Reflections On & Around got parts? by ATW
One of the weirdest things about being a writer is the default setting when reading that develops in conjunction to one’s relationship with one’s own craft; criticism almost always attempts to take the lead, that lens focusing on the unaffecting parts & borrowing some inspiration from the shiny parts. It is common, as I see it in my wife’s baffled face at plays or in the faces of my visual artist friends as we “casually” dance around a gallery exhibit. Reading for this project, I thankfully ask myself to turn that setting upside down, looking instead through the practical, applicable lens of my disorder.
In got parts? by ATW, I’ve stumbled upon “an insider’s guide to managing life successfully with Dissociative Identity Disorder,” a random find searching the Austin Public Library for books on DID & dissociation. In terms of writing chops & presentation, it might not be the best book I’ve ever checked out on the subject, but when it comes to practicality & hopeful honesty, it’s really opened up some avenues I haven’t been able to glance down before. ATW leans on their personal experience, rattling off what might first appear as big metaphors & grand gestures of idealism.
The main question I kept asking myself while reading was, Where does this perspective meet function? I think I find the usefulness & hope in ATW’s writing by the very fact that it leans so heavily on the experiential, the literal “this is what I do” & “this is how it helps.” On page 41, they mention an exercise of using a literal spoon to dig a literal garden bed, one of those ridiculous grand gestures that’s both exhilarating emotionally & applicable metaphorically for the journey of digging through one’s parts. To hear directly from a system (the word for a group of alters / personalities) so much further in the discovery / integration process provided me with several swatches of optimism & more than several relevant tactics to apply to my own journey
At this point, I’m often searching first for the simplest things: explanations. As I uncover the roots & innerworkings of my disorder, I’ve been having many in-depth conversations with loved ones about early episodes they might now recognize in retrospect as dissociative spells & explaining the particularities of my case, especially in contrast with popular representations in media. As much as those conversations create connections, they often show gaps in my own knowledge & have created opportunities for finding my own bases.
From my childhood, I heard stories about myself “zoning out,” “disappearing,” & “flipping out,” & many of my memories seem to have evaporated quicker than other folks, if they even existed fully at all. ATW explains this as, “When faced with overwhelmingly traumatic situations from which there is no physical escape, a child may resort to “going away” in his or her head” (Viii). My decades-long collection of erratic or aggressive reactions find some explanation in thinking of the role of “the protector” in my system, as my alter Vinny attempts “to protect individual parts & the System with outmoded or mistaken ideas of what safety really is.” What I once thought were embarrassing flaws, ATW reconceptualizes as natural characteristics of my disorder & my alters.
ATW also gives words & concepts to ideas I’m only beginning to articulate in this journey. One fascinating one was about the “inside kids,” a common factor in folks with DID. That alter has always been particularly prominent for me, but this book helped me realize how important it was to learn & acknowledge the triggers, flashbacks, & body memories he carries. More than ever, with these realizations, I’m noting the importance of parts collaborating through trust & co-consciousness (the ability for my main personality to remain present or in contact with alters). I’m still learning those internal communication skills, but from therapy, I have uncovered much of what’s at the root of this alter.
Recently some kitchen knives in our house have went missing, most recently a handful hid in my wife’s backpack. After thinking about these incidents & attempting to talk with the “inside kid,” I’ve come to see this as another form of a protector. The child knows my history of self-harm & has a distinct, trusting relationship with my wife, outside of me. Because of this book, I’m seeing incidents like this, which were once baffling & frightening, as useful moments in connecting with my parts.
Beyond the explanations, the book also reapplies some known concepts to provide validation, that “not alone” feeling only personal narratives can spark. A book can pat me on the back, making me learn about what I have in common with others with DID—let down by the mental health system, found other self-medicating ways, & finding very slow progress; recent struggles with work & social circumstances, too, are experiences validated by this guide.
“Letting your emotions out is new for folks with DID” (43). Seeing these words written down, ironically, opened a floodgate of tears. While I’m often an outgoing, emotive person, some of the stronger emotions, especially ones that were punished as a child, like fear of abandonment & anger, get lodged crooked. My alters, this book taught me, are actually protective, positive attempts at unleashing those stuck feelings.
