The United States of Tara versus our Experience

I found this series on HuluPlus this week and decided to watch it. Karen finds it triggering based on the comments of other people with d.i.d. and so she has refused to watch it with me. Today I finished the first season and thought I would use the series as a basis to discuss our family experience.

On a positive note I am very happy that this series attempted to deal with a difficult subject. I was afraid it would try to be light and funny or sensationalize things. I especially can connect with Max the husband and his attempts to navigate his family thru this minefield while keeping the family intact. I would highly recommend the series to anyone who wants to understand d.i.d. because it will give you a place to start in your understanding of the disorder and the chaos it can bring to the entire family and even relatives.

That said, if anyone watched USOT, they would find a completely different experience in our home. To me the saddest aspect of USOT is that during season one none of the family treats the insiders(alters, gag) as if they are part of the family. None of the girls in my wife’s network were ever treated as unwelcome guests, even Alley who when she first came out made me cry every time she yelled at me. My number one priority as each girl joined our lives was to make them feel welcomed, wanted and loved. I rejoiced at the day each accepted my invitation to ‘join’ our family as I gave them a ring or piece of jewelry just as I had when I married Karen in their opinion (In my opinion I married Ka’ryn Marie, i.e. all of them from day one).

Though I’ve made a point to buy each girl things she could call her own, I’ve made it clear to each of them that everything in our house belongs to them. This includes all our money, too, because they are my wife, even if none of them relate to me that way except Karen. Our son though seems to differentiate them more in his interactions with them: Karen is his ‘mom.’ KA is his obvious favorite as they share so many common interests, and he is a great, doting big brother to the rest.

Switching is another big difference between our experience and USOT. Tara switches more dramatically than my girls do most of the time. Moreover, my girls NEVER had completely different wardrobes, though some of them do tend toward different styles of clothing (at this point they’ve kind of synthesized their likes to reflect each of them). Anyway, I understand why the creators of USOT had such dramatic switching for effect and to help the viewers. But for my girls, the switch is typically less than a second and the voice and mannerisms are how I know who is out (though at this point they are getting all mixed up and it’s getting harder to distinguish them).

Another aspect of switching that is very different in our experience is the helplessness that Tara and her family sense when it happens. For them Tara’s switching was completely involuntary, triggered by some stress, and Buck, Alice, T and Gimme were with them until some other uncontrollable event happened. That lack of control was only a very small part of our experience. Sure the girls had triggers in the beginning and would switch uncontrollably at times. But we encouraged full participation in our family of ALL the girls, and so usually the girls switched because they wanted to be out with me and our son and be part of life. He and I can also call out any of the 7 girls at any time. Sure they can resist, and I NEVER EVER force a switch, but for the most part since they knew they were loved and I always made it clear I was not getting rid of them but I simply needed to talk with a particular girl about an area of life under her control, they would switch and let me talk with the next person.

At this point switching is rather humdrum. I talk with all 7 girls every single day multiple times a day and my son still does on skype, too. On a conservative day my girls switch control 30-50 times while I’m at home, and I would guess they do a lot more while I’m gone. It seems most people with d.i.d. find switching something to fight against, but I have encouraged it from day one and ‘getting triggered’ rarely has anything to do with it 7 years into the healing journey.

Loose Canons. In USOT one gets the feeling that the ‘alters’ are totally out of control, doing whatever they want. Buck and T have sexual affairs. There are unknown credit card purchases. They emphasize how different each ‘alter’ is from the others including Buck’s left-handedness and the smoking which makes Tara gag.

We never really experienced a lot of this. I think my emphasis on attachment theory and bringing them into a family where they were wanted, loved and cared for meant they NEVER had to go around me to get what they wanted. I constantly asked what they wanted, needed, wished for and then got it for them if I could possibly afford it. And as for differences between ‘alters’, the most important differences between my girls are the ones that USOT cannot show. Each girl controls different abilities and traits within the personality spectrum of one person. So you don’t have 7 different people as it might appear on USOT, but 7 girls of varying personality size and abilities which make up one person.

