My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

Please note:  This material may be triggering for some with histories of trauma or abuse. I am more detailed in this piece than I am in most of my pieces.  Please take care of yourself and only read it if you are in a stable place with ample support. 

I watched a child this morning, as if from a train window. A time-traveling train. I had a tour guide and a Faithful Companion along for the ride. As I looked out the window, I saw a little girl:

The sun is getting ready to set, and dusk settles over the little dead-end neighborhood street. She puts down the Barbies and says goodnight to her friends, climbs their basement stairs, and heads out their front door. She didn’t realize that it was so late. Her mother is worried sick, and it is her fault. Darkness encroaches upon her as she marches the quarter mile home, and with a shudder, she sees her mother at the top of the driveway. As the features of her mother’s grief-stricken face come into view, the child feels as if a bowling ball has been dropped into the pit of her stomach. She sprints as fast as her five-year-old legs can carry her to her mother who seems to be overflowing with equal measures of rage and desperation. Her mother reprimands her in the public of her neighborhood community, but the consequences that lurk behind closed doors remain dreadfully looming, as she grovels behind her mother into the “safety” of her house.  The child must pay, and she knows that darkness awaits. Terror grips her heart and her body as they prepare for bath time. She can’t stop crying. Her mother can’t stop crying. “I thought I had lost you,” her mother keeps repeating as she runs the bathwater. The little girl sobs. She has so much power, and she doesn’t want that kind of power. She is just a child. As the bathtub fills up, a switch is flipped in her mother’s brain, and the monster emerges. As her own power vanishes, the child surrenders to the monster. She submits to the punishment as monster-hands hold her head and face under the water. She waits for darkness to enfold her as the monster hands refuse to let up. Lungs burning for air, she succumbs to the need, and water floods her nose and mouth. As the lights fade out, she feels sensations that she assumes accompany the process of dying. The mother-monster of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde is her daily experience, but she only allows for conscious awareness of the overly attached, doting mother. The darker side lurks in the shadows of her experience, nagging, haunting, chasing her down every dead-end street. She feels the “not-right-ness” of their relationship. She feels the ambivalence that seems to emanate from a mother that she is desperate to please, out of dependence as well as terror. That, however, is the extent of the awareness that she has of the dark places that her mother takes her in her twists of character. Because she doesn’t have a clear picture of her mother’s illness, she assumes that she is evil, broken, and needs to be eliminated.

From the window of my train, I saw the root of self-hate, shame, and fear in that child. I saw her mother behaving like a monster, and as a mother, I despised the abuse. I raged with fury and indignation. I watched Jesus help the child hold her breath as she was being nearly drowned, and I watched Jesus firmly jerk the psychotic mother back into reality, allowing the child a chance to survive. I saw that Jesus loved this child  and wept with her horrific circumstances and loved the mother enough to not abandon her in her destructive illness.

My Faithful Companion sat beside me in the time-traveling train as I looked out the window at five-year-old me and my mother of whom I have so much fear. As He showed me Himself in the scenario, He revealed His power, love, and goodness. As the train came back to the station, and we stepped off into 2016, He said, “My child, I am redeeming you. I never abandoned you. And it is okay that you stepped away from your mother. I have not abandoned her either. You never have to feel like you have to take care of her again. Rest in me. Let me handle her. I love both of you.”

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you walk through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you… (Isaiah 43:1-2, NASB)

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Who is Scared of the Dark?

A five-year-old runs house-to-house around her rural neighborhood in the early days of October just before dusk approaches. The sun is still entirely visible on the horizon, and she is oblivious to the impending darkness that has continued to approach earlier and earlier due to the recent fall equinox. After only five years of living with the shifts in the seasonal patterns, she has not yet come to expect them.  In the days prior, she could play for much longer after dinner with her friends in her neighborhood.  They could play hide-and-seek and race on their bikes for what seemed like an eternity before she was beckoned in for bath time. Still early in the evening, she shudders as she senses the darkness begin to descend upon the evening.  A haze seems to distort her vision, and she realizes that the sun has disappeared when she wasn’t watching. Fear and foreboding flood her little body as she sprints for her home.  She doesn’t even stop to bid her buddies a farewell for the day.  She is too desperate to escape the canopy of darkness that chases her home.  She does not understand this fear of the dark, but only knows the experience of dread, helplessness, and torment that comes with it.

