For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 NASB
I don’t know about everyone else, but I have read this verse many times and every time I tend to think, “oh that’s nice” and move on. In fact I tend to do that with a lot of the verses that discuss living a life free of fear. I have lived so much of my life controlled and manipulated by fear, that until recently, I’m not sure that I even registered what God is actually saying to us. What I am beginning to understand on a deeper level is that not only is a life of fear not what God has planned for any of us, but that He has commanded us to not be afraid and has equipped us to do so.
That’s not to say that living in this fallen and broken world will not bring us into situations that evoke a deep and intense fear. Terror exists, people perpetrate horrific crimes against innocent victims all the time. Our minds were created to elicit a fear response in these situations in order to preserve our lives. But this is not the fear that God is speaking of when He is speaking about fear. God is speaking of the daily anxieties and fears, the what ifs that can leave us debilitated and non-functional. God is saying to His children, that even in those moments that scare you, where you are unsure and afraid of what could happen, in those moments, fear not! It is those moments to which God is saying “I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power…”
God speaks directly to our spirits, to our minds, knowing that we hate the unknown, that we will worry and stress about every little thing that could bring harm or create fear. To this part of us, God is telling us to let go, to “cast all your anxieties (fears)” onto Him 1 Peter 5:7 and let Him carry the burden of fear. He is saying to us, “I got this.” God does not dismiss our fears, He specifically states that in this life we will face troubles. But he also states not to worry because He has overcome the world!! (John 16:33)
This gives us freedom to live. Freedom to let go of the fear that debilitates and binds us and to live the life we were created to live! We can live life fully and still feel fear. We become paralyzed when we let that feeling make our choices for us. Courage is being able to feel the fear and still do what you need to do. Live in the freedom of Christ’s promises today. Accept that you will feel fear but choose today to not let that feeling control you. Go and do what you were called to do, even if you feel afraid. The reward and benefit from not letting fear immobilize you, are beyond understanding, but they will always be better than living a life paralyzed by fear.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
Evil is a very strong and powerful word. It is also a concept that many people choose to ignore and deny as if that will actually remove evil from existence. No one really likes to think about evil. It is incredibly uncomfortable, disturbing, and frightening. But for people who have experienced pure evil in its human form, there is no way to deny that Evil exists. For those of us who have experienced pain, suffering, and trauma because of another person’s choice to embrace darkness and evil and perpetrate horrific acts against innocent victims, Evil is not only present, but it is fluid, powerful, and impossible to escape. Those of us who know this truth about evil, and who try in vain to help others understand the reality of evil, also know that there are people who will continue to blame inanimate objects and anything else they can think of to explain the horrible things that happen in this world, except for evil.
People tend to have a hard time with Evil for one reason. This reason is often masked by their “desire” to see the good in people rather than acknowledge their own realities, but the reason is so much easier than the complicated way people explain away evil. Acknowledging the truth that Evil exists and is alive and active in the world today requires people to truly evaluate their existence. It begs the existential question, what is the truth about good and evil? The truth is that people do not want to believe evil exists, because if evil exists, then so must good, so must God. In media, evil is portrayed by the devil, demons, or similar entities. For a culture that desperately tries to pretend that God doesn’t exist, it is ironic that Hollywood and other media sources always portray Lucifer and his demons as the source of chaos, evil, and pain. While this portrayal is accepted and embraced as normal, accepting and believing in the opposite of evil, believing in God as good and pure, is not. This begs the question, why are people so eager to cinematize the Devil, but so quick to deny his existence when something horrific happens? Why are people so afraid to acknowledge, so arrogant and so dismissive of the only thing in existence whose sole purpose is to destroy them, but vehemently try to destroy the one Person who can save them from the destruction?
In reality, instinctively and inherently humanity is aware of the battle between the Devil and God. We know on a core, visceral level that there is a real Evil and his name is Lucifer, and a real Good whose name is Jesus. These are truths that children grasp, understand, and accept until someone in their lives tells them not to believe this truth. Children are shamed and discouraged from continuing to believe in this truth by parents who have already determined that they will totally ignore their own instincts and visceral knowledge about the existence and goodness of God. This is the greatest trick that the Devil has perpetrated on society…he has convinced so many people that he doesn’t exist and manipulates them into blaming things for what he orchestrates and perpetrates on humanity. His great deception is that he doesn’t exist, so, therefore God must not exist. We know from scientific discoveries that there has to be a balance. Darkness is balanced by light. Two forces balance each other out. Science has already proven the need for and the existence of Good in Jesus, but the devil has managed to convince millions of people that neither evil or God exist, and definitely Jesus is an unnecessary ‘fairy tale.’
The problem is that the Devil likes to flaunt his deception and his destruction. He likes to perpetrate horror on humanity, especially if he can spin it so that people continue to ignore his existence. He does not like to stay hidden, he is arrogant because he knows that even though many people will recognize his “handiwork” for what it is, there are many who will continue to turn a blind eye to truth and whom he can forever torment and manipulate unless they acknowledge the truth. The Devil knows that Jesus is not only real, but that the war he is waging against humanity, against God’s creation, has already been lost. That is why he is so desperate to convince humanity that Jesus is not the answer they are desperately seeking. He uses humanity’s desperation for redemption and healing to further push them away from the One who can quench that thirst. There are so many of us who have survived these acts of evil perpetrated by people who are used by the devil as pawns and puppets of his disgusting drama that we eventually have to reconcile the things that have happened to us in order to understand. That reconciliation will result in either healing or further destruction and deception. But the answer, the truth, is readily available and has been blasted throughout the world in the Word of God.
