Tag Archives: dissociation

Coup De Grace

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Having some difficulty with the novel, The Situation. Some of you are reading it, for which I am grateful, but some of you are not getting it, about which I am…hmm…chagrinned, to put it politely. I know. I’m a whining, narcissistic author, starved of understanding. I should accept the partial appreciations I am receiving, the enjoyment some are having, taking what they like, as they say in 12-step programs, and–and the corollary is huge–leaving the rest.

To hell with that.

I wrote both CFTH and The Situation, for various reasons: 1.) to express myself creatively, 2.) to entertain, and 3.) to teach something important as an adjunct to my psychotherapy practice, which happens privately, behind closed doors, thus generating a need to venture outwards. There are in my novels several themes of note, and as my own process is sometimes unconscious, I can’t account for them all. Not that I don’t try, so here’s a rough list of succinctly-termed ideas present in the text and subtext: addiction, trauma, the tyranny of workplaces, of secrets within closed systems, like workplaces and families; about the ubiquity of dissociation, of impotence, and indifference; about the distance of friends, the lingering power of the absent, and the tense battles between lovers, for each self to fit in.

I guess that should be enough, but especially for The Situation–the follow-up and coup de grace–there needed to be something special (not to mention positive), something to make sense of, tie together the story as a whole. Empathy. That was the quality–the redemptive, sobriety-supporting (as one reader puts it) quality–that came to mind, as the point. And so, the novel delivers a climax with empathy as its thematic core, and everyone, author, characters and readers alike, should get the point and transport said point, somehow, back to our (or their) daily lives. And they seem to, those supportive few. But there are clues along the way–words unfortunately skipped, I suspect–that are getting missed; and it’s important. Why? Because you might notice something in relationships as in art: you shouldn’t miss the details.

Anyway, much misunderstanding centers around a contentious section of Situation, entitled “Nightmare”. Bryan “Weed” Tecco, my cardboard villain from CFTH, referenced only in his absence in that novel, is thereafter my protagonist, and he’s alive, contrary to the suppositions of my other characters, and in all likelihood, readers of CFTH. Emerging not-quite drowned from a lagoon in West Marin, he holes up at an old friend’s house in villagy Bolinas, then hitchhikes back to suburbia, only to be picked up and later drugged by a man, Dan Pritchard, with a sadistic streak and an apparent diaper fetish. Apart from recalling Chris Leavitt’s wayward new diaper invention from the first novel, the notion here is to have my character make a psychic return to helplessness: to a time when all needs are taken care of (and Dan Pritchard does take care); to a time when the body is uninhibited; to a time when the mind is bewildered, and possibly terrified. Weed is humiliated by Dan Pritchard, and though he appears to escape uninjured, there lingers the suggestion that Weed has been violated, while asleep no less.

Attentive readers, those who stuck with the various backstories of CFTH, may think this just desserts, this victimization. After all, according to Chris Leavitt, Weed introduced friends like Chris to not only a drug using lifestyle, but also a milieu in which prostitutes, sex, and consent for sex, moves freely (from one POV), or inchoately, dissociatively (from another). Regardless, I had plans for Bryan “Weed” Tecco–plans to make him an unlikely hero, back from the dead, but more importantly, back from infamy and indifference. In the chapters that follow “Nightmare”, Weed resolves not to talk about his ordeal with Dan Pritchard, but as many in my practice have discovered, not talking about something far from means that one is un-impacted. However, time is short in drama, and therefore serendipity: Weed meets Jill Evans, a shared “friend” of Chris Leavitt, and as she accompanies Weed on his road-trip search for his friend, she lets slip the clumsy near-rape Chris had attempted in CFTH. For the determined separatist, Weed, this presents an opportunity for his own suffering to quickly metabolize so that he might support another.

And later, as he finally connects with Jules Grotius, the creator of the subversive online game, ‘The Situation’–the self-styled guru of a new medium through which conscientious activism can be achieved–he listens, half-percolating the needs of his re-emerging self, half-reconciling current events with past traumas, while absorbing the heroic purpose he has unwittingly lived over the previous several days. Weed the drug dealer may live on. Weed the woman-distrusting bully may even persist with old habits. But Weed the game-fixated, insular enigma has been dealt a death blow.

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No Place To Go

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There is no place to go, nothing to do, participate in, or witness, that will achieve the elusive state that exists in Bryan “Weed” Tecco’s head. Not that he doesn’t imagine: its glory and the path backwards through memory to the thing he really wants, the euphoric recall. But it’s in the subtext now, this longing. Even at the premature age of twenty seven he’s been coasting along, living with subdued disappointment and thwarted experience; a specimen of ennui and muted self-loathing. In the post-script of this missive, I’ll give him a break and call him by his real name.