Twenty years later, I still have the echoes of the visceral response that comes with the descending of the darkness on fall and winter evenings.  God has undoubtedly healed, and I am still reminded of my early winter prisons as the temperature drops and the days shorten.

There is this disorder called SAD. How appropriate.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that awakens during autumn and goes dormant with the arrival of spring.  There is a high correlation between decreased moods (depression) and a scarcity of light.  Why is this?  The scientific answer involves decreased levels of melatonin from the sun, serotonin, and circadian rhythm disruptions. SAD, a subtype of depression, involves absence of hope, energy, worth, motivation, concentration, and can even lead to suicide.  SAD is directly related to a loss of light.  Because we are complex biological, psychological, social, and spiritual beings, I believe that it is impossible do divorce this condition from what we know about darkness in the context of Jesus’ relationship with light and darkness.  This does not downplay the physiological and psychological mechanisms involved in the manifestation of mental illness.  It is real.  And we are super-complex.

I’ve been wrestling with this whole issue of darkness as I study Genesis 1:3-5 and 14-19. Is the darkness intrinsically evil?  I could see that in verse 4, it says “God saw that the light was good” (ESV).  It never mentions that God says that the darkness is good, yet in verses 14-19, He created day and night, and he created seasons.  He saw that these were good.  In the midst of this question that lies in the safety of intellectual theological inquiry, I ask a more difficult question:  God, where were you in my darkness, in my nights, and in my suffering?

Much darkness and light that we see mentioned in scripture is symbolic, but there is something about real, legitimate darkness that brings about fear, pain, and agony.  Genesis 1:16 says, “God made two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars” (ESV).  He created lights to “rule” the day and the night.  In this text, I see His promise to me. The darkness may seem incredibly dark.  The night might seem obscure and black.  But His light is there, and it is ruling.  He rules the dark. Always.  He is always sovereign.  Always supreme.  He is the light, and He rules the darkness (literal and figurative).  We are desperate for light.  Our bodies reflect this in incredible ways as we battle physical struggles as the result of lack of natural sunlight and shortened days.  Our spirits, however, do not have to ever be deprived of the light that Christ has to offer.  We can always soak in His rays, even on the bleakest days or the darkest nights.  When we aren’t soaking in H       is rays, tiny pinpricks of His light are enough to exert control over the darkness.

God faithfully established His stars to light even those darkest nights for that five-year-old child. That child was hidden under the shadow of His wings. Darkness did not win, and darkness will not win. Light was created with complete dominion over its power. As days shorten and I begin to face reminders of the dark, I will continue to worship the King of light.

 

 

Trading darkness for darkness and a trip to the light

Almost a year and a half ago, I closed the door on my parents. I set up the most extreme set of boundaries: no contact whatsoever. I changed my phone number, email, and Facebook. Obviously, they could still make contact if they really wanted. They know where I live. My husband didn’t change his contact information. They haven’t tried, however, and I’m not sure what to make of that. 

I’ve written about this frequently, so this is not new, it’s just fresh at the moment. I truly believe that God called me to make the decision to set boundaries. They were intended to be avenues to further healing in my life–to create a place of safety and security to really explore my areas of woundedness, attachment injuries, and deeper, darker trauma. Those areas did not feel safe to traverse while feeling a sense of obligation to maintain contact with the sources of injury. I was barely treading water. 

