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Understanding the Incomprehensible

Children of incest or long-term sexual abuse grow up to be wounded adults with complicated emotional issues. Unfortunately, some symptoms are misinterpreted or often dismissed as "crazy", only serving to maintain a tormented victim status. We, as a society, have the power to change this dynamic. Each of us can make a difference.

Sep 14, 2008

Life with DID before the memories

I'd like to share, as best I can, in broad terms, what it is like to grow up before the abuse becomes conscious. This is my story and several other stories known to me. I had one big symptom of DID that no one caught. I had no idea it was a symptom until I already knew I had dissociated my abuse and was reading the checklist in E. Sue Blume's Secret Survivor. I had two failed marriages prior to remembering which is no red flag in and of itself. I changed my last name though each time I was married and returned to my maiden name in between. And I was always fussing with my first name and middle name since high school and went through several legal name changes for that.

Apparently it is not uncommon for abuse survivors to change their last name to dis-associate from a perp parent. Most anyone would laugh at my name history. I couldn't believe it was on the incest checklist. (Most with DID would score extremely high on the Secret Survivor checklist.) Outside of that, I could see that I always had a very intense internal world. I created a "safe place" with protectors when I was 5. I met several survivors who had done something similar. I would "pretend" that certain television characters were my real relatives--loving, protective, safe. I had inside imaginary friends. I loved to nap and sleep because I liked being inside more than outside where I was sad and lonely.

The others with DID who had done this absorbed one particular television show with a healthy family and that was their pretend world and family. Some did have very memorable external childhood imaginary friends (in addition to or in lieu of).

Until that first abuse memory hits though, and that amnesia barrier begins to crack, people with DID usually have no idea they were abused and can't imagine having been. We all say, "I would have REMEMBERED THAT!" Well, no. If you have amnesia, you wouldn't remember. People with DID, where the amnesia is in tact, are clueless about the reality of their childhoods and any present danger.

There is no typical way someone will behave if they have DID but not identified as such. It is as invisible as the pedophiles for most and usually misdiagnosed many times even after clear symptoms present. If a child or young person begins to remember while still in that organized pedophile community, that community will use all of its resources to try to stop the remembering. If the person goes to therapy, in my experience with two people still actively being abused, the person becomes a greater target for abuse and the therapist does as well in hopes one will be too afraid to continue.

I was aware of my client's perps because I don't dissociate my environment any longer. I realized how *I* (the one holding the conscious memories of my life) never saw my environment. At the time I began to heal, I realized I missed years/decades of news and had/have virtually no name or face recognition skills. It was all tuned out without realizing such a mechanism existed.

If parts of me knew about others around me who were part of my abuse, *I* never knew prior to the memories. It felt like a life. I had worked through most of the issues in therapy on some level which, I believe, gave me an advantage over many survivors. Depression, anxiety to include panic attacks, full blown Post Traumatic Stress responses to known and unknown triggers, all require the development of coping skills. DID, by necessity, takes coping skills to a new level.

No one knew. Aside from some odd habits which I now understand, I thought my life was normal. Being diagnosed with DID and remembering just a piece of the abuse can be life shattering. Who was I that I lived a life not knowing of such harm? How could this have happened? Maybe it only happened once. Initially there can be very strong denial. Who would blame someone for not wanting to remember a horrific past? There is no going back though.

Likely all survivors have a moment (or two or three) when they wish their minds would just go back to not knowing again. It was so much easier that way. But at what cost?


Anonymous said...

I used to imagine myself as part of a friends family. Now i know when i used to go to there house id be obsessed with looking at the photos of there family they had on display. Id imagine i was part of it.

I never changed my name, and ive never been married. And i couldnt get away from my perp parents family because my mum had conditioned me to hate my innocent parents (dad) family as a way of cutting myself off and isolating me.

An example of me cutting off my past is this :- between the age of 8 and 13 i had a best mate, who was soon discarded so i could dissociate the past. Im now 34 years old and ive spent my whole life thinking he hates me ( for no reason, it was my way of cutting off the past). Last week i mailed him, and he was really pleased ifd got in touch!

The mind is an amazing thing!

Brilliant blog btw, so much i can relate too.


Anonymous said...

A question for you!

I was 31 when i brokedown and had no knowledge of abuse before then. Limited memories before the age of 18 and none before the age of 7 ( when the abuse happened). I lived in a dissociated state all the way to 31!

Here the question:-

Is it a matter of time before an abused person in a dissociated state breaks down and has to face the past????? Id read somewhere that between the ages of 30 and 35 this was very common, as it all 'settles' in your mind, and you are strong enough to deal with it.

I was just wondering what your opinion on this was???

Regards, simon

Anonymous said...

2nd question! lol

Last 1 for today ( if thats ok , lol)

Tell me to shove off if i get annoying!

As someone who has largely recovered/dealt with the past, what aspects of your life have improved since you started this journey of recovery????

I think this is an important question for anyone considering therapy! And im really intrested in the positive effects of all the hard work you must of done!

Regards, simon

Grace said...