Bryan’s day job is that of a game-tester for a telecommunications giant called Sahi communications. Ten years ago the average reader of a book like The Situation might have asked if being a tester of video games was a real job, but these days, with e-sports an actuality, role-play video games more popular than film or music, the job in question might now be the ultimate career choice for the average teenage or tweenie male. Girls wouldn’t want this gift, except maybe those desperate to squeeze into the male world; one-time little sisters playing out the drama of not being left out. However, Bryan works his day job by taking it for granted, paying it little heed while using the languidly passing hours as a springboard for the evening’s moonlighting, his wax dealing side-gig. Though seemingly bright, creative, and possibly ingenious, he nurses an old wound that obstructs ambitions, his prospectively society-contributing lifestyle. In his world, whether that is Richmond, California, or the affluent, hippy back roads of West Marin, Bryan is a misfit: born without guidance or guidelines, though he is subject to hasty yet capable nurturing later on. He is destined to plunder his own path, revisit his original script of rejection more effortlessly than Chris “Crystal” Leavitt ever will. He will keep others at arm’s length, generating intrigue in some, contempt in most, but still assessing his limitations all along.

As a serendipitous adventurer, Bryan fits the bill for me, but not for Sahi, a corporate beast that doesn’t notice the special talents of its worker bees. A wildcard in their system, Bryan recognizes special elements in a game he’s been given to test; elements uncannily similar to the hallucinogenic visions (called ‘Shadows’) that he shares with his also wayward friend, Chris. Galvanized by an impulse not fully expressed to the reader, Bryan steals the files for the game, called ‘The Situation’, half-believing that he’s found a cause that will stoke a dormant heroism. In the novel’s predecessor, Crystal From The Hills, the notion of a situation is given some comic mileage as an inside joke between friends: a situation is a personified event with an attitude, and given a cosmic edge. A situation, as introduced in the first novel, is an umbrella term for an event with some manner of sentience at its core. A situation: it has opinions and feelings; it wants things, and like God, will fuck with people if it has to. It’s a signal that all things, happenings and beings that wander aimlessly, congeal in order to find meaning, reflecting the existence of an overseeing power.

The presumptions of a psychotherapist, which are perhaps similar to those of a dramatist, are that people care: they care about themselves, about their friends, their parents or siblings, their lovers. They care about their communities even, and given half the chance, lifelong frustrations or limitations notwithstanding, they’d seize the opportunity to make a difference, disrupt the presumed versus natural order of things and bring forth something like goodness. Bryan’s adversaries generally see him as an opportunist and a sociopath, and so they miss him. His doppelganger, Eric “fierce” Pierce, chases Weed across the landscape of California, pursuing him with all the righteous fervor of Javert, but also the collapsing delusion of a failing system. Pierce haplessly represents his employer, which thinks it can easily squash the individual, the fly in the ointment, “between the pincers of a superior being”, I write. But of course it isn’t superior, this corporate behemoth that is Sahi Telecommunications. It’s made up of individuals, after all: all lost in the mix. Like Bryan, it only acts as if it knows what it’s doing. Underneath the pretense, my protagonist acts as if he doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why he separates, as in separates from everything and everyone as often as he can. The backstory? Sorry (or not), this story’s not like CFTH; it’s locked into the present and future, not the past. It’s in the subtext also, Bryan’s quiet lack of self-worth.

Who he is lies somewhere in between the texts of the two novels, or else before either, out of sight of his author even, and hiding defiantly. It’s late now, a good several months since I finished The Situation, plus a year or two since I birthed Bryan “Weed” Tecco. I know he’s better than he thinks he is. I knew from the start that he’d be much more than the cardboard nasty I expose in CFTH. I thought he might be a good anti-hero, a curmudgeon with a tender heart, a bit like the John Milner character from American Graffiti: greased, beefy and sour, yet sweet enough to give a kid a break; kissing the thirteen year old girl on the cheek at the end of the night. If you read the dense yet worthwhile gem that is CFTH then you might have thought you’d seen the last of Weed, and thought good riddance (to Weed, and maybe the book, I guess). You didn’t know I had plans, ideas that were only half-thought through as I got started. I was playing it by ear, looking for redemption in a sequel, hope in ordinary guys—not even men—and believing in few things less than I do heroism, which is a problem for me, I admit. Really: the way heroism is sold in this life is a deadly lie. I prefer redemption as a concept. There’s more personal history, less of a script for others to steal, transform into something banal, there just for common consumption, or exploitation. Instead, there’s something musical, un-captured and pure. There’s even more syncopation in the sound of the word.

