The 3 F’s: Reflecting on FREEZE

I spend a large part of my job talking to people who have experienced significant trauma — true trauma that results when a person is fearful for their life. When those type of situations happen, the brain floods the body with a cocktail of hormones which results in one of three options: fight, flight or freeze.

Your brain and body respond to trauma the same regardless of the situation  — be it having a gun pulled on you (in a parking lot, on the field of battle), getting in a car accident, or experiencing a sexual assault. When your brain thinks it is in danger, the reptilian brain stem responds before your frontal lobe can process.

There is no telling what response you’ll have — as much as law enforcement, the military, or gun lobbyists want you to believe. Studies do show that sexual trauma has a higher likelihood of resulting in the freeze response, which is why so, so many victims report that they wanted to do something (run, yell for help, fight their assailant) but for some reason couldn’t move. That’s called tonic immobility and this pseudo-paralysis is a result of the hormone cocktail your brain is dishing out.

In addition to the spending FREEZE I personally challenged myself to this month (I did quite well actually, aside from some frivolous spending when dear friends came to visit), I also spent most of my work days listening to people recount some of the worst moments of their life. People who would discuss the feeling of tonic immobility and wonder what was wrong with them. And I, due to the impartiality of my job, wasn’t able to explain to them that feeling was normal.

So how is this relevant to our VOW? I got sick (again) at the end of this month and was out of the office for a couple of days. I have two tendencies when I get sick: I get bored very quickly and highly emotional. Usually I’m either clingy or weepy, but this time I felt restless. Not because I was essentially bed-ridden but moreso that I wasn’t enough. I felt stuck professionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically. Which is insane because I have so fucking much going on right now — we’re thisclose to closing on our house, I am mentoring a new colleague, I’m kicking ass at classes, I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever known.

I felt so confused about why I was feeling that way, because let me tell you, it was strong. Palpable. I felt FROZEN in my life. And then I realized that perhaps what was happening was a sort of psychological immobility because of the physical manifestation of my illness. Or residual second-hand trauma from my job.

Either way, I decided to grant myself grace. To remind myself that the feeling of being at a standstill wouldn’t last long, and that it was probably only a temporary response to my current situation. That maybe there was a cosmic third-party who could understand my confusion as a normal response.

And here I am, a week later and feeling rejuvenated again. Last month I found something I didn’t realize I needed to see This month I plan to be more active and SEEK out what my soul needs.

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