I know now that D.I.D. systems arise to keep certain experiences and feelings separate from normal consciousness. The alters or aspects of my mind that hold my trauma are unique to my childhood abuse experiences. Each of us with a dissociative disorder develops the exact kind of system we need to survive. For me, dissociation walled off all but a handful of strange snippets of experience. I’d always had these few unconnected memory fragments and was simply unconcerned about them. They held no emotions or sensory details and seemed unimportant until a serious disagreement with my parents caused me to seek therapy. I began talking—and the memory fragments swelled and swirled, pulling other memories into a stormy sea. Soon I felt like the little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike. If I moved my finger, a tidal wave of emotions, fears, and pain would swallow me. I didn’t know why, but I knew I could not move that finger. My life as a wife, mother, sister, friend, and employee depended on holding back that wall of “water.”
The pressure behind the wall grew. It took all my energy to function. The day came when I wrote in my journal:
“I am a strip of paper-dolls, rolled up and hollow in the center, but I feel a pressure so great that if I don’t let out whatever is inside of me, I’ll explode.”
Desperate to understand what was happening, I journaled my way through erratic behaviors, self-harm, three therapists, a suicide attempt, and three hospitalizations. I knew there was a very sad little girl inside me. She identified herself by the color red. Slowly, other colors revealed themselves in a drawing I shared with my psychiatrist:
Dr. G studied the rumpled paper’s edges, the wrinkles, and a splotch where some liquid made the color run.
What is this outline, here?” she asked.
“It’s my head, I guess. It just came out when I started drawing.” I twirled the string of my hooded sweatshirt around my finger.
“What are these colors about?” Dr. G asked.
“How should I know? It’s what it feels like in my head!” I fell forward in my chair, elbows on my knees, fingers pressing my temples. I squeezed my eyes shut. I sounded crazy, even to myself.
“Say more,” Dr. G pressed gently.
I threw myself backward, banged my head on the chair. “Ugh, here we go again! It’s nothing—a stupid drawing, it means nothing, forget it, okay, just forget it!”
Dr. G paused. “Well….you did bring it in. Why is the paper crumpled?”
“Because I trashed it! It’s a bunch of nonsense lines and colors,” I muttered, daring her to disagree.
“But you didn’t actually throw it out,” Dr. G said patiently.
“No…., I didn’t—I…I want to know what it means,” I mumbled, staring at the floor.
“Tell me something about it. Anything.” Dr. G’s words soothed like a school nurse’s band-aid, a mama cat licking her kitten. “There are no wrong answers,” she said.
“Tell me what you think it means,” I demanded. “Please, please tell me.”
“It’s your picture,” she said.
I didn’t understand the drawing. My feelings swung wildly from disinterest to frustration and anger, and then to pleading for Dr. G to tell me what the picture meant. I was frightened—what did it mean to see colors and hear voices inside my head?
Soon after, I found E, my new therapist. I didn’t show her the drawing until we’d worked together for a few months, establishing a safety contract and practicing containment and grounding. E encouraged me to journal when my feelings were overwhelming. I began to look at the drawing and write down what I heard, a firm voice telling me who each color represented. Red was the youngest child. Green was a little girl who liked to play outside, orange was an angry, rebellious teen. Yellow was a healthy young woman who ate well and exercised. Faith, spirituality, was purple. There were two blues, one internal, to help manage things and tell me what the others were saying. The external blue helped me get up, get dressed, and face the day. Brown also had two roles—it was the “good girl” who did everything she was told, and the “warm parent” who knew how to take care of the three external children my husband and I shared. Black was the “critical parent” and the most vocal of the segments in my mind.
For several years as E and I listened to and learned from the colors in my drawing, E said “slow is fast and fast is slow.” If we pushed too hard, pressuring the colors and voices, the dike could break and wash away our progress. Sometimes, I was impatient—wanting to rip off these colored band-aids and poke at every wound and memory and scar, to hurry through the drawing and get to the “other side.” Going slow was agonizing, but safer—we learned to take breaks and practice compassion when it hurt too much. E and I still work together, and I’m better at comforting myself and the aspects inside. Over time, the drawing grew and changed as I learned more about myself.
There is pain, and there is also great joy. The drawing I once found so frightening has become a key, turning me toward, and gently through, experiences I didn’t think I could know and survive. Today, I live much more in the present and the key continues to unlock the doors to healing.
My name is Kathy C. and I write, read and create from central Maryland. I’m interested in how creativity aids in healing complex trauma, in blending and fusion in dissociative disorders, and how survivors sharing their stories can help us all heal. Libraries are my favorite places; kindness is my superpower—social media not so much—but I’m learning.