Who Am I? Deciding My Core Beliefs, Part 3

Who am I? What are my core beliefs? Why does it matter for this healing journey as I help my wife heal from her dissociative identity disorder?

This is the last entry in a series of 3 in which I try to explain the importance of that answer as I made the healing journey with my wife, my girls. Honestly, I’ve struggled how to finish this series in a way that makes sense and is helpful to the few SO’s who might be reading this.

As I’ve visited various d.i.d. and ptsd websites across the internet, I see a lot of SO’s and their mates in pain. I understand that pain. It still gnaws at me every single day. And yet, I feel like shouting ‘eureka’ when it comes to my wife’s healing, Attachment theory and some of the other concepts I’ve shared on this blog have made our experience so very, very different than the kind that was portrayed on The United States of Tara. The chaos that consumes so many relationships touched by d.i.d. is but a distant memory for us. Additionally, we simply never had any ‘alters’ who ran around like loose cannons doing their own thing…ever. And yet I’ve been wholesale rejected and blacklisted by the sites and groups desiring to help trauma victims and their families. It’s been very discouraging to say the least.

I do understand that much of the reaction is because we took the road less traveled* instead of the prevailing model espoused by ISSTD and the biomedical model of mental health in general. But, maybe it’s more than that. Maybe the reaction to what my wife and I have found to be so helpful is also because I tried to put the cart before the horse so to speak. Maybe I’m telling others the ‘cure’ without explaining the necessary changes I had to undergo before the cure was even available for my wife… because in a very real way, we, the SO’s, will be a significant part of the cure.

I never forgot past ISSTD president, Peter Barach’s words that d.i.d. at its foundation is an attachment disorder*. In many ways his words have proven true in our experience. I learned to undo my wife’s attachment issues by securely attaching each and every person in her system to myself. And yet securely attaching all the traumatized and disparate girls in my wife’s system required me to become that completely-safe companion that I compared to the oversized pet dog previously. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect; however. Just recently I had to seek the forgiveness of some of the girls when I blew up at them: I let the pain of our temporary celibacy cause me to vent on them for an unrelated issue, sigh. But when I do screw up, I quickly apologize. And I don’t make it a habit.

But being a ‘completely safe person’ means more than I don’t hit my wife and rarely yell at her. It’s how I interact with each and every one of the girls. It’s how I validate them and treat them respectfully. It’s the time that I give them every night at home. It’s why I allowed each of them to impact me and my life because I valued who they were. I valued their opinions. I valued their presence in my life.

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Who Am I? Deciding My Core Beliefs, Part 2

In part one of this discussion, I tried to share some of the questions I began to grapple with as I helped my wife heal from dissociative identity disorder. The stress from this healing journey has caused me to examine core issues that often go to the foundation of my self-identity. Maybe as I show you how I was willing to change and adapt and grow as I struggled to be a good healing companion to all my girls, it will help you where you are struggling.

In part one I said I was “white, middle-class, conservative evangelical Christian, midwestern, conservative politically, male, and American.”. Here are a few ways that I have changed.

“White.” Well, I can’t change that, and yet as Alley has healed and matured, she’s become a social justice warrior. She’s passionately liberal on many issues, and because I love and respect her, I allowed her to open my eyes to the perspectives of my fellow Americans of color. I live in a little, midwestern town where we have few minorities. It’s easy for me to be insulated from the larger cultural issues in our country. But it was one shift of many for me.

“Middle Class.” This is another area in which Alley and the other girls have stretched and moved me toward the center of the spectrum as they shared various social justice concerns with me. My love and respect for her and the other girls meant I was willing to give due consideration to things outside the narrow upbringing I had had. I learned that there were valid reasons why so many people now need government assistance as the 1% has taken a larger and larger share of the economic pie here and elsewhere in the world. I still believe in the values of the Protestant work ethic but I now also understand how the playing field can be tilted unfairly toward certain groups and against others. And I can also appreciate those who are unable to work because of emotional/mental disabilities.

“Conservative evangelical Christian.” Perhaps nowhere have I changed more than in this area. As always Alley was partially responsible for some of the changes as she showed me inconsistencies and blatant hypocrisies within the Christian Right. But it was far more than that. I had struggled with many doubts for decades. Why won’t God heal my wife? Where are all the miracles the Bible promises? What do I do when my wife simply can’t have sex with me for a loooooooooong time? Does the Bible have anything helpful to say about my distressed marriage? And so much more.

