The first time I heard the word “dissociate” was when I was living in a treatment center in Florida. We were in group therapy and another girl was talking about how when she would have sex she would leave her body. I didn’t understand it. How does one leave their body? Can I do that? Will I do that?
When I got home I talked to my mom about it and she explained it deeper. “It’s when you get so scared and unable to handle a situation that you leave yourself and are hovering over watching but not present. It happens to a lot of sexual abuse survivors”
To me it sounded like a magic power. You mean you can leave? You don’t have to be there? I hope when I have sex that I am able to leave my body. I don’t want to be there for that.
The more group therapy I did, the more hospitals and abused women I was around, the more I realized people thought of dissociating as a negative thing. Oh you mean I’m not supposed to want that?
When sex became a thing that was a real potential of happening in my life the word dissociate bounced around my head. Will it happen to me? Will I be there? Can I handle it?
When sex happened for the first time I didn’t float above myself. I certainly wasn’t present. But no way in hell did I want to look at what was happening from a vantage point. I loved Ben, but I just wanted to get it done and over with. A check I could mark next to the long list of things that I didn’t do until I was in my twenties. Ok great, sex happened. Now I no longer have to consider myself a virgin.
I’ve been kissed- check
I have a boyfriend- check
I’ve had sex- check
It was an item on my grocery list.
When sex became a thing that I was scared of and uncomfortable with, I became angry and upset with God and myself. I loved Ben. I felt safe with Ben. He never pressured me or asked more of me than what I could give. I was in a real relationship where I could be myself and take my time and not worry. So how come almost every time I had sex, or even thought of sex, I’d disappear or cry or shake or hide.
I thought for certain Ben was going to leave me. I thought for certain I was damaged goods who could never enjoy that part of her life. I didn’t have the right to be this scared. I don’t remember my abuse. I don’t know if it is something that happened to me or that I witnessed. I lived in communities for months on end surrounded by people who were brutally raped for years. They had the right to be scared. Not me.
Ben deserved better and I didn’t deserve him. I was damaged and the worst kind of damaged, a damage with no real reason behind it. He should be with someone who can give him what he needs. Someone healthy and whole. I needed to fix this.
When I searched for the fix in yoga I couldn’t understand why I was unable to connect to my body, no matter how hard I tried. I thought I was a failure. Everyone says this is the way to build a mind body connection! Everyone says yoga works and yoga is THE THING that makes it better. How is it that everyone is coming out of this class saying how much they can FEEL? I am numb and struggling and in pain. My body is damaged. I will never be good enough.
When I went to a psychic to seek out why for the life of me I couldn’t get into my body I got yelled at. “You’ve given your body up! You are not in there. Entities have filled your body!! You have given them permission to live inside you! Lay down now, I have to clear this out.” So I lay there and thought about Veronica Mars and her love interest Logan because that was what I was obsessing about at that time. When she called me out of it I felt a bit better “I cleared it out, now stop giving your power away.”
On the way home I called Ben, “I feel like I’m in my body for the first time!! It’s amazing!!” When I hung up the fear kicked in. Okay but how do I stay here? What if they come back in? What if I lose this? The next morning I woke up and couldn’t feel again.
When yoga started to become painful and my teachers concerned or frustrated one of my mentors told me to start “dry brushing” every morning. “Wake up your body! Start to feel!” When she went to work on me and touched my upper thigh and stomach I contracted.
“Oh yeah, I can’t handle being touched there, also it’s still numb from my surgery.”
“Oh honey, you need to be touched! Let Ben touch you!”
When I let Ben touch me I cringed and cried and didn’t understand what was happening.
When I started to see my meditation teacher, a man, he went through a practice with me. “I want you to bring up each part of your body, do you feel it?” to every part I said yes. I could feel it. “Well that was actually way better than I had thought. I’ve seen way worse. You aren’t as damaged as you allow yourself to believe.”
When my pelvis gave out and caused me to be bedridden, taking movement away from me, the one thing I considered my “medicine” I was angry. I KEEP TRYING TO HEAL THIS AND NOW I CAN’T MOVE!!!
When it kept happening again and again and again every month and I officially had to stop yoga I was livid. Why? Why is this happening? Why can’t I be normal and be in my body and have sex and enjoy life? Why am I constantly battling myself? I hate this. I hate my body. I am damaged and fat and never good enough and will never heal.
When I started working with my healer and she taught me I needed to accept myself, all of me, I wanted to scream at her, but I listened and used the tools she gave me. The meditations. The affirmations. The mindful eating practices. The breathwork. The calling my soul into my body every day. Slowly I started to feel myself. It was tiny progress but progress.