For e-book link for The Situation, click on the following:

http://www.amazon.com/Situation-Graeme-Daniels-ebook/dp/B00LDUP2NG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411079181&sr=1-1&keywords=Graeme+Daniels+The+Situation

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Living Without Blood

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When I think of trauma, I think of heuristic notions that I’ve fashioned in my mind in recent years and then spoken in sound-bites to clients and peers. My favorite—largely because it seemed catchy when I first thought of it—is one in which I address the saying, “time heals all wounds” by saying, “no it doesn’t. It is consciousness followed by honesty that heals wounds”. This was partly a reflection of reading (though I cannot cite the sources), partly a result of clinical observation, and largely a result of private experience. I’d simply known people (including myself) for whom thought, behavior, and feeling seemed frozen in time; memory fossilized as opposed to preserved—inflexible, and more importantly, not open to discussion.

            In recent years I’ve tended to think of trauma more in terms of feeling, of affect, rather than thought, memory, or behavior: listening to drug addicts “war story”; that is, recount the details of their drug use and the accompanying problems with flatness in their voices, or sardonic inflections as they spoke of the “crazy” aspects of their lifestyles. I reflect on my grandfather, a veteran of WWII, and more specifically, of the famous British evacuation of Dunkirk in 1941. As a kid I once innocently asked him to tell me about “fighting” the Germans (I didn’t realize it was more about the defeated—and likely shameful—running away from Germans). Granddad, as he was called, was curiously reticent about “fighting”, and was even more curiously without anger, excitement or sadness when speaking of his memories. Most curious was the specific memory that stood out for him: his anxiety about losing his weapon on the beach, mostly because that would have annoyed his officious sergeant. Years later my father explained that Granddad’s anxiety was compounded by the fact that he couldn’t swim. He had a dilemma on the day of the evacuation: attempt to swim and likely drown, or stay on the beach and get shot. His life was saved by that officious sergeant pulling him to a boat.

            Through reading and discussion, I learn that trauma manifests chronically with problems of hyperarousal and dissociation, and while symptoms of hyperarousal (such as panic attacks, nightmares, or startle response) may draw clinical attention more commonly, our attention should also be drawn to flat affect, inattention, so-called “shutting down” responses such as the dissociated client’s “I don’t know” or “I’ve gone blank” statements. From our reading of attachment research, we learn that the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenocortical Axis is a significant barometer of an individual’s response to stress: that when activated, a process follows wherein the Autonomic Nervous System is activated, and from that, a dissociation pattern which disengages the individual from stressful stimuli, rendering them “safe”, if maladaptive.

            If clinicians are to address these problems and help people, then psychiatrists and therapists must either interrupt the consolidation of memories, or else provide the safe context for the symbolic (as in verbal) expression of feelings. In terms of psychiatric intervention, we learn that pharmacology may have a role in the reduction of PTSD symptoms, which may in turn pertain to the consolidation of memories, the “freezing” of memories in tandem with emotional states. In terms of therapy, I recall Jude Cassidy’s 2001 article, “Truth, Lies, and Intimacy”, and her speculations upon trauma as a phenomenon that is exacerbated by the distortions that caregivers impose on memories, what I have fancifully termed “Hamlet syndrome” (It’s not just the murder of his father that is traumatic. It’s that no one’s speaking truthfully about it). This is bolstered by attachment research suggesting that those whose past traumatic episodes have been acknowledged truthfully (such as Holocaust victims) are more inclined towards secure attachments.

            In the Masterson model, we hear the broad suggestion that a clinician focus on deficits of the disordered self prior to working directly with trauma: meaning, the containing of acting out behaviors through the establishment of a therapeutic frame, the containing of transference acting out in the therapy, as well as destructive behaviors outside of therapy; the creation of a therapeutic alliance (TA).            What else do I want to know? Not sure, but the following quote from the Barbara Short chapter in Masterson (2005, P. 102) stirs my thoughts: “During times of strong affective arousal or dissociation, the therapist can reestablish contact with the patient best by not calling attention to the projective aspect of her experience. That has to come later, when the patient is in a more differentiated mental state.” This statement would appear to have significant implications for a model distinguished by attention drawn to defense, albeit in a sequence that proceeds from an empathic opening.

