The holiday is wrapping up and my mind is on how to transition back to managing daily life again, complete with coping with triggers I can’t predict and doing things I’m not sure parts ought to be allowed to do.
I don’t really know whether all the parts are still there or not. If I talk to them, there is no sense of an answer from some of them.
Katya is there, and last night, she said, I can’t find Charlie, as if she had noticed something different inside too.
Time will tell.
I’ve learned a few things from this experiment of just letting them out whenever they please for five weeks.
One of them is that, while I had an idea of them as clear, well-defined personalities, my parts didn’t emerge this way. They did have personalities, but didn’t know in a declarative way much about themselves at first.
All of them first popped out completely confused by a great number of things. Some of them didn’t at first know their names. They had to ponder this for a while. They didn’t know what had happened to them. Only one of them knew that Natashka was dead. They had traumatic memories in fragments that had to be pieced together or that I have as well and I know what they are memories of, but they didn’t and they needed to create a story out of just as I had. They had to process many of the same memories I have worked at processing already, only they did it with richer sensory information and more complex emotions. My memories of the same event were like paper cut-outs of their three-dimensional experiences.
They didn’t perceive the present as necessarily safe or better than the past. They had to experience this for themselves. They didn’t necessarily perceive me as a benign or trustworthy figure: After all, I have spent the last 20 years or so trying to keep control, trying to ignore their needs and feelings because they seemed like distortions of the present based on my memory of the past. And many times, I have forced them to do things they perceived as dangerous—and sometimes really weren’t in my best interest. They did not know they had adult power or adult rights and did not believe me if I told them they did. They could only perceive themselves as small and defenseless. It took time to help them see that the world no longer wants to hurt them and that now someone will protect them from harm.
Their “ages,” which they all did have aren’t the ages when they stopped being active or stopped developing or the age when they first appeared. All of them can tell you about things they saw and did before and well after the age they say they are. The 11-year-old understands Hindi and can navigate an Indian train system. As they interacted with my world, and the wall of dissociation got thinner, they easily subsumed skills I have. When the very youngest parts popped out, they couldn’t type. I could force them, but it was very uncomfortable. After a few rounds with the computer, they could do this effortlessly and without noticing that all of a sudden they could write and spell. One aspect of the whole process I hadn’t anticipated was the pride they began to take in their small accomplishments. If I had my own children, I might have expected this, but I don’t, and it hadn’t occurred to me how lovely it would feel for 2-year-old Sam to master using the computer mouse or how Lana would feel scrubbing laundry. There were more accidents in the beginning: I remember those days when the young parts seemed to be running the show and returning, as it were, to messes and spills and unwanted clean-up. But that was temporary.
Their ages do seem to be their cognitive and linguistic ages: they all got better at communicating complex ideas, but they had to work at doing this with limited vocabulary and grammatical structures. Overall, their ages seem more of a social sense of themselves, as people with the concerns and developmental struggles of that age group.
Over time, as the dissociation diminished, they began to share memories. Sometimes, they did this because a memory was relevant to the process of more than one part. One part would work through a memory only to pass it onto another part to re-process from that part’s perspective. Other times, it seemed to just happen and it started to become difficult with some memories to tell who might have originally been active in it.
It also made me realize that, beyond a certain point, I can’t establish a reliable timeline of many events unless there is something external to base it on. My sense of myself within memories is too convoluted, and I can’t always pinpoint my chronological age or the “felt” age of the part active during it or anything really. It’s impossibly layered. Certainty about when many things happened is just something I have to let go of.
An “original self” did seem to pop out: I hadn’t expected this. Much like the others, she emerged confused, only much, much more so. The first time, she mostly went around the house feeling things. The second time, she had a terrible, chaotic flood of fragmented memories of Natashka’s death that she couldn’t understand: she didn’t know that Natashka had died either. I don’t really know what will happen with that over time.
Lastly, I was in many cases wrong about the personalities of the parts: felt from the outside, they were very different than felt from the inside. This may have been partly a matter of how and why they had been experienced before. Dissociated parts tend to be noticed by a “host” self when they are really quite frantic. As the part experienced the world, their traumatic reactions to the world became only a part of how they experienced themselves. Sam, who emerged saying it’s better to try to be invisible so that no one hurts him, evolved into a bubbly, affectionate, charming little boy who was many times fun to be. (Although not so much when he was frustrated and wanted to tantrum.) The trauma didn’t disappear—it did need to be processed and they all were very traumatized children who easily flipped back into doing what traumatized children do—but there started to be something more to them.
I don’t know that I thought about the experiment of letting them out ahead of time—they just did start to pop out and I didn’t try to stop it—but the point seems to have been to let myself work from both ends. I need to dip back into the past, because I dissociated what really happened to me, and they need to see a bit of the present. I think I’ll be glad I had a chance to do it.
School starts again in a week, so I hope so.