Breaking the Addiction of Dissociation
This is a transcript from a presentation at the Eleventh Annual Ritual Abuse, Secretive Organizations and Mind Control Conference, August 2008.
Please use caution while reading to this presentation. It may be very heavy for survivors. All accusations are alleged. The conference is educational and not intended as therapy or treatment.
Joanne is a survivor of RA, family and government mind control and medical experimentation. She has been working on recovery for 14 years and has been instrumental in helping her three dissociative children heal. She leads a life as an active professional in her chosen field in her community.
Breaking the Addiction of Dissociation
My name is Joanne.
I am an addict. I am addicted to dissociation.
Several months ago I started wondering if the defenses I commonly use could possibly be termed addiction. I knew they were habitual. I knew they happened
spontaneously, like a reflex, without time for me to stop and reflect whether or not this was the response I wanted to use; I knew that when I tried to use
other responses it was exceedingly difficult and required much continual mindfulness on my part.
I looked up addiction in online dictionaries: “The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something.” Hmmmmmmm.
That sounds accurate.”The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice.” Well, that certainly fits! “And the last one: “Habitual psychological and
physiological dependence on a practice beyond one’s voluntary control.” That definition fit completely. I COULD NOT stop dissociating when I wanted to.
I do not attach a moral judgment to the word “Addiction”. It is a simple statement of fact. I did not make the choice to voluntarily start using
dissociation to get through life. I did not make the choice to continue to use it. I would not be alive today if I had not learned and used the skill of
dissociation. But it is now beyond my control and is now unnecessary in my life. Naming this addiction gives me tools to use so I can let go of it. I
am able to be more patient with myself and more effective in overcoming it.
OK. So I knew I was addicted. But exactly what was I addicted TO?
Researching the term “dissociation” I found this definition by Dr. Bennett Braun: “the separation of an idea or thought process from the main stream of
consciousness” (Braun, 1988). Everybody uses dissociation. People use it to screen out unnecessary stimuli. With untraumatized people, this is a
choice and not problematical. Any time a person is focused in on something to the exclusion of one or more aspects of present day reality, they are using
dissociation. Everyone here has used this – perhaps when reading a book, or practicing a musical instrument, or figuring out income tax. That kind of
dissociation is helpful
Another way to think of dissociation is as a method of dealing with trauma by not knowing about it. The memory of events may be split into separate
components. Dr. Bennett Braun developed the BASK model; an easy way to understand this. BASK stands for Behavior, Affect, Sensation and Knowledge.
If any one of these is missing in your memory of an event, then you are dissociating. “Behavior” is the action associated with an event. For myself,
in times of stress, I find myself putting my hand on the back of my neck. I would do this unknowingly, with no conscious memories or reasons. This is a
behavior that originally I found meaningless. I became aware that when I did this, my mind would blank and I would lose all my thought processes
Affect is the emotions one had in response to an event. An example of this happened to me recently when doing dishes. I became aware that putting my
hands into the warm dishwater brought a feeling of terror to me. I had no idea why. I just had a sensation and an affect (emotion) but no knowledge.
Sometimes I get knowledge of events from my past, but have absolutely no corresponding emotion or sensations to go with them. The affect (emotion) and
sensations are walled off in a separate compartment. I can accept that this experience happened, but it certainly did not happen to “ME”, whoever “Me”
might be. I can flip back and forth between feeling the emotion, or feeling the sensation, or having the knowledge, but I am unable to put them all
together in one package and claim ownership. I have a simultaneous knowing and not knowing of disturbing information.
Sometimes I dissociate sensation – I have the knowledge that I was sexually molested by my father. But I have had no physical sensations to go along with
this – just the knowledge. I have a friend who experiences the opposite – sensation is the one element she has NOT dissociated. She has all the
physical feelings of events but no knowledge of what the events are.
Whether or not you define yourself as having Dissociative Identity Disorder, DIDNOS, or some other diagnosis, if you have experienced severe trauma and
have not completely healed from it, you DO dissociate in a way which interferes with your ability to live your life the way you would choose. An
alcoholic uses a chemical to dissociate; a good dissociative doesn’t need alcohol. Our minds can do it for free!
Dissociative Identity Disorder used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. Have you ever thought of the implications of that change? People
do not really have a myriad of equal personalities when they split. They have a Core identity which is the original person born in the body. Through
repeated trauma, if the defenses of numbing and dissociation have repeatedly been used, the authentic self, the Core, the identity may become out of reach
and its existence even forgotten. But as long as the body lives, the Core is alive, although parts may be cut off from the Core, or may have been led to
believe the Core died. The Core is the age of the body and usually goes by the birth name or nickname, although that is not always true.
It took me a long while to accept the existence of a Core. I could not feel her, see her, or hear her inside. Some of my parts were convinced they had
witnessed the Core dying. Be aware, this is never true – the Core CANNOT die, if the body does not die. The Core can experience near death, and be
unconscious, but it is STILL THERE.
