Updated: Feb 3
Since I came out of the proverbial “crazy closet” and began to discuss my diagnosis openly, I have been asked quite a few questions. On a few occasions, I have had to do some pretty serious soul searching in order to answer those questions. Each time I find I learn a little more about myself, and what living with DID means for my own understanding of my identity. In that spirit, this year I want to focus more of my blog on my personal journey with Dissociative Identity Disorder. In the process I hope to foster a greater understanding of my illness with the general public. I am beginning with this piece about my struggles to understand my own identity. I will continue by writing pieces about each one of my alternate personalities. This will give me the long overdue opportunity to introduce each of them to you, my readers, because they deserve to be recognized as the individuals they are. In sharing with you their personal stories, struggles and issues it is my hope that you will relate to them and find strength in their shared experiences. I hope you will see we are really not so different. We all have hopes and dreams. We each face fears and struggle with conflicts. We all understand what it is like to feel both pain and joy. We are all human.
Who Am I? It’s a question we all struggle with at some point in our lives. The answer to that question can change dramatically over the course of our lives. It depends on things like the company you keep, your health and life situations. I have pondered this question myself many times over the years. In my opinion, knowing yourself becomes infinitely more complicated when you have Dissociative Identity Disorder. I have often referred to myself as being like a lava lamp. If you consider the lamp as a representation of my physical body, then the colorful wax inside represents my inner selves/personalities. When a lava lamp is new all that wax is in one solid lump at the bottom. The first time you turn the lamp on, the light bulb begins to heat that ball of wax up. Think of that light bulb and the heat it produces as a triggering traumatic event. That heat makes the wax more malleable; it loosens and separates the wax into many different pieces. Just as my core personality was permanently changed by traumatic events, the wax is never the same again either. The wax simply cannot reform into that original, singular ball of wax. It is forever transformed.
In the early years who I was, depended on which one of the many Me's was in charge of my body. Sometimes this change in personalities occurred rapidly, almost violently and with no warning. Occasionally, like the wax in a lava lamp one personality would gracefully meld with its neighbor in a friendly exchange. In those moments memories and conscious thoughts were shared more easily. However, more times than not I was not even aware as I changed from my primary self (Jennifer) into an alternate self. There are entire parts of my life that are still an empty space in my memories. Just like the wax in my lava lamp inevitably drifts away from other pieces of wax, my personalities were pulling the pieces of my life apart then putting them back together in random order. Consequently, time has never moved in an entirely linear path for me. For years I experienced blackouts or lost time when another Me took over my body. It was disorienting, scary, and a disruptive jolt to my life every time it happened. People would share stories with me about things I had said or done; things I never thought I would do or say. I could not reconcile the person they were talking about with who I thought I was. That lost time ate away at my confidence and ability to feel safe. It ripped my fragile sense of self to shreds. Who was I? As human beings our memories, the moments that make up our lives are the building blocks of who we are as people. How could I possibly determine who I really was, when the wax kept flowing in a seemingly endless dance taking my memories with it?
Over time I have developed a skill called co-consciousness. It has been a painstakingly long and difficult process requiring years of dedicated work. Nevertheless, creating this stable foundation to build on was absolutely necessary if I wanted any sense of normalcy in my life. This process began for me nearly twenty years ago with the help of an excellent therapist. I created a table in my mind with seats for all eleven of Us to sit at in open forum. I guess you could say that I turned down the heat in my metaphorical lava lamp. Turning down the heat slowed down the flow of the wax as it cooled. This cooling put Us in close proximity with one another. We took the time to observe each other as We drifted gracefully past. It gave Us opportunities to communicate and get to know one another. Slowly as communication improved the blackouts that had plagued me for so long stopped occurring as often. Then blessedly they stopped all together.
As the blackouts became a thing of the past, I was eventually able to see and hear what the others were doing when they took over my body. Unfortunately, I usually wasn’t able to control what they did with my body. Just being able to see the messes they created was not good enough. My life still felt like it was spinning out of control. I was terrified, never knowing what I might do or say next. I took control in the only way I thought I could, I isolated myself. Like a child hiding from the monsters under her bed I lived in a very dark lonely place. I didn’t have many friends, I rarely left the house or let people in. I couldn’t trust myself and I could not trust other people either. This way of life was familiar to me, an old friend really. Over and over I have fallen back on this “safety” measure to protect both myself and others from me. Every time I have done this to myself, I have become a miserable shell of a human being. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t working but, I couldn’t fathom any other method. Change is scary! Still I am nothing if not stubborn and I refused to give up. I buckled down and continued to try and communicate with my others. In time I was able to gain more input, even when I was not in direct control of my own body. The co-consciousness process continued to evolve and change but I hadn’t really gained any better understanding of myself at this point. I had just found a new way to control my “symptoms”. If I am honest, I was just surviving with a little more finesse.
About five years ago, I began to make what to me, felt like a radical set of changes to my co-consciousness system. My therapist taught me a different way to think about my illness. Her suggestions would help me expand upon my fragile system of control in an entirely new way. But, like most new and different things, it wasn’t an easy sell. I honestly thought my therapist was crazier than I was, when she first suggested that having alternates could be advantageous to me. I had worked hard and managed an uneasy peace with them. Some of them I even liked, but to call them useful? The very concept was absurd! To me, they were still a foreign entity taking up space in my mind. Bickering voices in my head that made my life difficult and influenced my decisions; sometimes against my will. How many times had I been a victim of one of the kids randomly blurting something embarrassing from my lips? How often had Adrianna voice an opinion that I didn’t fully agree with? Every time my face would burn with shame. Yet, it was my therapist's opinion that I allow my alters to not only have their voices heard and listened to, but that I also start to let them come out and use my body on purpose. The idea horrified me.
