I remember the first time I felt like I was watching myself.
It was 2018. I was in a therapy session with one of my past trauma counselors, and I was talking about one of my abusers. I couldn’t move my arms because they felt like lead and I was convinced they would fall off if I tried. As my vision started to go blurry, I started to panic. All of the thoughts inside my head started to race and I couldn’t say them. ‘Why can’t I move? Why can’t I hear anything anymore? Why does everything feel so slow?’
Once my counselor realized that I wasn’t able to respond to anything in reality, she started to help try to ground me-trying to talk me through what was going on since I had never experienced dissociation before then. After that, I started experiencing dissociation more and more and I never could figure out why. After years of therapy and through many different therapists, I’ve come to learn the different things our brains do when we are faced with traumatic events. When we are working through trauma,, it can bring up many emotions, feelings, and reactions.
When I try to talk through my trauma, the automatic response my brain chooses is to dissociate. Dissociation is a way our brain figures out to handle information that is trying to be processed by giving it a break- which is why recalling what has happened around us is so hard.
With time, my dissociation got harder to figure out. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique didn’t necessarily work for me, and neither did anything else. The people I had helping me only seemed to make matters worse. Their ways to help my dissociation were physical contact or repeatedly saying my name in a tone-both are triggers for me. I figured at that point, I had to find out ways to help myself instead of relying on others to get me past my dissociation. A resource that has helped me personally explore grounding is Beauty after Bruises.
The technique and tips that I mostly use when I find myself starting to dissociate is finding something to do or use one of my senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing), and try to get the feeling in my body to subside. If it doesn’t work, I try to take an ice cube, squeeze it in my palm, run it through my fingers, and up and down my forearms until it seems to ground me from the feeling. Lastly, I’ll use a technique where I lie completely flat on the floor, and place my palms down. Then, with my eyes shut, I’ll take deep belly breaths—trying to ground myself by feeling everything my body can feel while laying on the floor. I ask myself questions out loud, which can help to ground myself as well.
‘What does the floor feel like? What can I feel under my hands? Is there wood or carpet? What can I hear? I can breathe.’
Grounding techniques for dissociations can be harder at times for some. It may take longer for one person to find something that helps their mind place themselves back into reality compared to another individual. However,if you or someone you know has found themselves struggling with dissociation, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. This can be done by either contacting a local hospital, using the find a therapist resource on Psychology Today, reaching out to a hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or texting the Crisis Text Line at “HOME” to 741-741. You are never alone. Caring counselors are here and want to help when you need it.