there’s violence in them thar dissociations

i was walking back to the car yesterday afternoon, enjoying the warm sunshine when i was grabbed roughly from behind. an arm wrapped around my torso, pinning me, and even as i struggled, a cloth was put over my mouth, quickly rendering me unconscious. i didn’t even have time to cry out before everything disappeared.

coming to was awful. i woke slowly, feeling disoriented and physically uncomfortable. my body ached, as did my head, and i felt like i was going to throw up. looking around, i saw that i was in a large, poorly lit room with cupboards mounted on one side and two barred windows set high on the wall on the other. it had the rough-looking cement floor typical of unfinished basements, sickly green walls, and the little amount of light came from two, ceiling-mounted, bare-bulb fixtures. it looked old and ugly and scary, and reminded me very much of the basement at my grandmother’s home, which also used to terrify.

my arms were bound over my head, leaving my shoulders stretched uncomfortably. i looked up and saw my wrists were tied together with chains that fastened to a hook hanging from the ceiling. i also saw that i was not alone. there were two other women there, hanging from hooks in varying stages of undress and damage. i thought the woman four feet across from me was unconscious ‘til she lifted up her head and looked at me. i’ve never seen eyes that empty on a living person before. she was very thin, wearing a slip that was ripped and dirty, with blood staining it from the cuts and slashes on her arms and torso. the chains around her wrists over had dug into the flesh and the skin was raw, broken, and inflamed. her weight was mostly on the toes of her left foot – there wasn’t much slack in the chains – and her right ankle appeared to be broken, leaving her hobbled.

behind her was a dead woman, or at least, i hope she was dead. she hung limply from the chains, even bloodier than the dark-haired woman across from me, and her hair colour was impossible to discern. it was full of dirt and blood and hacked off badly, like someone had ripped out chunks here and there before taking a razor to the rest. her right arm ended in a bloody stump where a hand should’ve been, and she was naked, so the damage to her breasts was clearly visible; they were scored with what looked like knife wounds and burns. it was difficult to process what i was seeing.

a sound to my right drew my attention and as i swung my head toward her, the woman in front of me started to cry, though it wasn’t like any crying i’d ever heard, more like the desperate whimpering of a trapped and terrified thing. i turned in the direction she was staring and saw a handle i hadn’t noticed twist moments before the door swung open. the shape filling it was big and dark and male. he – it – paused at the entrance for a moment before stepping into the light. he was terrifyingly huge, or so he seemed to me, with big shoulders and lots of muscles showing in the arms below the edge of his t-shirt.  in his hand, he held a baseball bat that had cracks and stains on it that i didn’t want to think about. he looked at us all for a moment with a strangely sweet smile on his face, the kind of benign gesture you might get from someone as you passed by them on the street. he locked the door behind him, shouldering the bat as he did so, then turned back towards us and still without saying a word, started moving in my direction. i had no traction and no ability to get out of his way but i still pulled down on the chains as hard as i could, trying to escape. the pain was intense and unrelenting and i was nowhere even close to loosening my hands when he reached me, wound up, and let the bat fly straight into my kneecap.

it made a strange sort of popping sound right before the pain hit. it was indescribably; too big to even scream over. all i could do was gurgle and watch as he pulled it back to strike me again.

my daughter’s tap on my shoulder almost made me scream. “mom,” she asked, “what’s wrong? you’re just standing there, staring at the car.” i looked at her, and my SUV, and the grocery store sign behind her and felt myself coming back, coming back from those places i go when that strange and damaged part of my brain takes over and leaves me behind into the now.

“i’m fine,” i replied as i tried to focus on reality and let go of the fear and terror of moments before, as i tried not to cry. i’ve never actually been kidnapped by a sadistic torturer, at least in real life, but it’s one of the recurring daymares i drift into when i start to dissociate. sometimes, i’m able to pull myself out before it becomes particularly traumatic; sometimes it takes a while.

the incidents feel real to me. i live the pain and the misery and the terror. inside my head, it feels like the imaginings are really happening and i react to them as though that were true. these periods of dissociation often end in tears, either from the “experiences” themselves or because it happened at all. i find dealing with how quickly my brain can be taken over by some part of me that seems to exist to make my life more difficult and horrifying, a challenge.

the mental step-outs are not always reminiscent of scenes from a particularly grotesque horror movie though that scenario is fairly common. sometimes i’m raped. sometimes i’m tortured. sometimes i manage to free myself and murder the perpetrators, rescuing at least one other along the way, but then i have to deal with the fallout from imaginarily killing someone.

sometimes, however, the occurrences are shockingly mundane. i drift into jobs i’ve never had, or relationships i’ve never been involved in, or experiences i’ve never undertaken. i get into arguments that never happened with people who don’t exist over issues that i too often keep quiet about; i get to speak my piece, if only in an alternate reality.

sometimes the daymares cover a lengthy time span. i’ve been held captive for weeks in my mind, brutalized repeatedly by monsters dressed as men. i know the underlying trauma that informs this behaviour but knowing doesn’t stop it from happening. trauma can lead to dissociative behaviours like this. knowing that doesn’t make it easier to live with or accept, though i’m working that.

sometimes the dissociative episodes are memories. they’re never good memories. they aren’t of that great birthday party i had one year, or of my last trip to Mexico. they’re memories that at best, make me cringe. the flashbacks let me feel like i’m living through ugly times again, as if once wasn’t challenging enough.

it’s a hard thing to come to terms with, the realization that your brain isn’t always fully in your control. the consequences of continually stepping away from life into these daymares are challenging to deal with. even the relatively benign escapes cause me distress because when they come, the me that is me gets pushed aside. i’m somewhere else, disconnected from reality. not blaming myself for these occurrences is hard.

i’ve lived with my tendency to dissociate my whole life in varying degrees. that feeling of getting lost in a book, so gone that you don’t even hear people calling to you, is a form of dissociation and i’ve done that since i was a child. i used to disappear into my mind while walking home from school. i’d get lost in some scenarios or other and function on autopilot while it was going on, always surprised when i found myself at my front door. the episodes have grown more frequent of late, however, a daily and sometimes multiple times a day occurrence. i’m pretty sure i know why.

i’ve removed a lot of my coping skills over the last year. they were hideously defective and included behaviours like bingeing, purging, starving, and cutting, but they existed. as i started to scale back and stop the behaviours, the daymares and flashbacks started to come more frequently. i no longer want to bury them under food and pain, so i’ll have to learn to deal with them. the problem is out of the closet. the next step will be learning to pull myself out more rapidly. a snap of my watch band helps. so too does arguing with myself, though the language i use should probably be more benign. telling myself that i’m stupid, ridiculous, and crazy is not going to prove helpful in the long run.

the thing i dislike most about this behaviour is that i can’t fix it alone. i need help. i have to keep reaching out and i hate doing that, partly because it makes me feel vulnerable and partly because that little voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that if i just give up, give in, and go back to what was, everything will be fine.

my brain is such a liar.


(june 25, 2018)

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