Engaging Voices, Part 2: Working Our Way Toward Connection

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The following is the fourth excerpt adapted from Healing Companions, a book by the MIA author Sam Ruck (his pen name) that describes his life with, and love for, his wife and her “alters.” His earlier installments addressed the problems with “delusions” and “paranoia”; the nature of “psychosis; and, in Part I of “Engaging Voices,” his introduction to her parts. 

One day, while driving with my wife, someone new took her place in the passenger seat. She was terrified, frantically trying to open the door so she could jump out of it while we were on the interstate highway (going 70 mph!). Needless to say, this was a scary moment for me. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to understand how to work the door handle, or it could have been disastrous.

Who the hell was that? It turned out her name was Tina—one of my wife’s dissociated parts, and until now, a hidden one. My wife’s other “alters” knew a little about her, but not much. Unlike the rest of them, who all had comfortable rooms within an internal home accessible only to them, apparently Tina had been trapped in a lonely, dark place of their inside world, like a dark, dank basement that everyone avoids using unless absolutely necessary. No one else had access to her, and to make matters worse, she was mute. How do I communicate with a mute voice?

Such were the challenges of meeting and engaging another new voice that emerged after years of building relationships with my wife’s other dissociated parts—whom I often refer to as girls, because their ages were linked to trauma at different episodes in her childhood. In my memoir I’ve described my loving history with all of them, an epic saga in its length and complexity that I’ve done my best to convey through my book excerpts and other writings on Mad in America.

Mute or not, Tina continued to come out from time to time, and every time she did, she acted like a frightened animal desperate to get out of my presence. Now that I knew she was there inside my wife’s mind, I tried to engage her. I lived by our army’s motto of leaving no soldier behind, and even though I had no idea how to engage a mute voice, I began to try. I bought her a pretty Christmas snow globe for her to enjoy when I wasn’t around. And then I bought an oversized coloring book, and I would let K.A.—another part—relate feelings she got from Tina about how Tina would like the various pages to be colored. 

So, again, how do you communicate with someone who is mute? At first, I was stumped. And then we got a tiny miracle. We were in Washington, D.C., for the Cherry Blossom Festival, and I lit a prayer candle at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in desperation for a breakthrough. And that night, Tina revealed that she knew sign languagethe ASL alphabet, which my wife had learned as a child. And so, I quickly learned it too, and we began to communicate that way. Eventually, I helped Tina through her overwhelming fear of me. Another part, Sophia, also began to communicate internally with Tina, and at some point, Tina began to talk to me using Sophia’s voice. Those two were naturally drawn together internally and eventually would become inseparable.

Once she was securely attached to me, it helped her to entrust to me the trauma she had held for 45 years (trigger warning): Tina had been the part of my wife to hold the memories of her childhood sexual abuser snapping the neck of a little kitten in front of her eyes, and threatening to do the same to her if she told her parents about what he was doing to her. This man, who had started abusing her at the age of 2, also said she was “his girl,” and no one else would ever want her because she was “ruined.” And he hurt her so badly that he told her that he left his “mark” on her.

Leaving the darkness behind

Little by little, she told her story to me now that she felt safe. I was there to hear her cries for help and protect her in a way her parents never had. I spent many nights with her literally wrapped around my upper body, like a little child does, as I walked around the house—and she buried her face in my neck and cried and wailed and flailed, letting out the horror of what that man threatened her with and had actually done to her. 

I pointed out that he had no right to claim her for his own; she was now free to choose. And that was a life-altering realization to her. And then… she chose me. And thus we began affirming to each other a series of phrases to state our new reality: “I choose you. We belong together. You are my girl, and I’m your guy.” She and I still say those phrases to each other. She typically starts it, saying one phrase at a time, and I repeat each back to her. And I always end every daily email I send to her with it. Moreover, we bought matching pendants to wear on chains around our necks with eternity hearts and the words of those phrases inscribed on them.

Additionally, she was no longer bound to her past and the cold, dark basement room that represented it. That was when we learned the importance of Bowlby’s internal working model, and we began to connect all those disconnected rooms in my wife’s mind in which my wife’s voices had been sequestered. We moved Tina out of the basement and into an adjoining room with Sophia. Eventually they opened a wall between their two rooms and literally became inseparable when they desired to be. We also eventually created an internal common area where all the voices could gather and be together. And we created a hallway that connected all the once-disconnected rooms.

So, after seven years of chaos and bringing six voices outside to engage with me and securely attach to me—which seemed to help them internally connect to each other to varying degrees—I thought I saw the finish line for us. All of them were actively working on their inside “house” to become more and more connected. Tina and my wife Ka’ryn still didn’t have full access to the rest of the house like the other five did, but we were working to open the doors between them all. 

