She Walked Through Fire

She walked through fire but was not burned by it. Her body did not show a sign of the path she’d been traveling through the burning forest or her life. She did not feel pain. She had all feeling neatly folded away in the dirty laundry drawer in her mind. Over the years, walking through a little too many fires, she’d grown accustomed to not showing their effects. She was not burned – at least, not visibly so.

A few months ago, I read up on somatoform dissociation. It is where there’s a disconnect between your body and your mind and it shows itself physically, as opposed to psychologically. Psychological dissociation is a distortion in memory, sense of self or identity. Somatoform dissociation manifests itself in distortions to your physical experience. For example, you may not feel sensation in a particular body part for a while (not explained by the body part just having “fallen asleep”). Or you may have a strong aversion to a food or smell you normally like. You may even react differently to medications depending on your state of mind.

While it is unlikely that someone would not have physical burns from walking through an actual fire, the psychological equivalent describes perfectly what it is like to dissociate. In dissociation, you lock away the feelings or memories associated with a trauma into the unconscious. You walk through a psychological fire (experience a trauma) but don’t get burned – at least, not visibly so.

I once read in a women’s magazine about a person with dissociative identity disorder (DID). This woman’s doctor explained that everyone has a breaking point in life and this may be why people with DID may be able to hold it together for years after their early childhood trauma, but fall apart eventually. In other words, they lock away the pain and burns from walking through fire until a minor injury – hurting their index finger – tears open the horrible burn wounds. In my own case, I was fifteen when I first realized I dissociate, but 23 when I experienced this breaking point. I think the breaking point happened after I was attacked by a fellow patient on the resocialization unit of the psychiatric hospital. I wasn’t diagnosed with DID till more than a year later and that diagnosis has since been taken away, but the psychological burn wounds never disappeared.

This post is part of Reena’s Exploration Challenge #48.