The Many Faces of PTSD

Frazzled nerves

Tortured Dreams

Choking tightness

Stifled Screams.

Mask On

Makeup Did

My Mind’s a Blur

I’m gonna pop my lid!

Frantic; racing heart

React to every fright.

Deep Breaths to calm my nerves,

When will I be alright?

Near, Far,

High, Low,

I don’t know how far I’ll go.

Cold sweats,

Nightmares,

Flash backs

Who cares?

Not myself,

Treading water

Foggy brain

What does it matter?

Trying desperately to stay afloat

I have nothing left to offer.

Sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Pull me to shore,

My strength gives out,

I fear I will surrender to the waves.

Give me your hope,

Give me your strength,

The Shepherd of a thousand hills,

Come carry me on your shoulders,

Until I can breathe again.

This is the first poem I have written since I was in high school. I used to write a lot of poetry as a child. There is something about the poetic form of expression that rings so much more true than simply writing in prose.

So, when I was trying to figure out how to describe what PTSD feels like in MY body (I can’t speak for others’ experiences), the Holy Spirit prompted me to try my hand at writing it in verse. Since this healing journey has lately brought to light my little girl self, I thought, heck, why not! I’m learning to embrace the absurd and trust the organic process of healing.

I wanted to write this poem and blog to help paint a picture of what it might feel like to live in my skin for a day. When you see someone suffering with mental illness, or recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (because you can recover from it) it’s very difficult to identify and also to know how they are suffering.

So, as always, let me start with a definition. I thought I would reference my workbook that I used 3 years ago when I first started this healing journey. I thought that I would use this time to work through it a second time, now that I’m in a different place, mentally and emotionally speaking.

This is a fabulous resource for anyone recovering from domestic abuse. Remember, abuse is not always physical! There is emotional, financial, mental, verbal, psychological, and sexual abuse as well. You can find this on Amazon.

According to the American Psychiatric Association 1994, “To be traumatized means that a person has experienced an intensely negative emotional reaction during a stressful event. Hence, a woman is a battered woman if she experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror during violence or abuse by an intimate partner. The intensity of the reaction to the violence is very important because only stressful events that evoke extremely strong negative reactions are likely to produce chronic depression and long-term stress reactions, as in PTSD (American Psychiatric Association 1994).

The book goes on to document what the term “battered” entails. “Most battered women with partner abuse-related PTSD have been traumatized by repeated acts of physical violence. Many of these women have also been traumatized by acts of psychological abuse, including death threats; stalking; sex abuse or coercion to have unwanted types of sex; kidnappings; physical restraint; badgering; harassment or repeated pressure to engage in a variety of unwanted behaviours; verbal cruelty; mistreatment of pets; financial control; property damage; and social isolation. In fact, some women are traumatized and develop PTSD in response to psychological abuse even if there has been no physical violence in the relationship.” (emphasis mine)

A woman doesn’t have to be hit to be abused. It comes in many forms.

I know this is a lot of information, but I want to bring awareness to those reading this of what the term “battered” means as well as what PTSD means so that I can share what it feels like in hopes that if you come into contact with a woman who has endured ANY form of abuse….and you will. The statistics show us that 1 in 4 women have been/are being abused. I also know that men can be abused as well, I’m not negating that fact, but I can only speak to my own experiences as a women struggling with abuse-induced PTSD.

I want to bring hope to women that PTSD is a learned behaviour and therefore can be unlearned. “PTSD symptoms are normal reactions to extreme stress. You are having these problems because of what happened to you – not because of anything about you.”

Healing from this feels like an up and down rollercoaster. I took a couple of pictures to try to capture a visual representation of how I can go from feeling joy and happiness, to a state of numbness, and into despair. This can occur in a matter of minutes sometimes or throughout the course of a single day or over a week. Sometimes my nerves feel like ants crawling under my skin, and my head is so thick that thinking about more than one thing at a time feels like I’m trudging through mud. Sometimes, when I know I have to go out for something, I have to conserve energy to prepare for that errand, knowing that it will take all of my strength to go to the grocery store or drop my child off at school.

FACE #1: A State of Numbness

During this state of numbness, I don’t feel anything. I don’t know what I like, what I don’t like. I can’t make simple decisions, like what I want to listen to. I had to ask my 14 year old daughter for help with music ideas when I was creating a running playlist, because if you ask me what my favourite song or artist is, I couldn’t tell you. I would ask you what yours is and base my answer off of your ideas.

In a numb state, my body feels lethargic, tired, exhausted, unmotivated and I don’t care about myself. In this state, I can live off of coffee, chai tea and Shakeology, along with a few of my Young Living Supplements. But to make actual food is too much work. I don’t care enough about my own health to make myself anything to eat when I am in the numb state. And everything irritates me. I can’t handle any stress and find myself yelling at my children for minor infractions. I don’t want to make my children meals, I don’t want to clean my house, I don’t want to run errands, nothing! I just want to sleep.

FACE #2: Sorrow

In this state, I feel the weight of my losses. After looking at myself in the mirror and not knowing who I am, I feel a great lament rise up and I begin to cry. How, at 37, am I here, standing in front of this mirror and not recognizing the woman staring back at me? How have I lived a lifetime keeping everyone else happy and not once thinking about what I might need? Then, the hot tears roll down because I don’t really even know what I need!

In my body, at this stage, my nerves feel frayed and jagged. I feel like I could snap, like one more loss or trauma or stress and I will completely implode and fall apart. My skin feels like it crawls and my neck/shoulders are so tight, I can’t take a deep breath.

FACE #3: Dust Myself Off

In this phase, I’ve had a good cry, I’ve grabbed something to eat, and I surround myself with the help and support of my loved ones and friends who have so bravely kept holding me up when I couldn’t stand upright.

