Tag: Hope (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

For I Have Not Given You A Spirit of Fear…Do It Anyway

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 NASB

I don’t know about everyone else, but I have read this verse many times and every time I tend to think, “oh that’s nice” and move on. In fact I tend to do that with a lot of the verses that discuss living a life free of fear. I have lived so much of my life controlled and manipulated by fear, that until recently, I’m not sure that I even registered what God is actually saying to us. What I am beginning to understand on a deeper level is that not only is a life of fear not what God has planned for any of us, but that He has commanded us to not be afraid and has equipped us to do so.

That’s not to say that living in this fallen and broken world will not bring us into situations that evoke a deep and intense fear. Terror exists, people perpetrate horrific crimes against innocent victims all the time. Our minds were created to elicit a fear response in these situations in order to preserve our lives. But this is not the fear that God is speaking of when He is speaking about fear. God is speaking of the daily anxieties and fears, the what ifs that can leave us debilitated and non-functional. God is saying to His children, that even in those moments that scare you, where you are unsure and afraid of what could happen, in those moments, fear not! It is those moments to which God is saying “I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power…”

God speaks directly to our spirits, to our minds, knowing that we hate the unknown, that we will worry and stress about every little thing that could bring harm or create fear. To this part of us, God is telling us to let go, to “cast all your anxieties (fears)” onto Him 1 Peter 5:7 and let Him carry the burden of fear. He is saying to us, “I got this.” God does not dismiss our fears, He specifically states that in this life we will face troubles. But he also states not to worry because He has overcome the world!! (John 16:33)

This gives us freedom to live. Freedom to let go of the fear that debilitates and binds us and to live the life we were created to live! We can live life fully and still feel fear. We become paralyzed when we let that feeling make our choices for us. Courage is being able to feel the fear and still do what you need to do. Live in the freedom of Christ’s promises today. Accept that you will feel fear but choose today to not let that feeling control you. Go and do what you were called to do, even if you feel afraid. The reward and benefit from not letting fear immobilize you, are beyond understanding, but they will always be better than living a life paralyzed by fear.

Even Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I Will Fear No Evil

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

Psalm 23:4

Evil is a very strong and powerful word. It is also a concept that many people choose to ignore and deny as if that will actually remove evil from existence. No one really likes to think about evil. It is incredibly uncomfortable, disturbing, and frightening. But for people who have experienced pure evil in its human form, there is no way to deny that Evil exists. For those of us who have experienced pain, suffering, and trauma because of another person’s choice to embrace darkness and evil and perpetrate horrific acts against innocent victims, Evil is not only present, but it is fluid, powerful, and impossible to escape. Those of us who know this truth about evil, and who try in vain to help others understand the reality of evil, also know that there are people who will continue to blame inanimate objects and anything else they can think of to explain the horrible things that happen in this world, except for evil.

People tend to have a hard time with Evil for one reason. This reason is often masked by their “desire” to see the good in people rather than acknowledge their own realities, but the reason is so much easier than the complicated way people explain away evil. Acknowledging the truth that Evil exists and is alive and active in the world today requires people to truly evaluate their existence. It begs the existential question, what is the truth about good and evil? The truth is that people do not want to believe evil exists, because if evil exists, then so must good, so must God. In media, evil is portrayed by the devil, demons, or similar entities. For a culture that desperately tries to pretend that God doesn’t exist, it is ironic that Hollywood and other media sources always portray Lucifer and his demons as the source of chaos, evil, and pain. While this portrayal is accepted and embraced as normal, accepting and believing in the opposite of evil, believing in God as good and pure, is not. This begs the question, why are people so eager to cinematize the Devil, but so quick to deny his existence when something horrific happens? Why are people so afraid to acknowledge, so arrogant and so dismissive of the only thing in existence whose sole purpose is to destroy them, but vehemently try to destroy the one Person who can save them from the destruction?

In reality, instinctively and inherently humanity is aware of the battle between the Devil and God. We know on a core, visceral level that there is a real Evil and his name is Lucifer, and a real Good whose name is Jesus. These are truths that children grasp, understand, and accept until someone in their lives tells them not to believe this truth. Children are shamed and discouraged from continuing to believe in this truth by parents who have already determined that they will totally ignore their own instincts and visceral knowledge about the existence and goodness of God. This is the greatest trick that the Devil has perpetrated on society…he has convinced so many people that he doesn’t exist and manipulates them into blaming things for what he orchestrates and perpetrates on humanity. His great deception is that he doesn’t exist, so, therefore God must not exist. We know from scientific discoveries that there has to be a balance. Darkness is balanced by light. Two forces balance each other out. Science has already proven the need for and the existence of Good in Jesus, but the devil has managed to convince millions of people that neither evil or God exist, and definitely Jesus is an unnecessary ‘fairy tale.’

