For people with Dissociative Identity Disorder dealing with fear can be a very uncomfortable experience.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It can motivate you to start invoking change very quickly. But the problem is that fear isn’t always rational; which means it can lead you to make irrational decisions if it is the underlying emotion driving your actions.
In Sex, Love and Obesity Part 20 I moved out of the apartment. I ran away to what I considered a safe space. I was avoiding contact with Peter, but that didn’t last very long.
Love isn’t always rational. When you put irrational emotions together you get irrational actions. That is what the next month of my life looked like: one irrational decision after another taking place at hyper speed. But before we get to all of that, I want to talk about Dissociative Identity Disorder a little more.
Keep in mind, the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder as we move forward, per the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):
- Significant memory loss of specific times, people and events
- Out-of-body experiences, such as feeling as though you are watching a movie of yourself
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide
- A sense of detachment from your emotions, or emotional numbness
- A lack of a sense of self-identity
Remember, I was in the middle of a horrible relapse with my Dissociative Identity Disorder.
In Sex, Love and Obesity Part 19 I told you that when a cooperative system starts to become uncooperative, decision-making becomes difficult. You can experience this internal struggle for control, and the decisions you make can largely depend on which part of your compartmentalized mind (which personality) is making the decisions.
When I first brought up Dissociative Identity Disorder, I explained how I had originally been diagnosed when the compartmentalized parts of my brain started to seek out relationships with different men and the evidence of that provided clear examples of my differing personalities. If you are asking, “What the heck is Dissociative Identity Disorder?” you might want to go read that blog first. ( “Dissociative Identity Disorder – My Super Power” )
I want to help people understand Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Every person with DID works differently. I can only explain to you how I work. I work through cooperation. When my system is working cooperatively, all my personalities, unilaterally agree on whatever actions are being taken.
But, sometimes those personalities can’t come to an agreement. So whichever one is in the driver’s seat, is making the decisions. Sometimes, those decisions completely go against what other personalities want. This results in internal conflict. When this sort of internal conflict exists the system is now in an uncooperative state.
When I start talking about DID aka MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) people usually think of movies like Sybil and Split. If I compared Dissociative Identity Disorder to a pop culture TV show or movie, I would compare it to Orphan Black.
Imagine that you have six different women who have all survived some sort of horrible emotional, mental, physical, or sexual childhood trauma in a room together. All six of them look identical to each other. In order for them to survive in the world, they all must live the same life. They all must make decisions that are for the greater good of the whole.
That is exactly what my daily life is like: six strong, fierce women trying to live one life. Each one of us has been called upon at different points of our lives to deal with a different instance of trauma. But, in order to fit into the world, we have to work together, we have to present a united person to the world. So, at the end of the day, we give you “Pandora”. If everything is working correctly, you never notice. We flawless appear, act and behave like a singular entity.
But Disassociation wasn’t the only tool I used to survive.
I firmly believe that what happened to me as a child resulted in me having relationships with food instead of people. It taught me to turn to food for comfort and safety in a world where people provided me none. Because of this, I have an emotional handicap when it comes to interpersonal skills. As a result, my system has a really hard time cooperating when it comes to relationships.
I want to paint a clear picture of how dangerous the situation was in my recovery from food addiction and obesity. But, to do that, I need you understand how my mind was operating at this point.
To help illustrate this, I’m going to share one of my childhood experiences with you. I want you to see how this one single event affected my relationships with both food and people for years to come.
I want to make a couple of things abundantly clear: I am not doing this because it’s the latest trending topic in society right now. I’m not a bandwagon blogger. I blog about my life, my experiences, and I share what I feel is relevant when I feel it is appropriate, in order to help people relate to the message I am trying to convey.
The message is NOT, “I was abused.”
The message is, “I am a survivor. As a child I learned to survive by using food to comfort me and make me feel better.” As a result of this early childhood lesson I have struggled with food addiction and obesity my entire life.
When I announced my return to blogging last April, I told you that I was going to break my silence and share my truth with you. That led me to be transparent about my struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and honest about why I made some of the horrible choices I’ve made. I was willing to do anything it took to prevent the one thing I am most afraid of from happening: a relapse of using food to deal with my feelings.
Before I go on, let me provide a trigger warning:
If you are a survivor and accounts of abuse could be triggering, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.
My abuser was a member of my family. He was married to my Grandmother’s sister. But, when she passed away, my Grandmother married him. I won’t ever call him my grandfather; a very decent man held that title in my life. I’ll call him by his name. I won’t change it the way I have changed everyone else’s name in my blog.
I won’t offer him any protection from his actions.
