Archive for April, 2012

One of the blessings of having some people in my life who “knew me when” is hearing an outside perspective about how much I have grown since I chose to heal. A friend came to visit over the weekend who knew me when I was going through therapy. By the time I met her, I was seeing my therapist every other week and had worked through many memories. However, I was still struggling with the ritual abuse memories and had not even begun many of my transformations.

Before therapy, I was very rigid and controlling. I was obsessed with having a very specific schedule for my son. He needed to eat at exactly X time, and the world would end if he got to bed one minute late. I have changed so much that I sometimes “forget” about how rigid I used to be, which is where some of the longer friendships really help.

On Saturday night, I watched a movie on DVD with my “old” friend along with a couple of “newer” friends. What’s funny is that one of my “newer” friends has known me for five years versus this older friend’s seven years, but that just shows you much growth I apparently experienced just between those two years.

I made a crack about how I know I am dealing with someone uptight when I am the one advising the other person to chill out and go with the flow. My “older” friend jumped in and said, “You know. You really are so much more ‘go with the flow’ than you used to be.” She said she really noticed the change when I visited a couple of years. She expected me to have a detailed schedule for the whole day, and she was pleasantly surprised by my “whatever” attitude – “The kids can eat whenever… They can go to bed whenever…” She said she was amazed at how much more relaxed I had become since we first met.

I frequently only see how far I have to go, so it is refreshing to hear an outside perspective on how far I have come. No, I am not a completely carefree, spontaneous person, but I am also to the rigid, scheduled person that I used to be, either. It’s exciting to notice the progress!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Taking the day off

Hi, all.

I have company coming into town, so I am going to take the day off from blogging. I plan to return on Monday. Have a good weekend! ~ Faith

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PhotobucketOne of my challenges in my early years of healing was feeling the need to take care of others while they were trying to take care of me. As an example, I might have just recovered a traumatizing memory involving being forced to kill an animal. I needed to talk about what happened as well as how it made me feel. However, I wasn’t always sure that the other person could handle hearing about it.

So, instead of just letting loose and unloading what I needed to share, I would dole out the information in pieces and gauge the other person’s reaction. I might begin with, “When I was seven, I was forced to do something.” I’d gauge the other person’s reaction before continuing. I would then share a little more and see if the person could handle the direction I was going.

I had one friend who could handle hearing about most of my stuff, but she is a huge dog lover, so she stopped me as soon as I said the word “dog.” She was direct about it, but not every friend would be. I wouldn’t know until I said one thing too many and saw in the reaction on the other person’s face that I had gone too far in my disclosure. I would then feel the need to shift gears to comfort the other person.

The worst part was that I was already feeling so much shame and self-loathing over what I had remembered. Seeing a strong reaction on the other person’s face would sometimes reinforce that shame, even if the other person said the “right” things. I am an expert in “reading” other people, so the body language would overshadow the words.

My therapist was the one person who never flinched face-to-face no matter how gruesome my story was. I also felt completely free to share all in the My Stories forum on isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. I would put up a trigger warning, and anyone who read my story knew to expect a graphic recounting of what happened. I didn’t do that to shock anyone – I simply felt the need to pour out what happened in graphic detail. Once it was out on the screen, it felt like I had poured the memory out of my spirit.

This is one reason that finding a qualified therapist with experience working with child abuse survivors can be so helpful. If you are only talking with your friends about what happened, you might find yourself unable to let go and share all when you feel the need to do so. I have told my friends that as difficult as it is for them to hear about my story as an adult, I assure them that it was much harder to survive as a child.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketMy house has a few “trouble areas” that never seem to stay clean. One particularly difficult part of my house is what we call the pantry, which is actually a room that holds the washer and dryer along with a bunch of shelves. My house does not have enough storage, so items seem to accumulate in our pantry until I simply cannot stand it any longer and decide to “reclaim the pantry.” I always find this task to be daunting because so much stuff gets dumped in there.

I live with two people who don’t know how to process things. Hub’s mother felt “needed” by processing his stuff for him, so he never learned how to complete a task. My son has diagnosed processing issues and will likely never excel in processing tasks. So, you can imagine what my pantry (and entire house!) looks like if I don’t stay on top of processing everything. Since I work two part-time jobs, blog, and have friends, a special needs child, and a life, I simply don’t have the time to follow behind my family and process everything as they go. So, I frequently find myself in the position of getting annoyed to ignoring the problem to saying, “Enough!” and then reclaiming an area of the house again.

I went through this process again last week. I tackled the pantry, fearing that it would take all day. Two hours later, the pantry looked BEAUTIFUL – organized, swept, and mopped. I was so inspired that I tackled my son’s room (along with him) over the weekend and then another trouble spot that has been bothering me for a long time. I also feared that both of those tasks would take all day, but we knocked them out in a couple of hours as well.

