Tag: healing (Page 1 of 3)

Thanksgiving in a Desperate World

Giving Thanks When Your Heart is Breaking

Today in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving. For so many, this year has been nothing but heartbreak, disappointment, pain, and fear. Many people have chosen not to travel. They have decided not to be with family. Untold numbers are forced to be alone, isolated. Because of the fear of a virus. Numerous states have even decided to attempt to fine or jail those who choose differently. Choosing to embrace life and gather to give thanks anyway.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of fear and life there will be those who are alone and hurting. The holiday season tends to remind us of everything that we have lost. We see commercials, social media, and others tell us that we should all ignore the pain and be happy. Yet they remind us that we have lost loved ones. That we have lost our identities. That we have lost our freedom.

External reminders are nothing, however, compared to what we do to ourselves. Our minds are constantly looking to remind us of the pain. This is its desperate attempt to keep us from feeling that trauma again. We mourn and grieve the life we should have had, the life we were meant to live. And this year, many people will again navigate those emotional, physical, and spiritual reminders of what’s been lost or taken from them. They may also have to navigate the mental game of “well someone else has it worse…” A game that has devastating consequences.

This is a year when we have seen a sharp increase in suicides and additions. One with untold numbers of children and women being battered and abused. A year when it’s hard to even think about trying to find things to be thankful for. It seems that for so many, the demons of despair and fear are taking their toll. After all, you can only be exposed to despair and fear for so long before it starts to eat away at you.

Finding the Way

So how do we step forward today and for every day after that, choosing to turn away from the darkness that threatens to engulf us? We look at truth rather than lies. Choosing to hold onto evidence and hope, rather than give into panic and paranoia. Leaning into God, holding tight to His word. Which will always guide us home.

Truth is not fluid. Evidence is not subjective. These are two things which have absolutes and are irrefutable. It doesn’t matter what others think or believe if they are in contradiction to truth and evidence. This is where you find the hope to keep moving forward. The strength to offer us thanksgiving.

Evidence is only valid in one way. When coming from a source that does not have a vested interest in swaying your mind one way or the other. This kind of evidence is hard to come by this year. Everyone seems to want you to believe only one train of thought. The one that leads to compliance. One that silences the unafraid.

You cannot have a thankful perspective when you are unable to find truth and evidence. If all you hear are words of despair, then thankfulness cannot exist. Choosing to close your eyes to truth will not allow you to experience true thankfulness and life.

Truth

We are conditioned to think that we should be thankful for things as they are. That if we lament or grieve, then we are not “real” Christians. This often coming from people who wouldn’t know Christ if he was right in front of their faces, btw. But if that is true, why is there an ENTIRE chapter of the Bible called Lamentations? Oh and have you ever heard of the Prophet Jeremiah? Yeah, he’s called the weeping prophet for a reason!

No. We are allowed to lament, to grieve. What we are called to do, however, is follow that with thanksgiving. Not for how miserable our circumstances are, but for how good and faithful God is. We are not offering thanks for the pain, but for the promises and truth of who God says we are and who He is. Yes, you can find joy even in sorrow. In fact, you can both cry and laugh at the same times. When you seek to understand what in your world you can even begin to be thankful for this year, realize that you’re not supposed to necessarily be thankful for anything but God.

Those who tell us to thank God we’re alive today because so many people didn’t wake up, or to be thankful that it was ONLY one child we lost because so-and-so lost their whole family, or that your trauma ended long ago and so many people are still suffering so be thankful you’re out of it…yeah, those people have no idea what being thankful means. When you are still grieving the demons and ghosts in your life, sometimes the only thing you can cling to is the truth of God.

The Heartcry of Pain

And if you’re like me, and your traumas’ consequences involve a disconnect and anger with God at times, then you can be thankful that you have a God who can handle your anger and pain. Because I promise you, He can. If you ever doubt whether God can handle your heart cries of pain, then read the Psalms. David was a “man after God’s own heart,” yet the entire book of Psalms is filled with his heart cries. Just don’t stay there. Yes, we can cry out, but like David, we also need to speak out the truth of who God is.

