Friday, May 10, 2013

Slipping: There's no such thing as fairy dust.

We all know that place. Where we teeter on the edge of the decision. To cut ourselves. Call that dealer. Drink that beer. Go back to that website. Eat that cake. It would be like sliding off a cliff. All you'd do is drift one foot leftward, and you're falling all the way down.

And at the edge you believe you're weightless. You feel no gravity, see no horizon, no earth far below. No consequences. The choice seems so easy. Restraint is so hard.

When you're trying to stay clean it can feel like you have two warring selves. One you floats at this cliff in a bliss-bubble. The other you stands outside the bubble screaming and pounding on its crystal surface like you're Dustin Hoffman trying to stop the apocalypse. You want to scramble after whatever cord powers your suspension of sanity and yank it hard with a zeeoowww that would send your other self hurtling, informed, onto the safe high ground.

But you can't. You stay stuck outside, watching helplessly as the floating you drags you both over the edge, with a blissed-out smile on its face.

Weirdly this is a learned skill.

Pain rolled over us once. To survive, we may have whipped out a mental pop-up tent into which no pain or fear could enter. We hid inside. Left reality. Dissociated.

In Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation, psychotherapists Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele and Onno van der Hart describe some physical aspects of this strange dissociation:
"There may be times when you feel spacey, foggy, or fuzzy. You may lose a firm connection with the present without being aware of it, and only realize afterwards that you were not very present. . . . You may have times when you are aware of your actions, as though you are watching yourself, but do not feel you have control over them."
They also describe dissociation's result from trauma:
"If we consider a continuum of trauma-related disorders, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being the most basic, and developing in the aftermath of a traumatizing incident at any age, then complex dissociative disorders are a more pervasive developmental accommodation to trauma...."
Trauma hits. You're shocked and scared. You hide. You fly around like Peter Pan in Wendy's sheet-bunker for hours. You try to come out, but when you do you're hit with overwhelming fear, shame and anger. So you hide more. You fly around for months, maybe years. And every time you try to emerge, "smack!" Overwhelming pain. So you never come out. And in time your hideout expands like a glowy ethereal Blob, no longer shielding only trauma but blocking every unwanted feeling or thought.

Meanwhile all that fear, shame and anger sits alone on the outside, waiting for you to come back. But you never do. And while you expand your hideout, the earth between you cracks. And the crack spreads into a cliff-edged canyon, with your two selves stuck on opposite sides, miles apart.

And then one day you find yourself all grown up (or trying to be), with that fearful, shameful, angry self boasting a 12 Step program (or two or three), and fighting hard to stay clean. But frickin Peter Pan on the other side of the canyon won't stop leaning over the edge.

So what do you do? What Peter did. Sew your fearful, shameful, angry shadow back on. And refuse to fly away.

We'll check in with Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation again to talk about how.

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