By Shirley J. Davis
I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (once known as Multiple Personality Disorder), in 1990 while beginning 27 arduous years of intensive psychotherapy. While I am not a professional, I have much lived experience and hope my insights will raise awareness of DID, help those who live with it not to feel alone, and to end the stigma which has been perpetuated by the media.
During my time in therapy, I have discovered and identified ten chapters (phases) of change in the book of my recovery story. Like the five stages of grief, these chapters do not occur in order, and often they are repeated over and over until some type of resolution is reached. Resolution of this debilitating disorder, in my experience, involves achieving co-consciousness and inner co-operation reached through psychotherapy.
Chapter One: Suspicion. One begins to suspect that the way we see things and the way we exist isn’t the way other people around us do. We have a feeling that something in our past has caused the lack of peace we have always felt and still feel.
Chapter Two: Discovery. Memories of what happened in our pasts surface with force. They cause us to feel confused and alone. We wonder if we are going insane.
Chapter Three: Chaos. The memories and the accompanying emotions cause great disruption to our lives. We isolate, feel fearful and deeply disturbed. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness sometimes overwhelm us. It is time to seek professional help.
Chapter Four: Grief. We begin to grieve over the loss of any notion we had that our childhoods were normal. We begin to understand that not only were our childhoods disrupted by unspeakably evil acts perpetrated by people we should have been able to trust and rely on, but that these childhoods are gone forever.
Chapter Five: Dialogue. We open communication between ourselves and our alters (alternative personalities), and begin to understand that they are not demons or strangers living in our minds. Rather, we find that they are parts of ourselves trapped in trauma-time who are hurting, angry, and in need of love and respect. We learn that when we give them love and respect, we are loving and respecting ourselves.
Chapter Six: Learning. We begin to learn how to cope with the memories which have been held by our alters and which are being brought to us via flashbacks of what happened so long ago. These memories must be dealt with and allowed to fade into the past where they belong without forgetting or minimising them.
Chapter Seven: Dependence. Because of the natural phenomenon of transference, we become dependent for a while on our therapist or other professional listener. This dependence is not harmful so long as the therapist does not take advantage and doesn’t let this chapter get out of hand. We should not fear dependence; we are simply looking for someone to mother us. Ultimately, we will discover that the best person for the job of mother is we ourselves. Once we have achieved this milestone, we are well on our way to leaving therapy.
Chapter Eight: Acceptance. We achieve acceptance that our lives both in the past and present are what they are, no more and no less. At this point we understand deep down, that all humans are the culmination of their memories and experiences and we are no exception. We are who we are because of our pasts and how we deal with the knowledge of our pasts. This is a vital and huge step towards resolution.
Chapter Nine: Resolution. In this chapter of our recovery story we have remembered all we need to remember, and we no longer wish to dwell in the past. There may be more memories hidden in our minds, but the theme is the same so we accept them and make a conscious decision to move on. We and our alters are experiencing the freedom of co-operation and co-consciousness and we are able to make plans for the future. This does not mean we will never have problems with dissociation, rather it means we have learned enough coping skills to deal with each dissociative situation as it arises.
Chapter Ten: Onward. We are ready to leave therapy. This does not mean we will never need to seek professional help in the future, and it does not mean the flashbacks are gone forever. What it does mean is that we are at peace with ourselves and that we have learned all the coping skills we need to proceed into our lives unhindered and unafraid. This is the hoped for outcome of all who enter recovery after experiencing the disabling effects of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
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