Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Embracing Fear and Conquering with DID

I have a severe phobia of the dentist.  I mean severe.   It's the chair.  Yes, not the shot, or the drill, it's the chair.  Lying in the chair represents submission, and as you can imagine that terrifies me.  You sit back in that chair and open your mouth, and then trust. 

Trust is a big issue for survivors of childhood abuse.  It is really a struggle for me.

My fear started when I got the reminder call about the appointment.  It increased as the time approached. I was emotional and distracted. The day of the appointment I was a basketcase, I couldn't concentrate.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I am really not. 

As I sat in the lobby filling out the new patient paperwork, I knew that as soon as I started walking toward the chair I would become, emotionally a child.  I would be paralyzed by fear and unable to speak up or advocate for myself.  I know this because it happens everytime I go to the dentist.  So I wrote a note to my new dentist and explained my situation.  The dentist, bless him, read my note and then came out to the lobby and sat and chatted with me for a moment to put me more at ease.  That was wonderful, but still when he said, "Come on back."  It happened.  The paralysis set in.  I was like a helpless child.

I sat in the dreaded chair, and the hygienist began the cleaning.  That's when it hit me.  I forgot to ask for laughing gas for the cleaning.  I hate metal touching my teeth, and what do they do in a cleaning but scrape your teeth with metal...argh!  As an adult, I would just put up my hand to stop him and ask for laughing gas, but I was not an adult at that moment.  I was a helpless child at the hands of an "authority figure".  I could not make requests I could only wait helplessly until it was over.

My body tensed, and my heart rate increased as my panic grew.  How could I get myself through this situation.  Desperately, and with frustration, I thought, "Why can't I dissociate myself out of this?"  Then a glimmer of hope came to me, "Why can't I?  Where should I go?"

I was ready to mentally transport myself somewhere else.  I figured I have been doing it unconsciously since childhood, so this time I would do it consciously.  That was my only goal.  As I considered where to would have to be somewhere I felt comfortable, and somewhere well-established.  Some how I felt that I would not have the "strength" to go to a new place, I needed to go to a comfortable place in my mind I had been to before.

I chose my DID Landscape.  This is a common thing among people with DID, to have an organized space in one's mind for all one's parts.  I don't want to give too many details about my DID landscape, but suffice it to say that even though there are parts there that have painful memories, and one part in particular that I am avoiding, it is still a beautiful place that I created for traumtized parts to heal.  So I went there myself as I have many times before in therapy.

I stood at the entrance and thought, "Now what?"  Then, an idea came to me to go to the part of me that holds the memory that causes most of my dentist phobia.  That part is a  young girl, 4 yrs old (she has a name, but I am not comfortable sharing that). 

I approached her and took her in my arms, lovingly.  I rocked her and stroked her hair.  I spoke to her quietly, "I am so sorry for what happened to you.  So, so sorry.  I know you are scared, but what is happening now is different.  Feel what the body feels right now, and see that this is different.  I promise, I will never let anyone hurt you again."

Something amazing happened, the terror I felt eased, a very peaceful, healing feeling replaced it.  I felt so good.  I marveled at it.

At that moment, the hygenist (who was very gentle) slipped and that sharp metal hook hit my lip.  I thought, "Buster, if you do that again we are done."  And I meant it.  If that happened again, I would raise my hand and simply say, "I'm done.  I can't do any more today."  No explanation needed, it's my body and if I say stop, it stops.  That is when I realized, I was back in adult mode!!!  I can't express how incredible that felt.  I was no longer a terrified child helplessly submitting to whatever the "authority figures of the moment" subjected me too.  I was an adult that could speak up for my needs and defend my boundaries.  I was exhilarated.  I could hardly believe it.

When the cleaning was done, I glanced at the clock on the wall.  I was stunned. How could I have been at the dentist for an hour?  It literally felt like 15 minutes.  As I got up from the chair, my leg muscles, knees and ankles were so stiff and painful that it was difficult to get up (I hadn't had pain when I came in) but emotionally and mentally I felt like I could fly. 

