In 2011 I began on a journey of deep, critical psychotherapy. Working to heal and resolve the huge burden of complex trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed to be able to cope until that point. When I began on this journey I was still deep in a cycle of chaos that involved drug and alcohol use, stubbornness and an absolute terror of being with myself and holding my emotions in the moment. I felt fractured, my psyche and personality in fragmented pieces that never enabled me to feel whole beyond a brief moment in time. Mindfulness, healthy behaviour and hope spilled through my clenched fists at a rapid rate, I could never hold these moments beyond my initial contact with them. I could glance into the mirror for a split second but I could never hold my own gaze.

For seven years I have worked with my therapist to build a foundation in my life, a building block of stability, healthy decision making and critical reflection on my misguided thought patterns and perceptions, something I never had the chance to develop up to that point. We both showed up every session to work diligently on the muck my subconscious had brought to the surface that week, ever so slowly refining and filtering through the debris left over from the aftermath of the initial traumas during the first decade of my life. The goals were simple, yet far from an easy undertaking.

It was only in the past two or so years that I felt a tangible sense of this foundation being built. I began to understand I would always spiral, but it seemed like the lowest I ever went, wasn’t a place of complete external destruction like I had succumbed to in the preceding years, it was definitely still painful and involved some level of internal destruction, but it was no longer manifesting into external destructive behaviours that used to level my life into rubble. The peaks and troughs were becoming much more healthy in their oscillations. A dear friend of mine has always told me ‘life isn’t about the absence of problems but the way in which you manage them’, slowly I was becoming able to actively manage the ups and downs of life.

In the past few months, this idea of building a foundation in my life has progressed into something I never imagined to be possible. It’s difficult to describe the solidity, the true tactile sense of feeling whole that has recently developed. I hold my palm in the centre of my chest and actually feel myself existing. I really hate to use a Star Trek metaphor but it reminds me of when the characters are phased onto the ship, during my whole life up until this point my existence has felt fleeting and vaporous, at risk of being extinguished at any moment, but now I am struck with this sense of being a concrete form, substantial and consolidated, finally phased onto the proverbial ship.

I don’t believe the work will ever truly be done, there is a path of refinement that leads ever onwards but this moment in time feels like the most physically tangible and concrete threshold of progress I’ve experienced.

Behaviours From The Inside: Part One – Dissociation

I am sitting in the lounge-room at Hurstbridge Farm, wrapped in a faux mink blanket and staring at the flickering light cast from the fireplace. I can’t remember how I got here, in fact I can’t remember much at all about what led to this moment, all I know is that my body is in pain from being frozen in the same position for a long time and though I’m wrapped in the blanket I’m still shivering but I can’t seem to feel the cold.
I feel like I have partially come out of a day dream, I am stuck in two worlds and my foggy brain can’t figure out how to move forward. I am unsure how to move my limbs, they have been frozen still for so long and I just can’t seem to get the message from my brain to my hands, asking them to move.
I am distant from the situation, watching a small part of myself wrestle with being unable to move or think, I am safe in this detached place of my mind, nothing can harm me here. I am a million miles away from myself, almost as if I am seeing someone else’s body through the movie theatre screen behind their eyes.

The world around me is made of cotton balls, everything is dulled and soft. I have been staring into the fake flames of the fireplace for so long that the room in my peripheral vision is becoming distorted and misshapen. The walls around me swaying as though they are made of the same stuff as fire, contorting and collapsing on themselves around my tunnel vision of the flames.
Even if I wanted to act on the impulse to turn my eyes towards the disfigured walls to check what was really happening, I just can’t seem to move them, they are stuck as they are and no amount of trying to flood them with messages to just move will work to avert them.

I am in a safe place, there are staff around me who flitter about like moths leaving gifts of water and sometimes resting their hand on my shoulder; this is helpful because I can feel it, it gives my awareness an anchor point to attach to. I come back to my body in the small area of this safe touch but can’t seem to come back more than in that minuscule way.

Though the touch is grounding and helps me return in some small way, it is also excruciatingly frightening at the same time. I am very vulnerable in this moment, I couldn’t make my body move even if I wanted to.
I need to know the person is safe, to have a trusting relationship developed with them, if someone who I didn’t trust tried to rouse me with touch, this waking dream would turn into a nightmare. Being frozen still and flooded with boiling hot fear and an urge to run, to get to safety is like being torn apart from the inside.

I spent a lot of time being dissociated over the course of my childhood and teenage years, a left over coping mechanism from experiencing trauma at a time I couldn’t act to protect myself with a fight or flight response, so I withdrew into and away from myself for protection.

I eventually learned to spot myself feeling dissociated and distant, I have a small river stone I used to hold in the palm of my hand until I could come back to myself again. I remember a time years ago when I held onto that stone for an entire day before I was able to feel present enough to let it go.
I was given this beautiful river stone on a day I had called a dear friend and mentor of mine Stephan because I was in a heightened state and had ended up in a tricky situation, Stephan invited me to come see him, probably sensing that I was heightened and needed help to become grounded again. Of all the people I’ve met over the years who know how to put their knowledge of trauma theory into practice, Stephan does it with such grace.

Stephan took me to a nearby river and we went swimming in the cool water. Surrounded by trees, polished stones and a trusted adult I felt safe enough to come back to being grounded again, (though this was from a heightened state versus being in a dissociated state) the rhythmic motion of the small lapping waves and swimming freestyle in a repetitive motion probably aided this grounding process.
After a quick rock throwing competition to see who could hit the fork of a submerged tree first, winner gets a Kit-Kat, Stephan hands me my stone, a gift from the river.
A dark blue-grey and slightly oval shaped stone that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, something I still keep to this day.

The river stone has positive memories attached to it, a memory of being safe and happy. Holding it was like an anchor point to the safety and connection in that time, even if I wasn’t consciously able to remember it when I was needing to hold the stone. This connection to a safer time helped me to feel safe enough to return to the present.