I gradually came to accept the fact that I do have a Core, and now most parts of me believe this, although I still have parts that refuse to recognize this
truth. I have been asked how the Core can be recognized. If you have watched a baby for a while, you will readily see the Core unless the baby has already
experienced extreme trauma.
Internal rules can point to the existence of the Core. If you cannot find your Core, ask yourself what rules all parts inside obey. A common one for
survivors is “No outside children may be harmed”. Another principle of mine has been that no matter how much I don’t want to, I will stay alive for my
children. These rules or principles that apply across the board obviously must originate from some central part of me. What is that central part? I have
found it is invariably either the Core or protectors very close to the Core. Another way the Core can be recognized is by feedback from other people. I
have 3 diverse jobs, calling for a variety of skills on my part. I can be very different in each of these jobs. Yet when people respond to me, I
gradually realized they were all responding to some common characteristics in me that I had not ever been aware that I had! I evidently exhibit these
characteristics no matter who I feel like inside.
A way I recognize the ABSENCE of the Core is when I feel boredom. The only times I experience boredom are the times in which I am not Core present; the
times I do not have my inner resources available. At these times, nothing holds my attention, nothing seems worthwhile, there is nothing I can latch
onto. Nothing outside of myself will satisfy. I can be temporarily distracted by external things, but only when I find what is missing internally
does my boredom really lift.
Make no mistake, I AM addicted to dissociation. When I chose this topic, almost a year ago, I thought – with a full year to work on this, I can easily
break this addiction. Well, it did not happen! Just as many people use substances to avoid facing difficulties, reaching for a substance to soften
the edges of harsh reality so they can slip through life more smoothly, I reflexively go away inside when I brush up against something difficult, and am
gone before I know it.
The cause can be triggers when I am subconsciously reminded of something from my past, it can be difficult emotions, it can be boredom, it can be
relationships I am not sure how to handle, it can be social situations – the causes seem endless. Any time I do not live in the present, in this moment in
2008, at the current age my body is, I am dissociating to some degree. While working on this speech, I repeatedly would find myself lost. At first, my
mind would just blank out when I sat down to write, even if, just a moment before, I had several paragraphs in my mind, ready to set into print. To get
around this, I started jotting the ideas down on scraps of paper which I then taped to my computer to use next time I sat down to work on this. Then when
my mind blanked, I could just work from the scraps. Once I had that strategy in place, my mind needed to come up with another way of preventing me from
writing this speech. One afternoon I kept track of the many ways to dissociate parts inside tried when I sat down to work on this threatening
topic. There were 13, one closely followed by another as soon as I refused to indulge in whichever one was trying to catch my attention. At first, they
attempted to convince me working on this speech was boring, then suggested I procrastinate, followed by nausea, distraction, refusal to work, negative self
name-calling, extreme sleepiness, anger, grief, a sense of entitlement, a severe headache, followed by exteme panic, then finally complete shutdown – a
blankness inside – an inability to think in words or access any information at all.
I have come to recognize when there are such extreme efforts by Protector parts inside, then I am on to something major – strong memories are close to
the surface. They are still seeing something as dangerous and threatening to me, since they have not yet learned I am living in the year 2008.
Let me share some personal history so you understand how and why I learned the skills of dissociation.
When I was 2 and 3 years old, my father decided I would not be allowed to live in my body. He had taken some psychology classes as he studied for an
advanced degree, and he believed in the popular theories that were then current. One was that anything that happened to a child before the age of 6
was not remembered so it did not matter what you did to a child as long as it did not cause lasting physical harm. Another theory was that there is no core
personality; a child is not born as a person. All personality traits were thought to be a result of reactions to outside influences. My father decided
he could create whatever traits he wanted in me.
Among other things, my father used electricity, increasing the voltage as I resisted him until unconsciousness would result. He was determined no mere
child was going to resist him; I was determined I was going to remain true to myself. Eventually protector parts took over for me and sent me into
unconsciousness so that my body could continue to live. Another favorite method was drowning by holding my face under water in a a bucket of water kept
around for this purpose, At these times he would never tell me WHY he was doing this. I would beg him to tell me what he wanted from me. But since what he
wanted was the complete annihilation of the ‘me’ that was present, there was no way I had the capability to comply. In later years he used a bench vise used to
apply pressure to the skull, and many other methods. With the help of a programmer, by the age of 4 he had driven me out of my body and
made it clear I was not ever to live in the body again. I lived over my left shoulder, and let other personalities take over the task of running the body
and the life. I could still guide them, but it had to be at one step removed so that my own, original personality, the Core, did not show.
Before I had learned this lesson, I would try to sneak back into the body and live directly. I remember being at the dinner table as a preschooler and
being very very careful so my father would not know I had again snuck into the body. But whenever I would look up, I would see his eyes boring into me and
realize that he knew what I had just done. I became convinced that he could mind read; there was nowhere inside my head where I was safe from his
penetrating eyes and from his knowledge. It took me decades before I realized that I gave myself away precisely by being TOO careful, TOO quiet, TOO
I learned my lesson well.
