Jade Miller shares her story of living with a little-understood condition. We have agreed to publish her story under her pen name to protect her and her family.
I sat across from a man wearing a white choir robe. My friend sat next to him. We had followed him through the shadowy, Saturday-deserted sanctuary into this side room where echoes of hymns and praise songs danced just beyond earshot. I gazed at the high ceilings and tried not to daydream about acoustics.
I think the politically correct term these days is “deliverance minister,” but I knew I was there to see an exorcist. Political correctness makes everything sound prettier than what’s really going on. No sense in acknowledging reality, right? That would be too uncomfortable for everyone.
We came to see the exorcist because my friend was worried about me. I hadn’t known her long, but she assured me from the beginning she and her husband felt “called by God to walk with [me] in this season.” So I spent a lot of time with her, trusting God knew what He was doing.
But not too far into our friendship, things happened that concerned her.
Once, I was lounging on her living room floor, discussing a recent trip home to see my parents. I had an attitude. My friend said something confrontational about it, and I fired a blunt missive right back at her. It was out of character for me. The person everyone knew as “me” was not a cynical, take-no-prisoners truth-teller. Back then I was polite, accommodating, passive, and I didn’t know how to speak my own truth in any fashion, never mind cuttingly.
“Your eyes changed,” my friend told me worriedly. “You didn’t look like you at all.”
That event rode the crest of a wave of clues indicating more was going on underneath the surface of my consciousness than I was aware of.
The first swell was a haphazard conversation with my friend—so benign it could have gone unnoticed. We were chatting at a coffee shop, and I made a very offhand comment about being distracted by all the people talking in my mind. I dismissed it with, “But everyone does that, you know?”
She got very quiet and stared at me for a long moment. Then she cleared her throat.
“No, actually,” she said. “I don’t think ‘everyone’ does that. I know I don’t. And neither does my husband. And neither does anyone else I know.”
All I could say was, “Oh.”
Cue more conversations about differences between what was going on in my head versus what goes on in most people’s heads. Cue more situations where behavioral discrepancies were too striking to be dismissed. Cue her idea that these discrepancies must certainly be attributed to demons, and cue the conclusion that I needed an exorcism.
Back to the Exorcist
Before sitting down, the exorcist put a trashcan by my foot and handed me a tissue. He said, “If you feel like coughing, you can cough into this [tissue]. If you need to scream, or throw up or say things you wouldn’t normally say, don’t hold it back. Just let whatever happens, happen.”
I nodded. I tried to keep my eyes from widening.
He prayed, commanding anything inside me that was hiding or playing games to come out in the name of Jesus. He did this for a while. My friend watched me silently, intrigued. I think she was expecting some kind of circus sideshow to begin at any moment.
But I didn’t cough.
I didn’t scream.
I didn’t throw up.
I did very little actually. I sat in the uncomfortable wake of intrusive words irrelevant to my life. I wasn’t holding anything back. There was just nothing there, at least not anything willing to interact with a stranger—especially a man yelling at demons.
After a while, tears rolled, unnoticed, down my cheeks. His voice blurred in my ears the way his face blurred in my vision. I wasn’t aware of feeling sad. The tears just happened. Eventually they dried.
After about half an hour the man stopped, winded, and asked if I felt any different.
I didn’t know. I had come in feeling nothing; I still felt nothing.
I nodded compliantly. “I think so.”
He smiled, relieved. My friend thanked him profusely, and we left.
“Your eyes look clearer,” she beamed and linked her arm through mine as we walked to our cars.
The only thing clear over the next few weeks, however, was the exorcism didn’t help at all. My life became more and more chaotic as foreign, vision-like memories began to surface. I had no idea what was going on, and neither did anybody else.
My friend, who was a well-known Christian influence in our community, gradually stopped returning my phone calls. She stopped answering emails. She stopped inviting me over to her house. Eventually, I stopped trying to redeem myself to her and gave in to the shadows in my mind.
Not Demons After All
It’s been ten years since the exorcism, and I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes. It took at least three years for me to discover and understand what was “wrong” with me, and it wasn’t demons.
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and a person’s self can’t be cast out of their own self.
After the failed exorcism, I saw several different therapists, but I resisted the diagnosis. I thought multiple personalities meant I was really and truly, certifiably crazy. What little information I did know was based on movies like “Sybil” and pop culture stereotypes. I thought if you were crazy, it would feel much different.
Finally, a professional explained Dissociative Identity Disorder in less threatening terms: It was simply the mind’s way of helping someone survive something they couldn’t handle. Put into proper context, it made sense. Knowing other people had experienced it before and that it was treatable, gave me a sense of hope.
