Trauma, Trauma recovery

Crying Joy

Tears flow as December sky melts into dusky greys, pinks, and Advent blue. Illuminated within window’s frame. Accompanied by bubbling pots. Air filling with dinner’s smells as soft white lights twinkle on tree, in star, from candles.

I stand in the middle of our kitchen. Stopped by resonating sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon in G Major. Since seventeen knowing every single note of this piece. Phrases allowing my thoughts and sensations space. To fall into shaking, trembling tears. Today, tears filled with joy.

This day at dusk,

~Four years and four months since we lost Tony,

~Four years and four months from when my body filled with cyclical, raging chemicals,

~Four years and four months since I vowed to Tony, God, and myself that we could and would heal,

~Four years and a few months since I began documenting our experience,

~Four years and a few months from my decision to be transparent about the pain of healing grief with trauma,

~Ten months since the last of these life or death bodily chemicals transformed fully into living,

~And in the last ten months of my seminary studies,

My dream of a sharing our story and in doing so continuing Tony’s healing work reaches fruition.

I humbly announce our journey through grief and trauma recovery becomes a forthcoming book to be published by Chalice Press.

And in celebration of healing and dreams, my literary agent Kate Sheehan Roach and I smiled and giggled our way through the contract signing! Knowing this moment, while brief, overflows with days, months, and years. Contract signing.

Advent, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Advent Mirror

And excerpt from my recent blog post for Faith + Lead.

A young woman hurries. Looks ahead, behind. Scans the surrounding hills. Startles as birds squawk overhead. Tightens her cloak. Covers herself with her arms. 

Something in her body propels her forward. Away from the unknown. Away from the incomprehensible. Away from what feels like possible death. 

In a town she finds the door. She knocks but cannot wait. She enters. Calls out to make sure. Latches the door behind her. Breathes. Someone within the house stirs. Calls out. Approaches. Greeting her with warm words like a loving mother. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth exclaims (Luke 1:42 NRSV).

See the full post by clicking the title below.

Image by Lucian Aeris from Pixabay

Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Impatient

“What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? In truth I have no help in me, and any resource is driven from me.” Job 6: 11-13 NRSV

Reflection

Eyes stare. Mouth droops. Limbs sit in supposed silence. Only sores speak. Erupting into puss pools.

Life evaporating like tiny raindrops on desert wind. Leftovers buried with each child. Leaving Job with no vision of future.

Job needs others to hold future for him. To be strength for him. But Job learns people’s consistency and appropriateness in tragedy and trauma varies. Many are unreliable, questionable, hurtful, and harmful. Job says,

“Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty. My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed…in time of heat they disappear: when it is hot, they vanish from their place.” Job 6:14, 17

Job’s friends posture in trauma’s heat. Find quick answers to suffering’s sorrow. Offer support in limp gestures. Cover their cluelessness with words worn as thin cloaks.

In his pit, Job sees truth. Recognizes their moralism as yet another lathering of pain. Adding putrid frosting on top of bitter cake. Each taste full of shaming shapes. Requiring sufferer’s scarce amount of patience to be used on help’s imposters claiming compassion.

“Compassion means ministry.” writes theologian Andrew Purves. Ministry “for healing or wholeness.”

Compassion does not say, “your head should not feel heavy.” Because compassion does not expand pain’s cutting edge. With knives of judgement and misconstrued power.Compassion sees face-to-face. Hears truth. Believes. Feels. Provides. Compassion says, “My head feels your heaviness. Here are some soft pillows.”

Healing Practice: Do No-Thing

Today we offer ourselves compassion. Not judgement.

Self-compassion allows us to do nothing. Only asks us to sit. Stare.

Until sitting leads to noticing. Noticing the sounds around us. Naming them one by one.  

Noticing more sounds. Coming from within. Breath breathing. Fast, slow, deep, shallow, labored, stilted, heavy.

Breath bringing us inside our bodies. Awakening realizations of sensations. Feelings living in muscles, organs, limbs. Some achy, hard, tingly. Some heavy or warm. Forming shapes. Circle, oval, brick, or plane.

Breath leading us back. To what surrounds us. The drawing on the wall. Ceiling fan above. Lamp across the room. Breathing in silence. Breathing out stillness. Breathing in staring. Breathing out seeing.

Prayer

Insistent God, persist in loving me. Persist in caring for me. Persist in healing me. Sprinkle silent kindnesses on my ashes. Infuse quiet kindnesses into my soul. Fill me with just enough determination to persevere another minute, another hour, another day. Send people courageous enough to sit with me in my pit as it echoes with nothing but muffled torment. Amen.


[i] Purves, Andrew. (1989) The Search for Compassion: Spirituality and Ministry. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Page 17.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

One Small Seed

“It (the kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Mark 4:30-32 NRSV

Image by DJnyanko from Pixabay

Reflection

A card stock square. Maybe an inch and half in width. Cream colored. A shaded black square drawn within. Containing an open space in the middle. Open space not empty. One mustard seed, centered and hot-glued on. Just one. With words surrounding the seed. Making a phrase. Corny, like so many faith sayings.

