DISCLOSURE versus DISSOCIATION
What, even within my own mind, do dissociation and memory retrieval have to do with disclosure? The delight of a challenge is before me! Somewhere within myself I know I know the answer to my own question! I need only look for the puddles that are forming themselves within my own mind as the flowing-water of my thinking process collects itself within connecting pools that will show me the answer.
The first of these pools of collected thoughts that appears in my mind has to do with the very BIG subject of TIME itself. Not even consciousness as we know it can operate without some version of mental time management! Timing and patterns and rhythms are what make our clock tick even before we are born as the first construction of who we are becoming happens in the surround-sound interactional environment we are included in as a part of our mother.
Not surprisingly the brain cannot separate the movement of our physical bodies from the movement of our thoughts. Thoughts are themselves movements even though we cannot see them as they hop around on the electrical, molecular level inside our hard heads. Although the cerebellum is located at the bottom of our physical brain, it is front stage and central as the orchestrator of all of our movements. We follow along, keep to the beat, march to the tune, clap our hands, stomp our feet, joyfully dance in balance through our present moments into our future – or — trip and fall flat on our face/asses!
The introduction of an infant to an early malevolent environment of trauma and deprivation – the same kind of world that builds dissociation right into the developing brain – also creates severe deficits in the body-brain in relation both to time and to timing. I was alluding to this fact when I wrote about ‘state shifts’ as they create the ‘risky transition junctures’ that are directly connected within the body-brain to dissociation.
When an infant’s body-brain-mind is forced to adapt to chaotic experiences of trauma during its developmental stages, the patterns of timing and ‘time management’ that will concurrently be built within the infant will match the trauma world’s reality and will not be the same patterns that exist within an infant or young child that grew up in a benevolent world. The disruptions that occur as an integral part of the peritraumatic experience of enduring an acute trauma in the first place will, if the trauma is not resolved so that the trauma cycle can be completed, form themselves into the developing infant.
These patterns of disruption are directly connected to dissociations within the body-brain-mind, and they therefore directly affect all forms of memory for the infant trauma survivor. Learning is memory. Memory is learning. These operations occur on the cellular, electrical and molecular level of the body – which INCLUDES the level at which our genetic code is continually manifesting itself during our lifetime.
These early disturbances, which result from exposure to ongoing severe trauma and maltreatment during the crucial developmental stages from conception to age five, will later be reflected in disturbances of memory related to disturbances of time, timing and time management within the brain.
The second of these pools of collected thoughts that appears in my mind have to do with the very BIG subject of SPACE as it relates to TIME.
Dissociation is a profound experience of not being able to have a ‘felt sense’ of one’s own coherent ongoing experience of life. In the same way that altered perception of time happens in the midst of a traumatic experience, this altered perception of time continues to happen within a brain that was built in, by and for a traumatic world from birth. I believe that because severe trauma changes how our body handles all aspects of TIME, our experience of existing as a self in SPACE, at the same time we are in TIME, is correspondingly altered.
When trauma overwhelms us from early childhood abuse, the experience of peritrauma becomes our reality. We have neither an ordinary body-brain-mind-self or an ordinary experience of our self as a being in the world.
If we cannot have an ‘ordinary’ experience of being a ‘felt self’ in TIME, we will not be able to have an ‘ordinary’ sense of our ‘felt self’ in SPACE, either. I know this as fact because I have vast personal experience of enduring and surviving ongoing trauma from birth until I left home at age 18. My mother did everything she possibly could to ensure that I did not exist as a person separate from herself. Her incredible, sustained acts of persecution and violence had the effect of ‘forbidding’ be to exist as a ‘felt self’ in time or in space.
I hope these thoughts help introduce into conscious awareness that it is possible for people who endured and survived severe child abuse and traumas during their body-brain-mind developmental stages to not EVEN live in the same world, or in fact experience being alive in the same way that those who were not forced to grow and develop in these malevolent worlds do. Our fundamental perception of time and space has been altered through our adaptation to trauma.
All of the above information leads to this third and final pool of collected thoughts that appears in my mind as it relates to the third continuum of our lives, the BIG subject of MATTER. Because I was not allowed to exist as a ‘felt self’ in TIME or in SPACE I was not conscious of being an individual in a BODY in any ordinary way. My body existed in time and space from birth ONLY in relation to my mother’s use of it for target practice.
Being born with full capacity to become a person, yet never being treated like I was a person, effectively scrambled my brain’s ability to even know from the beginning of my life that I was a person and not an object. I will always believe that it was because of the love I received from my 14-month older brother, as he looked into my baby blue eyes and responded to me AS IF I WAS A PERSON WITH A SELF IN THERE, that I survived my childhood at all.
Nobody ever told me, during the 30 years of my ‘recovery’ process, the single most important piece of information necessary for me to KNOW, from the inside out, that I was on the track I needed to be on in order for me to understand the deepest levels of damage that was done to me by my mother. She broke my ability to have a continuous ‘felt’ connection to my own SELF – in a body of matter that exists in an ongoing continuum of time and space. She changed the way my body, brain, nervous system, immune system, MIND and SELF developed.
This brings me full circle around to what I wanted to write about when I began my pages earlier in the day. When I read my brother’s Red Robin story, and then as I wrote my responses to his writing, I was not in my ‘full felt self’. I only realized this after I had finished writing my responses. I then realized that a sort of ‘second self’ or ‘third self’ had been watching me both read his story and respond to it.
The communication that had evidently been going on between the ME that did the reading-writing, and the ME that was watching occurred through a sort of ‘sixth sense’ that felt like an echo of my experience. It might be difficult for non-dissociators to understand, but it was like I knew that I knew what was going to happen in the future because at the same time I knew that I knew that I had experienced it in the past. Only in reality, this past and this future were all happening in the present. I consciously felt after I had finished the reading-writing that I had done all this before. I particularly felt that I had ‘heard’ my brother recount his story word for exact word at some other time and place, when in reality I had not.