When I was away from my father, I had various other atrocities visited upon me. I learned that if I had to live, life was more bearable if I did not
participate and just allowed made up personalities to take care of daily business.
Children of parents like mine are vulnerable to unethical groups outside of the family: those with perverted spiritual beliefs, those with belief in
magic, the human potential movement, medical researchers, experimental programs, organized crime, paramilitary groups, government programs and
various other unethical organizations. Many of these groups are looking for children who have the ability to dissociate. Some blackmail the parents -“Let
us use your kid or we will expose you for what you are!” Others offer the parents whatever hook will pull them in – money, power, knowledge. Or even
nothing at all. They can be very matter of fact – “this is what your child needs.” Parents may be told “This will make your child smarter, healthier,
(fill in the blanks here).
From my contact with other survivors of extreme trauma, one characteristic many of us share is a belief that most extreme trauma is caused by the same
type of organization that caused our own trauma. That is an easy trap in which to fall, but in my experience and knowledge of others, it is not true.
Unfortunately, there can be a wide variety of organizations behind the trauma. One way to identify the trauma source is to identify the belief
system and world views associated with that particular area of trauma. There will be a cohesion in the beliefs of each organization. Identifying which
type of group can make the healing process faster and easier. The researchers have no common belief system, they are exploring. They may believe they are
serving science, but they do not recognize human beings – they see children as objects to be used for their purposes.
The stage was set for me to become very proficient at dissociating. My favorite paraphernalia for my fix was books.
When I was in elementary school my mother once commented that I used books the way an alcoholic uses drink. She was completely accurate. But neither of us
questioned WHY I would need this addiction. It was just accepted as a matter of fact that I was flawed and weak and would attempt to escape living life
whenever possible. I was seen as ‘defective’.
Books are still a favorite way of feeding my dissociation addiction. As an alcoholic has bottles hidden all over the house, I have books. In drawers
under my couch, double stacked in the numerous bookshelves around the house, stacked up in crawl spaces and out of the way cupboards where I move them
when they start toppling off the shelves, piles of them on the floor by my bed. I have more books than I could possibly read if I read continuously for the rest
of my life. Does that stop me from purchasing more? Of course not. One of my favorite activities is browsing at the library or a bookstore. What a rush
when I find yet another book that I will be able to use to escape. I keep a spare couple of books under the seats and in the trunk of my car. I don’t
leave the house with at least one book ready at hand.What would happen if there was an empty moment, and I did not have a book to
whisk my mind away from actually living in the present moment? What would happen if I actually had to ‘be’ instead of dissociating???
The only way I had ever learned to deal with difficulties was to dissociate. The idea of their being any other option was foreign to me. I even trained my
children to deal with their difficult emotions by dissociating. When my daughter was very young and having trouble managing her emotions, I would tell
her, “Go into the next room and do not come out until you have changed.” She was very obedient; she would leave the room in a tantrum state, but soon would
emerge, smiling, pleasant, and happy. Any vestige of a problem was gone without a trace. I was so very proud of her!
If you have dissociative parents, you also probably learned dissociation from them – both by being taught it directly, and by example. Parents who
dissociate are unable to help a child go through their emotions. They are unable to help the child learn that an emotion is nothing to fear, but
something that is very valuable and precious, helpful in living life. For myself, I sincerely believed that switching off an emotion was the best way to
deal with it. I had never heard of the concept of self-soothing. Decades later, when a therapist introduced me to this idea, I still did not see any
relevance for me. Sure, it was pleasant to do some so-called ‘self-soothing ‘ activities, and I felt mildly better when I did them. But the concepts of
staying with an emotion, sitting with it until it changes, and using a self soothing technique instead of switching, were all foreign to me. I was too
terrified of emotions to ever do this. I was afraid of fear itself, and would go to immense means not to experience the emotion of fear, or any other
emotion, without ever realizing that I was doing this. I had control of myself. I could handle anything.
Let’s fast forward in time to my later adult years, after I found a competent therapist to help me sort through the mess that had been my life, and after I
was able to leave a marriage that perpetuated what my father had set in place. I cut all ties with my relatives who had vested interests in keeping
me from personal knowledge. I was careful with organized groups of people, and with individuals who might not be safe. I learned what to look for, how
to tell whether or not something was safe, how to tell whether or not I was accessed. Eventually, I realized I was safe, my children were safe and well
on their way to healing, we all had safeguards in place.
I had no reason not to live in the present, I was relatively free from harm from external sources, so there was no longer a need to dissociate, so I was
DONE with dissociation, right? I lived happily ever after, end of story?
Long ago, decades ago, I decided that life was not worth living – it was something to ‘get through’ as smoothly and mindlessly as possible until I
could die. The rule had been to imperceptibly stay as non-present as possible, while going about the business of doing what I had to do
to ‘survive’, to pass as human. That was a rule I learned deep, deep down.
