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.

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.

Rage sleeps lightly

My therapist and I have an ongoing conversation about my anger and rage. We’ve worked out that the reason I stuff it is because I learned at an early age it was useless against the nightmare that was my father and often made things worse. I don’t know if one of my alters still feels afraid of what will happen to me if I let myself get angry. I do know that I will face any other feeling, but rage I try to keep sedated. I often search around for it inside of me and instead of finding the boiling feeling in my stomach, I find the concept of rage. These days it sleeps lightly and erupts when I least expect it.

My mom received a letter from my dad yesterday. Same old shit, only my mom said he was even more narcissistic than usual. He used to write to her almost one a year but in the last 10 years his letters have become more sporadic. He writes about how he’s sorry for not being a good husband and father (though never admits to anything specific), he describes how he suffers because his children won’t speak to him and he pleads with my mom to intercede.

My mom called to tell me about it because the return address on this letter was different than the one she gave me when I wrote to my dad a few months ago. I don’t think he ever received it. And that’s ok; I can print it out and send it again. It was the conversation with my mom that brought up so many unexpected feelings. My mom said the only reason she leaves the lines of communication open is to always be able to reach him if me or my sister ever want to get in touch with him. She said what she wants more than anything is for everyone involved to find peace. I told her I can’t imagine ever wanting to speak to him or hear anything he’d want to say.

And that’s when it all came pouring out of me. Rage.

Looking back, I think it was her saying she wants peace for all of us. First, how the fuck does my dad get included in people who deserve peace? Second, I don’t believe peace is possible for me. Not the kind of peace she’s talking about. But I couldn’t process that in the moment.

I found myself yelling on the phone.

“What could that man ever say that would change the suffering I’ve been through? Even if he did get to a place where he could sincerely offer apologies for raping me as a child, I wouldn’t want to hear it. I don’t give a fuck what he feels.”

I started to break down in tears because the rage always terrifies me. It’s so huge and there’s nothing I can imagine doing that would truly release it. It also reminds me of how much I suffered as a child, how much of a ruin my life has been since then, and how much effort I have to expend to get through most days without falling into a pit of exposed trauma wounds. That’s when I said this:

“Honestly, mom, I wish I could just shoot him in the head. I would do it and I wouldn’t think twice about it. I wouldn’t be sorry. He deserves to fucking die in a violent way.”

And I meant it. I mean it. If I could kill my dad and not spend the rest of my life in prison, I would totally do it. But even that wouldn’t be enough to release all the righteous rage that lives in me. I can’t imagine ever getting to a place in my life where I wouldn’t want to stand 6 feet away from my dad and shoot him in the head with a bullet until he was dead.

I’m sure he does suffer because he lost the right to have contact with me and my sister. Maybe that suffering consumes him. I hope it does. I hope it slowly kills him because I doubt I’ll ever be given the opportunity to do it myself.

I’m trying to find a punching bag for when my rage erupts. In the past, I’ve only ever let it be a destructive force I couldn’t control, or a feeling that had to stay shut down completely. After I ended the call with my mom, I cried and pounded the bed (a step in the right direction, my therapist would say) and then I dissociated. I was shaking and crying and I poured water over the back of my neck. And then I was gone. For a while. I spent the rest of the day trying to find stable ground to stand on. Glimmers to nourish me. But I actively tried to avoid the rage. Consequently, there were several more dissociative episodes and eventually I felt really nauseous and woozy. I fell asleep last night with my heating pad pressed against my stomach and listening to my favorite D&D podcast. Sleep was fitful and the dreams I had were dark.

Writing with intention

I had a friend once, who was first a teacher and then a mentor. He was my writing teacher, and later my Senior Seminar professor, at the college I attended when I was twenty-four and I felt instantly drawn to him because we shared the belief that synchronicity can help us make meaning out of our experiences. Of course, he practiced awareness of synchronicity from his deeply held Buddhist beliefs and I from a Jungian/witchcraft perspective but we understood that those systems of belief were but the ground we each stood on as we experienced and investigated synchronicity. In the last exchange we had before he took his own life, he told me to keep writing.

Up until now I’ve utilized writing primarily as a way of processing my trauma and understanding how my experiences have shaped me. Back when my friend was simply my favorite teacher, I had big plans. I would get my doctorate in psychology and go on to write important books about trauma. That dream was just another victim of my trauma, as not long after I started my undergrad I began having an increase in complex seizures. I pushed myself through my Master’s degree and did write a thesis about whether dreams had an impact on the healing process of incest survivors (according to my research, they often do), but I made the difficult decision to stop my formal education there because my oldest child had been born and I had decided to leave their alcoholic father. Writing became something I did in my journal until I started this blog

Recent shifts in my healing process have led my therapist to suggest that I consider writing a book about my experiences someday. My first reaction to this suggestion was to think, “How could I ever write anything coherent about my healing process when I have so many gaps in my memory because of my trauma?” Then, during yesterday’s session, my therapist and I were talking about things I could do to help restore my nervous system to a regulated state amidst all the uncertainty in my own life and the world right now. I was grasping at ideas: yoga, playing guitar, connecting with nature and close friends. And then I heard myself say, “I’d like to try writing when I’m not in a heightened state.” My therapist instantly latched on to this possibility and then said a lot of very complimentary things about my writing. I could hear my inner voice spitting out doubt and then it was as if I could hear my dear mentor/friend saying “Keep writing”.

With all that having been said, here I am making an effort to write with intention, rather than as something I feel compelled to do because nothing else will have the desired effect. I do believe this kind of writing could further my healing and perhaps I have something to offer fellow survivors of trauma. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and questioning the nature of trauma and healing; it’s truly what I think about most often and I’m incredibly curious about how people survive until they can begin healing, as well as the similarities and differences in each individual’s process. Ian, if your spirit is still connected to me from beyond the veil of death, I’m going to keep writing.

*Very briefly, I’d like to say something about synchronicity because throughout my life it has been one of the things which allowed me to feel connected to the world around me and often revealed meaning which brought hope when I needed it most. The word, synchronicity, was coined in the 1950’s by psychiatrist and theorist, Carl Jung. ‘Syn’ being together and ‘chronos’, time. He observed how inner and outer events that are not casually connected sometimes occur simultaneously and elicit the experience of meaning. His definition for the word was “meaningful coincidence”.