From Dissociation To Association

“Elite Hide and Seek” digital art by Vennie Kocsis

You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Brene’ Brown

I spent a very large part of my life dissociated as I grew up in extreme trauma. My days were carried out in dissected sections of memory and darkness which were always merging and weaving together in confused images, memories, words and off putting smells. Depending on the circumstances happening in my life, my stress levels, whether I was in memory immersion and writing, or going about my everyday activities, my brain was constantly moving around chaotically from section to section as it navigated itself.

I was on a multi-layered auto-pilot, flying through life in a fog that morphed through endless dimensional spaces without any organization. Dissociation disorders may ensue when dissociation is used as a way of surviving complex and sustained trauma during childhood, the period of human progression when the brain and personality are still developing.

I share my own story of living with dissociation disorder from my personal perspective.  I am not self-diagnosed.  I have been through extensive testing for psychological diagnoses which have allowed me to understand myself and why I see and experience this planet and its society as I do. Please don’t diagnose yourself or Google your symptoms. There are a vast array of dissociation disorders and not all of them include identity struggle.  It’s so very important to me that I did not talk about living with this without having an actual valid, psychological diagnosis in my hands.

It is not an easy diagnosis to discuss since people have pre-conceived notions of what it’s like living with this impairment. First, many people find it difficult to wrap their head around and ask my questions such as, “Is it like being on LSD?” Not even close. It’s much more humanly complex.

I have never experienced dissociation disorder such as it is portrayed in movies like “Sybil“, “Split” or shows like”The United States of Tara.”  When I read the book, “When Rabbit Howls”, I felt angry inside. I felt the psychiatrist who treated her and wrote the book grossly exploited Truddi Chase instead of helping her. She died young. She died miserable. She died still living with dissociation. It’s certainly not like “Fight Club” or “American Psycho.”

I do not believe in the ideal that different people live inside my brain. Instead I view my brain like a super computer with differing drives created during that childhood trauma. These drives or canisters, inside of my brain are precious to me. After all, these sections of my brain stayed active and kept me alive in times when I fought death.  They deserve, in the least, to be held with a bit of humility and reverence. In essence, I have deep respect for my own brain.

Through most of my life, from the time I was taken into Sam Fife’s Move of God cult at three years old, I lived continually drifting in and out of my brain’s canisters as both my long term and short term memory stayed dissected.  I never felt that I was becoming different people. I simply lost time and memory.

What Happens When We Dissociate?

I had memory gaps. I said and did things I couldn’t recall. I was confused. I checked out when there was too much stimuli around me. Had you looked at me in those days, I would have seemed present. I actually was.  I was both “there” and “over there” because living with dissociation involves being in multiple spaces at one time.  Living with dissociation means that your conscious mind might not remember these stressful moments. I wrote about my childhood near death dissociation experiences in detail in my memoir, “Cult Child.”

When I say my brain works like a computer, I describe it this way because it was designed through childhood trauma to have many different sections I identify as hard drives. It created this special computer system in order to keep me alive as a child. There were parts of me which needed to stay and parts of me which needed to go away in order for me to survive.

For most of my life, I was operating back and forth, moving my brain between these different drives, opening and closing browser windows in my life without much of a conscious awareness about the way I was living. 

Amnesia and transitional states of being have been the main way that dissociation disorder has manifested itself in my life. I have lost gaps of memories which at times, can be daunting and haunting. Such as when one of my children remembers something fun from their childhood, something we did together, and I wrack my brain to bring the details into view. Such as when someone reminds you of a whole afternoon I spent with them, but I don’t remember any of it. 

Science has made incredible advancements in the study of mind sciences and understanding what happens to the human brain when it is held in traumatic dissociation. 

One such study states:

Machine-learning and neuroimaging techniques have been used to accurately distinguish between individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and healthy individuals, on the basis of their brain structure, in new research part funded by the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Could Multiple Personality Disorder explain life, the Universe and everything? A new scientific paper argues the condition now known as “dissociative identity disorder” might help us understand the fundamental nature of reality. In 2015, doctors in Germany reported the extraordinary case of a woman who suffered from what has traditionally been called “multiple personality disorder” and today is known as “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). The woman exhibited a variety of dissociated personalities (“alters”), some of which claimed to be blind. Using EEGs, the doctors were able to ascertain that the brain activity normally associated with sight wasn’t present while a blind alter was in control of the woman’s body, even though her eyes were open. Remarkably, when a sighted alter assumed control, the usual brain activity returned.” Scientific American

A 2006 study, Dissociative Amnesia and DSM-IV-TR Cluster C Personality Traits stated, “Dissociative amnesia is a disorder characterized by retrospectively reported memory gaps. These gaps involve an inability to recall personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature. Dissociative amnesia most commonly occurs in the presence of other psychiatric conditions, particularly personality disorders.