 

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Fragments resembling accidents

In writing a story about accidents and trauma, I had the challenge of insinuating these themes into all areas of the narrative. I had to. Victims don’t have a choice. The memories of events are there for them everyday, in every waking moment, even disturbing the somnolent ones–encoded in the insignificant details of life. I sought to embed these elements into my characters, both central and supporting, but somehow let ’em leak out. There are leaks in Crystal From The Hills, my tale of an itinerant drug addict and trauma victim wandering the milieu of Oakland after falling down its idyllic hills. An accident. Chris Leavitt never meant to hurt anyone. He doesn’t mean to trigger the phobic response of those who understandably associate the sounds of ringtones and doorbells with disaster. He doesn’t intend to stir a chill in those who crave truth but are surrounded by secrets and liars. Accidents happen. That’s what people once said to Chris, trying to make him feel better. Feeling better: it never made him better. Observe a few revealing fragments:

“Have you spoken to your mother recently?”

“No,” Chris answered, suddenly robotic.

“She understands more than you think.”

“I don’t want to talk to her.”

Aunt Jenny held a napkin to her mouth, suggesting an emergent revulsion. She quickly eyed Magdalena, who was hovering about the table, not quite waiting upon them; seemingly undecided as to her role. Jenny nodded, uttered hints about forthcoming stacks of clothing including all that Chris had brought with him. Between them they communicated a solution: an ironing board. Old clothes of his ought to be unearthed from the guest room closet, she also directed.

The angelic, chiming sound of the doorbell stirred them all out of this quiet, embarrassed arranging. Magdalena shot a glance in the direction of the front door, as though the sound were one that triggered old, traumatizing memories. Fleetingly, Chris noticed her wide-eyed bearing and speculated that it was borne of full-moon nights when doors were knocked upon, delivering bad news, illness and violent death—or accidental death—of prodigal loved ones. Aunt Jenny, startled, gaped expectantly at her obedient servant.

“I wonder who that could be,” she said, surprised. Magdalena marched dutifully and solemnly to the door, whispering in Spanish some ominous imprecations. Aunt Jenny turned her puzzled, yet vaguely inquiring expression towards Chris. Shrugging, he suspended his fork over his half-eaten omelet, and indulged a nameless foreboding. He looked down upon his food, upon the raped shreds of congealed egg and frayed greens. What an accident this all resembles, he thought.

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At a loss for words

Listen. Bad things are happening: accidents, enemy action. Dissociation, which leads to a loss of words…silence. My body shook today from the news. It knew more than I did, whoever I am. In Crystal From The Hills, my non-conformist fiction (No heroes, and no love. Sorry) that is destined to live on the outside of literary establishment, characters are at a loss for words and therefore some part of themselves. Perhaps it’s for the best, this mutedness. Memories are diffuse. Trauma has served to conflate past and present, and secrets keep both peace and status quo. Say anything about what’s really happening then you’ve broken the rules: expect to be fired, ostracized; transferred to that job you don’t want, that trivial life you never bargained for. Phones symbolize what’s happening in CFTH. They’ve stopped working or else they’ve disappeared–gone down with the ship, disappeared. In an emergency authorities can shut down the service apparently. That’s right. They can shut you up. But of course phones are just like people, really: easily replaced, I mean. Observe:

Jill was gone: gone from Chris’ presence, mothballed from his mind. Upon reading Sweet’s message, he immediately began texting his reply; his relaxed fingering suggested a fixated pleasure with such toys; a need that had been starved over the last several days. Yet Chris Leavitt thought of his phones as nemeses. They cut out, dropped calls; went silent for no reason, or else they exhibited letters or numbers he hadn’t pressed. This particular one, which he’d left behind at Jill’s place, was the worst offender. It defied him, gave him the silent treatment, and if he’d get his act together, he’d go down to his carrier’s office at some point and ask for a divorce. Negative thinking: he might actually qualify for an upgrade, he then reasoned. Minutes later he was done, having finished his reply to Sweet. He was done for the moment with his deputy phone’s aggravating, petty resistances, and looked up and about the neighborhood. It seemed for an instant that he was lost; that is, without something to do, without a plan, an identity: he was a cipher, he briefly feared: he still felt dead but for the fact that others spoke to him, which, he supposed, proved otherwise.

