A testimony of healing from trauma
Usually our Sunday post is a devotion based on Scripture, but today I’m going to tell you what God did for me last Sunday during the church service I attend, a Lutheran church in Melbourne.
I went to church expecting a touch or teaching from our Lord, because ever since I’ve been attending this church I’ve found that something special from God happens to me every service. I had no idea what particular thing God had in store for me, and that day I was not aware of any particular emotions pressing up in me.
Somewhere during the service I started to weep about a traumatic experience I had 13 years ago. Grief welled up, the tears rolled down, I silently sobbed, and remembered. . . the phone call from someone in need . . . the phone call I made to the church elder for advice . . . how he treated me with suspicion . . . which hurt. . . but eventually he gave me cold but correct advice: Ring the relevant secular authority. I phoned the authority, who hand-balled me to another authority. Then I made the long drive in a night of thunderstorm and high winds to where the person in need was. The fear I would skid off the wet road. Holding onto the steering wheel for dear life, praying. Getting the needy person safe, with the help of the authority figures.
And then, the aftermath. My need to grieve stymied by the everyday demands of life and single parenting. My need to grieve, bottled up with no one to talk to who would believe how bad it was, no one who would just let me weep. The sobs stuck in my belly, clogging me, like a dead weight. A counselor who didn’t really get it (and later judged me very badly) but at least she gave me one good piece of advice: to think of some ritual to express my grief through. I did. I bought some flowers, and drove, when I had child-free time, to the place where the incident happened. I sat on the steps outside that flat and wept. Fairly quietly, but not quietly enough for the woman in the flat opposite, who came out of her door and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was grieving for a bad thing that had happened in that flat. She told me to stop and to go away. She said she had had a similar bad thing happen to her when she was a kid, and she didn’t want to be reminded about it. She was short with me, and angry. I understand. But it hurt. There was nowhere for me to grieve to mark this ritual.
I forget whether I left the flowers there. My ritual was wrecked. The grief still stuck inside.
And last Sunday, God took me back to all that and the grief came up, I cried, but even more important: I joined the memories up together in my head, linking them, bringing them into the same room, so they could nod to each other, sob together, weep together. Like each bit of the memory was a different peg on a creative wall hanging and as I remembered and wept God was helping me loop the wool round one peg (the elder’s cold response) and then taking it round another peg (the drive on the drenched road through lighting and thunder) and then around another peg (the rescue) and then another peg (taking the flowers to the doorstep but getting forbidden and dismissed), and then the elder peg again, more tears and handing that over to God, and then looping in the doorstep once more, and then the counselors’ help & hurt, and then the thunderstorm, fear, and my hands gripping the steering wheel, and then the authorities, and then the flowers, and then the woman who could not bear my grieving in the stairwell outside her flat, forgiving her, but it still hurt . . . round and round God was winding a creative tapestry of healing in my mind.
They say that recovery from PTSD involves re-living the memories where they are iconically embedded (gouged in pain and fear) in the limbic part of the brain and bringing them into the frontal cortex so they can be stored like other memories in the normal, autobiographical memory bank we have in our brains. If I’ve got some of that terminology wrong, forgive me.
Last Sunday, that is what God did in me. And the choir with the soprano whose voice is like an angel sang the Aaronic Blessing at the exact point when God was drawing all the threads together in the final recapitulation. [The following broken link was to YouTube, to The Lord Bless You and Keep You (John Rutter). Editors.]
When the service was over the man sitting next to me, beside his wife, looked towards me and I think he noticed for the first time that I had been crying (even though I’d sometimes had gut-heaving sobs, they’d been silent). He asked me if I was okay. No condescension. No patronizing. Just a simple, warm enquiry. I told him what I’d been going through during the service and then, feeling his safety, I told him some of the details of what happened all those years ago. He was so nice. He just said “It’s good you’ve been able to grieve about that, because — and you probably know this better than I do — if you keep that kind of pain inside it can make you sick.”
Oh, how wonderful to weep in church and not to be treated like I must have some hidden unconfessed sin! Like I have the emotional mange and although they put on the dutiful niceness they actually wish I would go away so I don’t contaminate them.How wonderful for tears to be treated as ordinary! For no-one to feel they have to give me advice because I’ve been suffering.
I love this church. And I love God.