Tag: Invisiblewounds

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invisible Suffering

I have spent the majority of my time on this blog writing about trauma, PTSD, and the invisible wounds of psychological and emotional injuries that no one really understands. The more I walk through this life and experience all the pain, suffering, chaos, trauma, and “junk” that is thrown at us, I realize that invisible wounds are so much more than trauma and PTSD. There are so many things that people experience every single day, every hour of every day that no one can see and most people do not understand. There are many different illnesses, struggles, thoughts, and emotional states that people either cannot or do not wear on their sleeves for others to see. These different areas of suffering are no less severe and debilitating than it is for someone who has lost a body part or suffered other obvious physical ailments through their own choice to fight for our country, for example, or through the result of others actions. So why do people act as if those suffering from invisible pain and invisible ailments are somehow faking it, or somehow in less physical and emotional pain than someone whose wounds and illnesses you can see? This is the greatest disservice to each other that we perpetrate or is perpetrated against us every day.

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You see, I am one of those people who suffers from indescribable physical and emotional pain every single day, but you would never know that unless I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of you and told you what I was experiencing. Unless I felt safe enough to let you in or have some other reason to let you know the truth, you cannot tell by looking at me that there is anything wrong. For the last 20 years at least I have suffered from Fibromyalgia. A severe and debilitating constellation of symptoms that causes significant physical pain, exhaustion beyond words that does not respond to getting a good nights sleep, mental fog, concentration problems, memory problems, and a general feeling of “why is my body letting me down?” Unless you happen to see my legs give out from the excruciating pain, see me catch my breath from the simple act of moving, or experience my inability and struggle with organizing my thoughts and remembering what I am supposed to be doing at any given time, I look and act “normal.” Because you see, those of us that suffer this way have learned how not to act in front of people, we’ve learned to plaster on a smile and pretend that we’re ok. We’ve learned that it is usually not safe to share our pain with others because they cannot or will not try to understand. We’ve learned to hide our pain at all cost because for the majority of our time, we’ve been told by “professionals” that the symptoms aren’t real, the pain isn’t real, and that there must be something wrong with us. We’ve been diagnosed with a multitude of psychiatric words and accused of malingering for attention or to get out of doing something. You see, we have learned that no one will believe us anyway.

Then there are the mental illnesses that no one can see until the sufferer “acts out” in a way that expresses their deep sorrow and suffering such as self-harming and suicide attempts. Illnesses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Illnesses that nearly the entire adult population in the United States currently has or has had at least once in their lifetime. Illnesses that are so widespread and debilitating, you would think that society would be desperately trying to understand, accommodate and help those who are suffering. However, the opposite it true, society has pushed them aside and distanced themselves because of irrational beliefs and unfounded fears. See the media blames PTSD, depression, loneliness, bullying, and anything else they can, for horrifically unspeakable acts committed by evil people. People whose only real mental illness is that they have no conscience and do not care about anyone else. These people aren’t suffering from true mental illness, but the media and everyone else in society are quick to label them depressed, lonely, or my favorite, bullied. But the truth is, people who suffer from these hidden disorders, likely do not have the energy or the desire to put in the effort to carry out the plans that the evil among us relish in. But for that reason, those who suffer must do so in silence, because the fear of irrational responses and consequences is to real.

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The reality is that there are people in your life, your close friends, and your family who are suffering indescribable pain and anguish and you will never see it. Your responsibility is to be a safe place, a person that they can trust enough to share their pain and suffering. If they ever do reach out to you, to open up and make themselves vulnerable, learn how to trust what they are telling you and be kind, compassionate, and patient. These people can’t just “get over it.” They can’t just “exercise” or “pray” away the pain. If you truly love and care about the people in your life, begin to ask questions, be open for them to come to you and above all else, be safe. Don’t accuse them of being lazy, don’t be angry and frustrated with them because they couldn’t get out of bed, or do the dishes, or make dinner, or take out the trash, or rake the leaves, etc. “again.” Don’t be that person who pushes them further into themselves in order to escape the additional pain you are causing. Because the truth is that even though we have learned to cope, to survive, to hide the pain and to take care of ourselves, we all need someone who loves us enough to take care of us even when we can’t express what we need. We need someone who is patient, selfless, compassionate, and who is willing to sacrifice in order to help us get back up another day. If you truly want to help those around you, those who are suffering be the person they can lean on, be the light in their darkness and shine through their pain and suffering to offer a glimpse of hope.

