Let’s review. The 4 P4² P’s are: Process, Practicality, Possibility, and Potential.
Great words, and yes, there could easily be soooo many more important P-words on the list. Today, a member of The Writing Team, passionately presents their thoughts on the PRACTICALITIES of living life as a plural, dissociative system.
This is a powerful piece. Check it out.
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When we start to think about the practicalities of living well as a system, well….. it gets really noisy up in here! So many thoughts. So much to say. Lots of passion behind this one. In a good way. No need to be alarmed…
This P links very closely to another P word which just happens to be one of our mantras: pragmatism. This journey of recollecting and healing ourselves has definitely brought out this quality in us, and we have come to value it highly. We decided a while back that we needed to cast off the singleton frameworks of what are ‘good’ and ‘normal’ ways to live and function. We realized we needed to plonk ourselves right in the middle of the reality of being plural and split, and figure out how to come at life for ourselves. At that point in time, things weren’t working on any level. We were in a world of chaos and pain and trauma. Something had to give.
So we started getting super-pragmatic. Practical. What could we take charge of? Right here, right now. What could we actually, tangibly change? Right here, right now. And that was the beginning of a whole new chapter.
It started with: OK, so, there are a lot of us sharing this one body and that fact is not going anywhere. Among us, we hold a mountain of trauma; but also, an ocean of smarts and skills. What do we need in order to be able to function as a group? How do we take responsibility for and care of ourselves so that we can have a life we all value, enjoy and respect?
We are still a work in progress. Just saying. But we’ve come a long way from that moment, and we’re really proud of our accomplishments. Here are some of the things we’ve learned about the practicalities of living well as a system.
Taking Care of The Body
We feel strongly about the power and importance of taking good care of the body. Now, we know this is a contentious issue for lots of DID people, and don’t get us wrong, for the longest time we were all running as hard and fast away from our body as we could. But it got to a point where we just couldn’t dissociate away the body’s communication that our health was in trouble. And then we still kept trying to run. And our health got worse. And then we still tried to run…. until one day we didn’t.
The body is the home we all share. If there is one constant thing that links all the people in a dissociative system it is the body. Even if some people are purely inside people and never have front time, their existence is still dependent upon the body being alive. The body houses our consciousness — no matter how multi-faceted or highly populated that consciousness is.
So, we wondered if one way to shortcut our journey through the dissociative woods was to connect with the body. Take good care of it. Figure out how on earth to take care of it. And while those first few yards of heading in that direction were hard, it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. And, after many years now of persevering with body care, the various daily health practices we’ve embraced have become the centre of our collective lives. They have become our framework, our safety, our comfort.
We started with the basics. Showering every day. Eating regular meals. Going to bed at a reasonable hour. Did this shortcut strategy work? By golly, yes. The little people came out in droves. And the penny dropped…. ohhh, they never got this stuff. They need this stuff. We were addressing neglect. By committing to these basic health practices, we were making their worlds safer. Which means they were coming toward us — for relationship, for communication, to join our system family proper. And yes, that also meant finding out a whole lot about what they had been through — which was heart-breaking — but that needed to happen. In the big picture, this was a very good thing. Practical, right? Food, sleep, cleaning. We can do that.
Then there was the raft of health issues that the years of trauma had produced. We had chronic pain, digestive problems, and a bunch of other things going on. Fundamentally, our body was not a comfortable place to be. We realized that this alone was going to hinder our efforts towards co-consciousness: who would want to come to live in this vehicle? For us, the right path was that of natural and holistic health. There is something incredibly gentle, safe and nurturing about this approach to the body that we, as a whole, needed deeply.
We started doing yoga in the mornings. Which — we’re not going to lie — was excruciating to begin with; not just on a physical level, but on an emotional level as well. Again, our practical activity was calling up the people who needed it most. The ones who were holding memories relating, in a thousand different ways, to body pain. It was through showing up every day to that yoga mat that we got to know them better. We got to understand who connects to which parts of the body; to which kinds of sensations, or movements. This is intense stuff, for sure. For sure. But again, it needed to happen. These people who had been holding their memories alone were not so alone anymore. And as they connected with us, and shared more of their stories, the body started to yield. It felt like the trauma had literally been held in the tendons and muscles, in the cells, in the caught breath; and as we returned over and over to exhale into a stretch, the body was finally able to decide to let it go. Because we were making it conscious on the collective level, the individual people involved and the body didn’t have to hold onto it anymore. And wouldn’t you know it, our pain levels gradually decreased.
