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Living With Multiple Personalities

part three:
Becoming Whole

By Laura Emily Mason


This is part three of a three-part essay. In part one, Laura explains the causes of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), and gives us glimpses into her childhood and her current life. In part two, she takes us with her on her search for answers to her inner turmoil and her attempts at receiving psychiatric help.



Becoming free of my no-longer needed divisions is difficult. MPD is not an organic disease; it can’t be cured with drugs. Long and intensive psychotherapy is the only known cure. Each part must re-experience its own individual trauma, sometimes with the intensity of the original events, then must come to know and feel what the other parts know and feel. This work takes a great deal of strength and commitment on the part of the patient as well as much skill, compassion, and patience on the part of the therapist.

I have sessions with Steven on Tuesdays and Fridays, each for two hours. These are very special times for everyone in me – he is the only outside person from whom we don’t have to hide ourselves. I start getting ready the evening before, collecting notes that various ones of us wrote to him and putting them in a shopping bag. Some are in grown-up script, some in a child’s round printing, some in backwards writing that needs to be read with a mirror. I add a copy of a technical report I wrote at work, to let him know about those of us he never sees. And I throw in cracked dishes or broken refrigerator magnets that I’m having trouble discarding; although my war-zone part isn’t dominant now, she still switches in occasionally and won’t let me get rid of her things, so Steven does it for me. If there’s time, I bake cookies.

As always, I walk to work in the morning – so no one on the crowded subway will touch me inadvertently and trigger a sudden switch. The monotonous right-foot-left-foot rhythm is hypnotic, allowing the children beneath the surface to have putter-time. This is different from putter-time at home, where whoever is out is thinking, feeling, and doing. Now only one of us is doing – the one walking – but the thinking and feeling in the layers underneath are just as active. I don’t yet have co-consciousness with everyone, and as I walk, I often feel as if I’m before a closed theater curtain. I see ripples and hear snatches of talk – "I’m just a dead little girl." All the while, someone on the top layer guides us along the correct route, pausing at corners to check for traffic. More ripples, more talk. Several blocks from my office, I buy the New York Times and glance at the headlines. This helps rearrange the layers – the children go further inside, and an adult comes closer to the surface. Gradually, the curtain becomes still. By the time I slide my ID card through the scanner and enter Corporate America, the switch is complete, and I’m ready for work.

During the day, I take a walk every few hours – to the ladies’ room, the cafeteria, the street. This allows me frequent, short putter-times, re-balancing breaks that relieve the pressure of internal activity. For the first mile of the walk home, an adult in business mode reviews the day’s work. Then a little girl comes out, furious at Steven because he didn’t call when he said he would. Now the businessperson is back, remembering something she forgot in the program specs. Another little girl comes who’s sure Steven didn’t call because he’s dead. Someone else comes who believes he’s still alive. She tries to convince the others to go to the session, even though the one who thinks he’s dead won’t go because he won’t be there, and the angry one never wants to see him again. We walk another few blocks. The business person reappears and is gone. Others who want to talk to Steven start coming out. One is a 10-year old girl who used to fear losing him if she let him know she was upset because he didn’t call. When young, I never would have dared let adults know they did something to disappoint me. But this girl looks forward to the session – she luxuriates in being able to complain and pout to him, knowing nothing bad will happen.

At home, I finish packing the bag. Some of the children don’t want to leave the apartment, because they’re afraid to go out when it’s dark. I address everyone’s concerns – the water bottle and the Teddy bear for the babies, the cookies for the little girl who steals them. I feel the weighty responsibility of a single parent as I shepherd everyone to the garage half a block away and stow them all in the back seat. The driver gets behind the wheel.

Twenty-five miles later, in the suburbs, I arrive at Steven’s office. I hurry through the waiting room and into the kitchen, where I’m shielded from seeing the patient before me leave. Some of us know Steven sees other people. But the children and babies have no idea that he’s a therapist, or that this is an office, or that I pay him. If they did, they wouldn’t feel safe enough to come out, and the session would be wasted.

I close the door and lie on the floor. The only sound is the soft hum of the waiting-room fan. There’s just a hint of light outlining the doorframe. The facade I keep in place all day to prevent the outside world from seeing anyone underneath comes off. I breathe slowly and evenly as it releases.

Soon the baby surfaces. She has no idea she and Steven are separate people in different bodies – that he’s in a container made of skin, and at this moment his container is in his office with another patient. Soon she hears a door open. For her, it isn’t a patient leaving, but just part of the sequence of sounds that always precedes Steven’s appearance: door open, fan quiet, then the light coming in as he slowly opens the kitchen door, says softly, "Hi, Laura," and comes to sit on the floor beside her. She lies quietly and locks eyes with him.