Trauma Magnified

When you experience something horrible, something that leaves you scarred and broken, you think, this is it. You believe, naively, that this is going to be the only thing that you will have to overcome, the only thing that you will have to endure. For some this is true, and they are infinitely fortunate that their tragedy, their trauma has only one ending. But for so many of us, the trauma doesn’t stop. There are many additional traumas in our lives that we continually have to endure, to survive. That’s the part that is hard to understand. Why do we have to survive more than one horrific event, why can’t we have a break from all the pain and suffering just for a minute? I am a survivor of the Columbine High School massacre. You would think that’s enough, but it wasn’t. I’ve also been violently attacked at a train station, where my life was in imminent danger. Then I was woken in the middle of the night by my husband screaming that our house was on fire. In the 30 seconds that his alarm allowed me to get our infant son and all of us get downstairs, our lives could have all ended. Because after that 30 seconds, the fire broke through the patio door of our bedroom and filled the room with incapacitating smoke. If my husband hadn’t woken up and seen the fire, we would have not survived. Once our home was put out and we were all safe, I recognized the familiar PTSD symptoms inching their way into my consciousness again. I had fought like hell to heal and to survive after the shootings, and I hoped I would never have to experience the numbing, the flashbacks, the nightmares ever again…but PTSD never goes away. You can control the symptoms, but when you experience another life threatening trauma, those symptoms are right there to incapacitate you again. That’s the thing with trauma. One is bad enough, but even after you heal and move forward in life, that trauma response has laid a foundation in your conscious. Afterwards, you see everything differently, you respond differently, you exist differently. Any trauma after the initial one becomes trauma on steroids…trauma magnified. The magnification of additional traumas afterwards also leads to the magnification of those PTSD symptoms. What this means is that once you’ve experienced trauma, after you’ve fought through hell to reclaim some type of normal existence where you’re more than just surviving, you’re never truly free from the consequences. This is something that is really hard to accept. I really want to be free, to be mentally healthy, to remove the scars of all the horrible things I’ve survived in my life. But they are scars for a reason. They leave a permanent mark on our consciousness and our mind. You have to accept that this is normal and that you are not crazy when those scars begin to show again. When trauma becomes magnified, again, you have to fight back, again. It’s exhausting and it feels impossibly unfair that you have to do this all over again, but you survived once, you will survive again.

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The Trauma Experience

No one wakes up one morning expecting that their life will forever be changed. Each day is another day of expectation and hope that things will turn out alright, that this day will bring a sense of peace and comfort in this life. No one expects that their life is going to be turned upside down, that something no one thought was possible is going to happen to them or around them today. That’s the chaos of trauma, it’s sudden, unexpected and violent. Even when the trauma suffered is a continuous and daily, such as in the case of abuse or being in a war zone, there is a part of you that hopes and believes that it will be different today. In a world where trauma, terror and pain is on a constant reel on the nightly news, you begin to be desensitized to all the violence in the world. Still, there is a part of you that believes that those things happen to other people, not to you, and not to your loved ones. That’s how it was for me. I was raised to believe that evil exists, that there are people who do horrible things simply because they want to. There were multiple events in my life growing up that validated this knowledge of the nature of humanity, and I began to look for and try to find the answers for how to survive in this world. I wanted to understand so I could keep my head above the water. For a long time prior to the event that changed the course of my life, I had already experienced trauma and pain. I was suffering in a way that no one could truly see or understand. I was the rebel, the loner, the one who always seemed to mess everything up. No one really knew and I believed no one could understand the pain I was experiencing. I believed the lie that if I told someone what was going on in my head they would commit me to an institution, deeming me incurable for life. This was all before the traumatic event that terrorized and debilitated my life. One of the greatest lies the enemy perpetuates in someone’s life  is that there is no hope, no help, no healing. We are told that there is no one who will understand, that we are all alone in dealing with the pain, and that if we tell anyone, horrible things will happen to us or our loved ones. These are the same tactics used by predators to silence their victims, and believe those lies is incredibly effective at silencing someone. The silence of trauma and of the ongoing suffering following the trauma needs to be shattered. We need to believe that we are not alone, and that we do not need to hide and keep secret the torment going on in our lives.

