Trauma recovery

The Utter Simplicity of Saving Lives

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Grains, millions of grains of sand rubbing the souls of my feet. Making them wiggle while sending tingling sensations up my heels into ankles, calves. Grit mixing with water and sun’s warmth. As if I walk barefoot on a beach. In a day full of relaxation.

But I am not on a beach. I am in bed. In a house surrounded by night. Stars peeking out of February’s winter sky. Lights off. Feet covered in warm socks. Body snuggled into down comforter. Eyes flickering shut. Searching for sleep.

My feet however are somewhere else. As if they are no longer attached to my body. Disconnected. Separated. Most of me in Iowa. My feet, at a beach.

Not just any beach. Three years and six months after watching life as we knew it disappear, my feet return. Return to the rippling water. Current tugging from every direction. Sand squishing beneath feet. Eyes watching the unthinkable.

Even after almost weekly therapy sessions since that day. Even after understanding I suffered from PTSD for two plus years. Even after working with trauma recovery modalities of EMDR, somatic movement therapy along with added sessions of Tai Chi, Sensory Experiencing, and a little bit of tapping. Even after reading book after book about trauma recovery. Even after so much healing work my feet tell me they never left the beach.

Ask for another EMDR session. Eyes following therapist’s finger. Slowing moving back and forth in front of my face. Me, talking about my feet. Feet holding part of the story. Memories from the Wisconsin River sweeping my husband away and into his death. The same river trying so very hard to sweep our two sons away as well. A day, I stood and watched. Lone witness to our story.

Or so I thought. My feet making an addition to the story. About my body in the water that day. Reveal it during EMDR. Slowly. Left to right and right to left. Seemingly safe because I wore a life vest. Seemingly safe because I was near other people in the water.

But my feet hold truth. Of how close I was to being swept away as well. That the safety measure strapped across my chest may not have saved me. Because the current pulled under with a mighty strength. Not just downstream. But down into. And the sand below my feet wanted to crumble away. Leaving me without footing.

And I gasp. Now. In horror. Three years and six months later. Because all I remembered of this moment was thinking I could go no further toward the spot I last saw Tony. That to do so would mean my death. My death. And something inside me turned toward shore and walked out of the water. Just like our two sons had done mere moments before.

My PTSD was not only from witnessing death take life in secondary trauma. My body knew death threatened my life. In one pull under or collapse of sand beneath my feet. That’s why ancient body wisdom pushed me from danger. Back toward safety. In a haze. In what felt like slow motion. But in what was really a form of fleeing danger. On adrenaline’s fuel.

Ancient energy moving me on a day when the utter simplicity of saving our lives could have been a sign reading “Danger! NO Swimming Allowed.” Along with a beach full of people following sign’s order. One governmental mandate posted for safety of all people followed by compliance. Complying because the common good is important. Because each of us is part of the common. We all want good for ourselves and loved ones. And if we are practicing people of faith, we humbly want good for all others. Seems to me wanting good for others is wanting good for God. A form of love.

So I ask the people of that day and the state and local governments of Wisconsin overseeing the Wisconsin River again and again, “Why was your fun more important than our lives?”

Answer received. Additional deaths each year. Death after death.

Now three years and nine months later my sons and me are once again surrounded by people and governments who value their actions more than our lives. Not on a beach. But in a global pandemic. This time I ask the people who do not wear masks in the grocery store, or refuse to stand six feet apart, or who demand the freedom for a haircut, or refuse to govern for all and not just a few, “What happened to you? What happened to you causing your deep pain? Making your needs more important than our lives?

These behaviors, these unhumble, harmful behaviors of others, are old wounds. Behaviors revealing to the world old wounds still festering. Oozing with the yellows and greens of infection. Producing the smells of rot, gangrene, death. Unhealed wounds wounding all others. Strangers. Loved ones. Friends. Family.

Jesus asked his disciples to keep his commandments. (1) His commandments of loving others. (2) We can’t love well unless we begin and continue healing. Not alone. But with clinically trained professionals. Doing healing’s work week in and week out. Therapy session after therapy session. While also sitting with spiritual directors, chaplains, or pastors. Asking the big questions hanging on our hearts. As well as incorporating healing methods into our days such as mindfulness techniques, centering prayer, or journaling.

Healing takes work. Lots of work. Takes a team of healers. Takes faith in the process and in the healers and in ourselves. (3) But it is lifesaving. For me. For you. For everyone who does not receive the tragic results of our unhealed pain.

No-swimming signs on dangerous beaches and wearing masks in stores, these are easy actions saving lives. But healing old wounds. Not simple at all. Really hard and long work. And when it is not done, then the simple ways of saving lives are pushed aside, minimized. Because pain needs a lot of space to perpetuate sorrow into total strangers. Making saving lives never so simple.

I think that’s what Jesus knew. Tried to teach his disciples. Tries to continually teach us. To have faith in our ability to heal. Because healing helps us rejoin our communities so that we can love God, ourselves, and others, known and unknown to us. (4) Love looking like daily simple actions. Actions saving lives.