The problem is that the Devil likes to flaunt his deception and his destruction. He likes to perpetrate horror on humanity, especially if he can spin it so that people continue to ignore his existence. He does not like to stay hidden, he is arrogant because he knows that even though many people will recognize his “handiwork” for what it is, there are many who will continue to turn a blind eye to truth and whom he can forever torment and manipulate unless they acknowledge the truth. The Devil knows that Jesus is not only real, but that the war he is waging against humanity, against God’s creation, has already been lost. That is why he is so desperate to convince humanity that Jesus is not the answer they are desperately seeking. He uses humanity’s desperation for redemption and healing to further push them away from the One who can quench that thirst. There are so many of us who have survived these acts of evil perpetrated by people who are used by the devil as pawns and puppets of his disgusting drama that we eventually have to reconcile the things that have happened to us in order to understand. That reconciliation will result in either healing or further destruction and deception. But the answer, the truth, is readily available and has been blasted throughout the world in the Word of God.

This blog began with the Bible passage Psalm 23:4. This psalm is one of the most widely recognized Bible passages in the world, almost everyone can recite some or all of it, even if they are not Christians. This was designed, specifically to counteract the lies of Satan. The methods that scientists have used for decades to validate a manuscript has been proven repeatedly and with more evidence of the veracity of the Word of God, than any other manuscript in history! The rest of this passage proves, not only the existence of Good in God, but it tells you the ways that God will combat the evil being perpetrated against humanity. God tells us that He is the shepherd. That He will lead us, give us rest, restore us, and guide us. He is with us when we go through the evil that we experience, He will not leave us, and in the end, He will put our enemies underneath us, and raise us up above those who have harmed us. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for YOU ARE WITH ME. 

psalms-23-3

This is the promise for us today. Those of us who have endured the evil acts perpetrated by the enemy of our soul are not alone. We were never alone and we will never be alone. Jesus is not only there with us, He will restore us, give us rest, and avenge us. What a beautiful reality! You cannot have evil without good. Satan exists because God created him, albeit with very different plans in mind, all the while knowing that he would choose to rebel (the same choice we are given) and forever be cursed to wander the earth seeking to destroy anyone and everything, especially if he can use those experiences to turn people away from the only true source of healing and freedom. When we are walking through our own valley where there is a constant shadow reminding us of death and destruction, call out to the one who will set you free. Accept his rest, his restoration, his peace, and his guidance. Let Him heal you, comfort you, and free you from the lie that there is no hope. Let Him bring the true relief, fill the void that you have so desperately been trying to fill. Take a risk and seek Jesus, seek the Truth, and accept the freedom that is promised to you today. Do not let the Evil in this world further convince you that you are forever broken, that you are alone, and that no one cares enough to help you pick up the pieces of your shattered life. Because ther is One who cares and is capable of the healing you are desperately seeking. Take a chance on hope, on healing, on freedom.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23 (NASB)

Love and Relationships

Everyone wants to be loved, to be cherished, to matter to someone. I think that is the tender nature of each of our hearts, regardless of whether we are a woman or a man. God created us to desire love, friendship, and support, and as a result, our hearts and souls long for that intimate connection with our perfect partner. I am no exception. I longed to be loved, cherished, held, respected, and to have a deep, emotional and spiritual intimacy with the one God created for me. Then I met the man who would become my husband and thought that I was finally going to have all those things that I so desperately craved. But the reality is that each person in a relationship brings their past with them. They bring their pain, their trauma, their mistakes, and their global beliefs about themselves and others into the relationship which can alter the relationship from what it was meant to be to a struggle for survival. This is the piece that the entertainment industry forgets to tell us about. They paint a portrait of a fairytale romance that endures forever distorting our picture about what love and relationships are meant to be. We are so desperate to believe that fairytale love exists that we willingly cling to the distorted reality that we are presented with and then find ourselves in shock when true reality hits and it’s nothing like the fairytales we’ve been fed.

