Dissociation takes us out of the moment.
Yesterday, I stood in the MSU music building while my son warmed up for a violin performance. All around me, young pianists and violinists practiced their Chopin, their Mozart, in separate cubicles, getting ready to play for a judge. My husband sat near me in one of the hard plastic chairs. He reached for my hand. I waved him off, annoyed…
Second-grader me, surrounded by the sounds of my passion and my failure, in a silent loop of shame and guilt. If only I was in room 25, playing the Chopin, then I would be a success as a person. If only I was in room 26, playing the Mozart, then my parents would like me, be proud of me…..
This moment should have been completely about my son. But the familiar setting, the music seeping out of practice rooms, the smell of pianos, triggered old memory material and whisked me away to an earlier time – immersed me in feelings of longing and worthlessness so there was little left of me, the partner, near my spouse, the only other person who parents this talented boy of ours.
I dissociated. I exited the moment – without realizing it.
I caught myself in the free-fall.
Dissociation happens vividly, when we lose time, get lost or stuck or unable to make sense of things we ordinarily understand…Or subtly, when we freeze in horror or stress or shame or guilt…or any other feeling that takes us out of the moment. Dissociation looks like:
- daydreaming, zoning out, a sudden panic attack or an unexplained back pain…
- forgetting, losing our keys or phone or money, being unable to enjoy sex or closeness
- binge-eating, binge-drinking, binge-shopping, or getting so paralyzed with anxiety we can’t leave the house
- having no words, no feelings, just muteness or numbness or a sense of being zombified or feeling like a small child again
Dissociation looks different on everyone, but it works the same in the body. We stumble into a random sensory stimulus that takes us down a familiar neural pathway, once developed at a time of great emotional stress…and suddenly we’re no longer present in this moment. We lose consciousness or wakefulness.
Most traumatized people do not get help until much later in life (if ever). I believe this is why our world often feels like a scene from The Walking Dead. The pain of trauma from child abuse, from witnessing a parent live in emotional turmoil, or from never feeling good enough to deserve love continues in loops of electrical memory material, indefinitely…if it’s not addressed.
Effective trauma recovery therapy brings us back into the present moment by guiding us through neurological change. It reduces our need to dissociate. It makes the environment safe again, so we can rejoin those we love, right here – right now…for a touch, a concert, a child’s song, a lunar eclipse.
We get to be here, now.
I’m a trauma therapist and EMDR practitioner. Contact me to find out more about dissociation, effective trauma recovery therapy, and how EMDR therapy can bring more wakefulness to your life, right now.
Read more about how trauma therapy and EMDR can bring more present-moment consciousness to your relationship.