Keep Telling the Story

This term I am taking a class that is looking at theology and trauma side by side. In a process called double reading, theology is read in light of trauma and trauma is examined through the lens of theology.

In this class I’ve learned quite a bit about trauma theory. One of the guiding voices has been Bessel van der Kolk and his book The Body Keeps the Score. In surprisingly accessible language, van der Kolk explains what happens in the brain when trauma is experienced. The title of his book gives a good sense of his thesis-when the brain is overwhelmed by a traumatic experience certain sections of the brain shut down, and then instead of being processed like a normal experience trauma is held in the body and often manifests as illnesses such as chronic pain or symptoms of ADHD.

While van der Kolk is talking about the body keeping the score as a way of understanding the lingering impact of trauma, I wonder if the body also carries the score for positive memories. Yesterday was not one of my better days. Getting dressed involved sitting on my bedroom floor for twenty minutes because I was overwhelmed at the prospect of deciding what to wear, and the day continued to unfold in kind. Late in the afternoon, however, I had the opportunity to talk with a friend about the phone call with my mom last week and how this week was the second counseling session in nine months where the whole time my counselor and I were grinning and the mood was celebratory. In recounting the story for a friend I was able to remember the deep joy associated with those events and found a bright spot in a dark day.

My body keeps the score-restorative conversations, moments where I felt God speak clearly, long walks on sunny afternoons, meals with dear people. As memories of trauma manifest in apathy and despair, memories of joy manifest in smiles and energy.

I have to keep telling the story.

In telling the story I create space for my body to remember. Retelling on dark days the stories that when lived brought joy into the depth of my being helps me to imagine a future with light. Retelling stories steeped in darkness create space for grieving and reimagining a new future.

The task is to remember. In retelling my story, both bad and good, I am doing the work of integration, bringing together all of the pieces of myself so that I can holistically engage the world and other people in meaningful ways.