Note: Though the original date of this post is April 19, 2017 I continue to update/edit it.
I have received emails asking for help and since this book of mine has been taking time, I wanted to get this up in the meantime. Hopefully this can help a bit.
Granted, I am still a work in progress (aren't we all) but I'm also much better too.
It's important to say that I am a client--not a therapist. Most of what I've discovered I've done through painful grasping. And while sample size equals one I can imagine that some of the things I've learned could help to make someone else's journey a little easier.
I strongly believe that healing from a dissociative disorder, though painful, is possible. Ditto regarding bad therapy.
Also, I do not have Dissociative Identity Disorder but, as mentioned, I do suffer from dissociative amnesia due to childhood trauma.
This entry is in blog format so feel free to add thoughts in the comments section.
1. Don't just get help. Get the right help.
Beg, borrow or steal but try to see a dissociation specialist. I’ve seen therapy from “both sides now” and I can personally speak to the huge difference of one from the other.
I had two years of very damaging therapy from a psychotherapist who was not trained specifically in dissociative disorders (only three cases before me.) Granted, she had more problems than just being untrained but I believe her lack of specialization and experience did not help in the least.
My next experience was with a trained and sensitive specialist. With her, I have gotten better relatively quickly. No one is perfect—no treatment is perfect—but that’s fine—it just needs to be good enough.
A sign of good treatment is a therapist who listens carefully, who empathizes with you, who helps you to understand why you might be feeling the way you feel.
2. Allow for all your flow and find containers for it.
Though I’m not sure this is true for everyone, it was/is certainly true for me. I had—and have—a lot of flow—a lot of expression—and a lot of emotion erupting from within that has been, for lack of better words, non-linear.
Capturing truths and putting together a coherent narrative, shaping the flow, is very rough. I believe this is because the mind has jumbled things up—sliced things up—for protection. But…as we heal…connections start to be made and it’s painful. The pain is because there is the beginning of consciousness—you can start to see the mirror that’s shattered versus before where you didn't see a mirror at all.
Not to say that it does not remain painful, but it helps to find places for your flow. For me, obviously, I found writing. And I’ve not stopped. I also work in art—in clay. Both are forms of expression that allow and capture and hold. They nurture and also can help clarify things as you work in them.
A good friend of mine expressed it beautifully once when she said to me that sometimes art is the only way to express or capture something properly.
So…allow. And try not to judge. And when you've figured out how to do both let me know because I'm not great at either--especially the judging stuff. But practice makes, well, not perfect but it gets better with time. And as you go, as you witness your flow there will be things that you've never seen before that are joyful. This feeling, this finding is...everything.
3. Listen Every Day—Preferably At the Same Time—Make it a Ritual.
Healing, for me, has been a process of listening—and recording—what I hear in my mind. It is how I’ve found parts of myself and how I’ve found the pain and tried to work on it.
But do it.
For me, every cell in my body was demanding me to listen—so I began waking up two hours earlier—to make room for this listening.
My mantra was—and is—“authenticity” and I grab my essences inside each day.
As of this posting, I’ve been at it now for 1516 days and 8240 pages.
For me it is easier to meditate in writing, in the early morning, in "Parts"--to dialogue with parts of self along the way. Also, the "team" I put together over the years that I do this with is crazily supportive. One of the keys for me in getting a good team was to allow (there we go again with the allowance but it's true) for crappy mean parts of self/voices to be heard. Like anyone, parts of self that are really nasty often times, if you give them time and "hear them out" are there for a reason. And...when you actively listen to them, just like people, they do they calm down and get nicer.
Example: The loudest voices for me in the beginning were berating voices (I call them the Mean Team--MT.) Eventually they calmed and had interesting and helpful things to say. I still get some MT voices here/there but it's muuuuuch better.
So it sucks but it gets better and easier with a daily practice.
Okay, it sounds goofy but swimming can work miracles. When my therapist Teresa asked me which kind of activity helped most I had to respond that swimming changed my perspective completely (versus other forms of exercise I do like running.) My therapist wondered if swimming, as you breath and look from side to side is delivering the kind of integrative healing that is derived from EMDR techniques.
Most places in the world have indoor and/or outdoor pools. Try and swim just a few laps to start. If you can’t swim, see if you can learn to swim. A list of pools can be found by clicking here.
5. Have Faith Even Though It Feels Impossible.
I’ve gained and lost faith a thousand times along this road. At some point I came up with this phrase that has become another one of my mantras:
In healing we fail, And in failing we heal.
Generally if you are listening it’s gonna hurt and you will feel like you are so overwhelmed that it’s just never going to get better.
But it will.
Talk to yourself in the car. Write to yourself. Write yourself a fairytale about yourself. Cry buckets. Paint. Draw. Grab some clay. Do a mosaic. Take chalk to a sidewalk.
Visualize yourself as a protagonist and hero of your own journey, struggling up a mountain but still climbing.
You. Can. Do. This.
The process of recovery is one of recovering. It is ongoing. I am not close to the top of any mountain. The best I can do is to try and do a little climbing each day. Same for all of us I think.