Einstein said: “I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.” That can be exceedingly difficult. When I embarked on this
journey I had not realized that healing required CHANGE on my part. I wanted the constant pain and anguish to stop, but I didn’t want my actual self to be
different. I did not want to have to uproot the very foundations of my beliefs and actions and metaphorically relearn how to walk. I wanted to be
free of the continual anguish I experienced, the continual need to cover up my lapses due to dissociation; the continual sporadic loss of time, the hop
scotching nature of my abilities – sometimes being able to do certain things; other times have no concept of, or even any desire to have certain abilities.
I wanted relief of all my symptoms, but I did not really want to “heal”.
A personal friend of mine is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He once told me that when a person is finally ready to start dealing with their addiction,
they gradually realize that they then have to deal with what caused their addiction in the first place; what they had been unwilling/unable to face
originally, what drove them to drink. Only now their problems were compounded by all the problems that alcoholism brings.
Judy Murphy, who founded “Moms Off Meth” says, “The worst would pass in a few days. I’d feel good and I’d think, “I’ve got it down pat.” But then I’d look
at my life and feel bad. That’s the real pain when you’re an addict. USING HURTS, BUT REALITY HURTS WORSE.”
For myself, when not dissociating, I would look at my life and realize this is so very different than what I had envisioned. I do not have a birth family, I
do not have in-laws, I do not have blood relatives, I do not have a life partner. I gave up an immense amount of myself to insure that I would have
all these things, and when I stopped dissociating, I realized that not only did I have none of those people in my life, I was also missing major portions
of myself. It has taken me along time to realize two things: 1. How can you lose what you never had? I never did have those things, only a pretense.
And 2. I now have things that are far more important and valuable than those ever were in reality.
But. I am still addicted. I know I would not have survived if I had not had the skill of dissociation. It served me quite well. It saved my life. Now I
don’t want to rely on it; I don’t want to do it automatically
I have identified three types of dissociation I struggle with:
1. The first way is the simple practice of spacing out or shutting off. I use this for two different purposes:
1. Avoidance when I am unwilling or unable to face things
2. A learned way to be able to switch. There are many times when I cannot access the parts that have the information and skills I need in
a situation. Throughout the decades I learned that a way to handle this was just to shut off completely inside, and sooner or later the information I
needed would gradually seep to the surface or some other place in my mind where it would become accessible to me.
2. A second way I dissociate is to switch to other parts inside.It has taken me time to be able to tell when I am not myself. I blend through
most alter personalities, and it used to be easy to believe I was just being ‘me’. I’ve learned to be alert to various factors. One is what age I
feel. Last year after the SMART conference, I was riding the shuttle to the airport, and for various reasons someone else in the shuttle, a woman in her
30s or 40s, laughingly referred to me as ‘mother’. At the time, I had felt I was very present, content with being me, feeling safe. But I was startled
with this reference and what I found in my mind was: “How can she address me as mother? She’s so much older than I am!” Ooops! Sure giveaway!
Other ways I have found to know when I am not Core present are to feel what size the body seems, relative to other people or objects; Sometimes I look at
a dog, and it feels as if the dog is shoulder height to me. Ooops. Not Core present! Other ways are to recognize what the emotional tone is and what the
values are, what sort of things are important to me. How do I want to spend my time? A numbing activity such as computer solitaire? Oops. That is not a
Core choice for me. So who is out and why?
Other than age, other ways I have found to know when I am not Core present are to feel what size the body seems, relative to other people or objects; what
the emotional tone is and what the values are, what sort of things are important to me. How do I want to spend my time? A numbing activity such as
computer solitaire? Oops. That is not a Core choice for me. So who is out and why?
3. The third way I dissociate is one that may be difficult to grasp if you don’t use it. If you do, you will definitely know what I am talking about. I
will tell you that some people whom I have discussed this with have found this concept highly triggering.
Within my first few months of therapy, I found myself talking to my therapist about a ‘construct’. He asked me what I meant by that term; at the time I had
not a clue.
I have since learned that I create a construct when I am functioning through something that is not an alter. I was always looking for a perfect ‘formula’
that I could leave in place, and personally go away. Life was something to be endured, and gotten through as gracefully and safely as possible, while the
real ‘me’ was tucked away somewhere inaccessible. When I am preparing to be in a situation which I may perceive as threatening, I automatically figure out
what qualities would be appropriate and useful for that event; find parts inside that have those qualities; put them together and create an ‘artificial’
persona to deal with the situation.
An example: One time a friend and I planned to go away for a weekend, share a motel room, and do numerous activities together. I was terrified. I was
unused to being social; I was unused to spending long stretches of time with another person without being able to escape and dissociate. I was afraid she
would find me (fill in the blank here) unacceptable, stupid, weird, any number of things. My anxiety levels rose and rose. I found myself figuring out
how ‘normal’ people would act in a situation like this, what kind of things would interest them, what kind of things they would talk about, what kind of
values they would have. I figured out what the situation demanded so that I could pass as human. I found myself focusing entirely on my friend and what
she might want to do. It was far too terrifying to have any ‘me’ present at all. I was still around, somewhere, but definitely not in my body. That
would have been far too terrifying. From some remote area, I worked the body, instructing it what to say and do. A construct is not ‘me’ or an alter; it is
lacking much depth of character, although there were always certain parameters set for what actions the character could do.
