Flashbacks

In 2015 I went through EMDR. It was excruciating, but I saw tremendous improvement in the months that followed. I was told right from the beginning that it was not a cure, as such, that everyone responds differently and that ‘wellness’ occurs at varying degrees.

Lately I have been experiencing flashbacks. They are quite intense, but in a different way to those I endured before EMDR. Often these flashbacks are not related to overt violence or threatening situations. They’re usually about all the ways in which I was manipulated and coerced.

People often don’t realise that coercion is actively abusive, but in many ways it is equally as damaging as the more obvious kinds of abuse, and may in fact be more destructive *because* it is less easily identified. Coercion and manipulation work in such a way as to make the victim feel he or she has no choice. Coercion attempts to make the victim a willing participant. In certain situations this coercion is also known as ‘grooming’.

Sometimes it is as if I experience the situation all over again. It makes me sick. Nausea and a goose-pimply feeling of horror and disgust wash over me. At that point all I can think is: ‘I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.’

But my faith is my rock. As the flashback lessens and common sense drips back in, I tell myself that it is a sin to hate. Hatred eats away at you, making you permanently miserable; no room for love. My God says to lay all my burdens on Him. My Jesus stretched His arms wider than the earth on that cross.

I pray, “Lord, I can’t help feeling that I hate him, but I know you don’t hate him. I give my hatred and I give him over to You. Seventy times seven. To the power seven. And then some. Please keep him away from my family and from anyone else who is vulnerable. Don’t let him hurt anyone else. If you can reach his heart, I pray that you do. You tell me to pray for my enemies so that is what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what else to do but to reach out to you. Seventy times seven. And then some.”

I write because this is my testimony of what faith actually looks like – not pretend faith that avoids the nasty stuff. Life is hard. But God is always good. God is ALWAYS good.

Fiery Darts

‘Fiery darts’ is how Paul puts it. Abba Anthony described being tormented by demons while he was in the desert. Teresa of Ávila talks about snakes and reptiles and ghastly creatures prowling and snapping. On these days, when my nights are filled with nightmares and general nasty stuff, I wake to the ugliness of unrelenting flashbacks, a barrage swift and sharp, just like those fiery darts. They claw at you. I can even smell the ‘event(s)’.

 

When I went to the Celebrate Recovery conference in 2012, the founder of Celebrate Recovery, John Baker, spoke of those so broken that the only thing they respond to, the only thing they can do is to sing songs of worship. Here again is another paradox, another moment when God turns the world on its head. I remember that Thérèse de Lisieux says that, although we are so small, we possess a God-given dignity. She also wrote:

 

‘My will is to endure, by Love,

The Darkness of my exile here’

 

So then, it is love that makes me choose to get up from this table, to do the things I need to do, in love, for my family. And I will lift my head and sing praises. Because God is good. And God is always.

 

Thérèse looking pensive

Thérèse looking pensive

You can read more about Thérèse here: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/meditations-on-little-way-epilogue-dark.html

 

Through the Valley of Shadows

I have a wonderful husband. I probably don’t tell him this often enough. I’ll say it again – I have a wonderful husband.

Sometimes, when you’re wading through the quagmire, when you’re in the Valley of Shadows, what you need is the real hands and feet of Jesus, not just the knowledge of Him as an ethereal presence. It’s great when people say they’ll pray, but sometimes the Valley is too deep – sometimes you need to see His smile, hear His words, feel the kindness of His touch. This is why, I suppose, we are called to serve as ‘the body’. I suppose this is also why Jesus spoke these game-changing words:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (The Message)

What has that got to do with me having a wonderful husband? Well, two days ago I took the children to the local indoor play centre. Being very active children (as they should be) they love it there. They can run and climb and jump and whizz down the slides and do gymnastics and all sorts. Prince is quite happy to sit at a table on his own with his radio, or wander round the building trying to find the areas with the strongest and weakest radio signal (this is his current obsession). After wandering about a bit, he gets to eat bacon. He’s happy. Autism can at times be challenging and complicated, at other times it is incredibly simple!