Sex. In the beginning Tara, Alice and T each begs Max to have sex with her. T is out-of-control sexually but both Alice and Tara seem sexually normal and even provocative. Our sex life has never been normal or healthy. Karen is the only one willing to do it. And instead of having anyone beg to do it with me, for 26 ½ years I’ve been told how little she needs it while we do a few tired things ad nauseum…but on a more positive note…recently my two girlfriends have taken over foreplay, especially KA. It’s pretty tame right now because for her it’s all about romance. But she wants our ‘romantic interludes’ as she calls them. Karen still finishes things, but it’s an entirely new thing for someone to want to be with me sexually.

Relatives and Friends. The outlandish, public interactions that Buck, T and Alice have with people outside the family still make me gasp! I can’t even imagine my girls doing any of that. The 6 little girls have never fully come outside to anyone except our son and me. Amy and Alley will also talk to their counselor. Other than that they use Karen’s voice if they want to interact with anyone. I can tell which girl is using Karen’s mouth, but no one else would ever even know my wife has d.i.d. if I didn’t tell them.

Beyond that USOT paints all of Tara, Max and the kids’ interactions with relatives as somewhat dysfunctional, though Tara’s sister is the best. Our experiences with relatives have run the spectrum. Some have used the knowledge of my wife’s d.i.d. as an excuse for their own issues. Others have completely supported us and offered as little or as much assistance as we desired. And many we have chosen to keep in the dark for various reasons.

Family Stress. I think USOT does a good job of picturing the stress that Tara’s disorder places on Max, Kate and Marshall. I honestly don’t know how my son deals with things. I try to talk to him, and he completely refuses to discuss anything. He treats all the girls wonderfully, but I don’t know how he views his mom or our ‘interesting’ family life as Marshall describes it. He’s a fairly mature 24-year old, but I don’t know how this affects him. Me? I’ve been suicidal off and on for the last 20 some years as I’ve watched my life pass by me because of my wife’s various issues that we only 7 years ago learned originated from d.i.d. I’ve learned to swallow all the hurt and denial of my needs and most of my anger thru my excessive journaling. But recently the girls have been connecting with each other in such a way that they are FINALLY, 26 ½ years later, beginning to attend to some of my needs. It’s still not how a healthy husband or wife would do, but it gives me hope that there’s an end to this eternally dark tunnel.

In the end I’ve found USOT a mixed bag. I like watching it because I can relate in some ways even though their experience has been so very different than ours. I hope since Richard Kluft, one of the grandfathers of d.i.d. theory, was a consultant that this series reflects the experience of at least some in our situation. If you know someone who has d.i.d. or who has a loved one with it, this series might be a good place to grasp a little bit of what comes with this disorder. But beware: people with d.i.d. love to proclaim how the disorder uniquely manifests itself in each person. So watching USOT will not make you an expert, but it may give you a starting point for empathy.

Blessings,

Sam, I Am

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fumbling Through Therapy
    Feb 07, 2015 @ 01:02:52

    Very good insight. I agree with a lot of points as far as creative license. And it sounds like my wife and you have a very similar approach to getting to know the various parts. She is also incredibly supportive and accepting of them, which helps so much.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Feb 07, 2015 @ 02:27:06

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It makes me very happy for you, that you have a supportive spouse! I read so many blogs where the spouse is not accepting nor supportive. I know our son and I have made a world of difference in their healing progress.

      Take care,
      Sam

      Reply

  2. sarahkreece
    Feb 08, 2015 @ 09:22:12

    Great review, I can certainly relate to your points about switching actually being a lot more subtle. 🙂

    Reply

  3. flowerofthewoods
    Feb 08, 2015 @ 15:20:25

    I’ve never heard of this show, but it sounds like its worth watching an episode at least. Usually I dislike how sensationalized DID/MPD is usually portrayed as, since my own experiences have always been so horrendously mundane. I suppose, “I switched in the middle of scrubbing potatoes, and ended up boiling and mashing them instead of baking them like I had originally planned” doesn’t really make for great drama.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Feb 09, 2015 @ 02:12:23

      Hi Flower,

      yeah, I’ve often thought of a movie about me helping the girls heal. For the last three years the movie would mostly consist of me sitting on the couch with both arms around Tina so I could hold her while we watched tv and while I told her, “I love you. We belong together. You are my girl. We choose each other.” etc. Not the Hollywood idea of riveting drama there.

