I do not want to write this post this morning, but if I refuse to write it the subject of my description of something I experienced yesterday will hang around to haunt and to irritate me for the rest of this day.
I write this post — because I can. I strongly suspect that I also experience dissociation so commonly and thus so frequently also, in essence, BECAUSE I CAN. It doesn’t take much of a stretch from that statement to this one: I dissociate because I HAVE TO.
Being born to a psychotic Borderline Personality Disorder mother who believed the devil sent me to kill her during her breech-birth delivery of me — and who believed I was not human but the devil’s child for the rest of her quite-long life — meant that as my body-brain developed from the moment I was born my need to survive Mother was built right into me with every break I took for the next 18 years I lived under her insanely abusive reign of terror.
My mother was insane. I can never speak about Mother’s who might be ‘just plain mean’. My mother was mean all right. But the biggest trouble came from the fact that she was a MAD WOMAN!
Nobody, of course, ever clued me into this fact. I didn’t begin to figure this out — really — in all its horrible implications until I was over 50 years old. I didn’t even begin to understand that I had been ABUSED until I was 30.
But now, at age 60, I am beginning to far more deeply understand that there must be a continuum with ‘loving mother’ being on one end, moving down through ‘adequate mother’ into ‘misguided but well-intentioned mother’ on down into the ‘oh this mother must be one of the very worst mothers ON EARTH’ kind of mother. (I cringe in my essence at even using the word ‘mother’ at all to describe birthing humans such as mine was.)
Because I have much more interesting things to do today outside in my yard that challenge me pleasantly I will keep this post as brief as I can.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon visiting a gentleman who seems to be the only person in this area I have lived in for the past 12 years that I feel very-mostly-safe with. I can’t say I feel 100% safe with him because I have never experienced 100% safety in my lifetime and don’t see that I ever will.
But this man is up there at the very top of my as-safe-as-I-can-be in this lifetime rating.
Yet there I was, sitting across his picnic table with him under the shade of the very worn but still living Mulberry tree in his lovely yard in conversation about absolutely NOTHING that could have been interpreted as distressing.
I had noticed a tree near his back fence that my artistic and horticulturally-bent eye could see needed some trimming, pruning and shaping. I could see that tree in a ‘future state’ where extraneous leaves, twigs and branches had been removed so that the tree could exist in a different 3-D shape.
As I talked with my friend I began to expose my inner self a bit as I described a recent email conversation with a dear friend – and artist-painter – who had viewed recent pictures of my garden I posted last week.
Her comment included praise, observation and recognition of the spectacular array of COLOR in those pictures I posted. I responded to her comments by again viewing my own pictures — as I realized that as much as I MUST create color in my yard, and for as much as I have loved flowers since I was a very small child — it is not COLOR that I see first around me. What I see are LINES and PATTERNS of turns and twists, overlaps, contrasts, displays of — SHAPES that exist in time cutting themselves into and through space.
My email friend is a painter. She works primarily with color. I could tell from her words that she must SEE the world differently than probably anyone else does who is not also a painter.
I am – though primitive and untutored – essentially a sculptor (sculptoress?).
All fine and well as I used my spoken language ability to transmit to my very kind and wise beauty-loving friend yesterday the gist of these ideas.
And then, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, I clearly recognized that I was NOT IN THE BODY of the person who was sitting at that table. I was NOT the person spewing words like so many tidbits of dandelion fluff through the air to my friend’s ears and mind.
I was in the air, behind and to the left of the version of Linda that was conversing. But I was NOT anywhere near being absorbed in the conversation ‘we’ were having.
I did not notice at the time this dissociation occurred that I was feeling threatened. And yet on some level and in some way obviously I WAS NOT feeling safe. I left my body and floated with my OTHER wandering mind being completely aware once I understood what was happening that I was in these two places doing two totally different things at the same time.
Talk about multi-tasking!
My spoken words sounded like water babbling over stones in a remote wilderness enclave far from civilization. Once I noticed all these complications happening, I stopped talking about this subject, and my dissociation seemed to cease.
Was it the action of self-disclosing such a personal yet innocuous piece of information about myself as ‘how I see the world in patterns’ that so upset my connection with myself, with my friend, with the activities that were going on during those moments in time and space?
As a sideline I have been thinking this past week about one of the fantastic videos my daughter sent me recently of my 27-month-old grandson – I will call Mike – who is rapidly developing the ability to communicate with others in words.
