There are other conclusions to draw from that experience though.

A part of integration has to do with being able to process emotions. When they are shut down and you are (I am) in a constantly dissociated state, then emotional processing doesn’t happen very much, or very smoothly, and it goes on in an entirely different way than when you are not dissociated and emotions just flow freely all the time.

As the trauma gets processed and every third second ceases to be full of intense pain that can’t be properly dealt with just at that moment, then what happens is you start processing emotions more smoothly. You start with processing remembered emotions from the past, and a framework develops: this is how these particular emotions feel in my body, these are the other times when I have felt them, this is what that they mean to me. As other emotions flow in the present, they then have this framework within which you can understand them.

Looking at the memory of feeling something romantic for Natalya for really the first time—it was certainly the first time I felt it in a such noticeable and intense way—then this framework is starting to develop. That I what romantic attraction feels like. It wasn’t how I expected it to feel. It’s not how the sexual response of abuse sometimes felt. It wasn’t how my abusers seemed to feel. It wasn’t even clearly sexual. It was definitely romantic—what I most wanted her to do just then was to stay there, to not move away from me. It felt so good to have her body against mine. But it’s not an explicitly sexual feeling. It is more an internal kind of melting. It has much more to do with my heart.

I realize a part of this is just processing that emotion. That is what romantic attraction feels like. It’s the first time I felt it. On this side of the wall, in the side of myself that is chronically dissociated, I’ve never felt it before. The memory coming to the surface today is the first time I have. So I’m just making sense of it. I’m recording the sensations in my body that have to do with having an emotion, and I am matching them up with this name. It’s not such a simple process as it seems like it might be. It’s slow.

But it’s also mixed with this sadness, because this is how I had to develop as an emotional person. I wasn’t able to develop as a whole person. I had to grow up as someone in parts. I didn’t have a choice about it, and it makes it feel so much as though I missed out on experiencing myself as a young person. I missed out on experiencing my own world.