Disassociating

I’ve attended about 6 weeks of DBT group therapy sessions now, and about 8 hours of individual work by staying after group with a counselor.

Progress?? Yeah that’s a joke. I am learning a lot though. Learning how F-ed up I am and how much more work I need to do to get my brain functioning properly.

Apparently, I am, and have likely been for my entire life, disassociating for large portions of my day every day. I am completely freeeaked out by this knowledge. How could this be true and I never knew? and no one around me knew? I’ve always been ‘quiet’, kept to myself, a dreamer, spacey, people would have to call my name a few times to snap my attention back to them. I know I drift off frequently whenever people talk – I attributed that to boredom or fatigue. Always playing catch-up. Just a bad listener. I know I had memory gaps – I thought that was the migraines or normal – everyone forgets what people said or where they put something and has to have precise routine and lists. I am slower than everyone else at everything – always last to finish eating a meal, fold the laundry, do the dishes, turn the test, write that report, etc.

Turns out my brain is practically turning off parts of itself and I am frozen quite often, much more often than I ever knew. Sometimes a few seconds, sometimes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. I used to think I was sleeping lightly or dozed off because I have altered senses and memories for what people were doing around me in those times. I can still hear people talking but I can’t move or respond, its not real.

My DBT counselor is teaching me grounding skills to become more aware and eventually stop this disassociating. What’s freaky is I’ve been using many of these skills my entire life to force myself to stay present without knowing it during school, like chewing gum, tapping and counting my fingers, stretching legs, pinching fingers in binder, pushing fingernails into palm, playing with rubberband or bracelet on wrist. I’ve always used ice on my head to stop migraines, turns out that is good for grounding too. Any quick temp change to shock the body back to the present is good. So I’ve been using coping skills and just didn’t know what they were or what I was coping with.

See my abuse started earlier than I can recall, before age 3, and was chronic, daily, it was my life. So it makes sense my brain learned how to adapt and I never knew anything, it was just me, and part of why I always felt different from others on top of my dirty secrets.

So lately, my pattern has been to ground myself back and back and back through what I have to do, and then I let go once I am back home and safe. I am discovering I can lose hours here at home, not sleeping, but zoned out in disassociative land especially after ‘surviving’ a social encounter. I’m now supposed to try to prevent this by taking a cool shower, getting many ice packs, dancing to loud music, keep my body up and moving and grounded after something stressful to break this habit of 30 plus years. It is a skill my brain learned to protect itself from the unbearable pain of child abuse that it could not understand. It served a purpose then, but it doesn’t now. I am safe now (I am supposed to believe this, and I’m trying, but I don’t yet) and I guess I can’t live my life and experience it if I keep tuning it out most of the time.

DBT counselor says this is why I feel empty and detached and it is the first step to building a life I want to live. I want to believe her, and so I am trying. Because there is no alternative at this point.

Also figuring out this may be core to why Hubby and I have so many miscommunications. He likes to say things on the move as he goes from one room to the next and assumes whoever is in the room has heard him. Like he’ll say “I’m going to the store” and I don’t hear him, and then after a bit I start looking for him all over the house and then he returns home with groceries and I’m irritated because there was something I needed and would have asked him to get if I knew he was going out. He gets all confused because he says he told me and I say he didn’t tell me. At least this is what he says he’s been doing, from my point of view he hasn’t been saying anything to me at all lately and from where I’m at not trusting him or anyone, its hard for me to believe the convenience of he must be communicating well and thoughtfully and it must be me disassociating and not answering and not remembering.

I don’t want to be that unwell. Easier to be angry and not believe them, because, holy hell batman, how do I recover, how do I accept a mental illness that great, that all encompassing, that I’ve been battling my entire life and no one noticed? or they noticed and just let it go? That’s hard to swallow.

DBT counselor says it is possible to rewire my brain – slowly, and painfully. But I have to want to do it and stop hurting myself, and stop fighting the process. Yeah, let me just nail this jello to the wall and pull some monkeys out of my butt. She doesn’t promise rainbows and unicorns, but I don’t even have a concept for what she is promising because it is all so foreign to me. Feel something before thinking and analyzing, stop controlling it, connect mind-body-emotions, talk to real live people without panic, build relationships and connections, live a meaningful life.

