Recently in Dissociation Category
The centered space I found myself in the morning after Halloween did not last. I hoped that maybe the difficulty would recede and that the safety risk would lessen. But it did not turn out that way. Instead it became more rocky. I was oscillating between functional and non-functional and safe and unsafe and cohesive and fragmented (which was orders of magnitude beyond frazzled or scattered). It was a roller coaster and had become too much of a risk.
I held on to see my therapist Thursday evening, the day after Halloween. That, in an of itself, was a strong indicator of how tenuous a situation I was in. Holding on like that is not all that common these days for me. When we met, I told her that if this escalates to what it was like on Halloween the night before, then I was not able to go through that level of distress on my own. I said once was enough. Plus I assumed the risks would be greater because I would be weakened by the other night. That was our agreement.
My time with her helped. I had a spurt of being functional that evening. At that point, I thought maybe that I was on a positive trajectory. But after my functional Friday morning at work, I started falling apart dramatically in the afternoon when I got home. I knew clearly that I rallied simply to do get through my responsibilities. I so quickly knew that it was serious and that I could not solve it by adding more and more responsibilities or tasks to my schedule.
The "plan" from the other night on Halloween was coming up again, but with greater force, just as I had feared. I was certain it was not just an expression or idle threat, and I knew I had to get help while I still was able. There was too much at stake.
I was remarkably decisive. I had to be. At 3 pm I texted my psychiatrist: "Can you find out if Proctor 2 has a bed?"
It was a struggle to tell and allow my wife to drive me. I knew that meant the option of serious self-harm was removed, though I never told her that was the issue. She knew I was having a hard time, and mostly, that is all she needed to know. So, I made it past that hurdle. As we were leaving, I told my kids who took the news in stride.
My wife was stressed about it all, and I promptly changed my mind on the drive in. I wanted to go back home and try harder. But by this point, despite my growing panic, the decision had been made. The admission was all arranged. They were expecting me. Changing my mind was not an option.
Just a couple hours later I made it through admissions and was on McLean's Proctor 2. There are few words to describe how it feels to be in your home and then a few hours later on the same psychiatric unit I have been coming to for over 20 years. It is surreal and, as always, conflicted. While I felt safe from self-harm or worse, I did not feel safe "in my head." I know coming here means I have a lot of work to do so I can leave in a place where I am grounded and confident in my ability to stay safe and live the life I have built for myself.
Because it was all surreal, I needed to reality check and assess what got me here.
First, is that I was able to get to the hospital without actually hurting myself. It does not usually happen that way.
Second, is that I was able to have the accomplishment of getting through Halloween on my own, whereas in the past that kind of experience would have landed me in the hospital, and many times in restraints. Being able to prove that I could get through that kind of off-scale internal response was enormous for me.
Third, and perhaps the most important, is about trust. I wrote this in my journal:
"Do you realize how much awareness I had to have and how much presence I had to maintain in order to make all the decisions I did safely? I think parts of me know that there could not have been a more perfect chain of events. Parts of me were majorly triggered. I held on, even though it didn't feel like I had much control over the "internal slider." The threats of imminent self harm would have happened and would have been extremely serious. I think part of it was that we had had enough."
"Internal slider" is a new analogy to help me think about and experience the active process of staying centered. Last January, in a post titled Unity, I wrote about thinking about my psyche in terms of "parts on left" and "parts on the right", and how my challenge is to find a bridge between them. The real world experience is of sliding back and forth. Sometimes there is more activation of parts on the right and it becomes harder to stay safe and live in the present. Sometimes the focus is on "work" and I lose touch with everything from the past and enter denial. A visual image of a slider and a bridge is realistic, and it is consistent with the view that dissociation exists on a scale. Where someone is on that scale is different from person to person, and also different for a person over time.
Coming here does not mean that certain parts need to go nuts or dump a lot of memories or any of that. In other words, they do not have to continue the trajectory I was on. I came here precisely to change that trajectory.