I dust myself off, thank Jesus for holding me in my sorrow, and take His hand to take a step forward. I am reminded of all that I have been learning through my councilor, and research, that feelings are meant to be felt and that they don’t last forever. The sorrow and lament comes and goes, the joy comes and goes, and the journey on this winding road to healing continues on.

There are days on this journey when I feel good, like I can handle anything, and there are days when I have to sleep all afternoon to recover or go to bed early to sleep off the depressive mood.

This journey is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do! It’s much easier to just stay busy, pack my days full of activities, even good activities! But it’s in the resting that we find ourselves. When I rest, I get to see who I really am. The labels fall away and I am no longer mom, daughter, teacher, friend, colleague, or sister….I am just me; Kathleen! And when I face that little girl inside me, she makes me weep because I have let her down most of all. My councilor was so right when she told me that my anger and frustration don’t come from letting my children down….it comes from letting MYSELF down. I didn’t listen to my own gut, I pushed it down and ignored it for years and years because I thought it was the “right” thing to do. Well, I’m not going to do the “proper” thing anymore, I’m going to face my own demons and re-discover the Kathleen that God has made me to be!

Thanks for joining me on this journey to find out what it feels like to come home to yourself!

This is 37

Today is my birthday. The first day of December.

It was a beautiful, snowy day. The magical kind of snow with large flakes that seem to cover everything in a blanket of newness and white!

Today was an interesting day emotionally. I woke up tired, but after my coffee, I managed to get the kids off to school and I even went to the gym. Trying to get my son out the door has been somewhat challenging as of late. Since the Fall, he has struggled with anxiety and illness and sometimes a combination of both. This has made it especially difficult to get him to school. The moment my voice rises in frustration he’ll run off shouting, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. I can usually find him crying in his room.

Handling children who are processing trauma is a challenging task. It requires much patience and even more love and understanding. I am learning a lot from my son’s councilor about strategies that we can use to help alleviate his symptoms, but it still doesn’t deal with the underlying self-deprecating talk that he has. I wonder where it comes from?

Fast forward to after school drop-off and I’m at the gym. I want to go for a run. I find running a freeing exercise and so I put on my headphones and I turn on my favourite worship music and I run. I have enjoyed reading all of the amazing birthday wishes and I even get a phone call from my dad as I’m huffing and puffing. My spirits seem to be lifting as the serotonin and dopamine pump through my veins.

But, as I step off of the treadmill, I’m faced with seeing my profile in the mirror as I grab a mat to stretch. I am ashamed at how much my body has changed over the past few years. Just how much weight I’ve gained is shocking to me and I don’t really recognize the body that I’m in. I don’t really even remember how I even got here!

I find myself watching other women working out around me as I stretch, and I struggle to quiet the thoughts of self-hatred as I compare my body to those I see.

But, there is a still small voice inside me that whispers that even though I am overweight, I can still hold a plank for 90 seconds. I can still stretch and run and my body is not hindered because of the extra weight I carry. Sure, it’s not ideal and I hope to continue caring for the body that I have been given, but I also want to give it the grace it deserves.

My being overweight isn’t because I eat too much and am lazy, although for years I was called a “fat whale”, I don’t believe that anymore. I was at my smallest when I flew home and said goodbye to the abuse and the nightmare of a marriage. I was the smallest I had been and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t even recognize myself.

The weight loss was because I couldn’t eat. My nerves were shot when I was enduring the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. I lived off coffee and water and ate when I had time to shove something in my mouth. Most of my time was spent fielding accusations, trying to limit physical attacks, shield my children, and navigate the drug-induced psychosis of my husband. I also avoided people at work who were asking questions and spent a lot of time trying to cover things up. That took a lot of energy and I have to admit that I am completely exhausted. My body is telling me that it has had enough! And I want to honour the shell that God has given to me.

It starts with loving my body as it is. I had a precious friend remind me of how we (teachers) are taught to handle students in our classes who we know have faced trauma. We treat them with love, patience, kindness, and are calm with them. We don’t raise our voices or try to rush them.

So, why can’t I apply that same strategy to my own self? Why shouldn’t I look at my body, one that is so overweight that I barely recognize myself and say to it, “I love you. Thank you for enduring that stress and bringing me to this place. Thank you for continuing to stand up and handle my frazzled nervous system, my ravaged emotional rollercoasters, my foggy brain and my hyper-reactive tendencies.” Why can’t I say, hey, you may be overweight, but look at everything you have endured! Look how far you’ve brought me, body! I’m still able to do yoga, sure it’s uncomfortable with a gut that cuts off circulation, but that won’t last forever. I can still run 5km, I can still use the weights, I can still do sit-ups and push ups. I can still move my body, so why would I criticize it?

If you know someone or are someone who has endured abuse or a trauma in ANY form, I am here to remind you that you can treat yourself with grace and dignity. We don’t have to criticize the flesh that has brought us this far and endured so many traumas. Healing is a process. It’s a LONG process. I’m not going to lose my PTSD cushion over night. But, at least I know more about what cortisol does to the body. I now understand how chronic stress impacts us physically. At least now when I hit the gym, I don’t do it because I hate myself, but because I love myself and appreciate what I have come through. I refuse to flog myself when I don’t “stick to a routine” of exercises. Right now, my goals are simple. Go for a walk and do some yoga. If you feel like doing more great! If you don’t, that’s fine too! We all know movement boosts dopamine and serotonin which help to combat depression, so I try to put in my headphones, crank up the tunes or a podcast and walk for at least 30 minutes. And you know what, days like yesterday, I slept…..a lot! And I didn’t do any movement, and that is okay too! Look at what I have come through! I have had enough criticism and negativity to last me a lifetime. It’s time to treat myself with a little bit of grace. A little bit of kindness, a little bit of admiration and love. Because, at the end of the day, I have to live with myself, not anyone else. And I want to get to the place where I look in the mirror and love what I see. I want to love what I have become through this transformative process. I want to discover the Kathleen that God designed. I truly want to feel at home in my own skin.

