24 February 2011

PTSD and Me

Last night I was trying desperately to talk a friend from high school out of going into the dark of night to look for something or someone. I pleaded with her that it wasn't safe. My stomach was in a tight knot and my throat muscles were aching with tension. Tears spilled down my face. I had her hand in a death grip and then she vanished. Deep grief spilled out of my soul and into my dream. I was crying out for her children when I woke up. The friend I was dreaming about died several years ago. We had lost touch as is often the case with people leaving high school and going where their adult lives take them. I remember hearing about her passing and wanting to make contact with her children. They have no idea who I am and I really have nothing to offer them except to tell them that she and I had once been friends. She was kind and funny and we shared some confidences. All that is ancient history.

It wasn't an underlying sense of guilt or grief for my high school friend that caused my nightmare. I haven't had more than a passing thought about her since I learned of her death and she died several years before I found out. She is representative of a deeper issue for me. I have been having a continuous stream of nightmares over the last year or so, the last few months I have had nightmares nearly every night. If I were to rely solely on my secular psychology training I would diagnose myself with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a Christian, my faith does not rest in the observations and conclusions of secular psychology. My faith rests in the sovereignty of God, the efficacy of Christ and the sufficiency of the Scriptures. So, why then am I having nightmares and other symptoms that would describe PTSD? It's a fair question. My answer; why wouldn't I?

The lack of suffering is not a mark of being a Christian. The lack of reaction to trauma is not evidence of saving faith. Being a believer in the gospel of Christ doesn't mean we plaster a grin on our faces and feign delight in every event in our lives. That's just silly. It is the presence of hope marks the difference in my suffering. The reaction I have to the nightmares and memories that obstruct my thoughts and dreams is of more importance and consequence than having intrusive thoughts and dreams. The lack of sleep wrecks havoc on me physically and emotionally and while this may make it more difficult to keep my thoughts captive to the truth, it does not exempt me from that command. Where do I find help? How do I respond to others? These are the better questions to ask. The answers hold the difference between having solid faith in Christ versus having faith in your faith or faith in one of the secular psychology systems.

So often we want to escape suffering at any cost. I use the universal we because I am not alone. The quest to live an easier life drives western society. I am not an advocate of suffering and don't recommend lolling about and saturating yourself with it, but there is no need to rush out of it or fleeing it as if suffering itself is evil or is a sin. I don't have all the answers. I don't know where to find the balance between knowing that all things work together for good and my inclination to believe that not all suffering serves some noble purpose. It is what it is. We suffer. It's the price we pay for doing business in this fallen world. Some of us suffer more than others. Some of us bear it better than others. Suffering is the canvas upon which Christ's mercy is displayed or our faith or faithlessness is revealed. It separates the goats and sheep, the men from the boys the wheat from the tares. It polishes gems and crumbles stones. It is not all there is to life but all life will have a measure of suffering. You can run from it but it will catch up with you sooner or later.

If there be a lesson of value for me during this period, it is learning that listening to someone who is overly stressed and/or traumatized is more valuable to them than the constant barrage of verses and platitudes you may be tempted to flood them with. As a counselor I fail that 'quick to hear slow to speak' thing that James warned us about. I don't want to see my friends suffering. I want to reason them out of their grief or worries. Now that I am the one in distress, I resent the 'drive-by' shots of Scripture. It seems more like encouragement by cattle prod than sharing my burden with me. I am deeply grieved to admit I am guilty of such assaults.

I may want to chronicle this journey at another time. For now I only want to acknowledge that Christians suffer mightily, even when they are not persecuted for their faith. We have no idea of the magnitude of events that have shaped those brothers and sisters with whom we worship and break bread. Some of us cannot fathom how hideous the events of our neighbor's lives are while we envy others if their life seems easier than our own. We will lose hope if and when we lose sight of God's sovereignty and Christ's compassionate sacrifice-able to save to the uttermost.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3
1 Guard your steps as you go to the house of God, and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.
2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
3 For the dream comes through much effort, and the voice of a fool through many words.

James 1:19
19 {This} you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak {and} slow to anger;

Romans 15:13
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Jackie Pickett said...

'why wouldn't I?' It is so funny how we Christians feel as though we should not have serious reaction to trauma in our lives (PTSD). Even that we HAVE trauma in our lives that equals the trauma of non-Christians, seems somehow wrong to us. You're right..it is our REACTION to our trauma that marks us as Christians, not the absence of it.
Thank you for sharing. I listened, and was encouraged.

rosemarie said...

Jackie, I am always encouraged when you comment on something I have written. Thank you for that. PTSD describes observable behavior, secular psychology hasn't cornered the market on observational data. I parted with psychological principles because though their observations may be spot on their conclusions seldom have biblical merit. We Christians suffer and like anyone else we will squirm and try to make the pain stop. I am still having nightmares but the less I care about them the more sleep I seem to be getting. Life is often hard, God is always good.