One of my favorite books post transplant is The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. If you have been through a traumatic experience – car accident, miscarriage, violence, surgery, death, military service, fire, any kind of innumerable experiences – your body, including your brain will never forget.
As humans, we have a strong drive for survival.. The brain’s alarm system is turned on and we either fight, flight, or freeze. During 9/11, thousands of people ran from the danger. They knew to get out of harm’s way. When driving, we make decisions to keep ourselves and passengers safe. If we are going to be in an accident, we make a split second decision to avoid as much harm as possible. If our normal response is blocked by being physically trapped (hospital bed or trapped in a car), the brain’s electrical circuits continue to fire in vain. Even long after we are safe from danger, our brain might keep sending signals to our body to get out of or fight again danger.
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains “The Brain From Top to Bottom,” in Chapter Four, Running for Your Life:The Anatomy of Survival. The brain’s most important job is to make sure we survive. He describes the 5 steps the brain needs to do that:
1. Generate internal signals what our bodies need to survive (food, water, rest, shelter).
2. Create a map of the world to point us where to go to satisfy those needs.
3. Generate the necessary energy and actions to get there.
4. Warn us of dangers & opportunities along the way.
5. Adjust our actions based on the requirements of the moment.
Basic bodily functions we usually don’t think about when we are not experiencing trauma are easily affected when we are thrown out of equilibrium. How much does trauma and recovery affect our sleep, appetite, and mood?
When we keep acting like the trauma is ongoing, the threat is very real to us, the result can be PTSD.
If you have persistent memories or feel that you are still feeling in danger or won’t survive, seek out help with a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.