I’m Karen, and this is a page out of my life as I navigate living with Dissociative Disorder. It’s just a short walk through one of the many memories I’ve always had, but until recently—thanks to EMDR—have viewed as if through the eyes of a storyteller.
EMDR & How I Met the Seven-Year-Old Girl in White
As a survivor of severe, long-term, childhood trauma, I was gifted with a creative dissociative technique. It served me well while I was in the eye of the storm—when I had nowhere to turn that was safe and was without the tools I needed to survive the fear, pain, and the unfathomable abyss of shame.
Then, about two years ago, I discovered somewhere in the recesses of my mind, that I wasn’t alone in my journey. Connecting to the very real anguish and fear of my memories was overwhelming to me until I began doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) sessions with a therapist.
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy in which the person being treated is asked to recall distressing images while generating one type of bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. It is often used for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). In my case, it was being used to treat Dissociative Disorder.
In my first EMDR session— with eyes closed and inhibitions lowered—I found myself walking down a long corridor lined with white doors: some closed and some slightly open. I happened on one that was ajar as I was summoning a particularly harrowing memory. Inside I saw a beautiful, sad little girl with long auburn hair dressed all in white. She was standing and facing the wall in a white room.
The Little Girl in White turned to me. As I entered the room, I was suddenly overcome with waves of sadness that threatened to consume me. The emotion belonged to the girl, but it was also mine. She was sharing it with me. I went to her and held onto her and sobbed without words until I could calm myself enough to relay what I was seeing and feeling to my counselor, who was guiding me through the session.
My counselor asked me to calm The Little Girl in White, and to make her feel safe enough to leave her. I stayed with her for a bit, and then tucked the her into a white bed and left her there resting. As I carried some of her sadness with me for the first time, I understood that there were keepers of my pain— fragile little girls who had to disengage from my waking world when it became too painful and frightening to stay.
Dissociation: The Making of The Little Girl in White
The following story is a childhood experience that is both mine and The Little Girl in White’s as a result of Dissociative Disorder.
Sexual Abuse & My Mother’s Role
When I was seven-years-old, one of my mother’s friends brought her five-year-old daughter Mara to my house. The child grabbed one of the paper dolls I was playing with from my hands, so I tried to take it back. Her mother returned the doll to me, which made Mara cry. In response, my mother snapped, “She’s only five!” and made me give her the paper doll.
Everyone smiled at Mara.
At that moment, I understood that Mara was little and protected. I found myself wishing I was also five so that someone would help me if I cried—and so that I could have my paper doll back.
Not long after that experience, my mother became angry with my stepfather Bruce who was a policeman. She told me that we were going to the police station, gathered me into the car and calmly drove to our destination. When we arrived, she grabbed my hand and held it so tightly it hurt as we walked into the building. Once inside, she began crying in the same fake way that I did sometimes when I was imitating people on T.V. shows.
As officers gathered around her, calling her by name, she started talking and crying harder. She said, “He put his hands between her legs,” pulling me tightly to her. “I didn’t know. He told her that if she told me, I wouldn’t love her,” she insisted.
I was confused. It is true, Bruce had always done that and more to me—but she had always known. I had never said those words to her, and she had never cried about it before. She had only acted angry at me for it—until now.
The policemen looked at me, and I could tell they felt bad for me. Nobody had ever looked at me that way before. I told one of them that I was only two years older than five because I wanted him to know that I was still little enough for him to help.
A Safe Place & The Calm Before the Storm
After that, my mother and I went to stay with my beloved great aunt Pauline. I knew that Mom had left Bruce, and even though she was mad at me all the time, I felt safe at Aunt Pauline’s where nobody ever hit or touched me inappropriately.
After a while, my mom began talking about living with Bruce again and how we needed to help him get out of trouble. She took me to an office building downtown where Bruce and his lawyer were waiting. Used to being ignored, they talked while I sat and looked around the room and listened.
“We cannot tell her to lie on the stand,” the lawyer said as they all looked at me. “But,” he continued, “If she doesn’t tell the judge anything, that could work.”
My mother and the lawyer took turns drilling me about how to be completely silent. They told me not to answer any of the questions the judge asked me: not my name, age, friends’ names, teacher’s name, anything.
