Musings on Trauma (Part 1)
A month ago I was digging in my toolbox and my finger ran across a moderately dull blade. I felt it grind against my skin and into my finger. I immediately yanked my hand back and put pressure on it, cleaned it, and bandaged it. However, it was a pretty deep cut and eventually scarred my finger. The other day I was reading to my children and I felt the same sensation of the blade running across my hand, it was as if I was back in the garage digging through the toolbox. Even though my hand is healed my mind remembers the experience.
This is a good thing since it keeps me from foolishly leaving blades in my toolbox as well as not digging through it with my hand. But these reminders of an injury or experience are not unusual to me. I often have flashbacks from my time in combat, I have learned to control them for the most part and not respond. My mind may go to an old place but my body remains mostly still.
It is indeed true that the body keeps a score1
God has created our bodies to respond to stimuli in amazing ways. We respond before we even think. Imagine having to think before you take each step, about what muscles to balance and tighten as you take the step. God gives us an immediate response system that is completely natural. Yet when we experience a startling event, sometimes we respond before we have time to think about it.
Any Iraq/Afghanistan War veteran could explain to you the dangers of roadside bombs called IEDs. Disguised as trash or a pile of dirt a startling explosion on an otherwise boring patrol could be classified as a startling event. Your body tenses up for impact, you may jerk the wheel away from it or try to steer clear. If you have one or more of these experiences your body has learned to respond before you can mentally tell your body to act. This is a wonderful response for our survival.
Yet take the scenario of dad in the minivan with his kids in the back and wife in the passenger seat, maybe they had an argument and dad is tense, and a plastic bag or pile of trash is sitting on the side of the road. Dad jerks the wheel without thinking to avoid the upcoming explosion. We hear about this response all the time. Or you are at a birthday party and a balloon pops, next thing you know dad has adrenaline coursing through his veins looking to fight someone.
Unwanted responses to trauma
These unwanted responses can be scary if you don’t know what to expect. You might think, “Man I am too dangerous to drive”, or possibly, “I just need to stay away from people.” Isolate. Or you put on a “dysfunctional Veteran” shirt and try to look mean.
There are so many perspectives to such a complex yet natural experience. Should I stop reading to my kids because my finger mentally aches and I shiver at the thought of the blade running down my finger. Do I forego my kid’s birthday party because I might respond in an embarrassing way? Should I put the burden of driving on my wife because I might have a flashback (maybe depending on how often you have flashbacks)? Do I adopt the identity of the dysfunctional Veteran? If I am diagnosed with PTSD am I truly disordered? Can I help with it? Is this the new normal?
What if there was a better way? What if there was a way to move from victim to victor? What if instead of Post-Traumatic Stress you had Post-Traumatic Growth? What do you think?
You might be objecting, I tried it all, Cognitive behavioral therapy (didn’t work for me either), EMDR (Once again failed for me), I’m on all the medications (same, only dulled a few senses). All secular therapies failed me.
What if I told you my problem, and very likely yours, is more than physical, no matter how many chemical experiments they do on your brain, or how much therapy, you will still struggle? What if it is something more, what if it is a heart issue, that is your soul is disordered?
That would be great news! Since Jesus Christ promises to transform us! The promise is for me, and for you! (Ezekiel 11:19)
Here is the BLUF (bottom line up front), it is not easy, it is not quick, and just dealing with your symptoms is not the ultimate goal. It will require you to get humble, like back to Basic Training kind of humble, what you think you know is probably wrong, you need a new way of thinking, a new way of doing, and a new way of being. Only God can do this for us.
Are you done dealing with your struggles like you are playing Call of Duty? Are you ready for real combat? Join me in these next few posts as I seek to unpack my experience of healing and transformation!
(1) A., V. der K. B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.