From Pieces to Peace
by Terre Seuss
At age 60, Josie Decker is beating the odds.
From her small town beginning, through a turbulent
childhood, on through two failed marriages, Ms. Decker has
battled sexual and physical abuse, social prejudice, alcohol
abuse, mental illness and those who have said she was too
old to overcome her past. Recently, I sat down with this
incredible woman and talked about her journey, her bright
new life, and her thoughts on the future.
Josie's earliest memories are of a loving home filled with
her mother's piano music and a strict but loving father.
She tells stories of various relatives and friends who lived
with the family through tough times. Her mother suffered
various chronic illnesses-- some related to unsuccessful
pregnancies-- others more serious. Josie fondly recalls her
Aunt Ellen who often cared for Josie and her siblings.
Josie recalls to me the absolute joy of jumping off the
cattle chute, feeling as though she were flying-- as though
she were floating on air and would never touch the ground.
But her childhood was also overshadowed with dark moments,
filled with pain, sadness and crushing guilt. Early in life,
Josie often felt like an outsider in her family and in her
Unbeknownst to her parents, Josie was sexually abused by one
of her uncles while working on his farm each summer. In a
time and place where no one talked about such things, she
felt isolated and different from other children. Subjected
to the damaging litany delivered by her uncle, Josie felt guilty
and "bad", believing she had caused his harmful behavior.
As her own judge and jury, Josie had convicted herself in the
death of a playmate. Josie and a few older children enjoyed
playing in the train yard. A younger child who often tagged
along was killed in a tragic accident when he fell from a
moving train and was crushed on the tracks.
In Josie's mind, even more proof that she was bad.
At age 12, she began drinking to numb the pain. At first,
she drank only once or twice a week. By high school, Josie
was drunk every day. Thus fueling the fires that would allow
the townspeople to brand her as the "bad girl" she believed
As a misfit in her own community, Josie hung out with the
rough crowd from a neighboring town. Believing that she
might as well live up to her dark reputation, she often
engaged herself in extremely dangerous activities. Drag
racing on country roads, scaling the city's water tower to
get drunk, and unchecked promiscuity became routine and held
no threat of harm to her. Stealing cars, damaging property
and other illegal activities were her prime source of
entertainment. She believed she was invincible. And should
that somehow not be the case, who would care if she died?
Surviving a collision with a bridge abutment while traveling
90 miles an hour only reinforced her beliefs.
Josie's unchecked promiscuity led to her rape by a local boy.
She became pregnant as a result of the rape. Her parents
forced her to put the baby up for adoption.
Josie's first love was a young teenage girl. Josie recounts,
"In a small town in the 1950's you just didn't have those
kind of relationships. Gay activity was simply not accepted.
Queers were sick... crazy... someone you didn't want to be
around. Nell and I would have been completely shunned if
anyone had known about us."
The relationship lasted nearly three years before the young
girls were caught kissing. Their parents were told. Each girl's
parents insisted that they not see each other. Under the strain
and embarrassment following her parents' discovery of the
affair, Nell drowned herself in a local lake. Again, Josie
blamed herself for the death of a friend.
From that point on, Josie attempted to live life as "the
good girl". Feeling that she owed this to her parents for
all the trouble she had caused them, she married Carl, a
young man from a large, nearby city. Two children and 16
years later, she divorced him. When asked what caused the
breakdown of the marriage, Josie answered, "Sometimes I
still wonder that myself. Carl was a good man. He took good
care of his family and treated me like a queen. Anything I
needed, he gave me. I had all the freedom I wanted. Maybe he
was too good to me. I wasn't used to being treated that way
Influenced by pressure from very concerned friends, Josie
quit drinking. Sober and restless, Josie decided to look for work.
Carl did not approve of her attempts to find work. He left
when she was hired to drive a city bus. Josie explained,
"He was a polish immigrant who strongly believed that
women only work when their husbands aren't able to
support them. It was a blow to his manhood when I got a job".
