Girl of Glass 

When I was a little girl, there was a stained glass window above the kitchen sink. My grandmother made it before I was born. I remember looking up at the patterns, at the individual shapes and colors. I loved the swirls and curves, the ridges and edges. I remember wanting to trace the seams with my stubby little fingers, though that wouldn’t have been allowed. I loved the texture and the depth of it. I still don’t have words for the shapes I saw, or a way to articulate the design. I never did understand the picture as a whole. I found I often just appreciated the parts, shapes, and colors individually. It was beautiful, even though I experienced it in a fragmented way.

 

My grandmother must have spent hours upon hours crafting that window into just the image she wanted it to be. I can imagine her designing the pieces and planning how they would fit together. Cutting the glass and placing it in precisely the right place. Soldering the pieces together to keep them where they were meant to be. Separating colors, crafting and working until each individual piece created her masterpiece.

Three decades later I feel very much like that window. Like a woman whose life is made of stained glass. There are so many pieces of me. So many different shapes, colors, textures, and depths. The pieces in themselves are beautiful, but it can be hard to see the picture of my life as a whole.

Much like the stained glass window from my childhood, the parts of me were intentionally created. Cut, shaped, and designed into the pieces that would fit the mould they were created for.

 

Crafted into Pieces

I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, known more simply as DID. DID is a coping mechanism the brain uses to survive otherwise unsurvivable trauma. When a child experiences repeated, inescapable trauma, the brain creates amnesiac barriers between the part of the child who needs to carry out the activities of everyday life, such as going to school, and the part of the child that holds the memories of the traumatic experience. Over time, if the trauma continues, the brain will create more and more of these amnesiac barriers, allowing parts of the child to function through everyday life, while other dissociated parts hold the traumatic memories, sensations, and emotions. As the child grows, the parts of the brain behind these amnesiac barriers will learn and develop based only on the information and knowledge accessible to that part. This is where the identity states, or personalities, in dissociative identity disorder come from.

Oftentimes, a child will split dissociative parts, or create these amnesiac barriers, spontaneously, as they experience trauma. Their brain finds this intensely creative solution to survive, despite the horrors they face. This often occurs unbeknownst to both the child surviving, and the abusers.

In some cases, as is true for my experience, the abusers are aware that children will use dissociation to cope with intense traumas. Traumas are then perpetrated against the child with the intent of creating dissociative identities.

This may seem like a heinous idea, and that’s because it is. Nonetheless, abuser groups across the globe, in every nation, continent, and every culture, are perpetrating insidious abuse against children with the intent of creating dissociative parts of self. The motivations and justifications of this vary from group to group, but the methods employed by these groups are eerily similar, no matter what part of the globe you find yourself in.

Living as One

A Stained Glass window is made up of many different pieces, yet we call it a stained glass window, not the stained glass windows. You can’t look at the window and say “This is the original piece.” All the pieces are equally the window. So it is with us. We are one being made up of many parts, but I wasn’t aware of that for a long time.

You may notice in this article that sometimes I use the terms “I” or “me” where there are other times I use “us” or “we.” Being a person with multiple parts of self means that sometimes one of us will speak for themself, and other times we will speak for multiple of us, or reference more than one of us at a time. The language we use may go back and forth, or we may use I/we.

I didn’t always know I had Dissociative Identity Disorder. I found out when I was in my early 30s, despite having been in therapy for nearly 14 years prior to diagnosis. Dissociative Identity Disorder is often covert, and can take many, many years of therapy and often multiple misdiagnosis before it’s finally diagnosed correctly- though symptoms and experiences vary from system to system. (System is the term used by those with DID when referring to our parts collectively.)

I had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) very early in my therapy journey, but many of my other symptoms were explained away as emotional flashbacks, internal dialogue, or mood swings. Systemic use of parts language also complicated things. Phrases like “Part of me wants to do this, and part of me doesn’t,” which are so commonly found in normal conversation, made it seem as though what I was experiencing was what everyone experienced.

It took me a decade of therapy to find a therapist who wasn’t afraid of my complex trauma history. It took me another 4 years to find one who had really studied dissociative disorders, recognized mine, and was willing to do the research necessary to help me.

In those 14 years I learned a lot about what is healthy, and what isn’t. I learned healthy coping strategies, learned language to articulate my experiences, increased my window of tolerance, and learned resourcing and stabilization techniques. I learned how to cope with impulses to do serious self harm. I learned to eat in healthy ways and take care of my body, becoming no longer a slave to my eating disorder. Most incredibly, I started to find my voice. But I still was experiencing nightmares every single night– if I slept at all. I was having increasingly distressing flashbacks. I was sobbing inconsolably about things I didn’t understand. It felt like even though I was getting stronger, learning so many skills, and working so hard, everything was getting worse. I couldn’t make it make sense.

