By Dr. Jamie Marich
Today I celebrate nineteen years of continuous sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Nineteen is a very important number for me, making my arrival at this milestone all the more special. When I was chronologically nineteen, I crossed the line into chemical dependence. I also came out to myself as bisexual (although it would be many years before I came out to anyone in earnest), decided to leave the Evangelical church in which I was partially raised, and experienced the greatest traumatic loss of my life. As a feature of my dissociative disorder (or “dissociative experience of life,” as my dear friend Amy says), I also carry a nineteen-year-old part with me.
Although many people without dissociative disorders can relate to having an inner teenager, for those of us with dissociative disorders, the fissure is a bit more pronounced. Adult Jamie is writing this piece, yet Nineteen is sitting here with me, asking me not to embarrass her. Indeed, she and my other major parts are constantly giving me commentary on the events of my life. While that may sound torturous to those of you who do not have the joy of living life as a system, I wouldn’t have it any other way. They all help me in my healing process because they all developed in response to wounds in our lives. They let me know what I need to rest and when I need to heal, even though they can still lead us into some mischief from time to time!
Many theorize on how dissociative systems come to be; this explanation just offered is how we see it. For many years in my healing journey, we didn’t take Nineteen too seriously. She was, after all, the awkward girl who became a lush and didn’t realize her full potential. She was too afraid to come out about her sexuality, and even more afraid to tell the people she felt things for how she felt—for who could possibly want her for anything more than her brains? And even her brains never quite seemed to fit the mold of what she needed to have passed muster at the “best” of schools.
Adult Jamie thought that she needed to extinguish that part of herself, for what do nineteen-year-olds really know? Turns out, a lot actually.
Nineteen knew that we were no longer safe in our father’s church; we never really were. At great risk to her own security and sense of family loyalty, Nineteen branched out and began to meet people of all backgrounds and be intrigued by them. Nineteen is a badass, and she began the process of walking away from those messages and that life which never served her. Had she stayed in it, she would have been dead by her mid-twenties, no question. If not dead from suicide, she would have been trudging on the slow hamster wheel of dying inside to appease the church rules and family norms that were designed to smother the fire of people like her.
Beginning to call out and gradually walk away from everything you’ve ever known jolts ones’ system. No wonder she drank. And she would eventually learn to get sober.
Nineteen—I thank you for everything you did for me when we were nineteen in the body, and for the wisdom that you continue to show me now. Even though we can’t go back in time I want you to hear several things from me now—you are doing the right thing getting away from those kinds of churches. You don’t belong there. Yet your desire for a holy connection is strong and you will find that in those places that embrace your full humanity.
How you love is pure and good, and anyone who can’t see that doesn’t know what they’re missing. The people you’re afraid to love or to declare yourself to—do it anyway. You may be surprised. Everything you were ever told about being unlovable or undesirable is a lie. And yet please work with me on being mindful that many people out there will know our historical insecurity with all of this mess and will try to make you feel bad about setting boundaries. Love with your heart that is boundless, yet never give the heart away. You are worthy of being protected.
And finally—and most importantly—know that your beloved teacher who left this earth suddenly is so proud of you, and she’s with you always. We all know not that death is just the shedding of the body—she and all of the other people you lost tragically are still here. They dwell right in your heart. And they want you to know that God was never punishing you by taking people away. The loving, Divine presence that we’ve come to know doesn’t work that way. And the curse that was put on you when she died by the person you loved, the person who served a much different interpretation of God, isn’t valid. God doesn’t curse people—that is the work of an unhealed family line.
So thank you for accepting the invitation to heal, Nineteen. The journey has been tough and painful and it still continues. Jamie at 42, who is driving this car that we call our life, thanks you for the role you played in liberating her. And she needs you to stick with her on the road ahead for your wise counsel and perspective.