When people experiencing C-PTSD have stressful events in life, it is crippling. It’s not just stress for us, we can’t make our lives “less stressful” or “stress -free” as all the self-help books recommend. A flat tire could send a survivor into a tail spin for weeks.
Today, I spent some time in an Immanuel Session with my dear friend Ms. Rebecca Davis and I began to describe to her how recent events in my life since June would have sent me over the edge just a few years ago.
First, the contractors stealing and taking advantage of me. Next, a devastating relational loss. Then, an emergency situation within my community. Finally, Carbon Monoxide found in my home and a water heater needing to be replaced – no hot water until August 3rd. (hello? where is the tree that grows money?)
Beginning in childhood I was taught that if things are going wrong, you need to look at your recent behavior – you may have a sin that you need to confess and repent. In addition, if you have a sin that you are engaging in, you must not participate in communion. And the icing on the cake, whenever I was struggling with hard feelings or I was “disobedient” the first question out of my parent’s mouth would be, “When was the last time you read your Bible?”
Growing up with spiritual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse taught me love was dysfunctional. My brain was mapped to believe that love = pain.
I grew up. I married a sex addict who abused and controlled through sexually acting out, anger, aggression and deceit. My body, physiologically became conditioned to expect a honeymoon period (happiness) and then a DEVESTATING loss/period of abuse, abandonment and neglect (bad).
My love map from childhood says love = pain. My intimate attachment says “something bad is always going to happen” Not ONCE in 32 years did I experience what it meant to have relational safety and consistency, also known as secure attachment. Secure attachment says “When I come to you – you are there to help me.”
What Distortions were Planted from these Experiences?
- When I have unrepentant sin, I can expect that bad things will happen to, “even out the score”, similar to karma.
2. God is a punisher – because I am bad. Pain = Love.
3. I can expect the other shoe to ALWAYS drop, a bad thing is always right around the corner, and if it doesn’t drop – then something is wrong.
4. If love isn’t painful, then it is not right. I NEED a pattern of “happy/bad”, “happy”/bad”…. it feels safe to me.
When these root distortions are planted from childhood, an abusive marriage and abuser will VALIDATE those distortions through experience and relational injuries. Now, it becomes even harder to believe that God is good, just, loving and kind, because all you have EVER known and experienced is chaos.
You have lived a life of experiences that REINFORCE the lies planted in your soul from childhood. Unfortunately these experiential lies come from parents, care-givers, the church, and culture.
I want to speak to your heart: there is nothing wrong with you! The life you have lived, as a victim of evil, only made those distortions cling tighter to your psyche.
When I first moved out of my home into my very own apartment. I was free! I thought because I was finally out and somewhat happy, learning to live life, that something bad needed to happen. I was doing TOO well, having TOO much fun, and things were working out TOO much. There’s no way life could be this way… where is the pain and suffering? I knew something bad was coming right around the corner. WHY? Because it always does. That was my baseline experience: I had no other track record in my life to prove differently.
For the first six months in my apartment I would check my oven knobs, three, four, five times in a row – just to make sure my home wouldn’t burn down. I thought that because I was free and enjoying life – God would burn down my apartment to even out the score. I ran myself ragged with 5 am runs, because if my dogs had energy during the day we would get kicked out of the apartment and become homeless.
(I write about my first experience with disaster in my apartment here, and in that moment the Lord chipped away at the first layer of distortions)
All of this behavior stems from distortions, then fuels the symptoms of C-PTSD. When stress happens for us we move into fight, flight or freeze VERY quickly. We hit activation and overwhelm in a matter of seconds, and we can live a life in extreme hypervigilance, like I did. I constantly feared the next disaster – so I lived in this high state of perfection, watching on edge, and planning for each disaster. That was one of the worst times of consistent panic attacks I had ever experienced.
This is a common by-product of spiritual distortions that have been reinforced for decades. If this sounds like you: Sister, you are not alone.
Self sabotage becomes another common experience for those who are conditioned to expect “happy”, “bad thing”, “happy”, “bad thing”…. We have been trained to expect chaos, we are calm and THRIVE in chaos – it is our “normal” and our only frame work for existing. We don’t know any other way: we grew up in it and then we married it.
