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“But I wasn’t like these people–and I didn’t want to be like them!  No, I most definitely could not be classed as a person suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder.”                 

When I first began therapy with my present therapist, she let me know that I was a “multiple,” and I didn’t believe her.  No, I didn’t believe her.  After all, I did not lose chunks of time, wake up in places I didn’t remember getting to, and often experience times when I said or did things that were oddly out of character for me.  Like many of you, I had read “Sybil” by Flora Rheta Schreiber and had seen the movie, and I’d seen “Three Faces of Eve.”  I’d even seen television programs featuring characters who, in an altered state, had committed crimes they didn’t remember committing.  But I wasn’t like these people–and I didn’t want to be like them!  No, I most definitely could not be classed as a person suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (the current term for “Multiple Personality Disorder).

Now, however, after working with my present therapist for three years and after reading works on Ego State Therapy, particularly those essays written by Helen and John Watkins, some of which are available on this website  http://www.clinicalsocialwork.com/overview.html, I have come to understand and accept multiplicity, including my own, as being commonly present in people who have been traumatized over a long period of time and who suffer from Complex PTSD.  Also, in her overview of Ego State Therapy as presented on the above website, Helen Watkins uses the terms “covert” and “overt” when she discusses ego states, the “overt” being used to describe the ego states as they often are experienced by people at the most extreme end of the DID spectrum, people who might be called “true multiples.” 

People like me–and perhaps like you, if you have been diagnosed with C-PTSD–may have ego states that don’t really “take over” one’s self to the point where time is lost and memory gaps occur but instead are “covert.”  In other words, one may not be aware of these ego states and the power they possess, but they are there, and they do their work quietly, usually.  Now, almost three years after having begun work with my present therapist, I have become aware of many ego states within me.  I have also become aware of the need to make peace with the ego state that has probably been the most influential, my five-year-old self, an ego state that seems to contain ego states that my adult self does not contain.  In fact, lately I have had the distinct sense that I have two psyches within me–my adult psyche and a child psyche containing ego states related to childhood traumas.  It has been fairly recently that I have made this discovery, and now I am attempting to bring my adult psyche and this “ghost” psyche closer to one another.  They may never be completely integrated, but I think that if I can bring them closer, then they will not be so isolated from one another.  That, I sense, will be good.  I believe that if I can accomplish this, I will feel more inner peace–a goal worth reaching! 

For three years, now, I have been working hard in therapy.  Has the effort paid off?  I can’t answer that because I’m still in the process, but I have proof that my efforts are paying off!  If you have read my previous posts, you know that my PTSD symptoms have been alleviated.  They are not gone, but I don’t expect them to be completely gone.  But I can be in crowds, ride public transportation, and be around people I don’t want to be around, and the symptoms usually don’t bother me anymore.  Also, in general, I feel stronger and more confident in my abilities.  My shame level has dropped.  I can hold my head up when I’m around people I don’t know well, and most of the time now I can look people in the eyes when I speak to them.  What a difference these three years of therapy have made! 

Yes, I am a multiple, and I believe it and accept the fact.  My goal is to “reduce my multiplicity.”  In other words, I want to draw my ego states closer to one another so they communicate more effectively amongst themselves and so when I make decisions, no matter how relatively inconsequential, all my “parts” are in sync with one another.  I want to increase my feeling of well-being and my sense of confidence, and I can do this if I can get the parts of my psyche to operate and to cooperate more closely with one another.  That’s what I’m accomplishing with all my hard work in therapy.  And it’s worth the effort! 

Some people have told me that they accomplish a feeling of well-being and gain confidence by taking pills.  Sometimes, when I think about all the money, the time, and the effort I’m putting into therapy, I wish I had chosen to go that route.  But then I think about side effects and about the possibility that my body may eventually reject medication, and I vow to stay on the track I’m on now and do the work therapy requires.  Besides, therapy is interesting!  I enjoy the process despite the dark times I encounter on occasion, and I enjoy the discoveries I make about myself and about the condition called C-PTSD.  And I like the fact that I can write posts that might contain information useful to others. 

