Dry your eyes mate …
The Streets’ lyrics have been playing in my head. I don’t particularly like the song but any songs about heartbreak seem to have resonance at times like this.
Goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend …
It’s all bringing back memories from different times in my life including the first time I told her I had dissociative identity disorder (DID). I later wished I hadn’t told her and wanted to believe that I didn’t have the condition at all. I preferred to deny it.
She had seemed so understanding and accepting about it when I first told her: a little too understanding if anything. The same night that I told her about the DID, I also told her that I had paid for sex on a couple of occasions, because I felt lonely, worthless and too frightened to attempt a relationship with a real woman before. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it was just to be honest and help her understand me better. After all, there’s a part that is a sex addict and has no interest in relationship whatsoever. It’s the part that was so heavily sexualised as a child; was ritually raped, body tortured, prostituted out to a paedophile ring and used for child pornography. He feels the only way to express it is though sex – or “to fuck” as he would put it. He’s an object, they’re an object, everybody’s happy right? Well he is, right up until the finish, so to speak, and then the switch happens – the switch into chronic guilt, shame and often heavy tears. The tears are the lovely little boy inside who never wanted to be sexualised, who is pure and innocent and wanted to be loved – a very different part from the sex-
Now, thanks to working with my therapist for three years, the little boy has been acknowledged and loved with understanding, deep empathy and a safe touch. Her impact was immediate and, for the first time in his life, he felt safe. The little parts adore her and became quickly attached to her; other parts are taking longer. In her unique way, she checks that the little parts are okay, because she knows that they hold the key to healing. She doesn’t judge or criticise the sex-
“You’re too lovely just to fuck,” she says.
It’s a clever comment because it addresses different parts within me; there is still a conflicted response to hearing it. I nod in agreement, wanting to believe her more than I do, but the word ‘lovely’ is winning by a hand today. It’s not always the case because on other days the non-
In contrast to the therapist’s reaction, the night that I told my ex about DID she sent me a text on the way home, thanking me for telling her about what I had done, but there was no mention of the DID. As time went on, there were no questions or attempts to learn more about it. I later realised that she hadn’t understood it at all, either because she didn’t want to or perhaps didn’t know how to. Whatever her reasons were, however, living in the truth can have its consequences. When I say the truth, I mean that very rare thing that DID seems to epitomise: an awareness and acknowledgment that the horrors of childhood torture and ritual abuse exist, and that I suffered this fate at the hands of so many men and women and that it is now the reason that I, like other ritual abuse survivors, am living with this condition. It is a condition that is so frequently misunderstood, especially by mental health professionals and is far easier to deny than to live with. And for those without sufficient empathy or willingness to understand, it can seem a step too far into reality – a history like ours is often a little too truthful to be true.
It has been a real battle for me to fully accept DID, as opposed to just believing that I have severe mood swings. It was not helped by the fact that once, when I first raised the issue of abuse when I was 16, it was suggested that I had false memories – not an uncommon threat levelled at survivors of ritual abuse who are telling the truth. I didn’t know it then but I know quite differently now. Sometimes I still want to be a non-
Whilst the condition is a very clever survival mechanism and it’s important to acknowledge that without it and without the therapist, I’d be dead – no child can survive such horrors without ‘splitting off’ – living with it can sometimes present a very confusing and at times horrible reality. And sometimes, like this morning, I don’t want to live at all. When I woke, I felt as if I was going to die of loneliness. There was silence all around me and the emptiness filled the room. The young parts miss my ex terribly and with a history like mine, it’s always about so much more than just the break-
The memories and associations had been drifting into my consciousness for some time, even before I met my therapist. I had hateful reactions to seeing pregnant women for many years, but I couldn’t understand why; real desires to rape and kill would flare up from time to time. I subsequently discovered there is a Nazi inside me, who administers hatred and takes on the role of the abusers, although thankfully the other parts stopped him from acting out. I remembered the pregnant bump before he arrived but he was never born in the hospital, you see; he was never buried either. When he was a few days old, father and grandfather, at an altar in the local church, handed me a blunt, rusty razor blade so that his throat would take longer to cut. Because their indoctrination and attempts to ruin me were failing, they had to break any ability I had to loving attachment.
My first memory around this came back to me at Christmas 2008 when my therapist was away. In our very first session I told her that a baby had been killed, but I started having recurring dreams full of blood for some time and my journal was full of entries documenting the flashbacks and memories of his little face and his bleeding throat. But now it was fully in my consciousness. Furious at her absence and lack of contact during the break, this betrayal felt like the last straw. I wrote everything down in a journal and had daily contact with the Samaritans because the war was raging; suicidal one minute, homicidal the next. I was staying at my sister’s house at the time, another survivor, and was badly triggered. I had to spend the whole of Christmas day upstairs in a room on my own, because I couldn’t be around them and their newly born son. There was no transport to leave town, so I had to stick it out: I was imprisoned. I wanted to smash things to pieces, the rage pumping through my veins again, and then I wanted to kill myself. More often than not, over the years, I had drawn the conclusion that I was a waste of space and it would be better to kill myself anyway. It was like a trump card in my back pocket, only I hadn’t realised it was there until my breakdown took me into a suicidal respite centre. In there the lady who ran the centre came and spoke to me one evening.
“I just want to ask you about something you said in your assessment,” she asked gently, while taking her seat.
My heart started racing. This was it. This is what it had come down to: the moment I had been dreading. “God, what did I say?” I felt cold inside and I could feel my heart leaping out of my shirt. I had no idea what she was going to say and the feeling of dread had filled my body again. “What did I do wrong?” I thought.
“Okay,” I said hesitantly.