The 16 year marriage ended.
When asked about her second husband, Rick, Josie simply
replied, "It was a disaster". She married a man ten years
younger than herself. After helping him secure custody of
his two children, the relationship turned sour. Rick became
physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. He often beat
Josie into unconsciousness. Feeling trapped and hopeless,
Josie worked longer hours in order to spend less time at
home. An unplanned pregnancy ended in abortion. Josie was
terrified of bringing another child into this dangerous
Six years into the second marriage, Rick's children were
taken away. Rick was convicted of sexual assault on a
minor. He had abused both of his children and subsequently
spent two and a half years in prison. Convinced by Rick's
daughter that the family could be salvaged, Josie entered
family therapy. When the therapy was unsuccessful, Josie
Deeply in debt from paying Rick's legal expenses and the
therapy bills, Josie again buried herself in work. After
divorcing Rick, Josie's life was totally out of control. One
of her children was going through a difficult divorce, and
Josie felt as though she could not survive without Rick. She
went into therapy again, looking for peace, and a chance to
start over. But most of all, looking for explanations.
More and more, Josie had been suffering from what she
thought were blackouts. Josie explained, "I would leave
home, intending to go for a little ride. Driving relaxed me.
Then I'd realize that I had been gone for a couple days, had
used two tanks of gas, and didn't know where I had been. I
just thought it was stress, and maybe damage done during my
years of heavy drinking."
She found herself angry and hostile, even violent nearly all
the time. It was commonplace for her to punch holes in
walls, often harming herself. On one occasion, Josie became
irritated with a driver who appeared to be ignoring a "no
left turn" sign during rush hour. Angered by the infraction,
Josie jumped out of her truck, stomped up to the driver and
demanded that the driver open her window. When the confused
motorist complied, Josie punched her in face, then returned
to her own vehicle and left the scene. Shaken by the
incident, and afraid she would be arrested, Josie called her
therapist and was admitted to the psychiatric unit at a
For the next several years, Josie continued her therapy. She
also moved through several incorrect diagnoses. Doctors
speculated about Depression and Borderline Personality
Disorder, and Manic Depression; even a suggestion that she
might have Schizophrenia. Regardless of the diagnosis or
treatments, Josie's "blackouts" and violent outbursts
continued. Her risk taking behavior from her teen years was
alive and well--frequently putting her in harm's way.
Finally, after a particularly frightening incident while on
the job, driving a city bus, Josie was referred to a
psychiatrist who was able to zero in on a correct
diagnosis for Josie. At age 53, Josie was told she
was suffering from a Dissociative Disorder, Multiple
Personality Disorder ( or MPD, currently referred to as
Dissociative Identity Disorder, DID).
DID a rare form of dissociative disorder, is often caused by
severe trauma experienced as a child. Memories are
repressed by the victim and alternate personalities are
"created" to deal with the pain and emotions caused by
repeated severe trauma.
A truly rare disorder, DID allows the survivor to be totally
unaware that these separate and functioning people exist in
her own mind. Thus creating "lost time", apparent blackouts
and often confusion over stories told to the sufferer by
friends who have witnessed the behavior of alternate
personalities. Acceptance of the diagnosis itself is an
incredibly difficult hurdle.
Thus began Josie's therapy in earnest. Doctors and
therapists didn't hold much hope for Josie. On several
occasions she was told that therapy would be difficult, if
not impossible, at her age. She was told that she had lived
with the disorder so long that it would not be likely for
her complete the intensive therapy required to deal with the
effects of the abuse she suffered, or the way she had
learned to deal with it.
