Or at least, not the only Sarah. Sarah is my group name, the name by which all parts go, a tribe name. When you speak to Sarah, you might be speaking to any part. There is no ‘Sarah’ and the parts. Or rather, we are all Sarah, together. This is partly a concession to a world that requires me to function as if we are all one. We have to be able to all sign the name the same way for a credit card use, to present a cohesive sense of who we are or risk people being afraid and unsettled by the changes and differences. This is also a defense against the mental health world, who so love to impose the kinds of internal hierarchy on multiple systems that they themselves are accustomed to living within – orderlies, then nurses, then doctors, then psychiatrists. They don’t really experience any other way of functioning as a group. But I do, and I prefer my way.
That’s not to say there are not leaders, parts who parent and nurture the distressed, stronger who protect more vulnerable and so on. But different roles are now laid over a central premise of equal value, and that choice has led to the kind of trust internally that was utterly unthinkable ten years ago. I used to live in a war zone, parts fighting for dominance, parts afraid of or contemptuous of other parts and trying to suppress them, fear and loathing between parts, overwhelming loneliness, a sense of being incomplete, fractured, ill equipped for life, and in constant turmoil.
When I was diagnosed with DID our first resolution was that we were going to have a fair system inside. It was not going to mimic the worst of my family, the mess of school, painful relationships I’ve had. It was not going to be a place to re-enact abuse, to carry on the cycle of domination and submission, to tear each other to pieces. It was going to be fair, and safe, and equal.
That commitment has brought an internal peace I could not have imagined. It is not a goal I have attained, my system is not perfect. There is always a minority opinion that needs space to be expressed, always we each have to make major compromises about who we are, what we need, how we function, in order to be a group that works together. We over-correct, obsess, struggle, and cry. It’s not a goal we can attain; it’s a direction we are sailing towards. It’s the path we’re on, and because of that, so much of the rest can be tolerated, because there is meaning in our choices and our suffering, because we all pull together in service of values that are deeply held, that means something to all of us. That we all want and deserve freedom, safety, authenticity, and love.
Small changes in language or perspective can make a big difference to how we see ourselves or our world. When I give talks where I share about my multiplicity, or having a conversation with a shrink or friend, the most common way of framing my experience is to say that I, Sarah, have parts, and that they are part of me. I don’t find this helpful. A lot of the literature about DID assumes or creates an internal hierarchy that doesn’t sit well with any of my system. There’s a ‘core self’ and a bunch of ‘alters’ – alternate personalities. Or, even prettier, a ‘host’ – the one usually out, who has turned up to therapy, and a bunch of parts. I really dislike the term host, it evokes for me memories of biology class, parasitic infection of a host. I’m pretty unenthusiastic about the word ‘alter’ too, it also presume a ‘primary personality’ – the ‘real’ one, and a bunch of alters. Some shrinks take this idea so far they refuse to engage with the alters as that is seen as feeding the ‘delusion of multiplicity’, and they only allow the ‘real’ one to come to therapy.
What I have found works much better for me is ignoring a hierarchy of importance entirely. It doesn’t matter who was here first or what role they play in the system. When it comes to having a voice, having needs that should be met, feelings and insights that are legitimate, we are all equal. We all count, we are all ‘real’. None of us are parts that belong to any of the rest of us. We are all parts that together, make up a whole that is much more complex and unusual than any of thought Sarah could be.
I don’t have parts, I am a part. It was difficult for those of us who truly believed that we were Sarah, the only Sarah, to release our tight grip on that identity and let it be expanded to include experiences, values, needs, beliefs, and ways of living in the world that are entirely alien to us. To not be threatened and angry and afraid of this assault on our self perception, but to see that the identity of Sarah was like shelter in a storm, was like a hot air balloon soaring over the sea. To be moved by compassion to share it, rather than fight for sole use, throwing everyone else overboard. To realise at last that we all deserve life, we share one body, we are under one umbrella. When one of us is cut off and alone and rejected and suffering, we all suffer, we are all diminished. So we let go instead of holding tight, and Sarah became more than any of us, a strange chimera, a multifaceted creature of contradictions, united by a set of common values. That has been liberating.
This is not the only way, not the ‘best’ way, not the only language. I don’t share this to impose how I/we function onto anyone else. Other multiples find different language more meaningful, have different ways of resolving conflict and managing life. There is no one right way. I share this in case aspects of it might fit, or spark an idea, be useful in some way, encourage someone still in turmoil that there can peace with parts, or give insight into the inner world all people have to find a way to navigate, even those of you who are not multiples.