Buddy Nielsen, vocalist for Senses Fail, reached out to AltPress to share his experience with dissociation. Read the story of how he realized what was happening to his mind, learning to cope with his self-worth and sexuality, and the peace he seeks that is still a work in progress. Catch Senses Fail on Warped Tour all summer.

What keeps me up at night?

Is it the fact that global warming has reached a tipping point? That ISIS has taken back territory that so many men and women died for, (in a war that was based on false information to begin with)? Could it be that every time I post something online in regards to LGBTQ rights/advocacy I am told “Dude, we get it. You’re gay. Get over it. We don’t need to hear about it.” Or maybe it’s the fact that on our most recent tour I was called a “faggot” by someone in the crowd almost every other night?

Actually, it’s none of that. Though they are all very good reasons why one might find oneself frantically tossing and turning in the night. No, for me it is much less egregious and much more subtle than that. It is a creeping notion, that no matter what I do, no matter how safe I feel or how well I’ve built up my life to be foolproof, at any moment, it can all come crashing down. And I don’t mean literally, like through an earthquake or some other act of “God,” but something as simple as the way in which I am spoken to or the sun light shining just a little too bright (if you’ve been to L.A. you might know what I am talking about: When the whole Earth looks like it’s lit up like Clark Griswald’s fucking Christmas tree) or even whether it is too hot in my apartment but it’s January so I can’t possibly turn on the AC in good conscience. Those types of little stresses are the things that drive me wild. They are the things that build up in my body and cause the type of anxiety that can send me to the hospital. Those are the things I have always been running from, unsuccessfully of course. Those are the reasons I drank and paid for sex with strangers in order to numb my out-of-wack nervous system. A thought– a fucking thought– can send me from Shangri-La to Hell in about 1.2 seconds.

One of the earliest “thoughts” that I can remember in my life was, wondering why I was shaking in a fear of cold sweat and panic for some unknown reason in the middle of the night on July 4, 1990. I was six years old and I had just come home from watching fireworks with my father. I remember the smell of alcohol on his breath. I remember my mother didn’t come with us, but when we got home she was watching the James Bond movie License To Kill. I remember the exact part of the movie playing. Bond, then played by Timothy Dalton, got in a truck chase and was flailing around on the hood of a semi.  My memory from there (until I woke up in panic) is wiped clean. Nothing. No recollection of time and space. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday, the sounds as if they were happening right now and the dread; I can almost still taste it on my lips and at times I do. It was a humid upstate New York night, filled with the harsh furry of a thousand crickets churning out their songs. Myself, lying unable to move in a bed, traumatized for reasons I cannot recall. The white-faced dread you feel when you learn someone close to you has died, the bone chilling dread of loss of control, that is what I felt.

I remember all these specific things, yet I have no idea why they happened.  Why did I feel as though I was leaving my body? What the hell happened? Later in life I came to understand that what occurred to me is referred to as a dissociative state. Basically in layman’s terms, I became so traumatized or frightened by an event that I went into a state of dissociation. Dissociation is characterized by losing your sense of reality; you feel detachment from the body and perception of reality is distorted. So in other words, I freaked the fuck out and my system got fried. I’d liken it to a bad trip but without the drugs.  Welcome to life. This is my earliest memory.

Once I started to meditate, a lot of these situations and emotions started coming back to me. Every time I would sit down, I would become flooded with panic and a similar dread. It was as if just recognizing my own body in existence was too much for me. The feeling of my own breath in my lungs, the sound of the passing cars, the realization I was starting to sweat, any and all of it was too much for my nervous system to handle. Luckily, I was able to find help from one of my dharma teachers, who quickly realized that I had been through some type of trauma and I was showing the tell-tale signs. He was a trauma survivor himself, and had experienced many of the same anxieties. Luckily for my sake, he knew a way in which to help restructure my capacity to be with myself.

We started a slow and arduous process over the last year and a half of moving between talk therapy, somatic experiencing and meditation practice; specifically loving-kindness meditation or metta practice. Loving-kindness practice is the cultivation of good will and love towards oneself, loved ones, strangers, enemies and ultimately towards every living sentient being. Somatic experiencing is the practice renegotiating traumatic experience. It is aimed at relieving and resolving post-traumatic stress by working with the dysregulation that occurs as a result of trauma and allowing traumatic experiences to be relived, renegotiated and ultimately discharged.

My personal view on myself until I started this process was shit. I thought I was worth nothing, was a waste of time to save and really thought that I had done so much bad in this world that I didn’t deserve to even send myself any goodwill. It is very interesting to watch how your mind reacts when you start to offer yourself love and affection.  In our culture, self-love and affection can be seen as selfish and weak, so there is this added layer of muck we have to wade through when we Americans start using loving-kindness practice. 

But before I could even start to speak about my trauma, or even recognize that it was trauma I had to learn to trust myself, my body and the guidance of another. All my other experiences with therapy had been a disaster. I wrote a whole record about it with Still Searching. My last therapist’s advice when I told him I was sexually attracted to gender queer and transgender women was to shame me and force me to say back to him, “I am wrong.” Then he would make a point to say, “You know they are not women right? So stop calling them she. They are men.” So, it makes sense that I was very fucking nervous about putting myself in another situation like that. However, I found trust and I found a framework in which to trust and put my faith in. Between the meditation, the somatic experiencing and the support of my loved ones, I have found a great sense of safety. Through this process I have gained a new found trust and resilience in life.

So, to bring us back to the beginning. A thought has the power to send me into a panic. A lot of us can relate to this in some way. Some of us with trauma in our history are even more sensitive to our environment, inside and out.  I think a lot of us are run around by our overactive minds, constantly judging, evading, planning. Telling us we aren’t good enough, telling us we need more or need less. A never-ending stream of consciousness that even if you tried, you couldn’t stop.  Now on top of that, attach a nervous system that is unable to regulate its stresses because of trauma, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. Just think of all the ways in which we try to “regulate” by other means: alcohol, sex, shopping, food, video games, work, drugs, the list can go on and on. There are many ways in which we numb and regulate; some are healthier ways than others but all are for the same purpose: to help ease our troubled minds and hearts. But really what we need is to turn towards our own experience and meet our selves with love and forgiveness.

It is not always the things that you would think keep us up at night. For me, it is my mind that haunts the hallways, the images of the past that go bump in the night. Some days, I have a great relationship with my mind, one in which I can watch as a million different things run through it and not grab on to any one of them, letting them pass as a cloud in the sky. Then, I have other days where I feel my own mind and body are on opposite teams and I am stuck somewhere in the middle, a silent sufferer to their war. This is all a work in progress for me, this life, ever unfolding in ways that we cannot foresee. What I have found that supports me is to be gentle and to be kind to myself and in doing so, I can bring safety to others. The Buddha once famously said “Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind?” I cannot find truer words. I cannot find words that have helped me more.