On scars, triggers, and PTSD: In college, I was washing a Muppets promo glass from McDonald’s (remember those?) when it shattered and sliced an outer tendon of my left thumb joint. My roomie, who hated the sight of blood, rushed me to the ER and bravely sat with me while the surgeon repaired the damage. My hand was in a brace for six weeks - which made it nearly impossible to write since I’m a leftie. I had to take class notes with my right hand. Later, after the stitches came out, I had to do PT exercises to regain the use of my left hand.
So, I’m all healed up, right? Well, except for the circular scar. And the constant numbness which I’ve learned to mostly ignore. And... Today, 35 years later, I was cleaning the toilet and bumped that edge of my hand. I shrieked! I may or may not have let a mild epithet fly. You see, though I don’t often consciously think of my hand injury, it’s still there! And if it gets bumped hard, which happens at least once a year, it’s quite painful! My hand is still throbbing a half hour later!
It made me think of PTSD from emotional wounds. Some people think that if a traumatic incident happened a long time ago, and the time of crisis has passed, that it’s a done deal. It’s not. The person may not think of it as often or seem as deeply affected as more time goes on, but then what looks like a trivial trigger pops up and WHAM! Aaagh! I myself had an ugly cry just last night when a painful memory resurfaced. It took me a little while - and half a box of Kleenex - to find my calm again. And there is nothing wrong with that at all.
So folks, just think about that when you are talking to or about trauma survivors, OK? Don’t chide them for not being OVER IT already. Their pain might make you uncomfortable and you may not want to deal with it. You want them to stuff it so you can’t see it. But like my squeamish roommate, love sits with the wounded. Even when the trauma rears its ugly head weeks, months, years, or even decades later. Let them own their pain. Create space for them to grieve and re-heal. And learn to be gentle with yourself too.
#metoo #PTSD #trauma #CreateSpace #empathy #innerhealing #tenderspots
So here are my followup thoughts to the original post:
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is the pain that keeps on giving. I know it because I have lived it, though fortunately it does not still bother me that often or that intensely.
I do totally understand about moving on and releasing bitterness, not wallowing in negativity or being crippled by shame or anger or depression. This is not about that. It's about what happens when you are taking the necessary steps to recover your wholeness, but the pain keeps popping back up at unexpected times. It's about giving ourselves grace and not allowing this to suck us back into the dark vortex.
When the painful memories resurface, this inner voice in our souls can whisper, "You'll never be free. You may as well just give up. You are doomed to a life of mental torture and it will destroy your physical health, too."
Then we can, with practice and support and emerging courage, reply, "The pain will come and I'll deal with it when it does, with the help of God and the knowledge I have received and the support of wise people who care. I have decided that my past won't stop me from building my healthy new future. That story was not the last chapter in my book, and I'm choosing a happier ending."
And when that pain comes again and again and again, we don't take it as a verdict that we have failed in recovery. Instead, we deal with it, pick up our broken pieces, stick them back in place the best we can (gently!), and keep moving. I know it's much more complex than that, but this is the simple mental picture I use when I'm in the middle of it.
Maybe our coping strategies aren't the optimal ones yet. Maybe they are hurting more than they are helping. We can assess that as we go along and make the necessary adjustments. We learn more and we seek help to do whatever it takes to move forward, treat the root causes, and not just mask the pain.
This is what resilience is all about. It's not that we won't face obstacles, because we always will - whether it is old ones or new ones. It's that we rise to meet these challenges as courageously as we can. We might be "quaking in our boots" but I reckon we can walk and quake at the same time.
Two poems from my heart:
"Pilgrimage and Jubilee"
by Virginia Knowles
It’s been a long road
And I’ve traveled the valley of the shadow.
But I write as a free woman
Still with earthy bonds, yes
But able to rise above and go beyond.
We are called to the dignity
Of the Image of God.
We are called to walk the path
Of peace and glory.
We are called to hear the holy echo:
"Proclaim liberty throughout the land!"
So let us rise, strong and free.
Mine is the story of pilgrimage and jubilee.
"Lift Up Your Head and Laugh"
by Virginia Knowles
“Lift up your head and laugh!”
He spoke as a prophet.
But what did he know those thirty odd years ago?
What did he know of my future?
I was still so young then
With only a taste of raw and broken
And visions of a whole life open before me
Certainly not knowing quite what to expect
But with dreams and plans nonetheless:
Happily ever after with maybe
A few little bumps along the way…
Why not? And why not laugh?
Life could be, would be, one grand adventure.
It’s been a rather curious life indeed
This grand adventure of mine.
Now I shake my head and laugh
At myself, at how I clung to so much
That prickled and burned and then gave way.
Yet mysteries and marvels
Came to me when least expected
Laughter mixed with tears and sighs
And more than a few bumps along the way
So much good and so much grief mingled in
So much for dreams and plans!
A worthwhile journey still,
Just not how I thought it would be.
It’s not just me, I know
I watch the world walking by
And I try to understand, wonder
Where it is going: out and about
And home again, home again
A million silent stories walking by
A million mingling stories of mourning and mirth.
I have lived long and learned much
And I find myself speaking to the young ones
With their whole lives open before them
The words of the timeless sage
Thirty hundred years ago:
“There is a time for everything…
A time to weep and a time to laugh.”
They have seen me weep, and I will weep again.
But for now, I will lift up my head and laugh.
I've written a lot more encouragement, trauma-related information, and poetry on three of my blogs. Here are the links I think will fill a need to those reading today.
Inspirational posts from my blog This Mom Grows Up:
- Treasures in Jars of Clay
- Stones of Hope and Joy
- When Life is Not a Bowl of Cherries
- Knowing That She Hath Wings
- Hidden Treasures from Dark Places
Posts related to trauma from Watch the Shepherd:
- Guest Post by Susan Moore: Top 20 Very Best Things to Say to Someone Who is Struggling
- A Clump of Sadness :: Suicide Prevention Week
- Moving on from Broken - My Church and Life Transition Story
- Kyrie Eleison (Strength in Hymn)
- What to Do about Toxic Power in Marriage
- Five Things Home School Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages
- When Abuse Leads to Cynicism
- Mara's Story: Anger After Abuse
Poems from my blog Virginia's Life, Such as It Is:
It is my goal this spring and summer to research more about wisely caring for other people. I want to be one who help them move toward healing and fulfillment and success in life, just as I am trying to do in my own life.
One of the books I plan to buy soon is Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Dr. Diane Langberg. I'd love to hear what other resources you have found helpful. Please leave a comment!
That's about all for now!
I'd love to hear your thoughts!