At the age of 23, I woke up one weekday morning with the feeling that something was wrong. I searched my mind. Oh, yes. I remembered. I remembered that I was living a new life; a life that I didn’t create. My world was gone. I’d walked into someone else’s life and was living it. I would have a replay of a tape in my mind every morning of facts of the five month period in which almost everyone and everything in my entire world changed. The tape included basic facts. I was no longer married to my daughter’s father, I no longer worked at my job that I’d been at for two and a half years, and I was married to someone else and he was kind and would protect me.
I also had a separate tape that played and gave me specific dates that I needed. I met my soon-to-be-new husband on October 18, moved my current husband out, and the soon-to-be-husband in. In November, I was divorced and engaged on December 23rd. I was remarried on January 26th or 27th, and found out I was pregnant with my second child in February. I had very few still “snapshots,” or still memories, that I could access in my mind to look at and place with the facts.
In a daze, I open my eyes and reality tells me that my thoughts, and the tapes, are real. My bedroom furniture is gone. It’s replaced with new furniture that I’m not familiar with, but am at the same time. I go into my daughter’s bedroom. She’s fine and sleeping. Her room is untouched from change. This body would spend many times curled up in her little bed with her stuffies seeking different sorts of comfort at different times.
I leave my daughter’s room and wander downstairs and reality hits me again. My furniture is gone. The new stuff is there. My pictures that were on the wall are gone; the walls bare. In the kitchen, my table and washer/dryer set are gone. Yes, it’s all true. I may live in the same apartment, but this is not the apartment that I furnished and lived in a short time ago with my husband.
Soon there’s a knock at the door. The thought in my head, “Don’t answer it.” I mind. I hear a car door and know it’s my boss’s car. The tape plays for me that he’s been coming every day to see where I am and to check on me. I don’t open the blinds, answer the phone, or answer the door anymore. My mind tells me, “I don’t work there anymore and he’ll just have to accept that.”
Every day, for many days, was the same. I was in shock. I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know why I couldn’t remember. I’d hurt so many people? That was not me! I was stable. I was the young mom who was actually a good mother; one who didn’t run around and party and kept her child clean, fed and nurtured. I’d worked at a job as a legal assistant for two and a half years and was respected for such a young age. I had friends and family. Everything, almost, that I had was gone to me. I’d cracked and I knew it. I didn’t know why, though. All I knew for sure is that my life had changed and I didn’t remember anything but the basic facts.
I couldn’t think about it. I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to “go away” again but could not. I needed to tend to my daughter and my housework. I needed to get ready for my new husband to come home. I was sick because I was pregnant. I would live my new life, and my children would come first. There was a good explanation somewhere. I just wasn’t aware of it! I’d just had too much stress or something. I’m always making more out of things than they really are. It’s not as bad as it seems. I needed to quit thinking about it. My new husband would be home soon. I couldn’t act continually upset when he came home. I didn’t want to anger him. It was a scary thought.
I did what I was supposed to; what any good woman would do every day. I just wanted to be a good woman and person. Days passed into weeks and weeks into months. I was getting to know my new husband, and father of my second child. Mainly I delved into preparing for my new child and working with my firstborn so she would be ready for kindergarten. I had a role to play and somehow that was very easy for me. In fact, it was easier than just being. I played my role until I became that role in my new life.
I never forgot the facts that my world had completely changed, that I didn’t remember how or why, and that I would make this work because I would not be like the people in my birth family who went around hurting and using. I would make this work somehow. I was, after all, the world’s best actress. That was one of the few things that I truly knew.
I couldn’t let go of the fear about what had happened and that I did not want that to happen again. How could I prevent it if I didn’t even know what happened the first time? I began to become very aware of my actions and accounting for them and time. In doing that, I realized that I couldn’t account for a lot of time. Further, I knew that there was a lot that I couldn’t account for in my life…school, technical college, daughter’s birth, and even sometimes everyday cleaning. That was not as important as making it, though.
A couple of years later, when I was having extreme panic attacks and depression, I sought the help of my family doctor who sent me to see a psychiatrist for medication. My life was running me, and I couldn’t get a handle on anything it seemed. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with Depression and Anxiety/Panic Disorder. I took a variety of medications for over two years. Nothing really seemed to help except for the Xanax which curbed the panic attacks.
One day I went for my appointment to the psychiatrist and my mouth just blurted out almost on its own, “I was abused growing up…really bad.” He immediately set me up with a therapist there in his office. I went a few times and decided there was nothing really to talk about. My childhood had been rough, but I was OK.
I grew up the only daughter of a “lifer” in the Marine Corps. My childhood was spent growing up on Marine Corps air stations. There was never any extended family near. If we were lucky, we saw our grandparents once per year. After dad retired, we moved to Ohio where he began drinking profusely and became physically dangerous. Mom and dad divorced and life was hard, but we made it.