Fortunately, by then I was far enough along in healing that I realized what I was doing and started laughing at myself. This was a friend who knew about my
background, who was safe, who was very accepting of who I was. I ended up just ‘winging’ it; yes, there were some anxious moments, but I spent a lot of
time just being ‘me’ and reacting spontaneously to whatever arose, and had a great time.
I do want to say that I do not believe all dissociation is from addiction. If a person is still around perpetrators, dissociation may still be
necessary. But once dissociation is learned as the major means to handle difficult emotions, a person will continue to use it automatically from then
on, and it greatly lessens the quality of life.
Having decided I wanted to do away with this addiction and the pain it causes me, I found specific strategies helpful, when I was not dissociating my
decision to stop dissociating:I would like to share these with you.
I would like to start with a quote I found: “No one healing intervention will enable a person to manifest the full scope of his or her wholeness. To
maximally heal it is important not to limit ourselves to a single modality but to incorporate several healing practices that encompass body, mind, and
Many health care professionals believe it takes more than talk therapy to break through when there is severe trauma in the background. It takes
physical actions, whatever form they may take. When we are faced with severe trauma, the fight or flight response gets activated. This shuts down the
cortex; the part of our brain that can reason, plan and make sense of things. Pieces of the event, snapshot pictures, get recorded, but the meaning does
not. They are memories that do not make sense. After the trauma, these unresolved emotions are frozen in the body. Think of what the physiological
responses are to any emotion and what it means for these responses to be stopped before completion and remain in the body. There is an ‘act hunger’
remaining – the body wants to move through and resolve these physiological processes. The body remembers even when the mind forgets. The body acts as
our unconscious mind.
In the wake of 9/11, thousands of people started running. And many ran until they had actually run through their shoe leather. I assumed they were running
FROM, but according to Dr. Van der Kolk they were running TO. They had a deep desire to run for ‘home’, a place where they would be safe, where someone
would take care of them and make things right. Whoever/whatever that place may be. But severe trauma survivors do not HAVE a home to run to, and talk
therapy alone cannot create that home. Talk therapy can help survivors feel understood; it can help them make some sort of sense of what happened, but
something more is needed to create a ‘home’ for us.
Physical intervention is one area on which I chose to focus. I use several different modalities. With all of them, I have worked through extreme
negative reactions. I quit living in my body decades ago. When the idea was first suggested to me early in therapy that it would be good to live in the
body and be aware of it, I heard overwhelming screaming inside. At that time, external situations in my life were not safe and healthy enough to allow me
the energy to pursue this.
Once my external situation was safe, I tried different methods of body awareness, of working with the body. I think of Van der Kolk’s illustration
of the people running for ‘home’ after 9/11 and I realize I am presently making my body a ‘home’; a safe place to inhabit. , I am beginning to create
a ‘home’ of my body – something I have never before experienced.
One area I chose to work on was breath. I was experiencing more and more oxygen shortage and was becoming increasingly desperate. I became aware that
normally I breath in a very shallow manner, with a jerky rhythm. This is exceedingly common for people who have experienced trauma. What’s the first
thing most people do when faced with danger? Hold the breath! This sets up an internal self-conflict. When I try to resist fear rather than sitting with
the emotion and allowing it to be, I hold my breath and tighten my chest muscles to block the intense feelings. This results in anxiety, confusion and
paralysis. It scatters my thoughts. When I use my breath to block these feelings, they become locked inside.
How can you hope to heal when your brain is not getting the oxygen it needs to think clearly? How can you hope to be in control of your emotions without
I suggest you become aware of your normal breathing pattern. Unless you have worked with your breathing or learned how to be Core present, I am guessing
that most survivors in this room have a typical unsteady, jerky shallow breathing pattern
When I first started doing breathing exercises, it was fairly common for my breathing to turn into sobbing. I go through periods when I stop doing the
exercises. Until I notice that once again my normal breathing has become irregular, with many periods of stopped breath, and I am starting to miss
oxygen. I have found that when I spend more time living in “Now”, in Core presence, rather than the past, my breathing evens out automatically, becoming
slow and steady
I was startled to realize that when I am not breathing shallowly, I feel have to consciously “suck” the breath in, working quite hard. In the back of my
mind, I have been aware of this, and felt it was vaguely unfair that other people just ‘have’ oxygen, and it flows freely in and out of their body, while
I have to labor so hard to pull it into my body.
