Ellie’s Pain

Since therapy yesterday, Ellie has been desperate to take charge. She’s fed up of how successful Matilda is making us seem… how we are going back to uni and starting as a counsellor. She says she wants us to cut ourself so that her pain is visible again, because it’s like she’s being written out of the story, of how things look from the outside, because she’s in so much pain, and my life looks miles from how broken she feels.

I tried talking to her and I think I got through. I said Ellie, your pain is why we are at uni. It’s why we are studying psychology. It’s why we are a trauma counsellor. Do you think we would be doing these things if it wasn’t for your pain? Your pain is valid, but all the books on trauma we are reading say that a client has to be taught to live in the reality that the trauma is in the past. It’s not happening now. You don’t need to be panicked now. You don’t have to feel dirty or scared now. It is over.

Ellie, the trauma is in the past. We aren’t acting like it didn’t happen, I promise. Your pain will be always with us. But we have two choices – to live every day like it’s still going on and to remain forever a victim. Or to realise it’s in the past, we are safe now, and to actually live life. Your pain will always be real and what we are doing is precisely because you were hurt. We are helping other people because we know how much you hurt and they hurt too. 

So please, Ellie. Work with us not against us. It’s your pain that is our very driving force. It is the reason for all we are accomplishing. We want to do it in your name. For you. We want you to get stuck in and be present and part of it because only if you are with us not dissociated can we be the best counsellor possible – without you we don’t have empathy. Without you we don’t have congruence. You are so vital to this. So please, be a part of it with me.

You can make your pain real and seen by helping us be the best counsellor we can be. That isn’t moving on and ignoring what happened to you. That isn’t dissociating from you. It’s being you! It’s acting wholeheartedly because of you! I’m doing this all for you Ellie – BECAUSE of you. Your pain is real and I get that it hurts. It’s agony. But it’s also over. You’re safe now. And you have a voice – you have so many more ways to say “someone hurt me” than just to hurt yourself. So come on board, Ellie. I need you and can’t do this without you. Be a counsellor with me because I know you’re big and strong enough to do this. Because you survived, yes Matilda got us through it but you’re still there with us. We are one. And we can do this as a team.


Today at therapy my sexual abuse carrying alter was in control for most of the session (I say sexual abuse carrying because the other abuse carrying alter carries the emotional abuse from my mother). It is only the second time she has been present, and she brought with her all her pain. There were tears. There was all her confusion. There was me somewhere there and all the rational things people have told us to try to heal us. And there was the massive, weighty incongruence of the adult logic and the emotions Ellie is carrying. 

They say it’s not our fault, yet we were always being told off for talking to him. They say it’s not our fault, we were just a child, but Ellie still is that child, and she knows full well grown ups want us to take responsibility for our actions. So how can she not feel responsible for the way she protected him, encouraged him, was even sexually attracted to him and invited his touch on more than one occasion. The grown ups say we only wanted it because we were groomed but Ellie is that groomed girl and she can only see things her way and she is hurting and lost and confused and she’s never been able to say these things before. 

Our story didn’t match up with the media, with the books, even with the most up to date materials. Our story isn’t black and white, there isn’t a monster and a poor helpless child. There is a teenager who desperately needed love and a man who provided it exceptionally convincingly. Maybe the love was even real. Maybe monsters are capable of love and abuse. Whatever the truth, our story doesn’t fit the books, or the recovery models, or the things counsellors have said to us before. And so Ellie was left behind, we pretended her story wasn’t real because to find someone who had any logic that could match our experience yet still help her let go of the guilt seemed far, far too impossible. 

But now we have a person centred therapist. Someone whose very core is empathy and unconditional positive regard. Someone who doesn’t want my experience to fit a model he was taught at counsellor school, but who values the incongruence of real life. We can hold space for the fact that the emotions I feel as Ellie and the facts I know as an adult are in contradiction. Because contradiction is the root of all struggles. And that contradiction won’t be overcome by throwing the facts at Ellie harder or more convincingly. It will be overcome by working through her emotions. Only that way, only in that awfully painful way can we recover. I know that. She knows that. So we are doing that. I feel raw. But I feel happy that we are making progress. Recovery is hard but it is possible. 

Leave The Door Unlocked

Last week at therapy we realised that I keep my sexual abuse carrying alter, Ellie, locked in a room when she’s not being invited out to have her time. We found this out as she took the reins in the session, tearfully berating the way she is invited out once a week and then dissociated from again so we can carry on functioning and being as near as we can to “normal”. She said this pain of rejection and abandonment after each therapy session is like a reinforcement of her silencing directly after the abuse. On the one hand I invite her out knowing it’s her that needs to heal, on the other I don’t want to allow her to be the one always in control or we would be a mess of terribly dark emotions and pain like we were before I started the therapy journey.

