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.

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Lions Hope

Image

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.”

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.”