Make Friends with Your Past, and Make Friends

“Don’t you ever struggle any more?” the young woman asked after our conference, looking deep into my eyes as if searching for the secret, hidden in the ‘windows to my soul’.

“I’m human. Of course I do,” I said, smiling. “But I’ve accepted that as part of life, and part of being healed.”

“I wish you had talked about that….”

Here’s the reality: the past has lost its grip, but the power of memories like that will always be part of my life. It is inevitable. There will be triggers. I hear certain screams and my blood runs cold. The unexpected popping balloon will make my heart race; it’s too close to a gun shot. And angry distant yelling takes me to a time and place, where a child’s heart falls silent with fear. These are my realities.

What has changed, however, is the impact of that power. Where once it was altogether negative and debilitating, it has now become a force for good, for right and for purpose. Even in the hard times. Even when occasional flashbacks blindside me.

The hard times used to knock me down for weeks, if not months. Now they are moments in which I turn quickly from my pain to reach for the hand and heart of God. They used to knock me down and out; now they present a challenge, an invitation to something greater, something more whole, more enduring, more fulfilling. When my chest grows tight with the anxiety of PSTD–something I fought against daily for years, and now experience mostly in new situations or relationships–I celebrate that I am growing, learning and stretching. Oh it’s still frightening at moments, but I’ve seen it often enough that I recognize it’s all part of moving forward, even though it hurts. Much like stretching a tight muscle, or discovering muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Mostly I guess I’ve stopped struggling against the impact of the abuse by accepting that I walk with a limp, while refusing to stay stuck in negative patterns. It’s somewhat like the cancer patient who loses the ability to walk during treatment, and ends up in a wheelchair. When the cancer goes into remission the individual can sometimes learn to walk again, but could as easily resign him or herself to being confined to wheelchair. To learn to walk again requires effort, determination and resilience. It is a choice. Some try and learn to walk again. Some try and remain in a wheelchair. Some never put in the effort.

And right about there the analogy falls apart because cancer and abuse are two very different things. But the reality is that our investment, as individuals who have overcome abuse, makes a tremendous difference. And even if we learn to walk again, and walk with strength, there likely will be things that trip us up more easily for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we are not ‘healed’ and whole. It means we are healed with scars. And scars tell stories, and stories connect hearts.

Stories… Yes, they connect hearts. And as ours heal, and we become comfortable with them, scars and all, something rather beautiful takes place; the focus shifts from our pain and need, to focusing more on others and hearing their stories.

I thought of that yesterday when I walked into a store and started connecting with a young cashier, a beautiful young woman from Egypt. It all started with looking for pearl earrings to replace my ‘go to’ pair; one of which I lost recently. I don’t wear a lot of jewelery  partly because I don’t care for the feeling, and partly because of metal allergies making it so that I mostly only wear gold, titanium, or stirling silver, with the latter being most common for day to day. I shared this with the young woman so she could point me in the right direction, and so it began. From allergies we moved to health, to research, to psychology, to dreams and whatever path women’s minds choose to take things. If one can call the spaghetti trail a ‘path’ at all.

She told me she is going back to school in the fall, having dropped out of studies that had not held her interest; she hoped this would be different. Being old enough to be her mother, I playfully told her I too was returning to school, which. We exchanged areas of interest, and our reasons for choosing our particular field of studies. And she told me how her mother had become a doctor in Egypt, only to have to go through it all over again to be a doctor in Canada. It was a compelling story of courage, determination and resilience and she told it with a blend of admiration and disappointment which I only understood when she said it made her sad that her mother had to work so hard, put out so much money, only to not be fully appreciated. “People think doctors make a lot of money and are super rich, but they’re not.” She went on to say how General Practitioners only make around $70,000 after years of financial investment and time spent. There was no resentment, just an honest opinion.

Jessica intrigued me. She was helpful, curious, and an engaging communicator and connector, yet somewhat reserved. She shared quite transparently her disengagement from past dreams and the direction she had wanted to take her life and studies, while persisting in her search, even while knowing that her first love would always be art.

