We have all injured ourselves and had to take time off to heal. Some of us well seasoned people have had old injuries creep back up and slow our plans to finish a race or just get through our day.
The same is true with emotional and spiritual injuries. The physical body keeps a score of the trauma done to it.* Memories are formed in our physical brains through neural pathways. Habits and skills are also reinforced through these same neural pathways.
Why do you keep yelling at your kids when. you. do not want to? Why are you still addicted to that substance or experience when you have committed over and over again to stop? Why can you not seem to get along with some people or have moments when rage fills you so deeply you can not control yourself?
One reason may be that you have not taken the time to heal from past trauma in your mind, heart and soul.
For me, as a survivor of sexual trauma, having been molested by a handful of older men I found that "my body kept the score" in ways I never realized were connected until it was often "too late." In other words, the trauma of my past and the memories set me up for very poor responses to difficult situations in life. When a person is molested they build a rampart in their mind without even knowing it. This is a "coping mechanism," a survival tactic built into our DNA to reduce stress and provide a way to get through a difficult time, but it is not there to keep us from going back all together. The unhealed trauma of being forced to do things no one should even think about created a neural pathway of shame, hate, rage and fear in my mind that translated into over two decades of suicide attempts, addictions, depression and unhealthy relationships.
Then, through the love and care of friends and family, namely my wife, I began choosing to step back into the pain, like Luke Skywalker going into the cave to confront his worst fears, I went back into the darkness of my trauma to face my own.
In 2008, God provided someone who told me to read, "A wounded heart" by Dan Allender. I wept through many of the chapters, learning about how I was not alone in my struggles, was not a worthless piece of trash, and not all the hatful things I thought of myself. I learned how my rage was directly connected to unresolved pain of being molested, and also the other shame filled moments in life. I also saw how God is not on the hook for the evil that people do but He is doing and has done so many glorious things to reverse evil. Knowing the truths in this book armed me to fight the lies that returned years later.
God through this book, rearranged my theology and my trajectory in every sphere of life. I was in seminary and on a path to be a pastor, I was theologically astute, and was able to explain many of the complexities of faith and life. But I was a complete mess inside and could not control many of the "demons" in my past.
So God sent more healing my way. I learned to trust in vulnerability and being KNOWN. I did a lot of hard emotional work in being honest, and talking about things. God used many other books like, "The Soul of Shame" and "The Anatomy of the Soul" - Kurt Thompson, "The Problem of Pain" and "The Weight of Glory" - CS Lewis, "Spuregons Sorrows" and "Imperfect Pastor" - Zack Eswine.
And then again in 2018-2019, after hitting some brick walls in my career and important business relationships I went really deep back into the trauma to heal the actual neural pathways that were still "stuck" in time when I was 6-7 years old. During this EMDR (trauma) therapy, I re-lived my. 6-7 year old memories but this time, I was trained and ready to see those moments from God's perspective, equipped with safe friends and family, prayer, and truth to crush the shame and lies. This EMDR therapy was very, very difficult- to the point that after a session I even got lost on a very familiar running trail because my whole body was stuck in a moment as a 6-7 year old. However, because EMDR equips you to confront the trauma with truth and people who care, the "panic attack" did not last for long. In the end I was stronger, less angry, less addicted, there was less of me and more of Christ's likeness in me.
Each time I read a new book, or had a great session in counseling I thought, and more or less decided that I was done with healing and expected everything would be good now. That is never the case. God uses the "thorns in our flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7) in many ways, one is to keep us close to Him. So each year or sometimes each day, I revisit in a less painful degree the trauma, the fear, the shame and let it "throw me against the. rock of Ages" - Spurgeon. Not in a way of self-torment, but in a way of celebration of God's strengthening. Because strength, or the power to do hard things to overcome adversity of every kind is the legacy of a Christian. Christians are the aroma of Christ, the power of God. A fragrance of death to those who refuse to heal. A fragrance of life for those who are fully KNOWN. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
What fears, past hurts and pain are holding you not just back from a better life, but back from knowing the joy and glory of God? What if on the other side of that dark memory is an ocean of joy and freedom God wants you to know. What if His plan for you is much higher and longer lasting than the short term fix, pleasure or plans you have. Could God actually be preparing you for eternity? What if He wants to give you the capacity to know his presence in every moment here and so that you can help others as well? What would it be like if you are fully confident to say: "He was there when the worst happened to me, furious at the evil that was done, but also preparing a life of healing and transformation even when I was running the other way."
There are answers for those who seek Him, and they are not trite or claim to solve everything with a verse or naive Christian antidote. Even Jesus said about the man possessed with demons which the disciples could not cast out, "This kind of demon only comes out through fasting and prayer." Sometimes the power of demons requires a surgery of fasting, prayer, perhaps also EMDR therapy, reading some books and facing your worst fears.
A lifetime of strengthening in the power of God Almighty is in store for those who do the hard work of emotional soul and body healing that is required after being traumatized. Freedom often requires we allow God to do painful, deep cutting surgery on our deeply entrenched memories, to remove the cancer of trauma. So that we can become beings of His ever increasing strength. For His glory, our joy and to help others broken by the trauma of living unhealed.
A prayer for the wounded heart:
Oh Father, I so do not believe you are there or real or listening
All I feel is pain and anger and rage and endless hate
All I wanted was to be loved and free to smile and laugh and run
But you allowed so much pain and I do not understand why or how or anything
Oh God, I know you created all of this, I know nothing exists without your power to make it be
Oh God come quick. to my side and silence the voices, the rage
Silence my abusers, those who enrage me
Oh God, where O where is your arm to scatter the enemy, to send them running,
Jesus, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit of God Almighty,
as you formed the heavens for the glory of Your name,
come swiftly, come and heal me, rescue me, set me in your presence
I know you are with me
your rod and your staff they comfort me
you set a table before me in the presence of my enemies
you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows
surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
AND I WILL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER.
thank you Father, Amen
*The Body Keeps the Score - Van der Kolk
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life
2 Corinthians 2:14–16.