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N.C. sculptor Be Gardiner created this piece when he was in the process of giving up art to become a Buddhist monk. Some people look at it and say, "What a peaceful presence," and others say, "That's scary...so severe." Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is danger.
It turns out that there is a bigger link between grief and trauma than you thought. Last month, one of our regular Grief and Praise Circle attendees brought me a worthy book, "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma," written by a guru of trauma therapy, Bessel Van Der Kolk.
Van Der Kolk’s journey working in psychiatric hospitals and with U.S. veterans of different wars has much to tell us about what remains uncovered in the links between trauma and mental health. In training in clinical settings, he began to form questions about trauma before PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) had reached the nation's radar.
When a Vietnam veteran was admitted to the hospital after a mental breakdown, doctors were about to inject him with a powerful antipsychotic drug and ship him off to a confined ward when Van Der Kolk asked if he could first interview the man. After listening to the veteran’s stories, Van Der Kolk inadvertently paraphrased something Sigmund Freud said in 1895: “I think this man is suffering from memories.”
As he began to form and then test theories about trauma, Van Der Kolk was able to prove that the brain and body of a traumatized person continues to secrete large amounts of stress hormones long after the danger has passed. Everyday annoyances—loud noises, sudden noises, surprises and disappointments of any kind—will cause adrenalin and other stress hormones to pump through the brain and body, and can also cause the initial trauma to repeat in the mind’s eye. The unfortunate cycle that sets up and repeats is that the person is never released from the continuing pain of the initial trauma.
Further complicating the experience for people with trauma is Van Der Kolk’s discovery that, in trauma, the parts of the brain that rule speech are diminished. When you are in the grip of trauma after-effects, you have a physiologically reduced capacity to tell anyone what is going on with you.
Join us Tuesday, May 2, at 6 pm in Black Mountain, for our monthly Grief and Praise Circle, where we will make gentle inquiry into the relationship between grief and trauma, and look at how we can reorganize perception. Speaking is optional; the important thing is to get your body in the presence of others who can be present with you. Email us for location.
"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.... That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past.... Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years." -- Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner