Jackie’s Thoughts (part II) on THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE
Last blog I talked about the things I was going through, learning about myself with therapy and how it connected with the events of this book. There are several chapters going in to the physiological effects of the brain’s traumatic experience(s). The “psychosomatic” symptoms, (psyche meaning brain, somatic meaning body). Van Der Kolk talks about the vagal nerve, it is a nerve system that starts at the brain stem and connects the back of our throats, hearts, and digestive tracts. This is why one of the biggest things we feel, when scared, is our heart dropping, our stomachs turning and maybe even the tone of our voices uncontrollably shift.
For a while I was suffering from regular panic attacks, something that hadn’t happened since I was a kid. I will go into a bit of a description of how I felt one night:
I was trying to sleep, but my heart was pounding so hard that my body refused to rest. My stomach felt like it would vomit anything I would even think about putting in it. I kept closing my eyes and trying to turn and get comfortable, I did my best to breathe, I was even trying to sleep on the couch so I could be under a window. My partner unexpectedly came in and I jumped up. And that is where all control was surrendered. I don’t remember much besides apologizing profusely, I felt like I couldn’t inhale enough and I remember trying to release the tension in my neck but my mind lacked the ability to tell my body what to do. He sat on the floor in front of me. He held my knees and talked to me. So gently talked to me, eventually holding my hands, pausing and then talking until I calmed down. “reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind, and heart. For our own physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety” -Van Der Kolk, 79
That feeling, to me, is the worst out there. There is another response that the body can attain and it is what usually follows that “fight or flight” panic response. It is the ability to shut down emotionally and/or physically. Taking a break from my experience, I will speak to my mother’s from an outside perspective. When I was about 9, my mom began to shut down. She felt her social circles had turned against her, spreading rumors, and my father began to push away (around that time was when he started his affair.) My mother, a beacon of good feelings, the ever present, comforter who taught me to love the sensory world around me began to shut down. Van Der Kolk explains that, the body cannot deal with any more pain from the minds emotions, and so we from a disconnect. Things like soft objects, food, contact from others lose enjoyment or even just sensation over-all. “Agency” is the technical term for the feeling of being in charge of your life knowing where you stand, knowing that you have a say in what happens to you, knowing that you have some ability to shape your circumstances.” -Van Der Kolk, 94
Later in the chapter he says that agency starts with “interoception,” to be aware of subtle body-based feelings, the greater the awareness the greater we feel we can control our lives. My mother was pouring a container of Crystallite that was meant for 2 quarts (64 oz) of water into a 24oz bottle of water, mind you not all the powder would make it into the bottle, but it was still over kill. I will never forget when I asked her about it, she said that she “couldn’t taste it, otherwise.” As I got older, my jubilant mom seldom laughed, cried, or did much besides sit in her chair at all hours of the day and night watching TV and making up paranoid scenarios in her mind.
Van Der Kolk says that gentle physical contact can help bring people out of states like this. When I was about 20, my mom felt that she wasn’t very pretty anymore and seemed sad about it. It was weird because usually if there was any emotion among her numbness, it was anger over sadness. It was summer and she would wear her sandals. I told her I would give her a pedicure, and she could look at the beautiful colors on her nails when she felt ugly. I soaked her feet, cleaned her nails, shaped them and even massaged her legs. Her ears turned red, as if it were the first time in 11 years that they saw blood circulation. My mom perked up when she saw her toe nails. To this day I still do this for her 3 times a year. I am not saying it cured her, I am not saying she was “back to normal” after that. Seeing the response in her body and emotions is very compelling in relation to Van Der Kolk’s findings. Trauma is a scary seat to be in. This book is helping bring not only my own emotional experiences to light, but how I can see it in others see in it those around me. Of how I experience/experienced people. It, so far, has been a valuable tool.