The Body Keeps the Score

Bessel Van Der Kolk is one of my heroes.  I went to the first weekend workshop he ever gave at Kripalu, wondering what such a high-powered academic was doing at that center for yoga and health.  Turns out he had done a study showing that yoga was better than prozac in reducing the symptoms of PTSD.  So he had hired a male yoga teacher for his veterans, and a female yoga teacher for his sexual assault victims.  I really admired him for trying to find out what would really help his patients, not just accepting what others thought.  He was willing to look at alternatives to standard medicine. He had done a study that showed that EMDR worked better than prozac.  “So then,” he said, “you give all your clients their money back, or you take the damn training.”  Not only did he take the training, he had them come do the training for his whole staff.

His book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” was recently published.  My therapist Erica said she was reading it and really impressed.  So I got the book and started reading.  But I got triggered, and when I got to the part about different attachment styles, I got so badly triggered that I had to stop reading.  That was back in November.  I did write down in my journal what the different styles were.  “Attachment” refers to the earliest bonding between an infant and its mother or primary caretaker.  “Disorganized attachment” is what happens when mother is necessary for survival but source of fear.  “Fright without solution.”

The last couple of days I was feeling so much better that I thought I would try to read more.  And I did, enjoying it very much.  Lots of validating information.

“After a while most people with PTSD don’t spend a great deal of time or effort on dealing with the past — their problem is simply making it through the day.  Even traumatized patients who are making real contributions in teaching, business, medicine, or the arts and who are successfully raising their children expend a lot more energy on the everyday tasks of living than do ordinary mortals.”  p246

“The insula can transmit signals to the amygdala that trigger fight/flight responses.  This does not require any cognitive input or any conscious recognition that something has gone awry — you just feel on edge and unable to focus or, at worst, have a sense of imminent doom.  These powerful feelings are generated deep inside the brain and cannot be eliminated by reason or understanding.”  p247  The “insula” is the part of the brain that integrates sensations coming from inside the body.  The “amygdala” is the part of the brain that detects danger.  In a traumatized person the amygdala can be very sensitive.  That feeling of “imminent doom” is one I know well.  I’ve been in it for days and even weeks at a time.  “Imminent doom” combined with the inability to focus happens when I’m packing to go somewhere.  It’s not as bad as it once was.  Years ago I would feel like I was blind.

“Like several of my other traumatized patients, Kathy was able to become completely absorbed in her studies.  When she read a book or wrote a research paper, she could block out everything else about her life.  This enabled her to be a competent student, even when she had no idea how to establish a loving relationship with herself, let alone with an intimate partner.”  pp256-7    This describes me exactly.  It’s why reading is my “drug of choice,” the thing that allows me to escape from the pain of my life for a time.

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