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April 26, 2021

The Aftermath of Trauma: Disassociation.

I never knew what was happening in my house.

I was eight years old, too young to understand the nuances of my parents’ failing marriage. But I could sense the undertones of anger and unhappiness, and that meant to stay away—as I’d done before.

I’d tiptoe quietly and cautiously, as if there were pins beneath the soles of my feet. I’d hold my breath, limit my movements, and make myself sparse within our home. I found solace in my silence, but the silence eventually became me—and everything that had been me seemed to dissolve into the air. And this was often—whenever it felt too loud, too scary, or too much, I’d turn inward and close up shop.

Maybe I couldn’t handle the overload of nervous energy that swirled within me, and my mind decided to turn off. Or possibly shutting down was what I thought I should do to protect myself. And so, I disassociated.

Disassociating is a common coping mechanism for those who experience a trauma, sustained abuse, or high anxiety situations. It is unclear how the mind temporarily cuts itself off, but it can become a long-term pattern, affect one’s memories, and alter their ability to recall information.

As I grew older, my environment shifted and healthier coping strategies were adopted. My need to disassociate became less and less. I assumed disassociating and I had broken up years ago, that it was something I’d outgrown. But while attending an Energy Medicine Seminar for counselors, I realized that wasn’t the case.

We were learning a shamanic technique used by Native Americans called “becoming glass.” It has been adapted by many spiritual teachers to help students navigate threatening situations, or to enter and exit crowded spaces without causing a disturbance.

It’s a visual meditation that has us regulate our breath and imagine an iridescent, turquoise blue waterfall making its way down our body—from the top of the head to our toes. We allow for the blue wave to flow through us—leaving every particle a solid, stained glass.

After spending time in this meditation, I applied it into practice. I’d never acquired a new skill as seamlessly as I had this one on that particular day. I was slipping in and out of the packed rooms they had set up for us completely undetected.

I listened as other students expressed their concerns. Most felt awkward and uncomfortable with making themselves unseen and unheard. Yet, I felt the exact opposite. Becoming invisible felt easy and natural.

It didn’t take long for my teacher to discern that I’d been dissociating and not turning into glass. I’d been successfully checking out—losing touch with myself and the outside world.

I couldn’t deny the casualness with which I fell back into that childhood pattern. And I thought of my husband’s words in times of crisis. He’d look into my eyes and ask, “Where did you go?” and state, “I need you to stay here with me.” My heart sunk, knowing that I dropped the ball on many occasions with little awareness.

Disassociating may have been useful as a child, but as a partner and a parent, it hasn’t been.

Once I realized that presence was the key difference between a dissociative state and the shamanic technique, I wondered if presence could shift the tendency to disassociate and become like glass instead. I thought if I could acknowledge my heart whenever I sought to disengage, then I may stay in the here and now. And so, I’d place my hand on my heart and feel the blue wave run through my body whenever in crisis. Remarkably, I stayed present.

I discovered I could be there for myself and for those who need me when I did this.

Even though both states try to protect us from harm, disassociating disconnects us from everyone and everything, including ourselves. Yet the shamanic technique of becoming glass teaches us to become one with everything.

We pulse with the trees, sing with the birds, and run wild with the flowers, all while in a quiet state of mind and body. Like the deer we see frozen amidst the trees or the lizard whose skin darkens in the sun, we stay in our hearts.

The Native Americans applied shamanic practices as a means to be in this world, but not of it.

Disassociating is just one of the ways we have cut ties with ourselves and the natural environment. Some take part in addictive and unhealthy patterns—like nicotine, food, alcohol, or codependency to someone. Each brings us far away from nature and our hearts.

I’ve learned to apply shamanic concepts into an everyday practice. This may sound daunting or intimidating; however, it is as effortless as placing your hand on your heart, noticing the leaves on a tree, touching the earth with your hands, gazing at the stars, walking barefoot, or breathing in the salty air.

Yes, we can take our shoes and socks off, feel the earth on our little toes, and center ourselves in nature—the original healer. And we can find our hearts, our true spiritual nature, whenever we lose our way in this hectic world. Our hearts will restore us to wholeness and remind us to come home to ourselves—again and again.

~

 

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