Even When It Hurts

I learned about dissociation this week.

I asked my councilor why I am struggling so much to dig deeper under the surface of my heart. Why can’t I talk to God? Why can’t I tap into the pain that lurks below the surface? Why do I feel like I’m blocked off from my feelings?

Dissociation is a break in how your mind handles information. You may feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect your sense of identity and your perception of time.

My councilor told me that there is a series of actions that take place before dissociation begins. She gave me the following analogy:

  1. Stress: Think of an infant. If a baby is hungry or needs a diaper change, it cries out for help because it is helpless. There are two possible outcomes. The first is that the child’s mother or father or caregiver comes to help the baby and meet the child’s need. This will bring the stress response down, calm the child, and bring the child back to homeostasis. (Homeostasis is an organism’s process of maintaining a stable internal environment suitable for sustaining life. This is where your nervous system is calm and at rest with no fight/flight/freeze response. You are calm and feel safe.) If there is no suitable caregiver to respond to the child’s cries, the child will move to the next phase of the stress response.

2. Distress: At this stage, the child will cry louder, desperate to be heard. Desperate for its needs to be met. Again, if there is a loving, nurturing caregiver, the child can return to homeostasis. But, if the child’s needs are still not met at this stage of the stress response, it will move to the third stage.

3. Dissociation: At this stage in the stress response, the child has learned that crying won’t help it and so it separates itself from its needs. In essence, it believes that it no longer has any needs to cry about. This is where the child stops crying, stops whimpering, and stops trying to get attention because no one has come to help them when they did cry.

Now, this is a crude representation of the stress response. I am no psychologist or therapist, this is for my own personal development, but this definitely helps me understand why I can’t dig into my deeper memories, emotions, and thoughts. For years, I have pushed them aside and stayed active and busy to distract myself from them because I believed that if I met everyone else’s needs and ignored my own, than I would be happy.

Turns, out, I was deadly wrong. And now, I’m paying the price. I suffer from PTSD caused by domestic abuse over a 12 year marriage. I have started to build the foundation of a new life over the past 3 years and now that I don’t have to fight for mere survival, I have the capacity to learn how to move beyond survival. But first, I have to deal with my anxiety and dissociation.

The first step I have put into action is to listen on repeat to songs that speak to me to help me to get into the frame of mind to be able to shake off the distractions of single parenting and get into a place of safety where I can go deeper and lean into my pain a little more.

This is the song I chose today:

Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)

Hillsong UNITED

Take this fainted heart
Take these tainted hands
Wash me in your love
Come like grace again

Even when my strength is lost
I’ll praise you
Even when I have no song
I’ll praise you
Even when it’s hard to find the words
Louder then I’ll sing your praise

I will only sing your praise

Take this mountain weight
Take these ocean tears
Hold me through the trial
Come like hope again

Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise you
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise you
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing your praise

I will only sing your praise
I will only sing your praise
I will only sing your praise
I will only sing your praise

And my heart burns only for you
You are all you are all I want
And my soul waits only for you
And I will sing till the…

The ember remains. There is still a remnant of hope. We are never hopeless.

Jeremiah 17:14 Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.

This exercise allows me to sit with the feelings and memories I have tried so desperately to escape from. I hope to continue to chronical my journey as I dig deep and sort through the muck of pain caused by repeated trauma.

“Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise you
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise you
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing your praise”

Today, this song will be my voice. This process is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Taking this step today feels like I’m taking charge of this journey and going in the right direction, even if it hurts.

A Smoldering Ember is all that Remains

I have been struggling.

Specifically, I’m struggling with my mental health.

I thought I had it all under control.

I thought I was “on the road to healing”.

I thought that I had overcome my darkest demons.

But, the truth seems to be glaringly different from what I “thought”.

I find it disappointingly ironic how I experience things so differently from what I think they are supposed to be like. It kind of reminds me that life isn’t at all like the movies. Not even remotely.

I was always a romantic, dreamy-eyed young girl. I would sit for hours in my room reading books, listening to music, and writing poetry. Oh, to be that sweet, innocent young woman again. The one who dreamed unreservedly. The one who believed that life had so much good to give her. The one who day dreamed about far off adventures that awaited her and believed in the goodness of the human heart. That real love existed and fairy tales were based on true stories.

I would love to hug her tightly to my breast to just breathe in all of her hope and light and weightlessness. To breathe in her childish innocence and sweetness. I can see it in my minds’ eye as I write this. My arms are around her as we sit on a chintz comforter in a pink room with a bed of softness and pillows and comfort and warmth all around us. I can feel the warm tears roll down my weathered cheek and onto the child’s soft, nest-like hair. The virgin hair that hasn’t been dyed, or coiffed to make her look more mature or sophisticated. A childish purity remains in tact and that brings hot, fresh tears afresh.

I weep not for her now, but for who she will become.

I weep for her undoing. Her breaking. Her shattering.

I weep for the pain she will endure.

I lament the violent death of her dreams.

I weep for her abandoned spirit.

I weep for her trampled desires.

I mourn the loss of her lightness.

Her light will be too bright for some. It will reveal the darkness that lurks in the corners of this dangerous world. Her light will attract a wolf dressed as a sheep.

Her light will slowly dim over the years until there is but a glowing ember remaining.

A shell of woman is all she will have left; a stranger that she can’t recognize will stare back at her in the mirror. Eyes vacant of life. A body that goes through the motions of life without really living. A corpse among the living of this world. A fraud.

I mourn for the loss of what could have been and for what has been.

