Captain’s log, Stardate 05.10.2020

Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the starship Enterprise often gave updates of his voyages thru the journeys that many of us came to know and love as Star Trek. Today I thought I would step out of my usual didactic mode, and just be me and give an update of our journey through dissociative identity disorder.

Five years ago we nearly had the first 7 girls in my wife’s group connected. I thought our healing journey was almost over. Like the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner that was put behind President Bush during the war in Iraq, I thought I saw the finish line banner of our marathon. Then Jenny popped into our lives, and the finish line vanished from sight as we took a 90-degree turn and found ourselves in a desolate, bewildering wilderness: all our progress seemed shot to hell, and the confidence I had often felt during this journey, as difficult as it had been, was destroyed. I have now come to refer to this phase of our journey, the last 5 years, as The Great Impasse.

In some ways we do continue to make progress. I’ve watched the 7 girls continue to connect, to integrate as a group, and even begin to flow and blend and blur the lines between themselves as they truly, often, work together as one. I’ve even seen that group development involve Jenny on a subconscious level even though none of them appear to be aware of it. I’ve seen Amy and Karen take over as the spokesperson for the others as their deep connection no longer demands that the others must front to make themselves known or interact in the world. That’s a good sign and yet, it was a hard adjustment for me as it feels like the others have receded, but I hope, I think, it’s just a sign of deeper connection.

All the girls have grown and matured. Ally and I got engaged, but any talk of marriage has stalled in the shadow of The Great Impasse as Jenny had consumed the lion’s share of the time outside, sigh. The other girls have also matured, and they no longer crave childish things throughout their days but instead engage in mostly adult activities as they use Facebook, craft, attend women’s ministries at our local church, and even have a face mask making business brought on by the current virus.

We finally moved Jenny out of her dark and terrifying inner space, but connecting her to the others has been unbearably slow for all of us. Unlike the other 7 girls who all welcomed my involvement, who actively worked to connect to each other and who responded positively to the offer of rewards as they faced their fears and tore down the dissociative walls between each other, Jenny’s attitude has been completely the opposite. She shuns my help and involvement. She only wants a reward if she suggests it, and mostly she has had a go-it-alone attitude that none of the others had, not even Tina who started in a similar, disconnected place as Jenny seemed to have. All 3 of the littles are clearly, subconsciously connected in so many ways, and yet it is maddening to all of us that we are unable to move the connection to the conscious arena and end the Impasse, sigh…

The Great Impasse has taken a toll upon all of us. Beyond the complete cessation of adult, physical intimacy has been the lack of even platonic physical intimacy and emotional intimacy. The other 7 girls have given Jenny the majority share of the time outside at home with me for 5 years in the hopes that she would heal, and so now they and I feel the lack of connection between us, especially Tina. And to make the disconnect from the other 7 girls even more pronounced and painful, Jenny is tenuously attached to me at best as she easily feels ‘smothered’ or ‘trapped’ in spasms going from fierce attachment to pushing me away at a moment’s notice, sigh.

But The Great Impasse has taken a toll elsewhere. I’ve watched this blog slowly die. Once it was my pride and joy. I enjoyed sharing my girls’ progress as I learned how to be a good healing partner for them on this journey. And I enjoyed interacting with the visitors who happened this way…but as the years have drug on and we’ve been unable to integrate Jenny into the larger group, what do I have to share with anyone else other than our discouragement and loss at how to tear down the dissociative wall between her and the others? As much as I am proud of my attachment series, attachment is largely understood even if it is rarely implemented with adult trauma victims as I have done with my wife. Then last year I wrote a 3-part series on dissociation which I feel may be the single most important series I have ever written on this blog. In it I tried to unravel the mystery and misunderstanding that I see everywhere I have ever read about this phenomenon, and yet none of the 3 posts have even gotten 40 hits total. Many days the blog is completely inactive. A part of me seems to have died, crippled by the Impasse and as a result I feel paralyzed to write more which then accelerates the demise of this blog…a vicious circle.

