A PAGE ABOUT BEING THE ME I DISSOCIATE FROM
I sat outside today watching a leaf on my quince tree. It’s edges, ragged from frost, cut a dark green outline against the brilliant blue sky. Of course I didn’t exactly see the leaf DO anything. It just hung there from its twig end and fluttered in a gentle breeze. That leaf just WAS as time and it moved along together through a warm fall afternoon. Nobody would expect that leaf to be anything other than what it is, or to do anything other than what it did.
Why I bring this up is that I am more like that leaf passing its lifespan just being a leaf than I imagine I am like ordinary people. When push comes to shove for me, coming out of the insanely abusive childhood that I survived, what always mattered most is that I ‘go on being’. Why would I be surprised today if that is what I am still most comfortable doing?
When I think about and try to describe in words what it is like to have ongoing multiple versions of my self, I think about that leaf. How many versions of itself can that leaf possibly have? Was there a version that existed last spring as the tiniest near-to-being-a-leaf version? Was there a different version of that leaf as it grew and grew stronger and darker and darker green? Will there be multiple versions of that leaf as it ages now and dies completely and flitters away in some future gust of wind that sends it to some final resting place where it can decay and become obliterated?
I grew up from birth being like that leaf. Life just happened to me. My mother did not allow any other version of Linda to exist other than her version. I learned that as my brain was forming from the start of my life. I had feeling reactions to things that happened to me, but once the feelings from one experience had passed — touching me not unlike the frost ate the edges of the leaf I was watching today — nothing in particular remained of Linda in between. Just a deep, pervasive sadness that forms in the absence of safety, security, love, trust and hope.
There were some times in my childhood when I was blessed with feeling nothing at all. That state was about the best I ever had. In those states of feeling nothing, when I was not being abused — again — yet — and there was some length of a pause, only my senses were operating. I could listen. I listened well and heard all kinds of things, some coming from very far away. I could smell things. I could stare at things, and watch them if I was in a place where anything moved. Much of this happened during the lengthy confinements in my bed as a young child, or in corners for hours and hours, day after day.
During these times I know what it felt like as a child and feels like today to feel nothing at all. This state might be called depersonalization or derealization, when the me of today happens upon that state of no feeling. I am like a camera lens, or a recorder. I am in my body looking out, and it feels just like sitting in my car and looking out my windshield. I could be a leaf hanging on the end of a twig, but my body has senses and they give me remote information about the world I am (I want to say entombed) in.
If as a child I could experience that no-feeling state, it was the closest thing to feeling happy I could imagine. When I felt it, it meant my body was not physically hurting. Even if I was confined in bed or in a corner, when I reached this state it meant my mother was at that time, elsewhere and not paying attention to scaring and hurting me. If I could name it, I would say that this ‘remote viewing’ version of Linda is the most whole version of me that exists. Anything other than being a leaf on a twig means that some complicated demand is being made of me that removes me from that pristine, effortless, remote, detached, non-feeling, observing place.
I do not describe this state as being numb. There is no numbness involved. It is a state of crystal clarity, of perfect vision, of unimpeded ‘being in the world’ in a body that is not hurting, and therefore feels no more particularly alive at that instant than would an object like an automobile, or a living object like a leaf.
Now that I am an adult, being in this state does not preclude thinking. I can choose now to think when I am at this ‘perfect place’ inside my being-in-the-world, but only barely. It doesn’t take much of a thought at all for me to have to take form as some other version of Linda than the one who has no perceptible need. But when I now recognize this state when I am in it, and remember how it was for me as a child, even thinking seems noisy and a step away from this perfect state of simply being-alive-in-a-body-in-the-world.
All the way through my 17th year of childhood, I could remain in this state for hours without a single thought of a thought. If I was free to be outdoors on the homestead when my mother had gone to town I my father was home, I could remain in this state for an entire day doing nothing but watching, listening, feeling the breezes — much like being a human leaf.
This state is not a vacant one. It is not an experience of being in some ‘zone’. It is being in a body perfectly alive in a world for a period of time that makes no demands on me at all. Would I call this a peaceful state? Yes, I guess I would, but it has always existed for me partly because it had no name. I have in my adult years thought of this as a dissociative state, but I now consider it my natural state with all other involved-with-the-world’s demands states to be the ones that put me at risk because I have to dissociate from my natural state.
Was this, and is this a state of well-being for me? I would say “yes.” Does it ever involve being in the presence of another human being? “No.” Do I feel this to be a state of ‘bliss’? “Yes,” when I can let it be without thought, but it is not about being happy. It is about being (temporarily) safe. Mostly it is still scares me, though, because it is a place of being absolutely alone in a world without people in it — not even a feeling me.
The way my brain-body works, everything outside of this state is a dissociation from the truest version of who I am. Every other state is tinged with some degree of fear and anxiety about a lack of safety and security in being in my body in the world. I believe this pattern formed in interaction with my mother’s abuse of me from the time I was born. Because it is a state of no feeling, it is a state where there is no fear, no pain, no need and no sense of attachment.