Tai chi has been another way for me to get in touch with my body. I have sporadically tried yoga but for me there are far too many similarities to
instances of past abuse in my life. With tai chi I do not have to fight through so many ingrained responses before being able to experience the
I will say that sporadically, when I have been practicing a lot of tai chi and it has been going very well for me, I will begin to find extreme rage coming
to the fore. I find myself restraining myself from putting my fist through the wall. I have on occasion had to leave the room in the middle of a tai chi
class rather than giving vent to yelling at the top of my voice.
Through the practice of tai chi I have obtained much more body awareness, becoming aware and mindful of specific areas of my body, and slowly, slowly,
I’m beginning to fight the reflex to scream whenever I am inhabiting the body. Just a week ago, when playing tai chi one morning, I suddenly became
aware that my left arm was moving. Well, duh! How many months and years have I been doing tai chi and my left arm always moved in these patterns? But
suddenly this was MY arm!
If you have the extreme aversion to inhabiting your body that I have struggled with, I would suggest that when doing anything physical, avoid the temptation
to distract yourself with music, MP3 players, reading a book while working on a treadmill, etc. Instead, let your mind roam around inside your body,
feeling what the muscles feel like: the chest muscles, the arm muscles, the toes (I discovered mine were always clenched!), the breathing. Do this as
long as you can tolerate it.
Other physical interventions that have helped me are acupuncture and acupressure. Using acupuncture to treat PTSD is relatively new. I was
fortunate to find a wonderful acupuncturist and I worked with this for some months. It was definitely effective. I immediately got very strong physical
reactions. Many times I laid on the table with tears leaking down the side of my face, for no known reason. In the end, I decided not to pursue this
further because of cost. Because I appreciated the helpfulness of acupuncture, I did some more research and found a well-written and researched
book on acupressure which I have since been using and again, obtaining good results. There are specific target areas that work with trauma. This is a
way of opening to the trauma, sitting with it and releasing it.
Interestingly, my acupuncturist was quite intrigued by various ‘grooves’ in my scalp. He had run into this with nobody else. I took him a brain map showing
where probes would be placed for certain medical procedures with the brain. He confirmed that the grooves followed the outlines on the map. He was also
intrigued by the way the muscles in my scalp would change drastically from session to session – again, he had not found this in any other clients. I
found this a validation of memories parts of me had previously shared, which much of me wanted to reject.
In addition to the above, I found any strong physical exertion helpful. I will go through periods when I go to the Y and work out, driving myself
relentlessly. After a period of feeling driven to doing this, ever increasing the amount of weights I used, and the amount of resistance on the machines, I
began to tap into extreme rage, a rare emotion for me. The more I exert myself physically, the more I find myself in touch with my emotions. And the
more I live in Now, in the Core, rather than the past.
Cognitive intervention is another way of countering dissociation. I have found three areas that work well for me: EMDR work, Focusing, and general
knowledge of how the brain and body work.
EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing”. This can be done with a therapist moving their finger from side to side, having the eyes
follow the finger, or devices of various complexities may be used. I found it most effective to work on this by myself, with a device I own, once I
understood how to set up a protocol and use it. (Not to mention much less expensive!) If problems come up, I check them with my regular therapist, and
I share my journaling with him so he knows in what areas I have been working.
The first time I used EMDR I felt I was on a Magic Carpet that instantly transported me back in time to an age, place, and experience of which I had no
knowledge. I was startled to hear myself speak of something that happened when I was a very young child, to experience the emotions I felt then, to
describe the people around me and what they were doing. Using EMDR I was able to stay with this experience and process it without getting lost in it myself.
The device I use has the sound move alternately from ear to ear, at a speed which I control. At the same time there are coordinated lights that move from
left to right, and pulsars which I can hold in my hands. This brings together parts of my brain in ways which I find difficult to do unassisted. Long ago
compartments were set up in my brain which keeps parts of me separate; EMDR helps me overcome those barriers.
I prefer to use my device in a public setting such as a coffee shop or a library. The device is unobtrusive; most people assume it is some sort of MP3
player. If I am in public, there is no danger of my getting overloaded or abreacting. I simply will not let that happen in public. In a private
setting, I experience too much fear of getting lost without this safety net in place.
Another method of cognitive intervention is Focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin in the 1970s. I was going through my enormous library of books one
day and found a cheap little paperback with this title, and an intriguing cover picture of wet stones. I started reading and it seemed amazingly
simplistic. Yet when I tried it, it worked. I could actually feel things SHIFT inside as they became unstuck. It is almost a physical feeling. I have
found this a very helpful gentle tool, easy to use. If you are interested, I recommend looking online. I believe you can learn how to use it just from the
internet. Buying the inexpensive book can help out with more details.
One question I have learned to ask which I find very helpful when stuck is, “What would it mean?” For example, When working on this speech, I kept
getting stuck. When I would ask, “What would it mean to be able to write this?”, a felt sense of terror would pop up. When I sit with that sense, I
find I am allowing too much of myself to be present in this speech. And I see my father’s piercing eyes once more looking at me. Enough to give anybody
General Knowledge – I have found that the more knowledge I have, the easier I find it to do internal work. The kind of knowledge I look for
includes: verification of my past, including as much knowledge as possible as to what was done to me, knowledge of different healing techniques, and
knowledge of how the brain and body work..
