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.

Speedwobbles

It’s late spring in 2008, I’m living in a pilot therapeutic care program an hour out of Melbourne in a country town that grew roots in my heart; the first place that still feels like home.

It’s a warm day and we’re restless, two 15 year old kids with a painful need to always be chasing the next distraction. After deciding we want to go skateboarding, we then have to round up the staff and convince them to drive us to the local skate park. A tiny place with one bowl and one half pipe, surrounded by acres of neighbouring farm properties and a pony club.

The car pulls to a stop and before the worker has the chance to put the hand brake on we’re out of the car and heading over to skate.
My housemate, for the sake of anonymity we’ll call him Meerkat (His head was always on the pivot and his dark brown eyes and messy hair reminded me of Meerkats I had seen at the Zoo) was heaps better at skating than me so after the 1.5 seconds it took him to build up the courage to drop in on the half pipe, he’s going back and forth attempting to spin the board as he gets to the top so he can stop then drop right back in again.

After five minutes we’re frustrated we’re not already pro-skaters so decide to up the stakes and head for the nearest massive hill we could find. We all pile back into the car and drive around the local country roads searching for the perfect hill, we’re just about to give up when we see a one that would put fear in any of the local kids, it’s pretty much vertical bitumen for 100 metres.

The worker parks the car at the bottom of the hill and me and Meerkat make our way to the top, projecting bravado because there’s no way either of us are going to chicken out at this point. As soon as we make it to the top of the hill we both decide we’re going to go down at once instead of taking it in turns. The hill is so steep that immediately after putting both feet on the skateboard I’m hurtling towards the bottom of the hill at an ever increasing speed. The wind is rushing past me so fast it’s making my shirt stick to my chest, my eyes open wide and I square my body lower to the ground to get more balance. I feel so alive, there’s no thoughts going through my head except for making sure I’m balancing ok and not headed towards any of the parked cars that are scattered on the side of the road.

Everything is going fine until I’m halfway down the hill, my trucks that I loosened so I could turn easier start to make the board wobble, at first its manageable but it quickly becomes a lost cause. I begin to panic, I’m three quarters of the way down the hill now and going so fast I know bailing isn’t going to end well. I have no other option so I step off the board and try to force my legs to keep up with the speed the rest of my body is hurtling down the hill. I can only keep it up for a few giant steps before I hit the road, sliding on my elbow and side for at least four metres on the hot bitumen before finally coming to a stop.

One of the workers races up to me to make sure I’m ok, I’m sore and have some pretty gnarly grazes on my elbow and knees but I know I haven’t done any serious damage. As soon as I can stand back up again I hunt for my board which had shot past me when I got up close and personal with the bitumen. I decide that I’m not going to let this hill beat me, that before I can talk myself out of it I’m going to try again straight away.

I’m a man on a mission, I limp my way back up the hill sore but determined as ever. At the top I take a deep breath and look down at the spot where I had stacked it just moments before, there’s no way I’m going to leave this hill before showing it I won’t be beaten so easily.