I saw all of this as a metaphor for my own healing process. I frequently become frustrated because I work very hard to reclaim a part of myself, only to find the garbage piling up again. Just like with my house, I go through the same process in my healing – I get annoyed and then ignore it. Eventually, it bothers me enough to focus on that area of healing. I am frequently surprised to discover that it took a lot less effort this time than it did the last time or the time before that.

I am going to try to remember, both in my housekeeping and in my healing process, that I am never starting from scratch. Yes, it is frustrating to have to deal with that area of my house or healing AGAIN, but it’s not going to take as much time or effort to “reclaim” it again. Now, if only I could figure out how to reclaim each area for good…

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.

Downing talks about the challenges of learning to give up dissociation as a coping mechanism. This has been a challenge for me as well. For most of my life, if something really upset me, I could just dissociate it away and not worry about it anymore. Choosing integration means choosing to feel rather than shoving it all back down inside. For me, it felt like being asked to give up a superpower.

Downing viewed continuing to use dissociation as a coping mechanism as choosing to view the world as a hostile place. I don’t really think of it in those terms. Instead, I view choosing to continue using dissociation to get through my life as choosing to continue rejecting parts of myself, which I no longer want to do. Whatever I am feeling, whether I like it or not, is part of **me**, and I don’t want to reject any part of myself.

I have also learned that there is no way to shut down the “bad” feelings without also shutting down the “good” ones. This is one reason I am drinking less wine and taking less Xanax. Both help shut down the feelings I don’t want to deal with right now, but they also suppress my ability to experience joy and the beauty of being alive. Giving up the good is no longer worth it – I’ll just process the harder emotions. I also remind myself that I can deal with the pain today or stuff it down and then deal with it in spades later. I’d rather just get it over with now.

Downing listed the following changes in helping her give up dissociation:

  1. Stop talking about yourself in the third person.
  2. Allow yourself to experience internal conflict.
  3. Examine your trauma-based beliefs.
  4. Accept negative aspects of yourself.
  5. Realize that nothing is lost.

I never talked about myself in the third person (as a writer, I saw it as grammatically incorrect), but saying that it was **me** in the flashbacks was difficult at first. It took me a long to time wrap my mind around all of these memories actually happening **to me**.

Experiencing internal conflict was a huge change for me. I used to just dissociate away the conflicts, so different parts would hold different points of view. It took a lot of adjusting for me to become comfortable with having conflicted feelings about a topic.

The example of trauma-based beliefs that Downing uses is recognizing that having feelings isn’t “bad.” I had to work through this as well. My entire family was stoic other than my father’s anger. I thought I was so emotional because I would cry, which seemed quite demonstrative when compared to the rest of my family. I now embrace experiencing emotions.

I have already previously talked about accepting the negative aspects of myself, so I won’t cover that again. Bottom line – all parts of me are “good” because they are “me.”

I fully agree with Downing’s words here about nothing being lost through integration:

There is a kind of paradox with integration. One of the fears expressed by individuals with DID who choose not to integrate is that parts of the self will be lost, disappear, or die. The reality is that after integration the parts of the self are actually closer and more real than ever. The dissociative barrier is gone and the aspects of the self are now experienced directly. ~ Understanding Integration

That’s all I wanted to highlight from the article. Thanks for bearing with such a long series!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.

Downing shares that she had the following concerns about integration:

  1. Would she be able to deal with new trauma memories? She discovered (as did I) that trauma memories will continue to need to be processed even after integration. My experience has been that it is easier to process trauma from an integrated perspective than it was as an alter part because the memory is processed against the backdrop of a whole lifetime of experiences.
  2. Could she integrate hundreds of alter parts? Both she and I were successful in doing so. I did not keep a list of the number of alter parts I had to integrate, but it was definitely in the hundreds. The biggest part was my original child. Faye (the host personality) was a three-dimension part. Other parts were also “big,” such as Wolfie who came out at night to protect me while I slept. Most parts were smaller (personality fragments) that held only one emotion, memory, or part of a traumatizing memory.
  3. Would the extent of the abuse prevent integration? Like me, Downing suffered from ritual abuse, and she feared that perhaps she was too broken to be fixed because of the nature of the abuse. The extent of the abuse did not prevent either of us from integrating.
  4. Was she too old to integrate? Downing feared that being in her mid-forties made her too old to integrate. Thankfully, I didn’t worry about this in my mid-thirties since I had Downing’s experience of succeeding at an older age.

Interestingly, my biggest concern about integration was very different from Downing’s, perhaps because I had her article to allay the fears that she had already written about. My number one concern was who I would be at the end of the process. I was very passive (the world’s doormat) and structured before beginning the healing process. I could not fathom being anything other than what I had always been.

