In response to threat and injury, animals, including humans, execute biologically based, non-conscious action patterns that prepare them to meet the threat and defend themselves. The very structure of trauma, including activation, dissociation and freezing are based on the evolution of survival behaviors. When threatened or injured, all animals draw from a "library" of possible responses. We orient, dodge, duck, stiffen, brace, retract, fight, flee, freeze, collapse, etc. All of these coordinated responses are somatically based- they are things that the body does to protect and defend itself. It is when these orienting and defending responses are overwhelmed that we see trauma. The bodies of traumatized people portray "snapshots" of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury. Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. For example, when we prepare to fight or to flee, muscles throughout our entire body are tensed in specific patterns of high energy readiness. When we are unable to complete the appropriate actions, we fail to discharge the tremendous energy generated by our survival preparations. This energy becomes fixed in specific patterns of neuromuscular readiness. The person then stays in a state of acute and then chronic arousal and dysfunction in the central nervous system. Traumatized people are not suffering from a disease in the normal sense of the word- they have become stuck in an aroused state. It is difficult if not impossible to function normally under these circumstances.
Traumatic events, by definition, overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact, that is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all the feelings of the event.
I drag the body out into the snowdrifts, as far away from our shack as I can muster. I put her in a thicket of trees, where the green seems to still have a voice in the branches, and try not to think about the beasts that’ll soon be gathering. There’s no way of burying her; the ground is a solid rock of ice beneath us.
I kneel beside her and want desperately to weep. My throat tightens and my head aches. Everything hurts inside. But I have no way of releasing it. I’m locked up and hard as stone. I’m sorry, Mamma, I whisper to the shell in front of me. I take her hand. It could belong to a glass doll. There’s no life there anymore. So I gather rocks, one by one, and set them over her, trying my best to protect her from the birds, the beasts, keep her safe as much as I can now. I pile the dark stones gently on her stomach, her arms, and over her face, until she becomes one with the mountain. I stand and study my work, feeling like the rocks are on me instead, then I leave the body for the forest and ice.
Fear is a wet blanket that smothers the fiery passion God deposited in your heart when he formed you. Fear freezes us into inaction. Frozen ideas, frozen souls, frozen bodies can't move, can't dream, can't risk, can't love, and can't live. Fear chains us.
By death the moon was gathered in Long ago, ah long ago; Yet still the silver corpse must spin And with another's light must glow. Her frozen mountains must forget Their primal hot volcanic breath, Doomed to revolve for ages yet, Void amphitheatres of death. And all about the cosmic sky, The black that lies beyond our blue, Dead stars innumerable lie, And stars of red and angry hue Not dead but doomed to die.
One of the paradoxical and transformative aspects of implicit traumatic memory is that once it is accessed in a resourced way (through the felt sense), it, by its very nature, changes. Out of the shattered fragments of her deeply injured psyche, Jody discovered and nurtured a nascent, emergent self. From the ashes of the frantically activated, hypervigilant, frozen, traumatized girl of twenty-five years ago, Jody began to reorient to a new, less threatening world. Gradually she shaped into a more fluid, resilient, woman, coming to terms with the felt capacity to fiercely defend herself when necessary, and to surrender in quiet ecstasy.
By listening to the unspoken voice of my body and allowing it to do what it needed to do; by not stopping the shaking, by tracking my inner sensations, while also allowing the completion of the defensive and orienting responses; and by feeling the survival emotions of rage and terror without becoming overwhelmed, I came through mercifully unscathed, both physically and emotionally. I was not only thankful; I was humbled and grateful to find that I could use my method for my own salvation. While some people are able to recover from such trauma on their own, many individuals do not. Tens of thousands of soldiers are experiencing the extreme stress and horror of war. Then too, there are the devastating occurrences of rape, sexual abuse and assault. Many of us, however, have been overwhelmed by much more ordinary events such as surgeries or invasive medical procedures. Orthopedic patients in a recent study, for example, showed a 52% occurrence of being diagnosed with full-on PTSD following surgery. Other traumas include falls, serious illnesses, abandonment, receiving shocking or tragic news, witnessing violence and getting into an auto accident; all can lead to PTSD. These and many other fairly common experiences are all potentially traumatizing. The inability to rebound from such events, or to be helped adequately to recover by professionals, can subject us to PTSD—along with a myriad of physical and emotional symptoms.
I create other worlds, magical never-never lands where the camera is my weapon and the battles I fight are with the elements. i stretch the laws of the mind and displace people from their realities to capture a side of them they didn’t even know they had. Photography has the ability to freeze people in this time and space—no matter what happens after that moment, it cannot change—they are exactly how i want them to be.
One morning there was newly fallen snow in the mountains. It lay halfway down them, and a raw cold, naked and biting, set in from above. It arrived in the night and dug its claws into Alberta, gripping her from behind between her shoulder blades and buckling her tightly into the old enforced position with her legs drawn up and her arms crossed over her breast, keeping her awake for hours. Now she wrapped herself in a nightgown again, shivering and quaking, with the prospect of her own greyish-violet winter face in the mirror.