May 2009 Archives
I've shared a somewhat similar drawings emphasizing a sense of internal harmony and safety. I wrote about the role of drawing in healing and the need for finding balance. I certainly don't always have a sense of an internal protected core, but I am finding that I am learning how to achieve it and how to maintain it. Communication and collaboration are the keys.
Until now, I have focused this blog on aspects of healing. I have not talked at all about my personal history or made any political statements.
Recent news has compelled me to stray a bit from that approach.
On May 20, 2009, Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse released a long awaited 2600 page report on the abuse of thousands of children at the hands of priests and nuns of the Catholic Church. Not at all unlike the scandal in the United States, which began in Boston, it was made known that church leaders knew what was going on. These church leaders' main goal was to protect their institution, and they were enabled by the Irish government who looked the other way amid a "culture of self-servicing secrecy." In Ireland, the government bears major responsibility because these children were generally outcasts, placed in a network of 250 Irish Catholic care institutions from the 1930s to the 1990s.
In Boston, the beginnings of the scandal began in 1992 when Fr. James Porter was prosecuted for abusing some 100 boys. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Less than a year later, the Archdiocese of Boston began to enact new policies to address the growing revelations of abuse.
At the time, I had been in the midst of my own personal crisis, healing from abuse by a priest which extended over a period of many years. I came forward during this time. For me, though, I had as much invested in keeping the abuse a secret as the church did. Despite the new policies, the main goal of the church was to prevent a scandal. This culture of secrecy, in my experience, permeated every aspect of the church and for the entire history of the church and society at the time. In my case, the church secretary knew, other priests knew (because I told them in an effort to get help), and eventually even my parents knew (which ultimately ended the abuse). But I was ashamed by what happened, afraid of retaliation, and felt I bore some responsibility. So, I couldn't imagine coming forward in the press or coming forward to the police. In my 1995 settlement with the church, I had to sign a document saying that I understood the church was admitting no wrongdoing. Looking back, that was a personal mistake.
I was able to eventually put my life back into some order. But, when the scandal erupted in Boston again in January 2002, the harsh reality of my past clashed with the present. I quickly fell apart, like I had a decade earlier, and embarked on a healing journey of proportions I had not previously envisioned. The task before me was immense and mine is but one of untold thousands of lives forever altered by abuse within the Catholic Church.
As a result of the scandal, the Archdiocese of Boston set up the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach which is focused on supporting survivors. They have paid for my therapy for the past several years. In a March 11, 2009 press release on the steps the Archdiocese of Boston is taking to protect children, Cardinal O'Malley reaffirmed his commitment to supporting survivors. He revealed Pope Benedict's direction to Bishops: "It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged." Cardinal O'Malley then wrote that this "directive could not have been clearer."
I believe in personal and institutional responsibility and appreciate I am in a somewhat unique position as a survivor. I know most survivors of family abuse and other forms of abuse (which in terms of numbers, dwarf those of the church abuse survivors) do not have the opportunity for this support. I don't take this lightly and feel I have a responsibility to heal.
It was only a couple of months ago that I asked for and received all the documents pertaining to my case; 180+ pages made public by the church in the course of government investigation. The records showed that my abuser denied almost everything I had come forward about, except sleeping with me and kissing me on the lips, which he said was normal affection.
I was struck by the fact that the church paid monthly stipends, medical care, and a group home for my abuser for nearly 10 years after the settlement, until he was defrocked by Rome in 2005. The Cardinal (which at the time was Bernard Law) wrote several supportive letters to him. In contrast, I spent a couple years embroiled in legal wrangling with church lawyers who disbelieved me and was given a legal disclaimer to sign prohibiting me from ever speaking publicly, along with a check for my troubles. I saw that check as a personal victory, despite having signed the document. I had won something, even though it was a settlement outside of court. I had gained some justice, however small.