In a few minutes, the little girl who steals cookies comes out. She finds herself lying down, and sits up quickly. "Hi, Steven," she says energetically. "Hi, Laura," he answers, returning her smile. "Could you give me a cookie?" she asks hopefully. "I’d love to give you a cookie," he responds, as he reaches for my shopping bag, finds the cookies, and unwraps them ceremoniously. He glances at them quickly to see what kind they are. "Would you like a chocolate chip cookie?" he asks. "Yes!" She eagerly takes the bigger of the two and chats happily while they eat together. Now we’re ready to move to his office.

Once there, he sits on the floor with me as someone talks animatedly for a few minutes, bringing him up-to-date on what happened since we last saw him – outside concerns like work, phone calls from my mother. Abruptly, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, I feel my mouth go slack and my body slump. I can no longer talk. Someone screams, writhes on the floor, howls like an animal in the night forest. I hear her noises and am amazed, because I don’t feel terror or pain. Sometimes I try to stop the sounds coming out of my mouth by choking the one making them, squeezing her so tightly, she gags. Steven pries my hands off my neck so I can breathe again. He says to let the sounds happen – that even though I don’t know what they’re about now, somebody in me does, and one day I will, too.

No matter what went on before, the last few minutes are always light. I empty the shopping bag and show him my household discards. We smile together over some of them. A child asks, "Are you going to be in your beeper until next time?" He nods. As I put my coat on, someone begs, "Please don’t forget me." Part of me thinks that’s silly, but another part is desperate because she thinks she won’t exist if he can’t see her. He understands and says, "I won’t forget you. I carry you with me all the time." She is reassured. Then, I say good-bye three times, waiting for his responsive good-bye after each one. I drive back to the city feeling temporarily whole and connected.


The literature defines a cure as integration – the repeated merging of one personality with another until only one remains. There are many steps along the way. The first is building trust; Multiples have been betrayed by people they should have been able to count on, and constantly test their therapists.

Next comes the recovery of memories. In theory, once a memory is recovered, the personality which held it will no longer be tortured by it. The FMS (False Memory Syndrome) movement claims that some therapists implant memories in their patients, causing them to unjustly accuse their parents of abuse. That may happen occasionally, but I believe most therapists follow their patients’ lead and don’t make suggestions. There are also people who question the accuracy of memories. It’s not always easy to know whether something I remember happened exactly the way I remember it. But therapy is not a court of law, where the goal is to establish facts. The goal of therapy is emotional healing, and for that, emotional truth is what matters.

Some of my memories are visual or auditory, and some have emotional content only: intense agony, grief, terror. Memory recovery is very upsetting, because it doesn’t feel like a memory; it feels as if it is happening now. But it’s also healing, because Steven bears witness to my pain. When I was young, no adult acknowledged that anything bad happened to me, not even my aunts, who lived nearby; they would knock tentatively on my apartment door when they came to visit, whisper "Is your father home?" and retreat in fear if I said yes. The only understanding of my pain I got then was from the mirror people.

Concurrent with memory retrieval is learning to be aware of one another. Before I started becoming co-conscious, some parts of me were suicidal and psychotic, but others were able to function at a very high level. Now that we don’t have such sharp divisions, both work and social relationships are more difficult. The bad parts are never as bad as they were, because they are diluted by the good parts, so we don’t have as many crises. But the good parts are never as good as they were, because they’re contaminated by the bad parts; the crisp, efficient one is no longer protected from the anguish of the others, so she’s not crisp and efficient anymore. I have awakened to a tornado of feeling – pain, fear, shame, even happiness – that I never experienced. It’s as if I had been blind from birth, hearing people talk about red, blue, lavender, knowing they were describing a dimension I had no way of experiencing. Now suddenly, in mid-life, I’m able to see. Nothing could have prepared me for the sensory bombardment.

The disruption affects many areas. We can’t keep friendships that individual parts had, and those friends don’t understand why we suddenly stopped knowing them. The part who has an eating disorder is no longer totally separate, so all of us now have a hard time in restaurants. Even simple routines are complicated, like getting dressed in the morning. I’m 6, looking in the mirror while I brush my hair. I see a middle-aged face looking back at me – a face I never saw before – and I realize with horror that it’s me. And what will I wear to work? I’m ashamed of the cotton flowered dresses with puffed sleeves that hang in my closet. But the Harvé Benard suits aren’t mine, either. I compromise with pants and a turtleneck. Corporate America is not happy with my grooming of late.

But there are benefits to co-consciousness. I no longer take twenty minutes to set my alarm clock each night. Now, when someone in me doesn’t know that someone else set it, and checks repeatedly every few seconds like an obsessive-compulsive, I say aloud, "The alarm clock is set." She gets the message and stops checking.

I have no idea what the final step, integration, will feel like. We’re used to living as separate entities. But if we become integrated, we – or rather I – will have to develop a whole new way of relating to the world. That "cure" is where most non-Multiples start therapy. But I’m optimistic – for the first time, I have a chance to be a regular human being.


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DUCTS summer issue 2001
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