for fellow survivors
THE LONG VOYAGE OUT
The Epic Challenge of Recovery from Organized Abuse
- for my impossibly wondrous children
Alone is the lie perpetrators of organized abuse use to ensnare and imprison their victims. No one can hear you, no one can help you, no one will believe you. Others can’t be trusted. In this comply-or-die underworld, the myth of isolation is indispensable.
Compounding this stratum of alone enslavement is the double-edged sword of psychological dissociation. Victims of sadistic atrocities typically instinctively and unconsciously sequester life and sanity-threatening experience from normal conscious awareness in order to survive, creating yet another layer of secrecy and isolation – from one’s self. Perpetrators of organized abuse pervert this natural survival mechanism to control even the sacred inner worlds of their victims.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to survive being tortured and exploited, alone is once again the enemy of emancipation. Isolation from our own true histories, our own, now separate, selves and an oblivious society prevents us from healing our way back to whole.
Once we’ve been launched back into at least dawning awareness of what was lost, we face a daunting, sometimes treacherous path to recovery. Shunned by cultural consensus reality, it’s easy to believe we have to face it alone. But that’s just another lie. There are countless others facing the same challenges, and some of us have been on the recovery road for a long time. We can help each other. “Experts” in the field of psychological trauma can offer help as trained therapists, researchers and authors, but I urge you to look to your peers as well. We didn’t read about it or hear about it. It’s not theoretical or foreign. We lived it. We’re the experts.
Fellow survivor Ani Rose recently edited an anthology entitled We Have Come Far, a collection of healing stories and strategies written by and for survivors. My hope is that her groundbreaking book will be the harbinger of many more to come. This article is my attempt to help map a course through the post-trauma jungle. My own metaphorical machete has been drawn for more than two decades in recovery from domestic and organized abuse, including occult, military and government exploitation.
No one should have to navigate this tangled terrain believing for one moment they’re alone, lost in uncharted territory.
NEWTON’S PESKY THIRD LAW
Surviving severe abuse in the first place should be its own, unblemished, uncompromised reward. But as we know all too well, after all that brilliant adapting, we have to then somehow learn how to un-adapt. Kind of like a returning combat veteran having to unlearn war in suburbia.
In the game of croquet, there’s a shot called, not surprisingly, a “croquet” that happens when a player hits another ball with their ball to gain an extra turn. They then set their ball right next to the ball they hit, steady theirs with their foot and strike it, shooting the other ball away (an equal and opposite reaction). This image often leaps to mind when I consider the phenomenon of psychological dissociation – some right-brain generated, metaphorical effort to comprehend or explain what happened to, well, it for starters. It strikes me, so to speak, as an apt comparison to the radical disconnects the shock of trauma can deliver: a violent blow to the senses that causes some equally catastrophic evacuation from the solid ground of the present tense to parts unknown.
As Dr. Judith Herman writes in Trauma and Recovery, “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness.” Internally, emotions, sensory impressions and a unified sense of identity can shatter. Externally, intimate and social bonds can disintegrate. So in broad terms, the essential challenge of healing is to facilitate the natural drive to get back into native equilibrium – to find the banished orphans of extreme experience and bring them back home to conscious awareness.
But this process of getting back to some semblance of ground zero from extreme experience can test tolerance limits to the extreme. It can be exceedingly difficult to access what’s been repressed and sequestered and exceedingly difficult to grant it a way out. Once the floodgates have been opened, it can be overwhelmingly challenging to manage the flow. The truth can, indeed, set you free, but it’s been my experience that it will often have its way with you first. So why bother?
YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE MISSING
Well I thought my life was a photograph
On the family Christmas card
Kids all dressed in buttons and bows
And lined up in the yard
Were the golden days of childhood
So lyrical and warm
Or did the picture start to fade
On the day that I was born
- Joan Baez, from “Don’t Play Me Backwards“
Denial is a seductive creature. And sometimes (oftentimes) necessary in order to remain functional. So why not just succumb? Permanently? Well, for starters, it takes an awful lot of energy to keep all that pain compartmentalized. Also, it usually requires unproductive, if not outright destructive behaviors to keep it all at bay. “All neurosis is unprocessed grief,” as they say. What’s denied inevitably drives our life choices without our permission or even conscious awareness. It’s really true that until you own your past, it owns you. That drive for equilibrium I mentioned earlier seems to take itself pretty seriously. No one deserves to spend their finite, precious days unwittingly and compulsively repeating past traumatic patterns in search of resolution and closure.
