Waking up

A sweet little girl, your whole life’s ahead of you. All your hopes and dreams. Little girls seem to have this built in agenda that just is. You grow up, you date, you fall in love, you get married and you have kids and maybe even a career. It is just the way things are “supposed to be”. Sure there may be set backs here and there but ultimately that is the goal, the plan, the approved and expected societal outcome. There is no talk of a plan B. There is no other option that is as accepted and supported by society. It’s just expected and met with confusion and suspicion when it doesn’t happen like that, especially for the little girl.

When you spend your childhood, adolescence, college years, and on in survival mode your normal is quite different from the majority, and the kicker is that you are not even aware that you are in survival mode, your body does it all on it’s own. When your body and mind are focused on surviving and you are isolated from healthy people, you are not taught social cues and proper relational styles. You are not taught that how you see and respond to the world is different from the norm. You are not taught how to fit in, and that is a breeding ground for more isolation. People think you are “different” and they don’t know what to do with different. You have no idea that you are different, and it is confusing. More than anything else you WANT the societal norm, but the damage has been done and the wheels have already been put in motion and a cycle far beyond your understanding has been set .

Like a patient who has spent decades in a coma, you simply survive, for years, aging and surviving. The people around you live and grow and the dance of time takes them from one stage of life to the next.  Childhood, adolescence, college, young adult, 30’s, 40’s….and then you start to wake up. Your peers are no longer your peers because you have nothing in common, you’ve missed a lifetime of living, a life time of experiences and relationships was completely skipped.

Your little girl still dreams of falling in love, first kisses, first dance, dating, marriage, babies, but you are no longer a little girl, and your body has aged. You look around and slowly begin to realize that you no longer qualify for the norm, you no longer qualify for your little girl dreams. What happened?

You were busy surviving. The mass of life experiences and relational growth was traded for survival.  Little girl dreams and first dances passed you by. Now you have scars that are healing instead. A body that has out aged your mental state of mind. Grief for what never was and what never can be. Survival,  turned into a betrayal of your own mind and body against you, without even being aware of the magnitude of what you were loosing until it was gone. “But hey, at least you survived…. ”   Did I?

Because this place sure doesn’t feel like living. My choices seem to be disappearing with out my permission and my hopes are jumping off of cliffs while I scramble franticly trying to save them,  and my soul aches all the time. I feel like I’m just waking up and I have no idea how to relate to the world around me.  It’s all gone, all that time, all those years, gone.

PTSD

Diagnosis code: 309.81  http://ptsdinfo.net/dsm5.html

“I’m changing your diagnosis to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  I thought my doctor was joking. I’ve never been to war, I’ve been abused, but not as bad as that!!!

My doctor was serious. I had just spent the last 45min. describing the frustrating things my brain and body were doing and my failure to control them. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety all my life. I take medications for both. It turns out the symptoms of depression and anxiety are just that, symptoms, not a cause. Their roots go deeper than I realized.

I’ve been seeing this doctor for over 2 years now, and working steadily towards what I thought was the end of the line of being “free.” I’ve spent years recovering from my childhood abuse. I felt I was finally getting to a place where the gaping wounds were scabbing over, and some turning to scars. I wasn’t hemorrhaging anymore, and yet I had all these symptoms: nightmares, trouble sleeping, random episodes of crying, anxiety, hyper vigilance, not able to be in a crowd w/o feeling exhausted afterwards or panicked during, isolating, easily over stimulated, exaggerated startle response, disassociating, memory problems, not able to concentrate, always tired, hyper sensitive to human touch, panic attacks, not able to watch certain movies or shows because they “upset” me so much, random sounds or noises making me feel like I’m going to climb out of my skin. bouts of pure exhaustion for no apparent reason.

When will it end?

“you may have adrenal fatigue syndrome from being in a constant state of anxiety for such long periods of time” Oh great, one more thing to add to my list.