This was not my goal, however. My goal, which I laid out very clearly to the lawyers when I originally came forward, was to stop my abuser from hurting anyone else ever again. I wanted to prosecute him and put him behind bars. But my case turned out to not be one where many victims came together. While I know there were other victims, which were confirmed by the records, I was the only one to come forward. I was advised that I didn't have a strong enough case to prosecute. This was not because my personal history was not sound enough, for it was, but because we didn't have the strength in numbers needed to secure a victory.
So, I have considered my victory incomplete. I take solace from the fact that it is my doing that my abuser is no longer a priest in the Catholic Church. But I regret that he was not criminally prosecuted and does not have a criminal background. He does not have to register as a sex offender. I have to live with the fact that I could not, in the end, completely protect other children.
I have since redefined what victory means to me. Victory now means healing. I know I cannot save the world, especially if I cannot save myself. The past year has been a period of remarkable growth and healing. I am well on my way to victory.
I've written before about how I use drawings to represent my mental states. Sometimes you just cannot get your point across using words. These are from my journal back in December, but they are plenty relevant now. I drew four major states, but made it clear that they exist on a continuum of states. I'll resist the temptation to describe them, and just assume they are self-explanatory. I would love to know what others think about them. Do they resonate?
There was a time, which seems long ago but really wasn't, when I had huge difficulty keeping a journal. I've been wondering why it was so difficult back then and now I go to it so readily. The other day, in the midst of a crisis and lots of switching, I realized why. When there is so much chaos that you can barely keep track of what's going on all the time, how can you possibly write? Healing from dissociative disorders not only requires a commitment to be alive, but also requires one to contain the chaos to a certain extent. When you get to that place, you are not at all done with your healing. In many ways, I think you are just beginning.
But it is at this point where journaling becomes necessary. Because the goal becomes learning to find ways to be more aware and stitch together experiences and teaching yourself new skills. There is a lot of learning involved and many of you know that in school it's often important to take good notes. Journaling is akin to that.
I have made significant progress this past year because I have made a huge effort to increase communication and awareness through journaling. This has come at a price for me. It's super hard to do. When you start documenting as much of your experiences as you can, huge worlds get opened up to you, but you also become aware in a much more intimate way of how chaotic life is and how quickly states change. Everything is right before you. You really cannot escape what's going on.
A couple days ago I was posting to my private journal that I was feeling fine one minute and literally two minutes later I was falling apart. I also write about the many metaphor-type dreams and nightmares I have right after I wake up (the laptop is beside my bed). And I document almost everything that happens in my life.
Many treaters have suggested that I journal over the years. But the journaling I had done was sporadic and not at the level of commitment I have now. Mostly I had nothing much to say. Or didn't like the handwriting or what was written. But I guess I was just not ready to do what I'm doing now.
I mainly keep things from my perspective. Though parts of my psyche can write and share their views. I also think I often speak as a conduit for parts of me in a co-conscious kind of way. And sometimes I journal from my perspective about what parts of me did.
This level of commitment has really accelerated the healing process many times over for me and the journal almost becomes like a second therapist. I have found that you can really get things out of your head, in the journal, and put them away. I have also found that when I document experiences, I later go back and tease out the meanings and begin to understand what is really going on and what parts are trying to communicate.
As I did this, I began to see patterns that I never saw before and triggers I never realized existed. I also found that it helps parts gain a sense of responsibility. Darker parts who would engage in self-harm began to see that their actions affected others; and now the journal reminds them that we are, most of the time, all in this together. Sometimes for these parts, being able to get out their pain into the journal makes the difference for them and they don't need to act out.
I keep a private electronic journal and I date and time stamp each entry. I keep it on a private password-protected section of this website with access given only to me and my therapist. My therapist follows the journal and, for me, this has been quite helpful. I have talked to others whose therapists read theirs and everybody I've talked to has found this to be helpful. This minimizes the amount of time I need to spend on telling her day to day stuff. It also gives her an almost firsthand view of how things work for me.