With each integration, I was different. After one integration, I was suddenly much more aware of the possibility of being harmed while walking in the park whereas I was always previously too dissociated for being hypervigilant about my safety in the park. After integrating Irate, I went from never getting angry about anything to popping off if someone was rude to me. In the early stages, it felt like who I was kept shifting, which was disorienting.

I have grown to realize that integration isn’t about becoming a new person but, instead, awakening to who I have always been. As an example, I have always had a backbone, but I dissociated this strength into alter parts because it was not safe for me to express my anger as a child. However, every few months, Irate would have enough and lash out, surprising Faye. I used to joke that I had a very long fuse that only went off about once a year. My reality is that I have always been a strong person – I just had dissociated away that strength. I now have access to that strength 24/7.

My other big concern was simply how to go about integrating. I learned that integration is a natural process, and I didn’t need a “how to” manual to accomplish it. As long as I loved and accepted each part as “me,” integration happened naturally a little at a time.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.

Downing talks about her experiences in integrating various types of alter parts. My experiences were similar, and I was immensely grateful to have this article as my guide. Since I had found so few resources to explain how to integrate various types of alter parts, this article became a wonderful roadmap for how to interact with and heal various parts of myself.

Downing talks about a “cooking girl” alter part who had been spared from the abuse. My “innocent part” was my host personality, Faye. Choosing to integrate Faye into my core was challenging because I had to accept that no part of myself had been spared from the abuse. This was a painful reality that I had to grieve. However, most of myself already knew that the abuse had happened and that I hadn’t been spared, so once Faye was integrated, I actually did not need to spend much time grieving this loss.

Downing next talks about integrating “dangerous personalities,” such as those who are aggressive toward others. I actually struggled more with parts that were dangerous toward myself. I had multiple parts that were self-destructive, such as banging my head through self-injury or fantasizing about suicide.

I believe my experience was consistent with Downing’s that integrating “dangerous” parts was immensely healing. It was easy to love the wounded child parts but not as easy to love the self-persecuting parts that told me that I deserved to suffer. I accepted that every part was me and that, for this reason, all parts were “good.”

I chose to love and accept each part no matter how much it frightened me or how much it lashed out at me. As an example, I had parts that were filled self-loathing (I called them persecutor parts). They would flood my head with messages about how worthless I was. I would tell these parts thank you for the role they served in helping me survive my childhood. I would then tell them that their anger was actually toward my abusers rather than me. I would offer to let them “kill” whichever abuser they wished through visualization. I would scroll through a mental rolodex in my head of various abusers until that part of myself attacked one. I would let the visualizations get as graphic and disturbing as they needed to.

Once a persecutor part was given the freedom to direct its anger at the source and was reassured that I loved and accepted that part, I no longer had a need to keep that part separate, and it would integrate. Because these parts of myself were some of the most wounded, my choice to love and accept them as “me” resulted in amazing healing.

I am going to continue this series next week. I apologize to those who aren’t getting much out of the topic of integration from DID, but I hope that some are finding this series useful. I would have loved to have read something similar when I was trying to figure out how to integrate from DID.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.

The next part of Downing’s article talks about the phases of integration, which is too involved for me to summarize here. I agree with her that integration is not a single event but, instead, a gradual process of moving from being separate parts to being whole.

The metaphor I like is of melting ice. Before the abuse started, my spirit was like a pond where each part flowed into the next. The abuse caused the pond to ice over, and repeated abuse caused the ice to split off into separate chunks, which is what I experienced as alter parts. I was still one pond even though I felt like a bunch of separate chunks of ice. Integration happened by melting the ice back into water through the warmth of self-love. Nothing was lost – it was just experienced in a different way.

Downing talks about integrating and then losing that integration for a while (what she calls “disintegration”). I experienced this as well, but I think it was less stressful for me (perhaps because I had her article as a guide). When I am not dissociative, I experience the world around me differently, as if I have been beamed into my life and am really “here.” I will have moments of feelings extremely present like that, which I see as a guide for where I am heading. However, I don’t stay in that place for long periods of time.

Most of my progress is gradual. As an example, I will find myself getting overstimulated by sights, sounds, or smells as I move into a deeper level of integration because, thanks to living most of my life in a dissociated state, I haven’t had to deal with overstimulation. I would simply switch from one part to the next and avoid having see, hear, or smell whatever I didn’t want to process. Being integrated means experiencing the good and the bad – being present to enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass but also present to get the waft of a garbage can.

I love this perspective offered by Downing:

I could respect my choice as a child to dissociate and survive in the face of overwhelming and ongoing trauma. But I could, as an adult, choose how I wanted to cope now as I remembered the trauma and faced life as a free adult. I COULD CHOOSE AGAIN. ~ Understanding Integration

This has been my experience as well. As I continued to embraced the different parts as “me” and “mine,” I could process the traumas against the backdrop of all of my life experiences versus the limited views that these individual parts had based upon their own limited experiences. I could honor and heal the pain of individual parts while still choosing how to move forward from an adult perspective. The more I healed, the easier this process became.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.