The problem with cutting off physical contact, however, especially with primary care givers, is that they haunt you relentlessly. My guards are so strong in my waking hours, but in my sleeping hours, I am at the mercy of the internalized messages and billowing fears.  No one physically rapes me nightly. I am safe, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when the demons of the past meet me in the darkest hours of early morning or the twilight stages of nap times. I don’t feel safe and protected from them, even now.

In addition, I have allowed myself to perpetuate the lie that I must pay astronomical penance for harming my parents by cutting them off.  The payment is something similar to chopping my legs off at the knees. I don’t know that I can articulate this in a way that makes sense because it is purely based on irrational beliefs.  When I sent my parents the “break-up” email, I also had to delete the first twenty years of my life. The lie that mandated this self-imposed consequence goes something like this, “if you hurt your parents’ feelings or injure them, you must pay exponentailly for the rest of your life.” Thus, I cut off everyone from the first twenty years of my life, created a rule that I could never return to my hometown, speak to or see the people I loved (some of whom kept me alive through hell), meet new nieces and nephews, or even think about anything positive from my childhood, adolescence, or teenage years.  It is gone. Compartmentalized. Packed in boxes a buried twenty feet underground. 

This payment is ridiculous. I know this on some level. It also only leads to a spirit of fear and denial, the very spirits that I was trying to counter in my decision to end contact with my parents.  The lies, brainwashing, and shame are evident in my subconscious reaction to this decision.  

So prayerfully, gently, and cautiously, I am beginning to step out past the caution tape in my life. I am going to pursue contact with those whom I love and miss. I will lay down this spirit of fear and allow the Spirit to cloak me with an identity that says “loved, accepted, forgiven.”  This is not as black- and-white as I once thought. I could explore the possibility to visiting my brother, his wife, and newborn son without terror of the consequences. The monsters hold no power anymore. It is time to step into the healing that was God’s intention a year and a half ago. I don’t have to pay penance for trying to protect myself and my family. We have a right to safety, and I have greater responsibility than ever before. 

Please pray that I can continue down this path of complete healing without unnecessary casualties and sacrifices at the altar of lies.  I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I envision the breaking of the chains of fear through deeper love.

Death and a prayer

I am at a church caregiver training this weekend, and I feel sorely insufficient for this calling. I hear that God enjoys using all types of people, however, including those who feel like they don’t measure up. So here I am. God used unlikely people in the Bible, right? I think that He is good at that. I’m counting on it. If not, I’m screwed.

The training was going pretty well, as we have covered the basic areas of congregational caregivers, such as prayer, listening, boundaries, visitation, mental health issues, and organization. 

And then we came to a topic that scares me more than anything else: death. I don’t know if it is those few stubborn postpartum hormones still holding on paired with anxiety and my hamster-wheel runaway train thoughts of possible tragedies and losing my children, or if it is the guilt that if my parents died that I would exhale a sigh of relief. It could have to do with the sex games that people played with me when I was a child, seeing how close they could kill me without actually snuffing me out entirely. I imagine that being smashed against the pearly gates and raped would deter anyone from ministering to the dying population in the church. 

During the session, I persevered valiantly for roughly 45 minutes. The tears stayed balance like little champions on my eyelids. I didn’t allow them to spill over. I was also conveniently sitting front and center, so there was no means of a clandestine escape from the workshop. But slowly, I felt those child parts nudge their way to the front of my consciousness and take over ship. My feet carried me out of the workshop, and I quickly found what seemed to be a safe place to hide. I let myself cry and breathe for a while and looked at my feet. I saw bricks….probably a hundred or so, each engraved with memorial words for loved ones who had passed away, elderly, middle-aged, babies with only one date. I sighed. Perfect. I escaped the teaching session on death and dying only to be “rescued” by the memorial garden of this mega-church, with a hundred bricks screaming at me the reality of death. 

