Divorcing old habits

What do you do when the worst thing you think could happen to you does happen? Do you fall back into old habits, ways of coping that you’ve worked so hard to reform? Or do you work the problem? … In this searingly honest and vulnerable piece, Carolyn Spring talks about how she coped with a double loss of attachment figures and how what she had feared the most actually became a springboard towards new growth.

Making a Life Worth Living

It was the last week in May 2014. I had packed up all my belongings in my flat, got my affairs in order, and decided that I needed ‘to be dead’. I didn’t want anyone else to have to clear my flat, so I took some stuff to the tip, packed my remaining belongings into labelled boxes, and wrote detailed instructions.

Can we heal?

‘Can we heal?’ she asked, quivering with the significance of what she was saying, as if her very life depended on it. ‘Can we really heal?’I could well understood the agony in her eyes. I lived for many years overwhelmed by trauma, the symptoms of unhealed suffering. And if recovery is impossible, then why are we even trying?

Alters assemble: using Marvel’s Avengers to understand dissociative identity disorder

There’s no denying it: everyone likes a superhero. From the Greek gods to the current comic book heroes, the human race appears to be endlessly fascinated by the notion of power and ability that exceeds our natural levels of physical prowess and mental dexterity … And here, Xanthe Wells talks about how Avengers Assemble became a metaphor for her of dissociative identity disorder.

Recovery is my best revenge

Is recovery possible? That’s the question that everyone is asking, even when they’re not asking it. After a breakdown, perhaps after years in the mental health system, do we have to simply accept that we’re broken and that we’ll always be broken, or is it possible to live a life where we’re back in control again, where we’re living as we want to live, where life has purpose and meaning?

Feeling labelled and judged

When I was an in-patient in a locked rehab unit, a secure facility with an airlock as standard, the local taxi firm would not collect people from the unit. They judged without any real information. Ignorance, I guess, led people to hold a view that was without foundation and based upon stigma.

Help – a four-letter word?

Although I am fiercely independent and repeatedly declare that I don’t need anyone to help, lately it seems that some parts of me don’t agree. Their cries for help come mainly at night. I can hear them inside, begging for someone to help them, and it’s relentless.

The cost of benefits

Being on benefits wasn’t a choice I’d made and certainly not something I did willingly. From before the age of fourteen I’d always had a job, pausing only for maternity leave. But when my dissociated trauma burst onto the scene three years ago it became a massive achievement simply to stay alive.

Symptom or experience?

When I first started to see visions, I believed that they were monsters. More than that, I believed that I was a monster. Aged seven, I was sure that buried deep inside me was a monster that only revealed itself when I glanced towards a mirror. By wearing a ‘little-girl-suit’ and walking amongst the real humans I felt like a fraud.

My experience of dissociative identity disorder: crisis care

I had no idea where I was, except—rather obviously—that I was on a beach. It was raining and I was soaking wet. My legs were drenched up to the knees, indicating that perhaps I’d been in the sea. It was dark and late and freezing cold. I put my hands in my pockets and felt sea-shells. The policewoman told me where I was but it didn’t make any sense.

I need a mother

Of all the things that are painful; of all the abuses of my body, my mind, my emotions; of all the effects I live with in my attempts to ‘be fine’ and seem normal: this one, this wound of ‘un-motheredness’ is one of the most difficult.

At war with my body

I was born 35 years ago. With this body. This body that is a little too short and a little too plump. This body that sags in all the wrong places and looks the age it is, not the age I feel. This body that has produced two healthy children and enabled me to watch them grow. This body has been with me my entire life.

It’s not the ‘X-Factor’, it’s the ‘A’-Factor

My smoke alarm was going off in the swimming pool even when there was no real risk. There was risk and danger when I was a child, and that has affected my brain’s ability in the here-and-now to assess when there really is danger and when I really need an adrenaline rush so that I can escape or protect myself. This is what is happening when I am triggered: I am responding to a danger that is not really here now.

It’s a pain: the physical impact of trauma

Physical symptoms are a big part of life for me with DID. Yes, I have ‘multiple personalities’, the “two or more distinct identities that recurrently take control of the body” and I’m not for one moment denying the significance of that or the impact it has on my day-to-day life. But I would say that physical symptoms such as chronic, unexplained pain, headaches and nausea have been and still remain far more distressing and life-impacting for me than the presence of parts.

Feeling listless

All the signs were there that I did in fact have feelings, but initially I could not link these physical events with having an emotion, and I certainly could not put a name to them. Frequently my counsellor would gently remind me to notice what was happening in my body.

What I want people to say

The work of therapy can bring up strong feelings inside us of wanting to be cared for, wanting to be rescued, and wanting all the trauma and all our ‘parts’ to go away. It can be a very confusing time. As a dissociative survivor, I realised that there are things that I want people to say to me, and then there are things that would be more helpful for them to say to enable me in the long-term to recover. 

Not a victim

No matter how logically illogical it apparently is, I know I choose to listen to barbed words and vindictive self-beliefs about me: I am a subhuman being. I wrap the heavy chainmail-blanket of blame tightly around me. That is my fall-back position.

DID and me

It is not about diagnostic labels. It is not so much about dissociation, parts, losing time – although all of those add to the constant sickening sense of being different. For me it is about being me. The reality of everyday living with myself. ME.

Boys don’t cry

I’ve just had my heart broken and I’m struggling to accept it; or accept it again, I should say. I haven’t attempted many relationships in my life and this one ended some time ago. But when I realised I still loved her, or parts of me did, I attempted a reunion. But she’s moved on and unfortunately for me, loss still equals death.

Powerlessness

Powerlessness is such a core experience for victims of abuse that often we don’t even notice that it’s there. It is played out in the way that we interact with people and the world – it’s the shadow cast by the sun, rather than the sunlight itself.

