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Safety, Hope, and the Onsite Foundation

What does hope look like? What does it mean to feel safe for the first time in your life? How can these things create an environment where you can truly begin to heal from the traumas that have shaped the landscape of your life?

An Unforseen Opportunity

At the beginning of March, I had a unique and unparalleled opportunity to attend a workshop addressing the trauma of being a mass shooting survivor. This was an opportunity I never had after surviving the Columbine Massacre in 1999. Another survivor spoke to me about the program, and I will admit, my first instinct was to see how I could help. I am a trauma specialist after all, it made sense for me to want to come alongside a program specifically aimed at mass shooting survivors. I inquired into coming on board with the program and then thought nothing more about it.

Funny how the things we avoid tend to assert themselves even stronger. The phrase “what we resist, persists” is very fitting. Being someone who has consistently avoided many things surrounding the Columbine Massacre even to this day, the idea of opening up that wound again was not appealing. I’ve always done the work, but also held a lot at arms length. I did not “want to go there” so many times that I convinced myself that I didn’t need to.

When my friend got back to me about joining the foundation, they were excited about the opportunity I presented, but everyone they work with has to go through the program first. If I wanted to help, I needed to travel this healing path myself.

What I Didn’t Know

Into the Unknown

When I said yes to the process of attending the program, I had no idea what I was really saying yes to. I did all the research I could on the Onsite Foundation and the Triumph over Tragedy Program (TOT) offered. The part of the program that appealed to me the most was the idea of having 7 glorious days of uninterrupted me time. Healing from whatever God brought me to. The fact that the setting for the program in Cumberland Furnace, TN, a 250 acre property that is beyond idyllic and serene, didn’t hurt either.

It was the second day of the program that I begin to feel the strong, visceral resistance to the work. I did not want to experience the pain. The crux of the program is somatic experiencing. Your body knows how to heal itself, but we get in the way. In order to heal from the pain, you have to grieve what happened. It’s not possible to break free from the past if you are unwilling to experience the strong emotions and responses associated with your traumas.

Apparently, I also developed a strong inclination and ability to not really feel what trauma had done in my mind and body. This was the cause of my strong resistance to the work. But I had chosen to embrace this opportunity no matter what God asked me to do.

Taking a deep breath and choosing to dive into the unknown, I experienced something I’ve never experienced before. Safety, a sense of truly being safe in a place and with the people in my group. We became a family. Bonded by tragedy, strengthened by the process of being known and seen, and not judged or devalued.

A sense of safety, being fully known and seen, created the exact environment needed for healing. Experiencing that I can feel the emotions and not die or get stuck in them, opened up the door to healing I didn’t know I had shut.

Reconnecting Me To Me

Our minds and bodies are intricately intertwined. Trauma breaks that connection between our mind and body. Our mind or our body is loudly screaming at us that something is not right, but we don’t always get that message the right way. The tendency to seek out medical help for physiological symptoms such as digestive issues, chronic pain, autoimmune, and other physiological concerns, is a consequence of this disconnection.

Your body will always remember what your mind forgets.

Our signals get crossed, and we don’t relate the onset of these physiological symptoms with a traumatic event. The rational mind can’t make sense of what the body is feeling because it is stuck in a memory loop of our trauma. A loop driven by the primal, unthinking, part of the brain.

Your mind will always be working to try to resolve your stuck trauma. It will cause you to remember in whatever way it can so that you can heal. Many times this is what triggers panic, anxiety, irrational fear, paranoia, and vivid nightmares. A key indicator of unhealed trauma is whether you still respond strongly to the events or memories of them.

This disconnect between mind and body is the focus of somatic experiencing. The goal being to reconnect us to ourselves. When we are connected, we can heal. If we are dissociated from ourselves, we stay stuck in trauma. We live in the past, in the present.

Goals

Onsite is the first program of its kind and it is incredibly unique and effective. Through the somatic experiencing process, the incredible knowledge of the group leaders and educators, I left with a new perspective on my trauma.

The goal at Onsite is NOT complete and total healing. The expectation of complete healing in a week would cause immense shame and further trauma because no one would get there. The goal is a 1-2 degree change. The illustration of a pilot is helpful. If a pilot shifted his course by 1-2 degrees he’d end up in a completely different and unexpected place.

So it is with us. 1-2 degrees of change will alter the trajectory of our lives.

Changing course

Being able to embrace the knowledge I already had as the truth for myself as well as everyone else, set me free to experience change. Realizing that the parts of me that I was so determined to eradicate are not my enemy and meant to protect me, let me see my pain for what it is.

Moving Forward

After this week, I came home to shut-down and shelter in place orders. I was thrust from a safe, healing environment, into toxic chaos and lack of control. The transition was extremely hard, and I am still learning and recovering from the abrupt change. Because of the work I did at Onsite, I am able to navigate this chaos in a very different way.

I am stronger. I am healthier. I am still on that healing journey.

The process began that week, and I am continuing it now. Healing from trauma is complicated, messy, hard, painful, and takes time. Instant, magic pills, do not exist. Trauma does not simply go away. Your body and mind will always try to force you to stop ignoring the trauma and heal.

Embrace the bad with the good. Realize that you are interacting with the world through the lens of your trauma response. Believe that you can heal. Then take the next step forward on your journey to freedom.

More

This morning as I was doing my quiet time and reflecting on this week’s sermon, I realized that I want more. I want more than the daily cycle of fear, disappointment, confusion, praying for change and healing. The never ending battle between my heart and my reality. I need more. God tells us that Jesus came to this world so we can live an abundant life. That is not only when we reach glory! God wants us to be free and have abundant life NOW!

The quest for abundant life is one that we all travel for most of our lives. That desire for things to just be ok. Wanting the downpour of life to stop or to at least be able to grab an umbrella and not get drenched. Reflecting on why life seems so hard all the time, I am beginning to understand that it’s not life, but how I respond to life that creates the perception of how hard it is. God tells us that in this world, this fallen and broken world, we WILL have trouble. God never tells us that once we place our faith in Him that life will be easy. The exact opposite, actually. The more we pursue God, the more the enemy will try and destroy us.