As defined by Tulving, humans have three major types of memory.

1. Episodic memory is remembering events as one would recall a movie.

2. Semantic memory is knowledge about the world and memory of words, dates, and facts.

3. Procedural memory is the ability to remember motor routines, such as combing one’s hair.

Loss of any of these types of memory can arise from organic damage to the neocortex, as in the case of a traumatic brain injury, a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), a space-occupying lesion, or a toxic exposure. Alternatively, memory deficits can result from extreme psychological stress, as seen in dissociative disorders.” National Center for Biotechnology Information

All humans have a propensity to dissociate if the circumstances are right. I’m referring to non-drug induced [LSD, Shrooms, Ayahusca, etc.] dissociation. Examples of non-drug induced dissociation triggers would be incidences such as a rape or a car accident, soldiers battling in war conditions and extreme fear and little children in unknown and physically, mentally and sexually violent environments. As this applies to my experiences, I lived in full blown dissociation as a child. In a complete state of escape and survival, my brain dissected and turned its many wheels rapidly, shifting in and out of differing states of being, which left my brain in a constant spin.

Living in dissociation was a confusing and frustrating existence. I morphed through states of being without warning. It manifested mostly in memory gaps. I didn’t understand my body signals. I didn’t know dissociation existed. It was important for me to put a name to these canisters so that I could easily identify these sections of my brain. To others I sometimes presented as having it together and sometimes to others I’m sure I appeared very borderline in my behaviors and personality, or a forgetful and flighty person.

The forgetfulness which accompanies living with dissociative disorder is very daunting. It creates a platform for deep victim blaming. I was called selfish, flaky, inattentive and other things. It is difficult to explain this disorder to others. Often, we are accused of using mental impairments as excuses. This is very presumptive since so many of us with mental impairments would gladly get a new brain if that was possible.

I used to say that I’d trade my dissociation, childhood trauma, TBI and NDE rocked brain for a normal one if I could. I don’t know what it’s like to live with an unimpaired brain. Yet, the ways my brain is able to function after integrating dissociation has opened up amazing channels of discovery for me. Now, I wouldn’t trade my brain for anyone’s.

The journey of integrating, organizing and accessing all of my brain’s compartments has taken time and is a continued work in progress. The years and every day moments that dissociation stole from my life, and that of my children, can never be retrieved. It can be re-formed, though, re-molded and sculpted into something new.

Writing was the main way I could put a tangible perspective on what had been done to my brain. I had random information missions my brain enacted, one significant part of my journey I share in this post, The Dolls. These events were part of what kick started one of the most fascinating journeys I’ve taken into myself thus far. Since then, I have opened more compartments of my brain, dissecting and categorizing as I search through their many libraries for more truth. I light up the rooms and access what my brain has recorded. 

The more I have allowed myself to access and scribe the information I stored as a child, the less I find myself in flight and flight response.  While I find isolation a necessary part of my life and maintaining my mental health, I am no longer afraid of my own brain. I have embraced my mind and every bit of information it holds inside. 

Taking the step into acceptance began a movement from dissociation to association.  Instead of checking out, I began to check in. Instead of running, I stood in the moment and held hands with my emotions. I stopped fighting my grief and my tears. I faced it, gazing eye to eye with memories so terrible they will always leave my mind blown.

If you organically remember it, it’s your truth.” Hillary Whitaker Clark, PsyD   

I want to briefly share my understanding of DID as learned through therapy and the lengthy testing I’ve taken over the years which has allowed me to chart my organization process. Unbeknownst to me when I met my psychologist, I would come to understand how much writing “Cult Child” had allowed me to naturally enact organizational processes.

I could not write my trauma until I created a timeline of the memories which are stored in the many canisters in my brain.

I worked to build coping strategies for the side effects of exploring my own childhood torture.  I released all outside stressors. I keep my mental environment as clean as possible. I stepped away from toxic people and situations. Doing this work requires staying inward focused on the process of staying in association with myself instead of dissociating.

Where disassociation was a seemingly constant attempt to avoid my life, association is a process of embracing my life and standing within it. This doesn’t mean every day I skip through roses. For me, this means I remain mindful of staying rooted in my currently reality.

