“This book will not leave you unchanged.” A rather bold statement from a new memoir since the true-life genre has exploded over the past decade with thousands of stories boasting similar promises. However, in this case, the sentence may not be an exaggeration, but a legitimate warning for the reader. “Brain Storm: A Life In Pieces,” by Shelley Kolton, MD, describes with candor and sometimes agonizing detail, her horrific journey through multiple personalities, deep depression, suicidal thoughts and a darkness that “followed her everywhere, from infancy to a career as a renowned, openly gay OB/GYN in New York City.”
The author includes a great deal of emails and texts messages exchanged between the 30-plus personalities (referred to as “alters”) who resided inside her, and trauma therapist, Dr. Yael Sank. We read how each alter had a purpose and played a part in her survival, and how Dr. Kolton was able to obtain her medical degree throughout this ordeal. We read about the early years, marked with torture and abuse that remained hidden in the depths of her mind to the point where these voices could no longer be silent. It was through the strength and persistence of the alters, over a course of what Dr. Kolton refers to as “twelve torturous years,” that the details of the abuse she endured in the hands of ritual abuse could be brought to the surface. In one journal entry, Dr. Kolton writes, “Every day I have to do battle with the demons…”
Memories emerge little by little during the decades of sessions with Dr Sank. A young Dr. Kolton, (exact age unknown but she does know she was in diapers) was able to recall being inside a green metal box as electrical currents flowed through her body. During that revealing session, Kolton crouched in the corner of the office and shook as if electrical currents were still racing through her. In another memory, she was in a grave with an old woman, bugs and worms crawling all over her, she writes. She was threatened with death if she didn’t obey, and “went to all kinds of places in my head to get away from the pain.” The noise in her head years later when all her alters wanted her attention was not unlike the “decibel level of an elementary school cafeteria…”
From their Queens home, Kolton’s parents routinely left her with grandparents, cousins, or the neighbors next door. She was lonely for their attention, who instead were too busy in their own activities with a father who worked long hours, and a mother whose life was full, “but not of motherhood.” We read that Kolton suffers through these tortures twice, first by the initial experience, and then in the remembering. Repeatedly told that her mother did not want her, Kolton was let to believe that she handed over to the cult abusers for punishment; the accompanying memory revealed her mother, with her neighbor, dressed in a hooded robe.
This is ultimately a triumphant of the human spirit, a recognition of the power of therapy, and after such horrendous neglect, and physical and emotional abuse, healing is possible.
Dr. Kolton shares additional background with WAT’s MJ Hanley-Goff:
Why were some alters boys/men? Do they represent the “masculine” within us?
I think that I created alters who could help me in specific ways. I definitely needed boys when I was being hurt the most. I also had a boy named Tommy who took care of everyone little. That was interesting to me as well. But he was like your perfect teenage boy babysitter – very sweet but also very pragmatic. I do think that we all have both genders within us since attributes are artificially created by us anyway.
How did you ever get your medical degrees with all that going on? (Here, Dr. Kolton mentions the names of the alters who assisted in her medical studies.)
That is a great question. Actually, there was a part called ‘twenty’ who spanned a decade with some help from others. ‘Night writer’ and ‘Butch Romeo’ were around, as was ‘Tommy’ and others. My medical student was a blend of parts who were happy during the days with school, but terrible at night.
What kept you going through your darkest moment?
My first thought was my children. However, before I had kids, I think I just wasn’t ready to die.
Some believe that we come to this planet having “agreed” to the life journey we are meant to live…can you say that you went through this “for a reason?”
No. I am pretty spiritual, but I can’t say that this was “for a reason.” For many years I used to say well if things were different, I wouldn’t be where I was. But that was my Pollyanna part (who I never named).
What do you want readers to take away from reading this harrowing true-life story?
I want everyone to believe that DID (Dissociative identity disorder) and ritual abuse exist. I also want people who are hurt or suffering to believe that they can heal with enough time and support.
Lastly: is your story a warning to parents about leaving young children with caregivers? A story about the power of our brains to save us from horrible experiences? Or the triumph of your spirit to stay the course until you could come to “terms” with your childhood?
All of the above. There are many phases in the healing process, just like in the stages of grief. But with this kind of abuse, everyone will heal differently. Some will feel anger before grief, and some will feel things the other way around. Some will forgive and others will not. But yes, to all of the above.
Top photo: Author Dr. Shelley Kolton (left) with her wife, Susie. Photo by Susan Shaffer.
Brain Storm: A Life in Pieces
Shelley Kolton, MD