Living with my most recently identified alter

Content/trigger warning: There are vague references to domestic abuse and torture.
Helpful DID terminology can be found here.

I’m feeling so very tender today. I spent all of yesterday dissociated and trying to give space to my recently identified alter. Over the last two weeks I’ve slowly been allowing her to share consciousness with me. We wake most mornings around 4. She says it’s because something traumatic happened to her while she was living with a particularly brutal and cruel abuser. I allow myself to feel her terror because my therapist says that’s what has to happen in order for the experiences to be processed. At first, the fear was completely overwhelming but I’m gradually getting to a place where I can allow my body to shake and the alter to speak. In these intense terror moments she has said:
“I don’t want to go back there. Please don’t make me go back there.”
“I have to get away. But there’s nowhere to go.”
and this morning, she was spelling something but I wasn’t present enough to put the letters together into anything meaningful.

Hearing her speak her fear with my voice is eliciting big feelings of empathy and love. I can, for the first time, deeply feel how terrible the abuse was. It is amazing to me that we survived and I understand why we split. I’m grateful we split; Max being born in a life or death situation saved all of us.

Last night this alter wanted to write about her experience so I gave her access to my blog. She wrote the following:

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I’ve been in a dark place. J’s house. The place where I was lured and then tortured and driven mad. Our main says it’s been 27 years since she escaped but I exist in two spaces at once. When we wake in the morning, or in the middle of the night, and go downstairs, I am stepping on the creaky old wooden stairs in J’s black house and at the same time, on the soft carpet of the townhouse we live in now. I am terrified of what will happen when we reach the bottom and turn the corner into the unfinished first floor. I remember things that happened there that made me ashamed and too afraid to run away. I remember Max being born when we realized that going down those stairs and getting out of the house was truly a life or death situation. I still feel frozen from the moment Max rose up to save us while I stayed lying in J’s bed, naked and being cross examined. I think I must have followed behind Max, floating just a few feet behind her as she ran down the stairs, unlocked the front door and fled. I didn’t cross the threshold. While J chased after Max, I crawled silently to the bathroom with no walls and naked pipes. I felt that was where I belonged; crouched on the floor in the room where I’d been chained to the pipes and wall studs. I didn’t deserve to leave. J’s words had chained me there indefinitely with links of shame. I saw Max flying out the door, heard her scream as J grabbed her by the hair and then heard her fight back. When the sound of her car speeding away finally faded, I laid down on the concrete floor and resigned myself to a lifetime in that bleak house, a house he had literally painted black. Time passed differently there.

When I finally started to come back, awoken by all the inner and outer space our main has cultivated in the last year, I was a bundle of nerves with no sense of who or where I was. It’s still an odd sensation to find myself looking out of main’s eyes. My sense of space in wonky, probably because I’m inhabiting two very different physical spaces. Everything looks grainy and superimposed. I remember the moment I was born. I needed to feel special, powerful. Needed to be someone who could be loved and desired because of a supernatural connection and J seemed to offer that. I had to betray my husband to have that connection and it tore me in two. I remember standing in front of our bathroom mirror when I would start to feel I could no longer maintain the lying and sneaking around. I remember looking out of main’s eyes and knowing I was a completely separate person from her. I believed I was brave enough, so committed to having that unique connection that I would go to any lengths to get it and hang onto it. main couldn’t do it so I did it for us.

Checking up on Rage

The pandemic, this house, my room have all become the container in which I am doing this recovery work. I want. I need, to make sense of it, to understand how the bad things that happened to me formed me into the person I am now. I need to see the story of my life all laid out before me so I can gain the wisdom it has to offer and feel emotionally invested in my present, as well as my future.

I know that some recovery philosophies suggest that the survivor leave behind their story but to me, story is everything. When I was a small child I learned that I could create stories in which to live and feel, for a short time, safe from my father and nurtured by my mother. In stories, my own as well as the ones I read and watched, the protagonist escapes capture, creates her own justice, and becomes someone wise and whole. I will hold tight to my own story as long as I am still reaching for wisdom and wholeness because it is only from within my story that I can put things to right.