I remember one night in December 2021, I went and saw a movie with some good friends. I don’t recall the name of it, but I felt a sudden, overwhelming feeling of loss during the end scene. The grief I felt was consuming. By the time we got home I was sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t explain why I was even crying. Suddenly words started pouring out of me. Words I didn’t say. Experiences that weren’t mine. “I promised I would remember her! I promised! I forgot! I forgot! I promised her! I promised!” I didn’t know why. I had no idea what I was talking about. Who I was talking about. I didn’t know anything about a promise. What was happening? Not knowing scared me deeply.

It wasn’t long after that experience that I got my first glimpse into the headspace. (This is the term many people with dissociative disorders use to describe our inner world, or the space in which the alters in our system reside when not in control of the body.) I am what is considered the “System Host.” I perform most of the everyday tasks required of us. I maintain a cohesive looking front. I am the part most people are familiar with. A side effect of being the host is that I’m the least familiar with our internal world, since almost all of my time is spent in the outer one.

It was while we were doing EMDR therapy that I first saw into our inner world. (EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It uses bilateral stimulation to help access both sides of the brain simultaneously and allows the brain to reprocess traumatic experiences.) I remember very clearly closing my eyes and seeing a little girl with brown hair chained to the floor in a dark room. Initially she didn’t want to talk to me; it was against the rules. But eventually I was able to get her to communicate with me. She was very traumatized, and extremely lonely. I didn’t know it then, but the internal worlds of intentionally created DID systems are highly organized. This part, this little girl, was placed in this spot and in this circumstance by design. After talking to her and recognizing her fear and despair, I couldn’t end the therapy session and leave her there like that. It took a lot of trial and error, but we were able to free her from her shackles and create a more comfortable and colorful space for her to be in.

My interactions with that little girl led to meeting another part called a gatekeeper. He controlled where each part was allowed to be in the headspace. Working with him led to being allowed to meet other parts. Some of those parts would come out into the body, (what we call fronting,) and slowly, over months, I started really getting to know our system and we started to increase our communication with each other. My interactions with these system members brought other parts forward, many out of curiosity and a desire for change in their circumstances. Getting to know our system is an ongoing process, and I’m still meeting new parts to this day.

The Pieces Make Us Whole

It may sound strange, but it wasn’t until I started realizing how fragmented I am that I began to feel whole. Meeting other parts, letting them tell their stories, process their trauma, and find new roles and growth has changed my life, our lives, in so many ways. Once I started to accept that we were plural, despite my initial rejection and denial, the parts were able to communicate with me, and our therapist. They were able to begin processing our hidden trauma. After years and years of multiple nightmares a night, I was starting to sleep uninterrupted by them. The alters who were ready to process were able to do so during therapy, rather than constantly being thrown into terrifying flashbacks. Parts that were terrified of any human interaction began to have experiences that allowed them to start to trust. It felt like nothing short of a miracle.

That isn’t to say that becoming aware that we were a system solved our problems. There are so many things we are working so hard to process and understand and overcome. We do still have nightmares, though far less often. We still have our other PTSD symptoms too, but it’s getting better. After years of feeling like we were spinning our tires in the mud, we finally feel like we have traction to move forward– and we are!

I’d always had a sense that there was more to me and my past than what I was seeing. That something was missing within myself. But I could never access whatever it was. It felt like there was always something looming just out of reach. I don’t have to live with that feeling anymore. I’m getting to know more of my selves and our story all the time. I know that as more parts are ready, they will come forward and share what they can. As they do, we all get stronger. There is something really beautiful about how all the pieces of us come together, even while facing so much darkness from our past.

Separated by Force, Joined by Fire

Much like the process of cutting glass for a stained glass window and then soldering it in place, our system was intentionally and carefully crafted by our abusers. In our particular case, the pieces of us were split via very calculated tortures, abuses, and training protocols, with the intent of creating easily controlled slaves made primarily for sex trafficking.

Many people still hold onto the assumption that trafficking only happens to kidnapped children and is only perpetrated by strangers. While that does happen, often the perpetrators that involve children in these groups of organized crime are parents, grandparents, uncles, neighbours, or clergy, to name a few. In short, they are people the child should be able to trust to care for them, not torture and traffic them. Sadly, many children are born into these groups.

