PTSD and the Wolf at the Door

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Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody’s going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get a little strange
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute

Don Henley In New York Minute

This familiar song came to my mind after a counseling session yesterday with my husband and his counselor.  We talked about trauma in both my life and my husband’s life, and how the effects of it often scatters our stories like puzzle pieces all across the floor, leaving us to pick up the pieces one by one in an attempt to make sense of it all.

As I told my story once again, I was able to find a few more pieces of the puzzle and see even more clearly the picture that my own counselor has been trying to  show me.

Most of my life has been about waiting for the bomb to drop.  I spend so much of my time in a hyper-vigilant state looking for evidence that another one is going to fall that I’m wearing myself out.  I burn up a tremendous amount of emotional energy doing this.

I’ve suffered from PTSD ever since what I believed as a child was a near perfect family home was completely shattered. In a New York Minute, everything in my life changed when I realized for the first time that my adopted father was an alcoholic who’d spent all his money and a lot of other people’s money writing bad checks.  Our family lost everything, first the car, then our home and all of my things. The greatest loss being the safety I’d believed I had. Then my adopted father came out of the closet as a full fledged alcoholic. He and my mom separated for a short time and my own nightmare of sexual abuse began.  Not only had I lost the security of my home and family, but also my innocence.

Around the time that Don Henley’s song was popular, my husband, who was then my boyfriend, had helped me locate my biological mother who I had never met. I’d been given up for adoption as an infant.  I think I hoped finding her would enable me to start over, find someone new that I could identify with, and provide me an escape for the shame and pain I felt inside.  I listened to the song In A New York Minute over and over again.  I didn’t know it then, but I realize now just how  desperate I was to find someone to love and get away from the wolf at the door.

Finding my biological parents didn’t accomplish what I wanted.  I realize now that no one could.  My biological parents were both as broken as I was.  Though I had an immediate bond with my biological father, neither he nor my mother, could take away the deep sense of shame I felt in my soul.  My biological mother wasn’t stable, and wanted me to take away her own shame.  The relationship became another bomb that exploded in my life.  I ended the relationship with her and my biological father that year.  I couldn’t handle the disappointment of knowing that my biological parents couldn’t give me back all that I’d lost.   I later reconnected with my biological father when I had more realistic expectations, but our relationship felt awkward most of the time.  I think I was just too afraid.

When I got married, my husband’s family seemed as together as any family I’d met. I began to  believe that maybe I’d found a safe place.  His mom was a warm and accepting woman who loved the Lord.  His brothers and cousins were friendly and seemingly together and stable.  It felt like we were all one big happy family, living only a few miles from one another.

But the land mines began to go off one by one over the years, followed by a big bomb that eventually moved us out of that community.  My husband’s family fell apart.  Some of them even began to feel like enemies.  When one of my husband’s family members called me  saying that I brought out the worst in my husband and was the source of most of his problems, the fear buried deep in my heart that I was to blame for all the bombs that had exploded in my life surfaced in my mind devastating me.

It was then that we then began visiting the church where my abusive pastor preached.  As we listened to this man teach with power and conviction, once again I found myself believing that I’d found a safe environment.  And then the memories of my childhood abuse began to surface.  I’d had glimpses before which had led me to believe that I’d been abused by my adopted father, but never with this much clarity.  I began emailing the pastor about things that were troubling me.  I even remember sending him a cartoon picture of Wiley coyote trying to get the sheep and thanking him for his teaching that was protecting us from wolves that sought to destroy the body of Christ.  I had no idea that this pastor was indeed a wolf.

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If you haven’t read my story, you can do so by clicking here, but to make a long story short, this pastor became what I thought was a safe place.  He was telling me that I was special and all the things I’d longed to hear.  He appeared to be such a strong person.  When I was with him the condemnatory voices inside my head that had told me I brought out the worst in others silenced.  For the first few months of my relationship with him I allowed myself to believe that I was in a war-free zone.  As we talked about the worst of my abuse and he reassured me I learned to settle down and rest.  But then another bomb dropped.  This pastor revealed to me that he didn’t just love me like a father, but as someone he’d love to make his wife.  I knew in my heart it was wrong, but letting go of the safety I thought I’d found was just too much.   And his confession that he loved me in the wrong way just confirmed the lie that had been haunting me my whole life, that I brought out the worst in others.  I believed that this pastor was the best I could hope for in the broken world.  I couldn’t allow myself to think that he was anything else.  The thought of another loss was just too much to bear.