We should not be surprised when hard things in life, trouble, pain, heartbreak, illness, etc. come into our lives. But what does that mean for us? I’m in a season in life where everything is hard. It seems that I can never catch a break with the hard, the painful, the scary, the disappointing parts of this life. I was reflecting on the passage in 1 Kings 3:5-15, the passage where Solomon, as King, is visited by the Lord. In this passage, God asks Solomon what he wants more than anything. Solomon could have asked God for anything his fleshly heart desired, but instead, he asks God for wisdom.

Wisdom. I’ve read this passage numerous times, and this is the first time it really struck me that Solomon, who was the wisest, richest, and most highly regarded King, asked for wisdom. Most of us know that wisdom is the ability to make correct, sound decisions and judgments, but what if the wisdom from God is more than that? What really struck me is that with wisdom, life doesn’t change, but our ability to make sound, righteous, and Godly decisions about how we respond to the things in our lives, does.

We will never be able to change the way our lives come at us. We pray and invite God into our lives, we pray for protection, and God always shows up in that. However, because we live in a sinful, fallen world, we will never escape the consequences of others or our own destructive choices, completely. With that knowledge and my own life experiences of trauma and pain, I decided to start asking God for wisdom.

As much as I would like God to keep me from any more pain and hardship in my life, I know that’s not realistic. So I would like the wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions within the storms of life. When the tsunami waves of pain and fear come crashing into my world, I want the wisdom to know what to do in those moments. When I pursue wisdom, when I invite the Holy Spirit into every moment of my life, I will be able to protect myself and my family from many of the traumas we aren’t meant to go through. More than that though, I will be able to navigate the aftermath of whatever we do experience and begin responding differently.

When I respond to what this life brings with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t make the pain go away, but it lets me see things from an eternal perspective instead of a temporary, human perspective. More than anything else, I want the wisdom to know how to navigate life, and how to lead others the same way.

I wrote this in response to my reflections this week:

More than riches
More than fame
More than success

I want wisdom
A discerning heart
To make the right choice
Between right and wrong

More than love
More than restoration
More than healing

I want wisdom
A discerning heart
To choose correctly
Between right and wrong

I want a discerning mind
A heart that can know
Which way to move

A heart of wisdom
Free from fear and doubt

Give me the heart and mind of
Solomon, who served You
Who led your people home

More than anything I want wisdom

A Letter to A Survivor

From A Survivor

Right now you are in shock. You’re broken, numb, and wondering what just happened. You’re questioning everything. You’re life no longer makes sense. You are desperately trying to undo what has happened, but you know that you will never be able to undo this. You understand that your life has been forever changed. Tomorrow you will have to return to life in some capacity. You cannot comprehend how everyone else’s worlds did not just shatter like yours did. You are wondering how you will ever breathe again, let alone go back to a “normal” routine. As you lay your head down tonight, you wonder if you will ever sleep again, whether or not you will be consumed by nightmares, and if you will ever be OK again.

What you won’t hear from most people, especially those who have never survived these horrible things, is that, you’re not supposed to go back to being who you were before. Witnessing and surviving most people’s nightmares should leave you questioning everything. It is the people who are not changed by trauma that are the most unhealthy and detached. The truth is that the life you lived before you survived is no longer there. You are not the same, you will never be the same, you will never go back to the way it was before. And that is ok. It’s completely healthy, normal, and human. Embracing these truths rather than trying to live in the before, is what will allow you to heal. To finally be OK again.

After Columbine, being a senior, my classmates and I had to navigate this nightmare without any resources or connections. We were simply dismissed and ignored while the rest of the school were given everything they could ever need. Because of this, we had to learn how to survive on our own. I had to learn what was wrong with my by doing research and studying my psychology text books. I had to learn what treatments were most effective for Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or PTSD that has been compounded by additional traumas. No one knew how to help us. No one knew what to do, so they just ignored the problems and let us flounder alone. The result of that, for me, was a 5 year dissociative black-out in which I have very few memories and essentially existed without any cognitive or coherent life. Some of my classmates succumbed to addictions or resigned themselves to be barely functional for the rest of their lives. Some of my classmates founded The Rebels Project, which is a non-profit that provides those resources we never had to other survivors of mass shootings.

Right now, you don’t really care about any of that because you are in the middle of your nightmare, not 20 years removed from it. But you will care soon, the numb will wear off, and you will start to feel everything. It will feel like every thought, emotion, body sensation, is magnified exponentially, and you will again start to question everything, hope for something to change, but wonder if you will ever get out of the black cloud that surrounds you. You are now part of a community of survivors, a community that we never asked for, never wanted, but desperately need. You will need people who know exactly what you went through, people who are struggling like you, people who have healed and taken back the life that evil threatened to destroy. This is why The Rebels Project and trauma specialists exists. So that you never feel alone in this journey to reclaiming your life and healing.

This is why I wrote my book, Healing the Invisible Wounds of Trauma: A Columbine Survivor’s Story, and why I am a certified trauma specialist working in private practice. My path to healing and regaining my life was more difficult than was necessary. I do not want you or anyone else to have to suffer more, or for longer, than you already have. I want you to know that you:

  • are not crazy
  • are not alone
  • are not a monster 
  • you are completely normal
  • that you are responding exactly as you should when you survive a nightmare
  • that there is absolutely hope for the future

You can heal, you can break free and regain the life that was taken, you can be OK again.

Those of us who are part of this not so exclusive community of mass shooting survivors have been there before, or are just beginning the journey towards healing. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. Not every treatment for PTSD works for everyone. That is OK if some things don’t work for you but work for another. We are unique, we are individuals whose response to trauma is influenced by our past, our perceptions, and our life experiences. No one will react or respond the same way, even if they were right next to you and experienced the exact same thing you did.

