The Evolution of a Necklace

This soliloquy is something I wrote over a decade ago and which rings more and more true every year that passes–it is about the undoing of what I knew of faith; in order to find real faith. It seems especially prescient now– as I watch what in many ways was a scary summer for all of us– turn into a fall that holds just as many unknowns. The urge to know as much as I can and help as much as I can is tempered by old lessons from those furious cycles of my past wherein I tried to figure it all out and came up short. Every. Single. Time.

It still seems a bit crazy, selfish, and callous– to be at rest, and even to dare to laugh when the whole world seems to be burning down around us. But then I look back and I remember it’s been this way for a while. And that God already showed me what to do once before in times like this. And when He gave me those revelations– I usually put them down on paper–or into a file in my computer– for later use — if nothing else just to be able to minister again to my own self. Knowing how to be your own minister, especially when you were abused for forty years by a minister–is one of the greatest gifts–and I am thankful God gave it to me.

The Evolution of a Necklace

In bed with Montezuma’s flu,

late in the morning,

when I turned thirty-two—

twisting my head on the pillows

I thought I saw

a tiny container of woven straw.

 

Under the round Caribbean lid,

a bit of turquoise tissue hid—

Dominican blue

Larimar stone

set into a simple silver cross.

 

Its clean lines,

a contrast from the frilly amber

set in golden lacy designs,

had stood out in the lighted glass display

the evening we roamed the street

pretending not to be looking

for my birthday treat.

 

That hazy morning I found it,

head spinning—

tongue tasting bile—

The joy of discovering the hidden gift

made a trip turned miserable—worthwhile.

 

At home it matched every outfit,

from casual and messy to dressy—

the bright color of sky lit up my eyes.

Forget the jewelry in the box,

I thought that necklace the best looking

piece ever formed into a cross.

 

But everything changed as thirty-three

was revealed to me.

 

Many things were found.

 

Others went missing…

 

Perhaps it had stuck itself into a sweater,

fell through a pocket,

or slipped into the washer for a whirl.

I scoured the floor, and every drawer…

It was stolen, I halfway decided,

since so very many had admired it.

 

Days passed, and a few sleepless nights—

I saw that I had been wrong,

and done wrong, while doing the very things

I’d thought were good; and right.

 

I’d always known that the Savior had died for me—

and I had worn His symbol with pride—

rejoiced in what it did to my eyes—

held it up to the light—

like some sort of prize.

 

That cross was a gift given

in a different season.

And was lost, when it was,

for a good reason.

 

In time the sting of its loss went away.

I no longer needed

to put Him into a symbol.

He dwelt in my heart, where He belonged.

 

…sincerity, prosperity, generosity, and charity—

Theology, idolatry, prophecy, and eschatology…

I tried to find a balance in all the Y’s.

Back and forth I went,

As more and more things

to which I used to cling

just up and left my head—

or got kicked out of my heart.

 

Sometime after thirty-four,

I knew there had to be more

than living in the extreme,

seeing ‘Pagan’ in everything,

having to walk so slow,

when you’d rather skip and run…

 

On my knees yielding a wet rag like a sword,

head stuck deep, in the bathroom cupboard

cleaning crannies I hadn’t touched in eons—

I found it inside a bag full of tampons—

an irony which caused a smile,

and a burst of laughter too.

The joy of re-discovering the hidden gift

made a trip suddenly turned miserable—worthwhile.

 

Holding it gingerly in my grasp,

I opened the clasp with dirty scuffed fingers,

stood from creaking knees,

and watched in the mirror

as the cross settled down

above my heart.

 

Returning the bag

to its place on the shelf

I thought to myself—

He’d simply been waiting

for me to see that He doesn’t bless

in ways understood by the world.

Even if made of expensive stone—

a symbol has no worth.

Just as nothing we do, or own, or give,

realize, theorize, or give permission to plagiarize

…means all that much after all.

 

Yet, with Him involved; it can.

 

That second time around,

after finding the gift unexpectedly

under the sink—

I didn’t even pause to think.

 

I slipped it on without hesitation,

fully aware of my humble station—

a past partaker in the debate

over graven images; works done in vain;

and many other truths that can set us free—

or steal our joy.

 

The evolution of the necklace

wasn’t about finding

some deep hidden meaning,

discerning all the rights

from all the wrongs…

it was about laughter, and peace,

Him letting me know He’s

taking great care of me,

and smiling upstairs,

wanting me to smile too

while my heart is repaired.