I keep the journal for each month in a single file. I mark important posts so I can find them easily. On the first of the month, I take the current journal, archive it, and start a new file. In the archive, I then write a summary of the month. This allows me to keep track, at a high level, of what's happened over the course of the month. When I get to one year, I'm at month 9 now, I'll write a yearly summary.
Sometimes I don't know what to write and I feel like I get stuck. So, I have a few tricks to get me going. If it's real quiet, I try asking basic questions. Like how do I feel in my body? I write down the boring details of what I did today. Things like that. These are the things you may need to do as you first start a journal, and then eventually it will become easier.
I remember my first therapy appointments many many years ago when I couldn't say anything for the whole hour. Everything was meant to be kept inside I suppose. I had been so conditioned to keep things secret. Journaling helps to change all that. So does therapy. But therapy is such a small percentage of your overall week. Journaling can be as much as you need.
In addition, I also keep a handwritten journal in which I both write and draw. I find that the drawings can be very painful. This is the medium that many of my younger parts work best in.
I use this blog for sharing with others some of what I write in my journals. Nothing you read on this blog hasn't already been thought about carefully and written about elsewhere. The blog serves two purposes. It allows me to put "high level" writing (stuff I deem important) on the public pages that is synthesized and edited. But it also allows me to open myself up to others and this is healing. As I wrote in my welcome, I believe that sites like these can contribute by offering unique perspectives and knowledge, thereby enhancing opportunities not only for authors but for readers and society as a whole.
I'd love to hear from others how you use journaling in your healing process.
I have been in trouble for a while now. The past couple of weeks have been quite difficult. I am at a point now in my healing where I have much more awareness and control of my internal parts and my life. When I start to lose that awareness and control, this is destabilizing for me. I have kept myself safe, but it's been rather dicey.
I won't bore you with the details, but I had planned to get admitted to the hospital today. I figured this was getting a bit out of control and I needed help. This is also the day before a big trip to another part of the country to my wife's family with her and my two young daughters. Given what's been happening, the difficulty I've had pushing through, and the increasing suicidal thoughts I've been having, I made the decision that it was safest for me to go into the hospital. Truth be told, I waffled on that decision a bit. But in the end I made it. All the arrangements were made. I had packed and was ready to go right after my kids got home from school and I told them. My wife was incredibly unhappy with me, which is putting it mildly. She can't understand. But I'll talk about spouses in another post.
I don't want this blog to become my private journal, but the reason I am writing this is that I did want to share something you may identify with.
When my kids got off the bus and met me at the front porch, I told them I was going to the hospital and not on our plane trip. My oldest daughter was completely devastated. For weeks I had been having immense trouble pulling myself together, the switching was getting out of control, and my safety was becoming difficult to maintain. I had a little rally this past weekend (on another little one night trip), but I didn't think I could pull it together for a big trip to another state for five days.
So my 10 year old daughter pleaded with me. Tears were streaming down her face. I kept telling her I had to go to the hospital. That I didn't feel well and I had to do this. This went on for a long five minutes. But I was firm. We ended our conversation and she went inside.
I sat there for a few minutes. Just sat there. Then suddenly there was a "rally cry". Everyone inside came together and agreed we could go on the trip. I asked inside. I wanted to make sure. At that moment, the decision was reversed.
My therapist keeps telling me about how when you are on an airplane, they teach you that in case of emergency you have to put the oxygen mask on you first before you put it on your children. I understand that. I really do.
But there are times in life when it doesn't quite work that way. Sometimes you really can find the strength inside and do "it" for your children. And that's what happened today.
I'm not expecting my trip tomorrow to cure anything. I still have my bags packed for the hospital. I'm prepared that when we come back I may need to go in. But I will have done this for my children. And, right now, that means more to me than anything.
Do you have dreams that help you understand your internal landscape? My dreams come in bursts. I'll have a great many for a while and then they just stop.
This one started off as some quite scary R-rated dream. It was based around my needing to safeguard the contents of my computer. Okay, this now tells you I am a computer nerd! I was at some factory and got stuck there and, supposedly, that was what they did. I was with someone but don't know who. A little girl I think. But the factory was weird and scary and there were people trying to get in who were like zombies. This was very real and scary.
