Sunday, November 29, 2009

Multiplicity can be a choice

First, I want to say that there is so much I have to talk about, that I collectively have experienced over the past week. I have come to an amazing place in my healing process where I feel absolutely confident that I will never again feel as bad as I did in the past--I will feel bad at times, because that is part of the human condition. But the horrible, hopeless despair is gone, and that degree of pain is unlikely to return. The joy and relief are incredible, and I want to share them with everyone I know. But right now, I'll just share the thing that made everything click for me. Maybe later, I'll write more about how it feels to be where I am.

So. Multiplicity as a choice.

I had inklings of this from the beginning, but I never realized it. Once I realized I was multiple, I knew it was important for me to accept it without shame. I knew that would be a vital part of my healing process, because shame is simply not an emotion that leads to healing. Shame helps to cement unhealthy patterns, and no matter how many healing skills we learn, the shame will undermine them every time. (But be aware that you have to go ahead and learn the healing skills, or else you won't be able to get past the shame. And try not to feel ashamed of being ashamed.)

If multiplicity is something that was imposed on me by abuse, it would make sense to say "well, then, my healing won't be complete until the things caused by the abuse have been healed." It would make sense to focus on "healing" my multiplicity.

That never seemed to work for me. Parts of me were very resistant to the idea of being healed until they couldn't be fully and discretely themselves. They never liked the idea other people described, of integration meaning that all of who the parts were got blended into one single person. Their experience is one of being individuals, having thoughts and feelings that are fully their own.

And when there was a focus on healing the multiplicity, it really got in the way of internal communication. Parts who felt they were more healed--the ones who had more access to healing skills--often felt invested in being the ones who led the rest of us. They did have a point, because everyone did need to heal. They were right about that. But they thought they knew the right way to do it, and on that, they were wrong.

So, awkwardly and uncomfortably, we did our best to accept our multiplicity. There was always some doubt, about whether this was really a path that would lead us to healing. Maybe we were wrong, a lot of us worried. Maybe we were slowing the healing process by defining each part concretely. Maybe we were so warped by our childhood, or so invested in some kind of, I don't know, exhibitionist need to be multiple that we were making the problem worse.

But at the same time, we were also sufficiently self-aware to keep checking on a simple thing: whenever we started to act as though we were all individuals in here, people who share a body and absolutely have to compromise, communicate, and cooperate on our mutual life... things would start to get better. The headaches would go away, we could get more done, there were fewer panic attacks and less lost time. When we started to act as though we were a singleton, we lost cooperation. There was more depression, more fear, we were less able to live the life we want to have.

There was still shame and doubt, though. We kept on ignoring the comments from the little kids inside, who insist that lots of people around us are pretty similar to us. We bought into the idea that multiplicity is caused by abuse, and that that it's fairly uncommon. Our shame led us to think that our sense that lots of people are multiple was simply a desire to feel like we had less to be ashamed about.

Then we realized something: what do we have to be ashamed about, anyways? We didn't cause the abuse. We didn't ask for it. We didn't seek it out. For the entire span of our life that we've had control over, there has been no abuse. When we have had a choice, we have chosen healthy relationships. So if multiplicity is anything, it's a lucky development. Our mind, for whatever reasons, gave us tools that allowed us not only to live through the abuse, but to achieve our goals, and live a healthy adult life.

Honestly, we suspect we were going to be multiple regardless of what happened, in one way or another. We might never have chosen to have our own names, and we certainly wouldn't have had to spend years in therapy to cope with being multiple. The problem isn't the multiplicity, and we've realized that more strongly than ever. What has caused problems in our system is that the parts have spent their lives coping with being abused. Healing has taken so long, because we're going through a bunch of different "people's" healing process, and we didn't understand that for most of the time we were working at this.

I started listening when parts kept saying "trying to become ex-multiple, for us, is like trying to become ex-gay." And we have strong opinions on that one, for ourselves. We *are* queer. We accepted that from the outset. We chose to be who we are, without shame or guilt. We didn't listen to the people saying we were only a lesbian for reasons outside of our control. We chose to embrace it. Even though we believe it was true for us from the beginning, we also actively chose to be who we are.