The doctor thumbed through my chart, reading her notes, and we rehashed my childhood experiences: abandonment, betrayal, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, spiritual abuse, witnessing others being abused, sexual abuse….

“Wait, I don’t remember discussing the sexual abuse.”  Oh?

” We talked about your dad being inappropriate and pinching your butt, was there more?” I was molested starting at age 4 and continuing on by different people through about age 12.  I said it as if I was reading off a “to do” list. Oh and a guy in high school attempted to rape me my senior year.

My doctor set my chart down and leaned back in her chair. The look of shock evident on her face. “You’ve been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder!” So, this is “normal?” I’m not crazy?

“Why haven’t we discussed the sexual abuse before this?” I don’t know, I thought I had, it seemed secondary to the other issues I was trying to deal with.

She immediately went into what she wanted me to do self care wise, what I was to continue doing, books, support, and other alternatives to help the healing process. Like I said, I didn’t think she was serious at first. As It turns out all that “other stuff” I was working on getting over may not have been the main cause of my symptoms, it may just be the “secondary issue” that is the main problem.

Here’s what I’ve discovered since then. In my 20 some years of on and off counseling I’ve never explored the issues of being sexually abused. I don’t know why, or how it was missed, but it was. This was startling for me to realize.

It started at such a young age,  and after the first incident I tried to tell my mom. She waved me away in annoyance, as I tried to explain an event that I didn’t yet have words for.  I never tried to tell again. I was silenced and conditioned by my abusers, there were 7 of them over the years. It was so prevalent that it became another confusing, unwanted “normal” of my crazy childhood. It seemed to be a lesser abuse compared to the other things.

Maybe I just wasn’t capable of  handling these issues until now. Maybe because the actual act of sexual intercourse never happened, my mind minimized it as less harmful than the other abuses. I ‘m not sure.

So I’m reading and re-reading and finding out that there are things I do “naturally” that are actually common coping mechanisms of abuse victims. Things I thought were normal, ways of behavior and thinking I thought everyone did.  It’s terrifying and freeing, but mostly really, really scary.

Lions Hope

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This is a real, non-photo shopped photo of  the real-life ‘Lion Whisperer” Kevin Richardson, and those are real non-domesticated, living in the wilds of Africa, lions!. This picture presses on a wild desire of my heart. One I have had for many years, one so real yet so ridiculous that I didn’t even dare to share it with others, not for a long time. The desire to pet a real live lion. Actually that is the watered down “realistic” version of my desire. The full version is (if it were possible for a lion to be domesticated, and if I could afford to feed one) to own one as a pet. I would LOVE to have a lion, to play with him, to nuzzle my face deep into his fluffy wild mane and snuggle against him on a warm summer afternoon, lazing under a tree in the cool grass, reading a book or napping. And the enjoyment I would get in seeing the expression on the face of a visitor to my home, as my pet lion rounded the corner to greet them!

Why do we tend to hide our most wanted desires, hopes, dreams? Why do we keep from sharing them, ridiculous as they may be? Why are some things so precious that we dare not speak them aloud?

I am in a process, on a journey, one that will probably last an entire lifetime. The abuse of my childhood has left me with innumerable scars and deeply ingrained beliefs. These beliefs are not all truths, many of them are in fact lies. The process is the untangling of these beliefs and the pain and mourning that comes with the realization of what I thought to be true only to realize that it is not. How do we restructure ingrained thinking, and how do we stop harming ourselves when that is all we’ve know? How do we relearn to react to situations in a “healthy” way, when we have been programmed to react out of survival instinct and that usually means a “go to” behavior that is not healthy.  How do we choose between what our heart says and what our brain says when they are opposite from each other? How do we decide to keep fighting when all of this is just soo very exhausting?

I jump back and forth over the highway of God’s ultimate desire for me from ditch to ditch. Sometimes I land closer to the highway, sometimes I land on the highway, but mostly it seems I end up in the ditches, at varying levels, next to the highway.

