We are survivors

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Fixing Our Form

Yesterday when I was running, I saw my shadow and realized I quite resemble Phoebe when I run. Embarrassing. So today, I fixed my form. By fixing my form alone, I shaved off 25 seconds per mile from my pace!

In regard to healing from our trauma, maybe all we need is to adjust our form. Pull our elbows in, straighten our backs, and lengthen our strides. Do the coping skills our therapists tell us, choose to make changes that will lead to a recovery. Open our mouths and move our limbs when our brains say our bodies should be frozen. Eat healthy foods to nourish our bodies.

Some days I do not want to make the effort. Change is hard. But it took almost no effort for me to fix my running form. My breathing was nearly the same and my bad knee doesn’t hurt like it usually does! Maybe, just maybe it doesn’t take much effort to start making healthy strides towards healing. And if we make the smallest of changes, perhaps we will see that all of a sudden our bum knee isn’t bum anymore; our breathing is regulated; and we have reached the finish line without realizing.

And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. -Hebrews 12:1

Photo credit: hungryrunnergirl.com

One Tree At A Time

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For the past year and seven months since I’ve begun having regular flashbacks, I have been hell-bent on being heard, asking questions, and demanding answers. I went into therapy with “A” for the specific purpose of diving headlong into my past, willing myself to come through on the other side as a survivor. A continued to ask me to slow down, but listened and allowed me to process my past at the pace I deemed necessary, and the more I processed, the more trauma-focused I became. I couldn’t purge it fast enough; it was nice to be heard and validated. It was nice to feel safe.

A year later, I came through on the other side, and had quit seeing A for a month or two. Through a series of events over the past few months, not only did my PTSD symptoms return, they seemed to double in force. I returned to A, who stated my symptoms were beyond her expertise, and she recommended I be evaluated for some sort of intensive outpatient program. I jumped around to several therapists until I found a therapist who specializes in trauma, and who is a Christian.

I do not know exactly why my symptoms have slowed drastically since this change in therapists, and it is probably for several reasons. However, her technique is vastly different that even I have been trained in (including her asking so many questions I do not have the ability to think long enough to shut down in session). I have been seeing her weekly for over a month, and we have not delved into my past at all. She uses metaphors with me. The first one was of me running a marathon, and that me falling prey to my symptoms was like me veering off-course. She said her goal is to help me process the trauma while I stay on course, without me spiraling into what I had before. She also likened this process as me walking into the woods; if I look ahead at all the woods, I’d be terrified and overwhelmed. Our goal is to process one tree at a time, and though it is hard to walk into the woods, she would give me the tools to conquer just one tree at at time.

Finally, last session she told me I was ready to begin the slow process of approaching a tree. She recommended several books, including the two I chose, “On The Threshold of Hope” by Diane Langberg, and Not Marked by Mary DeMuth (I chose this one because Mary is writing from the perspective of a survivor and her husband is writing from the perspective of husband of survivor; I want my husband to be able to come alongside as best he can). “C” told me to read in very small increments, and if I started to feel any anxiety at all, I was to close the books immediately and distract myself. Not only would this build my tolerance and strengthen my ability to control symptoms, it would give me a sense of choice and control that I had lost in my trauma.

I am trying to take one page at a time, just as I am trying to take one day at a time. I have been fairly level, but extremely sensitive to triggers. However, if I can remove and isolate myself immediately, usually I can calm down again and will be fine the rest of the day. This is nearly impossible with a husband who is basically home this summer and two young kids. I am having more good days than bad, and my bad moments are not always lasting a day. I am feeling things that I have not felt in a while, like light anxiety (versus panic attack anxiety) and light sadness (versus the level of shame that drives my self-harm).