________
[1] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 NRSV
[2] “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NRSV
[3] He [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”” Mark 5:34 NRSV
[4]  “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” Mark 12: 30-31 NRSV

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Faith, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Slow Trauma, Psalmist Style

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Every day I check the maps. First, my state map. How many cases in my county? How many deaths in my state? Watch Iowa’s numbers increase daily. Each day showing additions. Not subtractions. Yesterday, 1710. Today?

Move to the country’s map. How many states in the United States of America are on stay-at-home orders?  Most states now have them. Mine does not. Governor refuses. Claiming freedom, more important than life. Asking us to die for it. Her stubborn stance making us more anxious, lonely, afraid, and unprotected.

My last check, the world. Numbers, never the same. Never less. Only more. Throwing me back into the cushions I lean on. Despair’s long sigh escaping through my nose. Sinking my heart lower and lower. Until questions erupt. Not of maps, leaders, or politicians. But of God.

 

How long, O Lord?

Will you forget me forever?

 

 How long will you hide your face from me?

 How long must I bear pain in my soul,  and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

 

 How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 

Ancient words still keening. Sounded from the psalmist. Written in Psalm 13, first two verses. (NRSV) Naming our feelings of abandoned-ness, pain, sorrow.

Walk on path one bright day. Hear frogs sing. Filling woods with sound. Notice flock of gulls dancing in sun’s rays. Breathe in spring’s warming air.  “I feel like a bowling pin,” I say. “A bowling ball rolls toward me. In slow motion. Growing larger as I watch.”

Mind sees me standing with all my beloveds. Facing forward. At the end of alley ’s lane. Watching the ball. Praying it veers off to one side, teeters on the edge, finds the gutter. But the ball stays on course. Toward us. As we freeze. Immobilized. Caught in a slow form of trauma. Spanning days, weeks, months. Trauma approaching, getting closer and closer. As we continue standing. Hearing ball against wood floor. Feeling moving vibrations beneath our feet. Ball growing bigger and bigger. Soul asking again like the psalmist. “How long, O LORD?” (v 1)

Brain, a funny organ in humans. Mine flashes. With wonderings in trauma’s watch. How does the psalmist manage hope in the last two verses? Beginning with, “But I trust in your unfailing love…” (v 5)

How do we hope when the ball keeps rolling? Answer my own question. Out of something I tell my son these days. “We can hold both sadness and hope at the same time.”

A paradox. Holding both. Something I learned from living in concurrent grief and trauma recovery. Sadness, sorrow, and despair are emotions. But hope? Hope is learned. Practiced. Acquired. What is called a cognitive function.

Holding both, wisdom. Excelled in by the psalmist. Through first naming and listing experiences surrounding pain. Pain, intrusive thoughts, sorrow, abandonment, defeat. This listing, a crying out called lament. Lament defining deep unmet basic needs such as safety. Lament leading to an ask for help called prayer.  “…Give light to my eyes…” (v 3) the psalmist prays.

Then the psalmist shifts. Into recognizing gifts. God’s gifts of “trust,” “unfailing love,” and “salvation.” ( v 5)  Remembering these good gifts, the psalmist builds hope. In a future filled with song and “good“-ness . (v 6)

Yes, we can hold sadness and hope at the same time. Sadness begins a necessary journey in emotional survival. Leading us to act by lamenting. Lament opening us into another act. The act of prayer. For our pain and needs. Leading us into naming the gifts we have already received. Gratitude for these gifts creating a sense of hope from within. Hope living alongside sadness. Sadness, the beginning. Hope, the last word. Together creating a never-ending map for living. One providing ongoing healing balm. Making the ball rolling toward us something we can deal with.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

 

This post also appears at https://compassionatechristianity.org/trauma-recover/

Photo courtesy of Pixabay at http://www.pixabay.com

 

 

 

Faith, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Sitting Lonely

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How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

Lamentations 1:1

Walking my normal route. On a Sunday afternoon in early spring. Temperature in the fifties. Slightly overcast with sun flitting in and out. Air smelling of trees swelling into resurrected life. And soil. Soil pining to be planted. So much so I must breathe in its scent as breezes brush against my face.

I see no one. No people. No one out. No children playing on the playground.  No families strolling by pushing baby carriages. No runners. No other walkers.

Cars roll by slowly. No longer in a hurry. But not many cars. Cars resting. Found parked in driveways, garages, and along the streets of my neighborhood. As if it is Thanksgiving or Christmas day. Everyone home on forced holiday.

Back home my son reports the store shelves are bare. He returning from stocking up on a few items—toothbrushes, acetaminophen, milk. Tells me this news as we make a list for my grocery run the next day. Writing down what we really need. What we can do without. Thinking ahead for a future we do not understand and cannot predict.

Like most of my friends, I spend time on the phone with loved ones scattered in other places. Feel a need to connect daily now. Check in. But also to help convince or plan. For my oldest to leave Mexico amidst flight cancellations and possible border closings. For my mother to stay south as long as possible instead of coming home to community spread.

When not on the phone or email or text, check the maps. The ones telling me the latest reports. The ones showing the growing numbers. In between checks trying to study, answer emails, read the latest update from seminary, reschedule my life as meetings, events, and deadlines change hourly. All part of my new job as home manager of crisis’ constant change.

