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Artist: Kevin Stanton

Artist: Kevin Stanton

This was a thought provoking article from a DID survivor about her experience with integration: Understanding Integration. I think that most, if not all of us with parts, even if we are not diagnosable with DID, have concerns and questions about integration. She addressed many of mine and has given me a lot to consider about the process. Perhaps my largest questions simply were, “What is integration like? Is it as lonely as it sounds like it would be?”

After reading the article, I find myself feeling like my head is “busy,” as if on several different levels I am evaluating what I have read and trying to form opinions of it. It was long and full of many provocative points, so I have a feeling that I will be processing it for awhile.

What do you all think? Not necessarily of the integration vs. non integration question, but of what she otherwise said about integration? What the process was like. What the benefits were for her. I will admit that at the moment I am very aware of the barriers in my mind and that the flow of information is not smooth or predictable. I am frequently frustrated by my limitations and the idea of my being able to have all of my recent thoughts and memories available is appealing to me.

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“I’m scared.”

Mama Bear is talking to me on the phone because I have spent the day so frightened that I have been close to non-functional most of the time.

“Your voice sounds young, are you feeling young?”

“Yes.”

“I need for you to find your adult voice and bring your adult here.”

Pause…

“Can you locate your adult?”

“Kind of, sort of…”

“OK, bring your adult as close as you can and have her be a part of this as I talk to the child part that is here… You are in a safe place and a safe time. Whatever you are afraid of isn’t happening here and now. You are a grown woman who is capable and strong and you can protect yourself. We can work together to help you.”

As I listen to her voice and try to pull on the stronger, more solid part of me, I feel that part finally starting to engage, to my relief. At last I am able to say, “OK” and both of us hear the change in my voice.

“Good… C. what has you so freaked out?”

“I am scared that something really bad is going to happen to me.”

“You are starting to sound like a child again. I need for you to stay an adult and work with me. That is an old child fear, it isn’t a present fear. What are you afraid about now?”

I feel another overwhelming surge of fear that there is no escaping serious punishment and that I am in real danger: “But I am really, really scared that I’m going to get in trouble for upsetting my mother and I’m going to get hurt really, really, really bad.”

“C., you are sounding about 8. Is there actually anyone there who is going to hurt you?”

It feels like thinking through molasses, but I realize that even though the threat that I am going to be hurt feels so immediate and present, she is right, there isn’t anyone here who is going to hurt me. “No.”

“Your mother might get upset. I really can’t predict how she will react, but you are not in any real danger now that you are an adult. You can take care of yourself and protect yourself. You have your own family now.”

I think to myself, “But she isn’t the one that I am afraid of,” but I don’t say that out loud, instead I concentrate on trying to take in what Mama Bear has been saying.

“What did you end up doing in response to your mom’s request?”

“Nothing.”

“You didn’t respond at all?”

“No, I couldn’t figure out what to say.”

“I thought that you had a good start with what you said that you wanted to send to her last night. You need to do what feels most right for you, but if you say something, you might help to take yourself out of a helpless feeling position.”

She suggests a possible wording that basically says, “I got your e-mail. I am not comfortable talking with Dad right now. I hope to talk with you more about what is going on for me at a later time.”

“Does something like this sound at all possible?” A long pause… “Or not?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I whisper: “It’s too scary.”

“That’s your 8 year old fear talking again. What are you afraid about in the now?”

I struggle because I do not want to say what comes to mind, but I know that it is what I am most afraid of: “I’m afraid that my mom will think that I am accusing my dad of something.”

Mama Bear says gently, but firmly, “But you are. Not necessarily sexual abuse, but something disturbs you about your relationship. And when you didn’t make that call, you accused him of something being wrong.”

My heart plummets. And I know that she is right. My hope that somehow I could manage to dance around this and avoiding dealing with this with my parents was a completely unrealistic fantasy. There is something that is very wrong about my relationship with my dad. I do not understand it and it drives me crazy that I don’t have a clear idea of what is so wrong. I know what I fear that it is, given what his father did to me and the fact that my dad’s older brother abused at least one of his daughters. But in some ways I am entirely convinced that there was no sexual abuse with him. Of course, when I think about it from the point of view of certain parts, I am just as convinced that he did abuse me.

