“You can’t patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid.” ― Michael Connelly
Over the summer, my housemates and I took many trips to the coastal New England beaches. New England is not known for many areas of intense waves or dangerous waters, except for the occasional beaches where sharks are known (which we just don’t venture to). There’s something about having a rough week or day and then sitting out on the beach, feeling the sand, smelling the ocean, and seeing the vastness that reminds me about how big the world is, especially when my world feels small and lonely.
One particular weekend, the waves were the biggest I have ever seen in Massachusetts. We grabbed our boogie boards and run right in. After taking hit after hit of waves, I walked out within 5 minutes with a bruised and bleeding leg. I couldn’t withstand the pressure. I wanted so bad to enjoy the waves, knowing this was a rarity in Massachusetts, but I couldn’t.
“PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.” ― Susan Pease Banitt
Our bodies are made so magnificently and intricately. They are not designed to take hits, wave after wave. Eventually our bodies will go numb. That’s the thing about PTSD as well, our bodies are not made to withstand the events of trauma continually nor the heightened affects of it indefinitely.
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”
Atrocities refuse to be buried. The desire of the mind to deny the atrocities are just as forceful. In this subconscious war, the body takes wave after wave of blows, suffering in the areas of digestion, autoimmunity, and within the nervous system.
The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner that undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.
Often in my journey to heal from trauma and PTSD I am tempted to plunge in, to take on far more than I am capable of handling and processing alone. There’s been pressure from the outside to move through it quicker, to understand more, to go to more classes, more therapy, more support. There’s pressure from within me, demanding I “get back to” normal life, look like everyone else, find a way to understand the world in order to fit into the world.
Because I don’t feel normal. I don’t understand things typically. I feel lost much of the time. And it’s a lonely walk.
The pressure gets to me often, as if I could only attain “normalcy” and then I would be all set, I’d fit in the social club of life. Only, so often normalcy and healing get confused.
For the sake of “normalcy” I try to find support groups, more therapy, a job. I want to exercise more, lead bible studies, be a pursuer through engaging others relationally. I want to be involved in committees and on non profit boards. I want to have a 9-5 career, a house, a newer car.
“Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can’t process it because it doesn’t fit with what came before or what comes afterwards.”
But for the sake of “healing” I see a therapist. I take a couple of slow walks around the neighborhood a week. I stepped down from a local non-profit board. I go to a bible study and allow myself to be a member. I stay committed to the few people I feel responsible to and for, and I focus on loving them well. I coach a sport team, which allows me to have a tiny pay check, but also is a good use of my giftedness in supporting others to grow in a unique way. For the sake of “healing” I say “no” to a lot.
And for the sake of “healing” I scrapbook. I watch loads of netflix. I make dinner for my housemates. I visit friends out of the city at least monthly. I stay in bed when the physical illnesses I have are too intense. I ride the waves of PTSD and trauma when they arise, but I do not go seeking it. I do not jump in head first and hope to conquer it. I know that type of attitude is not only futile, but dangerous.
Because the waves are strong and are sometimes meant to be understood of their beauty from afar, not from a futile battle within.