I have been involved with a discussion with several people on Twitter and other places about healing from DID. During my interactions, it was pointed out to me that many people living with the disorder try to rush their healing.
While I fully understand, (boy do I), that we all want to get well “NOW!”, healing from the effects of childhood trauma that causes DID is not a short process nor should it be rushed.
This article is my attempt to caution those who are healing to take their time and offer a glimpse of what the result will be if you take my advice.
The Misunderstandings of Mental Health Professionals that Lead to Mistakes
Training for mental health professionals about dissociative identity disorder is brief at best and sometimes doesn’t exist at all. In fact, if a wannabe psychiatrist or therapist wants to understand DID, they will need to seek out special training.
This lack of training leaves mental health professionals grasping for straws and guessing at how to help clients who enter their offices needing their help.
Then there is the stigma among some of the mental health professional community that says that DID does not exist and should be treated as another diagnosis altogether. This leaves therapists in danger of being labeled as a believer in ufos rather than serious mental health professionals serving the best interests of their clients.
The result of all the above is that any therapist not only must rely on what they read in books but causes them to not ask questions for fear of attracting negative attention to their practices.
I believe that is why there is such a misunderstanding among the mental health community on not only the proper treatment of dissociative identity disorder but also in how long healing takes. Because all they must go on is previous experience treating other clients for other disorders, many professionals think that healing from DID and reaching fusion should take only a year or two tops.
The Misunderstandings of Multiples that Lead to Mistakes
As I wrote in my last article, there are two misunderstandings among those in the DID community. One, that healing (integration) means becoming a “singleton” (someone who never formed DID), and two, that during healing alters will be destroyed.
These two misunderstandings, along with not accepting that healing will take many years or hard work hold people back from the personal power to be gained through integration.
Since I have spoken about this extensively in my previous post, I hope you will check it out here.
I have identified four stages of healing that I have gone through to get to where I am now. No, I am not perfectly healed and no, I have not stopped losing time totally. The fact is that I am forever a multiple, but that does not mean I have to live in the chaos and uncertainty I used to. That’s why I have incorporated the information I have below into this piece.
The Four Stages of Integration (Healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder)
I offer as my qualifications of writing the following material the fact that I am a member of the DID community having been diagnosed in 1990 with dissociative identity disorder. I have been on my healing journey since then, and to be honest have almost died on my travels. I speak as one who has conquered many barriers and reached fusion, the final stage of integration.
I do not hold anything higher than an associate degree in psychology and am not a mental health professional. I only have my lived experiences with my own healing to offer and ask only that I am heard, and that you consider what I have to say.
A Brief Discussion of Integration
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a coping mechanism that kept us alive and sane during severely traumatic childhoods. It cannot and will not heal overnight.
Healing takes many years of hard and sometimes dangerous mental work. It is a mistake to presume that it will only take a year of visits to a therapist to “fix” the problem. One cannot heal from a traumatic childhood, and you should not try.
Integration is a word describing the process of reaching the point where the chaos of dissociation ends. It does not mean any parts die, nor does it mean a person living with DID (multiple) becomes someone who does not (singleton).
Rather, integration means the alters of your internal system understanding one another, reaching cooperation and co-consciousness and thinking plus acting as one person.
Why So Many Multiples Fail to Integrate
As with the five stages of grief, integration does not happen in a linear fashion. One tends to bounce back and forth among the stages of healing and in and out of denial.
A lack of understanding of the definition of the integration process by multiples and mental health professionals plus trying to rush healing are the main culprits when people give up and decide to live the way they always have.
However, if a multiple decides to remain completely splintered, then they miss out on the power to their control life and be responsible for it. They miss out on what it is like to pool all the knowledge, talents and courage of who you are into one strong person that can make life goals and reach them.
I fully acknowledge that every multiple system has the right to choose to integrate or not, but I strongly encourage everyone to at least consider what I have said.
The Four Stages
Stage 1 Diagnosis: Stage one involves discovering that there is a name for what you have been experiencing all your life. Suddenly, all the strange things that have been happening in your adult life, the disappearance and reappearance of money, clothes, etc., make sense.
This can be one of the hardest and most denial-filled stages to the recovery of someone diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. It is almost more traumatic than the events that caused the disorder because one is thrust into understanding what happened to cause you to form DID and the shock of knowing, finally, what has been going on.
Usually, it is in stage one that many seek out a therapist to help them heal. From the moment you walk into your first therapy appointment, you have begun the process of integration.
During stage one, multiples are becoming aware of what happened to them in childhood and these memories can make us feel dirty, unwanted and alone. Sometimes the memories held by the alters come forcefully to the surface in the form of flashbacks and panic attacks that hit us from nowhere and from triggers we do not yet understand.