I don’t know what I believe. So I am still going day by day with my guard up, seeing who is out to get me, who is trying to trick me, which reality is real.

I’m too smart to feel this confused, right? nope. not at all. My emotions never developed properly, I never learned to regulate them in toddlerhood and preschool – I wasn’t allowed. And then I learned to also disconnect my mind from emotions and body so the abuse didn’t feel real. It’s how I escaped while it was still happening. So if I am to believe this, I have in stead, been disassociating every time the emotions get too intense because I never  learned to self soothe healthily. This became a habit and I became a quiet kid who kept to herself, never caused trouble, and grew up with this bad habit, reinforced over the years because it worked so well, and now I can’t stop doing it because I don’t know any other way.

Maybe

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18 thoughts on “Disassociating

  1. This is what my 22 year old daughter is doing. She has to learn this all over again. Her reality is everyone is out to hurt her in one way or another. She trying therapy at 14 when she finally told what happen buy stopped when she was 15 because she said the therapist was out to get her and give all the information collected back to her abuser. Always blaming me for not picking up on the signs of what was happening under our roof. Her therapist know explained that if I had know I would have removed her just as fast as I did. We still have our moment of her blaming me for this but I have just learned to let it roll off my shoulders and move forward. Her sister is doing wonderful and doesn’t say much of anything after her therapy finished. They did tell me what to watch for in case flash backs start happening so she can get back in ASAP.
    Keep the faith

    • When we are hurt or not protected by the people supposed to protect us, it sets us up to mistrust everyone. I’m glad you’re able to let it roll off of you and move on because she can’t help the stage she’s in. I’m 39 and still can’t trust my mom. We’ve tried over the years but its too hard to have her in my life. I used to think so many people were out get me or reporting back to my parents. That should ease up with my abusers death, but nothing’s gotten easier yet. Need more time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. As I read this I remembered what my teachers told me when I was learning Thai, two months of intensive study and then dumped in country. Speak or die, so to speak. 🙂 It was about nine months before I was considered passably capable. After 18 months, I returned home fluent in some ways and still horribly stupid in others.

    The important information: You are like a giant glass, and water (new knowledge) is being poured into you. It takes a while before anything pours out, and it starts as a trickle.

    You are smart. You’re so incredibly smart you learned to survive the insanity and move forward, however shakily, in spite of the efforts of the abuser to destroy you. Go you!

    • I like comparing it to learning a new language, so much info so quickly and I can only absorb so much. Problem is I’m also debating if I BELIEVE each bit of info presented to me so absorption is even slower. Going against my core beliefs of those maladaptive schema is hard. You can’t just snap your fingers . so the intensity rises to uncomfortable levels often and I disassociate before I know it.

      • I think it’s wise to question everything. Even those who have the very best intentions can make suggestions that simply won’t work for everyone.

        My first two months, I remember my teacher making three different ‘a’ sounds. I couldn’t hear the difference between two of them, no matter how much my teacher exaggerated the difference. By the time I left Thailand, I couldn’t figure out how I didn’t hear the difference.

        As I pick apart the schemas, I’m discovering that the main way to change is practice. Lots and lots of practice. It’s frustrating, especially when improvement is miniscule. We often fail to recognize that first and foremost, we recognized the need to change and went to the effort to figure out and learn what we needed to do to change and then we actually work at it. This is not the norm; we are the exception to the rule. Brava!

  3. Geez, you articulate it so well. It’s what I do, or used to. I can be in the moment and feel safe and learned that over time while meditating. And sometimes I need a break and zone, but am usually aware that I’m doing it and allowing it. I think my excessive TV watching, especially my favorite movies gives me the down time I need, and closeness with people without their stuff, baggage and pain.
    But I don’t look at it as a mental-illness. I’m no expert, just me, but I look at it as being brilliant at survival.
    While reading, I felt sad, empathetic and sorry you had been hurt so bad. You have very serious challenges and repair work you need to do because of it. Yet you made me laugh. “Yeah, let me just nail this jello to the wall and pull some monkeys out of my butt.” It just struck me that with all your challenges and work to do, you also have humor.
    It all sounds like great advice from those you are working with, but unless they experience it, they really don’t know how hard it is.
    I learned so much from reading this, reminding myself of just hard it was, and sometimes still is.