I knew how to get all of me to safety. I knew when the time was right. I knew it had to be after Halloween and not before. That has to have created a huge amount of internal trust.
I know this past week or more was very dicey. I get that. But the payoff has been enormous.
And now my work here begins.
Halloween is a notoriously difficult time for me every year. Two years ago I wrote about how this time of year accompanies extreme activation so much of me that deals with conflicts like life vs. death and good vs. evil. And every year my internal reactions feel so off scale.
Over the past few years I have learned to prepare myself more for what to expect. I have become much more vigilant. I make every attempt to stay as grounded as I can so that when I am eventually triggered, I deal with it from a more stable place.
It is difficult for me to really know what is going on during this time. There are some rather unique qualities to Halloween: like people dressing in costume and pretending to be some one or thing they are not, like kids venturing out into the night in masses going from house to house asking for candy from people they have never met, and the endless scary imagery.
One way I look at it is that I have had to deal with a good number of scary situations in my life. While scary situations in fun create an exhilarating adrenaline rush in some, for me scaring for fun is often a trigger to the past. Of course this was not always true. I used to relish haunted houses and the sort, but that was before I had a broader awareness of "all of me."
This year was on target to be managed better than most. I ramped up the reliance on my supports, and I took other measures. But, just like last year, a freak ice storm lead to the postponement of "trick or treating" in our town until today. So, that meant, like last year, we effectively had two Halloween holidays. I did not handle this all that well.
Halloween is more complex for me than simply the imagery. There are very specific internal responses and internal activations, and a corresponding assault of off-scale "memories." As I have said many times before, I do not think it is helpful to validate every memory as historical fact. In the past when these memories came up I would say something like: "Oh no! I can't believe that happened! I can't live anymore!" I had such a black and white way of approaching them that never really helped.
Because I have a psyche that can be massively compartmentalized, over time I have learned to accept that there are "realities" of parts of me that are very real through their own lenses. So, when I get bombarded by all that comes up, I try to be committed to a non-confrontational stance, an open-minded stance, a down-the-middle stance. This is never easy because we are, by nature, biased and judgmental. I strive to be mindful nowadays, precisely because I know what the stakes are for me.
Every self-harm event or past suicide attempt or mental breakdown (if we can use that term) or maybe even a dissociative switch is about a falling into a vortex, or a polarized position, and away from a more centered mindful position. Conversely, every success in healing has been about finding my way back to a more centered and mindful place. It seems so simple, but in many ways it is not.
The good news is that by repeating this over and over again, in word and in practice, as I have done now for years, it has stuck as a skill and has become enormously helpful.
I knew that such an approach presented an opportunity for getting through Halloween, but it also presented some rather significant risks. Every opportunity has associated risks. This is universally true. Artists take creative risks, athletes take sports risks, politicians take political risks, businessmen take financial risks.
Halloween, for me, represents a period of significant safety risk. Safety is not simply about the perceived external threat. It is not just in my head. The threat becomes so overwhelming that an expected "solution" is to turn it inward.
It quickly becomes a battle to just hold on. To not hurt myself. To not do something drastic. All the while there is an attempt at reality checking: I have kids, a wife, a job, people care about me.
But severe stress, especially in certain contexts, does crazy things to people. If one is pushed hard enough and far enough and long enough, you can get to a place where it is nearly impossible to reality check.
That is where the real risk lies.
I took that risk this year. I knew that was going to be my experience. I knew there was a very fine line between being able to hold on and stay safe and not.
Tomorrow, in Part II, I will post about my experience on Halloween day and evening.
The hallmark of having a dissociative psyche is that drastic and off-scale changes can, and will, occur in the blink of an eye. It is often called "switching", referring to switches in personality states. I have certainly come a long way towards accepting "parts of me" and know that acceptance has been necessary and helpful in order to live with such titanic changes of state.
However, when push comes to shove, and especially in times of trouble, acceptance is sorely tested. In times of difficulty, there are some subtle differences between an acceptance that works and one that does not.
