I live in a world that few people experience. In February 1990, I received the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder and from that day onward, my life was thrown into. As I began reconciling my past with my present, an enormous amount of emotional turbulence was stirred up, and I struggled to cope. As a child, the knowledge of the terrible trauma I was living through was pushed back and splintered off so that I could continue living and not go insane. However, in adulthood this ingenious coping skill became a liability.
As you can imagine, living with a severe mental illness such as dissociative identity disorder has some vast pitfalls. Possibly one of the worst I have experienced is the trap of feeling I am not accountable for what I say or do. The belief of a full-grown adult that I am not responsible for what I say and do may sound absurd, but you must understand the unique characteristics that accompany having this diagnosis.
When I first received my diagnosis from my therapist, I was relieved. I finally had an answer to all the strange occurrences that had happened to me throughout my life. My money would appear or disappear from my bank account, people would accuse me of saying things I didn’t remember. Many other things were happening to me in adulthood that I could never reconcile happening to me almost daily. Once I received the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, it all began to make sense.
However, there was a more disastrous outcome to understanding why I behaved in such strange ways. Once I began to work on the issues involved with the creation of my disorder, I experienced a unique phenomenon. I felt strongly that because I was a victim of violence in my childhood, I was not responsible for anything I said or did. Quite frankly, I felt the world owed me, and by god, they were going to pay.
This profoundly disruptive and emotionally packed thinking is not at all uncommon among folks who have received the diagnosis of DID. There is an entire subculture of women and men who trade stories of the evils that were done to them in childhood. They share a sense that because our caregivers mistreated us in our youth, we are forever victims and that society needs to permanently take care of us.
I found myself trapped in the morass of this detrimental thinking. Thoughts of revenge and feeling pity for myself filled my days. I was consumed with harmful thoughts of not wanting to pay for my therapy because someone else should and how my actions weren’t my own, but those of my alters. I lost all interest in being a responsible adult believing I had no power because it had been stripped from me when I was a kid.
The problem with believing that I was powerless was that I let the actions of those who harmed me rule my life. I didn’t understand that when I felt that I was not responsible for their actions, I was the one who was taking away from myself an enormous amount of power.
In a sense, I had become the one traumatizing myself.
I was so caught up in the darkness of my past, that my mind was filled with darkness. The depth of this darkness is so ebony that at times it felt there was no way out. I forgot my way, not understand for a while that even though the darkness comes, light is sure to follow.
My therapist knew I was stuck in this line of thinking, and spoke of how I was responsible for my own actions and the power that came with that way of living. I just couldn’t hear her. I was just too caught up in the subculture of poor-me-ism to take her words as truth.
Then one day there occurred an event that changed my perspective for good, and really started my journey down the road less taken to a new life.
I had gone for my yearly gynecological exam, and my doctor had written me a prescription to help with severe menstrual cramps. While dissociated, I added to the prescription for pain medication. I went to the pharmacy and filled it. I do not remember doing this highly illegal action, but it was done.
A week after my doctor’s appointment I received a phone call from our local police department. They asked me to go downtown because they needed to speak to me. I was puzzled as to what the police would want to talk to me about, but I drove myself there immediately. Once there, I was led back to a questioning area where I was left for about forty minutes.
Inside that room, there was a cold metal table, the chair I was sitting in and two holding cells complete with bars. I was petrified and more than a little intimidated. I racked my brain trying to think of anything I might have done. Had I run a red light? Had I upset a neighbor? Even after forty minutes, I came up empty.
When the two detectives entered the room, complete with badges and holstered weapons, their appearance only adding to my fear. Then one of them leaned on the table and asked in a very matter of fact fashion if I knew why I was there. I shook my head, unable to speak. He placed the prescription I had altered, encased in a clear plastic folder, on the table in front of me. He then asked me if I recognized it.
I sat and stared at that prescription. I realized it as the one I had received from my doctor, but I also suddenly grasped that I couldn’t remember going to the pharmacy to fill it. When I read it, I could see that the script had apparently been altered. What frightened me though, as I recognized my own signature on the bottom where I had signed when I received the medications that were listed.
I began to physically shake, and my look of total dismay at what I was seeing confused the detective who still leaned on the table. He leaned in closer and asked me if that was my signature and I shook my head yes. He then explained that my pharmacy and doctor had turned me in because my doctor had not ordered the drug that had been written in. It must have been apparent to him that I was scared and bewildered because he stood up straight and looked puzzled at his partner.