And so we slept better. And so our digestion improved. And so it was easier for the brave little people who’d come forward for food and sleep and showers to have a bit of fun. They could color in without being in so much discomfort. They could dance to music without being in so much pain. We started to understand the practicalities of the ripple effect, in the context of being a dissociative system. You do a good thing here; even if it’s hard, you persevere and do it: then you see the benefit not just here, but here, and here, and here, and here. And just when you think that you’ve seen the outer limit of the impact of the good thing you did, you see another positive consequence here, and here, and even here. This gave us hope. And fuelled the fire. OK: we just might be onto something.
We started thinking differently about the food we ate. We got pragmatic. Our digestion was struggling. We needed food that made it easier for our body to get essential nutrients. We would never feel healthy without those. For us, this meant going organic, vegetarian, wholefood. Our body responded positively and we’ve never looked back. We started exploring the world of herbal teas: did you know that there’s a plant for practically every ailment you can think of? Isn’t that incredible? We got books on herbal remedies and started delving into the biochemistry of natural medicines; we taught ourselves the basics and started tinkering around with herbs we’d ordered online. We could do that. If someone was having trouble sleeping, we had a tea for that. If someone was feeling nauseous, we had a tea for that. No matter how hard things were, we could boil the kettle and scoop some leaves or flowers into the teapot. We came to find the ritual deeply soothing, in and of itself. And then, when the brew helped the complaint, we found it empowering. We were learning that we could trust our own processes, our own practices; we could do things to help ourselves. Our body. Golden.
And so it went on. You get the picture. It was a bit like building scaffolding around our burgeoning collective life. We needed frameworks, real and solid and dependable structures that could hold us together on the outside, as well as the inside. We had to figure those out for ourselves. That was precisely the point: we needed to go through that making of the bones, to take responsibility for and charge of our own lives. It was a start, anyway. All of our lives start and end with our body. Our shared home. We needed to learn how to take care of it. Of ourselves.
And the deeper learning here was crucial. We were learning that we could come together as a team and take action that lands in a potent, beneficial way for our people.
Little People are Real! Take Care of Them!
You might be able to guess which group chose and wrote the title for this section. Yes. We see little people. We know little people. We love our little people. Sure, they need us; but we’ve come to learn that we probably need them even more. They are our heart, our guiding light, our barometer for what still needs to change.
OK. Let’s talk about the practicalities of sharing a body and a life not just with a whole bunch of other people, but with a whole bunch of little people. Children, one way or another. In the last section we were espousing the benefits of going organic, vegetarian, wholefood in our diet. Sure! What do little people think about that? Part of what that involved was telling them they couldn’t have KitKats every day, or sliced white bread…. how do you tell little ones who’ve only known neglect, or hurt, or hunger, that they can’t have their very favorite thing in the world to eat and still expect them to want to share their consciousness with you?
Well, turns out little people are incredibly clever. When they’ve been through heaps of hard stuff, where that hard stuff has involved being profoundly mis-cared for by adult figures, and then they finally get a taste of what it’s like to have a group of grown-ups genuinely looking out for them — in a way that is real, safe, solid, committed — they will, nine times out of ten, choose that sustenance over their sweet treat, or the hissy fit, or the refusal to tidy up a mess. When we explain to them that we’re making changes so that everyone can feel better in the body, so that it’s easier for them to play and have fun, and feel healthy and safe, and we mean it, then, in our experience, little people are usually pretty willing to come onboard. They might pull a face. Or grumble. Or try and barter a little something extra out of it for themselves. But these are, first and foremost, little ones who need to feel safe. And having grown-up people make considered choices about food, sleep times, and so forth, and communicating these in a way little people can relate to is a big part of safety.
It’s not rocket surgery, they tell us. We’re real people. Just be good and kind and smart and we’ll know. We share a brain with you. We’ll know if you’re trustworthy or not.
So. Little people need grown-up people making solid, consistent decisions on the basics of life and health. But in the context of being a system, little people also need grown-ups making good decisions about a whole heap of other things. Like, how to share a body. When the body is all growed up. Right? This is complicated. And, if you’re still dissociative and losing time, how to protect little people and maintain their trust in an overall scenario where you simply can’t promise you’ll always be there. Right? Complicated. And they also need help navigating the parts of life that need to be managed by adults — working or studying, home maintenance, paying bills, grocery shopping, any family obligations, and so on. They need guidance on how to recognize situations that are beyond their years, how to tuck away safely, and how to work through how they feel about living a life as uniquely structured as that.
This was where we put on our Super Practical Boots. And sat down to have a long hard think about what it means to us grown-ups to have these little ones in our care. What do they need, and how can we best give that to them? What guidelines from parenting children in the outside world apply in our situation, and which ones simply don’t fly? How central to our daily lives do we want to make our care of our littles? What are the benefits to our system as a whole for prioritising their needs? What are our core values, as a system family, when it comes to the care of little people? How do we put these into practice?