I’ve often been asked because I went to school, church, and participated in the community, “How could people not have known? Surely someone would have noticed?” As we discussed above, when repeated, inescapable trauma happens to the child, those memories are dissociated away from the part of the child who functions in normal, everyday activities. As the host part, or “apparently normal part,” those memories were very effectively hidden from me. I couldn’t have told if I wanted to. Groups like this also condition, or program the parts who do hold the memories not to tell. (Programming is the term used when referring to torture based conditioning.) Children being abused in these extreme circumstances simply don’t have a way to tell. Their parts can’t even tell each other.

Programming a young child to be a slave is far more than not telling anyone what happens to them. It is even more than learning to flawlessly carry out instructions, jobs, or roles. I will never forget when one of our little alters fronted for the first time in therapy. She kept our eyes lowered and our hair covering our face. The feeling of anxiety in our body was overwhelming, a sensation continuously building and compounding, forcing her to constantly fidget with our hair. After talking with our therapist for a while, but never raising our eyes, she eventually forgot herself for a moment and barely glanced up towards our therapist. She immediately covered our eyes with her hands and started crying, the terror in her voice evident. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to!” She had looked at our therapist. Not even long enough to register what she looked like, but it was enough. She’d broken the no looking rule, and she was absolutely certain our therapist was going to retaliate by torturing her as punishment. The intensity of her reaction frightened me. The immensity of her fear was all encompassing. I can’t describe how much it broke my heart to witness her terror. That was the moment I realized that everything was calculated. Every move our abusers made was with precision. And they always followed through on their threats. I cannot express how forever grateful I am to my parts for carrying these heavy burdens so that we could continue to live. I will love them for it eternally.

Light Shines Through

The enormity of what we lived through is something I still cannot comprehend fully. There are so many times I’ve been overwhelmed by it all, lost in the vastness of it. Trying to heal from something so complex, something you were trained not to heal from, is literally like fighting a war against an army that is fully trained, armed, and prepared, with a toothbrush. Finding a therapist that can and will help you is also extremely hard. There aren’t any college courses on how to help survivors of extreme abuse like this, consequently leaving therapists with the desire to help feeling ill equipped to help us. There are times when the outlook seems hopeless. If there’s one thing I want to share, it’s that it isn’t hopeless.

Light shines through even the darkest colors in a stained glass window. And it shines through the darkest parts of our experiences too.

In the short amount of time we’ve been actively working on healing together as a system, we’ve watched doors begin to open over and over. More resources are becoming available to help us heal. More people are listening to survivor’s stories and believing them. We’ve found a community of other survivors healing and supporting each other. I’ve watched our system come up with increasingly creative ways to navigate around programming, or deprogram altogether. Communities and law enforcement around the globe are slowly starting to listen and take survivors seriously. It isn’t a fast process, but it’s getting better all the time.

In our own system we’ve watched persecutory alters become our greatest advocates for healing, frightened little ones find their courage and encourage others to do the same, parts that couldn’t trust begin to be able to build relationships with caring people, and parts that were proud sexual protectors become caretakers. We’ve watched programming break down. We’ve used what we’re learning on our own healing journey to be able to be compassionate, understanding witnesses and guides in the journeys of others as well.

We’ve relinquished the shame that didn’t belong to us in the first place, found strength in the places that felt the weakest, and bravely started using our voice.

We’ve found moments of joy, even in the struggle. And we do struggle. But there is absolutely light, and love, and hope on this road too.

In the beginning of this article, I compared myself to a girl made of stained glass. At times, while in this process of trying to heal, I’ve felt as though that glass has been shattered time and time again. But as I, and the rest of our system have worked together to reclaim those shattered pieces, we’re creating something more beautiful than we ever hoped to be. Piece by piece, we’re becoming a stained glass woman. A woman with light radiating through her, soldered together with resilience, perseverance, and hope. Little by little becoming our own masterpiece of strength and healing. And we think that’s something to be proud of.

 

Jess et. al. 

 

 

“Jess is an entrepreneur and passionate advocate for mental health and the DID community. She and her parts strive to provide helpful resources for individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder, while also using TikTok as a powerful tool to educate and raise awareness about DID and organised extreme abuse – specifically RAMCOA. With a talent for writing, creating, and a love for supporting and encouraging others, Jess and her system work to inspire healing, understanding, and empowerment among those they reach.” 

Tiktok

1 thought on “Girl of Glass

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>