Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and researcher in trauma treatment, notes that as we live our life, our brains convert our experiences into memories, which are basically stories of how we make sense of what we’ve experienced. We tuck these away and make new memories and stories. But trauma disrupts this process. Trauma victims aren’t able to convert their experiences to memories and move on with their life because their brains keep those feelings and sensations front and center. They actually become stuck in the event itself. As van der Kolk says, “Traumatic memories aren’t remembered as much as they’re relived.” Images are re-seen, smells are re-smelled, feelings re-felt.
His goal with victims of trauma is to help them get to the point where they can come out of that endless loop and convert those sensations to memories that can be placed into the greater story of their lives. To find themselves within their bodies again.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long
(v. 3). The psalmist writes within the context of confessing sin or guilt, but the deep connection described between body and mind applies to many different circumstances when our body aches for us to speak our truth. How powerful is the truth—be it in the form of confession, memory, anger, doubt, love, or any deep emotion that we might suppress or be imprisoned by—that our bodies can waste away when we keep or are kept silent?
Knowing this, the first step toward healing comes when we summon the courage, often with the aid of trusted others, to break the silence and release our groaning of gut and heart into the world.
On Being, Krista Tippett interview with Bessel van der Kolk (accessed February 22, 2021) https://onbeing.org/programs/bessel-van-der-kolk-how-trauma-lodges-in-the-body/.
When have you felt the groaning of which the psalmist speaks?
God, help me speak the truth of my life to you. Amen.