Sometimes our current reality feels so damn crappy.  So what do we do? 

Humanity has been in “fix it” mode with each other for a very long time. I am a deep supporter of solutions as they apply to inner healing. What if healing involves the simple act of accepting our current emotion?

I tried this perspective, and actually found comfort in it. I can use a hypothetical situation where maybe you are feeling deeply hurt, sad and attacked by someone you felt you have given as much support to as you possibly could. 

Here I can show you the difference between reacting from a place of triggered dissociation and standing inside of awareness and association of the emotion.

Dissociation goes on the defense in situations where we felt attacked. We would open that brain canister and unleashed an arsenal. Dissociation releases an army and doesn’t ended until it has finished the war.

Association instead takes to focusing on self-care. We understand that situations will be as they are. We process the anger so that we can sit with the pain and monitor how our emotions were doing. We rest. We write a lot. We focus ourselves on processing the emotions. There is no processing in dissociating; only shut down.  Emotions can only be processed through association.

I take baths. Water soothes my skin, quiets my mind and allows me to drift around in meditative REM states of mind.  I make collage art. I sketching and release situations from my cells.

All of my post-cult life, I’ve dissociated from my pain, letting my brain remain scattered, satiating the emotions in unhealthy ways, and I ran a muck in life, displaying self-deprecating behaviors. 

Associating with my emotions, feeling them instead of numbing myself, let me become a friend of my sadness, a sister to my hurt, a scribe for my memories and a mother to my inner child. 

My creativity has blossomed since I made nice with myself. I have held the hands of my guilt and read her palms. I have sat beside my failures and listened to our laments. I drained the river of my denial and embraced the power to change my behaviors. I have grieved the lost years and the erased existence of who I was. I became a carpenter of my own environment, building boundaries and erecting my own mending fence.

When we live in association with our senses so much about how we see the world changes.  Many people live their lives trying to change everything about who they are in order to fit the world. I have changed my world to fit the reality of my life. I am who I am, and releasing all toxic behaviors, I embrace my needs.

Acceptance has made me my closest associate.  I can be my harshest critic. I have to depend on myself to refocus into mindfulness of the why, where, when and how. I awaken to see the day as it is, standing still in this place which allows me to exist.

Remember who you were meant to be before they formed you into who they wanted you to be. That is who you truly are. It’s waiting for you to release it.

“My Inner Child” photo by Vennie Kocsis, 2014

“There are two people who experience complex-PTSD. Soldiers and abused children. Children should never knew the horrors of war.” Vennie Kocsis

Vennie Kocsis’s is soon to release her second and final edition of her memoir, “Cult Child.” Grab a first edition before they’ disappear!

Mom’s Sick. Dad’s Abusive. I Have Let Go.

Guest post by Jenni Z

My mother is very sick, and no one quite knows what’s wrong. She has flu-like paralytic episodes which leave her weak. Her voice becomes froggy and scratchy. She’s been tested for just about everything, but there has been no firm diagnosis yet.

The sicker she has become the more I have been able to clearly see the depths of my father’s abuse. His nonchalance regarding her medical care is really the tip of the iceberg in an ice-cold sea of psychological and emotional abuse. It has become the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I am the camel.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I could no longer act like everything was fine. That this is just the way he is and I needed to quit being dramatic. At least he’s not physically abusive, right?

Wrong.

So I began to pull back. I started to work on myself. Because I am the only person I can control.

I put boundaries between my parents and me. If you’ve ever dealt with a narcissist you know that isn’t easily done. Any boundary you put up they will barge right through with ‘how dare you do this to me’ entitlement.

The more I pulled back, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the sicker my mother became. From the time I was a very young girl, she needed me to withstand my father’s abuse. I can see now how unfair it is to impose that responsibility on a child.

I ended up having to cut ties with my father completely. I feel like he left me no choice. I was falling apart. Anxious (still am, extremely so) and constantly afraid. What was I so afraid of? As I thought more about this I realized I couldn’t ever remember not being afraid to some degree.

I finally had an epiphany. A slow epiphany of sorts because it took me all of these years to get to this point. Here I was in my late 30’s, and I still worried about making my parents, especially my father, mad. Walking on eggshells. Trying to do what I could, only to be told it wasn’t good enough. That epiphany helped me realize something.

He can not hurt me if I do not allow him to hurt me.

So what if I make my dad mad? His opinions, actions, moods, and abuse do not have to dictate how I feel. In fact, they can have no bearing on me whatsoever, if I don’t allow them the power.