And my rejection from the online trauma community seems complete as well. I never fit in well with those who espouse drugs and the biochemical model of mental health (the prevailing model). But even over at Mad in America where I share the same trauma model of mental health as its founders, I’m not welcome because I’m not viewed as having a legitimate voice on this journey unless my wife validates it: something she just isn’t willing to do at this point. And so my isolation has become complete with the death of this blog and my inability to find anywhere in the online world where there are other spouses like me. 

And then as if that wasn’t enough the fear and panic from the COVID-19 virus struck the world, and I’ve watched the world destroy itself with a ‘cure’ that was worse than the ailment. I’ve seen the same hubris and academic arrogance of ‘experts’ in the mental health world infect the ‘experts’ of the medical world as they have unleashed hysteria and trauma through their willing messengers of the media, and I am unable to do anything other than try to bring my little family thru it the best I can and hope to God that we aren’t sucked down with so many others.

It’s a hard and discouraging time for all of us, everywhere. I wish I had answers. For 12 years I have fought the ‘dragon’ of my wife’s d.i.d. at her side, and though it has bludgeoned us, I was able to help keep it from destroying us. But in my journal I have written of a 2nd ‘dragon’ that I always feared would come in and finish me off. I expected it to be cancer, but now I wonder if the panic of my fellow citizens from this virus will do me in, and all my attempts to pull my wife and son thru the effects of her childhood trauma will be for naught. I hope not, but it gets harder each day to keep up ‘the good fight’ when it’s been so long that we have been chained, prostrated before The Great Impasse, sigh.

End of captain’s log for now. I wish you each well in your own struggles.
Sam

The Nature of Dissociation, Part 3

In the first part of this discussion, I shared a basic picture of dissociation that I hoped would demystify the coping strategy that the mind/body system takes for all unaddressed trauma and pain. Then in part 2, I laid out a simple definition of how I’ve come to understand dissociation and the cascading effects it has upon a person the longer it becomes entrenched. Now in this last section, I’d like to give some examples from my wife’s system which I hope will clarify things and show the practical relevance that comes from a better understanding of the process.

As stated in part one of this series, dissociation is simply the mind/body’s over-arching coping strategy for any overwhelming pain or fear caused by trauma. It only becomes entrenched and systemic if the trauma is ignored for a prolonged period of time. In my wife’s case, when her trauma began as a toddler, the first dissociation began by the formation of the 3 littlest girls in the system: Sophia, Tina and Jenny. My wife was so young that I believe, she simply couldn’t hold the trauma in one place. And so Sophia held the feelings of being dirty from the trauma. Tina held the specific memories and threats from her abuser. And Jenny, I’m honestly not sure what place she holds. Sometimes I think she holds the basic fear response, but that’s only a guess. Because my inlaws were emotionally dysfunctional from their own childhood trauma, they were never able to comfort and assuage their daughter in her trauma. And thus the original trauma, though only short-lived, was ignored and became entrenched.

Even though we are unaware of any further extreme trauma happening in her childhood, the entrenched dissociation weakened her entire system and so it became easier for future trauma to entrench as well. Amy seemed to be formed because of her desperation to have her parents’ affection, affirmation, and protection which she never got. Alley was tasked with the herculean duty to protect everyone in the absence of parental protection, and KA and Shelly were ‘support’ for the overwhelmed other girls. KA was the inside mother to Amy who was somewhat in charge of Sophia. And Shelly heaped adulation upon her big sister, Alley, for the thankless job she did. And with each new instance of dissociation as my wife’s mind/body tried to cope, the host, Karen, was left with less and less ability to function and enjoy life outside of a black and white, flat-Sam-ish experience.

Thus, in our experience, only Jenny, Sophia, Tina, Amy and Alley had original trauma to deal with in the healing process. KA and Shelly were support, and the host, Karen, was spared the trauma in the mind/body system’s attempt to carry on ‘normal life’ despite the trauma and entrenched dissociation that had touched the other girls in the system. But that doesn’t mean KA, Shelly and Karen sat things out on this healing journey. For though they were largely untouched by the trauma, the dissociation and its effects reached every single girl in various ways.

