In my previous post, I referred to the definition Bessel Van Der Kolk gave for trauma.
When your reality is not seen or known, that is the trauma.
I am learning in a trauma coaching program I have been taking recently that one of the most important parts of our healing journey from trauma is having people in our lives who will sit with us in our pain.
Several years ago, I was suffering pain and confusion around a previous spiritual leader’s abuse. I went to another spiritual leader for help. This leader thankfully told me that I needed the kind of help he was not able to provide. He strongly encouraged me to receive counseling from a mental health professional. This was the best guidance he could have given me. As a result, I began counseling over the phone with someone who finally was able to understand what had been happening to me and help me to see that it was abusive. However, outside of my relationship with my counselor and my husband, I found few other people who were able to understand what I experienced.
My counselor told me early on that what we see we do not unsee.
However, the process of being able to see the truth about trauma is sometimes multi-layered. After a decade of spiritual abuse, the layers of my own blindness came off very slowly. Some pealed back when another member of my family was sexually abused, and the spiritual leader minimized it rather than reported it. Other layers did not begin to loosen until he was no longer my leader. Only when I was no longer in a relationship with him was I able to fully see the damage that the abusive relationship caused.
I realize now that it was unrealistic on my part to expect others to understand his abuse, especially those who had been under his leadership.
Who wants to believe the person who taught them about God was capable of abuse?
Still the responses I received from my religious community in some ways were more damaging than the abuse itself.
God is sovereign.
What I heard was that God ordained the abuse, so that I could be used to accomplish His will.
We forgive you.
What I heard was that I wasn’t abused. I was just a sinner in need of forgiveness.
We just need to forgive him.
What I heard was that I needed to ignore what I had experienced and move on.
When I left this environment and went to other religious communities over the span of several years, the pain of these words never went away. I was reminded of over and over again in other churches when I heard the same phrases being spoken. As a result, I drifted in and out of multiple churches, only becoming more frustrated.
I want to be careful to say that anger plays an important part in the healing process of trauma. My anger has helped me to understand that I am the way that I am because of something bad that happened to me. It is crucial to my emotional well being to be able to feel this emotion, not so that I can remain stuck in being a victim(as I’ve heard others in the church say about trauma survivors), but so that I can see the harm that was done to me and offer myself compassion.
After having stepped away from religious environments for a while, I am starting to see things (more layers) about why it is so difficult for me to be in church. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves completely to see things more clearly.
Over the past few years, I have heard many wonderful messages in church that reminded me of the love of God. I have met many caring and good people. A few of these people have helped me to heal by listening and loving me even when they may not have understood what was happening to me. Even if people do not understand the traumas we experience, they can still see and know and accept us where we are and bring much healing. I learned recently this process is called co-regulation. However, I have also come to realize that the person we need understanding from the most is our own selves. Until we are able to forgive ourselves for the ways we survived the traumatic events in our lives it is difficult to move forward. We are able to learn through trauma informed care to give ourselves what we long to receive from others. This process is called self-regulation.
With all that is going on in our world currently, I believe it is more important now than ever that churches seek to be trauma informed and work alongside mental health in bringing healing to the minds, bodies and souls of those who are suffering in this way. Sadly, I have walked away from church feeling worse about myself, because I believed that I didn’t have enough faith to apply the message that I heard and just trust God with whatever it was I was going through.
What happens to the soul of a person when we go to church and hear scripture and songs that retrigger us and send our minds reeling back to our painful past? What happens to our faith in God when we are told we will never be forgiven by God, because we can’t just forgive our perpetrator, make amends and move on? What happens when major parts of the healing process are skipped over, because everything is over spiritualized?
Did God not ask that we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? How can we do this if we have not experienced real healing in all of these areas of of our lives?
Yesterday, I read a post a good friend sent me from a pastor who is trauma informed. His words brought comfort and relief.
I believe it will be invaluable for the Church of Christ to understand these truths in the months and years ahead. Both the scientific truth of the effects of trauma, but also the truth of Messiah’s redeeming spiritual power, in order to effectively minister to these wounded souls.
I confess that I still struggle with “just believing” that God will bring beauty out of our ashes and that He will work everything out for our good. Part of the reason for this is my brain is still reminded of how many times I heard this in a church where I was abused. If you struggle in this way, I want you to know that it is OK. You are not alone.
Healing takes time. Healing looks different for all of us. Some of us may heal and return to church. Some of us might not.
Through my own experiences, I have come to understand that God sees and knows what we have been through. He knows our suffering better than anyone else, because He has suffered in all the ways that we have. He meets us where we are. He will not abandons us. He believes in us even when our traumatized brains make it difficult to believe in anything again. He is our Perfect Heavenly Father who is able to see past our pain and see His child whom He dearly loves.
His compassion and love for us never fails…