Anthony Maragou

Photo Attribution: Anthony Maragou

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Beneath the Mask: Dissociative Identity Disorder

I've been thinking about writing about this for some time. I have even hinted at it, some might say I did more than hint. Anyway, I did not think I had said it directly, so here it is...

I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Michael Drummond

My 16 yr old son asked me the other day, "Mom is DID the same thing as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)?"

I had told my teenage children quite awhile ago that I have DID, but I guess he didn't make the connection.  I explained that yes they are the same.  He then had more questions.  Can the parts really be different sexes? Yes. And have different medical issues?  Yes.  Different ages?  Yes. 

I could be wrong but I sensed a bit of "Wait a minute, you didn't tell me it was like THAT."  My point here is that even though he lives with me, he didn't realize.  DID is NOT obvious.  People with DID have families, hold down jobs, get college degrees...all the things that "singletons" do. (Yes, we call you guys singletons.)  The only difference is that our divided mind helps us be able to take care of all these day-to-day things while the skeletons rattle in the closet.

So the first thing I want you to understand about DID, is that you could know someone, even live with them and not realize they have it.  It is not obvious, it is not like it is portrayed by Hollywood.

Before I tell you a little more about how I experience DID, I need to make a disclaimer that I do not speak for everyone that deals with this disorder.  It is much more common than you would think; I have met others with DID, in real life and on line.  There are forums and hospitals and therapy groups for people dealing with this.  What I have learned from sharing with other "multiples" is that while we have much in common, there are also many differences.

I hope that by explaining a little of why I believe my "system" works the way it does, will help you understand why two people with DID can experience it so differently.  First we need to consider how it begins.  DID is commonly believed to begin in childhood as a result of severe, and often repeated trauma.  I think of it as a God-given gift to help child survive and cope.  A child's mind does not have the experience, the coping skills etc to deal with such trauma, so the mind resorts to chronic dissociation.

Remember I explained before that dissociation is something that everyone does.  Daydreaming or highway hypnosis (when you drive somewhere and then feel startled when you realize you remember very little about the were on "auto-pilot").  This sort of dissociation is normal.  But when a traumatized child uses dissociation over and over as an escape to the point that it becomes chronic, then it crosses in to the disorder side of the spectrum.  Because the abuse each person suffers is different, the severity of dissociation can vary as well. 

The way the "system" is set up varies greatly as well.  When I say the system, I mean the parts or alters.  Remember My Haunted Mind, where in each room there is someone that holds some memory or memories of my past.  What I didn't mention in that post is how real those "people" in the rooms feel to me. 

I want to tell you that I know they are not real and yet I can't...and let me tell you why.  This is a conversation that I have had with my therapist more than once.  I will mention to him the name of a part and say, "I know I need to help _____________ .  She's crying and upset and so alone, but I can't."

You have to understand that helping her means remembering what she knows, feeling the pain she feels, the pain she has held for me all these years.  The pain, emotional and physical, of rape.  Can you understand why I don't want to help?  It is not a matter of just giving her a hug, it's hearing what she has to say and feeling it.  So I tell myself and my therapist, "I don't have to help her.  She is not real.  She's part of me and therefore I can ignore her and keep that part of myself buried if I want to."

Doesn't that sound like a good solution?  I wish it worked.  But it doesn't.  Whenever I say or think that, the walls in the Haunted Mind start to melt and all the pain held by all those children in my mind comes rushing to me at once.   I fear that the pain will separate me from my tenuous hold on sanity.  I wonder, "Is this what a nervous breakdown feels like?"

To stop the pain, to stop the melting walls, I surrender.  "Ok, ok," I say to myself.  "She's real."  Not in a physical sense, of course, but in my mind she is real.  She has a name, and her own personality.  I can picture her in my mind's eye...and most of the time when I see her she is crying.  How can I then not go to her?  There in is my dilema.  I must help her.  What kind of monster would I be if I didn't? And yet helping her terrifies me.

