Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cold Fire: A Demonstration

Last week's post didn't happen because I was on an actual vacation-y vacation with my family!

And by that, I mean my entire family-- we and my parents and my three sisters and their husbands and kids all gathered at the home of the parents of one of my brothers-in-law (do the math... I'll wait), which happens to be only an hour from where I live. 

Although I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for 20 years, I grew up in Southern California and my family has remained there, which has meant that seeing them over the last two decades has required a flight or a 7 to 9-hour drive. 

And until recently, I was the only outlier, so it's always been me to do the long drive for Christmas and other major family events.


The balance has shifted recently. My youngest sister, she of relative newlywed fame, has boggled my mind by moving 1/2 A MILE AWAY FROM ME in my adored little town on the Bay, where her husband actually went to high school, and now we sisters are evenly split between North and South, and for the first time in my adult life, I get to live near one of my siblings.

My bro-in-law's dad and step-mom live on Delta not far from here, and (in their questionable wisdom) invited us all for an extended summer weekend getaway, so we went and slept all over their house and on their boats and spent five days splashing around and water skiing and jumping on floating trampolines and having impromptu late-night dance parties and acoustic guitar sing-alongs and cocktail-of-the-day competitions and cooking and laughing and sunning and just having a great time together.

See what I mean?! Me and the sisters, along with my twins and a nephew. Not pictured: another nephew, a niece, four husbands, two grandparents, two parents-in-law, two dogs, a parrot, a few boats, and a trampoline. And a lot of beer.

Parents of formerly-small children may recognize my astonishment at having had... you know... a good time on vacation. 

Ours are about to start kindergarten and until now, time away from home has mostly been pretty much the same as time at home, except more difficult because we don't have all our stuff with us.

But apparently, they have passed some sort of magical milestone, because they are now officially Chicks Who Can Hang. They had a ball. We had a ball watching them have a ball. It was an actual, mutually enjoyable experience, instead of 24/7 twin maintenance. 

We got to relax! 

I think they're finally ready to start having some real traveling fun with us!

Next stop: PARIS! ;)

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.

The cold fire is still going strong.

I only had one neuro session last week, and none this week-- Dr. Q is on vacation herself-- but even without the consistent updates, I'm still getting the off-gassing energy release whenever I think or talk or write about my therapy or anything related.

I keep thinking about that whirling ball of white, electric filament fibers in the back of my skull: the image that now represents, to me, the endless momentum of my PTSD machine, and how maybe, just maybe, the energy created by that momentum is getting more and more opportunities to escape-- evaporate through my skin instead of spin itself into destructive chaos in my head.

I don't know if I've ever explained the "trauma energy" thing this way before, but this is how I've always meant it. Not "energy" in a metaphysical, hippie, "I can see your aura" kind way, but "energy" in a real, literal, muscles-charged-with-tension-because-I-am-poised-and-ready-for-attack kind of way.

This is why PTSD is so exhausting-- it's not primarily an emotional state, it's a physical one, and the emotional turmoil springs from the distress of being constantly spurred into in this physically taxing and stressful state.

Need more evidence that this is a horrible way to live? Take a look at the reports of what they do to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Maintaining constant conditions of elevated threat and physical stress is a known weapon of malicious intent. 

If someone were standing next to me, doing to my body what it is doing to itself, it would be called torture in the extreme.

Or, you know, "interrogation." Whatever. Comme ci, comme ├ža.

So this cold fire thing is a great development, is what I'm saying. The more the better. As we've always known. But since it's happening more and more with the neurofeedback, I've been thinking about it more and talking about it more, and I thought I'd bring it up with you guys again because Dr. Oz told me about something the other night that I thought you might want to see.

I sure as hell wanted to see it.

If you've read this blog from the beginning, then you may remember my "Trauma Theory" post, back in November of 2011, where I talked about Peter Levine's findings that animals discharge stored energy immediately following a traumatic event, unlike humans, whose natural processes are generally disrupted by our cognitive processes and by rescue efforts, inhibiting our ability to complete the fight-or-flight response instinctively.

Releasing the trauma is what allows the lizard brain's hypervigilance switch to get flipped back into the "off" position until it's needed again.

Hypervigilance Switch "off" = Go back to your normal life. 

Hypervigilance Switch "on" = Welcome to PTSD! Hang on to your hats and glasses, kids! It's gonna be a bumpy ride!

It turns out that there's VIDEO of this natural, instinctive trauma energy release happening in real time, with a polar bear, and it is AMAZING. I'm posting it below so you can see it. 


Trigger warning: the first two minutes of this video are of the polar bear, with fascinating and trigger-free commentary. OMG, OMG, AMAZING!

At about 2:02 (there is plenty of warning, no surprises), the video moves on to include footage of a woman who has been the victim of sexual assault going through a similar process in a Somatic Experiencing session.

I can't bring myself to watch the last six minutes of the video to tell you how disturbing or triggering it may be. I think that in itself counts as disturbing and triggering, yeah?