When I did the photoshoot for refinery29 and spent a full day mostly naked being photographed. I cried and cried and cried. Slowly I started to feel more. Small progress but progress.
When I did more acceptance work and committed to loving myself even though it was hard and I still fell into depression every other day, I kept going because I was witnessing myself continue to progress. I no longer had yoga. I no longer went to a meditation teacher. I spoke to my healer once every six months. I was on my own and I was doing it.
When it was time for me to rewrite my book and relive my story while living in one of the houses where so many of the events I was writing about took place. I faced myself. I faced my family. My relationship with my mom, my dad, my parents divorce, my sister, past unrequited loves. I faced the things I avoided in all other versions. As I faced these events and started to shed, I started to feel more and it was painful, but I was feeling. More progress.
When I got lost in the Norwegian teen show SKAM, so much so that I was barely existing beyond my computer screen, the thing that I have always known but rarely dealt with, hit me hard.
I have been dissociating for as long as I can remember. I never floated above and watched myself. That definition of it confused me to the point that I didn't realize it was what I was doing.
I dissociated by disappearing into other people’s lives. Books, TV, movies, friends, other patients in the hospitals I lived in. I left my body and took residence in stories. I lived in my head and my heart but never my body.
Never my body.
I had moments where I felt inside of myself. When I started running, back when I thought losing weight was the most important thing I could do in life. In the rare yoga class, when I let myself stop judging and comparing and forcing. In deep meditations. And most importantly when my pelvis gave out and my body screamed at me in fury to pay attention to it.
It is no coincidence that the areas that remained numb after my skin removal surgery were surrounding my pelvis. It is no coincidence that that was the location of my chronic injury. It is no coincidence that when I stress out that is where I feel pain. That now that I am working on healing, that is where I need to build strength.
Even when I finally started feeling in my body I still avoided my lower half. I have been avoiding it my whole life.
I am an innately sexual person. It is hard for me even to write that because it is hard for me to think of myself as sexual in any way. It is true though. Sex is a weird and scary and hyped up and vulnerable and emotional and loving and crazy and odd and beautiful thing that is sold to us as something that we should be okay with from the get go.
But if you’ve never learned how to be present, how to be in your body, how do you get to a place of real pleasure?
I have been thinking about this and the act of dissociating for a few months now. It is in the forefront of my head because it is the missing link in my healing. I have been told I need to be a warrior, I have been told I need to be softer. I did both of those things. But when I have been told to be present, I’d shake my head and scoff. That’s not possible for me. I don’t know how to do that.
I have been searching for and fighting for happiness and healing for over a decade now. I am thirty-two and I am just now realizing what I have been told all along, that the key to all of this is presence. Not just feeling good. Not just acceptance. But presence.
If I am present then I can live in the trust and have faith and feel good and be in love. If I am present I can enjoy things, even sex. I don’t have to worry, because I am there. I have shown up. I am in my own power because I am myself fully.
I am still new to this. Being myself and in my body still scares me. Escapism is still easy and the first place I think to go. But I'm working on it. I am growing and healing and feeling more and more every day.
Healing comes in stages. You have to clear things in order for the next step to present itself. This is my next step and it is the biggest one yet. And like everything else there will be peaks and valleys and peaks and valleys and I will fall and get up again and learn more each time.
I am not damaged. I am worthy of living. I am worthy of happiness. I am worthy of Ben. I have the right to feel fear when I feel it. Whatever abuse occurred or didn’t occur doesn’t matter because that is not in my present. I don’t need to remember things in order to have the right to feel a certain way.
I forgive that child who learned that escaping life was protection. That hiding in food and stories and drama was the only way to make it through to the next day. I forgive the teen who fell consequence to all this hiding, so much so that she tried to find the next most permanent level of escape, death. I forgive the adult who on her healing path found escapism in wellness and diets and exercise. I forgive and I thank all the versions of myself.
All of the things I have done in order to escape came from a place of good. I get that now. I hear it. And to my surprise it is my body that told it to me.
It was really scary for me to decide to share this. I don’t like talking about my sex life or my issues with sex or anything involving that area of my life. But I just finished reading Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and she called me the fuck out and spoke so raw and real about dissociating both in life and sex. I felt like I needed to at least write this and then decide whether or not I am going to share. If you are reading this than I clearly chose the latter.
It should also be said that Ben has always been the most loving, patient, supportive, amazing partner. I am so lucky and thankful for him and grateful that he puts up with my need to share some of the most personal things about our life. He not only supports it he encourages it. He knows how important it is.
Sharing has always been one of the ways I heal. It removes the power. I know I am not alone in this issue. And maybe if I share it I can let someone else know they aren’t alone either. Maybe it will help someone in the same way writing it and putting it out there is helping me.
All of my love and support always.