The video begins as Mike is seslf-involved in play inside the little tent I sent up to him (they live over 1500 miles away). Once he becomes aware that his mother is filming him he exists the tent and begins to wander away from his play. He spotted a pile of his DVDs. Suddenly what had been his continuous stream of unintelligible (to outsiders) ‘baby talk’ SHIFTED into words of such clarity I was stunned.
Mike did not pause for one millisecond between the ‘babble’ and “I want to watch a movie now.”
In my thoughts since viewing this video I have walked around this event in my mind many times as I ponder the mystery of how humans developed spoken language in the first place (about 140,000 years ago), and how every individual human develops language abilities as they develop their body-brain in their toddlerhood.
Mike’s ‘intelligible’ words seemed to simply appear SHINING in their intent and perfect clarity from behind some sort of veil. It seemed to me as I again and again watched this video that Mike exists in his universe on one side of a kind of divider-curtain where the sounds that he makes are all equally meaningful to him.
What, then, is happening as his continuous streams of sound move in and out of their connection in THIS world (big people world) to meaning?
My grandson is forming his complete whole integrated self – and transitioning this self into the world because he is safely and securely attached to his parents — so THAT HE CAN fully be a whole person in the world.
I never had any of his experiences – hence – I will NEVER be able to be a whole self-person in the world.
“Babble babble babble babble I want to watch a move now” – this kind of integration and smooth development of self and of its transition into the world was not possible in the insane universe I grew up in.
The only version of my whole self I ever knew and hence, with very few rare (even at BEST, partial) exceptions still only know, is myself being completely, absolutely alone.
I mention this in connection to something that happens to me MOST of the time now when I am SPEAKING language to others and listening to other people’s language. What I HEAR is mostly BABBLE!
Given the horrendously abusive, terrifying, traumatic early beginnings of my life there is no possible way that I learned language – or built language into my brain – in anything like a normal way. When I experience the stress-distress of social human contact it is very easy – evidently – for my brain to separate SOUND from MEANING when I hear words spoken.
Yesterday was the first time I became so crystal-clearly aware of what is actually going on when this dissociation happens when I am the one speaking to somebody else.
I could liken the sensation for descriptive purposes to the common experience of having one’s ‘mind wander’, especially as this can happen when attempting to listen to someone speaking.
But when it happens when one’s own self is speaking? Weird. I am describing the experience of one’s self wandering away from one’s self. One part of me was talking. Another part of me, the part that ‘came to’ with awareness of what was going on, was not listening to or hearing a single word that ‘other’ part of me was saying.
My mind was wandering all right — right out of my body. Then my mind, which seemed to be directly connected NOT to the me in the body on the bench looking at first the tree-in-need-of-trimming and then back to my friend’s face, was OUTSIDE in the air viewing the entire scene as if I was watching a movie — that I was NOT actually paying attention to — until I clearly noticed what was going on.
Prior to that noticing the me-in-the-air had actually been totally occupied (‘associated with’) an entirely DIFFERENT set of circumstances.
This is the first time I have been able to experience my mind wandering – from my mind wandering — as if there exists a series of pieces of experiences for me that are as intangibly connected to one another as were my grandson’s babbling words to his clearly articulated words that made perfect sense ‘in the big people’s world’.
I don’t expect what I have just written to make sense to anyone other than to severe early abuse survivors whose body-brain was created in a malevolent environment of abuse, insanity, chaos, trauma and extreme distress.
I won’t even begin to claim that what I am describing and documenting really makes sense to me!
But my awareness of what was going on inside of me yesterday does begin to inform me about why being around human beings is so uncomfortable for me and so exhausting!
It seems that the core essence of who I have always been never ‘came down into the world’ or into my body – but rather floats around inside some other kind of world – perhaps not unlike the world that my grandson is healthily being able to integrate himself into as he matures through these most critically important developmental stages of his lifetime.
My grandson has ALWAYS been loved and safe. I was NEVER loved and safe. In my thinking it is MADNESS to ever think that people who are raised within such opposing universes will end up with a body-brain or experience in and of this world that is more than superficially similar.
NOBODY – it seems to me – REALLY wants to accept or discuss this fact!
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2 thoughts on “+DISSOCIATION AND OUT-OF-BODY-EXPERIENCE”
Donna, I have had your comment open on my computer since you posted it. I can’t remember a blog-time for me before now where words have been more absent. As much time as I spend outside (every minute that I can tho heat above 100 drove me inside today) on my projects I wonder if the – how do I say this? Dryness of the desert a year past a monsoon season – are there words for how dry that is?