His name was Chuck. He woke me up and dragged me out of the bed I was sleeping in and carried me to the garage. He laid me down on a sleeping bag that had been stored in the garage for god only knows how long. It was infested with spiders. Almost as if a spider nest was in it and when it was opened up and laid out as a blanket, the spider nest hatched. He was holding me down on the sleeping bag. There were tiny little spiders everywhere. I was screaming, crying and fighting to get away. I was terrified by the fact that spiders were crawling all over my body. My fear excited him.
This wasn’t the first time he had touched me. But, it was the first time he forced my legs apart, took off his pants and penetrated me. I don’t know what was more traumatic, the spiders that were crawling all over me, the feeling of him inside me or the scent of his body as he held it up above me. These are all thing that if I close my eyes and am not really careful to not think about, I can still feel and smell as if it was happening to me all over again.
When I got back into the house, hysterical and upset, I was thrown into the shower to clean up and promised a donut and a soda pop as a reward if I would be quiet and stop crying. The memory of sitting at the kitchen table eating an old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut from Winchell’s Donut House in the dark while the rest of the house slept is still vivid in my mind. I was four years old.
Fast forward twelve years. I was sixteen now.
I never told my Father what happened to me. Like most survivors, I dealt with shame and fear and I was silenced by threats from my abuser. But, if you know anything about my Father, know that if I had told him, he would have killed the man who did this to me. I’m not being facetious. My father would have grabbed his gun and shot this man if I had ever told him.
In one of my stupider teenage moments, I decided to stay out all night hanging with my friends and thought dropping acid would be a fun thing to do for the evening. I had a bad trip. It was horrifying enough to propel me to get in my car and drive home where I laid on the floor in the living room begging my father for help.
But, my dad didn’t help me. Instead, he watched me carefully. He made sure I was safe; that I didn’t hurt myself clawing at my own skin, and he let me suffer through the experience. He refused to coddle me. My dad wanted make sure I learned this lesson. He didn’t hold me or try to console me.
“There’s nothing I can do for you kiddo. You took drugs, now you have to wait for them to wear off. This is what happens when you decide to take drugs,” he said as I pleaded for help.
Rightfully so, I was a teenager on acid. He was a good father. He knew how to parent me. Tough love generally worked on me. After that night, I never considered dropping acid again. I made a lot of other stupid choices. But, dropping acid wasn’t one of them.
It took me years of therapy to later understand what was happening that night.
What my father didn’t know that night, what I didn’t even know that night; was that I wasn’t just dealing with a bad acid trip, I was triggered. I had been in a garage with my friends. Typical of a teenage girl, I had started to get a little frisky with one of the boys that was there. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw a spider. That was it. Game over. I panicked.
I couldn’t breathe. It was literally like there wasn’t any oxygen in the room. When I tried to inhale, there was no air reaching my lungs. I didn’t know where I was, didn’t know why I was there. I was confused and disoriented. But, I knew where home was. I knew where my I could find my parents and the safety of my Dad, the only person in the world I trusted. So, I got in my car and drove home.
I don’t remember getting back to the house. The only thing I remember is laying on the floor in the living room trying to convey to my father that spiders were crawling all over me. Little tiny spiders. I remember crying, flailing around and begging him to make it stop. Just like that night in the garage when I was four years old.
Dissociative Identity Disorder can cause loss of consciousness and time.
Usually, in a functioning cooperative state, my system is all acutely aware of what each other are doing. But, in these highly emotionally triggered states, one specific personality can be called on to deal with trauma the mind is experiencing. When that happens, the rest of the personalities can be completely unaware of what is transpiring. Suddenly, you wake up somewhere else, wondering how you got there.
The next thing I remember was several days later. I was driving to school. But, something inside me felt wrong. Something inside me was broke. I started crying in my car. I hurt inside in a way I couldn’t explain. Nothing in the world was going to numb that pain. Well, nothing except an old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut.
I decided to ditch school and drive to the donut shop where I ordered a dozen old-fashioned chocolate glazed donuts. Next, I hit a gas station convenience store for a couple of sodas and then I drove to a park, parked my car where nobody would see me and ate my way through a dozen old-fashioned chocolate glazed donuts. I felt better.
I’m forty-two years old now. It’s been thirty-eight years. And as a result of my childhood abuse, I still associate donuts with making me feel better and I am absolutely terrified of spiders. Most men I have dated seriously have found the fact that I can’t deal with a spider, one of those “don’t be such a baby, it’s just a spider,” girl things.
I have never told any of the men I dated why I am scared of spiders.
Because I’ve never wanted them to look at me with that shocked face that says, “I’m sorry someone hurt you so bad.” That look makes it worse for me sometimes. Pity. I don’t want to see it on someone’s face. If you feel sorry for me, I start to feel sorry for myself. As a result, I want to eat donuts and hide under a blanket fort with a bag of Cheetos to make myself feel better.