Found in bathroom drawer. Leftover from some worship service. Somewhere. Tossed away. Hiding under makeup, face cream, dental floss. Until now. Finding new life wedged between bathroom wall and electrical outlet.

“Faith as a grain of mustard seed!”

Small card with tiny seed. Just a seed. Not a plant. Not a condiment. Just an increment of something possible. Like faith. Like hope. Like love. Like healing.

Image by GOKALP ISCAN from Pixabay

Healing Practice

Comb the cupboard for mustard seeds. Or borrow a few. Buy some. Allowing your eyes to feast on the varied shades of red, brown, and gold.

Drop a mustard seed, just one, into an empty glass jar. Place the jar on the counter where you will see it several times a day.

That’s it. That’s the practice. The rest is up to your mustard seed. To remind you daily that this speck is all you need of hope or faith or both.

Prayer

God of what can be,

Send us a seed a hope,

Plant in us this one, small seed,

Tend this seed with water, light, and food,

Watch as seed sprouts into seedling,

Grows into young stem, shoots off branches,

Becomes strong,

Until birds build nests in its arms,

Creating new life out of tiny hope.

Amen.

Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Clinging

“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word…My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119: 25; 28

Reflection

Dust. Tiny particles streak air. On sunny, still afternoons. Light reflecting off silvery wisps of nothingness.

Dust. Swirls on dry, windy days. Masking sight. Adding brown to blue sky. Causing itchy eyes, parched throats, and protesting noses.

Dust. Accumulating. Blanketing surfaces. Scattered if moved. Slipping through grasping hands. Landing again. Only gathered in on soft cloths.

Soul unable to cling.

Healing Practice: Dusting

Open your arms wide and to your sides.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in gathering seen and unseen dust particles floating around you.

Breathe out into a hug.

Repeat gathering dust. As long as needed.

Prayer

God,

I cling to the ground. Lift me up.

I cling to the ground. Revive me.

I cling to the ground. Strengthen me.

I cling melted to the ground. Re-form me.

I cling for safety to the ground. Be my security.

I cling frozen to the ground. Move me.

I cling to the ground in pain. Show me healing’s way.

Amen.

Biblical Text: NRSV

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

Grief, Trauma

August Lament

river-1184081_1920

Sand borders 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 soundless, keeping the secret,

Strangers, named tourists, enter the water without knowing,

News reporting blaming victims,

While calling for more signage,

Announcements making lurking dangers transparent,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Hearts reach for beloveds lost in secret’s rage,

Their words denied, kept out,

Bound from litigation by laws ensuring safety of others,

Governing entities shielded from suffering’s sorrows,

River allowed year after year to leach lives away,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Each August search for names. Find new tragedies.

Unnecessary killings. Perpetuated through inaction laced with silence,

Today this year’s victims named. Remembered,

Unnamed Man, age 48, on July 22, 2020 

Pedro Merino Alcanter, age 46, on July 27, 2020

How long, LORD? How Long?

 

 

Written and shared in loving memory of Anthony D. Rodriguez. Killed in the Wisconsin River on August 13, 2016. 

 

 

*Photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

 

 

Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Afflicted

flower-2197679_1920

 

“My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.” The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…”   Lamentations 3:17-22

 

Meditation

Bitter thoughts. Stewing from down below. Gurgling with stomach acids. Bubbling up. Burning the esophagus. Causing throat and breath to sour.

The writer of Lamentations uses strong metaphors. Wormwood, a plant smelling and tasting bitter. Gall, another name for bile. Words filling the air and us with pain’s felt presence in and out of our bodies.

But in the midst of severe affliction this writer dares to hope? What is it that this writer “call(s) to mind?” In the midst of smells so intense, so permeating that the writer curls. Caves in. What glimmers enough amidst affliction to speak of “steadfast love”?

 

Healing Practice: Glimmers

What gives you even a small glimmer of hope? A pin head of possibility? A fleeting thought of future?

What or who steadies you right now? Your therapist? The mail carrier showing up every day at the same time? The noon time factory whistle or downtown church bells?

Name these. Write them down. Even the smallest of the small.

The writer of Lamentations puts hope in God. Maybe you do too. Maybe you don’t. Or maybe God is a glimmer of what can be.

 

Prayer

God of what can be, bring breezes filled with fresh air. Blow away bitterness’ smell. Settle my stomach. Give relief to my soured throat. Spark my imagination. Fill my thoughts with hope’s tiny glimmers. Amen.

 

~~~

Biblical translation: NRSV

Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay. 

Faith, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Slow Trauma, Psalmist Style

bowling-596766_1920

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

bench-3091078_1920

 

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

IMG-2229

(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.

IMG-2250

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)

shower-1502736_1920

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.”