Longer ago than I like to admit, I started getting feelings of intense depersonalization. I would be driving home, or grocery shopping with my amazing boyfriend and all of a sudden, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was no longer a part of my own life. At first I thought it was a passing phase, that something I did or neglected to do had caused a blood sugar imbalance. I told myself on some desperate level, that it was totally normal for me to feel like a robot space alien, like I was in a dream, or that I was not actually being me, but watching a movie based on being me.
Eventually I came to the realization that the episodes were not caused by a lack or excess of sleep, sex, food, drink, exercise or excitement. There was clearly something else at work beyond the realm of my control. Initially, I blamed my birth control, but my doctor referred me to therapy. With the episodes getting more and more distressing, I made use of my excellent health insurance and took myself to a shrink where I was diagnosed with depersonalization disorder.
On the advice of my new therapist, I read up on the disorder and realized that I had considered this particular safe haven an asset for most of my life. It was only very recently that the episodes of depersonalization became distressing. Their context and their intensity had set them apart from the comforting embrace of “objectivity” I prided myself on having in times of stress and trauma. All throughout my childhood, and even my adulthood, when things get hairy I simply take a small step back from my skin and I become the eye of the hurricane. It’s safe and helpful. Unlike my old standard which felt very natural and comfortable, these new episodes of depersonalization were intense, random and terrifying.
Since receiving a diagnosis, I actually feel a lot better. I realized that I was not losing my mind, that other people have experienced this, and that it is relatively normal for a person with childhood trauma. It was comforting to connect these seemingly new and terrifying episodes with something I had always done in a different context and to a lesser extent. For a long time I refused to tell anybody exactly what was going on because I was afraid it meant I was losing my mind. Logically I knew that if I really was losing my mind, telling someone else about it was probably the best solution, but I rationalized that I could control the situation.
And while I can’t control the situation, I do have some measure of influence over it. By admitting there was something wrong and going to get help, in whatever form that initially took, I began the process of taking a huge weight off my shoulders. This feels very similar to when I first started working the 12 steps. When I finally admitted that I had a problem, I felt relief that I had never known before. I was intimidated by the steps themselves, which loomed large and unknown over me and I felt small and vulnerable without the burden of denial that had protected me as much as it had harmed me.
That time is when I learned about the power of hope and the freedom of faith. Today, I am so much stronger than that broken child who came to the 12 steps all those years ago, but I have to remember her strength and her courage. I feel much more equipped to deal with this new challenge than she was, but it’s still very frightening.