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.

Memory, Trauma & Alters: walking the tightrope of recovery

My therapist and I have been trying to get an accurate count of my alters, as well as their names and ages. It’s been difficult, to say the least. I know a few of them quite well but there are others who hang back in the shadows. I have a sense that one was born when I was doing parts work twenty years ago. The therapist wasn’t skilled at the work and pressured me into it. As a result, I had a psychotic break in the middle of writing my master’s thesis and taking care of my first child.

I admire the tenacity of my brain. The person I’d been couldn’t cope with the tsunami of feelings that came with exploring my alters, especially the small ones who carry the memories of my childhood abuse, so someone else was born who could put the lid on all of that. The person who had the psychotic break got left behind in some dark place in my mind, while her replacement finished my degree, became a good mother to baby and pretty quickly packed up and left my alcoholic husband. It was as if the parts work had never happened

After each of my other babies were born, the previous alter returned and I experienced post-partum depression and psychosis again. I didn’t understand it at the time because I had decided I no longer had DID. I was diagnosed with post-partum issues but, thinking back, I was experiencing the same symptoms I’d had while doing the parts work. I became paranoid that my babies were aliens or demons, had the urge to leave them laying in their cribs instead of holding and feeding them, and sometimes saw people who weren’t there.

I remember so little about my life. My therapist explained to me that long term memories often aren’t made when we’re in our sympathetic nervous system. This is why it’s not uncommon for abuse and assault survivors to remember seemingly insignificant things about the violence perpetrated on them, but have fragmented memories of the specifics. Those specifics might not be committed to long term memory but the body, the nervous system, remembers.

I live in a body that clearly remembers being violated and harmed. I’ve worked hard to spend more time in the ventral vagal system, the part of the nervous system that feels safe and in which we can feel connection. Even so, I still have at least one or two nights per week in which I wake with flashbacks or night terrors. I still have a sensitive startle response. It’s confusing. I appreciate having been protected from the full force of the memories of 22 years of childhood domestic abuse. AND, the disconnect I experience because my alters hold most of my memories feels disconcerting. I want to be whole but I’ve experienced so much splitting that I’m afraid that might be impossible.

At the same time, I recognize that I’ve only just begun doing parts work and I’m taking it quite slowly. Perhaps I need to make more of an effort. It’s so hard to know how much I should push myself. Doing this work is like walking an invisible tightrope that doesn’t go in a straight line. I have to keep moving forwards on the tightrope if I’m to get to a place of steadier ground but I’ve fallen off the rope before and gotten lost in psychosis. I’m terrified of that happening again so I’m being super cautious. Maybe too cautious to move forward towards more integration.

Further confusion is caused by the things I say while I’m dissociated sometimes. There seems to be an alter in there who consistently comes up when I’m dissociated but I don’t remember or understand the things she says. I think she might be the part of me that got lost in psychosis because she babbles about things that have happened throughout the day and very much wants to make her experience more organized. But she seems lost in her own internal process.

I’m going to make an effort to actively work with my DID this week, while also being cautious and trying to listen to myself so I can begin to understand what my limits are. This work still terrifies me but my goal for this year was to live in the present with whatever’s most true. Feelings, memories, breath, body, and alters.

Beginning to work with DID

My therapist often tells me there’s no road map for recovery; every person with trauma does it in their own time and in their own way. I try to let that be a comfort. Sometimes I hate that there’s no clear path. I want check boxes I can tick off. Instead, it feels like I’m wandering around in a big, dark forest where I occasionally stumble onto a new path or a road block.

Working with my dissociative identity disorder feels more like I’ve fallen into a pit with several other people of various ages who are also stumbling through the recovery forest. Some of these people are willing to talk to me and help to plan our escape from the pit. Others, especially most of the younger ones, don’t say anything. They sit alone or in pairs looking shell shocked and neglected. The teenager is pissed off and sassy but seems pretty satisfied that I’m in the pit with her. A couple of the adult people wander around and mumble but they’re in no state to help us find a way out. And then, of course, there’s the shadow creature who lurks, says nasty, mean things to everyone and is just generally a jerk.

My therapist is out of the ‘office’ the next couple of weeks so we spent our last session talking about how I’m going to stay regulated and safe over the next three weeks. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about how others with DID work with their systems and manage symptoms. I was diagnosed with DID when I was in my mid teens and have actively suppressed my system since I was in my twenties. Research on, and treatment of, DID has grown a lot in the last twenty years. Mostly I’m reading blogs and subreddit posts about how others with DID work with their systems.

I still don’t know much about my system and that makes it harder for me to communicate with my alters and figure out what they need. I’ve decided to try to track my mood and dissociative episodes throughout the day so I can have a better idea of what’s happening and who’s coming to the surface. I’ve noticed that I’m having small chunks of lost time and I want to know why that’s happening.

Here’s what the google form looks like, in case it might be helpful for someone else. I based it on a document I found on this system‘s blog. I believe the document they share is from a DID treatment center in Maryland.

If you’re reading this and you have DID, please feel free to comment with any tools you use to work with your system. Or just reach out to say ‘hi’. We are pretty isolated right now and trying to find places where we can connect with other systems.