In keeping with story week, I have been asked to share in greater detail one of the turning points in my story. And to be honest, since it was included in my interview with Jeremy Statton, it's been on my heart to share a bit more because in such a brief space on the vast Internet, I feel like there was a bit of potential for greater hurt instead of hope.
The story, in its short form as previously shared, is that one October night a few years ago, I was alone in the house when a batch of severe weather stormed through in the dead of night. The wind, the warning sirens, and the constant television news coverage awoke me, and I just laid in bed cowering for a little bit, shaking. Scared. This was in some of the deepest depths of my battle with post-traumatic stress. After some amount of time of this, with no end to the storms in sight, I had one very clear thought: "This is stupid." Followed by, "I can either be afraid or I can be asleep." That night, I was able to choose - and chose - to be asleep. When I woke the next morning, I just wasn't scared any more.
That's the short form, the gist of what was shared previously. What pained me about that interview, and I don't fault Jeremy for this, was that there just wasn't space to really tell the story. One reader, who had also wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder and, I assume, was still caught in its troubles, responded with something to the effect of, "Well, how nice it must be for you to just choose not to deal with it. I can't believe you were ever diagnosed with post-traumatic stress for not even being in a war zone." He said it with a pain for his own story, and I get that. But I kind of felt it assaulted my story, as well, although I completely understand where he was coming from.
The short version makes it sound like I flipped a coin, made a choice, simply decided against my story.
The truth is that I was captured by post-traumatic stress, and to the pained but still insensitive comment about reserving such diagnoses for war, let me say that not every war is a declared battle and not every front line is foreign. PTSD is a very real, very tangible foe for many on our own shores who may never even have touched a gun or heard a gunshot. Trauma is not a consequence of war; it is an enemy of the heart, and when the heart is crushed, the aftereffects are real.
By God's grace, I had found youth ministers who pointed me to a pastor therapist and subsequently, I found myself with a religious female therapist and another Christian male therapist after that. Through the grace, honesty, and courage of these three therapists (not all at once, I was not THAT crazy. Ok, maybe I was, but still not all at once) and people like those youth ministers and others around me, I was coming to understand more of my story. They were seeing what I plainly could not - that I was hardly in this world at all.
They could see that I was talking to things that nobody else could see. That I was feeling things that nobody else could feel. That I was hearing voices that nobody else could hear. That I was ducking and dodging and couldn't sit still because there was something in my mind that wasn't in my world, and they could see that. That I was absolutely trapped between this world and the flashbacks, and that most of the time, the flashbacks were winning. I don't know how tenderness speaks through something so dark and horrid, but I know that as time went by, I was able - in spurts - to sometimes hear their voices. I was able - at times - to catch enough of a glimpse of reality to for a second at least catch my breath before terror took back over.
It was many years of their constancy, of their gentle attempts to push through, of their patience and mercy, that led me to that stormy night. It was many years of their reassurance that whatever it was - and I was hardly able to tell them, and often never did - that I thought was happening, that I was fighting against, that I was feeling...was not real...it was many years of that reassurance, which was so hard to grasp onto and so hard to believe and so hard to fathom because it seemed so real, that popped into my mind that stormy night.
It was another voice in the thunder that somehow burst through and said, "This is just a storm," and somehow, I heard that. And I laid in bed and listened to the thunder and cried and cried and prayed a little and cried some more. I couldn't get through my tears, and they wouldn't stop coming. My heart had heard the spoken word - this is just a storm - but I had absolutely no earthly idea how to not be afraid. You can't just choose against fear, can you?
Thunder again, and that voice. This is just a storm, and I've got this. You don't want to be afraid? Then be asleep.
And I said that out loud. "I can be afraid. Or I can be asleep. This is just a storm...."
That one little second, that one realization of possible peace, that one hint of Presence that I was only able to hear because of many thousands of other days and nights with tender voices around, piercing the storm that was my reality and my heart...that one little second washed over me. So profound, so peaceful, that I almost couldn't even hear the storm any more. It seemed to fade into this thing that at the time, I could only describe as "what is" and I rolled over in my bed and went to sleep.
When I woke up, I was not afraid. That doesn't mean I wasn't post-traumatic; for awhile, I continued to be, but there was new grace. And God saw fit to lead me through that story over the span of yet another few years in search of healing. I'm not so post-traumatic any more. I'm living in this world now, and I've got to tell you - it's kinda nice. A whole lot quieter. More colors. It's beautiful.
That also doesn't mean I never had to choose against fear again. No. Like I said the other day in my post about family, fear, too, is not a decision I made one time and never looked back on. It's a question that comes every day, though not in the same dark way as once upon a storm. It's just life. As one of my new favorite songs on the radio says, "This is only a mountain. You don't have to find your way around it. Tell it to move, it'll move. Tell it to fall, it'll fall. This is only a moment. You don't have to let your fear control it. Tell it to move, it'll move. Tell it to fall, it'll fall."
It still sounds kind of...simple, doesn't it? For those still struggling in the dark and in the post-traumatic world and in whatever wraps your heart, please don't take offense to my words or my story. It's impossible to document what every day was like. What nearly 10 years were like. Even what grace is like. If you're not there, you're not there, but there is a measure of grace for you, too. There is tenderness out there, patience, mercy, and grace...and love...that can slowly eat away at your darkness and help you to hear even one voice outside of it all. When you finally hear that voice, when you're trained to listen for it, when it has the power to pull you back, I know that you, too, will hear the voice of the One. And that can be a turning point in your story.
That night, that choice - to be afraid or to be asleep - I didn't feel like I was choosing against my story. You can't get anywhere going against everything. I simply chose a better thing, and then came back to my story with grace. Because if you ever want to tell your story and have it stop telling you, you have to dive straight into it and muddle through until you work it all out in your own heart. That's the only way.