The only thing that I could say, in a shaky, squeaking voice, was that it was my signature, but I did not remember signing the prescription or filling it. I then said that they needed to contact my therapist. After giving them her name, they left.
After the detectives left the squad room, I was left alone in my terror and confusion. I knew I had signed that prescription because my signature is very distinct. I tried hard to remember getting the pills and wondered where the pain medication was hidden in my apartment. I had an hour to sit and stew on the fact that I had seriously broken the law. The words of my therapist kept echoing in my mind. She had spent a considerable amount of time lately reminding me that I am wholly responsible or whatever actions I take, no matter who is “out.”
When the detectives returned, they informed me they had called my therapist and had been filled in on my condition. They told me not to go out of town, that they may need to ask more questions, and that it was up to the States Attorney if there were to be charges pressed.
I was fortunate, no charges were made.
Once back in my car, I sat furious at myself for the first time understanding what my therapist had been trying to tell me. No matter which alters are in charge, we are all responsible. By all, I mean me.
It’s easy to see how I could be so confused about taking responsibility for my actions. I have over seventy splintered off parts of my psyche, each with his or her own beliefs and thoughts on things. Bianca, my eighteen-year-old self, is street smart. She sees a need and figures out ways to get that need met, whether it is legal or not. At the time of the prescription episode, Bianca and I were adversaries. I hated the idea that she even existed, and she resented my efforts to take over and be the mom of the group. Bianca saw that I was getting a prescription for the increased pain I was having during my menstrual cycle, and she made the decision that I needed something stronger.
You can see by the above paragraph, that I still write about Bianca as though she were a separate entity, but she is not. Bianca is part of my whole. She is me, and I am her. Period. But when I speak about her, it is as though she were someone else, and therein lies the confusion. I cannot talk about something done while dissociated into Bianca as though it were someone else who takes over my body. Bianca is me in a different form.
While this may sound strange to someone who is not a multiple, it isn’t foreign to your existence. You also behave differently in different circumstances, and if you consider, it may seem odd to you. For instance, consider when you visit your parents for Christmas. You behave differently with them than you would your friends while out on the town. You act differently at work than you do at home with your family. We all wear different hats, but most folks experience these changes as part of them, not separate.
Multiples are different, these parts of ourselves are splintered off, and they can take on lives of their own.
Learning to accept that Bianca is me was the first step towards normalcy, but acknowledging that her actions are mine was the even more critical.
When I got home, I spent many days thinking about the truth that I could not ignore, I was entirely responsible for anything said or done in this body. Understanding this concept deep down where it counts was the single most important thing I have ever done. With responsibility comes a sense of self-respect and the power to own one’s own destiny. I began to be more proactive in seeking out ways to improve my life. This included graduating from college and beginning to pursue a career in writing. Suddenly nothing seemed out of reach because I had left the disruptive thinking that the world owed me and crossed over into the new frontier where I am in control.
I won’t say my life is full of responsible decisions, because that would be misleading. I still have times when things are done that I don’t remember, but there is a huge difference now. I have learned to not to blame whatever occurred on my diagnosis or an alter. Yes, the deed may have been done while I was dissociated, but that I no longer use that as an excuse. By owning my behavior, I own my life. When I make a mistake, be it big or small, I have learned how to deal with it. I get back up, brush myself off, make amends where I can, and then ask myself what I learned.
My beautiful friend Barb York once shared the quote that I used to title this piece. I was unable to find this quote or who wrote it in my online search, but I know it exists. It is such an important quote because it says it all.
“No one tells the sun to shine, when the clouds part, it simply does.”
Even though I couldn’t see the sun from the darkness of working through my horribly traumatic childhood, the sun was still there. When the clouds of fear, loss and grief had finally passed, the sun shone warm on my face. Still today, when I fall into the old trap of grief and begin to try to find someone alive today to blame for my pain, I know the sun is there waiting for me.
Living with a severe mental health challenge like dissociative identity disorder is a never-ending series of ups and downs. However, owning my behaviors and not trying to blame the world or my alters is a huge step forward in my venture to control my life. The world does not owe me anything except the dignity and respect that every human deserves, no more and no less. The power that I have felt since taking this huge step forward can only be described in one word.
“Every human has four endowments; self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom, the power to choose, to respond, and to change.” Stephen Covey