 

When He put that pretty stone ’round my neck again,

the journey, quite frankly, became much more fun.

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

beach blue car combi
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(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.

 

 

The Golden Rule Can’t Be About Me.

smiling woman holding black smartphone
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I have an agnostic, leaning-toward-atheist, friend who believes all you need to do in life is to follow ‘The Golden Rule’. Always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. She asserts that if you do that, you will get back out of life what you put into it. Furthermore, she’s been known to say that if everyone simply followed The Golden Rule, the world would not be the world as we know it (I think she meant ‘bad’ in general. But, IMHO: the world as we know it is increasingly narcissistic– we have become ‘lovers of self’, just as was prophesied by Paul to Timothy).

I agreed with her but added some thoughts of my own too. Since I believe all people are capable of evil, by nature–we need help keeping The Golden Rule. Such help comes in the form of Jesus, specifically His Word (Jesus IS the word!).

By the way, friend, God’s word/AKA Jesus is what gave us The Golden Rule…

And, not surprisingly, she didn’t believe The Golden Rule originated in the Bible. Citing chapter and verse did nothing. I’m not one to argue, I’d rather let the seed do what seeds do (die, or, lie dormant and sprout when least expected– six years later, in a crack that developed on hard cement). My Golden Rule friend is actually basing her life on two Biblical principles, without realizing it. The Golden Rule is one, and the idea that we get back what we give out is number two, i.e. we reap what we sow. (I didn’t even ‘go there’ on that point–seeing how the Golden Rule Bible verse played out!)

Anyway, I believe the key to understanding Mathew 7:12 (the famous ‘golden rule’ precept) lies in Matthew 7:11.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:11 that though we are evil, we still know how to give good things to those we love. How much more, then, does God the Father, (in Whom NO evil resides), KNOW how to give good gifts?

Sadly, I know the sin nature of people, myself included. We are capable of committing evil under the right (wrong?) circumstances. And I’ve also experienced what the devil is capable of as well–so there’s no doubt in my mind that the dark dude would LOVE it–say, for instance, if the recent earthquake in California had resulted in total annihilation instead of the fairly serious damage that was caused (sadly). The fact that this world is still, for the most part, orderly, and that many people enjoy long lives relatively free of major devastations, is one of those ‘good gifts of a righteous God.’ His hand still has sway over this world and is undoubtedly keeping order, IMHO. When that restraint is lifted, I believe it will get very ugly indeed–I just hope I’m not here to witness that!

But back to The Golden Rule. It struck me recently that we, in our selfish nature, have twisted even that genius summation of all the law and prophets. Time and again as I’ve been attempting to heal from PTSD, I have received advice and responses from professionals, friends, and family that have come from a place of ‘their experience’ instead of truly trying to understand, and respect, mine.

All too often, when we are faced with another person’s pain, we respond exactly as we presume we would want to be responded to (with all of our personal quirks, belief systems, dislikes and affinities) instead of listening and then selflessly responding as that person would like us to respond (or outright needs us to respond in truth, whether they want the truth or not).

I think we err in this way because treating others as we would want to be treated seems so noble and good. So… without reproach. So… Golden Rule-y! But if we overlook our own ability to be fallen and sinful (and self-focused), we could cause others more damage than help.

  • You are feeling sick and so I’ll just give you space, because I just want to be left alone when I’m not feeling well. (Perhaps the hurting person wants and/or needs someone to bring breakfast in bed–and then lunch and dinner too!)
  • I don’t like it when people talk bad about my family so I am not going to say anything bad to you about yours. (Perhaps the person recovering from abuse desperately wants to hear someone say her parents/siblings/uncles/grandparents are given over to evil!)
  • I don’t like physical affection so I will listen to you cry about this but I am NOT going to hug you. (Perhaps thats person wants a hug, or someone holding their hand).
  • Prayer makes everything better for me so I am going to stop on this sidewalk and pray right here, right now, over you. (Does the person even want to be prayed over right now, let alone in public?)
  • My minister said forgiveness heals and so you just need to forgive it. (even though David spent chapters of the psalms calling down curses on his enemies in order to purge and deal with his emotions!)

I could go on, and on, but perhaps others can add their own thoughts and examples of ways we respond to hurting people based on our experiences; not theirs.

I suggest we get better about asking.

  • What can I do for you?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • A prayer?
  • Some space?          