Because God doesn’t change. He is the same, regardless of what our lives are like. His promises are good today like they were yesterday. So today when you are feeling alone, afraid, broken, and hurt, when you are trying desperately to find a single moment to be thankful for, remember who God is. Speak out the truth of God’s word and give thanks for the fact that, even when it doesn’t feel like it, God has and will always be by your side. That He will never leave you alone. That God will always remain, even when everything else fades away.

And remember. That truth of who God is, was the whole reason the pilgrims left England and came to what became the United States. They knew who God was, what He promised, and they refused to allow any government to tell them they couldn’t worship and give thanks to the true God who saves.

2020: The Year We Can’t Escape

Feeling trapped is never a good thing. As a trauma survivor, feeling trapped, backed into a corner, or being forced to do something against your will, wrecks your carefully built protections. This year has been a haven of chaos, orchestrated and naturally occurring, pain, and uncertainty. We’ve lived every day of our lives, at least since March, with a constant barrage of others telling us that we have to be afraid. We’ve been told that survival is not guaranteed, and unless we do exactly as they say, we, our children, our parents and grandparents, are probably going to die. We’ve been told that every part of the life we’ve been living, is now unsafe. All without the benefit of evidence from an uncompromised source that does not change every day on the whims of another.

We have been forced to comply in ways many of us would never choose and which are unproven to be helpful (and usually shown to be worse). Many of us have lost loved ones, our careers, our businesses, our sense of safety, and our ability to defend ourselves. We are forever in limbo, waiting and praying that nothing else will be taken from us.

Yet, now we are forced to wait to find out the fate of our country. Those who were supposed to protect our right to vote, whom we tasked to faithfully, and with integrity, count and deliver the results of our vote, have been repeatedly shown to fail at this. The evidence showing they have been choosing lies, manipulation, and blatant cheating, because they didn’t like how things were going, is astounding.

People often struggle to understand how someone could be traumatized by the events of this year. Many do not understand how a trauma survivor could be struggling with maintaining their level of healing and why survivors seem to be falling back into the thinking and behavior responses of their early healing journey. In fact, many of you, are wondering this same thing. Questions such as, Was I actually healing and getting better, or was it all in my head? And, If I was actually healthy, I wouldn’t be responding to these events in this way? You may be thinking such destructive thoughts as: I knew I wouldn’t get better. None of what has happened is even close to what I’ve gone through. This shouldn’t be bothering me.

2020: The year the world lived in a state of trauma

Trauma. This often misused, misunderstood, and dismissed experience, takes many forms. The definition of trauma from the Oxford Dictionary is: A deeply distressing or disturbing experience and/or emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis.

When you look back over your own personal experiences with everything 2020 has forced upon you, using that definition of trauma, it becomes easier to see how you and others have experienced trauma. This means that your body, mind, and soul have instinctual protective mechanisms in place to respond to the trauma. You don’t have to experience a massive horrific trauma in order to be traumatized.

Trauma responses take numerous forms. Being “on edge” all the time, being overly cautious and sensitive to the changes in others behavior or your environment, feelings of sadness, fear, and anger that seem out of proportion with the moment. These are all instinctual trauma responses that are out of our control. When our mind has been alerted that something is very wrong, we respond from that animal instinct place in our brain. It’s automatic, and NOT something that you can control just because you “shouldn’t” feel “this” way.

Healing and Trauma

When you are already a trauma survivor, the trauma of this year, can reactivate or worsen symptoms of PTSD. It can worsen your already activated trauma responses. This does not mean that the healing you’ve experienced isn’t real. This is something that I’ve struggled with all year. The reality that I can be healthy and relatively healed from previous traumas and still react to new traumas like I’m stuck in the past. The “I shouldn’t react like this anymore” feelings and thoughts can overwhelm you.

What we need to realize is that when we experience another trauma, the reactions that we are so familiar with, come again. Not because there’s something wrong with you, but because trauma automatically activates those fight/flight/freeze/comply reactions. That part of our mind doesn’t care that we’ve “worked on this” already. It doesn’t understand that we don’t need to react with that same intensity we did before we began healing. That part of our brain is only focused on protecting us from the immediate threat.