I can tell you this:

The woman is in a safe, supported, supervised environment and is working closely with her therapist to achieve this result. 

I can also tell you that I always wished I'd have this happen to me, even though I can't watch it happen to someone else. Scary as it is, I long for the catharsis of letting it all go at once.

But anyway. Caveat made. The first two minutes, at least, are MUST-SEE viewing for readers of this blog. 

What you see this polar bear doing, friends, is saving my life, in a roundabout way.


UPDATE: if you aren't seeing the video from your Apple or mobile device, here's the link:


So I think my cold fire is the super slow-motion version of what that polar bear is doing. He gets his all out at once, right when it happens, before the perpetual motion machine gets installed and generates a constant stream of that poisonous energy for his body to battle against forever and ever, and BOOM, he's done.

Mine is coming out now, maybe as it's created, or maybe what's left from last week or last month or last year in the overly-tense fibers of the exhausted muscles of my body, constantly being stocked and restocked with tension they don't need or want or use except to put my bones at war with themselves; make me too tired to sleep, too sore to move; old before my time.

Yeah, this cold fire is a good thing. 

When it first started and Dr. Oz told me what it was, I thought I'd run out of it before long. 

I didn't quite understand the PTSD-as-momentum-generator thing yet at the time. I thought I was feeling the energy of the accident-- the initial trauma, stored in my body from all those years ago-- finally being released into the air.

Now I get it. Oh, do I. It's still happening, in there. The trauma, the creation of energy, the tension, the fight, the flight, the freeze in the headlights... it's all still happening right this moment as urgently as it was on that night in February, 1991.

I've been disheartened, at times-- even very recently-- that despite all the work I've done, some things still seem just as far away as they always have.

Turning off that goddamned hypervigilance switch is one of them.

But watch that polar bear again. Did you see him? Did you see when it happened for him?
Not when he started to release that energy. Not while he was doing it.

Nope: he lays there and thrashes and shakes until it's all worked its way out, until it's ALL GONE, and then and only then does he stop-- so suddenly! so dramatically!-- and take that huge, fortifying, life-affirming, lung-filling breath of what must be the freshest air on Earth.

And then another. 

And then, work done, lungs free, breathing easy, he finally, finally gets to rest.


Holy shit, how fucking cool is that??!!


Jesus. This is all hitting me right now, as I'm typing this. I have to watch that again.
Hey, listen.

Pretend I wrote an awesome, profound, mic-dropper of a closing line here, will you? I gotta go.

I've got a date with a polar bear.


  1. Wow. That's a heck of a thing. It says that zoo animals also lack this release function but I didn't see why?

  2. Chris- I would guess it's because zoo creatures are under constant stress, like some people. Because they're watched by and surrounded by (and threatened by?) people all the time, they're in a sort of low-grade near-death state. So maybe they don't get the opportunity to release in the way the polar bear does after one major life-threatening event. They would be convulsing like, all the time..... that's my guess anyway.

    It strikes me how much profound vulnerability and trust it takes to have that release... to let it happen. It's got to be hard to ever feel safe enough, especially when the PTSR brain is constantly telling you you're not safe.

  3. KateTheGirlWhoLived11 August, 2014 11:19

    They may address that in the human part of the video that I haven't watched, I'm not sure. I think Elizabeth's theory, below, is an interesting one. Especially for animals that once lived in the wild.

    But I suspect that human intervention is the main culprit in zoo animals' response to trauma. Think about it: zoo animals rarely, if ever, experience such things naturally from start to finish. They aren't exposed to predators or any dangers they'd face in their natural habitats, so any trauma they'd experience is either a zoo- or human-related accident or something being done to them at by the zookeepers themselves (a medical intervention or something like that).

    In either case, humans would also nurse them through the recovery process, unwittingly robbing them of their natural, instinctive ability to heal themselves just fine on their own.

    That's my guess.

  4. KateTheGirlWhoLived11 August, 2014 11:29

    Hi Elizabeth!

    I responded to Chris above about my guess re: zoo animals, and I said I thought your theory would be particularly true for animals that once lived in the wild, but now I'm rereading your second paragraph and thinking that the vulnerability piece is not to be underestimated, even for animals that were raised in captivity.

    I bet you're right.

    They are wild animals, after all. No matter that they have only known the zoo-- they aren't house pets. There's trust between humans and animals at the zoo, I'm sure, but there are also limits to that trust.

    And when trauma occurs, that gap must feel very wide indeed.

    That vulnerability thing is one of the reasons I can't watch the rest of that video. I told my husband that I couldn't imagine getting to a place of such vulnerability that I could allow myself to release like that. I can't even watch another person do it; that's how far I am from being able to do it myself. I am in awe of it.

    I think you struck on the exact conundrum of the PTSR brain: safety vs. non-safety, and crossing over to the release is crossing that knife's edge.

  5. KateTheGirlWhoLived11 August, 2014 11:37

    See also my response to Elizabeth. I'm still thinking this through...