Slowly but surely, I am moving forward. When I have a full bad day, I am discouraged because I tasted freedom and it tasted like the best chocolate cake I have ever had. I would like to eat this chocolate cake every single day, and enjoy every taste in my mouth. After having chocolate cake, a bad day tastes like spoiled food that has been dumped into the trash. Even a bite of trash after chocolate cake drives me to self-harm more quickly than usual. My goal is to learn to sit with the trash in my mouth until the bad taste passes. I heard once that instead of self-harm, sit in a chair and grip it as hard as you can and force yourself to just sit. But that doesn’t work for me. Running helps immensely. Running hurts much worse than any self-harm I inflict, and it is healthy and shuts off my racing thoughts. My goal is to stop self-harming, but my first memory of self-harm was when I was about 4 years old. That is 24 years of bad coping to deal with. And slowly but surely, as I conquer one tree at a time, my desire to self-harm will diminish. When I make it through to the end of the forest, I know the shame and desire to harm myself will fade because the roots will be gone.

One tree at a time.

Photo Credit: http://picslava.com/chocolate-cake/

A Gentle And Quiet Spirit

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When I was first married, an older man in our church used to tell me all the time to make sure I was praying for my husband, and that praying for him was the most important thing I could do for our marriage. I always assured him that I was praying for my husband, and I was. About a year into our marriage, we moved to a new state. Unfortunately, I promptly forgot about praying for my husband. Actually, my faith kind of fell apart around that time, as so many waves of trial washed over me; the trials were too much for my fairly new faith. I was raised in a very female dominant and verging on anti-male environment, so my faith is all I have ever had to guide me in my marriage. Therefore, my marriage took a hard hit as my faith crumbled.

This past Sunday evening, I was at a Bible study and was listening to the women interacting with each other. My mind floated off the subject, and I remembered the man who had exhorted me to pray for my husband. My prayer life has been very nearly nonexistent for 3.5 years. I thought to myself that I am finally at a point in my faith where I am ready to seek God with my whole heart again. I have reached the bottom of my pride and struggles and am ready to accept where He has me. So, I re-entered the world of prayer by praying for my husband. It felt natural to me to be conversing with God again as I prayed for my husband’s emotional strength, peace regarding finances, and natural leadership in our home. I also prayed for my children and for my friends.

There has been an incredible peace surrounding my house over the past 2.5 days, perhaps a peace that passes all understanding. My husband and I are resolving conflicts; my son is calm and readily responds to correction; I am cooking; my husband and I are communicating on our goals for homeschool and dinner ideas; and we are having time together after the kids are in bed. We are also managing my PTSD and triggers more effectively, and I am finding myself feel a gentle and quiet spirit within me. What a change from the pattern we had established for so long of me going to bed hurt or in a spiral of PTSD symptoms!!!

I have prayed these verses off and on regarding my marriage, but I wanted to re-write them here as a re-commitment to pray them for my marriage. This is where I desire to grow as a wife. This is also what I am praying for my children’s marriages to stand upon.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward- arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel- rather let it bet the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. -1 Peter 3:3-4

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. -Proverbs 31:26

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. -Colossians 3:12-15

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1

Change Begins

So…

I let it out. A few days ago.

That overwhelming urge to start bawling. And I sobbed for hours. I couldn’t stop. I sobbed in the car. I sobbed at the restaurant. I sobbed at the library. And I sobbed at home.

When I was finished, I felt like I was going to throw up. But my heart was at peace. Then I walked over to my bookshelf and pulled out a book I’ve had for a while but have never read. It’s called Why? By Anne Graham Lotz. This paragraph struck me to the core:

Have you finally concluded that your situation is impossible and that if He doesn’t help you, there will be no help? Have you finally reached the place where you have no one and no help- except Jesus? Then you may be close to experiencing the purpose for His delay, which may be to develop your faith in Him, and Him alone.

I believe this is where I am at, and was what part of what I was crying out the other night. I have no other options. Nothing else is working. If God doesn’t come through and give me peace soon, I might explode. Or go homicidal. Or suicidal. Or just go crazy. Seriously. PTSD is rough.

I have felt more at peace since letting go of this emotion. I feel calmer. I have been seeking God more, and I have felt His presence. It’s been so long since I actually felt safe in His presence and could hear His still small voice. It is comforting.

