Trauma

  • Religious Abuse,  Trauma

    Millions Against One

    Leaving the church is like finally escaping an abusive relationship
    But when you go home, all your family talks about is your ex-partner
    And they constantly ask about your abuser, like when you saw them last
    And they announce being disappointed in you for leaving
    And they ask you to call up your ex before eating at the dinner table
    And they beg you to apologize to the person who mistreated you. You’ll be forgiven and granted a second chance
    And your uncle pats you on the shoulder and assures you that your ex will always want you and will forever pursue you
    Then your parents tell you their greatest desire is to see you get back together with your ex.

    Leaving the church is like finally walking away from a narcissist
    Only for everything else in your life to suddenly fall apart because it all hinged on that one relationship
    And you lose your friends because they “liked you better” when you were with your abuser
    And everyone staunchly defends your ex, even those who don’t know your situation
    And they inform you that your efforts to protect yourself were morally wrong
    And any place you go, you run into the narcissist’s friends – everywhere you turn someone is singing their praises
    And people only refer to you as “so-and-so’s ex” – that’s all they can see you as
    Then they hand you a Relationship Self-Help book, saying they are worried about you and this will fix everything.

    Leaving the church is like finding the strength to break up with a toxic, controlling, co-dependent oppressor
    Except instead of support, your friends say you’re breaking your abuser’s heart
    And they give your ex credit for anything good in your life
    And they tell you you’ll never find meaning or purpose apart from your ex
    And folks you’ve never met before are personally offended at your decision to end the relationship
    And even your therapist sides with the narcissist – with subtle jabs and snide remarks
    And distant acquaintances comfort you with reminders that they’re talking to your abuser on your behalf
    Then years down the line you’ll still meet people who declare they know exactly what you should have done, but they weren’t even there.

    This will happen for years, for decades, for the rest of your life.
    And you’ll wonder if you can ever truly be free because you weren’t breaking up with just one person – it’s millions against one.

  • PTSD,  Trauma,  Trauma Healing

    Silver Lining… or Gold?

    “Ten spears go to battle … and nine shatter. Did the war forge the one that remained? No… All the war did was identify the spear that would not break.” – Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer

    Trauma didn’t make me stronger. It revealed my strength.

    Trauma didn’t make me better. It proved I am good.

    Trauma didn’t teach me anything – I sifted through the sand looking for diamonds and gleaned goodness where I could find it, rare as it was in that hell.

    My abusers gave me nothing of value – in my own wisdom I recognized a kernel of truth amid their array of lies and took it with me, leaving behind the rest. I get the credit for lessons learned and growth gained in the chaos, not the havoc wreckers.

    Abuse has no silver lining – the hidden treasure was always my ability to emerge from the deadly storm alive, never the merciless wind or harrowing waves.

    Trauma has no upside – it held me back, knocked me down, inflicted serious injuries. Yes, I got up time and time again. Yes, I nursed my wounds and healed them as much as they could be healed. But without the setback, who knows how much farther I could have gotten? What more could I have accomplished without years of my energy going toward surviving something so unnecessary and harmful?

    Trauma is fundamentally and irredeemably bad – always. The urge to find a bright side is a coping mechanism for avoiding the unpleasantness of sitting with the finality of an immutable and irreparable event – a moment passed, frozen in time; once birthed, eternally existent. Looking for a reason or projecting meaning is a surface level distraction from the pain and unfairness of it all, a wrestling with our own powerlessness against the past.

    The blessing isn’t the unthinkable survived but always the survivor. Trauma reveals those who are made of gold so when passed through the fire they emerge changed, but not destroyed. Trauma reveals the extraordinary person otherwise overlooked in an ordinary life.

    Trauma is never good – the person who weathers it without becoming a monster is good. The person who can escape a changing maze, who can set their broken bones despite the agony, who doesn’t give up after being pushed down again and again – that person is good. The person who is clever enough and creative enough to invent new ways of escaping, resilient enough to keep inventing when they are exhausted, and shrewd enough to seek help – that person is good. The person who can experience injustice without repeating it, the person who can look outside of themselves while carrying something so consuming – they are good. Trauma never is. If the bleakness of it all is too much and you need to find the light in the darkness – look to the survivor, the hero of the story, whether it is yourself or a person you love. The survivor is hope in a depressing narrative. Don’t give credit to abusers or the trauma they inflict by looking for the silver lining – instead celebrate the person who is gold.

