Dissociating Through Life: A Reflection on Trauma
At the end of 2022, I spent two weeks in a Trauma Disorder Unit at a mental health facility. I had been to Mood Disorder units before, but never one specializing in those with trauma.
At first, I didn't think I belonged there: "My trauma really wasn't that bad, do I really need this?" In the unit, we all spoke a lot about dissociation. In my head, I was thinking, "but I don't have a dissociative disorder, I don't dissociate that much." Then I learned about grounding and staying grounded and practiced grounding techniques...and I realized how often I actually dissociate.
As I was growing up, I knew my home life was...for lack of better wording... not the same as everyone else's. Thinking back, I can feel the pressure, the fear, the need to walk on eggshells around my dad. I also remember my mind being focused on my schoolwork and being able to make the grades that would get me a college scholarship. My mom drilled that need into me. I saw it as a way out of the hellhole I was in.
I was lucky enough to have scholarship opportunities available to me when it was time to go. Of course, I had to ensure that I was in an on-campus living situation that helped me feel comfortable. At some point while being on this wonderful campus around people that I felt understood me, my brain snapped. I always describe the sudden onset of depression as all the trauma I experienced catching up to me.
So many questions circled my mind: "Why did this happen? Why am I not happy? I'm at college, why am I not happy? What is this cloud hanging over my head? What do I want to do with my life?"
I had been so focused on getting out of my traumatic situation that I didn't even know who I was or what I really wanted to do.
When I got to college, out of survival mode, I began to stop dissociating and I started to really feel. On the Trauma Unit they said that grounding and being more aware can be so painful and uncomfortable. When you are dissociating you are distancing yourself from the situation or information, you are making yourself numb so that you can survive.
I used to think that when I went to college, I stopped dissociating entirely. Once I was on the Trauma Unit, I realized that wasn't true.
After dissociating for most of my life, it didn't even do what I needed it to do. I still remember the trauma, I still remember the hurt, but I can barely remember the good times. My trauma is still here.
And I am not just my trauma, I am not only the pain I have endured and survived. This is something I have to actively work on.
As the Mental Health Workers on the unit said, this can be uncomfortable...but it's a step I want to take. I want to remember my life and be able to reflect on it and learn from my experiences. I can't do that if I'm stopping myself from experiencing it fully. That's how I learn about myself and find out what I truly want and who I truly am.
And I can't do that if I'm dissociating.