Isn’t it also a travesty to go through life with parts of your humanity on hold, or distorted by the extreme toll extreme trauma exacts in order to survive it? Especially pernicious (and common) is the profound belief that we’re somehow responsible for what happened, holding ourselves hostage to the shame and guilt the perpetrators should have owned. The intolerable truths this shields us from – that we were, in fact, completely helpless, that our caregivers failed us spectacularly, and that it was pointless, to name a few, serve to hold our distorted ideas about ourselves solidly in place. They also, too predictably, drive us to unconsciously act out that lie (that we’re somehow innately bad and fundamentally at fault), by either striving to drown it all out with perfection, or engaging in behaviors that prove we’re flawed, or choosing abusive partners, or a myriad of other unproductive psychological patterns.
Chronic depression and/or anxiety, a muted and constricted emotional scale, a sense of detachment from loved ones, and a sense of alienation from our own days – the wake of trauma is littered with countless insidious injustices. And some of them not so insidious: most of us have lost important chapters of our life stories and must withstand unpredictable, sometimes debilitating memory grenades. Many of us have fractured psychologically, either organically, through the natural mechanism of dissociation, or at the hands of merciless tyrants.
Denial can be seen as the subtle mirage that holds all of this in place. Denial and fear. Until we find ways to release our pain back into the present moment we’re still trapped, still victims, and still being robbed of reality to one degree or another.
THE VOYAGE OUT
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
– T. S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding”
So how does one navigate the flow of post-trauma flotsam and jetsam? Well, I’ll try to outline some strategies that have helped me muddle through thus far. As everyone’s abuse histories and subsequent challenges are different, I realize that what has helped me won’t necessarily resonate with all survivors. So please forgive any glaring blind spots or sloppy generalizations.
An over-arching, basic tenet I try to hold onto when the going gets tough is to try to remember that in a struggle between love, fear and suffering, love will out. When you feel lost or scared, hopeless or helpless, making your internal ground zero compassion, acceptance and forgiveness can bring you back into balance, because love is a profoundly empowering force. Dare to wish the best for others, even the badly broken ones, and dare to love yourself.
CUT SELF SLACK
– A neighbor’s (much appreciated) bumpersticker
So, self-love triage: To break out of the yoke of chronic victimization, it’s essential to remember that charity begins at home. Self-abuse is one of the most insidious post-trauma curses. Without some kind of deliberate, conscious intervention, we typically pick up right where our abusers left off. We deserve better.
Acting out our violent pasts can take many forms, some more obvious than others. Physical self-harm, chronically neglecting our own needs, and self-sabotage in our daily lives are common post-extreme-abuse symptoms, as are internal acts of victimization, like harsh self-criticism and condemnation. Processing the original abuse into submission can eventually back off this kind of repetition compulsion, but in the meantime you can take shortcuts to help break these patterns and remember to love yourself.
Working to spot continued abuse when it happens is a huge first step. Then you can teach yourself to at least correct for destructive impulses or acts after the fact. To reality check the inappropriateness or maybe even the severity of the insult or injury, you can imagine doing or saying it to yourself as a child, or to another person. Then you can mitigate the damage by reminding yourself that you’re a good person and deserve (much) better. Even if you don’t fully believe it yet. It doesn’t cost you anything to cut yourself slack, and words do matter. What you tell yourself about yourself matters. Shouldn’t we be as compassionate with ourselves as we would be with any other person? But old habits die hard. It takes practice and resolve.
Processing the extreme abuse that taught us we were worthless or unlovable in the first place, of course, is the long-game answer. Ultimately, all our toxic cargo, all our original terror, pain and loss, all the violence and violation needs to be reckoned with – no mean feat. I know that sometimes the past wells up on its own, uninvited, but other times you have to take a fearless leap back into the gaping void behind you. As Amelia Earhart once said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” It’s all hard. But remember – you don’t have to it alone.
