Thursday, August 4, 2011

How I do Dissociation?

Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) - Prince of Self Awareness
How I do Dissociation? Its a bold title I know, with an implicit promise that I can tell you exactly how I do dissociation.

Of coarse I can only say how I think I do dissociation and try to articulate the reality of my self awareness.

Yesterday I posted a article entitled "How do YOU do Dissociation?" I started with a statement about an emotionally painful incident and how I been unable to recall it without a sense of numbness so typical of dissociation.

The very next line "What exactly is Dissociation," is typical of how I do dissociation by using intellectualism - the distancing from core emotions with emotionless thoughts and words.

The picture above is my favorite Buddha pose, the closed eyes and tension free facial expression resonate deeply with me. To me it's an expression that represents the epitome of calm self awareness, of being completely comfortable inside your own skin. Once a week I accompany my girlfriend to the local Buddhist Temple and watch her perform rituals of selfless giving and prayer. Often I sit gazing at the giant gold Buddha statue and imagine him sat at the entrance to that ancient Greek dudes cave.
The Oracle's cave with its timeless advice engraved above, "Know Thy Self"

Hmm! Am I doing it again here? Avoiding the heart of the matter in how I deflect from painful feelings using the distance of intellectualism? I thought I had the issue in full emotional and cognitive awareness an hour or so ago. Walking around Bangkok where I'm an alien, a stranger in a strange land, I did feel the energies of dissociation and its unconscious reactive power. Now that I'm back home though, sitting in front of this electronic device, my own electro-chemical device (brain) has turned to fudge again. Is this dissociation? Am I unconsciously avoiding a painful memory and how the farking hell am I doing it!

"When I tried to recall details and write about the family dynamics involved, a foggy sensation filled my mind as numbness overcame my senses. Only in the last week have I been able to face the memories with any clarity of mind and emotional recollection of that day." This is the comment from yesterday that I failed to address further as the article unfolded. In fact I did not realize that I'd avoided writing anything more about those painful emotions until I left the apartment and went for a walk. Twenty four hours later here I am again, returned from a long daily walk and the clarity of mind it usually enables, to be once again stuck in a fuzzy fugue state as I try to write.

I suddenly think about checking my emails, my facebook and twitter accounts which it feels good for a second, as a rise in interest dissolves the fugue state. Anger rises quickly though as I realize another avoidance trick, along with guilt about social media addiction. "What triggered the avoidance though? - and why can't I find the same clarity I had when walking?" I ask myself. I stand up and walk around the apartment, waiting for a state change while letting thoughts subside.

I squeeze my thumb and forefingers together, triggering a shift in my energies of attention as the locus of awareness moves from thoughts in my head to sensations in my body. This is an NLP anchoring technique I use to stop thinking to much and shift into feeling my body instead. I feel those habitual muscular tensions release, as a spontaneous deep breath brings more oxygen into my blood stream, the knot in my stomach unravels and a felt awareness of body parts below my diaphragm returns.

'Dam! This unconscious freeze response,' I say out loud.

The Freeze Response:
"The freeze response is activated due to a perceived or real inability to take action. In essence, one feels helpless to change the threatening, painful or stressful experience. The freeze response is also described as the “deer in the headlights” affect. The body becomes both tense and paralyzed at the same time. The thoughts, sensations and emotions of the stressful experience become suppressed or internalized, not only in the mind but in the tissues of the body." The Habit to Freeze By Jonathan Tripodi.

I walk back into the bedroom and look at my desk, the laptop, gaze at the executive chair, "my fucking nemesis?" For a moment I stand still, re-gathering all those thoughts from my walk, recalling the sensations of memory from that day nine months ago, the dramatic scene replays like a home movie on TV.

‘I’ll have you fucking sectioned myself, this time!’ He said while stabbing his extended forefinger close to my face.
"Jesus! This is harsh," I'd thought, accompanied by the flashback memory of holding his hand when he was seven years old.