The writer of Lamentations imagines or looks out over an empty Jerusalem. After war’s sieges took lives. Captured prisoners. Enemy conquering, creating new reality. Forcing residents to move far away. Emptying a city. Leaving smoldering bits of a recent past. Only seen by those remaining. A desecrated temple. A destroyed way of life.

The prophet looks out over what once was and is no longer. Allows the scene to enter his body. For woe to fill his heart.With scene in mind, heart, and body, calls it like it is. Words allowing the sharing of sorrow with other mourners. “How lonely sits the city…!”

We live in a new form of exile. Not exile like those escaping war or political persecution or famine. Even a pandemic does not compare to these atrocities. Yet there remains a flavor here of exile now. Of being refugees. Even if our camp is in our own home. We are torn away from loved ones, work, friends, activities, faith communities, and school. Separated from routines, predictability, and calm.

So I sit at my kitchen table. Stare out the window. Watch a dog and its person walk across the field. Track their progress. Become aware of my held breath.

Begin to breathe. First in, then out. Again. Again. Deeper. Fuller. Breath reaching behind tired eyes. Loosening jaws. Unfurling forehead. Finding shoulders through collar bones. Down arms into fingers. Belly filling up. Hips letting go. Breath running down silent legs. Into ankles, toes. Eyes closing. Mind blanking. Body breathing into prayer spilling out.

