Last week, I posted this on Instagram and Facebook. It’s long, so I’ve just included a screenshot. I know that might be difficult to read, but I’ve linked out to the public post on Instagram if you wanted to see the original. I apologize for the length, but this post leads me in to the discussion I wanted to have today about trauma stored in the body.
Last year, I read Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. It changed my understanding of trauma response, specifically in terms of fight, flight, or freeze. In the past, I’ve considered these all as stress responses. Jason, for instance, has an unconscious fight response when confronted by extreme stress. (Example: Once my former brother-in-law thought it would be a funny joke to sneak up on us at a mall and grab Ambrose – then aged 9 – and run, as if he were a kidnapper. Before Jason even registered what was happening, he’d turned and nearly punched him, despite Jason being the most passive, non-fighting kind of person around.) Others have a flight response. When Ambrose sees a spider, for instance, he immediately runs regardless of whether “fight” is a more rational instinct. My stress response has been “freeze” ever since I can remember (maybe aged seven? eight?) and that has only gotten worse over time.
In Burnout, the Nagoski sisters explain that “freeze” isn’t a trauma response, an action, but is instead the opposite, a helpless lack-of-response. If an animal is confronted by a predator, they either run or fight that predator, but if neither fighting nor fleeing is an option, you play dead. This is “freeze.” As an animal, if the ruse works and you don’t end up as a meal, you can later run away safe and essentially complete the trauma cycle. All kinds of trauma can get stuck in your body if the cycle isn’t completed, and a freeze response to stress that could warrant a flight/flight reaction is an indication of deeply- and long-held trauma in your body.
As I said in the post above and in previous blog entries, I have an automatic freeze response and a lot of stored trauma (something I knew even before I learned that “freeze” wasn’t the same physical process as fight/flight). And I want to get rid of it. I don’t like having years-old trauma haunting me with random feelings of grief and anxiety and fear that don’t match my current-day situation. Burnout talked about different ways to complete the trauma cycle and release old stored emotions. The one that struck me at the time of reading was running. (Hence my screenshot post above.) It makes sense – an animal confronted by a predator will run. It’s a physical reaction, and when you complete a run, your body goes through a whole series of physical and hormonal changes. When I took up running again, I didn’t know if it really would help excise old trauma stored in my body, but I also knew it wouldn’t hurt.
I’ve gone out running roughly 25-30 times in 2020 (I’ve never been terribly consistent!). Additionally, I’ve gone on a lot of walks and hikes (especially pre-quarantine), as well as other exercise (yoga, dancing, strength training, whatever – I’m kind of an eclectic exerciser). What I’ve found is that during/after certain workouts, I’m flooded afterwards with rolling waves of some kind of hormone (I won’t pretend to have a clue which kind) that makes me feel lighter and happier, as if I’ve sloughed something off. This has always happened after some workouts, but I’ve become more in tune with the reaction since reading Burnout, and I hope that this is helping me to release stored trauma.
And I wonder if perhaps now is the time to get out my boxing gloves and add a fight-based exercise to the mix, too. It couldn’t hurt, right?