This blog began with the Bible passage Psalm 23:4. This psalm is one of the most widely recognized Bible passages in the world, almost everyone can recite some or all of it, even if they are not Christians. This was designed, specifically to counteract the lies of Satan. The methods that scientists have used for decades to validate a manuscript has been proven repeatedly and with more evidence of the veracity of the Word of God, than any other manuscript in history! The rest of this passage proves, not only the existence of Good in God, but it tells you the ways that God will combat the evil being perpetrated against humanity. God tells us that He is the shepherd. That He will lead us, give us rest, restore us, and guide us. He is with us when we go through the evil that we experience, He will not leave us, and in the end, He will put our enemies underneath us, and raise us up above those who have harmed us. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for YOU ARE WITH ME.
This is the promise for us today. Those of us who have endured the evil acts perpetrated by the enemy of our soul are not alone. We were never alone and we will never be alone. Jesus is not only there with us, He will restore us, give us rest, and avenge us. What a beautiful reality! You cannot have evil without good. Satan exists because God created him, albeit with very different plans in mind, all the while knowing that he would choose to rebel (the same choice we are given) and forever be cursed to wander the earth seeking to destroy anyone and everything, especially if he can use those experiences to turn people away from the only true source of healing and freedom. When we are walking through our own valley where there is a constant shadow reminding us of death and destruction, call out to the one who will set you free. Accept his rest, his restoration, his peace, and his guidance. Let Him heal you, comfort you, and free you from the lie that there is no hope. Let Him bring the true relief, fill the void that you have so desperately been trying to fill. Take a risk and seek Jesus, seek the Truth, and accept the freedom that is promised to you today. Do not let the Evil in this world further convince you that you are forever broken, that you are alone, and that no one cares enough to help you pick up the pieces of your shattered life. Because ther is One who cares and is capable of the healing you are desperately seeking. Take a chance on hope, on healing, on freedom.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I just returned home after attending the Writers on the Rock Conference 2017. I knew from the previous conferences that today would be powerful and that at the end of the day, I would have a renewed passion for writing, for pursuing Christ in my calling, and for using my gift to reach those who are broken and hurting. Those were my agenda items, and without a doubt, every single one of those was checked off of my list. However, as is always the case when the Holy Spirit moves, God had bigger plans for me. He used the gift of another author to not only inspire me, but help me break free of the chains that keep my bound and unable to write, but that also bind my ability to function freely in the way that God has created me. As a writer, it is easy to come up with ideas, especially on the topic and passion that you have identified for yourself. What is not so easy, is the execution of the plan and the understanding of why the struggles exist in the first place. Today I found that answer, and not only am I angry that I could not see this before, but I am free and emboldened to smash through the barrier thrown up by the enemy of my soul and which I have allowed to stop me from pursuing my life’s calling for far too long.
See, I entered the conference today, completely free in Christ, in belief only. I have desperately been fighting the chains that are binding me to the hollow life in which I have existed for too long, but have resisted the true freedom that comes from a relationship with Christ. I know all about spiritual warfare and how the enemy desperately wants to keep us alone, broken, and in pain. Even with that knowledge, I did not truly understand how to break free from the chains of my past. I know that the moment I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I became a new creation. The sins of my past, present, and future were forgiven and I was set free from the chains of the enemy…However, I did not live in that truth. I have often chosen to get sucked into the lies that the enemy craftily devises to convince me of my lack of worth, of my failures, of my hopelessness and that fuels my shame and self-loathing. Today I met a writer who showed me how to change this.
I innocently entered her discussion entitled “Writer, Thou Art Loosed” thinking that this would be a great conversation about how to break through writer’s block, motivational issues, and stumbling blocks. I had no idea what God had in store for me. From the moment she began speaking, I was laser focused on what she was saying as if she was speaking directly into my bones and marrow. Turns out, God was going to use this woman to free me from the chains that have bound me for years. This conversation encompassed the excuses and things in my life that prevented me from fully and wholly embracing what God has been calling me to do for years….to tell my stories. I was hearing myself and the excuses that I had for why I was having a hard time finishing my book, and I was enthralled by how she related those struggles to the chains imposed by the enemy to keep me from finishing what God has ordained me to do. Towards the end of the class, she picked me to come up to the front and participate in an activity…she’s a legit retired army drill sergeant, it’s not like I could have said no! Then she began to lead me through a declaration of “I am loosed from…” and I chose the word fear. That in and of itself let out a torrent of emotion and release, but she had more in store for me. Responding, I’m sure, from the promptings of the Holy Spirit, she then grabbed my list of things that are keeping me shackled and chained in my life and proceeded to repeat the process with each one of the things that I wrote down. To say I had no idea what was coming is an understatement.
Most of my life, I have spent bent over and in pain of some sort. Emotional and psychological pain has led to significant physical pain, including the development of an autoimmune disorder. I am in a constant battle between what I know to be the truth in who Christ proclaims me to be, and who the enemy claims I am. What I didn’t fully understand or realize until today is that this is a battle that does not need to be fought. This battle was already won many years ago, yet I continue to revisit that battle that Christ died to win, over and over in my life. Every time something happens in my life, and there have been numerous excruciatingly painful traumas and tragedies, and every time I experience a setback or roadblock in my pursuit of the life that God has called me to live, I have reacted in predictable ways that tightened the chains around my heart and soul rather than in a way that removed them from my life. The beauty of other people embracing and using the gift and calling that God has placed in their life is that they can be used by God to speak truth and bring healing into another person’s life. This is my experience at the conference today. God used a woman who has fully embraced her life and calling and successfully defeated her past and loosed her potential in Christ, to free me from the chains that bind me.
Declaring freedom from the chains that have devastated me for so long is a powerful, intensely emotional experience. I believe that at that moment, I broke free of so many of the things that have sought to keep me broken and in pain. But I know that the work doesn’t stop with moments like these. At that moment, when the physical weight of what I had been carried was removed from my bones, I decided to begin to declare this freedom in my life every time I begin to feel burdened by my circumstances. The chains that have long bound me were not necessarily overtly obvious. Yes, I have suffered from depression, PTSD, fear, shame, pain, etc., but I just thought that was my destiny with the life that I have lived and with what has happened to me. I didn’t truly grasp that I could actually be free from these things. Not surprisingly, the enemy has successfully, up to this point, capitalized on my pain and suffering, especially in the last few years, and has attempted to destroy me. This realization coupled with the reality that the enemy has not just tried to keep me quiet, to keep me from embracing my gift and calling, but that he has specifically tried to end my life and the life of my loved ones many times, awakened a beast inside of me that has been dormant. So from this point on, I declare through the power of the Holy Spirit that I am loosed from fear, from pain, from infirmity, from depression, from shame, from brokenness, from hopelessness, from misery, and from everything else in my life that has kept me bound in chains. I will no longer accept these chains as a part of my existence, and I will no longer be devastated by the tactics of the enemy. I am free.
War, the unmistakable and continuous fight for your very existence, for your heart, mind, and soul.When everything in your world is so far outside the norm, outside of your control, and the enemy is using everything in your life, loved ones, work, your pets, to attack you at every angle, you live in chaos. If you are lucky, you experience moments of chaos that eventually resolve and you can move forward in life with new knowledge, resilience, and perspectives that will help you succeed. However, for many people, chaos is not an unusual experience, but the definition of their existence. For some people, the battle never ends. It seems as if no matter what you do, no matter where you are in your life, things are always falling apart and you are always fighting to stay afloat.
For whatever reason, I seem to live on the battlefield. There is always something, usually many somethings that are passionately seeking to destroy my heart, my soul, my mind, and sometimes my very life. Living in this state is beyond exhausting. I am a fighter but there are many times in my life where I can’t fight anymore. Where I am so beaten and broken that I can barely breathe, let alone pray for relief. Most days I’m on my face crying pools of tears and can’t even muster the strength to speak. These moments try to draw me into the darkness in which I’ve lived a lot of my life, seeking to drown me. And to be honest, most of the time, there is a period where these things win. Where I can’t find a hint of the light, where hopelessness for change reigns more than the knowledge of God and His purpose and His love.
Fortunately God is aware. His word says He is not blind to our tears and that he counts them and keeps them in a jar (the psalms are full of this truth). Sometimes this knowledge is the one thing that keeps me going forward. Because when no one else sees or cares about the pain I live with, God does and He will ultimately redeem my anguish. This is really the only thing that can break through the despair and give me enough hope to keep fighting one more day.
Ultimately, God is king, He is the creator, the Redeemer, the Comforter and the Healer. In an existence that seems harder and more excruciatingly painful than it needs to be, knowing the One who can heal, redeem, and comfort is counting and holding your tears, silences the chaos within.
I don’t know how to stop the pain, the disappointment, the trauma, from coming, but I do know how to keep my head above water. The answer is, I can’t by myself. In my own power and strength and I would have given up a very long time ago. But my deep and profound knowledge of God and who He wants to be for me, through the power of the Holy Spirit in me, I can wake up another day, I can keep going. Often I am going on full autopilot where I have to stop thinking in order to just do what I need to do, but I’m still going. Even when my heart, my soul and my mind scream out that I am done with everything, God speaks a little louder than the chaos to say “not yet, I have more for you. Hang on my child, there is something better.”
How I wish I could remember these truths and experience Christ’s love and peace in a tangible way, but that is rarely the case. My default is to drown in the darkness until He lifts me up and helps me see the light. I long for the moment when I can experience the pain and destruction that comes at me and immediately fight back the right way and not get overwhelmed. But I am not there yet. I long for the days when I can give myself grace in these moments but due to the nature of these attacks which reinforce the lie that I’m worthless, I’m not there yet. I often beat myself up for not being the right way, adding to what is already beating me up, and that makes me angry at myself again. But I know the truth and I do the hard work required to deal with what is trying to destroy me. And I know, no matter what, the battle ends in victory even if I can’t wield the sword. My God is fighting for me, His warring angels are deep in an intense battle for my soul even when I can’t breathe. Because of this, I can find the strength to get up, to mumble His name, to cry tears to Him and to rest in His hands.
I have spent the majority of my time on this blog writing about trauma, PTSD, and the invisible wounds of psychological and emotional injuries that no one really understands. The more I walk through this life and experience all the pain, suffering, chaos, trauma, and “junk” that is thrown at us, I realize that invisible wounds are so much more than trauma and PTSD. There are so many things that people experience every single day, every hour of every day that no one can see and most people do not understand. There are many different illnesses, struggles, thoughts, and emotional states that people either cannot or do not wear on their sleeves for others to see. These different areas of suffering are no less severe and debilitating than it is for someone who has lost a body part or suffered other obvious physical ailments through their own choice to fight for our country, for example, or through the result of others actions. So why do people act as if those suffering from invisible pain and invisible ailments are somehow faking it, or somehow in less physical and emotional pain than someone whose wounds and illnesses you can see? This is the greatest disservice to each other that we perpetrate or is perpetrated against us every day.
You see, I am one of those people who suffers from indescribable physical and emotional pain every single day, but you would never know that unless I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of you and told you what I was experiencing. Unless I felt safe enough to let you in or have some other reason to let you know the truth, you cannot tell by looking at me that there is anything wrong. For the last 20 years at least I have suffered from Fibromyalgia. A severe and debilitating constellation of symptoms that causes significant physical pain, exhaustion beyond words that does not respond to getting a good nights sleep, mental fog, concentration problems, memory problems, and a general feeling of “why is my body letting me down?” Unless you happen to see my legs give out from the excruciating pain, see me catch my breath from the simple act of moving, or experience my inability and struggle with organizing my thoughts and remembering what I am supposed to be doing at any given time, I look and act “normal.” Because you see, those of us that suffer this way have learned how not to act in front of people, we’ve learned to plaster on a smile and pretend that we’re ok. We’ve learned that it is usually not safe to share our pain with others because they cannot or will not try to understand. We’ve learned to hide our pain at all cost because for the majority of our time, we’ve been told by “professionals” that the symptoms aren’t real, the pain isn’t real, and that there must be something wrong with us. We’ve been diagnosed with a multitude of psychiatric words and accused of malingering for attention or to get out of doing something. You see, we have learned that no one will believe us anyway.
Then there are the mental illnesses that no one can see until the sufferer “acts out” in a way that expresses their deep sorrow and suffering such as self-harming and suicide attempts. Illnesses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Illnesses that nearly the entire adult population in the United States currently has or has had at least once in their lifetime. Illnesses that are so widespread and debilitating, you would think that society would be desperately trying to understand, accommodate and help those who are suffering. However, the opposite it true, society has pushed them aside and distanced themselves because of irrational beliefs and unfounded fears. See the media blames PTSD, depression, loneliness, bullying, and anything else they can, for horrifically unspeakable acts committed by evil people. People whose only real mental illness is that they have no conscience and do not care about anyone else. These people aren’t suffering from true mental illness, but the media and everyone else in society are quick to label them depressed, lonely, or my favorite, bullied. But the truth is, people who suffer from these hidden disorders, likely do not have the energy or the desire to put in the effort to carry out the plans that the evil among us relish in. But for that reason, those who suffer must do so in silence, because the fear of irrational responses and consequences is to real.
The reality is that there are people in your life, your close friends, and your family who are suffering indescribable pain and anguish and you will never see it. Your responsibility is to be a safe place, a person that they can trust enough to share their pain and suffering. If they ever do reach out to you, to open up and make themselves vulnerable, learn how to trust what they are telling you and be kind, compassionate, and patient. These people can’t just “get over it.” They can’t just “exercise” or “pray” away the pain. If you truly love and care about the people in your life, begin to ask questions, be open for them to come to you and above all else, be safe. Don’t accuse them of being lazy, don’t be angry and frustrated with them because they couldn’t get out of bed, or do the dishes, or make dinner, or take out the trash, or rake the leaves, etc. “again.” Don’t be that person who pushes them further into themselves in order to escape the additional pain you are causing. Because the truth is that even though we have learned to cope, to survive, to hide the pain and to take care of ourselves, we all need someone who loves us enough to take care of us even when we can’t express what we need. We need someone who is patient, selfless, compassionate, and who is willing to sacrifice in order to help us get back up another day. If you truly want to help those around you, those who are suffering be the person they can lean on, be the light in their darkness and shine through their pain and suffering to offer a glimpse of hope.
I have to admit that I am beyond overwhelmed and exhausted with my life at this point. This last year, with the exception of the birth of my son, has been one horrific nightmare after another. It seems that no matter where I turn, there is another life-sucking beast waiting for me and there is no choice but to fight again when I can barely find the energy to get out of bed. During the endeavor that is dealing with everything life has thrown at me this year, is the desire and the need to regain a sense of self after being pregnant and having a baby as well as redefining my role in life. I barely have an idea of who I am and who I am supposed to be in general, so this new found desire to redefine myself causes many sleepless nights. So, needless to say, with the constant lack of sleep, never-ending stress, and the reality that no matter what is going on, I still have to show up and “function,” I am beyond exhausted and overwhelmed…and I’m angry.
I am angry that I cannot ever seem to have a break, have a moment to breathe, let alone a moment to myself to even begin to focus on self-care. I hate that I am in a constant state of anxiety, tension, and depression and that I still have to do everything that is “expected of me” alone. I have to be the one who comes up with the ideas, makes the difficult phone calls, and plays the role of wife, mom, daughter, and employee with the expectation that I will just keep pushing through and that there is no problem with heaping more and more expectations on me. I get it, I am the one who has always held everyone together and gotten things done that needed to be done. Historically, I am the one who can just keep going and eventually come out the other side. But the truth is, I’m not that person right now, and I may never be that person again. The changes in me since having my son, the crippling and debilitation postpartum depression and reactivation of PTSD symptoms following our house fire as well as a continuous flare up of my fibromyalgia symptoms on top of everything else, has left me broken, hopeless, and desperate for someone else to pick up the torch and take over for awhile so I can heal.
This is the probably the most challenging part of what is going on right now. I hate relying on others to help me because they historically fail me spectacularly and I end up having to do everything by myself anyway. Now, however, my mind and my body are screaming for me to bow out of pretty much everything and let others help me. If I was truly honest about what I need from people they would be even more reluctant to help me than they are now. No one considers what would be “inconvenient” for me or considers that what they are demanding from me escalates and exacerbates the debilitating symptoms and pain that I am dealing with every hour of the day. It’s hard to explain that getting out of bed is inconvenient for me most days. Doing everything else that is “expected” of me is impossible, but that is not how society works, that is not something that is “allowed.”
I know that this is a problem. I know that relying on other people to step up when I can’t keep going is opening up the door for severe disappointment and further pain, in addition to asking for someone to act in a way that may be beyond their own capacity at that moment. But to be honest, I don’t really know how to deal with this dichotomy right now and there is a part of me screaming “I don’t care that you don’t want to…” fill in the blank. I know that I need to rest in God and allow Him to fill me up in all of the areas of my life that are beyond depleted, but I struggle with this as well. I am a tangible person, I need to see and experience things before I truly understand them. One of the things I have a hard time remembering ever experiencing is God refreshing my soul, my body, and my mind when I ask. Usually it requires even more work on my part to pursue healing before I even begin to glimpse a hint of peace. Some people are not going to like this truth, because it’s not “correct” to admit that you struggle in your relationship with God and that you are more than disappointed when, once again, you have to fight for peace instead of Him refreshing you in a tangible way that everyday life can’t destroy.
I think the biggest struggle through this year of hell is feeling overwhelmingly alone. I can share what is truly going on in my head with God and no one else because no one else can or wants to try and understand what I am dealing with, let alone help me in the way I need. That alone is enough to contribute to the pain that I’m dealing with, but I also feel abandoned by God. I feel like there are so many ways that God could choose to take these burdens from me, but He doesn’t do that. Beyond the fact that I know this is not true, I know that I have not been left alone by God, I hate the fact that I can’t just pull myself out of the abyss that I am clinging to. No matter what I have tried, I just cannot get enough leverage in my life to climb back out. Because that is the definition of my life…constant chaos and no relief, and I think the biggest reason why I feel overwhelmed and miserable is because there is a part of me that expects the chance to rest. So when there is never ending chaos and pain, I get angry that I cannot get a break and in the end perpetuate what is causing me pain. Maybe life would be less horrible if we stopped expecting anything more than that.
The only bright spot in my life this year has been my son who is an incredibly happy, smart, joy-filled kid (somehow). I desperately wish I could hold onto the laughter that he causes and the happiness that I feel watching him grown and learn. If I could bottle his infectious laughter, smile, and joy, then maybe I could face the rest of the battles in my life with a stronger countenance and a different perspective. So how do I deal with this overwhelming, depressing, miserable year that doesn’t seem to end? I take every moment of his love, laughter, and joy, and try to make them last as long as I can. Because when he stops laughing or is not with me, there is nothing left but the chaos of this life, and that is not how I want to live the rest of my life. Hanging onto every moment that my son makes me laugh, helps me see the world through his eyes, and infects the world with his joy, is how I keep going when there is not much else left to fight for. I know it would be easier to crawl into bed and completely disappear until this chapter in my life is over, but if I had decided to do that, I would miss everything this little man is showing me with his big heart and little hands. And the one thing I decided long ago, was that I was never going to completely give up, and I refuse to miss his life because other, much less important things, are demanding my attention and my “compliance.” I refuse to remain in this hell, and I do fight every single day because I want my son to know that even though life is excruciatingly hard, there is always something worth fighting for. Right now, for me, he is what is worth fighting for, and I will keep fighting until I don’t have to fight anymore.
I’ve debated writing about this topic for awhile. This is one of those aspects of trauma that no one wants to talk about, that most untrained doctors and psychologists don’t understand or don’t want to understand, and that makes those suffering from them feel absolutely crazy. People who are suffering from these symptoms in response to trauma, often tend to attempt to hide these symptoms while discussing the more “accepted” symptoms like hypervigilance and anger, because they’ve either experienced ignorant responses from people or they are anticipating being labeled or institutionalized because of this disclosure. Delusions and hallucinations are the most common symptoms in Schizophrenia, so most people, friends, family, and clinicians, assume that if someone is presenting with those symptoms, regardless of everything else going on, they “must” be suffering from schizophrenia. If this has been the case with you, it is very frustrating because there is a part of you that knows that diagnosis is not true, but you’re so desperate for answers and relief that you believe that the “professional” must be right in their diagnosis. That was the case with me. I was one of the people who, when in the beginning of my PTSD suffering, dealt with paranoid delusions and hallucinations, specifically, the two identified perpetrators of my major trauma coming for me everywhere I went. I knew this wasn’t good, and when I sought help was misdiagnosed and overmedicated, while nothing was changing. This began my journey of finding my own answers because the “professionals” had no idea what they were doing.
