I have set before myself the intimidating task of putting in order the history of the Lloyd family presented in this terribly disorganized collection of our family’s slides taken during the homesteading years of my childhood in Alaska. Yesterday I hauled the box of slides up to my neighborhood laundromat cafe and set myself up on a corner table to go to work on this task. No doubt the terribly unsettled feelings I have this morning as I awoke at 3:20 a.m. are coming from the digging up of memories related to these pictures.
There will eventually be another nearly overwhelming task of figuring out what to do with these pictures once I have them identified by year and put all in order in their tidy little archival quality plastic slide holder sheets. But it does me no good to try to think ahead to that part of this job. Right now I am left with doing what needs to be done first — putting our chaotic family story into linear order by time and by place.
Another string of thoughts I am having is related to my having picked up a book at the laundromat last week. There are shelves of books at the laundromat where people bring in and donate books they don’t want. Often in trade people take books they find there home to read.
This 1989 book may be considered obsolete:
Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence (1989)
Pia Mellody and Andrea Wells Miller
I have never yet read any book on ‘codependence’ all the way through. I have great difficulty in thinking about human beings in terms of a word many authors on the subjects use – or over use: ‘dysfunctional’.
That word is a mechanistic word perhaps appropriate for some kind of tool or machine. Humans are not machines. I know I COULD stretch my imagination to begin to understand what the word means when applied to people — but no matter how ‘messed up’ any person might be, we are never really BROKEN — like some material object might be that once had a purpose to fulfill that is no longer possible at some point once this material object breaks!
There is another word that is nearly always paired with ‘codependency’ and ‘dysfunctional’. That word is ‘dissociation’, usually listed (as it is in this book) with ‘defense mechanisms’ abused/traumatized children and adults are said to use in some situations they experience that are overwhelming — and terrible.
These authors include ‘dissociation’ in a descriptive list that also includes ‘suppression’ and ‘repression’ as follows:
“Suppression is consciously choosing to forget things that are too painful to remember. You make a decision to put the memory away, or to “forget,” so that you don’t have to feel the painful or unacceptable feelings associated with it.
“Repression is automatically and unconsciously forgetting things that are too painful to remember. Such painful and frightening memories are “automatically” shifted into the unconscious mind where they are “lost” or hidden.
“A child using dissociation psychologically takes his or her emotional and mental self away somewhere where the abuse is not experienced in full. In other words, the child no longer experiences the abuse at the intense emotional and mental level at which the physical pain is felt, although the physical body of the child is still being abused.
“Children usually reserve dissociation to survive abuse they believe is life-threatening, such as incest, molestation, or being beaten until they think the beating is going to kill them. The fear is either that who they are is going to be destroyed, or that they’ll be physically destroyed.” (page xiii)
I don’t have the book,
Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody and Andrea Wells Miller (May 17, 1989)
to which the workbook I picked up belongs. This may be a useful pair of books for some people to use to identify the details of their childhood abuse history so that they can begin to change their relationship patterns with self and others in their adult lives.
Personally I have never gotten any further than the introduction in any of these types of books after I have opened the covers to. I doubt I will get any further in this workbook, either.
I do not have a history of sexual abuse. I do have a history of extremely severe and overwhelming abuse of all other kinds over the first 18 years of my life. I think that coming from the infancy-childhood that I did I am as ‘functional’ as any human being could possibly be! I did a FANTASTIC job of surviving!
I am complex, as every human being is. Labeling what might be ‘wrong’ with me in mechanistic terms just has never felt helpful to me.
In addition, what developmental neuroscientists know today about how early trauma and its stress changes development removes, in my opinion, much of what writers used to stuff into the closet with ‘dissociation’ painted on a sign and nailed to the door vague if not completely inaccurate.
I do agree that dissociation is about memory processing and retrieval — or non-retrieval. The fact is that much of what used to be thrown also behind the doors named ‘suppression’ and ‘repression’ don’t belong there, either.
Very simply put as I need to understand it, the stress hormone cortisol can literally heat up the brain’s neurons in the hippocampus memory processing region of the brain that factual details of traumas are never retained in the first place. The cortisol literally burns the neurons trying to process the memory into cinders.
POOF! Facts GONE!
Another part of the brain, the amygdala, processes emotional memories belonging in and kept by THE BODY.