The most important thing you can do now, is take care of yourself. Sleep if you need to, get away if you need to, cry if you need to. It is not selfish to put your healing above other things that used to dominate your life. Reach out. Do not suffer alone or in silence. You are not alone. 20 years ago, there was nothing. Now, we know how to heal from trauma. Those of us who are both survivors and counselors have made it our mission to reach those who are suffering and who have lost hope that things will ever change. There are many people and professionals, who can help you navigate this winding and bumpy road that is healing. Your family and friends may never understand what you’re dealing with, but someone else will. There is always another person to turn to, another treatment to try, another day to live.

When you wake up tomorrow, after a long night of nightmares and exhaustion, you will be OK. Tomorrow, reach out and ask for help. Don’t wait until you’re in a dark hole before you ask for help.

When you wake up tomorrow, go outside, breathe in the light of a new day, engage every sense you have to experience the world around you. Then choose to take that hard first step to reclaiming your life and healing.

Columbine…20 Years Later

It’s today, the 20 year anniversary of the worst day of my life. 20 years since I lost any remaining childhood. 20 years since having to become an adult overnight. 20 year since I began the most difficult journey of my life…the one that set me free.

As I am reflecting on the fact that the 20th anniversary of the tragedy that changed my life coincides with the darkest day in history, the full day that Jesus was laying in the tomb, I realized that His death can bring hope in the midst of this pain.

2000 years ago, Jesus was innocent, he was lovingly showing His people the way to God. Yet evil invaded, and He suffered a brutal death, the most brutal death they had, willingly so we could be saved. 20 years ago, 13 innocent lives were taken in a brutal, horrific way. Mr. Sanders died to save his kids, credited with saving over 100 lives that day. The children we lost were completely innocent, living their lives, trying to honor God and others.

Today as I both remember the loss of those 13 innocent lives 20 years ago and the death of my Savior on a cross, I look toward tomorrow. 20 years ago we had no one of knowing what tomorrow would bring. But because we know that Jesus was raised to life after 3 days in the grave, and that because of His sacrifice we can live in eternity with Him, we also know that someday, we will see those lost again.

We can have hope now because we know that their lives were not taken in vain. So much good and healing has come from their stories and their testimonies of their life before that day. The 13 innocent remain a part of us today and will forever. We will always remember that day, but as the years have gone by, we are able to remember and celebrate their lives while feeling the emptiness of their loss.

We will always carry them in our hearts and minds. We will remember to honor them in our actions and our lives. They are forever etched in our hearts and we can know that we can be free from the pain and live in celebration because we know that Jesus lives. That in Him, one day all tears and sorrow and pain will be gone. In Jesus, we can rejoice and hope in a new life that is healed and whole, both here and for eternity.

We love and miss those taken from us. We will never forget:

Cassie Bernall

Steven Curnow

Corey DePooter

Kelly Flemming

Matthew Kechter

Daniel Mauser

Dan Rohrbough

Dave Sanders

Rachel Scott

Isaiah Shoels

John Tomlin

Lauren Townsend

Kyle Velasquez

WE ARE…….

Choose Life

Over the last week, a community that I belong to, one that is filled with survivor’s of mass shootings, has been rocked by a series of suicides. Two of these suicides were completed by teenagers who had survived the Parkland School Shooting, the other was the father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Shooting. I know that suicides following mass tragedies are not uncommon, that survivor’s guilt and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead to irrational thinking and severe depressive symptoms and hopelessness, however, there is something about this last set of three that feels harder than others.

Being the survivor of a traumatic event, especially one in which some people did not make it out alive, is one of the most heart breaking, life shattering, identity crushing events that you can experience. Any form of trauma leaves you devastated, confused, hurting, and lost. Surviving something that you do not think you should have survived, or dismissing your own suffering because you are comparing you trauma to that of the person next to you, does not just resolve itself over time. Time is a necessary component to healing, but so is work, effort, making a choice to never give up, and refusing to allow the enemy who tried to destroy you to win. 

There are many well meaning people who spout off cliches and words that they seem are going to be helpful, but unless you have survived and healed from these traumas, those things just make it worse. There are things that survivors need, and there are things that you should not say to them and are only doing so because you’re uncomfortable and want to make yourself feel better. Stop. Stop saying what you think they want to hear because you are uncomfortable watching someone suffer. Stop using cliches and religious statements that really have nothing to do with healing and are more often than not taken out of context and offer no help. Just stop. And think.

20 years removed from the Columbine Massacre which I survived, treatment and resources that are available for survivor’s is immensely more effective and much more readily available. We can seek help and find true hope and healing in our lives, but it requires us to do the work. Not just once, but every single day. As someone 20 years removed from my most significant trauma, I still struggle. The anniversary is and always will be hard. Watching the news or not being careful with social media will always be somewhat of a trigger. I have healed, more or less, from that trauma, however, healing doesn’t mean that the struggle doesn’t still exist. It doesn’t mean that something out of the blue won’t pop up and send me into a tailspin.

Healing and life requires attention and intention. You cannot allow yourself to become complacent in your pursuit of emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical health. Healing also requires that you let people know how you are struggling and allow them to help you. You see surviving trauma isolates us. We belong to a growing and exclusive group that no one wants to be a part of, but we still believe the lie that we can’t make it, that we are suffering in a way no one would understand, and that we really should be over it by now so we’re not going to tell anyone that we still struggle. We continually have to take control of our thoughts, and choose to decide that even if the thought of death or suicide comes into our minds, we will completely reject it, no matter what. 

I’ve worked with and seen many people who have not chosen to eliminate suicide as a potential out for their suffering. Inevitably, these are the people who suffer immensely more than they ever need to because if you don’t reject death, the enemy of our souls will use every opportunity to convince you that death is not only a valid option, but the only option. There have been many times in my own healing where I wished that I could just sleep for a long time, or that I wouldn’t wake up until everything was over, but that is vastly different than entertaining the thoughts of it would be better if I was gone and that the suffering is to much and I’m not strong enough to cope. Death is never the option, you can never allow that to be an option for you. 

