I will speak to those among you who may know a person with Multiple Personality Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder as it’s now known), and to those who may be survivors of childhood abuse. I will speak as a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder who continues to struggle with both MPD/DID and with day to day living. I have found MPD to be both a burden and a blessing. I have come to love Life.
My Experience: Dissociative Identity Disorder and Child Abuse
For me, a normal childhood was not an option. A normal adolescence and adulthood became impossible. I, like most people of a certain age with multiple personality, was misdiagnosed. So little was know about dissociative identity disorder, or child abuse, that it was easy to see me as simply “crazy.” I was diagnosed at an early age, incorrectly with schizophrenia. I often received treatment, therefore, of little or no value to the underlying cause of my odd behaviors and my innermost pain. It meant a lifetime of confusion, psychiatric hospitalizations, inappropriate anti-psychotic medications, and an inability to function. My life was full of self-doubt, self-destructive behaviors, emotional pain, and isolation. Suicide was seen as a viable alternative, often the only option.
Before people with MPD are able to find their way to the truth of their abuse, to the existence of multiple personalities, and to proper treatment, they sometimes attempt to end the pain by suicide. I believe that the part of us that is survivor is innately present and will come forward even in suicide. It is my feeling that many multiples die at their own hand by accidental death in a suicide attempt that was unstoppable.
Like many others, I did not know exactly what was wrong, just that something was terribly wrong. I believed forever that I was bad. I did not know what I had done that I could be so bad, but I believed that God hated me and wanted me dead. Then the memories came. I was face to face with flashbacks of childhood abuse that were long ago buried deep inside. With the memories, came the personalities, ready to make themselves known. These alter personalities had been hidden for a lifetime from the world, from each other, and from me. My life, which until then was fraught with confusion, was now in utter chaos.
As I understand it, the splitting apart of the self happens so that the child is spared living through the nightmare of abuse. MPD is always traced back to childhood abuse and trauma. The mind can split into many, many personalities if the abuse is prolonged. In this way, no one part of the mind has to experience the whole of the abuse. The fact that the mind of a child can find a way to separate itself from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse is simply…miracle. Faced with ongoing and escalating levels of assault upon the child’s body, the child’s mind sends out stronger, more resilient parts to take over. This allows the “self” to cope with the horror. It allows the child to survive what might otherwise be fatal to both body and mind. This splitting has to continue until the abuse stops. If unchecked by the outside world, the splitting will continue. The alter-personalities will often remain hidden until the mind grows, finds its strength, and allows the memories to come to the top of the conscious mind. The secrets can now be told.
No one child could survive this level of abuse–no one child. People who dissociate have suffered horrendous childhood abuse. It is precisely because it is impossible to remain in the abuse, that the child- mind finds a way to leave. It allows another part to come in for the moment, and another, and another–to live through it, and not be present in it. This is how we survived childhood.
When the dissociative mind is able to withstand the truth of the locked away memories, the personalities come out into the open. From my experience, you cannot control it, you cannot make the personalities appear, or not appear. They come. My mind, in part or in whole, knew that it was time for the memories to come and the parts to show themselves. This was all part of the original plan–survival. More than that–a plan to live.
I was lost until the parts were found. If I were ever to live my own life, to truly live, it had to happen. The telling of the secrets meant the return of the parts of the mind to their rightful place in the whole. The truth, the answers, and life were locked in the memories.
Once the personalities began to show themselves, we had to try to unravel the memories, find a place for the pieces of the puzzle. What parts of the mind remembered what? Which part of the puzzle had they experienced? Why did a particular part come to be? What was their job? Some parts, because they were only around for a little sliver of time, were still stuck in childhood, never growing into adulthood. Some child parts were still stuck in the terror and physical pain of our childhood. Some whose job it was to protect us in childhood did not yet understand that the danger from the abuser did not exist in the present. The personalities were had to work very hard to make themselves know and heard. How could anyone make sense of this?
It is no wonder that our adult lives as multiples often fall short of our expectations. Many of us spent too many years fighting unknown terrors, darkness that would not leave, and a hunger that consumed us. We were left empty and alone trying desperately to fill the hole inside that would not be filled.
Our childhood should have been filled with love, laughter, warmth, and gentle touching. The heart, now an empty hole, should have been filled with trust, joy, and dreams. I have come to know that there is time for trust and love. There is time for dreams that do find us alone and shaking, in darkness and in terror. There is time for rebuilding, and growing. A time for educating the most self-destructive and enraged personalities, for finding the hurt and frightened child within that needs to heal. The healing will come from the inside. We will heal our child from the inside out. There is time for healing.
It is possible. It is all, possible. The motivation is the same as in childhood–survival. Life. We are survivors. If nothing else makes sense, if we understand nothing else, if we find no reason to continue the struggle, we will remember this. We are alive because we are meant to be alive. We survived against all dds. We survived things that children could not possibly survive.
We survived to tell the story. Our story. Our broken lives are proof of what child abuse does to children unseen and unheard. We are proof that the destruction endures well beyond childhood. And we are proof of the resilience of children, the ability of the mind to heal, the heart to heal, the soul to heal, and people lost to find their way back to life, to live.
It is not easy. It is worth it. There are children for whom we speak, who are yet unseen, unheard. Our collective voices, multiplied again and again will be heard, stronger that any one voice. Our voices will be carried by an angry and loud wind so that no man, no woman, no child will have to suffer alone and unseen, without hope, and in silence.
We hear you. We see you. We believe you. We know you are not bad. You did not do anything. You certainly did not do anything to deserve what was done to you in childhood. It is right that you survived. It is right that you live today. It is right that you grow to be happy and whole. You will survive this. It is in you to survive. It is a part of you. More than anything else, it is who you are. It is right, finally, that you live, alive and in life fully and completely.