Mel’s Corner: Illusions of Control
“Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no trouble, noise, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
– Lady GaGa
Having a spouse with dissociative identity disorder can be quite hard. Often times events can be quite hurtful and you will have full memory while the spouse has none. That is a hard thing to accept. How can a person say or do something then have no memory of it? And then treat you like nothing ever happened? I started to question my own reality. Maybe it didn’t happen, maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I’m the one with the problem.
The way my wife’s system works is when she becomes too overwhelmed she will have alters who will “pop out” to take over a situation. Depending on what alter comes out, depends on how the situation is handled. Also alters can tend to just come out if they feel like they need to take control or if they feel she is not doing an adequate job of taking care of the situation. Often times a protector comes out. Different systems have different alters who are protectors. My wife just happens to have a more aggressive, angry protector because that’s what worked for her for so many years. What that means for me is I tend to get the back lash of situations a lot.
I’ve found that in order for me to survive those situations where things become overwhelming for me emotionally, I have to remind myself that I’m talking to her protective alter, and this alter was developed to help protect the system. Although it’s not ok to have behavior this way, often times there is nothing I can do about it but ride out the storm. During these times I’ve learned that the serenity prayer has brought me much comfort. I usually like to break it down to the situation.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I can’t change the fact my wife will always have DID. I can’t change the alters that she has in her system. Sometimes even the situation is beyond my control.
The courage to change the things I can. I can change how I react, what I say and how I approach her and the situation. This one is harder than it sounds, although I can change my reaction, often times emotion has taken over and I have to pause to change my reaction. This one takes much practice, and even today I become overwhelmed and my reptilian brain (fight or flight) takes over. I find that stepping away from the situation when I can brings me more clarity. I also find my therapy background tends to come out during this period as well. Many times it’s “safe” thing for me to just switch over and treat it as a therapeutic process thus protecting my feelings. There are days when I just loose it and break down. Those days I do get angry with God for even having a disease like DID. Although it served its purpose when the abuse happened, it’s no longer needed and it’s something that never will go away. There are times I need a friend to tell me that everything is going to be ok. It’s during these times I have to look beyond myself and know that I need strength from a power greater than myself. Somewhere deep inside I know everything will be ok, it always is, but for some reason I just can’t access that part of myself. Hearing it from someone else gives me that spark of hope I needed to get through the situation and continue to believe that all will turn out ok.
And the wisdom to know the difference. Wisdom only comes with time. Only after touching the stove a few times do you learn that it’s actually hot. Wisdom has taught me when to challenge an alter’s thinking and when to back away and let the system reset. Time has also taught me to pick up on subtle cues that tell me which alter is out. Some alters take great joy in trying to fool me into thinking they are someone else in the system and I’m sure they succeed many times in fooling me. There are sometimes I even question myself as to whom I am talking to.
There is a longer version on the serenity prayer that adds these additional lines:
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
The part I find most helpful in the addition is “living one day at a time”. There have been times that a day is too overwhelming and I have to live a minute or hour at a time. Making it through those small amounts of time get me through the day and then eventually through the situation. There are periods that can be months long of chaos. Times where an alter is out of control for days. Thankfully in our journey those long periods of chaos are not as frequent as they have been.
“I’m sorry, Gemma. But we can’t live in the light all of the time. You have to take whatever light you can hold into the dark with you.” ~ Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty
I believe there are many situations in life we look back on and think, that wasn’t as bad as it felt in the moment. We made it through that situation and will make it through this one. Pain is relative. For example if I’m in physical pain, the worst possible pain I’ve experienced (a 10 on the scale), is childbirth. For me that’s all I can compare it to. When I was a child it would have probably been vaccinations would have been my 10. Looking on that today, getting a shot is nowhere near the pain of childbirth, so pain is relative to what we know. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t know how I do it every day that I have to be a strong person. While that might be true, this is my normal. I wouldn’t know what to do if my life wasn’t like this. Now could I survive under constant stress, pressure and turmoil, no. That’s why I’m glad that the chaos has breaks, even if they are short breaks, it allows me to catch my breath to go through the next wave without drowning. I think most people don’t know what they could do because they might not have been faced with the situation. I think this from the promises listed in the Big Book of AA sums it up. ” We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” We have to learn from the past, or else we are destined to repeat it. Not learning, we react the same way each time and we will get the same outcome, but if we learn and grow then we move through that situation with a new perspective.