Not much was different the morning of April 20, 1999. I woke up hating myself and hating the world, and expecting another day of severe bullying, pain, and isolation. I definitely didn’t expect that day to be both the final straw in the trauma of my life that would push me over the edge to dissociation and chaos and the catalyst to change the course of my life. Truth is, I never expected much of anything to break the daily monotony and torment. Although the memories of my past were scattered and incomplete, they haunted my life. Even in that place, I had managed to create a pseudo-safe reality where I could try and keep the pieces together, where I could feel safe. In one moment, the small amount of safety that I felt, was ripped from beneath me. I was breathless, devastated, and shattered. The next five years are completely gone, a vague awareness of reality that never really materialized. I had jobs, met people, and did things I have no memory of. I was barely existing in this life. Then one day, I just decided that enough was enough, that I was tired of barely surviving and that if I wanted anything different in this life, I was going have to start living my life. I had been slowly self-destructing for years, and I just woke up one day and realized that I wanted more than the destructive life I was living. All of the experiences in my life had destroyed my sense of safety, of self-worth, and distorted my reality in such a way that I couldn’t realize that the things I felt and thought about my life and of others in my life were furthering the destruction. The truth about trauma is that even if people experience the same event or suffer from a childhood of abuse and torment, no two people will have the same reaction to that trauma. Our minds were created with the amazing ability to protect themselves from destruction. People’s experiences before trauma and the patterns of beliefs and behaviors that develop in response to the traumatic events are unique to that person. This is part of the reason why no one really knows the best way to help someone who has been through hell. Because we are all individuals with unique abilities to learn and experience life, we must speak up for ourselves and tell others what we need in order to heal.

In order to heal from a painful and horrific past, you have to have the courage to ask for help. For me, I had been the person who actively sought help from the beginning, before I even knew what was going on with me. I trusted that professionals would accurately and carefully evaluate what was happening in my world and give me the help that I needed. What I quickly found out is that there are many people who claim to be professionals who will ignore everything you say because it’s easier to label you with a destructive and sometimes permanent diagnosis than it is to truly uncover the cause of the distress. During those five years after the shootings, I sought help from dozens of “professionals,” none of which were willing to look past the easy answer and tackle the difficulty that is dealing with severe and persistent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had all but given up at that point. I was overly medicated with drugs that did nothing to alleviate the symptoms I was experiencing, and did nothing to treat the true cause of my psychological symptoms. However, once I woke up and decided that enough was enough and I wanted to live my life healthy and whole, I had to acknowledge that I couldn’t heal on my own. The damage of my past was too devastating to allow me to figure it out alone. This meant trying once again to find someone who would help me and not just slap me with some destructive and permanent label, someone who cared enough to help. Through everything I experienced, I never lost faith that God was real and that He was somehow involved in what was going on. I was terrified to be stuck in the trauma cycle of psychological and emotional distress, so I began praying for someone to help me. Fortunately, God already had those plans in motion, I just had no idea how those plans were going to play out. The counselor God had lined up to help me through this trauma was someone I had met 10 years before. I had babysat for this woman’s children many years before, and God brought me right to her. God had already known what I was going to need to recover from the evil perpetrated on me, and began putting things in place years before I needed it.