Be present, God. Here. Everywhere. Make your presence known to all. Heal us with holy breath for this day. And tomorrow. And the days already on their way. Strengthen us. For the work to be done. The decisions to be made. The sacrifices we must make for neighbor and stranger and self. Fuel and refuel us with your Spirit each hour, day, week, month. Grow Spirit’s compassion in us. For each other. Amen.

~~~

Scripture quotation from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Image Credit:  Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/gregroose-2823595/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3091078″>Grégory ROOSE</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3091078″>Pixabay</a&gt;

Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Trembles

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(This post also appears at https://compassionatechristianity.org/trauma-recover/)

July 2018. Time spent past 23 months attending two types of trauma healing therapy each week. In between sessions poring over my late husband’s professional books on healing trauma. Reading Bessel van der Kolk early evenings when all I could do was go back to bed. Now, one month before grief and trauma’s second anniversary, open Peter A. Levine’s Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.

Knew my insides still held vestiges of traumatic experience’s bodily chemicals. Better, yes. Stable-looking from the outside. Many days, more calm from within. But not protected from resurging cortisol and adrenaline making me crazy shaky on the inside. Also felt disconnected to others. As if I was an island of pain misunderstood by the world. Levine’s words made sense. “…Trauma is about loss of connections—to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us.” (p. 9)

Read further into Levine’s book. About discharging hormones causing fight, flight, or freeze. Through shaking. Like animals in the wild. Human tendency to stop this natural response. Deny surging chemicals release after traumatic experience. Risking instead trauma’s entrapment in our bodies. Causing life sentences leading to all sorts of internal and external havoc.

Knew all about captured chemicals. Arms throbbed in pain for months after Tony died. Still did in high stress situations. Mostly gone because of a combination of somatic movement therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Yet something remained. I could feel it.

Our refrigerator magnet reminded me of something. Magnet found in Tony’s office. After he died. Amidst the chaos. In a space dedicated to healing trauma’s afterlife. Magnet bundled home. Stuck in place confronting me daily.

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Decided it was the time to go through Levine’s twelve phases of healing exercises. Found in his book laying open on my bed. All phases providing a reunion of sorts between mind and body. Through gentle exercises reclaiming our innate healing powers. Beginning with “safety and containment.” (p. 38) Concluding with “settling and integrating.” (p. 68)

At twilight one night, snuggled in bed, I reread the “shower exercise” found in phase one. (p. 40)  Asked the air, “How hard can this one be?”

But felt my stomach flutter in response. Causing me to pause before taking a big breath and throwing off the covers. Don’t remember walking into the bathroom. Or turning on the shower. Yet still feel the steam filling the room in fading light. And climbing in saying, “Here I go.”

Stood for a moment in water’s stream before placing both hands on my head. Tipped my head back. Felt my hair dampen. Brought it out repeating Levine’s suggested words. Tipped my head back again into the water. Took another deep breath. Moved on to face, neck, shoulders repeating actions, words, and breath. Each area filling with something different. Perhaps a new sense of lightness.

Right below my collar bones, after allowing water’s warmth to rain down, I again repeated Levine’s words. “This is my upper chest. I feel my upper chest. It belongs to me; it’s part of my body.” (p. 40)

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Something released. Opened an internal door. Sending sensations up through my neck, face, and into my eyes. Forming tears falling hard. Showing me this part of my body contained held pain. Wounds still hurting. Suffering buried without my knowledge. I began to breathe hard. Shake. Tremble.

The shaking did not stop. It went on and on, warm water mixing with tears and trembling. For what seemed like suspended time. Until the tremors slowed, disappeared. My body, my whole body, breathed. And a sense of peace filled in the empty spaces formerly occupied by trauma’s leftovers. Well-being replaced fear. Goodness replaced evil.

With joy, shared my experience with both therapists. Thinking they would find it amazing and a little bit humorous as I did. But both women wore looks of something beyond concern. My EMDR therapist leaned in. “You need to tell me when you are thinking of doing trauma exercises on your own.”

“Oh my gosh, Jennifer! You can get stuck for hours in a tremor,” my somatic movement therapist said.

“Forever?”

“No, not forever. But it can be lengthy and scary.”

Point understood. Trauma recovery needs trained, certified, in-person clinicians walking with us. Knowing what we are up to in our own exploration of healing methods found outside the therapeutic office. My curiosity, part of life’s force waking up in me. Something to be celebrated. Yet shared with my healing team like writing down prescriptions and supplements for a new doctor.

Because healing is not a rogue endeavor. In trauma’s aftermath, the disconnectedness we feel and as Levine writes about, can tumble over into our therapeutic relationships. Trained healers are there to work with us and watch out for us. Every healing method, including help we find through books, podcasts, and social media, needs connection with our human healing team. In a “medical alert” found on his book’s copyright page, Levine urges readers to find professional healing. He also writes in chapter four, “this work is often best done in the presence of another person.” (p. 37)

Peter A. Levine’s work continues to impact me and all those involved in trauma healing. He is a courageous pioneer with an intense commitment to infusing new life into the evils of trauma’s aftermath. All his books are testaments to the possibility of living on and well. I continue to read, reread his books, listen to interviews with him, do his exercises, and some nights even wonder what it would be like to study with him. Mostly though, I just want to thank him.

“Thank you, Peter.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery, Writing

Writing Tools

IMG-2135Once I wrote every morning. Upon waking. In dawn’s first light. Under cover’s warmth. Hidden. From world. Not long ago. Life laying low. No reason to rise. Except for brief moments. Fixing food picked at. Not fully ingested by three souls, sitting with silent, wailing hearts.

Still scratch away most mornings. In bed, abating cold under think downy comforter. Or at kitchen table, sky brightening over Eastern tree tops.  Or at desk, feeling grown-up and professional. Even in yoga pants and sweatshirt.

No longer all dawns though. Not now. Life’s varied actions taking over sacred word space. Words watching as I cook, clean, study, parent, build and rebuild relationships, love in verb form, plan ahead, make lists, pay bills, run errands, exercise, sleep.

Words sidelined. Pent up. Waiting. Nagging. Prodding. Agitated. Resentful. Impatient for cleared moments meant only for them. In stolen time away from all else. Thoughts, emotions, connections released from inner captivity. Swooshing out with sighs.

IMG-2118Write on drawing paper. Bound in books, not tablets. Large ones for home use. Small for travel. Not the blank books given at birthday or holiday. No glossy or smooth inspirational cover art or quote from famous author. No place inside front cover for printing name. Making words official if only to self. Instead simple black cover. Woven texture. Raised weave masking cardboard beneath. Square holes punched along left side. Two strands of black wire inserted and spiraling down. Holding innards together. Inside thick paper. Heartier than blank books. Strong enough for frequent erasure.