Below is a summary of Downing’s reasons for integration:

  1. Relationship to Myself – Integration is a statement of self-love, providing access to a full range of feelings.
  2. Relationship to Others – Integration resulted in Downing being able to be consistently available to her loved ones.
  3. Relationship to Life – Integration enables a person to be fully present in life with a full range of coping skills to deal with life.
  4. Relationship to Death – Integration enabled Downing to reach of a place of accepting her life history and eventual death.
  5. Children with DID naturally move toward integration – Downing addresses this point later in the article, but I think it fits here. According to Downing, children with DID naturally move toward integration once they are placed in a safe environment, and no debating about whether to stay dissociative or integrate takes place as part of children’s therapy. ~ Understanding Integration

While Downing and I both chose integration, our reasons were somewhat different. One of my reasons for choosing integration was as an “up yours” to my abusers. I was angry that my abusers caused me to split inside to survive their abuse, and I wanted what they had taken from me back – a unified sense of self. I was unwilling to rest until I was a “me” again, in part, to prove that I was stronger than my abusers and that my ability to heal myself had more power than their ability to break me.

I also very much liked the concept I shared in my last blog entry about integration being the ultimate statement of self-love. By claiming each and every part as “me” and “mine,” including those parts’ feelings, emotions, memories, and experiences, I was reclaiming myself. I was making both an internal and external statement (or proclamation!) that I loved and accepted every single part of myself – that there were no “throwaway” parts or parts that were not “good enough” to be me. I loved each part of myself for the same reason I love my child – because he (and they) are mine.

Just like with my child, I wasn’t always happy with the feelings or behaviors of particular parts, and I certainly wasn’t thrilled with many of the memories I had to claim as “mine” to integrate. However, my choice to love and accept each part as “me” wasn’t something to be “earned,” just as my child cannot “earn” my love. My love for my child, and for all of myself, is simply because they are mine … period.

Finally, I wanted to know what it was like to be a “normal” person, although many people assure me that I will never really be “normal.” I might not be “normal,” but I have experienced life as a multiple and as a “singleton,” and I much prefer having full access to myself.

Releasing the splits and integrating had an added benefit that I don’t hear people talk about much. To me, integrating a part feels like getting to put my arms down after having to hold them up over my head for a very long time. Staying split takes an enormous amount of energy that has been freed up to be used in other ways.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am working through a series on integration from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which begins here. I am using Rachel Downing’s article, Understanding Integration , as a starting point and then building upon what she says with my own experiences.

Downing defines integration as follows:

At the most basic level, integration simply means acceptance/ownership of all thoughts, feelings, fears, beliefs, experiences and memories (often labeled as personalities) as me/mine. It means giving up the split(s) that says something is “not me.” Integration is more than about personalities. It is about full acceptance of all dissociated aspects of oneself. ~ Understanding Integration

When I first read this definition of integration, it reinforced my desire to integrate from DID. I loved the thought of finding a way to accept all of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as “mine” even though they did not feel that way at the time. I saw the choice of accepting all of these aspects of myself as “me” or “mine” to be a very deep statement of self-love – that even those parts of myself that I abhorred (such as parts that I viewed as “bad” or harmful) were worthy of love and acceptance.

I fully agree with Downing’s observation here:

Integration occurs when I accept a dissociated personality, part, or aspect of myself and bring it into normal awareness. It is not about getting rid of or killing off a part of myself. When I maintain the split and say it is “not me,” I am implicitly rejecting that part of myself. Essentially, integration is fully embracing each and every part/aspect of myself …With DID, when I deny/reject a part of myself that wants to cut/hurt me, I can’t control that part of myself. When I incorporate that part of myself I gain control and choices. ~ Understanding Integration

When I “met” the first alter part I became aware of — “Irate,” I didn’t want her to “go away.” However, because I wanted to integrate and be whole, I feared this was part of the process. I was surprised to discover that integrating Irate meant that I had 24/7 access to her in a different way. Instead of interacting with the world without the ability to express anger and needing Irate to come out “defend” me, Irate became an ever-present part of me. Since she integrated, I have the ability to feel anger and choose whether or not to act upon it or how to express it. This was something I had been unable to experience before Irate integrated.

By integrating Irate, I did not “kill her off.” Instead, I freed her to experience life from more than just the perspective of someone who is angry. I did not have to choose between never feeling angry or feeling “pure” anger. Once Irate integrated, I could experience the emotion of anger against the backdrop of all of my other emotions, which has been a much richer way to experience the world and enables me to balance out my anger with my other emotions.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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