Multiple Personalities: Easter Sunday Alters

            Bright red tulips from the Easter Sunday worship service are next to the laptop computer on the tray table over my hospital bed.  The light is on above my bed, off above the bed of my roommate Connie.  At 8:00 p.m., she is tucked in and sleeping.  The mental health counselor sitting with Connie is in a chair by the door.  Connie lost it sometime during last night and they moved her down to the observation lounge.

Today, she has been on “constant,” which means that wherever she goes, whatever she does, some staff person is constantly at her side.  All of Connie’s belongings except her contact lenses have been taken from her, leaving her in a hospital gowns and socks, and she has not been permitted to come into the room all day except to use the toilet.

            Connie has dissociative identity disorder (DID), commonly called multiple personalities, professionally and contemporarily referred to as “alters,” alternative personalities.  This is not some kind of bad pop culture joke.  It is an agonizing illness resulting from the most perverted violation of innocence.  This is my second roommate with dissociative identity disorder.  Both women are in their late thirties, have professional degrees, and are articulate, funny and sophisticated.  Both were repeatedly raped as very young children.

            Sylvie, the other roommate, had a great-uncle who threatened her into silence, then made her take off her clothes and assume sick sexual poses for pornographic photographs.  She was three years old when he did it.  Then his son took over and began raping her.

As a small child, several men raped Connie at once.  In her mind, she fought against it but, as with Sylvie, her mind failed to meld into a single identity.  Without protection from, or comfort after, physical trauma, a unified identity cannot be acquired.

            Imagine the girl-child you love and put into the bathtub every night.  Imagine her soapy, squirmy little body, with nipples on a flat chest, hairless pubic area, and rubber duck in hand, splashing her little brother and giggling.  Look at her and wonder if your husband or brother, or his brother or cousin, is raping her and keeping her silent by saying he will kill her little brother if she tells anyone.  Come to the psychiatric unit and I will introduce you to the many women who have experienced this kind of rape. 

“My stepfather and all my older brothers . . . my mother was an alcoholic . . . she knew.”

“They said they would never feed me and I would starve to death if I told.  I was four.”

“I want to kill myself but God will not take me into heaven because I am guilty.  I was five when they started doing it to me.”

            Your daughter, the one who wraps her thin, smooth, warm arms around your neck when you read to her at night—what would she do if your brother was raping her?  Again and again, her small sweet body being violated by a big hard man.  She whimpers and cries.  He clamps a hand over her mouth.  She writhes in pain and terror and confusion.  It happens again and again.  She is threatened so effectively that she tells no one.  In the earliest years of your daughter’s personality development, the growing wholeness of her self is splintered.  The characters in her world no longer are Elmo, Big Bird and Kermit.  Now they are different egos who develop ways of coping.

            One self may be a caretaker who tries to appease people.  Another is a slut, apparently reveling in sex.  One of the alter’s—these people who are born in your daughter’s head because of an inability to integrate as a human being—is trying to kill her.  There may be one who is still too young to have learned to talk. 

They change relationships and affiliations, and then one day your daughter, now 27 years old, comes to a conscious state and finds herself standing on the edge of a building, ready to jump.  She does not have knowledge of how she came to be on the ledge.  Her psychiatrist, whom she has been seeing for a long time, although she doesn’t quite know why, admits her to the hospital for acute care.  Several of her alters have ganged up on her and are forcing her to kill herself.

            Sylvie is spending decades working with an excellent team of psychologist and psychiatrist.  To describe the process with misleading simplicity, the doctors first begin to identify the alters, then try to gain their trust.  At some point various alters begin to be introduced to the patient, who is amnesiac and doesn’t know that she is carrying more than one personality.  Only one is present at a time, and they don’t go out to lunch together.

Gradually the doctors’ help the patient meet some of her alters, slowly sort them out and resolve some of their conflicts.  Meanwhile, this intelligent, high-functioning professional woman goes to work every day and supervises twenty people and a half-million-dollar budget.  This is particularly difficult when she has just “had a breakthrough” and come to the conscious awareness that one of her alters—soon to be absorbed into herself—is a slut whom Uncle Roger sold to his friends for sadistic sex.

            One year she finally tells her parents some of what happened.  They deny the possibility that this is real, despite the confirmable facts she supplies.  She has moved out of Uncle Roger’s town, has hidden her address and keeps changing her phone number but her beloved but dotty grandmother gives the number to her nephew when he asks for it.

Uncle Roger is an evil predator who stalks Sylvie.  When Gram got sick, Sylvie went to care for her.  She was walking up the cement cellar stairs with an armful of mason jars when she looked up and saw Uncle Roger at the top.  He grinned, put his arms out and pushed her backward down the stairs, causing her to break ribs and skull, resulting in near death.

            Connie, due to lack of money, is working with an excellent therapist and the idiot du jour for a psychiatrist.  He has known her for one week.  Connie talks about having all her cloths and belongings taken away from her and calls it rape:  things being taken from her by force.  The night staff did it and her doctor does not yet know about it.  He said she should be treated with dignity.  Tomorrow he will come and we will see what stuff he is made of.  Meanwhile Connie will sleep with anguish and anger, if at all—raped again.

            My tulips were placed on the altar to God to celebrate Jesus being raised after being put to death by evil men.  My roommate’s alters resulted from the actions of evil men, but who will raise her?  A watchful mother and father?  A skilled therapist and psychiatrist?  You and I?  An act of God?  Or will she carry this cross for the rest of her life?


About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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