February of 2018, just past age 50, I experienced a life-altering trauma. The details of what happened isn’t as relevant as just knowing it was very traumatic. It was the kind of thing that changes you forever, no matter what. I think it’s important to keep this part of my story on the back burner, because I want people who have experienced any kind of trauma to know one thing: You aren’t alone.
I wasn’t prepared for trauma. I didn’t have the coping skills for this. I had spent my life just bull-dozing through hardships like a “good solder”. I didn’t have the social support for it, either. I’m an introvert by nature, so I enjoy my alone time. I had 5 kids, a husband, a career…my introverted self didn’t think she had time to make alot of friends, nor did she think she needed them. (Boy was she wrong!)
Life often provides a dress-rehearsal for trauma: hardships. How we practice coping, problem solving, and getting support during hardships can help us down the road to work through trauma. However, when trauma found me, it was too late to draw from the experience of dress rehearsals. I had been practicing denial, co-dependency, resentment, and isolation to work through a life of hardships.
But God is greater than our habits. I’m sure I’ll say this in many posts because I know it to be true: God is faithful. He doesn’t leave us in the condition he finds us. Or, more accurately, he doesn’t leave us in the condition we’re in when we find him.
Isolating after Trauma
Trauma makes us feel like we’re alone. It’s mentally isolating. It rattles around in our mind like a chainsaw, chewing up anything comfortable, dependable, understandable, relatable, calming… It challenges and it changes everything we thought we knew about our reality. It’s personal. It tricks us into thinking nobody will understand our pain or what we’re going through. And, if people won’t “get it”, we rationalize, “why bother trying to explain”. We can think ourselves into isolation, wearing ourselves out trying to do recovery on our own.
But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon fall down in great torment. (Isaiah 50:11 NLT)
Trauma responses often cause people to go underground. We go inward, instead of reaching outward to God and/or to others. We sink into believing it is easier and safer to light our own campfire than it would be to let someone else’s warm us. It can seem hard to find a community of people who are willing and able to be vulnerable enough to sit in the trenches for as long as it takes with someone who is in debilitating, trauma-induced pain. Ask God to help you find community. It might take time, but don’t give up. Don’t believe it isn’t possible. Believe anything is possible in Christ Jesus. Above I shared the warning verse (Isaiah 50:11) about being self-sufficient. Now let’s read the verse in the bible comes just before it:
If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God. (Isaiah 50:10 NLT)
When we’re in dark times, we can trust in God. We can rely on him. He made us to be in community together. He will be faithful to help each one of us in recovery find our community.
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone you asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 NLT)
I found my community in Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery is a Christian 12-step program, similar to AA. Each meeting starts with large group time — songs, devotions, short teachings, and testimonies. Then it breaks into smaller, same-sex support groups. During support group time, we each have the opportunity to share, but it isn’t required to share. When someone is sharing, there’s no interruption, no advice giving. Just supportive listening. It’s amazing how cathartic it is to share with people who are there for the same reason — recovery from life’s hurts, hang-ups, or habits. It’s healing when you look around the circle and you can see from facial expressions that someone really understands what you’re going through.
Philippians 4 Journal
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7 MSG)
These verses tell me that there’s a particular manner for me to participate in my relationship with God, in such a way that he promises to come and settle me down. He promises it will be wonderful. This is the peace I was desperate to find. Being able to sense God’s wholeness in my life of post-trauma, instead of just knowing it factually. Being able to have anxiety, rage, panic, fear, and intrusive thoughts get replaced with being settled down. The verse reads like a sigh of relief. When we’ve experienced trauma, we desperately need this kind of relief.
When I continued reading this Philippians 4, I learned more of what to do to participate in this process.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8-9 MSG)
In response to these scriptures, I started to work out a morning journaling routine that would help me start my day on the right note. I had already spent about three years trying to force myself to stop thinking about the trauma or how I felt about the trauma. That didn’t work. In fact, even a morning journaling routine wasn’t going to work. I journaled nearly every day since experiencing trauma. No, for this to work, it had to be a partnership.
My part: start to practice filling my mind with things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, (and so on). Practice building a habit of starting each day thinking and meditating on these positive words. Write down a few of those thoughts.
God’s part: make everything come together, work together, help me sense his wholeness, settle me down, and work me into one of his most excellent harmonies. All I can do each day is my part. God is responsible to do his part. He doesn’t need my help meeting his end of the bargain. In fact, knowing self-sufficiency had caused me to “fall down in great torment”, I was ready to do the easy part and leave the “hard part” to God.
I still am in recovery. I’m at peace with this fact, although some days it’s frustrating. I still have PTSD triggers, panic attacks, and experience waves of debilitating discouragement. But oh how much God has helped me. Like I said, I can’t take credit. I journaled persistently to no avail. It’s the word of God that has set me free from intrusive thoughts and continues to bring me forward in recovery.
I want to help people find the sigh of relief from suffering that God has given me. Will you check it out?
- Check out more details about this The Philippians 4 Journal.
- Join in! I will send you a free copy.
- Check out Celebrate Recovery. If there’s a group in your area, it is worth giving a try. You don’t have to go through your trauma alone.
Let me know what spoke to you in this post. Comments encouraged!