I said, “I know! I will pretend I’m in the library because you aren’t supposed to talk there.” They all smiled at me then. Showing them how smart I was, and seeing how happy it made them felt good.
Mom promised me if I didn’t say a word to the judge she would get me some chocolate ice cream and the Barbie Doll I had wanted. But there was no need for that, I would’ve done anything they said because I was scared of them, and wanted their love.
My Day in Court
The judge was very nice. He asked me my name and waited. I said nothing. He asked how old I was, and waited. I said nothing. There were several more questions, and then finally he asked, “Did your dad touch you between your legs?”
I wanted to tell him the truth, not because I believed he could help me, but because I wanted him to like me. Instead, I was silent. He looked at me sadly and talked to the grownups, and then we left. The lawyer patted me on the head and winked at me. Mom and Bruce kissed in the parking lot, and they took me to get the Barbie and ice cream. I didn’t eat it and it melted. O
On the way home, my mother looked at me in her rear view mirror. “You know, I love him so much that I risked my soul to eternal damnation by lying under oath. We are going to have to be extra nice to him, especially you because you hurt him the most.”
Dissociative Disorder: The Onset
That was a turning point in my life. From that day on, I believed beyond a doubt that nobody would ever help me—not even the people who were supposed to help little girls. I decided that none of what happened to me was about me because I didn’t matter.
The Little Girl in White is seven-years-old, and she sits in one of the white rooms along the corridor that I picture in my mind. Her hands are balled into little fists so tightly that the nails dig into her skin and leave half-moon marks that hurt in a satisfying way.
She is a tiny version of me, with reddish-brown curls that fall into her brown eyes while she plays with paper dolls and sings songs with nonsense words—which doesn’t matter because nobody ever hears her sing.
I feel her with me more lately. I often wake throughout the night to find my own hands clenched into fists that leave half-moon marks in my skin when I open them.
The Little Girl in White, Who Carried My Pain
The Little Girl in White helped me remember playing with my paper dolls and how much I loved them. In fact, I played with them every chance I got and used them to bring all of my dreams to life and make everything else in that world disappear.
The day after Mara took my favorite one, I sat on the living room floor playing with the only girl paper doll I had left. I wanted her to sit on a little chair I’d made out of a tissue box, and tried to bend her stiff legs gently so she could. When my mom saw me she grabbed the doll out of my hands, ripped her in two and yelled, “You destroy every goddamn thing I give you!” I wasn’t trying to break her
I hadn’t remembered that before.
The Little Girl in White also helped me recall that the day my mother drove me home to live with Bruce again, is the day she separated from me and my
During an EMDR session, I witnessed the separation. Guided by my counselor, I remembered that after my mother said, “We are going to have to be extra nice to him, especially you because you hurt him the most,” a long, anguished cry escaped from me. That’s when I first saw my little seven-year-old girl in white. She was on the floorboard of the car, curled into a little ball.
The EMDR session allowed me to feel it all with her. Her entire body was seized with pain, hot tears flowing, fists clenched. I heard her cry out, “I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to go home.”
She knew that every bit of hope was gone and that nobody was ever going to help. She had the innate sense that things would get worse, and she simply could not live through it.
Living with Dissociative Disorder, EMDR Sessions & Hope for the Future
The Little Girl in White now stays in her room with the door ajar. I have since met other little girls along the corridor during my EMDR sessions for my dissociative disorder. I have experienced their stories and felt their pain, fear, and the anguish of having taken on too much for such tiny girls.
They have all retreated to the safety and purity of the white rooms, and will hopefully come out to stay with me as I grow stronger and earn their trust. Meanwhile, each EMDR session walks me down the corridor past doors. Some doors are closed and some are open. Now, some of them even have windows that allow the sunlight to stream through into the corridor.
That gives me hope.
Karen Sipes is a performer, musician, musical and stage director, stand up comic, writer, child advocate, animal lover, and proud mum. She began this journey of healing several years ago and is committed to sharing her truth through telling the stories of her childhood, as she navigates this path, hoping to encourage and inspire others to seek healing and find their own paths to peace. Her stories can be seen on her blog, by going to www.Songbirdsfly.com