Fortunately, the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the “bible of psychology” has included sensory disturbances, such as delusions and hallucinations, in the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. This means that finally, this rare and obscure aspect of PTSD has been formally recognized as a possibility in those suffering from PTSD and traumatic responses. The presentation of these symptoms exemplifies the widespread damage and chaos in your mind following the experience of trauma. What studies have found is that trauma changes the way the brain functions, and that includes changing the function in the areas of the brain responsible for sensation and perceptions. This is part of what allows for the experience of delusions and hallucinations following the trauma. When the brain is only functioning at an instinctual level and the executive functioning is not working, then it is understandable that symptoms that would never present themselves in an ordinary situation, are coming out following the experience of trauma.
The experience of delusions and hallucinations can be one of the most devastating symptoms of PTSD and traumatic responses. Not only does the person experiencing these symptoms feel out of control and “crazy” but a lot of people don’t want to understand and treat these symptoms. When your support network doesn’t understand what you are experiencing or respond in fear rather than acceptance, the resulting isolation and suffering can result in an exacerbation of all symptoms. Additionally, the delusions and hallucinations can cause the person suffering to do and say things that they would never have done if they were not suffering in this way. Oftentimes these “command hallucinations” or delusions will cause the person to engage in harming and sometimes fatal or homicidal behavior. This is part of the reason why it is so important for support systems and clinicians to recognize and treat these symptoms rather than dismissing them or misdiagnosing them. The consequences for not treating them can be devastating. This is where most people give up, when no one that they rely on to support them and help them through the hell they are experiencing, can’t or won’t step up and help, and instead of helping make everything exponentially worse. When you are suffering beyond your ability to cope and seek help, that is when people chose to engage in destructive and fatal behaviors rather than keep fighting.
There is, however, hope when dealing with these severe, disturbing, and potentially harmful symptoms. Unlike dealing with schizophrenia where the medications and treatments only quiet these symptoms, the treatments for PTSD can result in the complete resolution of symptoms. Finding and continuing to pursue treatment when you are suffering is extremely hard, however, if you fight through the chaos in your mind and participate in treatment, you will find relief. You will begin to feel somewhat normal and will begin to find yourself again. Although the symptoms of delusions and hallucinations are not well understood and some practitioners still dismiss the fact that these are part of the symptom presentation of PTSD, there are plenty of people who are educated and trained in PTSD and trauma responses who know that you are not crazy beyond help. I write this post with the intention of normalizing these types of symptoms and to tell you that you are not hopelessly ‘crazy’ or ‘broken’ and that there is true relief in effective treatment.
“What’s wrong with you?” “Why can’t you just be happy?” “Why can’t you just get over it?” “That’s a really messed up thing to say/think/believe?” Really, the list of these types of questions from people who do not understand trauma reactions can go on for many more pages. If you’re anything like me, you actually wish you could answer those questions or do what they are asking you to do. Feeling angry, negative, pessimistic, hopeless, and cynical all the time is really not a healthy or happy way to live. Waking up each morning wondering what fresh hell this day has in store for you cannot possibly lead to a positive and healthy outlook or outcome in life. So why do people who have survived trauma tend to act and think in a way that pushes them farther away from the person they desperately want to be? The answer lies in the question itself because they have experienced the worst things this world and humanity have to offer. Oftentimes, they have experienced repeated and brutal traumas and exposure to traumas that never seem to end. When you are exposed to those kinds of situations and events, the brain reacts in such a way that being positive and happy and “getting over it” are not actually possible.
Trauma destroys the way your brain was meant to operate, resulting in a cacophony of symptoms and behaviors that are almost impossible to control or change back to normal without intervention. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that the brain of a traumatized person just does not function right. The parts of the brain that are meant to regulate emotion, give context to information, and provide motivation and meaning are basically asleep, while the part of the brain that screams “run for your life!” is on hyperdrive. The hormones that are released in the brain of a traumatized person reach a level of oversaturation which results in this pessimistic and negative outlook. The chemicals and hormones that are meant to allow for positivity and happiness are not functioning in the brain of a traumatized person. The combination of different parts of your brain being “asleep” and the saturation or removal of chemicals and hormones results in numerous different expressions and reactions to the trauma. The only thing that is consistent about these reactions is that they are distressing, frustrating, and out of character for the people who are experiencing them.
So what does all of this mean? It means that the answer to the questions above are not a simple answer and you are most likely not able to control the emotional responses you have to this life. The conflict between who you were before the trauma and who you are now, the feelings of being hopeless to change those things that you do not like or do not want to experience afterward, and the pain and frustration of feeling out of control, cause you to shut down. Pessimism, negativity, cynicism, those are all symptoms of trying desperately to defend yourself from a perceived attack or threat. If you can turn off your hopeful expectations of something positive happening in life, then when those happy things do not happen, you can convince yourself that you’re not disappointed or hurt…because you have convinced yourself that there is nothing good left in the world or in other people. This leads to pushing more people away, especially people who cannot or choose not to try and understand the trauma and pain that you have survived, or who are too traumatized on their own to “handle” what’s going on with you. This further isolation and disillusion about people and life perpetuates the cycle of negativity and can perpetuate the traumatic reactions you are experiencing.