I will start with the one that does not. When certain aspects of me are massively triggered and there is an increase in symptoms such as intrusive memories or emotional distress, there is a natural tendency to isolate and compartmentalize. I will often say that I still accept these parts of me, that it is not like the past when I would try to erase them—a full scale denial.
I will often normalize how I think about parts or aspects of me. I minimize. This can be a sort of denial and a protective mechanism and leads to an increase in internal conflicts because it does not embrace who I really am. I often believe that my "moderated stance" is perfectly appropriate (and in many ways it is). These are the kinds of statements I make: The parts of my personality are all part of one person. They are "facets" of me. There is a continuum, and since I have healed so much and have more awareness I do not have "parts" in the same way I used to have parts. That then means what I call parts of me are not really important. Switches are not really switches but generic mood swings.
Because I am more functional than ever, I am still able to, for the most part, make appropriate shifts to keep up with my life. I end up walking on a metaphorical tightrope until I realize that what I am doing has become a continuous strain.
This type of tepid acceptance tends to work externally but erodes internal glue and cohesiveness.
Where I often get tripped up is that the "acceptance" that works is not so much different from the one that does not. I can still stick with many of the "moderated" positions about parts of me, but if the intention is there to walk through life more collaboratively with a whole scale acknowledgement and acceptance, that is what really makes the difference. In the past, I have described this kind of internal collaboration using the analogy of water.
The key is intention.
The issue is really not whether the statements I say to myself are true or untrue. It is how I set them up. I can take "true" statements and beliefs, put them through my
To use another analogy from sports, these two forms of acceptance are the difference between a good team and a championship team. They are both teams. What is interesting from sports, is that even if the team is loaded with outstanding talent and highly played players, they are not necessarily champions. To win, talent is generally not enough. The championship team must have that extra something, which is often difficult to quantify, to put them over the top.
This is what makes dissociative identities and childhood trauma recovery so difficult. The difference between what works and what does not is often simple to articulate but can be very hard to put into practice, especially with so many different pieces in play in dissociative systems, just like team members on the sports team.
Another reason why it is difficult is that the the stakes are very different. For many of us, it is not about whether we come in first place or third place. Rather it is whether we stay safe or not. Stay functional or collapse. Have a positive outlook on life or are suicidal.
The reason I share the art work above, is that I did it the same day I made the last post here. I was feeling particularly "open". I felt I was not working hard enough at healing or addressing what was below the surface well enough. And so I shared in art (and during therapy) the feelings associated with the memories which were coming up at the time.
I saw that as a positive step forward.
Yet the very next day I hurt myself.
I have not hurt myself since, mostly because I have understood that the breakdown in safety was about the difference between these two types of acceptance.
I write today because I know I am trending away from the acceptance that leads to safety, and I want to find my way back.
My last post was a system map, a tool I first wrote about last October. The ability to make such maps is something I have worked to achieve over the course of many years, and I find it to be an invaluable tool.
I am finding it difficult to write in the ways I have become used to here. I do not seem to have a sense of confidence in understanding much about how I use dissociation and how that may be related to others' experiences. I also seem to have difficulty sharing much of anything that is even remotely personal. I feel very much alone in my struggles.
So I will write about what is going on for me somewhat abstractly via the most recent system map from this morning with labels of aspects of me removed for safety.
My system maps change regularly, as probably anyone who regularly dissociates. That is not anything new or surprising. In fact, it is one of the more validating tools I have available to me that paints a crystal clear picture of how drastically the elements of my psyche can shift over short (and long) periods of time. It is validating because to make such a map, I need to really be able to check in with all aspects of me, and it is clear that what is happening is not simply a mood shift or a influx of thoughts.
This period has been dominated by the resurgence of a particular part who holds an enormous amount of information as well as power. My psyche is very complex right now, more so than usual which is saying quite a lot. Safety has been compromised, but a good deal of information is being shared and connections are being made that I had not even considered in my now two decade journey of healing.
