Sometimes when I’m working with other multiples who are in crisis and feeling overwhelmed by their internal chaos and frightened and frustrated by their parts, I think to myself that discovering I have parts and then going through a few years of crisis might have been the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s a weird thought, because if I could take back years of homelessness, isolation, confusion, and pain, I would in a heartbeat. And yet, it provided an odd protection for me. I rallied, or rather, we rallied. To survive. And the thing we protected ourselves from, most of all, was a story about what it means to be multiple that would have crippled us.
I recall, back when I was working with a MH PHaMs worker, her sending around emails trying to find me a psychiatrist to work with. At my request she was asking for someone willing with to work with a person with DID without trying to integrate them at this stage. At the time I was homeless, caring for someone who was suicidal and often in hospital, highly vulnerable and under horrific stress. I was well aware that having parts was greatly helping me. While some parts were burning out, others would step up and take on our very complicated and painful life. We were running a complex relay where infighting and conflicts gradually made way for a deep mutual respect.
Like a platoon of soldiers in an appalling conflict, we started to bond. We started to realise how deeply we relied on each other, that we were all in this together, even the ‘crazy’ ones you would never have befriended back home, even the ‘useless’ ones you would never have chosen to have by your side in a war. You fought for them, you protected them, you demanded their respect, simply because they were your platoon. We might hate each other, we might not understand each other at all, we might be very, very different from each other, but we’re fighting the same war. We’re mates. So you don’t steal each other’s rations. You don’t play mind games with each other. You might yell sometimes. You might hold your hand over the mouth of the one who won’t stop crying, just until the enemy pass by. You might hit them when they bite you. But then you say sorry and you tussle their hair and when you find a box of pencils you save them for them.
Maybe over time you find they’re not as crazy as you thought. Maybe you find that when you’re kind to them they don’t cry so much and don’t screw things up so much. Maybe you get to the point where you can let them sleep next to you and when they can’t sleep for the nightmares, you sing a little to them. Maybe someday an old story comes out about them, about how they were in the war long before you, back in the early days. About how brave they were and how broken they were, and you realise that really, they were protecting you, all along. They look like crazy kids because they were young and they got hurt early and being brave wasn’t enough, and their army wasn’t big enough to win. So you hate them a little less and you make sure they get a bowl of soup when there’s soup to be had. It’s hard to be disgusted by someone, however weird, when you find out they’ve saved your life. Things change, they have to.
I was lucky because the war was still going on, so I didn’t see my parts as the enemy. They weren’t destroying my life, outside forces were still doing that. They were still trying to keep us alive. So the story never really fit me – this ‘once having parts was helping you but now it’s messing everything up’ story. I know it fits other people, but it didn’t fit us. We couldn’t afford to have our most useful way of managing crises removed from us while we were still in crisis. And we really couldn’t afford to abdicate responsibility to a shrink. So the ‘you must have weekly therapy for years to manage DID’ story didn’t fit well either. Most people couldn’t manage what I was managing, and most shrinks were rapidly out of their depth too. Some just denied the DID or laid the chaos at my feet – your life is a mess, you must be borderline. Which is a lovely cop out for the brutal reality that life can be extremely bloody hard at times, and sometimes that’s just bad luck. Some laid the mess at the feet of the DID – you will always be lonely and chaotic while you have it, you need to integrate as rapidly as possible. But I was watching friends and family burn out and fall away, where I could keep going. I was doing the impossible, every day. I could switch instead of freeze and face down the most violent and frightening person in my life – someone I had never seen anyone stand up to, someone who scared even the therapist. And I could do this because we were parts, separate, because we could switch to whoever had the most useful approach. I simply couldn’t deny the reality that having parts was currently keeping me alive.
So I had to build different stories. And the more I looked, the more I realised how narrow the old stories are. There are so many people they don’t fit. There are so many people who get lost in this idea that someone else – a shrink – is the best person to lead their lives, because they are broken and damaged. There are so many people trying to figure out their parts and fit them into frameworks of ANP’s or ISP’s or Protectors, and in such fear and pain when they don’t fit. When the stories fit they can be so liberating – someone else knows what I’m going through! But even then, they obscure. There is such uniqueness to each person. I have heard hundreds of stories of multiplicity and YES of course I tell people ‘such and such is common!’ when they feel crazy and scared, but I also constantly want to honour the diversity. Each story is so unique. And I’m so sad at the long, painful, tortured road so many people seem to have to take through years of treatment to get to a place that crises got me to so quickly – I’m blessed.
Even my most dysfunctional parts are trying to help us survive. That love is the best way to engage a system. That I’m not crazy or broken, or at least, no more so than anyone else. I can’t helping thinking how much quicker and less painful this road is if you don’t start with stories about sickness, brokenness, needing other people to help you survive. Maybe this is what happens, all over the world, in places where they’ve never heard of psychiatry. Maybe this is what happens to thousands of people who don’t quite meet the criteria for DID and never get that diagnosis, as they come out the other side of crisis and take stock. There are so many stories about multiplicity we never hear.
I’m not anti-integration! One of my favourite lines is from The Flock, saying that perhaps it will happen when and if it is supposed to. I have personally approached it, initially with great enthusiasm, and now with caution. I don’t see it as my goal. If it happens as a by-product of my living and healing, how wonderful! If it does not, how wonderful! Life is a strange and amazing thing. There is no one road, we all walk our own. But certainly, sometimes, when I’m listening to people taking on the standard stories about multiplicity, framing it as an illness, seeing their parts as the problem instead of their inexperience, self hate, or trauma as the problem, I’m so sad! It seems I was lucky that life gave me another kick in the teeth just after I was working this out, because it sure has helped us work together. It’s an odd thing to wish for someone else, especially someone already struggling, and it’s not really true. I don’t wish crises or suffering on others, but I do wish they have the chance to write new stories.
Most of all, I want people to be free from other people telling their stories for them! I want people to be free not to fit themselves into other people’s frameworks, but to find their own. I want them to have the chance to greet the possibility they have parts with courage and love and joy, instead of stories of terror, loss, and suffering. It all rather reminds me of a strange old prayer:
A Franciscan Benediction
May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger,
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection,
Starvation and war.
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness,
To believe that you may make a difference in this world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done.