Grief and truth; thoughts on ‘healing’ trauma and liminal experiences

Follow-up to yesterday’s rambling spontaneous post, I guess.

It does seem that when I really ask a question, internally, kind of earnestly – the answer sometimes actually shows up fast. (Sometimes slow, but this time it’s instant delivery.)

I don’t think I jotted this down on this blog, but a while back I asked myself why it seems quite easy for me to slide into odd states for tenuous reasons. Like tiredness. What’s the attractor, why is the “ground” (let’s say, the thing I fall to when I slip) always “there” – in something rather disconcerting.

I think many people walk around with an underlying layer of permanent frozen anxiety, but then some don’t. When they don’t do anything in particular, they just relax. Or fall asleep. Or get bored. But they don’t necessarily fall into a mix-bag of disconcerting states flipping back and forth. As far as I can tell for some.

So why? Wtf is this unpleasant “ground” that’s always there? When I slip up and don’t pay attention (to where my mind is going or how hungry I get, for example), why can’t I just “fall” … asleep, for example?

And yeah, how to get rid of this? So that I can make self-care mistakes that aren’t necessarily disastrous? So that I can relax for once?

Now, I’ve read about this enough, even been talked through similar stuff before, from Somatic Experiencing (Peter Levine’s books etc.) to a range of other literature on processing somatic trauma (Pete Walker, “Complex PTSD”). And I think yesterday / in the last days it became really clear in practice.

But I think with a bunch of stuff that the books don’t mention, at least I haven’t seen this anywhere in an explicit form.

Namely, in the particular repetitive dream-flashback I finally identified as such (refers to infant’s birth experience via C-section), there’s my body going (again) through a cycle of physical violation and invasion, dread and horror via certainty that this can in no way be survived, through some form of profound despair (forming a human spore, perhaps), into a numb and freeze state. An aftertaste of dissociation remains.

At least that’s how I can summarise it off the top of my head. There is an additional emotional element of horror at my mother being hurt.

Now, even though physical injury to my body was probably limited, the flashback experience is still one of the body, emotions and “soul” going into some extreme, liminal states that probably only occur if you’re certain you are going to die right now. At least, this has never happened to me later at any point in my life – it’s not ordinary fear states. Not ordinary depression states. Not anxiety / panic attacks.

It’s different in that I think the sensation in itself contains real close “skin-contact” with some very fundamental existential elements, like mortality, death, total existential vulnerability, boundaries and limits of the self, in a sense. At least I can’t go back, travel back into this flashback without sensing the proximity of these.

Is that why I couldn’t digest the experience earlier, in all the dozens or perhaps hundreds or thousands of episodes when it flashed back on me during my life? Because well, I couldn’t cope with this kind of “touch” – not as a baby, but also not at age 20 or 30, say. The “blessing” of some recent episodes of failure and frustration (depression and physical limitation), plus just getting older again, has been, though, that I did look at these things. “Look” is the wrong word. But contemplate, face, realise – through family, through nature (yes, studying soil biology actually helped a lot).

Is that why this time the flashback had a narrator, and at the end it seemed clear to me what it represents? And that I woke up muscle-frozen and with altered perception and movement (as is always the case), but – it didn’t freak me out that much. I traced the whole thing in my body and in my mind. I went back through the dream. I went “aha, so here is the feeling of certainty that this will not be survived; here is desperate helpless clawless claw-fight; here is what it feels like in my body to be on the most extreme edge that I’ve ever been on; here is what it feels like to abandon the body to a river [of time?], blindly, in case it still somehow survives, in a profoundly dissociative state”. And here is how I loop back into normal reality. And here is how I travel to the profound body memory of this edge again. And just for fun, back and forth. Don’t know in how far it’s “fun”, but it seems right and necessary. To integrate something, sew-up some abyss or some open wound (that’s probably bigger than me; also seen that kind of random visions even awake, when tired).

Something like this was definitely described in Peter Levine’s work (probably in “Waking the Tiger”). I read it, but now I think something like it is happening (more clearly than before). I guess the process makes sense, even if the description / words didn’t necessarily do so before.
(Btw. I also think I’ve read stuff better than Levine, but can’t remember all the refs now.)

So, what’s the part of it I haven’t read in books? Or did read, but then forgot (possibility)?

I think that I couldn’t have done this some years back, or maybe some months back, because it would just have freaked me out “to death” again. I first had to do … kind of colossal, considering the starting point – inner work concerning the fragility of human life, of the human body, of health, human finitude, normality and ubiquity (and ordinariness, really no-big-deal-ness) of (personal) death, of each being, the fact that I’m not more (nor less) than all these other organisms. And this is the nature and fate of organisms / beings. It’s not something to particularly freak out about, feel special about, feel too important for, have ego things around, etc. Just a certain baseline of sanity around basic facts of life … I think like the one some older people in the family always had (and died that way). The “peasant” side of the family, they all had no ego trips and died peacefully – is that coincidence or meaningful?

And while this is honestly banal (recently in a depressive moment also read very old Buddhist texts; they start with these premises) I think something in fancier, more civilised, more educated, richer, more tech, more shiny culture has some particular stick in its teeth with it (made up random idiom), puts some obstacles in the way of keeping these basic things in consciousness. I mean did I really need that many years to halfway (a little bit) not run away from them, to stay calm?

I don’t think so, I think there are far younger people who have a better attitude. But I still think, in a vague way, or perhaps I sense, that this [Western, let’s call it] culture and civilisation has something against talking about the finitude of life, asking about its meaning in this context, without pathos or panic or … I don’t know. Why?

This and grief-avoidance, of course, about which much has also been written (ref. Malidoma Some, also Karla McLaren; lots of Western philosophers / sociologists I haven’t read, cuz well I prefer to read the Africans).

Being sort of one thing.

This and grief – and grief and freedom. Ability to grieve, gives the freedom to face truths, I think. A connection that recently came to me. It’s almost impossible to face things, most aspects of reality, and fundamental existential aspects like these, if one can’t at all grieve (go through a certain release process, small and calm or bodily and dramatic), is frozen or freaked out by grief. If grief has to always be kept at bay, away, the basic nature of life, of organisms, of phenomena even (yeah!) has to always be kept at bay. Heck, what work. And what cognitive distortions as a result! And what painfully pointless actions, possibly.

Though that’s Ok, a certain softness from grief allows me to live (quite comfortably) with the fact that there are always going to be pointless actions and lost opportunities, and everything is always going to be weird. And unexpected (Ok, this is not grief anymore).

Anyways, the point of this article / post was: that I haven’t seen this in books, spelled out like that, that (at least some) trauma processing requires one to have down a certain contemplation of finitude and fragility. That “our” (who put this on me?) culture blocks, blanks out (I think for function / a reason, actually). What else would fall if this block fell away?

2 thoughts on “Grief and truth; thoughts on ‘healing’ trauma and liminal experiences

  1. Thanks for sharing this piece. I tend to agree that, perhaps, death and vulnerability are things we avoid and this is harmful. Experiencing anxiety, I am always feeling vulnerability of all kinds but, somehow, can’t process that feeling or address it much.

    I wondered if I could re-post this piece on my blog, with a link and credit to you? I share and, also, write stories about anxiety and sensitivity.

    1. Hi Samuel,

      thanks for the response, and glad that some people find use or a mirror in these pieces.

      I’ve just had a look at your blog and since it seems to deal with similar themes and have an interesting range of authors and topics (still checking some out), definitely happy to be re-blogged.

      Thanks and all the best!

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