Depression is my go to survival instinct, along with isolation. I KNOW these places WELL, the tunnels that delve deep into the darkness, the darkest of places, even to the very foundations of darkness where you stand toe to toe with death itself. I have been there so often that I do not have a healthy “fear” of death.  I have little value for my life, and although I have recovered from the days of desperately wanting to take my own life, were life to be taken from me, or were I to be in a situation where I had to choses mine over another’s…well lets just say that that is not a scary thing for me to think about. The verse, 1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” comes to mind. I’ve experienced enough ugliness on this earth that truly there is nothing but relief and joy when I think of leaving it and joining Jesus. It is a very different matter however, when thinking about other people, or loved ones leaving this earth.

I hate that my go to reflex is self-contempt, self-hate, self-harm with my words and thoughts, choosing to endue and work through physical pain instead of knowing when to stop, or choosing isolation over reaching out. I am in the process of changing these behaviors and it is HARD. However, surprising as it may be, even in the middle of all this mess God had chosen to use me, and I have chosen to let Him. I have discovered a passion, and a place where I “fit”, one that has always been there, but not channeled directly.

Because I am so familiar with the dark places of depression and abuse I am able to journey their with others who find themselves trapped in the tunnels. I can sit with them in that dark place and hold there heart with great compassion and understanding. I am able to share parts of myself that minister to their pain and bring some relief of not being “the only one that feels like this”. This work energizes me, I enjoy loving on people, I am honored at being chosen by a hurting person to sit with them in their pain, truly honored.

And yet I marvel at the double mindedness I can have towards myself. How can I breathe life giving words of love and encouragement into another person, yet slice myself to the core with violently hateful words and thoughts, towards myself? The craziness of it!

Why is it so much easier to see the value of another? Why am I not able to extend the grace and compassion I have for others towards my own hurting, healing, self? These are the places, and the questions I am currently searching. I too am allowing someone to sit with me in my pain and hold my heart. Maybe that is the true circle of life. If my bucket is empty and I never get the help I need, I will not be able to help others, and since helping others is a passion for me, in order to do it I MUST fill my bucket.

Back to the picture above. This year I took the time to come up with a goal for myself, it is in the quotes above, I added it to the picture before posting it. While looking at that sentence and pondering all that it means to me, I asked God for a picture to capture those words, something that spoke to my heart. I suddenly remembered a post I saw of this man on facebook, and how tears of joy and longing fell while watching him interact with these lions. I googled him, and God placed this picture in front of me, and instantly my heart filled, and tears came to my eyes. YES, that is EXACTLY IT!  That captures exactly what I want to experience when I say “I will allow myself to hope and dream again, to listen to the whispers of my heart and entertain the possibilities and the what if’s”. What could be more “what if” than that photo?

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life knee jerking to the depths of darkness, and isolation when my hope is crushed, my soul is hurt, or my longings not met. I want to be able to embrace truth and grace for myself.  I want the kind thoughts to be louder than the hateful ones. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling foolish for allowing myself to hope or dream, especially when those hopes and dreams are crushed or remain unmet, floating in front of me, like a carrot in front of a horse. I want to live more on the highway, and less in the ditches, and I want to learn how to do it this side of Heaven.

Psalms 130:5 “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

2014 A New Year

My goal (I don’t do resolutions) for 2014 is to allow myself to hope and dream again, to listen to the whispers of my heart and entertain the possibilities and the what if’s.

 I enjoyed New Year ’s Eve. I spent the early part of it having coffee/tea with a new friend, who graciously found me important enough to take the time to get to know me better. It blessed me tremendously, and spoke to my heart, as a huge part of my struggle/ story involves the belief of the lie that I am not wanted or wantable. I left there feeling wanted.

The rest of the evening was spent at my brother and sister-in-laws house with 4 wild and carefree kids and 3 wild and carefree adults. We watched movies, there was dancing, laughing, hair braiding, nail polishing, playing, and just being silly. It was fun, they are the most important people in my life, and I am grateful beyond words for them.

