Tag Archives: Trauma

To love a girl who has lived through trauma

Standard

A girl who has lived through trauma has lived through a situation where her body, her mind, her self was not her own. Where she felt disjointed, ripped from her self, safety, and sanity. It was a moment, an experience, a something where her trust was smashed, her worth was gone and all there was was pain.
A girl who has lived through trauma is the girl who was pushed into the deep end of the pool when she didn’t know how to swim, but somehow found her way to the ledge anyway. She walked through a forest fire and didn’t succumb to the smoke, but dealt with the burns and made it out in spite of the flames. She found herself in free fall but refused to break upon impact.

She survived. She did.

But the thing about trauma, is that even when it is over it never really goes away.

And sometimes trauma is loud. Sometimes it’s the monster banging at the windows and screaming gutturally and demonically inside of nightmares. It’s nails on a chalkboard and an earthquake that rattles everyone’s floors. It smashes everything in its wake and forces, no, demands that everyone acknowledge its terrible, terrible presence. She won’t have any choice but to sit with hands clapped over her ears making sounds that are barely human because she just wants everything to stop and it won’t.

But other times, trauma is quiet. It’s sneaky.

It’s the feeling that she is being watched or that she is walking down the street with the word ‘victim’ painted on her forehead in red and everyone is privy to her secrets. It’s the nagging fear that if she goes to sleep her dreams will be anything but restful. It’s the little whisper saying, “You will never be whole again,” that itches its way into the back of her mind and repeats over, and over, and over. And you won’t even see it because she convinces herself that she is the only one who knows that it is there.

It’s the feeling that she is a 100,000 piece puzzle of black and grey and everyone staring at the mess realizes that putting her back together is simply not worth the effort.

So when you love a girl who’s gone through trauma, you’re saying that you see the worth in helping her bandage the wounds. You’re saying that you see the worth someone else tried to bury. You’re saying you are not afraid of the bad days and you see the beauty in the good days. You’re saying that a lot of things may scare you, but trauma isn’t one of them.

When you love a girl who’s battled trauma, you’re really saying,

Love, let me help you heal because I believe you can.”

Loving girl who has managed to make it to the other side of a traumatic experience is like deciding to restore an abandoned house. She has the framework and the good bones, but you may need to spackle holes someone else left behind on the the walls. She has the the makings for beautiful, light-filled windows, but you’ll need to replace a few of the cracked panes with new glass. She has the door frame, she just needs a door.

She’ll make a lovely home one day, but there needs some care in order to make a space.

See, loving a girl with trauma in her history is not some choose your own adventure or some level in a game you need to beat. It takes time, it take patience. It’s not something you ‘win at’ it’s something you deal with day by day. It takes a level of commitment because reality is, loving her is not simple.
She is inherently complicated. She is stained with memories she wishes she did not have but that she will never be rid of. She is pieced together and the stitching may be tighter in some spots than others so you have to be careful to not unravel her with one careless tug.

But she is brave. And she is strong.

And when she realizes that you are choosing to love her, and not hurt her, she will love you back with the same kind of tenacity that it took to walk through fire.

And she will hold out her palm and show you the burn marks and instead of apologizing for bothering you with their appearance, she’ll trust you to hold her hand anyway. End link

Advertisements

On healing and normalcy

Image
On healing and normalcy

“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.

Write 31 Days

You cannot have that

Standard

To the Thief,

If we were to list what you stole from us, we would write forever.

We’ve heard other survivors say that their childhood was stolen. That’s close to being true for us. What you stole was the child within us. We were ancient ruins before we were 10.

When we look back at pictures of us from that time, they look like us…almost. It’s as though they are very realistic masks of the girls we used to be. But blank. Like a light went out. We turned the corners of our mouths up for the camera, because we were obedient girls and knew that’s what was expected—but there was no joy. We were guessing at normal.

We looked tired. We were tired. All the time. You stole our belief that we were safe in the world. Even in our little worlds. When someone who is supposed to love you, supposed to protect you, violates your trust and desecrates your body, you feel as though danger lurks everywhere. If you aren’t safe in the cocoon of your own family, you understand that you will never be safe anywhere.

You taught us to hate our bodies. We still have not entirely unlearned that lesson, even more than three decades later.