I believe that at one point in my childhood, I thought if I was a boy then the abuse would not happen.  It didn't work, and now there is a little boy part with memories of his own.  I don't know his name, and really I don't want to know anything about him...and yet, I know in time, I will have to accept him too.

Another time I must have wished for a teenage brother to protect me. . .and so it goes.

The goal of therapy is either integration or co-operation between the parts.  I say "or" because some multiples do not wish to integrate.  They feel they will lose something in the process.  For me, I do aim for integration.  I think of it as my parts coming together, holding hands, sharing the pain equally, but also sharing joy equally.  We are not there yet, but someday. . .

I know I am taking a huge risk in sharing this with you.  I already feel that sharing that I was abused makes me INVISIBLE or an Emotional Leper and this because people don't know what to say so they don't say anything.  So why in the world would I tell you something that is going to make you look at me like I am some sort of Circus Side Show (my apologies to my friends with DID...that is certainly not how I feel, just how I fear others may see this).

I'm sharing for two reasons.  First I hope you will see that DID/MPD is really not "freaky" or "crazy".  Some of you that read this blog know me in real life and can say, "I never knew."  That is the point.  The whole reason for the dissociation is to hide things.  To hide the pain and the abuse from everyone including me.  AND then to hide the dissociation.  I may have younger parts of myself that feel absolutely real to me, but the rest of the "system" keeps them hidden from the outside world to protect them.   I want people to see that this is not "crazy", not what it is portrayed in the media as, but rather a creative way to deal with trauma no child should ever have to deal with. Not all survivors have DID, but many is much more common than you realize. (I know I said this before, I'm repeating it for emphasis.)

Second, I share because I hope that if you understand the serious and life-long consequences of abuse, you will be more willing to take action to prevent it.  In our culture, we are far to likely to try and protect the abuser than the victim.  Case in point, I read an article from ABC News about Victim 1 in the Sandusky case.  When he and his mother approached the principal and the school counselor about the abuse they were told: "Jerry has a heart of gold and that he wouldn't do those type of things,"  And then they were told to go home and think about it.

Where was the concern for the victim???  This is the kind of thing I am talking about.  This has got to stop. 

The principal and the counselor told the boy's mother NOT to call the police, they would handle it.  Again at this point they were more concerned about "the nice guy" than the victim.  Fortunately, they were required by law to report it to the Child Protection Services so they did.  It was three more years before Sandusky was arrested (how many more violations occured during that time???) Because the authorities said they needed more witnesses...after all we can't prosecute this "nice guy".

We have to stop the denial, stop worrying about the perpetrators and start protecting victims.  The more we understand, as a culture, the effects of abuse, the more likely we will be to help the victims.  Or even better to work on prevention.  At least that is my hope.  And I'm putting myself on the line to help make it happen.

If you have any questions about DID, feel free to ask, I will answer them the best I can based on my onw experience and research, but remember I don't speak for everyone.

Photo Attribution: Michael Drummond

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Are Werewolves Monsters? Is Sandusky a Monster?

Looking at this picture, the question, "Are werewolves monsters?" seems like a silly question.  Yes, that is definately a monster.  But what if I posted another picture of "him" in his human form?

US National Archives

Now we see just a "nice old man", not a monster, right?  This could be your neighbor, your Uncle Stuart, or your child's soccer coach.

I recently read an editoral that talked about this very problem.  It said that almost all adults say that they would speak up if they thought a child was being harmed  And yet statistics show that they don't.  Why is that?

They said it is because too often, particularly when we are thinking about abuse, we think in black and white, good and evil, and we are reluctant to switch Uncle Stuart from good to evil.  So we make excuses and we do nothing.   The article suggested that it would help if we change our thinking to recognize that sometimes "good people" can do bad things.

