Moriarty, Liane (2014-07-29). Big Little Lies (p. 458). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
**trigger warning** sexual abuse, mental illness
Some of us are story-tellers. And the world needs hurting story tellers because there are others of us who can't talk about the hurt, who seek kindred spirits in the glow of a computer screen or between the pages of a book in the wee small hours of the morning - but one thing remains. We all seek community with and in our pain.
So the wounded, healing story teller has a place, I think, and while I have certainly not kept my particular wounding a complete secret, and I have certainly left enough pieces of the puzzle lying around this blog that a clear enough picture could be fit together, today is the day I am choosing to tell it plainly. I have been hurt, badly, and I am healing, by the grace of God. If any of my story is helpful to someone else, it needs to be told.
So. Here's me.
In August of 2012, I started having flashbacks of rape. As I had not, to my knowledge, ever been raped, this came as a considerable shock to me. (And let me say, I don't know how to reword that sentence, but "considerable shock" is a massive understatement.) They were flashbacks with very little information - my body felt exactly like I was being raped, in the here and now, and sometimes there would be a few images along with the physical sensation - the bed I was lying in, the window in the room, how old I was. The first flashbacks happened every half an hour or so over an 18 hour period - truly one of the most terrifying and heartbreaking stretches of time in my adult life.
By the end of that year, it was clear to me that a) I had been sexually abused for much of my life b) I had completely repressed all knowledge of any of it and c) my most consistent abuser was my father.
(Let me just say: if you are reading this, and you knew and loved my father, I'm sorry. Me too. I loved him too. But, as my husband says, people aren't binary - all bad, or all good. My father was many good things, and some bad ones as well. If you are related to my father, and you are reading this, please know that I am open to dialog about this at any time.)
So that's why I'm in therapy.
Now the mental illness bit.
In January of 2013, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. If you're my age, you may have an immediate picture of Sally Field crawling around the floor gibbering like a three year old in the movie Sybil. Or you're thinking of The Three Faces of Eve, or more recently, The United States of Tara.
That's not me, or, at least, not completely me. I don't "lose time". I do not find myself somewhere and not know how I got there (any more than any of the rest of us who go into "autopilot" when we're driving do) or find myself having forgotten hours or even days of time. There are no clothes in my closet that I don't remember buying. (although for many people with DID, those things do happen) I don't suddenly wake up in the middle of a life I don't remember. What DID looks like for me is - there are bits of me hidden away inside my own head. I call them "memory keepers", or "insiders", and while many people with DID have a static number of distinct personalities, many of us don't. I don't. It's easier to think of the inside of my head as a halfway house for hurting kids. They work up the nerve to tell me their stories, my psychologist and I help them to feel safe and heard, and they start to heal. As they start to heal, they integrate, and make space for someone new to be heard. It is quite rare for any of the parts to speak to people other than Brad, my psychologist, or my mother. Most people I meet have no idea what is going on inside my head (although there was a pysch nurse who took one of poetry classes ...)
What DID looks like, for me, on a practical level, is sometimes anxiety, sometimes PTSD, sometimes depression. I'm learning to pay attention to thoughts that don't make sense in the context of the current year (ie "Who is that old woman in that bed? Our mother is not that old!") I monitor myself for reactions that seem out of proportion to the current situation. (Panic attack at the grocery store? Is there any tangible, external, measurable, present danger?)
I don't leave my house without Rescue Remedy, a small stuffy or two to tuck into my palms when I'm overwhelmed, a small pack of essential oils (lavendar for calming, lemon or peppermint or eucalyptus to yank me back to the present day), and I have a small book of "emergency coping mechanisms" that covers triggering scenarios. It's pretty much transparent, unless I tell you about it. Those fingerless mitts I love to wear? A great way to have lavendar ready to inhale.
I have learned to be careful about leaving the house when there's new memory struggling to surface , or a new part has recently come online- it can be very taxing to fight off flashback or overwhelming emotion when there's someone new in the "halfway house". I stay home if I think I might not be in the right kind of headspace to drive myself home.
I have a lot of trouble staying asleep. Sleeping is a different kind of brain activity from wakefulness, and I often wake up in the morning with someone else at the forefront - not quite in control, but quite strongly present. I have learned to be intentional about having a routine to start the day with because routine also brings me back to the present.
It's not necessarily easy, but in the early days, it was hard, harder than anything I'd ever done, and there would maybe a few hours here and there where there was ease and grace. Now it's livable - and there are long stretches of days when everything is even-keeled and nobody on the inside is hurting or triggered. The bad stretches are hours, not days, and every day (this is SUCH a cliche!) is a new start. (It used to be that I felt like the only reward I got for making it through to bedtime was a whole other set of 24 hours which I then had to get through. Now bedtime is a blessed blessed reprieve, even if I'm wakeful in the night.
Being Susan is easier than it was two years ago, and (hopefully!) harder than it will be two years from now. I have been extraordinarily blessed with good, supportive friends and an understanding, supportive, spouse. I am beyond grateful that the first psychologist I met with is someone I continue to trust and respect.
And - the most important bit - God still loves me.
"Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for His mercies never fail. They are new every morning - great is Your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22