Maybe God has me in this desperate situation so that I realize I cannot (cannot) live without Him. My conversion was not as dramatic as many others (wow does my husband have an awesome conversion story); I feel as if one day I was walking alone, and the next day I was reading my Bible with interest and wonder. Therefore, maybe God is using these circumstances to bring about a sense of urgency to my walk that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Without these circumstances maybe I’d forever be a lukewarm Christian. Someone recently said that she only knew of one other person with my dissociative diagnosis, and that person had the strongest faith she had ever seen because the woman had to work for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that trademark. But I do know I cannot survive these trenches without my God. I am done half-asking for God’s help; I am on my knees telling Him I absolutely cannot do this without Him. Maybe this is where He wants me.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. (Psalm 57:1 ESV)

Hard Lessons On Forgiveness

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My four year old is a natural musician. He turns on his music and runs to the keyboard to play out the song, then turns around and hits repeat on the CD player so he can do it again… until he’s memorized the song. I have yet to teach him where the “repeat” button is because I tire of these songs after the tenth time and I’m certainly not going to enable him! Right now, the song he has on manual repeat is, “If your brother sins against you, seven times a day, seven times a day, forgive him, forgive him, the Bible tells me so, and everyone should know, forgive him, forgive him, seven times a day.” He’s dancing the hallway, singing at the top of his lungs with his arms spread wide. I made a mental note to use the words of the song to teach him a lesson next time someone sins against him, and then realized that I am not a funnel. These lessons I teach my son are meant for me too. Sometimes I get more out of his children’s Bible than I think he does. And honestly, the lessons my son teaches me right back are meant for me too.

Several months ago, he had a bad day and after several corrections it was finally bedtime. He snuggled into me and started praying, “God, forgive me of my sins. Please help me to do a better job tomorrow because your mercies are new every morning.” What? I’ve never taught him to directly ask the Lord for forgiveness. I have prayed forgiveness out loud when I’ve sinned against him. We have a corporate confession of sins at church… but at that point, neither my husband nor I had directly told him he needed to ask God for forgiveness.

How amazing that my son has taken it upon himself to pray for forgiveness! How amazing that he is dancing, arms open wide, to a song about forgiveness! If God has taken my son’s heart into the palm of His hand and has begun to foster a pure and holy faith, then maybe God is doing the same for me. Maybe God is using my circumstances, just as God has used my son’s circumstances, to bring about repentance and faith.

I often think of As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another in respect to my marriage. One day recently when I was falling apart, my exasperated husband yelled, “God gave you me to help you grow! He could have given you someone to coddle you and hold you when you are self-pitying, but he gave you me instead! So get up and do something instead of sitting there like you’re worthless, because you’re not!” He has also shoved the verse, But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses, in my face more than once (usually at least once a week, actually).

So today, I will follow my husband’s lead and I will forgive 70×7. I will open my arms wide and receive the very joy my son has… And yes… he is still dancing to that forgiveness song. And singing at the top of his lungs. With his arms spread wide.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. -1 Peter 1:6-7

Photo credit: http://www.creationswap.com/media/8764

I’ve Come Full Circle

Over the past few weeks, I have begun to return to normal… Or how I felt before I started actively having flashbacks. I was highly anxious, but I was not falling apart. I was functioning. I was earning a Master’s Degree, planning my PhD route, serving in church, being normal. And that’s how I have been lately. Anxious, but able to overall live and enjoy living. I cleaned my house (which is now a disaster because I took Mother’s Day off of cleaning). I started running again for the first time since my PTSD took over. I am playing with my kids. And I’m polishing my novel in order to attempt publication. Isn’t this what I wanted???

A. Big. Fat. NO! I originally went into therapy to decrease my anxiety, not to take me through hell and land me right back where I started. Trudging through the depths of hell that looks an awful lot like a carpeted basement was supposed to make me come out farther along in the end. Help me make better relationship choices. Decrease my anxiety. Improve my relationship with my parents. Nope. I’m right back where I started.

I was spending time with my husband the other night and thinking, “Wow it’s nice to enjoy his company with no PTSD symptoms!” And then all of a sudden I was hit with this brick of overwhelming anxiety. The same anxiety from 1.5 years ago. I recognized it instantly and my stomach has been in knots since.

