Integration; My Final Stage of Healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
I have dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition I developed in early childhood as a result of severe childhood abuse and neglect. DID is more common than people think, with an occurrence of 1.5% of U. S. population. Though perhaps less known, DID is slightly more common than schizophrenia.
I was diagnosed with DID in February 1990. I always knew there was something different about me and that I had what I thought was a poor memory. I was always meeting people who said they knew me, but I had no recollection of meeting them. Money would disappear and appear in my bank account, and I was having severe bouts of depression. I could hear the voices of the others in my system. My life was becoming a chaotic mixed up mess. I also would find clothes in my closet I didn’t remember buying, and money would disappear from my checking account. I knew I needed help and had sought out the help of a therapist.
Although I didn’t know it at the beginning of treatment, I had to accept that a diagnosis meant a life-long struggle that would bring chaos, discomfort, and stigma to my life. The comfort I needed I would learn would come from within as I learned to cooperate with the alters.
I lived in a world of emotional flashbacks and dissociative amnesia caused by DID that left me unable to work. I was so disorganized in my thinking and life that I ended up on disability. I took not being able to work very hard as I was forced to quit a dream job where I was well paid and didn’t need to be on my feet. I felt like a failure and became deeply depressed.
However, that is not why I am writing this piece. Instead, I want to not tell you about my journey of struggle with dissociative identity disorder but about integrating my multiple system and offering encouragement for others who seek it.
Therapy was hard work, with my therapist attempting to lead me out of my self-imposed prison of dissociation into the light of wholeness. However, over one hundred twenty alters were in my system, and they interfered in my life in several upsetting ways. Alters are parts of myself that did not coalesce into one personality when I was very young. They would buy clothes I couldn’t afford, spend money, and get money from sources I didn’t know about, and would do many other disrupting things.
All through therapy, my therapist kept reminding me that one day I would literally pull myself together, and my system would go in the same direction, but it wasn’t easy to imagine that wholeness. However, my therapist never gave up on me and truly believed I would get well, which was a vital part of my healing.
Integrating parts is the goal of psychotherapy, but it must be done to live a healthy and happy future. Unfortunately, the process of integration, pulling all the alters of a system together, is highly controversial among those who have DID. Some people believe you are murdering your alters and thus fear integration and fight against it.
I began my integration the moment I first sat in my therapist’s office and told her about the strange things that had happened all my life. At that moment, I began to move toward the final fusion of the parts of myself that had coalesced correctly due to chronic childhood abuse and neglect.
Dissociative identity disorder takes a long time and lots of guts to heal. I had to face the abuse and what it did to me head-on, often reliving past trauma. I found myself so tired at times that I would become suicidal and need inpatient care.
Integration of alters is not like it is on television or the movies would have people believe. There is no sudden gathering together of the alters under hypnosis. Integrating alters is slow and gradual work, which cannot be accomplished in a few sessions with a therapist. Indeed, integration can take years or even decades.
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The first alters to integrate were some small children who finally felt safe because I had decided to become their mother. Indeed, I had become a mother to all my alters, caring for them and holding them when they were upset and rejoicing with them when they were happy.
What had happened was that I had become my own caregiver, a task that needed to be done and should have happened long before, but I was too busy surviving to do it. I began to take responsibility for everything I said and did, whether I was dissociated into an alter or not, which was a huge step forward.
One day, after twenty-seven years in therapy, I noticed that I did not identify as ‘we’ anymore but was consistently calling myself ‘I’ when speaking about myself. It was then that I knew that integration was at an advanced stage.
What has integration meant for me? It has meant a considerable decrease in the mysteries I used to fear. I now know where and how much money I am spending and what I am spending the money on. The flashbacks have become manageable, and a trigger rarely catches me off guard.
Most importantly, none of my alters have died. Instead, the others have become part of who I am, and we mostly agree on what to do and who we befriend. None of my alters have been lost as their talents and knowledge have become incorporated into me.
I have developed a metaphor that may help explain the integration process to others.
There was once an orchestra that had no conductor. They were all proficient at their instruments, but each played their own music, leading to a cacophony.
Then one day, a deft maestro arrived, raised a baton, and slowly began molding the orchestra, helping them play the same music. Day after day and for many years, the maestro would take up the baton in his white-gloved hand and, little by little, the orchestra members began to play in unison.
Then one day, after a long time, the orchestra began to play sonorous, lilting music together.
After the union of instruments, the maestro announced that he needed to go now and asked for someone in the orchestra to take the baton from him and lead. The person who had gathered the orchestra members together, in the beginning, said she would, and so she became the leader of the others.
In the illustration, the orchestra was my alters who acted without unison, causing chaos. Then, a maestro, my therapist, began the process of helping me pull together all my parts until one day, the job was done, and ‘we’ became ‘me.’
Finally, the maestro needed to leave and gave the baton to the original member of the orchestra. That symbolizes the day when my therapist left and turned over the baton to me.
Integration isn’t easy, but it is necessary if a multiple wants to live a life as free of chaos as possible. Although my symptoms have greatly lessened, I still have periods where I use my dissociation as a tool to escape, but those episodes are becoming farther apart.
Those of us who live with dissociative identity disorder share similar experiences with dissociation and the chaos the disorder brings. We were brought up in different environments and had similar yet different traumatic events occur to us.
However, there are a few messages I would like to send out to others experiencing dissociative identity disorder; it would be that you are not alone. There are millions of people around the world who live with this disruptive problem.
Also, dissociative identity disorder is not curable, but you do not need to live in chaos. You, like me, can achieve integration and move on with your life and into a brighter future.
If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.