Other than that, there is a history of petty cruelties, one-ups-man-ship, sending me off to stay with someone he knew was abusive (physically and verbally at the very least), competition for my mother’s attention, belittling the things that I cared about, and just plain being hurtful. But it was all done in the form of “jokes” or teasing and would not have looked “mean” from the outside. In fact, I would guess that he didn’t consider what he was doing to be mean, because it wasn’t done as harshly as his father would have. So, at the very least, I know that there is a history of behaviors that hurt my soul, if nothing else… But I also know that my parents will never be able to see those actions as being so damaging to me, so I can’t imagine trying to talk about them.

So, I sit there for a few minutes, struggling with my fears, both old fears and current fears around saying something to my mom. Repeatedly, I start to be drawn into a state where I feel in physical danger and I pull myself back each time. Finally, I say, “Well, I guess that you are right… No matter what I say to my mom, no one here is going to physically hurt me.”

I think for another couple of minutes, and then: “OK, I am feeling less scared now.”

Mama bear replies warmly, “I am glad to hear it.”

We talked for another couple of minutes, and then I got off the phone, feeling much more secure and grounded than I had since the previous morning. Over the next hour or two, I thought about our conversation. She wasn’t the only one who thought that my not saying anything kept me feeling like a powerless child. I am tired of feeling helpless, because I’m not! So, it’s time for me to start to use some of that strength in my relationship with my parents.

This is what I wrote to my mother:

Dear Mom,

I am in a very difficult place right now and I am just not up to doing the phone call. My hope is that we can talk a bit about what I am dealing with in the not too distant future, but I need to figure some things out first.

Please give Dad my birthday wishes.

Love,

C

Later on that evening, I realized just how different my conversation with Mama Bear was from the way that communication happens (or doesn’t) with my mother. While Mama Bear was kind, she was also very willing to say things or do things that are not pleasant in the moment, if they will benefit me. She kept on pushing at me when I fell back into a frightened child state and she didn’t try to soothe me, but rather she urged me to engage the adult me who could see that I was in a situation where I didn’t need to be scared. In that moment, I needed to be the one to take care of me and I needed to experience that I could do it. She showed me that she believed in my ability to work past my fears and find the strength and stability to deal with the anxiety and chaos inside. She was willing to point out to me that I had already taken the step that I was so afraid of, so I may as well keep on walking and deal with the situation, rather than trying to hide from it. I did not want to hear that, but I am better off for taking it in.

You know, I find it deeply reassuring that Mama Bear treated me like an adult.

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“Just a quick note, before I lose my courage to tell you. I could tell that something was going on that was making it more difficult for me to open up to you today, but when I tried to figure it out, the only answer that I got was “I think she hates me.” Having learned in the past that ignoring such feelings tends to back fire, I am letting you know.”

It took a lot of courage and trust for me to send this e-mail to Mama Bear after our session last week, despite the fact that we have done a considerable amount of work over the last 9 months around using our relationship purposefully in the therapeutic process. I knew that what I was perceiving right then did not match with the rest of my experience of her and so it would be a lot safer for me to send that e-mail and let her know what was going on, rather than to try to hide it. However, inside, I felt rejected and like she would only tolerate me because she had to and so saying anything made me feel even more vulnerable.

Trusting her enough to go out on a limb and say something negative about her is something that I could not have done a year ago. It would have felt much too threatening to me, even though I could have understood intellectually that Mama Bear was not going to abandon me, and especially not because I had a problem with something that happened between the two of us. Fear of abandonment will trump intellectual understanding for me every time, unless I have enough trust to back up that understanding.

Part of that trust is trust in her, based on watching her as we have worked together off and on for 20 years. She has never betrayed, abandoned, shamed, or otherwise harmed me during that time. And I have been watching closely, because some levels of me fully expected that some day she would slip and how she “really felt” about me would show through. But she has always treated me with respect, compassion, and genuine caring. There have been off days here and there where she was distracted or out of sync with me, but that was because she is human, not because she had stopped caring. As difficult as it was to develop a real level of trust for her, it was just the base for building the sort of trust that we needed in order to do the most effective work that we could.

Even harder than learning that I could rely on her to be a trustworthy person, I needed to grow to the point where I felt strong enough to take significant risks in our relationship. When I felt like I would just crumble if she failed me in some way, it was too frightening to risk any situation where I wasn’t 100% certain of how she would react, and that 100% had to include my hurt parts. But once I developed more confidence in myself, I slowly began to be able to address what was coming up, albeit with a massive amount of effort. And bit by bit, I worked up to the point where I was able to take the risk and say, “I felt like you hated me today.”

