In the midst of a flashback, the body and mind are both reacting. Stress hormones are firing off and the internal security system goes on high alert. When I grabbed the cold shelf something else in the brain was activated. If you have been reading these posts, many posts ago I talked about how you have two different parts of the nervous system. One is responsible for feelings of hyper-vigilance, fight or flight, stress, etc. The other is responsible for feelings of safety, calm, rational thinking, etc.
Which part do you think is active during an intense flashback?
Which part was being activated when I grabbed the cold shelf?
Essentially, the way it has been explained to me is that I sparked the part of my brain that sensed safety when I grabbed that cold shelf. The next time a flashback came over me, you can bet my brain remembered that spark and it created another spark. I began feeling like I had to find something cold to grab onto. The connection to the other part of the brain didn't "fix" or "solve" the problem, but it did start a new neural pathway. Each time I reached for something cold, I felt a little sense of safety. Each time I felt that little sense of safety, my brain made another positive connection. Do you understand where this is going?
It started with a simple spark. A quick gut reaction to grab that shelf and the cold triggered the present moment experience, instead of the past experience of the flashback. My brain remembered that present moment experience as something comforting, something safe, so as I continued to experience flashbacks I would continue to seek out something cold for comfort. I was basically taking an intense experience of the past and slowly training my brain to recognize that I am in the here and now. I'm safe. There is no danger here. My body proved it. The shelf was cold and I felt it. There were no cold shelves in my flashback and I'm sure there aren't any in yours either. Does that make sense?
You may need to read this post a few times to wrap your mind around it. If I can retrieve a clearer way to explain it I will certainly continue to clarify because I believe it is a very important point and concept to consider. I didn't realize at the time what I was doing by grabbing that shelf. I was just trying to survive what I was seeing and feeling. Essentially, I was teaching the brain not to be afraid of what I was experiencing because I'm really just in a grocery store holding a cold shelf.
*image: Google Images