I loved that little girl. I think I would have loved to have been her friend.

I wish I could tell her that her gentle spirit will be of great value to her, but in reality, I should warn her to guard her heart more closely. To put up the walls sooner. To shelter in place. To hug her light closer, tighter. Tell her not to share it with everyone. Not everyone can handle her gentle spirit. They will rip it out of her and stomp on it.

But in the same breath, I realize that that little girl lives on inside this old, frail, shell of a woman. The smoldering ember lives on in me. I have yet to fan it into flame.

The Jaded Heart

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

-William Congreve

 

Oh, how bitter the taste of rejection tastes as its insidious bile regurgitates in my mouth.

NEVER would I have believed that I could possibly be the woman scorned.

I once believed in all the romantic fantasies of girlhood.  Mistakenly perhaps? Or possibly naïve thinking that true love is real and that I would one day find it and be able to prove to the world that indeed true love actually exists!

Oh, how bitterly those thoughts roll off my tongue. The mere thought of love, marriage, and romance makes me want to spew the words out of my mouth. Those words hold only bitterness and disgust; I don’t even want to speak them.

I was once the woman that adored attending weddings. I always liked to watch the groom as he caught the first glimpse of his glorious bride. I lived for the moment of betrothal and cried when the vows were said.

Now, I’m the bitter old maid who can’t even bear the thought of looking at wedding pictures! I hate myself for not being able to feel the joy and thrill of women who are engaged or planning weddings.  The thought of attending a wedding shower makes me feel physically ill.  I am in all intents and purposes utterly and completely jaded!

Jaded: the end result of having a steady flow of negative experiences, disappointments, and unfulfillment fed into a person where they get to the point where their anger circuits just sort of burn out and they accept disillusionment (disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believe it to be).

-The Urban Dictionary

It’s a shock to even admit it, but I know when the desire to write overtakes me and I can no longer deny the girl inside me crying out “WRITE!” that I must pen the raw, undeniable feelings within.

The heart is a fickle thing. Some days I wish I could simply rip it from my chest.  It would be easier to not feel anything than to feel the sharp edges of this jaded heart.

The root? What makes a woman jaded?  Anger.  I’m fairly certain that after lamentation comes pure, red hot anger. At first, it seems I’m just angry at men in general, but if I take the time to work it through, I’m really just completely outraged by one. The one who rejected me.

How dare he?

How could he?

Why would he be so careless?

How could he be so cruel?

I throw my fist in the air as I scream out to God, “This is not fair! This is not just!  Where is the justice in this?  Why haven’t you done something to deal with him? Why doesn’t he have to pay for what he’s done?”

As I hear more stories of betrayal and adultery and divorce, I can’t help but rent my heart at the injustice of it all.

Why do women constantly have to suffer at the hands of careless men?

Why do we have to pay the price for their misdeeds?

Why is it okay to exploit the love of a woman? All we ever want to do is love you!  We were designed to be help-mates, why do men desire, in turn, to dominate and lord their power over women?  How is that justice? How is that fair?

And I want to scream at God that if He is really in control, then why are all these things happening?

My heart burns red-hot with passion to want to make this right!  Oh, how my heart is enraged!

Hate and fury spew out of the center of my heart of jade. My painful experiences are the sculptor who chips away with his chisel tiny pieces of my heart and I become utterly desperate for a balm.  My heart is on fire and I need the spiritual fire department to put out the flames that have engulfed my heart.

Never have I been an angry woman.  For almost two years I have secretly been so proud of the fact that I have been able to control my anger throughout this journey. But now the flames of bitterness burn out of control.  I want so badly to scream out in rage at the injustice done to me and to so many women! Not just women I know but all over this country and around the world!

I have read stories of women dying at the hands of the men they once intimately loved.  Men they shared their entire lives with.

I have heard of women fleeing to shelters with their children with just the clothes on their backs because they are afraid for their lives.

I have read articles of women beaten and bruised, manipulated and harassed, drugged and raped, exploited through sex trafficking. Why? What have we done wrong? All we want, all we really want is to love and be loved in return.

All I wanted to do in my marriage was to love my husband and raise and my children with love and freedom.  I gave everything I had in pursuit of this dream. Maybe I should call it a fantasy? There was no way I could have pleased him. Nothing I could do or say to make him love me. And yet, I bled and died at his hands yet I kept coming back for more. Like an insane person, I believed that if I just tried harder, if I could just cook better, be a better lover, clean the house perfectly, be skinnier, be prettier, be sexier, be someone I thought he needed me to be, than he would love me.

It makes me sick to even think about the lengths I went for this man.

It will be two years this week. Two years since I stepped onto that airplane with just two suitcases, two thousand dollars, my two beautiful children, and no plan but to just get home. All I knew was that I had to go home. I had nothing left to give; I was empty, a shell of a woman. Looking in the mirror I was unrecognizable. I didn’t even know what I looked like never mind who I was on the inside.

Two years. It has gone by in a flash and yet some days and weeks have felt like years.

My healing journey has been an emotional roller-coaster. I have ridden the death-defying journey of fear and realized that courage means doing things afraid. One can continue taking brave steps forward even while feeling crippling fear.

I have surfed the waves of anxiety and lived to tell you that anxiety, though debilitating, can be overcome or at least tamed.

The gravitron of grief did not drown me, though there were days when I wasn’t so sure.

Sadness and lamentation have been a constant friend along with loneliness, isolation and regret. A blanket of emotion that some days weighs heavier than others.

Now, my journey has led me here, to bitterness. The truth I can speak is that the heart can be such a versatile thing. I can feel unabashedly jaded and purely content all at the same time. The heart is a fickle thing, indeed.

How does one survive the fires of hatred and bitterness that spew from the jaded heart?

