This is Trauma: The Body Keeps The Score

Everyday / Saturday, February 19th, 2022

Trigger warning: abuse

Writing this post made me feel like throwing up.

Say hi to Trauma.

In 2017, a friend’s boyfriend, whom I had never spoken to, found out my phone number and contact details. On the day she was with me in Bangalore, he called me incessantly from 6 am. Relentless. 91 calls. Emails. And FB messages.

Two days later, he demanded that the friend give up on our friendship. She agreed quickly, blocked me everywhere, and went on with her life with him. She never again reached out – I served any use to her. 

I also “moved on.” 

My ex was the only one who understood then that stalking and harassment are punishable offenses under Section 354D of the IPC. 3 years imprisonment, no less. “Call the police,” he pleaded. “That guy knows your address.”

Me? I laughed it off. I didn’t see the threat. I didn’t see what my body had already recorded. My body had seen the threat even if my mind didn’t. 

This is Trauma settling in, making you smaller and smaller, covering you with shame, silencing you so that you don't see what it is doing.

I forgot about it. Or so, I thought. But my body hadn’t. 

Fast forward to late 2021, when we hired a developer to change Trippin Traveller’s website. The lead developer WhatsApped me as we tried to sort out the bugs.

I tried, but I couldn’t handle his messages for some reason. I would be nauseated. I would throw up. I started fearing the developer’s emails and messages and told my co-founder to take any calls. I sat there, trembling with anxiety, begging her to view my screen while I opened his emails. “But why are you scared of him?” she asked, genuinely confused.

I didn’t know. I just knew that this developer was triggering unbearable anxiety in ways that I had never experienced before.

That anxiety spread. I would be nauseated, couldn’t eat, and heave bile before any call, especially with male clients. I lost confidence in my writing and communication ability, as words seemed inadequate, vain pretenders thinking they knew what I was feeling. As a content consultant, I charge Rs 5,000 for an hour of my time – and yet, here I was.  I couldn’t take calls for even Rs 1000. Count the calls I lost and the money I didn’t make. 

These are the financial implications of trauma. 

Then Covid happened last year in April. Every single defense system in my body shut down. All the unwanted guests of old came rushing in, including the ugly stench of past pain. My mind fogged up. My body lagged behind.

The developer. Work. Everything fell behind the gasping beeps of oximeters. I don’t think I am still able to talk about that period when I thought I would lose three of my family members. I just remember the wailing silence of ambulances, the beep-beep of the oximeter, the oxygen tanks, the sheer incredible fatigue of existing. 

In the middle of all of that, though, something clicked. Something forgotten came to the surface. I opened up WhatsApp and scrolled for the developer’s DP. Nausea came retching immediately. I focused again. Those months of intense anxiety became immediately apparent. I knew now. The developer, unfortunately, looked exactly like the guy who had stalked me. A guy in his late 20s. Bearded. Dark. 

Do you see now? My brain had pushed that incident aside, but my body had kept the score all along.

This is Trauma, destroying your self, bit by bit.

I swallowed. Heaved bile. It can’t be. I gaslighted myself, telling myself, “After all, it was just one day of stalking. That guy got what he wanted.” Why should I react like this?

My body still knew the threat, though. But I thought I could will my mind through it. So, I tried. Before any call, I tried prepping myself, telling myself that this was just a harmless client, not the guy. Yet, my body wouldn’t listen. Retch. Heave. Retch. 

That’s when my therapist urged me to read this book, The Body Keeps The Score, to understand trauma better and how our body stores what our mind tries to forget.

I read. I read. I read for a week. I came back astonished. It was like someone had finally given me words to express what I couldn’t.

This is Trauma.

And The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk is one of the most definitive books on trauma – one that makes you understand just how insidious it is.

My heart still pounds as I write this. Garmin says my stress level right now is a high 88. 94. 91. 88. 96. I think I am calm, but my body is physiologically responding like I am running from black panthers.

This is Trauma, living on in you.

The body does keep the score. It most definitely does.

We need all our compassion to understand this score. And all our inner resilience to move through it. We have childhood trauma. We erase the memories of our childhood hurts. We have workplace trauma. We treat people horribly at work. We crow about WFH but don’t bother building compassionate, non-toxic “safe” spaces at work.

Thankfully, the guy isn’t employed, going by his LinkedIn profile, since 2017. (Karma, anyone?) Imagine, though, if he was a manager? 

When I brought him to justice, the guy said that I “deserved” to be stalked because I was “creating ill-will between him and his girlfriend.” That he had the audacity to say that to me at a place where I could have him locked him up for a long time shows how deep-rooted misogyny is. That sorry I extracted from him had no remorse at all, but it was a way of telling my body that I am going to take care of it from now on. 

But his girlfriend is a “Team Lead.” This person turned me away last year when I asked her for accountability. She supports his stalking. Brushed aside what he did casually. Do you think she will be showing empathy or compassion for any of her team members? Would HR in her company even know they have someone who violated all their POSH practices? When do we learn that our actions have consequences?

We do our best to forget. But this body, eh? It simply doesn’t.

This is Trauma, forcing you to doubt everything

I doubt myself. I have irrational anger with those I love. I have a frozen block of piled-up emotions. I criticize myself endlessly. I swing between moods I can’t comprehend. I struggle to focus at work. I don’t speak to my beautiful network of friends. I often shut down. My threshold level for handling anything is pitifully low.

This is what Trauma does.

But we need not allow Trauma to define us. My life, I tell myself, won't be defined by what was done to me but what I do.

It’s why I look at compassion so much as a measure of success:

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” – Bessel van der Kolk

And this incident made me realize that our body knows instinctively who are unsafe for us.

This is one of the most difficult posts I have ever had to write. I write this because I want to shed light on the hidden toll of emotional abuse. 

I want to say that despite everything, no one can dim my light. It will take time for me to fully be at ease taking calls, but I know that I am healing.

I promised you I will be back. I am getting there. 

8 Replies to “This is Trauma: The Body Keeps The Score”

  1. Dear Smitha. I couldn’t read this blog for two whole days. I had it open in a tab. I am not like this. I always read your posts at first glance. Something was telling me what this post would be about and I am talking about myself here! That, all those things that I have gone through has explanations like this even before I could gather the courage to learn about it is something beyond me. I thank you for talking about this because, I needed to hear it, give words to those queasiness I feel. I am overwhelmed.

  2. I do understand trauma. And I know you are healing. I’ll echo your words. ‘No one can dim your light.’. There is hope – for all of us.

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