We know that if our focus is on the wounds of the past, we will miss out on the blessings of the future, and we are unwilling to allow that. In order to cast out that darkness, in order to banish that hatred, what we finally realize is that we need to forgive you.

We don’t want to carry these heavy things anymore. Without forgiveness, there is no freedom from this. From you. And we want to travel light.

We are going to do our best to let you go. To have this be one thing that happened, a long time ago. Not the defining thing. Not the totality of who we are. Just a chapter in the book of our lives—perhaps never completely closed, but a section we hope to revisit less and less. There is too much happiness ahead of us, too much goodness and grace in the world, to spend time reliving such pain.

We refuse to continue to be your host. We will not feed you anymore. You own a great deal of our past, but we will give you none of our future.

You cannot have that.

It’s time to sit in the sun.

Goodbye.

BostonMAG

The bravest thing I ever did was continue my life when I wanted to die.

Standard

In this house, we’re all about growth and celebrating.

My housemates and I were out to dinner one evening celebrating one of their birthdays, a housemate who just moved in the week prior. This new housemate was sort of blown away by how much care we took in celebrating her, someone we didn’t know, who hadn’t given us anything or done anything for us. She was new.. new to our home, new to the neighborhood, new to the city, even new to this part of the country. She didn’t know another soul around, except for the newly developed friendships in our house.

A current housemate shared with her that in this house, we’re all about growth and celebrating. And that, friends, made me feel much warmth inside. You see, for most of my life I’ve lived a certain way in order to meet a standard that I felt my community demanded of me. I felt unsafe in my household as a young person, with my relatives, and within my church community.  Living in such bonds and fear is crippling. Living in that during foundational years of your life, suffocating. There’s little growth when your trying to survive. Few, if any, saw me enough to celebrate me. I thought I wasn’t worth celebrating.

Over and over again I was told how brave I was in church, for living in what I did, for experiencing what I had. But no one actually knew what my life was really like. There were many well meaning assumptions made, but so very few, if even one, actually asked. I didn’t feel brave. I felt like a coward, living so terrified of life. I just had to suppress my real emotions to make everyone else comfortable, to make myself fit in, to make it. Shame. So much shame.

The bravest thing I ever did was continue my life when I wanted to die.

And I hit a point where I didn’t want to live. I’ve hit it many times if I am going to be honest here. The days when life feels bare and joy seems ripped out from beneath me and I’m clawing it back with everything that’s left. And I’m healing.

But I kept clawing. And fighting. And asking the Lord to break me all up and heal me. I’ve never been afraid of that, of the breaking. That’s the easy part for me. It’s the healing I don’t understand. It’s unconditional love I’ve never known. It’s sometimes the warmth that comes out of me at the most unexpected times, the tenderness, the weepiness, the empathy. It’s the healing part that’s hard, painful. That’s bravery. Surviving didn’t make me brave. Continuing to heal when I’ve wanted to die, that’s brave.

To tell you my purpose is to tell of Him

So here I am, serving the Lord with many tears and trials. Living in a home in which it is common places to celebrate small things, like Froyo Friday-just because we made it through another week, or celebrating a tough appointment or meeting or hard conversation with someone. So we go out, we order in, we bake some cupcakes, and we celebrate and record these small feats of growth as we serve the Lord with many tears and trials and claw our way towards hope and joy. And as we mend, we move from needing help to giving help, without even thinking of it. The process is not a waste of time if we’ve learned something. Because in this house we’re all about growth and celebrating and you can’t have one without the other (at least in our home).

FMF:Celebrate

Because Life is pretty mixed

Standard

I always notice when the kids around me turn 10. I notice how different my life was than theirs and I remember what it felt like for me. Too often I wonder what it could have been like, what it could have felt like if God had rescued me, if He would have protected me more viscerally. No birthday is more pungent than my 10th.

It was my first sunrise, the first time I watched it that is. At this point in my life, my 10th birthday, I had seen many dawns (you know that point where the darkness breaks into the light). But I had never seen the sun actually rise.

It wasn’t glamorous. But it was beautiful, meaningful. Meaning is one of the most beautiful things to me. It leaves purpose, reminders, a marker as a way of processing and reframing difficulty with joy. That sun rise has stayed imprinted to my memory my entire life. I have not seen another since that day, that really difficult day.