Suicides are tragic in so many ways, but mostly because the pain that the individual was suffering from is often hidden, and then is magnified and heaped upon those who survive your death. Every single issue that we face in this world, the pain, the hurt, the darkness, the seemingly endless pursuit for our minds/bodies/souls, is temporary. Temporary in this world. We do not have to wait for death in order to be free from whatever we’re struggling with. 

We were created for so much more than a temporary existence full of suffering and pain. Yet so many of us, especially survivor’s, choose not to believe that and choose to give up. The suicide rate in this world is astronomical. There are literally hundreds of people giving up, letting their enemies win, and cutting their life short because the fight for freedom is hard. When you lean on yourself and only yourself, when you white knuckle your life, you will fail. Everytime. 

You cannot survive and thrive in this life without God, without friends, and without family whom you actually allow into your darkness. It. Is. Impossible. You may exist, but you will be miserable and so will everyone else around you. Survivor’s of trauma, us, we have to choose to pursue life, to pursue healing, and to allow the things we’ve survived to shape us, not destroy us. That is the only way to find yourself and find life again. 

My heart is broken for the families of the three who took their own lives, who cut short their opportunity for a real life free of pain and suffering, because now their families have become the new trauma survivors. Their loved ones now have to add that devastation, the survivor’s guilt, the pain and suffering that the person was dealing with to their own immense experience of the same. Suicide does not fix the problem, it removes every single possibility to be free. Suicide allows the people who hurt you to completely eradicate you and remove the powerful purpose that you would have achieved had you kept going. They win. You and everyone else around you loses. Everytime.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely refuse to allow those psychopaths who tried to kill me and who stole a decade of my life to ever win again, to ever have any say over my life ever again.

Healing from trauma is horrible, it’s painful, it’s messy, it’s complicated, and it is a battle you never should have had to fight. However, you are in that battle for a reason. Find the reason and choose not to ever allow death to be the “out if it gets to hard.” Because it will get to hard. It will always be to hard for you to handle alone. Without God, without Him holding you and carrying you through the pain of your trauma and the nightmare of your healing, it will always be beyond what you can handle. 

You did not choose this battle, but you do get to choose who wins the war. Will you allow those evil, hateful people who took everything from you continue to destroy you until you die? Or will you get mad and say, ENOUGH! You do not get any more of my life? One decision will lead you to healing and a life you could never imagine. One decision will lead you to death, either by suicide, addiction, or slowly ceasing to exist. 

That decision is yours alone to make. You choose life or death, every single time you wake up and choose to fight or to give up. What choice will you make today?

 

Expectations

Expectations. For many, our ideas of what life should look like, how our marriages look, what our pursuit of our dream job entails, drive how we chose to live our lives. These expectations of life develop early on, shaped by princesses and superheroes, as well as what we were exposed to growing up. Many of the expectations we have are appropriate and reasonable, such as expecting that you will be cherished and loved by a spouse, that you will be able to have a family, that your loved ones will be around for a long time, and that you will be able to achieve your goals. There are, however, some expectations that are irrational and inappropriate, such as expecting your spouse to “complete” you or that you should always be treated like royalty, or that you will be able to achieve your goals without really having to put in the effort. As we grow and mature, we hold out hope that life will be exactly the way we hope and dream and that nothing will taint those ideas.

Until reality sets in and we realize that what we expect from ourselves and other people rarely materializes. When we fail to achieve the goal of working at our dream job because they just won’t give us a chance to prove we can. When the marriage you prayed and hoped for your entire life is crumbling around you and there’s nothing you can do to stop the pain and disappointment because it’s not you that has to make the choice to fight. When the child that you’ve longed for never comes and you suffer repeated losses. In this fallen and broken world, having expectations and dreams can lead to devastating pain and hurt, especially, if you seek your identity and value in the outcome of those expectations.

When you are in the middle of those painful life situations, especially the traumatic ones such as broken marriages, child loss, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, and so forth, you naturally question everything. There are many people who don’t understand that trauma, especially the kind of trauma that leads to post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health struggles, includes those devastating life changes that leave us shattered and looking for answers beyond what we can see.

These are what have been coined “little t” traumas, not because they’re any less devastating than “big T” traumas (mass casualty events, devastating nature events, etc.), but because they’re not global to everyone. This means that when you’re struggling to regain your footing, are depressed and checked out because of the severe emotional pain and traumatization you’re enduring in your marriage, that it’s OK. Your expectation that “you should be able to handle things better than this” or some other variant of “be better and stronger” is part of the problem and keeping you stuck in the place of pain. How we grieve, yes I said grieve, those places where our expectations and hopes have been struck down, allows us to move forward, stronger and more resilient.

In order to truly address unrealistic or unmet expectations, we have to understand that they are a part of our identity. Our identity is comprised of numerous different components, and one of them, our expectations for our life, what we will be able to accomplish, how our relationships and friendships will look, and how we will eventually get from Point A to Point B, whatever that is, are core components of our identity. It’s sometimes seems easier to give up hope and dismiss rational expectations when faced with heartbreaking situations, however, that always leads to more pain and suffering because you are ignoring a part of your identity. It is not possible to separate our expectations from our identity, they are symbiotic. However, it is possible to address our unrealistic expectations and to alter our responses to unmet expectations by identifying where they come from and why they are so important to us.

Not all of our expectations have an impact on us when they are not met. However, there are some expectations we have that cause significant emotional chaos when they are dismissed, ignored, minimized, or otherwise not met. This doesn’t mean that our expectations are necessarily unreasonable. For example, expecting that you won’t be targeted at work and singled out by your boss, or expecting that your spouse will treat you kindly and be your partner instead of cruel and distant, are absolutely appropriate. This doesn’t mean that when these things happen you won’t have a strong emotional reaction because they’re appropriate expectations, you will. It means that we need to be aware of the original wound caused in childhood, such as feeling unloved, being abandoned, childhood bullying, etc, and we need to be proactive in healing those wounds.