Responding to this new Trauma

Healing from your past trauma doesn’t mean that you won’t respond to further trauma in your life. For some with Complex PTSD, the reactions feel and are stronger than before. This is because the more trauma reactions to pile on top of each other, the more power they have. However, these reactions don’t have to control us. We can’t stop our brains from having a trauma response when we feel threatened, but we can learn and practice ways to retrain our brains, calm our vagus nerve (which runs from the base of your skull throughout your torso) which calms our central nervous system down. We can practice mindfulness tools that bring our minds and bodies in line with each other. When our minds and bodies are connected, we are more able to notice our body beginning to ramp up, even before we’re conscious of the trigger. This allows us to intervene before our thinking brain goes offline into a fight/flight/freeze/comply response.

Numerous resources exist for us to learn to practice tools to address our anxious feelings, trauma responses, and mindfulness. These tools allow us to address current and past trauma responses, working on healing while we’re in the middle of the trauma of 2020. The tools liked above are only a sample of what’s available. I personally use The Tapping Solution regularly myself. In my newsletter this week, I will link additional resources for you to explore.

Regardless of how you feel about 2020, chances are you are or have struggled through it. You might feel lost, scared, angry, dissociated, or any combination of things. This is the normal reaction we all have when we have to endure a seemingly never-ending series of traumas. Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel, have compassion and grace for yourself, and give yourself space to walk through the nightmare that is this year.

Where Have I Been?

As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent for about a month. It has been a month that has challenged me and caused immense pain and frustration. In July, I had knee surgery hoping to fix the growing pain in my right knee. It turns out that my knee was beyond simple repair and I unexpectedly needed a total knee replacement.

On October 5th, I underwent the procedure for a total knee replacement. Very unusual at my age, but a combination of factors had rendered this surgery necessary. My trauma history and the development of fibromyalgia at age 18 as well as my recent gastric bypass, created a unique situation for me. Unfortunately, I had a surgeon that dismissed my concerns about the pain management issues my circumstances brought to the surgery. This resulted in 8 days of extreme pain, beyond a level 10, an unexpected hospitalization to attempt to control the pain, and numerous other extremely difficult circumstances.

After an extreme migraine that seemed to reset my pain, in combination with numerous prayers and finally finding a successful combination of medications, I began to make progress and heal.

At this point, I continue to make daily progress forward, thought the pain returns with a vengeance at night. As I continue to heal from this surgery, especially now that I am able to make it through the day without the pain meds, I will be able to begin creating healing and inspirational content here and in my newsletter.

Thank you for remaining with me during this challenge and as I focus on my physical healing as well as the emotional toil this has taken on myself and my family.

Healing through Forgiveness

Taking back your life from those who sought to destroy it

To a trauma survivor, forgiveness can seem like a dirty word. Like something another person, maybe even their perpetrator, throws in their face to invalidate what they are experiencing. It is often used by well-meaning or ignorant people or churches, to “fix” the relationship instead of addressing the sin. It is often used by perpetrators to attempt to control their victims as well.

These immoral and traumatizing lies and behaviors from those who should know better, can create an intense resistance to forgiveness. Extending forgiveness to the people who have hurt us deeply is rarely something we want to do. There is a part of our minds that can convince us that forgiveness means that our pain will be forgotten. That if we forgive, we are letting those that hurt us “off the hook.” We can believe that if we choose to forgive, those that caused us pain won’t get what they deserve.

The Lies

The sheer number of lies that are associated with the concept of forgiveness keeps many survivors in chains. I first want to address what forgiveness is NOT.

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you are waiting until you feel like forgiving someone, you will be waiting forever. Feelings are fleeting, unreliable, and are not facts. You can feel one way and think and respond in another. Our feelings can and will change in a moment, so relying on your emotions to tell you when you are “ready” to forgive someone, will keep you holding on to unforgiveness.
  2. Forgiveness is not excusing the perpetrator or relieving them of the responsibility and consequences for their behavior. There are always natural consequences for the things we choose to do or not do. Your decision to forgive someone that hurt you, does not mean they can or should escape the consequences of their behavior.
  3. Forgiveness does not mean you can or should trust the person again. Trust is something that is earned based on another’s ability to demonstrate that they are safe. You can forgive another completely and also never trust them again. You can forgive them completely and still withhold your trust until they have earned it again. Choosing to automatically trust someone that has hurt you, can also have very devastating consequences to you.
  4. Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiving a person for causing you pain does not also require you to reconcile that relationship. In fact, believing that you have to stay in relationship with the person who has harmed you, can keep you from forgiving them. Toxic people, those who are unrepentant and continually dangerous for you, are not people you have to be around. You can forgive your parent and still not have to ever have contact with them again. You can forgive someone who hurt you and not also have to visit them in prison as they serve out one of their consequences. You can forgive your spouse and still choose to divorce them because that is the healthy and safe thing for you to do. You can forgive and not have anything to do with that person again.
  5. Forgiveness is not tolerating the behavior that caused the pain. You can forgive your abuser and also leave the relationship. You can forgive them and also set strict boundaries within that relationship that will have consequences should they violate those boundaries.
  6. Forgiveness does not mean you have to be ok. Is is possible to forgive someone and still struggle with the pain and trauma that they’ve caused. Forgiving does not mean you have to pretend that you are ok, that you are no longer bleeding from the wound they’ve caused, or that you have to be ok when they want you to be.
  7. Forgiveness does not mean that you or your pain are forgotten. It does not mean that your suffering, your pain, is not valid. You and the consequences in your life because of their actions, will not disappear or become meaningless because you choose to let them go.

