe trigger for me. However, I cannot spend the rest of my life having to go have a panic attack in the bathroom every time I see a Russian nesting doll. While (thankfully) Russian nesting dolls aren’t on every street corner, I do bump into them in unexpected places, such as on display at a friend’s house (who received them as a gift when adopting from Russia) or for sale at a consignment shop that sells antiques. Part of healing for me has been learning how to manage my triggers. Another way of wording this is taking responsibility for managing my own triggers so that my friends and family don’t have to spend the rest of my life ridding the world of Russian nesting dolls so that I can function.

Of course, my life would be much easier if I could just wave a magic wand and make all Russian nesting dolls disappear, but that isn’t going to happen. I don’t want to spend my life being protected from my triggers, so I have worked hard to dismantle as many triggers as I can. It is a work in progress, but making the choice to take responsibility for managing my triggers has been empowering. Having to rely on other people to protect me from my triggers makes me feel helpless and weak even though I know I am a strong person. Conversely, each baby step that moves me toward being able to manage my own triggers makes me feel empowered.

In fact, just recently I bumped into an open set of Russian nesting dolls at a consignment store, and I was OK. I noticed them and felt a twinge of triggering, but I knew what tools I needed to employ to bring myself back down. My friend wouldn’t have even noticed I was triggered if I hadn’t pointed out the dolls to her. That’s a huge change from the friend who had to watch my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom several years ago. It felt really good to see my growth in this area of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Before experiencing flashbacks myself, I thought they would all be the same. I actually have several different ways that I experience flashbacks/recover memories, and I suspect that may be true for others as well. I am going to share the different ways that I experience flashbacks and would also like to hear from you if there are additional ways to experience them.
Sickening Awareness
My healing process began with what I call a sickening awareness. I just “knew” that I had been sexually abused by my mother. I had no other information than the weight of knowing in my heart of hearts that it had happened. I also experienced this as the first step in working through being raped by men.
Body Memories
These are my least favorite kind of flashback. After the first sickening awareness, I could feel my body being abused. I had no other information, just that it felt like someone was hurting my body right then. I have come to recognize these flashbacks as my body releasing its own memories of being abused.
Reliving the Abuse
This is the most common form of flashback for me. While a part of me is fully aware that I am an adult lying safely in my bed, another part of myself relives the abuse. I feel and experience the event as the child I was when the abuse happened. The memory unfolds in a linear fashion just as it did when I was a child.
Flashes
I suspect this form of flashback is what put the “flash” in the term “flashback.” I will see a split-second snippet of what happened. For me, this is most common with recovering ritual abuse memories. I don’t know if the different ties into the heightened terror and/or use of drugs during the abuse or not. I’ll see a “flash” of one part of what happened and then a “flash” of another. Because most of my memories were recovered through reliving the abuse, it took me a while to recognize that these were also flashbacks, just recovered differently.
Montage
I have never heard anyone else talk about this form of flashback, but I had this happen when I was dealing with being forced to abuse my sibling. I had been dealing with the sickening awareness that I had been forced to abuse my younger sister, and I had also recovered a piece of one memory involving sexual abuse. I was so sick to my stomach that I wanted to die, and the shame was unbearable. My mind released a montage of flashes of my sister being forced to sexually abuse me. I felt such relief because I knew that she was not responsible, which gave me the courage to talk with her about this form of abuse, apologize, and accept her response that she did not hold me responsible for what our abusers forced me to do to her.

I suspect there are other types of flashbacks as well. I’d love to hear about the different ways that others recover memories.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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