Though it was extremely hard, I put a shield up against him and his attacks. I blocked him on Facebook. I blocked his number on my phone. I no longer let him in my house. Not that he tried to contact me often. Most of the contact was usually done though my brother or my mother. My brother texted me often to tell me how bad of a daughter I was.

I imagine cutting off contact with him probably made him treat my mother worse. I’m sure he took his anger out on her. I feel tremendous guilt over this. I should be able to protect her. But it is not my duty.

Because I am not the one abusing her.

Though they would have me believe the opposite, I am not the one at fault, and I cannot be held responsible for fixing an non-fixable situation. I have no control over how my mother chooses to live her life. I have no control over how my father treats her. I can’t force her to leave him. Just as I can’t make my father see how abusive he is. I can only protect myself. If I did allow contact then that would, in a way, condone his behavior as I would be forced to I sit idly by and watch it happen. Not to mention he would think it’s okay to be abusive towards me again.

Going from doctor to doctor my mother ended up at the Cleveland Clinic. After going over her records and doing some tests, the doctor asked how her childhood was. It was probably no surprise to the doctor that her childhood was pretty rough. Of course, he wasn’t going to ask how her marriage was with my father sitting right there, though I suspect the doctor knew. He knew how years of abuse can affect the human body.

As it happens far too often, my mother went from an abusive childhood straight into an abusive marriage. She was barely 18 when she married my father. She’s now 65.

She doesn’t think that her illness is psychosomatic. And, who knows, it might not be, but she doesn’t think her emotional health has any bearing on her physical health.

Yet, it does. The body carries trauma. We find ways to cope, to excuse away the abuse. The brain may allow us to forget, tucking it safely away in the hippo campus, but our bodies don’t forget.

I imagine if you add up 65 years of abuse it can do a real number on your nervous system. The weakness she keeps having, the body aches, the scratchy voice; it all tells a story.

Her body is screaming loudly what her voice can’t actually say.

I still maintain a relationship with her, though it is quite different than it used to be. I am no longer the codependent daughter she was accustomed to having.

Letting go and coming to terms with the reality of my family dynamic has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Knowing I can’t change my father, that I can’t make him see the error of his ways and accepting that I can’t fix or save my mother has been simultaneously heartbreaking and freeing.

Ultimately I had to step away from their dysfunction and relinquish their power over me so that I can heal.

Never Doubt Your Instincts


Enter the doorway into the mind of this incredible Survivor Voice

Jenni Z Official


Jenni Z aka artgirlcreations, is an artist and art journal creator who, through her multi-layered collage work and raw writing, explores ways to cope with her anxiety disorder, as well as the trauma she suffered as a child. Language, art and color lead the way through the muck of her past, as well as bridge the gap to a more mentally healthy future.

Born Crazy: A Video Poem

You’re crazy.”

How often have you heard this phrase thrown around, either flippantly, in jest or to victim blame someone who has overcome or is recovering from abuse?

I heard this often as a post-cult teenager and well into my adult years. While I was actually dealing with the behavioral aftermath of being an extremely abused child, instead of receiving support, caring and nurturing I was told that I was crazy. When a child is told enough times that they’re mind is insane, we begin to believe it.

This poetry piece is from my spoken word album, Dusted Shelves, which is available on Amazon in paperback and c.d. Written in 2013, it is a representation of a life by which I was conditioned to believe that I was crazy.

Some abuse survivor work is considered to be dark and oddly psychotic. This piece would fall under that theme.

**Trigger Warning for those who are sensitive to these themes**

Born Crazy

Soul of an Angel

“Soul of an Angel” was written in 2009 and just recorded yesterday as I made this video. It is a representation of the connection between abused little girls and the abuse they often continue to endure in adulthood. Little girls are our earth angels, and there is no penance for the level of evil of those who defile their beautiful existence.

Sea Angel

This video of “Sea Angel” is an audio poem from my poetry book and accompanying spoken word cd, “Dusted Shelves”, which I published in 2011. This particular poem was written during a time when I was deeply depressed. I was in the cusp of writing out childhood trauma in “Cult Child”, my memoir. I listen to this piece now and what strikes me is that my suffering was so debilitating, the thought of being taken under by the sea felt like a comfort to me. Yet, life and hope have always called, and so the emotion became this piece instead. To those who suffer with depression, PTSD, anxiety and more, keep fighting. I remember you daily.

I Received a Beautiful Award!