My entire life has been about control! Keeping the others inside is paramount, my rule number one. In my mind if I lost control, I would automatically do something bad or something bad would happen to me as a result. My God, what if someone found out about me! I knew I couldn’t get rid of them, but I sure wasn’t going to give them my power. This is my body and I won’t let it be hijacked! I ran hot and cold with the fear just considering this idea. But my therapist persisted, she went on to further explain that each one of my other selves has their own skills and interests. “Why not use those skills and interests to the advantage of You as a whole” she suggested?” Don’t enjoy driving, cooking, or a certain subject in school, ask who among your other selves does? Let them come out and be free to do that task. It takes that burden away from you while giving them something they want in return; Freedom.” I had to admit the idea did intrigue me. I wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea of giving up control of less desirable tasks. I might even be willing to consider sharing a task that I wasn’t as good at, with a more qualified alternate self. I began to understand that it wasn’t about giving up control at all, it was about sharing daily life moments in a way that “fed” each of our needs. This opportunity gives everyone a chance to be fulfilled and “real” while working toward the betterment of Us as a whole. I felt safer knowing I didn’t have to give up my veto power either. I got to have a big ol' eject button. In essence if someone decided to go against the plans for the betterment of Us as a whole and behave in a selfishly destructive way, I could push that metaphorical button. I would regain my body control just like that!
In order to make this suggested incarnation of co-consciousness work I would have to do something I had never truly done before. I had to stop treating my other selves like foreign invaders. I had to remember that they are all part of me. We all came from that same ball of wax. They are not delusional figments of my imagination. They are just as real as I am. Each one of my ten other selves have real feelings and desires. They have needs and dreams just like anyone else. I had to accept them and learn to love them just as I had to learn to love my primary self. It has taken time to adjust to this new way of living and thinking. I had to battle a lot of my own fears and self-preservation instincts. I asked myself a lot of hard questions. Would living like this take away from my primary self? What am I going to lose in this bargain? What might I gain? Will I even recognize myself when all is said and done? What if one of the others takes over and I disappear? Why can’t I just go on shoving them down into the depth of me? Am I being fair to them? What will people think of me? I was terrified and honestly, I wasn’t sure I could handle it.
Slowly I have gotten to know the people that share my body. I have begun to see them more like family. I have taken the time to really listen to what they are saying. I have tried to remember to ask questions like “Hey anyone in there like to do…? Or What do you guys think about this thing?” Compromises have been made and deals brokered to keep the peace between myself and my alternate selves. We are working together to find ways they can contribute meaningfully now. We share stories and jokes with each other. I am even getting some of the pieces of my past back. There are still secrets that they won’t share yet, trust is earned after all. I kept them all caged and hidden for so long, treating them like some horrible monsters. I never really realized that doing that was hurting myself.
I know now that to truly understand myself I need to know and accept all of the Me’s that make up the greater Us. I am beginning to understand that each one of Us has a purpose they were born to fulfill within Us. We are so much stronger when we work together as a group. When We create goals that not only enrich Us as a whole but bring fulfillment to us individually, We are on the right track. I am not losing anything; I am gaining an internal support system unlike any other. We are each unique and beautiful in Our own ways. We all possess strengths and weaknesses as well as Our own individual views of the world around Us. It can be an extraordinarily enlightening experience to see the world through so many different viewpoints. I believe it allows me to have a greater empathy and understanding of other people. By allowing myself that shift in thinking, I have gained my first real taste of mental and emotional stability.
Over the last five years We have solidified this new partnership and become a more complete version of Ourselves than We have ever been before. I have become more and more comfortable sharing myself in my entirety with close friends, family and to a lesser degree acquaintances and strangers. For instance, during the course of a conversation I may choose to share a thought Frank has. Then let my conversational partner know that it was Frank who was communicating that idea. In the past I would not have share who had the thoughts and comments, I would simply have passed it off as my own. However, I know I still hold back a great deal. As an example, I may have passed Franks thoughts on like a secretary but I didn’t actually let him speak the words. I maintained control of my body. I admit I am still afraid and unsure about allowing them that kind of freedom. I really don’t know yet whether that will be an inevitable path of my evolving growth as a person or if We will choose a different way. What I do know is this, We are evolving and growing.
As I find myself at the precipice of the next stage in my recovery I realize, I will never be able to make my lava lamp all shiny and brand new. That ball of wax won’t transform back into a singular unit. I can however, continue to find the beauty in who I am at each stage of my life. With my therapist's help, myself and the others will be discussing each one of our needs and wants more in-depth. Each one of them have been asked to assemble a list of their personal desires. The goal will be to come up with a plan that allows each of Us to get our needs met in the best ways possible for Us as a whole. Hopefully we can set group goals as well as find commonalities in our desires and needs as individuals. The others have been happy with Our progress so far but, there are still times when they push against the confines, I have placed on them. There are still moments when they begin pushing and prodding, testing the limits as they try desperately to find a way out, not to escape, but to express themselves. I know they want more and they deserve it. Because when it comes right down to it, they want to understand themselves too. The question of “Who am I?” is just as much a part of their existence as it is mine. We don’t know yet where this journey will lead Us next, but We are open to the challenge as long as it brings Us closer together as a healthy human being.