    • The counselors keep saying I need to accept my illness and I feel more like you. My brain is wired differently and I learned to adapt . but now it is PTSD and depression and anxiety which is mental illness, right? I don’t know. I’ll do the work with or without the labels if means less stress, fears, pain. Thanks for your comment, helps to know I’m not alone but I’m sorry you’ve been through it too

      • Yeah, who cares about labels, though I never liked them, and I especially didn’t like them applied to me.
        I deal with all those issues, PTSD, anxiety and have been depressed to the degree where I needed to seek out therapy more than once in my life.
        I think of mental illnesses in terms of other types of things requiring a higher level of treatment, like for those I cared for when working as a Psych. Nurse in the mental health wing.

  4. Progress takes a long time. It just does, and that’s so frustrating. But you are smart and insightful, and you’ll see progress, I know you will. Be gentle with yourself. You are going through one of the most difficult things there is, changing the way you are in the world and leaving behind the thoughts and behaviors that once helped you survive but now hold you back. It’s so difficult. And of course you didn’t notice it earlier- how can you notice what is *not* happening?
    Wishing you all the best, Q.

  5. Hugs. I would go to sleep on Monday, wake up on Wednesday and wonder what the hell happened to Tuesday. Severely messed up. I measure progress in years. Ironically, it is because you are intelligent you brilliantly worked out how to survive twisted insanity. You are amazing. I lived it, too. I learned better ways to respond but I still ‘check out’ from time to time because feelings are really tiring. I agree with your counselor….you have to really want to stay engaged with living because it is not all roses and unicorns….but there is a lot of cool stuff. I loved the day I was driving home in rush hour traffic sitting there creeping along feeling incredibly happy. Took a lot of work but so worth it. On the husband thing….you might want to have your hearing checked. Really. We had the same arguments at my house then I found out from damage in childhood I have to wear hearing aides. You are smart, you will figure this out too. Cheering for you.

    • I don’t feel amazing right now. I feel really messed up, but thank you. And yes feelings are tiring, even the good ones I have found I have turned down the intensity on all feelings. Not quite numb but almost. And then something truly intense, like you said, what happened to Tuesday, its Wednesday now and I’m all confused and just have to roll with it and keep going. But I’m struggling with what was hubby doing on Tuesday and how can I get him to help pull me out sooner. Do you have help or is this a solo job?

      • My help was a lot of years of counseling. Fortunately my counselor knew a lot about PTSD and what I experienced. There is no easy button but building a support system helps. If hubby is at a place that can help you, great. Ask him what happened on Tuesday. Took my hubby a while and listening to my counseling sessions to realize I really didn’t know what happened on Tuesday. In the end, with a support system or without you still have to run through the crap that gets you out of where you are now. I’m cheering for you.

  6. You can do this! I lost entire years to disassociation. My memory of my life, up until about six years ago, is like Swiss cheese. For the past six years, for the first time in my life, I have an intact, chronological, memory of events. I may still disassociate for a minute or two once in a while, but things are a hell of a lot better than they ever were before. Keep it up and yay for you!

  7. I have huge blocks of time lost. I have slowly put them back together, some of them I put together only so I could write them down, remember and understand why I lost them. Now? I compartmentalize, it helps though it makes some around me a bit uncomfortable. I explain why, then I tell them if they are uncomfortable it is their problem to deal with.

    Be gentle with yourself. This is a process. It is a long process but worth it.

  8. It IS possible. You can re-wire your brain. You were smart enough & brave enough to learn how to run inside yourself when you were trapped as a kid; now it’s learning when you actually need that, and when there’s a better choice available. Keep on going, you can do it!

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