The timing of these shifts is clearly related to the Easter season. They came to a climax on Ash Wednesday last week, a relative benign day when compared to Good Friday or Easter Sunday, holy days which have been dominated in the past by conflicts within and beyond me; about good versus evil, God versus Satan, and the like. These are some of the core conflicts which have never been resolved in relation to my past experience (or understood or even accepted).
They are now pressing for attention. There is no alternative but to dedicate myself to addressing them. Until last night, I felt like a fish out of water. But I was able to communicate internally and information was shared that helped these conflicts be a little less difficult. This system map, then, is a sort of visual representation of how the information has been shared.
Information sharing, a form of internal communication, is perhaps the single most important tool we can have in healing from the unhealthy aspects of a dissociative existence. That is a statement I would have scoffed at just a few years ago. I would say "What are you crazy? You have no idea what you are saying!" But I have found that it is true.
I have hurt myself, sometimes quite seriously, many times. It is difficult to rank serious self-harm and suicidal events because one must take into account both the physical and psychological damage. But while there is a good deal of subjectivity involved, there is no question that what I did to myself last week ranks up there as among the most serious in my lifetime.
Physical damage is what most use to rank such events because it is quantifiable. Like many others, I have taken dozens of overdoses over the years. Two of them were objectively different from all the rest. They were the ones which were especially calculated. They involved taking many times the lethal dose. And they were preceded by taking sedatives so that I would not be able to change my mind and go to anyone for help afterwards. Those were obviously serious physically and I was lucky to have survived them many years ago.
Hurting myself in the present often involves recreating past abuse. This has gone on for years, is often an instinctive response, and is something I am ashamed of. It has been damaging because I have perpetuated the abuse done to me and has led to all sorts of problems. What makes it difficult is that most of the problems are psychological and comparatively easier to hide.
As I have healed, the more I appreciate the extent of the psychological damage of this kind of self harm. To put it into some context, long ago when my psyche was much more separated, these self harm events were more isolated. While it undoubtedly caused psychological damage, hurt aspects of me had little or no understanding of where their distress was coming from.
Without question, increased awareness and internal communication—whatever level one dissociates—are necessary components to healing and tools to help keep us safe. But there are no guarantees of safety. When safety is breached, the increased awareness leads to a totally different perspective of the effects of self abuse.
What happened last week was arguably, for me by my own scale, the most serious event of its kind ever by many measures. To call it self harm or self abuse is not even adequate. Self harm was the terminology I used a decade ago. Self abuse is the terminology I began using a few years ago. What happened last week was a psychological suicide attempt. I think it is important for me to be as precise as possible and not cloak what happened with more sanitized terminology.
A couple days ago, I did an analysis of both the events and feelings which has led me to label what happened in such a unambiguous way. While a lot of the actual events are lost or in flashes, I have enough information to know that what happened was in a totally different class from past events. I also have hard data, which was able to give me a perspective that is much clearer than any similar event before.
But the saddest piece comes not from the actual harmful events. Not from what was done to my body or done to my psyche.
The plan from the night before was to be admitted to the hospital, where I am now. I had become too unstable, too fragmented, and too much at risk. I told my therapist I needed some time to tie up some loose ends at work and do some last minute preparations.I was supposed to be in hospital admissions by 6 pm. That was the agreement I made.
It turned out that I was not grounded enough to be trusted with such an agreement or such an amount of time on my own.
I know there was internal conflict about getting hurt that day. That conflict usually is what keeps me safe. But there was very little sense of reality and no sense of ground. And, so, "safety" and "getting hurt" existed as their own isolated parallel threads. That dynamic of polar opposites existing simultaneously increased the safety risk manyfold.
At one point, I was at a tibetan arts store to get my wife, who is into yoga, a Christmas gift. Amidst all the confusion and fragmentation, at 1:45 pm I wrote these words in my journal: "Healing. Went to the tibetan store for a present. Big shift now towards safety. But confusion and conflict too." That nearly led to a change of course to not get hurt. But it was not enough.
