ramified mind: when you realize

daryl seitchik
In response to the second piece on spirituality and dissociation, Kole asked: “Can you explain what to do when you realize that dissociation is blissful? what next? even though you want so bad to heal the dissociation, you realize there is pain to actually letting it go. what then?”

My answer is the same as it was for how to deal with being triggered in practice: I don’t know. I can only share my experience with you. This is the thing about healing. For years and years I asked, “how do I do this!?” I yearned for someone to tell me. Yet there is no one set way that works for everyone, much less a quick fix.

But there are guides. And I don’t care what your excuses are, you can find someone who will help you. There are people out there who will guide you and love you, who can see and respect your own individual and interconnected being (rather than require you mirror theirs, which is perhaps what we fear repeating). If you haven’t found anyone yet, keep looking. I promise you, help is out there.

In certain ways, dissociating is an addiction. We use it to soothe ourselves, and sometimes we need that. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. even advocates it as a soothing response if a patient feels extremely threatened. He teaches self-hypnosis to patients to help them “access their own dissociative capacity in a controlled way.” This comes from the chapter “The Raven” in The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook—What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing (cheesy, markety title for an important book).

This chapter, if not the whole book, is a must read for dissociators. He discusses a teen who dissociated to the point of losing consciousness (the ER doctors couldn’t suss what was wrong with her), and often resorted to cutting herself to illicit a dissociative response. It is a wonderful book, if a bit shallow on the richness and healing aspects of child survivors’ fantasy worlds. The girl’s Raven reminded me much of Jung’s beautiful case study of the woman who lived on the moon (another sexual abuse survivor. See The Psychogenesis of Mental Disease (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 3)).

I’ve written a few pieces on self-soothing, on how to discern when it’s helpful and when it’s not: http://popomoyoga.com/tag/self-soothing/ This applies to dissociation as well. When I realize that dissociation is blissful and that letting it go is painful, I watch it. I let it go slowly, back away from it and indulge less and less, as I notice how it affects my larger experience. Because unlike Perry, I don’t think dissociation is harmless. Herman and van der Kolk both find it inhibits healing, and over the long term, I agree.

Recently I indulged in a massively dissociative episode. I went from analysis straight to practice, and things were hovering close to the surface. My shrink had said something that I mistook (we’ve since discussed it) and I was angry. At first I tried to let it go but there are asanas in my daily practice that go straight into where I hold, and often memories pop up or a slight dissociation occurs. Usually I coax myself out of it by grounding, but the elements of the moment led to a “why the fuck not?” response. There was rage, violence, and apathy in that response, and I didn’t care. I know how to ground myself out of dissociation and I know how to deepen into it (in practice, how depends on what poses hit you). Because as mentioned, it feels so good.

A reader-friend pointed out that I’d written about the natural opioids released in dissociation well over a year ago. I’d forgotten, because I’d processed that information as a pain-relieving mechanism, which it absolutely is. Since then, having observed my experience time and again, the feel-good aspects of the opioids are what strike me.

To those who’ve never dissociated in this way, it feels blissful. It’s much like orgasm, but less intense and of much longer duration (this episode lasted probably 20 minutes in its most intense and ecstatic stage—I’m not sure as I lose all sense of time). Also like orgasm, it’s impossible to describe if you’ve never experienced it.

In this episode, I never dodged the voice of my superego (my rational defenses are much too strong for that, particularly in public), who suggested every few minutes that it was time to ground and come down.

SuperEgo: “This isn’t good for you.”

Dissociated Me: “So what? This is beautiful.”

[A few minutes later.]

SuperEgo: “You have a hair appointment at 1.”

Dissociated Me: “I don’t care.”

[A few minutes later.]

SuperEgo: “How do you think this looks to people [the teachers and yogis in the studio]?”

Dissociated Me: “I really do not care.”

[A few minutes later.]

SuperEgo: “This isn’t good for you. It must be getting late. You have no idea of the time. You look like a freak. And you love, love, pissing me off.”

Dissociated Me: “Ha ha! It’s all true. And it’s taken me far, far too long [in life, to gain the courage to challenge that voice, that purveyor of doom, who’s much more cruel and demanding in survivors of childhood trauma than in the average person. See Kalsched]. What are you going to do about it?”

And so it went.

I did ground myself as I moved toward the end of my practice, and felt my heart to see if its pace had increased (dissociated states can be identified by an extremely slow heartbeat. Hyper-arousal by extremely fast).

If that were that, if the episode ended with my practice, I’m not sure there’s a problem with this kind of self-soothing, other than the fact I evaded my real pain, my real experience—the memories and emotions that were coming up—with this defensive machination. As long as I avoid my real experience, I will not heal.

But sometimes the moment is just not right to face our real experience, and we absolutely have to be patient with this fact. This is what “radical acceptance” is all about. Not some superficial “I love me everything is ok right now!” bullshit, but (e.g.) accepting that healing is often a three steps forward, two steps back experience. We cannot let that fact demoralize us.

This was the deepest dissociative experience I’ve had while also observing it. That was kind of cool. Why dissociative bliss is not a great choice was in the coming down experience. I’ll leave that for next time.

