Apple pie, a fire burning, a snowy breeze, and raindrops pitter patter….things we associate with the Fall and Winter season.
The change in seasons usually brings with it certain smells or imagery we may associate with a variety of memories. The sense of smell has a strong connection to memories. The smell of apple pie may invoke wonderful memories of a grandmother’s cooking at a Holiday gathering, but sometimes the sense of smell can be a source of betrayal for those who have been victimized.
Unfortunately the brain is very sensory based when it comes to trauma. ” All it took for the air to smell just right, or a foggy cold morning, or a smell and the memories come flooding in. I let myself reflect on some of it for a while, to process it, and I began to remember details”
The words of this survivor reflects on what so many may experience. Many times one may not even know what a trigger is until it happens and even then it may be difficult to pinpoint the source. The trigger may start a flood of emotions and panic; this is where good mindfulness and grounding techniques come in handy. The DoD Safehelpline App has a great resource for Guided Imagery. If that doesn’t work try this link to find an app that suits your needs ( http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/top-meditation-iphone-android-apps#2 ) . With triggers being unknown or sudden it is important to have resources available when it happens and you can plug in and become grounded again.
Aside from triggers the Holidays itself can be a source of stress or anxiety for anyone and these exercises will help one be able to better cope with daily challenges.
The other advice I leave is the importance of developing boundaries. As a survivor copes with the assault the demands of life may become increasing loud. It will take time and work, but it okay to say no and to take care of yourself. Getting involved in counseling may assist you in making the small sustainable steps to create boundaries with those involved in your life.
If the Holidays begin to become too much I want to offer an additional support service. The Veterans Crisis Line. It is for active or inactive duty military and their family. They assist with many different issues or concerns.
They can be reached online at: http://www.veteranscrisisline.net or reached at 1-800-273-8255
When traumatic things happen our bodies react, it’s biological. We’ve all heard the term fight or flight……but that isn’t always what happens. There is one more response that isn’t known as well. Freeze. Now I could get into all the nitty gritty of the science behind that, but I will leave the link by Dr. David Lisak to do that. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py0mVt2Z7nc)
When the body reacts to trauma it goes into a primal mode and hormones and the adrenal system are activated. There is no way to predict how one will respond or whether it will be the same for each circumstance. A particular cocktail of hormones create the “freeze response”. Scientists compare the response to that of animals that protect themselves by playing dead. Maybe the response is determined by how grievous the situation. So with that logic that must mean that freezing only happens in violent or stranger rape situations. Wrong. According to research the brain reacts the same way. The body doesn’t make the distinction, but society does. There is something innately wired that views rape as extremely distressing and may trigger the response.
Unfortunately those who may experience tonic immobility have no idea what is happening, which may lead to blaming themselves. It often leads to the “would have” “could have” or “should have”. I should have left. Why didn’t I get up? I wasn’t afraid for my life so why did I just lie there? I could have fought them. All these thoughts are a result of thinking that there may be a control over these responses, but often there is not.
The response reminds me of that bad dream that most of us have; of something awful happening to us but we are unable to move. The dream might just be an indicator that our body has a third response to danger.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, it is not your fault! It excites me to know that there is more and more science that show how most responses aren’t crazy….but 100% normal and a biological response.
For 24 hour help go to: rainn.org or Safehelpline.org