Lessons from Cinderella

 

I went through a phase, in my Christian walk, of avoiding many secular offerings. These days I still avoid a lot of TV shows and movies (mainly because I find certain genres too triggering). But now my ability to trust God and my desire to understand His heart toward the world, and toward me, is stronger than it was prior. The growth I’ve experienced in my faith has lessened the ‘avoid out of fear’ and turned it more into a ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’ (1 Corinthians 10:23) standpoint. And so I don’t restrict myself from something that draws me in, yet I will definitely take note of any occult references, secular humanism, and glaringly obviously lack of Jesus in most of what the world puts forth. It is to be expected, so why get upset over it? If I were to do that I’d be upset 24/7 because those things are everywhere.

A few times God has used some bit of dialogue, from a movie or overheard conversation, to hammer home a point that I needed to take to heart. To effectively peel another onion layer in the ongoing recovery from past child abuse. If Elijah could be fed by blackbirds (unclean animals that were to be avoided) then perhaps God’s people of today can also be ‘fed’ life-giving food from an unclean source as well.

And that is good, because one of the side effects of being physically unwell for several years is that I have a lot of what I call ‘couch time’. I prefer reading but there are days when even holding a book in my hands is too much. On those days I watch what I can find on Cable or Netflix. And so: I recently caught an adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella while channel surfing.

I was immediately drawn in.

Cinderella was one of my favorite fairy tales as a young child–one that I pored over again and again. At the time I didn’t realize that my own siblings and extended family members were abusing me, (by preschool age I had already learned to blame myself for that treatment). Which is why the idea of Cinderella being magically rescued out of an abusive home life, in which she was literally trapped, captivated me. It was so close to my own story–though I didn’t fully make that connection until recently.

My own family members gave me several unkind nicknames in my childhood, just like ‘Cinderella’ was the result of a mocking nickname. My bedroom was squalor filled and rodents were very real to me (though I did NOT befriend them). I was put into a caretaker role of the adults around me at a very young age and later when I was nearly an adult, both of my parents ensured their own financial and other securities, at the expense of my own. But just like a fairy tale– just in the nick of time I found a handsome prince and we set out on our own, purposely making our path very different from the lives we knew as children. To quote from another movie (Pretty Woman) — when the prince climbed the tower to rescue the woman, the woman rescued him right back. That’s pretty much the story of my life and marriage. We rescued each other and then wrote our own story with intentionality and love.

Point being: my life path mimics that of a fictional Cinderella. It took some time to break the financial bondages that also ensued; but in time they were broken. And like a fairy tale princess- I’ve always wanted pretty things to wear and to fill up my home…and my husband and I both worked very hard to achieve that.

We now have most of the things we wanted. And that can be fun. But: it’s just mammon. It can’t buy you peace of mind or salvation. It also can’t ensure you have good health (sigh). And I’ve learned that even financial success, a lot like health status, is all ‘relative’. Compared to some we are ‘rich’ and compared to others: we have very little. There will never be ‘enough’ to satisfy even the richest amongst us. I have found that it really is better to have a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting the fattened calf with love; regardless. I also would love to see all my health issues reverse…❤️

And so the combination of physical illness and the guilt, unease, and ongoing trauma ramifications from my past sometimes keep me from fully enjoying that fairy tale ‘life’, that fattened calf existence, that one might assume someone like me has — looking in at my current ‘outward appearances’.

Which is why I find it so deliciously ironic that watching a movie about a fairy tale that I really identify with, left me with two very good ‘nuggets’ of wisdom to carry forward. To ease the guilt and the trauma effects. To lighten my load.

(Spoiler alerts follow–stop reading if you want to watch the movie unspoiled!) In the film, when Cinderella first meets the Prince he inquires about her family’s treatment of her. And she responds (paraphrasing and this may be a little bit off!)

“They treat me as well as they are able.”

Woah. What wisdom there. Abusive sorts simply aren’t able to show kindness and love. I know this, but the temptation to blame myself or to make excuses for them remains. In reality, they treated me as well as they were able and for whatever reason — unconditional love was simply not in their ability to give.

I was bracing myself to not like the ending. I was somewhat expecting that the stepsisters and stepmother would be reformed at the end and allowed to live the castle life they so desperately desired–since that has become the expected new ending to old fairy tales–where the bad guys turn out to be good guys, etc.

Instead, the ending was brilliant. And something that I wish the Christian church understood better. Within the church we focus so much on outward appearances and looking the part that we no longer have a clear understanding of the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is too often expected as a kind of proof of forgiveness–with the burden of bearing that proof put on the offended, rather than the offender. But while forgiveness is a scriptural command, no where in Scripture are we told to reconcile to unrepentant and unchanged people. In fact, we are warned against that!