I asked God for a little favor. I’ve done that a lot lately. I just asked for him to show me that He cares and that I’m worth something to Him. Just then, a young pastor came and sat next to me. This church is so large that they have a pastor of prayer. Her sole job is to build and equip the prayer ministry of the church.  And I hoped that her presence was the answer to my prayer.

We started to chat, and I fumbled around, trying to communicate in as few words as possible the source of my extreme angst. This is a game that I often play with people. My belief is that surely I am a waste of peoples’ time, so I better see how few words I can use to communicate so that they can go on their merry way, liberated from my tedious presence. So I played my 25 words or less game, but this young pastor actually seemed to care. Better yet, she trusted me in that moment enough to share a vulnerable and honest part of herself as well.  She’s scared of death too. She and her husband are both pastors, and on Easter, they each had to do a funeral. Hers was for a baby born at 22 weeks gestation. On Easter Day. Then, she and her husband watched The Fault in Our Stars together that night and wept in each other’s arms, terrified of death. And they are pastors. She spoke to me of her anxiety and her own hamster wheel, her struggle of not knowing sometimes how to stop the wheel, and her difficulty in communicating it to her husband. Like we were friends. She just trusted me. 

And you know what? That’s what I needed. I needed a friend.

Not a pastor. Not a counselor. But a companion.  He cares. God cares. I’m still scared of death on so many levels. But so is Katherine, my friend.  And it is pretty clear that I am worth something to God.

Peace

Peace. We pray for peace. We light the peace candle on this, the second Sunday of Advent. We ask for peace on earth. I ask for peace of heart and mind. I may be selfish that I can’t see beyond my weary war-stricken brain to a weary world, but it is where I am. The opposite of peace? For a long time, I have considered peace’s antonym to be division, which seems to be the definition of my internal state. I cannot even go through a train of thought without having an all-out brawl with myself, or one of my selves. This is the state of my parts. Many seem to hate each other. Peace? Not yet. But we aren’t really yet to the idea of peace on earth either. We still have wars and countless conflicts, and the world keeps turning, and we still have Christmas. We still hold onto hope. We hold onto the promises of Christmas. Peace. The second Sunday, followed by joy. JOY. Peace for me is unity, and not a political type of unity. Honestly, if I could achieve an internal unity, I would be in the running for the happiest person on the planet award. Shalom. It means among other things, completion. Wholeness. I long for wholeness. I long for my brain to come untangled and stop pulling against itself, the different threads and chains and ribbons to be woven and braided into something beautiful. For now, it seems like an endless chaos of interminable confusion. For me, the peace that I pray for this Christmas is internal. I need clarity, parts working together. I need my mind to no longer be a war zone but a sanctuary, a cathedral. Lord Jesus, come with PEACE. Shalom.

Breaking down the defenses

Two year ago, when as a newly-wed, I left treatment and moved with my husband to this part of the country, I wanted to start over. Prior to 2012, I was unstable, unpredictable, severely eating disordered, depressed, anxious, and immature. When we moved, something happened. It’s not like I “graduated” from treatment; I was kicked out and then immediately sent to the ER to be evaluated for my suicidality. I was finally released, and I moved to a place where no one had known me previously. I decided that I had to be functional, and I shifted, or switched, or something. After almost 20 years of restriction of food, even in treatment, I started eating normally. After many years of self-destruction, I ceased being a danger to myself. This has continued for two years.

I am skeptical.   I question the validity of this shift. I don’t entirely understand what caused me to become so much healthier. I don’t fear that I will go back. I really have no desire to return to where I was, but I wonder what is brewing under the surface. I am certainly more joyful than I have ever been before, and I am infinitely more responsible and controlled. I wonder, however, am I over-controlled? Have I built up such solid structures around my emotions that they cannot any longer be expressed? Have I reacted to the “immature” me by not allowing any room for play and fun? I know that there are many hurts still to work through, and I am becoming more aware of my dissociative process, but it seems that somehow I have turned off a switch that I cannot locate in order to turn it back on. I am not sure if I have become so bent on “proving” myself as fully functional and perfectly fine that I cannot allow room for brokenness. No one around here knows me as broken and disordered. This is the first time in my life that I have been seen as “healthy.”

