Dissociative Praise

“Focus on a point in the distance. Escape your body. Leave behind the pain.”

Praise became my mantra,
worship my coping mechanism.

I had read about the benefits of dissociation in a book on natural childbirth, not realizing at the time that this was also a common, involuntary response to overwhelming trauma. The way the book described it, disassociation was a natural, healthy way to cope with intense pain. Separating my mind from my body was fine and good for something as short-lived as childbirth, but in the aftermath of severe, complex trauma, the real challenge came in trying to reintegrate. What the books never explained was where to go when I left my body, or how to find my way back once it was over.

See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, O LORD.
How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down– this leaning wall, this tottering fence? They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.
Psalm 59:3, 62:3-4

When trauma struck David, he didn’t need a book to tell his soul what to do. In the face of terrifying physical danger and overwhelming emotional pain, his soul evacuated. It could no longer face the constant terror of enemies lurking around every corner, relentlessly pursuing him until they had successfully crushed him to pieces. It could no longer handle the exhausting awareness that no matter where he went people would betray him, that one by one each person he trusted was more likely to turn out as his enemy rather than his friend.

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest– I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
Psalm 55:6-8

His soul went looking for another place to stay, somewhere where he could escape from his current physical circumstance. Being fully present in his body hurt too much. It might be trapped in the horrors of the moment, but his soul was free to spread its wings and fly away.

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
Psalm 61:2, 57:1

And so his soul soared to the one place it knew it was safe. It flew to take refuge near God. Here his Companion was trustworthy and his surroundings were secure. Here he could leave behind the chaotic, uncontrollable mess of earth and enter into the beautiful, soothing peace of heaven.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psalm 63:2-5

But the center of this dissociative state was not nothingness. It was God. God was what made this place so delightful. He was the light that captivated David’s attention with its indescribable beauty. He was the delicacy that satisfied David’s lips more than the richest of foods. David fell head over heels in love with God, and he never wanted to go back.

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:6-8

Savoring God’s beauty. Reveling in His love. In light of the horrors that lurked below, David’s prayers overflowed with the most unexpected themes. He lost himself in worship. He escaped into the delights of praise. God became his most tangible circumstance. He didn’t really want to face any other.

For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
Psalm 61:3-4

This is where he wanted to stay forever, or at least until the disaster below had passed. But physical realities pulled at his soul, reminding him that it was not yet fully released from its bodily dwelling. He had to respond to his body’s urgent needs. He had to function within its immediate surroundings.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.
Psalm 57:7-9

So David took the praise party of his dreams back into the waking nightmare of his world. He worshipped God’s transcendent power and beauty while experiencing his own immanent helplessness and mess. The threats were still as real as ever, the betrayal as relentless. But with God as the center of his focus, he could rise above the storm while walking through it. With God as his sure foundation, He could remain steadfast even while being overwhelmed.

When my soul was overwhelmed by trauma too intense for it to bear, it, too, took wings and flew into the arms of God. During those nightmarish days and weeks on earth, I experienced a sweetness in His presence that I had never known before. God in all His glorious attributes came alive for me, no longer a distant abstraction but now a very real presence. Having tasted and seen His heavenly delights, my life on earth held little appeal for me.

God took my soul by the hand and led me back into my body.

But like it or not, I knew I eventually had to go back, to reintegrate into the life that my body was still living. God took my soul by the hand and led me back into my body. He slowly taught me that it was safe to live there, because His Spirit was living there, too. Praise became my mantra, worship my coping mechanism. As long as I could feel Him with me, as long as I knew He was still on the throne of the universe, I was reassured that I could go on living.

Away from the body. At home with the Lord.
Back home in the body. Never away from the Lord.

3 thoughts on “Dissociative Praise”

  1. Hey Tiffany…interesting and soul-warming words today. I have a thought that I wondered if worth thinking on and perhaps digging into: In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and our current sole strength here on earth in the daily battles and WAR with Satan and his cohorts, was not living within those who had/have accepted Christ as Saviour. In John14, Jesus Christ said that He would one day return and until then, we would have another HELPER, to be with us. How does this make our situations, traumas, etc. a bit “different” from those of Old Testament times or does it make any difference. It’s my understanding that OLD TESTAMENT saints looked forward to the coming of Messiah and therefore if they truly had faith in that future event and followed “the law” accordingly then when the Messiah (Jesus Christ) did come, the their salvation was assured. Our faith looks back to that same event, but a difference is that the law was abolished and our faith is solely in Jesus and we are no longer bound by THE LAW and also the HOLY SPIRIT was sent to each one who accepted this NEW “LAW” of grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. So…how does this “play into” how we respond and deal with battles and scars and traumatic events we encounter in today’s life? ….See…I told you I sure missed having you around so I could just TALK about all these things!!!

    1. Great question, Terrie! How does the presence of the Holy Spirit change the way we deal with and heal from trauma? There are plenty of stories of trauma throughout the Bible, but I have especially focused on how David handled it because I think that he did have the Holy Spirit. In many ways, I think he was already participating in a new covenant relationship with God even though he lived so long before Christ. At several points the Bible talks about him avoiding a certain course of action because of his “conscience,” and more poignantly, in Psalm 51:11 he begged God not to remove His Holy Spirit from him as a consequence of his sin. (Interestingly, David is the only old testament person I can think of who also referred to God as his Father, another unique feature of our relationship with God in Christ.) All that is to say, I think examining how David responded to the “mess” of life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is enlightening for us, too.

      In terms of how the Holy Spirit helped me through trauma, I would say it was very similar to how He led David. I experienced the same “highs” in His presence, the same reticence to return earthly realities, and the same gentle leading from Him to do so (along with the assurance of His ongoing presence). I can’t speak for everyone who goes through trauma, but for me, the presence of God’s Spirit within me was what saved me from many of the self-destructive symptoms that frequently accompany experiences similar to mine.

      1. Thank you for discussions Tiffany. I am thinking that God did cause “his spirit/voice” to be evident to certain people during these OT times. I remember that there are other instances where it seems that God the Father was speaking and present in a particular person’s life perhpas more than in the general populous. I guess we can say they were participating in the HOPE of the Messiah and New Covenant. Of course I do realize that all passages in OT are Scripture and given to us for our use and growth and yes, David’s responses are certainly enlightening to us. I didn’t mean to indicate otherwise….just thinking about the work of the Comforter today as opposed to then. Thank you for all your sharing!

Tell me about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s