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.


The Black Oil

When I returned from Israel I had a host of revelations to share with my therapist, Dee. We had been working primarily on uncovering the cause of my Breakthrough Crisis. For many months we focused on the failed and dysfunctional relationship with my schizophrenic mother, largely centralized on issues of abandonment. We used EMDR to process specific memories I had about being abandoned, hovering on a trigger event I named The Driveway (see Growing Up With Schizophrenic Mother for details on this occurrence.)

We had made little progress focusing on The Driveway because, as it turns out, this was not the root cause of my dissociation. The most I could get to was that I, in fact, fully dissociated in that moment of abandonment and remained in that state for some number of months. It wasn't until Israel's Key that we could begin intelligent dialogue on the nature of my dissociation. After outlining the specific steps of my dissociation as witnessed by The Watcher, we now had the means to begin unlocking the vault of secrets that lurked far beneath the surface of my conscious cognition.

Dee asked me ideate on the most disturbing part of my dissociative pattern. Our new focus was the point of ascendence - the moment I leave my body. We began to intermingle this focal point with my then fixation on the feeling of being "trapped" - having no choice but to assume responsibility for my mother's well-being, safety and care from a very early age. Dee insisted that I did indeed have a choice in the matter and that I wasn't trapped but had made a decision (conscious or un-) to assume care for my mother. We argued about this point for a few sessions and it elicited a disproportionate amount of anger within me. I never had a choice, or so I thought. It was this revelation of choice, coupled with EMDR and a newly found language for my dissociation, that became a major turning point in my healing journey.

During a particularly intense EMDR set, a new awareness arose within me the likes of which I had never experienced. Anyone who has been through structured therapy or even engaged in thoughtful dialect with a close friend can relate to the fact that when people say things they think might be true for you one of two things happens. Either you contemplate the advice and decide that it is not relevant for your story, or you get that unmistakeable stabbing feeling in the pit of your being with full understanding of the deep and painful truth that was just presented to you. The latter is what happened to me on this occasion.

Dee is a gifted therapist with an uncanny ability of giving me back the same information I give her but with a genius spin, a way of seeing things that immediately and spontaneously unlocks the source of my neurosis. With her gentle yet poignant prompting, I was overcome with the horrific (and later liberating... much later) truth that I was not trapped in caring for my mother. I was not the trappee. Quite the contrary, I was the trapper. In my mind-body's wisdom and desperate need to pull this woman close to me, I had successfully trapped my mother. I constructed a circumstance by assuming fiduciary and legal responsibility for her that prevented her from being able to abandon me. Ever. Again. I was the Trapper Keeper (Trap-her Keep-her). The knowledge and deep truth of this nearly overwhelmed my psyche.

The result of this deep knowing was that Dee witnessed my dissociation right then and there in her office. The idea that I forced my mother into a relationship of need with me was sickening, repulsive, disgusting. How could I do such a thing? Furthermore, how could I have done it without realizing this was my motive? My journal entry from this experience reads:

This truth is like swallowing Black Oil and now it lives inside of me. At first I wanted to vomit, this idea is so repulsive and shameful - get it out of me! I felt myself leaving my body, first the muffled hearing, the heavy arms - so heavy like lead - and then the top of my head coming off. I'm slipping into unconsciousness. Escape. Going, going, gone.

Dee watched as I gagged, shook, cried, and then stopped breathing. I distinctly remember hovering "above" myself wondering, worrying if I might die from suffocation. This went on for what felt like an eternity; without prompting from Dee to breathe I very well may have suffocated. Thank God Dee was paying close attention; her careful observation and calm, soothing voice would become a great source of comfort for me. Finally, someone was watching out for me. But each time I tried to re-enter my body by breathing and feeling, the Black Oil pushed me back out.

The Black Oil is so heavy on my chest, thick in my lungs, that there is no room for air. That's it! There is no room for anything inside here because all the available space is taken up by this icky stuff. I'm not sure where it came from but I am full of it. I can feel tears streaming down my cheek, falling like constant raindrops from the clouds of my eyes. I feel my lip quivering. I can feel! This means I am back in my body. I try to look at the Black Oil, to connect with whatever this emotion is inside my chest, hiding from me and taking up all the space, weighing down my chest with heavy bricks. But I can't look at it. As soon as I get a glimpse, I am once again outside of my body and aware that I am not breathing.

This cycle repeated for some amount of time and several EMDR sets: tears, lip quiver, inside, try to look at the Black Oil, stop breathing, out again, the forced exit. I was exhausted by these sets; it felt like an epic battle for my conscious presence. Without the pulsing in my hands from the tappers and soothing comfort from Dee I would be completely lost. Numb. Dead.

Dee wanted to use our last set to help me find comfort and peace. I tried to enter my Safe Place. I had been there a thousand times in mindful meditation practice, but in this instant I could not find it.

I am searching down a country road and there is nothing. Now I see it far in the distance, my beloved forest of mossy trees. I move toward it, but as I look around I see that I am bringing the Black Oil with me. No!!! I don't want to taint this holy place with the Black Oil! It is bubbling all around me - behind, below, above, on both sides - and it is starting to move faster than I can. It's going to beat me to the Safe Place and then it will overtake and forever ruin it. I'll never be able to come here again if the Black Oil gets to it! This place is precious to me; I must save it. And so I open my eyes to regroup. Follow the light bar, pick something else - ANYTHING else - to distract the Black Oil. The opposite of black is white. Something white. I look down at my dress; it has birds. I love birds. White birds. Think of a happy place with white birds. Sanibel Island! 

I'm safe.
I can breathe again.


I have come to understand that the Black Oil is shame. Deep, deep shame. I have also come to understand that the veil of Black was, in fact, protecting me from things I was not yet ready to see or know. It is important for any survivor to understand that the mechanisms your mind-body, though incredibly frustrating and painful at times, are superbly functional. Trust the process, trust your mind-body, trust your own healing powers. True, deep wisdom and the ability to heal resides within us all.

Dee and I would eventually uncover the root of my Black Oil/Shame Demon but not for many weeks. In the meantime I did a lot of research on the nature of shame. The foremost expert in this arena by far is Brene Brown. Without her TED talks on Vulnerability and Shame and her wonderfully insightful and therapeutic book I Thought It Was Just Me, I honestly don't know where I would be. Another lock, another key. I happened upon these resources by chance. Except I don't believe in chance. I believe in the universe bringing exactly what you need at precisely the time you need it.

The student was ready.

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