Let me take you through some of what I go through many mornings. Upon waking, I realize I am breathing shallowly. My teeth are locked in a grip; shoulders and neck are locked, too. The back of my neck is numb, the muscles extending from shoulder to skull heavy and thick. When I move, pain stabs the back of my head. Barely breathing or breathing as slightly as I can get away with, it’s as if I’m in an altered state. As most of my readers know, I’m a survivor of pyloric stenosis stomach surgery at twenty-six days old. In some ways, I am still that baby, stuck in time.
Here’s a paragraph from Tinnin and Gantt’s book The Instinctual Trauma Response & Dual-Brain Dynamics: “When the person is trapped and all hope for escape is thwarted, . . . the person surrenders to a stupified freeze state, numb and motionless at first. Often a parallel altered state of consciousness develops while the freeze persists. The person’s awareness and perceived location of consciousness may shift to deep in the body or somewhere outside the body. The body may now behave like a mesmerized slave in automatic obedience. The person’s detached perception may temporarily be protected from the pains of the body, but these unverbalized experiences may later become unspeakable body memories” (19). So here it is six decades later and body memories are having their way with me. I wake up in distress, a kind of stupified reality where my body acts as though it has experienced danger. But the frightening events happened sixty years ago!! In a way, a part of me hasn’t yet woken up from the instinctual trauma response (“startle, fight/flight, freeze, altered state of consciousness, automatic obedience (submission) . . . ” ).
Again, Tinnin and Gantt: “During the preverbal period, there is no cerebral dominance [usually the left side of the brain over the right] and no verbal coding. Memory of adverse experiences is held in images and sensations without words. When this memory is later triggered, the fear and pain may be experienced as if in the present. Preverbal memories of adverse events or conditions . . . do not find closure. Narrative closure requires verbal narrative. Survival instincts that are activated during infancy can continue as unfinished business throughout life” (21). Until we put the trauma response to rest, until we convince ourselves, through a re-storying of our lives by the dominant verbal side of our brains, that we survived the life-threatening trauma, we live in a kind of fugue state. Not in every moment, just in those moments when body memories are restimulated.
I need a ceremony—something to break the spell and tell my body at a cellular level that the crisis is over. Support is necessary. Witnesses. I can’t heal from the trauma alone. I have come this far, but I see that there are times that my body is still in distress, reliving the past. I have no doubt that I will re-unite the parts of myself. I’m getting closer. And Tinnin and Gantt’s book have showed me the uncharted territory that still needs to be mapped. They’ve also given me confidence that I can heal.