Little by little I began to replace a theology and worldview that simply didn’t line up with anything I had experienced my entire life nor saw in any of the people surrounding me. Slowly I moved to one that significantly helped me be a better healing companion for my wife. I stopped looking for the miracles from without which never came, as I became the miracle my wife needed to heal. I had spent decades crying out for a miracle from a God who claimed to be a compassionate father, and I finally realized, I was on my own like when Aslan takes leave of Narnia at times. And yet I believe I was equipped to handle whatever needs my wife has in her healing journey (Genesis 1:28), and so I’ve walked in that belief as I’ve seen her heal in ways the experts claim is impossible.

I released myself from the unrelenting guilt that assaulted me from all the do’s and don’ts when my wife simply never has cared for sex. I wish I were better, but I just wasn’t ever good enough to figure out how to not need sex, and the Church’s stance on sex and sexuality does nothing to help those of us in an untenable situation. If there’s one area that will cause the end of my life, it is the pain and heartache of a nearly non-existent sexlife when I saved myself for my wife and got nothing for it. And so I struggled to find a morality and ethics on sex that would help me cope with our dysfunctional marriage and yet do the least possible damage to it until my wife, hopefully, is in a better place to take care of me, sigh…

It’s impossible to overstate the shift that I experienced in my perspective as a Christian, and how extremely difficult it was to deal with so many areas of the ‘faith’ that I was taught my entire life. So many things simply didn’t line up with reality no matter how desperately hard I had tried to be the best and most consistent Christian I could possibly be. On top of that are all the warnings and threats one finds in the Bible and the Church should anyone ‘fall away.’ And yet when I was done, in many ways, I feel I am more consistently following its deepest truth to live the Golden Rule as I love and help my wife heal than I ever did when I was following a long list of do’s and don’ts. And unlike so many who question their faith and then come to passionately hate it, I have no such animosity for Christianity. I simply try to embrace the best in it and ignore the rest.

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Who Am I? Deciding My Core Beliefs, Part 1

My wife and I have been on the healing journey for her dissociative identity disorder the last 10 years. It’s been a long journey. In the beginning there was chaos as the other girls started to join us. But there was also chaos because of my own issues.

Recently I’ve corresponded with a couple of different SO’s, and as I answered some questions, I realized I was giving them answers based on where I am today, not where I was at the start of this journey. And I wondered if my answers would overwhelm them. It took me a couple of years to slowly become the kind of man I needed to be to help my wife heal. In the process, I finally became the kind of man I can respect when I look in the mirror. I’d like to discuss that process some.

Looking back over the last 10 years of our journey, there was one, over-arching issue that I would say was critical for me to resolve in regard to myself. The answer to this question was critical for the success of our journey: who am I?

I’ve written about aspects of that question here and elsewhere on this blog, but those older entries are all part of the larger question: “Who am I?” It’s a question that is more important than most of us realize. Like most of us, I grew up unthinkingly: I simply absorbed the culture in which I was raised, or, for others, they may have reacted to the way they were raised and went the opposite direction. Whatever was the case for you, for me it meant that I was white, middle-class, conservative evangelical Christian, midwestern, conservative politically, male, and American. Of course, not all of the caricatures of those various labels were true of me, but enough were to give you a pretty good idea of what kind of a man I was. I guess the most atypical thing about me was my obsession to understand how a good marriage worked and how men and women were supposed to relate to each other. Maybe I chalk that up to my own ailing marriage and my desperation to see it fixed.

But as my wife and I began our healing journey together, I was confronted with issues which stretched me in all kinds of ways and tore at the very core of what I thought it meant to be “white, middle-class, conservative evangelical Christian, midwestern, conservative politically, male and American.” I’m sure any SO reading this will understand the extreme nature of d.i.d. and all the issues we must confront as we live in what most of our culture considers ‘the stuff of movies.’