But ten years later that pastor retired and I became friends with the new pastor, a man who was not a wolf, but someone who truly loved  the church and wanted to serve Christ.  You can read that part of my story here. And as I started to become friends with this pastor and his wife, the scales began to fall off of my eyes about my former pastor’s abuse.  Another bomb dropped, when I realized that he wasn’t at all the man I thought he was.   I believed that this new pastor and my friends were my safe place and the relationship with my former pastor lost it’s control over me. But if you read all of my story, you know that those relationships weren’t safe either, because when I confessed to them what happened with the former pastor they reacted in fear.  Rather than educate the church on how abusive my former pastor had been, the leaders allowed others in the church to believe what happened was an affair that my former pastor had just been more accountable for because of his leadership position.  They didn’t protect me as a victim and told the whole church what I’d done.

When this bomb hit, it felt nuclear.  It took all I could do to function. I couldn’t go to church anymore or drive to town for fear that someone would see me.  Once again the lies were screaming at me that I brought out the worst in everyone.  I was the one lighting all the bombs and eventually I’d just destroy everyone in my path.  I know it wasn’t rational now, but inside my head at the time it felt so real.  Had it not been for my counselor, my husband and people like Steve Brown who were telling me to not give up, I know I would have attempted to end my life.  But thank God by His grace, He moved us to another town.

Now here we are, almost a year later after all of the last bombs dropped and I am finally starting to be able to put together the pieces of my broken story.

First of all, I recognize the bombs were not my fault.  I didn’t light them.  I didn’t make someone else light them.  They fell and I was powerless to keep it from happening.

I can take responsibility for the choices that I made that I knew were not right.  I can wish that I’d asked for help.  I can wish that I hadn’t disregarded God’s law.

But I could not change the traumatic events that happened in my life or my husband’s family.  They were not my fault.  They were out of my control.

Secondly, I see a clear pattern in my life of looking for hope in what I can see in this broken world.  I see all the relationships that fell apart that I’d believed would give me the safety, acceptance and love I’d longed since my childhood.  I kept thinking I could get back the days when I believed everything was fine, but it just  didn’t happen no matter how hard I have tried.  The whole world is broken and longing for redemption.  It is unrealistic to look for my security and safety here, even at the church.

Thirdly, no matter how hyper-vigilant I have been, I haven’t been able to keep the bombs from dropping, nor have I been able to keep the wolf away from the door.  This world isn’t safe.  And Jesus never said it would be.  But He did promise us He’d never leave us and that one day it’d all be made new.

And therein lies what I must cling to.  Yes, the wolf has been at the door, huffed and puffed and even blown down the door and the house, but Jesus is there, too.  Yes, the bombs have dropped and will drop again, but beneath the ashes God is making something beautiful.

So it’s time to stop trying so hard.  Time to take a rest.  Time to trust that He’s got it all under control.  Time to believe that when He promises to bring about good for us out of everything good and bad that has happened in our lives that He really does mean it.

In a world where people are broken, relationships fall apart, and no where feels like home, He is our blessed unseen hope and He is preparing for us our eternal home.

And one day, in a New York minute, everything will change for the good…

…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:1-5

My counselor posted this amazing video a couple of days ago on Facebook.   It’s called The Plot Twist You Didn’t see Coming.  Included in this message is a video that is one of the most powerful portrayals I have ever seen of what it feels like to be a victim of child abuse and the difference that real love from another can make in an abuse victim’s life.  Though we are all broken and limited in meeting all the needs of others, we have a  such a tremendous opportunity to shine the light of Christ’s love into one another’s lives that can make a huge difference and even save lives.   I thank God for those people in this broken world who are willing to  the take the time and risks to love those who have been severely traumatized by circumstances in their lives out of their control. I thank God that I am one of those who has received that love from others and been saved.  I hope one day to return the favor.

Watch the video here (the clip begins at 11:19):

http://www.tsdowntown.com/component/preachit/message/the-plot-twist-you-didn-t-see-coming/watch?Itemid=

God bless,

Liz

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