Hi Simon, Thank you so much for asking questions! It helps me know what I might be missing to help others and I'd really like survivors to feel comfortable here.

All areas of my life have improved. I'm not paralyzed by fear--I have manageable anxiety. I'm in my first healthy relationship (going on 8 years). There are no healthy relationships when you don't know the battles going on "behind the scenes".

When going to grad school, even though I was training to be a therapist, I wouldn't know for certain that I could be one until faced with hearing details of another's past that might resemble my own. In other words, I could not allow myself to be triggered by a client. I had to be there for them 100%. Until I had my first client with DID, I didn't know for sure. That was a huge healing--to have that kind of control over my emotions. Healed to have a new life.

I guess I had about 10 clients over the course of four years with DID. Most were between 35 and 45. Two were in their 50s and an abusive parent had died recently. IMO, for those people, it was not considered "safe" until the death. The theory of 35 to 45 is that the mind begins to lose it's capacity to hold onto the amnesia as tightly. Or, from another perspective, walls of amnesia begin to erode with age. But safety is a factor and safety is defined by the ones inside who will guide your healing.

Oops am answering in backwards order. You asked an excellent question. Just as there is intentional DID by sophisticated pedophiles, I believe all who abuse children in the home intentionally create conflict among siblings and the safe parent (if there is a safe parent). It's very sad to consider that you might have had supportive sibling or parent relationships but that opportunity was stolen from you. I'm very glad you got in touch with your father.

I had a lovely woman who had not been in touch with siblings in over 10 years. When she realized they were likely driven apart by the parents, she contacted her brother and sister. They reunited shortly thereafter and opened a very healthy dialogue. They vowed to remain a family from then on.

Why is the disconnection desired? The abuser wants the abused alienated within the family so siblings don't share stories and a safe parent remains oblivious to the abuse because you have been made to distrust or otherwise be afraid to disclose. Good for you for challenging that!

I guess you could say you are fortunate for having more years to your life with a better quality of life after healing. At any age, healing is a grueling journey, as you well know. The later age of remembering allows for having far more skills as an adult to handle that journey.

Feel free to ask questions. I'm glad you are! And I'm very pleased you find the blog helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou very much :-)

It now makes total sense to me why my family is the way it is. Only 1 major hurdle remains.

My sister has cut herself off from me and my da for 18 months now. ( my dads helping me to heal). Before she cut herself off she had mentioned in a conversation that she had no memories as a child. Im near enough sure she was abused aswell, it would explain her cutting me and dad out of her life - because we are triggers? And shes not yet ready to deal with the past?

Its great to here a sucess story like your own where you have come through it all and live a healthy live! It gives me hope.

I will continue to read with much intrest and ask questions



Anonymous said...

i just found your amazing blog and am working my way through, but your paragraph in the post where you talk about how you never saw anything and that you had no visual/facial recognition and I had to comment because i've never run into anyone else that's said that so well. I have parts that can see visually and parts that cannot. I was in my twenties before I could read and follow a map visually despite doing years of map/globe workbooks as a child. I'm experiencing what it's like to slowly regain more ability to capture memory visually in the present and it's such a weird experience.

Grace said...

Hi Anna, it's so good to know that survivors are reading these older posts too. Glad you found my post validating. Thank you for finding and reading it.

Sherry Lynn said...

I am 44 years old and was diagnosed in 1997 with DID. Just recently, I have made another alter discovery. Actually, they are triplets. I have noticed over the past weeks before their discovery, that I would have problems reading by missing letters or seeing letters that weren't there. Also, if I laid down I seemed to get so very dizzy. My ears ring constantly and sometimes they are very, very loud. The other day, Sally, Sarah, and Jane came out and said Hi. Can you imagine 3 little girls all trying to talk at one time? They are 10 years old and giving me much memory back of that year. Things I'd totally forgotten in the place I lived. The way the house looked, sounds, people. Even my back started hurting a different way then normal and when they emerged, they shared the beatings and the bedroom where they took place. It seems to me that one of these little ones or maybe more had an educational disability. I do know that at that age I had a very difficult time reading and I was supposed to do a book report on Alice in Wonderland which didn't get done in 4th grade and barely did in 5th grade. I found it interesting that all these things happened: the ear ringing, the back pain, the dizziness, other emotional issues and then the emergence of these three little alters. Sally, Sarah, and Jane. Thoughts?


Grace said...

Hi Sherry, I think it's great you are so aware of what is going on inside. All you describe is typical of someone with DID. Hope you are seeing a therapist who understands DID. Embracing your insiders is essential to healing. Glad you found the blog. I was diagnosed in 1997 except I was 44 then also...

Sherry Lynn said...

Thank you for replying. Yes, I am seeing a counselor. I've actually been seeing her through the years since probably 2000 when I have had the resources. I had to take quite a bit of time away; however, last year I could finally start again so I've been in therapy since April last year. I agree with what you said. Embracing is essential to healing. My counselor has given me many wonderful helps and my Hubby is so wonderful in it all as well. Marrying him has finally given me a place to feel safe. I have a wonderful environment in which to heal now!
Interesting that we were both diagnosed the same year!