The Truth

Now I want to help you understand what forgiveness is. This is where you can find true healing. For me, I was not able to start healing from Columbine until I chose to forgive those people who created the pain. Today, choosing to forgive those who are hurting me, allows me to be who I need to be.

  1. Forgiveness is a choice you make every day to consciously let go of punishing those who have hurt you. When you are in the process of forgiving someone who has caused immeasurable pain and suffering in your life, this is something that you have to chose repeatedly until it no longer infiltrates your mind.
  2. Forgiveness is letting go of the person or persons who have hurt you. It is releasing them to God and allowing Him to deal with them. It is saying, I no longer choose to allow you to take up space in my mind, body, and soul.
  3. Forgiveness is freeing up space in your mind that those who have hurt you have been controlling since the trauma. I often think of it as evicting squatters. Evicting the people, thoughts, and behaviors that are involved in the trauma, so that you can have your whole self back again.
  4. Forgiveness is giving yourself permission to heal and leave them behind. It is saying that those people no longer get to have any part of your life, that they are not longer welcome in your existence.
  5. Forgiveness gives you peace, clarity, and hope. When you remove those people and the negative thoughts and beliefs they’ve forced on you, you are able to fully experience life again.
  6. Forgiveness is saying that you will no longer harbor bitterness and resentment towards that person or people. That you will no longer think of them, allow them to control you present. You are saying to yourself and to them, that they no longer matter to you and that you are going to live your life fully without the poison of their existence running through your veins.
  7. Forgiveness sets you free.

Living without the toxicity of bitterness

Holding on to unforgiveness, harboring anger, resentment, bitterness, and a desire for revenge, does nothing to your perpetrator. Let me say that again. Choosing not to forgive someone and holding onto the pain, does not hurt the ones who hurt you. The truth is that they rarely care about how you feel. It never crosses their minds. That is why they were able to cause so much pain in the first place. Thinking that if you just stay mad then they will see the damage they’ve done, is a lie. It does nothing for them.

The only one that is wounded when you hold on to unforgiveness, is you. You are allowing the poison from their actions to consume your life. You are living in the past, in the present. They will never feel your pain just because you keep living in that pain. Your anger and hurt is absolutely justified. However, choosing to stay there instead of moving forward in forgiveness and healing, will keep you bound to those people.

The unholy bondage of trauma

When someone perpetrates evil, a spiritual, emotional, and physical bond is created. Those who have caused harm have linked themselves to their victims in many ways. This is one of the reasons why people who have been hurt, continue to return to the person that hurt them, or why children do not tell someone what is happening. This bond is forged through the trauma and reinforced through the threats, lies, and relationship between the perpetrator and their victim.

Regardless of where the perpetrator is now, choosing to hold on to unforgiveness, reinforces the bondage, the chains, they forced on you. It keeps you silent. It makes you question your own memories of what happened. It makes you think you’re the crazy one, the one who is wrong. The more you choose to stay angry, hateful, bitter, and vengeful, the stronger you are making those chains.

Breaking free

If you truly want to break free, to remove them from your life, you have to choose forgiveness. Your life will continue regardless of what you choose, but your choice to forgive or not, will determine HOW your life moves forward. Those who have chosen not to forgive and let go, suffer more than they need to. They have chosen to allow the full impact of their trauma to dictate their life. They have chosen to remain stuck.