I don’t recall my birthdays being special or well celebrated, but my mother tried. If anything, she tried hard with what she had and I am grateful to her for that. Each birthday she’d take me to get a cappuccino from the local gas station. She loved coffee, and of course, I admired her.

As a kid, it felt special to drink this sugary caffeinated beverage. IT. WAS. THE. BEST. And my mom would sit and drink it with me, just the two of us, on my birthday. Perhaps it was only 10 minutes, but for a shy, quiet, chronically sick child who felt like the center of every financial and marital problem, 10 minutes of time focused on me was a luxury. And I looked forward to it. It was the best gift.

It had been a hard night that eve of my 10th birthday. Our house became unsafe again. My mother gathered myself and one of my younger sisters into the car frantically. It was the dead of winter in New England, a snow storm. We didn’t have shoes on, not even pants. And our car had been the undesired benefactor of my mother’s husband’s anger: another smashed windshield and caved in roof.

But she drove us in that car anyways, frantic to get us somewhere safe. We slept on the side of the road. My mom, too afraid to draw attention to where we were, needed to keep the car off, and therefore the heat off. My little sister, 6 yrs old at the time whimpered in pain from the cold. We interlocked arms and I held her, trying to keep one another warm. I pulled her in under my big night shirt and we stayed like that, both unable to sleep in our pant-less, shoeless, painfully cold skins.

And as the light broke into the darkness that morning, I watched the sun rise from our smashed in car roof above my head, the bright pink and purple bursting through a light snow fall. I watched the dawn of my 10th birthday. And I made a mental note to never forget it. To never forget what it felt like. The bitterness and the beauty. The mixed.

As I sat up, I breathed in the terribly cold air as it stung my lungs, felt the snow that had slowly accumulated around us, the tender pain of freezing limbs, and I thought, “this is God’s gift to me. This is so beautiful.”

You see, I didn’t grow up being taught much about God or Jesus. Mostly they were only cuss words. But I hoped that there was a God and that He would save me, and help me, and cry for me.

And when my mother woke and brought us somewhere safe and warm, I could see it in her eyes that she forgot it was my birthday or perhaps it was too painful for her to acknowledge. There was a coldness in her, too, as if the winter night had seeped through her soul.

There were no cappuccinos that day, no gifts, no cake. No birthday.

My 10th year of life was one of the most challenging I can recall. But all these years I’ve held onto that sunrise, the only one I’ve ever seen, as one of the most beautiful pictures in my head. I felt as if it was God’s gift to me, a reminder to hold tight, He was coming. He would rescue me. The people around me hardly knew I existed, but God did.

As my ten year old self sat watching this sunrise, I had never been so excited for light in my life, so excited to see another day. warmth. hope. All of it. And I decided then that I refused to inflict the same pain I received on others. I wanted to be like the sunrise, not the cold, bitter, winter night.

My tenth birthday was a day I won’t forget. And I hope that someday I can watch the sunrise again and experience that hope and beauty once more, with someone in solidarity to share the meaningfulness of it with me.

We don’t always get the things we want and need in this life. We make it. We survive. We learn to thrive and get by at times. But then there are moments amidst the pain, shock, confusion, betrayal, whatever at may be, that God sends us reminders that He’s coming, that there’s hope, and that joy really will come in the morning. Sometimes we just have to hold tight and wait through the winter for it. Unfairly, unjustly so. Because life is pretty mixed. It’s both bitter and beautiful, empty and full, painful and passion filled. And I wanted to hold the meaning, this gift of imperfect beauty, in my mind forever.

FMF:TEN

It is my hearts cry that those outside of the Christian subculture that we’ve created might be able to ask, “Even me?” and be welcomed with, “of course you.”