Because of these intrusive thoughts and feelings, chaos ensues as we try our best to conquer the emotions of worthlessness and hopeless coming to us from our past. Grieving over what should have been comes into play during this stage as we become aware that our childhoods were marked with horrendous trauma and neglect. We grieve for the childhoods that were stolen from us.
Stage 2 Acceptance: Acceptance is a hard-earned step in healing from DID. It is here that we have accepted what happened to us as our history and that it is unalterable. There is no way to return to the past and rewrite it, at least not in reality although it can be done mentally.
The chaos of the first stage still happens, but for a different reason. As we learn the names and memories of the alters, we are met with resistance from them. Some feel threatened because they are afraid we cannot handle their thoughts, and others want desperately to be rescued.
Switching may become more prominent during this phase, and it is important to establish some way for all in the multiple system to communicate. This is the very beginnings of becoming co-aware and co-conscious.
It is here that we also, like every other human being, the culmination of our experiences. We are who we are because of the trauma we endured. We are strong, resilient, and wonderful people who have survived the un-survivable.
During the acceptance stage, we learn how to cope with what we have remembered about our history and begin to put them into proper context. This does not mean we minimize them, but rather that we acknowledge they happened. We learn that our alters saved our lives plus our sanity and begin to have a sense of respect for them.
Stage 3 Cooperation: Stage three is a vital one for it is here that we learn to bring our inner parts closer together than ever before because most of the amnesiac barriers come down. The walls come down because when all the members of our system know about each other due to being introduced to one another.
The safe place that you made in your mind so that communication becomes possible between the alters is vital to this stage. Sitting about together and laying down ground rules for the behavior of the alters in your system must happen first. The chaos of someone taking over and hurting the entire system financially or otherwise needs to be addressed and solutions found for times when an alter might feel triggered to life.
It is also during these discussions among the alters that cooperation begins. Everyone should have a say in your goals and hopes.
During stage three, an amazing thing begins to take place. You find that the fear and distrust you and your system had for each other has eased and has been replaced with love.
Eventually, the days when of chaos disappear and with a few exceptions so does the switching. You have become co-aware and co-conscious of each other’s feelings, thoughts and this brings the self-discovery of all the skills learned during your lifetime.
Stage 4 Fusion: Stage four is hard to describe and many people living with dissociative identity disorder fear this one most of all.
Many are afraid that fusion means the disappearance of the alters or pushing them away into oblivion. This is absolutely not true. You can not destroy or rid yourself of alters because they are ALL parts of you. If they die you do and vice versa. No one is going anywhere.
Fusion means accepting the alters in your system as parts of you, but you beginning to think, speak and act as one person instead of many. You incorporate all these wonderful parts of yourself and their abilities into the strong and vital person you were meant to be. You take full responsibility for your actions whether you experience dissociation or not.
Fusion is not becoming a singleton. That is impossible. During early childhood (usually agreed the age of 5) there is a stage when the personality of children coalesce was missed by people living with dissociative identity disorder. Our brains have been altered in structure and cannot re-enter the missed developmental stage.
We are forever changed.
However, we can learn to think and act as singletons with the understanding that we are not and realize that with enough stress we will fall back on our old coping mechanism, switching.
While the process of integration isn’t a perfect one, it is much better than living in the chaos of switching from alter to alter.
The Orchestra Illustration of Integration
I wrote the orchestra illustration several years ago and have tweaked it as I have begun to understand my own road to healing. I did so to help people understand better what I mean by integration is a process that is an important part of healing. While I understand and agree that every multiple system has the right to choose to integrate or not, I strongly encourage you to do so. To not reach fusion, the final stage in the integration process is to deny yourself reaching a state where you have the power that is present in all the alters in your system hold.
I have NOT always known this stuff, rather it came through spending a lot of time and tears while I traveled down the road less taken.
Now I offer to you my newest revised version of the orchestra illustration.
The Orchestra Illustration
There was an orchestra.
All the members of the orchestra dreamed of playing beautiful music and becoming successful, but their efforts were thwarted by each other.
All the players were excellent at playing their different instruments, but they all played different songs. One or two were playing Beethoven, others played Mozart.
The result of this division was chaotic noise that pleased no one and got the orchestra nowhere.
Then one day a Maestro arrived and took up the baton. This person began working with the members of the orchestra, teaching them how to work together. He encouraged them to agree on and choose one song, the one that would make them famous.
Slowly, very slowly, the orchestra members began to understand that they must do as the Maestro suggested, or forever be lost in the chaos of the past.
The orchestra tried hard to follow the lead of the Maestro, yet they found they were tripping over each other a lot causing anger and resentment among the players. However, slowly and over a long time, they began to have more success and noticed that there were other players in the orchestra (which they had denied before) who could play beautifully too.
The knowledge that the other players were good and that they were slowly learning to cooperate gave a glimmer of hope and a glimpse at how their lives could be.