I don’t know how I would have made it thru the massive clarification in my core values if I hadn’t been journaling daily, frantically, trying to make sense of my life. The difficulty of the situation was increased because I wanted to simultaneously help my wife heal from the massive trauma she experienced as a child. I’ve written in the past that she often spent much of her counseling sessions in the beginning of our journey dealing with the fallout from my weekly blowups rather than moving forward in her own healing. She did make progress, but it was only once I settled the answers to my own issues that I was able to assist her better and we made consistent forward progress.

Whether we like it or not, we, you and I, the SO’s will set the tone for the relationship and the tone of the healing journey. It’s not the fault of our loved ones. Despite the empowerment movement in psychology and counseling today, with d.i.d. it’s just too much to expect them to completely own their healing and also be 100% responsible for all the actions of all the ‘alters’ until significant healing and connection has taken place. I remember telling myself, “Someone has to be the adult, and right now she can’t.” So, like it or not, I had to grow up to help her.

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Group Integration and Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the start of our healing journey 9 years ago, none of the girls nor I have had much interest in what is regularly pushed as the consummate goal of healing from dissociative identity disorder: integration. If anything, my time with my girls, and on WordPress and interacting on other d.i.d. sites has convinced me that this goal is not only misdirected but also continues the dissociation under a new guise. I talked about our views of integration in the past, but I never had much I could definitively say about what an alternative might look like until recently.

In spite of Jenny’s domination of things on the outside for the last 2 years, I noted in my last post that the other 7 girls have continued to make some progress. I feel one of the clearest areas of progress has been toward our goal of group integration. For us ‘group integration’ means removing the dissociative walls between all the system members so that there can be inherent interaction and collaboration. We feel that ALL the girls are important, and that truth has been born out over the course of this healing journey. Every girl, no matter how small a role she has in the system, has personality traits or abilities that she alone controls. In fact, as a husband and man, I readily admit that some of the very attractive traits I would desire in a woman are controlled by the 4 littles in my wife’s system and not the 4 older girls.

So, one of our goals after the trauma was addressed was to find at least one unique niche for each girl to fill in the group. Now the two most dominant girls, Amy and Karen, control many, many areas in my wife’s personality. KA and Alley control fewer than Amy and Karen. And the 4 littles individually control the least. But we have worked hard to find even the most subordinate girl, Shelly, a place that is hers alone to control. In fact, we gave her a place of great honor in the group: she is the ‘bookworm’, the girl who controls and directs the entire group’s insatiable desire to read murder mysteries.

Our goal for group integration has always been to create a group where all girls are welcome and all give valued input to the group as a whole. But in the last 6 months or so, I’ve noted a shift: Amy and Karen have started to become the group spokespersons. Previously, whoever controlled a trait or area of expertise always came out front to lead the other girls. But lately even Alley and KA have been inclined to let Karen and Amy front while the entire group engages in areas controlled by them or others. And even Karen will defer to Amy unless we are in public because Amy NEEDS to be the one talking. She was the first girl to join Karen and me and she has ALWAYS been the girl who remained dominant at home even when the ‘new’ girls were consuming so much of the outside time to heal and connect with me and the others.

This shift was a little disconcerting to me at first. A few months ago Alley announced her desire for us to get engaged. And so we began to look for engagement jewelry. In the past, Alley would have been in front shopping the entire day with me except when they needed to talk to other people. But repeatedly Alley allowed Karen to be in front with me while we looked for her, Alley’s, engagement jewelry. From time to time I would pull Alley out, just to be sure she felt properly represented by Karen, and she never had any complaints.

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Concurrent Consciousness and Dissociative Identity Disorder

My wife, my girls, and I have now passed the 9-year mark of our healing journey for her dissociative identity disorder. The last 2 years have been hard and disappointing ones which is why I’ve been so quiet on this blog. I never blame the girls for the difficulties. It’s not their fault: no one asks to have d.i.d. But after almost having the first 7 girls completely connected and our sex life finally becoming minimally healthier after 27 years of utter dysfunction, Jenny’s healing needs have reset the clock in so many ways.

And yet, Jenny has made progress in so many ways. Moreover, despite her domination on the outside for the last 2 years, the other 7 girls continue to make progress as well. As for Jenny, she, like Tina, was 100% dissociated from the other girls which has made tearing down the dissociative walls so much harder. But unlike Tina who had Sophia’s help during the connection process, Jenny has had no other girl able to help her, yet. However, she and the other girls have developed a pre-cursor to co-consciousness. It’s what I call “concurrent consciousness.”