Standard

Father’s Day is coming. It’s a harder one for more people than I think we understand. We celebrate fathers, but Father’s Day is also tempered with pain. Joy and pain, they often seem to go together. We have David and Bathsheba and Absolom and Tamar. I bet there’s far more Tamar’s in our church pews than we are aware of. Abuse, abandonment, neglect, coldness, shame in places where warmth, light, solidarity, and compassion were needed by fathers.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light”- Brene Brown

The last few weeks have been filled with making choices that bring much fear. I have had appointments, visits, and engaged in conversations that flat out near terrified me. I’ve looked at systemic issues in my heart, made life altering decisions, and took steps to love, which riddled me with fear to points of being sick to my stomach. Just this morning, at an appointment a doctor asked me about a piece of my story, a painful hard piece, and I was reminded that fear can be good. It can protect us. It protected me. We SHOULD be afraid of some things. We OUGHT to have some fear in our lives, but sometimes fear gets distorted. Sometimes fear is misused. And too often, we carry the pain of that fear into our lives where it enmeshes into circumstances and relationships and inflicts pain and harm.

This morning I thought about Father’s Day and my step-father. He loved me, I think, in some way. But he did not really know how to love appropriately or well. He was hurting. He hurt so much that I can imagine he lived in a constant state of pain and agony. I do not know what caused him to be so calloused, so cold and angry that he would injure others, but he did. He had a history of rage and assault.

He abused many women. He abused many drugs. He created a small community of people who were terrified of him and his domineering authority over them. His crimes were horrendous. He was to be feared.

I want to care about this suffering world more than I care about my rights. It is my hearts cry that those outside of the Christian subculture that we’ve created might be able to ask, “Even me?” and be welcomed with, “of course you.”

And somewhere along the line all the avenues my step-father managed to cope with his rage caught up with him and he became ill. For 2 years he layed in a hospital bed, paralyzed on quadruple bypass. A couple weeks before Father’s Day I happened to have to spend the night in our van at the hospital overnight while my mother visited him for the night. I had not seen him at all since he first entered the hospital. No one ask if I wanted to see him. They just assumed it was clearly not a good idea. This was a fluke and I was not happy about having to spend the night at the hospital against my wishes. Mother didn’t have time to drop me off beforehand.

I used to see it in his eyes, the switch. Mostly he was cold, but sometimes the rage would be there. And those days and nights and weeks were the hardest. And every once in a while I’d see the sadness. And I hurt for my step-father in a very deep place inside of my little child heart. My little child heart knew his sadness as my own. In the midst of much chaos, neglect, and abuse, God created a gentle and compassionate heart inside of me.

Before I knew what I was doing, I was closing the van door. Walking into the hospital. I crept into the waiting room. No one was around. I turned the corner counting the room numbers. My heart was pounding. I was dizzy. I was afraid and fear gripped me, but I was also curious. I hardly knew what to expect. I glanced around his hospital room quickly to make sure no one was in there. I stepped into what I thought was an empty room, but as I got closer, there he was, my step-father, in his bed. Emaciated. Dozens of tubes coming out of him.

He looked at me, shocked. He couldn’t speak. He physically was unable. He couldn’t move. He was dying. And I looked into his eyes, such sadness. And I saw it, the lone tear fell from his eye as he looked at me.

Fear dissolved and my small teenage self filled with something I can only call the fullness of compassion. I whispered, “I forgive you. I’m okay. God loves me. He sees you. He loves you too. He wants you. He always has.”

And friends, his tears rolled down his sunken and bruised cheeks. I stood for a few more moments and walked back to the van, never to see my step-father again. You see, Jesus had gripped my heart a few weeks previously and a whole new world of faith existed for me, a world of  hope and possibility in a place that was once dead. I was more alive than I knew possible. And if we are only good news to each other, what good will that do for the Kingdom and our world? There’s real, living people in need of hope in their darkest and most painful moments.

Love conquers death. Love restores fear to it’s rightful place. Love corrects wrong, brings justice.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love conquerors a multitude of sin. Love never fails. Fathers may fail. Families may hurt us. The weight of life and living may fall very hard upon our tattering souls. But God, he takes the things that are little and weak, he takes the pieces of our fear filled lives that “ought not to have been that way”, and he breaths courage into them, life into them. He heals. He creates places where those outside can now enter in, as equals. And the lamb can rest with the lion.

Check it out:

FMF: Fear & TestimonyTuesday

Stability has always had a high cost for them.

