Shirley J. Davis
One of the hardest parts of living with any mental illness is not being accepted by the people that most humans count on the most, our families. This is especially true if the mental health condition we are living with was caused primarily by severe trauma in our childhoods.
This is perhaps the hardest part of recovery from Dissociative Identity Disorder.
When I began treatment back in 1990, I met a lot of resistance from my family. My mother was convinced that I was only speaking about her in my sessions, and that I was telling lies about her. Other members of my family had disowned me a long time before, choosing never to speak to me or even acknowledge my existence because I had told the truth as I knew it about what had happened to me in my childhood. The pain of being rejected by the people I loved was tremendous. I cried many tears over this rejection and spent many hours feeling I must be defective for them to dislike me so.
Finally, my therapist explained to me that my family were dry wells. She said that there was no emotional water there to get so if I kept returning to them looking for something to quench my thirst for love, I would always return with a dry bucket and a bad taste in my mouth. That was very difficult to hear as I, like many others in my shoes, have a very human need for my family to support and love me. It is almost built into our DNA. Thus, I began my long journey to self-acceptance, and finding self-worth outside my family relationships.
I went through a lot of mourning over the fact that my family could not and would not accept me for who I am. I felt so isolated and alone. My dreams and hopes that someday they would love me again plagued me. I thought, perhaps, if I conformed to what they wanted, or if I changed who I was, they would love me. However, the things that were expected of me were too hard to swallow. I could not go back to denial and say that my having my personality so radically altered was not true. I was living with a severe mental illness due to the treatment I received from people who were supposed to be my protectors and love me unconditionally, but they had in turn used me and harmed me horribly.
After a few years of therapy, (yes, years) I discovered that what I really needed was to let my idea of family go and adopt a new frame of thought. Just who are family and what are they supposed to do? I explored these two questions with my therapist carefully and thoughtfully.
A family is supposed to love and accept you unconditionally. They are supposed to call you to check up on you when they know you are having a hard day, and they are supposed to root you on when you are making progress. They are supposed to support your ambitions and dreams. I needed to find this kind of support, so the next step was to find places to get it.
I was fortunate enough to hook up with an online support group for people living with DID called Ivory Garden (www.igdid.com). There I met others with the same disorder who accepted me just as I am. They supported my ideas and rooted me on whenever I needed support. They listened and cared. They became my family of choice. I still am on this site (it’s been five years now) and still find help and understanding there.
I also have found friends here in my area (I live in rural Illinois) who also live with Dissociative Identity Disorder that I can talk to face to face about what is going on in my life. They love and respect me and I them.
Sure, I am still a work in progress and trust of others does not come easily for me, but I feel I am moving forward and that is what is important to me.
Has it been easy letting go of my family of origin and their lack of understanding and acceptance of me? No. I have gone through some intense grieving and it hurts to think about it sometimes. However, I know that I had to leave them behind and move on. The alternatives were to stop existing or to lie to myself and conform to what they wanted me to be. Neither were acceptable to me.
Giving up on the Hollywood dream of a Brady Bunch type of family is painful, but going to dry wells for water is even more so. I wouldn’t trade my journey through the abyss of rejection for anything. It has made me self-reliant and strong. Beware though, the journey is long and fraught with danger.
I would encourage anyone who is experiencing rejection from their family of origin to seek out like-minded individuals for love and support. It is worth it.