Here are the five, main aspects I see resulting from entrenched dissociation. 1) Dissociation causes each person within the system to only have partial access to the personality traits and mental abilities of the overall system. 2) Entrenched dissociation may cause some of the people in the system to become ‘deactivated’. 3) As the dissociation prolongs, neural atrophy further ‘hardens’ the separation of each person in the system.  4) Many of the extreme and discomforting experiences of the sufferers and to those around are a result of the dissociation. And 5) the internal working model from attachment theory is the key concept  that helped us begin to eradicate the dissociation between the girls.

1) Partial access to personality traits and mental abilities.

To me this is the most basic understanding of dissociation. This is the place that everyone loves to talk about how the ‘alters’ are different. This is one of the flashy neon lights that people point to when describing ‘alters.’ But to me, it’s also a very superficial understanding of dissociation.

Yes, each ‘alter’ will be uniquely different from the others in the beginning. I could go thru the list of girls in my wife’s system and catalog their unique abilities and traits. Shelly, though the smallest in scope, was the first girl to show any mechanical aptitude (now Jenny has done so , as well). I have also dubbed her the ‘coal miner’s canary’ as she maintains a sense of fear when the other girls would rush headlong into dangerous situations. Amy and Karen control the vast majority of the separate, though overlapping abilities, especially the ones that allow them to test on the genius level. Amy loves adventures. Karen is the seamstress of the group. KA loves romance and is the fashionista of the group. Alley is the social warrior. Tina organized 15,000 .svg files when the mere thought of doing so, put all the other girls in tears.

But, so what? The problem is most people never get past this basic understanding of dissociation and how it presents in the various ‘alters.’ But this part of dissociation has major implications when you get past the circus-show perspective from which so many view d.i.d.

The most important part of this aspect of dissociation is that this is where so many of what the DSM calls ‘disorders’ occur, and here’s the reason, I believe. Because each person only has partial access to the mind’s overall abilities, that means that each person has strengths, yes, but more importantly, each person has built-in weaknesses. The strengths of each girl directly correlates to the weaknesses in the other girls.

Karen has pretty severe ‘body dysmorphia’ which pushes her close to having eating ‘disorders’ as well. At age 53 she is 5’7″ and 126 pounds, and yet just last night she was telling me about all her body flaws and how she can’t stand how heavy she has become. Yet, KA loves her body and once told me, “I look damn good for 50!” And the little girls love to eat and have no desire to constantly be on a diet. KA and the other girls are quite happy with how they look for their age. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s ‘damn good’ compared to most of our friends. And so, the trick to addressing my wife’s ‘body dysmorphia’ is simply tearing down the dissociation enough so that KA and the others can counterbalance Karen’s unbalanced view of herself. We’ve come a long way on this issue, but Karen is still, partially, internally separated from the other girls even though they can ‘talk’ and so their influence upon her is mitigated somewhat.

Here’s another simple example. When Tina first joined us, she was terrified from the abuse. When we first met, she more than once tried to jump out of our car moving at 70mph because she was scared of me. Once I helped her thru that, then she attached to me more securely than any other girl. And yet she was still terrified. She begged me to not get out of bed in the mornings until she was awake. And for an entire year we didn’t go anywhere except to do our errands once a week. No church. Nothing outside the house, but the bare minimum. If an ‘expert’ would have diagnosed my wife, s/he would have errantly said she had extreme agoraphobia. But that wasn’t the case. She simply was scared and alone internally from the dissociation. Once we were able to dissolve the dissociation between her and Sophia, Tina’s ‘agoraphobia’ melted away, and we were no longer housebound nor was Tina terrified.

The last example I will give concerns self-injury. When the trauma was over, and the dissociation had taken shape, my wife’s host, Karen, had been stripped of so many traits and abilities that she needed to function in a healthy manner. One of those abilities she lost was experiencing and processing emotions and feelings. She lived on a flat plane without the highs or lows that many of us experience as we walk thru life.

