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“There Will Be A Summit”

I was sixteen when I first came across that phrase. I was in a residential treatment center for teens who had been sexually abused. We were working on collages, cutting pictures and phrases from magazines that had personal meaning to us. I’m not sure that at sixteen I knew the power in this phrase, but something about it really caught my attention. Intuitively, I knew it was important, though I doubt I could have explained it if pressed.

As an adult, nearly thirty years later, I have thought of this phrase many times over the years. It’s never had a meaning that I could verbalize, but as always, it felt important. It’s stayed tucked away in my brain, those words on a magazine page back in 1986. I think, now, that the words represented what little hopes and dreams a damaged sixteen-year-old could contain. The hope and dream that perhaps someday things would be different; life could be different.

I think there has to be some sort of apogee. A place where one can turn around and say, my past is my past, and I have overcome the limitations it’s created in my life. At present, I’m not there. I suspect it will be many, many years before I get there. I worry I won’t get there. Some days, I don’t care if I get there, I just want this over and done. I want the work to be done. The pain to be done. The effort to be done. It’s a lot of work trying to find a place of emotional health, free from the bindings of the past, especially when the past isn’t so very old.

I am 44 now. I’ve been in therapy a very long time. Sometimes I am embarrassed by how long it’s been. I feel ashamed and embarrassed when I look at the years gone by and see that there is still so much to go. It seems to me that I should be healed by now. I express these sentiments to my therapist, and she tells me that it takes a long time to heal from the kind of abuses I survived. She is a lovely woman who really seems to get me…except when she doesn’t. I love her, but sometimes I downright hate her. That’s painful. I want to be healed, already….and I long for a band-aid solution even while I know that wouldn’t fix anything. Sometimes, the shortcut seems preferable to the long-term healing, even if the latter is the more permanent solution.

I was a born to a very dysfunctional family. The first child, a girl, and not a wanted one. I was a result of date rape. My mom was a “Good Catholic Girl.” My dad, also a Catholic boy. She didn’t want me. My dad didn’t want a girl. I heard my whole life that mom wanted an abortion while my dad lamented that boys are supposed to be born first. I also heard that she was forced into marriage because of me. Again that Catholic thing, and mother’s out of wedlock not being the social norm, especially where Irish and Roman Catholics were concerned. My whole life was spent hearing about how her life would have been better if only I never existed. I tried correcting this many times through failed suicide attempts. I still think we’d both have been better off if I’d succeeded, but I haven’t made any attempts in at least a year.

I suppose dysfunctional would be putting it lightly. My parents were horribly abusive. The sexual abuse, I learned when I was twenty-seven, started much younger than I initially knew. I thought it started around age three, but when it starts that young, it’s hard to pin a definitive date on it. My dad admitted to family that it had started when I was a week old. Seven days and my innocence was being ripped away from me. According to my aunts and uncles present when it was said, my father’s reasoning was, “I needed to make sure she was developing properly.” Apparently he genuinely seemed to think this was a good reason to stick a finger up inside of me at such a tender age.

My father was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in his twenties, well past the time I was born, and past the time my brothers had been born as well. This means he has schizophrenia coupled with another mental illness–in his case, bipolar. My mom  also has bipolar, but based on what I know, and my therapist’s supposition based on what I’ve shared, my mother likely has borderline personality disorder.

I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t sexual abuse, physical abuse, and verbal abuse. I hit the trifecta. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal and I was too scared and timid of a child to talk to anyone, let alone tell them what was going on. There was a doctor once who suspected, but nothing came of the investigation. There was a therapist in my life, briefly, when my parents were divorcing when I was seven, and she suspected, too. I never said anything directly, though. I knew my parents would kill me if I did. I talked to her in my mid-thirties and she apologized for her lack of intervention. She said she was a new therapist, and that she wished she had gone against her supervisors orders. We only spoke for about twenty minutes, but it felt like a life-time.

One of the things I wanted to ask her was something I still struggle not to deny. When I was thirty-four, it came out that I had alters. Back at that time this was known as multiple personality disorder, now it’s referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is a challenging thing to contemplate. I already feel like such an outsider, such a freak, and I really don’t want to add something like this to it. When I spoke to the childhood therapist, I asked her if she thought she might have seen evidence of that. She agreed, emphatically, and said it suddenly all made sense, the ways I presented myself differently. That felt like a kick in the gut. I had wanted it to be false, in spite of all the evidence I had that said otherwise.

It wasn’t just having DID that that made this such a hard thing to take in, it was what it meant, what the implications were about my life. I knew what I lived wasn’t good, but I didn’t think it was exactly bad, either. I thought everyone lived like that. Screaming parents, beatings, severe punishments, deprivation. I thought it was my heritage as a girl. My brothers didn’t get treated this way, so it had to be me, something I deserved. It was my normal. Being DID, though, that implies a very long, very severe history. This means I was hurt badly, and the DID was a proof that I couldn’t deny.

I get angry when I know of people who fake this disorder. This isn’t fun and games. In order to get this way, I had to be hurt horribly and consistently for years. As it turns out, from the time I was seven days old, my first day home from the hospital with my mother. I don’t like losing time, I don’t like feeling like a freak. I don’t like having to admit that what I lived was so awful that I developed this disorder as a way to cope. It’s disturbing and it can be scary. It can also leave me isolated because most lay people don’t really know what to do with it or how to react to that information.

My therapist says that with time, healing will come. I ask her how much time and she cannot say. She remains confident that healing will happen if I continue to work at it. It’s hard, though. It’s scary. My ability to trust is next to nothing. I’ve been with her 8 years now, and I’m only just starting to trust her. Given the wrong words or movement, that can be easily rescinded. Prior to her, I had a different therapist who was also good. Unfortunately, she had no background in DID, and I felt like I was floundering once that was diagnosed. She tried to learn, but she wasn’t what I needed anymore. The switch was good, and I believe I am with the person who can help me, if I can be helped.

I want to get better. Even inside the depression and the complacency I sometimes feel, there is that push to keep moving forward in spite of my desire to sit down and call it quits.  Some days I feel like healing is a joke, that I’ve been cursed to live the life of Sisyphus, going forward only to be knocked back down again. Instead of continuing to push this boulder up the hill, my therapist and I are chipping away at it until it stops rolling back on me. With any luck, eventually I’ll be able to let it just lay there while I move forward without it. I want to be free. I want to see that summit and never have to look back again.