Invisible Wounds

Tragedy and pain is all around us. Every single day, there are more news reports about innocent people being killed, lives being devastated, and the people left behind to pick up the pieces. There are stories about the brave men and women who have volunteered to fight the evil that would dare to threaten this nation. There are the unsung heroes, law enforcement, EMTs, firefighters, and correctional officers. You read disparaging stories about these men and women who deal with the worst that humanity can offer and cringe. No one really knows what it’s like unless you’ve been in the shoes of those who’ve walked before you. What about those who try and shine a light into a person’s darkness, who encourages growth and self discovery, hoping and waiting for the darkness to subside, only to be drawn into the darkest nights of those they help. What about those who have experienced the worst the life has to offer, who have fought through the flames of despair and horror to come out the other side? Some people suffer physical harm and permanent disability from another person’s evil actions, but the majority of people don’t have visible wounds. We are the walking wounded. The ones who people dismiss because they can’t “see” what we’re suffering. They choose not to try to understand or simply can’t understand why we won’t “get over it.” So many of us suffer in silence, suffer through the nightmares, the physical pains, the emotional and psychological torment of unwanted memories and intrusive thoughts reminding us of the worst moments in our lives in vivid technicolor. But we are told to “toughen up” that we “should be over it by now,” and that we’re the “lucky ones” because we don’t have the physical scars to show. But that couldn’t be farther from reality. The truth is that the invisible wounds are the toughest to heal. Physical wounds close and heal and leave a visible reminder of the past, but the psychological and emotional scars are harder to heal. They are a festering open wound in your mind and soul that is reopened at the mildest whisper of memory. These wounds are not just memories, they are intrinsically tied into your senses. Smells, words, sounds, touch, taste, are all enough to invoke fear, terror, and psychological torment. The invisible wounds secretly infiltrate every aspect of your being. Most people who suffer in this way will turn so self destructive behaviors to try and numb the pain, to dull the memories, to relieve the terror. The results of these behaviors are often the only outward sign that you’re not alright. Often times the walking wounded don’t connect their addictions and self destructive and harming behavior to the trauma they suffered. So often there is a disconnect between seemingly separate events, that makes it even more difficult to recover and heal from the trauma suffered. Then, after you are “safe,” after the traumatic event or events are over, you’ve woken up are realized that things are not alright and you try and get help, you realize that the true battle for your life is just beginning. It is nearly impossible to get someone to listen to you without immediately dismissing you as “troubled” or whatever other label they want to lay onto your life. The reality is that if someone doesn’t understand what you’re experiencing or you don’t meet the “textbook” definition of something that is clearly understood, you must be crazy. You are dismissed, labeled, defeated and further victimized. The world says that we should focus on mental health, that we should help those in need, but the truth is that most people don’t really want to get their hands dirty. They don’t want to jump into the trenches of your personal hell to help pull you back through the flames. It’s easier to dismiss the unanswered and difficult questions than it is to dig deep and find the truth. Those of us who have been there know all to well the cutting words from doctors, the pitying looks from strangers who think they know our stories, the eye rolls and heavy sighs when you have to cancel on your friends again because you can barely function for the chaos in your head. What makes the pain of these invisible wounds worse, is that the more people dismiss your pain, the more the pain and suffering is compounded by your own self doubt. You already feel like you’re going crazy, wondering why you can’t remember what you’ve been doing, wondering how long you “spaced out” that time. Having professionals, friends and family demand that you conform to how they believe you should be dealing with the pain, can make you truly question whether or not this is real or if you are really making it all up. For some of us, the process of coming out of the fog of trauma and returning to reality is quick, for some, like me, it can take much longer. I don’t remember the majority of the first five years after the Columbine shootings. I had jobs I don’t remember, I met people and spent significant time with them and have no memory of those encounters, I don’t remember life. I remember the pain, the darkness, the chaos, the flashbacks and nightmares, the hallucinations, suffering in silence because I’m the strong one. I remember being told “it’s all in your head, you know you have emotional issues” and one ignorant doctor prescribing anti psychotic medications that turned me into a zombie and made the symptoms I was experiencing even worse, all because he wouldn’t look deeper and give me the help I needed. I remember pretending that I’d dealt with things, that I was fine, and that I was in full control of myself at all times. What I never told anyone was that I wasn’t living my life. I was struggling to survive one hour at a time, one day at a time. Praying for this to go away, for something to change, for someone to understand and help me. That’s what the invisible wounds of trauma do. They create permanent scars in your mind and soul, that when left unchecked, will create havoc and devastation in your life and then convince you that everything is fine. The festering wound that is left after trauma and suffering eats away at your body, mind, and soul, until you can find the strength to pull yourself back up and keep fighting. Because now you are fighting for your life. The life you had before can never be reclaimed, so you must fight for your new life, your new normal. You eventually learn to be selective with who you trust, with what you trust people with, and you gradually learn that you can live your life and not just survive. The only hope for my survival came from God. I had to choose to trust that He could stabilize my life again, that I could trust Him for the peace and comfort that was shattered at the moment my life forever changed. I had to realize that people will never be who I need them to be at all times. That it is unfair to demand that those around me be responsible for my happiness, for solely supporting me when I can barely see the light through the darkness. People can’t be my comfort, my peace, my healing, or my hope. That only comes from God, and through faith and trust in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. Without the knowledge that there is a greater purpose for my life than pain, that God will use the evil in this world for His ultimate good, and that He designed my life with hope and promise, there would be nothing to hope for. When the only light in the midst of your darkest night is the truth and promise of a loving, merciful, and gracious God, that’s the one thing you have to cling to. Nothing else in this life will bring you out of the darkness of trauma and pain and put your feet on solid ground again. Healing and redemption is not possible without God, and I needed both after how I’d been living my life just trying to survive. It is amazing the things you tell yourself, the way you rationalize what you’re doing or not doing, so that you can relieve the pain you’re feeling. I not only needed healing, but I desperately needed to lay the weight of the things that I’d done at the foot of the cross of the only one who asks us to give Him our burdens, to be forgiven and cleansed from my past. The stains that evil had left on my life, the poorly disguised desperate attempts at “normal,” I needed a Savior. That’s the beauty of those of us that are living as the walking wounded, those carrying around wounds and scars that no one else can see. God can! He sees and knows every tear, every pain, every fear. Because He’s the only one who can see how devastated our inner being is, He is the only one who can heal the deepest parts of us. The invisible wounds may never become visible, but there is hope in a future that is free, that is healed. The pains, memories, and fears never really go away, but develops into scars. Those scars begin bright, vivid red and angry, but the more you rely on God to heal those deep parts of you, the more you seek life giving help, friends, and community, the more those scars fade away to barely a memory. Invisible wounds, the pain of trauma, the suffering from the evil that humanity perpetrates on each other, you can choose to embrace the pain, the suffering, and the fear. Or you can choose to freely live your life again. The road to healing is painful and intense, but you are never walking through it alone.

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