Positive spins like this abound in this book, accompanied by an insistence on realness. Is that idealistic? Too easy? Dangerous? Yes, maybe, definitely not. Like when ATW says someone is DID vs. has DID, it is a reframing for productivity, for “managing life successfully with Dissociative Identity Disorder.” I also really appreciate the Ideas, Methods, & Approaches section in this book. Here are four approaches offered by ATW that I am trying / will try soon; they often take more co-consciousness & understanding of the parts than I currently have available:
1. 4 commitments (1/be honest, 2/do work, 3/cooperate internally, 4/stand down & step aside) – This is the one I’m most able to follow, giving myself over to the process, this blog being a main part of that.
2. Daily meeting – a regular check-in with all the parts, each present & participating. Right now, I’m limited to doing much of the talking, as I have been doing in the mirror every morning for over a year, though occasionally Vinny or the “inside kid” will make their presence known.
3. Safe Space/Dome – a place inside where the parts reside when they’re not out—safe, communal, & accessible for all.
4. Contracts – These are the agreements between alters on the roles, rules, & expectations of each. It is where the needs of many outweigh the needs of one, unfortunately a stage I’m not quite at yet.
My wife has always been adamant about fore-fronting self-care, a methodology that has been very productive for me & one that ATW also marks with high importance. I jokingly call myself a hobby enthusiast, but the distraction & release of hobbies, new & old, is seriously critical for my day-to-day management of my disorder. The old ones carry me through—disc golf as that body-centered, meditative space, music as that energetic, child-like challenge, poetry as a polyvocal, internal conversation. In the midst of a rough two months, for instance, I’ve been playing the best disc golf of my life; as my wife pointed out, it’s one of the only spaces right now where I feel safe, grounded, & focused.
I’ve also had success recently trying new activities, like stand-up comedy & a dance class; while for time & energy purposes they might not make it into the life as a regular thing, the challenge of them & success in processing have been uplifting. Like I noted in an earlier post, doing stand-up was the first time I was able to publicly announce & joke about my disorder through an artistic medium. In Body Shift, an all-abilities dance class, I was able to exist in the messy mental space while clearly expressing myself & interacting with others safely. After being fearful of groups, both hobby-wise & therapeutic, because of the disorder, I’m determined to try a DID group soon, as well as hopefully a new club, like for cards or disc golf, soon.
Chapter 6 is about “Relating To Others,” & it was both the most validating & eye-opening chapter of the book. I’ve never been good at boundaries; like I’ve said before, I’m an all-in kinda guy, but it is a skill I’m working on, in order to protect & respect my journey; as ATW says, “We have a right to choose not to jeopardize our healing & re-integration to accommodate someone else’s comfort level.” Disclosure is a similar decision: who to tell, why to tell them, when to tell them, how to tell them, etc. Lately, I’ve been trying to be 100% open about my disorder, both here publicly & in private situations; however, I know there will be moments I need to pull back on that, as disclosure, as ATW notes, needs to be a “system decision,” with all parts okay with it.
Also, we need to be aware of some people’s cruelty, such as attempts to manipulate parts; I recently had this happen with a trusted friend, who very clearly tried to get me to switch, which is obviously hurtful & counter-productive. As ATW says, “Parts are not pets, to be manipulated, brought out for show.” It comes down to choosing, building, & maintaining relationships that are mutually-beneficial & honest.
Yes, my disorder can take a toll on a relationship, but I’m learning if all the people & parts are in discussion about the relationship, a true growth can happen for each person. While they’ve provided great comfort & support for me, I’ve admired my friends who can joke with me about my disorder (a great stress reliever for both), my wife’s ability to see others with mental health issues with more compassion, & my family’s ability to reconcile some difficult parts of my earlier life, like my divorce or what we now know were “spells.”
Bonus note on self-care: pre-diagnosis, my wife & I got a pitbull puppy named Ginny Bug. Little did we know how much of a comfort & inspiration she’d be for my journey with DID. As ATW says, “Scientific studies have shown having a pet lowers blood pressure, increases feelings of self-confidence & self-worth, & fights against the effects of loneliness & depression” (62).
What I’m reaching for here is how important everyone is—all my parts, all my loved ones, everyone with DID. ATW stresses, time & again, the importance of the system, “the entirety of alters,” something they mark in referring to people who are DID in a modified second-person plural: “you-all.” As the son of a Tar Heel & a current resident of the state of Texas, I recognized this as another way to say “y’all.” This word has been important to me, in various connotations for many years—my dad’s saying it, the inclusivity of it, the band; it is so special to me I even got it tattooed on my right tricep last year on my birthday. With this new application, a nod to both my system of alters & my system of support, I head forward with the lessons & approaches of this book, more willing & certainly more ready to include y’all in this mess.