On risking it again

You did something very good, which you believe God gave you to do, but, in the midst of it, the trauma was badly triggered and it took weeks to get back to equilibrium.

Now, it seems like God is calling you to do something similar. You can set it up so that the previous trauma triggers are avoided, or, at least, minimised. But, even so, something inside you is saying, ‘It will happen again’. And it might!

I just wrote a blog on God’s power towards safety for every single person who entrusts themselves to Him. Can I do that? Will I do what He is calling me to, even though I think I can’t?

I will. I will recognise the rising terror, but I will choose to do it. I will thank God for all the good things that He accomplished last time, and that I (and others – a traumatised Ida affects the people around her!) have survived that nightmare period and even learnt from it. I will trust again in His righteous ordering of the universe, and in His great love which always works towards my, and everyone else’s, ultimate good.

‘Though He slay me, I will trust Him’. Though He lets it ‘happen again’, I WILL TRUST HIM!

Good news! For it is the power of God towards safety

That’s Today’s Ida Glaser translation of the middle of Romans 1:16. If trauma is caused by a combination of danger and helplessness, power towards safety is Good News indeed.

What we lose when we translate ‘safety’ by ‘salvation’! For me, ‘salvation’ has long been a theological term – very important, and very good news, to be saved from sin and all that goes with it. But ‘safety’ speaks to me of God’s involvement in every level of everyone’s life, and somehow communicates that there is a deep safety in God even in the place of danger. And it is a safety rooted in the all-powerfulness of God.

Let’s go on in the verse: ‘ . . . towards safety for every single trusting person’ (again, TIG) . . . and the ‘everyone’ is then spelt out as Jews and Greeks. There is no ethnic or even religious boundary here. The only requirement in this verse is ‘trusting’ – also translated ‘believing’ or ‘having faith’. Theologians spill gallons of ink in discussing just what this means, but the obvious main point is the Good News that everyone is invited to entrust themselves to God, and that, when they do so, His power gives them safety.

And what is at the heart of the reason why we can find that safety? Verse 17 tells us: ‘For the righteousness of God is unveiled in the Good News’ (TIG). ‘For the righteousness of God . . ‘ parallels ‘For the power of God . . ‘

The Righteousness of God The Power of God

God’s exercise of power is always righteous. THAT is good news!

God’s exercise of power deals with all the unrighteousness which leads to dangers in today’s world. THAT is good news!

God’s righteousness deals with all the unrighteousness in us which leads us and others into danger. THAT is good news!

The Good News unveils/reveals/opens the door on God’s righteousness. After all our longings for justice and for goodness and for SAFETY, the Good News at last shows us what God has been doing. We were lost in our traumas and in our own as well as everyone else’s unrighteousness, and couldn’t see God’s righteousness. We were afraid that He lacked in power and could not help us. Or, worse, that He had plenty of power but was punishing us for our unrighteousness. Or, worst of all, that He had the power but was unrighteous Himself, and was doing bad things to us and to other people.

Not so, says Paul! God is BOTH powerful AND righteous. And the Good News that he is going to explain will SHOW US AT LAST!!!

Just here, Paul gives us a summary – this is going to be a call to trust, and it is going to lead to LIFE! Trauma brings fear of death, and feelings of disconnection and non-existence. The Good News brings LIFE – and connection and eternal existence. THAT is safety.

Choosing an image

‘Insert a new image’, it says. These days we can choose whatever image we want. We can even choose imaginary names for ourselves in our virtual game worlds. I am made in the image of God. How can I choose an image to represent myself or my thinking?

But I have the option: I can have an image for a logo for this page. Shall I choose the image of trauma that I discussed in my earlier blogs?

No! I don’t really want that fragmented image in front of me all the time.

Something more positive? I found this

This is an image from our lockdown Passover celebration. It goes in my mind with the wonderful invitation which begins the Passover Haggadah:

The bread of affliction reminds us not only of the affliction, but also of our liberation from affliction. So it becomes the food for the hungry, and the welcome for all.

Fight, flight, freeze and refuge

Thinking about the COVID situation as traumatic . . . it does tick the two major boxes of ‘danger’ and ‘helplessness’. This virus is dangerous and, because it is invisible and we don’t know who might have it even without symptoms, we feel helpless.

So . . . it is not surprising if we respond with ‘fight’, ‘flight’ and ‘freeze’.

The virologists and the health care people are ‘fighting’ – they actually have some thing they can do to fight this beast. And lots of people have ways of fighting for their families, for their work, for justice etc. Tragically, some are taking the opportunity to fight for more power or money or fame for themselves. Some, who have lost their livings, are fighting for their very survival. I wonder how many have been pointlessly and destructively fighting the people with whom they have been ‘locked down’? When we can’t fight the real danger, we may just fight whoever is in front of us.

‘Flight’ – that includes people who are simply denying the danger, but also flights into virtual worlds and addictive behaviours. There are more positive flights into the beauty of nature and the creativity of cooking – turning from the reality of the danger to the reality of God’s good creation. But there is also the ultimate flight of suicide – the flight from a lockdown from which there feels like there is no escape.