When you choose forgiveness, you are choosing to live. You are allowing the pain from your past to remain in your past. You are choosing daily to walk in your life without allowing those things to control your present or your future. Forgiving those who have hurt you, will let you breathe free for the first time since the trauma. It will allow you to embrace your life with the truth of your pain, the person you are now, without being overwhelmed by your past.

Forgiveness is a process that you move towards. It is a conscious decision to let go. One that you may have to make daily, sometimes hourly, when you first make that step towards freedom. You may not even feel like you want to let go, but choosing to forgive anyway, will sever the hold they have on you. Choosing freedom, choosing to permanently sever the trauma bonds that have been formed, will never make things worse than they have been.

If you want to forgive and be free, then begin to ask God to help you. Begin to speak out loud, “I don’t feel like forgiving (that person), but I am choosing to do so anyway.” The more you practice forgiving that person, the more you’ll realize that you are forgiving them. You are able to see what life can be like without them in your consciousness. When you can see what freedom looks like, then forgiveness becomes easier.

Choose freedom today. Let the past stay in the past. Take back your life and live in defiant abundance and freedom.

The Poison that Destroys

Harboring the chains of our hurt

When we have been wronged we rightly feel pain. The damage inflicted on us by the evil and selfish behaviors of others is real. It’s palpable and raw. Confusing and disorienting. This is how we are supposed to respond instinctively when we have been threatened and hurt. Our minds, bodies, and souls were created with the ability to respond to pain, emotional or physical, in a way that allows us to process and heal as quickly as possible. This system is often hijacked by a lack of support, validation, and numerous other external and internal factors. But the fact remains, that we are still programmed to respond and move on, not get stuck. But so often, we come out of trauma stuck as a victim and not living as a conqueror.

Stuck

One of the things that keeps us from being able to move forward in our lives, is how we tend to hold on to the hurt. I’m not talking about the expected scars and other damage that comes from surviving trauma, but of the way our minds adapt in an effort to “protect” us. When we have been hurt in such a way that the damage goes deeper than we can imagine, our minds want to do whatever it can to keep us alert so that we don’t ever experience that pain again. Unimaginable and gut-wrenching pain is not so easily processed and healed. But we can add layers to that already difficult process by choosing to identify with or replay the trauma, and holding on to the past.

I think that in part, we do this because we want justice. We want to see that the person that has hurt us will eventually feel the same pain that they have caused. In short, we want revenge on those who have destroyed our lives as we knew them. In the same way that we have been forced to reconcile who we were before to who we are now, we want them to suffer so it’s not just us. It is incredibly unfair that the people that cause us the most pain, often never experience the reality of that pain themselves. That we are the ones left picking up the pieces of our lives trying to heal, while they move on, in most cases, completely unaffected by their sin. In that accurate sense of it being unfair, we naturally want to right that wrong done to us. The problem is we go about doing that in a way that causes no damage to the perpetrators but immense damage to ourselves.

The Poison of Holding On

Romans 14:12 tells us, on the day of judgement, we will ALL have to give an account of ourselves to God. What does this mean for survivors of trauma? It means that we are responsible for our own actions, not those of others. We will never be held accountable before God because of what others did to us. That those who have hurt us will ALL have to come before God and try and explain the pain they’ve caused to us. But further, they will also be judged and punished for the evil that was done. I don’t know about you, but the idea of standing before the God of the universe, the sovereign over all, and trying to rationalize why they hurt us, kind of makes me feel better. However, in the same way, so will we have to explain our choices and responses to the evils we experience.

When we have been wronged, no matter how horrific the trauma and pain is, we all have to choose what to do with that pain. We have basically two choices in this. We can choose to forgive and let them go, or we can choose to obsess over them and the damage they’ve done. Let me explain.

One of the most deadly chains that keep us bound, is the powerful chain that weaves unforgiveness, hatred, bitterness, and resentment together. While we are absolutely justified in feeling anger, betrayal, and hurt when we are traumatized, we don’t need to stay there. The reason anger is part of grief, is because it’s a step, not an encampment. When we choose to harbor and cling to our “right” to feel that way, we are doing nothing to the person who caused the harm. They don’t care, usually. While we can be angry and hurt by what happened, we shouldn’t stay that way. The poison of harboring these destructive emotions causes immense damage to our own mind, body, and soul. In addition to what was done to us.