Then the Maestro also made this demand of the players. If they were going to continue to learn how to play after he had retired and moved away, one of the orchestra members would have to assume the lead and take up the baton. One of the strongest of the members agreed to do just that, and slowly took over the work of the Maestro.
The first Maestro decided one day, it was time for him to go. The orchestra cried and cried when he retired, but by now they had learned to trust the leadership of the member who had taken up the baton. They knew everything would be alright.
Then one day during practice, a miraculous event happened. The orchestra, following the new Maestro’s lead, began to play beautifully together as the notes of Mozart lilted from their instruments and into the warm summer air.
One bright morning, much later, the Maestro finally understood that she needed to stop thinking of the musicians she had led for so long as separate from herself. She suddenly realized that she could play every instrument of the orchestra because they were ONE.
The orchestra was her and she was the orchestra.
Although she had led the group to success through cooperation and co-consciousness, now it was time to acknowledge that every note, including the bad ones, were hers alone.
By taking responsibility for herself as the orchestra and incorporating their talents as her own, she thrived and lived to find even more success as the person she always wanted to be.
Explanation of the Orchestra Illustration
The members of the orchestra are the alters before treatment.
The first Maestro is the therapist.
The second Maestro is the “waking self” and the alter that becomes the leader over the whole bunch.
The orchestra learned to cooperate and to become co-consciousness by working with the first Maestro and trusting that the second could lead them. Although it took a lot of practice and trust on the part of all the parts of the orchestra, they slowly learned cooperation was the only way to success.
One of the orchestra members needed to become the leader of the others and train with the Maestro to take up the baton when he was gone. Usually, this member is known as the “waking self”, but it can be any member of the orchestra.
After the first Maestro left them turning the baton over to the brave orchestra member he had been mentoring, there were many tears. However, they all knew that everything would be alright.
Finally, the second Maestro (the “waking self” or other members), understands deep down that she is the orchestra and they her. All the orchestra’s talents and pitfalls were hers and in acknowledging this she remakes herself into a strong and capable person who can succeed as one where many could never have reached.
Pulling it All Together
Too often multiples and their therapists try to move on from one stage of healing to another too quickly. Feeding off the lack of training of many professionals and the “I want healing NOW!” feelings of their clients, many mistakes are made leaving multiples feeling frustrated.
Not only are multiples frustrated, but because they rushed into healing and were not able to successfully reach fusion, they give up on the whole idea.
Let me tell you for a moment how I am today as compared to many years ago.
My therapist, Paula, had no training in dealing with DID so I was an enigma for her that challenged her abilities as a therapist. As I have stated, I was diagnosed in 1990, before people had PC’s and laptops in their homes to do research. That meant Paula had to rely on what she could find at the library and her instincts to guide her.
We made many mistakes in attempting my healing. The first and perhaps the one that held me back the most was that neither of us knew how to approach integration. Paula tried to help me age the alters from children to adulthood, but I now know that was a mistake. I hadn’t remembered all I needed to from them and they weren’t aware enough of one another to accomplish fusing the littles together.
The other mistake was created by me. I found it very difficult to tell Paula everything she needed to know to understand where I was in my healing. For one, I neglected to tell her that helping the littles to be adults was not just failing but was proving impossible. I also failed to allow her to see my emotions and to speak to the other alters. It was like we were playing a game and were terrified of her disappearing on us.
Only after I lost Paula to a bankruptcy, spent seven and a half years inpatient on a psychiatric ward, and was miraculously able to return to her office that I had learned the value of being honest with Paula.
By the time I was in Paula’s office again, I had spent plenty of time thinking about our mistakes in my treatment and because I refused to play games healing sped up enormously.
Paula retired in 2015 leaving me grieving her loss but I have continued to travel down the road to healing without her.
Late last year, I came to three understandings that have been vital to where I am today.
One, you cannot see stage 3 from 1. This is true of all the stages. You CAN look back, but visualizing, understanding and accepting future stages is impossible. That’s why when I speak of stage four, fusion, so many people resist even the thought of doing it.
Two, fusion happens when you understand that it is much better to see yourself as a cohesive “I” than a splintered “WE.” I know that will meet with resistance from many, but the power of living life thinking as a “ME” is powerful.
Three, giving up the identity of a multiple is very tough. Paula, throughout the years we spent together, constantly challenged me by asking me what I would lose if I didn’t identify as a multiple anymore. When I approached fusion, I finally had the answer to her probing questions. Somehow, I felt I would be less special and less unique.
Now I have discovered, strangely enough, that just the opposite has happened. I find myself in a minority of people who have been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder who have reached fusion. Sigh. One never knows.
Fusion has brought enormous power to my life. I still have alters, but they are so close that we tend to think as one. I can’t express how much quieter and happier I am since losing time and switching have become rare. I am powerful and ready to conquer just about anything.
Watch out world!
I hope this article has helped in some small way. Shirley
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.” ~ Danielle Bernock, Emerging with Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, and the Love That Heals