Yet, there were still places in my soul that were not satisfied, and my deep longings and brokenness wouldn’t allow me to fully embrace the feelings of excitement and magic that Ryan Seacrest animated, while the hoopla of Times Square, jammed with people, cheered on the dropping of the ball.

And then the count down, 10,9,8….. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!! and the reality of my singleness, my longings, and the weight of yet another year to get through, snapped against my heart like a rubber band, that ever present sting rising to the surface. I hate it. I hate the shame and the self-condemning thoughts of not being totally satisfied with the gifts I’ve been given, and for still wanting more.

The truth is that I’m not excited for another year. And in my process of healing my soul I’ve chosen to sit with the truth of my feelings. I’m not going to pretend that I’m excited or that everything has the essence of being shiny and new, or that I’m starting off with a “clean slate”. I’m not going to pretend that the sting of not having a significant other to share the traditional “Midnight Kiss” with wasn’t there. It was there, along with the shameful and selfish thoughts of “Uggghh another year, how many more of these am I going to have to endure God?”  Mixed in with the condemning thoughts of, “Do you know how many people would give anything to just have more year, one more DAY, with a lost loved one? And here I am not appreciating or wanting the days I’ve been given!” Shame, ambivalence, self-contempt, realness. 

 I will not force myself to pretend to feel fully satisfied, not anymore. And truly I don’t think any of us will reach the fullness of true contentment this side of Heaven. I believe longings and desires come from God to help us move closer to Him. So, that’s what I have chosen to do this new year. I have chosen to continue exploring the longings of my heart, and the places that are not satisfied. I have chosen to feel my feelings, to sit in them instead of masking them, and to actually ASK God aloud, what is it I’m REALLY wanting? What is it You are trying to lead me towards? Then, I will do my best to listen and allow my heart to be open to new possibilities.  I will continue to tell myself to trust that God really does want His best for me.

Jeremiah 29:11  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Psalm 107:9   “For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.”

Invited

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I watch this movie “While You Were Sleeping” every year along with other Christmas favorites. There are two scenes that always stir my heart. The scene where Lucy says ” Have you ever been so alone you spend the night confusing a man in a coma?” and the scene above, where Lucy sits watching the family simply “do family”, knowing she doesn’t truly belong there, but just thankful for the opportunity to watch it unfold in front of her, thankful for being included.

There is a longing to be invited into those places. The places that do not belong to me, the places I have not been invited into but wish I were, the places where I “watch through the window from the front porch”.  There is a relating to feeling “so alone”, and a hunger to simply taste the crumbs of what I ache for as I watch it play out in others lives.

And yet as I think on why it is that I don’t belong where I want to belong, or why I’m not invited to where I really want to join in, I am reminded that Jesus too knocks on MANY doors that refuse to invite Him in and that there are many places that He is not welcome. He longs to be invited just like I do.

He reminds me in the stillness of my heart that I do have places where I am invited and welcomed, and that the places where I am not, as lovely as they may seem, may not hold the satisfaction that I imagine they do.  I may never have “my own” family, and I may never get married, and I may just have to decide to be content with watching through the window of the lives I long to be a part of.

Oh and how guilty it makes me feel for wanting more. What I have is good and real and yet the ache for more is just as real.  I don’t want to spend another Christmas sitting in a room with parents that do not love me, with parents that are not capable of loving me, and having to balance that truth with the desire to have the experience of a loving parent.

I swing back and forth between being ok with the crumbs left over from the celebration and wanting my very own loaf all to myself. I try to make myself ok with just being allowed to sit in the same space and watch people do “family” the way it is supposed to be done and yet at the same time I want to force my way into being wanted and invited and demand that I be accepted and loved. But life does not work like that, not on this side of heaven.

I am grateful for the family I have that does love me, and the lengths that they go to in order to include me and bless me. I am thankful for my friends who welcome me in at any time. I am also grateful for a God who understands wanting to be invited in, a God who understands wanting more.