These are big and complex questions, and our answers to them keep evolving as our systemhood evolves. But what remains constant for us in that we always put the needs of little people first. We do this not just for them — which is enough of a reason, in and of itself, we think — but for ourselves. We need to be the kinds of parents we never had in order to keep moving forward in our own, adult lives. We need to be able to face ourselves on this level in order to keep addressing our dissociation. So this is, once again, a pragmatic decision. It is good for everyone when we put the needs of little people first.
Now, to be clear, this is not the needs of littles as they might dream it — full of playtime and cupcakes and bedtime stories. No, we do our best to really consider what a group of children with a background of severe and chronic trauma need. For us, it comes down to safety in the form of honesty, dependability and flexibility. Our little people need to know we’re committed to being truthful with them and with ourselves, no matter how dissociated we are from that truth; that we will not waver from ensuring they have their basic needs met every day, no matter what else happens; and that we will always bring our most optimistic creativity to any challenge that we face as a family group, no matter how impossible it may seem on the face of it.
The interesting thing about ‘parenting’ a little person from a dissociative system is that we are not preparing them for the day they start high school, or get their first job, or become a parent themselves. They are little now, and in most cases, will stay little for their entire lives. So, this changes the care-taking agenda in a profound way. All they need to be really, really good at is being a little person. How fantastically liberating — for them and for us! Yes, because of the trauma and dissociation, we have a mountain of extra and unusual worries that most guardians do not have; but we are also free from that towering parental concern of ‘growing them up right’. We just need to help them work through their trauma and then get a handle on the gamut of skills a child needs to be happy and healthy.
Again, thinking practically in a situation with a To-Work-On list that extends further than the eye can see, there is one clear pathway which addresses both trauma and fundamental life-skills for a child: having a safe relationship with a care-giver. This will do everything. Secure attachment, from the perspective of a little person, is everything. All of life’s possibilities extend from quality of the primary significant relationship; and we, as the grown-ups here, are only able to give as good a relationship to a little person as we are giving to ourselves.
Ah. That old chestnut. So, again, our little people call us to be the very best version of ourselves possible. There is no faking it, fudging it, hiding it, colouring it something different from what it is. Are we happy with who we are? How we’re conducting ourselves? Treating ourselves? Attending to our systemhood? Because they will know (we share a brain, remember?); and they’ll reflect the truth right back to us. So, we simply have to pull ourselves into integrity, and live lives that we’re proud of.
My goodness, these little people are onto something, aren’t they….?
Time for Looking Inside
Dissociative system people have an outside world and an inside world. Fact. We have lives that exist in the outside realm, and lives that exist in the inside realm. These two worlds are often inter-connected, but sometimes they run pretty independently. Depending on the need. In our experience, living well as a system requires setting aside time to tend to our inside world and the happenings there — just as we need time to tend to our outside home and life and the happenings in that sphere of our consciousness. Further, there are aspects of our outside life that we will never be able to get a handle on if we aren’t working with the related aspects of our inside world, and vice versa.
So, one of the daily practicalities of our collective existence is having a look-see inside. Asking how everyone’s going. Checking in on places and people we knew there were processes bubbling. Following threads of new information as they become visible, or audible, or whatever modality they are showing up in. Sometimes we are doing this in a very pro-active way, intending to move our system work along. But every day we show up and do this with a maintenance mindset. Just like the floor always needs sweeping, and teeth gotta be brushed twice a day, the inside world generates a need for tending just through being there and having our people live in it.
We tend to be pretty structured in our approaches to, well, everything, so for us it works best to have a regular time-slot each day where we all know we’re going to check inside. We mostly do this via writing in our journal. But we can imagine a wide variety of ways this might work for other systems. We know one group who put music on and dance it out for a couple of hours every day. Other people might meditate, or go for a walk, or clean the house, or sit quietly, or paint, or tend the garden. Surely it’s about what outside activity — or lack thereof — facilitates our connection with the inside in a way that supports good communication between people, parts and sections?
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Wow — that article packed a real punch, didn’t it!
Thank you, Writing Team, for sharing so many of your super helpful tips, solid ideas, and healing practices.
- Do you follow any of those ideas and activities with all of your internal people?
- Would you consider starting some of these plans and practices?
- Which of these ideas were the most helpful?
- What practical steps do you follow to help manage your system of people?
OH, and so many perfectly placed P-words on this PAGE! Did you see them all?
And yeah, by the way, speaking of seeing people ….. I look forward to seeing you at P4².
Registration for the P4 DID Conference 2021 is OPEN!
Attend LIVE or Virtual on Zoom
October 22-24, 2021
Royal Sonesta Chicago Downtown Hotel, Chicago
SEE YOU THERE!
Copyright © 2008-2021 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation