I’ve been on a trauma recovery journey I’ve been trying to articulate to myself and the Lord for the last five months. It’s one I’m going to attempt to articulate -in part- to you. This is what I know so far. Everybody loves a good redemption story right?
I heard a fascinating TEDx talk by Jane McGonigal. When I began to hear Jane talking about some of the qualities that describe people who have pushed past Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Post Traumatic Growth I smiled, said “thank you, God,” and knew I had taken that journey without even knowing it.
You’ve heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder right? But, have you heard of Post Traumatic Growth? Nope, me either. As it turns out, trauma doesn’t have to ruin your life for ever. Some people get stronger after trauma. Apparently, one can use trauma as a springboard to unleash one’s best qualities and lead happier lives.
People who have survived trauma and moved on to growth say the followings things defined their life post trauma: their priorities changed and they are not afraid to do what makes them happy. They feel closer to their friends and family. They understand themselves better and know who they really are. They have a new sense of meaning and purpose and are better able to focus on their goals and dreams. Ironically enough, the top 5 traits Post Traumatic Growth survivors experience are the exact opposite of the top 5 regrets of the dying. Fascinating, no?
When Jane studied the Post Traumatic Growth survivors she found 4 key types of strengths that contributed to growth: physical resilience (exercise, etc.), mental resilience (learning, problem solving, game playing, reading, etc.), emotional resilience (positive interactions, goal setting, etc.) and social resilience (practice of gratitude, healthy touch, trust of oneself, etc.). When you regularly and consistently boost these you produce resilience that gives you strength which leads to growth even after intense or severe trauma.
About a year & a half ago I experienced a trauma. I can’t say much about it right now because the story is being published as an essay in an Anthology due out next year. Until you get the full blow-by-blow, you’ll have to trust me when I say I faced a “by the book” traumatic event that broke me, and continued to break me for well over a year.
In the middle of that desperate, desperate time, I had a tiny little sliver of unexplained hope. I had an idea that if I could just survive, eventually I could write a really cool story about it. (Which crazily enough -and perhaps prophetically- I AM)! This tiny sliver of hope gave me the wisdom to know this story had a better ending if I was alive to tell it myself. Even though I wanted to die, I wanted to tell my own damn story and at some point it hit me: You can’t have it both ways, Grace. Choose to live and you get the cookie.
Even as I was -literally- screaming out Jesus’ name, I worried that if I killed myself my husband would tell the story ALL WRONG and he’d probably blame me for something I felt undeserving of. Yes people, you read that right, that moment of sheer narcissistic, selfish, navel gazing perhaps clicked my brain back into real life and an understanding that real, jacked-up behavior produces very real, jacked-up consequences. Real stories would be told and real people would be in deep mourning. Real children would be abandoned. I put Gungor’s Please Be My Strength on repeat and I chose to live.
Eight months later. I told Jean, one of my best friends who is more like a sister that I was “not surviving.” I told her “everything in my life is dying. I’m dying, Jean.” While I expected a gentle “you’ll be all right baby girl,” what I got instead was what I needed: a harsh tone with kind words. Listen, Jean is never one to mince words and that’s why I trust her so much. For almost two years she knew I needed to leave ministry, she saw the emotional drain, the physical drain, the unhealthy lack of boundaries I’d plunked myself into. She witnessed and sat front row through the demise of my marriage and severe depression. She watched me pack on the pounds trying to soothe myself out of every single mess I had created and she wanted something else for me but had been too afraid to tell me.
And then I went and admitted it, that despite wanting to get better I hadn’t actually done anything to get better and that everything was dying. And so she yelled at me, “if you can’t survive your life you have to freaking change it! Do you understand that no one else is going to live your life for you? No one else is going to patch up your marriage, no else is going to mother your kids, no one else is going to pay your debt, no one else is going to take care of you like you need to take care of yourself right now. If it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You don’t leave God when you leave ministry.”
I hemmed and hawed, I prayed about it for a few weeks, but I knew she was right and I knew I needed to go, and I asked about 15 close friends and family members and despite the fact that I thought I was going to work for InterVarsity for the rest of my life, and despite the fact that my identity was so wrapped up in campus ministry I could barely see straight, I stepped away. After 12 years, on July 15, 2012 I stepped off, out of and away from* what I understood to be my life calling. Damn, it hurt. The Who-Are-You-If-Your-Not-In-Ministry? identity crisis bitch slapping commenced.