      If you watch the series be prepared for mainstream morality, if that bothers you…

      Sam

      Reply

      • flowerofthewoods
        Feb 09, 2015 @ 11:50:56

        Next up on The Real Lives of Multiples: “You forgot the laundry in the dryer AGAIN, and now my shirts are wrinkled! Your DID is tearing us apart!”

        I’ve watched a couple episodes of the show, and it seems like a good illustration of what not to do.

      • Sam Ruck
        Feb 09, 2015 @ 16:22:15

        I would agree that the show makes me feel badly if this is how therapists are insisting families treat those with d.i.d.

      • flowerofthewoods
        Feb 10, 2015 @ 13:52:06

        Every time a different personality shows up, everyone reacts like, “Oh great, it’s you. Why are you here?” and they completely ignore all of the strengths that each personality possesses. Sheesh, no wonder they’re so out of control.

        And yet I can’t seem to stop watching the show.

      • Sam Ruck
        Feb 10, 2015 @ 15:50:00

        I agree, Flower, to me their reaction to the others is the saddest part of the show…and I also have a hard time NOT watching it.

  4. dory463
    Feb 10, 2015 @ 13:17:52

    I enjoy the comments 🙂
    True, the switching is much more subtle. My husband usually knows when I switch, but often I don’t even know its happening.
    We did watch a few episodes of USOT, I did enjoy it, but I think the dramatic switching mislead me as someone with DID to think that is what I should be expecting out of this. I kinda doubted my husband’s opinion on how often my alters come out or influence things. On the other hand, it did help me to see what it can be like for the rest of the family.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Feb 10, 2015 @ 15:56:23

      Hi Dorothy,

      thanks for stopping by and I appreciate your comments! I wish USOT had been more like our family’s experience, but maybe it got people thinking about it and at least they didn’t have any psycho-murdering alters on the show!

      Sam

      Reply

  5. undercoverdid
    Feb 12, 2015 @ 09:13:13

    When the show first aired there were a LOT in the DID community that were highly upset. I kinda liked it. However, what I found was many who didn’t like it were the hosts of the systems. I have a unique perspective of being a host and an insider. The host in me cringed because our job as host is to hide, to blend. The insider in me was so excited because while the switches are over the top, they make a point that many people forget and that is we are different. We see it, but other people have a hard time seeing it, they see the body and for the most part the body doesn’t warp into another one 😉 So the over the top switching was for “hollywood” but also it brought the internal world external.

    Did you watch all 3 seasons?

    Season 1 the who thing about sex was interesting. I mean it’s a valid point, but on the flip side you see how taking a very specific approach can lead to a whole lot more issues as well. Again, I think this was primarily “hollywood” jazzing up the show, BUT I’m sure Max rejecting T had a lot to do with her escapades as well.

    I’ve also never had a hospital experience like the ones the show has either. Of course I’ve never been to a trauma center either. That whole part made no real sense to me because it was so far removed from my personal experience.

    I love revisiting this show! I’ve gone through it several times and had recently gone back through it. I find different aspects to it depending on what’s going on in my life. Thanks for bringing this show back up. It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives on it. I always take “hollywood” with a grain of salt, but I think Toni Collette does a beautiful job in this! While I know people view it differently, there will never be a perfect show that will help everyone understand what it’s like to be DID, I think this one made some positive contributions.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Feb 14, 2015 @ 09:28:42

      Hi Undercover,

      it’s so good to see you around again!

      I am currently in season 2 and my wife is gone for the week, so I hope to watch the remaining episodes. I would agree with you that Max, Kate’s and and even Marshall’s reaction to T and all the others contributed greatly to all their escapades. I embraced all the girls that joined my life and we NEVER had any issues like that.