There is no simple answer to how to begin to combat the persistent negativity that comes with experiencing trauma, which is why it is so hard to do. Some people have felt this way for so long, they believe that this is really “who they are” rather than a protective response to what happened to them. But at the core of each of us who has felt or does feel this way is the deeply buried truth that this is not how we were meant to live this life. There is a part of us that will desperately seek relief, normalcy, and identity because we know that this is not who we really are. The process of healing this negativity from your past oftentimes requires you to rebuild yourself from the inside out. You have to look at who you were, who you became, and who you want to be and be willing to do whatever it takes to get to where you want to be.
References: Bessel Van der Kolk; The Body Keeps the Score
Traumatized people, because of the chemical changes in their brains, tend to walk around like zombies. The parts of the brain that facilitate rational thought, gives interpretation to experiences and manages emotional responses virtually go offline after trauma, while the part of the brain that screams that everything and everyone is dangerous is on hyper-drive. This causes a disconnection between the person’s cognitive abilities and awareness of their bodies and emotions. They become distracted easily and are typically unaware of the body sensations that are driving their agitation and distress. They are unaware of their shallow breaths, their eyes darting back and forth, and the tension and pain riddling their bodies because paying attention to those things don’t allow for a quick escape if needed. The part of the brain responsible for telling us to run, the limbic system, doesn’t allow a traumatized person to rest, or to engage fully in anything that distracts from what it tells you is potential threats everywhere. This part of your brain tells you that you are not safe and that you must be alert at all times for any and all possible threats. This creates the perfect setup for the development of PTSD and behaviors that are destructive as well as devastation in relationships and functioning in general. Oftentimes, people do not recognize themselves in the mirror when this brain system is functioning and cannot truly understand what is going on around them. People who are traumatized tend to live in the past, where the things they have experienced intrude into their present and convince them that they are still living in the trauma. People who have experienced trauma tend to live in fear, have severe anxiety and are paranoid about everyone and everything because they cannot trust their ability to perceive true danger and do not have a way to feel safe. This tendency to remain in the past, constantly reliving and reacting to the trauma they have experienced, results in significant disruption to present relationships, the ability to maintain a successful and fulfilling career, and the ability to experience life in the present.
One of the crucial components to treating trauma, is addressing this issue and helping people stay in the moment, to stay focused on the present and not the past. Retraining the brain to interpret everyday events correctly, and to give meaning to what you are experiencing in the present, allows the limbic system to return to it’s baseline instead of always being on. This, however, is not something that can be done just by willing it, “getting over it,” or just “deciding” to stop the trauma response. These brain and body responses are automatic and because of the mind/body disconnect, not easily retrained and controlled. The question then becomes, how do you help someone whose rational brain is essentially on a timeout while the part of the brain that controls basic functions is constantly going, to remain in the present and rewire the brain? Numerous studies and anecdotal evidence have demonstrated a positive response in a traumatized person’s ability to regain their life, including combat veterans, when they practice mindfulness techniques and begin to reactivate the rational side of their brains. Mindfulness at it’s most basic definition, is the practice of focusing on your body, your breath and your present surroundings. Beyond that definition, there are many different ways a person can practice this important technique. Many people already practice this behavior with daily meditation, yoga, and prayer. Traumatized people, however, do not stop long enough to engage in these behaviors successfully because of that hyper-alert limbic system. Additionally, these behaviors when done due to tradition or obligation, do not provide relief, because there is often little intention behind the practice, but rather a desire to just get it done and keep going. Therefore, it is important to understand how to be intentional with this practice and be willing to take the time to slow down and refocus on the moment in which you are living.
In my own life, I pray regularly and have had moments of clarity and peace that have come from that practice when I truly slow down and engage in the conversation. There are more times, though, that I am in a rush or I am not able or willing to slow down and truly engage and be present in the moment. This leads to a feeling of agitation, a need to rush, or I give up because the mental distractions are so intrusive that I cannot or do not want to take the time to address what’s going on. Mindfulness can actually be really successful in immediately addressing anxiety, insomnia, anger, and agitation once a person has developed a habit of intentionally focusing on being in the present. The key is to develop the habit of focusing on what is going on in and around you in that moment and letting the thoughts that intrude, just move through your mind without addressing or reacting to them. This is much easier said than done and requires intentionally and consistently setting aside time before you are triggered and throughout your day to regularly practice these activities. Once you begin to develop this habit, when you do get triggered by something, your body will begin to automatically stop you and engage in mindfulness to address the agitation that results from the trigger.
Practicing mindfulness does not have to be complicated. Generally, when I am teaching a trauma survivor to learn mindfulness, I begin with helping them learn to breathe deeply and focus on their breath. This alone can be immediately beneficial in lowering anxiety and assisting with insomnia and other unwelcome sensations as they begin to get fully oxygenated blood into their brains. This is the first step I take, before starting any other type of treatment, because it helps the person get in touch with their body sensations and their emotions and can help them feel a sense of safety. This can be easily done by placing your hand on your stomach, focusing on breathing only moving your hand, and imagining seeing your breath moving in and out of your body or counting to 4 with each breath. Once the breathing has been addressed, you can begin to evaluate your body and see if you are feeling pain, tension, nausea or any other unpleasant situation. This process helps reconnect those parts of your brain that have taken a time out, and can help you learn to give meaning to the things you are feeling and thinking, so you can decide if you want to respond or not.