But then something fracking bizarre happened, y’all. I started to feel some atrophied emotional resilience muscle begin to fire up its flexors. Like water gushing free of the damn that bound it, life sprang up and I felt alive with fear and displacement, empowerment & hope. The few people who tried to negotiate me into staying gave me the extra ‘THIS-IS-MY-DAMN-LIFE-get-the-hell-out-of-the-way’ that I needed to feel a sense of peace about moving on. It wasn’t an overly harsh response it was just one of the first times in my life I had absolute clarity that I was passively dying inside. My fear that someone would try to control me into a decision that wasn’t best for me created another type of resilience I wasn’t expecting. I began to trust my instincts. Or another way to say this is: when you see fire, run dammit run!
I realized I could trust myself with major life decisions.
Always in the background, in the midst of all this was an ongoing unhealthy relationship with money, which was pretty much basic: I wanted to spend more than we made and that got us into debt. Addressing this has meant taking absolute responsibility for the choices I made by making clear and bold steps to address and resolve the debt. The proactiveness has changed my relationship with money by 98%. Not 100% juuuuuust yet because really, what’s ever absolutely 100% perfect in any relationship? I’m working full-time now as opposed to part-time which can feel absolutely grueling as I spend many more hours away from my family, but I know it won’t always be this way and I know I have to address the mess I made. This too has been revolutionary in my path towards Post Traumatic Growth.
I realized I could trust myself with money.
As soon as some of these choices began to click into place I felt like I wanted to rid myself of so many things in my life that caused unnecessary stress or anguish. I wish I could tell you I decluttered our whole messy house but trust me, it’s on my agenda for 2013. Earlier in the year, I’d made a goal to lose 50 pounds in 2012 and by this time I was down 25, and the physical resilience and just about every benefit of going from “obese” to “healthy” began kicking in.
But really, it’s this next thing I did that I’m most proud of. It’s this next thing I did that made me feel like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix as if I, Grace Biskie could easily bat away speeding bullets. With a rumble in my gut, I said my goodbyes to a very unhealthy relationship. A 14 year friendship, that had for the last seven years —seven!!!— caused me an ENORMOUS sense of heartache. A relationship that for five years —five!— I’d known I shouldn’t be in and in fact fought with others who suggested I should scale it back. It was only after I had built up some resiliency of trust with myself that I knew I had what it takes to finally let go of that friendship. Riding on that sliver of courage I did it. I said goodbye.
I sprouted effing wings, y’all as if I had drunk 1,000 Red Bulls. I felt like a million and two dollars. I felt strong and happy and proud. I felt ownership of a choice that made me feel tremendously empowered. And best of all, I felt the release of the power I had given this person over me. All the power came rushing back to me in a big, giant wave of relief.
Unfortunately, I have a lot of regret about how I ended that relationship. I was mean and unkind. And I could try to explain the why of it but there is no exuse. I was so eager to purchase my freedom from this person that I was thoughtless and awful and I raged off in a way that created a storm for this person, and I am deeply remorseful. I’ve fought hard to remember that even in the midst of that terribly nagging regret, I did something so completely awesome for my life I can barely handle the glee. I’m freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
I realized I could trust myself to keep myself safe against unhealthy relationships.
If you find yourself slogging through the recovery of a horrible marriage, depression, divorce, death, debt, or self-made catastrophes hope & courage are key to your growth. Go ahead and give that courage muscle a little flex. You deserve a strong supply of resilience to make courageous choices over and over again that will bring you the peace of God in ways you never thought imaginable. Trust me, He goes with you.
*My 12 years in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a staff member and 4 years as a student were and will always be the most formative, important years if my life. InterVarsity has been nothing but loving, kind, compassionate, caring and amazing to me. They have raised me up to be a strong leader and lover of the Lord. I still love InterVarsity, give sacrificially to InterVarsity and will eventually volunteer with InterVarsity. I love them, I love them, I love every last one of them mugs. My crisis’ were almost entirely self sabotage had very little to do with the actual ministry I was doing. They loved me well to the very end. It wasn’t them, it was me. Just to be clear, because it never hurts. =)