2 Responses to “ramified mind: when you realize”

  1. Kole says:

    Hi, thanks for writing a follow up to the “on spirit, emotion, dissociation” piece. Ever since I read that post, things have been really changing for me. I mean it was polarizing.
    Dissociation is so not harmless, it’s 100% (but covertly) harmful. I’ll tell you how I came to the realization that led me to find your blog. It’s my journal entry so it’s very scattered and non orderly, and also very personal, but I go back and read it strictly every day now because it gives me the same massive dose of clarity your blog post did. I say strictly because it is so tempting to just do away with re-associating and just fuck it and enjoy the bliss, but no I must not be tempted.
    Here is the entry:

    Map – Set The Goal
    It’s a bridge of fear of change, fear of healing. But I can’t cross it until I re associate. The thing is, I WANT my dissociation, I love it, it helps me not deal with shit helps me stay easy, approved, liked, no preferences. As much as I think I want my dissociation to be erased, I secretly WANT it. The bridge is fear of change and that means I’m afraid to feel, to not dissociate, I’m afraid of changing from being a shell to being a full feeling person with preferences and a personality, substance, who will cause discord and can’t be liked by everyone (no one is unless your fake). To me, there is pain in giving up dissociation. This is the bridge I need to cross first: Letting dissociation go, and living inside. Bridge of suppressed emotions, my emotions should not be hidden any longer it’s not ok for me to hide crying over a job from mom. I don’t have to cry to her but I don’t have to hide it anymore. Not now, now is the level of uncompromising emotional honesty, im past acting my feelings of strength. I’m just a little girl, of course I’m gonna cry, it happens then it goes, that’s the only way, like a dog can’t suppress for social purposes. I will cry not only when I’m scared but also when I’m hurt (full vulnerability is here). Because all there is is me and now I live inside my body inside the experience of my body. This is bridge.
    Wow then I read this: “what you don’t hear about dissociation is that it can feel really good. The muscles often very rigid in a trauma survivor go all soft and the mind goes fuzzy and light. It can be blissful.” WOW EXACTLY! there was no other option than to surrender to the experience.
    You are meant to be fully efficient and receiving everything you need to know to be completely successful on your path. Don’t give up now, just try again (on dissociating) – plan it right and use a little more effort. Release yourself, experience who you are – do not hold back any part of yourself. Stay in your truth, be authentic and do not edit, rehearse or try to abandon who you are. Trust and honor your intuition! See yourself clearly committed to releasing any negativity, blocks or obstacles that are preventing you from actualizing your full potential.
    One of the things that’s characteristic of AEDP is to make the most of what’s there before trying to work with what’s not there or what’s maladaptive. So even when dropping down, if we see little glimmers of greater contact with the body, we would try to focus in on that little glimmer and enlarge it. I think more than anything else the stance is, “You’re already doing it so let’s just do more of it.” Healing is already happening, now it’s just something to be entrained and engaged. It makes you aware that what you think is impossible your actually already doing.
    And we’re an experiential treatment, so we’re not so much interested in the narrative or people’s stories about it as much as we’re interested in helping people drop down as much as we can into their experience and exploring the experience.
    So that all these experiences that are quite implicit start to become more explicit. Diana fosha
    And Teal said: There was no more room for theorizing. There was only one door to walk through and that was the door of practice. Practice as if it was the only oxygen left for my soul to breathe. Meditate. Observe the thoughts. Sink into the emotion. We become addicted to the way we cope with our life. And when we can’t live our life that way anymore, there is literally no way to escape our true selves anymore…unconditional love is no different than unconditional presence.

    I’m never gonna find any meaning other than here, this experience, so I can stop hoping to find it in the future because I already have meaning here. Choosing to experience it is a daily choice to engage in.

    The only way to feel like you create reality is to ressociate. If I lose sight that fact that reality is programmed by me, if I believe that that’s not real and not possible, then I’m in dissociation. The antidote to that is my experience in this body and to accept that my emotional experience is the only reality. [end entry]

    So I hope it helps I posted it because there’s such little information on the title of your post that I felt I needed to contribute my experience. As incoherent and messy as it is. Dissociation is harmful because it’s so blissful, but when you take heroin every day, it’s blissful but eventually if you don’t consciously commit to CHOICE, you die. Same with this. Ecxept you can’t see the drug because it’s so covert and natural to do at this point. Dissociation is a slow suicide unless we consciously choose to ressociate, which is like asking a heroin addict to not shoot up. It’s hard as hell, but our only option. It helps to ask yourself when making that choice or any decision big or small: “what would someone who loves themself do?” And then do It, quit self harming with dissociation. Do it for self love.

  2. anastasia says:

    Wow, Kole. Thanks for this. I really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much it helps to know that others experience this (and yes, absolutely, it’s harmful, and the coming down experience for me (next post) could also be compared to crashing off a drug. While the opioids are naturally in us, they aren’t designed to be used this way, regularly, at all).

    Your honesty and realness is much appreciated. I can’t say how much it helps me to read your real experience and not just more “beyond your thoughts and feelings you are clear and are no longer ignorantly identified with your experience!” balderdash erroneously used to bypass difficult human experience. I’m not saying the bit in quotations isn’t true. It’s just that you have to be acquainted and comfortable with the full spectrum of your emotions before that clear state can truly be realized. Otherwise, you’re kidding yourself. The post-post-modern world has a serious fear of emotions, and it’s a problem. Our emotions only control us if they are denied.

    Your posting this helps so much. Maybe the little bit more realness out there can be exponentially increased by “just a little bit more.” I thank you so much.

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