I'd watched his upper lip turn up in an involuntary canine snarl, as a perfect slide show memory had claimed my mind, of pointing up towards a star filled milky way trying to impress sensations of wonder upon my child. Twenty two years later he was so forcefully impressing his dreadful intent upon me, seemingly at ease with the notion of having his father locked up against my will.

It hadn't been the words that cut me to the bone, it was the intonation of voice, the stabbing finger and the blood flushed skin tones, the very incarnation of my own volcanic father. I felt the same emotionally tone death lack of empathy for anything outside his own skin. The experts tell us that such painful experiences become flashbulb memories, imprinted within the brains neural networks and held in storage for triggered recall. An overwhelming sense of loss, lack and isolation accompany emotional sensations of anger and sadness from that day nine months ago, memories that had refused any real conscious awareness till a week ago.

I remain still a for second longer continuing my nervous system re-balance, with this relaxed deeper breathing dissolving muscular tensions. I bring my focus to my jaw to feel for those ubiquitous tensions and check my tongue to feel if its pressed against my teeth. I drop this felt attention further down to my chest area, feeling for any sense of tension. I'm still surprised by the affect of this reorientation of awareness, always mildly shocked by how disconnected from my body, my sense of awareness generally is.

The now familiar burning sensation heats the soles of my feet, with similar warm tingling in my hands, my finger tips. I'm reminded how Peter Levine describes these same sensations in PTSD patients, as he teaches them how to release the trapped survival energies of trauma. "Am I re-balancing my autonomic nervous system or releasing trauma?" I ask myself. I can't do this felt relaxation routine without wondering if my traumatic birth experience set me up for a life of dissociation?

A three day labor and forceps delivery followed by a weeks separation in a mechanical crib, may have condition a foundation of "freeze," of dissociation. Its always been there, the hesitant approach, the camera shy frozen smile with its associated stiff posture, or should that be dissociated posture? Even now as I write these words I can feel the muscular tensions of intense focus, as I mobilize my concentration. "Maybe I should set a ten minute alarm, reminding me to check this habitual muscular response," I tell myself.

Dissociation is more physiological than psychological?
"The freeze response is activated due to a perceived or real inability to take action." A perceived or real inability to take action? How does this statement fit into my experience of fugue states, of dissociation? Thinking about that day nine months ago, I reacted to my son with the same reasonably calm response I had always given my father, I did not react to the waved finger in my face. Was I reasonable and calm though? Or was I frozen by fear? Has an unconscious freeze response been part of my life since birth? Has action always been proceeded by this unconscious muscular freeze, which is only overcome with fight/flight energies? Is this the unconscious bipolar dilemma, with mania an attempt to thaw the freeze of tense muscular posture?

Each time I sit down in this god-am chair I seem to be unconsciously triggered into habitual freeze mode, and I struggle to overcome an inexplicable hesitation. Perhaps the posture fires neural networks in my brain, as feedback signals from the muscles of my hunched shoulders recognize the familiar? Is this how I survived the distress of a three day labor, braced against pain, locked in frozen fear? The same muscular tensions continued after birth with infantile Asthma, chest muscles held tight to ward off those breathless coughing spasms.

For several minutes I've sat watching the text curser blink on and off, trying to feel the neuroception Stephen Porges speaks of. The unconscious perception of threat, the tension of distress that underpins my inability to take action here. I realize though that I'm not feeling, I'm thinking that's what I should do, while staying within the mind and now I squeeze my thumb and forefingers again. Immediately I drop down into feeling body sensations with a spontaneous deep breathe and unraveling tummy knots accompanied by a felt awareness of sensations in my toes and fingertips. Hmm! Was I in dissociation while I watched the blinking curser,is dissociation my fundamental orientation to life?