From there I was transported to some other PG-rated world. I was in a big house. I think it was my Nana's house. I was specifically charged with taking care of a special princess. That was my only job and failure was not an option. Just like the Navy SEALS motto, I think. There was a whole army of enemy soldiers trying to get us. There was a teenage soldier on my side, and he was supposed to help me. But he ended up getting caught by the enemy. They were marching around the house, about to come in.
I quickly took the princess up through the attic walkup. My father was there minding the entrance, but he was not paying attention and was acting dumb or like he didn't hear me. I couldn't understand that. I asked him to get me some long nails from the box of he had in front of him, so I could nail the walkup shut. That was his only job, but he didn't do it well. I ended up getting the nails myself. I nailed it shut.
In the attic with me were a bunch of other children. But I noticed, quite by surprise, that there was a window and door in the attic with a fire escape. I saw that some other children, who were supposed to hide out with me, were coming back in. I quickly told them to lock the door and be quiet. Everyone was so loud and I was trying to tell them they had to be quiet because we were going to be caught. They were all dressed poorly and their hair and clothes needed to be washed. I cannot remember what their faces looked like.
Just then I saw the young prince of the enemy. He was from India. He came up those back stairs. He saw us all. We made eye contact. Everyone went silent. He knew I was just trying to protect everyone. He nodded and left. And that's when I woke up.
I felt proud of myself for this dream.
When I was a kid, I always would lie
If I didn't, I probably would have died.
Didn't know I had, for I tricked even me
Until I learned I was a broken mess of debris.
There were so many levels of deception inside
And all I became was a Jekyll and Hyde.
I worked to build a life from this mess
And, largely, I've met with a lot of success.
But lately the parts have gained more control
I feel like I'm getting a lot less whole.
"Who am I?" is a question I often do ask
And largely I feel like I'm just putting on a mask.
I don't know what's real, yet sometimes I do
So often I just say "I'll bid you adieu!"
I think that I'm driving, but really I'm not
It feels like I'm creating some giant fake plot.
Now I'm confronted with the truth of the lies
I now know that they portend my complete demise.
I struggle to be real, but what comes of it?
As I "get better", it just means that I split.
This post explores, in a very small way, how film and media help us make sense of our experiences.
Much has been made of the Showtime series "US of Tara" which is about a person with dissociative identity disorder. I only saw the first episode and didn't like it much at all. ISST&D praises Tara and provides running commentaries. I am actually quite offended by the show and feel like it's exploitation. I think, in the end, it only serves to further stigmatize dissociative identities, making very real problems less mainstream and more fringe than they already are. Given that, I think ISST&D's support is not helpful and misplaced. From the first episode, I did not feel as though the way the family accepted Tara's DID was real. The portrayal was too dramatic for me. Sure there are times when the parts are separate and they have conversations with family members and there is drama; but usually it's not like that at all. Most multiples I know with families hide their dissociation to the extreme.
If you want to watch something that's quite good and maybe much more relevant, even to those of us with dissociative disorders and trauma histories, take a look at HBO's "In Treatment". The characters are much more real and the acting is better. If you are interested in how people think and how people interact in the context of therapy, then this is a great show. How can this help you heal? Maybe this is a leap, but I think it's helpful for those of us who deal with more extreme levels of dissociation to realize that there are many problems we deal with that many others deal with also.
In an April 30th interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, Gabriel Byrne who plays Dr. Paul Weston on the show, gave his take on what he thinks about therapy: "I think what a good psychotherapist does, I imagine, is that they help you to write the real narrative of your life and come to terms with it, because I think we have a tendency when we talk about our lives to kind of magnify certain things and give them an importance, idealize certain things and be in denial about other things. And looking at the narrative of your life and how that influences who you are as an adult cannot be but I think a good process." Basically, he's saying that therapy helps you put your life into context. For me, this is what I see as my main task.