Proactively identifying and healing those soul wounds that contribute to our inability to move past those emotional upheavals, to readjust our expectations based on circumstances, and leave us constantly struggling just to breathe, is the only way to effectively take back your life after those painful experiences and move forward. Our expectations come from somewhere, from what we see on medias to painful experiences and traumas we survive as children, but they do not have to dictate how you live your life and interact with other people. There are certain things that may always spark a deep emotional response even when you do the healing work on your past, but it’s the healing that allows you to keep moving and not become paralyzed in those moments.

Healing the wounds that lead to powerful and at times life altering reactions to unmet expectations, allows all of us to adjust and become more resilient. We are able to move and continue to walk forward when everything we ever hoped and dreamed would happen, is irrevocably shattered and we are left broken and bleeding. This doesn’t excuse the actions of the people who intentionally ignore and dismiss our reasonable expectations, but it does allow us to continue to live our lives in the midst of the hurt. Living a life where we pretend we have no expectations or where we have “learned” not to hope for anything is not the life we were created to live. Those early wounds can trigger many different responses, however, we can and should always be willing to address them when they come up. Expectations will shape the way we interact with the world, but they do not have to define who we really are. They are part of our identity, but they are a part that can be molded and changed, grow and mature, and can help us develop the ability to be resilient and bounce back from all the pain that we will endure.

That Thorn in Your Side is a Creative Lie from the Enemy of our Soul to Keep us in Chains. There is another way to FREEDOM

I’ve been in pain for as long as I can remember. Seemingly out of nowhere I began to realize that I was not able to function the way I was supposed to function. This began at a very young age and has plagued me my entire life. At least as long, I have been trapped in a body that I couldn’t control, feeling like I was living a lie because I knew that I wasn’t who I was supposed to be, but there was nothing that I did that seemed to be able to change these factors. Nothing I tried provided true relief from my pain and my struggles with my body and my health. I must have tried literally almost everything available in order to gain some semblance of control over my body and my health. I grew despondent, frustrated, and more times than I can count, gave up on trying to be healthy, trying to heal, and just resigned myself to be unhealthy and in pain for the rest of my life. I punished myself with the ferver of the Pharisees, and beat myself up every chance I got because I could not change.

The longer I waged this war with myself, the worse I became. Before long, I was a shell of the person I knew I was meant to be. The hope for a life that I was meant to live, the experience of the calling on my life a distant memory. I wasn’t happy, but it was more than that. I was angry, hateful, seeking revenge on myself and my body for the perceived flaws and what felt like self-sabotage. I hated myself which meant that in turn, I hated pretty much everyone else too. I knew that I was not who I was meant to be, and I hated myself for the fact that I could do nothing to change it. I believed the lie, that this was the way it was meant to be, and daresay, I believed that I deserved the pain, I deserved to suffer and to be plagued with my existence because of the things that I had done. Ironically though, in early childhood, there were not many things that I had done that were horrible enough to evoke such senseless rage against myself.

Angel and Demon battle

But our minds are not always rational, especially when you have given control of your body and soul to the one thing that never should have had any claim to your existence. When I began counseling following the shootings, a lot of the work focused on this anger and rage towards others and towards myself. I made a lot of progress, I figured a lot out about the root cause of all of it and was able to regain control over the hatred and rage towards others. Until recently though, I have not been able to tame the beast inside my head that wants to destroy the very fabric of my being and rip my heart to shreds with the things he speaks to me inside my head. I have fed that beast for many years, allowing it more and more access to the inner parts of my mind, soul, and body. Every time trying to fight back harder, but every time failing to gain control over the ravenous appetite of this beast. That is the nature of the beast that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy, he makes you believe that he is unstoppable. All he wants is destruction. If he can destroy one of God’s people and keep them from becoming who God created them to be, then he takes great delight in doing so.

The reality is that we are all broken people. Every single one of us has experienced things in life that left us wounded, broken and hurting. For whatever reason, the enemy is allowed to be present when we are at our most vulnerable and that is when he is able to sneak in and offer something to us that we are usually too weak to resist. The idea of bargaining with the devil is a great story plot in Hollywood, but we play that game unwittingly when we are the most hurt. He offers us the idea of peace, the ability to forgot what has happened, or any other tantalizing things that in our broken state, coupled by immaturity, we willing accept what is offered to take the pain away.

What in your life is the thing that you cannot change? No matter what you do, no matter how often you pray, no matter how good of a Christian you are, you struggle to defeat the things in your life that you know are not really who you are, but that control your existence in ways you never thought would happen. I used to believe that this was the proverbial “thorn in my side” like Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12, but what if it’s not. What if that is another lie that we believe, that we must endure because this is what we were given to “humble” us? There have been many times that I believed that, but then I turned around and screamed at God for allowing such pain and suffering to exist in my life. My perspective has changed, significantly.

Splankna Logo

I have a counselor who was desperately looking for a treatment for trauma that provided real healing and that was permanent. She found Splankna. I had never heard of it, but she gave me a brief synopsis and we went to work. In April, I was able to receive the first level of training in this same protocol and became an apprentice in the treatment. What the treatment entails is for another post, because, it’s incredible, amazing, and the backstory is complex. What I can tell you though, is that this treatment is ridiculously effective and the impact is felt immediately and you are permanently free from the things that have been plaguing your life.

Last week, during a session with a counselor, we were led to begin the work in healing the brokenness in my body. I will admit that I was very excited, but I was also skeptical. I have seen this treatment do amazing things in my own life already, but my body and my health were like the holy grail. It’s the one thing that has haunted me since age 5 and that has kept me from fully being who I was created to be. Even though I had trepidation, I dove right into whatever healing God was going to bring. You see, God is the God of healing. He wants nothing more than for his children, his beloved, to be free from the chains that have bound them for too long. I know now, that God is not the cause of the suffering, and I also know now that He is the deliverer of healing, and there is little more I can say than to sing praise to Him who loves me.

