Tag Archives: healing

Belonging

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with belonging. I distinctively remember being in 1st grade, six years old, on the playground at the international school I went to when we lived in Belgium, and getting hit by a wave of loneliness. I was on the swings, other kids swinging on either side of me, and I felt like I was about to sail off into the sky by myself, detached from the swing chains. I felt very old, like I’d lived a hundred lifetimes already. I felt…isolated.

That feeling has followed me my whole life. I never quite fit in as myself. If I wanted to “belong,” I had to change somehow. I had to listen to certain music, watch certain movies, and keep my mouth shut about the stuff I cared about. When I got older and more independent, I didn’t bend to peer pressure as much, but in order to feel okay with it, I had to take pride in my loneliness. “I feel this way,” I told myself, “Because I’m special.” That’s a dangerous way to live, because in order to feel joy or connection with others, I had to let go of that whole “special” thing.

I’m over that now. I don’t want to be isolated or lonely. I don’t think that’s what makes me special. But I still don’t feel like I really belong anywhere.

Chris and I have been going to a church lately, and for practically the first time ever, I actually don’t hate going to church. I feel safe there. But it isn’t easy. At one of the services, to celebrate the co-pastor getting her Masters of Divinity, one of her professors spoke. He spoke directly to the congregation, offering advice and encouragement and so on, and I got hit by that wave again. Specifically, a talking wave that said, “You don’t belong here.” It felt really strange, like I was looking in a window, spying on the service. He isn’t talking to me, I thought, because I don’t know anyone here. I’m not a part of this community. That sad little voice added, “And you never will be.”

My instinct is to say that voice is the devil, but I don’t think it’s that cut-and-dry. It’s fear, yes, which doesn’t come from God, but I am sick of identifying every negative thought as a demon hissing in my ear. I’ve lived that belief before, and it is exhausting. I think that voice is six-year old me, fearful, who is counting out all the times I’ve been lonely or rejected, and telling me that’s what will always happen. She doesn’t count all the times that hasn’t happened, though.

So, what do I do? My spiritual director has given me advice for when fear like that comes up, when our past selves try to convince us of something that isn’t true. I reassure six-year old me. I tell her it’s going to be okay. The idea of treating fear with compassion is still new to me. Since I believed every negative thought was a demon, I’m more familiar with going on the attack, like my head is a war zone. The result is always a bloody battlefield, without much peace or hope. I only succeed in traumatizing myself even more. It’ll be different this time.

I’ve been to church since that wave of isolation. I didn’t feel it as strongly this time, because I anticipated it, and I knew how to respond. When the little voice tried telling me, “You don’t belong here,” I knew what to say: “Maybe not yet, but that’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

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Location, Location, Location

Broken glass, pins, nails…these are the items that litter my dreams at night. They start growing from beneath my skin, they fill my ears, eyes, and nose, and they coat me like a suit of armor. When I told my spiritual director that these are the sorts of reoccurring dreams I have frequently, she looked taken aback. She asked if I had ever seen a Jungian therapist, or one who specialized in dream interpretation. Um, nope. That sounds…odd. Her concern did prompt me to start researching dreams, though. They are symbols of the subconscious. If something is bothering a person, it will eventually emerge in their dreams. There’s no escape.

That all makes sense to me. It’s how I know that I’m still not over my fears about witches, demons, and the trauma inflicted by charismatic, evil-obsessed spirituality. In my dreams, I’ll frequently get attacked by a witch or start getting possessed, and the language I learned from the old days comes spilling out, in an attempt to fight. It never works.

I can do work when I’m awake to try and decipher the dreams, to deal with what understanding I can glean from them, but while I’m in the dream, I feel powerless. I started looking into how dreams could be controlled, and “lucid dreaming” came up. It’s when you know you’re in a dream and gain a heightened sense of awareness and control. You can effectively create objects, conjure specific people, and perform actions from thin air, just like you would if you were awake and writing a story. This time, though, you’re living the story within the dream world.

I read “A Field Guide To Lucid Dreaming,” and learned that I mostly dream in the second tier of dreaming: I know I’m dreaming, but I have very limited control. In nearly every dream I have, I know it isn’t real, but I can’t do the things I want to, like fly or make nightmares go away. In order to get more lucid and improve my control, I’ve had to start keeping a dream journal again. It’s an overwhelming process, because I remember my dreams in great detail, and I dream pretty much every time I go to sleep. If I take a nap during the day, I’ll dream, so that’s two dreams per 24-hour period.