I got married, and pregnant, at 18. I was doing OK. I went a bit “off” for a few months, but other than that, life was OK. What was my problem? Why did I feel like people lied about the things I would do and say? Why did I feel constantly in fear for my life almost? Why would I not remember entire days? It had to be the anxiety, panic and depression. Things had been rough, but my life just “wasn’t that bad.”
After my daughter was molested, everything mentally that I had been holding onto by a thread slipped away from me. I remember handling everything to do with the prosecution of her abuser, and seeking help for her. I knew at the time that I was standing far back from it all and watching. I thought, “This isn’t right, is it?” Shortly after, I was losing time again. The thoughts in my head were so much that I could barely think. Medication wasn’t helping. I needed help, and I needed it quickly.
I sought help at our local community mental health center. My mother had gone there and they were treating her for PTSD due to her living with our experiences with dad. They knew the history. I wanted that. I wanted to deal with today. I didn’t want to deal with “the past.” I knew that I couldn’t. I couldn’t remember it.
My therapist diagnosed me with PTSD almost immediately. We talked about today and the issues that I was having. After a couple of years I was able to talk with him about my not remembering. I was able to tell him what I couldn’t remember much of my childhood. I couldn’t get much farther than that, though.
One day, a picture that was drawn was taken to my therapist. I didn’t remember drawing it. However, I could look back and see my hands actually drawing. I didn’t do that! I can’t draw a stick person well! This picture had faces, many of them, with expression. It was quite good. It was so upsetting to me that I was afraid NOT to take it to him.
It took him another two years to tell me that he’d actually diagnosed me with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I found out my diagnosis when he was making a call to our local sheriff to report the abuse that I’d sustained from my older brother as a child. I didn’t understand why abuse that happened over 20 years ago would be reported. I was 37 years old for pete’s sake! I didn’t understand how he had grounds to make such a call. I didn’t remember much and what I did remember wasn’t that bad! My therapist maintained that he was mandated if he felt the person could still be a risk.
So, DID was what I was living with? I needed to know what that was. I needed to learn about why I was the way that I was. I read some online and found an online community called Healthy Place which had actual people who dealt with the same thing chatting there. I wasn’t alone! I wasn’t crazy! If I was like these people, I was all right. Talking there helped me to see myself a bit more clearly and learn more about my experiences and my diagnosis.
For the next couple of years I would go to therapy and sometimes remember, and sometimes not. I was getting used to it. I learned what caused the formation of DID and was scared to know what I couldn’t remember. When I would remember, or I was able to finally “own” something, it was very important to me that I validated it to the best of my ability. I was able to validate most everything that I learned through my mother, younger brother and documentation.
The dissociative walls were finally starting to come down. I was able to “view” parts of childhood, even though I didn’t own it or have any of the emotions connected. This went on for quite some time until I was able to view in one large movie, my childhood. However, it wasn’t mine. It belonged to parts of my mind who experienced it. These parts are who held the emotion.
My therapist and I were both becoming frustrated that I couldn’t get past the point of viewing and then reporting what I viewed. My therapist learned the severe childhood trauma actually changes the brain physiology and that it wasn’t my fault! The intellectual brain actually has a separation from the emotional brain and the necessary “bridges” aren’t there for the appropriate connections. It wasn’t because I wasn’t trying hard enough or dealing with some kind of denial. I, physically, couldn’t do it.
In learning that, we also learned that one way to build bridges between the intellectual brain and the emotional brain was by physical stimulation…actual triggers. What? I was going to trigger myself? Yep, I was and I did. That was the beginning to the most incredible journey!
With my therapist there to gently guide me, and keep the childlike parts of me safe enough to talk, we were able to build some bridges and make some connections. What’s more, I was remembering! Sometimes it wouldn’t be played back for me by whatever part of me was there until later, but it was definite improvement.
Today I’m almost whole. Through time, care, exploration, consistency, and a good therapist, my entire childhood is at my disposal. The parts of me that held it have decreased to four, and my lost time is next to none.
I’ve learned to understand my reactions in this world, take no medications, and may experience one panic attack per year. I’ve learned that people can be trusted and that they were never lying about me. I simply couldn’t remember.
I learned that a sweet, creative child chose a way to survive the unthinkable. I learned that seeing a man dead on a city road began a fear that led the child to say, “I don’t want to be here,” and “I want to go away.” I learned that she did just that. I learned that the subsequent abuse of her older brother, and his threats of death that she already feared so much, allowed her to create an inner world where she could find safety.
Most of all, I learned that this child saved us. Today, after a rough journey, she’s finally learned that she’s safe. Yeah. We’re finally safe.