Is this really where I’m supposed to be? Am I really going to have to manage symptoms for the rest of my life? This might be better than being curled up in a ball with my ears covered, but I do not want to live with this anxiety the rest of my life. This is not MY anxiety, this was done to me; this is other peoples’ shame. I did not cause my mind and body to react like this to the smallest of triggers!

Since then, I have gone running twice. I have decided to bring music both times. Usually I run without music to clear my head. But I turned on Christian radio. As i ran I would hear phrases about God’s sovereignty over my life, Him making the best choices for me, and how important it is to trust Him. And I realized that the only difference between now and 1.5 years ago is my feeling of betrayal towards God. My faith used to be strong. But now I question His character. Maybe He wants me to suffer like this for the rest of my life. And to make the best of it. My phone was stuck in the case and I couldn’t shut the music off so with every phrase I could feel my throat closing harder; I could feel my tears welling up; I could feel my chest becoming heavier. Finally I let out a sob. I wanted to fall to my hands and knees and begin crying but I kept running. I needed to get this feeling out and maybe I could run harder than my pain.

This feeling is still in my chest. The “What in the f*ing hell do you have for me, God?!” feeling. But I am not ready for it to escape. I am not ready to fall apart on my hands and knees. I am not ready to look like a child who is tantruming and begging her Heavenly Father for reprieve.

So if you are on the trail and see a woman collapsed and sobbing, it’s probably me. Sit by me. Hold my hand. Hug me. Tell me it’s going to be okay. Tell me I will not be fighting these demons for the rest of my life. After all, they are not even my demons to fight.

Oh yeah, he’s 4

My son has been doing a phenomenal job of initiating learning time, and depending on the day, he has a nice balance of math, writing, and reading. I’m trying to slowly prepare for the fall when we will start organized preschool at home. I need to figure out how to fit in sports, playdates, and learning time into his already full schedule of playing cars and trains, doing puzzles, and dancing to music.

After a few months of watching him flourish with math and learning to read with no expectations, I made my first mistake… I placed an expectation. He sensed the expectation from a mile away and immediately revolted. I made a chart of which subjects were most important, along with my goal for the fall for amount of time spent on each subject. I have been keeping documents of what I’ve been doing with him since he was 9 months old, but I’ve never made a goal with a timeframe!

Here is where we are right now:

One or two subjects per day of reading, writing, or math, lasting a total of about 45 minutes to an hour. I let him choose.

Here is a prototype of where I’d like to be by fall. I created an Excel sheet and froze the first three columns, so I can track actual time spent on each subject with the rest of the columns.

School excel

Our 25 minutes of school this morning mostly consisted of him throwing a tantrum and me holding him while he cried. So often he loves to learn and he pushes me to do school on days that I am completely disinterested. Some days, he sits and reads book after book to me while I clean. Other days, like today, I am reminded that he is only four. He is ahead on all subjects and when he does not want to have traditional learning time, maybe he just needs a day to be four.

Onward towards riding bikes and building Thomas tracks!

my Mrs. to my husband’s Mr.

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Today, I have been reflecting on my husband and how we have grown together since we’ve been married. In two months, it will be five years!! Someone gave us a Bible with couples devotionals for our wedding, and I remember reading it with him for the first couple of weeks (it only lasted until my morning sickness kicked in- I got pregnant like the week after our honeymoon). One of the devotionals was about perseverance during conflict. The author was writing about how it appears that some couples have a very easy time in their marriage, but that her marriage was a constant uphill filled with conflict and really hard work. My husband pointed at it and said with conviction, “This is us! It will always be us! Look, we’re not alone!” He was right, it is us, but we have come so far in five years.

