Switching

That same summer, 2018, during a ministry meeting as I was being prayed over, a rupture of tears came pouring out while I sobbed, “I’m a bad girl.” At first a few were perplexed by this outburst, except our mentor who explained that this was not “33 year old Bethany” who thought she was bad, but rather a very wounded little girl who was wrought with confusion and shame. Upon pressing into prayer further, it was revealed that this fragmented piece was actually three years old. My first experience with being exploited and traumatized had ended with me being told how bad I was.

A trigger often cues PTSD symptoms, but in the case with someone who was very young during the trauma and experienced dissociation, a trigger can also cause what’s known as “switching”, something prevalent in people with dissociative identity disorder. In the website I just linked, it talks about switching due to triggers: “Finally, triggered switches are not desired by any of the alters involved and occur when stimuli has been registered that forces out an alter who can better handle it. For example, if an alter was created to handle abuse from a specific perpetrator and the system then runs into that perpetrator at the store, that alter is likely to be shoved to front so that no other alters can be hurt.” The majority of science and psychology websites will call alters what I prefer to call a fragmented piece. I prefer this because it is exactly that. A piece of the soul is fragmented, broken off from the core personality during trauma through the process of dissociation. The good news is that fragmented pieces can be healed and integrated back into the core personality once the Holy Spirit leads you through the process of reveal,feel, heal.

Though there are so many things that can be a trigger, for me personally the main one has been words. This has made managing it very difficult because we are surrounded by words all the time. From real life conversations, to listening to the radio, watching television, reading a book, or scrolling Facebook, words are everywhere and unavoidable. Since I cannot always avoid or manage when triggers occur, it has increased my dependency on the Lord. I have no control over when it will happen, because I cannot control what other people say. Thus, I lean on Jesus day in and day out. There is no other option. I can’t stop it from happening, so I cling to the One who gets me through it when it does happen.

Remember above how I mentioned a fragmented piece being attached to the words, thoughts and feelings, “I’m a bad girl?” Here are just a couple examples of how that one word, “bad” triggered both ptsd and switching. The first happened with my husband, unbeknownst to him. He had said the word right before we were going to bed, and though we had both been hopeful for intimacy that night, once that word was spoken all prospects of any time together quickly vanished. Within a few seconds I went from feeling relaxed and ready to snuggle up with him to feeling panicked and concerned. I knew something was suddenly wrong but didn’t know what. Why do I feel so anxious? What is happening to me? Something is not right. Please Lord, let the baby wake up…give me an “out”, I don’t know how to explain this to him…I don’t even understand… And my prayers were answered. The baby woke up, intimacy was no longer an option. Not that he wouldn’t have understood if I tried to explain to him, he’s so understanding and patient and good to me through all of this, but I didn’t even know where to begin. I went to bed that night feeling relieved and thankful that the baby woke up when he did, but also feeling so much frustration that my “condition” was costing me so much. I felt like a failure as a wife, and so much anger that someone could do things to me that would cause me this much turmoil and impact every aspect of my life. That is an example of a trigger, one word, causing PTSD.

About a week later I was at a bonfire at my friend’s house. There weren’t many of us there, it was a pretty small group. At one point we were able to sneak away for a few moments and I shared with her the experience I had after my husband saying the word “bad”. She helped me connect the dots back to that prayer meeting, and how that word was triggering the three fragmented piece that was wounded and traumatized. As we went back out to the bonfire, I felt really odd. Not panicked or anxious, just really strange. Almost like a different person. This was the first time I experienced depersonalization/derealization. The article explains it great, but all I can say when it happens is “I don’t feel like me.” This can be rather frightening but it never comes with panic, just a ton of bewilderment. It is very bizarre, to feel so disconnected from everyone and everything. I was really confused about how I was feeling, but in this incident talking about the word “bad” and how it impacted me triggered not ptsd but rather a switch, with that fragmented piece who had no sense of identity being pushed to the forefront of my personality. When I went to bed that night I felt everything I had felt at three years old during that first traumatic episode that had been frozen in time for so long. That feeling was complete and utter abandonment.

I want you to keep the perspective that this post was about one trigger. One word. One memory. One week. Since starting this journey of healing, there have been 156 weeks. 27 memories. More triggers than I could ever count. There’s also been One solution. One Lord over all. One Savior whose blood and love has gotten me this far. I know this process isn’t over, I’m not done. But neither is He.

The Blessing and the Curse

Dissociation is a very common coping mechanism for young children who experience trauma. While it protects our minds in that moment, allowing an escape for what is too overwhelming for our little souls to bear, it results in what’s known as fragmentation. I think this concept is widely misunderstood or unknown, so I’ve included a few links I think describe it well.

https://did-research.org/

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociation-overview#1

https://www.verywellmind.com/dissociation-2797292

I have tried to capture the essence of what this experience is like:

I want to tell you what they did,
tell you everything;
so that it never happens again.
But try as I might, the words won’t come.
The terror inside has left me undone.

It’s silence for now,
my mind has gone blank.
It’s transported to safety;
though my body trembled and my heart sank.

I’ll forget for now, though
part of me will always know.
I’ll keep pushing it down,
but the little girl won’t let it go.

She demands to be heard.
Doesn’t anybody care?
What they said, what they did;
my innocence stolen, my soul laid bare.

Lights, camera, action, I do what I’m told.
But obeying is the death of all that is right.
Dissociation is the curse that keeps me quiet,
and the blessing that keeps me shining bright.

No evidence here.
All appears well.
You’ll never know,
because I can’t tell.

I was scared, and confused.
How could I understand?
Their hands were overwhelming;
so my mind went to another land.

Where I’m safe and no one touches me,
I’ll just block this all out.
But inside I’m shattered;
I just want to shout.

Why am I floating?
Who’s that little girl below?
What’s happening to her is unthinkable.
Will anybody stop it? Does anybody know?

They can’t know while I’m up here,
I’m separated from it all.
Here I’m safe from these people,
but from here for help I can never call.

So I guess that leaves the question,
how safe can I really be?
For this momentary escape is nice,
but how many more times will this happen to me?

I was a commodity,
exploited for their gain.
Nothing of value to them;
how long will I live with this pain?

But forgetting is temporary,
at some point, we remember.
Now I can tell you everything;
All it takes is courage and surrender…