Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On Trauma

There's a deep ache in our society, even in our churches - a hurt so deep that you can feel it. It's trauma. And when we talk about trauma, we have to first clarify what we mean when we say the word. 

Trauma means something different than tragedy; it's not merely a thing that causes deep grief, although deep grief is part of trauma. Trauma means something different than inconvenience; it's not just something that delays or defers hope, although a damaged hope is part of trauma. Trauma means something different than 'bad things that happen'; bad things happen every day that are not traumatic. The first thing we have to do when we talk about trauma is to recapture the word itself; trauma is soul-crushing in the most pure and profound sense of it. It changes the very dynamics of the human soul, changes the fundamental nature of who we are. Trauma can only ever be defined by the depths of the soul.

And it's insidious. It creeps into the deepest recesses of our being until our every breath is filtered through it.

The human spirit, which clings desperately to the human soul, reacts desperately to trauma, trying everything that it can to overcome it. But trauma quickly becomes the most real, the most vital, the most undeniable reality of all realities, and the spirit just as quickly determines that trauma cannot be overcome; it can only be mastered.

It's why victims of violent crime are exponentially more likely to become victims of violent crime a second time. And a third. And a fourth. It's why abuse victims go out and find new abusers or keep going back to the same old ones. It's why abuse victims sometimes become abusers themselves. It's why soldiers go back into war.

It's why those who have been confined and degraded find an affinity for prison stories. It's why those who have been sexually assaulted sometimes become sexual role players. It's why those who have been beaten take up fighting. It's why those who lost control of their own lives turn to drugs that make them lose control.

It's why we, as traumatized persons, recreate and replay and rehash our trauma over and over and over again, even when we know it's going to cut deeper and deeper into our soul; we think the only way out of it is to gain mastery over it, and so we keep going back until we feel strong enough to walk out. 

But mastery is never enough; it's not satisfying. We spend the rest of our lives role playing ourselves into a strength that always feels one more experience away from us, one more practice, one more test.

Mastery takes the place of true healing; strength takes the place of tenderness.

Trauma requires tenderness, as much as we don't want to hear it. As much as it hurts to think that the only way out of trauma is to feel it, it's the truth. You will never be strong enough to recover your wounded soul, but you can be tender enough to soothe it. There is a better way, but it's hard. It's so hard.

As people of God - as fallen, wounded people of God - we must be speaking out on this. We must be creating spaces in our communities for trauma to speak and for it to heal. We must be the ones leading the way, holding hands, praying over one another and demonstrating the kind of tenderness that trauma requires. We must be the ones getting into the pits with the traumatized and assure them, with the confident assurance of our God, that they are already strong. They are.

They are right now strong enough to do this, strong enough to stand up, strong enough to move on, strong enough to heal. You are right now strong enough for this.

By the grace of God, wounded souls will be healed. By the grace of God, they are being healed right now.

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