Once a Victim Now a Survivor Award

Award

I’m really honored to be payed forward the “Once a Victim Now a Survivor Award“. Thank you so much, Darque Thoughts

I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my emotional vomiting. If one reader feels less alone, then all the retching is worth it. Thank you guys!

I was asked these five questions as a part of this award and have passed this award forward to five more survivors below.

1. In what ways do you feel that blogging can help people with psychological trauma or mental illness?

Writing therapy is a great way to clear the mind. Instead of bottling up the pain, flashbacks, nightmares and myriad of emotions, we are able to give it to the virtual page. That is a great clearing for me. I call it “language letting”.

2. How has blogging helped you with your healing process or your personal journey?

Blogging has been both a great outlet for me to write my emotions, document my moments as well as connect with others who have experienced trauma and came out on the other side surviving, just like me.

3. When did you start your blog and what motivates you to write?

I’ve been blogging for a while. I started in the days of Live Journal, then to MySpace, and now, with WordPress, since 2012. WordPress has afforded me a great connection with like minds, and I happen to dig their mobile app. What motivates me to write the most is the knowing that I cannot hold all of this inside of me.  It’s constantly pushing it’s way out of my fingertips in some fashion, be it poetry, stories, essays or whatever else comes out. I don’t often blog for the sake of anyone else or with readers in mind. I write to get it out. If someone reads and relates, then that is a great added bonus. If no one reads, I got it out. Either way, I come out ahead.

4. If you could encourage other victims to become survivors what would you say to them?

Learn the skills of coping and soothing. Don’t try and erase the moments that feel overwhelming. Face them head on, and understand that it is okay to cry, to feel, to hurt, to grieve and to know that afterwards you’ll still be able to find that laughter; that some days are really awesome and others really fucking suck, yet what makes us survivors is that we come through. Reach out to others like you; who can understand your pain and don’t let your pain define who you are. You are in control now. Your abusers are no longer running the show. You get to choose what feels right and good for you. Lastly, never, ever, silently suffer for anyone.  Seriously, tell anyone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind, or who doesn’t care about your needs, to take a hike.  It is OKAY to say no now. 

5. Since you started writing, what has been your favorite or most positive personal accomplishment(s) and/or achievement(s) in the “blogging world”?

My greatest personal writing accomplishment is my novel, Cult Child. I’m equally proud of the other publications I’ve published. My favorite moments are always, without a doubt, when someone tells me they’ve read something I’ve written and it made them know they’re not alone. That is the beautiful side of this internet blogging world. Knowing I have touched a heart is very rewarding. Sharing our trauma experiences is an intricate part of our healing process.

Aside from the one who payed this Award forward, here are five amazing survivors I read; who make me feel understood and whom I believe are equal candidates for this Survivor Award.

1. Refractory Ramblings From the Darkside
2. The Not-So Secret Life Of a Manic Depressant
3. Leaving Fundamentalism
4. Healing From Complex Trauma and PTSD/CPTSD
5. Survivorship – for survivors of ritualistic abuse
You may pass this Award forward. Below are the four steps to do so.

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you
2. Nominate your own bloggers to pass the award to
3. Post the 5 questions below for your nominees to answer (also answer them yourself)
4. Inform your nominees and post a comment in their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated

The questions:

1. In what ways do you feel that blogging can help people with psychological trauma or mental illness?

2. How has blogging helped you with your healing process or your personal journey?

3. When did you start your blog and what motivates you to write?

4. If you could encourage other victims to become survivors what would you say to them?

5. Since you started writing, what has been your favourite or most positive personal accomplishment(s) and/or achievement(s) in the “blogging world”?

Paying forward our Survivorship is a wonderfully uplifting circle. Thank you again, Darque!

Girl With a Gun Series # 121

Photography is just as much an expression for me as anything I create. Sometimes my emotion emerges in this way. I don’t want to share too much about my own emotion during the creative process so that viewers can observe from your own perspective. I most often never end up having a plan but just moving in spacial presence with the image as I move with it. My editing process is ruled by emotion, most often I am lucid, discarding multiple photos for that one which speaks to me directly. I don’t create images with other people viewing them in mind. Only when I write does the process of interactive connectivity with my reader become present in me. With art and photography it’s a different process. It’s me and whatever needs to purge, and I enjoy giving it away for however someone wants to interpret it.

Girl With a Gun Series # 121 started tonight. I’ll see where she leads. I’m unsure of “who” is taking the lead on this one. But I do have an inkling of where it is going and why. #outlets

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