Everyone who cared had tried to help me for so long, but nothing was working. The elders of my church, although they placed no confidence in psychology, didn’t know what else to do. They offered to pay for a year of psychotherapy for me. That was twenty years ago. I’m still working in therapy.
Although I’d begun to have memories of being sexually abused by my father before I began therapy, I didn’t think that had a whole lot to do with my problem, which was the tortured reaction I experienced when I heard certain everyday sounds: breathing, chewing, sniffling… I would go from being almost catatonic in my depressed withdrawal to, at other times, a fit-throwing rage to self injury to plans for a quick and painless suicide. I found a therapist whom I believe was God-sent, with whom I still work.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
During sessions, sometimes I would feel as if I were being sucked into a big, gray cloud; other times as though I were falling into a deep, black velvety hole. I’d fight hard and make it back to continue whatever we’d been discussing. This “going away” happened at other times; I’d just never really talked about it before. One time, the grayness pulled me away, but I didn’t come back. Instead of me, a 30-year-old, extremely depressed and repressed woman, a 15-year-old, bubbly and happy girl named Katie started talking to my therapist who, God bless her, never missed a beat, and spoke respectfully to Katie, listening to her complaints about me, of which she had many!
Over the next several months, I learned that I had a dissociative identitydisorder (DID). Different “parts” of me (who had memories that I did not ) would come out in therapy and at home. They revealed a life of abuse and torture that I had kept hidden from myself. These parts experienced things that my mind could not bear at that time and remain sane. They split off from me and kept me functioning in the everyday world while my father and, later, people in a satanic cult, performed horrible acts upon my mind, body and emotions.
Over the course of uncovering the memories, I struggled with desperate doubts. Who would want to believe that such things could happen? It wasn’t until I read about other survivors of such abuse that I knew I wasn’t alone, and that these atrocities really did happen. I was hospitalized several times during really rough patches, when the memories would trigger suicide plans and increased self harming. Once I was on a psych unit with other survivors of satanic ritual abuse (SRA). Developing relationships with these men and womenwas very healing (although the hospital program itself wasn’t as helpful). But, to talk to people who had experienced atrocities similar to me and who I saw as wonderful, creative, intelligent and compassionate, helped me to see myself as more than the slime I’d been programmed to see when I looked at myself.
Throughout all this, my therapist has been my strongest support. She disagrees with my self-assessments when I am brutal about myself and redirects self-hatred to anger towards the people who hurt me. She has helped me see that I am not who the abusers programmed me to become, and that I am stronger than they told me I was. She has not given up on me. She has, step by step, helped me to uncover the lies I have believed all my life because the abusers, who had such power over me, told them to me.
I believed that I would die if I remembered.
I remembered, and I’m still alive.
I believed that I would die if I told.
I told, and I’m still alive.
I believed I was worthless and disgusting.
I’m still working on that one.
As their stories became mine, various alters were absorbed into the whole of the real me; they also are the real me. As I continue to draw and write and cry and remember and rage and take three steps forward and two steps back, different parts of me perform different functions. As I raised my daughter, an alter called “Good Mom” took over sometimes. When I was teaching in the public schools, the extremely organized “Monica” taught my students when I couldn’t. When I needed to experience anger but was too afraid, “Sofya” got angry for me.
The memories started from easiest (fondling) to more difficult (penetration) to horrific (cult activities). The incest began at age 2; cult involvement at about 4. Both at home and at the cult’s “farm,” abuse grew exponentially more awful as I grew older. I am now working on the worst of the worst of the worst memories. (I hope.) They are triggering old ways of coping, but I have more knowledge now and more skills in coping. I am stronger now than when I first started.
I have taken time off from therapy, the largest chunk of time off when I was raising my daughter. Then, most of the therapeutic work done was centered around her own unique and challenging problems. I have not kept up the same level of intensity in therapeutic work over the past twenty years. If I had, I would have become undone. As it is, I am unable to teach as a result of physical problems, many stemming from the abuse, and because of what has been diagnosed as major chronic acute depression.
The biggest losses I experience due to the abuse are in the area of relationships. I spend most of my time alone. I have believed myself unworthy of love. When I was 8 years old, I knew no one would ever want to marry me. I didn’t realize then that another part of me was given in marriage to Satan in a bizarre ceremony. I just knew no one would ever love me. I couldn’t look ahead to see that I would be the one to prevent that from happening. I thought I wanted a close relationship (marriage) in my twenties and thirties. (Even at my most optimistic, though, I never expected love- just hoped for loyalty. ) The truth was, though, that I was afraid of relationships and sabotaged many potentially intimate ones. I have put up walls. I have almost deliberately misunderstood the intentions of others. And, the problem with sounds makes prolonged, close contact difficult. I cannot sleep in a room with another person.
I am morbidly, grossly, obese. I just recently realized that being fat saved my life by keeping me from even more abuse, even more involvement with the cult. But, like everything else that once served a purpose, such as having alters, this now is only emotionally safe. I am learning to be braver, to face the truth, to become healthier in all areas of my life. I’m not there yet. I’m still working, still learning, still healing. But, I’m nearing the end of the most intensive work. (I hope!) I suspect that things will surface all my life, things that will tempt me to resort to old ways of coping. But, I am pointed in the direction of health.
Things that have not helped in the recovery process are: shame, condemnation, disbelief, people calling alters “demons” and trying to cast them out, people telling me to put the past behind and go on with my life when I haven’t yet dealt with the past.
If I had read books on incest before I had begun remembering, that would have been detrimental because I would have believed my memories were being influenced by those of others. The same with books on dissociation and SRA.
Something inside me knew to avoid these topics until I had memories that were my own. Afterwards, reading others’ experiences helped tremendously.
Other things that have helped have been: people who listened and believed, prayer support from the non-exorcism crowd, some hospitalizations, friends who would drive me to the emergency room when necessary and take care of my cats when I was hospitalized, writing, drawing and, especially, my therapist.
So, here I am, even at the old, old age of fifty-three, still growing and learning. When my 8-year-old alter, Barbra, is out I feel very young although sometimes she feels very old. When the memories come, they’re still hard, even overwhelming. While I’m afraid, still, to look forward to a happy future, I am looking toward being stronger, healthier, safer and, above all, more whole.