Trigger Warning: The following content contains light discussion of sexual violence.
Sometimes I just stare at the wall.
Sometimes I just stare at the wall and find myself in the Land of Make Believe. I can run, play skip, and dance, and no one will look at me like I’m the C word (crazy). I get to be and do everything I could never do as the upstanding Pastor’s wife, counselor, and educator that I am. I get to be free.
Then I come back to reality and realize I was dissociating again. I have to shake off the freedom and return to real life.
I learned dissociation as a child. I was the victim of molestation by a trusted caregiver, and I must admit I honestly didn’t hate it. You see, I was a Daddy-less Daughter by the age of three and found myself craving the attention of men. My mother fawned on me on a daily basis, but there is just something to be said for missing the acceptance, validation, and love of a father. So, with that I found myself being cared for by a man we called my uncle, and I loved it. He was the father I never got, and he was quite the doter. He would check my bag for homework, feed me, get my PJ’s ready for bed, and give me a bath. I thought this was love and what every ‘father-figure’ did. Going to bed, however, was a different story.
We would hug and say I love you before bed at least ten times. It was our sweet loving ritual, and it was just what I needed. Unfortunately, the hugs got longer and closer and led to touching that wasn’t as comfortable and didn’t feel as loving. I remember enjoying it all the way up until it got painful. That’s when I learned if I thought long and hard enough, my mind could help me leave the room long enough to miss the pain and return just in time to receive that last loving embrace to sleep through the night. So that’s what I did. I was a world traveler in my dissociative world. I went to what I imagined Disney World looked like, to New York (I always wanted to go to New York), traveled to the wave pool, and every other place I thought must just be amazing. I got so good at creating this dissociative world that, at times, I would even miss that longed for final embrace of the night.
Dissociation is not as odd as many people think. You’ve probably done it too. Think about the last time you went from work to home and totally forgot how you got there, or the last time you got out of the shower and had to remember if you actually washed your hair. Our automations give us time to dissociate, or to leave the present if only for a moment. For survivors of complex trauma this can be used as a defense mechanism, according to Dr. Heather Gingrich (Adult and Familial Trauma 4.0, 2017). It can keep us safe for a time but when not reigned in, can be activated in inappropriate settings. When this occurs, instead of helping, it begins to harm the individual.
Through lots of prayer and therapy, I have learned to use this ‘technique’ to my advantage. I’ve learned full integration between dissociative behavior, affect, sensations, and knowledge so the trip can serve me. It actually allows my brain a break when things become overwhelming. However, if you find yourself dissociating and struggling to find your way back, it may be time to seek help. As a Marriage and Family Therapist at the Christian Counselors Collaborative, I encounter lots of over–aged, dressed up, wounded ‘little girls’ like me who mentally leave the room in order to survive. My goal, through lots of prayer and good grounded therapy, is to help them thrive instead of just survive.
About the Author: Fabyonne Williams received her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Liberty University in 2016. She spent many years working in the lay counseling department in her church where she found a love for working with women and couples in crisis. She also spent twenty years teaching in the Pittsburgh Public School District before returning to school. Since both her job and her volunteering lent itself to counseling expertise, she decided to return to school to gain the tools necessary to provide help, hope and healing to her clients and students.