It so happened that a group of mums and dads were there with their offspring for a party, and it so happened that one of the men bore an uncanny resemblance to someone I’d rather forget. The resemblance was so strong, in fact, that I couldn’t help but keep glancing at him, although I was trying to concentrate on my studying (this is the hallmark of the mature student – studying even in a converted warehouse, with children running past you, bumping into your chair, shouting and screaming, ‘pop’ music blasting out of the speakers all the while). So I was sitting there and my heart rate was gradually increasing, then the man came and stood right behind me, causing me to feel paranoid, even though I knew it wasn’t him. He was just a dad enjoying watching his kids. The strange thing was – and I guess this is the hallmark of PTSD – although I knew full well it was not him, it didn’t stop the rising sense of alarm. I stayed focused on my textbook. To all outward appearances I was absorbed in my book. I tried very hard to just get on with what I was doing. But the panic, the anxiety, the horrible feelings stayed.

'Not all wounds are visible'

Not all wounds are visible’

 

Sometimes flashbacks are just feelings, not actual memories, but the thing with flashbacks is that they are so vivid and intense. That’s why they’re ‘flashbacks’ and not just ‘memories’. My soon-to-be-psychologist told me this is because memories of traumatic events can end up stored in the amygdala, the primitive part of the brain which is like the ‘survival’ part of the brain, instead of the usual place, and when they do they’re tied to one’s survival mechanisms of fight or flight, etc. I was not about to let it beat me, though, or to spoil the children’s fun. I knew there was a spiritual element to it too:

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NRSVA)

So I spoke aloud the words, “I rebuke you, Satan, in the name of Jesus” and the sense of immediate threat lessened. To all intents and purposes I behaved just as I would normally, and stayed until the place closed, as planned. I told Frank what had happened, and we enjoyed spending time together before bed – but some niggling nastiness remained.

Yesterday was Saturday, designated by FlyLady as ‘Family Fun Day’. In our house this means Parents Ensure Everyone Else Has Fun Day. I rushed Fluff and Chip off to theatre school (they were late), then I went home, tidied the kitchen and took Frank and Prince to fetch my mother-in-law. We then went to the shops, where Prince spent the best part of an hour looking at radios in his favourite shop. He is indulged in this. For him, this is his weekly chance at enjoying himself. At half twelve I drove to the supermarket and dropped Frank, Prince and MIL at the café where Frank made sure his mother and Prince were fed. I rushed off to fetch the girls, took them home to pick up their leotards and rushed back to the cafe where they grabbed a quick lunch before we headed over to the leisure centre for gymnastics. I then rushed back to do a grocery shop. It is nice for my MIL to do this as she doesn’t get to just do ‘normal’ things living in the care home and I am sure a bit of normality is very helpful (she is doing brilliantly, all things considered). We took MIL back to the care home, then I dropped Frank and Prince off at home before heading off to the leisure centre to pick up the girls. It is all carefully orchestrated on a Saturday, but I found myself wondering if I ought to get a ‘TAXI’ sign for the car.

Anyway, between us Frank and I had made sure everyone was happy. But niggling away all day was this sense of – I don’t know – nastiness and unease. So by the time it got to about half past four, after kids’ activities were over and we were all back home, I felt compelled to withdraw and be on my own. I just can’t think straight when I’m like that. Frank not only was ok with this, when I explained what was going on, but he took charge of cooking the tea and getting two rowdy, giggly girls ready for bed. So here is the point, beyond explaining a little of what PTSD does (and how I manage to not let fear rule me). For me, at that moment, my husband was Jesus’ hands and feet. He was taking care of me and giving me breathing space. And because he gave me the space to just be, I relaxed enough to fall asleep, got a good night’s sleep and am feeling much better this morning.

Hallelujah. Thank you, Jesus (thank you, Frank) 😉