Well once we began to address the trauma, and ‘tear off the bandage’ so to speak, Karen was assaulted by all kinds of traumatic feelings that she had no ability to process. It overwhelmed her, and to mitigate the feelings, she would viciously bite her hands to redirect her attention to the pain in her hands rather than the pain in her mind. But as the other girls healed, matured and connected with her, not only were the trauma memories healed, but she now regularly expresses her ability to feel joy, anger and more via the other girls over a host of normal events. And though I’m not sure she understands it, each time she expresses these and other feelings, I silently rejoice at the healing that took place to undo the dissociation and allow her to experience those emotions.

I could give many more examples, but what is important to understand is that many of the so-called DSM ‘disorders’ aren’t disorders at all. They are simply evidence that the person has been internally split up and the mind’s wonderful, balancing abilities are no longer accessible to the various people within the fractured system. And it is only with healing and tearing down the dissociative walls that the imbalances come back to balance.

2) Arrested development of personality traits and mental abilities

A second aspect of dissociation is the deactivation of some of the people in the group. When my wife experienced trauma during her childhood, over the course of time, her personality was split into 8 semi-autonomous girls. But one of the aspects of dissociation is that it seemed to freeze the various girls to the time when the trauma each one held occurred. Looking back, I only see clear evidence of 3 of the girls in the first 20 years of our marriage: Karen, Alley and KA. But I’ve shared in the past how my wife seemed ‘stuck’ in the past, unable to grow or change. She used to brag about how unchanging her views were about certain things. But it was even more than that: the other girls that were completely deactivated from my wife’s personality were frozen in time. Their abilities were linked to the ages they fronted which meant Jenny, Sophia and Tina had the abilities of a toddler. Shelly was about 4. And Amy about 6, and yet each of these controlled traits and abilities that any healthy adult would need to be a well-rounded person.

Once we unstuck the various girls, we gave them as much outside time as possible. And over the last 11 years, the traits and abilities that each girl controls have begun to mature. KA, as the group fashionista, has done an overhaul of my wife’s wardrobe and makeup, pulling in various aspects of the other girls. Alley has become a mature and eloquent social justice warrior as she leans on Karen and Amy for the logical aspects of her passions. Some of the girls began to explore their sexuality with me as they matured. Amy unleashed her desire to be a business woman. And the littlest girls added emotive personality traits and attachment aspects to my wife and our relationship that have made these so much richer and healthier. I truly am amazed and proud of how beautiful my wife has become as each girl has healed and matured and now lends her unique traits and abilities to my wife’s overall personae.

Let me finish this section using Sophia as an extreme example. When she first joined our family, she literally had the motor skills of a toddler. She would hold crayons in her fist when she colored. Her speech was barely intelligible. She was literally like a 2-year old in every way. But over the years as she healed and then began to connect more deeply to Amy and then Tina, she has transformed and has become a linchpin of the group.

I remember the first time our son came home from graduate school and watched her fronting to drive our car: I think he was sure his death was imminent. At this point she can do anything she wants because she ‘sits on Amy’s lap’ to access the skills for it. But it’s more than that. She is the access point the 5 older girls have to Tina and Jenny. All communication goes through her between the others. And beyond that as the 3 littlest girls have healed and matured, they seem to hold the most robust expressions of physical attachment emanating from my wife. My cold and somewhat aloof wife has been transformed into an affectionate and snuggly one because of them.

3) Neural atrophy.

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The Nature of Dissociation, Part 2

I read an article a while ago here. The author was attempting to deal with the topic of Trauma, Psychosis and Dissociation. Sadly, when I tried to engage the author with what I had learned walking with my wife on this healing journey, she wasn’t interested, sigh. But I never forgot her article, and it was the impetus for the writing of this series. So here is what I’ve learned over the last 11 years as my wife and I have traveled thru her dissociative identity disorder.