So what is the value of admitting to myself that I have multiple ego states, each ego state having its own “personality” or carrying its own history of experience? What is the value of admitting that I am like Sybil but not to the extreme end of the spectrum as Sybil was?  For one thing, knowing this about myself and admitting this is fundamental to my progress.  After all, if I were to remain in denial and deny that I had separate ego states, some perhaps more isolated and less able to communicate than others, then my progress in therapy would go at a snail’s pace.  Did my therapist brainwash me into accepting my situation?  No, she did not!  I have come to the truth on my own as I have progressed in my therapy.  The concept of ego states, as put forth by John and Helen Watkins and others, makes sense to me and serves me as a metaphor for the neurological conditions in my brain.  And the fact that I have been able to use my mind to conceptualize and interact with my ego states to the point where my PTSD symptoms are alleviated is amazing, truly amazing!  If it takes admitting to being a “multiple” to achieve inner peace, then I’ll admit to it gladly! 

Therapy helps!  It requires making a commitment to yourself and your future health, but it’s worth it–even if you are seventy-three years old, as I am!

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“And so my life shifted from sun to shadow–the fairies no longer danced around the fairy rings all night and threw sparkles at the buttercups in the morning dew, and, as my mother said, I grew heavy on my feet and no longer danced . . .”

 

If you have read “The Day I Stopped Dancing,” the essay I posted yesterday, you may have wondered why I wrote it.  More than that, you may have wondered why I posted it!  After all, the experience of being violently sexually abused at age four was so secret and so shame-ridden that I kept it to myself until I was in my early forties.  And the only reason I became aware of the abuse then was that the memory was forced upon me by a flashback.  As I stated months ago in my post titled “What Good Are Flashbacks?,” flashbacks can serve to make a person aware of the need to get help, but they can also be as horrible to experience as the original traumatic incident from which they stem.  That is certainly true of this particular flashback.  So, frankly, until this morning, I was not sure myself why I wrote and posted “The Day I Stopped Dancing.”  This morning, though, I understood. 

It’s been thirty years since I had the flashback that brought this abuse memory to my mind, and it’s been almost seventy years since the abuse incident, and now I find myself getting angry—very angry!—at the thought of sexual predators who abuse kids and who are not subsequently prevented from re-offending.  I’m angry, too, at the people who refuse to believe that abuse can derail a child’s normal course through childhood and leave that child isolated, anxious, and unable to trust if he or she does not get competent help at the time of the abuse.   

Before a child can get help, however, that child must tell somebody about the abuse.  How many children will do that?  I don’t know for certain, but I would guess that many, many children are like I was—too scared to tell anyone.  So they carry the shame and the guilt and the secrecy—the whole burden that really belongs on the back of the perpetrator—into adulthood.  And then one day the system breaks down, the child-grown-to-adulthood goes into crisis, and finally, if the person is lucky, he or she gets the help needed to come to terms with the abuse.   

In the meantime, a lot of life has gone by, and a lot of promising relationships may have been destroyed by toxic behaviors driven by the unresolved abuse issues festering deep in the victim’s psyche.  This is what happened to me, and I can name dozens of other people who have experienced what I have experienced as a result of being abused as children.   

Given, then, that children often are too scared to report sexual abuse and other kinds of abuse, how do we know what actually happens in a child’s mind when he or she is traumatized by abuse?  I suspect that often an adult being treated for the effects of child abuse has difficulty describing in detail the effects upon him or her of abuse that happened decades previously.  Describing, for example, the dissociation I experienced immediately after the abuse incident has been as difficult for me as for anyone else, most likely, but ever since I experienced the flashback that led me to the memory, I have persisted in trying to put the experience into words.  I have thrashed about in my head for years, trying to find the right words, the exact words needed to describe the moment the fog came between me and the light.  I’ve remembered the feeling, that millisecond between brightness and dimness and the sense that the world outside my hiding place was not as it was before the fog came.   