When I began dealing with the effects of the shooting on my life, it started to come to light how many other things had happened in my life and that the effects of those traumas were exaggerated by the shootings. I knew that I was barely holding on to the broken pieces of my life, but I was just beginning to be able to put names and understanding behind what I was suffering through. I was absolutely terrified of everything. Throughout my past and the things I had experienced, I had lost the ability to trust anyone except myself. I deeply believed that this world was horrifically dangerous and that I was in someone’s cross hairs every minute. I couldn’t sleep and I forced myself to get through each day, just waiting until I could retreat to the “safety” of my home. I realized that even though the shootings were the catalyst to the free fall into darkness in my life, the other things I experienced had left permanent marks in my mind as well. This distorted how I viewed the world, how I viewed myself, and how I viewed God. I realized that every relationship in my life, every self-destructive behavior, every overwhelming fear response to benign situations, was all the result of the compounding trauma. Realizing this gave me an opportunity for true healing, complete healing, rather than just trying to alleviate the symptoms that were disabling me. So often, we try to deal with the immediate issue, the most recent trauma, and ignore the effects of cumulative trauma, those other things that compound the negative effects trauma has on our lives. What I quickly learned is that since everything in my mind was so intricately entwined, I had a choice, I could deal with my past as a whole or settle for partial healing. I chose to dive in head first. If it was going to be painful and if it was going to hurt to deal with the shootings, I might as well deal with everything so I could finally feel complete.

16 years later, I am mostly free and healed from the pain of my past. I have realized that the life I had, and the life I had hoped for as a child was not possible to recover. I could never go back and undo what was done to me, what I experienced. I had to redefine and learn how to thrive in the new normal. The lingering effects that are the constant battle in my life are the negative thoughts and beliefs about myself and others that were created and cultivated through years of pain and trauma. The difference is that now, I am aware of those things and can actively work to heal those parts of my life when the come up. I am no longer blind to why I think and believe the way that I do, no longer unsure of where the pain and continuing struggles come from. Before the shootings, I was wandering in pain, just hoping that one day it would all end. For the first few years after the shootings, I was the same way, just on a massive destructive scale. However, if it was not for the shootings, my determination to get whole again, and the grace of God as I struggled and failed spectacularly in my attempt to live life the way I wanted to, I would never have been able to be the person that I am today. The shootings were the beginning of the end to my barely surviving this life and finally embracing myself, all the brokenness and the pieces of my shattered existence, and beginning to live and understand the new normal that is my life now.