Alternately, we can choose to be free. Choosing forgiveness, allowing ourselves to let go of the anger and pain we rightly feel in response, cleanses us from that poison. Here is where most people get stuck. In the misguided belief that to forgive those who have hurt us means that they “got away” with whatever they did. We can convince ourselves that if we aren’t angry or hurt all the time, then we and everyone else will forget the harm that was done to us. That if we just hold onto the anger, hatred, bitterness, and resentment, then we are somehow holding them accountable for their sin.

But this isn’t what forgiveness is. At all. Forgiveness is letting yourself let them go. Meaning that, when you choose to forgive, you are no longer letting them control you today. You are not allowing your past hurts to dictate how you live in the present. You are taking away the valuable space in your mind, body, and soul, from the evil that shattered you, and giving it back to yourself to fill up with life again. When we hold on and refuse to forgive those who have hurt us to the depths of our souls, we are giving them permission to stay in our lives. Forgiveness kicks them out of our lives, and allows us to be free from their strangle hold.

Freedom or Control

Ultimately, we have to decide how we want to live our lives. Do we want to be chained to the people and events that traumatized us, or do we want to be free from them? Do we allow these people, their evil choices, and the destruction they caused to take up residence in our lives, or do we evict them permanently? We aren’t always meant to completely remove from our lives those who have hurt us (family, friends, relationships, etc.). But sometimes we are. The only way we can get to the place where we are making choices that will lead us to freedom and the life we are supposed to live, is to forgive those who have hurt us and let God deal with them. This frees our minds to move us to where we need to be, instead of keeping us tethered to a past we were never meant to live.

Will you choose the courage to forgive those who have hurt you and break free from their control over you? Or will you choose to harbor the “right” to feel angry, bitter, hate, and resentment because of what they’ve done to you? The choice is yours, but personally, I prefer life to death. I choose to remove their control over my life today so that I can be who I want and who I am meant to be. This is a daily, sometimes hourly if I’m honest, decision to consciously forgive. It doesn’t mean that what happened isn’t important and that you are not still struggling to heal from the wounds they’ve inflicted. But it does mean that when you pursue true healing, you will find yourself able to live without them being in your mind turning you back to the darkness.

Flee the Darkness

Trauma creates darkness. We step into our lives full of light. The lifeblood of hope and God flowing through our being. Looking into the future with eyes full of wonder and excitement, we begin to tentatively explore our world. Our senses come alive with the experience of newness, of discovery. Instinctively, we know that life is meant to be beautiful. That it’s meant to be full of light.

However, for many of us, this light and hopeful expectation of life, is quickly snuffed out. When we enter the world, and until we can reasonably take care of ourselves, we are wholly dependent on another human being to sustain our life. We trust that our needs will be met, that we will be safe. Until we’re not. The darkness slowly creeps into our lives or is ushered into it suddenly and with force.

Trauma. Pain. Hurt.

The Darkness Happens to Us, It Is Not Us

Depending on when we first experience the dark evil of this world, we can begin to believe the lie that we are the cause of our suffering. Children, until around age 8, believe that everything that happens to them or their loved ones, is because of them. That they are the cause of theirs and others suffering. What a horrible lie to internalize as a child! Slowly that light and hope begins to fade and the poison of the darkness seeps into our very beings. If we are not given adequate help in overcoming this darkness, we are left in the pain of what happened to us.

It takes many years and intentional healing for most people to overcome this basic, yet profound lie of the enemy. If the initial trauma we survived is compounded by further traumas, the darkness and the lie become ingrained in our cells, down to the DNA. Many times, people choose to decide that they ARE the darkness. They ARE the problem. That it’s easier and safer to embrace this lie then to fight it. We can grow up believing that we are worthless, broken, and that we deserve the bad that happens to us. Making the evil of another person replace our God given identities. Giving up on the life we were created to live.

Expose the Darkness, Don’t Embrace it

Ephesians 5:8-21, states, in paraphrase, that we used to belong to darkness, but now, as believers in Christ, we belong to the light. We are to have nothing to do with the deeds produced by darkness. That everything done in secret, will be exposed by the light. We are called to pay careful attention to how we choose to live our lives. Despite what we have suffered at the hands of others. If we are called to expose the darkness instead of becoming the darkness, then it must be possible to do it!

