I was fast approaching overwhelm before the conference even started. Just going to this conference was scary, and the fact that I knew I would be driving home only to leave immediately for another conference in cold Denver ratcheted up my anxiety. Remember, I live in South Florida where I do not even really need a jacket in winter. I did know one friend I hoped to meet up with in Denver but essentially I was going to be alone there for five days amid thousands of people. Adding to my worries was the fact that I was not going to be staying in the sponsoring conference hotel as it was sold out and I feared the distance I would have to walk in snow to and from the venue. Sounds small, but it mattered to me as I was very much out of my comfort zone and by the beginning of the Healing Together (HT) conference, I was wondering if the next couple weeks were going to be too triggering.
I remember reading online about Healing Together last year and thinking “wow, I want to see all those people living with dissociation and hear about their experiences; it’ll be great!”. But over time, that sentiment took on a scary lens. I began projecting all my fears about living with DID and dissociative disorders and by the time I was at HT, I was standoffish and critical. I kept making critical judgements about how I was not like this person or that person and after listening to the keynote speaker, Robert Oxnam and voraciously reading his book, A Fractured Mind, I impulsively began fretting that I was an imposter. I saw how dissimilar I am to Robert Oxnam and cited all the differences in the ways we dissociate and work in therapy as proof that I did not belong at this conference. It did help that a young person in one of the Chat and Chew basically said the very exact thing. So, I was not alone in my self doubt.
Surprisingly, I dragged my feet at the conference, arrived late to almost every workshop, often leaving early. After one workshop which consisted of a retrospective of five years of healing recounted by the client, her daughter and her therapist from each of their respective vantages, I was so “out of it” I just made my way to the Creative Corner . There, I colored mandalas and painted this stone pictured here. I remember feeling very disconnected, heavy-headed and colored with my left hand (I am a right hander) and hummed. These behaviors tell me I was very triggered. Not sure what was so hard to hear in the workshop as I only remember one point out of an hour and half presentation. I stayed at the art station and chatted with a volunteer and am embarrassed to recall that somehow I ended up telling her about a particularly embarrassing, shameful self harm incident. I knew, as I was saying it, that it was intense and I kept asking her if I was frightening her. Ohh man, how embarrassing.
I next attended a workshop titled “Engaging Multiple Personalities” by Dr David Yeung. The session promoted itself as “a presentation on what to do at a kitchen sink level, when engaging alters”. It turned out to be by a psychiatrist , aimed at mental health professionals, not clients. It was dry and full of “case studies”. I left before it was over and went back to my room to sleep.
One workshop that made me chuckle was titled “Transference is Good, or It’s OK to Attach to Your Therapist”. I’ve struggled with attachment to my therapist (we’ll just leave it at that!) so I found it funny that there was a whole workshop on it. It was pretty good. I appreciated hearing another person’s journey and negotiations with her therapist. And hearing of her frequency of sessions helped me because,, when I was not doing well, I was in intensive therapy and often feel embarrassed (ashamed?) over how much therapy I require(d).
In hindsight, I have to say that the highlight of the conference was the connections I did push myself to make, however fleeting. I brought cards for this blog and distributed them liberally. I also made appeals on the message board for women of color survivors and connected with a twelve stepper living with DID from Idaho. In the vendor area, I saw a Latina sitting behind a table of her books and bee lined it to her. It was cute that she seemed surprised that I recognized her as Latina, because as she said “I pass”. Well, I saw her Latina self right away. Olga Trujillo has a history of working in the anti domestic violence movement and has published a book called the Sum of my Parts, which I bought. She is a hero/shero! The trust and openness I embodied by attending HT make me proud. I also let myself plant a seed of hopefulness for a romantic partner that supports me in my recovery as I saw this over and over in the many couples attending this conference together. All in all, I am glad I went, I recommend it to anyone living with DID, if you can afford it. While the conference price was not high, there are still hotel and travel considerations. I am sure there are lots of lessons to take from the weekend that I have not discovered yet. I am lucky that it happens yearly in my own state and I can see myself attending again. And if I do, I will do it a little better and hopefully not find it as daunting.