At the store, I also searched for a gift for my therapist, my "healing guide". I thoroughly explored the shop and what I found for her was a compassion stone. It is a small stone from India with the "Om mani padme hum" mantra on compassion in Tibetan script . This is sad because it is proof that there were enormous coexisting efforts to be safe and also to be hurt.
While it certainly feels like my "gift" to my therapist is tainted, I hope we can take from this something positive.
This stone, then, obviously has critical significance. It perhaps should sit in my therapist's office, or be accessible to us. We should use it as a reminder of how the desperate effort to be safe and compassionate was destroyed—within minutes.
For me, that stone will probably be my most important icon in the world. It is something tangible from that horrible day. It will mean more to me than the medical records I have from the major overdoses. More than poems I have written from long ago about sad events and abuse. More than any art work I have made. Even more than records I have from the Catholic Church.
That stone represents the fact that I made a choice. That stone embodied all of my hope. It embodied all of my compassion. And I, and I alone, made the choice to destroy all of that.
I will never forget that.
And now I have to pick up the pieces and recreate what I have destroyed.
All of us live in a world of cycles.
Cycles, I think, are meant to be double-edged swords. They are the necessary friction of life that I have talked about before.
In the best of cases, we use these predictable cycles as a means of helping us navigate through the phases of our lives. Many of us probably recognize how these are sometimes referred: familiarity, teachable moments, evolution, wisdom, maturity.
We are probably all aware of how a new cycle can serve as a clean slate. When I was in school, every September I was fond of saying "I don't have a single poor grade!" Or, we are probably also aware of a sense of comfort in what is familiar. Every Spring is a time of renewal. Most every Christmas has been a time of magical wonder. I live in an area of the world that snows right around Christmas-time and that serves as a metaphorical punctuation mark.
But, anniversaries of traumatic events and triggers are also types of cycles. And therein lies the friction. And the dichotomy.
Speaking for myself, I know I can very easily find myself trapped in a new cycle and have little or no perspective on it. In other words, the cycle can be strictly seen from a historical point of view. In still other words, parts of me can be stuck in the past.
I so dislike admitting that. I would rather believe that I am full of awareness and am fully healed and fully safe. Period.
But that is simply not true.
For those of us who have lived many years using dissociation as a core means of coping or navigating through cycles or triggers of past trauma, this is not really difficult to fathom.
I have not written here in over a month, and during that time I have experienced many triggers and not navigated all of them well. Just ticking off some of the highlights, there was the perennial Halloween "holiday", with all its normally charged associations, plus we had a rare crippling snowstorm. Then the relentless news of the US college sports sex abuse scandals, which have rocked me to my core. It was not really much of a surprise, but I was caught unprepared by the impact of the late November "anniversaries" of major suicide attempts from the early 90s and the connections to where I was last year (in the hospital). Finally, "church abuse" news, direct or indirect, seems to always crop up.
Reflecting on the past month or two—I have lost track—I can easily say life has been more tilted towards disconnection and chaos and "living in the past" than it has been towards awareness and looking towards the future. My life has certainly not been in any sort of balance, and I have not been safe from purposely hurting myself. As a result, life has become extremely distorted and unstable, and what feels safe also does not feel safe, sometimes simultaneously. Some of you know will know what that statement really means.
I have been living precariously. There has been a thin line separating safety and harm, connection and disconnection, giving up and holding onto hope.
What is most scary, is that I do not even think I realized this!
But this afternoon, the seas have calmed. The compass appears to be working. The ship's wheel isn't spinning out of control anymore. The ship is moving forward. With direction. With purpose. I can see land.
Despite what our psychological "clocks" tell us, we arrive at a new cycle, but always at a place in time that is ahead of the last one. We may not appreciate that as a statement of fact in our times of struggle. But it is a fact. No matter how "in the past" parts of us may be, I strongly believe that we are destined to heal, to find balance, to learn from our past, to build a better future.
