The Hard Journey to Being Whole - Shirley J. Davis - Trigger Warning
Where should I begin? Where indeed. When I was a child, from birth, I was the victim of severe child abuse and neglect. I know you’ve seen those words before and that anyone can deduce just what that abuse and neglect entailed so I will not bother you with the specifics. Such drama is not necessary. Let us agree together that it was very traumatic. In fact, it was so traumatic that my personality splintered and I became a conglomeration of “alters” afflicted with the condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. The abuse continued until I was fifteen years old and my father died. I had been protecting him from the horrible truth that was my life, so when he died I no longer felt it necessary to keep the secrets I had held my entire childhood and I spilled the beans on my abuser.
For many years, I ran from the realities of my past life and tried very hard to hide from the knowledge that I continually lost time and felt like “someone else” until the winter of my thirtieth year. I had changed jobs and was under a lot of new stress. I went to bed one night and as soon as I turned off the light to go to sleep I relived a horrible memory of rape. I immediately turned the lights back on and lay shivering in my bed waiting for daylight. It was then that knew I had to get help.
I had been seeing a drug and alcohol counselor as a co-dependent of an alcoholic, but she told me she wasn’t qualified to help me. She set me up to see a Psychologist named Paula. Thus, began my journey to wholeness.
Paula was a highly trained and very talented therapist. I very grateful for her knowledge and caring. I began seeing Paula in 1990. Within a few months, she told me that what I was experiencing, the time loss and memory lags, and other symptomology were indicative of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I was floored but not surprised.
We began to work hard on the memories that were spontaneously returning. It was like vomiting. I never knew when or where it was going to hit and I couldn’t stop them from surfacing. It was very overwhelming. I fought hard to maintain my sanity while being accosted by my past, but sometimes it became too much and I had to be hospitalized for fear I would destroy myself.
Even with Paula’s expert care, I was a sick puppy. The stress of therapy took its toll and in the winter of 1995, I made a major suicidal attempt. It was the second in my life, as I had attempted to destroy myself the first time when I was seven years old.
I saw and made progress with Paula for several years. Unfortunately, in 1997 my husband became very ill and we had to declare bankruptcy. The result was that the clinic where Paula worked decided to not allow me to see her anymore. When I went to my next appointment after we had declared, I was met by an office manager who informed me I could not see Paula, not even to say goodbye.
Paula had become my mentor and mother. It was like they had suddenly cut my umbilical cord too soon and I began to slowly bleed to death.
For the record, I do not believe the clinic understood how cruel they were being to me on that fateful day. Had they known, they would not have cut off my services. Paula was never told why I suddenly quit seeing her, we were both victims of this unintentional injustice.
Afterwards, I floundered around from therapist to therapist looking for someone to fill the void left when Paula was ripped away from me. However, I did not succeed and began to get sicker and sicker.
Four years after losing Paula, in December 1999, I was outside our home in the country and had a stroke. I fell in the snow and could not get back up. My husband was unable to move me and ran for help. I lay there for twenty minutes in near zero-degree weather with unprotected hands. When my husband returned with help I had severe frostbite on my fingers and both of my thumbs. I was hospitalized and then sent to a local rehabilitation center to recover. While there I decided I didn’t want to be married anymore and started divorce proceedings.
It was a very dark time.
The Long-Term Facility
After being released from the rehabilitation center I moved into my own apartment where I continued to mentally deteriorate. It became apparent to my family and myself that I needed to live inpatient in a psychiatric facility so in March 2005 I was admitted into a local long-term Psychiatric facility.
I was so sick when I was admitted, that I have no memory of the first two years I lived in the facility. I “awoke” totally disoriented and very frightened. I had lost time before but never years.
I lived in the facility for a little over seven years. I don’t look on the years I languished in the facility as lost. I learned some very important lessons living among the residents there. The chief lesson I learned was patience, but I also learned how to love my alters instead of fearing them. It was a time of growth.
I had promised my mother I would remain there until she died. In June 2011 I got the phone call from my brother telling me she had passed away during the night. That was on a Wednesday. On the following Monday, I was approached by my current therapist and asked if I was ready to leave.
I said yes.
In September 2011 I was released from the facility and moved into a group home in a nearby city. I had to be taught how to do many things again that most people take for granted, such as shopping. I was totally out of touch with prices. I’m grateful to the people who took care of me both at the nursing home and the group home. They were very instrumental in my successes today.
In July 2012 my brother and his then fiancé asked me to move in with them back to my hometown. I jumped at the chance.
Soon after moving in with Mike and Angie, in the following January, I began attending college again. I had attempted to attend at the age of eighteen and off and on again for many years after, but there had been too much chaos. Now I was a full-time student taking classes online. I was elated.
To top things off, Angie announced she was pregnant. So, we began to prepare for the arrival of little Jimmy.
Things went along rather well for a while. I was getting great grades in school, and my brother Mike had decided to return to college as well.