A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS
As the Dutch proverb goes, “Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback.” But in spite of what much of our early experience taught us, (and of explicit cult indoctrination) other people are not universally dangerous. Genuine, trustworthy compassion and companionship is available in the world. The more fear and malevolent conditioning you can heal out of your system, the more you’ll be able to discern who’s trustworthy and who probably, generally isn’t. And the more able and willing you’ll be to risk those connections.
So whom can you turn to for help? Building trust with anyone who’s safe and compassionate, in my book, is a really important component of healing. Many survivors turn to professional healers at some point or other, as I did. I have mixed feelings about psychotherapy, at least as traditionally taught and practiced.
For starters, it’s been my experience that one potential, unfortunate effect of standard academic training is to relieve aspiring therapists of their sense of shared humanity, fostering, instead, a pathologized, polarized and “otherized” way of seeing those who come to them for help. This is obviously not conducive to a truly therapeutic, trust-building relationship.
Among other reservations and observations: I don’t believe that psychology can or should be viewed as a reductive science. Being human is a vastly complicated condition. Feelings are complex and relationships are complex. To attempt to artificially simmer any of that down to narrowly defined absolutes won’t, in my humble opinion, result in predictive or instructive insight, but will inevitably result in an impoverished, inadequate therapeutic response. Treating human suffering requires holistic, authentic care that resonates with all of the complexity of being human. Overly simplistic, preconceived notions about who we are, what’s happened to us and what our challenges might be do us a terrible disservice. By the same token, preconceived notions about what a healing trajectory should look like are also counterproductive; instead of supporting survivors through their own, inevitably unique recovery, “help” can insidiously transform into control.
Along the same lines, I’m disinclined to embrace quick-fix “solutions.” I think working through the kind of long-term, complex trauma we’ve endured takes a very long time, glacial patience and exhaustive helpings of compassion. But I’m also a big believer in whatever works. I know people who have benefited enormously from even bizarrely suspect brands of therapy. Getting through this aftermath mess is so complicated and can be so treacherous that I believe anything that might help relieve the suffering, even a little, is worth a try.
Probably the most serious reservation I have about psychotherapy, in general, is the possibility that a therapist (especially one who specializes in dissociative “disorders”) might be “connected” – that is, they might be part of the very network of organized criminals who want to maintain or regain control over their victim. I have first-hand experience in this department, and know of other survivors who’ve been similarly manipulated.
In spite of all my reservations, theoretical and otherwise, I wouldn’t discount searching out a good therapist at all. There are many, many highly skilled, deeply compassionate therapists (of every stripe) out there who have staggering courage, heart and stamina, and who risk and sacrifice much for their clients. I would just encourage you to do your research, including asking other survivors for recommendations.
I also believe that anyone who can listen with their humanity intact, and who can honor your integrity and courage can profoundly facilitate healing. I know that’s a pretty tall order, but the search (and the risk) is worth everything. And the corollary to that is learning to risk listening to other survivors’ stories when you’re ready. Listening closely and empathically can be an incredibly healing experience. It can be enlightening, validating and inspiring, and can help pull you (both) back into the flow of humanity and remind you (both) that you’re not alone. A life affirming, rich win-win. To learn to trust again is to free yourself from trauma-induced solitary confinement.
A WAY OUT
“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost
So much of healing from trauma seems to be about finding ways to get it all back out of your system. The good news is, what was traumatically separated will tend to naturally synthesize again, given the right circumstances. In a safe and stable environment, those amnesiac barriers want to come down. The tricky part is to give them permission, to get out of your own way.
Whether memory overwhelm or memory access is the problem at hand, you can try doing nothing. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. “Sit with it,” as Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron teaches. The basic idea is to try to let go of your resistance to pent-up memories and feelings, and experience them out of your system – to let them wash through you unimpeded. It might seem like a simple thing, but think of the great lengths people go through to avoid just such a situation. For years, if not lifetimes.
Sometimes whatever needs to surface just wells right up, if you give it half a chance, but sometimes you can feel haunted by something that you can’t identify or access. When that’s the case, you can try focusing on whatever vestigial clue you have to work with, however minimal. Sometimes all you’ve got to work with is a fragment of a scene, or an image, and sometimes it’s just a mood or feeling that seems detached from your current situation. If you don’t even have that much going on, you can start by focusing on something as indirect as an ongoing aversion or obsession, or a troubling dream, or movie, or something you created in the past that seems to be emotionally loaded for you. You can start with whatever clue you have and invite it back out into the world.
