The body does not lie

October 6, 2016 psychologyWriting  No comments

Working with trauma is as much about remembering how we survived as it is about what is broken.

I read The Body Keeps the Score before I started on the second draft of Running to Stand Still, partly out of personal curiosity, partly because I had every intention of going back to school for counseling or social work and I was trying to learn as much as I could in the time before I applied to graduate programs.

Turns out, I actually didn’t want to go into counseling or social work (people are exhausting, I prefer books and characters). But reading TBKTS was not in vain. As fate would have it, TBKTS ended up having a huge impact not only on the story I was working on but on my very writing itself. I was able to draw bits and pieces of information from the text and weave them into the story, creating a deeper, richer, more nuanced experience for both myself and the reader.

The Body Keeps the Score was written by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, after thirty years of psychiatric research and clinical practice. The inside flap of the cover jacket reads, “This profoundly humane book offers a sweeping new understanding of the causes and consequences of trauma, offering hope and clarity to everyone touched by its devastation. Trauma has emerged as one of the great public health challenges of our time, not only because of its well-documented effects on combat veterans and on victims of accidents and crimes, but because of the hidden toll of sexual and family violence and of communities and schools devastated by abuse, neglect, and addiction.” Its purpose is to understand the immense complexity of trauma to provide effective “treatments that can free trauma survivors from the tyranny of the past.” All good things.

If there’s anything this book has taught me, it’s that our words can lie. Our actions can lie. Our thoughts can lie. But the body, the body does not lie. The body keeps the score.

And we’d do well to pay attention to it.

TBKTS helped me understand the effects of prolonged and singular trauma on the mind, body, and soul.

But its effect on my writing has been the most astounding and unexpected result.

I’ve always been highly tuned to the sensations in my body. And as a result, I’ve always included visceral sensations in my writing, especially because I favor the first person point-of-view.

But now, I understand that those feelings and sensations aren’t just enriching details for the story, they are the story.

And that changes the art of storytelling.

In the next few posts, I’m going to try to break down the research according to the different elements of the story it informed. I say try because the book holds so much information that it proved to be difficult to distil it down to its most potent bits. In fact, I would say, that the wealth of knowledge provided by Dr. van der Kolk was so eye-opening and essential that it permeates the entire story. And probably every story I will write from here on out.

SPOILER ALERT: from this point on, I will be examining Running to Stand Still in-depth. If you haven’t read it yet and don’t want it spoiled for you, stop reading now.
All italicized quotes are direct from The Body Keeps the Score.
pgs. 213


Until next time, farewell & may your life never cease to be filled with wonder and curiosity.

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