Old Wounds

Fluff just got in from her first ever 5km run. When she came through the door she staggered through into the office and said to Frank, “Dad, I feel a bit light headed.”
Frank, never one to miss an opportunity to tease his vehemently vegan daughter, said, “You should have had a cheeseburger beforehand, loaded up on some meat.”
Fluff replied, “Mmm, yes, shoulda got me some class 1 carcinogens.”
“Touche.” Said I.
“Indeed,” she said, smiling, “I should be a stand up comedian.”
She flopped onto the settee, “Actually, I think I’m more of a sit down comedian.”

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That little anecdote aside, this post is more about my experience of going along to the local mental health theatre group, because I have been four times now. Each time has been very enjoyable, even though I’ve only been watching. I have learned so much. The professionalism of the actors and director is seriously impressive. Not your usual amateur dramatics. Yesterday, though… The PTSD came raging back. I tried to hide it. Complex PTSD is no bloody joke. My head was a warzone.

From every direction the missiles came, pounding one after another after another in a full-force PTSD blitzkrieg:

“You’re useless!”
“Pathetic!”
“Worthless b*tch.”
“Worm!”
“You can’t do anything without screwing it up, can you?”
“I’ll kill you.”
“They’re all looking at you… They all think you’re stupid and they can’t wait until you leave.”
“You should just run out that door and never come back.”
“What made you think you could possibly belong here? You don’t belong anywhere. Crawl back under the rock that you came from.”
“If they knew your story they’d hate you. It’s all your fault.”
“What you gonna do about it, c***?”

And of course there was the sense of imminent danger, which I imagine is akin to the feeling that bombs are dropping all around you. I knowingly use a military metaphor because I know that many people associate PTSD with combat veterans and I need to make the link with the experience and sensations of PTSD, especially when it’s related to abuse and violence.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hallucinate. I don’t hear voices. I don’t have an illness in that sense (not that I am casting aspersions on those who do; I’m just being clear). These are all thoughts in my head, but they’re accompanied by emotions that are as full-on as if I am experiencing the traumas all over again. And there were so many traumas that in the unwonted re-enactment they all run into one another. I was rational enough to recognise that these thoughts are – extremely loud – echoes of the past, but no amount of rationalising could make them stop. Discreet deep breaths helped me calm myself. After all, I reasoned, it will only make it worse if I do run out.
After a fantastic session for the cast, as we all headed out the door, I complimented a cast member on her genuinely lovely singing voice, and confessed (rather bravely, actually, because an admission that all is not well is making oneself vulnerable, but I had just witnessed a dozen people all making themselves vulnerable in the performance, so…) that although I hadn’t done anything, I felt extremely nervous. Understatement.
“Hug!” She said, “We do hugs here, at the end.” And she moved towards me with her arms open. I don’t generally do hugs, but she wasn’t threatening. I was able to briefly hug, accepting the kindness with which it was offered, and then walk with deep breaths to my car.
Couldn’t sleep, though, and when I did it was constant nightmares, punctuated by wakefulness. Sigh. “Stop the world, I want to get off.” I prayed. And then, eventually, in the wee hours, “Ok, God, this is Yours.” Because I know that the arms that spread wide in agony on the cross were the same arms that reached out and gave me a hug – one broken, beautiful human being to another.
Now it’s morning; time to get on with the day. I’m not giving up. I’m going back next week. I can rationalise where those ‘voices’ were coming from: they were all things the abusers used to say. I would stay reaction-less, because reaction could provoke. Sometimes my reaction-less state would mean the situation did not escalate. Usually it didn’t matter what I did, the sadistic humiliation and violence would follow.
They say the only way to face phobias is to be exposed to the cause of the phobia in a desensitisation process. Maybe the way to get over this THING is to experience it all again, but in a safe place. To become acclimatised.