(Caution, the following lyrics may be triggering.)
Let the night begin, there’s a pop of skin
And the sudden rush of scarlet
There’s a little boy riding on a goat’s head
And a little girl playing the harlot
There’s a sacrifice in an empty church
Of sweet little baby Rose
And a man in a mask from Mexico
Is peeling off my clothes
- Joan Baez, from “Don’t Play Me Backwards“
Welcoming these memories back is hard work. Those experiences and feelings were repressed with good reason; the original overload was likely life threatening, or at least sanity threatening when you were younger. So it’s all about pacing yourself, and testing tolerances; if it’s too much too soon, just wait and try again another time. It might take a hundred tries. But even if what you’re trying to resolve, specifically, eludes you forever, dedicating some time and attention to your inner life sends a powerful message in and of itself. You’re breaking a pattern of perpetual denial and repression (and possibly self-neglect.)
Creatively expressing memories and feelings out of their hiding places can also be a really effective (and usually less threatening) way to compost trauma. Metaphor, the language our unconscious mind seems to speak so uncannily, is a great way to bypass our ever-vigilant censors. I like to write, so I rely heavily on that outlet. But you can creatively access and express memories in an infinite number of ways: through painting, music, drama, dance, sculpture, crafts, anything. Some kinds of creative expression seem to be more powerful and immediate than others. Building with my hands (especially with clay) is such a direct conduit to my right brain and unconscious archives that I can only do it when I’m feeling pretty sturdy.
The upside to all this hard work is that even when you can only tolerate exposure to very small doses of repressed emotion or memory, it still has a therapeutic effect, and can have far-reaching ramifications. The more you you allow to thaw, the more emotion you can jar loose, the more your unconscious tolerance for feeling, in general, expands. And the more you can feel, the more freedom you have to get close to other people, and occupy the present moment as a full participant.
MEMORY MUTINY MANAGEMENT
When the flood calls
You have no home, you have no walls
In the thunder crash
You’re a thousand minds, within a flash
Don’t be afraid to cry at what you see
The actor’s gone, there’s only you and me
- Peter Gabriel, from “Here Comes the Flood”
Sometimes memory excess, not access, is the problem; some elements of trauma backlash are more like whiplash. In the early stages of recovery, “flooding” can turn your ordinary world into a memory minefield. And in addition to being ambushed by past horrors, you then have to find ways to come to terms with the often tragic truths they reveal.
In my case, the flooding lasted for about five years. As the grim narrative of my early life slowly took shape, I wandered a messy path in and out of avoidance, engagement, denial, absorption, expression and acceptance. What helped me stay functional through the first several years of this memory onslaught was being able to process much of it in therapy, with friends and loved ones, and through writing. But my kids were (and still are) the most grounding force in my life.
What also helped me stay afloat was self-education. As new information came to light, I read as much as I could find time to read about what was happening to me, and I did as much research as I could about my own history and anything and everything that could be objectively validated.
I gradually got better and better at breaking the grip of flashbacks and abreactions. Early on I figured out that putting my hands in cold water helped; sometimes I would have to go so far as to put my head under a faucet (unless the memory had something to do with water torture). That was my go-to shortcut, but if I could get to the repressed emotional lode and let myself feel it, and especially if I could cry it out, the memory would generally let me go. Sometimes I would want to stay there until I could understand what was going on, or get another piece of the big-picture puzzle.
In general, there are a few things that seem to be universally helpful in terms of breaking out of the dissociative hold of a flashback. Tactile stimuli seem to work best: touching something cold, or warm, or prickly or soft – anything that might help divert attention away from the intrusive trauma. Sensory stimuli, in general, can help, as can physical exertion: turning on the TV, taking a walk, or a shower, eating or drinking something, anything that invites a drastic change in focus might help.
“Coming out of it,” as I call the transitional, post-flashback phase, can also be taxing. You can facilitate a soft landing by watching a movie, reading, or listening to music. And you can seek solace in nature (a really important, life-long refuge for me), anything that reminds you that the world is still turning, in all of its mystifying beauty, and life awaits.
Whatever you discover works best, I think it’s helpful to make a list of things that have helped. That way you can refer to it when you’re dissociated, if you’re well enough, or you can refer someone else to it, if you need or want someone to help you back into the present moment.