So why not choose to be multiple? It's gonna be there whether or not you choose it. It doesn't matter where it came from, it's there. And there are so many advantages to just going ahead and treating ourselves as a multiple.

When we accepted that we are different people sharing a body, we're holding opposites in our hands: we are one person, living in a single body; we have to learn to cooperate because what one of us does affects everyone here. But at the same time, we are individuals. We each have our own experiences, memories, opinions, and things we want out of life. We can become more fulfilled as individuals when everyone inside is able to understand that they are not the only one here.

The best example is from those times when things are fairly settled for our system. No one is having anxiety, no one is afraid or upset. And then whoever is at the front, if they haven't learned to accept that they are multiple, feels that they are the only one there, or (if they somewhat accept our multiplicity) they think they are the only one in front. So when deciding what to do, they will assume that their opinion is the most important one. "Do I want to check email or play a game?" they will ask themselves when they are getting on the computer. "Well, I want to check email, but I want to play the game more." So they play the game, not realizing that "check email" was a request put in by another part. It can lead to chronic frustration and lack of satisfaction for parts who are less strong-willed, and less able to claim the front. We've been realizing that this is happening recently, and it was a breakthrough in communication. It's really hard to communicate with yourselves if you don't believe there's more than one of you. It's difficult to communicate with people when you assume you know what they want or believe without asking them.

Somehow, this process led us to the notion that by embracing multiplicity, we were embracing something really joyous. It is as though by working to define each part, and accepting that we are each individuals, we were able to click together and accomplish integration of each of our individual selves. We could find all of the parts of ourselves we had assumed belonged to someone else inside.

And that can lead to an amazing realization. It did for us, anyways. We have a part who has been more suicidal than most of us, and who never lost that desperate sense of needing the pain to end. She would say--and we all often thought it was other parts saying this, but now we know differently--she would say "I need the pain to end; I feel like my choices are to continue in pain, to be dead, or to stop the pain." And her first choice was to stop the pain, but she didn't know how. We have finally realized, for us, that acting to stop the pain is all it takes to ease it. Going to therapy, sure, but also, we realized that we have the right to tell people to stop doing things that hurt us. And we have the right to act for ourselves, to reach out, to be honest and imperfect, and not always in control. We realized that there is more safety in taking risks than in constantly being braced for abuse that is no longer happening.

Growing up, we had no choice. We just lived through it, closed ourselves off to the pain, and did our best to survive. As adults, that pattern was ingrained. We would act to avoid things that were painful, and we would stop obvious hurts. But the hurts of isolation, the hurts of being around people who we care about who are hurting... those, we didn't know what to do about, or we were afraid to act.

I can't quite say which came first, deciding to embrace multiplicity willingly and without shame, or realizing that we can choose that third path: the path that leads to changing the rules so that we can be happy and fulfilled. Honestly, it probably happened simultaneously, along with a lot of other things. When we are able to listen to other parts, they will tell us some very healing things.

Whatever the cause, realizing that multiplicity is a choice, and making the choice to be multiple, somehow caused us to experience what has got to be integration for us. We are still each our individual selves, and we feel fairly confident that we've collected all the lost bits and pieces of who we were. It's been delightful to realize that a part who seemed to do nothing but provoke problems is also the one who finds nothing more satisfying than to fix things. Messing stuff up is part of fixing things, and Petra is dedicated to doing both of those things. Most freeing of all is how Why transformed into Tertia--she has always pushed us, in ways that felt terrifying to everyone involved, to find that third path, the one that requires neither living through abuse nor being dead. Her desire to end the pain was strong, and her desire to live a life without pain motivated the rest of us to keep up with the healing process.

Why do I call it integration, if we have not turned into a single person? Because we've realized that integration doesn't have to be--perhaps should not be--about everyone becoming the same. It's about finding a place for every part, and giving them an equal voice in the running of the system. It means that we take each part's needs into account, and work to make a life where all of us can be happy. We are one system, and we've never doubted that. But we are also a collection of individuals, and choosing to accept that has given us access to more strength and joy than we imagined would ever be possible.