Yesterday was my final session in healing work for this particular issue. I confirmed what I had been expecting, but around age 5, whatever happened to me (I have some ideas but no memories yet), I gave up control of my body and my soul (specifically with regard to my memory) to the enemy in exchange for the ability to forget what had was happening and to escape. I obviously would have had no idea that was going on at age 5, but the enemy used my vulnerability to attack, and I unconsciously gave up control of my existence to him. This knowledge made me incredibly angry and I went after my healing with renewed vigor. I broke the chains, revoked the agreement, rebuked the lies, and submitted myself fully to Christ instead of the enemy, permanently revoking his access to my body or my soul in Jesus name!

freedom

I left that office feeling giddy, knowing that something powerful had happened, but I wasn’t sure how that would play out in my daily existence yet. I prayed for increased awareness and discernment of the movement and shifts that had taken place in my body, mind, and soul so that I could really see the small changes that were done when Christ provided complete healing to me. Today, I really got to see that. I went for a run this morning, with my son in his stroller, which is significantly harder than just running and always results in physical pain and suffering as punishment for my desire to be healthy (the common theme). As long as I remember, walking any distance was enough to cause severe pain in my back, let alone the pain I would endure as a consequence of my running (something I’ve done since 2009). I have a high pain tolerance and so I always pushed through the pain, medicating with ibuprofen and later, the good stuff, after a run because I could barely breathe because of the pain. As I gained weight, I blamed it on that, but the reality is, that pain with any type of movement has always been there. But not today. Today, I ran 4.5 miles, then took another 2-mile walk later, and chased a moving toddler throughout the rest of the day. I racked up 8 miles of movement today, over 18,000 steps on my fitbit, something I haven’t done in years…and I’m not in pain. Not only am I not in pain now, I wasn’t in pain when I was doing it. I am sore, of course, because I worked my muscles, but I am not in pain. Not only that, but the beast that lived inside my mind, punishing myself if I had to slow down, walk, or modify my workout, was silenced forever.  I AM FREE!!!! 

For those of you who deal with chronic pain, what I just said speaks volumes to you. For those of you who know me personally, you know what this means. I know that God wants to heal, I know that we often beg whoever (which is always the enemy in disguise) for relief from whatever we’re suffering from, and I know, that Splankna is the tool that God will use to bring real and permanent healing and restoration to anyone who wants it. It’s not a magic bullet, a magic pill, or anything like that, but a cooperative agreement between myself and God that I am ready and willing to accept His healing in my life. When you submit to Him, ask Him for healing, He will show up, every time. The conflict that keeps us from fully submitting to Him for healing is what keeps us sick.

Splankna_header

If this is something you want to explore in your own life, contact me. Give yourself permission to hope, one more time. I am an apprentice (looking for people to work on) until the end of August when I will be certified, but God can and will use me to facilitate healing in your life. That’s what Invisible Wounds is all about. True healing from the brokenness that haunts us and destroys everything we try to do. It’s what I am passionate about, and now because of this tool, can bring to you.  

When Pride Masks Itself as Strength and Gets in The Way of Healing

I am a fighter. I believe in wrong and right, have a passion for justice, and embrace the reality that life is a fight sometimes and that fight requires courage and strength. To me, courage is getting up after every blow, brushing the dust off your back and charging forward into the battle again, hopefully a little wiser and with more knowledge than before. This is how I have lived my life as long as I can remember, and how I still will live my life. But my life has been harder than it needed to be, I’ve fought demons that no one should ever have to fight, and I’ve been on the verge of destruction and defeat, eating the dirt that I’m thrown down into as I struggle to get back up, more times than I can count. Everytime, I’ve pulled myself up and stood strong ready to fight again. This is something that I am proud of, that I never gave up. 

It’s how I chose to fight back and to recover from the fight that helped me feed the idea of strength and courage that I wrapped around me each fight. It was not until tonight, after months of prayer and asking for insight into the pain and battle of the last 2 years, that I think I understand how I weakened myself in the many battles I’ve faced, not truly recovering, all in the name of strength. Disclaimer: strength and courage are forged in the fires of life’s hellish moments. I do not discount my own or other’s battles and victories in surviving. My only point is that sometimes there are other options that are still strong and courageous but that we ignore or dismiss because we’re “to strong to need help.”

You see, I’m in severe pain, all the time. I’ve had fibromyalgia since I was young and went decades before a diagnosis. After I finally got the right diagnosis and they told me what kind of drugs they wanted me to take, I said, no, I’ll find a better way. I felt the standard treatment of antidepressants and narcotics was their way of telling me that it was all in my head and I was not about that. I found other ways that were wonderful, until I chose to try and get pregnant and had to stop treatment causing a massive increase in my debilitating symptoms in addition to the pregnancy. 

I continued to fight and “be strong” through the pain and my worsening mental state because that’s what you do…you deal. Because I was used to shunning help or really acknowledging the depths of my distress, I was also unable to see that I was becoming horribly depressed and anxious while I was pregnant. This time, I told myself that “it’s just hormones, I’ll feel better when I deliver,” except I didn’t. 

The last two years have been spent in a deep, dark abyss of physical and emotional pain that I was not prepared for. I didn’t know that I would need other, outside interventions and help to fight this battle. I kept telling myself that I was strong enough on my own to defeat this giant, until I wasn’t. But tonight, as I sighed and gave in to taking a half dose of my prescription pain med because walking and breathing were hard, right after taking my 4th prescription antidepressent (because apparently I trained my brain to shun meds also) and found myself starting the familiar script of all the ways “giving in when I should be able to handle this” makes me weak, that the thought of, “wow, this is pride, not strength” interrupted my narrative. 