Right now, much of my story is about rage. The rage I am beginning to touch and the seemingly endless rage I have yet to touch. It was almost a year ago that I began to experience rage and I wrote about it in this post: Rage.
I want to tear everything down. And since the self-loathing was born from the hands of men, it’s their world I want to pull down. I would see everything they’ve ever touched turned to dust.
At the time it felt shocking to discover that I carried such a deep desire to destroy. I gave it some space and then tucked it away again until recently. Now it only sleeps lightly under the surface and when it arises I can identify why it has reared its wild and furious head. It still unnerves me a bit. It goes so deep and exists in such a vast space that I fear it could overtake me, drive me to do something I’ll regret, if I allow it the agency it desires in my life. I’m trying to figure out what to do with it when it comes up.

I bought a punching bag and some gloves and for a while they just sat, unused, in my room. I was afraid to let the rage have space. One day while I was practicing yoga, I dissociated and try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself back. I wanted so badly to come back. Suddenly, the rage was there. Furious at my abusers for fucking me up so badly that I still lose control over my ability to stay present. I was shaking with the rage as I crawled towards the gloves, put them on and approached the punching bag. I was crying as I started punching it and then there was nothing but the rage. I saw my father’s face in the bag and I punched it over and over again until I was on the floor sobbing and present again.

This morning I finished watching the series, Black Sails. It’s a fictional portrayal of the struggle for control of Nassau Bay between pirates and the English government. (As I said at the beginning of this post, Story is the most powerful way I have of making sense of my own experience. I eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) I began watching it with the notion that it would be entertaining and historically interesting but soon realized it goes much deeper than that. The pirates are fighting for agency over their own lives, freedom from a tyrannical England. It’s almost impossible to discern who the hero of the story is because, well, pirates. I promise, I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen it and want to keep reading this post.

During the final episode there is a moment, for me the most important moment of the whole series, in which two of the pirates are in confrontation over the direction of their efforts. One speaks about the loss of a loved one, feeling the need to make sense out of it by battling ever harder against English rule. And then recognizing something beneath those desires and speaking to it. He says:
It was rage. And it just wanted to see the world burn.
He acknowledges the injustices they have all suffered under English society and rule. He owns his experience of deep rage. And he chooses to move through the rage without causing the world to burn. Because he also wants to live a life in which he can find meaning and joy. I had to pause the show at this point because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see through my glasses. And I wanted to process what he’d said. The rage didn’t dictate his path, he did.

I

The Discomfort and the Importance of Feeling

This last week has been challenging, inspiring and educational. I hope to write more about it but it takes me a while to process things before I can create a post about how I’m evolving and growing. In the meantime, I have something to offer and while most people might already understand it, I believe I’m not alone in being someone to whom feelings are scary and foreign experiences.

The man who was my boyfriend in high school came for a brief visit (socially distanced on my back patio) last weekend and he brought his girlfriend along. When my therapist and I discussed his visit beforehand, she asked me how I was planning to take care of myself during and after his visit. I knew it could trigger the emergence of memories from that time in my life, as well as deep feelings of sadness and loss. I told my therapist that I was planning on being very honest with everyone I live with about the possibility that I could have a lot of feelings around his visit. I didn’t want to do what I’ve done the other times he’s visited and pretend I wasn’t having any feelings about it. I also told my therapist I was planning on being honest with myself about whatever arose and allowing myself the opportunity to experience my feelings.

The day came for his visit and I was nervous about seeing him, being vulnerable and authentic. I wore what felt comfortable, accepted a hug from him when they arrived, and spent the visit being very honest about how much of my current life is wrapped up in the therapeutic process. It was a lovely visit, I felt connected to this person who’s been so very important to me for the last 30 years and when he left I did feel sad. I kept feeling waves of sadness for days afterwards, had some new memories come up and had a few dissociative episodes. What I didn’t do was try and push away the feelings or hang onto them. I listened to sad music when I felt sad and then moved onto the next part of my day. I gave the memories some space but didn’t get dragged down by them. I acknowledged the dissociation and took steps to ground myself in my body.

