And conversation was had by all

Two weeks ago I woke up to a cacophony of angry and upset voices. All my alters were talking at once. It was a Monday morning and my boys had left the Friday before to spend the week with their dad. I usually take Saturdays as a rest day but I was so busy with getting taxes done for me, my ex and my mom that I worked through the weekend. I had made promises to give my littles time doing things they like to do but had not kept them. I guess I should have expected some anger and resentment but it took me by surprise. I’m very much still learning to live with all these people inside of me and it often feels easier to pretend they are not real and go about my business as if it were just me in my body.

They had my attention and I chose to give them an opportunity to speak in a somewhat organized way so I opened a blank document and let them all type. I’m posting the conversation in an effort to be transparent with myself and own that these people have just as much a right to express themselves as I do. I’m honestly quite proud of them for talking to me instead of sending me into a panicked or dissociative state. I see it as progress.

Mina: Stop fucking around and just fucking type the question.

Me: Why are y’all ganging up on me?

13 yr old A: You said three days in a row that we could start the TAZ puzzle. There’s always an excuse. The taxes have to get done. You HAVE to do the work for mom.

Max: You’re spending a lot of time binge watching. Binge watching and coloring. You’re getting your time but the rest of us are left standing behind a curtain where you mostly don’t see us.

Little A: Yeh. You haven’t even been tucking in the stuffies like you were. That’s a pretty easy thing to do and it doesn’t take much time.

Mina: You think you’re going to get out of all this trauma bullshit but you’re never going to be like people who weren’t raped when they were kids.

Me: Ruby?

Ruby: I feel like it’s my fault you’re doing this. I came up/out with so many feelings and new memories and you were there but when 13 yr old A finally decided it was safe and she came out, you shut everything down tight.

Me: I probably did. I hadn’t thought about it really.

Me: Ruby, it’s most certainly not your fault. You’ve been through so much, more than the rest of us, really. You remembered the abuse (kind of?) and then went through hell with a psychopath. My oldest kiddo just came in and said “they’re holding you accountable. That’s good.” I think it’s the right thing for y’all to do. I just felt jumped.

Lisa: I bet you did. But you deserved it. I don’t like not being listened to.

Max: It’s true. You haven’t been listening. And you fell back into your habit of blocking out the things you don’t want to see and feel. You’re good at it.

Me: I have to be. That’s a coping skill too.

Everybody wanting to speak.

Ruby: You’re using CBD, even yoga, to chill out your feelings instead of processing them. We have the power to force you to feel things and make you very uncomfortable.

Max: But we didn’t do that this morning, did we? We were simply trying to talk to you and you weren’t accepting responsibility so some of us escalated things a bit. Not that I condone the way you were being spoken to. Threatening to overwhelm you was inappropriate.

Me: What am I suppose to do? I really do have to do all this stuff and I know it’s overwhelming right now but it will get better.

Little A: Choosing to do stuff for mom before us is not ok. You’re even doing it to yourself. You wanted to sew yesterday and you didn’t even get to the machine.

Me: The stuff with mom is complicated. Yes, I feel like I should help her AND I need the money. I’m supporting 5 people half the time and 3 the other half. I’m trying to set boundaries around it but right now, she needs a lot of help. I really do think things will get better in a few months.

Max: You could choose to give up some of your time to us. When the boys aren’t here, you spend from 4:30am till 8am just watching your stories. Would you be willing to give up some of that?

Me: I can try. Yes, I’ll try. It’s going to be a big shift for me. I’ve been doing that for 3 years. And maybe we should set aside a few minutes a day for airing out stuff. I avoid listening because I’m trying to feel like things are less chaotic than they are.

Mina: That’s good. We’re going to hold you to it. And you will make time for that puzzle today. 13yr old A hasn’t been given the space the rest of us get. And she’s been waiting a long time. 34 years.

Mina: You said you were going to be open to the truth. You fucking tattooed it on your arm. You’re a fucking hypocrite if you don’t actually follow through. The truth is, we are a mess of feelings and fucked up thinking. You’re not doing the work if you aren’t acknowledging that.

Me: OK. I promise to give 13 yr old A time with the puzzle today. It’s going to be a rainy day. Sounds like a cozy thing to do. I’m also going to talk to Sarah about all of this later. Y’all can be there for the conversation and jump in.

