Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Under the Table

Finding My Disassociated Self…

Recently, during a particularly difficult EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy session, I found myself back in time, sitting under my family’s long white laminate dinner table amidst the pickets of multiple pairs of legs. It was not an unusual occurrence for a sibling to be sentenced to be “under the table” for any, among many, dinner table infractions. I was a frequent guest to this particularly humiliating exile.

This memory, where very familiar, was also heightened by how deeply alone I felt. Despite my being cramped between upwards of twenty-four legs, not one of those twenty-four legs had a hand that would reach down and pat me, exorcising this sense of complete abandonment.

As the therapy session continued, the legs left, leaving me in complete darkness. Dishes had been done. Prayers in the accompanying room had been said. Everyone had dispersed to their rooms for the night without a word or acknowledgement of me alone on the floor under the table. Was I invisible? Did I not matter to anyone? My little body felt crushed.

I remember wondering if this was my opportunity to escape. Perhaps I could run away like I attempted as a scared three-year-old girl climbing out the basement window only to sit on the side of the house until a sibling found me. But I did not. I just sat there hoping I would be remembered and released.

The memory had me “left behind” until the following morning at breakfast, when I was released by my father in front of everyone, jeered at, made fun of, had to listen to a humiliating song, and was told to sit still without saying a word. It was that moment when I felt the disconnection of self and spirit. As I have shared, I would will myself to the ceiling when inappropriate things were being done to my physical body. And so, it was as I sat in utter stillness at this long white laminate table with siblings and parents alike jeering me. I floated away. Far, far away from the girl below who sat so defenseless against the emotional assault being waged.

Disassociation is a protective measure that separates us from our pain. It is the mind’s ability to be adaptive, and rather heroic, as a response to trauma. When we disassociate, we are allowing the mind to leave, even when the body is trapped. Stephen Porges, PhD beautifully describes disassociation in this way: “This act of disassociation has the wonderful function of preserving the individual sense of self while not corrupting it by acts that are being perpetrated on the body.”

I am beginning to recognize how often I disassociate in my adult life as a reaction to an emotional trigger from the past. I often remember little of being in a social situation. I disconnected when I had that “shame hangover” a few weeks ago after my husband’s voice tone reminded me of my father. I flew away when my grandchildren started melting down because I was reminded of my own constant feelings of melt down. Driving the I-35 corridor consistently has me in a sense of bewilderment as to how I got from point A to point B.

It is not always easy to recognize I have disassociated, but this cognition helps me understand certain reactions I have and helps me look for ways to ground myself before being taken emotionally hostage to another plane. I begin by focusing on my breath. I ask myself “What am I really feeling?’ “What feelings were unaccepted in our house?” And I try and connect back to my body through gaining an awareness of where I feel tension and what movement can I do to release that bodily stress.

As the EMDR therapy session continued, my therapist changed the verbiage in my head hoping to lead me into a more integrated state. I sat here breathing, tapping my chest in rhythm to my heart beat, and saw that little girl so far down below me. She looked like a salt statue. She looked dead from up here. I kept repeating the words with each inhale and exhale hoping I could find my way down into her. It was hard, friends. Very hard. My heart was hurt and my mind was locked into the pain.

My therapist gently and quietly waited as the minutes ticked by. It took a while, but suddenly I felt the energy swirling towards her and just at that last second before the session would be over, the little girl turned her beautiful face to me, looked me straight in the eyes and GLOWED with light and love as I felt myself re-enter the physical body. Her soul broke the surface, the way a dolphin leaps for fun.

In that overwhelming moment, I realized, that all the times I disassociate, it is my soul leaving this physical body in order to protect my “original goodness.” The part of me that never was wounded or ever will be.

I was reminded of a quote from spiritual thought-leader and poet Mark Nepo that I have left you with before, and which I find equally fitting for today. Let us pack these words into our ever-expanding vibrant green toolbox.

“The many ways we suffer, both inwardly and outwardly, are the chisels of God freeing the thing of beauty that we have carried within since birth.”

Until next time, friends.

Categorized as Healing

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