I recently discovered a fascinating book by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, “My Stroke of Insight”. Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist who had a stroke when she was 37
years old, taking out a large area in the left side of her brain. Because of her background, she is able to describe in detail what it is like to have
certain areas of the brain inaccessible. I was startled as I read the book to discover that what she was describing matches how I frequently experience my
own brain. After I had found this book, by chance I ran into another survivor who had also read this book. She started sobbing as she said to me, “I never
had the words before to describe what it felt like to live inside my brain!” Her relief at knowing she was not crazy with these flashbacks, was great.
One fact I discovered was that when a person gets triggered, the physiology of the response lasts for 90 seconds. In those 90 seconds, the chemicals
released surge through the body then are completely flushed out of the blood. After that, the automatic response is over. If I continue to experience
unwanted emotions after that, it is because on some level I have bought into them rather than just letting the response dissipate.
Since learning this fact, I have started timing myself. When I feel an unwanted emotion of unknown origin, I look at my watch, and allow the emotion
to be without fighting it. When the 90 seconds have passed, I find I am done with it. I thank the parts inside for bringing it to my attention, and, since
I desperately want to be whole and have my memories, I ask them to release the memories to me in a safe way now, since we are in the year 2008. And then I
go about my business of living in the here and now.
I have learned to listen to my body – I ask myself what it is feeling. Is there tightness anywhere? What is my breath doing? Is there pain anywhere?
What is the general emotional tone? If there is something negative going on, I wait out the 90 seconds.
If I get trapped in undesirable places inside my head, I have learned I need to break away from that. One thing that helps me is a Wish list of heart
(Core) desires. I can tell if it is a true Core desire by the response I feel inside. If there is a leap of joy, it is true to my heart. If there is a
sense of duty, drudgery and “should”, I do not put it on my list. I am slowly working on making these wishes reality.
When I get caught in dissociation, reading through my Wish List helps bring back my Core. I may not be able to think; I may not be able to remember what
the emotion of something feels like, but if it is on my Wish List, I know it is something important to my Core.
Doing tai chi is on my Wish List. When I get lost inside, there may be an extreme aversion to doing tai chi. I try to remember what it feels like to
enjoy it and I cannot. But more and more, I am able to remember that it IS important to me, somehow, somewhere inside, and that at my Core, I DO
experience joy when practicing tai chi. I take this on faith, and frequently am able to persist, break through the negativity, and resume my practice. And
yes, once I do that, the joy is there.
One important section of my Wish List book includes what wishes I am currently fulfilling that in the past have been beyond my reach. When I am feeling
depressed and hopeless, I find it immensely empowering to read through this -and realize the great progress I have made.
Some people find affirmations helpful. For myself, they are less than – helpful – they become a false front put on over the Core. My mother was
always quoting the Power of Positive Thinking, telling me to smile, whether or not I felt like it, that eventually I WILL feel like smiling. I should fake
it until I make it. Used like this, the message to the child is to go into strong denial, forget your memories, pretend all is fine. When I use
affirmations, rather than reminding myself of who I am, they become something to PRETEND to be, to fixate on until I no longer know who I am.
Mindfulness, another way of saying “Live in the present moment” is another area I have found exceedingly helpful in living the kind of life I want. My
dissociation is reflexive; before I am aware, I have gone off somewhere else. I am learning to be conscious of this when it first starts happening.
Sometimes I am just plain stuck. I remember a time recently when I simply could not wash my dirty dishes. This has always been difficult for me, but at
times it becomes impossible. (Along with many, many ,many other things!) When I try to ignore what is happening inside and do it anyway, it is like
shoveling snow from sidewalks using a teaspoon. It can be done – but it is so very arduous and time consuming.
A few months ago I decided to keep an open notebook handy when things are like this. I jotted down all my physical symptoms (shortness of breath, tense
shoulders, tense muscles everywhere, etc.) and the emotional tone – great fear. I started washing dishes and when I could not continue, dried my hands
and went back to my journal. The symptoms had moved, the fear was stronger. I kept going back and forth between the dishes and the journaling. Gradually
I realized that putting my hands into the warm water was frightening me. As I looked at the water, I was not seeing warm dishwater; I was seeing a warm
water tinged dark red. I was hearing my mother’s voice in my ears. Eventually I found myself journaling a specific memory. Once I saw WHY was so
reluctant to do the dishes, I stopped the internal name calling (Lazy, stupid, no-good, etc.) and offered grace and comfort to the inside parts.
I am building moments of “now-ness” into my present life. I pick moments in my daily life, such as when I sit down to a meal, when I get into my car, when
I brush my teeth. I attach a hook to them “Be present NOW!” and am finding myself automatically becoming present. I become aware of what my eyes are
seeing, my ears hearing, my body feeling. Frequently I experience terror at being present and aware; I look at my watch and wait the 90 seconds for the
wave of emotions to pass.