I’ve written down about ten dreams since I started my new dream journal, and I have dozens of dreams written down from a few years back. In going through them, there are patterns that emerge. The first one I’m going to take a look at is where the dreams are set. One of the most frequent locales? High school.

High school was really hard. Making friends was like trying to tame a wild animal, when the roles of wild animal and human switch frequently. The strict adherence to conservative evangelicalism and policing of thought ground me down to an angry, throbbing pencil nub that felt like it couldn’t be useful anywhere else. I loved a boy who couldn’t love me back the way I needed, and when he left me, I realized I had poured all my energy into that relationship and I had nothing left for healing. Depression hit hard and the medication trials hit harder, so both my mind and body were exhausted.

It’s been so many years since that time and I tell myself I’m over it, but when I go to sleep, I’m back in those hallways, and things are a little bit stranger. My uniform shrinks and grows, transforming its shape, so I can’t focus on anything else. I get lost and panicked that I’ll be late for class. I try taking a math test, only to suddenly collapse with blurred vision while the teacher remains uninterested and unconcerned in what’s happening. I get into fights with classmates from my past, screaming at them, but their faces are blank and they move like shadows past me.

In those dreams, I feel a handful of emotions depending on what’s going on, plot-wise, but there are trends: abandoned, voiceless, trapped, neglected, alone. These are all feelings I had in high school, and they all came to a peak when I was so depressed, I wasn’t going to school. I don’t even know how many days I missed. During that time, I don’t recall maybe more than one person reaching out and asking if I was okay. Some would ask my brother if I was coming to school when he showed up alone in the morning, but eventually, after getting the same answer every time, they just stopped asking. If I had gotten mono or something other longer physical illness, I might have gotten get-well cards, or flowers, or a visitor or two. For depression, dead silence.  

On the rare occasion when I was in at school, I was so lifeless, I just fell asleep during class. I couldn’t fight it; I had no energy for fighting. Someone trying to keep me awake wouldn’t have been helpful, but I can’t even imagine what a pat on the back or squeeze of the hand from a girl sitting next to me would have done for my motivation to keep trying to live. It felt like people were just watching me slowly die. I have no idea what they thought of it. Pity, probably.

The dreams I keep having tell me I’m not fully-healed from the feelings of abandonment and neglect high school spawned. Those emotions are a refrain in a song that will play in my head whenever my soul aligns a current experience with the past, and they send me right back in time. All the years of learning and maturity and recovery crumble, and it’s like I never left that building.

I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Well, that’s not true. My spiritual director recommends writing letters to myself as if I was back in the moment of trauma. I would be sending my own get-well cards into the past. That sounds like a good enough plan as any, especially since I’m a writer, it’s my strongest love language, but it’s also kind of scary. It seems so emotionally overwhelming and painful, like tearing the scab off a wound that never really healed. This is the year of wild emotions, though, so I have to start somewhere.

Five

A big part of my spiritual “therapy,” I guess you’d call it, has been identifying and focusing on my “safe places.” These are the sensations and states of being that make me feel closest to God. When they’re cultivated, I can think about trauma and ground myself in safety, so I’m not disrupted by painful memories. I’ve found five safe places:

Yoshi
Chris
Walking
Nature
Floating in the ocean in Jamaica

I experience different aspects of God in these places. With Yoshi, I feel adored and significant. With Chris, I am accepted, respected, and loved. While walking, I am strong, free, and flexible. In nature, I am free, rooted, grounded, and open, like the opposite of claustrophobic. When I remember floating in the Jamaican water, I am completely at peace, held, and still.

My spiritual director pointed out that it’s interesting that there are five things, like fingers on a hand. I immediately thought of the book title, “The heart is a muscle the size of your fist.” It’s a novel about protests and I haven’t actually read it, but the phrase sticks with me. In my head, I connect a fist or a hand with the heart. The key to spiritual fulfillment is to hold the Five within myself at all times, so no matter where I go or what I experience, I can rely on them. To help get a visual sense, I painted a picture:

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Each color represents a different part of the Five, and they all seep into one another and come from the heart. The heart has cracks from my traumatic experiences, but that’s where the color bleeds from.