This deja vu sensation persisted long enough for me to know that some piece of information existed within the experience that was important enough for me to explore. I also knew I could only pursue this exploration process by giving words to something I obviously KNOW in some way without words.
An important aspect related to my findings about brain developmental changes that happen during severe early trauma is that our changed brains do not process information in either hemisphere of our brain in an ‘ordinary’ way and do not process information as it is passed back and forth between the hemispheres in an ordinary way. Trauma experts know full well that one of the major symptoms (if not causes of) posttraumatic stress disorder is related both to altered memory processing and altered hemispheric integration of trauma related information.
My déjà vu sensation today was an experience that I needed to put into words because important information in my right brain could find no other way to get the information over to my left brain unless I did so. As soon as I could begin to access words to describe the experience my ‘watcher self’ was having, I came to understand that key and central to the experience was an altered sense of myself in time and in space and in body.
My ‘watcher self’ seemed like a guardian, a sort of supra-Linda that holds vast amounts of survival-related information and is very capable of detecting danger. It knows exactly ‘who’ to contact should an emergency arise. The sense of déjà vu that I had resulted from the ‘watcher Linda’ paying very close attention to everything that the ‘reader-writer Linda’ was doing – as it was all happening in the same time and space.
And yet at the same time, the discrepancy in conscious awareness I had between doing the real-time activities, knowing that I was sensing this ‘echo of experiencing,’ and then being able to access this ‘watcher self’ in order to know she was ‘right here with me’ through the whole thing required an infitesimally small slice of time. I was thus having the experience, having the experience of having the experience, and having the experience of having the experience of having the experience – all at the same time.
Then I realized this was my dissociation in action. Not in a harmful way, just in MY version-of-ordinary way. At least PART of me was in my body at a place in time. A normally developing child in a benevolent world will not ever have to experience themselves as being separate from their own experience of their own ongoing life. A traumatized child, however, will suffer from breaks, breaches and ruptures of consciousness at whatever point a traumatic experience interrupted their ongoing experience of themselves in their own life.
NOW, FINALLY, I can write what I wanted to write in the first place. I can write using my left brain in concert with the information within my right brain that was instantaneously available to me – but in the form only of a wordless sensed image.
This right emotional brain reaction, its lightening fast ability to KNOW things, kept me alive during thousands of assaults upon me by my mother. Because there was no REASON in her irrational actions, my left brain was left far out of the information loop during my development. Yet I understand that both hemispheres must find a way to work together as I heal. It is for this reason that I can now tell you about the difference between memory retrieval and disclosure.
I do not recommend memory retrieval just for the sake of DOING it. If our traumas were severe and formed themselves into our developing brain, these memories will ALWAYS be contained within us in a dissociated way.
Disclosure, on the other hand, is about doing exactly what I just did in this writing. It is enabling the left brain to find words for what the right brain instantaneously, intuitively and absolutely KNOWS. Being able to give words to trauma heals. We are finding words at the same time we are building a hemisphere-to-hemisphere relationship within our own brain.
Healing starts with our increasing ability to let our conscious selves know what we know about ourselves as we endured our traumatic experiences. Our body already knows, the memories are all stored within it. Our right brain already knows. All the memories are stored within it, also. It is our left brain in concert with our right brain that doesn’t know because there never were words available to use to even talk to our own selves about the trauma – no language for our own thoughts. And when the two hemispheres do not have the same information, are not ‘on the same page’, the higher cortex will also not be able to contribute to a thought-filled resolution of our traumas.
Because severe early abuse survivors cannot escape the dissociation patterns that exist within our body-brain-mind, the act of simply trying to remember a traumatic memory simply will not work toward healing us, if that is what we intend. At its best, what we might accomplish is giving ourselves a more pronounced experience of ‘déjà vu’ such as I described as happening to me today because it activates our experience of dissociation.
Disclosure DOES involve memory retrieval, but ONLY as those memories can be PUT INTO WORDS. Otherwise we are at risk of exposing ourselves YET AGAIN to the dissociative aspects of the trauma as we ALREADY know them – from the core of who we are out. When we DISCLOSE rather than simply relive or reiterate trauma experiences, we are working toward the most important healing aspect of all, revelations that allow for CLOSURE.
Traumas continue to harm us because they overwhelmed us. They continue to repeat their effects on down the generations unless somebody, somewhere, at sometime finds some way to CLOSE and end the trauma cycle. Until that happens, the traumas have a life of their own because they have something to teach the human race as a whole about surviving unsurvivable experiences.
Words have been developed within our species to define ourselves and our experiences. We use them as a form of boundary- and limit-setting for our awarenesses and for our experience. As we begin to disclose the nature of our traumas by giving them words, we are limiting them by constraining them and by literally defining them. We heal as we create these stories of our lives, and then admit that we are not only telling these stories, we are in them.
In this way we gain, if not regain some new and advancing sense of ourselves as a very real ‘felt self’ in a body that went through experiences in time and space and survived to tell about them.
We cannot ever underestimate the power of our words.
NOTE: What happened to me today had a trauma related trigger, although not a harmful one. I have never interacted with my youngest brother on any level about the abuse that occurred to either one of us at the hands of my mother. His disclosure, coupled with my reactions to his sharing with me and me in turn sharing with him, created a resonating sense of insecurity and lack of safety within me that activated my dissociation patterns more than usual. While I have the benefit now of reorganizing and reorienting myself in relation to my brother based on our new level of connection, I have to experience aspects of this readjustment consciously in order for it to become a living useful integrated part of who I am.