      I’m glad you are able to enjoy the show. I wish my wife/my girls could, but they are unable to do so at this point.

      Sam

      Reply

  6. Tom
    Jun 01, 2016 @ 04:09:45

    This was really interesting for me to read. I’m multiple (have DID) and have been in therapy for over 20 years with several long breaks. I’ve integrated and just in the past year I’ve experienced a split. So, where once there were dozens, then one, now there are two of us.

    I found your blog as I was searching for some insight into how to manage this with my husband. You see, when we met I was very close to integrating. So, although he met several of our system, it wasn’t very much a part of our dating life, or our marriage. When we married it was me, a female person, and him. Everything was probably about as normal as it gets for anyone entering into marriage. We’ve since had a son, and it’s been 6 years.

    When I watched USOT years ago I remember that it resonated with me greatly. Our life was very much like that, perhaps with less “made for TV drama” in the daily going on. We were all very distinct and even people at work picked up on the differences – even among adult “alters”. Maybe having both male and female members of the system made the switching less subtle. There would be lost time, although we worked so well together that it wasn’t much of a problem. Somebody was always out of the loop and caught off guard. We had a rich and developed internal life that mostly seemed more real and rewarding than what was going on externally. I truly believe that it was through getting everyone to engage with the external world that we began to integrate. Once we all had more of a vested interest in life as “Sarah” (I changed the name for privacy) it all seemed to come together. That took nearly 20 years of therapy for us because we really were very different, distinct.

    What family knew about the DID reacted much as Tara’s, mostly we kept it to ourselves and tried to appear “normal” which only resulted in people thinking we were odd or crazy. Relationships were hard. Once we began integrating and finally it was just one me, everything seemed much more simple as far as relationships go, but living life singly was amazingly hard. The adjustment – I don’t think I ever really caught up to myself even in 5 years!

    A terrifying incident with our son caused this new split, into two who are basically two members of the original system that sort of incorporate everyone else. While there are only two of us, it’s back to the experience of having to work hard at keeping each other informed. Having a husband in the mix is making it even more difficult. He is just as great as ever, wouldn’t have married anyone who wasn’t a good man, and he did know going into our marriage what sort of situation I was in. Now that we’ve split though it’s weird. Who is he married to? He didn’t actually marry either of us – although he says he married both of us. Are we both the mother to our son? Of course at 4 years old none of this is discussed with him! I say yes, both mother to our son. That’s the consensus in our house. The thing is, I’m not a woman. I mean, I am a woman but I individually don’t – you know what I’m trying to say here. I see this as a problem mostly with my son because I feel this great disconnect that he has no idea who I am. With the husband we just ignore it, don’t talk about it, and manage as – who the hell knows. We aren’t lovers. We are friends I think. I’m not even sure. It’s the strangest friendship I’ve ever been in! There’s definitely a consideration here where every day I make a conscious choice to stick this out with him, instead of moving on with some woman. I’m sure that’s an anvil on my husbands back, huh? We don’t discuss it, but he knows the woman I wanted to marry years ago before he met me. Of course she and I no longer speak, it wouldn’t be appropriate.

    My point is – every DID system/family/whatever you call it, every one of us is going to be different. The formation of the collective group, the age at which they entered therapy, the level of distinction between the people/alters – all of that plays into how much alike or different the experience would be from USOT. The show is TV, it’s drama and chaos to an extreme – but life really is like that for some of us. Even after we integrate. And split. And reintegrate. And resplit. Over decades.

    Anyway, I’m glad I found your blog and I want to say that it’s inspiring to read about how much you love “your girls”. That’s wonderful. They’re lucky to have you, and I’m sure you are equally blessed by each of them.

    Reply

    • Sam Ruck
      Jun 01, 2016 @ 08:21:50

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks for stopping by my blog and for taking the time to share your experience to me and any others who may read it. I’m sorry for your current dilemma but hope you can figure things out especially with your husband. I’m glad the review and the show resonates with you some.

      Take care,
      Sam

      Reply

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