I leave my body. I don’t know how else to talk about it. This sentence doesn’t sound right or feel right, it doesn’t convey any of the quiet violence of the sensation, or the hopelessness of feeling like no matter how hard you try you can’t quite arrive here, here where everyone else seems to be, because the part of you that matters is tuning in from a remote location and the audio is delayed and never matches up with the images. Of course I can’t talk about what it’s like– by the time the words are leaving my mouth my lips have moved into a whole different shape. But the distance has never kept me from trying to cross it and these sentences feel closer to conveying the feeling than any that have come before.
It would be more accurate to say that I occasionally visit my body. In very rare moments when the stars align and I am somehow magically able to have a three dimensional experience it occurs like a jackpot on a slot machine, “BING!!!!,” I am suddenly here and it’s so strange. I say something and the words come directly out of my mouth in real time. I feel like a person who is telling the truth as opposed to a person who is trying to convey realness. I always thought that everyone was like me, generally disconnected with moments of tuning in that felt like brief instances of enlightenment: “Oh shit, this is real.” But the more I become able to talk about it the more I am convinced that it’s not universal, that I really do hover in the air in a protective cocoon and that this phenomenon is a reaction I developed at an early age for good reason. There was something going on that I needed to not be around for. Maybe when I materialize it occurs in even more than three dimensions, I’m not really sure. I am new to the science of what is happening to me. It turns out what I’m working with is an actual thing, called “dissociation,” although it seems difficult to find information about it that has any resonance. Over a decade ago my therapist said the word to me during a session. I was talking about myself, or trying to talk about myself, and her face got the expression of a sudden realization and she said, “oh, you dissociate.” And I was like, “YES. I am not in fact here.” I can’t remember if I said that or just thought it. The difference can be subtle.
The first time I felt myself sitting inside of my body it scared the shit out of me. I was eighteen years old. I was living away from my parents for the first time, as an exchange student in an exceptionally clean and safe northern European country. It was a quiet evening, as all evenings there were, without any dramatic events or all that much to talk about, and we were sitting at the dinner table facing each other. Suddenly my host parents receded into the distance and got very very small, as if the table had grown an extra ten feet in width. Their voices sounded like they were coming from far away and I stopped noticing the content of what they were saying. The quality of silence in my head became extremely loud. I thought I was going insane. I think this was the first time I had ever noticed that there is a difference between myself and other people, if that makes sense. If you aren’t living inside your body you have to find somewhere else to live. My favorite place to relocate has always been someone else’s face. I project my whole self into the other person and stay there like a parasite. As their facial expressions display changing emotions my own state ebbs and flows in sync. If your own body is for some reason not a safe location, another human being’s face could be the next best option. Pros: it is in fact a body, if not your body. Inhabiting someone else affords the spirit an opportunity to relate to a physical form, as opposed to just hanging in the air and never landing anywhere (I’ve tried that too, it’s lonely). Cons: You can’t really control what other people do or how they feel. Living inside another person is generally tumultuous.
Recently I made the mistake of typing “dissociation” into YouTube, thinking I might find something helpful. I stumbled onto a thousand tiny faces in boxes, which if clicked on would spring to life with grotesquely earnest attempts to convey the weirdness of a feeling that was ultimately impossible to describe. There were so many faces into which I really did not want to go. The vast majority of the video subjects had experienced a drug related dissociation. After smoking pot or ingesting other substances I’ve never heard of these people went through a period of weeks or months where they felt outside of their bodies and it was suuuuuper trippppy. A few people hadn’t done drugs. One dear girl with a complex lip piercing talked about how she suddenly began to dissociate in high school after a particularly stressful episode of physical and emotional abuse by her father. The audio was out of sync with her image, which I don’t think was intentional. She said that the ground got all wavy as she walked into her high school after the incident. It has a lot of views, and a lot of appreciative comments, so that’s nice. I didn’t relate.
The only time I was ever consistently able to break through the blurry membrane of disconnectedness and feel the way I imagined other people usually felt- with themselves, in themselves- was for about a minute immediately after having sex. For a brief window of time the room would get clear and my body and my feelings would suddenly be sitting together in the same place doing the same thing and what we would be doing is crying. Every single time I would sob and feel so hopeless, because is this what living could be like? Does a person actually get to feel like they are not hiding out in a remote and undisclosed location? How much of my life am I missing? And then the warm and lucid pieces of me scatter in separate directions and I go on like before without noticing it. Did I have sex multiple times a day in an attempt to bring myself back? No, it occurs to me now that the sadness of the contrast that was revealed to me whenever I did it probably turned me off of sex to a degree. Who wants to cry all the time, naked, in front of another person? And who wants to be reminded of how gone you are if you don’t know how to bring yourself back.
