Sharon Cretsinger reflects on her experience of coming out as persons of plural identities.
“Coming out” is defined pretty narrowly. I have been coming out my whole life. For many years, I thought of my activism in queer politics and AIDS as my first time coming out—as a bisexual femme. In reality, I came out as a survivor of horrible, pre-verbal sexual abuse as soon as I learned to speak. I grew up on the shores of Willow Creek, deep in Iowa, “The Heart of Corn Country”, the heart of misogynist country, rape central, at the corner of “Shut your fucking mouth, Bitch,” and “Get the fuck down on your knees, Cunt.” I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything.
Sometimes, now, others harshly question my credibility. I don’t much care. My credibility has been in question since I could speak. Maybe there were too many comings out. It feels like there needed to be more of me who were not-exactly-me to hold all of them.
When I came out as a labeled individual and survivor of psychiatric atrocities, around 2007, I did it very foolishly, assuming I had enough experience at being marginalized to handle it. I assumed, because I had read a bibliography of Mad literature, I would find a community to welcome and protect me. I assumed too much.
It has been only a couple of years since I began to speak openly about my other parts. This is my language of multiplicity. There is infinite other language for it. Clinical people (and others, I suppose) might say “Dissociative Identity Disorder”, or, colloquially, “Multiple Personality Disorder”, or even, with concentration camp- like simplicity, “300.14” (the DSM’s numerical shorthand for Dissociative Identity Disorder).
Clinicians debate whether we exist or not, with a large number of the believers only believing because they want their own “therapy” to contain more importance and drama. I was similar, suffering for a number of years from Clinician Identity Disorder (CID). Many “patients” develop CID as a way to escape diagnostic labels they don’t want, or systems of “treatment” that are abusing, or even torturing them. CID is most commonly expressed by pursuing a degree in Social Work, but some forms of the disorder can also produce licensed psychologists, psychiatric nurses, or, in rare cases, full-blown psychiatrists. I got the Social Work degree, and my primary concern was “helping people like me”. I thought it was a unique and altruistic way to deal with my selves. CID is really very common. Sometimes, when my CID was at its worst, I doubted my own existences.
But I am here. We are here. And here are some reflections:
1. Many people refer to the dynamic of the “split” personality, or “splitting”. It was much more of a dynamic of shattering for me. There are pieces of me I know very well. They are easy to pick up. I can see part of one of my eyes reflected in them. Other bits have slid under the refrigerator. I saw them travel there but was not moved to retrieve them. They remain with the bottle caps and dust bunnies, partially forgotten. Then, there are shards too small to see, miniscule fragments between the cracks in the kitchen floor. There are almost certainly a few bigger shards underneath the refrigerator. I’m going to get a cup water and, suddenly, one of them is stuck in the bottom of my foot.
2. I don’t know all my parts. I accept that there are parts I will never know. The shattering metaphor is very applicable in the context of someone like me who struggles with the (seemingly simple) demands of just being on a day to day basis. I don’t really do relationships and tend to abandon them as soon as they are difficult. I’m not motivated to clean up messes of broken things very well.
3. The unknown fragments and shards are exactly as stealthy and sharp as their names suggest. Accidently stepping on one in the dark cuts. One may get stuck inside of an especially tender area of flesh and fester. The larger shards, if discovered in an unaware place, can facilitate a spur of the moment artery slashing escape attempt.
4. I don’t know all my parts. I don’t want to. Finding a “new part” is one of the most (re) traumatizing experiences possible.
5. I don’t like all of my parts. Not all of them like me. My relationships with them are very much like my relationships with other people who are (I believe) separate. It’s complicated, as the popular Facebook relationship status says. Some of them like me or depend on me. Some of them like me well enough, but still talk a lot of shit about me when I’m not around.
6. Some parts are much more functional than I, and some much less. All of them are necessary, holding their own skill sets and traumas from a particular time. One part doesn’t hate my mother but is indifferent. Obviously, this is useful when I have to deal with her. Another one is fifteen, still able to have massive, multiple trauma-bound orgasms with dusty old pedophiles even though our physical body has retreated into nuclear menopause.
7. The concept of “self-acceptance” is beyond laughable when living in shatters. Although, for me, a gradual easing of boundaries between my parts has come with the turning of the planet over years. But it is nothing close to the “integration” that the clinical community would have me seek. Most of us will die before this happens. Some might just fall over one day, exhausted from the sheer effort required by this impossible expectation. More will be killed by the system, given extreme cocktails of toxic drugs or prescribed “last resort treatments” like brain electrocution that leave us forgetting our relationships
and professional educations (but still remembering the atrocities). For me, now, there is less urgency to “keep my parts in their places” and present a unified face to the world.
8. Mainstream models of “recovery” don’t apply to us. It does not matter which model. Consider, for example, Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Which part is being mindful? Which part knows what skill? Similar questions are equally applicable to so-called “alternative” models of “recovery”.
9. Some shattered individuals change their names and other things about themselves to allow one of their parts to become their primary identity. There may be any number of reasons for doing this. It’s not something I have done, though I have contemplated it, and sometimes I do allow a part to be primary in a de facto sense because that part can function better in the
required environment, or simply because I wish to avoid a certain situation.
10. This is completely different from “dissociating”. When I dissociate, I go away to a place where my brain does not generate the experience of being (any) human in the real world, this dimension or any other. I don’t materially exist in reality and neither do any of my other parts. I am staring at the biggest theatre screen in the known universe. The usher has safely locked the double doors behind me, and I’m waiting for the movie not to begin. In dissociation, I am not another part of me. I am not myself. I non-exist.
11. There are clear distinctions between my parts. Parts who are minors or elders need care, just the same as anyone else of those ages. It is often difficult to reconcile such a wide range of wants and needs. When the most pressing desires of the parts are ignored, very bad things begin to happen in my life.
I am fifty years old. This coming out is the most terrifying one yet.
This is a sample article from the Summer 2019 issue of Asylum magazine
(Volume 26, No 2)
To read more, subscribe to Asylum Magazine.