I haven’t written much about DID lately. That is because my alters and I have been quietly working on internal strategies related to communication and organization. We’ve been creating a map of where everyone lives and trying to establish coping strategies to help with shame and backlash that comes from self-expression and communication related to switching. This way, even when alters go away for alone time or get lost, they have a way to find home again.
My first DID homework
After my therapist finally admitted to me that I had DID and why she didn’t tell me sooner, she gave me a homework assignment. It was a long-term, multipart project that ended up taking months.
The assignment: identify my alters and map out what the system looked like visually.
My first attempt identified 20 alter personalities and looked like an idea map (brainstorming tool) of bubbles. The next one had 60 alters and looked like a flow chart. Finally, a flow chart and idea map became a spider web. But no one inside liked that version. For almost a year, I believed our system topped out at 60 alters, including me. But then I started hearing a voice speaking in Spanish. And another two or three played songs related to how they felt. Many sent pictures or movies.
In fact, 80 alters showed up for the next roll call.
By now, we’d stopped trying to map out the ever-changing landscape and trying to identify the alters with names. No one had a concrete visual of safe spaces. And many alters changed their names as they grew and changed through the recovery process. When I explained this to my therapist, she agreed to put this exercise aside and concentrate on other parts of IFS therapy.
2014 is the year I legally changed my name and finally started to feel safe. It’s also the year our last 7 alters appeared to the system. They appeared just after I re-read a book called Amongst Ourselves and started reading/listening to Pema Chodron’s books about fear, courage, and compassion. And that’s when I realized we were coming at the homework assignment from the wrong perspective. Instead of going back to our roots (pun intended) and looking for a nature-based metaphor, we had been using logical tools to draw a reasonable representation of an ever-changing, chaotic landscape.
What our internal system looks like
My internal system looks like a bent, twisted, stunted tree with a short trunk and many strong branches that extend in every direction instead of a straight, tall one with a strong trunk and perfect horizontal branches. Our underground root system is deep and strong like any other tree, but visually, we look different from maples and pines and cedars, etc. More like an oversized bush that got lifted during a wind storm and continued growing. Or maybe like a bamboo that a got knotted and twisted into various shapes before continuing to grow to maturity.
This tree reminds me of the knotted bamboo metaphor above. I wrote the first draft of this post before finding the photo, but decided not to change either description. It’s not often I find a mature tree that represents my internal family so well.
But this is important to us because with switching and communication comes a giant helping of shame and self-hatred. For too many years, we all were taught not to communicate with each other, not to work together. And when caught, we were abused even more – many of my alters are mouthy and assertive. They speak their minds and do not hold back. This was seen as rebellion and defiance; two actions that caused any and all perpetrators to escalate their tactics in order to shut everyone down again.
So you probably will be seeing more posts about DID and coping strategies we use to help with anxiety induced switching, panic attacks, shame, and other triggers.
You will also see a few posts about mindfulness and meditation as relates to trauma and recovery.
Thanks for reading.