There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow
~ Beck, Where It’s At
Yesterday my therapist suggested that i write about where i’m at, as she thinks it’s very significant and something i should mark so that i can return to it whenever i want or need to.
I haven’t spoken to anyone but her about it, but i’m much less dissociative than i was. Even 6mos ago i would slide daily, and i struggled not to be at least somewhat dissociated most of the time. I’ve felt different –weird– for some months now, and i think that’s the cause. It’s all so new, so delicate, so deeply personal, that i’m not certain i want to write about it. I trust her though, so i will.
Late last year i decided a couple of people in my life had to change their behaviour towards me, or i would need to take steps to distance myself from them. These are relationships i treasure. I love these people very much, and that won’t change. Their treatment of me had been unacceptable in some ways for a long time, but i had tolerated it due to guilt and shame over being mentally ill. Many of my behaviours were unacceptable too, and i’d put these loved ones through much stress and not a little suffering. So i thought i deserved it. I also thought that it helped balance things out in our relationship, a little.
It doesn’t work that way. That’s sick thinking from a sick brain. Personal flaws and failings don’t negate the need for boundaries and respect in relationships. I live with serious, multiple diagnoses mental illness, and it’s a LOT, and it’s COMPLICATED.
But does that mean i don’t deserve happiness and fulfillment?
Does that mean i am unworthy of respect and care?
I knew the answer was NO for everyone else, but i’ve struggled to believe that for myself.
Every once in a while i’d get backed into a corner and come out (figuratively) swinging.
And sometimes i’d run out of energy and restraint and tear the world down around me because i was hurt.
Mostly though, i kept my head down and my mouth shut. It ate away at these relationships, eroding trust and safety and intimacy, until i found myself not wanting to be around them anymore. These precious loved ones. The desire to get away from them was like acid in my guts.
As i continue my work in therapy, confronting my past and pursuing healing, my thinking has become clearer. I’m learning to listen to my brain and my body and give myself what i need. In providing my own care i’m building trust. My brain and my body (as well as my system) are learning that i am capable of taking care of all of my parts now: mental, emotional, physical. I’m growing up and becoming a competent, dare i say adept, caregiver – of myself.
This competency and its resultant increase in trust has meant less upheaval and tumult in my life. I’m less predictably unpredictable, if you will. That being said, February and March saw the return of some old, unacceptable behaviours. It scared me, and i thought i was backsliding. What if i started switching all the time again? What if i started losing my temper and breaking shit? What if i took off for a few days? And what if my loss of control cost me or my family their physical health?*
It signalled to me that i was freaking out on some level. But why?
After therapy on Wednesday i think i know.
Each step along the path brings me closer to a more functional, more normal way of life and living. I struggle with change, with the unknown, even if it’s good. And once i got away from my mother, and the constant threat she presented, i set things up in ways that seemed safe to me. I avoided the unknown and change as much as possible.
I’ve been highly dissociative for as long as i can remember, and almost certainly before that.
Living a conscious, mindful life is still foreign to me, and most days i’m moving a little closer to embracing it fully (as fully as i can). This is new territory, every day. I’m walking away from what i know, with intent and purpose. Some days feel like every step is a trigger.
It can feel like i’m Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In the first minutes of the film, he’s grabbed the statue as carefully as he can, but the booby-trap is sprung anyway, so he sprints across the stones, dodging poisoned arrows on both sides.
Kinda like that, except it’s my own brain spitting the poisoned arrows at me.
In some ways, i’m working against myself. I have parts of me that are aligned with my abusers, and they are there to absorb abusive behaviour. To tolerate intolerable things. I’m programmed to take other people’s crap, and then blame myself for it. I was made to be a receptacle for other people’s garbage. When i stand up for myself, when i say Stop or No, when i ask for something i feel ashamed to want, it causes those parts of me to come up against me. They try to shut me up and shut me down. Some say things i heard from my mother like, Who do you think you are? and How dare you? And they’re very good at bringing up lots of reasons why i have no right to ask for anything, and why i should consider myself lucky that anyone abides me at all.
They were created in a terrible moment, and that’s where they live and that’s all they know.
What i’m attempting to do now, is convince them to come along with me as i grow up and away from those moments. I’m moving into real time, and i no longer need to relive or otherwise revisit those terrible points of my life. I only look back now to see them (the parts in my system, not my bad memories), to call them to me, to gather them close and hold them for always.
This last year i’ve come to realise just how much of my life i’ve spent in some level of dissociation. It’s been incredibly painful to learn that it’s been the vast majority of my life. I’ve been heartbroken over all that i’ve lost; all that was taken from me. But i was done with crying and ready to move forward. To walk into the unknown and make a life for myself. To allow myself to dream of a future and make plans for it like it was a real possibility. Because it is.
These last few weeks i’ve barely dissociated at all. My brain has been relatively quiet – as close to quiet as it’s ever been. I’m not fighting to maintain control. I’m not at the whim of my Bits N’ Pieces. They aren’t gone, disappeared or “integrated” (whatever that means). I can still feel them, i can still hear them. They’re softer, somehow. They’re not inflicting themselves on me or imposing their will. This is all extremely strange for me.
In the past i haven’t had appropriate responses to things. I over-feel, i barely feel, or i don’t feel at all. I think that’s changing. I’m staying present most of the time, and i’m feeling a lot of emotions in the moment. It’s new, it’s different, it’s weird. It feels like a lot to me, because i’m usually dissociated to some degree. But lately, it’s been barely at all. I’m making the choice to stick around and handle my own business, multiple times a day. It’s taking effort and energy and i’m very tired at the end of the day. But i think it’s a good sort of tired; i don’t feel like a wrung-out dishrag. It feels more like i’ve put in a good day’s work.
I’m recommitting to being mindful and taking care of myself, including my system, every morning now. I touch all my precious little brain-people with my thoughts, and tell them i’m in charge, and i’m going to have the best day i can. I think about a couple of things i’d most like to accomplish, and i give myself a quick mental pep talk:
Life has no intention. Life just lives.
People are going to do what they’re going to do.
The only thing i have any hope of controlling is myself.
It is my mission to be the best human i can be, while living life on life’s terms.
This is a new frontier. I’m exploring, looking for new experiences and seeking knowledge. I intend to traverse it as boldly as i can.
Y’all Hang In There, Y’Hear?
*I’m referring to the pandemic, here.
IMAGE: Greg Rakozy