Hypnotherapy and Dissociation

I see myself, standing in the forest of Princess Mononoke. I’m robed, head down, hands outstretched, holding a wide, shallow basin which holds dark red blood. I’m offering it.

In my mind, silently, I say the words over and over “this is not something you’re taking, this is something I’m giving.” It’s done with the full awareness of pain and distress, of past trauma. They are not gone or silent, they are present, and yet it is still done. It is a choice, it is a cost in pursuit of something of value, an exchange, a sacrifice. These are things I understand.

About 15 years ago a traumatic incident triggered a sudden phobia of blood tests and drips for me. I’ve battled it mostly unsuccessfully since then, seen trauma specialists, dissociation specialists, and anxiety specialists. Nothing much has worked. Sometimes it’s been so bad I can’t sleep the night before a test. My hands sweat, I tremble, go white, dizzy, weak, and vomit. My head explodes with distress, people screaming and crying, begging us to get away and get the nurse away from us.

This week we went off for a session of hypnotherapy with a woman who’s particular interest is blood or needle phobias. Of course, we had to do some work to calm her anxiety about working with a multiple, as she was quickly overloaded by the complexity of our situation, and embedded in a ‘dysfunction’ model of multiplicity. We said to her “forget all this, this is just details. We’re still human. We have the same needs and fears.” She said to us “hypnosis is just dissociation by another name”.

She did a session, talking about safety. We switched a lot and had an intense inner conversation, figuring out what the block has been (the parts who are not afraid do not inhabit tender body places such as inner elbows), which part is needed (our night poet who is deeply familiar with ‘strength in vulnerability’), what the challenge was (they live in night, in solitude or under stars, fluorescent lights and a blood clinic are about as far from their territory as we can get), and some work arounds for it (draw on the skills we have in theatre to take over and own a space, dress in their clothes, they don’t have to be present for long, use a character or setting that fits to focus on).

So we did, and it worked. Yesterday was the first blood test I’ve had in 15 years with no trace of phobia or trauma reaction. The shrink didn’t do it to us, or fix us. She came into a space with us, that’s all. It’s the same space our night poet inhabits naturally, it’s the same space we access when we do focusing. In that space, we connected with each other and had a complex conversation that lead to answers. We can do this ourselves. We will start a new journal for focusing. This is powerful. There’s hope in it.

There’s also risk. The phobia has been sustained by many things, including an attempt to prevent self harm. We made a call that stopping self harm was no longer going to be our focus, that it was not the real problem. Pain, loneliness, and self hate were the problem. So the phobia isn’t needed. Other things are in this box we’ve tipped over, like traumatic memories of medical procedures as a child. Like a desire to claim and own our own body. Like fear of and fascination with the medical. Like a history of Endo and Adeno that involves a lot of pain and blood. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m ready to find out. I don’t want or need this bogeyman, this self induced nightmare to try to protect me anymore. I’ll risk disruption and self harm to be able to actually engage with this territory and make some progress through it. I’m not finished, it’s not over. I’m just beginning.

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