In the Beginning

In order to understand the nature and flowing references throughout my blog, I recommend reading my initial post The End of the Beginning first.


Israel's Key

In November 2012 I traveled to Israel on a spiritual quest. My close friend Jet came to see me off from Newark. Jet and I had been on and off friends/lovers/friends/enemies - rinse and repeat - for a couple of years. Relationships are not easy with an ASCA, so I admit to being 50% of the problem. The same is true for my failed marriage and the wake of destructive relationships I left trailing behind me before that. The nature of this friendship with Jet is pertinent because the dissociative button is often easily pushed by someone approaching intimate closeness.

Jet and I got into an argument in the middle of EWR. A series of no-fault events had left us stranded for the night with no place to sleep and me with an international departure in the morning. Jet blamed me for the incident and proceeded to explain the nature and extent of his anger in this crowded public place. I was feeling very upset at being blamed for something that was not my fault. And then it happened. I began my typical dissociation tailspin with one exception this time. The Watcher remained conscious, nonjudgmental (because the rest of me is constantly judging myself all the time), and secretly documented everything that happened for later mental retrieval. This is how it goes:

  • First I lose my hearing. I can see people's mouths moving, but everything is muffled. I can't talk either. I usually don't have anything to say because my brain is short-circuiting, but even if I did it is like the muscles that surround my lips are frozen.
  • Next my arms feel heavy like lead. I distinctly remember sitting at the airport, laptop open, wanting to google hotels but I literally could not mobilize the muscles in my left arm up to the keyboard. It simply wouldn't move so I just sat there staring at it. Arms completely stuck at my sides, meanwhile The Watcher's running script documented the words 'like rigor mortis.'
  • Next the heaviness from my arms moves into my chest, and then my whole body goes numb. I feel myself exit through my head; it sort of feels like the top of my head coming off. This is not like the near-death experiences I've read where people talk about being able to see themselves from above. It is difficult to explain; it's more like being behind and slightly above myself, though not exaggeratedly so like hovering around the ceiling. I'm close to my body, I'm just not in it.
  • Then I stop breathing. I did not know I was a breath holder until The Watcher revealed this to me. This part is actually quite scary. While watching myself from above/behind I begin to fear that I will suffocate. My journal entry for this reads "I honestly don't know how oxygen is getting into my blood because there is no air passing in or out of my body. If indeed I am breathing I cannot feel it at all, no matter how hard I try." I remain in this breathless state for some unknown period of time until something zaps me back in. Then I either go through the round of ears-arms-numb-breathless state again or stay in and move on to the next tortuous state.

When I come back into my body, then the pain begins. I suppose this is why I dissociate for as long as possible because I fear the pain of being human (as opposed to the stone statue). The mental chatter is maddening, hyper self-critical, and the emotional pain that comes with it is nearly unmanageable. Whatever the situation is, I catastrophize it to death. "This is the worst thing ever." "I can't deal with this." "I'm not strong enough." "I have to get out of here." If dissociation is the mental/emotional flight response, then my last stage of dysfunction here is physical flight. I start to concoct all the ways I'm going to end the relationships, the circumstance, the problem, etc. so that I never have to face or feel this again.

It was fascinating to observe myself go through all of these stages with such a clear minded Watcher. I am a psychologist getting to study the human psyche from the inside. Jill Bolte Taylor speaks of her similarly fascinating experience of being a brain scientist studying the human brain from the inside while she had a stroke in her TED talk called Stroke of Insight. I can so relate. I was in there too.

Jet had no idea I was experiencing my dissociative cycle. To the outsider it looks like I am ignoring and punishing them with silence. They couldn't possibly know the whirlwind of turmoil and pain that is happening inside of me. How could they? These are normal situations; people get mad when things don't go well and there's nothing wrong with that. You fight, figure it out, make up, and go on with your day. At least that's what happens for normal people (I'm guessing). I bet this is one of the major reasons being in a relationship with an ASCA is so difficult. From the outside it looks like we make a big deal out of everything. The truth is, on the inside everything IS a big deal. Everything looks, smells, and feels like trauma. 

It gets worse. Not only are my responses to seemingly small events disproportionate in the moment, but then I can remain in a robot-like state for hours, days, or even weeks. This looks like more punishment to the outsider, but inside I am dying. I can't feel. I'm not Me. I criticize myself for how I reacted in the moment and am left wondering what the hell is wrong with me. On the outside it looks cool and dry, but that's only because I don't know who I am or how I feel. My theory here is that every time I dissociate, a part of me stays outside and does not come back in. I am left feeling less whole, less integrated. As the severity and frequency of these cycles increase, I end up feeling completely robotic and not like Me at all. My ex-husband used to call me Ice Princess. In his defense, I never shared any of this with him because I had no language for it, nor did I understand the origin of my dysfunction. I imagine that many ASCAs can relate to this experience in relationship, both the dysfunction within and the ultimate painful demise.

Jet is sweet and he apologized in the terminal. I came to. We found a hotel. When we got there I went into the bathroom to freshen up for a dinner and I experienced the dissociative cycle again, and all stages were documented by The Watcher. Then it happened for a third and final time in the bathroom. There was no trigger per se, except that I was pondering the fascination of it all. Perhaps The Watcher needed more detail for the script, the one I was writing internally for Dee so that we could use it in my EMDR sessions. 

Fortunate for me, the flight to Tel Aviv is 14 hours. I had plenty of time to journal about my newly understood dissociative cycle in great detail. I had a wonderful time in Israel, but much work was to be done upon my re-entry. The Watcher had found the key.

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