Red on White- the truth behind disassociation - victims of abuse
I was sitting here this evening, exhausted from a long two days of writing for deadline day at my job...stressed about some personal things ...it was just a half an hour ago and I was attempting to zone out to an episode of Hell's Kitchen on Hulu.... and that's when it happened - an email appeared in my inbox to my email account connected to this blog. When I opened it up I found a poem sent to me by a stranger - someone unknown to me.
However, even though her name and email address were not familiar to me, the emotion in her poem was. It is a piece that speaks to something just about any survivor of physical or sexual abuse will know...it doesn't matter if the abuse happened as a child or as an adult - if your body and soul suffered a trauma you survived from, you will understand it.
These were the words that greeted me in that email....
Red on WhiteI look down at herThis woman that I used to knowI know what happenedI was once there, inside herYetI can't feel
The pain was there, tangibleThe grief that should have beenThe anger forever unspokenBut where?I can't feel
Fractured images fly through the mindRed on white, red on whiteSilent screams pierce the daylight of her mindThe promises, brokenThe deceit, untamedThe love, a lieThis image is meYetI can't feel
Who is that womanlying there on this canvas of white?Splashes of crimson outlining the nightmareThe grief overcomes herShe mourns silentlyAfraid, aloneSheCan feel
Dissociation - triggers...and finding yourself ....feeling your pain...realizing your emotion - This poem is not about one moment in time - it's a path - a path that a victim walks to become a survivor - to healing.
Often when someone is subjected to an abuse, especially child abuse and sexual assault, a survival mechanism kicks into gear - There's no other way to describe it other than to say it is like an out of body experience - you know you are being abused but you cannot feel the emotional pain behind it - instead your mind focuses on other things - for me it was my surroundings.
One example I can relay is when I was nine years old and being sexually abused by someone known to my family - to this day I still remember the odors in the room, the sound of rain outside, the smell of wet leather boots and alcohol that filled the air and for decades until I started the process of healing I was unable to remember the actual pain I felt from the abuse it self but rather the memories of the my surrounding became triggers later in life that caused me to shut down ...something that I wouldn't fully understand until I started to heal.
Now I can see that at the moment I was able to survive and cope as that nine year old child is also a time I learned not to feel ...recognize...when I was being traumatized...abused...later on in life. What protected me in that moment of horror would also prevent me from protecting myself later in life when other abuses entered my life - my fight or flight reaction was frozen in time.
I am not unique in this - this reaction...disassociation...is why so many child sexual assault survivors end up in relationships where they are abused by an intimate partner later in life - their fight or flight reaction is stuck...frozen.
"But, I love him...I cannot leave him."
"He needs me."
"I cannot make it without him"
These are the statements that frustrate society when they hear a victim say them. These are the statements that irritate police and district attorneys when a women...a battered wife....refuses to cooperate and file charges against the abuser who just left bruises on her body and soul - these are the words of a victim who has disassociated their worth as a person - they are not feeling the pain - the grief -their fight or flight is frozen.
Their survival mechanism...the strategy used to cope while being abused....works against them later on...
Imagine if you will a child that has suffered nerve damage to their hand from an tragic accident - they place their hand on the hot burner of the stove - their mother screams in horror at them to remove their hand, they're getting burned - the child...despite their hand turning red and blistering is confused why their mother is yelling -
"Mom, I do not feel a thing - my hand is numb, remember the accident?"
Because that child is unable to feel the pain of the burn, despite seeing the scars left on their hand, they will not learn to not touch a hot stove- their reflex is not there - it will take time, patience and diligence from those around them to create a new habit of not standing by that stove to begin with.
The same is true for victims of domestic abuse - they need the tender loving care of people who love them...a support system to be there for them until a new healthy habit is learned....
That is the path of healing....that is the message buried in the poem which reflects a full circle of abuse...disassociation... survival....healing...
Be strong...all of you - victims...survivors...and those who love them...
Thank you Saryiel - you touched me tonight and your words, I am sure - will touch others............