But how to tell another person about the fog?  According to Robert Frost, the “the fog comes on little cat feet,” but that wasn’t how the fog came to me at age four!  The fog that came to me then was more like a knife, suddenly severing my former connection to the world on the other side of the fog.  As I peered through the fog, my life looked different.  Suddenly, people with whom I had felt comfortable and happy became aliens, people covered in shadow.  Would they, too, exact a payment from me as Mrs. Greenleaf had done?  And so my life shifted from sun to shadow–the fairies no longer danced around the fairy rings all night and threw sparkles at the buttercups in the morning dew, and, as my mother said, I grew heavy on my feet and no longer danced.   

I understand now that the whole purpose in writing my post yesterday was to show through the eyes of my own self at age four how sexual abuse affected me so many years ago.  Something in me died as a result of the abuse—at least I thought it had died.  Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Maybe it didn’t die; maybe that little girl is coming out of the fog.  Maybe once again she—and I—will watch the fairies dance, see the buttercups sparkle in the morning sun, and maybe we will even dance.  Now, that’s a thought!   

It can happen—with patience, perseverance, and hard work, your adult self can bring that little child from darkness back into the sunshine.  If this is something you need to do, please do it.  You deserve to do it!  As a wise person once told me, “If you do it for you, you do it for the universe—for everyone.”  Namaste.  Blessings. 

 

In this essay I describe my early sexual abuse and the effects of it upon my psyche.  If you have had a similar experience, you may not want to read this essay.  Although I’ve done my best to deal with the subject in a way that will be least likely to trigger anyone, the contents may do that.  My primary desire in publishing this essay is to describe the aftereffects of abuse, the “fog” that came over me as I lay under my bed immediately after the abuse.  To a great extent, that fog has remained with me ever since.  Some people don’t believe sexual abuse is damaging because it often does not involve physical harm.  Although my abuse did involve physical hurt, the lasting damage was to my psyche. 

“You were such a bouncy little girl; you were always up dancing on your toes.  I even considered sending you for ballet lessons.  But when you were about four or five, you changed.  You became heavier on your feet, and you didn’t dance anymore.  I never understood what happened to you.”   

My mother said those words to me when I was in my twenties.  At the time, I did not understand what had happened to me, either. Feeling that the words were significant, however, I stored them in that area of my mind where I store information that I suspect will be important in the future.  Later, when I was in my early forties, I had a disturbing flashback that enabled me to attach a memory to my mother’s words.  Since the flashback and the initial memory, I have been able to piece together the story and understand why, so long ago, I stopped dancing.      

      By the time I was four, my mother had begun the practice of turning me outdoors to play after breakfast.  Most of the people at home in my neighborhood during the day were middle‑aged or elderly women, so I suppose my mother thought I would be safe.  I would like to think she thought I was safe, at least.  After breakfast, I made my daily rounds, stopping first at the home of a neighbor who owned a little fox terrier named Brownie, and I took great delight in feeding Brownie his breakfast.  When I left Brownie’s house, my next stop was at the home of the neighbor lady who sold cream.  She fed me cookies and let me talk until she lost patience and sent me on my way. My last stop was at the house of Mrs. Greenleaf, a widow whose grown son lived with her.

      Mrs. Greenleaf’s house was right next to mine, and her kitchen window looked directly into my bedroom.  Because her house was so close, I visited her often.  I liked Mrs. Greenleaf, and I believed she liked me, for she let me sit on her lap and cuddle.  When I was four, I figured that anyone who let me sit on her lap and cuddle liked me.  Why would I not believe that?  After all, I had seen other little girls sitting on laps and cuddling, and in my young mind, people liked those little girls, so why would Mrs. Greenleaf let me cuddle with her if she didn’t like me?  The fact that my mother refused to let me sit with her and snuggle caused me to doubt that my mother liked me, and I would not have asked my father because I was afraid of him.  So I regarded Mrs. Greenleaf as a precious source of affection and spent a lot of time at her house.  I did not tell my mother about this aspect of my relationship with Mrs. Greenleaf; what I told my mother was that the neighbor fed me cookies and let me talk to her.  Since I was a very talkative little girl, I suspect my mother was relieved that she did not have to listen to me.