This is how easily something as simple as a spider in the house can trigger my urges to turn to food for comfort. This is how quickly something can trigger traumatic memories that make my brain shake and force my mind to figure out how to deal with it.
For most people, the cause and effect of triggering to response ends here. You might turn to food (or drugs or alcohol), or you might not. Then you move on until the next trigger comes along. This is the dark truth that we deal with, those of us who have endured abuse and learn to turn to food to deal with our emotions. Hear me when I say this, “You are not alone. I understand.”
But for someone who lives with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it’s a little different.
If there is a spider in my house, it takes the village of compartmentalized personalities in my mind to figure out how to cope.
If my system is functioning properly, if it’s being cooperative, the resolution time is small and minimal. I’m likely to capture the spider in a glass and leave it for someone else to deal with. I might grab the vacuum, suck it up with a hose from five feet away.
But, if my system isn’t cooperating, someone might very well come home and find me curled up in a ball on the corner of the couch cowering in fear. Because the village in my mind can’t agree on what to do.
A spider can do this to me. Imagine what a year of being in this emotional whirlwind did to me.
I had spent a year with Peter in a situation where I felt emotional abuse was prevalent. The arguments and the consistent conflict were triggering me. I was triggered by feelings of being controlled, smothered and trapped. The verbal abuse of hearing I was a fake, a phony and a fraud was triggering me. Everything about this relationship was triggering me.
Can you imagine how hard it was for that village in my mind to work together and cope with something of this magnitude for this length of time? I couldn’t do it anymore. My system wasn’t cooperative anymore.
Now, the fighting and conflict wasn’t just happening between me and Peter.
It was happening in my head. Between six women in there who must all live one life and make decisions that are in the best interest of the greater good. We argued with each other constantly. The internal conversations that took place in my head consisted of my questioning my self-esteem, questioning my self-worth, questioning my self-value.
My system fought about what was safe and what wasn’t safe. We debated the validity of Peter’s words. Was he right? Were we this horrible example of a human being that he described? Would the world hate “Pandora” if they found out all the dirty little secrets our village had hidden?
I was in a situation where there was no more cooperation. All my personalities wanted something different and all had different opinions on what the resolution should be. But, there was one part of me fighting harder than everyone else.
The part of me that was still in love with Peter.
The woman who fell in love at the airport when he said, “If you and I don’t end up together it is going to be because you decided that it wasn’t going to happen, not because I didn’t do everything I possibly could to make it happen,” was still in love with Peter.
Even more importantly, that part of me still wanted to be with Peter. That part of me wanted to go back, and held on to a hope that this story would end differently. That woman still believed the words that were coming out of his mouth: the assurances that he never meant to hurt me, and the unwavering professions of love.
When she was the one in the driver’s seat, she couldn’t help but to reach out to him. She’d talk to him on the phone, communicate with him via text. The more she did that, the more she continued to want to believe that they still had a chance.
She wanted to believe that Peter could be a better man. That woman wanted to believe him when he said that he could not fathom life without me. She wanted him to be the white knight of this story. That part of me wanted the promises he made of a happy life together to be true, and she was willing to fight internally for what she thought was “true love.”
Every other part of me wanted to protect me from her.
In the life of someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, this is so important: protection. Each personality has one common goal; Protecting the whole.
I grew up with a secret. A very dark, very ugly secret. I carried it with me for my entire life, only every truly trusting a small handful of people with what that four-year old girl had to endure in the garage that night, and everything that ever happened to her after that.
The six identical women I asked you to envision in that room together, trying to live one life: They exist in my head. They are the remnants of years of therapy and they work together to present the “Pandora” that you all know and love.
Usually, that means they are all working together in harmony to protect the whole from outside forces. But, In moments like this, when a system like mine is experiencing a lack of cooperation and an internal struggle, now those personalities are protecting themselves from each other. Every part of me was fighting for what they thought was right.
But, each one of these women have one cardinal rule they can never break.
They have to protect that little girl, which until today, until the moment I hit the publish button on this blog, also meant that they protected her secrets. I hope you understand that gravity of that, the significance of the words you are reading.
You see, there are no skeletons in my closet anymore. There are no secrets I have buried, no demons I haven’t faced. There are just spiders and cobwebs of a haunted past that I am trying to navigate around and trying not to get caught up in.
The month to come was a cluster fuck of confusion as the six women in my mind tried to figure out what happened next. Because, literally we could only agree on two things. We were there to protect that little girl, whether it was from someone else or from ourselves, and we were not going to eat old-fashioned chocolate glazed donuts.
Stay tuned I’ll be returning the Sex, Love and Obesity Series again soon.