Friday, October 9, 2009

Switching Time

I had to post something about this book for several reasons. The most important of those for me at present being that I simply had to process it.

While it was a quick read, Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities by Richard Baer was a heavy one.

When I started reading the book at the recommendation of my friend, Caitlin, I thought that when she said it was heavy she meant there might be some scary parts. I imagined scenes from the exorcist and decided that I should definitely read the book during the day, just in case, instead of at night, during my ritualistic before bed reading time.

It was not that kind of scary.

The woman, called Karen for the purposes of telling her story had gone through such incredible sexual, physical, and emotional abuse beginning at birth that her personality had split in order to deal with the horrors of her life.

There were things that happened to Karen that I couldn't even comprehend.

I had heard about a lot of different kinds of abuse in my life. I read One Child my senior year of college about a special ed teacher who encountered a gifted by emotionally disturbed little girl who no one else wanted to deal with and found that the girl was being molested by men in her life who used objects like knives. She showed up at school one day with blood in her pants - that's how the teacher learned what was happening to her. She was only six years old. In this story there were knives. There were also hammers, garden hoses and water, crucifixes, electrical tools, and more. The psychiatrist had hard time hearing about these things, of course. I can only imagine how it would feel to hear Karen talk about these things straight to me. I shuddered as I read but I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to know what happened to this poor child, now a woman, who had no idea who she was.

Aside from the sort of abuse discussed above she was also subjected to cult practices where prominent men in the community along with their women would take turns abusing her in horrifying ways. Her father and grandfather both abused her and her mother turned a blind eye and sometimes even blamed the girl for their behavior. She was made to watch porn flicks and told that this was her teaching time. She was learning how to be a "good girl". She was forced to pose with another ten year old boy for child pornography photographs and videos in front of the town priest, her father, and several men from her grandfather's factory.

She was poked with needles in the most private of places and in her belly. She had fish hooks jabbed into several parts of her body and then was picked up by them while a group of adults laughed as they watched.

She was raped several times, stabbed, and had alcohol poured over her body and into her wounds.

There was more. It is awful to repeat it. It made me sick to read it.

The thing about it was that these 17 personalities had come out during times in her life when there was no possible way a human being could cope. At the age of 18 months she split into three persons. Two of those personalities were to be her "parents" of her own creation - taking care of her, teaching her things. Her "baby" self was Karen-Boo - infant who never grew up and could only speak and understand Hungarian. Little Claire, the seven year old who suffered horrible abuse for Karen while maintaining a perfect little girl image. Miles, who took the brunt of sexual abuse because he was a boy and couldn't feel it. Karl - who took the worst of everything, including the cultic rituals that included being locked in a casket for hours on end and being forced to say that the physical pain was enjoyable. Julie, who was raped over and over by men who paid her father to have sex with her. Ann - the girl who held Karen's true faith beliefs about who God really is. Jensen - who held the center of Karen's artistic talent. Karen was split into many other personalities so that she was shielded from the reality of her terrible life. The personalities took care of things so that she could be safe.

As Dr. Baer helps the personalities to integrate into one whole person, Karen begins to see her life as it was and to cope with it now that all those who harmed her are dead. The personalities are not so sure, however. They want to protect Karen to the end. They want assurance that no more horrible things will happen to her. Each personality in turn has to visit her father's grave to understand that he is truly gone, and even then, some of the personalities who went through the most pain still fear he will reach out of the grave and hurt them all over again.

As I read this book I wondered "Where was God? Why was Karen hurt in this way? What about all of the other innocent children?" I couldn't fathom a world with a loving God and also people who would do these things to any children, let alone to their own. I thought of my own little girl and wanted to hold her close to me so that nothing could ever touch her, hurt her, make sure feel that she was worthless or an object or that there was no one who would ever love her.

And then I read the most incredible part of the book.

During the cultic ceremonies her father and other relatives and their friends had told her she was evil. They had dressed her in white and made her marry Satan in a sick ceremony where she had to sign her name in blood. Then they punished her for being his wife and spawn at once. Yet, through all of that, somehow, Karen knew that this was NOT the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Near the end of the book there are only two personalities remaining as separate entities from Karen herself. One is Holden, a father of her own creation who kept all of the personalities in check and protected them as best he could. The other was Jamsen, her artistic talent. Before he is integrated with the whole personality he draws Dr. Baer several pictures. One of them struck me completely. It made me weep with joy, with passion, with love.

It was a picture of Jesus with a little girl (Karen) in his lap. Jesus is crying. An angel is dropping 17 stars from heaven down to Jesus and he is giving them to the innocent little girl on his lap. These stars represent the alternate personalities Karen acquired throughout her life. Karen says that she knows this is how God took care of her through this torture. He made it so that she could live through it, face it, tell her story later - the multiple personalities were his gift to her so that she could get through the terrible pain.

That image will be forever in my mind. Jesus weeping for the innocent little girl in his lap, holding her close, giving her these tools - his way to help her through the sinfulness that she is being born into. It was not something that stomped out her faith, but something that made her love Jesus even more - how he cared for her enough to send those personalities to her to protect her. A secret to all those around her until she encountered Dr. Baer - and it was the personalities who decided it was time to see someone.

At the end of the book there is a plea from Karen to look out for signs of child abuse from children. To ask questions when children are despondent. I urge all of my readers to PLEASE do this. Take it seriously. The things that happened in this book were real. They really happened to a little girl. Her entire life was nothing but pain - her whole childhood a mass or torture and sorrow. I pray for all children who have to go through this. Please check on the little girls in your life. Ask them questions. As Karen says at the end of the book, they have coping mechanisms now in place if they have been abused from a very early age. It will be hard to discover what is really going on. They don't know what's happening to them and why. They have been threatened not to tell.

I don't know how we can find these little girls. How we can save them, but I pray that God will open our eyes.

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