Many times, when we have embraced the trauma that was done to us, when it becomes our identity, we do anything we can to make that pain go away. Our intuition screams at us that we are not the thing we think we are, but we are beloved children of God. The fight between the identity of a victim or of what was done to you, and who you truly are, causes many to seek out ways to escape the conflict. Trauma survivors choose many ways to escape including addictions and becoming like the person who hurt them.

Life Come With the Light

Friends, this is NOT who we are supposed to be! It’s not how we are supposed to respond to the evil that is done to us! No! We are called and equipped to overcome the darkness and step into the light. Just because you have lived in darkness, either by your own choice to embrace it or due to other’s actions, doesn’t mean you have to stay there.

Jesus did not die for us and rise from the grave so that we could stay in the tombs created for us by trauma!

He has called us out of the darkness, out of the trauma, out of the false identity placed on us by trauma! We are meant to expose those evil men/women and behaviors that continue to perpetrate the darkness against the innocent!

This is part of the reason the enemy wants us to stay locked in the darkness he created in our lives. If we do not step out of the trauma and into the light of Christ, we won’t speak against the evil happening in our world. When we are so stuck in the hurt caused by what we never asked for nor deserve, we can’t speak the truth. Step out of your darkness today. What happened to you, is not your fault. However, choosing to embrace the darkness and live in that darkness rather than a life that is full and whole, is your fault. The battle to fight back the darkness is hard. But it’s a battle that we’ve already won in Jesus.

Be the one that speaks light into the dark. Expose the deeds and persons who are intentionally hurting innocents. Do not let anyone force your silence when you shine that spotlight. Make it harder for the dark to hide. Save your own and someone else’s life! Be the voice for those who don’t have one yet. Speak up. Speak out.

The Heart’s Cry

Releasing Yourself From the Burden of Silence

We Have Permission to Lose Control

Lamentations 2:19 tells us to “Arise, cry out in the night…pour out our hearts like water before the presence of the Lord.”

We are literally told to cry out in anguish, to scream and shout as if an intruder is invading our camp in the night. There is such power and truth in those moments of raw pain and anger. Releasing all the barriers we’ve put up to keep those emotions hidden, releases us. Yet we resist. We allow society, religion, and others around us, to tell us how to handle our grief and suffering, instead of seeking God’s truth.

How many of us have been told that we can’t be angry with God? That we can’t scream and question and yell at the one who created us? That we should be content and have joy in our suffering, every time? Often the scripture that talks about the clay challenging the potter is a favorite quote. I’ve repeatedly been told, or it’s been insinuated, that my anger, my grief, my pain, is wrong. That expressing grief and hurt like I do is too much. That if I just “gain perspective” about my suffering I will be able to just move on. In reality, the deepest pain that we can endure, the brokenness that shatters our soul, can’t be kept silent without causing us harm.

The people who say these things, often, do not mean to hurt us. People who are regurgitating what they’ve been told or are genuinely afraid of their own extreme emotions, are rarely trying to hurt us. When someone is afraid of dealing with their own pain, they tend to shame those who aren’t and attempt to shut down others’ expressions of pain as well. These are people we love, or that we look to for guidance and help. Reaching out for help and being are shut down and shamed for our pain stops the grieving process that sets us free!

No, we are not meant to hold in and silence our pain. The Bible literally gives us permission to come before God in anguish. With screams and hurt that can only be verbalized in groans. We have God’s permission to come before Him no matter where we are in our mind, body, soul, and spirit. So why would anyone else’s opinions on this matter? If God says come, shouldn’t we come? Ask yourself if you are free to cry out to God. If not, ask yourself why.

Why Should I Stay Silent When All I Want Is to Scream?