I think this editorial was spot on, because how many times have you heard it on the news...someone is arrested for whatever reason, and the new station interviews the neighbors who say, without fail, "I don't believe it.  He is such a nice guy."

Well, sometimes "nice guys" do bad things.

Sometimes "bad guys" are teenagers.  The average age most offenders start molesting is 14 yrs. 

I work with teenage sex offenders, and they are not monsters.  (I work graveyard, I don't actually do any kind of "therapy" with them, as you can imagine that would be quite impossible for me right now.)  I wake them up for school, I joke with them, and I am genuinely pleased when they do well in the program.  They are "offenders" for certain, but they are not monsters.

Most offenses are committed by someone the victim knows.  So imagine that you notice that cousin Stuart is exhibting suspicious behavior...wanting to shower with your child, or spend time alone, sleep in the same bed...what should you do?

You don't have to move Cousin Stuart to the "evil" catagory.  You can tell yourself that he is a good guy with a problem if that helps.  But then you must act to help the child and to help Cousin Stuart...or Uncle Stuart, Grandpa Stuart or Coach Stuart....whomever it is. 

  1. First we must protect his potential victims.  Did you know the average "coach offender" molests 100's of boys?  Stop and take a moment to think about that...100's of lives damaged.  Hundred's of boys going through the same kinds of things you have read here on my blog.  We have to say something.  
  2. You will be helping "Stuart" by bring attention to his actions.  If he is truly innocent, then he needs to stop exhibitng risky behavior.  If he is offending he needs to stop.  Christians are sometimes reluctant to pursue prosecution because they want to be "forgiving".  To them I say "mercy cannot rob justice".  It would be better for him to be stopped from sinning, and deal with the consequences here, than in the next life...
I can't stress this enough.  There were people that saw "red flags" with Sandusky and yet did nothing.  And because he was not stopped many more lives were damaged.  You know the quote, "The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to say nothing." 

I hope you will stand up and say, "Not on my watch."  Let's protect the children from the monsters "good people" who do evil acts.  If you don't stand up for the children, who will?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Trick or Treat: A Story for Halloween

I am trying to suppress my inner Halloween Grinch by writing Halloween themed posts.  But I confess this story really has nothing to do with Halloween...that's the trick.  I hope you enjoy it...that would be the treat, right?

Recently I saw keychain on Etsy that said, "Please don't annoy the writer.  She might put you in a book, and kill you."  I love that.  I have written four short stories now where a bad guy gets killed...It pleases me immensely....maaahhhhaahhh.    The following story is one of them.  And remember try not to annoy me, or you might end up in my next story.

