Posts Tagged 'Memory'

I’m thick!

Yup, I’m thick.  I might be intelligent, but I’m still as thick as a thick thing on a thick day.  I’ve been a dissociative, anxiety ridden wreck for the last week and had no idea why.  I thought it was just S acting out that was causing me to lose so much time.  It’s only today when I was at the supermarket check-out that it clicked… The check-out operator was asking the usual pleasantries about how my day was etc.  Then she asked the big one “Did you do anything special for Father’s Day?”  How in the world could I not connect today with being Father’s Day?  I brought one of the special Father’s Day lotto tickets last week; I’ve seen the Father’s Day card stands in the shops; I’ve seen the advertisements on television; I even thought of buying a camera tripod in a Father’s Day sale.  But for some reason, the words ‘Father’s Day’ didn’t connect correctly in my brain.  Don’t ask me why, but I didn’t associate it with the father and the past.

I don’t know if this lack of connection is a good or bad thing, but it sure helps to explain why I’ve lost most of the week.  It could also explain why S was acting out so violently and challenging the power dynamics within the system.  We were all oblivious to her pain and memories…  I’m so sorry S, please forgive us.

Now playing: Mad World – Gary Jules
via FoxyTunes
watch via YouTube


My father’s chair

Note: This was triggering to write, it might be triggering to read.

One of us has said that “My father’s chair” would be an excellent title to the book of our life. This isn’t to say that we are going to write an autobiography, but rather that this chair was pivotal to our life for so many years. To give you the context, I’ll tell you a little of our family hierarchy. We were the youngest of four children and the parents had an interesting relationship where the mother was the dominant force in many ways. We were all scared of the mother when it came to discipline, she would yell at us and enforce physical punishment.  In contrast, the father sat in his chair in brooding anger.

As far as I’m aware we had two sets of lounge furniture during my life in that house.  I don’t have any memories of the first one, but I know from family stories that it was a 3 seater couch with 2 chairs.  When the renovations on the house were done, a new set was purchased.  It was a 3.5 seater couch and had larger chairs.  Even with this second couch, I was relegated to the floor as I was the youngest and smallest child.  The older siblings would simply push me off the couch and use me as a foot stool.  Because of this, I was often invited to sit on the father’s lap.

You would think that this would mean that I hated that chair.  I think some of us did and still do, but I also know that we felt some sort of tie to the chair.  When we wanted to be far away from the sister’s boyfriend one night, we curled up on the father’s chair.  I’m not sure if this was to gain some sense of strength from the chair, or possibly it was to try and kick-start the dissociation.

One of the enduring memories of this chair is the view from behind the chair, looking at the father sitting in it with his legs crossed.  Often there would be a beer in his hand.  It is amazing how his silence could fill the room.  How his anger could fill the room.  I know that some of us used to bait him by making fun of the rugby or cricket.  I tried not to let that happen too often as the consequences weren’t pleasant.

His anger could make everyone in the house walk around on eggshells.  Some outbursts of anger were expected – the sister getting a new boyfriend, the brother being in a car accident, school report time.  But sometimes he would brood for days or weeks.  During those times I had to carry and fetch for him.  I remember the mother saying we were his favourite so he wouldn’t hurt us…

When the marriage ended and the house contents were sold, the lounge furniture was split up.  The couch was kept, but the chairs were thrown away.  I remember R coming forward and saying he wanted to burn the chairs.  The mother laughed at this, thinking it was part of the game where we now all hated the father.  She didn’t see the rage behind the statement.

It’s been hard writing this without falling into a flashback.  Sometimes the flashbacks are so strong in their pull, they suck you in and take you for a roller-coaster ride through hell.  I know I’ve glossed over much of what occurred in and around that chair.  But you all don’t need to read the details.

What I will share, is that the father’s anger was thrust upon me through the actions of those around me.  I’ll never understand why they chose the youngest and most sensitive child to act as fetch and carrier for the angry force in the house.  Yes, we were his favourite, but that wasn’t a good thing.  This role encouraged me to feel responsible for his anger.  It made me feel as if his explosions were my fault.  As children, we often feel as if we are responsible for the anger of our parents and desperately try to fix things.  But most of the time we have no idea what was broken, so we look around for a miracle cure that doesn’t exist.