It is rare in these kinds of discussions for the other important aspects of memory to be included such details about (do Google searches for some of these memory terms) — noetic and autonoetic consciousness, autobiographical memory, semantic memory, episodic memory, working memory, etc. If you online search ‘brain development memory’ you will find even more info. Add in ‘child abuse’, and……
What matters TO ME has to do with how abuse I suffered interfered with my own ongoing experiences of my SELF in my body in my earliest life. Every time I was attacked in any way I was thrown off of the track of experiencing myself in my own life. Theses attacks caused breaks – breaches – in my ongoing experience of ‘self-in-life’.
They did not, however, BREAK ME. These attacks were NOT a part of ME – were not a part of MY EXPERIENCE of my own self in my life as a child.
These attacks BELONGED TO MY MOTHER, not to me. During the many extended abuse episodes I experienced as a child the time of my childhood life did continue to pass (with me in the middle of these ‘times’). I suffered. I endured. But HOW I experienced attacks was different than ‘eating up as my own’ the actual attacks themselves – which came from my mother.
Maybe I can describe it like this:
You are trying to concentrate on something that concerns YOU. Perhaps you are browsing your Facebook page, reading a book, writing an email, watching a movie…..
Someone comes and INTERRUPTS you!
You KNOW the difference between what you wish to be doing, that which occupies YOU — and what someone else does to interrupt you.
True, once the interruption has passed so that you can put your concentration back where YOU naturally want it, things ARE different. The facts about the interruption do become a part of your reality – somehow……
That interruption has for all practical purposes created a ‘dissociation’ of some kind in what WAS and could have been your continuous experience of being your own self doing what you wanted to do. BUT YOU DID NOT CREATE THAT INTERRUPTION OR THE AUTOMATIC DISSOCIATION that the interruption created.
To say that dissociation that happens in this way is connected to a ‘defense mechanism’ within you — well, to me that’s a nonsensical assessment of the conditions of reality as I am presenting them here as an illustration.
You didn’t create the break in your own ongoing experience of yourself in your OWN life — someone else did it to/for you.
There we were as kids associating with our self having our own experiences of our self in our life — and BAM!! We were interrupted — usually violently and painfully in ways that caused terror within us.
Then we had to cope with the interruptions (endure, survive) until such a time as we could AGAIN get back to OUR BUSINESS (re-associate with our self) of being a kid growing up having experiences of meaning to self. When we were interrupted we then had to DIS-ASSOCIATE from our own business because someone else INTRUDED into our life.
I do not OWN the interruptions my abusive mother caused in my life as an infant-child. SHE created those nearly continual dissociations in my experience. I DID NOT CREATE those breaks in my ongoing experience of my own self having my own life. MOTHER DID!
Mother heaped her suffering upon me in any way she could, any time she wanted to. I could not prevent these attacks or the interruptions they created in my own experience of myself in my body in my infancy and childhood.
I was completely present every time these interruptions happened. If I had not been hyper-present during her beatings to make every effort I could not to get my head smashed open as she bashed me this way and that against hard objects, I would be dead now. (etc.)
I suffered my mother’s suffering. In between, in my invisible times when she wasn’t occupying the time of my early life that actually BELONGED to ME, I had a wonderful time being curious and finding beauty and learning things about the world. But my own time was not allowed to happen in a continuous stream.
I therefore have very little ability to remember my life in a continuous stream. Mother interrupted me too many times for my body-brain to build pathways and circuits to process my memory of myself in my life in anything like an ‘ordinary’ way. My memories are kept in ‘pieces’ just as surely as these slides I am working with provide snippets of visual images that are NOT innately connected to one another — or to any specific meaning by themselves — in any way.
I am the one creating coherent order out of the chaos of this slide mess – just as I am the one continually creating coherent order out of my own experience of myself living my life.
The way I have always remembered myself in my own life is not due to any ‘defense mechanisms’, but rather to the very real physiological conditions of my growth and development in a terribly traumatic and abusive environment. As a result I am different, but I am not broken.
Nothing I have ever encountered in any book about ‘codependency’ addresses the reality of my experience. I therefore diverge in my understanding from that of such authors before I make it through their book’s introduction. I don’t even bother to try to make my thinking follow the course of their thoughts. To do so would be yet another interruption in my own ongoing experience of my self in my body in my life — I don’t want or need.
+A COLLECTION OF THIS BLOG’S LINKS ON DISSOCIATION AND DISORGANIZED-DISORIENTED INSECURE ATTACHMENT
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