Saloon Girls

Laughter and chatter overflowed the dressing room and spilled into the saloon.  The room became still as the girls followed.  Two lingered behind.   With trembling hands Caroline fastened the garters for her lace stockings.  Rose held out a small pistol.  “Tuck it in between your breasts or into your kid boots.”
“But you said that the miners and cowboys are good to dance hall girls.” 
“Honey, I said mostly good.  Take the pistol.  I have another one.  You’ll make enough in a week to pay me back for it and then some.”
“But I-“
“Take it.  Charlie looks out for us girls pretty good, but he can’t watch everybody every minute.  And put on more lipstick.”  Rose laid the pistol on the table, gave her a wink and left the room.
Caroline took the pistol and slid it into her boot. Then self-consciously, her hands pulled at her skirt, still it barely covered her knees.  Next her hands touched her bare shoulders and her exposed chest.  She felt only half-dressed. If Mama could see me, she would know that I didn’t come here to teach as I told her.  She shook her head, and put on some lipstick, bright red like summer strawberries.
As Caroline entered the dance hall, she found it transformed.  When she had seen it earlier it had been empty.  Now the long bar was filled with men of various ages, like horses at a watering trough. The floor was muddied and showing evidence of men who were incapable or unwilling to use the spittoons properly.  Someone was playing the piano, and the dance floor was filled with men and dance girls. The tables around the room were all occupied by men: some holding girls on their laps, some playing cards, others just talking, but all of them drinking.  Sounds of music, laughter and voices intertwined. She inhaled deeply as if her breath could reach down and bring up some courage lying deep within.  Then she stepped out into the saloon.
A young cowboy was at her side instantly.  She could tell he was a cowboy by his smell.  Cowboys smelled of sweat and horses, Rose had said, miners of sweat and dust.  Her first steps on the floor felt awkward.  She had danced at home, but in a more formal style. Her partner, who seemed to be losing a battle with his spurs, didn’t seem to notice. He smiled at her like she was hot supper at the end of a hard day. See Mama, this really isn’t going to be so bad.  Not like things at home with…well never mind.  She could never tell her mother about that.
Her next partner was a miner, musty and dusty.  He was a good dancer but he held her very close and his dark eyes beneath bushy black eyebrows transformed her into the last drop of water in the canteen. After their dance concluded, he drifted off to another partner.  She exhaled in relief.
After a couple more dances, Charlie asked her to sing.  This was another new experience.  At home she had sung to herself while doing the washing, or a lullaby for her younger brothers, and, of course, she sang in church, but she didn’t consider herself a performer.  All the girls in the dance hall sang for the men, though.  Any feminine voice was music to them; talent was not a prerequisite. She was grateful for the reprieve.  Her new boots were not broken in yet and her feet were letting her know it.  Her repertoire of songs was not many, but it didn’t matter.  Mama, I think they wouldn’t mind if I sang the same song over and over, like you used to do when Papa was drunk.
On the dance floor, a girl screamed.  From a nearby table, a man jumped to his feet and without waiting for an explanation, hammered his fist into the jaw of the girl’s dancing partner.  The fist and the whiskey put the offending man on the floor without a rebuttal.  The other stood over him, “We treat our girls right here, Mister, ya hear?”  The man on the floor nodded then slowly rose.  He tipped his hat to the girl, “My apologies Miss.”  He looked at the other cowboy as if seeking approval, did not receive it, and left.  Feeling nervous, Caroline looked through the crowd for Rose and caught her eye. Rose winked.
The swinging doors were cue enough for the piano to begin again.  Caroline was whisked off the stage, by another request for a dance.   This cowboy was tall and lean, with green eyes that did a dance of their own.  Handsome really, she thought.  When the first dance ended, he asked for another and Caroline gladly accepted.  He would have asked for a third, but Charlie intervened.  “Plenty of girls here, plenty of girls.  Have a look around.”  The cowboy smiled at Caroline once more and then moved away.
“I lose more girls to marriage than anything else,” Charlie muttered as he walked away.  Imagine that Mama. You would be proud of me if I married, right?  Papa said no one would want me after. . .her thoughts were interrupted by another dance request.
This one had a handle-bar mustache, and announced himself as Bill.  He spoke with breath that seemed to be part whiskey and part dead skunk.   As the music played, his hands with snake-like fingers attempted to travel over every inch of her small frame.  His dance steps reminded her of a headless chicken running around before it realizes it’s dead.  But with each step, he managed to guide her to the edge of the dance floor near the swinging doors.
“What’d ya say we take a walk,” he slurred, alcoholic skunk breath washing over her like an avalanche.
“No thank you,” she replied.  Too prim?  Oh well, maybe if I’m not nice he’ll go away.  He reminds me of Papa.
           “Think ya’s too good fer me, don’t ya?”  he said loudly even though he was so close that his spongy lips touched her ear.  Her heart quivered like a rattler’s tail and the walls seemed to creep closer.  She was no longer a dance hall girl in a saloon, but a young girl trapped in the arms of her alcohol-addled father.  His hands knew no boundaries when he was drunk.  She was powerless to fight back then with her father and now with Bill. “No Papa,” she whispered, but couldn’t say more.  In some distant part of her brain an alarm sounded, but she was like a wild animal whose survival instinct is to play dead.  She was paralyzed.
A young man near the door stood up.  “Hey, she doesn’t--“  Abruptly,  two other men, apparently friends of Bill, shoved the would-be hero out the door, and followed.  The saloon was alive with the sounds of music, loud laughter and drunken voices.  No one seemed to notice the scene being played out near the door.
Caroline saw the doorway getting larger and larger.  Her mouth was sawdust; black spots began to cloud her vision.
Then came a voice, strong and clear above the din of the saloon.  “She’s not going anywhere with you.”
Bill barked out a laugh that sounded more hyena than man, “Who’s gonna stop me?”
”Me and my pistol,” said Rose as she cocked the gun.
Startled, he released Caroline who stumbled and fell to the floor.  He whirled and lunged for Rose.  But the hate in his eyes gave way to fear as he felt pain explode in his chest.  Disbelief had barely begun to give way to understanding when his body fell near Caroline. 
The dance hall was suddenly quiet.  People quickly stepped aside to let Charlie pass by.  He looked at the two on the floor and then at Rose.  There was no need to vocalize the question that his face made clear. 
Rose shrugged, “He insulted her.”
Charlie nodded as if he had suspected as much. “Alright boys, get that mess out of here.  Rose help the girl. The rest of you men, watch your manners. “As he strode away, the sounds from the piano and talking sprung up again.   A couple of men took Bill’s body roughly by his arms and shoulders, and dragged him out, leaving his feet trailing behind.  The bartender came out with a mop to clean the floor.  As Rose helped her to her feet, Caroline felt the cold metal of the pistol still in her boot.
“Helluva first night, girl.” Rose whispered.  “Helluva first night.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Ghost in My House