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.

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.

Beginning Parts Work

learning to live with DID
Written December 12, 2020

For the last several weeks, my therapist and I have been talking about me beginning to work with my dissociative identity disorder and the parts/alters that are as much a part of me and my body as I am. She’s been very gentle and cautious during these discussions. We began talking about it because in the midst of all the awesome work I’m doing, I’m not giving myself space to be angry. I’ve been trying to avoid working with my dissociative identity disorder most of my adult life. I spent most of the 16 years with my ex-husband believing that while I was dissociating, I wasn’t living with active alters anymore.

Yesterday I officially met Max for the first time. She is one of my alters and we are co-conscious almost all the time. I talk to myself a lot throughout each day and usually those conversations are with Max. I was going about my usual morning routine and talking to myself out loud when I suddenly realized this was an opportunity to actively learn about this alter I spend so much time with and who is a rock in my daily life. I asked her if she had a name and she didn’t hesitate long before answering.
“I’m Max. I was born when you were 20 and I’m still twenty. I’m a tall, lanky blonde woman with short cropped hair and I’m gay.”

Max has, for twenty-eight years, been the part of me who keeps things together. She’s pragmatic, makes sure I take my meds, tracks what I’ve done each day, and she adamantly props me up when I get down on myself. I felt excited that she so quickly told me about herself and I felt a lot of judgment about so clearly having another complete personality who shares a body with me.

My therapist and I talked about that judgment in our session yesterday. She pointed out that I absolutely accept my friend with DID. Zero judgment and lots of empathy. I look at my friend, who was violently assaulted by several men before the age of 12 and it makes perfect sense that she has alters. How could a child survive that kind of experience and keep it a secret without splitting into pieces? If that’s true, and I believe it is for many survivors, then I must have experienced some extremely fucked up shit because I have a whole host of alters living inside me. Judgment towards my system gives me a crack to crawl through to a place where that didn’t happen to me. I can’t explain how that makes sense but it works.

This morning I’ve had a lot of intrusive memories flooding back. I feel like a mess. Foggy, bumping into walls when I walk through the rooms of my house, overwhelmed, sad. I don’t want any of this to be true.

A letter to my alters

To all of you with whom I share this body,

First, I’m sorry I’ve spent so long denying you space in our life. I feel torn between not wanting the abuse and your existence to be true and recognizing that, collectively, we have saved ourselves from some form of annihilation. I can feel my head ache when I think thoughts like this. I feel fuzzy and exhausted as I write this. That’s how I know you’re all here, not even under the surface, but pressing at consciousness all at once.

I want you to know that the reason I don’t want you to be real is because the reality of all of us sharing a body goes hand in hand with the reality of the terrible things that happened to us. I remember enough to know that terrifying, heinous things happened to us. And I know that many of you experienced things I don’t remember, events that live on in the cells and nervous system of this body we share.

I recognize that I cannot go on denying your existence. You deserve to be acknowledged and given the space to live and express what ever’s going on for you in the moment. The truth is, it’s going to take time for me to become skillful at living in harmony with all of you. We do have help. We have my therapist, our dear friend and Max. I don’t know if all of you know Max but she’s a total badass and she will do what she can to help all of us learn to live together. There are times I will have to set boundaries and times when we’ll have to pause something that’s coming up until there’s space to address it. I want to propose that I get as much energy as possible to be with my boys on the weeks they’re here. I will come up with a system for us to communicate while they’re here. The weeks they aren’t here, we can dedicate ourselves to giving time and space to each of you. I imagine it’s going to take time for us to create a functioning system. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to accept your existence and listen to your needs and wants.

I know in my heart that we can do this. I’m scared because we had that therapist so many years ago who encouraged us to do this work when we weren’t in a good place to be doing it. I vaguely remember that being traumatizing to most of you. It sent me into a psychotic state. I have to remember that I’ve come a long way since then and I have a therapist who can skillfully guide me through this process. And we’re not alone. We have our dear friend and her system. I have a feeling that some of you are already friends with some of her alters. Perhaps those bonds will help us as we do this work.

I love all of you, even those of you I don’t yet know. This is our journey and I can see how the fact of our existence can facilitate everyone’s recovery.