Concurrent consciousness is the subconscious ability for Jenny and the other girls to do things ‘together’ without recognition that they are doing it together. From my vantage point I can see all kinds of collaboration between Jenny and the other 7 girls. They’ve done numerous sewing projects together since Jenny joined our family. They also read vast numbers of books together: probably at least 10 books a week. And at this point, I hear regular updates from ‘both sides of the divide’ on a range of daily activities that Jenny and the other 7 have done. The stories always correlate, often verbatim. And yet when I point out the obvious connection Jenny has to the other 7 girls, they are all mystified. They don’t disbelieve me, but they simply have no cognition of doing these multitude of tasks ‘concurrently.’

And as I think back, Tina and the other girls also developed this ability before they were co-conscious with the others. But fortunately for each of them, they were able to move from ‘concurrent consciousness’ to ‘co-consciousness’ more quickly than Jenny has. During this phase I always hear the ‘new’ girl claim to do tasks and the other girls refute those claims saying, “She did not! We/I did it!” It’s a little funny from my perspective to hear them arguing over who did what. To me, I’m simply happy that the new girl is clearly interested in the activities of the other girls because I know that interest is what will eventually draw her into full connection with them. But until then, I simply remind the other girls that it is a good thing that Jenny feels she is doing these tasks with them (and she is!)

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Update

(note: I wrote this update last August 2016, and simply haven’t felt like posting it as the healing journey for Jenny continues to mystify and tax me to the hilt. Sometimes I feel so close to having her securely attached to me so we can begin to move forward…only to be disappointed once again at her inability to do so. But here the now-8-months-old ‘update’ is for any who care…)

Well this year I have only made one post here on WordPress, and it was only a review of a doctoral dissertation. It’s been a hard last 13 months. Our son moved back home after July 4th, 2015 after completing his masters, but not being accepted into a doctoral program. We love our son, but the return of an adult child into the home is a VERY different experience than raising a minor child. He was dealing with deep disappointment at the lack of PhD offers, and his renewed presence in our lives set off a number of ripples in my relationship with the various girls.

The biggest hit was that one of the two girlfriends who had tentatively begun exploring sex with me immediately withdrew completely because he refused to provide us his weekly, flexible work schedule and so she never felt safe that we would be alone, sigh. Moreover, her withdrawal from sex left the other girlfriend (Alley who is also the defender) less balanced in this area because KA, also the inside mother, suffered relatively no trauma, sexual or otherwise, whereas Ally and I had a negative history in this area for the first 20 years of our marriage. Now Alley lost her bff and the girl in the system with the most sunny outlook of them all to face an area (sex) that she wanted to learn to enjoy but had many unpleasant experiences from the past to overcome.

Then to complicate things, I moved onto first shift at work after being on second shift for 20 years. Second shift afforded me many, many opportunities to support the girls even while I was still at work: I lost many, but not all of those opportunities in the move. But first shift allowed me to help the girls get plugged into a new church we had begun attending…and as I did that, their social life took off in a way that it has never been during our entire marriage. They began attending various women’s groups and became close friends with 2 women and suddenly they began having ‘girls’ days out’ and we began having bi-monthly Euchre parties with another couple and many other social events that were very healing in my wife who for most of her life viewed herself as a social outcast.

And then there is Jenny. I thought Jenny was going to be easier to securely attach to me than Tina who had nearly sucked the life out of me for 3 years as I helped her heal and attach to me and her, now, sister, Sophia. But after Jenny asked for an adoption ring during our cruise last October, things ground to a halt. I’m honestly not sure what is going on. Jenny is unlike any of the other girls in the system, even Tina. Both of them had been sequestered from the other girls for over 40 years, but Tina was “Tina”. She had a clear self-perception and a name like the first 6 girls in the group and once she attached herself securely to me she was eager to deal with the trauma in her past. Not so for Jenny. This girl had no name originally, so I gave her one with the caveat that she could change it later if she so chose, and she had very little self-perception. All she knew was she literally lived ‘in a dark corner’ of my wife’s mind. If she has experienced trauma, she has yet to share that (other than throwing up the ‘inedible’ food her mother used to force down her in an attempt to ‘fatten up’ her sickly daughter), though she has vaguely hinted of something at times. And she came with 2 unbreakable rules: no eating and no one else is allowed to touch her, period! That second rule has been the bane of my life as it has excoriated my ability to connect with her because appropriate physical touch is a primal need that attaches us to others. Alley and Tina also didn’t want me to touch them initially, but those were trauma related and once their trauma was healed, those rules dissolved. I am still mystified by Jenny’s no touching rule.