The sad thing is that this myth of relationships does not solely apply to romantic relationships. Many of us have been hurt and betrayed by friends and family as well. People who we thought would never hurt us end up causing the most pain. Many of us pursue friendships with the same vigor with which we pursue a romantic partner, expecting the same kind of fairytale relationship we see in movies and books. We believe that we will find girl or guy friends who will never disappoint us, who wouldn’t dare hurt us or try and steal our partners, and we definitely don’t think that those relationships will ever end…because the entertainment industry says they won’t. But the reality is that even in the best of relationships, you will be disappointed and hurt, for some they will be horribly betrayed by someone who vowed never to do so. No matter what kind of relationship you try to cultivate, friendship, family, or a romantic partner, the expectations we likely have or the hopes and dreams we have for those relationships, will never live up to reality. In order to have healthy relationships, we have to accept that our ideal relationships don’t exist because everyone brings their pain and past with them.

This can be even more true for those of us who have experienced significant traumas in our lives. Living life without experiencing trauma is more or less impossible in this world, but so often we forget that the trauma we experience effects every aspect of our lives. That pain bleeds into relationships that may develop long after the trauma has ended. Where we need to have awareness about ourselves when we are pursuing relationships after trauma, is to acknowledge that there is a part of us that now seeks safety and security over anything else. Many of us may have an exaggerated need for companionship where the fear of rejection and loss of a relationship can lead to very self-destructive behaviors. So often I see people who have been traumatized, compromising who they are, changing their values, or making excuses for people who hurt them because the fear of being alone and vulnerable to more trauma overwhelms their sense of identity and self-preservation.

One of the greatest risks in relationships is losing your sense of identity and your ability or willingness to ask for what you need. This can be even more exaggerated for someone who has experienced trauma. Trauma, by it’s nature, destroys our sense of self, our perception of reality, and our beliefs in the world as we knew it. When you are going into any relationship and you don’t know who you are or you are questioning everything you thought you believed, as is common following trauma, you are at a greater risk of melding into the identity of the other person or conforming to who the other person believes or demands you should be. Neither of those allows you the freedom and safety to rebuild the pieces of who you are and to redevelop your identity. An unfortunate example of this is with people who have a history of childhood trauma. These people often gravitate towards partners and relationships with people who mimic those who perpetrated the trauma, resulting in a situation where victims of past trauma again are subjected to abuse and trauma. Domestic violence victims rarely go into that relationship without a significant traumatic childhood. Because pain is all they know, there is a sense of safety and comfort in that familiarity of abuse. Even when they know they don’t want or deserve what they are experiencing, the fear of leaving and being vulnerable keeps them in a situation where their very lives may be at stake.

This is why it is so crucial to understand the discrepancy between what our hopes and dreams for relationships are and the reality of how our experiences with trauma and pain taint our view of ourselves and the world around us. If we neglect to understand how our pasts effect our decisions regarding relationships, we can put ourselves in situations where we will be traumatized and hurt again because we are seeking out anything to fill the void left behind by the trauma. Finding a loving and supportive romantic partner or friendship after experiencing trauma is possible. But it will take a tremendous amount of work to rebuild your identity and to understand and recognize those distorted beliefs and self-destructive behaviors that stem from your traumatic past and changing those patterns into something new and healthy.

Those fairytale romances and BFF relationships that our souls and hearts long for may not be the same reality as depicted in books and movies, but having healthy relationships where you are valued, appreciated and cherished are possible, even if you have a horrific history of abuse or trauma. The key is that you have to heal, you have to figure out who you are and change the distorted beliefs you have about yourself and others first. Take the first step in healing and realize that you may not know enough about who you are and what you need and want in a relationship to have realistic expectations in your relationships. If you are already in a relationship that is struggling or in which you feel invisible, don’t despair.  Remember that even if you know that your expectations are unreal or feel an exaggerated need for safety, you are not crazy or needy or clingy. You are suffering with unmet expectations and distorted beliefs about what you need because of unresolved trauma and pain in  your past. Your relationship may not be any better after you begin to heal, but you will be able to find the strength to ask for what you need and to make decisions about what you need in a way you never thought possible before.

