Step Away from the Body!

Sometimes…you just have to get away. Peel out of there like a shot. Bail. Abandon ship.

There are moments when it’s nearly impossible to be in the body, to stay with the body. I’ve found that this usually occurs in times of intense feeling, trauma, anxiety, or fatigue. If you’re anything like me, your feelings are massive, earth-shaking, and, well, bigger than the universe. Feelings are messy, deranged, reckless, momentous, and impossible to contain. Our feelings are so big that we’re often afraid of them and sometimes so raw that it feels like they’ll choke us (or at least, do tissue damage). Damn emotions. 😉

Whenever something gets too close, hurts too much, or feels too big or confusing, I bail on my body. This is called disassociation; it’s pretty common in people who have been abused. I do it subconsciously, of course, and it happens so fast that I can’t stop it. Most of us disassociate to some degree. When you daydream, that’s disassociation. When you drum, you enter a disassociated state. When we trance while listening to music, deeply relax, or even when some of us do yoga, that’s a type of disassociation. But, some of us disassociate dozens of times per day (or more) to avoid feelings. Some of us live more “out” than “in”. I lived more out of my body than in my body for decades.

For the longest time, I didn’t know that I was employing this type of coping mechanism. I didn’t even know what it was until I went through therapy. Analysis revealed to me that when the sh*t goes down, I leave my body effortlessly and instantly. My spirit vacates. Again, for years, I did this without realizing it. And, it was a real process to identify my penchant for disassociation.

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I was in my second year of high school and going crazy. Years of living with abusive parents (four of them between both sides of the fam) and siblings (two of them between both sides), plus gobs of other physical and emotional trauma, had literally brought me to the edge of sanity. I was a complete and utter wreck. I was anorexic/bulimic and torridly addicted to cigarettes (1.5 packs) and caffeine (1200 milligrams) per day. I ate one meal per week. My life was imploding all of the time, but, hey, I looked competent. I acted brave. I was thin and beautiful. People thought I was well.

At the end of my Sophomore year in HS, I was trying to move out of my dad’s insane household and struggling to pay for food, school supplies, clothes, and the bare essentials. I was working under-the table at a video store and putting in as many hours as I could get, in addition to going to school. So, there was intense pressure in my life, intense pain, and heaps of childhood damage that I was doing my best to hold down and avoid. It was a truly awful time. And, being in high school, with all of its pressures and torment, was the last thing I needed or wanted. But, of course, I went to school every day, because if I hadn’t, my dad, (read: bad-ass cop/investigator), would find me and drag me back into the hell from which I had escaped. He warned me that he would. I knew he would. So I toed the line, stayed in school, did my time.

“Doing my time” included a stint of living in my car, which was preferable to actually going back and living with the damn-family. Yep, it was pretty bad. But, my ego had me convinced that I was fine. What other 16-year-old lives on their own? I didn’t need any help. I just needed to stay away from my crazy family and work harder, that was all. This was the stuff my ego was routinely telling me and since I was rarely ever in my body, it was easy to believe my ego, easy to believe that I had things under control.

In talking with an older friend of mine one day (who was a regular at the video store where I worked), I let some of the “crazy” out. I admitted that my childhood had been pretty abysmal and I was often so depressed that I had trouble getting out of bed. He suggested that I call a therapist with whom he had worked and gotten some help.  At first, I balked because “everyone has families like mine, right?” He assured me that no, what I suffered through was actually far worse than what many people go through; it had damaged me; I clearly needed help. His words burned me. They did. I felt them pinging somewhere deep inside of my body as he spoke them, and I knew he was right.

I called the shrink soon after, made an appointment, and in the consult with the doctor, I begged her to help me. I offered to pay her $10 per week for our sessions, because it was all I had. I ended up going to her for three years. And, despite the fact that my therapist tried really hard to turn me into a Christian (a story for another post), the therapeutic process actually saved my life. In my sessions, I finally caught up with the damage that had been done to me. I saw and re-experienced, in garish detail, the abuse, the trauma, the heartbreak, the devastation, the agony. I crawled through the dark woods of myself over and over and got lost inside of those woods many times and sometimes for days on end.