“You told me that ‘every time’ you’d had sex as an adult, you’d wanted to die,” she said.
Her words slid into my gut like a knife and punctured my breath; I’ll never forget them. What was another person doing in here? “I don’t remember saying that,” I thought. “Did I say that?” Then I looked down at the kitchen table. I was shaking. I felt so ashamed. I wanted to run, but I knew there was nowhere left to go. I couldn’t look at her. I put my right hand up to cover my face, hoping that she couldn’t see me and it would block her out. I felt like I’d been found out and that something dreadful was about to happen. From my right-
After those torturous days that Christmas, my therapist returned from her holiday and when she did, she felt the full force of my feelings of being betrayed. I stormed into her house and with all guns blazing the murderous rage I had carried throughout the break and for the previous thirty years erupted at once. The sound was from another world and came up and out like a volcano, pumping through my veins, yelling at her. I had never allowed myself to express anything like this before because I was afraid I would kill somebody. I had never considered myself to be a particularly angry person, and for the most part I’m not, but this part was unmistakeable. He was father and grandfather personified: the bristling rage, flared nostrils, the black eyeballs, the thunderous noise that could be heard at the end of the street – a learnt response stored up after 30 years of injustice. All these details were relayed back to me by my therapist, who mirrored back over long periods of time what it felt like to be on the receiving end of it: terrifying. It was terrifying for me too in that state – someone else was doing this, the part that had come to protect the little ones from the torture, but had also prevented any meaningful relationship as an adult.
For the first year in therapy, the rage erupted frequently and with real venom. We also had some real battles in the therapy room. At times I stormed out furious at feeling misunderstood and that I, like many men out there, was being censored and not allowed to express myself as I wished. The rage has been a case in point. It exploded so frequently that we had to find a safe way of working with it – a compromise. We came to an agreement, reluctantly on my part initially, that relationally it would be safer and more acceptable for me to go into the next room and shout, when I felt the rage coming. She started to become more and more familiar with my mannerisms and the colour and look in my eyes when this part was around and could even pre-
The frequency and severity of the rage has calmed down significantly but the murderous rage and at times the quite literal desire to kill were frighteningly real. I wondered how many men hadn’t been as lucky as I am, to have an outlet for this rage: how many had instead ended up being locked away, sectioned or dead. I have started to feel a responsibility to do what I can to help those other men, many of whom are likely to have DID and are completely unaware of it, through no fault of their own. I’ve realised through this process what a fine line it can be between acting on these impulses and not doing so, and many of these guys must have fallen on the wrong side of the line. I’m not condoning violence or justifying it in any way, but a far greater understanding is needed to empathise with these men and their reasons for being that way: society and the media do not help.
Sometimes the rage goes outwards, but sometimes it goes inwards. I was reminded of all of this again this week. I was looking out from the top deck of the bus. There was a poster with a young guy on it, and it said that the biggest killer of men under 25 in London is suicide. Men clearly find it harder to express feelings, especially extreme forms of tears or rage. I know I have, which is why I used to rely on alcohol to function and to free myself. It was only when I quit drinking many years ago that the truth began to unravel. It’s been one of the most complicated jigsaws imaginable.
After that first explosion of rage targeted at my therapist, I got up to leave but the little parts were desperate to stay, because they trusted her. I felt like I was quite literally being pulled in two directions, towards the door and back to the chair. And this was the moment that history stopped repeating itself.
“Please stay,” she said, ever so gently.
The little ones heard her. I couldn’t believe that she actually wanted me to stay after shouting at her like that. And some therapists probably wouldn’t, but her levels of empathy and courage stretched deeper than that. I reluctantly sat down again. I then felt a volcano of grief taking over my body and I started to sob: the tears of the lovely little boy that had been frozen in rage. That internal war had been raging for years but before therapy it usually manifested itself in passive-
The night I told my ex about being forced to kill the baby boy, we both cried. His memory had haunted me; he was my little brother. All thoughts lead back to him. For 30 years his memory had made up the fabric of my being and my life and yet I didn’t even know that he had existed: DID was protecting me, because he was the first person I ever loved. They allowed me to hold him and cuddle him for a few days before the killing, quite deliberately. His screams have haunted me – it’s still hard to hear a baby crying – and his little eyes too. They made me look into them as I was holding the razor blade. Then there was a moment when everything stopped, the moment that I felt my heart break, the moment when loss became death. I still can’t look. After he was dead, they said it was my fault, then made me gouge his eyes out. Afterwards they took him away.
I had always felt too ashamed, too guilty to look people in the eye. The therapist said I could barely look at her when we first met – anywhere but her gaze. There were other sacrifices too but this was the most traumatic because he was my first attachment they allowed me to have. I could never risk getting close to anybody again, in case I lost them, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have children of my own.
Asides from my therapist, my ex was the first person I had loved since my little brother, which is why it’s been hard letting go of her. Recently, I had a tree planted in his memory. When I went last week, it made me smile because when I saw it, his was the only one that still had leaves in December. All the other trees were bare-
So DID has enabled me to stay alive and protected me from these horrors until I was safe enough to see them. And when all’s said and done, it’s actually a condition to be rather proud of, because it enabled me to outwit those who were trying to destroy me and prevented me from becoming a perpetrator. I have to take some credit for getting this far but I haven’t made this journey alone. I run out of words when I think of the love and kindness that has been shown to me by my therapist. Her willingness to stretch the boundaries, her consistency and commitment to me, have been truly remarkable and I shall never be able to repay her in kind for all that she’s done.
I’ll continue to write for my life, a process that enables me to witness my own tragedy with a greater sense of victory. I’m frequently reminded that love is stronger than hate and that has now been my experience. What greater victory could there be?