We own a business together and every Saturday we work together to do our job. We laugh and organize and stress together… we even dance and sing together! I used to spiral on the weekends, but now I look forward to Saturdays because I get to spend the mornings with him. My husband is a hard worker. He has three jobs, and did have four for the duration of my pregnancy last year. He also knows that my job is important to me so he plans his work hours around mine. This means he is at home with the kids while I am at work. My husband is a wonderful father… it might be one of his best assets. Usually while I am getting my daughter squared away, he is occupying my son or getting him ready for bed. He has also taken it upon himself to train my son to run a 1K so he makes the running team next year when he is 5. Right now, he can run .5K without any trouble, but on the walk back he wants to be carried. It’s fun to watch my husband teach my son about sports, and my husband puts effort into determining which sports he is going to focus on with my son. He has determined that my son has best opportunity to obtain a scholarship in cross country and golf. My son even has a really nice set of golf clubs and has a nice swing already!

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. My husband has set up my day tomorrow so that after church, I am picking up my mother-in-law and taking her to see Mom’s Night Out. Spending time with her is a treat, and I love her so much! I’m looking forward to it. Plus, we both love the rolls at Texas Roadhouse so there’s a good chance we’ll end up there for dinner.

My husband and I have our battles (many times it is daily), but I see how far we have come from where we were when we were first married. I see how we have grown as a couple over the past year especially, and this is our best year so far. I love to hold his hand; I love how our feet often touch during the night because cuddling triggers me; and I love when we have family snuggles and playtime on the bed. I love how when I am isolating myself, he often comes and holds me (and much to my dismay, makes me laugh when I want to cry or pout).

Today, I am especially thankful to be the Mrs. to my husband’s Mr.

Dear Family: I Am Listening…

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My goal has been to really, really listen to my family’s words and actions. That is what I posted about this morning. Here is what I have been hearing.

My family is jealous of my phone

My family needs a clean home

My family needs me to smile and dance

My family needs me to provide healthy meals and snacks

My family needs my undivided attention

Yesterday, I officially decided to homeschool my children. Yes, I know I am already teaching my son to read and am currently researching preschool science curricula for the fall. However, I have been on the fence due to my low opinions of my abilities (despite my early childhood education training) and my exhaustion level. But, I am quickly reaching my limit with worried parents bringing their children into therapy because they are falling behind in school. Sometimes it is bullying, and usually they have ADHD. These children are starved for healthy attention, to the point where they start destroying my office when I am conversing with a parent! They need me to get on the floor with them and play. They need undivided attention.

They do not need therapy. They need healthy attention. They need their teachers to sit with them and individualize their work so they can learn the material on their level. They need their parents to read to them and play with them (even if it means falling asleep on floor while the children drive cars over the parents’ backs), no matter the parents’ level of exhaustion. They need their parents to shut the television off and take away the iPads and video games. I am not judging their parenting, because the Lord knows I fall short. I yell at my son, I spank (yes, I do spank, and may write a blog at some point regarding using this method of discipline correctly and not harmfully) at times when a discussion and a hug is more appropriate, I fight with my husband in front of my kids, and I sit my son in front of the TV when I am exhausted (though he is the one who asks me to shut it off before the movie is over, because he’s bored and wants to play).

I have decided to delete my email off of my phone for now, except for when I am nursing. When I did this today, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders because I did not feel chained to my phone. I listened to my husband’s frustrations with me for replying to a text instead of focusing on whatever sports clip he was trying to show me, and I apologized for hurting his feelings. I let my son help me vacuum. I cleaned my kitchen- I mean really cleaned it, because my daughter’s new-found mobility seems to have her finding everything she cannot have and shoving it into her mouth before I can reach her. I opened my windows and breathed the fresh air. I danced with my husband and children. I engaged in silly banter with my husband. I noticed my husband’s change in mood when I began laughing with him. I decided to run regularly, both with friends and on my own.

I do not have it all together by any means. I have just decided that I need to stop complaining about how much I am struggling and I need to just do things differently. That means making a better choice in the moment. Do I fall apart in despair? Or do I realize that my husband’s comment was not trying to hurt me? Do I hide from my family? Or do I embrace them?

Though I am standing bold today, that does not mean I’ll be standing bold tomorrow. But it means that I recognize my ability to make choices. It means I am finally listening to my family.

Photo credit: http://www.iphixni.com/apple.html