Making the most of therapy

We often see therapy – treatment for trauma – as the holy grail, and put an extraordinary amount of effort into obtaining it. But do we make the most of it when we get it? Carolyn Spring shares her thoughts about how to maximise this rare and valuable resource.

The Beginning of Understanding: Part 2

The beginning of understanding was really just that—a beginning. Little did I know how much I had to learn and how much I really didn’t know. When my peer supervisor mentioned to me this strange word ‘dissociation’, it was an entirely new concept to me. Now I wonder how that can be.

Should I talk to parts?

Should we talk to parts? Or does that make things worse? When someone switches, is this attention-seeking behaviour? And is talking to a ‘part’ in some way dangerous—does it reinforce pathological behaviour? What should you do?

My experience of phase three work

I used to struggle to understand what phase III could possibly be about, because my life was so consumed with just surviving, and then so consumed with working through traumatic material to neutralise it, that I imagined that therapy would always be like that, and that once it was no longer happening, there would be no more need for therapy.

The Trauma Traffic Light

The ‘trauma traffic light’ represents three physiological states that the body can shift gear between, depending on levels of threat or security in the world: the green zone, the amber zone or the red zone. Carolyn Spring explains this concept she developed based on Stephen Porges’ polyvagal therory.

Boundaries

‘Dissociative parts of the personality’ grabbed the headlines, but my inability to set boundaries was the silent assassin destroying me from the inside… I said yes to everyone else, and no to myself. Other people mattered; I did not. And so, breakdown.

What causes dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder does not happen in a vacuum: it does not result from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and is not caused by faulty genes. There may be biological, social and environmental factors which increase people’s vulnerability to developing a dissociative disorder. But more than anything, DID develops as a result of trauma and disorganised attachment.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is a very common experience and can range from the normal to the pathological. Chronic, problematic, ‘pathological’ dissociation develops when there is repeated threat or trauma, especially when it starts at a young age, and when there is inadequate support or soothing from an attachment figure.

Caring for yourself: aspects to consider from the mental health act and mental capacity act

Rather than engaging with mental health services because we trust that they will be helpful, many of us—rightly or wrongly—fear any involvement with them partly because we fear losing further control by being ‘sectioned’. We fear losing our liberty, losing the right to make decisions about our life, and losing the right to choose the kind of treatment we receive.

Lasting Power of Attorney

If you don’t have an LPA, many decisions will be taken on your behalf either by medical professionals or your next of kin or relatives.  In situations where you have a domestically violent partner or spouse, or abusive parents, this could put you in a very worrying situation.

Managing flashbacks

Coming to terms with flashbacks—understanding what they are, learning how to manage them, and eventually figuring out how to reduce them—is a cornerstone of recovery. Carolyn Spring explains what goes in the brain during a flashback and how to learn to manage them.

My experience of dissociative identity disorder: crisis care

I had no idea where I was, except—rather obviously—that I was on a beach. It was raining and I was soaking wet. My legs were drenched up to the knees, indicating that perhaps I’d been in the sea. It was dark and late and freezing cold. I put my hands in my pockets and felt sea-shells. The policewoman told me where I was but it didn’t make any sense.

Coping with crisis

Crisis makes sense. The adrenaline of it can become addictive, or be all we’ve known. Life doesn’t feel right if things aren’t frantic, if relationships aren’t disastrous. Crisis can be an attachment cry. Crisis is the language of emotions that we don’t know how to regulate.

What causes dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder does not happen in a vacuum: it does not result from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and is not caused by faulty genes. There may be biological, social and environmental factors which increase people’s vulnerability to developing a dissociative disorder. But more than anything, DID develops as a result of trauma and disorganised attachment.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is a very common experience and can range from the normal to the pathological. Chronic, problematic, ‘pathological’ dissociation develops when there is repeated threat or trauma, especially when it starts at a young age, and when there is inadequate support or soothing from an attachment figure.

An introduction to grooming

‘Child grooming’ refers to a series of actions deliberately undertaken in order to develop an emotional bond with a child in order to sexually abuse them. Grooming increases the availability of the victim for abuse whilst decreasing the likelihood of detection for the abuser.

My recovery from child sexual abuse

It feels a long time ago now, the time when my abuse sat silent within me. It’s been over ten years. Back then, I didn’t understand any of the dynamics of abuse. The things that had happened, the things that had been done to me, the things I had been made to do—they sat silently within me as heavy weights on my soul, fetid non-reminders of my badness, this toxic mush that I thought was me.

What is child sexual abuse?

It’s not a definition or some bullet-points on a page, a menu of things that were done or could have been done, or might yet be done. It’s something to do with me as a person, the me that I’m so scared to show you, that I’m so scared to be, because of what happened …

The Trauma Traffic Light

The ‘trauma traffic light’ represents three physiological states that the body can shift gear between, depending on levels of threat or security in the world: the green zone, the amber zone or the red zone. Carolyn Spring explains this concept she developed based on Stephen Porges’ polyvagal therory.

At war with my body

I was born 35 years ago. With this body. This body that is a little too short and a little too plump. This body that sags in all the wrong places and looks the age it is, not the age I feel. This body that has produced two healthy children and enabled me to watch them grow. This body has been with me my entire life.

It’s a pain: the physical impact of trauma

Physical symptoms are a big part of life for me with DID. Yes, I have ‘multiple personalities’, the “two or more distinct identities that recurrently take control of the body” and I’m not for one moment denying the significance of that or the impact it has on my day-to-day life. But I would say that physical symptoms such as chronic, unexplained pain, headaches and nausea have been and still remain far more distressing and life-impacting for me than the presence of parts.