Now playing: Hollie Smith – Bathe in the river
via FoxyTunes

Secrets acting as a poison

Two blogs that I read regularly have talked about secrets recently – Secrets over at Kerro’s Korner and Amy in a password protected entry in Waiting my turn in the queue.  Both wrote about being how the seemingly poisonous, insidious way that secrets can eat away at you.  Kerro describes the toxic relationship that can be formed with secrets.  My comment on Amy’s blog was to share five secrets that I have.  Two of these secrets aren’t really secrets at all, namely –

  1. I’m sure I’m faking this whole abuse history and mental health stuff – I’m such a drama queen.
  2. I hurt myself every day and I don’t really care – I deserve it.

Anyone who even half knows me, knows that I believe these two things about myself.  The other three secrets are a not things that I can comfortably share here – yes, secrets have a grip over me.

Part of my abuse was a fairly typical threat about keeping secrets.  But, as a child I was incredibly bad at keeping secrets.  There is a family story that I told the mother that she wouldn’t find the watch she was getting for her birthday in that drawer, it was in the bedside table.  This story has always encouraged me to doubt my abuse history – surely if I was this bad at keeping secrets, I would have told someone what was going on.  But the session a couple of weeks ago with Jo gave a clue as to why this was possible, apparently the young ones within the system have a hierarchy of secrets.  Some secrets weren’t really secret, so you could let the little girl know about those ones – gift location for the mother was amongst that level of secret.  But the other secrets were held by the younger ones created from the abuse, these were the real secrets.  These young ones knew about the importance of secrets, they had been told what would happen if those secrets were told.  They lived with those threats and kept the secrets well hidden.

Insert from Management: The incident with the mother’s watch also taught them how to keep secrets, they learned it was bad to tell.

But how much can those secrets hurt me now, if told?  Jessica Hagy has provided one potential answer in Indexed with her entry about Physics and emotions.  Jessica looked at the relationship between time, distance or pain and the speed or trouble caused.  But for us, this formula doesn’t quite fit.  Our abuse secrets seem to have a different timeframe – I’ve always thought that if you don’t tell about the abuse straight away, then it becomes exponentially more difficult to tell someone as time goes on.  Then there is a breaking point – the coping mechanisms are overwhelmed and the self-destructive pattern reaches a crisis.  This is where in some regards, the ACC system had the benefit of forcing me to tell about some events in order to get coverage for the mental injury.  The problem was that we weren’t ready to share those events, it became more traumatic to talk about it.  We’re still not ready.  The secrets that we have shared with the mother and therapists have always been believed, but this actually scares us more.  Why do people believe us?  It makes no sense.  Sorry the denial comes forward so strongly at times, it all becomes a jumbled mess.

I’m not sure when the grip that the secrets hold over me will ease.  I live in fear of that day, what will it mean for myself and those around me to know what happened?  What possible benefit will come from telling the mother that this is what happened to her little girl?  I don’t plan on pressing charges against anyone.  I’ve already decided that telling the mother everything isn’t an option, she isn’t healthy enough to be able to support me.  So the only benefit is to lance the festering wound that sits in my brain.  One day I will have to convince the young ones that this will help, that we and they are worthy of telling their truth…

Now playing: Missy Higgins – Where I stood
via FoxyTunes

Host personality & secrets

Just read an interesting post by Faith Allen about the Importance of integrating the host personality.  This post hit a sore spot in that were not really sure who or what our host personality “looks” like.  Surely this is the sort of thing you’re meant to know?  I know more about who ISN’T the host, than who is…  You’d sort of think that this sort of thing would be obvious – ok, so maybe they haven’t got “Host Personality” tattooed on their forehead, but something would instinctively let you know surely???

We did have one who was the predominant fronting personality for much of our adult life, and her name is the one given to this body at birth, so maybe she’s “it”?  Only problem is that a couple of years ago  T thought the body was curled up on the couch reading, but it was actually S fronting having to have sex with the then husband and S forced T to see this.  At that point T went into her room in our internal house and locked the door.  We haven’t seen or heard from her since.

Feels like we’re trying to do a puzzle with most of the pieces missing and no idea what the final picture is meant to look like…

The following may trigger as a mild incident of abuse is discussed.