IMG-2122Write with pencil. Beginning long ago with a DIXON Ticonderoga 2 SOFT. Boxes left over from sons’ elementary school days. Specific request on school supply list each August. Boys calling them “sturdier.” Me, grumbling about extra expense. Left now with boxes of them. Many pre-sharpened. Popping out of clear plastic containers smelling of pencil. Wood wound around graphite. Odor lingering in our collective noses from early on. From beginnings of formal schooling.

Along with sounds of manual pencil sharpeners found in every classroom. Near the door in the front. Drilled into cinder block walls, drywall, or ancient plaster. Leveled at a certain height. Increasing with grade. For standing in front of. Glimpsing the  world outside enclosed space. Teacher eyes waiting possible escape or eruption. But doorway blocked by budding sense of internal boundaries for many. Most turning back toward sharpener. Adjusting hole’s size. Sticking pencil in. Pushing crank. In circular motion. Away from self. Hearing grind. Wondering how pencil will come out. Broken tip or point?

IMG-2109Electric sharpeners buzzing with own sounds, vibrations, issues. Too quick for the lingering, dreaming school child needing small break. Have one of these machines packed away somewhere. Lost in boxes of what was and is no longer. Instead rummage each morning in kitchen junk drawer. For small plastic, pastel colored pencil sharpeners with dulling blades. The kind put in zipped up pencil bags for school.

This fall, new pencil entered my life. A Palomino Blackwing 602. A birthday gift christening another year lived. Marking healing, love, future, me-as-a-writer, another’s belief in me. Pencil, slate grey. Quote written in italicised, gold lettering. “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED.”

IMG-2133Topped with gold erasure cup. Not green. Holding flat, rectangular, pink erasure. For erasing on the horizontal instead of in a spiral.  Gift accompanied by utilitarian sharpener. Small with two holes. One to sharpen. Another to fine tune the point. Small door for emptying shavings.

Discover new pencil’s feel on page different. Softer. Smoother. Words gliding instead of stumbling. Flow like a felt-tip marker. Easy. Simple. Color sitting on top of paper like velvet. Not ground in, etched, or engraved.

IMG-2210A few weeks ago, a seminary friend gave me a pencil. Unsharpened. Along with a smile. Full of shared knowing. About life’s desire for tactile experiences. Our senses, in seminary, needing release from heavy frontal lobe exercising. Our emotional brains, the place where we feel God, crying out for attention, movement, freedom. My new pencil, a PALOMINO ForestChoice 2.

Pencils different than blank books of bound paper. Both necessary equipment. Paper, a receiving tool. Pencil, an active instrument. Paper, the noun. Pencil, the verb. A delivery system creating conduit through which emotions and thoughts merge into words. Uniquely placed on paper forming voice, my voice. Pencil point sailing over page. Blankness filling with lines, curls, dots, and shapes.  At morning’s dawn. Pencils containing memories, stories, healings, hopes. Ticonderogas, discovery of myself as writer. School days for sons. Life in a different community. Late husband’s work. Writing to breathe. ForestChoice, life in seminary in fellowship with others saying “yes” to God’s call. Blackwings, new beginnings after years of therapy expanding self, love, and future.

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Three pencils sitting on empty pages. Staring up at me. Welcoming. Reminding me of life’s trajectory. Movement mapped in pencils. Writing, my constant in never-ending change.

 

 

 

 

Advent, Christmas, Faith

Another Chance at Adoration

Originally posted on December 14, 2018

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O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ the LORD!

 

Hymn sung each Christmas Eve in our worship tradition. Words riding on melody soaring up into rafter beams. Organ pulling out celebratory stops. Chords supporting voices in singing as one voice, one body. Some standing in this knowledge. Others in ignorance. All in hope for some inexpressible need.

Together chanting lyrics verse after verse calling for some sort of congregational effort. Text expressing felt want to be near the child. Not only in singing. Walking word by word toward him. Yet as we do, discovering a thin infant. Just having slid through the birth canal. Tiny, discolored, sticky with blood. Face screwed up. Smelling of birth. Hope draining out. Adore this one? Why?

Newborn’s family visiting Bethlehem only under governmental orders. Parents finding no place in homes and hearts of those with doors this night. Citizens blind, but not really, to Mary’s bulging belly. Man at each door saying “no,” while behind him cowers a woman. Scrubbing a pot. Mending a tunic. Silently asking for mercy with each stitch and scour.

Perhaps it is an old crone in the corner at the last door who risks nothing this night. Her  aged bones aching. Sight fading. Fingers gnarling. Tired of justifying the food it takes to keep her alive each day. Her heart in those five tiny mounds below the hill. Perhaps it is this old woman Joseph hears behind the last door’s keeper. In the hanging quiet between his ask and a stranger’s answer. After nervously begging for the seemingly small necessity of shelter. Having come this far in an unwanted journey. Far from home. Far from normal. Joseph scared into defying culture by an angelic, winged, fearsome messenger in the night. Now scared for Mary, himself, and an unknown future. Barely hearing the words uttered from within this place. Delivered in a gravely, high-pitched voice. The old mother making one last admonishment.  “Well go on. Give them the barn at least. Better than digging another grave at dawn.”

Further fear and embarrassment for Joseph serving as midwife just a few hours later.  Relieved when the wife of the place sneaks out with somewhat fresh water and a few rags. Because she can’t sleep after the first birth pangs ring through crystal, clear night. Resonating off her hollow womb while her husband snores, blissfully ignorant of this night’s worth.  Finding Mary moaning. Her hormones surging. Regretting saying “yes,” to that crazy angel. The wife nodding. Understanding the anger of birth pains. Squeezing her hand. Murmuring words of support before hurrying back. Not wanting to be discovered absent from her place.

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Night’s wind seeping in through doorless openings and cracks. Snorts, smells, and stars accompanying birthing howls. Surroundings ringing dissonance into the night. After a final push when all seems so terribly lost, a slim-shouldered, hairy neonate slides to the floor below crouching mother.  Amidst dirty hay and dried animal feces. No harmonic overtones reverberating with cries of new life. The crone at inn’s hearth muttering, “he’ll be cold by morning if we don’t get the mother some broth.”

Waking the oldest girl sleeping nearby. “Take this bowl to the mother,” she orders. Girl obeying. Also curious about the strangers. Thankful for this adventure breaking in on her pre-determined monotony.

It’s the girl who holds the babe while Mary sips. The third to stare at him in awe. Joseph off on hill’s ledge staring into stars. Overwhelmed by what happened. Even though it did not happen to his body. His life never in peril. Remembering Abraham. Knowing he, Joseph, is no patriarch. Feeling more like a pawn.

The girl passes the newborn babe back to Mary. Watches him suckle. Then sleep before creeping back to her pallet. Assuring grandmother all is well this night. Not questioning why this little being should be adored. Her mother having taught her to listen to the wisdom of the body.

Not like us now. Adore him? For what? So we can now fully adore the dirty man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money? And the youths throwing punches or bullets at each other in high school hallways? Adore the family climbing into a life raft and the soldiers pursuing them. Adore the “me too” survivor and her predator. Adore the family member, neighbor, friend whose politics send us spinning? Adore every person in the squad car? Adore the beautiful soul hidden under depths of substance addiction and her dealer or doctor? Adore the dirty, the violent, the undesirable, and all our culture’s un-adorables?

