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/
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
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.
I watched from a distance as the prisoner walked into the room looking somewhat deflated. It made sense though, because he was being put to death. And I had every intention on watching. I noticed he was not being restrained in any way, but I felt safe because he was across the room. Suddenly, the prisoner began walking towards me. I motioned to the reporter, who told me to relax because she had a stun gun. I told her to use it but she laughed it off. I told her that the prisoner was coming for me and she still refused to use it on him. In an instant, he had pushed me against the wall and had his arms around my neck choking me. The reporter stunned him and he fell to the ground. I escaped and began running away. Suddenly, over the intercom system I heard, “The prisoner has broken free!” Should I hide in the building? Should I hide in my car? Or should I get in my car and drive away? I knew he was looking for me.
The prisoner is no longer contained. He is free. How will I know I am safe? How can I keep tabs on my prisoner? Will he come after me? Should I run? Should I hide? Should I shout for others to take cover? I was hoping he’d die in his prison cell.
Photo credit: http://rapgenius.com/Trae-im-on-20-lyrics#note-1572252
I have been spreading myself emotionally thin over the past few weeks. It has caught up to me in a series of almost continuous dissociation, hypomanic episodes, angry and physically violent outbursts, and self-harm. I have opened myself up to sharing an overview of my past with five new people in a matter of weeks, in the name of finding a therapist that is experienced enough to manage my level of trauma and my symptoms. I have finally found a trauma therapist I am very pleased with, and she happens to be Christian- which is important to me right now, as I cannot heal without God’s healing hand.
She is slowly working her way into my past through a very long intake process, and has not asked a single time about my trauma. She has stated that she primarily wants me to focus on staying present during session, and when I reported (she checks in regarding dizziness every few minutes) mild dizziness today, she had me stop the intake to share the tasks I had completed that morning. It took me several minutes to recall what I had done! It was clearly a rough morning full of dissociation.
She also stated that she strongly encourages me to have a psychiatric evaluation completed and most likely go on meds, because we cannot delve into trauma work until my symptoms are managed much better than they are now. This is a difficult step for me because I am breastfeeding and I do not want to wean. It is my daughter’s reference point for everything when I am around; she uses it to connect, feed, play, and for comfort. Weaning would change our entire relationship. I am not against formula feeding, as I formula fed my first, but I fought very hard to establish a breastfeeding relationship with my daughter and I am agonizing over the possibility of having to give it up.
And… she told me it would be best if I chose just one therapist. Friday is my termination session for the therapist I have been seeing for over a year. I trust her. I like her. I work well with her. I am attached to her. I do not want to say goodbye. New therapists are sometimes necessary steps to take towards healing, but it is going to be very difficult to say goodbye without shutting down.
I’m bursting with anger and fear
There’s too much pain to shed a tear
Sometimes I’m collected and calm
Meeting their needs, I am their mom
Just one trigger and I am four
Curled up, I can’t take anymore
I try hard but I cannot speak
I’m gone and can only hear screams
More triggers and I am seven
Angry at my God in heaven
My memories and pain are here
Boxed up so the others don’t fear
Can I force myself to be five?
I feel so vibrant and alive
Creative stories in my mind
I get to leave my past behind
I have trauma, is this for real?
There must be honesty to heal
I am longing to be just me
How long until God sets me free?
I decided to find another therapist
This time a Christian and a specialist
She explained dissociative disorders
In a way that was less frightening
And gave tips on teaching my son to be mindful
I walked away both comfortable and okay
And as for my primary therapist
I guess it’s time to say goodbye
I cried in front of her a few times
That’s so rare.
I mean really really cried in front of her
She normalizes my struggles as a parent
Normalizes my struggle with self-harm
The part of me that carries anger
She normalizes my transference and says
“You can always keep me in your back pocket”
When I am dissociated
She teaches me to walk down into the dungeon
And pull my little girl out
She addresses my little girl
And that is what I need at times
She gives me a juice box and sometimes two
Last time even a granola bar
Because I didn’t eat breakfast
And now I must say goodbye
I felt so safe with her
When do you choose to find someone new
When the choice is safety versus
More specialized treatment?
Will I heal with this new person?
Or will I fall apart with every
time I must separate from someone I trust
For the rest of my life?
Am I making a good choice?
What if I miss her?
Am I stupid because I have attached?
I quit once because I realized I was attached
And now I must leave for good
Where will the rage inside go
If I am not safe anymore?
I need a hug.
And. My. Therapist.
