Recovery and coping are two paths intertwined with the same end goal. The path changes as I change, as my parts change, and move closer to healing the damage to mind, body, spirit.
The effectiveness of resources changes too. What works now, might not work next time. Or it could work consistently for years until something changes on the inside. Then that resources is too much or not enough as is and needs to adapt to the current situation.
Each alter has a purpose in our system and has developed strategies for coping with the memories. Problem is, what worked then does not always work now – not if we want to participate as active members within society.
All of us used to think we had to get rid of this strategies because they were harmful in some way. That led some alters to feel scared and unwanted. They reacted with anger and defiance – lashing out at the rest of the alters and themselves with varied and creative punishments.
We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. We know which buttons to push to get certain reactions. And we know how to help, soothe, and support each other. Compromises benefit everyone; fighting hurts everyone.
The language to describe different alters in a system uses words like dominant and submissive. To clarify, dominant does not mean aggressive or bullying or strong. Dominant means these alters are protective personalities who happen to be strong enough and willing to take charge and manage the daily tasks necessary for functioning and living. Submissive does not mean push-over or weak or any similar words. Some atters work in the foreground while others work in the background. All are protective, strong, resilient, intelligent. What matters is how these characteristics are expressed.
Some alters are dominant outside – they are in control most of the time and interact with outside people. They drive cars, work, buy groceries, manage the budget, etc.
Others are dominant inside – they are in charge of caring for the alters in the family system to ensure that everyone feels safe, works together, communicates and participates in choices, keeps the body healthy, etc.
Then there are the quieter alters, the ones who prefer to work in the background and not interact with outsiders. They are not more or less dominant than the ones who take charge. They are as strong and important because they facilitate communication among all alters, help with coping strategies, and work hard to find compromises to keep the system working.
My system has four dominant alters, 3 females and one male, who grew up together and seamlessly switch from one to another when interacting with the outside world. Two alters speak, and two do not. Together, the 4 of us work hard to keep our mind and body grounded in the present and functioning in spite of body memories and anxiety.
But the 4 do not work alone. Between 15 and 20 alters switch and work together throughout a typical day to ensure everything gets done while also caring for the child alters, teenage alters, and others who prefer not to be classified. We work outside at our job and inside to manage symptoms and promote self-care / health at the same time. Parallel tracks and two different lives going on at the same time in the same body.
I am lucky that my alters and I do not hate and blame each other. The first few years after the official diagnosis and learning about different coping styles for DID were chaotic, painful, and confusing. A lot of fear and mistrust caused alters to go mute or hide instead of asking for help. No one wanted to listen, and everyone wanted their own way. Each of us had coping strategies that worked and were afraid to try something different…to trust themselves, each other, the system as a whole.
In the last two weeks, our trust in each other and the system as a whole has been tested with symptoms that have not appeared in more than five years. In trying to remember the coping strategies that worked before, memories were recovered. Scary, traumatic memories that flooded everyone and everything inside. The onslaught threatened to spin us inside out and tip the fragile balance of recovery on its side.
One year ago, something like this would have put us on short-term disability and into a partial program. Six months ago, it would have caused a major relapse in self-harm coping and enough sleepless nights to force the use of a knockout pill. This time faith, meditation, calls to the hotline, positive affirmations and mantras (I like to think of them as prayers and reminders) to establish safety, DBT, lots of sleep, writing this blog, and sessions with my therapist have kept all of us grounded in the present instead of falling into the past.
One psychiatrist told me that recovery is a long, hard road for survivors. It can take as long as or longer than the expedience(s) that caused the symptoms. I am lucky to be naturally rebellious – a born fighter – whose parts are the same way. For those who aren’t natural fighters, please don’t give up. The symptoms never truly go away, but the future life you want is possible.