And then the unexpected happened. One day another mute voice showed up outside, and all our hopes for healthy normalcy slowly came crashing down. Unlike all the other voices, this last girl was completely unknown to all the others before she made her entrance outside. This was nearly eight years ago. The first six voices took seven years to connect with me, heal from the trauma and pain and fear and largely connect with each other. They each worked hard and let me help them do so. But this last mute voice was totally different. There have been times over the last seven years, which I have dubbed The Great Impasse, when my wife has begged us to stuff this last voice back inside. All of us are so tired of this impasse, and the last “part” knows it. 

But that damn army motto always rattles in my head that we don’t leave any soldier behind… no matter how painful it may be. And when this latest voice acknowledges how difficult it has been to help her heal and connect to the others, I always say, “Honey, we don’t get rid of someone just because it’s difficult.” So I always affirm that I love her, and I defend her to the others as well.

And I’m fighting tears right now as I type, because it’s been really, really hard. This voice doesn’t let me help her like the others. She’s extremely independent even though she’s just as needy, if not more, than the others. On top of that this new girl only had access to short-term memories, so it was like that movie in which the person had 50 first dates with the same person: Jenny, the name I gave her until she chose her own, couldn’t remember her daily interactions with me at all for a couple of years. And so, each day was like starting fresh with her. How do you build on a relationship when she barely remembers you from one day to the next?

Glimpses of my “greater wife”

For the first year, Jenny was little more than a ghost. The other girls and I would be watching TV. They’d go to the restroom, and then Jenny would return, silently, watching me. She’d sit by me, but never close.

Eventually I learned to communicate with her. I always tried to engage her like the others. I’d buy her little gifts. I added her to my ‘daily email’ list. I’d chatter along with her about life and point out things that I thought might interest her. But she never seemed to respond much until we finally connected via the sign-language alphabet I had learned for Tina. Then, as she healed, she eventually accessed Sophia’s speaking voice for her own. 

Little by little we clawed our way into a relationship. Little by little I clawed my way with her into a secure attachment in which she finally asked me to “marry her into the family.” Yet, even then, she struggled to find release in the safety of that relationship as the others had because of her memory issues and the ambient fear, for lack of a better description, that has flooded all the girls since she came outside with us.

Moreover, as I have poured myself into Jenny, and she has started to heal these last eight years, her memory has gotten better. It’s still spotty even today, but I can tell she can access general memories many times. Sometimes I’m astounded by things she can recall now. And, happily, we no longer have to start fresh each day in our relationship.

Jenny was also trapped in the “basement” of my wife’s internal house but far more deeply than even Tina had been. She’s shared with me how lonely and scared she was those nearly five decades she was trapped there. But I hurt and ache every single day, and I know my wife and all the other girls do as well. It never gets easier, and some days I can barely breathe because I have needs, too. But I just shove them down and keep hoping that, if we don’t quit, we will find our happily ever after ending as we find a way to help Jenny connect to the others fully—and we can all be together again.

So, engaging voices. I could write so much more. Sometimes, it’s hard not to be discouraged, especially these last eight years. I vowed I would help my wife 100% recover from her early childhood trauma: but I had no idea the scope it would cover. 

Again, there have been many happy things, even with Jenny. She has come such a long way despite how painfully slow it has been. And despite her slow progress, I have seen my “greater wife,” all eight voices, begin to morph and integrate and connect on deeper levels that give me hope and make me so proud of all the work they have done to achieve it. All eight of them, even though Jenny isn’t fully connected with the others on the inside, are learning to move and act “in sync” as one group, as one person. It truly is remarkable to see the eight disparate, broken, and traumatized voices that once inhabited my wife’s internal house become healthy, happier, and inseparably connected as a group, as one person.

One of my greatest joys, every time it happens (like yesterday), is when they are all outside with me, and each will raucously sing, slightly off key, with the radio. It always brings a smile to my face as I remember what scared, broken and even angry voices each had once been when she first joined me on this healing journey. Jenny, who was once mute and terrified of everything, has been singing with her Spotify playlist lately, calling herself my “rocker girl.”

It makes all the pain and deprivation and tears worth it. 

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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Sam Ruck
Sam Ruck (a pen name) is the author of booklets and a blog directed toward family members, spouses, and significant others who want to walk together with their loved ones who are experiencing dissociation and extreme states caused by trauma. He and his wife have done so completely outside the mental health system and its reliance on drugs while emphasizing attachment strategies. He's also the author of the book "Healing Companions," which can be downloaded from his website.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Sam, I am in absolute awe of the love and courage you’ve shown towards your wife and the split off parts of her. Your patience and tenderness are astonishing! I hope you give your soul and compassion high fives daily, because it would destroy most people. You are EPIC, good man!

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