       Although I did not understand it at the time, Mrs. Greenleaf exacted a payment for allowing me to sit on her lap.  Each time I snuggled on her lap and put my arms around her, she put her hand inside my panties and fondled me.   Even at age four, I knew that something was happening to me that should not happen, but I didn’t understand it.  I was confused because nobody else touched me in that place and in that way.  Because she let me sit on her lap, I thought she liked me.  Yet I didn’t think that people who liked other people would put their hands where she did.

       I continued to visit her, hungry for the closeness and affection I did not have at home, hoping each time I could snuggle with her and she would not bother me with her hands.  But each time she did.  She never talked about what she was doing to me, and I never did, either.  I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  I wanted to tell my mother, but I was afraid she would be angry with me and spank me.  I knew that what happened when I visited the neighbor was bad because my mother and the Sunday school teachers had taught me that good little girls never let anyone see their underpants.  No, that part of my anatomy was off limits for all purposes except the most necessary and basic, but Mrs. Greenleaf did not seem to understand that.  So I knew that what happened when I cuddled with her was bad, and I also knew I was bad because I visited her and let her touch me in that place.  It did not occur to me that Mrs. Greenleaf was bad.

        One day my visits to Mrs. Greenleaf came to an abrupt stop.  When I look back, now, I associate that day so long ago with Good Friday.  In the church I attend, the Episcopal Church, on Good Friday the cross on the altar is covered with a piece of purple or black gauzy fabric that allows me to see the shape of the cross  beneath but prevents me from seeing the cross itself.  Each time I attend the Good Friday service, I feel a sense of deep loss, as if the light in my spirit has been dimmed, and I also feel a sense of panic, as if I have been separated from part of myself.  On Good Friday in the Church, however, I know Easter will come in two days, and I know that what I have lost will be returned to me.

       That last day I visited Mrs. Greenleaf was a Good Friday in my heart because a veil descended upon my spirit and separated me from the light in my life.  After Mrs. Greenleaf and her son had grabbed me and had held me down on the pull-out ironing board in her kitchen and she had pulled my panties down enough so her son could see my nakedness, she turned on the hot water tap in the kitchen sink, pulled my corduroy overalls and underpants all the way off, and then the two held the exposed part of me under the scalding hot water.

      I remember screaming and struggling to get away from them.  I remember tugging at the straps of my overalls, trying frantically to make them stay up.  And I remember Mrs. Greenleaf’s words as I tried to get out the back door: “I have magical powers, and even when you can’t see me looking into your bedroom, I can still see you and watch everything you do.  I can tell by watching you if you are telling anyone about what I did to you, and if you tell, I’ll find you and kill you dead. And what will your parents do with a dead little girl?  They won’t want you at all, and they will put you in a box and bury you in the ground.  So you had better not tell anyone!”  And I didn’t tell!  Not until I was age forty and remembered the incident when I had a flashback.

        I was not badly damaged physically that day, but there was other damage.  I ran from Mrs. Greenleaf’s house and managed to sneak into my house and reach my bedroom without my mother knowing.  I remember that as I hid in the darkness beneath my bed, a fog enshrouded me and separated me from the rest of the world. The world beyond my hiding place was unchanged, but a veil of fog prevented me from seeing that.  In addition, I knew that I was bad and would never be a good girl again.  What I had lost that day would never be returned to me.  I experienced the Good Friday darkness and sorrow, but no Easter joy or hope of joy awaited me. 

       Now, with my adult mind, I can look back to my childhood and trace the effects of that day in Mrs. Greenleaf’s kitchen.  The foggy veil that came between me and the joy, the dancing, and the light in my life has never completely dropped away, although after sixty-some years and after a lot of hard work in therapy I can say that at times the fog clears enough to allow me to glimpse the full light of Easter just long enough to know it exists.  I am patient.  I have a sense of my young life before the darkness and before the veil descended, and that sense sustains me and reminds me to stay on my path as I continue my journey toward healing.