Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Clarity

I've been working on another episode from my past. It's an assault that happened when I was very young -- perhaps around 5. I know it happened in the autumn. I know the house I was living in at the time. I know that in the long run it benefits me to revisit these events to help me gain perspective and understanding of my behavior then and now.

What I don't know is how long it takes. How many times do I need to think through --  talk through an horrific incident to come to grips with it.

One of my recurring issues is belief. Belief that these events really happened and that I am not just making things up. As I type these words, I recognize how inane they may sound to others, but I remind myself that I was told, repeatedly, that no one would believe me. I have been amazed by the people who have believed me and stood by me as I work through my history, but I have also been re-victimized by those who won't or can't accept my history.

As I review episodes, I begin to see patterns emerge. Patterns of thought processes. Patterns of coping mechanisms. Patterns of self preservation. Patterns lend credence to my story and help me see the consistency in the stories I share.

Recently I saw a pattern that I have struggled with for some time. I don't know if I can make you understand, but I will try.



Dissociation is a coping mechanism/technique that many abuse victims use. In short it is the mental capacity to remove yourself from an unbearably traumatic situation by imagining you are in a different location. In a dissociative state you believe you are truly in this new location. You feel textures, see things, smell flowers, feel breezes blowing, and hear sounds that are apropos to that environment.

As a child I learned to remove myself this way from horribly painful and traumatic abusive situations. My refuge was to find myself outside of the location of the abuse. Usually in an open grassy area. I can "remember" the feeling of the grass on my feet. The way the light and shadows play in the yard. I can hear the neighbor lady chatting with her little dog. I can feel the cool evening breeze dry the sweat that has accumulated on my body during the abuse. It is vital to my survival that I keep my back to the location of the abuse. If I turn around, I will be sucked back into the events that are on-going. Inevitably these episodes lead to exhaustion and a sense of safety and peace that lull me to sleep. But I am not really asleep. I have just escaped mentally from a situation that did not allow for physical escape.

The question is this -- how do I reconcile the clarity of these memories that I know to be protective imagery with the clarity of episodes of abuse that I fought so long and hard to suppress? If the clarity feels the same, how do I know what really occurred and what was simply dissociation?

One of the best responses I've received to this question came from my first counselor. He pointed out that people usually make up good things. We make stories about ourselves that will impress others and raise our standing in the community. My memories don't do that. He also said that those made up good things are made up to share. I fought tooth and nail to keep my story to myself from fear of alienation and not being believed. 

But here's what has finally helped me the most -- I have decided I don't have to reconcile the two. They are different phenomena. I don't have to know every detail perfectly
accurately to know that the abuse was horrible. And knowing all the specifics will not make any of it more or less true.

All that actually matters is that I survived.


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