Moreover, though I bought Jenny an adoption ring like the other girls that signified her ‘secure attachment’ to me and our family, she balked at becoming fully adopted and was unwilling or unable to vocalize why. So for the last 10 months she has slowly become permanently-temporarily adopted if you can wrap your head around it. I don’t push for permanent, permanent adoption as that seems to cause her stress and fear.

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Whose Treatment is This Anyway?

From time to time I visit the madinamerica.com website. I am also subscribed to the pods-online.org.uk newsletter. Through these 2 sources I came across Ms. Noel Hunter who recently completed her doctoral dissertation fully entitled:

“Whose treatment is this anyway? Helpful and harmful aspects in the treatment of dissociative identity disorder phenomena”

Noel Hunter, MA, MS

Long Island University, Post

I’d like to do a brief review of her dissertation in case any of my readers would be interested in obtaining the complete dissertation so you can examine it for yourself. If you read this blog, you are probably interested in alternative opinions about how to view and heal what is known as dissociative identity disorder. I believe Ms. Hunter is uniquely qualified in her search for what works in the vast array of treatment methodology when it comes to d.i.d.: she admits in her dissertation that she had been diagnosed and treated for d.i.d. However, in a recent email with Ms. Hunter she wanted to clarify her objection to the current bio-medical model of the brain and mental health issues and thus she objects to the diagnostic categories as well which would include her ‘having’ d.i.d. But she was willing to affirm her experiences in the past that aligned with d.i.d., but said, “I do not have these experiences any longer and haven’t for many, many years.”

As with so many issues, there is a ‘public stance’ that the experts take on a subject. For d.i.d. the ‘gold standard’ of treatment guidelines is found at isst-d.org here: http://www.isst-d.org/default.asp?contentID=49

But if you’ve ever studied a subject in depth and been able to ‘look behind the curtain’ as our favorite wizard from Oz forbade Dorothy to do, you will know that the ‘unified front’ the experts present to the general public is often just a façade. And for that reason, I find Ms. Hunter’s dissertation refreshing. She is willing to take the reader ‘back stage’ and allow us to see the debates and disagreements and dilemmas surrounding this disorder that many experts feel we are too ignorant to understand. Ms. Hunter takes us backstage and gives us a tour that has direct implications for everyone trying to cope with and heal d.i.d.

After a brief introduction Ms. Hunter jumps into her subject with a literature review of d.i.d’s history, the DSM, alternatives to the DSM construct, and various existing treatments both specific to d.i.d. and generic to the disorder but which are used by therapists. She then moves into a 20+ page explanation of the methods that she used to examine and scientifically categorize the interviews she had with 13 people with d.i.d. for her dissertation. Yes, this section is dry, but it is an explanation of the processes that she used to try to remove her opinion as far as possible from the conclusions of her dissertation. So if you like that kind of stuff, dig in. If not, you probably can skip the “Methods” section.

The next section she gives the “Results” of her interviews with her 13 interviewees. From these people she discusses the “helpful aspects of treatment” and then the “harmful aspects of treatment” that were shared with her from the perspective of each person she interviewed. And finally she included “helpful aspects” of healing that the interviewees shared that were outside of the professional services they received from therapists. From these results, Ms. Hunter gave 2 broad recommendations to therapists. First she implored therapists to resist the denial and disbelief that seems to pervade the general public as well as the clinician when it comes to the stories of trauma survivors. Secondly she shares the need for systemic improvements in the mental-health system that all mental health patients need for their healing.

The last section of the dissertation is titled “Discussion” and is the author’s attempt to wrap all of her findings up. She does not attempt to tie everything up into a ‘neat’ little theory. She seems able to acknowledge the mishmash and contradictions of her interviewees and the subject itself as she summarizes her findings.

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