Shake It Out
Gibbs has been having a hard time of it recently. It started with a thunderstorm, then fireworks were being shot off each time we stepped outside, then the big firework display held right across the street from us, more thunder and fireworks followed, leaving Gibbs a shaking, tail between legs dog who wasn’t enjoying his walks anymore. We would walk and he would get 100yds from the house, sit down and look back and forth between me and the house, imploring me with his eyes to just take him home. If we did get further, he would walk close, not even stopping to smell his favorite smells in his best places to walk. And at home, every time a loud noise or a shake of the house happened, he curled up close shaking and panting. Nothing I did seemed to help and I was beginning to get worried, thinking my happy, smiling pup had been broken beyond repair. It took several short, safe walks and lots of love to get him back to his tail wagging, smiling faced, curious about the world around him self. And although loud noises still make him enter into a time of shaking, he is not living in fear anymore, and the shakes subside quickly, leaving him in a place of peace once more.
While his behavior was troubling, I was thankful he was shaking, for this is what allows that trauma to be released from the body. When we experience a trauma, our natural response is to shake. I think of a time when I broke my ankle. I went into freeze mode, but later that night, lying in the hospital bed, I began to shake and had trouble stopping. The shock was finally being felt and released. And this is a good and natural response to a traumatic event. Yet people who experience a trauma in a place or time when they cannot take time out to shake, can end up with that trauma stuck in their bodies. When childhood abuse happens, when there is no escape as the abuser is often a parent or close family friend the child has to freeze their emotions, and these get stored in the body, as memories and blockages. It’s one reason why those who have experienced childhood trauma often get sick as adults. And I think of soldiers on the frontlines who have no time between attacks to allow the trauma to sink in, but, instead, keep on going as a survival technique, pushing themselves to the limits, then collapsing into sleep when they catch a break. This has long lasting, ongoing affects, until the trauma is looked at.
When the body stores the trauma, it is not able to achieve ‘biological completion’. The body has not been allowed to process and release the traumatic event, and when these events are recurring, the trauma gets more and more stuck. When this happens it can show up in ways far removed from the actual trauma, such as explosive rage over little things, suicidal ideation or self harm, addictions or depression. The person is trying to shake itself from the trauma, but using techniques that cause more harm than healing.
Often, when I am working with someone recounting a time of trauma, we pay attention to what is happening in the body, and shaking happens. Sometimes for a while. This can be scary for the person experiencing it, but it is a good thing, for it is allowing the body to release the trauma on a somatic level, moving it through in a more thorough way as it includes the whole body, not just the head or emotions. The shaking works it’s way out, taking the pain and shame and feelings and thoughts with it, little by little, until there is a completion. It may need to occur multiple times to allow the multiple traumas to be worked through, but biological completion will occur. And the stillness that comes after the shaking is often filled with a peace (along with exhaustion sometimes), but peace in which the stillness inside is deeper and truer than any stillness felt before.
This reminds me of the many times in the Bible when chaos is followed by peace. There is the swirling of tumult, the tossing of the waves, the wrestling. And when that has worked itself out, peace. A quietness or stillness that is more than just the noise or the waves. A peace that seeps through the pores and into the core of who we are, that carries a voice of love and hope that cannot be felt very often. The shaking subsides and there we see God, the very God who has held us while we shake, but now we can really see and feel that Divine love for us, that reminder that we are called God’s beloved, an awareness that drops into our very hearts, even if we only catch it for a moment.
So if something happens that causes shaking, allow it to shake. This feels like it goes against every instinct to try to stop it. The shaking is working the trauma out, and, unpleasant as it is, will allow us to return to normalcy, to heal, to even wag our tails again!
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