Being “me”, in the present moment, has also helped me with another misperception I have lived with most of my life. I found the concept that my
life actually belongs to me very strange. My habitual way of thinking about myself was as a being created for the duties I must do, and that I had to
shape myself and my life in order to do these duties as well as possible. I discovered that in reality it is exactly the opposite: the duties are there to
help ME function as well as possible. What a novel concept! Sometimes it is difficult for me to get my mind around this.
Community support is yet another area exceedingly important in breaking dissociative addiction.
When I first gained memories, I went through the ‘tell-all’ stage, finding myself wanting to go up to even casual acquaintances and tell them all the
horrific details of what I had just found were part of my history. Part of the motive during this stage was that I really did not believe these things
myself, and if I could tell them to someone else and they believed them, perhaps I could also then accept them as truth. I needed to share them in
order to admit to myself they were real. For me, this was a first step in ending denial.
Another motive for wanting to tell everyone was the feeling that everybody has things like this in their past; they aren’t that big a deal. And even if
someone has not experienced this particular type of abuse, they must have something similar. I wanted to compare, and I also wanted to know whether I
should minimize all of this or whether it was worth expending energy on. At this stage I found it amazingly helpful when I would matter of factly share
something with my therapist and he would express an emotional reaction to things I thought were no big deal.
After that came the “keep-it-all-to-myself” stage. With this stage there was a strong feeling that nobody could possibly understand what I have
experienced, so there is no point in saying anything. There was also an element of shame involved – the old mindset of “there must be something wrong
with me, if I was treated like this and other people were not.”
I was angry that people could not comprehend the magnitude of what I had experienced. I wanted to make other people hurt – but yet I did not want to
do that at all! So my solution was to pretend I was a normal human being. When conversations turned to families, growing up, the past, school
experiences (I could go on and on here with my list), I became expert at becoming silent, deflecting questions, getting the other person to talk about
themselves, while I sat there, protecting myself from exposure with amazingly strong barriers.
I have now passed through that stage, and do publicly acknowledge, where it is appropriate, that I have a past that is outside of the world view of most
people. When I talk about it, I use words to which people can relate. I discuss PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder); this is something which most
people now have at least a rudimentary understanding about. Frequently I do not go beyond that. If someone asks what caused it, I just say traumatic
events as I was growing up. Once people know I have PTSD, it is not difficult for them to be understanding when something comes up that is difficult for me
to handle smoothly. I do not talk about ‘multiple personality’, I talk about “part of me feels this, part of me experienced that”. I do not talk
about ‘ritual abuse’; I say that there were groups of people who got caught up in mob hysteria and would do things that in normal everyday life they would
If you think about people who have had cancer or extreme medical conditions, many people who have not experienced it find it difficult to hear the
details. But yet, when it is known someone has cancer, nearly everyone can be understanding and make the necessary allowances.
By talking in a non sensational way about my experiences, I feel I am once more part of the human race – most people can now relate to me and less and
less do I feel I have to remain silent and completely guarded. I needed to share to be able to admit to myself that yes, this is all me. I am not this
separate part sitting over here that pretends to itself it is just like everyone else.
“At present, I suspect I will be fighting this addiction for years to come, and that it will continue to take much mindfulness and awareness on my part,
and continually working with the tools I have found that help me. I continue to find myself avoiding, reluctant to face things. I get lazy about using
the tools that I know consistently work. I have parts inside whose purpose is to derail me, mistakenly thinking this is the best way to protect me. They
take tools that have previously worked, twist them slightly, and take me off track, leading me further and further away from my core. Denial continually
creeps up on me. Denial and unacceptance. “Of course those things could not have happened to me! Of course my life was not that bad!”
When I get stuck and cannot work my way out, I am learning I need to ask for help. This is amazingly difficult for me. In the world I lived in for the
first several years of life, asking for help was the one way to totally guarantee completely losing oneself. But I am learning. I rely on friends
and my therapist. I have used online groups such as Neil’s pro survivor list. These are powerful in breaking the internalized messages from the past.
A lot of addicts go to frequent 12 step programs, sometimes every day. Since I have not found a 12 step program for addicts of dissociation, I do things
every day that bring me in touch with present day reality and keep my goals firmly in the forefront of my mind. I know better than to make a formula for
doing these things; I keep it loose
Do working these tools take up all of my time? No. I actually work at formal jobs around 50 to 60 hours a week. These tools give me the strength and
energy to stay engaged with life, live in the present much of the time, and find it worthwhile.
Like many addicts, my path is not smooth. Time and again, I fall back on my tried and true relief from pain and anguish – dissociation. Time and again I
stop using my resources. And again, and again, and again, I remember this is not how I want to live my life; this is not living life. And again, I look at
my list of resources and tools to help me. And I ask for help from those around me.
My name is Joanne; I am a recovering dissociative.
Thank you for listening and sharing this hour with me.