Friday, April 9, 2010

Disassociation

I've given a lot of thought to that “place”I went to when I thought my friend and I were going to be shot. I guess in a sick way I have my mom to thank/blame for that. During some later psycho-therapy, I realized that I had also “disassociated” several other times in my life. I just realized that in one of my previous posts ("the rifle, the rabbits, the 55 Chevy, and me), that I had to "go away" to do what was expected of me. In therapy speak I think it's called "not being present..." It was a great thing when I was in danger, or when what was happening around me, was too hard to cope with. But it also was a curse when I didn't get to enjoy a lot of good things in my life, that I should have, even as an adult. If you can't feel, you can't feel anything. Good or bad...

When I was a kid and my mom decided I needed a beating, or she needed to beat somebody, I was usually the target. After a while she ended up beating an empty shell. I wasn’t there. She couldn’t hurt me. She was already mad, but would go into a black rage when I wouldn’t react to getting hit or beaten with something. The last time she beat me, she did it with a wooden coat hanger. This was her favorite weapon. I hadn't even done anything wrong for her to be mad about, but that didn't matter. She had her rage and she had an available target. She hit me over and over. I refused to react. I didn't cry, I didn't dodge her blows; I didn't even flinch when the hanger hit me. I knew it was going to leave bruises and cuts on me, but I refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing she was hurting me. So she just kept hitting me more and more, harder and harder. At some point we both knew this was now a battle of control. I didn't care if it killed me; I wasn't going to let her get the better of me. The less I reacted, the angrier and crazier she became. During this particular incident she beat me until she couldn’t do it anymore. She started crying and then laughing. All the while still hitting... My body was just standing there, taking it, not feeling a thing physically... The rest of me was a million miles away...

During my first year of high school my mom got married again. He was a pretty nice guy and he was OK to me. He moved us out of the shack we were living in, and into a normal house in a nearby city. My mom didn't act as crazy during this time, and after her failed attempt with the coat hanger, she never tried to beat me again. I think she might have been afraid of me after that. I'd written her off years before, but that didn't stop me from hating her... Not the kind of hate where I felt anger whenever I saw her. It was the kind of hate where I had no feelings towards her at all. When I did think about her, it was not in a normal way. It was in a scary way. It was in a way that could have easily led to her death if she said or did the wrong thing at the wrong time. Before you call the authorities, I did not kill her, nor did I try to. More on that in another story.

Even though my mom never had to spend a penny on me, or really deal with me at all, she never failed to remind me that she hated me, and that the day I turned 18, was the day I had to get out of the house. On my 18th birthday, I did exactly that. I joined the Marine Corps, and stayed at a friend’s house for a couple of weeks until I was to report to the induction center in Los Angeles. Just like everybody else, I’d heard about the horrors of Marine Corps boot camp. I’m not talking about today’s Marine Corps. I’m talking about the old Marine Corps where they could hit, kick, or beat the shit out of you with impunity. It was not only allowed, it was encouraged. Many guys had a lot of problems, and the DI's would pounce on them. They would try to break each and every one of us. If they could break you, then you didn’t belong. If you couldn’t cut it, then you didn’t have enough self discipline to be a Marine (in their eyes anyway).

Thanks to the fine lifelong preparation I got from my mom, I survived boot camp. I was a robot for much of the time. They couldn’t hurt me. They couldn’t piss me off. I’d already survived much worse than they could dish out. Drill instructors like to scream. Drill instructors LOVE to scream. And they like to do it directly in your face. Torrents of words coming at you like a storm. Their words would hit my face and do nothing...They would run down my body and collect at my feet in a puddle. A puddle of profanity, spit, sweat, and bad breath. When they saw that the screaming did nothing to me, they made me run. I'd run all day if I had to. They would make me do pushups or situps. I'd do it until they got tired of watching me. You can't feel pain if you're not really there...

Eventually, they realized that although they couldn't really control me, I was squared away. I did everything they asked me to, and did it better than anyone else in my platoon. I actually got promoted out of boot camp. That happens to a very small percentage of people. In this case my disassociation was confused with self discipline.

It was the sixties, I was a Marine, and I of course went to Vietnam. The ability to disassociate was very handy on more than one occasion while I was there. More about that at a later date.

Some of the above stuff is making me think I need to do a spill guts, vomit on my shoes extravaganza, related to my mom. At one time I thought that if I just ignored the past, and didn't think about it at all, that it would go away. It didn't and it doesn't. Unless the venom is "sucked" to the surface and spit out, it stays. It stays, and you live your life according to what your subconscious tells you to do. In volatile adult situations, you act inappropriately. You act as a child would. In many cases, as an abused child would. The intent is most certainly not to have a pity party. It just makes me feel pretty good that I've come so far, and been fortunate enough to be able to work on it a lot. However, I also know that if I'm thinking about it this much right now, then there is more to be exercised.

10 comments:

Mainland Streel said...

I think it's amazing that you've come through so much and are now able to share it. Not everyone who lives through such things is able to do so (some of my own family members, for example).

Pat Tillett said...

Thanks so much! It wasn't an easy road to become a "functional" adult, but I had no choice. It really did take a lot work. And many hours sitting in front of a "family of origin" therapist.

Copyboy said...

I just think how incredible you were to be able to use that "out of body millions of miles away" technique. It seemed to help you cope with your personal as well as your professional life. I only wish I had that kinda strength.

Anonymous said...

Indifference is the worst kind of hate but it is easier to manage. It doesn't eat away your spirit and it leaves your soul intact. I often times live outside of myself and sometimes I like that better.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I could never disociate myself that much. I would have to say something or reacte or pretend I was time traveling just out of the way of a punch (that NEVER worked) even in Cadets I only learned to play the game because they promised if we learned then one day WE could be giving the orders and I liked the sound of that. That was until they taught me to fly a plane - then I could be a rebel again...like Johnny Yuma...and we know what a rebel he was

Pat Tillett said...

Copyboy - I'm not sure exactly where it came from, but I am sure I wouldn't have survived without it.

Anonymous - I agree. Many times a person hates another, while the "hated" one, isn't even thinking about the one hating him. All that hate for nothing...That's a great comment. I wish I knew who you were...

Kal - I think strong self discipline and the ability to disassociate are both on the same side of the coin. "Johnny Yuma!" I can hear the theme song in my head. Wasn't it sung by Johnny Cash?

Ally said...

It is so painful to read such horrible tales. I feel guilty reading them as I'm babbling about my dad smelling like Old Spice and how the scariest childhood memory I have was being served Beefaroni. We love you, Pat.


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Pat Tillett said...

Ally - don't feel guilty. Your stories are great. They are about life! Most of mine are just about another side of the same coin. I couldn't be happier now. Seriously...
I appreciate that you read and comment!

altadenahiker said...

Hmmm, can see I have much reading in store here. Seems to me we came at life from opposite ends of the spectrum and now meet, perhaps, somewhere in the middle. Very glad you stopped by.

Pat Tillett said...

altedenahiker - thanks for reading and commenting!