Honor the responses to those questions. Get to know someone who is hurting and treat them as they want to be treated. And please stop telling abuse survivors they just ‘need to forgive’. Most of the time they need to get good and angry before forgiveness can happen.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful precept! Yet it can go really sideways when we start seeing everyone else exactly as we view ourselves. Which leads me back to where I started: humans are becoming increasingly narcissistic. And it’s the ultimate narcissistic foible to forget that we are still…self-focused humans ourselves.

All of which makes me want to close with a word the early church used often:

Maranatha!

I just wanted the summer off…

brown clubmaster sunglasses on blue towel
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…But it isn’t happening. I stepped away from my career and planned a real break for myself to further heal. I envisioned a book in hand, iced lemon water, my behind parked on a partially shaded lounger (I like to sun my legs–for vitamin D purposes). So far I’ve only read two novels in June, (neither one under an umbrella). The amount of novels stacked on my ‘give away’ and the ‘it’s a keeper-find room on the shelf’ pile is a barometer of how much time I took ‘off’. (TWO is incredibly low!).

And now June, that glorious stretch of sunny mornings full of smells of flowering trees and light-sweater-evenings; yes, that June– is on her very last breaths.  As always, she peaked without notice and promptly faded. Like a pink sunset turning purple over rolling green golf course hills; the kind that everyone admires for, oh, about an hour in between ‘other stuff that needed to get done’, like actually finishing hole 17 and 18 before it’s too dark to see the balls.

Sigh.

I’ve got three ‘dates’ today and two other friends in my text messages wondering when I can chat or meet up this week. Coffee with a neighbor in a short bit, a young man coming to weed my garden at lunch time, another young man we ‘sponsored in the game of life’ coming and going from my back door whenever it strikes him (long story–too identifying to share details), and a baseball game later this afternoon. Phew. I don’t know how I let myself get this active again. This social.

I like to hide and write and read and heal and do things that no one but me even knows about. Leave anonymous comments on blogs… The usual introverted socially awkward and anxious-personality things to which the rest of us here in blogville might relate. But most people I know on a face to face level–don’t, it seems. They like to stay busy from sun up (ridiculously early this time of year) to colorful sundown (quite late this time of year). A friend recently sent me a photo of her workout stats. It was seven in the morning. I replied that here I thought I was doing well rolling out of bed at seven. (Being showered and presentable to others before nine is like running a marathon, for me).

But what I really wanted to say, to her and to near-everyone else who flutters around me like stressed out butterflies afraid to land on something and sit still for a minute– is this: why are you insistent on pushing through all that pain and then wearing the results of ignoring said pain like a badge of highest honor? I know your knee hurts you; badly, because you complain about it all the time. Why keep running on bad knees?

It seems a lot of people are hiding from painful things behind a wide smile and an offer for coffee. I know they are actually quite tired, underneath all that caffeine. I know many bodies, including my own, have been running on sheer adrenaline for a long long time. Because we are starting to get deep wrinkles and thinning hair and near every woman I know snaps openly at their husbands. In public. Like it’s normal or something to be that way.

Why is it that our basic human nature likes to pretend we aren’t feeling any pain. Is that pride? or is it just plain dumb? Scripture says ‘all we like sheep have gone astray’. Farmers have told me there is no dumber animal; than a sheep.

For me it was some combination of both pride and stupidity. I kept running and planning and making more ‘dates’ to do more things leading to all sorts of nervous breakdown stressed out moments. Thinking if I just push my way through life, like the strong girl I was, then those yucky feelings, those twinges of physical pain, those bursts of emotions–will go away like a stray cat that you refuse to feed.

Annoying things don’t just go away. Strays eat from your garbage when no one is looking. And stress accumulates everywhere, the more you ignore it, the deeper it accumulates into your very being; changing molecules and cells and personality until you become someone you never set out to be. All I have to do to guarantee I will snap without provocation, at my husband (or grown children), is to let myself get ‘too busy’ for my own tired and worn out britches. Bam. The meltdown happens. Every. Time.

I miss my quiet time, I miss blogging regularly, and reading others’ blogs. Getting into my novels in the partially shaded sunshine. Hanging with God because I have made time for that. Finally. Until June happened and I let myself get caught up in the busyness somehow. And right now I really wish I could sit still for a long while and catch up better here…

But I have a date and I already sent a text saying that I was ‘on my way.’ Perhaps I can achieve some semblance of summer over coffee with a friend. I’ll insist on sitting outside; at the very least.