I realize now, and will probably have to work to retrain my brain to understand, that sometimes strength and courage means allowing yourself to find relief from the pain, to give yourself permission to stop hurting. The physical and emotional pain of this life is inevitable, but there is nowhere that says, the only way to remember where you’ve been is to feel the pain. I don’t have to live in the dark abyss of peri and post partum depression, anxiety, paranoia, and ocd, in order for those struggles to matter. I don’t have to suck in my breath after I go for a run, pick up my son, or do normal everyday activities to remember that I have fibromyalgia. My past trauma, the emotional pain of ppd, the pain of my autoimmune disorder will always be in memory or the present. Staying in pain because I am “too strong to give in” and get help is pride. I don’t have to suffer to be alive, to feel alive, or to remember those who “have it worse.” I can choose to take care of myself and still honor my past and those who have been lost. I spent many years not believing this which cost me the chance for healing and wholeness earlier on. Pride will always get in the way of healing, but sometimes pride is hidden behind the cries of strength and courage. I am choosing to unmask my pride, embrace true strength and courage, and allow myself to be healed.

You Are What You….Think? The Impact of Our Thoughts on our Behavior

CBT

How many of us truly spend time focusing on or planning our thoughts? It is amazing what can be understood if we begin to focus attention on the things that we say to ourselves about other people, about situations, and especially the things we tell ourselves. The words that we speak about ourselves and other people and how we behave are driven by the thoughts that are constantly swirling around inside of our minds. The average person thinks something like 64,000 things in any given day…64,000! That means that thinking is a largely unconscious process. Thinking is automatic, it happens without us putting in any effort or really doing anything at all. This doesn’t mean, however, that thoughts are out of our control or that we are a slave to the things we think. We have the ability to understand where those thoughts come from and to challenge them in order to create positive changes in our behavior.

Analyzing and assessing the way we think about ourselves and others is not something that the majority of us focus on in our daily lives. Yet the majority of us engage in behaviors, both positive and destructive, based on nothing more than what we think about ourselves and events that we encounter throughout our day. These automatic thoughts and beliefs have developed over time as we have been exposed to events, people, conversations, successes, and failures, and are a core part of what we understand to be our identity. The interactions beginning from the moment that you are born and continuing throughout your life, shape and mold these beliefs and thoughts. But what happens when these thoughts are destructive and when they lead us to engage in behaviors or perseverate on beliefs that ruin our lives, our relationships, our jobs, and our sense of safety and well-being? Where do we begin to intervene, to begin the process of believing that maybe, we should not believe everything that we think?

This is the aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of the most validated and utilized mental health treatments, that begins the process of changing unhealthy and destructive behaviors. In order to change the way you act, the way you respond to others and to your own successes and failures, and in order to change the way you perceive the world around you, you have to first address the faulty thinking that is driving the undesirable behavior. The reality is that you can struggle indefinitely by “trying to do better,” and get nowhere. You will inevitably relapse in whatever behavior you are trying to change because you have not addressed the reasons behind why you are behaving in that manner. The only way to truly change your behavior goes far beyond creating a healthy habit to replace an unhealthy habit, or just trying harder…the only way to change your behavior for good is to change the way you think.

People tend to ignore or dismiss the way their thoughts about themselves and the world influences their behavior. This is either a protective mechanism because behind every automatic thought is a core belief that we have turned into part of our identity, or an inability to be introspective for the fear of what you will find. The issue is that these core beliefs generally do not allow us to live happy and fulfilling lives free of negativity or emotional pain. Core beliefs typically involve beliefs such as “I am unlovable, I am worthless, I have to be perfect or else, No one will every love me if they get to know me, People Must do things in this way, and The World is unsafe or chaotic.” These core beliefs drive the emotions behind depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and all of the personality disorders. When we truly believe something about ourselves or others, we will seek validation that those beliefs are true and ignore the preponderance of evidence that contradicts that core belief. With the exception of experiencing trauma, which can create a core belief in an instant, these beliefs have developed and morphed throughout your life, with hundreds of thousands of instances where you have perceived information that validates these beliefs instead of allowing other alternatives to change those beliefs.

Ingrained behavior patterns such as anger, chronic suicidality, and mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and personality disorders, are all subject to being influenced by these core beliefs. Imagine how easily it would be to become depressed if you had a core belief that said you are unworthy, unlovable, unimportant, or worthless. Imagine how easy it would be to develop anxiety disorders when you have a core belief that the world is unsafe, chaotic, or that you have to be perfect or else. These core beliefs and the automatic thoughts that manifest during interactions with others or in the responses you have to successes or failures (either yours or others’) can create a perfect storm, allowing you to feel out of control and hopeless to change the behaviors that you do not like. The beautiful part about beginning to understand our thoughts and beliefs is that we are in control of our own thoughts and ultimately are in control of our behaviors. The process of changing the way you think about yourself, understanding how and why you began to develop those core beliefs, challenging those thoughts with truth and reality, and intentionally addressing the automatic thoughts, will lead to a change in behavior.

Oftentimes, once you have a success with challenging and changing these automatic thoughts, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, for example, will begin to remit because you are able to begin to believe that there is hope for a different future than the one you had been imagining. Being able to hope for a different and positive outcome is really when you will begin to see the success of treatment. Choose to challenge the thoughts, choose to pay attention to how often you have negative thoughts and the content of your thoughts. Look at your deeply held beliefs, those core beliefs, without shame or fear, and begin to hope that there is a way out of the darkness and chaos that you are experiencing.

*If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, the best thing to do is to immediately seek help through the suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255), VA hotline (https://www.veteranscrisisline.net), or 911. When you are suicidal, it is important to get immediate help, because you will not be able to go through this process alone.

**If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, anger/rage, OCD, PTSD, or any other feelings or behaviors that you do not want to continue to experience, or if you have a loved one who is experiencing this, reach out. Do not be afraid to ask for help, oftentimes treatment can be accomplished in 6-10 sessions. Make the choice to change your life for the positive, and to have the future you can hope for.