  • Grief,  Trauma

    Traumaversary

    One year today.

    Before I was a grieving person I didn’t understand the experience of a “traumaversary”. I figured on days that marked a loss, the grieving person was sad and remembering it more because of what day it was.

    I didn’t realize it’s more than sadness. I didn’t understand there’s really no such thing as “remembering it”, because you never forget. It’s not a thought you have. It’s a constant reality. It’s a gaping hole woven into the fabric of your being. It’s part of who you are now.

    I didn’t know when a traumaversary comes around, especially the first one, both the brain and body are reliving the initial loss. In a lot of ways the body thinks it’s happening all over again.

    I didn’t understand a traumaversary isn’t just a day, but it’s the days and weeks and even months leading up to it. I had no clue a grieving person’s body feels on edge, waiting for the unthinkable. I didn’t know its like reliving the past while getting a window into the hellish future. I was unaware it feels like knowing what will happen on that day but being powerless to stop it. I had no idea a traumaversary isn’t just a day.

    I didn’t realize a traumaversary isn’t just a day, or the days before it – it’s the days and weeks and even months following after it too. I had no clue following a traumaversary a grieving person’s body relives those early days of grief, struggling to survive the unsurvivable. I didn’t know a grieving person’s mind goes through the cycles again of trying to reorient itself to its new damned existence. I was unaware it feels like reliving the past while knowing experientially just how utterly devastating the future is.

    Now I know that at the one year mark there is a jarring realization that you can no longer say “this time last year” when referring to special moments with your person. It’s the traumatic reality that linear time is dragging you further and further away from their touch, their voice, their smell. A traumaversary isn’t just a testament to what happened in the past – it’s proof the world keeps moving after your world ended. It’s tangible evidence you are still here and they are not. It’s the sometimes paralyzing fear that your memories will fade. It’s the terror of recognizing that shared moments with your person are taking up a smaller and smaller piece of the pie of your life. Its the suffocating epiphany that the percentage of your life spent with your person is shrinking with each passing millisecond. It’s wondering what new memories would have been made by now if things had been different, what they would be doing now, who they would be.

    I’m finding now that a traumaversary isn’t grieving only the initial loss. It’s grieving a month, or six months, a year or many years worth of missed memories, empty holidays, unfulfilled dreams, lonely adventures, reaching for shared goals alone.

    I’ve learned now that you should be gentle with yourself on traumaversaries, whether it marks a loss or abuse or some other terrifying event. Be gentle with yourself because your nervous system is terrified. Be gentle with yourself because your body is reliving something it didn’t think it could live through. Be gentle with yourself because a traumaversary isn’t just a day.


  • Poetry,  PTSD,  Trauma

    The Me That Never Was

    Some days it is hard to love myself.
    Today is one of those days.

    Some days I wonder who I would be without this PTSD.

    I want to know what could have been, if the abusers didn’t win.

    Who would I be if I wasn’t shaped by what those people did to me?

    I am on hyper-alert. My senses are sharpened to the slightest movement or sound; immediately noticing a subtle smirk or frown. My body is tense and ready to fight. But I can never be sure if I’m paranoid or right.

    My mind is always at the defense, ready to state my case and stand my trial. I make snap judgments and assume the worst. My nervous system is tattooed with a survival manual.

    My reflexes learned how to be a step ahead of the attacks that always came; prepared to guard my honor and ward off the blame.

    I’ve mastered the art of reading between the lines. Shallow breath, darting eyes – mind games and word traps I’m quick to recognize.

    Playing detective, constantly on edge – my testimony is told by unlikely witnesses: my own skin, blood pressure, metabolism, my muscles. Chapters of my story are written on pages of medical bills.

    On bad days my verbal processing center shuts down. It’s difficult to follow what’s being said or articulate what’s wrong; I stutter and falter. My face flushes with the shame and self-disgust familiar to survivors.

    On good days I’m still haunted by the me that never was. I feel her, but I don’t know who she is or what she does.

    If only she would talk to me – show me what it would be like if I was never given PTSD.

