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  • Writer's pictureJessie Huang

5 Bits of Wisdom from "The Body Keeps The Score" || Part 1

Since experiencing trauma in the form of domestic violence, retaliatory arrest, and criminal justice system proceedings, I've unsurprisingly developed PTSD (clinically diagnosed). I've thus embarked on a journey to really understand both trauma and PTSD.

One book that kept re-emerging, in all of my searching, was The Body Keeps The Score by leading trauma researcher Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

I've literally had people stop me, while I'm reading in public, to discuss the book with me because either their spouses or they had read it, and had found meaning in it.

the body keeps score

When I finally started reading The Body Keeps The Score, it felt like a breath of fresh air. From the moment I opened it, it was as if I were reading my own autobiography. No one, not even the internet, had been able to truly describe trauma and PTSD at the level, until that point.

I started annotating the book, ferociously.

I wanted to look back and compile some of the annotations here, along with occasional comments of my own, in case they could be of help to someone. This will be an ongoing process, as I slowly make my way through the book. It can be triggering to read at times.


1. On atypical behavior after trauma.

"Many traumatized people seem to seek out experiences that would repel most of us, and patients often complain about a vague sense of emptiness and boredom when they are not angry, under duress, or involved in some dangerous activity."

Thoughts: I completely relate to this. Because domestic violence and US police practices felt so intense when they were happening to me, my threshold levels for "excitement" are sky high now. Consequently, I'm left feeling numb and bored on a day-to-day basis. Strange that I crave stress and pressure, these days, and certainly find myself seeking risk more than I used to.


2. On reenacting trauma.

"Freud... believed that reenactments were an unconscious attempt to get control over a painful situation and that they eventually could lead to mastery and resolution."

Thoughts: Freud is absolutely mostly bullshit, but this rang true to me. During intense flashbacks and after strong triggers, I often find myself repeating behaviors from when the traumas first occurred. E.g. calling lawyers, re-reading old text messages with law enforcement, documenting evidence for safety.

I'm conscious that the behaviors are unreasonable in the moment, yet I don't feel much control over whether I perform them or not (hint: I almost always do).


3. On the indescribable nature of trauma.

"Even years later traumatized people often have enormous difficulty telling other people what has happened to them... Trauma by nature drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past."

Thoughts: This is exactly the point I was trying to make in my previous post How Trauma Silences You and 3 Reasons Why.


4. Stress hormones in traumatized people.

"The stress hormones of traumatized people, in contrast [to un-traumatized people], take much longer to return to baseline and spike quickly and disproportionately in response to mildly stressful stimuli."

Thoughts: I'm not so sure this 100% reflects my experience, although it is true that my stress reactions have altered for all types of stimuli. In general, it takes way more for me to get stressed out, than before the traumas. This is awesome, and has benefitted different parts of my life significantly.

However, there are certain stimuli that may seem benign to most people, like the Jussie Smollett case or a call from No Caller ID (police call from blocked numbers), that will send me into an immediate panic. After the stimuli subsides, it's also very true that it takes me a long time to return to baseline. Sometimes, days.


5. On children, abuse, and poverty.

"Children from low-income families are four times as likely as privately insured children to receive antipsychotic medicines. These medications often are used to make abused and neglected children more tractable."

Thoughts: This is basically systemic child abuse (not blaming the parents). America is tremendously horrible at treating symptoms, rather than underlying causes.

Hope these excerpts were a little helpful, if you've experienced trauma and feel misunderstood. You are not alone!


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