How does one resolve the unresolvable?

How does one justify the injustice?

Will this be my undoing?

How long will I have to set up camp here before I can move to the next phase?

Surely something better awaits?

First, I must face my foe. I must sink deep into this jaded heart and learn what God wants to teach me through this.

This is the most difficult emotion I think I’ve had to face thus far on my healing journey.

Fear, sadness, grief, anxiety, they all necessitate reliance on God for the strength to get through. They are emotions that force me to reach out for help.

But anger, oh boy, anger is another creature altogether! Congreve was so right, hell has no fury compared to a scorned woman!  Taming the beast of anger is not the same as overcoming fear or anxiety. Anger begs to be seen.  It wants to ravage everything in its path.  The flames of bitterness seek to lick up all the goodness and love that surround it in order to devour it, burn it to ashes.

Taming this beast has brought me fighting tooth and nail, kicking and screaming to the cross. I don’t want to ask God how to deal with anger because how could He possibly understand what I’m feeling? How could He possibly know betrayal intimately? How could He even remotely relate to my experiences?  Plus, don’t I have the right to feel this rage after everything I’ve been through?

All that being said, I don’t want to be the bitter woman I have become. Oh, how I desperately want to cure this jaded heart! Oh, how I long to be genuinely happy for folks who have found love and want to share it with the world through marriage.  Oh, how I long to be able to look at wedding photos and not feel the coals within my chest ignite with the spark of bitterness. Oh, how I long to be able to listen to a love song and not sneer at the lyrics and belittle the songwriter.

I am determined to get through this stage. I want to know what’s on the other side of this!  I want to know how to overcome this hurtle.

So, as I fight through the fires of bitterness to get to God with my burning questions, I realize something.  I realize that it is my own heart betraying me, not God.

Jesus understands betrayal and injustice because He was betrayed and judged for something He never did, and He paid for it with his life! And it was my sin that put Him there and it was His pure, unvarnished love for me that kept Him there.

How did Jesus deal with a jaded heart? He is the example I wish to follow, so how did He handle it?

FORGIVENESS

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

(Matthew 18:21-22)

So, now I have to do something I don’t want to do and every cell in my being screams at me that there is no way I can forgive the man.

Forgiveness means he gets away with it. Where is the justice in that?

And Jesus’ nail pierced hands come to mind. His murderers were never brought to justice. As He died on the cross he cried out to God, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

WHOA.

If Jesus can forgive the people who unjustly subjected Him to torture, persecution and death, how can I not forgive the person who unjustly wronged me?

Forgiveness doesn’t change what he did, but it can change my jaded heart.

I FORGIVE YOU spits from my tongue like a bitter tincture and I don’t like it. It feels uncomfortable and wrong. Why am I doing something that doesn’t feel right or just or fair?

But I choose what is right over how I feel and so I say it again, and again, and again.

I am choosing to forgive because it is the pathway to life, and I have experienced enough death.  I want to feel alive and well.  If I continue to repeat I FORGIVE YOU over and over, one day I will feel it.  For now, though, I’m thankful for the small crack that has formed on the edge of my jaded heart.

There is hope. God will avenge me in His time. I need not take matters into my own hands.

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

One day, that crack of forgiveness will be the crevice that shatters this heart of stone and bitterness and hatred will be just another step on this long journey to healing and restoration.

“Freedom only comes when two things happen.  First the wound must be brought into the light, exposed before God.  As long as it remains hidden, the enemy has the power to use it to harass an individual… Secondly, the truth of God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance must replace the lies in the mind of the believer.”     (pp. 74,75 Wounded. Terry Wardle)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Lament

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

 The words of Horatio Spafford’s timeless hymn roll through my mind on repeat.  Knowing the pain that birthed this beloved hymn serves as a reminder that no matter how great one’s faith is, it does not spare any of us from adversity.

I have been on a journey of lament over the past few months. A journey that has indeed brought me into the throne room many times on my knees if not fully prostrate on the ground in utter brokenness before my God. Always believing sadness to be a “bad” emotion, something that makes me weak, I have been avoiding opening the door that leads into the heart of “the great sadness”.  Through wisdom and prodding from my spiritual community, I was introduced to lament as being an integral part of the healing process as well as a part of our faith.  So, I started to dig deeper into what the lamentation process is all about.

Lament is defined as a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow” [1] or “to mourn aloud; to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often demonstratively”.[2]

In every definition of lament that I read, many of the synonyms reflected an action such as wailing, crying, groaning, weeping, sobbing.  A physical demonstration of the inward pain that we are feeling.  Therefore, there must be something to this carnal need within me to break and weep uncontrollably, and I dug further still into the depths of faith because aren’t we as Christians supposed to be happy all the time? Why, when going through cavernous trials, do we put on masks of perfection just to go to church?  Where is there room for lamentation in our worship services? Why are we not taught more about this?

I have often pondered this while sitting in church, unable to sing the hymns of praise to my precious Lord because I couldn’t get the words of joy up and out of my mouth.  They were clogged behind the doorway of sadness that weighed so heavily in my soul, choked out by sobs. It is so difficult to sing words of joy and gladness when the shadow of sorrow has enveloped one’s life.

It made me feel almost guilty, ashamed that I could not bring forth the joy that I know my faith is supposed to invoke. Realizing from wise counsel I sought along this journey, that lamentation is part of our faith, it’s right in the Bible, there is an entire book of the Bible called Lamentations for a reason!  They gave me the freedom to weep, mourn and wail for all I have lost. To fully break before God and know that lamentation is actually a very important part of my healing journey.  One must enter into this place of darkness in order to experience the joy and freedom that awaits on the other side of it.