    Sometimes I think about what potential lived inside that little baby born on a stormy August afternoon thirty years ago. Is her potential still inside of me or is she a ghost? Am I honoring her memory? Am I fulfilling her purpose or at least getting close? Some days I long for younger me, willing her to come alive.

    Or do I have it all wrong? Perhaps a lesser me entered the flames and came out the other side refined, forged in the fire. The perilous journey making me determined and strong.

    Without trauma I could be happier but probably more shallow. Maybe I was fated for this journey, but I’ll never know.

    I do know I’ve gained wisdom, experience, empathy and compassion. I know I’ve developed resilience and character and faith. I’m a fighter and a survivor – but what will the healing process create? Who will I be when this label becomes a smaller part of my identity? Will I lose myself? Will I find my true self?

    Or is this fluid, ever-changing, adapting, always growing and morphing and evolving me, the only me there ever was?

    All I can ever really do is embrace the now, commit to the process, look for the beauty within the chaos. I can celebrate my victories and focus on what I have more than what was lost.

    And while other people’s actions have been huge in shaping the person I am, that was the extent of their power. I still get to decide who I am becoming, and the best part is, they’re not going to like her.

  • Poetry,  PTSD,  Trauma

    I’ll Bet You Miss Me: an Ode to Walking Away

    I’ll bet you miss me.

    I’ll bet you miss my wide eyed devotion, my shaky self-confidence, my desperation to be wanted.

    I’ll bet you miss my innocent naivity, my optimistic trusting nature. All the second chances.

    I’ll bet you miss my eagerness to learn – the ease at which I was shaped, molded, changed. I’ll bet you miss remodeling me into anything you wanted until it wasn’t clear where I ended and you began.

    I’ll bet you miss making me small so you feel bigger and better. I’ll bet you miss the days when I didn’t know how to speak up or stand up – when your opinion was final and what you said goes.

    I’ll bet you miss the “Good Christian Girl” me – trained to be humble and submissive and obedient – a blank slate for you to write on. I’ll bet you miss the me who was taught to always forgive no matter how much it hurt – indoctrinated into thinking that doing the right thing was supposed to break me like that.

    I’ll bet I was the best thing that ever happened to you. I’ll bet it satisfied a deep hunger to have a reliable outlet for your narcissism; your sick need to control and twist and spin reality, regularly fulfilled.

    I’ll bet losing me was shocking. You knew as long as you could find the right angle to work it was always possible to get what you wanted – until it wasn’t. Not this time. You thought you had me. You were wrong. You thought the sweet things I had waited for years to hear would pull me back in. When that didn’t work, cruel stabs and fear mongering would surely coerce me back where you needed me. You got more and more frantic and mean, clawing and biting, grasping at straws.

    It didn’t work because you are actually powerless, cupping your hands around a mirage.

    I’m stronger than you. I overcame things you’ve never even faced. I outsmarted your most cleverly laid out plans. I don’t need you but you needed me, to keep up your farce. Your games only won for so long because I’m better than you. Those tricks only work on good people, you know; people who are compassionate and forgiving and selfless and committed, whose biggest flaw is wanting to love someone else more than they want to love themselves. Decent folks whose worst trait is being willing to sacrifice until it destroys them.

    I’ll bet you miss me – all those years invested in grooming me and setting me up and spinning a carefully crafted narrative, nudging me in deeper and deeper. Almost a decade of picking at the crumbling foundation of my sanity, meticulously, little piece by little piece – all that effort gone to waste.

    I’ll bet you miss the me who thought you deserved an ounce of my love or even a second glance.

    I used to miss me too.

    Now I don’t have to. I am my own again.

    ~~~~~~

    This piece is a poetic reflection on my abusive former marriage: a marriage I’m convinced never would have happened if I had not been raised in the conservative church.

    Like thousands of Christian women, I was a victim of the church-to-abusive-marriage pipeline. Christian girls are trained from infancy to be obedient and meek, submissive and weak. We are taught to serve, to set our own needs aside, to bend to the whims of others, to always be more understanding. Christian boys are taught from day one to take control, to dominate, make all the decisions and enjoy the blessing of a “godly wife”.