You can also make a list of things a support person can say to you that might help, and explain what your comfort parameters are around their participation. And it might make sense just to ask a support person to ask for permissions, in general, before doing anything when you’re in that state, to protect the fragile boundaries of your younger, more vulnerable self. If you don’t like to be touched, if you need to be hugged, if you don’t want them to say anything at all – help them help you. I’ve been on the other side of the flashback scenario, too, and the feelings of powerlessness, and the uncertainty about what might or might not help can be really distressing.
I have a friend I’ve never seen
He hides his head inside a dream
Someone should call him
and see if he can come out
Try to lose the down that he’s found
But only love can break your heart
– Neil Young, from “Only Love Can Break Your Heart“
You can also internally comfort and reassure your younger, chronologically captive self. So, here are a few ideas about what you can say that have been helpful to me in the past: you can tell them that you love them unconditionally; you can remind them, or reassure them that they’ve already survived the trauma; you can reassure them that they’re safe now – that you’re an adult and can protect them. Even if you are currently in some measure of danger, you can let them know that the danger that’s keeping them locked in their atemporal fear-prison has passed. (And in spite of present dangers, you can create your own, internal safe harbor, and invite them in. Imagination is your only therapeutic limitation.) You can remind them that none of it was their fault; you can express your sadness that they had to go through it; you can thank them for their courage and strength. And you can ask them how they feel, (invariably a super loaded question) to help process the emotions associated with the trauma, and to help break the spell.
When you don’t want to escape the memory, but instead want to discharge more of the trauma, or get more information about what happened to you, you can ask your younger self questions about what’s going on – who’s there with you, how you got there, how old you are, etc.
Also, you can try gaining more control over the frequency and intensity of the flashbacks by negotiating with your younger self. For example, if you feel one coming on at a bad time, you can assure them that you want to make yourself available, and you want to hear them out, but that another time would work better. Even if self-talk seems ludicrous or futile, there’s no downside to trying. Words really are powerful, and in the early days, before I knew I had discrete alters, I tried this kind of thing and was astonished at the response. What you tell yourself matters. But sometimes it requires a large dose of suspended disbelief.
Along the same lines, you can use visualization to help soothe and heal your younger self. When I was in this phase of healing I read some of pop-psychologist John Bradshaw’s books, and one thing he suggests that helped me access my “wounded inner child” and foster healing was internal role-playing. I would imagine coming to my younger me’s aid in whatever unresolved circumstance was surfacing at the time, or had been. I would imagine helping her out of the situation, treating her wounds, cleaning her up, gently rocking her, holding her in my lap, anything to help relieve the suffering. I was really surprised at what a big effect that could have.
One of the first times I tried that technique, my inner eight-year-old responded with unmitigated rage. I couldn’t believe it. She was so damned mad at me for “leaving” her there on the rug, (badly injured) it was shattering. For someone who knew almost nothing about multiplicity, and who hadn’t consciously experienced that particular kind of inner schism before, it was pretty vexing. How and why did that part of me experience feeling abandoned by me? In retrospect it seems like it should have been patently obvious that I must have had splits.
LOCKED IN THE WRONG HOUSE
After a decade of work in therapy to process the savagery and depravity of my life with, primarily, my stepfather, I thought I had at least a general notion of the range of horror and loss I would have to process in my lifetime. But a few years later I began to realize, to my utter dismay, that I’d had alters when I was young. After an accident confined me to a couch for months, the separate selves who’d shared my mind and body finally had a chance to catch up with me. And they had quite a lot to say. Gradually a broader and broader picture emerged of decades of being terrorized, trained and exploited. The repressed childhood I’d worked so hard to piece together and come to terms with, it turned out, was only the tip of the tip of the iceberg of what my alters had somehow survived.
I see myself as one would see another.
I have been cut in two.
O Mary, open your eyelids.
I am in the domain of silence,
the kingdom of the crazy and the sleeper.
… O little mother,
I am in my own mind.
I am locked in the wrong house.
- Anne Sexton, from “For the Year of the Insane”
Anne Sexton was under the “care” of Dr. Martin Orne, one of the notorious CIA mind control doctors, and member of the original FMSF (False Memory Syndrome Foundation) board.