So, dropping my bags of burden at the door, I opened the door to the deep place in my soul where no one goes, crossed the threshold and curled up with Jesus in a whole new place I never even knew existed within me. There in the breaking, I experienced healing I have never known and struggle to put into words. It is there is the wailing and mourning that Jesus held me fast and would not let me go. It is there in the depths of my soul that Jesus spoke into my very being. It is there as I wept in His embrace that I felt the love only the Saviour can give.

He whispered, His words like honeycomb to my beat-up and weary soul. In the depths of despair, He just sat with me, His arms embracing me as I wailed bitterly.  There are no words that can describe lament, its quite plainly put, a spiritual groaning. And as Jesus held me through it there was such peace at the end of it. Knowing that I am loved despite all of my shortcomings, despite all of my strivings to be enough, to hold it all together, to wear the mask of perfectionism…it was here in the caverns of my soul that I found true rest and peace in the darkness of my lamentation.

There is such beauty in the breaking. There is such love that defies all logic that meets us at the core of who we are. Such love that whispers…You are mine…You are my masterpiece…just as you admire the sunset and stand in awe of its sheer beauty, so I adore seeing you, my beloved.

 Often in our sorrow we feel invisible, alone, isolated. The thing I love most about this journey into lamentation is that there is always a “but”; there is always hope.

 Joy has left our hearts;

Our dancing has turned to mourning,

The garlands have fallen from our heads.

Weep for us because we have sinned.

Our hearts are sick and weary,

And or eyes grow dim with tears.

For Jerusalem is empty and desolate,

A place haunted by jackals.

 

But LORD, you remain the same forever!

Your throne continues from generation to generation…

Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again!

Give us back the joys we once had!

Lamentations 5:15-21 (emphasis mine)

 

I was given a bracelet last week that had a card with it and it reads “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”.

Hope: to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment[3]

We have hope!

Yet I still dare to hope

When I remember this:

The faithful love of the LORD never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is His faithfulness;

His mercies begin afresh each morning.

I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my inheritance;

Therefore, I will hope in Him!

Lamentations 3:21-24

Despite our sorrows, despite our trials and tribulations, despite our lack of understanding why; we have a beautiful HOPE.  We are never alone in our suffering, we have a Saviour who suffered and knows suffering intimately and longs to hold us through our lamentation. In some ways, I am grateful for the sufferings, because they have brought me closer, into a more intimate relationship with my Saviour. I have experienced His love, His strength to hold me up through the breaking process, His grace to shelter me through the storm, to protect me from shame or embarrassment, and to simply be able to embrace this season in my life.

If you are suffering, know that you are not alone. Know that as you open the door of lamentation, that you will be met with great joy as our Saviour longs to see you and hold you; to give you grace and hope!

 

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=define+lament&rlz=1C1GCEA_enCA779CA779&oq=define+lament&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.9158j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lament

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

The Great Sadness Overshadowed by The Great Hope

Christmas carols are one of my favourite things about the Advent season. I love sitting and contemplating the words of these ancient ballads.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” floated through my consciousness the other day and I stopped to consider the lyrics.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day

To Save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Many years ago I read that there is a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness depends on “happenings” or circumstances in your life, but joy is rooted in something much more powerful and cannot be swayed by the ups and downs of life. Joy can still be had even amidst the greatest of sorrows. Joy comes from God. From His eternal wellspring of hope.

We have the joy of the Lord that goes with us into even the darkest of circumstances, but for months I couldn’t sense happiness. Now, I realize that happiness is a little more superficial than joy because happiness depends on your “happennings” or the circumstances I’m facing. However, after months of surviving and just making it by, I was desperate to feel happy. I called out to the Lord time and time again.  Now don’t get me wrong, the joy of the Lord was definitely with me. I could sense His peace and His joy, but my daily life was missing that final touch, happiness. I felt a little foolish praying about feeling more happy, but I knew that God would understand my heart and so I prayed. And then one day, I woke up and for no apparent reason, I felt happy!  God had answered my prayers! Now, happiness comes and goes like the ebb and flow of the waves on the seashore, but I was so excited to finally sense happiness returning to my body.

As I was walking to the car after dropping the kids off one day, I got this sense that I should be downcast and depressed. Sometimes the waves of self-loathing wash over me and I am tempted to believe the lies that I am no good, that no one could ever love me, that I am ugly and overweight and that I will always struggle with my self-esteem so why even try to work at overcoming it?  And as I wrestled with these thoughts, the verse of the day came up on my phone and I read it. I stopped dead in my tracks. How could a verse be so timely ordained to bring the needed encouragement to my wounded soul? Zephaniah 3:17 spoke richly to my tormented mind:

“…The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” NKJV

I don’t need any ‘one’ to be impressed with me or to think I’m beautiful or to tell me that I’m great and wonderful. I have God and He delights in me. It brought a smile to my face, like the scripture had entrusted me with a little secret that I could cherish forever in my heart. Like Mary, who “pondered all these things and hid them in her heart”, the little nuggets of truth that God gives us can be our own secret weapons to fight back the darkness.

Did you catch the magnitude of this?

My God will rejoice over me with gladness. 

My God will quiet me with His love. 

My God will rejoice over me with singing! 

God literally sings for joy over my simply being alive! I didn’t have to earn His favour, or do anything for Him to delight in me. He simply delights in me because I am His.

When you suffer abuse at the hands of the man who is supposed to honour and cherish you, who is supposed to forsake all others and provide an environment of safety and security for you and your children, it’s like all the things that are supposed to be normal aren’t.  Your world becomes the opposite reflection of what it should be or was intended to be. In other words, you live in a world of opposites.

So, when I broke my silence and started sharing my story, I finally realized that what I had experienced wasn’t normal at all. And I knew what I went through wasn’t normal, but it had become my normal. The reactions on people’s faces when I shared what I had endured, made me realize the gravity of what I had gone through. It made me take stock of what really went on. With this realization comes the gamut of emotions and The Great Sadness becomes an unwelcome friend.