The Five represent my essence. When I feel stressed or conflicted about something, disturbed by a past memory or triggering event, I’ve been turning back to whatever part of the Five best supports me. Sometimes it’s lying outside on the deck with Yoshi, looking up at the trees, just listening to the sound of the leaves. Other times it’s going for a walk without my headphones and just really focusing on each step, letting my arms move, breathing more deeply. In the past, I would focus too much on what was bothering me. I would run it back through my head over and over again, writing it down, picking it apart, analyzing it. That process has led to revelations, but I’m tired of it. One of the reasons why I didn’t want to go back to regular counseling was because I felt like I would have to rehash all the things wrong with me again. My spiritual director isn’t so interested in the details of things. It’s more about how memories and experiences fit into the bigger picture of what I believe about God, myself, and others. Most importantly, it’s about moving forward and not letting trauma define me. She’s all about “respecting” the trauma and having compassion towards it – it’s not as if I’m denying the impact of anything – but healing comes from immersion in the Five, not the trauma itself.

What are your safe places?

 

Is It Ok For Christians To Get Angry?

When I say angry, I do not mean miffed. Annoyed. Upset. I mean angry. The kind of angry where your face gets hot and steam shoots out of your ears.

I say that it is.

If you have experienced abuse, you can get angry. If you’ve suffered a deep betrayal, you can get angry. You can get angry about anything. To say that you cannot, is to censor your feelings, which are very often justified. Getting angry at Mark Driscoll for leading a church that has been exposed as spiritually abusive towards many people, especially if you are one of many who has been spiritually abused? Justified. Getting angry at all those priests and pastors who have recently been accused of sexual abuse in the state of Minnesota? Justified.

Anger is a lot like grief. In fact, in psychology, it is listed as the second response to grief. People saying all “the right things” does not help. When you experience grief, so many people are there with their two cents: “It’s part of God’s plan. He never gives us more than we handle. I’ll pray for you.” It feels like you are not allowed to rant, you are not allowed to get out that out. If you stay silent, it simmers. It brews. It poisons.

People, Christians included, need to be allowed to get angry, to ask God, “Why?” The entire book of Job is dedicated to one man’s rantings and ravings. His friends try to help, but they just make things worse.

In the end, it’s Job and God. That’s where healing really begins. Anger needs to be healed, just as grief does. And it only happens between an individual and God. People, with all their wise words, their scolding, their attempted empathy, all fade into the background. That’s where anger can turn into something else.

Forgiveness.

Mix Tape

One of the daily prompts on WordPress recently was to create a “mix tape” that represents me. Even with a list I developed, it still seems pretty impossible to really get my essence, since I have so much music that holds a significant place in my soul. Of course, everyone says that, so I’ll just leave it at that and move right along.

“So I Thought” – Flyleaf

This song was really important to me for a long time following my first relationship’s breakup. The lyrics, “A year goes by, and I can’t talk about it,” really struck home, since after a year, the wounds were still very frustratingly fresh. Even now, the line, “And I’m praying that we will see/Something there in between/Then and there that exceeds all we can dream/So we can talk about it,” feels relevant, since I did all of my processing/healing without the ex-boyfriend being involved at all. The final chorus, “And all these twisted thoughts I see/Jesus there, in between,” always brings me to my knees.

“When I Fall In Love” – Celine Dion and Clive Griffin

This is the cheesiest song that I love. It’s also the first song I gave to Chris. I love its optimism but also quiet hesitancy.

“You Belong Here” – Anberlin

The power of this song is in its simplicity. “You belong here/You were meant to be with me.” Most of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling like I belong anywhere. I would sing this song to myself at night, imagining all my loved ones, Chris, God, singing it back to me.

“The Worry List” – Blue October

Justin’s voice…it is my heartache’s voice. “I might have been gone, but I never walked out.” Take me off your worry list. It’s about picking myself up over and over again. Trying to ignore other people’s concern, and just being tired of people worrying. I’m fine, really, I’m fine.

“18th Floor Balcony” – Blue October

This was our first dance song at our wedding. It makes me feel such peace.

“Little Hell” – City & Colour

My little hell is my depression. This song perfectly expresses my fears: “What if everything’s just the way it will be/Could it be that I am meant to cause you all this grief?” and “There’s a degree of difficulty in dealing with me.”

“Wrapped in Your Arms” – Fireflight

I believe surrender is the hardest and most crucial part of being a follower of Jesus. Whenever I go through a period of struggle, I always end up in the same place but with deeper understanding.

Is this the whole picture
Or is it just the start?
Is this the way you love me?
You’re capturing my heart
I used to try and walk alone
But I’ve begun to grow
And when you tell me just to rest
I’m finally letting go
I let go