So onto secrets…  Over the last few weeks we’ve been struggling because we knew there was something going on internally, but we weren’t quite sure what it was.  We knew there were external stressors – ACC mediation, applying for a new job, finding a therapist etc, but this was something internal and quite different.  On Thursday we had another appointment with the woman’s support scheme/group that Bob encouraged us to contact.  In the morning we’d had a meeting about the review of the re-structuring that had occurred last year, so were very on edge and dissociated because of the stress.  When we got there the woman realised we were a bit out of it and suggested we do something other than talk.  She suggested drawing with crayons, which immediately fitted with what we needed to do.  After a bit of hesitation we agreed and sat on the floor with these crayons.  Thankfully the woman had to leave the room to go get some more colours (maybe just a good excuse?), so we could sit and gather ourselves.  There was an immediate need to go crazy on the paper with lots of red and black – just ram the crayon into the paper and rip it across so that it became covered in the black redness.  Sophie was overwhelmed at this point and a young one came forward.  She picked up the brown crayon and drew a table and chairs…  It was the classroom.

When we were in primary school there were a few students who knew quite a bit about sex – beyond the normal exploration.  We were one of this group.  Because this behaviour was such a normal part of our lives, we carried this sexual behaviour into the classroom.  One day we were under the table in the classroom pleasing one of the boys while a lesson was going on.  A student at another table suddenly yelled out “Look Miss Y, they’re doing dirty things”.  Miss Y looked straight at us while we were still under the table and as we moved to get back onto our chair, then she looked away.  Nothing happened as a result of this incident.

We’ve always wondered why this incident has affected us so badly.  It certainly wasn’t the worst thing an adult did to us.  Plenty of other adults had already turned a blind eye by that time.  Over the last few weeks we’d noticed this incident just sitting under the surface, chipping away at our safety.  After the young one had drawn this picture, the woman asked us about the incident.  It was only then we realised the true impact of this incident – we did more than tell the secrets that day, someone saw them and THEY DID NOTHING!  If a teacher saw the secrets and did nothing, what is the use of talking about them now?  No one will believe us.  So there’s no point in going to therapy, it’s all hopeless.  It was good to finally realise what the problem was.  We know what we’re facing again…

Now playing: I’ll follow you into the dark – Deathcab for Cutie
via FoxyTunes

Give me back some good memories please

When the mother visited last time we talked about the childhood and some of the things that happened.  In some respects I think she was checking out when we were hurt and by whom – a fairly understandable concern for a mother.  What became very obvious is that huge chunks of the childhood are missing from our collective memory.  This is for both good and bad incidents.

I’m quite happy with the knowledge that you don’t remember everything from your childhood.  But what I really need is some good memories to hold onto.  There’s no way that the childhood was all bad.  I know there are some good pieces, and this was confirmed by the mother when we were talking about it.  She’d ask “do you remember…” with a smile in her voice; but we couldn’t remember it.  Admittedly this is the woman who had a baby photo of our cousin and tried to tell us it was us, so odds are her memory isn’t all that accurate either.  But where in this head are some good memories?

Aimee is our happiest and carefree young one, but she holds almost no memories.  She was purely there to be happy and appease everyone around us – she did this well.  K has a smile which would break your heart, but it’s a smile born out of being scared all the time – it’s very tentative.

When the mother was talking about the good memories, it became obvious that not many of them were totally positive.  I remember Nanna brushing our hair dry one time when we were staying with them in Wellington, this is the only totally positive.  The rest are tinged in some way – on holiday at the Marlborough Sounds, getting out of the car and running to find the ocean… we found it by falling down a cliff.  Deciding to eat raw pumpkin seeds before going on a family holiday… only to throw them all up before reaching the town limits.  Being the smallest in the family so being told to go up the storm water drains to scare the eels down for the brothers to catch.  These stories are often told with humorous teasing at family gatherings, but we don’t remember the events.  I can see how they’re funny, but they’re not the sort of thing that you can hold onto when you’re whole body is shaking from a triggered abusive memory.

Whoever in this head has got the good memories, can they share them with me please…  Could really do with some good stuff right now.

Random (potentially rhetorical) question of the day…

Sometimes if there is an event that is particularly stressful and one of us is present for the entire thing, afterwards we feel as if the pieces of the memory are almost being “taken away” from us by other parts of the system and being shared around… are we just plain arsed crazy, or does anyone else experience this?

We’re ok with being crazy – some really inventive and cool people are/were crazy :)

It could just be the adrenaline kicking in so it does something to the memory, but it’s almost as if chunks of it have been taken away from me.  It’s a really odd feeling.

Hmmmm maybe we just need to get some sleep!