In William P. Young’s novel, The Shack, his main character struggles with carrying the weight of grief that accompanies losing a child. He calls this burden “The Great Sadness”.  Time and time again I have used this phrase to describe the blanket of sorrow that covers me, that weighs me down, that causes me to stop and consider where these deep emotions are buried.

The beauty of humanity is that we all carry some form of this “Great Sadness”, whether it be a frightening health diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one, or a tragic accident.  Every single one of us walking this earth has a loss or pain so great that it overwhelms us at times.  Sometimes it takes me by surprise and other times, I know the Great Sadness will envelop me, like at holiday times. As I stand and watch parents out shopping for their children, I wonder, do they know how blessed they are to be able to do that together?  And then the loneliness sets in and I feel the effects of abandonment rage within me.  I wasn’t meant to do this parenting thing alone! I am not equipped to make all the decisions about children, and schooling and Christmas presents, and extra-curriculars alone! How could this be happening? This is not at all what I intended for my life.

Then, the words of the famous Christmas carol ring in my ears….let NOTHING you dismay….I have to stop and ponder. What about abandonment? Should that not cause me dismay? What about other precious people that are suffering at this time of year? What about the woman who miscarried?  What about the family whose child was just diagnosed with cancer? What about the parent who just found out they have Alzheimers?  I could go on an on, fill in your great sadness here……….should we not have a reason to be dismayed?

But God knew, in His infinite wisdom, that this life would be devastatingly difficult. He knew that the burden of sin would be too much for us to bear, and so He sent Jesus, His own son, to save us, so that we wouldn’t have to walk through our Great Sadness alone.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

Jesus, born in a manger, became flesh to dwell among us.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

But He was pierced for our transgressions,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

He was crushed for our iniquities;

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

The punishment that brought us peace was on Him,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

and by His wounds we are healed.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

There must be a reason that God calls it a “wellspring”.  It’s like the more trials I endure the more this hope just keeps rising up within me.  It’s like a bubbling brook that started out as a small trickle, barely conceivable, but now, 14 months into my healing journey, it has become a swiftly flowing creek that cannot be stifled.

When the pain of our circumstances is excruciating and too much for us to bear, we can take comfort in our Great Hope.  It is more powerful and more potent than our Great Sadness. It is the wellspring that rises up within us at times when we feel nothing but sorrow and pain and suffering. We have hope!  We have a Saviour! We have a Divine Helper to hold our hand and carry us through the most difficult of days!

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NIV)

 

The Woman in the Mirror

It sounds foreign. Like it’s coming from a place within myself that I don’t recognize.  And maybe it’s not that I don’t recognize it as much as I can’t.  The words “I was abused” crawl off my tongue heavy, and dripping with shame.  Tears immediately spring to my eyes. The word “abuse” carries so much weight to it.  I struggle to even write it! So much so that I wrestle to understand that buried place within myself that allowed someone to violate my body in such a way that my neck is curving the opposite way as it should. Having to explain this to my massage therapist who has noticed after our first session that something is up with the vertebrae in my neck.

It reminds me of the time 6 months ago when I finally went to a chiropractor. He was the first medical care professional I told about the physical abuse I had endured. When you say it out loud to a stranger for the first time, it sounds so sterile. Like a cold, hard fact. Something that just is. Not wrapped in warm, loving feelings of friendship around a cup of tea and a warm hug; but bare-bones reality.

Both times the words stuck in my throat like a rock had lodged itself back behind my tongue and I had to force the air up out of my lungs to produce the sound.  And both times my eyes welled up with tears.  The emotions are still there. After 12 months of healing, the emotions are still there, riding just under the surface.  They lay dormant under the emotional salves and spiritual poultices I’ve been putting on my wounds.  Though the wounds can no longer be seen, the scars remain.

In this case though, the evidence is still there in the x-rays. You can’t deny the truth when it stares you directly in the face, when you are forced to confront the gravity of what has taken place. It’s like the first time I went to get my hair cut after my return home.  A simple, innocent question about new hair growth and, “had I noticed any hair loss recently?” turns into a blunt answer of, “maybe it’s from being ripped out of my head”, accompanied by a dark laugh that comes from a place within me I don’t recognize.  And the stinging tears come again. The words, like a dagger, piercing straight and true.

Truth is like that.  When it’s naked and said without pretense, it can take your breath away. Especially when it’s your own self saying it back to you.

I don’t know or understand this woman inside of me that keeps striking me with the truth.  It’s like she’s locked away inside my psyche and it’s not that I don’t want to meet her or face her, it’s that it’s easier to ignore her.

It’s easier to fill my mind with all the logical ways of healing.

It’s easier to read about “Why he Does What He Does” and learn about strategies to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than to really dig into the side of myself that allowed such outrageous abuse to happen to herself.

Maybe I can’t face her because I think she is weak. Only weak women are abused….right? How could she let herself be lulled into the perpetual cycle of pain/hope that things will get better/honeymoon phase/pain strikes again?  Who in their right mind would be so foolish?

I watched a Ted Talk video about why women stay in abusive relationships.  I have attached the link for anyone interested in knowing more about this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1yW5IsnSjo

I meet all of the requirements for why women stay.

  1. I was young when I met my husband
  2. I thought I was “helping” him
  3. I didn’t recognize his behavior as abuse.

No one comes up to you and points out to you that what he is doing is abuse. And honestly, who would know what he was doing because I was lying to cover up his behavior all the time. It wasn’t until I was seated on an airplane on my way home that I FINALLY saw the light. I was finally able to admit that what was being done to me had a name.  It could be compartmentalized and explained. And once I could call it what it was, I could start the healing journey of recovery.  I really wasn’t losing my mind. I was coming to my senses!  Thank God for that still-small-voice to whisper healing into my tortured mind and spirit.

