There is a young woman who will always be precious to me. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but she forever changed my life. Just in being herself, Annemaria gave me my very first introduction to Dissociative Disorders. She changed my life. Absolutely and completely.
This date – October 23rd — had specific meaning for her.
And every year on this date, I specifically think of her.
The story starts back in the 80’s…
Annemaria was a 13 yr old wildly aggressive but enormously quiet girl who kept setting fires in the residential treatment center and starting fist fights with grown men. She was a complicated child, and was court-ordered to have an assessment by a psychologist. Fortunately for Annemaria, the psychologist had just attended a presentation about multiple personality disorder (MPD), learning about the symptoms of dissociation and trauma. Annemaria was quickly diagnosed with MPD and due to the variety of extreme acting out behaviors she demonstrated within the custody setting, she was given an unusual opportunity. [Update: we now use the term Dissociative Identity Disorder, DID, instead of MPD. ]
It was clear that Annemaria was acting out her child abuse history. She openly admitted to purposefully committing violent crimes so she would be taken out of her abusive home. It was a brilliant plan for finding safety from her offender-parents. Unconcerned about the long list of legal charges against her, she knew she would be safer living in residential treatment centers, and she was glad to be there. No one doubted her abusive past, and a long string of child protection workers advocated for her safety.
As requested, the Court agreed to give Annemaria the longest sentence possible so she could remain in the residential treatment center instead of being forced to go home. They did this for the preventive safety of the people she would be willing to assault in the future, but also for her own current-day safety and protection. The Court also ordered that she be given specialized treatment and intensive therapy.
Since she was so violent towards men, she was to be assigned a female staff member, and this staff member was expected to devote the vast majority of her time to working individually with Annemaria.
This is when Annemaria changed my life.
I was assigned to be Annemaria’s personal staff member.
I knew about sexual abuse, but I didn’t know a thing about MPD or dissociative disorders. I had been trained to work with family systems, but I didn’t know anything about internal systems. But I was thoroughly pleased to have been given the assignment of working with Annemaria. I knew it would be fascinating work, and frankly, Annemaria and I already had a little bit of a connection. Afterall, I was the only person in the entire treatment center that she would speak to.
I had two years to work with Annemaria. We did hours and hours of therapy every week, and even more hours of everyday life-skills work. She blossomed in that safe, healing environment but being for such a young child, her stories of abuse were more than any of the treatment staff could fathom.
Eventually, a non-threatening but strong young man was assigned to assist me during Annemaria’s acting out or heavy-duty memory flashbacks. She bounced a lot of male anger in his direction, but he handled that like a pro. The work was tough, and we leaned on each other a lot. Even so, I developed secondary PTSD, and experienced numerous nightmares after listening to Annemaria’s stories of trauma. I really hadn’t known such horrors existed. Talk about a learning curve… They hadn’t explained ANY of that in grad school!
I had so much to learn.
I had no idea anyone could be abused in the ways that Annemarie described in such vivid detail. She was only 13. It had just happened. She had been abused her whole life, but still… it had just happened! Even though she was dissociative, she knew a lot about it.
She and I taught each other about two very different worlds. She taught me about her world, and I taught her about mine. We both ended those two years in a very different place.
I was truly never the same.
Annemaria was a young gal. A teenager. All of age 13 when she fought the fight and had the courage to leave her abusers and predators. Talk about an amazing person!!
She taught me about courage, and hope, and how to fight against all odds.
She taught me how important it was to find safety, no matter what the cost.
She taught me about strength, and her phenomenal ability to refuse darkness.
She taught me how precious it is to have good and safe people in your life.
I hope that I impacted her life in the same way…..
I also wish I could re-do those two years with Annemaria.
Now that I have had 35 years experience working with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I would do those first two years very differently.
- I’ve learned more about self-injury and how to manage those behaviors effectively.
- I’ve learned about depression, anxiety, PTSD and vicarious traumatization.
- I’ve learned to put much more time into building system communication, doing system work, and creating system stability before digging into trauma memories.
- I’ve learned about flashbacks, amnesia, body memories, and processing trauma via internal system communication.
- I’ve learned more ways to recognize switching and internal activity.
- I’ve learned about organized abuse, the sex slave industry, pornography, and ritual abuse.
NOW I am properly prepared to address the issues that Annemaria was speaking about.
I just didn’t have a clue.
And how sad was that.
Today is Annemaria’s day.
And one year, many years later, on Annemaria’s day, I recorded my BlogTalkRadio show on Internal Communication. It was her day, so of course, I was thinking of her. After then, after giving my talk, I wrote this article.
It really struck a chord with me. Because, at that time, I felt confident in teaching and explaining on the radio show how issues and complications exist in the complexities of Dissociative Identity Disorder. However, it was Annemaria’s day, and I remembered how my knowledge level and skill level were so vastly different in the early years, when I was first working with her. What a stark contrast!
I just wish I knew then what I know now.
I could accomplish so much more with Annemaria in two years at this point in time than I could have back in the 80’s when I was new to the field. It saddens, me in that respect, because I didn’t give to her then what I could give to her now.
But she changed my life.
In fact, she changed the entire course of my life.
I would not be where I am if it were not for Annemaria.
This blog would not be here if it were not for Annemaria.
What YOU are learning from Discussing Dissociation would not be happening if not for Annemaria!
And for all that, I owe her a few years of decent therapy.
Annemaria, if you ever find me again, you’ve got yourself a therapist for as long as you need one!
And thank you, Annemaria.
EXCITING UPDATE: Annemaria found me again !!!
We have reconnected via phone and email, and I am happy to say that while life has not always been kind to her, she is alive and well.
She also knows where the other helpful “young man” is — the guy that helped us along the way, as the third person on our team. (He’s not as young anymore either as it’s 35 years down the road, lol). But how exciting to know where he is, and I’ll be reaching out to him soon.
If you want to leave a message or comment for Annemaria here on this page, I know she will see it. That would be awesome! Because I promise you …. if it weren’t for the lovely young Annemaria, there would be no Discussing Dissociation!! She has truly had an impact on ALL our lives.
You’re awesome, Annemaria !!!
Thank you for being such a very brave YOU !!!
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