Having used a simple picture in my first entry here to describe dissociation as a coping strategy that the mind/body system takes to sequester any pain or fear from trauma, I’d now like to give a basic definition to bolster our understanding of this concept. Trauma and dissociation are two distinct things, though the effects they have on a person often dovetail and interweave, complicating the healing process. Trauma activates the mind/body system to use dissociation as a coping mechanism with wide flung ramifications.

So, what is the trauma? To me, that is anything that occurred at the time of the abuse. It could be the lies the abuser told the victim to keep power over him/her. It could be physical pain. It could be the feeling of loss of agency. It could be the feelings of isolation and being unheard by the primary attachment figure who didn’t protect the child in his/her care. It could be the overwhelming sense of fear from not knowing whether one’s life will end or when the next instance of abuse might happen if it is ongoing. These and so many other things, I relegate to the sphere of the original trauma.

When the child experiences all these traumatic actions and feelings, the body/ mind system begins to sequester those experiences in the absence of the primary attachment figure doing her/his responsibilities and protecting the child and assuaging the trauma already experienced. And thus begins a complicated process of sequestering that becomes more and more systemic the longer the traumatic events are unaddressed so that the pain can abate and the system return to normal. This is where dissociation begins.

As the sequestering/dissociation of the trauma continues, there is a cascade of results that begin to take shape within the person. The traumatic memories are sequestered, but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For whatever reason, personality traits and mental abilities become associated, and then dissociated, with the trauma memories. As personality traits and mental abilities are lost to the sufferer, the system begins to stress other areas in an attempt to maintain ‘as-normal-as-possible’ functioning: this is where so many of the DSM ‘disorders’ begin to take shape as the mind loses its natural balance because more and more traits and abilities are lost to the various isolation areas within the system. And finally, as the dissociation becomes entrenched, neural atrophy begins to take place, making it ever more difficult to access the trauma and the associated traits and abilities that were swept up in the desperate attempt to mitigate the suffering..and those lost traits and ability directly inhibit the ability of the person to heal from the trauma…a perfect vicious circle.

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The Nature of Dissociation, Part 1

Wikipedia: Dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

My wife and I have been on our healing journey for 11 years now. At the beginning of our journey, we made a critically important decision, but we were unaware of its importance. We decided to welcome each and every girl fully into our family and marriage. And so we unknowingly embraced her dissociation and took a path that few do in the dissociative identity disorder world. And as Robert Frost acknowledged in The Road Not Taken, that sparsely-traveled path has made all the difference in the world for our experience.

The stats suggest that only 6% of people with d.i.d. have a ‘florid’ case, meaning that the ‘alters’ come fully outside like Hollywood loves to characterize in the USOT and elsewhere. Instead, when I read most firsthand accounts, people hate dissociation. They hate the thought of losing time. They hate the loss of control. They hate everything about it, and do whatever it takes to minimize it, often taking harmful anti-psychotic drugs in a desperate attempt to keep themselves from dissociating and hearing the hated ‘voices’.

Unlike so many, we have lived in my wife’s dissociation for the last 11 years, embracing it in all of its variety. Most of my private life is spent with the girls other than my wife’s host, Karen. But I also made a pointed effort, and still do, to connect to every single girl, every single day. As a result, the dissociation became an annoyance, but not something we fear or fight against. We learned how to control it, and then we learned how to master and heal it as we came to understand it in a deeply, foundational way. And we learned how to distinguish it from other parts of my wife’s experiences.

As I try to explain how I’ve come to see dissociation, let me first begin with a prolonged picture that I hope will help to demystify what is occurring. When I’m done, I hope that my readers will see how truly common place dissociation is. After that, I will attempt to define it in my next post, and then finally, I will give examples that may help further clarify this incredibly important, but widely misunderstood, subject. So here we go!

