The Scary Stuff

**Trigger warning: this post contains details about childhood abuse that some people might find upsetting.**

The words are hard to type or say. I went through some bad things, and my life was threatened so that I wouldn’t tell. Some parts think they protect the others by keeping us silent. It’s an old behaviour that hurts us now. They’re trapped in traumatic memories, so they think it’s a long time ago and the same threats are still there. These protector parts think they’re helping, but they’re holding us back from healing when they keep us quiet. It’s taken a long time to get them to allow us to tell our story, and it’s still a work in progress. I don’t blame those parts of me, they had an important job at the time to protect us from death. We really believed he would kill us.

My father was a twisted man hidden under the facade he showed the world. He made sure to give to charity and help at his kids’ schools. He had a good job as an engineer and a decent house in middle class suburbia. When I was 4, he brought my family (my mother, me, and my sister) to America for a better life. He got a job with a large tech company in the States, and they helped him acquire a mortgage and Green Cards for us. We had material possessions. But my mother was deeply depressed when we moved, and I don’t blame her. She missed her family. She was alone with no driver’s license or car in a new country with two young children while he worked. He had promised that we’d go back home after saving some money here, but we never did. And she never let him forget that.

Meanwhile, I was living through abuse I can barely write about. There was a group of men in my neighbourhood growing up who were pedophiles. There were also some British and Scottish men at my dad’s work who were part of this group. One of my neighbours worked for the same company as my dad and was arrested when I was an adult for child pornography on his work computer. All he got was probation, and they put his name on the sex offender registry. My mom and dad still spend time with him and his wife.

I was sexually abused starting at a young age by my father, and I was molested by my mother, usually in the bathroom while she was bathing me. It was very difficult to write that sentence. Of course it was infinitely more difficult to finally come to terms with the fact that I had memories of both of them doing this. It took me a long time to accept, and at first the memories came at me with horrifying and confusing fragments and overwhelming emotion. I would have seizures, completely shut down and become paralyzed, have panic attacks, dissociate and self harm or attempt suicide, stopped sleeping at night, and developed extreme paranoia that my parents were reading my journals and computer files. What also came in fragments were the memories of physical abuse and torture, rape by groups of men, videotaping and cameras, and child prostitution. I was sent to the neighbours’ houses to be abused, so I’m only assuming they paid or something equally as awful.

All of this was extremely disturbing, and at times it felt like it destroyed my soul. But what haunted me and confused me just as much were all the horrible details from my journals and nightmares about torture and death. Over the years I started to remember the disturbing ways in which he scared me into staying silent. I’ll start with the worst one. If I didn’t do what my father said, he’d hurt an animal or another kid. This would haunt me forever, and a part that holds this pain feels very guilty and angry. This little one tries to act big and tough, but he’s a barely verbal 6 year old. These parts have sometimes given me trouble in my adult life, but they saved me in childhood. They were there my whole life, taking hell for me… like the times he put me in a box to break me. I don’t know how long I stayed in there. He hung me by my neck from a tree just long enough to make me believe I was going to die. He didn’t drop me, but let me dangle with my feet almost touching the ground, slowly suffocating amongst the trees and dead leaves. There’s a poem called “Can’t Reach the Ground” in one of my journals from when I was 15 that I don’t remember writing. After I recalled this memory in vivid detail, they told me to check that journal, and the poem stunned me to be honest. It’s hard realizing that your life was the stuff of horror movies, and that’s why you don’t remember anything. The weird thing about putting that memory together is I had the recall of facing death for a while now, but I didn’t have any visual or physical sensations. Almost two years ago I actually overheard a part of me tell my therapist about facing death. I was stunned because as I listened, I knew with every cell in my body that I had experienced that. They explained that it was like experiencing the worst fear a human can ever feel, sort of like blinding terror (which makes sense because imminent death is obviously the most dangerous situation we can face), and when you feel like you’re going to break emotionally and physically, you’re overcome with numbness, then almost euphoria, and a sense of calm and peace. You stop struggling. You accept the end. Over a year later I listened to my friend tell her story of almost dying in the hospital, and it sounded eerily similar. My therapist said it’s because the brain releases a chemical when you’re close to death. I believe her, I don’t want to look it up.

He also made me think he was going to bury me alive. He took me into the woods with a wooden box and dug a grave in front of me, then put me into the box. He obviously didn’t bury me, but we were terrifed. I have two or more parts just from that one incident. Two of them are twins. One of the twins is a ghost, I’m guessing because my child’s mind thought I’d died. These particular parts don’t take control in daily life, but they hold the memories, emotions, pain, etc. I also remember ropes and being tied up in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. I remember knives and carpentry tools used for evil. I still have scars and permanent changes to my body. His dad was a carpenter and engineer. He used his dad’s tools, the ones he passed down to him when he died. He threatened to saw my head off while I was tied to his workbench as he held a saw to my neck.

