Elizabeth Saved Me?

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite awhile, not even sure I would write it or whether I should. I am not a neuropsychologist but I am very interested in the wonderful ways my brain, anyone’s brain, manages to protect us from trauma, for as long as is necessary sometimes. Finally, at the urging of Rachel Grant[1] I decided to try to articulate this very tricky issue.

Elizabeth was born very early in my life but I became aware of her almost-physical presence when I was about 7. She willingly took my place during the worst of the abuse and, eventually, she carried whatever I couldn’t—memories, pain, both physical and emotional. I didn’t even have to call her, she was just there and provided me rest and a certain amount of peace that I couldn’t have had were I made to be present all of the time.  While I floated up, in the corner of the room, looking down on her, she silently bore what I couldn’t. [2]

When I left home, she retreated and I didn’t think much about her for a very long time. None of my first therapists asked about her but, when I finally ended up in Seanne’s care, she began to ask me about Little Geri. I was immediately angry. I blamed her for being the physical presence that had provoked the anger and abuse directed my way. I wanted her dead, not realizing, as she has pointed out recently, that we are a package deal! It wouldn’t have mattered earlier. I would have said, “Bring it on! If she goes, then I get to go too!” I was not ready to deal with her or see beyond the blame I made her carry. Of course, any rational person would understand that by blaming her, I was continuing to blame myself. There have been decades of blame and hate during which I believed her murder would relieve me from memory, once and for all.  Seanne tried to help me but eventually, she had to leave it for another time and I, in the interim, pushed her back into the shadows. Then, as those who know the story are aware, I left the city, the state, and the country.

After an hiatus of 10 years when I did maintenance therapy with Marilka and a couple in Europe, I returned to intensive therapy and began seeing Gretchen. She says that as early as our second session, when she asked about Little Geri and heard my wish to “kill her off,” she was aware of some rather important unfinished business. Two-and-a-half years have passed since that day and it amazes me how important Elizabeth (she told me that is her name, my middle name) has become.  She’s grown up too! She says she’s in her mid to late 30’s. When I listen to her, I learn so much! Though I am convinced they are things I never knew, Gretchen says that Elizabeth is the part of me that has been attentively listening to years of therapy, waiting for the right moment to bring it back to mind. She’s the part of me that pays attention to the world; she listens and thinks. Gretchen says she’s very wise, very intelligent. She seems to be smarter than I am much of the time and she’s turned into a comforting presence, mostly.

To be fair, Gretchen keeps reminding me that she is part of me, the part that had to split to preserve the rest of me. There are so many varieties of DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) that I’ve begun to think of it as a wide spectrum of possibilities, each designed to protect us. I have not been diagnosed as a bona fide DID client but rather DDNOS (Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Elizabeth never speaks for me though she speaks to me. Others report having "parts" that split off to manage various incidents of abuse. Still others have birthed a number of separate people who help to manage their trauma. 

Once I became aware of Elizabeth again and came to rely on her for advice, pushed by Gretchen to “Ask Elizabeth what she thinks,” I feared that Gretchen might try to get rid of her, integrate her, or force me to merge with her into some ill-fitting skin of a new “me.” She says that doesn’t really work and therapists don’t do that any more. Such merging or integration never lasts in any case and there are times when clients grieve the loss of their closest friend.  What Gretchen would like me to accept is the miracle of Elizabeth’s presence, the blessing of the relief she has provided, the marvelous way my brain protected me, and Elizabeth's heroism in providing a way to survive..


[1] Rachel Grant Coaching, San Francisco, CA.

[2] I’ve read of this phenomenon with other abuse victims. This also happens when I am exhausted, I look down on myself teaching, generally trying to do something that takes a great deal of concentration, while I struggle to concentrate. See also Susan Jacobi and her book How to Love Yourself: The Hope After Child Abuse, 2011, Amazon.