My family is haunted by a ghost.  A ghost that does not seem to know its place, I mean aren't ghosts supposed to stay in one location?  This ghost goes everywhere we go.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, after all the ghost is me.

National Media Museum

There was another me, before.  Before the memories; she died.  That me was happy.  That me was self-confident. That me was spiritual.  In my other life, I could lasso the moon.  Then memories, like sharp daggers began to pierce me. Pain weakened me, but it was Shame, like a dagger, that pierced my heart and felled me.

And now a ghost lives in my house.  When I look in the mirror, I know the face looking back, the one that looks like my former self, is an illusion.  My family knows too.  One day I asked my oldest son if "all this" is hard for him.  He said, "Well, it is a little weird because I remember the way you were before.  But it will probably be easier for the younger ones because they don't remember." 

Owww, can I die twice? 

People ask me sometimes if my kids know.  Yes, the older ones do.  You've heard the saying about elephants in the room.  That subject that no one dares talk about.  I grew up with elephants, so no more.  No elephants, no secrets, no skeletons in the closet.  Not for me.  My teenage kids know about therapy, the Dissociation, the PTSD, and the abuse.

As far as Ghosts go, you could imagine me like Patrick Swayze's character in Ghost.  He wanted to desperately to get his old life back.  That is what I want too.  Eventually, he had to accept his new reality, say good-bye and let go.  I don't have to say good-bye to my family, thank goodness.  But I do need to accept reality and let go of the hope that I will return to be the person I was before. 

Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again."  He had something else in mind, but I feel like that applies to me.  I can never get Innocence back.  Not the innocence that should have been mine as a child; that precious gem that should be the heritage of every child.  Not the innocence that I had up until a couple years ago.  I'm sure that some people see me as cynical now, and I couldn't argue.  Cynical? Yes, and skeptical too.  Pain and shame can do that.

But even though my cynicsm and skeptism, cast large shadows that threaten to overtake me, to become the whole of me, still I have a glimmer of hope.  I see it like a small candle in a window of my mind.  Quietly and steadily it flickers. 

Outside the storm rages, but the light burns on.  "Keep on moving,": the little light whispers.  "You can't go back, but you can move forward.  Something better awaits beyond the darkness.  Just keep moving towards The Light."

Brooklyn Museum Archives