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Everything we love vanishes

A quote from W.B Yeats. In The Silent Past and the Invisible Present, Paul Renn writes about the traumatized, the pathological mourning of those whose ambivalent yearning for and anger with attachment figures becomes dissociated; split off and embedded into personality. Through Renn’s case examples, the reader learns that those with attachment difficulties, personality problems, are beset with distorted representations of self and others, and that time is lost; meaning, past and present become conflated experiences: the past denied, but acted out in the present. In Crystal From The Hills, protagonist Chris Leavitt (nicknamed Crystal) is an itinerant trauma victim, suffering from (among other things) post-acute withdrawal resulting from (you guessed it!) methamphetamine use. He is unconsciously playing out a conflicted identification with absent caregivers: a distant, self-absorbed father, and a protective yet similarly detached and secretive mother. The backstory has yielded his character and thus the first two-thirds of the novel, his “acting out”. Chris tries to be “nice” in life, but as often as not his attempts are disengenuous, especially when dealing with authority. His mentor, Aunt Jenny, advises, “there’s nothing nice about being nice”, articulating the demand that he be real. And he has acted out upon anger: Chris’ problems at work–his “suspension” for insubordination–reveals his impulses, his sporadic rebellion against authority figures and systems. More sinisterly, his present-day drama contains a mystery: the disappearance of his friend, the malevolently reptilian Weed. Chris is noticeably evasive. If attentive, the reader must consider some dark possibilities as the mystery unfolds: is Chris psychotic? a killer? a rapist, even? Meanwhile, ambivalence thwarts Chris’ other ambitions: sleep disturbed, his dreams are interrupted, and his perceptions are marred by visions, his so-called “shadows”. His ideas, such as his strange and somewhat silly diaper invention (an indicator that his dreams entail regression) are tentatively delivered, but easily withdrawn or dismissed with self effacing humor. Back in the day, he once tried to be an actor, and still does affect the odd scene here and there (incongruous quotes from film or literature), but surely the best actors must first be grounded in reality, and reality, through no fault of his own, actually, has also been elusive.

Above all, Chris has failed at love, just as his father had. That is, Chris has tried to sustain love and relationships, but the truth is that parents, friends, women, have all left. And so the story begins upon a two-fold leaving: the disappearance of his doppelganger, Weed, followed by Chris’ disappearance into the anonymous milieu of Oakland.

 

 

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Killing Time

So here’s a little intellectual stuff: in his theoretical model, Dr. James Masterson alerted patients and colleagues to a three part cycle known as the self in disorder triad: attempts at self-activation, which include any and all attempts at real self expression, the pursuit of goals, lead to anxiety, an indicator of an underlying abandonment depression, which is in turn soothed by a defensive life strategy; a series of habitual behaviors, thinking patterns, which help avoid distress. Much of this is ego-syntonic–meaning, supported by the patient, who thinks of these behaviors as normal and natural, as well as the individual’s support network. This is especially true of trauma victims, whose self-defeating and sometimes self-destructive behaviors and thinking patterns are supported both internally and externally, leading to unhealthy collusions, stagnations that serve no one’s growth, but instead everyone’s survival. Time. Time stands still for the chronically traumatized. Past and present become conflated; the past is in the now. In Crystal From the Hills (purchase link), these alliances between selves and others have given space, but killed time. I wasted no time writing CFTH. I spent three years crafting its intricate mystery, its ambitiously deep subtext. There were good times along the way, room for a few laughs in between thought-provoking passages. The characters aren’t as quirky or funny as some–can’t rival HBO just yet for dark and hip inspiration. But hey, mine is a good book…really. Observe the following passage:

*These ruminations were killing time. Chris checked his enemy, the digital clock, registering the passing of four o’clock—his time, everyone’s time, he thought democratically—in his peripheral view. Soon Jill will be back and he’d feel a vague urge to justify himself, report upon the achievements of the day. They were few. There was something, actually; something he’d been talking about, albeit obscurely, for weeks: that revolution, as he’d cheekily put it earlier. Actually, he’d been thinking about it for years, but only recently had he admitted others to the conversation he’d been having with himself. He’d even said, “I’ve got business to do” to someone, perhaps Sweet. He’d told Jill about it, somewhat, though as he recalled, the conversation hardly generated edge of seat anticipation on her part. If it went further, she’d start interrogating as to whether this idea—which was really a joke that had grown into something else—had any legs. When she gets back she’ll ask what he’s been doing. She might seize upon the topic while she’s going through the room checks. He was procrastinating, now, thinking he had more time. In the morning, first thing, the day ahead seems long and promising; it stretches out with everlasting opportunity. Thing is time passes; opportunity passes, and procrastination kills time. It just plain kills it.

See…

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