This was apparently all to keep me from telling anyone who could help me, because he knew I was a fighter. Despite my stubborn will and resiliency, I think he knew he didn’t have to resort to torture to keep me quiet. He knew shame worked just as well. I think he enjoyed torturing me because he was extremely sadistic and was probably abused by his father. Now that the memories show me more details, I can sometimes see the evil grin on his face, and it’s horrible. He always told me the story about when I was 2, and I was misbehaving. He got down at my level, face to face with me, and jokingly said, “Do you want trouble?” I stood defiantly, held my ground, and said, “Yes!” He liked that I wasn’t easily intimidated. I think he saw it as an opportunity to test and also break me. And I think that’s why I took most, if not all, of the torture… I’m glad it was me and not my little sister. When I was forced by my school into therapy at 15 years old, it was very dangerous to me. Of course he saw therapists as the enemy. His threats continued and escalated while I was in therapy. I have parts to this day who believe he’ll kill me if I say anything, and this was a major roadblock to getting help in therapy for a long time.

When I was 18, I moved out of their house. My best friend witnessed me go through the raw, painful beginning of my slow realization of what happened when I was a child. When I first started recalling it, the memories were terrifying, but they were only fragments. They were very confusing. Over time more and more of the picture emerged, so that now I’m seeing them like pieces of horror movies. My father loved violent films… Anyway, my journals always had the fragmented memories in them. At 14, I started writing to help with my severe depression. A teen part loved it, and we both write now. Sometimes we write together and sometimes separately, it depends on the poem. Our journals never changed though. The details were written over and over, and unfortunately they repeated the same horrible stories. It just became clearer to me over the years. I would be unable to handle what I remembered because it seemed too scary or unreal, so I’d forget again. I’m not even sure of everything my best friend knows. This is how bad my memory is: she knows about the knife trigger of mine, and I thought that was a memory I had just recalled a few years ago. She said no, I’ve known about that for 20 years. Luckily my friends are patient with my memory. The people who know me usually just smile or ignore it when they notice my memory issues, but they don’t give me a hard time. My brain seems to know what I can handle. I guess it had to resort to drastic measures, and apparently that meant compartmentalizing and developing autonomous parts to help me contain what is too unbearable to know. I would’ve preferred a less complicated solution, but it is what it is, and I’m glad to be alive.

At first the fragmented memories and journal entries written by parts drove me mad because I couldn’t bare the thought of my parents doing this, so I needed more proof. I would often try to deny it when I was younger, sometimes for years at a time. Who would want to believe that their parents and other adults did such unspeakable things? But over the years and after lots of therapy and work on myself, I have become a lot stronger. I also finally found a good therapist, so we were able to trust her enough to do the difficult work. Now I see a lot, and I remember it. It feels like too much pain in my head at once sometimes. All this is pretty terrible and hard to believe. I wish it wasn’t my reality. It’s caused me physical pain that I still feel every day. I have muscle spasms and nerve pain in my back. I experience severe neck, shoulder, and hip pain. My doctor used to prescribe Gabapentin, but I hated the side effects so I stopped taking it. Luckily I’ve learned how to manage the pain more effectively by finding the part that needs help and addressing their needs. Sometimes I just have to feel the pain though, because it’s their way of sharing with me what they went through so we can all heal together. The trauma also caused me to have nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, nausea, trouble eating, extreme startle response, anxiety, occasional paralysis, and large gaps in my memory. As bad as that sounds, I’ve made great strides with all of those symptoms, and I’m incredibly proud of myself and the parts of me that work with me to feel better.

Obviously my memory is terrible because of my dissociation, and that is still a work in progress. Different parts hold different memories, sometimes even for events in everyday life. It’s a protective mechanism gone awry because I don’t need it anymore. I’m an adult, and I can manage my emotions and traumas in a more functional and effective way. My therapist is helping us to have multiple parts active in therapy at the same time so that we can work on things together. I’ve learned that the keys to healing trauma for anybody are: a collaborative and relational approach to therapy, self compassion, and tearing down the walls of shame. The added piece for DID is compassion for and cooperation among all parts. This is another work in progress, but she has definitely helped me save my life. I have trauma from previous therapists that she has to help me through as well. She’s really smart, which is good because sometimes I use my master’s degree in counseling to intellectualize instead of working on the emotions, and she will call me out on that. You’ll hear plenty about my therapist because therapy is pretty much the only treatment option for DID. Medication doesn’t help much. People who know me know that I’m a huge proponent of therapy for anyone who may need it, and for DID it can definitely be the difference between life and death.

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