Instinctual Red Alert

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A cat who excessively grooms itself from anxiety.

With Shirley kitty at home, watching her go through the phases of trigger to calm has been difficult.   Rescue Remedy has been a blessing.  I wonder if she’ll ever feel safe enough to play with toys or want to venture beyond the upstairs.  But we’re in baby steps and her body language speaks clearly.   She just wants to eat and cuddle with her one exclusive human and lick-lick once she’s alone.

One of the most heartbreaking (and frustrating) issues of a traumatized animal is that the human sees the big picture of why they behave so irrationally, but the animal does not.  We cannot use words to explain the disease or injury to the animal.   The light bulb will never glow in their minds of “a-ha!”.  There’s no understanding of themselves, no clarity, no logic.

It’s interesting to note that even our species runs on instinct and primitive levels when the chips are past being down.   The switch flips in our head and we become animals.  We behave as an animal does during red alert.  Some of us stay in that mode temporarily, some dangerously longer.

Imaging a soldier overseas, hunched down in the dense glade, weapon cocked and ready.  Every blade of grass that moves, he tenses.  Shadows appear ominous.  The soldier is on red alert, and everything will potentially end his life if his vigilance slips for a mere second.  Now imagine months later he is safe in his own back yard, sipping spiked lemonade and wearing flip-flops.  He is still vigilantly on red alert and relaxing is a luxury his brain can’t afford, so he sees a therapist weekly and takes his sleepytime medicine from the flask hidden in the toilet.   After barricading the front door with furniture he sleeps fitfully with a loaded gun.

Imagine a violence survivor at night, checking her locks repeatedly, tensing at every dog bark outside and the scrape of a breeze-blown branch against glass, her heart hammering loudly in her ears.  She wonders if her vigilance slips for a mere second if her safety will end.  She has 911 on speed dial, a safety plan and an escape bag packed and ready.   Her trauma happened well over a year ago and her assailant is serving time.  At night her mind plays with her so well.  She sleeps very little.  He could get out any moment.   Somehow…

Being on red alert can affect any living thing no matter what species you are and it does not discriminate.  It affects our brains.   It doesn’t change our intelligence, but it does change our reasoning.  It doesn’t affect our beauty, but it does change our perceptions of ourselves.  And most definitely, it changes our view of the world, permanently.

For the next week,  we’ll be focusing on the physical and emotional consequences trauma continues to inflict long after.  Thank you for reading.



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