So how did she respond to my e-mail?

“Hi. So, it is good that you are letting me know. We will need to look at this further when we get together again in order to understand what is triggering you. For now, recognize that something got triggered and let it be as much as possible. For the record, I have not had a change in my thoughts or feelings toward you.”

I had taken the plunge, it was out in the open, and she had responded in a kind, supportive, and consistent manner. While her pointing out that I had been triggered didn’t make those perceptions go away completely, it did help me look at things in a more balanced way so I was able to reach out to her for support the next day, when I badly needed it.

Most of the time that something like this comes up with Mama Bear, it’s due to transference related to my mother, but not so much this time. Instead, it turned out that this went even deeper than that.

On Wednesday, we got into the session, worked our way quickly around to this topic, and Mama Bear said, “I’ve been thinking about your perception last week that I didn’t like you, is this an OK time for me to share some of my thoughts with you?” I braced myself and nodded yes. “I did something different last week. I wasn’t letting you dissociate.” This was something that I had been very aware of and she had been upfront that she had reasons to try that approach with me. “I was wondering if your dissociative parts felt like they were being rejected? You may have experienced that as my disliking you?” Her saying this then brought up a whole internal struggle, because she was correct, those parts of me felt very rejected, but it was incredibly threatening to me to admit to her that the way that she had interacted with me had been in any way hurtful to me. So after a couple of minutes, I simply answered with a “Yes.” “OK, can you say some more?” In a rush it all came out, “I know that this isn’t really what you intended and it drives me crazy that I can know that, but inside I feel so very rejected! I just hate not being able to get how I feel deep inside to match with what the rest of me thinks and feels!” And I burst into tears.

She sympathized with my frustration and let me cry, and then she started to ask me about how those parts of me experience her perception of them. I hemmed and hawed, because I really didn’t want to answer, but at the same time I knew that I have been avoiding this subject since last September. And by talking around it, but never directly addressing it, I have left things open in a way that has repeatedly caused me pain. I took a deep breath, trusted both her and me to be able to deal with my answer, and finally told her the truth, “Those parts of me think that you would rather that they did not exist. They fear that you see them as the problem and that you believe that they are what is hurting me. They think that you think that they shouldn’t be and just want for them to just go away.”

This was an incredibly scary and painful thing for me to admit: some of the most vulnerable and hurt parts in me perceive her as wanting to help the rest of me, while completely rejecting them. However, it opened up a whole area that I very much needed to talk about and that I had been avoiding. In fact, what she said in direct response to my admission was lost under the emotional impact of my eventually talking about what laid behind it: the thoughts and fears that some of me has in relation to integration.

All of this is far from resolved, because it is much too complicated and painful for a quick resolution. Even the original issue isn’t fully resolved: while those parts no longer feel like she hates them or rejects them, there is still something of a belief that she wants for me to hurry up and get better, so they can disappear, because they shouldn’t be. This is confusing, because she does want for me to get to a point where I am no longer suffering so much so I can enjoy my life fully. And right now those dissociative states are connected to a lot of pain. But I can see that she doesn’t want for me to get better so those parts can disappear, she just wants for me to not linger longer than I need to in a painful place. The rest is my own fear talking about what does it mean for those parts of me that have fought to survive and whose primary purpose is to hold painful material. I don’t have any answers to that, yet.

What I have been doing with Mama Bear helps me to reach places therapeutically that I might not otherwise be able to without the level of trust that I have developed. However, even more importantly, each time I take a step forward in trusting her, I learn a little bit more deeply that it is OK to take chances and address conflicts in relationships in general. And as I have learned this with her, I have been able to translate it to my relationships with the people I am closest to. I am learning that being real about what I am experiencing is OK and I can bring up things that might make people uncomfortable. In fact, through doing that and finding a resolution that we are both comfortable with, I actually help our relationship grow and deepen.