Whether one is sexually, verbally, physically or otherwise assaulted, it typically starts in the physical world. Then it is converted through our senses into mental images and feelings. And when those are negative especially painful or fearful ones, the mind tends to sequester them just like the body does. If a limb is broken, and the trauma is not addressed and corrected so it can heal, then slowly the mind together with the body begins to develop coping strategies to live without the full use of that limb. If, for example, that leg is broken and no doctor is available, the person may use a splint and staff to continue walking. He/she may also begin to limp, trying to limit the weight that is put on the broken bone. Other muscles will have to work harder to compensate for the loss of the leg. And joints will become stressed from the additional weight they must bear. The break will begin to affect one’s posture.

The longer the limb is left traumatized, the muscles will begin to atrophy. The break will begin to calcify over instead of reconnecting to its broken mate as the body tries to staunch the open wound. The tendons and ligaments would be stressed and stretched from the displacement of the broken bone. And even the mind would begin to incorporate the loss of that limb as nearly a normal part of life. Plus, stress and anxiety may become associated with that break if it was an especially violent event that caused the trauma. In time the break will begin to stress and affect the entire system, mind and body.

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Helping a Short-term Memory “Alter” like Jenny

A little more than 4 years ago, Jenny entered our lives. She threw the first 7 girls and me for a loop that we are still struggling to deal with. It’s not that I don’t love Jenny: I do just like I do all my other girls. But we all thought we saw the finish line. We had all 7 of the other girls connected to various degrees, and Tina was on the verge of moving to a much more direct contact with Amy and Shellie. And our anemic sexlife was finally, for the first time in 28 years, starting to get a little better, as the two girlfriends, Alley and K.A., matured and wanted to explore that area with me.

And then it was all swept away on many levels. Jenny has been a conundrum for us in a way that none of the other girls have been. I believe I’ve mentioned in the past, that Jenny for the most part only has access to short-term memories. I’ve read of at least one other lady on the internet with d.i.d with the same problem. Maybe it’s a common issue for at least one ‘alter’ of a system to exhibit this issue, but she was the first for us. And she knocked the wind out of all our sails so badly that I’ve struggled to help her like I did the first 7 girls, sigh.

Having a girl with mostly short-term memories is like starting every couple of days over. She’s told me she doesn’t really remember our past, and only, kinda feels as if she knows who I am. It’s clear that she recognizes me, and yet I didn’t realize how fundamentally her short-term memory-only issues affected the level of trust between the two of us because she couldn’t draw upon the 4 years we’ve had together and all the things we’ve done together and all the ways I’ve cared for her. To her most of those memories were like a mist or a fog, that she just couldn’t quite access.

And I was in my own fog of discouragement from the ‘setback’ that Jenny seemed to bring to our forward progress. It’s been a fog that has largely caused me to stop writing here as I feel like we’ve been treading water for 4 years despite some of the advances I’ve mentioned in the few posts I’ve made since her entry to our relationship.

But we have still been making progress, no matter how slowly it’s been. One huge hurdle we overcame was Jenny’s ‘no-touching’ rule with me. For the first 2 ½ years, she would look at me and say, “No touching” if I even got close to her. Then one day the other girls were taking a self-defense course, and the instructor went from participant to participant imitating an assailant who has his hands around one’s throat so that the students could learn to break that hold. But apparently the look of horror on my wife’s face was such that it unnerved the instructor and he asked her afterwards if she was ok…and then the lightbulb went on for me.

For all the stress our marriage has been under these 32 years, I’ve only once laid a hand upon my wife: and sadly Jenny held that memory of me with my hands around her throat as I, a little too roughly, removed her from the front doorway in an attempt for me to walk out and calm down. Even though I made no attempt to choke her, but simply removed her from my pathway, that event freaked me out as well: I’m not that kind of man, and I never, ever touched her again, no matter how much I was upset.

It’s no wonder Jenny always had trust issues with me when she only could remember one, very unhappy memory about us in the past. And so when I realized the connection, I immediately began to seek Jenny’s forgiveness for that incident but also help her to heal it in the wake of the 2 ½ years when I had gently cared for her. It wasn’t an instantaneous healing: it never is, but over the course of a few weeks, things began to get better, and now, nearly a year and a half later, Jenny will allow me to hug her briefly, sit shoulder-to-shoulder with her on the couch, hold her hand when we are walking, and she even let me kiss her briefly on the lips as she and our son left for a vacation to Florida last week.

