This is my nineteenth blog post for the Write 31 Days challenge, which I signed up to four days late. Linked up to:
Deuteronomy 33: 12
Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between His shoulders.
As I struggled to cope in the aftermath of terrifying flashbacks of my mother’s last hours on earth, I turned to professional help. I was diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, connected to caring for my mother during her battle with cancer. Before you read further, I would encourage you to read this useful article about PTSD in caregivers to understand what I was facing: Caregivers and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In some ways it was a relief to hear this diagnosis, for someone to tell me that there was a reason why I carried a deep-rooted anger within me, why I had been crippled by frightening flashbacks, as if I was caught in that moment itself, why I struggled to work through my grief and why my emotions swayed from one extreme to the other, with suicidal thoughts plaguing me repeatedly. I was also relieved to hear that there was a very effective method of treatment: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a method also recommended by Christian therapists.
However, the therapy itself, also meant facing the trauma I had experienced head-on. The two days before my first EMDR session an awful darkness covered me. I felt myself pressing down memories that wanted to resurface. In the repression, I pushed to numb it all by telling myself I was worthless, not worthy of living, that I did everything wrong. Suicidal thoughts overcame me, but I told myself: one foot in front of the other.
The morning of the day I would go in for my EMDR therapy I sat down to read two devotionals: one that asked me to consider what made me feel empty and the other that focused on a lack of trust. And as I read the first, that question made me break. I burst into tears. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but I could tell God that I felt empty because I’d been numbing the pain, the grief…feelings that were too powerful. And as I read the second one, which spoke of not trusting, of believing that we’re all alone and God has deserted us and repudiating it with words of Scripture, of God telling us “I will never leave or forsake you.”, I felt a sense of relief wash over me and the guilt and shame of my self-inflected numbing ebb, drop off my shoulders. It was as if I heard Him telling me: “Anna, trust me, I have never and will never leave or forsake you.” Then, I read the Song of Songs 2 text and I felt His love, His beckoning love, drawing me out, promising me a new world of safety, of beauty, of life.
In the afternoon I cycled to my first treatment session, praying for God to go before me and with me, to guide the therapist in His wisdom. Later, I sat down to reflect upon this session and wrote the following:
In reflecting on the journey of my first PTSD treatment session, the most profound lesson that has been sitting with me, is the absolute necessity of humility and trust for true freedom. Micha Boyett once pointed out in her blog that the word humility has its root in humus: the concept of being rooted or earthed, in the case of faith, in God. And trust stems from a Hebrew word meaning “to lean on, feel safe or confident”. Essentially if I “lean on, feel safe and am confident in the Lord”, I am rooted in Him, in His love, His grace, His salvation, His hope and His joy.
During my treatment session I saw myself be transformed in images, words and worship music (Majesty, Worship His Majesty), from someone resisting a loss of control, to someone resting in the relief of surrendering all into the arms of a loving and protective Jesus. I physically felt the emotions pulse through my body, moving from fear to heartache to anger to fear, before ending in utter release of all tension. And the images of myself moved from someone being comforted and consoled in her grief and guilt, to someone unable to rest, to someone flailing in anger in response to Jesus’ encouragement to release it to someone slowly and surely leaning into the arms of Jesus, listening to His encouragement to relax and rest upon Him.
His words moved from phrases such as: “It’s okay”, to a repeated “It’s not your fault.”, to “Be angry, let it go, kick, scream, flail. I’m also angry.”, to “It’s not your job. I see it all. There is a much bigger plan. I’m working it all out.” to “rest, lie down, sleep”. Never before has it been so clear to me that I have been living my life in extreme distrust, in clenched attempts at pseudo control and caught in an unbelievable web of tension and fear.
From the moment I felt my own control taken from me as a child, as I sought to protect another, I resisted the helplessness and fear I felt, by holding tight to any and all semblance of control and outward strength. What this therapy session taught me, is that I have allowed one crippling childhood memory to enslave me, rather than to be the catalyst for Christ-led transformation.
God showed me that by surrendering all the control I felt I had, by physically resting in His provision, protection and loving care, I, like Hagar in Genesis, could finally see what had always been there all along. Where I had at first felt alone, rejected, unseen, hurt, fearful, angered and hopeless, He moved in to show me that He had in fact never left me or those who I felt I had failed to protect. Through images of myself being held as a child, Mum being lifted up by angels, my brother as a boy walking hand-in-hand with Jesus and words of comfort, reassurance and worship, He brought Scriptural promises to life. The final images I was left with, were of me placing my arm around my Dad at my Mum’s bedside and playing as a little child again, fully embracing joyful, trusting playfulness. It showed me that childlike trust opens the eyes of our heart to what our Heavenly Father sees: a broken and hurting humanity and that in us responding to what He sees, with an open and trusting heart, He is more than able to bring us fullness of joy.
As I have been reading through Genesis I have been struck by the same things. I’ve been struck by how unbelievably trusting people such as Noah, Abraham, Rebekah and her family, Leah and Joseph were. I’ve also marvelled at how God always first humbled, even to breaking point, those who He then blessed. It is this that compells Joseph to forgive His brothers, as He sees that God has been in control from start to finish through both the humbling and the exalting: “But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives” (Genesis 45: 4-6, The Message), “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you- life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear” (Genesis 50: 19-20). It is this that also causes Leah to name her final child Judah, meaning “Praise-God”, as she chooses to thank the Lord for the blessing He has bestowed in the humbling.
From the line of Judah then comes the Messiah, Jesus Christ who humbled himself before all others, taking up the cross, drinking from the cup of suffering to bless and restore humanity to God. It is in the footsteps of Jesus, in the surrender to our brokenness, in taking the cup of suffering to our lips, in us professing in bended knee “not my will but yours be done” that God is more than able to open our eyes to His blessings of freedom and joy right before our very eyes, day after day. And so, I am left with the choice, minute to minute, hour to hour and day to day, to clench in fear or to surrender and embrace. I am embarking on a new transformational journey of faith, into surrendering and embracing, but one that will take a lot of leaning into grace, as years of walls are slowly and gently taken down, brick by brick. But even now, I am already tasting and seeing the goodness of the LORD in these new daily choices.
It was an incredible experience, as all the emotions I’d kept bottled up, unable to fully release, came pouring out of me, as I physically felt my body release the tension that had worked so hard to repress the cocoon of trauma rooted deep within me. The following weeks and months brought much reflection and God used sermons, Scriptures and worship songs to draw me into further release, to come out of my trauma-enforced hiding to lean into His warm, soothing embrace of Love, a Love that had always and is still holding all things together, even the broken shards within me.
Colossians 1: 15 – 17
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.
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