I learned about disassociation and how I had used it exclusively to avoid my feelings. I learned when I do it, how to catch myself doing it, and how to stay in my body (or at least, how to return to it faster and catch some of the feelings that I was trying to avoid). And, while therapy made me feel like sh*t, often, it also began to work in subtle ways, ways that I couldn’t articulate until much later. I learned how to descend into the body and hold the feelings that I was running away from. This work was harrowing, painful, awful, and at the same time, illuminating and beautiful. Analysis helped me so much. I loved and hated it. But, I did the work. I kept going.

Truthfully, even now, it’s a daily struggle to stay present and descend into the depths of my body versus pop out and retreat to my mind or somewhere “out there”. Sometimes, it’s such a chore to dig in on my feelings, trace them to the thoughts I was thinking, ask questions, wait for the answers, and not run away from my emotions. Sometimes, I just can’t do it. I have to leave. And, I’ll be honest, I like bailing. I like being “out there”. It’s safer. There are fewer feelings “out there”. But, I’ve learned that it’s not always helpful to bail.

While disassociation is a coping mechanism that serves a purpose, is necessary, and even arguably “natural” for human beings, when we do it too much, it can keep us from healing our inner wounds and fully living. It also cements a less-than-healthy relationship to the body because you’re not fully feeling the body or living in the nuances of experience from the body. You know what I mean. We all struggle with body image issues. We all reject our bodies sometimes. I had to learn how to dig in versus bail out and I had to learn how to  walk into my wounds. When I did that regularly, when I did the work, huge transformation happened for me.

So, tell me about your experience. Do you disassociate? How does that feel for you? What is your journey with it? Have you come up with some ways to manage your departures? Tell me about it in your comments. Let’s talk.

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18 thoughts on “Step Away from the Body!

  1. mariner2mother

    What? Me? Dissociate? Just a sec- I popped into another time space dimension for a moment. Back now. Actually, I do this regularly when I drive areas I know well and don’t have to concentrate, like this morning. I zoned out a good 5- 10 miles. I, too, learned at a very young age how to not be in my body. Working these days on being grounded, so I can fly! Beautiful, heart felt piece, my lovely soul sister.

    Reply
    1. BigLizzy Post author

      Susan-love, Hahahahahah! That is so funny, babe. YA! I forgot about driving disassociation. Totally! I do that when I ride my bike, too. Given our very similar experiences growing up, I knew you would resonate with this post. Thank you for taking this in, holding it, and living here with me. I love you. 🙂

      Reply
  2. MELewis

    Very interesting post, Lizzy. Let me begin by saying I feel your pain, sister, and the full weight and force of those emotions….although I have never been abused in any real way. But some of us feel things more than others, n’est-ce pas? Sometimes I feel claustrophobic in this skin, trapped inside the pain of frustration and sadness. Other times it’s like I’m not really in this skin, so far away am I. Most of the time I’m somewhere in between. Your insights help me come back to myself. Biggest bises! xx

    Reply
    1. BigLizzy Post author

      My darling Mel! Thank you for stopping by, honey. Gawd, your words just resonate with me so much. I get this completely. And, your recent post Avoir le cafard just spoke to my soul so deeply, too. I’m serious when I say that I tend toward depressive. I get where you are coming from. People find it hard to believe that about me, but it’s true. As high as I am most of the time, I do swing in the opposite direction and get pretty low, too. I feel all of my feelings greatly. 🙂 So, when you talk about the struggles of being blue and feeling things much deeper than others, all of me sits up and pays attention. “Sometimes I feel claustrophobic in this skin”. YES! I have spent nearly all of my life feeling trapped. I think it’s a very apt way to describe this sensation–claustrophobic in one’s skin. PERFECT! So glad I can help you, my dear, Frenchie. You help me greatly, too. Your blog (and your energy) is a bright spot in my life. Bises!