This is the first photograph of mine that I posted here over 2 years ago. When pondering about what I would share as my "Hopes and Dreams" for this month's arts carnival, I thought about doing something new and creative. But this image captures the essence better than any other. So, I thought I would come back to it, but write about it in the present.
At the time I made this photograph, I was blossoming in terms of my commitment to external and internal awareness. Prior to this time, I had focused almost exclusively on intellectual understanding of my problems. And while that pursuit yielded good results, there was something missing and it was not enough. I quickly learned an important lesson: that the most healing comes from a balance between intellectual understanding and exploration on the one hand and emotional understanding and exploration on the other.
The context for this image is that "becoming one" or becoming "integrated" had dominated my thinking for many years. That was my clear goal—or hope or dream—for so long. I finally realized that, for me, that set up an unresolved series of internal tensions. Becoming "one," in a strict sense, is not who I am. It never was. So, I said to myself: "Why make a goal for myself something that is not who I am?"
Rather I see as a goal for me a fluid collaboration based on mutual respect and understanding. In this view, there is more flexibility. It creates the opportunity for various aspects of me to flourish and be laser-focused if they need to be or work together to accomplish what we cannot separately.
Having somewhat separate parts of my psyche is not at all the major problem facing me. It is having separate parts and that contributing to not being able to be safe that is the problem. Or having parts and having there be no communication or collaboration, thereby rendering them fully isolated. I cherish my ability to be able to accomplish goals in life that I know are borne from my compartment-based system; goals that I feel might not be possible without such a system.
So, the question for me has always been how to maintain safety and at the same time cultivate collaborations and communication leading to a more fluid existence? That is what this photograph represents. I had thought "becoming one" would automatically lead to safety and was the ultimate answer. But in many ways I believe that to be a draconian solution, and not even the best solution. I also thought it would someday just happen. After all, I have read stories of how others "integrated" and how it can happen very quickly.
The truth is, while I am not at all glorifying having more extreme forms of dissociation, I cannot not ever imagine a simple "become one" solution for me. The more and more I get to know parts of me, the more I appreciate who they are, what they represent, and appreciate their own individual hopes and dreams and hurts and desires.
This photograph can be seen as "one." It is one wall after all. But it is made up of many pieces. On one scale, all parts of me can be seen as one, and this is how most people in my life see me and this is what I want most people to see. It is absolutely true that together we make up one person. One system. But I also acknowledge that the parts of my psyche are not just aspects of one personality. They are more separate, and I accept that.
And it is through that acceptance that I have learned to move towards a more balanced existence.
In my post from over two years ago, I wrote:
So, my hope and dream is for my life to be more representative of this image. That there be collaboration. That parts support other parts. That when viewed on a macro scale it appears as one. But on the micro scale it appears as many. That each part is different yet has similarities to others. And so on.
There are endless comparisons one can make between failures in technology and psychological "failures." I will not bore you with very many examples, but I have seen quite a few error messages in my day from the computer side, mostly stemming from memory issues. "Segmentation fault", "Stack overflow", and "HeapDumpOnOutOfMemoryError" are just a few. "Core dump" is a common Unix error that can be a bit intimidating, especially if it is on a computer mainframe that hundreds of users depend on. One of the more scarier messages came from the old Mac computers. Imagine a window popping up with a clip-art image of a bomb. Yes, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak envisioned what has become arguably the slickest computer operating system ever created. But back in the day, you got a bomb along with a message that said "Sorry" and a frozen computer.
Computer memory is made up of individual bits that are either zero or one. What could be easier than that? Sure there's quite a lot of physics in there, but memory storage is conceptually simple. Of course, the computer needs more than one bit. Modern computers have many gigabytes of memory. 16GB of memory is also 138 billion bits of information. To give some perspective, that number is about 20 times the entire current population on earth or roughly equivalent to the number of human beings who have ever been born! All those pieces on one little laptop running a Web browser and Word!