So my therapist invited me to leave the door to the room I put her in unlocked. She felt so happy at this and reassured me she doesn’t want to take over or make us miserable all the time, she just wants to not be rejected so horribly after each invitation to come forward, be present and heal. And so with this visualisation I left the session with the door still unlocked. I went to a 6 hour CPD course about sexual abuse on Friday with the door unlocked. Ellie sat and listened and did her best to take the things she was hearing on board. When it became too much I dissociated without any control but that was ok too. Because at least Ellie was hearing many of these things she so needed to hear. It feels madness that I’ve spent two years at therapy with the door to the person holding the abuse locked! I never even realised I was dissociated and wondered why I was never healing. I learned so much more of how to regulate my emotions, but healing Ellie? No, that wasn’t happening. I knew I wasn’t prepared to open the door to the abuse but I didn’t realise the door wasn’t just to the abuse but to a very part of me that held the abuse, an “alter”. 

 I was concurrently attending therapy desperate to heal and denying to myself that I was ever abused. Both were for the same reason: longing to have the best life possible. Dissociation meant I could pretend my past wasn’t real and thus most of the time I didn’t experience the terrible psychological effects of the trauma. But there were always the times the pain bubbled up and I lost control, it seeped through the cracks, Ellie was shouting out desperate to be heard, to be witnessed, to be validated. She would rage, she would cry, she would want to die. She would cut herself. And now here we are at last… I can speak her name and I can leave the door to her unlocked. I am learning to trust her and she is learning to feel trusted. Every step of it is healing. And whether DID is just an elaborate way of visualising dissociation or whether Ellie is real, by treating her like a person, her very own person, I feel I am able to attend to her needs in a way that was never possible while I was just this alleged single entity that was both abused but also defiantly denied that awful past.

What is DID?

Three weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of dissociation. It sounds hard to believe that in a decade of being diagnosed with BPD and a decade of extensive reading to be in control of my own treatment, along with a year so far into a psychology degree, I never once came to hear of dissociative disorders. It wasn’t until half way through a counselling training course for my own professional development that bam, the reality of my existence finally fell into place.

I mean sure, I’d heard of multiple personality disorder, but I was pretty sure I was just the one person, so I never really looked it up on the DSM-V. Yet I was walking around living the life of a grade A dissociative survivor. I mean come on, I’ve legally changed my name! I claim(ed) the person who was abused was dead and buried and that only successful, look-to-the-future me was alive and worth focusing on! How textbook dissociative can you get? I have no memories of my childhood and very sketchy memories of anything since the end of the abuse. I lose time constantly. I don’t feel “real”, or that I have a fixed identity. I don’t feel feelings other than when big, bad ones bubble up and take over and rage at whoever is my closest friend at the time. And then I have no memory of how I behaved in that emotional state. But dissociation? Not a word for these experiences I’d ever come across, or if I had I clearly never understood it.

In therapy, through drawing, we came to see there are two cognitive individuals in my head who are often at war. Self-improvement is a right bitch and she always wants us to be doing something, being productive, making ourself good enough or worthy of love or attention or even just existing. She’s a massive motivational driving force but alone she runs me into the ground, tires me out, and we have circles of high productivity and then burnout. Self-preservation is a quieter voice who tries to regulate self-improvement. She has simple requests like for goodness sake can we please stop to eat, have a drink, and actually… sleep?! Can we have a chocolate bar instead of treating my body like a thing to be punished or denied? Can we just do a colouring or watch a film or take a mental health day? Not forever, not to be lazy, but for gods sake just so we survive… maybe even thrive!

So there we go, I got two dolls, Ragdoll for self-preservation and Matilda for self-improvement, and the dialogue started. I was able to listen to them both in a measured way, reaping the benefits from them both. I don’t always get it right even now, but these two cognitive voices are so much more integrated now I’m aware of them. Now when these two became named I certainly started to feel like I was walking down the multiple personality path, but dissociation? Naa, still not a thing I knew about.

Then me and my best friend had a rough few weeks. I was becoming this other me, the emotional ragey shouty angry one, very very often. I would try my hardest to control or stop it but I couldn’t. And afterwards I never remembered how I’d been, not more than a slight flash and a sense of total shame and guilt. I was hurting the person I cared for most… but somehow he knew even though I didn’t that the emotion wasn’t directed at him. It was something surfacing that had been surpressed. Dissociated from. If only I’d known what that meant.