Then on Easter Sunday 2012, Jimmy stopped moving and was stillborn a few days later. Our lives and our home were sent into a chaotic spin. I somehow managed to finish my classes with high marks, but the lives of my family were upside down.
In the early summer of 2012, I was seeing a therapist at a local mental health center. All I could talk about were things Paula had said to me fifteen years earlier. Finally, she spoke up and gently said, “Why don’t you go see her again?” I was flabbergasted. “I can’t,” I replied. “The clinic will never allow it.” She just smiled knowingly and said, “Why not give them a call and try?” On the way home that day I thought, ‘Oh what the hell, I’ll call!’
I did make that call, and a few days later I received a return call stating they had a new program where my care would be 100% free plus they wrote off my old bill!
So, I made my first appointment to see Paula in over fifteen years.
That first appointment was joyous, to say the least. Paula told me the clinic hadn’t told her why I had ceased seeing her and she had just assumed I had gotten angry and left therapy. I filled her in on my life (this took several sessions as you can imagine), and we began to finish what we had started so many years before.
I had begun to make great progress again with Paula when in December of 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As one can imagine, this was a tremendous blow. I had been working so hard on my mental health and making great grades in college, now this? I felt so betrayed by my body. My hatred for my physical self-was renewed and burned brightly for many months.
I was scheduled to have my right breast removed in the following January (2014). I not only had the one surgery but because of diabetes, I had to have a second surgery to fix my incision which had not properly healed.
Having cancer was, in many ways, even more, traumatic to me than the abuse had been in many ways. The betrayal I felt was palpable. Anyone who has had cancer or suffered other tragedies can relate to these feelings.
Thankfully, Paula helped me resolve this issue. She helped me to understand that there is no justice when it comes to illnesses such as cancer. Everyone has a chance to develop it, and that it is an unfortunate part of life.
I wish I could say my story ends on a high note.
I have a prescription drug addiction. If there is a medication available that is addictive I will abuse it. My addiction almost cost me my freedom in June of 2016. The cumulative effects of abusing prescription drugs are horrendous on not just your body but your brain as well. I had been on a particularly long siege of abusing my drugs when one day I woke up in the hospital on the wing where they treated patients with dementia. I was thrown back and decided to lick my addiction once and for all. After I returned home, I handed my drugs to my brother and began three weeks of pure hell. The withdrawal symptoms of prescription drugs are dangerous and extremely uncomfortable (that’s putting it lightly!).
During my binge, before my hospitalization, From August of 2015 to June 2016 I lost time. That’s ten months. Waking up after this loss was very embarrassing and more than a little disconcerting. I had thought I was beyond this type of behavior, that I had moved on to a point where I was “well”, but apparently not.
My self-esteem took a tremendous hit. I had built myself up in my mind as being “well”, and thought that losing this much of my life to DID was over. I was horribly wrong. I had to had to ask my brother to catch me up on the events that had occurred while I was dissociated. Not only that but my nephew, who had been a newborn when I last remembered, was suddenly ten months old! Once again Paula had to help me regain my footing. She told me it was time to forgive myself and to move on.
I now understand, because of that experience, that my brain can and will dissociate again. If I allow myself to become too stressed, it will do what it has always done to protect me, I will assume the persona of one of my alters to handle the situation. That’s just the way it is.
In September of 2015, Paula announced she is retiring and in September of 2016 she did so.
It has been very hard coming to terms with losing her again after losing her like I did in the 90s. I am as integrated as we are going to get, yet I can still feel their grief at losing the only mother we have ever truly known. I love Paula will all my heart, and wish her well.
On a positive note, I did finally graduate from college with my Associate Degree in Psychology. It took me thirty-seven years of starts and stops but I finally accomplished a major milestone in my life.
Where do I plan on going from here?
My future is bright if I can remain on the wagon and not use again. I can live another forty or fifty years and make a difference in the world. That is very important to me. I want to make a difference, even if it is only in one person’s life. I plan on continuing to write blogs, short stories, and poetry. I also plan on continuing to speak at any venue available about the wonders of just being alive. I am almost finished with my Bachelor’s degree and plan on applying for Graduate school shortly.
My Message to the world is simple.
Life is a great gift and I want to spread the word that no matter what has happened to me or you in the past, there is always tomorrow to make into a brighter and better day. When I was a child I had no control over my life and my abusers were free to harm me, but why should I continue to harm myself? Why should I be miserable today because of something that happened thirty or even fifty years ago?
I choose to live and to live well. Yes, life is worth living.
Yes, I’ve been through hell, but let me also state that it is that pain that has made me who I am today. I am not special or perfect, nor do I know it all. What I do know is that sometimes it takes a hot fire to mold a lump of matter into something beautiful. I do not regret the fiery furnace of my past because its flames have shaped me.
"She's been through more hell than you'll ever know. But that's what gives her beauty an edge... you can't touch a woman who can wear pain like the grandest of diamonds around her neck." - Alfa