I’ll keep trying. Thank God.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:12 NRSVA

…[We] have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NRSVA

I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains, but I pray GOD earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross… The men of the world do not comprehend these truths… They consider sickness as a pain to nature, and not as a favour from GOD; and seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress…
I wish you could convince yourself that GOD is often (in some sense) nearer to us, and more effectually present with us, in sickness than in health… Put, then, all your trust in Him, and you will soon find the effects of it in your recovery…
Eleventh Letter, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing];
The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him,
And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (Amplified)

 

 

Abiding

It has been well over a year since I last blogged. Is anyone still following my blog? I think of you all often! The sudden and unexpected death of a very dear friend left me reeling just over a year ago, and we also experienced great upheaval, more trauma… I didn’t want to write about any of it on my blog because some of it wasn’t my story to tell. The trauma involved family members rather than me directly and although it was bloody awful for me, it’s still not my story to tell. Perhaps one day those involved will desire to tell their stories. Perhaps not.

As for me, my illness has significantly improved. I was in a wheelchair every time I went out for about nine months. Now I can walk a mile or even two on a good day and I continue to get better. I am so grateful. I meditate (nearly) every day. Mindfulness meditation has become a wonderful tool to enable me to cope with everything that we have been through and to support family members who have needed it.

I’m now a home educator <gulp>. Fluff decided she had had enough of school so we’re doing Year 11 from home, which has been interesting to say the least. I am enjoying it, but it is also exhausting and sometimes overwhelming. Yesterday I felt quite unwell and stayed in bed for most of the day after dropping Prince off at school. He’s still at school, bless him. We have another year before we have to send him off to special needs college.

Our daughters have made some drastic changes – Fluff is now vegan and extremely vocal about it. As part of our homeschooling she is studying Music (clarinet and piano) and GCSEs in Maths, English Language, Double Science and Geography, along with ABRSM Music Theory. She is determined to study plant-based nutrition and environmental science at university. Chip has become vegetarian and sees herself as a social activist. She is excelling at school and loving her weekly theatre school. They are both involved in Girl Guides and Fluff has become a Young Leader with Rainbows. She’s also just completed her Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award. My children make me smile.

My darling husband is still working hard for his family and enjoying his role-playing games. He’s also assisting with homeschooling, especially Maths as that’s his speciality.

Our guinea pig brood grew (and shrank, sadly). We now have three, two girls and a boy. Cookie is snuggled up under my chin as I type, making little snuffling noises to tell me she is happy. She’s a black and white squeaky fluff-ball and very cute with it. The piggies even came camping with us in August when we went up to see Hadrian’s wall. I fell head over heels in love with the Northumbrian National Park.

800px-Vindolanda_bathhouse_-_2007-05-19

Vindolanda © Simon Robinson, 2007 / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL-1.2.

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

“This moment is as perfect as it can be.” – Richard Rohr, Letting Go

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” – John 15:9

How are you? How’s life been treating you? What is God doing with you in your life?

 

A Mathemagical Puzzle

If the settling-down phenomenon underpins the definition of probability, why is it that the universe tends towards chaos?

You know, as in entropy: a gradual decline into disorder (googled definition). How does ‘settling-down’, i.e. becoming more predictable, become disorder? My dad’s doctorate focused on applying the idea of entropy and increasing disorder to economics (and this was before computers). Maybe I should ask him. But if any of my readers would care to enlighten me I’d be most grateful, bearing in mind my woeful lack of education (I missed a lot of school as a child due to illness). I am currently studying Data Analysis as part of my degree  – this is fairly basic stuff, you understand. I am not really a mathematician, just someone who likes patterns and playing games with numbers.

Is it because the model is only a model and not the real world? But that doesn’t make sense either because if the model doesn’t resemble the real world it’s not much of a model.

I was feeling really anxious this morning and then I settled down to some studying and it again struck me how meditative mathematics can be. For someone who has a head that just ain’t right, mathematics is such a relief. My therapist told me that trauma changes the brain, and repeated trauma actually makes significant changes, possibly (likely) irreversible. So that’s me screwed, although actually EMDR did make an enormous difference.Thank God for medication. I hate days like this. But I’d still like to know the answer, if there are any mathematically-minded folk among my readership.

