It is impossible to speak to the extremes of my mental health condition without thoroughly acknowledging how I came to be this way. I survived 15 years of early and developmental childhood abuse at the hands of my parents. I am from New Hampshire, U.S.A. where they legally deem it “Ritual Abuse”. An umbrella term that encompasses chronic sexual, physical, mental, emotional, and verbal abuse. In my case, beginning during infancy and lasting until the age of 15.
My father was indicted by a Grand Jury with 97 counts of felonious sexual assault of two minors, me and my twin sister. Three counts were brought to trial, I testified against him when I was 24 years old, he was found guilty, and sentenced to 14 years in New Hampshire State Penitentiary.
A big win. A rare success, but the irreparable damaging effects the abuse has had on me is what I have been in treatment for for 16 years.
It is my saying, “I don’t live in the past, the past lives in me”.
In 2000, I was diagnosed for the first time at 19 years old with PTSD, Dissociative Amnesia, Depression, Anorexia, Co-Dependent Disorder and Substance Abuse. My then psychologist specialized in incest, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. She was able to help me maintain a level of cognitive ability enough to where I was able to work, though not steadily, until I was 28 years old.
It is important to understand that dissociative disorders are caused by chronic childhood trauma, and cannot be ‘cured’ or ‘treated’ with medication. It is only through intense cognitive behavioral therapy, with the use of TRM (trauma resiliency model), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), as well as other techniques, that recovery can be gained. It’s a long road, and a long haul, but can happen within 10-20 years if consistently treated.
In 2008, I got clean through the Narcotics Anonymous Program in Hollywood, CA. This is when my mental health began a rapid decline. The drugs, I was self-medicating with, kept me numb and in a state of perpetual un-awareness enabling the inability to remember. Once they were gone from my life, and out of my system, the flood of abuse memories came rushing back. My PTSD worsened to the point where I wasn’t leaving my apt, having relationships with friends, and working in general became so painful it was almost impossible to maintain. I couldn’t afford the mental health care I desperately needed. I held on for the next seven years.
In 2015, I re-entered treatment.
My current psychologist diagnosed me with a complex version of PTSD and D.I.D.
Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Buckle up, this is when my internal world began to emerge and the roller coaster of compartmentalized ‘parts’ of myself began to share what they (I) survived.
In the abuse time, the trauma events that happened were outside of my (a child’s) cognitive ability to process what was happening. These experiences (memories) became walled off and compartmentalized via dissociative amnesia. To the point where I could not remember/access these traumatic events even though I fully experienced the pain, fear, and damaging effects the events have had on me. *It should be noted that I can recall the abuse with almost photographic memory depending on what ego-state I’m in.* However, for the most part, while I live with crushing pain and fear, difficulty in relationships, inability to work, flashbacks, difficulty eating, and difficulty sleeping the bridge that attaches what I experience to where it comes from is just now being connected internally.
At present, and only because of the expertise of my therapist, I am finally able to approach my dissociative amnesia, the walled off memories, and these parts of myself to process the memory content they (I) hold.
It gets worse before it gets better.
Now that I am in intense treatment, that directly addresses these parts of myself, memories are coming back. I experience the trauma events ‘in real time’, as though I have been transported back to the original abuse event. In the totality of my awareness, *I believe I am 6 years old, in the basement, and physically re-experiencing the tremendous pain of the abuse happening all over again *example. I experience pockets of terror and confusion that are so great I made a binder filled with up-to-date facts of my life. I have it readily available should I forget how old I am, where I live, who my friends are, etc. I carry my binder with me at all times. These are hard days. I know I am getting better.
The silver lining.
Upon the suggestion of my therapist to utilize the power of psychological art I began painting what I saw in the mirror to facilitate a dialogue with these parts of myself. I allow the painting to unfold as though I am an observer watching a painter in front of me. My painting is done in a stream of consciousness style with no inclination of what the final piece will look like. Through this process am able to create a link to memory content previously walled off in my consciousness. Memories come back to me, and part-by-part, I am able to remember WHO I am.
Currently, I am in treatment and continue to fight toward my recovery. Art therapy and painting are instrumental in my healing process. And it is now a passion of mine to advocate for mental health by sharing pieces of my story through art.
If I can help discard any negativity, or shed any light, on what it means to live with D.I.D. and recover from childhood trauma, then I believe I have made the highest contribution to the mental health community.
Thank you for reading about me!
Kara Nirvana Gibson was born in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, in 1981.
Arak Anavrin is her artist identity, it is Kara Nirvana backward.
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