So who is this woman in the mirror staring back at me? My counselor tells me that she is the younger, childish version of myself. The vulnerable, sensitive, hopeful girl I have long forsaken.  My counselor also suggests that I need to start addressing the woman in the mirror when I look at her. To tell her and reassure her that everything is okay.  To thank her for being strong and helping me through my pain.

I have a very difficult time with this. If I speak to her, I have to admit she exists. And if she exists, then why didn’t she stop all of this from getting so out of control?

Maybe she is a part of my development that I missed as I skipped straight from adolescence to motherhood.  My girlish side, the vulnerable side of myself that I haven’t faced because I’ve been too busy surviving for the past 12 years. Been too busy trying to cover up someone else’s lies.  Been too busy finishing university and working to pay bills, and parenting the majority of the time on my own.

Most days I look in the mirror and recognize the woman staring back at me. But days like today, I don’t know this woman. I recognize the face and the features.  The blue eyes, the long face and nose; but I don’t truly recognize her.  I don’t KNOW her.

This is the story of my reformation.

This is the story of my journey to find out who this woman in the mirror truly is.

 

 

Breaking the Silence

The words of Elie Wiesel resonate with me as I write my first ever blog post.  I have been nudged and prodded by the Holy Spirit to write about my experiences as a way of bringing not only closure for my own journey; but also support and encouragement to women who may be enduring hardships that are similar to what I have endured.

Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor and it took him 10 years of silence before he was able to even verbalize the atrocities he witnessed, experienced, and survived.

“I wanted to be sure to find the words, the right words,” Wiesel said. “I’m not sure I did. I have doubts. To this day I have doubts, because there are no words.” [1]

There is something deeply unsettling and unnatural about trauma. It’s not what God had designed for us when He created us. We were not meant to carry the burdens we often carry, and in this unnatural state, we don’t have the vocabulary to be able to communicate properly what we truly have endured.

My prayer is that by breaking my silence, as Wiesel finally was able to do when he wrote his memoir, Night, is that I may be able to shed light on circumstances and experiences that some women face. And by so doing, allow us to move forward in community and support for women who are facing trauma and trials right here in our own communities.

To pretend that abuse and harassment don’t exist doesn’t help us deal with the issues, it only sweeps them under the carpet and causes the woman who is living in an abusive relationship more shame and disillusionment, believing herself to be completely alone. I realize that Wiesel was talking about human injustice in a different context than domestic abuse, but I want to parallel the truth that human injustice exists in the homes around us as well, and our greatest enemy is indifference! When we pretend it isn’t happening and refuse to address the issues because they make us uncomfortable, we simply perpetuate the cycle.

Wiesel states, “I came to a conclusion that the peril threatening human kind today is indifference, even more than hatred. There are more people who are indifferent than there are people who hate. Hate is an action. Hate takes time. Hate takes energy. And even it demands sacrifices. Indifference is nothing, but indifference to hatred is encouraging hatred, and is justifying hatred. So what we must do — I mean your peers and mine – is fight indifference.”[2]

Today marks one year since I walked away from a 12 year marriage. A marriage that I spent 12 years of my life trying to love a man who couldn’t love himself and therefore lacked the capacity to love me.  I tried desperately to love him into health and wholeness.  As I have spent much of the last year reflecting on this relationship and its inevitable demise, there are many things I have learned.  One major thing I have learned from all of this is that even though my marriage has failed, I am not a failure. I have a gracious Heavenly Father that delights in me and is in the process of turning the ashes of my broken life into a beautiful new life. He is granting me beauty for ashes because though divorce was never on my list of life-goals; my God is willing and able to take the shambles and broken pieces and turn them into a beautiful work of art.

Psalm 18:16 -18 says,

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

I just adore the last line of that passage, read it again. “…he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

A woman who has been told repeatedly all kinds of lies about herself, no matter how strong and self-confident, eventually starts to believe that these lies might be true. She starts to believe…

“Maybe I am not worthy of love”

“Maybe I am not beautiful”

“Maybe if I work hard enough for my husband’s affection, he will love me”

“Maybe I have to work for God’s affection”

“Maybe I have to prove myself through being perfect. If I can be perfect for my husband, my family, and for God, than I will be lovable.”

These are lies, but they are thoughts that plague women in abusive situations daily.

I am here to tell you that those lies, all of them, are FALSE! God says right there in His word that He DELIGHTS in YOU!

  • Even in the midst of a messed-up life, He still DELIGHTS in you.
  • Even when your world feels like its crumbling around you, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • Even when you can’t put two coherent thoughts together to form clear communication, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When the laundry is unfinished and the sink is filled with dirty dishes, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When you have indulged in one too many sweets and couldn’t fit in any exercise, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When you feel like you are living duplicate lives, happy on the outside and dying on the inside, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When you have expended all you are to your family and have absolutely nothing left to give, He DELIGHTS in you!

You are lovely to God simply because you are HIS! He crafted you in His image because he wants to walk with you through your pain and your trials and your broken and your hurt and your chaos.

Let’s stop believing the lies, ladies, and start believing the truth about who we are and WHOSE we are.

Let’s stop living in a world of indifference and let’s step into each other’s messy lives and get dirty caring for one another’s hurts and brokenness. It’s time. It’s time to speak love into each other; to make time to sit down and have a cup of tea with our fellow woman because we were created for community. Together, we can break the silence by breaking bread together. Together we can stop the plague of indifference.

[1] http://www.wbur.org/news/2014/02/10/elie-wiesel-visionaries

[2] http://www.wbur.org/news/2014/02/10/elie-wiesel-visionaries