Standard

They look like everyone else. They try to watch and learn the careful etiquette of words and phrases, learning how to style their hair, host a dinner. It’s an acquired habit, one necessary for surviving in a world that they don’t fully understand, at least not in the ways others do. They learn the dance. It becomes a routine, trying their very best to learn how to blend in. They don’t try to even fit in anymore. They know that’s not an option. They are not naive enough to believe that anymore.

Something is missing. Something is different. They can’t quite figure out when it happened or pin point with clarity when it all changed. Don’t let on. Say the right things. Go through the right motions. Ask the polite questions. Never say more than the answer. Wear the right clothes. Learn how to apply the right makeup. Watch. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t let on that something is missing. It’s easier to just blend in.

Because you don’t really know what it is that’s missing. All you know is that it’s heavy and hits you hard. This broken family stuff. No one needs to know. They don’t understand, not really. Not in ways that matter. How can anyone else understand what you don’t understand? You can’t figure it out… was it the divorce of your parents, the loss of them at a young age, abuse, memories that won’t leave you no matter how hard you try to work them out or move past them? It’s the weight that holds your heart in your stomach, constantly tugging and tearing, wearily bearing and enduring through the days. You don’t know when it all turned for you. You just know it hurts and it hits you hard every day.

Not everyone from a broken family experiences the same struggles, the same stories, the same kind of pain, but in the deep places there’s something familiar, something hollow, something missing.

You may ask them about their life, about their relatives and their upbringing. They may seem cool and give short answers at first, trying their best not to allude to what it is they have to hide, but trying to be honest as well. They may gloss over the ugly details, and you probably think that’s the whole story. But it’s not. It can’t be. Who wants to hear about the way she stayed up late countless times observing her mom after an over dose, or when she had to sleep in the waiting room wondering if her dad would live, or her addict sibling? How she called 911 and hid the phone in the cushion of a torn up couch while she tried to save the very parents who were hurting her or that her siblings grew up to hate her because she told the “family secret” when she was 13 and that’s why she ex-communicated, familyless. These aren’t dinner conversations. They aren’t things that can come up naturally. No one wants to hear about these things.

They always have felt strange, with no way to communicate these deeper things in ways that don’t make you run from them. They hope you don’t run, but they also know you probably will. It’s just another part of the burden, knowing it’s too much for others. But really, it’s too much for you too. It’s a reality that crushes idealism.

They don’t mean to play a game, letting you in a little, but not too much. It’s nervous caution. They’ve learned how to stifle the turning of their stomach when you talk about your family and your traditions that you’ve had for years and years. They’ve mastered the art of stepping into the bathroom to cry alone. They don’t know what it’s like, being able to expect anything from anyone. What it’s like to go to back to the only home you’ve ever known year after year and re-connect with people who have known you your whole life. The stability. Stability has always had a high cost for them. Their jaw is tight, doing it’s best work to remain clenched so they don’t cry as you talk about your life.

They know they could not call this place home, even though they’ve thought about it. They know it’s for you, not for them. These are not the things that bad people get, home and belonging don’t happen to broken people, to people who come from unconventional families. The recognize what you get and what they get and they have long stifled the hope of more, others before you have stifled that hope.

There are days when they know they don’t deserve you, your love and kindness and tenderness. They know it’s only a matter of time before you see them the way they’ve always known they were, different, screwed up, bad. They’ve seen it in your eyes, when you look at them sometimes, the difference between you and them. They see it. They sense that you see it too. They know you’re realizing you aren’t like them and you can’t handle this, them. Brokenness costs.

But they just need a little space to grow, to thrive. A little space to temper fun with heaviness. A place to bridge new memories, as they struggle to make sense of the deep heaviness inside. Because they are excellent learners and observers. They’ve had to be their whole life and they could probably teach you a thing or two about learning and observing, but what they really need is a little small space in your heart that let’s them just be who they are, broken and healing, without needing to be fixed or have everything about them understood.

They know they are complicated, not easy. That they won’t ever be enough for you. They know you could let them go at any moment and find easier, less complicated relationships. They fear you probably will. But they wish you would hold tight and not leave. Because deep down, they still believe they matter. Still believe they’re worth it, even as people come and go and remind them of all their brokenness. Brokenness they didn’t choose.

Broken families aren’t easy. Why would broken people be?