I wish that no one would ever have to experience the pain of severe trauma and hurt, but I have a new understanding of the role those terrible experiences play in my life. Surviving hell has allowed me to find strength in a way that I never knew I was capable of. It allowed me to be able to help people in a way that is intimately entwined in who I was created to be. I was always meant to help others, to be the  light in the darkness, and to speak truth and justice in every aspect of life. I would have been able to accomplish that without the trauma and pain in my past, but I don’t believe I would be as effective and capable of fulfilling this calling, if I hadn’t experienced pain and tragedy in my own life. I never wanted to experience so much pain in my life, never really knew what this world was capable of producing in other people, but every tear that has been cried, every painful spasm in my body, and every broken heart and broken piece in my life, God has cataloged and seen, and they will not go unused or unhealed. This is the true story of healing and redemption. This world is desperately broken and there are millions of people who are experiencing trauma and horrific acts of abuse and devastation in their lives every day. This world does not offer true hope, there is very little in this world that says that you can be free, that you can recover from what has happened. People are desperate for the truth, they are desperate for one moment of relief from the overwhelming pain they are experiencing. Those of us that have been through trauma, that have witnessed and experienced true evil, and have been able to heal and regain a sense of normalcy and peace in our lives, have a responsibility to speak hope and truth for the people who are still in the middle of their destruction, their devastation. There is peace and tranquility in the middle of the chaos of life, there is hope for true healing and restoration of your life in Christ Jesus. He is the healer and the redeemer and He has already defeated the enemy that desperately wants us to believe that there is no hope! The reality of the sacrifice and mercy of Christ is that we never walk through suffering alone. I know this to be true, to be reality. Had it not been for the tangible presence of Christ in my life as I went through the deep darkness of trauma, I would not have made it out alive. I was on a path that would have inevitably led to my destruction, but God kept me from the more severe consequences I could have endured, had He not been guiding my life. I would not have been able to hold onto the truth that there is something beyond this pain, if I didn’t know and believe that God is who He says He is. This world was not created to be devastated and broken, but it is. The only way to find your way through the broken pieces and painful black of night, is to cling to the true light, the only thing that makes sense in this life. I cannot begin to understand why horrible things are allowed to happen, but I do know that no matter what, those events and circumstances are not ignored, they are not glossed over with God. He has a purpose for both good and bad for each and every one of us. Healing from your past allows you to find that meaning and purpose in a profound way that you may never have fully experienced without the trauma. Those of us who have experienced trauma are not alone, we are connected in a way that no one wants, but we have to live with. There is hope, there is healing, there is restoration no matter where you are in your journey to healing. Some may just be thinking about taking the step towards healing, others have been on this journey for a long time. No matter where you are, the journey will get easier, you can thrive in this life, not just survive.

Instinct and hypervigilance

One of the things that becomes increasingly clear after you have experienced a trauma is the change in how you perceive the world around you. Right after the shootings, when I finally came out of the cloud of shock and chaos, I realized that the world was now infinitely more dangerous than I ever imagined it was. I was fairly cynical prior to that day anyway, but there was a part of me that believed that, really, I was going to be OK, that I was safe. After that day, I began to see a threat in every possible situation. I became extremely hypervigilant and paranoid that I and my loved ones were going to die in horrible ways. I began to plan and seek ways out of situations just in case something bad began to happen. When I left for school the following fall I was now taking classes in large rooms with hundreds of students and many possible threatening situations. I would spend most of my classes imagining scenarios where people were coming in shooting and I would plan how I would get myself and others out…every class period. I thought that I was managing my overwhelming fear and anxiety fairly well considering what I had just been through. I was pretty proud of the fact that I was becoming the “expert” on all of the escape routes and possible disaster scenarios that could plague that school. What I didn’t realize was that all this planning and anticipation was really a self-preservation method as I was still in survival mode months later, and that it was fueling the dysfunction I was experiencing. I spent the next 5 years in this state of hypervigilance, fear, and paranoia, which created a memory block for most of those 5 years. Once I began to understand the realities of trauma reactions and how my mind was working to protect me and help me prepare for another unexpected disaster, I was able to begin to control this response. I still suffer with hypervigilance, fear, and some paranoia at times, but what I’ve learned to do is hone it in, to distinguish between legitimate threats to my life or my safety, and ignore erroneous situations that don’t pose a threat. I’ve learned to enhance my instincts with the mechanism of hypervigilance allowing me to have discernment and wisdom into what I’m experiencing. I used to hate being so “aware” of every threat, every person, every situation because it was so constant and in my mind, there was no place where I could be safe. Now, I respect that my brain was able to protect me from completely breaking after the shootings and from traumas that have occurred since then, and have learned that those mechanisms that are in place to keep me safe can be controlled. Learning that you can control your trauma responses, your PTSD symptoms and the fear the grips your existence is very freeing. Hypervigilance may be the catalyst for becoming increasingly aware of my surroundings, but honing that response and training my instincts to add context to what my mind says is a threat, gave me back some of the power that was taken from me that day. Learning to control and hone your trauma responses will help you feel like you are in control of yourself again, it will give you hope that there is a light through the darkness.

Invisible Wounds

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

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