One thing about growing up in a non-protecting family that allowed me to be abused is that my basic abilities to trust were severely distorted. I would act as if I trusted and for many years even make myself vulnerable to harm as if I trusted, but underneath it all there was a core deep expectation of betrayal, whether intentional or unintentional. Through testing out trust in this very controlled situation with Mama Bear, I am slowly working on rewriting what I expect to happen when I trust someone. This is something that cannot be done by intellectual understanding alone, I have to experience having it be safe to trust, time and time again.

What is your relationship with trust? Both in and out of therapy? Has anything helped you to overcome trust issues?

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Today I had my session and I had this whole plan of what I wanted to cover.  There were three things on my list, but I realized that the third was pretty big, and I was so proud of myself for recognizing that it wasn’t realistic to expect to get to it this session.  (It was definitely a premature pat on the back.)

Well, I got to the first part of the first item.  So much for planning out a session!

One of my recurrent fears is that by telling Mama Bear the details of the abuse, I will harm her in some way.  We have previously talked about how she knows how to take care of herself.  Yes, the work is very hard, but she has ways to make sure that she gets what she needs, in order to stay healthy.  She couldn’t have been working with severely traumatized clients for 20 years without figuring this out, otherwise she would have burnt out long ago.  I understand all of this, but that fear keeps on rearing its head.

So today, she said, “It keeps on coming up.  Let’s pay attention to what this means to you.”

 “OK.”

Pause as I thought.

“What are you thinking about right now?” 

“I don’t know if this happened while I was working with you or with L (my 2nd therapist), but I really needed for my mother to understand what was going on and to support me.  One of you suggested that I copy part of The Courage to Heal and send it to her to read.  When I asked if she had read it, she told me that she couldn’t, because it was too painful for her.  My thought was, ‘You think that it is too painful to read, what about living it?!?’”  All of this was said very calmly, even matter of factly.

When I told Mama Bear the first part, I had glanced at her and she had her normal, caring expression on her face.  When I finished, I looked up again, and saw that she was struggling with something.  When she saw that I had seen, she said, “I’m sorry, I am just really struggling with my reaction to what you said.  I know that your mother loves you, but at the moment I am just furious with her!” 

For a second, I was taken aback, because she so seldom tells me what her reaction is, so I knew that it had to be a strong one.  And suddenly I felt freed to begin to feel the emotions that I had bottled up inside of me.  Loss, betrayal, sorrow, fear, and yes, even anger.

At the end of the session, she asked me, “How was it for you when I told you about my reaction?”

“It was validating.  It helped me to accept that I wasn’t asking for too much from my mother and that my reactions to her failing me again were actually reasonable.”

By the book, the session is supposed to be about the client and not about the therapist’s reactions.  But by her being fully authentic and sharing a reaction that was so strong, I found my way to the feelings that I just wasn’t connecting with.  Sometimes “rules” need to be broken.

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After much deliberation, I have decided to call my T Mama Bear.  Not because I want for her to be a mom figure for me (Well, OK, I wouldn’t mind that), but because long ago we had a discussion about how fiercely protective mama bears are and how much care and teaching they give to their cubs.  In many ways, she has been a role model for my learning to parent my daughter.  My own mother had a belief that “love is all that’s really needed”, but I have learned that on its own, it isn’t enough.  You also need to actively protect, nurture, and teach your children.  Thank you, Mama Bear, for helping me to learn this.

As I have said before, I have worked with Mama Bear off and on over the last 21 years.  She has been instrumental in helping me grow into the person whom I have become.  Conversely, she also says that I was instrumental in helping her grow into the therapist that she has become.  I was her first clearly dissociative client and it seems that at first, I wasn’t the only one who was confused about what was going on with me.  She says that she learned a huge amount working with me, which has informed her work with many other clients over the last couple of decades.  I can’t say how satisfying it was to learn that I have indirectly helped other people who were also traumatized.

This time around, when I came back to work with her again, I was ready to take the relationship to a level far beyond where it had been before. I have trusted her more than most anyone else for years, but I had no idea of how guarded that trust really was. I had let her see more of me than all but my husband and one other therapist, but it seems that I had hidden as much as I had revealed. Simply put, I was ready to learn to be more deeply myself through my relationship with her.

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Twenty one years ago, when I started on this healing journey, I had no idea of what I was getting myself into.  All I knew was that I was in incredible pain, my life was falling apart, and I kept on experiencing waves of terror and physical sensations that I couldn’t even begin to let myself actually think about.  Looking back at the young woman that I was then, I wish that I could assure her that all of the tears and anguish would be worth it, that I would develop a richness of character that I had no idea even existed, and that one day I would have a family that I adore.   While the pain felt unendurable as I started to admit to myself what my mind was telling me happened as a child, I would find the resources to keep on going day by day.