Disappointment and Deliverance

Psalms 22:5 To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed.

It’s funny how so many people use the term disappointed to describe relationships, careers, religion, friends, family, the list could go on. The definition of disappointment is feelings of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. What a lonely and desperate existence and it describes how the majority of people feel on a regular basis. We each have hopes and expectations for how our lives will unfold. We hope and dream of that one thing, whether it be a relationship, a career, or a change that will lead us to happiness (or all of the above), and more often than not, it seems as if these hopes and expectations are left wanting. The amount of disappointment, the sometimes constant and unwavering experience of the pain of unmet expectations, of the loss of hope, overwhelms our society. We are a people who have a deep and radical need for hope and achievement of those things that God has put in our hearts, but for most of us, we cannot see the hope in ever experiencing the fulfillment of those hopes and dreams. Without that, we are left disconnected and incomplete, the feeling that no matter what, something is missing.

That feeling that something important is missing in our lives is what drives us to seek out a way to fulfill that deep longing. Unfortunately, this world is rife with temporary fixes that will alleviate the longing and the emotional pain for a time but come with deadly and even more painful consequences that what we are already experiencing. Regardless of what we use to numb that void, to dull the aching in our soul for contentment, if we are looking for a worldly solution, we will always end up with a consequence that was never meant for us and will lead to further discontentment and disappointment. The world will offer us alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, anger, rage, selfishness, entitlement, relationships, food, shopping, gambling, and anything and everything else that will activate the reward center of our brains and temporarily distract us from what is missing. No matter which of those vices you cling to, instead of delivering freedom from the anguish and generating hope, they destroy the very fabric of who you were created to be. When we set our sites on someone or something that is not God, those things become idols in our lives and we are enslaved to the service of that person or thing. For those of us who claim to be believers in Jesus Christ, we know that idolatry is not only forbidden but will destroy us and those around us. The Bible is full of warnings and examples from God saying as much, and we are wise to heed those warnings lest we get caught up in something that will consume and destroy us and those we love.

Here’s the part that makes me so eternally grateful that I am a believer. I have idols in my life, we all do. Every time I get rid of one or think I have gotten rid of it, another one sneaks in and takes its place. I believe that this is what Paul was alluding to when he wrote in Romans 7:15-20 when he said that he does the things he does not want to do while neglecting the things he should be doing. The struggle to keep our eyes and our minds focused on the only One who can heal disappointment and deferred hope is exhausting and more often than not, we will fail. The things in this life that vie for our attention, that draw us to them with the lie that we will be better if we would just indulge in this person or this thing, always feels good in the moment. There is always a temporary relief of carrying the burden and sadness that comes when our needs, our hopes, and our desires are unmet. Alongside the deep and intense desire for those hopes and dreams God has put inside of us, is an intense and primal desire to rebel and to do whatever we have to do in order to feel good. We justify our behavior and our choices convincing ourselves that the consequence we know will come, will not be as bad as we think it will be. We delude ourselves into thinking that since we are covered by grace, since we are forgiven by faith, since we are doing this thing in secret, or since the person we are hurting made a commitment before God to love in spite of, that we are free to go ahead and indulge that part of us. What we forget is that even though all of the above is true, God never promised choices without consequences. Even though as believers we “can,” more often, there are times that we “shouldn’t” because the consequences will not just destroy our relationship with God, but will destroy others or our relationships with others as well. Our idols do not just affect our existence, but they have a profound and sometimes catastrophic effect on those around us. There are examples throughout scripture, especially in the Old Testament, where one man’s sinful idolatry brought destruction upon the whole nation of Israel, or upon his entire family.

This is where we have the power to affect positive or negative consequences in our lives or the lives of those we love. The only way to be set free from the cycle of feeling disappointment, turning to idolatry to numb the pain, and destruction, is to interrupt the cycle by crying out to our Savior when the disappointment comes. When the pain is too much, when the loss is too great, and when the hope is gone and you do not feel like you can hold on anymore, the only real way for freedom is to cry out to Him. Repeatedly throughout scripture and throughout our lives, we can see examples where we, or the people of Israel, cried out to God in anguish and despair and He sent them a deliverer. God always provides a way out of the situation in which you find yourself, even if it’s not the way you hoped for. God will always deliver His people when they cry out to Him and ask Him to. We tend to get so focused on the solution that we envision for our problems, that giving up control and allowing God to intervene in the way that will bring full resolution and restoration proves too difficult and so we choose not to cry out and humble ourselves before our God. That’s the trick, though, we have to be willing to relinquish control of the outcome first. When things in our lives are spiraling madly out of control, the instinct is to hold tighter, to white-knuckle every bit of control we think we have and try and direct the spiral in the way we hope it will go. This never turns out the way we hope, and definitely does not turn out the way we need. God is the God of peace, of hope, of deliverance. He longs to free us from the burden, from the soul anguish, the disappointment, and the unrelenting cycle of pain and idolatry, but because He is a good God, He gave us the option to choose. We have to choose to let go of our sense of control, to humble ourselves and cry out in desperation for Him to intervene in whatever way seems good to Him. We cannot expect the God of the universe, the Creator, the Healer, the Savior, to give us less than what He has planned for us. We cannot expect Him to give us mediocrity when He wants to give us the extraordinary! God can and will deliver us from the pain of this life, but we have to let go and trust Him to bring about the restoration, the healing, and the peace. We have to let Him fix the problems and trust that He will always have the best in mind for us. Believing His promises that He not only has amazing plans for our lives but that those promises are good, exciting, and exactly what we need and getting out of His way, ushers in the opportunity for God to actually reach down and fix what is broken. Every story of salvation and redemption is preceded by the person humbling themselves, letting go, and allowing God to do amazing work in their lives. Trust Him, even when the pain is immeasurable, even when the vices you’ve turned to sing a siren’s song. Cling to the One who brings deliverance and hope, instead of the things that are meant to destroy.

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