There are many different ways of staying in the present when you have been traumatized. Mindfulness, meditation, and prayer are only a few of the ways you can stop and focus on living in the present. Taking the time to sit, lay down, walk, stand, whatever you need, to focus on breathing, hearing and experiencing what is going on around you, and focusing on those sensations is oftentimes the first step to healing. This practice takes time, especially when you have a lot of intrusive thoughts and external distractions that are begging for you to pay attention. These distractions are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but rather, keep you focusing externally or on what happened or what you need to do rather than what you are doing and feeling in that moment. I recommend practicing these techniques in a quiet place first so that you can minimize external distractions and truly develop the habit of living in the present moment.
In addition to the following resources, you can find auditory guided meditations and mindfulness techniques on iTunes and similar avenues. There are also numerous books that can teach you many techniques to practice. Take the time to focus on you and focus on beginning the healing process by staying in the moment and not letting the past rule your present.
People are not meant to endure trauma. In fact, the original design of this world and humanity did not include pain and suffering. Unfortunately, that did not last and we are left in a world that is filled with hate, evil, and violence. The atrocities perpetrated by evil people and the things that people have to do to survive in order to defend this country and our families, causes deep and painful wounds. These wounds ooze and bleed into our souls, poisoning our lives, our families, our jobs, and our very existence. The sad fact is that no one can ever be fully prepared or trained to handle some of the things that are thrown at us in this life. Because we are not fully able to understand the concept of dealing with pain and trauma until it happens to us or a loved one, we are usually left ragged and suffocating with the weight of what we are experiencing. This overwhelming sense of chaos, the heavy weight that sits on your chest all day and creates horrific nightmares when you try to get some sleep to drive away the demons, can destroy us if it’s not dealt with.
In this society, there is a stigma towards mental health needs, leading to so many broken and hurting people trying desperately to chase the demons on their own with no real sense of how to do it, searching for anything that will bring temporary relief. Because of this, often people turn to self-destructive and self-harming behaviors to numb the pain or to feel “something” even if it hurts. There are many ways that people try to “handle” the emotional turmoil that they are experiencing. One of the problems with self-destructive and self-harming behaviors is that they are usually addictive, create even more chaos in your life, and never truly fix the pain that you are feeling. Because people are experiencing trauma at younger and younger ages, children, especially are at risk of this as they do not have the cognitive or emotional maturity to understand and deal with pain and trauma. I have seen and experienced this additional struggle and destruction in both my personal and my professional life. So many men and women who have not been able to find help or even know that they need to ask for help, have spiraled out of control into a dizzying cycle of destruction that began with untreated trauma. Some of these men and women were are so caught in their spiral of self-destruction and self-harm that they do things they would probably never do were they been clearly and been able to heal from what they experienced.
I want to talk a little bit about what I mean by self-destructive and self-harming behavior. I think society has done a pretty good job of illuminating drug and alcohol addiction, and to a lesser degree, behaviors like cutting. However, these are just the beginning of what can be destructive to your soul and your life. People who are struggling with untreated trauma reactions and emotions that are overwhelming, engage in many other behaviors that cause harm. Addiction to food, gambling, sex, pornography, anger, perfectionism, control and order, are some of the behaviors that come to mind. This list may surprise someone, especially if they see something there that they recognize in themselves. This is because our defense mechanisms come into play when the behaviors we’ve engaged in to escape from the pain and emotions of what has happened to us are pointed out to be destructive. Any behavior that you engage in to escape from reality that interferes with your personal or professional life, or that causes harm to yourself or someone else, is a self-destructive and self-harming behavior. Some on that list, society has even managed to convince people is healthy, normal, and an acceptable solution or behavior for when you are struggling. I wholeheartedly disagree, these behaviors take a deep suffering and add more fuel to that fire, resulting in significant harm and sometimes have fatal consequences. That is why these behaviors are so enticing…the mentality of the “everyone else is doing it so it must be fine” belief is what allows us to continue hurting ourselves or someone else. But beyond that, escaping from the demons in your mind is a lot easier than turning around and beating them down for good. It is much easier to give into to what temporarily makes us feel good than it is to endure the temporary discomfort of treating the trauma that haunts you.
But that is the thing with trauma, no matter how effectively you temporarily distract from your pain, as soon as you sober up, as soon as you stop cutting or watching pornography, or the anger explodes, you are still left with the trauma and emotions you couldn’t deal with in the first place. Escaping from the pain is not the answer, it is part of the problem. In order to truly make the pain go away, to “numb” the pain that you are feeling, is to deal with the trauma. In order to find permanent relief from the demons that haunt your steps, you have to turn around and fight back. If you continue to give in and escape rather than fight back, you will never truly be free. Self-destructive and self-harming behaviors leave you lonelier and more broken than you were during the trauma. We must choose to fight this battle everyday. If we do not choose to fight for our lives and our sanity than no one else will do that for us. Hurting yourself and others is not going to fix the pain, it won’t make the memories go away, it will just temporarily numb the suffering. Beating this demon requires you to choose to not hurt yourself because of another person’s actions towards you. Continuing to hurt yourself and others because of the things that you experienced lets the perpetrators win. Stop letting those who do harm control and defeat you long after the trauma has stopped. Choose to let go and love yourself in spite of the fact that someone else didn’t. Self-destructive and self-harming behavior can be defeated, but you have to decide that you are worth the battle and that you will no longer let the evil perpetrated against you win. Choose to love yourself and choose to fight back…Don’t let them win anymore.