You might say, “but Khaela, you don’t seem disconnected. You seem close and intimate and real.” You feel this way, if you feel this way, because I am sitting inside of your face. I promise I am only there for my own protection; if you like how it feels I am that much better protected. There is an irony to the fact that my strategy for surviving the tyranny of other people’s feelings, violently expressed, was to make a secret home for myself inside of other people’s feelings. I think that my impulse was to get inside of the beast and control it from within. Where else could I go? There was nowhere to run, so I jumped out of myself and hid behind the eyes of my attacker, right up inside the head. If I could make the beast feel happy there was less chance of an attack. That was my hunch. And sometimes it was true, and sometimes a beast is just a beast and it really has nothing to do with you.
When I first started to realize that my way of skittering away from my body was a thing, back in my early adulthood, I immediately recognized it as an awesome survival tool and I gave myself props by writing a tribute zine to the ingenuity of my very young self called, IN YER FACE!!! None of what I just wrote is true. Instead of writing a tribute zine I decided to attack and berate myself for my inability to show up. Aiming the blame at myself was a comfortable way of maintaining the status quo, I guess. I was comfortable with attacks and with hiding away from them, and someone had to consistently fill the role of the attacker so that I could keep on hiding. These decisions were happening on an unconscious level, of course. On the surface I was in a perpetually chaotic state of disintegrating in front of myself. I remember saying to my friends at age 21, “I feel like there’s this girl on my back.,” and to another friend, “Do you feel like you are several different people, trying to be one person? Like five or six different people?” It was confusing and scary, kind of all the time. Real clarity about what is going on has only emerged in the past year or so. In hindsight, I believe I wasn’t actually ready to materialize on the physical plane until very recently. It turns out, in fact, that it’s painful. I’ve been coming back into my body a lot in the past months, as I’ve been dealing with the circumstances that scared me out of the physical realm in the first place. It’s hard. The beasts aren’t around anymore but the fears they inspired still hover. The ghosts of the beasts. Feelings are ghosts.
Interestingly, it’s been the experience of pain that has brought me back down to the earth, and there is a lovely symmetry to this because it was the experience of pain that first sent me running. Pain was a material that I couldn’t handle back when, which I now have the force to deal with. There was just too much of it. Figuring out how to materialize into my body is kind of like learning to walk, or any other kinesthetic phenomenon. The process entails scanning through everything that is present in my system, and the unpleasant emotions are present, so I slowly take them in. When I do this it fills my molecules up with sensation and weight. Physically it resembles shaking a limb that has fallen asleep, trying to get blood to circulate back through it. Sometimes it’s so uncomfortable to get it back awake you’d almost rather just let it hang limp for ever. Also, a human body is heavy. Aerobic exercise was always a breeze to me but lately doing a jump in a cardio class feels like lifting more than a hundred pounds of weight. Which it is. Reality is heavy. That’s why a body might avoid it.
So what now. I sit here as a lump of matter and wonder how here I really want to be. The metaphor of one’s self being represented as a house is pretty cliche and it has been working for me lately. I have an image of a magnificent old house that was always supposed to me mine. The house I am conjuring is like something from a movie in the 50’s, possibly the black and white version of To Kill A Mockingbird, so in fact it’s just a fake house built for a set and that’s a good place to start. The house is very large and grand, bigger than one would even need, with huge windows and a giant deciduous tree in the yard. The surface of the house is protected by the span of the tree. For some reason I was never allowed to move into the house. Because of ghosts. I lived down the street and watched sunlight move through the interior spaces and I wanted it so bad. I wanted it so bad. At best I broke in once or twice on a dare, streaked terrified through the living room and ran immediately back out as fast as I could get myself out of there. Suddenly in April of this year the house became mine and for the first weeks of having the house, and I mean this literally, I was exhilarated. I couldn’t believe I had finally figured out how to be physically here for more than a few minutes at a time. It was thrilling. I just basked in it, I laid on the floor spread eagle and owned it. It was such a holy feeling I barely uttered a word about it, afraid it might go away.
A few months later it is still mine, no one is coming to take it away from me and a house is a lot of responsibility. I haven’t moved all my things in yet. I look around the rooms and imagine everything that didn’t get to happen here during my life, so many years. Moving in all the way would require letting the empty spaces of the past remain hollow and empty forever. The past is forever. On the other hand the present is infinite, particularly if you’re not afraid of it. It’s a lot to inherit. I’ve been telling myself that where I locate myself is ultimately nobody’s business but my own. I can hover as much as I want, half in and half out of myself, up in someone else’s face if I feel like it. I can roam: this is another thing that I inherited. And the truth is that people can’t tell whether I’m really here or not anyways. The only person who has ever actually noticed is my therapist and she lives in Tucson, so I can get away with it as much as I want, I can be wherever I want, and I’m only telling you all of this, I guess, because I can.