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
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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