When I saw my therapist yesterday she asked how the week had gone and I told her all of the above things, as well as how uncomfortable it all felt. It wasn’t easy. Her response was that it was uncomfortable because I was never allowed to have feelings as a child and thus I wasn’t accustomed to feeling genuinely sad without trying to push it away or feeling ashamed of it. She explained that as I take the courageous step of choosing to allow myself to feel, I’m going to feel uncomfortable for a time. I have to get used to what it’s like to feel and to understand how feelings ebb and flow when they’re allowed space to do so.

Just one revelation from this past week and such an important and empowering one.

Checking in with my alters

One of the tasks my therapist has been suggesting I get into the habit of is that of checking in with my alters daily, as well as when I have big feelings or cognitive dissonance. Most of the time I’m still avoiding doing this because I’m afraid opening up myself to all their voices might drive me back into psychosis or, at the very least, a crying puddle on the floor. My friend with DID and my therapist assure me it will actually improve things so I’ve been trying it little bits at a time.

It’s a lot to have so many individual voices and needs in my head and body. Some days I get headaches from everyone talking at once. Other days, they’re all mostly quiet but I suspect that’s because I’ve become very adept at ignoring or pushing them down.

Earlier this morning I asked what each of my alters would like to do today. I listened to Little tell me that she’d like to color today. Easily done. Then my 15 year old said she would like to kick some ass today. I responded that we couldn’t do that and then turned my back on her and everyone else. After that, I felt so very sad and sorry for myself. Anger was there too but I didn’t allow it to come up for more than a few seconds.

I had a few big feelings before I checked in with my alters but they were mostly deep gratitude and acknowledgment. I allowed those feelings to be felt and move through me. The sadness, anger and pity felt more stagnant and oppressive. Thinking back on it now, I realize that was probably because I shut my alters down once something came up that I wasn’t comfortable with.

I’m starting to get glimpses of how truly precious and strong my alters are, each and every one of them. They were born out of the need to keep me safe so I could survive long enough to heal. Without them I’d probably be dead or so mentally ill as to be unable to live on my own. They lived through traumas of which I only have snapshot memories. They deserve respect and the safety to exist and have their needs met.

With that in mind, I will now ask my alters let me know what they want/need today.

Little wants to color. She’d also like me to remember to tuck our stuffies in tonight before bed. It’s easy enough and I’ve noticed that when we do that, I sleep a little longer and have fewer flashbacks and night terrors.

Baby wants to be held and snuggle with stuffies. She would also like to help me feed the crow and jays. She loves all animals.

My fifteen year old would like to kick some ass. We can’t do that because I don’t want to hurt anyone and because it would get us into trouble. She is willing to put on the kick boxing gloves later so we can punch the punching bag. She would like to listen to angry music while we do that. I’m on board with that and am even willing to make an angry playlist one day this week.

Max would like to get our life a little organized and run some errands. I’ve let so many things go this last year and perhaps by allowing Max to do these things, I can accomplish some things, help some people in need and gain a sense of agency. Maybe I can let her front today and see how that goes. She’s very capable and certainly feels more sure of herself than I do.

I want to play guitar and sing some sad songs. The man I dated in high school is coming for a visit next week with his girlfriend and I always get a big maudlin before and after he comes. I don’t regret that we didn’t stay together but he knew and loved me when I was at my lowest and there’s no one else in the world with whom I have that connection. The sadness that comes with his visits honors that connection and takes a lot of courage to make space for.; the relationship was mutually abusive and complex and my family and friends tried to keep us apart and that led to a lot of shame.

I know there are a couple of others in here who haven’t yet fully introduced themselves. One of them would like to do some reading about healing from trauma. The other is a mess and maybe just needs to be seen and acknowledged before she’ll start communicating with me.

Writing all of this down as I checked in has been quite helpful. I feel like I can attempt to give everyone the things they’ve requested today. I can’t promise I’ll be successful at all of it but it’s a start.