Friday, May 29, 2015

Disassociation Part 3: The Different Parts of Me

There are parts of my life that still don't work because of the trauma, and that bugs me. I want to beat it. Relaxing to fall asleep seems to be impossible without a pill, that's a problem. Aspects of marriage that I won't go into here are a big problem, not only for me but for my spouse, and I feel bad about that. Pursuing healing is not just about me: The traumatic experiences have affected many people I love. And that makes me mad.

Trauma memories have affected the way I parent in many destructive ways. I've worked hard on overcoming this. For instance, I had to consciously train myself to learn how to cuddle with my little people, and not feel like shoving them away when they were “on” me. Eventually I came to enjoy snuggling (with a child at least). But I wish I could have a do-over with my kids’ baby and toddler years. There were so many times I would freak out on them, and it wasn’t their fault. I was being “triggered” because of traumatic experiences in my past, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was doing the best I could. In the end, hopefully it will have been good enough. I have a fifteen year old and a twenty year, and both of them are turning into quite decent, highly individual young men, though there’s been some very rocky places along the way.

At this time in my life, maybe there is enough space and distance from the traumatic experiences, enough basic safety (the person who did the horrible stuff to me is sealed away in a nursing home, I've had no contact with him for many years), and enough time to myself (something I certainly didn’t have with babies and toddlers), that I can pursue healing. It’s incredible to me that at age 43 I am learning about so many experiences in my own life for the first time. Though parts of me have always known. Those parts had just been separated from the whole. That’s what disassociation means, or dissociative identity disorder. Click on the link for a good article on DID from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. I read through several articles on the topic, and this one seems balanced and thorough. 

I’ve been trying to invite these broken-off parts of me back. To tell them that it’s safe now, it’s going to be O.K. They don’t totally believe me yet, but we're working on it.

One day I had a migraine. Assuming it was allergies, I took my prescription pill and tried to lay down a bit to kick the headache before my daughter’s soccer game. Then I started having weird, intense pain in my back and shoulder and other places and thought, Great. This is body memories. My head hurt too much to sleep anyway, so I decided to sit up and try writing in my journal. And I tried an experiment. I tried allowing the different parts of me to talk to each other in my journal. It was hard. The things these different parts have to say are difficult. There are very good reasons why they've been in hiding--or have gotten shut down--for so many years. But after spending about an hour journaling, the migraine had faded into the background, and I could go on with my day.

So I’ve been trying to do this every so often. At long last, I am letting these different parts have a “voice”. It’s scary, but so far I’m managing O.K. Last week I felt myself going down into depression, something I haven't struggled with for a few years. But then some neat things happened during my Monday night Survivor’s group, and I was able to rebalance. I’m very aware of my red flags, and I know what to do when I start to get overwhelmed (I've written about that here).

I’m also drawing some. That’s even scarier for me, it feels even closer.

A caveat here: I would not recommend for anyone to experiment with these kinds of activities unless they know they have the basic safety and support they need to get themselves back to a stable place if needed. When I first went to counseling several years ago, I worked on grounding techniques and how to deal with crazy feelings and emotional pain--learned how to get myself back to a safe emotional place--for an entire year before talking much about the actual memories.

So I have DID. But apparently the boundaries to the different parts inside me are “permeable”, meaning I am aware of switching between the different parts. My counselor explained all this to me when I told him how I had noticed my handwriting changes dramatically in my journal. I can remember this happening once when I was in third or fourth grade, looking down at my handwriting paper and wondering how that happened. When remembering and connecting with times of severe pain and fear my handwriting gets very, very tiny.

There’s also an angry teenager in there. Her handwriting is bold and messy. She is very black and white in her thinking, very harsh to the smaller one, and extremely conscious of what other people think. These "parts" feel different and distinct on the inside. It’s like I enter into a different “feeling state” when I allow each one her have a say. But I am aware of this happening, aware of switching back and forth. Apparently there are different levels of dissociation. The spectrum runs from simple daydreaming or “blanking out” for a short time which is normal for everyone to do, to the far extreme where fully distinct personalities develop and live in the outside world with different names, jobs, habits, relationships and outward appearances, and these separate people have no awareness of each other, and no awareness of when they switch from one to another. On the spectrum of being disassociated, I must be somewhere in the middle.

Lately, as I learn more, I’ve been understanding how smart and wise I was, even as a very little person. I needed to preserve myself. I needed to not be overwhelmed. And I desperately wanted to be able to connect with others in the bright outer world. So I split parts of myself off. I did what I needed to do to survive, and not only to survive, but to connect with other people, and experience some happiness. I’m proud that I was able to do that. For the few that take time to hear my story and really listen, they are amazed that I have done so well. And so am I!