I also look back on the “old me” as morally inferior to the “new me.” I have a hard time even thinking about that old girl, and I have very little patience with her and her “absurd” emotional lability. But somehow, I am still she. Inside, I am not on a morally higher plane. God’s grace and love don’t extend to me any more than they extended to her. He loved me just as much for the first several decades of my life as He does now. Oh, but parts of me hate her. They want nothing to do with her massively disordered lifestyle. I am different now. I am a wife and a mother, and not only a wife, but a pastor’s wife! I suspect, however, if I am going to heal, I have to make peace with all of me and accept God’s love for all of me. I need to acknowledge that those broken little kids are still living inside of me and still clamoring to be heard. I struggle to know how to handle them now in my current situation.   I am not a child anymore. I have children. Yes, I have these child parts, but they are not functional, so what do I do with them? Do I have time to let them out and let them communicate? It seems absurd to be in a grown adult’s body and have these little kids inside that need to be loved and nurtured. I am often infuriated by this need. This idea of God as parent seems absurd to me. I don’t need a parent. I’m grown up. Do parents actually need parents too? This defensiveness suggests a deeper need, however, and the loving parent part of me is carrying the defensive parts kicking and screaming to the feet of Father-God. The loving parent part of me that was birthed with my first-born has a heart for these multitudes of broken little children inside of me, and wants to see them loved to wholeness. It also knows that as broken as I still am, I can’t love my own external children as fully as I want to love them. I am just not sure how to go about letting down my defenses. Maybe I will ask God for help, since I guess that’s what fathers like to do: Help us. And I suppose that I am not wholly self-sufficient. That’s a first step, right?

Responses of the Limbic System

Every time my childhood forces itself into my current existence, I encounter a very violent visceral response.  Whether it is a call from one of my parents or a random, unsolicited memory,  my whole body reels back and tries to slam my head into the nearest solid surface.  Fortunately,  I fight back, and so far over the past two years,  my willpower has won every time.  It is distressing, however, and I hate that my knee-jerk, reflexive reaction is such a violent act toward myself.  I really hate this reflex when I have another life growing inside of me and two other lives who are externally wrapped up in mine.  Before I was connected, I fought less against the urges.  Now that I am in relationship,  any injury to myself will injure three other people at least.  This awareness is wonderful in preventing destructive behavior, but I am distressed by the intensity of the urges.

Why head-banging?  I am baffled.  I guess that it is obvious that I am angry.  How many people, when reminded of their parents or their childhood want to violently charge the nearest wall and knock themselves into oblivion?  I mean, that’s intense.  I think that the intensity is what is appealing.  There is such an intensity of emotion that arises, that my body seems to respond with an equally intense behavior.   Also, it seems that violence is programmed into my very being when I think about my childhood.  I guess another theory is that I just want to slam all of the unwanted thoughts out of my head.  The problem with the slamming is that depending on the location, I might just slam every thought out of my head.  I suppose that this is why lobotomies were discontinued.

So obviously head-banging in response to these triggers is a bad idea all-around.  How do I respond to this head-banging urge?  Do I analyze it to understand the source of this specific urge? Do I simply choose not to act on it and live with the intensity of emotion that seems to have no behavioral match?  Is it a matter of cognitive-behavioral understanding?  Or does it bypass the cognitive and live in a much more sensory-motor location?  It seems that this is mostly limbic cortex stuff.

I guess that in my awareness of my impulses,  I am also baffled by them.  While it is great to refrain from self-destructive behavior,  it is still distressing to have to fight the impulses with every ounce of your energy.   I’m tired of fighting these children inside who are in such distress.  I want to help them, but I don’t know how.  I am open for them to tell me.