I struggled to embrace this new reality – that many me’s had shared my life. When in the grips of an emerging self and her or his emerging experience, I wrote (and wrote, and wrote) what usually amounted to an internal interview, (sometimes called “automatic writing,” historically) until I was able to write myself fairly fully back into my living room. As was the case with my garden-variety flashbacks, if and when I was able to get to the emotional stratum of the experience and let myself cry, the spell would usually break. By the time I could sit up and walk for any length of time, my life story had been completely rewritten.
One terrible fact that was revealed through my early “interviews” was that I had sometimes had help dissociating. So while many of my “splits,” as I usually call them, were the result of a natural, protective adaptation to psychologically escape the physically inescapable, the vast majority were induced by artificially manipulating this innate mechanism. Deliberate, trauma-based dissociation. The perpetrators of these atrocious crimes ranged from emotionally broken family members to derelict Mormon hicks to sophisticated cult and government agents. They all generally used the usual methods: torture, (including electroshock) drugs and post-hypnotic suggestion, to name a few.
Much of the new information that came to light through contact with my inner selves took a long time to accept. I think it’s important to be patient with yourself, to give yourself permission to disbelieve or dismiss anything that comes up until you’re ready to review, reality-test, and (if it’s warranted) integrate it into your inner schema and worldview. These things take time. Some days it’s all you can do to you curl up into a fetal position and hide, but other days you can pull on your hip boots and jump right in to the new reality. In terms of complete awareness and understanding of any one piece of your history, it might take weeks, or years, or decades, or it might never happen at all. Part of the art of living with this stuff is accepting the fact that you may never get all the answers. Let the jury be out. They might never come back. Life goes on.
WHY NOT TAKE ALL OF ME
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day […]
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
- Margery Williams, from The Velveteen Rabbit
So what have I learned about multiplicity? Well, for starters, at least one fundamental healing challenge is essentially no different than healing just one me, it’s just got more exponents: to accept, forgive and love who(ever) I am. I try to have respect and compassion for all the parts I become aware of, even though sometimes I have to dig pretty deep to get there. I’ve had a lot of success sticking close to the bone – that is, relying on my essential humanity to trump even very sophisticated and technical programming.
So where to start, in this bewildering and confounding matrix of myriad selves? In the case of organically developed, young splits getting triggered, you can help deliver them out of their terror or isolation by comforting and reassuring them, as I mentioned earlier in regards to communicating with your “inner child.” You can help to free them from the web of lies their perpetrators imprisoned them with by explaining how they were manipulated and tricked into compliance, or even into identifying with them. You can grant them (emphatic) permissions to help override conditioned helplessness: assure them that they have the right to make their own choices, to feel, to speak their truths, to be heard, seen, welcomed and honored. Try to be a generous, patient and present listener. Try to be as honest, open-minded and non-judgmental as possible.
If you’re having trouble accessing a particular part, you can try thinking about what they like, if you know, what makes them comfortable, etc., and create a tableau for them. Set out whatever they like to eat or drink, favorite blankets or toys, if they’re very young, anything that might appeal. If they’re preverbal, or just not very chatty, you could put out crayons or pencils and paper, or play-dough, etc. so they can express themselves that way. You can also just fake it: start talking as if they’re listening. Even if you’re not able to roust them in a way you can discern, it can’t do any harm, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
With older splits, you can sometimes negotiate. For example, you can ask one split to go find another one you want to “talk” to; you can ask a split to go find someone who has the information you’re looking for; you can ask one split to help persuade a perp-identified split that they’ve been deceived, and to point out the error of their ways. You can help yourselves integrate by being a benevolent facilitator.
Sometimes the nuts-and-bolts of this stuff is the hardest part to manage, particularly finding the time and the privacy to do this kind of work. Just try to remember that you and your needs are important, and that a little healing can go a long way.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A GUN
“It’s bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don’t have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose. Choose.”
- Hogarth to the Giant, from the film Iron Giant
All this welcoming and listening and empathizing is relatively easy with some splits, but with solidly perp-identified splits it can feel really pointless and futile. And in the realm of deliberately created splits, it can especially seem a complete and utter waste of time. Many of us have, among our ranks, deeply malicious splits who have been trained or programmed to sabotage us, or even end us. Some of us have splits who were intensely weaponized, stripped of their ability to feel (and especially fear), and ruthlessly exploited. We may be populated with hardened criminals, heartless assassins and the rest. But they are human, nonetheless, and have something going for them that broken predators on the outside don’t have, and that’s us. Someone in their corner who has faith in them, and a vested interest in never giving up.