IF YOU OR YOUR CHILDREN DO NOT FEEL SAFE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY TO GET TO SAFETY. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP FOR ANY REASON. THERE ARE RESOURCES AND HELP.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Domestic Shelters and Resources: https://www.domesticshelters.org

Unexpected Joy

Sometimes life can destroy your sense of hope and you think you will never be able to be happy again. The thought of experiencing Joy is even more impossible to imagine. What I’m slowly learning throughout this journey in life and healing is that Joy can be found in the most innocent of moments. Ever since I had my little boy, he shows me how to see the world through his eyes. Today was one of those moments. We went to his very first fall festival complete with a pumpkin patch. I found myself crying at his excitement and curiosity at things he’s never experienced. I realized that at that moment, I was truly happy, that I was experiencing joy. Then I start to wonder if the reason we lose hope and fail to experience Joy as adults is because this world has worn us down so much we can barely see the sun let alone beauty. If we can begin to see the world that has broken and hardened us through the eyes of a child experiencing things for the first time, we can begin to feel hopeful again. Letting my son show me how to experience life as if I’ve never experienced pain and trauma helps me feel Joy in a way I thought was forever tarnished. When you let a child show you how to experience life, you can find Joy in unexpected places.

End Of Watch

Two weeks ago I lost a coworker and a friend. His death was unexpected and left all of us trying to figure things out. One of the things done when an officer falls is an end of watch call. If you have never heard this done, I cannot express the pain and finality that comes with the silence of that final call. Follow that with a gun salute and presentation of colors to the family, and you are left exhausted, sad, and for me, reevaluating life. So often we get caught up in the to do list, the internal dialogue that tells us to keep busy, to do more, that other, more important things can wait until we’re done with our checklist. But what happens when you experience loss, an unexpected end of watch call, is that you are forced into stillness and silence. You have to stop. I left that moment with a determination to stop wasting my short and unpredictable life waiting for others to fulfill me, being frustrated with the things in my life that aren’t the way I’d hoped they would be, and to stop getting caught up in the drama of work, of life, and of other people’s messes. I don’t want to waste my life being angry, sad, and waiting for others to be part of the life I want to live. Losing a friend unexpectedly at a young age almost requires you to reevaluate what matters. To the best of my ability moving forward, I will forgive those who try to hurt me, who disappoint me and who are unable or unwilling to love. I choose to be happy, to be free of the weight of holding grudges and being angry and intolerant of others. I’m done feeling guilty for taking care of me, for slowing down and focusing on what matters, like my son, my marriage, and relationships. Which, really, in the grand scheme of things are the only things that actually matter. I will stop and rest and play and laugh, and if that means I don’t get my checklist completed, then I will be happy and my home messy, and I will be ok with that.

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Memories

Every year brings another chance for remembering. In the beginning, it would start in February. The knowledge of the coming April, the anticipation of the pain that is coming. It’s been 17 years since that day that changed my life. Over time, the anticipation, the terror of the memories has lessened and starts later on. Sometimes I even forget…almost. But this year is different. I have a son now who will eventually have to go to school, who will inevitably be in harms way at some point. That reality changes how I remember, how I feel about today. The thing with memories is that they never truly leave us, especially the painful ones. The memories morph and change to reflect the process of healing and the changes in life, but they never stop haunting your mind. I know the pain and the fear will most likely never fully disappear, that is the result of surviving trauma, but as each year passes, I will grow stronger. As each year passes, I will learn new ways to cope, I will find new ways to love myself and take care of my heart, I will find new reasons to push forward. Each year brings pain, but in that pain, I will find a reason to keep hoping, to keep living. WE ARE….

Breaking Into Hope

My breath catches in my chest

Unrelenting and Devastating

The darkness threatens to engulf me

……

Reality breaks

Shattering into pieces

Tiny fragments of the

World I knew

……

Blackness screams as

My eyes begin to bleed

Broken by the power of my pain

Pouring out my sorrow

……

Overwhelmed

Rushing waves of grief

Rising waters of despair

Threaten to overtake me

……

Hollow

Aching emptiness

Punching the night and

Begging for relief

……

Breaking through the darkness

Remnants of the light

Begin to trickle in

Slow illumination blinding my pain

……

A sliver of hope

Fractions of peace

This light grows

Warming my weary soul

……

Emptiness fading into the gray

Dulling the ache and bringing relief

Promises remembered

……

Truth in the pain

Destroys the blackness

Pieces begin to heal again

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