Take care
Sophie :)

DID & Memory

Memory functionality in those with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is probably one of the most controversial part of the diagnosis.   According to the DSM-IV-TR, in order to meet the diagnostic criteria for DID, a person must experience:

Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

(American Psychological Association, 2000).

The wording for this criteria mean that it is up to the diagnosing professional what is to be considered “extensive”.

In our experience this has meant that a majority of our childhood cannot be remembered.  There are occasional snippets, but much of our childhood and teen years, up until the age of 16 are predominantly made up of family stories and certificates.  We get glimpses or snatches of our past, but much of it is a blur of pictures, smells or just is “lost”.  It’s a very odd feeling to have little knowledge of your own history.  What memories we do have of these years are lumped in the ages 7-9, this is not so much because these were the ages where we have clarity in our memory; but rather because the two alters who were most present in our younger years are this age.  Because they have little concept of time, everything happened to them and they are 7 and 8, so it must have happened to the body when it was 7 and 8.

This has confused many people assessing our mental health as we are able to mention lots of things that happened in those years.  What they often neglect to ask is about the school we were attending at the time, or whether we wore a school uniform to place the experience into a context.  So our 8 year old will say that “experience X” happened when we were 8.  But she also knows that we wore a school uniform at the time, meaning that it must have occurred after the body turned 13 as this was when we had to wear uniforms for school.

This concept raises the specter of False Memory Syndrome (FMS) and inaccuracies with recovered memories.  If we can’t remember most of our past, how can we be sure that any abuse we talk about happened?

In What is DID? I mentioned the opinion that DID is on the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) continuum.  Note that the major aspects of PTSD are re-experiencing the event and avoidance of the stimuli; with amnesia considered one possible way to avoid the stimuli.  According to Leskin, Kaloupek, and Keane (as cited in Gleaves & Williams, 2005), there is a struggle between re-experiencing and avoidance.  But it does show that it is possible to experience amnesia for traumatic events – for example in documented events such as the Holocaust (van der Hart & Brom, 1999).

An important distinction in this amnesia is that while the autobiographical memory might be affected by the trauma; the feelings, habits and sensory memories will remain (Gleaves & Williams, 2005).  Again, to bring this to our experience, one of our triggers is the smell of rubber.  We would avoid the smell of rubber without any realisation as to why.  We knew something bad had happened in a school playground, and it was only when more of the autobiographical memory was accessed that we realised that we linked the smell of the rubber to the tractor tyres that we were on.  So from this event our sensory memory remained intact, but the autobiographical memory was partially lost.

So if DID is further along the PTSD spectrum, surely this would mean that the memory issues surrounding events would be more advanced.  Whether this advancement would also impact on the sensory memory is not clear – again in our case, we have some sensory triggers which we cannot tie to any event.  So it would seem as if there are more gaps in autobiographical memories as the trauma covers more events over a long period of time.

So is this recovered memory accurate?  Studies cited in Gleaves & Williams (2005), state that the central themes of recovered memories are no more or less accurate than continuous memories of abuse.  In the instance that is described above, one of the perpetrators was jailed two years ago for historical sexual abuse to other girls – so women independent of us reported this man as being an child abuser while he was in his early to mid teens.  We could have all imagined it, but the chances of this same man being nominated as a random target by women with no contact with each other would be fairly long odds.

The other controversy associated with FMS is that DID is an iatrogenic occurance cause by over zealous therapists.  In some respects this controversy has had the benefit of causing a growing number of studies which look at the DID diagnosis from a variety of viewpoints.  Gleaves & Williams (2005), accept that poor therapy techniques can cause someone with DID to deteriorate, but this is not iatrogenesis.  It indicates that there needs to be training for the therapists in the areas of healing from trauma.

I’ll expand on some of these ideas later in another posting on DID and time loss and co-consciousness.


American Psychological Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR (4th ed.). Washington: Author.

Gleaves, D., & Williams, T. (2005). Critical questions: Trauma, memory, and dissociation. Psychiatric Annals, 35(8), 648-654. Retrieved January 11, 2009, from Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition database.

van der Hart, O., & Brom, D. (1999). When the victim forgets: Trauma-induced amnesia and its assessment in Holocaust Survivors. In A. Shalev, R. Yehuda, & A. McFarlane (Eds.), International handbook of human response to trauma (pp. 233-248). New York: Plenum Press. Retrieved January 13, 2009 from

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