Plan for a long journey, one filled with ups and downs, but ultimately, at some point, you will begin to feel better. Knowing that you won’t likely feel better for a while though (for me it’s honestly been several years) should help you relax your expectations which is critical in not getting hugely depressed. If you break your leg and someone says you’ll be better in two days and you’re not, you panic. If someone says six weeks though, two days in you won’t freak out as your expectations have been properly set.
6. Find a few safe friends.
It’s hard and it will be trial and error but try delicately to share your journey with a few people. I’ve failed a number of times and it hurts—but in healing you fail and in failing you heal.
For me it was very hard to even express to my own self let alone someone else what was going on inside of me. It takes time to get clear. But try. And try writing a few paragraphs to rehearse what you would say or send to someone.
Trust your gut; some people will make you feel like it’s easy to talk. Others won’t. Go with the easy people--they get it and you. And once you find a few of these people hold onto them like the gold that they are; smart and empathetic people are beautiful and rare and precious gifts.
This can be challenging, especially since healing from dissociative disorders seems to come with a lot of flow, but try and not overstay your welcome; our stories are intense and sometimes hard for people to take in. Small doses and reciprocal exchange will deepen the friendship in every way.
I've been actively on this journey for around six years now and I do not have many people that know about it; so it's not easy to find folks. The few people I have let in I have learned to do updates with them when the time feels right--and reciprocal--an even exchange of their news and life. I was sharing a lot more in the beginning but as I've healed a bit more I am able to hold more of it on my own and can wait longer to share.
If you have a supportive partner it's similar; you will lean on him or her more in the beginning but as you get better, like anything else, the intensity will lessen.
7. Revisit Your Flow When You're Ready.
This has been critical to me—to go back and make sense of my previous work. For me this comes in the form of shrinking/editing pages and finding nuggets of truth inside. Next, I put a narrative together. I do it when it feels like it's time to do it. I listen to my heart--it's all done by instinct--and know when I want to spend time pulling together a narrative or story about what's happened the past X number of months (or even years.)
It could be going back and looking at drawings you’ve done or poetry you’ve written—-anything where you’ve been expressing yourself somewhat regularly--and with flow--and finding what it is you were saying and where you were. It is about understanding more deeply and with more clarity and digestion and ownerships who you are and where you have been.
This can take the form of going back one year ago—or, as you get better—going back just a few days.
Flow and going back and revisiting it—over and over again (maybe it's a close cousin to exposure therapy)—has been—for me—critical in healing. It's no day at the spa, but finding the critical pieces to your story and holding them inside is key. I believe that the mind and heart need clarity to feel better. Because I was in harmful treatment for a while I was made to feel even less clear and very very confused. Think gasoline poured onto a flame.
Mine has been a four year, maybe five, battle to find and hold the bones of my general story. So if you think things are taking too long just look at me and my long road--the ten thousand pages written to get to what will be a book of around two hundred pages.
8. At Some Point Healing Is Not Just About Better Understanding
This is a new one for me but after a lot of painful work, I have a arrived at a place where understanding and clarity (two things I’ve been working on) aren’t enough.
I want joy—not all day every day—but I want more good days than bad days, an optimistic outlook, a reason to get up and jump into the day.
Am I there yet?
Am I working on it?
My goal is to expand this section as my work evolves.
9. If You Are In Harmful Therapy...
Below in #9 I've listed a few good resources for situations where there is therapist abuse--whatever form this may take. Note that I did not suffer sexual abuse--it was emotional and psychological but at times I wished it were sexual so it would have been easier to explain. I know that sounds lousy but it's truth.
Being in bad therapy is horrible--and the recovery from it, along with what brought you to it in the first place is arduous. But it can be done.
If you are here reading this now consider that a huge step in recognizing that you could be in a bad situation. You are taking some control, perhaps a first step, but you need to take the reins. This is your life. Do not let lousy therapy ruin you.
Force clarity upon yourself--even if you can't hold the clarity for long periods of time--keep trying--brute force it and take action.
And know that it takes time--time to take action, whether that be speaking up, terminating or even filing a complaint or lawsuit. And it takes time to heal from all if it along with what your brought into the therapy to begin with.
10. A Few Resources
The ISSTD Guidelines. I could not take a lot of this information in for a long time but eventually now I can and I find comfort in the general idea that healing does follow a very broad pattern. This is also a good resource for those who are invested in your healing and treatment.
The Trauma Therapist Podcast. I found it very interesting to see how many different kinds of professionals, the sheer number of them and the various modalities that have sprung up around helping people with trauma. Search for the podcasts that focus on dissociation. One with Bethany Brand, a thought and research leader in the field can be found by clicking here.
PODS. Loaded with information and a real positive spin on healing from dissociation disorders!
Surviving Therapist Abuse for those who have been harmed in psychotherapy. Great resource put together and run by a woman who’s been through it.
The Therapy Consumer Guide. One of the most on point, clearly written websites on therapy gone sideways. Written by a licensed mental health professional with experience in treating those who have been harmed by therapy. She also was harmed herself in therapy.
Therapy Reality - Community Forum. A supportive, well run community of therapy clients (past/present) discussing challenges, disappointments, frustration, rage and everything else that comes along with traumatic therapeutic experiences.