When you don’t know how to stop the world from spinning dissociating provides this sweet comfort. I could “check out” from any intense emotional situation and return when my body, mind or the situation became safe again. The exist had really little to do with safety and more to do with the perception of safety. Because I was not safe in my body the world was not safe. It was not the world that was spinning, it was I who spun uncontrollable. But, here is the thing about dissociating you cannot choose when you do leave the moment. Dissociation is a slippery slope because it, for me, was the thing that saved my life. Spiritually speaking dissociating happens when we experience situations too intense for our human experience to survive. Dissociation can be lifesaving AND the goal is to return or reintegrate. I repeat again the goal of leaving one’s body is to return. However, many times dissociation becomes a pattern of dealing with every uncomfortable situation. It became the buffer between pain and myself
Pain is real and necessary. Pain communicates to use when there is an issue physically or mentally. Pain or discomfort offers lessons to us if we are willing to lean into the sensation. When pain rises to the surface initial reaction of most people is to recoil or push the pain aside. When we lean in to the pain happening in our lives we get a chance to see what is on the other side. I love when Tony Robbins says, “Life happens for us not to us.” When pain happens for us we are grated a chance to heal and grow. If our response to pain is avoidance we never make it to the healing stage and the wound grows. Dissociation is our initial response to an event too painful/traumatic to process in the moment, so we leave our bodies or “check out”. The “check out” allows us a chance to mentally escape the trauma often times leaving a gap in our memory. However, the intent is ALWAYS to reintegrate eventually creating resolution.
When dissociation becomes the coping mechanism to all intense situations it vastly distorts our perception of things. We are not able to choose when the “checking out” happens, making us slave to extreme emotions. Dissociation can become our panic button the only problem is that not all extreme emotions are created equal. Excitement is an extreme emotion that can feel like fear. We feel fear in the pit of our stomach and in our chest. Our skin warms and our breathing changes. Well we experience excitement in the bottom of our belly and the center of our chest; our breathing patterns change and our skin warms. Because dissociating is a reactive response it happens as the sensation rises. Not only did I leave my body when pain surfaced I fled when ANY strong emotion occurred. During this time even, joyous events like birthday parties, weddings, graduations would send me spiraling out of my body. I was not able to tolerate my vesical response positive emotions or negative one. After the incident with Jones (see pervious post), I was out of my body more than I was in. Dissociation had become such an easy pattern for me that just about any emotion prompted my exodus.
Returning home from my time in the Navy did not give me the solace I was hoping. I imagined returning home meant I would be with my son and life would be perfect. I was not expecting shame to invade every relationship including the one with my son. At the time, I was not aware shame was like moss on a tree; the more shade the better it grew. I hid from everyone. I consistently felt on edge and could not stand to be around anyone. Being in my body was overwhelming, so whenever the opportunity presented itself I was out. I made great efforts to avoid experiencing negative emotions. But, all the hard work I put into not feeling negative emotions had unintended consequences, I was also unable to feel the positive emotions. It was like taking a daily dose of anti-depressants life felt like a fog. I was numb and lacked the capacity to connect with anything. When I was not “checking out” of my body I was doing, filling my day with as many tasks as possible.
When other mothers would have taken the time to reconnect with their child making up for lost time I was finding ways to be busy. I felt scattered and ungrounded. I felt unsafe, so I made every effort to stay away from my son. My days were filled with hours of school and my nights were consumed with work. I worked every day often pulling double shifts when possible. I was certain I was a horrible mother and I needed to “get myself together” before he could love me. I thought, as irrational as it was, my son who was 2 at the time would somehow be ashamed of me. This irrational belief not only created distance between my son and myself it also kept me busy. Shame fueled the drive in me to give my son a better life. After all, if he had to be stuck with me as a mother at least he would have everything he wanted.
I wanted to be around my son, but I felt I was too broken to be seen by him. I had nothing to offer him mentally, emotional, or physically. I was a shell. My son shinned like a bright light and I was overcome with how inadequate I was to be his mother. I truly felt anyone, including my mother, could do a better job of raising my son, so I stayed away. I showed up to take him to school and on the weekends and holidays. I felt my disturbed presence was more than any child should have to suffer. I hated how his love for me challenged my suffering. My son’s love made me belief I could conquer the world. His love compromised my numbness and I was not sure I could tolerate life if it involved emotions. I would like to say I stayed away because I was suffering from so addiction or something, but the truth was my shame about not being enough for him is what kept me way. I believed I would harm him or fail him. I did not want to do to my son what my mother had done to me, but I was on my way to repeating the cycle.