Unfortunately, hope dimmed as I sought to find someone in the area who had experience with personality disorders. There were—and still are to this day—very few people educated about trauma and dissociation.
Back in the beginning, I had to learn it all myself, and what I discovered both shocked and comforted me. When you have an experience that overwhelms your capacity to cope, your mind distances itself from the experience to help you survive. It’s a simple, God-given safety hatch that can be opened whenever a person’s internal resources are in danger of being completely overwhelmed.
Everyone has this. Everyone does this.
That knowledge was comforting to me. However, depending on what’s happening and your individual ability to process it, the type and amount of distance required to help you survive can become very complex and shocking.
When Trauma Overwhelms
I didn’t realize until about six years after my DID diagnosis that I had been ritually abused. Those memories did not surface until the diagnosis was well established. At first I didn’t understand what the fragmented scenes vomited up from my mind were; they seemed too horrific and bizarre to be real. I thought I’d already dealt with so many of the more “common” types of childhood abuse memories that there could be nothing left, but they were only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Recovering from DID involves uncovering layers, with the worst abuse hidden in the deepest ones. My mind dealt with extreme early trauma by completely shattering—breaking off consciousness into little pieces and pockets of memory, emotion and experience. Everyone does this to some extent, but those with Dissociative Identity Disorder do it more often—to a greater extreme.
As the recovery process continued to unfold, I began to feel like the old woman who lived in the shoe who had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. I discovered an endless number of little girl parts of my mind, all holding the memory of a horrific experience. Some held only fragments, like physical pain or emotional turmoil. Some were more aware of the real-life factual details, like location and the person or people involved. In the beginning, none of them understood that they’d survived, that the abuse was over. They all clung to the original fears and beliefs they’d developed while trapped in the situation from which they’d shattered in my mind.
Dissociation itself is on a spectrum. One end of the spectrum displays different personas based on varying roles a person plays in life—like having a mom hat, a doctor hat and a wife hat. This is very common, yet people are still surprised when they notice a discrepancy between the person they see every day at the office and the person they see on the dance floor at a club on a Friday night. Dissociative Identity Disorder is on the extreme end of the spectrum. There are different people inside—different aspects of a person—and they all have a role to play. Every person matters, and they can all be quite different from each other.
What differentiates those with DID from others is that they are often quite unaware of their other personas—at least in the beginning. Awareness is a key component to recovery; developing it is usually one of the first and most important tasks.
Some choose to live life with their separate identities and learn to get them to work together as a team of individuals who happen to share one body. Others prefer to work toward the goal of integration, which involves uniting all the broken pieces into one cohesive personality. I have seen both scenarios work very well.
The Road to Healing
Healing is a slow and painful process, and there are many people who can’t or won’t endure it because they are unwilling to face or experience their pain. I’ve always seen it this way: You can endure the pain of healing or you can endure the pain of staying the same. But only one leads to freedom.
These days I work with a prayer facilitator who is very knowledgeable in inner healing prayer. Three years ago, we started using a method called HeartSync, a way of inviting Jesus to speak to me, with my permission, in whatever way He wants, in that moment. Sometimes it necessitates recalling an abuse memory. Sometimes it means recognizing a damaging message I may have internalized (e.g. “You are bad” or “I never wanted you”) and receiving truth in place of that message. Each session is unique. Gradually, with extensive work, we have been able to reorient and connect the fragmented parts of my consciousness.
When I first began the journey of discovering I had DID, I was a terrorized and disoriented person. I never knew what day or time it was, and half the time I wasn’t sure where I was. I had flashbacks constantly. My physical health fell apart, and I had trouble eating and sleeping. I became underweight and sick most of the time as my immune system fell apart. I was terrified to venture out into public because I felt panicky in crowded places. I never smiled, could barely look people in the eyes and only spoke when spoken to. Being around men without another female present induced anxiety attacks. I couldn’t keep a full-time job. I was suicidal. After a decade of hard work, I am a completely different person.
These days I work a full-time job and manage a blog. I’ve published four books, volunteer as a moderator in an online trauma support group and maintain a social life. I’m not categorically afraid of all men. I can go wherever I want whenever I want (although crowded, busy places do still give me headaches). I laugh freely and often. I smile and look people in the eyes. I am completely unrecognizable from who I was ten years ago when all of this started.
I don’t, personally, have a specific goal in mind for recovery. I’m open to integration, and I’m open to teamwork. My main goal is peace and joy, so what I want is to step fully into whatever that looks like for me. With so many breakthroughs in these last three years, I’m confident that complete freedom is possible and will be mine very soon.