“When you find that thing for which you are created, you will be engaged; it will be different,” I said. I applauded her for investing herself and doing well in the opportunities she had, even if they were not her dream, and encouraged her to not give up on her passion and interest. I was about to tell her about setting up an Etsy shop for her art, when she told me she had set up an account recently, but nothing was happening on it yet. And that’s when I decided I would tell a bit of her story and our little encounter…

(If you love to colour, and also enjoying supporting young people, check out her Etsy shop HERE.  Jessica has drawn the colouring pages available, and I know it would mean a lot if you took a moment to visit her shop and consider making a purchase. And, no, she has no idea I’m doing this. But I do hope when I drop in to say ‘hi’ next time, that she will excitedly tell me her art has started to sell.)

The real connecting started when we shared our stories. Both of us have encountered disappointment and challenges in our lives. Both of us, though decades apart in age, are learning to push past roadblocks, fighting for our dreams, and overcoming obstacles.

And that is why I no longer struggle with being an abuse victim. Though rarely, the aftermath at times causes me to struggle, that is true, but it is the thing that opens doors to relationships in ways I would never have imagined, allowing me to inspire others, and others to inspire me. And that makes it all worthwhile.

Make friends with your past. Embrace your story. Embrace your scars. And, inevitably, it will connect you with the stories, the scars and the hearts of people around you.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

 

 

Overcoming Flashbacks & the Inevitable Emotional Trauma (Part 2)

Tim held me in his arms as he prayed. I wasn’t able to focus on the words, but that didn’t matter. He was talking to God on my behalf, and He was listening.

After he prayed, Tim sat quietly for a moment. “Are you still angry with me?”

I shook my head. “I never was angry. Whatever happened, I was terrified.”

He explained why he left, and what his plan was, to drive around the parking lot and return.

It didn’t matter. The issue wasn’t the current situation. It was the past that had been ‘jogged’ in my subconscious by the apparent abandonment.

With that resolved, we continued about our day, as planned.

***

Flashbacks are a common and difficult part of life for victims of any kind of abuse or violence. They are emotionally exhausting for the victim, as well as those who observe them. In the above story it was my husband, but can also impact children, siblings and friends. They take a toll on the mind, especially if not identified and worked through, and they most definitely take a toll on marriage.

Flashbacks come in the form of emotions that are hard to identify, vivid pictures—often almost as ‘out of body’ type images, where the victim is watching him or herself in a specific memory, and feeling things that were blocked at the time of trauma.

These episodes leave even a ‘recovered victim’ or survivor of abuse to deal with raw pain and the need to heal at a new level, peeling back another layer. It can be very overwhelming, because it often happens just about the time you think there’s nothing left to heal from, just about the time the past feels truly in the past.

These unexpected interruptions are disheartening because they leave you feeling temporarily hopeless, as if healing will never truly be yours, as if you will never truly be free, and as if you are destined to be a victim for life. With the hopelessness comes shame, because you feel as though you should be past that by now. It should happen any more. Your faith in God should be stronger, your ‘presence of mind’ less easily overthrown.

Tim and I have been through numerous episodes similar to this one, though this was one of the most powerful, most daunting.

Over the years we have learned to identify what is happening, to talk through it, to pray over it, and then be aware. In exploring the cause, and the fear behind the flashback, and then having him pray over me, rather than getting impatient, or taking it personal, we take authority over it. Rather than remaining victimized or vulnerable to the flashbacks, they become an opportunity for deeper healing, and stronger relationship.

Each time Tim has patiently walks me through a flashback, I become stronger. Rather than dealing with constant flashbacks, my trauma is brought to light, and the flashbacks are fewer and farther between. The first seven years of marriage, especially before we recognized them, flashbacks were a fairly constant part of life. The last eleven years I can only remember about four episodes in total, though there may have been some that I have forgotten.

If you deal with flashbacks, don’t be discouraged. Ask Jesus to show you what He wants to heal in your memories. The enemy wants to use them to destroy you, but God will redeem everything the enemy throws at you, if you’re willing to open your heart and let Him shine His love and His light on the pain and the darkness.

We have the option of staying in that place, and remaining victim to the past. But we also have authority to break the power of victimization. It is ideal to find someone, whether a spouse, a mentor, or a counsellor, to share the trauma with. Someone who will not call you crazy, or mental, but who will support you, believe in your healing, and pray over you.

The most important thing, always, is to not carry the trauma alone. It is overwhelming to do so. They say that, “Pain shared, is half the pain. Joy shared is joy doubled.” If shared with the right person, I wholeheartedly agree.