Something Beautiful

Psalm 90:17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…

I’ve discovered that when my soul is not at rest, that the best remedy for me is to seek out beauty.  There is something about beauty, especially the beauty found in nature that brings a peace to my body, and shortens the distance I feel from the presence of God.

My heart leaps when spotting the very first Robin of the year, carrying with it the proclamation that winter is over! Rejoice! After what seems to have been a lifetime of cold and dreary, warm rains bring the smell of damp earth and with it the appearance of fresh life pushing up from under the decay of fallen leaves. The first bud, the first bloom, and then the sudden burst of green as the world seems to come alive all at once.

Magic happens lying under a tree on a warm summer day and looking up through its lush, green, leaves to the bright blue of the sky in between the branches, while the sun peaks through in golden lines.  

Sitting at the very edge of the great Lake Michigan, everything around me disappears into the sounds of the waves and the feel of sand beneath my feet. The scent of the breeze on my face and the call of the gulls flying above transports me to a place of peaceful solitude.

The satisfying crunch of fallen leaves under my feet, and the way they rustle when the breeze turns them inside out and they float gently to the ground. The thrill of catching a glimpse of that rare moment when a rush of wind causes the leaves to swirl off the ground into a funnel formation, and then settles back into itself.

Ahhh, and my favorite, the first glistening snow fall after what seems an eternity of bleak, brown-ness. The best part is when the light catches the snow just right and the whole world is glistening like diamonds! Magic is standing under the moonlight watching giant snowflakes float around you. When else are you ever more aware of the air that passes in and out of your lungs, the crisp cold of it going in and the visible release of it going back into the atmosphere. The crunch of snow with every step, and stillness. There is no other stillness like that of a cold winter night.  No other season offers that kind of silence, or that kind of stillness. No leaves to rustle, no crickets to chirp, no birds singing, no bugs buzzing. Silence, stillness, shimmering white, and snowflakes that dance around you.

God has created something beautiful, and His creations are majestic and peace bringing.

Tangled

John 16:20 “I tell you the truth you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy”.

As the world around me rejoices in the spirit of Christmas, my inner battle still rages on. My mind is filled with equal weight of both and, equal and opposite emotions and thoughts. They feel like several unraveled balls of yarn tangled together and I am grasping at the threads trying to make sense of them.

 Today I went up front for prayer after the service. As hands were placed on me and Pastor Tommy began to pray, he said he felt like God was telling him that  “HE would began to untangle the twisted parts of me, like a rope that is coming untwined and that restoration would come.”  The tears began to flow and a wave of relief washed over me, relief that my prayers have not been empty, relief that my hidden tears have been seen, relief that my cries are being heard, and relief that I am NOT crazy, relief that this feeling of tangled-up-ness is REAL.

The revelation is that I have been abused, and trained to act a certain way, respond a certain way, believe a certain way, to never listen to the inner voice that tells me “this is wrong”, and to never question my abuser. The fact that I am no longer in the abusive environment has not changed the ingrained thinking. The ingrained thinking, and the head knowledge of truth and correct thinking, are waging war against each other. The enemy has a grasp on my soul that started while I was still in the womb. There are places in me that I have no idea how to make right, but God does.

Ephesians 6:12  “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.”

 This struggle is not my own. This struggle is not of flesh and blood. This is a spiritual struggle, an unseen prison that I have been locked in for so long that freedom seems unnerving to me. Like a trained elephant, I was chained as a baby, at first I fought the binds, but soon learned that I was no match for them, and no one was coming to my rescue, so I stopped struggling for freedom and learned to endure to the point of compliant submission. That is why an adult elephant can be tied with a mere rope and will not struggle to break free, even though a rope is no match against its adult strength.

 Compliance. Loss of hope. Living becomes enduring. Truth and lies entangle themselves until you cannot separate them. It feels crazy, it feels maddening, and it feels beyond God.  So I have been given a hope today that slowly God will help me untangle the truths from the lies and that my thinking will be restored, my mind reset from that of a slave into that of a daughter of a King.

Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”