Sometimes, when in the midst of healing from the devastating effects of sexual abuse, a person will become so focused on the therapy work that she forgets to look up and see the world around her.  It starts to feel like life will always be only about dealing with learning to not be flooded with horrible memories and overwhelming emotions.  But it not only possible to learn to have a life, I believe that it is the best way that I have of thumbing my nose at my abuser.  I have so much more than he ever had and he could not crush me, no matter how hard he tried.

So what have I done over the last 21 years?  I have earned 2 masters degrees.  I have traveled on 3 different continents.  I have sustained a marriage with an amazing man for the last 24 years.  I have had a professional career.  I have discovered my artistic side and developed many skills over the years.  I have learned to respect and care for myself.  I have learned how to make friends and actually let them in, so the friendship is real.  And most amazingly, I gave birth to a wonderful daughter and have managed to raise her so that she actually seems to have a secure attachment and she is generally healthy.  I can’t say that life has ever been easy, but with a lot of work, it has become something that I can be extraordinarily grateful for.

Ten years ago, I made the decision to step away from intensive therapy related to the abuse.  I was tired from eleven straight years of dealing with very painful material, and quite frankly, I wanted to chance to concentrate on living life.  A year later, I became pregnant, and I did go back to counseling, concentrating on my concerns related first to becoming a parent and child birth and then later to issues largely related to learning how to parent and further developing my self identity until my daughter was one.  At that point, we moved away, and I spent the next 6 years largely focused on parenting, supporting my husband first through graduate school and then in the beginning of a new career, and exploring career options of my own.  Even though I wasn’t actively working on abuse issues and in fact largely put them in the back of my mind, this was a period of definite healing through living.  By learning how to parent my daughter, I learned better how to parent myself.  By developing patience and the ability to fully be there for her, I developed a tolerance to sit with my young parts inside.  By filling my heart with love for my little family, I created the capacity to better love myself.

By a series of coincidences, I found myself back in New York State, relatively close to the town where I used to live (2 hours drive each way).  Life in general was proving to be very challenging, and I contacted my original therapist, saying that I would like to see her for a limited number of sessions (I actually proposed 3 sessions!), every other week, to have some help figuring out how to deal with the challenges and come up with a course of action that I could be comfortable with.  However, almost as soon as I set foot in her office, it became clear that I had much more work to do than that.  Over the previous 8 years, I had grown deeper and stronger, and now, inside I was feeling pressure to deal with all of the material that I had not been capable of dealing with earlier.  It was like an explosion went off inside, releasing some extremely painful memories and emotions.  I had to learn all over again grounding skills and how to keep from being over whelmed with abuse related material during all of my waking hours and many of my sleeping hours.  It was a period that I hope to never go through again, because I could not do anything other than survive and try to keep my daughter’s life as normal as possible. 

One of my coping mechanisms has been to write copious amounts, and one of my difficulties has been in feeling very isolated, because we live in a very small community that my husband has a fairly public job in.  If I tell anyone here what I am dealing with, I know that it will be all over town within 24 hours.  There is no chance for joining a survivors’ therapy group, where I would know that others would understand what I was saying on a deep level.  I have friends who care deeply for me and have provided invaluable support, but much of what I say is completely foreign to them, and I miss feeling like someone other than my husband and my T understand what I am going through.  Over the last few months, I have seen some of this type of connection in some on line communities, and after months of considering taking the plunge, I have decided to try publishing a blog.  I am hoping that the writing will continue to help me to move forward, and maybe there will be others out there who can find something useful in what I say.

So welcome to my world, as I work to relearn how to keep on living a life I want, while dealing with this latest, very intense, segment of my healing journey.

Addendum on 9/28/13

At the beginning of the year, my family moved back to the town that we used to live in, which is where my therapist is located. I no longer have to do the 4 hour round trip drive and I wonder how I ever managed it. The change has allowed me to move to therapy twice a week for now, while I work through an intense, fast moving phase.

The move has been good for the entire family. We are all much happier where we live now and it is a relief to live in a place where we feel that we belong.

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