Easier as we exchange presents, trim trees, and gobble up holiday treats to not adore him or anyone. Whirl around in our busyness, forgetting. Leaving this baby under the tree fending for himself. Or placing him in another room where we cannot hear his cries for food. Bury our modern-mixed-with-age-old knowledge of human infant needs under distilled spirits, bigger screens, and business. Blocking out that article we read online recently about how infants experience hunger as true pain. And soiled diapers left unchanged infuse their little bodies with worthlessness. Crying it out teaches lonely individualism not relational well-being.  Prolonged separation from parents creates trauma’s breeding ground for current and future pain. Lack of human interaction causes an all body shut-down called failure-to-thrive.

Maybe this infant is just too much work. Deciding right after the big day while still off work or stuffed with too much merriment to return this child whose reality smacks us in the face. Wrap him in swaddling clothes and lie him in an Amazon Prime box. Affix a preprinted label, and drop him off at the post office. Ask to exchange him for something or someone more to our liking. A gift asking nothing of us. One in which our own internal wrappings stay tightly wound around our souls. Our truths never exposed even to us. Shunning the messenger’s words, “do not be afraid.”

Words heard by Mary long ago. Embraced and in doing so risking her life and future of her unborn child. Holding her heart full with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Not all comfort and joy. Praising God when really what else can she do? Running away meaning life on the street. Begging for food. Using her disassociated body for survival.  In saying “yes” making a choice to stay. Clasping fear to swelling breasts. Uttering words of praise, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“Do not be afraid,” heard also by lonely, smelly shepherds staying in fields. Probably because no one else in their little, little, world welcomed them into village or home. Undesirables ostracized into hills. Trusted with necessary function of tending sheep. But out of sight. Out of mind. Found in their hiding by God’s messengers with an invitation into awe. Risking their livelihoods for a chance to adore another human. When so often denied any exchange of humanly love.

We try to ignore these words, “do not be afraid.”  Thinking they cannot possibly be meant for us now. Part of a quaint story told each Advent and Christmastide from long ago. But this hungry, cold, pooping, spitting up, sort-of un-adorable baby somehow breaks through our internal walls anyway. Not with words. But with wails cutting into inner workings of bodies. Dwelling in our hearts. Causing agitation in our nervous systems. Our empty breasts to ache. Our stiff arms to fill with yearning.  So much yearning we must pick up him up. Keep him at arm’s length until his small body melds into ours. Then we sway. Feeling fully alive. Cherishing the moment. Washed with felt love. And his sweet baby smell. Existing together, almost as one. Not fully. Yet needing the other. For different reasons. Need though none-the-less.

What if we were to adore the un-adorable? What then for us? For them? What if we heard their wails, unsounded, emanating from deep within their hearts? What if we understood our need for them. Perhaps greater than their need for us? Would we then leave our sheep, our only way of life, like the shepherds did? Or give up the right to abandon or kill like Joseph? Bring a family to shelter. Sneak food to them in the night? Give them basic human supplies defying cultural expectations?

Our singing this night of all nights is not static. We do not perform a yearly empty ritual before going home to egg nog, a fire, and our annual viewing of Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. These words call us to action.  The lyricist is poetic. But he commands in imperative, “get going!” Go and adore the Christ child alive in all of us and in all others now. Leave wants behind the inn door next to the old crone.  Sing in a choir of earthly messengers to a deaf world.  Answer the cries of the child now with our opening arms. Feed the child now as if our breasts are about to leak milk or our own child’s life depends on it. Support the mother and father now as if we were once penniless. Give shelter to the family now as if we know homelessness. Adore the child now with trembling fear and courage like Mary. And in doing so, see God face-to-face, “now in flesh appearing.”

Merry Christmas.

 

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Notes

All photos courtesy of Pixabay. Glass window by Hanneke Visschers at Pixabay.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, text and music attributed to John Francis Wade.

Scripture quoted from Luke 1:30; 46-47, and Luke 2:10. (NRSV)

Scripture referred to from Matthew 1:19-21 and Luke, 1-2.

 

Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Meditation: Bargaining

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“The words of Job are ended.” (31:40)

 

Life amiss, off-kilter, teetering. Very much so. So much so. Tragically so. Even with Job’s best intentions for a righteous, safe life. Crossing all his T’s. Dotting each one of his I’s. Smoothing life’s sharp edges. The ones ready to cut, maim, and hurt. Job asks “Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity?” (31: 3)

More questions. To God. Friends. Again and again. Searching. Queries unrelenting like pain’s throbs. Entreating others sixteen times. Each time willing to bear possible repercussions if found unjust.

“If I walked with falsehood…” (31:5)

“If my heart has been enticed…” (31:9)

“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired…” (31:16)

“If I have raised my hand against the orphan…” (31:21)

“If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great…” (31:25)

“If I have rejoiced at the ruin of those who hate me…” (31:29)

“If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together…let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley.” (31:38,40)

Resolve mounts with each oath. Pulsing through Job’s veins. Others’ theories almost capturing innocent soul into falsehood’s net. Job’s inner goodness never leaving. Integrity present, whole, complete, intact. Pledge to God, made long ago, endures. Job remains the “blameless and upright man who…turns away from evil.” (1:8b)

Air falls silent. Friends’ babbling halts. What can they say? “…These three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (32:1)

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Healing Activity: Litany’s List

Writing a list of things we wished we did differently before, during, after our traumas pulls. Guilt’s evils perpetuating skewed thinking. Like Job’s friends. As if we hold exhaustive liability for our traumas. Full accountability laid at entrance of inner ashes. Onus cloaking us when we are blameless like Job.

Some traumas catch us in dysfunction’s sticky web. Hold us in continuous, adhesive loop of confusion. Despite who we once were before brought low by others’ unhealed crap. We thrash at both solid and invisible walls until something within rends, allowing escape.

But evil haunts. Tailing us in continuous coil of spinning thoughts. Cemented words releasing others’ involvement. Demanding we take entire burden on like a caught perpetrator.

There’s another litany worth writing. List asking what we did and do well. Each petition beginning with the small yet powerful word “I.” Not if you could have, should have done something differently. But what you did well. From my own trauma recovery litany I share,

I listened to my gut.

I walked toward.

I called out for help.

I didn’t always answer the doorbell.

I listened to Pastor Peter’s advice.

I went to therapy every week, sometimes twice.

I made home a safe space.

I kept trying to love.

I unpacked my own strength from deep within, like Job.

I forgave myself.

 

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Prayer

God, your creation is wild. Remind me I cannot control every minute of my world. Keeping vigil over life, wasted energy. Guarding my every move and moves of others, little use. God, magnify your hearing. Listen to my woes. Answer my questionings with calm and alleviating actions. Restore my trust in you and in myself. Turn me toward healing instead of commanding myself, others, and your creation. Amen.

 

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~Scriptural quotes, NRSV