Or if you prefer a quote from someone more legitimate, Sigmund Freud (whose birthday was yesterday) said: "The aim of psychoanalysis is to relieve people of their neurotic unhappiness so that they can be normally unhappy."
I kind of like Byrne's quote better. More optimistic. But, who knows, maybe Freud's is more realistic.
In addition to television, I've seen one short film and one song that spoke to me recently, both I've found posted on the blogs I follow.
The first is the short film INSiDE, directed by Trevor Sands. Powerful! This is very real and accurate, at least to me. I talked to my psychiatrist about it who also watched it. He wondered how much it mirrors the experience of people who deal with dissociative identity disorder. I can understand that point of view, and said that of course it is not accurate for most of my life. But there are times when I slide up the dissociative ladder and life is almost exactly like how it was portrayed in this short film. These extreme experiences don't get reported because how do you report them? Usually they are forgotten or misremembered. This is where the real work is for us, though. Despite these extremes, we can learn to stay present and even document these experiences.
The second is the song "100 Years" by Five for Fighting. This song is about a man about to turn 100, reflecting on his life. I couldn't help but see the parallel with my own life. This is all about what being multiple is about. While we all have the ability to look back on our lives and reflect, for a multiple we are constantly looking at life through different lenses. I've rather taken to playing this song on piano and it's been a bit healing for me. Another song I've been playing lately on the piano is "Hallelulah" written by Leonard Cohen. The best recording I've found is a live version by K.D. Lang performed at the 2005 Juno Awards. This piece was played on the closing credits for the 2006 documentary "Deliver us From Evil" about the Catholic clergy abuse crisis. I'll write more about that at some other time.
I'd love to hear what your take is on what I've written about, and feel free to post here media which you find helpful.
In today's post, I continue to explore the many ways in which art can help us make sense of our internal landscape. For those of us who struggle with dissociation, including Dissociative Identity Disorder, we know that describing our experiences, to therapists or even to ourselves, is crucial. I have been fortunate to be exposed to different techniques that help with this challenge. Part of the reason for this blog is to share with others what is working for me (as others share with me what works for them).
Sitting down and writing or drawing or playing music are not particularly difficult endeavors. They are certainly within reach of anyone. But they can help formulate a healing plan. Can you heal by only addressing what goes on inside once or twice a week for an hour in therapy? I used to think so. I was wrong.
Healing, as I am sure many of you found out already, requires a great deal of personal attention. But just as with many other endeavors, there is a somewhat delicate balance that needs to be achieved. Just as you cannot limit your attention to one or two hours a week, you also cannot expand it to a 16 hour a day effort. Somewhere in between these two extremes we must find time to live our lives.
People who deal with dissociation know about extremes. So it may not surprise anyone to realize that finding a "happy medium" with our healing journey may be quite difficult to achieve in practice. Our systems generally were not set up to find a middle ground. I have seen it with myself and see it with many others. Yet, I try very hard to find a balance.
So, coming off the soapbox, I'll tell you what the colored pencil drawing is about. It's pretty much self-explanatory. I spend a few hours in the library (a safe place for me) before therapy. I use this time as "me" time, to expand my focus on myself. Sometimes I do work (like in my job). Other times I listen to music. But most of the time I try to reflect and find perspective. These are the times I bring out my journal and write or draw.
The drawings usually reflects a state of mind or feeling, which can vary widely. But in this particular drawing, I was in a place of acceptance and understanding. I've drawn safe places before, but this was more about representing what I felt was happening inside at that particular moment.
The parts inside are contained (you can see a central circle surrounding them), which my therapist is telling me is always a good thing. Each part (or black circle) has a different diameter representing how much influence or presence the part has in relation to the whole system. Colors radiate from each part, spreading out to infinity. For me this means that I felt connected to the world around me. I was in a good place when I drew this.
Doing an exercise like this is immensely helpful to me. It allows me to appreciate that life is not all about disease and chaos. Sometimes things flow well and connect. And this moderates those times when life isn't so wonderful.