Monday, January 7, 2013

From Root Shock, Mary Fullilove

Because we dance in a ballroom, have a parade in a street, make love in a bedroom, and prepare a feast in a kitchen, each of these places becomes imbued with sounds, smells, noises, and feelings of those moments and how we lived them. When we enter an old classroom, the smell of chalk on the boards can bring back a swarm of memories of classmates and lessons, boredom and dreams. Walking toward a favorite bar awakens expectations of friends and drinks, good times, good food. The breeze on a certain hillside reminds us of a class trip, while the sun in the garden brings thoughts of Dad. Try to find the shortcut you used to take to your best friend's house and it is your feet that will carry you there. The cues from place dive under conscious thought and awaken our sinews and bones, where days of our lives have been recorded.


Root shock is the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one's emotional ecosystem. It has important parallels to the physiological shock experienced by a person who, as a result of injury, suddenly loses massive amounts of fluids. Such a blow threatens the whole body's ability to function. The nervous system attempts to compensate for the imbalance by cutting off circulation to the arms and legs. Suddenly the hands and feet will seem cold and damp, the face pale, and the brow sweaty. This is an emergency state that can preserve the brain, the heart, and the other essential organs for only a brief period of time. If the fluids are not restored, the person will die. Shock is the fight for survival after a life-threatening blow to the body's internal balance.

Just as the body has a system to maintain its internal balance, so, too, the individual has a way to maintain the external balance between himself and the world. This way of moving in the environment maximizes the odds that he will survive predators, find food, maintain shelter from the harsh elements, and live in harmony with family and neighbors. This method for navigating the external environment is selected because, based on individual and collective trial-and-error experiences with the mazelike possibilities offered by the surrounding world, it seems to offer the greatest chances for survival. Using this analogy to mazes we can call the chosen pattern of movement "a way to run the maze of life," or, more simply, a "mazeway."

When the mazeway, the external system of protection, is damaged, the person will go into root shock. Just as a burn victim requires immediate replacement of fluids, so, too, the victim of root shock requires the support and direction of emergency workers who can erect shelter, provide food, and ensure safety until the victim has stabilized and can begin to take over these functions again.

Imagine the victim of an earthquake, a hurricane, a flood, or a terrorist attack. He suffers from root shock as he looks at the twisted remains of the known universe, searching for the road to the supermarket, which used to be there, but is now a pile of rubble. Imagining such a person-and knowing that these tragedies can happen to any of us-we open our hearts and wallets to the Red Cross and other relief organizations that show up immediately to be the temporary mazeway, the transfusion of an environment to those who are naked to the elements.

The experience of root shock-like the aftermath of a severe burn-does not end with emergency treatment, but will stay with the individual for a lifetime. In fact, the injury from root shock may be even more enduring than a burn, as it can affect generations and generations of people. Noah's ark-and his effort to rebuild the world after the flood-is the true story of a lost world. We keep telling that story because we keep living it, not simply when the floods come, but after they have receded and we try to rebuild.

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