So with the no-touching rule mostly vanquished, we still had Jenny’s memory issues to deal with when I realized how deeply her lack of memories made it nearly impossible for her to feel safe with me because she couldn’t build a storehouse of happy and safe memories with me. And so we began to work on a picture book of all the things we’ve done together for the last 4 years. We also had one of those pictures developed and framed to help her remember us having fun together. And we placed the same picture into her inside place.

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Learning to Control the Switching Process in Dissociative Identity Disorder

Well, my wife and I are in year 10 of our healing journey from her dissociative identity disorder. She and I have both come a long way in so many ways. And as I look back, I feel we were so fortunate in so many ways that we didn’t understand at first.

Today I’d like to discuss ‘switching.’ For anyone in the d.i.d. world we know ‘switching’ simply means when one ‘alter’ takes over executive control for another. It’s the big, flashing, neon sign that everyone knows is the hallmark sign of d.i.d. I’ve been on many, many d.i.d. websites over the years and have seen the fear and angst this phenomenon causes so many d.i.d. sufferers. I noted how it was portrayed on USOT in an earlier blog entry. And I wrote a brief article about switching here a long time ago. But today I want to explain how I trained my wife’s mind to easily switch from girl to girl so that the process was removed from the realm of the uncontrollable and thus none of them view it with the fear or angst I sometimes see in others with d.i.d.

The foundation of what my wife and I have done has always been attachment principles even before we understood what they were. Read here if you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts and how they apply to healing d.i.d. As such I am the primary attachment figure for all the girls. There are no ‘unwanted alters’ in my wife’s system. I love them each and have sought a relationship with each and they each love me as a result. The same goes for our 27-year old son, though he does not fill the same role that I do. But as such, being with me or our son was something every girl wanted. Time with me or him was ‘prized’ time, and so I used that desire of theirs to teach them how to switch ‘at will.’

Again, it’s not that I am so brilliant, but my wife and I just kind of ‘fell into’ some of these techniques that later proved so invaluable to her healing.

One thing that helped is I insisted on telling each and every girl goodbye when I left for my 2nd-shift job each day. If I had a girl who resisted and didn’t want to ‘share’ me, I would gently say, “Honey, how would you like it, if the other girls locked you inside and didn’t let you see me?” I never forced them inside, but this reasoning was always enough for the first 7 girls so that every day when I left for work, I would tell each of the 7 girls goodbye.

Eleven hours later when I got home, they were waiting for me, and I would go thru the same process and tell each of the 7 girls goodnight and kiss them how each one desired. Sophia wanted butterfly kisses. Amy, Tina and Karen wanted regular kisses. Alley and her little sister Shelley wanted to rub cheeks. And KA wanted ‘French kisses’ as she playfully called them: one on each cheek, and I playfully would suggest I’d give her a ‘real’ French kiss to which she exclaimed her horror, lol.

But I also sent every single girl a brief email each and every day that I was at work. These emails are ‘prized’ among the girls, and so once again it taught them to switch so that each girl could have her turn to read the note from me that was specific to each girl’s tastes. The 5 older girls always reply to these notes. The 3 littlest girls rarely reply, but I understand how important this is to each and to her healing and so I faithfully send them each day.

Another thing that I did that taught them to switch at will was have dates with each girl each week. For a couple of years, I would assign a day of each week to a specific girl and she and I would do something special together. The other girls were always welcome to be part of it, but the girl whose day it was got to choose whatever activity we did for our ‘date.’ I had to be careful though because some girls like Shelly were especially timid and the other girls would try to force her to do their bidding. So I had to protect her from their extreme influence. Yet I also realize that her role in the system was such that she didn’t always have her ‘own’ preferences because she was literally ‘wired’ to please her older sister, Alley.

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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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