So dare to re-educate and rehabilitate the splits who’ve been programmed to victimize. They don’t necessarily understand that they have choices now, that they’re free to feel, or that they can be forgiven or loved. Give them hope. Love tenaciously. Try to be as understanding and merciful toward them as you possibly can. I haven’t always had so much faith in this strategy, but I’ve experienced some surprising, even inadvertent conversions. Even if it feels like you’re battling software, hardware, or some other intractable form of programming, give it your best shot. Your humanity was there first. You have the home-field advantage. In terms of cognitive skirmishes and overrides, life trumps technology. It’s had a three-and-a-half-billion year head start. They can manipulate your gray matter, but it’s still gray matter. Your gray matter. Mind control technology is its soulless, will-less wannabe knock-off.
It’s common to hear or read about integration as something final and definitive, meaning all your “parts,” or alters have been assimilated back into your native, core personality. While I applaud, in awestruck wonder, all who have “fully integrated,” I have some reservations about this as an ultimate, absolute objective. I think it’s important to try to dissolve as many amnesiac barriers as you can, and to welcome back as much of the crew as possible. But I think getting a lot of it back is a more realistic goal. To shoot for one-hundred-percent integration might be tantamount to setting yourself up for disappointment, or feeling like you’ve failed. Also, I’ve known survivors with no internally defined or discernible “core self” at all. One-size-fits-all assumptions and methodologies leave too many victims out in the cold.
Some of us have legions of splintered-off selves, and some of those were installed (and are protected) with such sophisticated technology or expertise that it might prove all but impossible to re-integrate them all in one lifetime. Or even to be one-hundred-percent certain you’ll ever know exactly how many latent alters were created, by how many different methods or programmers. I know that in some quarters that’s a minority opinion, to say the least, but that’s my take on it. It’s also been my experience that being “fully integrated” isn’t the only condition under which you can feel sufficiently happy and healed. There are those who share a happy, cooperative and communicative internal village who wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have similar problems with other prescriptive absolutes victims of severe psychological trauma have to contend with. When I was new to therapy and dragon-chasing, I was resolutely and optimistically aiming for “closure” and “resolution” on all fronts. As the years and battles wore on, it became more and more obvious to me that not only were these patently unrealistic goals, (Does a parent ever get absolute closure on the death of a child? Do they even want it?) it wasn’t necessarily even healthy to have these ultimate conditions as goals. In terms of victims of a limited number of traumatic psychological assaults, maybe those terms makes sense. But we’re typically dealing with hundreds and hundreds of rapes, countless torture sessions, and multiple murders (if not out-and-out massacres), including losing loved ones. Expecting or attempting to get some kind of definitive closure and resolution on all of that in one lifetime is probably unrealistic, to put it mildly, and likely to you a disservice, in general.
I’ve learned, by degrees, as I’ve gotten older, to try to cherish any and every little psychological victory for the miracle it is. Every excruciating memory that gets processed, or mystery solved, every small shift out of a toxic pattern is a rich blessing that improves my days that much more. Has anyone, anywhere, ever been perfectly healed? Why not celebrate all progress? In my mind, good enough is, well, good enough. Learning to accept realistic limitations is an integral part of healing. Including the very odious process of learning to live with a thousand intractable injustices.
YOU ARE HERE
So I’m paying for protection
Smoking out the truth
Nailing down the proof
… I’ll stand before your altar
And tell everything I know
I’ve come to claim my childhood
At the chapel of baby Rose
- Joan Baez, from “Don’t Play Me Backwards“
One aspect of the healing process that doesn’t get much play, conventionally, is intellectual insight. More specifically, working to gain a clearer and broader understanding of the personal, social and political context of your abuse. Knowledge truly is power. That’s why perpetrators instinctively understand that keeping their victims at least relatively isolated and ignorant about what’s really going on around them is critical to maintaining control.