~~~~First photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash. Suffering man sculpture was in Tony’s, office. My late husband kept a small collection of similar pieces as reminders of trauma’s pain he bore witness to daily. Tree of Life image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay.  

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Minimized: A Healing Meditation

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“For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” Job 3:24-26 (NRSV)

Meditation

Torment escapes from deep within Job’s body on breath’s exhale. Agony flees inner captivity on long streams of air. Wind erupts in animalistic sounds showing injuries’ truths: dread, disquiet, dis-ease, anxious anticipation. All unseen damage from suffering’s somatic experiences.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar hear Job’s pain. Come in consoling comfort. Observe immense heartbreak. Sit with him in silence. Witness loss, illness, grief, and trauma. No words spoken. Saints sitting with sinful natures.

Until these bystanders can stand Job’s pain no longer. Something spins within. Filling each friend with verbal masses rolling into wounding words. Words interrupting air. Stinging silence. Tearing further into wounded flesh and internal organs. Each feeling sanctioned by God or each other to deem worthiness or un-right-ness. Blame Job in entitled convenience. Forgetting life’s immeasurable unknowns. Making small Job’s collective human losses with narrow visions of the Divine. Asking in word and deed, “’Why should God have time’ for you in all your iniquities?”*

Job’s groaning unmasks these carefully constructed faces of others. Uncovers deeply buried wounds. Unhealed lacerations still oozing with infection. Bacteria to be shared. Using Job as a new host. As these speakers hide behind royal judgments. Old pain towering over recently rendered and suffering peasant.

 

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We who live in trauma’s truth sit with Job in a different way. In shared experience of life after trauma. We learn along with Job that our worlds at home, work, community, and extended family minimize trauma. Our trauma. Their trauma. Anyone’s trauma. Others diminishing it when we are weak in our inabilities to cope or heal. Trivializing trauma’s ravages. Asking in verbal, nonverbal, subtle ways for us to move on. Act healed. Use our trauma for the greater good of a broken world. Because surrounding witnesses name us now as damage experts needing to be sent out on patrol.

But this shrinking behavior of others in the story of Job and in our lives today is not an act of God or earthly king. It is a “that’s their stuff,” moment. An alert to something unhealed in others. Resulting in distancing or dissociating behavior of the supposed helper from our lived, daily, experienced pain. Trauma’s evil alive in others hurling in secondary waves through our hearts, minds, and bodies. Sinner outweighing saint.

We cannot force others to unbury and heal their pain. But we can ask ourselves if we too minimize our own traumas. Wonder if we make smaller what really was. Or hide our traumas away so others don’t feel uncomfortable. Absorb these evils further into our bodies. Send messages out into the world such as “It’s in the past,” and “What’s done is done,” and “It is what it is.”

 

Healing Action

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Fill a piece of paper of any size with one large circle. Leave a little space at the corners of the paper. Inside the circle draw a large heart. Along the outline of the heart write “God, God, God,” over and over again in a chain of words.

Write your name inside the heart. If other people living in your immediate family share your trauma (such as children) write their names on the heart as well.