What makes memory complicated is that there are management techniques that programmers must take into account in their programming. Every time a programmer creates an object in their code, they are asking the computer to assign memory for that task. Programmers have to know things like how much memory to allocate, whether their code is causing a memory leak, and sometimes when to dump memory. There are also tools that the tech-savvy among us can use to analyze the state of the memory.
Of course, many times memory errors cause a total system failure, sometimes known as a "kernel panic." The computer will hang and you have to restart it, fix it or in some cases throw it away and get a new one.
The reason why I bring up memory errors is that I have been having a lot of them lately. I wrote not even a week ago about the firm ground I found myself on. A lot fell into place for me. I had crystal clear perspective and was able to look at my life at any scale, from the big picture to all the small details. That firm ground lasted for what felt like a microsecond, but was actually about a day. It is almost impossible for me to believe now that only a few days have passed. Over the past week, I have been writing in my journal about the enormous swings of knowing and not knowing, connection and disconnection, wonderful tingly sensations and searing pain.
I have often seen the ability to attain what feels like a internal wholeness, with accompanying clear sense of safety, as touchstones or experiences to strive to achieve more regularly and for longer periods of time. They have been motivators.
But this week has not been like it has been in the past. This week I am hugely discouraged. I have lost hope. I am angry. I am checking my calendar and journal constantly, looking back on what I did and only vaguely able to make sense of it. But my problems are more than just a memory errors.
To continue the computer metaphor, memory, along with other layers of computer architecture, are managed by the operating system. I can easily think of myself as an operating system. My treaters are encouraging me to enlist others (inside) for help, saying I cannot do it all alone. But that kind of advice is really falling on deaf ears. As I have told them: "I know that, but I can't do that." Or, more precisely, "I know that, but I can only do it for very brief periods."
I also know I have a responsibility for safety, and that complicates everything. Safety was severely compromised last month and I am in many ways still reeling from that. Sharing responsibility, for me, means that I must put myself in a more vulnerable position. When I allow parts of me to come forward, so to speak, I put a lot on the line. I know full well that many parts of me do not worry at all, or even know much at all, about safety issues.
I now find myself in a huge bind. I have a wealth of experience that tells me that collaboration and communication internally lead to more wholeness and fluidity of experience. I know that I do not have enough resources to manage my life without the contributions of all parts of me. But I cannot do what is needed without internal trust. Because of the safety breach, that trust is simply not there now. I simply cannot take that risk. Yet I do not feel any safer.
So, I am doing exactly what a computer operating system would do.
A "kernel panic."
Image is from Dmitry Vostokov's Dump Analysis blog, who has many very amazing visualizations of memory. Click on the "Art" category.
I know it has been a long while since I have written here and an even longer time since I have been reading other's blogs or in touch with friends both in my healing circle as well as other areas of my life. I have been basically out of it on so many levels, including internally, but still able to present a front of super functionality. After several months of this, I finally feel like I have found some stability. I learned a lot and I write more specifically about it soon.
Today, though, I want to make my contribution to this month's Expressive Arts Carnival. In the announcement for the Carnival, I did not say that I did this exercise before, a bit over a year ago while inpatient.
In thinking about this directive now and who I could possibly write about who has taught me, my thoughts go inside of me. I have learned the most about healing from me. That may sound like a "big ego" statement. But it is more a statement about acceptance of the various separate aspects of my psyche and an understanding that this structure is fundamental to who I am.
I know I have talked about this many times before: When I get into a denial space internally and make statements that parts of me do not exist in the very separate way they often do, I end up not being true to myself. And that truth is a necessity. That is what I have been missing over the last few, at least, months.
A good deal of healing comes from communicating with discrete parts of myself. Of course, they are all connected and we are one person. But it is also true that I have evolved in a very compartmentalized way, and so learning about those compartments and building connections is what a lot of my healing journey is about.
