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.