      Reply
  3. butterflyface

    wow… Today, and for the last week I have been HUGE rows with my partner, about my ’emotional detachment’.
    So I shut myself away, and head for some wordpress therapy reading- and what is the first thing that pops up to me. YES Lizzy it was you:) I’m not sure if its the same thing, or even in the same league as you (you are a true warrior by the way) but I think this is how I have lived most of my life too. I detach from feelings that are far to painful to deal with, but this causes me also to shut out everything that’s going on around me too.
    Like your good self Lizzy, I kinda like it there. Its an escape, a retreat almost. Birds sing, the waves crash against the shore, and im free. Oh so free- and light and protected. That said, I also know that its not really healthy, and now that I have acknowledged that I do it, I will try to deal with it.
    Will I stay grounded and never detach again? not a chance! its far to beautiful there.
    xx

    Reply
    1. BigLizzy Post author

      Butterfly!! You delicious beast!

      I LOVE your comment. You bring such a huge smile to my soul with this, sis. I get it completely, as you likely know. I do think that detachment or disassociation can be both healthy and less than healthy. It all depends on each person, the timing of the detachment, and whether we dredge up the emotions and ever process them at any point. Like everything, there are levels of dysfunction and health.

      I think a huge step in all of it is to notice when we do this and ask ourselves questions about it. Can I stay and deal with this? Am I doing this to avoid working on myself? Am I doing this to protect myself? Am I doing this to shut someone out? Is this what I need right now? Can I leave now with the promise of coming back later to process this hurt when it isn’t such a wound?

      Detachment can also be a sign of someone who has mastered the ego. Think of Buddha. He was hugely detached much of the time but also incredibly present, aware, and engaged. He was wholly present but not letting life’s events, traumas, or his own ego to stick to him. So, it could be a sign of a healthy, proportionate ego.

      I venture that you are doing a great job of life on planet earth, honey. Keep going. I got yer back always. 🙂

      Reply
    1. BigLizzy Post author

      Nomzi-baby!! Hiiii, honey! It’s been a long time. Thanks for coming over, sis. How is your life treating you? Are you well? Tell me all about it. I want to know everything. Thanks for reading, sis. Love you bunches!

      Reply
      1. Nomzi Kumalo

        Life has thrown me some giant gifts. I am glad that I am able to see them. I have been working with my music and will continue to do so until I am ready to have a concert. How about you dear? How does your garden grow? ❤

      2. BigLizzy Post author

        Nomzi-honey!
        Ah, yes. I love how you put this. “Life has thrown me some giant gifts.” I love it. I feel that from you and I love how you process it. Gifts come in all kinds of permutations, right? Some positive, some negative, but all of them are our gifts. Expansion can both hurt and feel pleasurable. It’s all good for us.

        I love hearing that you are working up to a concert. I wish we lived closer because I would love to come see you channeling spirit through your music. You are well. I love the feeling of that. 🙂

        My garden grows excellently; it’s full of weeds, beautiful blossoms, and lots of light and color. I love the pain, the happiness, the worlds of feeling, art, and movement in my world. I’ve been doing tons of yoga and staying present in my body as much as possible. I love my life! And, I love you, sis. Big, warm hugs to you!

  4. Fat Bottom Girl

    I don’t think that I do, but most likely would be unaware of it if it were happening. I have the hardest time just being present in the moment, which I don’t believe is disassociation, except that focusing on something other than the now, often helps me to avoid feeling.

    Argh, why are you making me think about this??? lol Love you my Fat Bottom Sister!!

    Reply
    1. BigLizzy Post author

      FatBottom!! Hahahahahahhahahahaha!!! You crack me up, mommy. I’m laughing so hard right now. I just love you so freakin’ much. How are you doing? Screw disassociation. Tell me about your Associations!! I know you’re well. I never doubt it. Big hugs and kisses to you!

      Reply
  5. Yoga Moods

    Brave Lizzy, thank you, amazing woman! I love your words and your spirit. And yes, I am very familiar in so many ways! Learning how to dwell in the present moment in the body and with sensations has been extremely painful at times and also more beautiful than I could ever even express more often than not.

    Reply
    1. BigLizzy Post author

      Sweet Jen!! Hiiii, darling girl! So nice to hear from you. I so love how you put this: “Learning how to dwell in the present moment in the body and with sensations has been extremely painful at times and also more beautiful than I could ever even express…” YES!! My whole body sat up and shouted “YES” at that. That’s EXACTLY how it feels for me, too. Am I surprised? No. We are sisters. I love you, honey. Thank you for being on planet with me and working your program. You touch so many lives and so wonderfully…Love you…

      Reply

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