The war in Syria.
My war.
Carita Kilpinen, a mother, entrepreneur, graphic designer, artist, trauma survivor
22 January 2018
A little bit over an year has gone by since I wrote the following. Its an excerpt from our book The Five Survivors, a Hundred Lives. It  was the first time I stepped out in public with my dissociation disorder. Since then a whirlwind of change has happened. I found my self surrounded by peers and landed on top of our shared lifes mission. My healing process has taken long leaps forward and I have dealt with some very difficult emotions. Integration is the process I’m in right now.
For years, I’ve reflected on how to come out with this issue. Or why. What would my story mean to others, and what would the consequences be?

Would I tell my story purely for egotistical reasons, or is helping others my greatest motivation? Would coming out be above all connected with my need to be seen, heard and understood? Would anyone believe me, and would it even matter? How should I tell my story; where would I begin?

Probably I’ve been hindered mostly by fear and shame, but I’ve also been hampered by a sound measure of discretion. Nowadays I have an instinct for self-protection. I don’t want my trauma to define everything I do, but I also know that this world will not get any better if I keep silent. Everything leads to a reaction. You can never be prepared for everything. You can’t foresee everything.

“I feel deep empathy and gratefulness for my dissociation. It kept me alive and functional in unbearable circumstances. It held my hand when no-one else comforted me. It has been my superpower and companion on this journey, but its task has now been fulfilled.”

I’m a wife and a mother. I was going to write that I’m a rather ordinary wife and mother, but that may not be quite true: in addition to these identities, I have several other identities, too. I have a dissociative disorder: to be more specific, a dissociative identity disorder.

My dissociative identity disorder is a result of my being a victim of neglect, assault and abuse from very early in life. We moved often, so the adults with whom I came into contact didn’t notice my distress. I’ve counted that I switched to a new school seven times in primary school alone. Those people who momentarily saw my distress looked the other way.

I was bullied in many schools, and the older I became, the more sadistic the methods of bullying were. In lower secondary school, “bullying” assumed at worst features of mental and physical torture. There was a lot of sexual abuse. At home, I didn’t get the weapons to defend myself. It’s no wonder I couldn’t do it. When you grow up in an abnormal environment, you can’t know where to draw the line. You easily end up being an object. Many people would say about my childhood: “How can you ever recover from that?”

I’ve gone to trauma therapy for more than ten years, and will probably continue for many more years. But the worst part is over now. There’s cooperation between the different parts of my fragmented self. One sign of this is that I don’t have memory breaks, or gaps in my memory, as often as I used to. I don’t panic or fly into a rage anymore. I know how to protect myself. I don’t get depressed anymore when difficult emotions resurface. It’s been a few years since the last time I wished for a silent death.

I used to compare myself to other people, and saw only differences. Now I notice similarities and shared features. Gradually, the parts of me that bear the agonising feelings and experiences caused by traumatic scenes are returning and becoming part of my core consciousness; together, we can move on and leave the traumatic period behind. I’m on the way to healing, and it now seems possible to think that, one day, the dissociative identity disorder will be part of my past.

I don’t want to get rid of the disorder because I hate or am ashamed of it, though I’ve sometimes felt that way, too. I feel deep empathy and gratefulness for my dissociation. It kept me alive and functional in unbearable circumstances. It held my hand when no-one else comforted me. It has been my superpower and companion on this journey, but its task has now been fulfilled. We don’t live in constant danger and fear anymore. I’m an adult with a family of my own now. It’s my turn to provide my own children with the security I never had. I will not succeed in this task if part of me continues to live in another time, a period of constant warfare. It’s time to accept, give thanks and continue the journey together. As one me.

Artwork by Carita Kilpinen

“I want everyone to know that no-one is too broken to survive and recover.”

“A Syrian mother grieving for her dead son. ”
Photograph by Niklas Meltio, from the 2013 documentary
“Faces of the Syrian War”.
“The mother of Lemminkäinen”
Painted by a Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1897
For years, I’ve carried this question with me: “What turns a human being into a monster?” The answer has always been just around the corner, but it has only become clear in my mind in the past few years. I couldn’t find the answer until I had faced the “monster” in me. I had to take it in my arms and embrace it. I had to tell it that everything was fine now; I had to comfort it. I had to make food and build a nest for it. I had to learn to love it and see it the way it really is. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Trauma is a disease that extends across generations. A child is born innocent. A child is never guilty of the evil that happens. A child adapts and learns to cope. I’ve had to reflect a great deal on the hypothetical reasons why my parents – both of them – failed in their task in my case. What were the terrible experiences on which their own inner traumatic children had got stuck? And what kind of horrors had their parents gone through in the war?

Over the years, I’ve managed to collect a few pieces of information on my parents’ lives and, from them, formed a picture that makes sense. I’m sorry for their inner children. I feel great empathy for their experiences. I can understand, but I can’t forgive the adults who broke me. And though I can’t forgive the ones who did evil things to me, I want to offer my quiet acceptance to the ones who are willing to change. It’s never too late. There’s always room for spiritual growth.

This will end with me. I’m offering my children the kind of childhood I also should have had. I’ve been given a great opportunity to raise nice, strong and coherent men into this world. The kind of good people that this age needs. I’m extremely grateful for this possibility and proud of myself for having had the strength to do all the work that has made this possible.

This age, our time, occasionally seems desperately difficult and frightening. There are threats in the air. The war in Syria, the flood of refugees, mass extinctions, climate change. All the horrible things that are happening right now in Aleppo, for example. At this very moment, in front of our eyes, the same things that have taken place here in Finland are happening: new traumas, diseases and vortexes of horrors are being created.

Recently, I watched the documentary Faces of the Syrian War. I was brought up short by it. The documentary presents a stark, grotesque picture of Aleppo. It gives new meaning to many Finnish words. Culturally, we Syrians and Finns are very far apart, but, through humanitarian deeds and the survival mechanisms of the human species, our connections and similarities have become as obvious as a huge exclamation mark. From my school days, I remember lessons when we dealt with the wars in which Finland has been involved. In those lessons, our wars somehow seemed cleaner, nobler and more honourable than the wars waged by other countries. I don’t recall that we ever talked about the war crimes committed in Finland. Only now have we Finns started to deal with this darker side of Finland’s history. The things we hear about our past are as terrible as the things that are taking place in Syria and Iraq now. Thank you, Niklas Meltio, for the work you do and for this documentary. I can only imagine the wounds you have in your soul: without them, you might not be making such documentaries. Thank you for your sacrifice.

The thought of all this makes me feel desperate. At first thought, it seems that I have no strength. But there is also something different in this age. Something new. We know a great deal more. We all have our voices, and we have channels through which to make them heard. Trauma lives off secrecy. It gains force in silence. I can make a difference by telling my story. There are many brave people who have come out with their stories now. I want to thank them. Through my contribution, I am joining this group of people. Thus, my story is not unique. And that’s where its magic lies. I want everyone to know that no-one is too broken to survive and recover.



In our next blog post Mai Peltoniemi, who is an experienced socialworker in Finland, as well as an expert by experience in the matter. She will shed some light in to how emotional trauma affects life in form of addiction and how both can be healed together.


Are you on your way for recovery? Are you working with people heading for recovery? Would you like to share your story?  We warmly invite you to write in our blog. We promise anonymity if you don’t want your name to be published.

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