Does Your Body Keep The Score?

“The Body Keeps The Score” by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk has been a great read for my own healing journey with PTSD and understanding what changes occur within the body and brain. Often when we are exposed to trauma, which can be a single event or multiple events, we try to push it out of our minds and continue on, as if nothing has happened. This takes tremendous energy, trying to focus and keep functioning in our daily lives while these memories keep replaying like a broken record.

It was very reassuring for me to read of Dr. Van der Kolk’s work which started with Vietnam Vets back in the 1970’s. He related that posttraumatic stress isn’t “all in one’s head”, as some people supposed, but has a physiological basis. It is understood that the symptoms have their origin in the entire body’s response to the original trauma. It only takes another hint of danger to evoke our brain circuits and stress hormones that have never normalized. The body reacts whether we want it to or not. You may experience intense physical sensations, impulsive or aggressive actions. It makes it hard for the person experiencing it to even understand and it’s overwhelming.

Those that want to offer support need to realize this and that it’s not a choice to have PTSD. It’s not simply a chemical imbalance in the brain to be corrected by specific drugs. It’s not simply a mental illness in which you can force yourself to have positive thoughts and it all goes away. Just like you can’t force it to the recesses of your brain and hope it goes away. The underlying issues have to be dealt with as they will re-surface at some point and will cause chronic pain or disease within the body.

Dr. Van der Kolk states that “traumatized people look at the world in a fundamentally different way from other people”. It may help those that can’t associate with PTSD to visually think of it as a wound. When it’s raw and open the signs and symptoms are at the peak for PTSD. When you find ways to manage it, it will scab over. However, it only takes something else to occur that is perceived as a threat, and then the scab is ripped away leaving the wound raw again. It’s a wound that never fully heals. That’s best understood if you realize that your body’s physiological changes, that occurred in response to the trauma never “reset” themselves back to what they were prior to the initial trauma. Since that can’t occur your baseline is different from those that haven’t experienced trauma in this way. You also keep secreting large amounts of stress hormones long after the actual danger has ended and the body’s stress hormones don’t return to baseline. The continued secretion of stress hormones is what expresses itself as agitation and panic. Our bodies can’t continue on in that high state without it affecting our health.

Dr. Van der Kolk explores how we can actually change our own physiology and inner equilibrium through means other than drugs which is what I truly believe. We have the innate ability to heal ourselves we just need to find the right combination of techniques and therapy to do so. I continue to follow the holistic methods that help me manage my PTSD which include yoga, Nia, meditation, past lives therapy and massage. Van der Kolk’s book shares the high success rate for those with PTSD with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR). I have booked a session for myself in the near future.   I’m focusing on self-love this year which seems to be a large obstacle for myself in my continued healing. I wonder how many others feel they also have lost a part of themselves in their trauma and find this difficult. I believe it would many.

About the Author: Lynne Rusk was a police officer for nineteen years before her diagnoses of PTSD took over and cost Lynne her career. Today, Lynne advocates, educates and works passionately to eliminate the stigma around PTSD. 

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