 

From Victim to Victory

I’m in bed because I have a bad cold and whenever I catch anything these days I have to be very careful otherwise I will not get better in a timely fashion. Ugh. It’s mostly just boring and frustrating because I have a daily plan and I can’t stick to it 😕

However, this morning I am so glad because I have been listening to audiobooks and came across a wonderful recording which has been sitting in my Audible library for a while now. Today I have had the opportunity to give it my full attention.

 

“[There is] a giant step from knowledge to acknowledgement. In a family, a community and a nation there can be guilty secrets. Everybody knows something to be the case but there is no acknowledgement.”

michael_lapsley_20050501

Michael Lapsley, Oxford, 2005 (from Wikipedia)

“Prayer, love, support, acknowledgement, reverence, recognition, giving it moral content, saying ‘yes, what happened to you was wrong‘, all of this is what I would say, in terms of my faith, [is] the way in which God enabled me to travel a journey from victim [to] survivor to victor… Something horrible happens to us [and] we’re victims. If we physically survive we are survivors, but frequently that’s where people stop and remain prisoners inside themselves… Life is like a river: something terrible happens and our lives become whirlpools, and we never ever really live again except in terms of what has happened to us…”

~ Father Michael Lapsley speaking in ‘A South African Journey’

by Radio Free Maine.

Audiobook available from audible.co.uk

(transcribed by yours truly)

Michael Lapsley campaigned against apartheid. In 1990 he was the subject of a letter bomb which caused severe burns, destroyed his hands and left him blind in one eye. Since then he has worked tirelessly for hope and healing, in particular he works with former victims of trauma.

“…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

~ John 8:36 (NRSVA)

EMDR

EMDR is like deliberately driving a train at full speed along a railway track knowing full well the track runs out any second and, unlike Marty McFly, you don’t have a time machine to escape at the last second so you crash into the ravine. Miraculously, although you’re wide-eyed. trembling from shock and unable to speak, you’re not dead. Yay! So you do the obvious thing: you arrange a convenient time to do it all again next week.

The one thing I do have, the thing that allows me to walk out of the building and drive home after the session is that, at the end, I cling to God like a limpet clings to the rock. I am brought to my knees in every sense and it is on my knees that I am most thankful.** 

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 42:7 (NIVUK)

**Also, I have chocolate. Fair trade.

Reblog: Myths about Domestic Violence

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I remember looking at a poster about domestic abuse and thinking “he only does x,y and z, but he doesn’t do all of those things, so it can’t be abuse”. I think the worst thing, though, when you’re trying to come to terms with what you have been through, is when people somehow blame you, the victim. Even if not overtly, they make assumptions. I felt so ashamed. I felt guilty for what had happened.
Also there is a lack of understanding of the nature of coercion and manipulation which is a huge part of domestic abuse and has just as bad an impact as actual physical violence. Also, and this is really important: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PHYSICAL TO BE ABUSIVE. Sexual abuse, coercion, emotional abuse, etc., are just as destructive and just as wrong and NO ONE, male or female, should feel obliged to put up with it out of a misplaced sense of ‘Christian’ obligation.

Addendum, 2nd June 2015: I have been contacted by a representative of the University of New England who produced the infographic in The Beautiful Kingdom Warrior’s post, reblogged below, so here is the link for the infographic and my apologies if it was in any way unclear where the infographic actually originated.

Click here for the link.

The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

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Home Made and Made Home

 

Home made malt loaf from the bread-maker I bought for a tenner in the charity shop down the road (we still have no cooker), with home made red grapefruit marmalade (courtesy of my very lovely sister-in-law), eaten while sitting in our new back garden in the late summer sun. That was yesterday. Today, jacket potatoes are piled in the halogen oven and rice pudding burbles gently in the slow cooker. Little by little, one box, one ladle, one pan, one wooden cross, one picture, one book, one breath, one life-beat at a time, this higgledy house becomes ours. 

There’s not a lot of blogging to be had, now that I’m also nearing the end of my Open University module. I have my final assessment due in a fortnight and due to the move I’m slightly behind (that and a marvellously ill-timed accident involving my laptop – I’m currently using Frank’s tablet). Slow and steady wins the race, as FlyLady says. She’s right.