    As a little girl in the church, I grew up regularly hearing adults (usually women) exclaiming “marriage is sooooo hard!!!”. So. Many. Times. Many Christian married couples I knew were obviously unhappy and incompatible after marrying at very young ages. This shouldn’t have been unexpected, with the intense pressure from the community to fulfill the “Lord’s calling” by choosing a marriage partner as soon as possible, on top of the harsh religious romantic and sexual restrictions placed on young singles. Some couples clearly felt trapped due to intense disapproval of divorce. Almost every week I would hear someone complain about their spouse, so it comes as no surprise to many young Christian women like myself when our marriages are quickly fraught with difficulty and misery. We are indirectly (and sometimes directly) taught this is normal. We don’t recognize the signs of abuse right away because we have been conditioned to it, groomed for it.

    Sometimes years later the lightbulb starts to flicker on. But when we begin to realize what’s happening it often feels too late. There is no one to turn to. The church community is run by men. The older women have learned to survive by falling in line. They don’t defend us, they encourage us to stay and be better wives. That’s all they know. The younger women are often just as confused and scared as we are. If we leave, we lose everything. Our relationships, our reputation, our ability to work or volunteer in the community we have built our life around, our sense of purpose, our livelihoods – escape is devastating.

    Women are blamed for the abuse we endure. “You should have noticed it before you got married.” “You need to forgive.” “Did you seek wise counsel?” “Did you do premarital counseling?” “Do you pray for your husband?” “Are there any unconfessed sins in your heart?” “Do you give him enough sex?” “He needs respect!”

    Sermons are preached condemning divorce from powerful leaders who have never needed to consider it as an option. Lessons are taught about wifely duties from men who will never have to fulfill them.

    My little sister married as a teenager, and one by one my friends did too. One by one I watched their joy fade and any individually recognizable traits melt into their new conglomerate family identities marked by “duty” and “design”. With each baby they bore, less of them was left.

    I was barely an adult when older women in the church started asking me when it was my turn to get married. They looked at me with pity in their eyes and they prayed for me to find a husband. On my own I wasn’t good enough, I was incomplete.

    When a young man came through my Christian circles touting progressivism, it was refreshing and felt safer. I thought it might just be the refuge I was looking for.

    Finally I could breathe without constant pressure and surveillance. I could enjoy the relationship without the suffocating formalities of courtship. Future children were an option, not a requirement. My body, my life, my beliefs would be mine.

    Finally I could explore my spirituality in a more flexible manner. It was exciting looking at the Bible on its own, without a required interpretation. It was invigorating getting to explore who God made me to be apart from limiting man-made expectations.

    It might seem shocking, but at age 19 I had no idea that he wasn’t the only “progressive” Christian in the world. That’s how sheltered I was. It was the first time I had seen a faith expression that wasn’t all rules and show. It was the first time a man besides my dad had seen me not only as a woman but as a person. I thought I had hit the jackpot, and I had better not let him go.

    It probably does not come as much surprise when this man who was raised his entire life in the conservative church might have left some traditional doctrines behind, but was still profoundly shaped by evangelical toxic masculinity. A relationship that started out refreshing, freeing and healing quickly turned controlling, narcissistic, demeaning and mind-twistingly manipulative. It was the epitome of everything I thought I had left.

    Because my now-husband claimed progressive ideals, my parents’ church had excommunicated me at the first sign of me even hanging out with him – long before we started dating. So I had nothing to go back to. But somehow over the next almost-decade I found the strength on my own to look intently at what was happening to me, rethink the very fabric of reality, let go of what little hadn’t already been taken from me, and pull away from his grasp. It was risky, dangerous, and not a clean break, but I made it.

    I drove 4,000 miles across an entire continent to leave him. Alone in the dead of winter on treacherous roads no one I knew had ever traveled on. I slept in my car in freezing temperatures at snow-buried rest stops, abandoned campgrounds and creepy cemeteries; borrowed change in my pocket. Over eleven days, I made my way back, mile by mile, to my home state to start a new life completely from scratch in a town I had only lived in previously for a few months.

    It was a long uphill battle and every difficult decision and hard-earned accomplishment along the way I wear as medals of honor. I walked away not once but twice: from the church and then from a man who was a product of the church. Now on the other side, I own myself for the first time and no one, not that man, not the church, not anyone else, gets to take my life away from me again.

    I have faithfully kept vows to myself to stay far away from those old places and ways of life, and none of those people have seen me in years. And you know what? I’ll bet they miss me.