And what about ‘freezing’? Perhaps this is not so easily observable, but I can see it in myself. As news comes in of the sudden deaths, as I see people I love in destructive ‘fight’ or ‘flight’, I can feel the shock and notice the inner ‘shut down’. How many of us have been through those days when we find it difficult to do anything constructive? And especially to do the creative work which we know is important? So may people who, like myself, should be writing, have found it very difficult to write anything . . Some seem to have given up on life itself.

How we need to see the God who fights all evil, who is the only safe refuge to whom we can fly, and who never ‘freezes’ because He is never helpless. We read Psalm 71 this morning:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
    turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
    my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
    you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
    I will ever praise you.
I have become a sign to many;
    you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
    declaring your splendor all day long.

Re-visiting the trauma stuff

I am about to embark on editing – for a new publication – the paper on trauma that I first drafted a decade ago (can it possibly be that long?), just a year after the head injury which triggered the PTSD.

This is going to be both interesting and challenging.  It might be painful, because I will be re-visiting some of the trauma.  But it will also, I think, be fruitful, because it will give me an opportunity to reflect on how far I have come – and, in God’s grace, it can bear fruit in the lives of others who will read it.

Any praying folk out there:  please pray for me as I try to do this.

What happens in trauma therapy?

It’s interesting to look back on what has helped me to journey through PTSD towards ‘normality’.  I have had 4 therapists, 3 of whom have used a remarkable technique called ‘EMDR’.  The other used ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’.  My major observation is that I made more progress with therapists who paid a great deal of attention to me and to my reactions, and had a range of techniques they could use as tools.  That takes a lot of experience!

‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapy’ helped me to MANAGE the trauma/head injury.  the therapist encouraged me to plan forward carefully for anything I was going to do, to pace myself and to find simple ways of reducing the adrenalin levels when I got over-stimulated.  For example, she introduced me to a very simple breathing exercise that really works:  you breath right out, then breath in and out but deliberately make the ‘out’ breath longer than the ‘in’ breath.  You can make it a bit more effective by counting and increasing the ‘out’ time e.g. in-2-3-4 out-2-3-4-5 in-2-3-4 out-2-3-4-5-6 in-2-3-4 out-2-3-4-5-6-7 etc.

Then, she tried to help me deal with my ‘startle response’ – that is, the way that I jump and ‘freeze’ in response to certain stimuli.  I was to choose something positive and think of that every time a certain stimulus arose.  For example, traffic could make me ‘freeze’ – so she asked me to think of something positive about people driving cars past me.  The problem was that I couldn’t think of anything that I really believed was positive about all those cars.  Eventually, I decided that I would find something to thank God for every day, and deliberately thank Him for it when I met traffic.  It did help me to manage my immediate problems, but I don’t think it dealt with the underlying condition.

I realized that people with PTSD need both to learn to manage their immediate reactions and to deal with the memories that are producing the trauma.  CBT helps with the former but not, I think, with the latter.  It also helps with something else that is very important:  teaching the body to react to stimuli in different ways.

People can help!

So thankful that I could be part of the Wycliffe Hall commissioning day yesterday!  I’m very tired today, and haven’t even tried to go to church or to anything else.  But I have a great sense of achievement, and of being INCLUDED.

I am not only thankful for the therapy that has got me well enough to cope.  I am also thankful to the people who helped me to cope.

My David came too, and was there to stand with me after I got shocked by a boom over the loud speaker system, and to take me home at the end, when the adrenalin ran down and I was so tired I could hardly walk.

Some of the students know that I have problems with noise and crowds, and were very considerate when I needed to get somewhere quiet.

Kerstin, the college receptionist, and Kristina, the principal’s PA, made sure I had a seat at the end of a row (I find it difficult to have people sitting on both sides of me and I need to be able to go somewhere quiet during the hymns) and made sure that I got into that seat.

If anyone reading this knows someone suffering from PTSD:  be assured that your help in thinking about how that person can be included in things will be hugely appreciated.

Trauma can cause isolation

I’m going to church today!  I’m going to try to attend a full church service, in a full church, with hymns and everything!  For years, I have hardly ever even attempted to do that.  I’ve not been able to cope with the music or the crowds.  I’ve stayed away, or arrived late and left early, or gone outside during the music, or sat in the back corner where I felt safe.  Or all of those.  Mostly, I’ve only gone to much smaller and quieter services.

Today, we have the commissioning service for the Wycliffe Hall students who are leaving and going on into Christian ministry.  I am SO much better, and I have determined to go.  I’ve only been to one of these services in the 7 years I’ve been associate staff at Wycliffe, and I stayed outside until after the first hymn, sat near the back, and left after the students had been presented.  Today, I am planning to sit at the front with other staff, to stay for the whole time (I’ll take ear plugs and maybe slip out if there are any really noisy hymns) – I am even going to put on my academic dress!

I stayed awake half the night thinking about it, planning forward to how I might cope with whatever may come . . .  that’s actually helpful . . .  if you go through in your mind what might come, it’s easier to cope.  Even now, I am wondering whether I should back out (it’s raining!) . . .  but I won’t.  I’m going!