© Trudy Metzger

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Overcoming Flashbacks & the Inevitable Emotional Trauma (Part 1)

“Wait here for just a minute… I’ll be right back,” I said, as I jumped out of the car, leaving Tim in a ‘no parking’ zone. A minute or two, with him in the car and the car running, wouldn’t be a problem.

I ran into the grocery store to get a money order. Only one person in line ahead of me, and it was a quick transaction. Great! I stepped up, asked for the money order, handed the cashier the money, and seconds later I held the money order in my hand. Wow! That was quick!

I rushed back out of the store. Outside I stopped. Looked around. No Tim. No vehicle. Nothing.  It had been a great day. Until that moment.

I waited. I paced. I looked around again, scanning the parking lot. Nothing. I went back to the store, looked for a pay phone. No pay phone. My cell phone was in my purse. My purse in the car. I returned to the sidewalk where Tim had dropped me off, scanned the row of cars parked there. A horn honked. I looked to see if it was Tim. He wouldn’t honk for me. He’d come get me. I walked to the other side of the store entrance, scanning the cars.

Something inside of me snapped. Not anger. Nothing to do with the present circumstance. I was a little girl again. Lost. No one there. No place to turn. No way to call for help. Tears threatened. My chest felt a sense of panic. My brain fogged over. People all blended and blurred into faceless figures. I turned away, ashamed of the tears, threatening to spill over. Where am I? Where is he? Why am I all alone?

Reason and awareness of the present tense fled. Now I was a little four-yr-old girl at a bus stop, rushing through the crowd, afraid of being separated from my parents and siblings… Now five and walking the sidewalk of Chihuahua with my family, fighting the same fear… Now fifteen and leaving home to take care of myself… Now sixteen and wandering from place to place, job to job… Now seventeen and flying to California, running in fear… Now eighteen and back at the Detroit border, waiting for someone to pick me up…

Alone… alone… alone…

Forgotten…

The tears spilled without reserve. I turned my back to the parking lot, pretended to study the flowers for sale outside the story. What is happening to me?  

A man, scruffy, dirty and rough-looking, marched toward me. He didn’t smile. “HI!” he said, boldly. Loudly. No emotion. Then he marched away. Probably homeless. Why am I distressed? I have it so good!

“Hi,” I whispered as I turned, letting my hair fall over my face.

People rushed past. A horn honked in the distance. I scanned the parking lot. No Tim. I turned away again. Time passed slowly. It felt like forever. Why didn’t I take my phone? Why am I here, alone? My mind raced. No way to connect to my world. I froze in fear. The tears stopped.

It felt strange and yet familiar, all at the same time. I wanted to run. But I realized I had nowhere to go. I would wait. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I tried to tell myself that everything was ok, but something inside of me wouldn’t stop.

I turned. Squinted. Was that him? I waited. A horn honked. I walked across the two lanes of traffic. I waited. It was Tim. He pulled up. I opened  the door and sank into the passenger seat. I took a deep breath, holding in the tears.

“Don’t ever do that again,” I whispered in panic.

“Do what?” Tim asked.

“Leave me like that,” I whispered. Somewhere deep in my soul a dam burst. I sobbed like I’ve only sobbed a few times in my marriage.

Tim pulled into a parking spot, wrapped his arms around me, and just held me. Terror lingered, somewhere below the surface. Slowly reality set in. I was fine. An adult. Safe with Tim.

I looked at Tim, “What’s wrong with me?” The flood of tears started all over again. Slowly I realized I had experienced a flashback. Buried deep in my subconscious all the fear of abandonment in childhood and all my lonely teen years had overtaken me, overwhelmed my reality, and drawn me into the past.

Tim continued to hold me. “Hey… you’re going to be ok. What happened?”

“I don’t know… I really don’t know… Let’s leave. I’m ready to go.”

“Will it help to talk about it?”

“Maybe, but I don’t know what to say. I can’t talk about it yet. Let’s go,” I said again.

“Can you try to talk about it?”

I started and the words tumbled out, as I tried to explain the panic, the fear, the loneliness, all those years of having no one there. No one who noticed. Or cared. No consistent ‘presence’ in my life. The dam burst again… and again. Tim just held me.

I felt myself calm down. The turmoil in my mind eased. The jumbled thoughts became coherent. “I’m ready to go now.”

Tim paused, still holding me. He leaned back, “Can I pray for you?”

I nodded.

…To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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