In the closing scenes Cinderella verbally expresses her forgiveness to her stepmother and sisters, right before leaving her childhood home a final time. (I almost did an eye-roll as I knew that one was coming.)

But then the narrator added, “Though she forgave her stepmother and stepsisters, they were banished from the kingdom forever.”

I can’t tell you how much my soul needed the affirmation that forgiveness does not have to equal reconciliation.

Particularly with people who have not changed.

PTSD Triggers, Trauma, and Travel: “It Never Goes Away” (& how I am managing that fact.)

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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

(Trigger warnings throughout this post and I apologize for the length — sometimes writing for ‘me’ gets wordy–and I appreciate any readers who will actually plow through this one).

Juanita Broaddrick has shared about being a rape survivor and when I first owned my own story, I stumbled upon hers and was engrossed in it. (‘allegedly’ Bill Clinton* raped her in 1978– he denied it but I believe her, not him). Anyway,  she wrote that it (the rape) ‘never goes away’. It clicked with me, being both at once depressing and also legitimizing for what I was going through myself. 1978 is a LONG time ago. But in reading hers, and other stories, I began to see that owning your story is so very difficult because once you do — it will never go away again (delusion/denial/dissociation allows it to ‘sort-of’ be gone).

*yet another reason why I am not political anymore — in the last presidential election both sides had way too many ties to rape and/or sexual assault claims.

Traveling triggers my PTSD. Traveling also relieves my triggers and has been one of my favorite ways to deal with things like family drama during holidays, certain seasonal events with bad memories attached to them (for which I prefer being out of town), and my health (which benefits from milder climates). Many of the blogs I follow have shared similar thoughts about travel; so perhaps traveling is a common tool amongst trauma survivors and/or the chronically ill.

First off — as many other blogs have already shared — I am aware that not everyone is on a chronic illness spectrum that allows it, and/or has the kind of extra finances on a regular basis — to include frequent travel in their own box of coping tools. I am trying to be sensitive to that, while also being real and honest in sharing my own story.

There is no doubt that our healthcare system and what we actually know about health in general is in real crisis. More and more it is only the wealthy and/or the very smart/highly educated who are able to navigate through their health issues with any real success. I believe sharing our N=1 stories, with the paradox/gift that is the internet, is one tool God is giving us to fight back against some of this oppression. And that motivates me. Another motivator is more selfish. I find great help for ME by writing out my thoughts until they make better sense. And so here goes:

Travel is great; and travel is terrible. There’s nothing like a reset in a different location far from home to clear my mind and my body. But, there’s nothing quite as horrible as being triggered far from home.  You’d much rather be in your safe chair in the living room with the shades closed. Your own bed. Your favorite blanket…equally awful is booking a room that looked great online and turned out to be so run down the stained shower stall triggered events that happened in the squalor filled, imposed poverty, bathrooms of my youth.

ALSO not pleasant.

I hate that I am so ‘high maintenance’. That is NOT me at all. I am a big fan of simple and I believe less is often more. I’d rather simply spend more time with my husband than have him valiantly work long hours to pay for frequent escapes and vacations that meet all of my (many) ‘needs’. But I hate, even more, being reminded of my trapped childhood inside a house without locking doors and window coverings (there was frequent voyeurism) and an environment so utterly devoid of care that it was squalor from the time I could remember to the time I finally said NO to enduring holiday dinners in a filthy kitchen that smelled of cat urine combined with rotting tuna and cabbage. And so we usually travel like we eat: as basic as possible but very well, and constantly considering all my ‘avoids’. And I thank God for blessing us enough to keep doing it.

To have a triggering episode (physical or mental) while away from home can be THE WORST thing ever. And so I end up having less actual vacation time than I feel my body and brain could benefit from because I inevitably blow the entire budget on non-triggering accommodations and foods, alone. My main travel rule is nothing less than ‘3 star’. And my husband can tell you where the cleanest gas station and restroom stops are in cities which are hours away from ours. I’m thankful he remembers these things as I don’t always remember it — even though bad restroom stops are huge triggers for me.

Complex PTSD, for me anyway, is this strange combo of amnesia and photographic memory.

Our last winter vacation included a lot of open air, high balconies. These were very triggering for reasons I couldn’t immediately identify. I worked through it. I eventually saw some root issues I hadn’t seen before–like a lot of trust issues with myself, with strangers and also with people I know (I kept having obsessive thoughts that someone was going to hurtle me off a rooftop–or that I would hurl myself off accidentally or something too). I am still working on my fear of heights and have accepted that me jumping out of an airplane to try and overcome it just isn’t happening. EVER. I do have better insight into what is causing it all, though. But my body, which had been doing fairly well prior, physically tanked on that trip and then really tanked after returning home.