I talk to God as I empty boxes, making this place home, making His place home. I sing praises when flashbacks, still unrelenting, haunt me. The more the past leers up at me, trying to seize and tear down the present, the more I sing and worship my Creator, the One who Made All Things Good. They say our battles are not against things earthly, but spiritual. How true. Abba Anthony spent 20 years in the desert quelling the ‘demons’ that plagued him and as far as I know he hadn’t had a traumatic existence prior. We shouldn’t be surprised when we too have to fight these battles within ourselves over and over. But the victory is already won; this is why we sing.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, that the flashbacks have intensified. Sometimes it takes being in a ‘safe’ place for your head to be able to process trauma. These traumas have been put on hold for years, so I really shouldn’t be surprised. Also, I am learning how to live step by step, day by day, breath by breath, surrendering everything to Christ. By some miracle I am still standing. I am functioning. This is grace.

 

Suffering and Reward

Some interesting concepts. While it has genuinely never occurred to me that suffering could result in any reward (I will have to give that one some more thought), suffering can give rise to certain character traits, in particular that of compassion. I think suffering is a resolute teacher of despair – and this gives an understanding of the true meaning of hope.

‘…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’

Romans 5:3b-5 (NRSVA)

We must be careful though, because I have heard the notion of suffering as a ‘positive’ thing used as an excuse by some Christians towards others who have suffered, e.g. ‘you must forgive’ or ‘if you had more faith you would be healed’, etc. Grace rarely works with the rapidity of the fairy godmother’s wand – often its lessons, of necessity, take time – and it’s certainly no good used as an excuse to not care about the one who is suffering.

 

Compassion is what motivates the ‘sheep’ in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. There’s no judgement involved, just willingness to be there, walking alongside whatever pain the person is experiencing. Jesus doesn’t say ‘get the prisoner out of prison’ or ‘chastise them for ending up in prison’, He talks instead of ‘visiting’ them. Equally, and I say this from the point of view of someone who has been through trauma and tragedy and is currently still experiencing ill health, I beg of people to not allow your compassion to make of me (or anyone) an object. I (we) am not an object of your pity, I (we) am a human being. Jesus never made people feel ‘different’; He just got on with loving them.

‘…a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that [Jesus] was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment… when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” …turning towards the woman, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” … he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”‘ 

 Luke 7:37-50 (NRSVA)

This is the gift of compassion that Christ exemplified throughout his life! He ‘became’ the same as the sinners, or the sick, or the weak. He walked alongside them, recognising in each his or her humanity, and also in each his or her dignity. It is this recognition of our dignity which makes the Gospel so radical, so remarkable! Loving Jesus isn’t a safe, solid, predictable thing to do. Following His way turns the world on its head. Everything you think you know gets turned upside down. He tells us ‘pick up your cross and follow me’. Carrying one’s cross is never easy. But it changes everything.

 

My favourite ‘compassion’ story:

‘…there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years*. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”**  Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling***, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Mark 5:25-34 (NRSVA)

 

* She was forced to exist as an outcast, even from her own family.

** She was forbidden from touching, as she was considered ‘unclean’ and anything she touched would also be made ‘unclean’.

***She had just performed a forbidden act – no wonder she was terrified!

 

This story always makes me so glad, so thankful. Thank you so much for your original post, Irvin, writing this has made my day 🙂

A Pastor's Thoughts

The brother said to the old man, ’So, man does not advance towards any reward without bodily affliction?’ The old man said to him, ‘Truly it is written: “Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) David also said: “I will not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids,” until I find a place for the Lord.’ (Psalm 13:2-4)

— Abba Cronius of the Desert

This saying deals with the concept of suffering as an integral part of the Christian walk. Suffering as a precursor to reward is a most difficult and jesus-on-the-cross1controversial concept. There are Christians that believe that without self-imposed suffering there is no reward. The main thrust of the monk’s words are that scripture leads us to believe that suffering and perseverance are an inbuilt part of our…

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