Personal research is important. Going through old records, letters, photos, etc. can help you get your full story back, and can also lead to validating information. Public research can be equally validating and immensely empowering. You can put names to faces and faces to names. You can research relevant places, politics, history and current events. The more broadly and richly you understand all of that, the better you’ll understand where you stand right now. So it really helps to ground you in the present moment, and it helps you predict and imagine your future, which is especially important in terms of assessing risk. Objective context can help dissipate the terror of your atemporal parts who are still enslaved by their fears, and can also give you reality-tested ideas about how dangerous your perps currently might or might not be. And it can help inform splits who are completely unaware of risks – the whole gamut. So I strongly advocate painting the broadest possible canvas for yourself.
It’s also extremely important on the societal level that survivors do their homework and share their insights. The more nuanced your understanding of how your story played out in the external world, the more you can contribute to public understanding of what these criminal elements have been up to. On a personal level, that kind of outreach and activism can help infuse our lives and past suffering with meaning, and contribute immensely to our own healing, in general. And in the grand scheme of things, that increased cultural awareness can be transformational in that it can lead to accountability, and ultimately to the end of the invisible reign of invisible tyrants.
You are not crazy. You are not a freak of nature. What happened to you was overwhelmingly crazy. Separating your conscious mind from atrocities to avoid utter annihilation was a highly adaptive act. Dr. Judith Herman calls this ability “one of nature’s small mercies.” You, me, and countless others were violently wrested away from so-called “normal” and tossed into a maelstrom of extremes, where we were tortured, made to witness atrocious acts, and even to commit atrocious acts. Not one of us chose this for ourselves. It was not our fault.
Now that we’ve survived, we need to find ways to let go of the arsenal of drastic psychological strategies we were forced to develop to survive those drastic conditions.
COME ON IN, THE WATER’S FINE
Lord, here comes the flood
We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
In any still alive
It’ll be those who gave their island to survive
- Peter Gabriel, from “Here Comes the Flood”
Virginia Woolf said “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” Dare to give up your island. Learning to let go and risk being adrift is its own, paradoxical reward. The trick is to remember that the torrents of recovery ultimately carry you closer and closer to continental shores. When you get there you’ll probably find your island was built on dodgy landfill (and sometimes occupied by foreign forces) anyway. There might be some measure of safety in isolation, but the price is unquestionably profound deprivation. There is safety in numbers. We’re pack animals, we need each other. Unadulterated reality is a very heavy load, and, as my grandmother used to say, “Many hands make light work.”
So pry open those protective gates that came crashing down around you when your boundaries were so unjustly violated. Now that you’re an adult, you have the power to choose whose company you keep. Jump back into the flow of humanity with both feet, knowing that some people are inevitably going to disappoint, or even ultimately prove to be a threat, but that’s surely the messy bargain humanity has always represented, and if you dig deeply you can wish even the most desperately depraved fellow sojourner well, and move on. It’s never too late to be soft and open again. As poet Yehuda Amichai once wrote: “Even a fist was once an open palm.”
Take good care of your selves. Welcome home even your most wayward inner orphan. Honor every part of you, because every part of you suffered and sacrificed much to get you this far. Every part of you deserves amnesty, gratitude, and an opportunity to heal. So listen to those who were silenced. Protect those who were violated. Nurture those who were neglected. Honor those who were heartlessly dismissed and subjugated. Forgive those who transgressed. And build community for those who were isolated.
You may have had your mind callously Balkanized. You may have once been some Frankenstein’s monster, or some despot’s pet. Loved ones may have died because of you or in spite of you. But you survived. You are a walking miracle. And it doesn’t matter who does or doesn’t believe that. The important thing is to believe in yourself. Love yourself real again.
You deserve to live your life as a complete participant, truly and freely feeling all of your feelings. Skimming over the top of your days, living by proxy from a safe distance is a tragic waste. Drag your unconscious history back up from the depths and into the sunlight to drag yourself fully back into the present tense. Back into what poet Ellen Bass has deemed “this gorgeous, tender, terrifying life that is ours for just a second or two.” Through courage, compassion and community, healing, even from the unspeakable, is possible.
May you find peace. May you one day soon come to the end of your suffering and grieving and forgive yourself completely, and may love always, always abide.
Used by permission from https://thelongvoyageout.wordpress.com/
Copyright © 2015 by Carmen