But Josie Decker didn't give up. She had survived years of
unhappiness with no explanation. She had lived through
humiliating and confusing situations with no clue as to why
they had happened. She had large blank spaces in her memory
that she desperately wished to recall. Though some of those
blackouts could have been attributed to her drinking, many
could not. It frightened her to have such little control
over herself. Josie could not recall the births of either of
her children, her own high school graduation, or her first
wedding (which she was very late for after being called away
from a poker game by her father). People would speak to her
on the street and Josie would be frustrated at not knowing
who they were, though they obviously knew her. She was
confused about clothing in her closet that she had no memory
of buying, let alone wearing. But most of all, that hot, red
rage that overcame her at the slightest provocation, terrified
For nearly two years, Josie continued her therapy with Dr.
Nichols, and Marie, her therapist. Unfortunately for Josie,
this course of therapy became harmful, even abusive at
times. Dr. Nichols and her staff had rather unorthodox
methods for treating DID. Josie participated in a day
program, run by Dr. Nichols, where she met a large number
of patients who were also diagnosed (some misdiagnosed)
with DID. The doctor had very rigid ideas about how therapy
should be done, including the insistence that her patients
quit their jobs, apply for disability and devote all of their
time to getting well.
Frequent hospitalizations, individual and group therapy
several times each week were ordered. Josie was continuously
told she would never get well and would not even be able to
keep herself safe without the Nichols program. As a result
of this Josie lost her job with the bus company after 18
years of service. Even with the help of an attorney Josie
was not able to retain her job. When it became impossible
for her to pay her therapy bills, the doctor insisted that she
take out a loan, with the hospital as a cosigner, in order to pay
for the mounting debt.
Eventually, Josie left the care of Dr. Nichols. Deeper in debt and
convinced that she had been misdiagnosed in order to finance
Dr. Nichols unhealthy program, Josie sought out another
therapist. In addition to the childhood traumas, Josie was then
faced with the task of undoing the damage inflicted by Dr.
Nichols. Her first order of business was to clear up the
misunderstanding about her MPD diagnosis. Much to her
disappointment, the new therapist confirmed the diagnosis.
With the help of her new therapist, Josie eventually took
the hospital to court and was discharged from the loan the
doctor had insisted she apply for. The hospital backed off
when it was discovered that Josie had been coerced into
taking the loan.
With the new therapist, Josie was able to deal with her
Multiplicity in a safe, healthy way. She recalled the
traumas of her childhood. She learned to recognize and
deal with the unhealthy behaviors she had learned as a
result of those painful situations. With the help of the
new therapist, she was able to participate in a healthy
support group. She even convinced a few patients
from Dr. Nichols program to join this new group, in an
attempt to heal the wounds created by that situation. She
came to understand the reasons for her drinking and began to
fill in the blocks of lost time. After two years of hard
work and a serious commitment to becoming whole, Josie
integrated all of her alternate personalities into one strong,
vital woman. Her new life could begin.
Josie fell in love with someone she describes as "a brilliant,
talented and loving woman." They have lived together, happily,
for the past five years. She has worked hard to return to gainful
employment and is no longer on disability. In her spare time,
she builds doll houses--something she never imagined she
could have the patience for. She supports her son's motorcycle
racing hobby and loves to travel. Josie is sharing the parenting
duties for her partner's two children. She enjoys her two
grandchildren immensely and is pursuing new interests with
passion and gratitude. She's proud to be able to say,
"This time around, I will remember it all; the joy and the pain.
It is truly a wondrous to feeling to know where you've been
and to dream about where you're going".
I asked Josie if she had any words for someone who's dealing
with DID-- most particularly those who begin therapy late in
life. She said:
"Find someone who knows how to deal with DID in a very
gentle, understanding way; someone who doesn't force you to
remember, but gives you time to take it in small pieces and
allows you to keep yourself safe as you remember.
No matter how long it takes, it's worth it. If you can find
somebody who is willing to take the time with you, it's definitely
worth it. Don't let someone tell you that you have to quit
your job, or that you're disabled. Multiple Personality
Disorder is about being functional; not handicapped. If it
weren't, you would never have made it this far. It's worth
the long hard fight to finally have peace of mind instead of
a mind in pieces."
Copyright by Terre Seuss
Reprinted with Permission
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