Photo credit: http://the1bookblog.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html
People have told me in the past not to challenge God. Actually, my husband told me this just this weekend. My reply was, “God is big enough to meet me in my challenges.” I am not a typical Christian. I wear jeans or slacks to a church where most women wear skirts (and men wear suits) because I feel vulnerable in dresses. If the pastor suggests we memorize a certain verse, I choose a different passage and memorize the entire chapter. If someone suggests I ought to be a stay-at-home mom in this time period, I send a quiet challenge by stating that if I can find a good full-time job, I would take it in a heartbeat (which is probably not true). I do not fit into the homemaker, homeschool mom category that many of my reformed Christian peers do. So I guess it makes sense that I’d fight the norm on shoving down any struggles in faith and doubts.
Instead of having shame that I’m questioning God’s plan for me, I think I ought to turn to God with my questions and faltering. He already knows I’m questioning His plan for me, I cannot hide it from Him. So why not bring it out into the open? I believe it is only through honesty that a person can heal in anything, including relationship with the Father.
The Bible is full of miraculous signs that God used to both to show Himself faithful and meet us in our needs, and it is also full of people who struggled in their faith. Elijah brought fire down from heaven as a sign that his God was the true God. Jacob wrestled with God. Abraham laughed at God. King David prayed that God would kill his enemies.
As I challenge God with “What do you have for me?!” and “Do something, Lord!” and “Where are You?!” I am met with verses such as, “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” and “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You.” and “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.” and “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”
Truthfully, I would not have had the ability to manage a recent crisis at work if I had not been going through my own crisis. It was through my own journey of faith, therapy, and wisdom from a therapist that I was able to manage the crisis- and it was only a few days prior that I discovered the verses I needed and the necessary therapeutic techniques that would de-escalate the situation. I have no desire to be in the depths of crisis and spiritual warfare, but perhaps I can trust that all things do work out for good to those who love Him.
I am unsure what exactly is causing this, but I have been rapid cycling the past few days… and not quite in a bipolar way; I do not have bipolar or any form of a mood disorder! I am going from bouncing off the walls and screaming with joy (which my son is quite enjoying), to being curled up in a ball afraid of the world, to crying as hard as I can, to yelling, to crying, to bouncing off the walls… mostly partially dissociated. All in a matter of an hour! I’ve had several triggers this week, both personal and professional, and I wonder if my mind has just reached a sort of max. Or maybe it’s simply trying to cope with the news that I’ve agreed to stop seeing Therapist #1 for a few months. She is a major safety, where my transference goes. My inner child needs to be on her couch- I need to sit and cry (crying is a quite recent symptom for me too) and become dizzy and go mute, and then pull out of it in the hour and a half I see her. I have never left her office in a daze because I feel safe. I always leave with a smile and a juice box- sometimes she gives me two juice boxes! Any anxiety left over on the drive is taken out on the straw that is chewed unrecognizable by the time I pull into my driveway. Then I am fine for a few days.
Therapist #1 has recommended that I begin an intensive outpatient therapy of sorts, with therapy 3x a week (which she cannot accommodate), a DBT support group, and a psychiatrist. She wants me to go on the waiting list at a nearby hospital’s mental health program. This is what I would recommend for a client going through what I am attempting to manage. My husband and I have discussed this at length and we just cannot afford to do this. We have decided to try an unconventional route… I am hating the Christian counseling center; it triggers me to no end, and renders me incapacitated to drive home. The only reason I made it home after session last week was because I was clutching my son’s Lego as hard as I could into the steering wheel (a grounding technique I learned with Therapist #2- whom I am not seeing regularly either- that I’ve taken to a whole different level).
But this is why my husband feels it is important for me to push through, and I quite agree with his reasoning. Driving into the parking lot alone is causing a resistance like none I have ever experienced. I do not want to be there. And that is precisely why my husband feels I need to be there. We will try this for a few months, but we cannot afford weekly therapy. We’ve done weekly for a year and just cannot afford it anymore. We will do every other week at this place, and see where my mental health is afterwards. If I deteriorate further (not sure how much more deterioration I must endure in order for a potential hospitalization, which will undoubtedly affect my career), we will then do everything in our power to get me into a psychiatrist and into a more intensive therapy.
After these sessions, I will do what I need to do to drive home. If I need to sit in the parking lot for a bit, that’s fine. If I need to bring my own juice boxes, I will. If I need to bring a snack to break the dissociation, I will. If I need to cry or call my husband, I will. It’s an hour drive so I will do what I need to do to make it home safely.
Therapist #1 is still available by scheduled phone calls. She is still there. I am not walking away myself, nor am I being abandoned. And yet I am still rapid cycling to an extent I can barely control. It’s time for me to cry a little before I teach my son to do front flips on his bed, or jump from his bed into a pile of blankets and pillows. This is better than being incapacitated, but my goodness. I am not a mother, I am a child! I am 7. I am 7.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12
Photo credit: http://hypnobeast.com/all/swag/hypnosis-spirals/