Anyway, the thought has wandered in and out these past few days that maybe my words need WATER – not out of a faucet water – but RAIN water! Maybe my words are parched out of me….
Meanwhile – you must have a new grandbaby – momma and baby healthy and home?? Congratulations!?!?!
My daughter is also very near her due date with 2nd (first is 28 months) – worries this one will also come early……
They live 1700 miles away from me, travel north needed — etc etc…..
I DO hear you, as well…..
There are so many other ways to communicate and express other than in words
I am expressing out in my yard with every move I make. But the verbal Linda version seems to be on vacation – took a break, busy elsewhere — etc…..
I am reminded, I think it was 5th grade – math teacher telling the class that you can cut in half the distance between self and an open door – and keep cutting it in half — until infinity — and never make it out of the room
I MARVELED at that!! And somehow I understood!
When my baby, son now 27, was 5 – riding in back seat of the car – asked me, “Momma, what’s infinity plus infinity?”
Pondering infinity –
words – mine – spoken into a tunnel it seems these days – the distance out of the tunnel to the hearer (or the reader) — the words traveling that distance — cut in half, cut in half — for infinity — they aren’t really GONE — my words just seem to be somewhere – a different dimension
Was thinking, perhaps you’ve read this page under the ‘childhood tab’?
*Age 15 – MY ‘VISION’ – ALONE NAKED IN THE WOODS SINGING at
There are so few I know can see and hear and feel me – so few I come close to feeling safe with, and can therefore be more present with —
Volume – turning itself down down down down……… on the words
thank you for writing – gives me much to ponder and to marvel over the days – thank you
I talk about his with anyone (well not ALL) who will listen. Along with Alice Miller, I see child/infant abuse behind all the destruction and pain on the planet for millennia, Linda. Not everyone is comfortable with the subject, but the great river of denial is a huge part of the dysfunction of the dominant culture on Earth. (Thou Shalt NOT Be Aware) That you were never safe from the moment you were born shakes me to my core and brings tears to my eyes as I read any of your writings and “rememberings” here.
Watching children always brings me smack up against what it must have been like for me, so much of which I have no consistent memory of. Children playing and laughing — I am rapt with attention. I live with my daughter, her husband and my grandson, now 4.5-years old. Rapt is the perfect word. AND my daughter will have her labor induced for little boy #2 very shortly… within the next week unless he has other ideas.
A mixed bag… blessings and curses to have this intimate daily, hourly contact with my grandson. And of course my developmental stuff is always right there, up front in my head… other “voices that are not voices”, and I work to observe my stuff only, and not project my stuff… something our own damaged and abusing and neglectful and abandoning parents were not able to do.
My heart, my heart reaches out to you, Linda. I keep thinking about this: Something was there… the ability to dissociate (such a wonderful protector of “self”) made it possible for you to be here now… for you to have had your own children to do better with… for you to be able to cogently tell me and others what happened to you, what it felt like then and what it feels like now. I hear you loudly and clearly. This medium, wonderful.. has many deficits… I cannot see your eyes, hear your voice, see your face as you “speak” .. but I know you are there, and I “get it”.
One quick story of how I relate to your finding yourself floating above or away while speaking to the “safe” man in your neighborhood: In 1991 I got to take a self-defense course. It was way more than that, but many “survivors” of incest and child abuse took that course that year. It was called Model Mugging, (now called something else). I was in therapy and in a survivors group at the time – again. They video-taped our “graduation” … each of us protecting ourselves in different “muggings”… after a 6-week training. After, I watched the video tape. And there I was.. completely out of my body.. my floppy body. I could see that I was not IN my body… It was the first time seeing it from the outside, rather than experiencing my daily long and micro-dissociations inside. I was aghast and fascinated. OH! So that’s what it looks like.. and (this) NObody knows that I was, except me, and my kids, and my therapist when we discussed it afterward, who said “yes.. I see. How was that Donna? How is that for you?”
As much of a problem as dissociation (and other related defenses) can grow to be as we mature… I see them as adaptive… gifts that kept the core me somewhat safe and “intact”.. a silly oxymoron, but that is the way I see it.
Again I’m waxing long, but every fiber of me wants to reach through the ether to let you know in this barely adequate way that I see you, I hear you, and while my experience was not identical to yours… I get it and I know.
Sending light for your today,