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been hurt beyond my ability to “handle it,” it’s almost as if the pain takes on a life of its own. Being still and quiet is not the way my mind, body, and soul express pain. I was created to be animated, passionate, and unwavering in how I pursue my life. In my pain and suffering, that doesn’t change. The idea that I am required to go against my nature, to violate the way God created me to express myself, is actually an invitation into sin. When we go against who we are meant to be, we are saying God made a mistake, and we “shouldn’t” be this way. And usually, if I’ve gone silent, it’s not a good thing for anyone, especially if you’re the one who has caused the pain…

Why, if we are supposed to be silent in our pain, does God tell us that “when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit cries out in groans that we cannot understand?” If the Holy Spirit cries out in groans, I’m pretty sure that we should be able to do the same thing. We are, after all, made in the image of the Triune God. The Bible is full of examples of individuals (Jeremiah the weeping prophet and King David anyone?), including Christ Himself, pouring out their tears before the altar of God’s throne.

Beyond that, why would anyone demand that we not express our pain and hurt before God? We are supposed to bring our anxieties, cares, and hurts before the loving God who is the only One who will ever truly know us. Relationships require us to interact with God, it’s one of the reasons we exist in the first place. How will we ever allow God to meet our needs and bring us comfort and peace beyond our ability, if we never release all the hurt and pain that is creating the walls around our heart? As believers, we have to begin questioning the intention and scriptural validity of what we are being told to do. We have the Holy Spirit for a reason. Part of the reason is so that we can hear that “still small voice” telling us something isn’t in line with God.

What is Really Happening When Silence is Demanded

Forcing someone to stay silent when their physical body cannot hold in the sounds of pain, is a form of torture and control. It’s what predators do to their victims…force them to stay silent. If we look at the way pain and suffering is handled within this society and within the churches, we see this same systematic silencing of victims, especially women and children. Women and children who take a chance to go to church leadership, law enforcement, or anyone who is in a position to help them, are often left shamed and re-victimized. And men are rarely allowed to experience suffering beyond expressions of anger. No wonder our society is full of suffering and pain! Imagine what would happen if everyone was able to feel what they need to feel without shame?

When you are not allowed to speak about and confess your pain and hurt, when you are forced to stay silent, the pain of that makes whatever you are going through exponentially worse. While not everyone tries to silence you out of a desire to hurt you, the end purpose is always to control you. To change what you need, to match what they want or believe. All the more why we should allow ourselves permission to come before the throne of God and be as loud as needed to release the pain inside us.

God did not create us to remain silent in our pain. There are numerous examples in scripture where Holy men and women, the disciples, and Jesus Himself, cry out in anguish over what is happening. When we learn that Jesus is in such anguish over what He has to do that He is literally sweating blood, how can anyone tell us that we can’t feel the same intense pain? Christ was called a “man of sorrows” for a reason. While He did not STAY crying out in pain and suffering, He absolutely grieved when it was needed to cleanse and refocus. He regularly withdrew to pray and commune with God. It is ridiculous to believe that Jesus did not include cries of His heart in his communion with His Father.

Freedom Comes When We Honor That Part of Us Hurting and Needing Release

Often times we get stuck in a cycle of grieving because we don’t allow ourselves to grieve as we need to. We look to the advice of others because we do not believe what we know we need to do. Many times, we are so afraid that if we open the door to truly pour out every ounce of anguish and bitterness in our soul, we will stay there. When in truth, refusing to release the pain you are feeling, internalizing it and silencing your heart’s cry, is the thing that keeps you where you don’t want to be. Repeating lessons and pain in different areas of your life, is God’s call to you to fully open yourself up to Him. God is calling to you from the depths of your pain and hurt, waiting for you to turn to Him and let Him comfort and redeem your pain.

Jesus is the Great Comforter and our Healer. He redeems what has been taken from our lives in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But we have to let Him in so that He can move in our lives. Trying to control your pain, to “stay strong” or comparing your suffering to others, prevents God from being able to move. God will never force Himself or His will upon us. He offers what He has promised, and we get to choose to let Him in.

If you are in physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as a result of trauma and the things of this broken world, why are you holding on to it? Instead of begging God to change whatever it is or getting angry when He doesn’t do want you want Him to, why not try a true heart cry? Give yourself permission to say whatever you need to, in whatever way you want, to the God who sees you. Give God everything that hurts then be still and let Him fill you and comfort you!

Some of the biggest turning points in my own healing have come from these gut-wrenching, guttural cries from the depths of my wounded heart. God is waiting for you to let Him in. Cry out to Him today, and release the “control” you have created to not feel the pain. When you pour yourself out before God, I promise you He won’t let you stay there, and He will fill you up in ways you never knew you needed.

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.

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…….

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