As a survivor of sexual abuse and an advocate for other survivors, I spend a lot of time talking about abuse. I know a lot of people who have been abused. We talk about how we reacted in certain situations, how we felt, how things were similar, how things were different. It is my guess that people have other types of jobs and spent a lot of time with people doing the same kinds of things talk about similar experiences. Realtors have stories to share about what they’ve seen in houses. Farmers share stories about tractors and farm animals. Survivors of abuse talk about experiences of abuse.
In a recent text conversation with a friend, we were discussing memories and dissociating. I am using the text with my friend’s permission.
She said, “I think I broke a phone. I kicked a hole in a wall I thought was a real wall. It was not. It was drywall. I ran as fast as I could to my room, locked the door, shoved something in the way to keep the door from opening, went out my window onto the roof and dangled/jumped to the ground. I never ran so fast in my life.”
Me, “You should not have had to go through that. I broke a window on our porch. Fortunately they believed it was an accident.”
She, “Whew. I had many mishaps.”
Me, “I’m glad you can tell about at least some of them now.”
She, “It is like a book I read once. That is how it seems to me.”
Me, “That’s not all bad.”
She, “I ask my therapist if this means I am dissociating unhealthily or if that means I have integrated the memory as a “normal” memory with other narratives. She isn’t sure. She doesn’t think reliving trauma helps PTSD. I agree.”
Me, “The way you describe it sounds like you were dissociating as it happened. I’m not sure you can get back to the point where you remember in a non-dissociative state. And as you said, I’m not sure it’s necessary. I personally don’t see any need to see the actual events from your body. You were dissociating for a reason. You’d have to change the memory to be in your body for it because you weren’t when it happened.”
She, “It makes perfect sense. I wonder if the body remembers.”
Me, “I would say yes, but not in the same way that the mind would. Chronic illnesses are often connected to body memories.”
She, “What my therapist wants me to do is inhabit my body now. I am out of the body often.”
Me, “It is a weird feeling. It is like I’m now seeing the world through my eyes instead of spirit eyes. I see things with clarity, not through a fog. Does that make sense?”
Does it make sense to you? I could never imagine living in my body. I have no memories until I was probably in my twenties in which I am seeing the world from my perspective, from behind my eyes, instead of like I’m watching a movie.
I always felt like Peter Pan. I needed someone to sew my spirit to my feet so it would quit slipping away. I could not stay in the body and all the pain and memories it contained. The pain was too much. I cannot remember when I started slipping out of my body, but I cannot remember when I didn’t.
This is also a phenomenon that is extremely difficult for many survivors and many supporters to understand. What do you mean you left your body? What do you mean you see everything like a movie? How could I leave my body? Why didn’t I stay and fight?
With this post, I hope to have given survivors and supporters a glimpse of what it is like to not feel connected to your body. I also want to say to all survivors that it was not your fault. You were doing the very best you possibly could to survive an impossible situation. Your mind was trying to protect you. Even if you broke things or ran away, it was not your fault. You should never have had to live through any of that. You are not alone.
My friend has found meditation helpful to find her way, occasionally, back to living in her body. Are there things that have worked for you? We’d love to hear what have you found helpful?
Does the description of dissociating make sense to you, as a survivor or a supporter? Is there a better way to explain it?
I am adding this song in part, because this post has been pretty serious. I think this song is fun, but It also reminds us that who we are and where we are, do not always have to remain the same. There is hope for something different. “It is what it is, not how it’s gotta be.”