So when I had my training evening on dissociation amid this plethora of emotional outbursts that WEREN’T ME, and yet the reality was I knew it was me, it didn’t take long to realise that dissociation was an accurate description for what I was experiencing. So, I named the part of me that was responsible for these outbursts. I played along with the possibility of DID, to see if it fitted. And I realised this part was 5 years old and it’s trigger was a fear of abandonment. Which meant there was one more “alter” as they are apparently called. The dead one, the abused one. And so I named her and she told me she was 13. And I promised her I wouldn’t pretend she was dead or dissociate from her any longer.

And so there were five. And here I am. With DID and finally an understanding of the two interval voices that constantly chatter, argue and self-depreciate and the two emotional selves who carry so much surpressed pain. I talk to them, I welcome them, I sit with their pain. They long so much just to be heard. And I will give them that. Because they are me.

I’ve Sectioned Myself

I have six weeks until the school summer holidays so I’ve decided to section myself. No, I’ve not handed myself into a psych ward, I’d never do that. I crave the space and freedom that would give me to focus on my recovery, but I also know I am strong enough to carry on being at home, keeping a day to day family life running, and being an amazing mum. So I have sectioned myself right here at home. 

Consider it a kind of day therapy. I wake up and make breakfast and get my son off to school with a smile and laughs. And then I embark on my recovery process. No more rushing around. No more feeling so busy despite the fact I’m on university summer holiday, am unemployed, and literally have nothing I’m supposed to be doing. You wouldn’t believe how busy a not busy person can make themselves… it’s a key to how I dissociate. So long as I’m busy I don’t have to process things. Sitting down, being present, means being with my feelings. And that is something I’ve avoided like the plague.

So no being busy. If I am as ill as I find I am all these times I keep breaking down lately, I deserve to hospitalise myself in the comfort of my own home and recover from this. If I had a physical illness there wouldn’t even be question over this. So I’m giving myself the same treatment for the mental illness I’m battling. Because I am so close to breakthrough now. I am ready, it’s taken two years and a course that has taught me more in 5 weeks than I’ve learned in 26 years, and I’m ready. No more dissociation. No more pretending I wasn’t abused. It’s time to face into it, talk about it, trust the process of therapy (or why the fuck am I training to be a therapist myself?!)

So yeah, home therapy. I go into my inner child room. I finger paint. I play with Duplo. I journal and read and lie back and BE PRESENT. You know I’m the biggest fraud of a mindfulness proponent EVER. I’ve sworn I practise mindfulness for years and I’ve not even realised that my head is full of voices CONSTANTLY. I’m never present because they’re always chattering and now I am aware of them it’s gotten so bloody loud. But I’m aware of them! I see none of what I’m learning as saddening, it is all taking me in leaps and bounds of recovery. My dissociated selves all chatter away and finally I know they exist and I can tune into them, listen to them, therapise them too. And finally, finally, there are times I’m able to be mindful, present, and have no noise. No distraction. No running. Be here with the inner children. 

Hulk, the child who doesn’t know how to express emotions. He’s petrified of abandonment and I don’t even know why. He’s only 5. Yet he’s the only one who ever outlets emotions… so you can imagine how messy that is. He can’t help it. He’s little. He needs guidance. Then there’s… there Ellie. I speak her name with venom, she is diseased. She is the one who was abused and who I’ve pretended is dead. I fucking hate her because she is so damaged and I’ve pretending she’s too fucked up to ever get better. Her pain has only got in the way of success and a “normal” life. But she is there and she needs a voice too. This week at therapy I will give her a voice. I’ll learn to love her. I’ll help her see she wasn’t the one at fault, she isn’t dirty or bad. She’s just a little girl too. She is 13 and she carries so so so much pain. But this pain will not kill me.

So 6 weeks. All about me. It may not fit tidily into this time… but it’s time I’m offering myself. Holding space for myself. For all my selves. Every single one. Even the one who I called dead. I’m giving them outlets that are age appropriate. I’m bringing them all to therapy. I’m letting them journal. They need to heal. But that means I need to let them be the ones in the therapist chair sometimes! And I know this process is gonna be painful and hard and TIRING. The fact it will drain me and is draining me so much is why I’ve pretend sectioned myself right here at home. I’m taking seriously the depth of what I’m dealing with, how important the work is, and how much of a toll it will take on me. Because I’m ready. I’m not scared anymore and I will not dissociate in the way my abuser did from his blame and responsibility. He put it all on me and I couldn’t take it so I killed that me. But I didn’t. Because we can never kill a part of ourselves. Only dissociate until we explode. And then… then… we start to heal.