Between the heart and the outline of the circle write names of people who try to not minimize what happened. They are not perfect or one hundred percent. But consistent in making an effort.

Outside the circle write names of people who are not dependable for you now. They may try. But when they do their unhealed pain lives like a big box of heavy bricks between them and you. “Help me hold my box,” they ask you again and again.

In the farthest corner of the page write names of people or organizations who exited or need to exit your life because of your traumas. These entities add lesions to your internal injuries. Creating circles of additional traumas around you with pricks, pokes, and stabs.

Look at your work. What demands your attention? Are your friends better at being with you than your extended family? Or is it the other way around? A mix? Who surprises you with their ability to not judge or minimize? Where are most of your people, inside or outside your circle?

If you need to, cut away the outside-of-the-circle names for now. Crumple up the scraps. Throw them in the recycling bin. You do not need these people or organizations right now. You don’t need their stuff, crap, or pain. Fire them. Forever. Temporarily. Lay them off. Whatever you need this day. You are in charge.

Lay a finger, one by one, on all remaining names including your own. Breathe as you do so.

Prayer

God holding close my pain, surround me with emotionally fearless people. People whose presence and actions bring healing to me and others. Send them God, quickly. Open my eyes in recognition when these healers come into my world. Help me accept their love. Amen.

_______

*Quote from J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. Published by Houghton Mifflin (1986). Page 119.

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~All images courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma’s Sleepless Nights: A Healing Meditation

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Photo by Joonas kääriäinen on Pexels.com

 

“So I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I rise?’ But the night is long and I am full of tossing until dawn.” Job 7: 3-6:

Meditation

Nights, when the world seems quiet, lengthen in trauma’s internal pain. Skies full of stars and moon and clouds watch our hearts racing without winning. Earth perceives perpetual pulsating sensations in our veins. Rivers, lakes, and oceans hear our repeating thoughts. Some with images. All stuck in minds’ auto replay.

In our beds, our bodies toss. This way. That. Left, right, back. Never finding comfort on couch, mattress, floor. Sheet, too cold. Blanket, too hot. Pillow hardening with weight of our head. Mattress not holding us as partner in rest’s work. Sleep, a bad dream with no escape. Night, endless. Never-ending. First light, a mirage. Dawn, not full of joy as the psalmist promised. Instead hazy with dread. Another day unfolding onto more pain.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Healing Activity

The next time tossing begins, when your mind spins with thoughts and images. And your body stiffens. Becomes harder than a board on a sweltering summer night. And you just have to move, change positions, find a cooler place on the sheets. Because if you don’t and even if you do, breath catches in your chest. Stiffening from chest to throat. Sending tremors traveling downward from stomach into limbs.

The next time, before you toss, breathe in deeply. No shallow breath. Deep from your hips. Take a few breaths in and out finding some sort bottomless breath. Then on the toss breathe out as you flip to your side or back or other side. Keep breathing out with each toss. Just breathe in and then out on the toss. Continue until you are tossed out.

Creation occurs on the exhale like “a wind from God.” (Genesis 1:2 NRSV) Your tosses? Small moments of creative healing waiting to happen in the middle of your night. Both sleep and sleep-less-ness asks life’s regenerating force into our nights. In inhales. Followed by exhales. Repeating over and over again. Healing occurring with each completed breath. God’s creative wind flowing around, over, under, out, and in. Even deep into our nights of pain.

Prayer

Spirit sailing through night and day, surround my sleepless tossing with your breath. Inhale my pain. Exhale healing within me. Amen.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

*This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

**Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself

***All scripture quotes are NRSV.

Uncategorized

How Long, LORD?

 

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Sand surrounds water’s end with land’s beginning,

Trees dip roots, branches into cool, flowing water,

Small ripples break surface glistening in summer’s sun,

Welcoming visitors into caressing embrace,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Underneath invitation, creation’s wildness rages,

Imploding with thirty, forty, fifty mile force,

Swift, powerful, rapid,

Grabbing, pulling, clenching,

Sucking breath away from life,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Those who know stay silent,

Bind hands, hearts reaching for beloveds lost in secret’s rage,

News reporting blaming victim,

Calling for more signage, announcements,

Making lurking dangers transparent,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

People, strangers named tourist, clueless,

Bound from litigation by laws ensuring safety of others,

Not victims. Words denied, kept out,

Governing entities safe from suffering’s sorrow,

River allowed to leach life away year after year,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

God of the voiceless, powerless, and of loving change, I pray for those families and friends mourning the loss of an eleven year old child. For the wife, mother, and three children who are now without a father and partner. For the family of the man lost just last week. For all people grieving life taken by the Wisconsin River. Give them solace. Find them true healing help. Help them breathe through these days and nights of sorrow beyond sorrow.

For those with power to change the killing legacy of the Wisconsin River, give courage to care for both citizen and stranger in thought, word, and deed. Move these people toward action. Help them meet basic safety needs of all people approaching this river’s dangers. Loudly make known to all its hidden perils. Stop these unnecessary killings. Stop them now. Amen.

 

Written and shared in loving memory of Anthony D. Rodriguez. 

 

*Photo courtesy of Pixabay.