If We Speak, We Are Free

Dissociative Identity Disorder is a survival tool I don’t need anymore. There are jokes about people being crazy and having multiple personalities, but the irony is it saved me from going crazy. It was a way to contain the memories and keep them out of my awareness, so I could live my life. If I didn’t develop DID, I would’ve fallen apart as a child. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school, have friends, or play soccer. I would’ve probably had a breakdown before I even entered elementary school. DID let me split off from the reality that it happened to me. It happened to someone else, like when a little girl is abused and floats above her bed seeing everything that is happening from a third person perspective. This happens to a lot of people who are traumatized, that sense of depersonalization. The more the abuse happens and the more horrifying it is, the more extreme this depersonalization experience gets. It’s happening to another little girl, not me. That is essentially how my mind coped. The horrors and shame tripped circuit breakers in my brain. It was the only way we could survive and function.

Now I don’t need DID, but it is who I am. It is who we are. It’s not going away. We work together better than ever, we see ourselves as an army that fights the darkness. We can overcome the things that haunt us, together. The problem is the compartmentalizion makes life difficult. It’s not like the typical way people compartmentalize things in their life. I can’t explain how confusing the amnesia can be or the complete autonomy of the parts. They have different interests, thoughts, opinions, and ways of seeing things. I only get the information they know if they want me to know it. Luckily it’s been easier to communicate with them, so I know more than ever.

Knowing what they know is a double edged sword. I need to know what they suffered through in order for them, and me, to heal. I need to learn about it carefully, in pieces. It’s true they’ve been slowly showing me pieces of the abuse since I was a teen. The more pieces I get (images, movies in my head, pain, emotions), the more I can put the story together like a horrible jigsaw puzzle. The problem is, am I ever really ready to see the picture, to have the pain and images together in terrifying flashbacks? I can write the trauma narrative now. The terrible things that have haunted me for decades have come together to tell the insane story of my life. It’s hard to believe we survived it.

The parts need me to believe. They need me to hear them. They’ve been locked away in silence for so long, and they are so desperate to be heard. The memories they’ve been showing me for the last two weeks are the worst I’ve ever seen because of the grief and loss. The hardest memories are when innocent people or animals are hurt, and I couldn’t stop the abusers. It started with a nightmare of my mom coming at me with a hammer. She was threatening me to keep quiet, and another part of me was desperately trying to appease her in order to live. I think we were fusing the memory of my father threatening to break my fingers with a hammer as well as my mom’s psychological abuse and threats to stay silent.

A few days after the nightmare, a part revealed more to me about those particular threats from my mom while we were in therapy. When I was 13, she had discovered I was pregnant. She found out before my father because she knew I had missed my period for months. I was dissociative and unaware of what was happening to my body. She confronted me one day in a rage, and another part took over to deal with it as usual. She called us disgusting, and blamed us for the pregnancy even though she knew we’d been raped our whole childhood. She did nothing to protect us and blamed us for it all. She was angry and desperate when she threatened my life because I was pregnant. She attacked me, as she had often done when she lost her temper. She used to get in my face and throw me around or hit me. The next day after that therapy session, I woke up with back and chest pain. I knew my body was reliving the trauma.

I could hear the voices from the parts who blamed themselves thanks to her. They internalized the shame of the abuse. They said they should’ve run away and saved the baby. Their self hatred was overwhelming. My therapist and I tried to get through to them. We said they were just kids, and we were isolated in a new town. We were suddenly moved to a new house in the middle of the woods at the end of the school year. We knew nobody in that town until school started three months later. We were isolated all summer. That’s when they terminated the pregnancy. Parts still scream for the baby. Then last week I was reading a book that triggered more images of that memory, which is absolutely the most painful and soul crushing memory we have.

The images used to incapacitate me. It still threatens to sometimes. But I believe there is progress because I’m surviving, and they’re talking about it to my therapist. Their story isn’t locked away anymore. That baby existed, and she matters. We have to work through the excruciating grief that we were too young to protect and save her. They used to want to kill themselves over it. They blamed themselves for not running, but I told them we were too dissociative to run away. The awareness of what was happening to us was locked away in separate boxes in our mind.

That is the cruel thing about DID. It allows you to survive, but in doing so, your amnesia keeps you stuck. You can’t run for help if you don’t really know what’s happening to you. The parts that knew about the threats felt scared and paralyzed. Some thought of running, and they hate themselves for not doing so. We used to switch so frequently that I doubt any one of them could’ve carried out their plan of running away. When we were 8 or 9, one of us packed a backpack full of snacks and toys to run away, then stowed it under my dad’s boat. I had no awareness of this, and I was confused because I didn’t know what I’d done with my toys. I found them about six months later in the backpack outside. This is why we couldn’t run away and ask for help. Parts say, if only we had run, maybe someone would’ve found out we were pregnant and helped us. Yeah, and maybe we would’ve been sent back to our parents only to be punished severely. We were children. I tell them we did the best we could. It’s not up to a child to save another child. They say it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re a mother, you have an obligation to save your baby. I know how they feel, I do. I just try to show them compassion. With the help of my therapist and others who know our story, we try to help them see that we were trapped, and that the painful truth is we couldn’t have changed the course of events. It wasn’t our fault.

As painful as it all is, I have hope. Yes, there are days I feel as if my heart has been ripped out, and I wander the world like a ghost. But then I see my daughter laugh, and I feel alive again, even if for a short while. I’m lucky enough to have been given another chance. Of course that makes me overprotective of her and hypervigilant for her safety, but I think I do a good job being her mom. I try to remain aware of my hypervigilance so it doesn’t affect her. I want her to be curious about the world and to be secure enough to explore and learn. She knows that I love her, and that I’m there for her. There’s something very healing in that.

The way to heal from soul crushing pain is not through forgiving your abusers or just “letting it go.” A mother can never let go of their lost child. I will never forgive my abusers. They don’t deserve it, and I don’t have to in order to heal. Any decent trauma therapist knows that the way to heal from trauma is to learn to have compassion for yourself. With DID it’s a big job, because I must teach the others to have compassion for themselves too. Shame is what prevents trauma survivors from truly healing. Compassion is the enemy of shame, specifically self compassion. Telling a trauma survivor to forgive their abusers is removing the choice for them, which is triggering when the abuse involved disempowerment. Forgiveness of yourself is the only necessary form of forgiveness needed to heal. I know that I’m on the right path now. It’s taken a long time, but the others are slowly listening to me. There is a lot more work to be done, but they are speaking out, and they know they’re heard. I can thank my therapist for that too.

There is hope, even though there are many bad days. I finally got an appointment for the covid vaccine, and it’s a huge relief. My daughter has started preschool again, and it’s good for her. I’ve been able to talk to an orthopedic surgeon who will take the metal out of my ankle. The recovery will be quick. I’m up to 8-9 mile runs now, and I can’t wait to see how far I can run when there’s no hardware to bother me. I met some new people who are healthy and kind. I go for walks with my new friends, and it’s nice to let people back into my life. They talk about self care and boundaries, and it’s amazing to connect with people who actually work on their healing. One of them has a PhD in psychology, and we have nerdy talks about topics that light up my brain. She thinks like I do, and we clicked right away. This past year in isolation has been horrible- not just for me, but for a lot of people. I feel hope when I see more people getting vaccines, and I feel hope when I find connections again. Maybe it’s the spring air, maybe it’s the fact that I’m finally surrounded by healthy and supportive people, but even in the darkness I see a light.

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