Liminality

This is the third post I’ve written on this topic. I abandoned the first two. Hopefully this one works out.

In my life, I have had several times when I experienced something I could not put a word to. It is a feeling of unreality, of crushing loneliness, like something is subtly but catastrophically wrong. I have had this feeling in the airport, on an airplane, on a toll road, even in a dream. I described it to someone like, if you were a child and went home, and your parents were entirely different people.

I learned that word recently. That word is “liminality”, and specifically, the concept of liminal spaces. These are marked by a sense of familiarity, but otherworldness, of loneliness. Something that’s familiar, but off, in a way that’s somewhat difficult to describe.

When I left my family finally, it was a time of transition, just as it was when I lost my faith in the religion I grew up in. This was a time of seeking and of transition, but here’s the thing: these kinds of liminalities are difficult, because they kind of don’t end. It’s like a failed rite of passage. You’re stuck in limbo between what was and what should be, and never quite being able to either let go of what was, or to embrace what could be. That is, I think, perhaps the essence of PTSD – trauma that refuses to allow you to let go of the past or move into the future. It’s a constant liminal space, a place of not belonging, an otherwise familiar space that, nonetheless, is not yours.

But it helps to put a word to the concept.

What do I do with it? I don’t know yet. But I feel like this concept is a good tool to add to the toolbox. Maybe you cannot deal with PTSD until you can recognize the liminal space for what it is, and find a way to move into the future rather than holding on to a past that no longer exists.

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