Over the past few days, since I have found a sense of balance, the key thing I have done was to accept and listen inside. I stopped pushing parts of me away. I acknowledged all of them. That approach has changed everything for me. No longer am I so confused. No longer am I losing time. No longer am I so hugely distant from memories that I just pushed away. No longer do I have no understanding for my behavior, and why I was so driven to self-harm.
Indeed, the past few days have been humbling for me. I now know that "I" is broad. I am more than "I" and that is something I must accept. It makes the journey simpler in some ways (e.g., I gain more fluidity) and also more complicated in others (e.g., I have to own difficult feelings). But that is my reality. My path. And I am back on it.
My words for the Carnival are: Truth, Healing, Balance. And my hex color code is #855E42 (named "Dark Wood," which for me signifies being grounded like a tree).
The Carnival will be published tomorrow, on the last day of the month. If you want to make a last minute entry, please do so by 2PM EST July 31 and I will include it.
At this time last year, and the year before, I was in the midst of "internal disconnection." The same is true this year. And the same has been true at other times. I have always come to the conclusion that I am not well served when I am disconnected, and I have often spoke of how it leads to issues of safety. Disconnection is not consistent with my present-day philosophy on how I want to live my life and my direction in healing. But I am often at al loss for how to fix it.
Part of the issue maybe many of you will identify with, is that for parents, June is a really rough time of year. The school year ends in mid-June and there are a bevy of school-related activities. If you are an involved in helping in the schools, and I am, it can feel like a bit too much. There are concerts, field days, field trips, end-of-year PTO meetings, and the list goes on and on.
And, added to that is another ever-present issue: change. As I have worked on healing, I have become more aware of how I am affected by what is around me (events and people). No school for the kids means quite a drastic change. Seasonal change, especially in New England, is always dramatic. The weather also shifts from downright cold to hot. Work is in flux with colleagues vacation schedules; plus being in academia, summer is quite different.
No wonder all of this throws me (and probably you too). I often get thrown a lot. I often feel like I am not very versatile. What I used to handle purely by compartmentalizing, now often feels terribly complicated. Nothing ever seems simple anymore.
But, over the years I have developed some "go to" skills. When I feel out of balance, like I do now, it is a reminder to go back to these basics.
The basics may appear on the surface to be quite simple, but they are often not at all easy to do, and are often easy to ignore. For me, though, the "nuts and bolts" are rather clear:
- Take time to self-reflect; and don't have therapy be the only time you practice this. My journal writing has mainly been reporting and very "diary like." I have used my journal in more substantial ways in the past, which means as an adjunct to therapy where I make sense of reactions and experiences.
- Practice mindfulness. This means actively paying attention to what the experiences are while you are going through life. If I am mowing the lawn, it helps to go slowly and appreciate what I am doing. If I am planting in the gardens, it helps to feel the soil and draw parallels to internal growth.
- Self-care needs to be often and regular. This means finding ways to get meaningful and consistent sleep, taking care of pain issues by self-soothing, and eating. It means also taking time to play with the kids, not only being "in your head" and using music (playing or listening) as a healing tool.
- Art. Drawing and art making (including photography) is another tool I have used to give me access to feelings, which do not seem all that accessible right now. I often have resistance to doing art. And I often find that I will reconnect in this area by increasing my use of photography (which is happening now, so that is a positive).
If I thought more carefully, I probably could come up with a longer list. But these are the main areas that come to mind based on my experience.
My immediate reaction to these are: "OK, Paul, easy to say but hard to do." One could then say that the list is trite. Way too simple.
That thinking, however, is merely a trap.
I have often spoke of simple solutions. A dissociative mind by nature is a very complicated mind. In many ways I think we get accustomed to this. I have used metaphors in the past of the complexity of an orchestra leading to beautiful and harmonious music. I have spoken about sports teams and various specific roles each athlete has and how they can come together for one goal.
An attempt at simplifying is not at all to invalidate real difficulties. Rather simplifying and practicing the "nuts and bolts" helps deal with the complexity.
This is my contract with myself, my agenda if you will for the coming weeks.