Primary perception is unconscious, its physiologic?
"Mood was movement before the mind evolved," it was an epiphany moment in my journey towards greater self awareness. Nearly two months ago I wrote about it in the article bipolar anger, how I sense that inner tensions fire the mind. I love mind games, clever thoughts and word plays as much as anyone, perhaps too much for my own good? Today as I do my best to articulate how I do dissociation, I sense my thoughts as distance, a distance from the affective core of my being.

"Was the human mind born in a need to escape pain in the body?" I ask myself. Thoughts about torture victims and multiple personality disorders flash through my mind. Those altered states that have helped people to survive the trails of life? I think about yesterdays article and the power of self hypnosis to control pain, even during major surgery. Shakespeare's "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy," springs to mind as my awareness yo-yo's between thoughts in the mind and feelings in the body.

Enlightened or Supremely Self Aware?
"Know Thy Self," such simple advice when you say it quickly? Yet we are all aware of a deeper self below this thinking mind, a deeper self responsible for annoying bad habits, behaviors that resist our wishful positive thinking.

Describing my own awareness of dissociation here, I have been forced to NOT think, to let go the mind and FEEL. Trying to think of words to convey the inner sensations of what feels like a primary self, I'm reminded of the schizoid split between mind and body, like there are two different self's?

I sense a reactive self of instinctual body tensions and a higher self of idealized thoughts? Balancing these two self's with the practice of mindful self awareness, has been key to my bipolar recovery. Learning to feel subtle inner tensions and not think in "This or That" objective terms has been essential to the process.

Back in Sydney Australia, in a previous life so to speak. I had a Hong Kong Chinese girlfriend, a Buddhist. I used to tease her about Gautama Buddha and his personal journey.

"He was just a spoiled Indian Mummy's boy who abandoned his wife and child to sit under tree! For God's sake! - How do find you enlightenment by doing nothing?"

She would be highly amused at my admiration for him these days, particularly when I admit my jealous resentment, because I can't be still like that. Siddhartha was one of the truly gifted ones, like Jesus, Mohammed and a few others, great teachers who never wrote anything down. Perhaps because the written word is a construct of mind and like thoughts a symbolic interpretation of our inner reality? Like a xerox copy of original artworks, they can only imitate the real thing, the unthinkable, unspeakable self?

The Greek dude left us with wise and profound advice, yet gave no hint of the process involved. Siddhartha was a truly smart dude though, leaving us with timeless clues in his famous postures of meditative practice we see today. Perhaps the secret of stillness is the soothing of instinctual stress reactions, the hidden unconscious re-activity of a nervous system evolved to maximize our prospects for survival?

It is said that on the morning Siddhartha finally reached enlightenment, the other creatures of earth drew close, sensing his transformation? Perhaps he'd realized his true nature, its instinctual foundation and reactive nature? Perhaps he realized that the mind can only observe nature and not be nature, and why the endless justifying of the mind cannot resolve our problems?

My "mood was movement before the mind evolved" epiphany moment, was part of my process of increasing self awareness. My self awareness process feels like an approach towards an unknown stranger, a primary self distanced by the numbing affect of dissociation. A primitive freeze response stimulated by a traumatic birth perhaps? Mediated by the electro-chemical activity of the autonomic nervous system though as one of our evolved survival reactions?

How I do dissociation, is mediated by my autonomic nervous system, and its primitive freeze response. As I practice better self awareness though, dissociation is not as disruptive as it once was. These days my dissociation cannot be described as a symptom of mental illness, just normal everyday dissociation? We all share the same evolved nervous system, and normal behavior and symptomatic behavior are simply a question of degree?

Only when we choose to see the body/brain/mind as a complete integrated system, and not some sophisticated clockwork mechanism of separate parts, will we make progress in mental health? Only when we accept our unconscious re-activity as the primary self, will we see the common bonds of our humanity? Only when we accept our instinctual needs for security, will we feel the instincts of judgment towards those who are less self secure and suffer from unconscious and denied survival reactions.

How do YOU do Dissociation?