The trip I took this summer, after radically changing my diet, was noticeably different. It involved a lot of driving, stretches of poverty-stricken areas, and a lot of switching of hotel rooms. At one roadside restroom stop (after dark) the only bathroom was located away from the service station in a dimly lit corner of a parking lot. I hesitated but I really had to pee!

When I entered the dirty bathroom a woman, my age but aged far more than me, was just leaving and she was sobbing openly. “Why would someone do this to me? I really need my medicine!?” Someone had just stolen something or other from her handbag. I offered to help her, I asked her what kind of medicine it was (thinking I could maybe give her some of my own stash of Advil and minerals, etc. and then quickly realized it was not a simple over the counter ‘medicine’ she’d had stolen…) but just as my eyes were opening wide and making that connection, she blurted, “oh don’t even worry about it” and with two hurried steps, into some bushes beside the unlit restrooms, she was in utter darkness and I had no idea where she even went. I used the restroom anyway, in anger, squatting over the disgusting toilet and clutching my own purse in my lap and thinking to myself that if some drugged up cad was going to try and accost me, he was in for one hell-of-a-fight before he was gonna take my purse or my dignity.

The old me had returned. The scrappy, brave, don’t push me, tough girl who grew up with scraped knees and a mean left hook. Those haven’t been my thoughts in well over a decade now. I wouldn’t have even considered that bathroom a year ago, and would have insisted my husband accompany me if I had no other choice. Because I’ve been crippled on a very physical and physiological level — by fear and body pain — nearly to the point of defeat.

In the area we recently traveled, most three star properties, which I knew were my limit, were the equivalents of two star and less in other locations. Everywhere I went, memories were surfacing. Weird ‘feels’ were constant. Hairs standing up on the back of my neck every hour or so. I was definitely flaring PTSD-wise. But, strangely, my neck was NOT tight, my muscles were not in knots and I slept fairly well considering. Plus, summer itself is triggering for me as the worst of the abuse episodes happened from extended family members who would take me on trips (to isolate me) or to their homes for extended stays, usually in the summer when I wasn’t in school.  So it is hard to say what exactly the triggers are sometimes — because the way the wind blows through the leaves in the summer can be enough to trigger me.

Yet this last summertime vacation was so triggering based on the locations we traveled through. The change in landscape from where I live, and being brought back to childhood by the sight of a certain kind of plant, a lack of trees, restroom breaks with toilets that didn’t flush (or sobbing women who’d just been mugged), and/or a distinct color of rocks and soil, was jolting.

Yet, I did notice that I wasn’t as jolted as I had been for so long now, either. And I slugged heavy bags, and coolers of food and water, in and out of vehicles and hotel rooms for days, without any upper back pain. I didn’t have dizzy spells or nausea. I slept ok and when I didn’t get enough sleep I could still function the next day. My neck wasn’t killing me the entire time. I only took two Advil, total, in over three thousand miles of travel. The hardest part of the trip was finding decent food as much of what we could find in gas stations and roadside restaurants was on my avoid list. So I just ate a lot of steaks. Crappy ones at that.

And I know that I know, now, that a lot of the physical manifestations of PTSD came from physical toxicity and that can be healed through diet changes. I KNOW this based upon my traveling experiences alone and the differences between last winter’s vacation and this summer’s road trip. Wherein on one I was eating my old diet and the other — a diet which eliminated known toxins.

But, if my experience is indicative of a larger pattern: I don’t think my PTSD went away. It just isn’t as hard as prior. Which is a gain, but it is still hard.

I do not think the actual PTSD triggers will ever go away– no matter how carefully I watch my diet. Evil is still evil and it is everywhere and in some spots of the world it is definitely more concentrated than others. I am coming to believe that my PTSD is the devil’s toll for living in a world over which he rules. Certain parts where his dark influence is greater than others are those very parts wherein I will be more triggered.

I am accepting that. As a Christian my hope for eternity is in Jesus. In this world, my hope is also in Jesus, who brings light to the dark. Pretty sure that He is telling me my daily bread is going to have to be carefully managed and that that’s going to lift off the heavy yoke that I feel has been over my back and my shoulders for life — since suddenly I can sling a heavy suitcase and not have any neck tension whatsoever. And since I was prepared to fight myself with a potential restroom stalker rather than run and hide under my husband’s cover.

But I’m still gonna insist on staying in three star and above hotels, and I don’t think I’m ever going to drive through certain parts of America ever again, either.