**Trigger warning. This post contains details about physical and sexual abuse I endured as a child. Do not read if you think it might be upsetting or triggering.**
I hesitated posting this because people can be judgmental and cruel. But I think most people are good, I hope. Anyone who judges a trauma survivor and the things they go through are shitheads anyway. We need to post the really difficult stuff because we need to be free of it. And unfortunately lots of other people have suffered as kids, so maybe they’ll see me speaking out and realize they’re not alone.
I woke up at 4:30 this morning with pain and fear after only 4 hours of sleep. My mind was racing and wired. My back, neck, and legs hurt, but I’ve had no injuries to these areas in the present. I was struggling to breathe, but I’m not sick. Almost a year ago, we developed atelectasis from covid-19. Struggling to breathe for weeks was terrifying, and I think that a part was created just to hold these memories. It’s frustrating when I realize that my mind still splits off and creates more parts when faced with traumatic situations. I don’t blame us though, the inability to breathe for so long was awful, and we were alone. The extreme dissociation is an automatic response to trauma and began when we were very little. The helper part tells me that this is not the only reason we struggle to breathe. There are parts activated that are linked to this and the other pain.
The pain in my neck and back has been pretty bad for days. The little boys are agitated and suffering. They tell me that the bad man hurt them and tied something round their neck so they can’t breathe. Andy is only 5 and cries out in pain a lot. He is scared to tell me what happened, but I can also tell that he hesitates because of his humiliation. Red Cloud is angry and aggressive. I feel his rage and his movement inside. He’s constantly pacing and moving and lashing out at others (internally). He holds the rage of being sodomized and choked with a ligature, which is what Andy holds the pain from. Andy talks quietly like he is scared, and he cries a lot. There are other parts that hold this trauma, but I don’t know all their names. They say “other boys,” I think for some reason there are only boys attached to this memory. I told Andy it’s ok, we’re safe now. I told him to check, try to notice that the body is now comfortable and not really in pain as we lie here in this bed. The bed is comfortable, the comforter is warm. Some kids love this blanket so much, they say it’s like being wrapped in a cloud (because it’s white, gray, and soft). I remind him that we have two stuffed animals, and I feel our arms as not mine when he pulls the leopard closer to him. Then I feel anger, he says it’s another little boy, not Red Cloud. He’s angry that the stuffed animals didn’t help him. He must be so young to think that his toys could’ve done anything to protect him, and that they somehow failed him. If I look at this from my therapist training, I see that he is putting that anger at the parents and their betrayal onto his stuffed animals.
Beetle doesn’t say anything. He lies still, and I can feel his paralysis. He thinks he can’t feel anything. He thinks he has a shell, or exoskeleton like a beetle- not in the sense of actually seeing himself like a bug, but he thinks his skin and body are strong like one. They say he doesn’t feel pain and has armour. He always spent a lot of time in the backyard looking for bugs. He never hurt them, he’d just let them crawl around and watch them with fascination. He took a lot of the physical pain from these memories and numbed it out. I know somewhere he must be feeling excruciating pain, because the muscles in my back and neck spasm and seize up. It feels like I can’t move, and the pain is bad. Andy said that if he cried or screamed the bad man would put a rope around his neck and tighten it when he made a noise. He said other bad men did this same thing too. Some would hit us, some liked to choke us with hands or a rope. Sometimes they’d punch us in the back really hard. I realized that this is also why I’ve been struggling to breathe lately and why my back feels like it’s been repeatedly injured. It absolutely feels like I’ve been punched multiple times.
Andy is sad that our therapist isn’t there this week. He likes her. Even though we try to stop the kids from talking to her, they still observe what’s going on in the therapy room a lot. They watch her to see if she’s safe. They say they like that she’s not loud and, “she’s nice to us.” I don’t know if they can put it into words, but what they mean by her not being loud is that she’s calm and patient. They say, “She is quiet, but she knows us.” They mean she understands. They know she listens to us. They say, “She believes us. She knows we’re not lying.” “She believes what we say about the bad man and the other bad ones.” They wish she was here this week. I feel their sadness. They want to go to her office where it’s safe because it helps them to be there when they are feeling so scared and in pain.
As a system, we hold them back from talking to her specifically about the details because we’re scared and ashamed. We’d probably let her read this though. That’s how we communicate the really bad stuff to her because we have so many parts that try to stop us from talking to her for various reasons. We know that if we were able to go there today, we’d feel some relief because we wouldn’t feel so alone. It hurts to be alone with all this horror and pain. Therapy helps DID because experiencing childhood trauma alone causes us to have a closed off support system. When I was a kid, we had no one to help us- no one safe- so we shut down and tried to save ourselves on our own. I think this happens to a lot of trauma survivors, not just people with DID. Telling our therapist brings someone else into our experience so we’re finally not alone. It’s hard to explain what a relief that is to us. Right now we have to survive all this pain on our own and tell no one, which is triggering the suffering of childhood even more. I try my best to comfort the boys, but it always falls short. I know that I’m doing better than I used to. It used to be much harder to get them to listen to me. Now they let me describe the present to them; they let me point out the reasons we are safe now. They let me ground them a little bit, but they always get pulled right back into the trauma because they’re still re-living it.
Most people with PTSD remember the trauma in their bodies as well as their minds. It’s all connected. People with DID and complex PTSD often experience a lot of somatic symptoms. We actually have a part named Soma, which I thought was because of a Smashing Pumpkins song we listened to as a teen, but it’s also our way of conveying that our body holds it all. One day I hope to release a lot of this pain for good. Maybe some of the kids who hold the pain will integrate, but I know that many of them will never leave. They are just as real as I am. They are part of us just as I am part of us. We will never forget the trauma, you don’t forget horror like this. There will always be flashes of bad images and shooting pain. My goal is that one day, these flashbacks will be very infrequent and short lived. I hope that one day, we’ll be able to orient the younger ones to the present and anchor them here. If they can truly feel free and safe from the pain, then our body can actually heal. I know it changed my brain structure, increased my stress hormones, and messed up my nervous system. I need to somehow have hope that I can get better in time.
Right now it feels hopeless though. As the day goes on, the panic gets worse. I just experienced a lot of nausea, it feels awful. We hate that we need our therapist today. Actually we hate that we need her help at all. Today it feels overwhelming, like she’s gone and we’re lost. We need a safe witness to this pain. Maybe one day we won’t relive this stuff so much, and then we won’t need her. We live in fear of the day she’ll really be gone forever. We don’t want to lose her because she’s the first person who was actually safe. We trust her more than anyone else, ever. We hate admitting that. It’s a big deal for us to truly trust someone. And we know one day she’ll leave like everyone else. Her being gone this week reminds us of that. We can survive this pain alone, but it is unfair that we have to. We’ve been alone all our lives. Some are angry she’s not here today, even though we know she needs a break. I feel them trying to take over to punch walls. We won’t let them do it, but it feels uncomfortable inside. I tell them that I understand why they’re so angry. They’re not angry at her, they’re angry that we feel so much pain. They’re angry that people were so cruel to them. They say, “Why does life always gotta hurt like this?” My useless reply is, “I don’t know why. It just does.” I tell them it’s almost time to go swimming. At least we can feel free and strong for a little while.