A real life example of this is when COVID hit and teachers were sent home in the spring to teach online. Most of the people around me were panicking or wondering what they should do. I was the opposite – I was the calm and anchor in the storm. I LIVED in chaos my WHOLE LIFE! A pandemic?? Bring it on, this was my norm. People around me were FINALLY getting a glimpse and feel of the life I lived for 32 years. My boss even told me later that, “Rochelle you were the only teacher with your feet on the ground and really hit the ground running while the rest of us were scrambling”. And I’m over here like, “What’s the big deal guys?” (I realize that I swung to the left on the spectrum in this scenario, but many of my sisters swung to the right: in hypervigilance, panic attacks and a freeze response. Each are valid and are directly related to the abuse we suffered.)
You see my childhood and marital experiences trained my brain to function in chaos.
When things are going well, we feel content and consistent (securely attached people’s every day life); we suddenly feel a sense of panic. Something is wrong, nothing bad has happened for a while… my body is craving the release of chaos. Why isn’t anything bad happening? There must be something off… so what does my body do? It will create it’s own chaos.
Physiologically, remember, our brain chemicals have been altered to NEED that hit of Catecholomines (epinephrine and dopamine) during experiences of extreme adrenaline (an outburst of rage from our abuser, a screaming match growing up with mom) Do we like those things? No, that is not what I’m saying here. What I am saying is that UNKNOWINGLY we have been chemically conditioned to expect those spikes. So, when we are not in the cycle of abuse, or our husband isn’t cheating… we create something bad that will cause those needed spikes. It’s almost as if we’ve been altered to have an unknown addiction. Which is why it is difficult to break a trauma bond (more on that in another blog post) This is all we have ever known.
Self -sabotage can look like this: overeating, bingeing and purging, using pornography, having a one night stand, procrastinating, overspending, extremes of housekeeping: madly cleaning and then hoarding.
Our bodies can invent new ways to be on the ‘cycle of abuse’ except it’s not the cycle. It is creative ways our brain conjures to keep us “safe.”
Remember, the brain will avoid pain at all costs. “Safe” is the thing that we’ve always known – even if that thing is destructive beyond measure.
Dr. Dan Allender describes self-sabotage as this: “One of evil’s most diabolical plans is to use its power to turn you against yourself. This seduction to self-harm is called sabotage. A common form of sabotage involves any activity that initially arouses pleasure and in turn brings greater danger, judgement or harm. An example would be reestablishing a relationship with someone who harmed you in the past and has not owned it. The renewal of that relationship in this stage [of your healing] is likely sabotage.”
When we become self-aware and we realize these distortions and behavioral patterns; we see that “safe” is actually the thing that feels the most uncomfortable. As we begin to watch and listen to ourselves we see that practicing new ways of thinking, believing and behaving may FEEL awkward and wrong – but it is the RIGHT thing to do.
It takes time to break off distorted beliefs and practice new behaviors, which will rewire our neural pathways. Before we know it – we can recognize the difference between true chaos, true safety and love. Soon we will crave consistency: chemically, relationally, and spiritually. We will no longer need the spikes of chaos.
Remember the root lies I mentioned in the beginning? The more we seek to untangle those roots, the more we will come to see the TRUTH of ourselves and WHO GOD IS. As we address the ROOT – the behavior follows naturally. This is a God sized problem and we can trust him for the speed of our healing. It is not a “work” you need to accomplish on your own. There is no magic formula.
Amidst the hard things I’ve endured since June – I have seen my own growth! I want to share with you what HEALTHY sounds like, after some time of healing and opposite experiences have occurred.
- “Sin” has NOTHING to do with this circumstance. Water heaters break, I live in a natural world where there is ’cause and effect’. God is a God of ORDER, he did not break my water heater. In fact, God said that He will never be angry with me and he will never punish me. “For this is like the days of Noah to me: when I swore that the water of Noah would never flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you. -Isaiah 54:9
2. Just because I lost this relationship does not mean God is punishing me or doesn’t want me to be happy. I can look and see ALL of the moments of goodness that God has given me: all the random checks and gift cards that have been given to me over the last three years, women who show up with food at my door when my dog is sick, sisters who have helped take care of me when I am weeping, the time you made a way for me to get just what I wanted and needed, the time you gave me legal pads and free coffee. Lord, you love me so much you give me all of these gifts because you know giving and receiving gifts is my love language. It is not in your nature to punish me and I actually don’t have a track record of you punishing me – I only have a track record over time of you giving me gifts and working things out while comforting me – right by my side. “…how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” -Matthew 7:11
3. A bad thing is right around the corner? Yep! but not because I deserve it or because karma needs to ‘even out the score’. A bad thing might happen because why? BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A BROKEN WORLD! My tires go flat, my water heater breaks, my dog needs surgery, I have to save money for ceiling repairs, and the CO2 detector goes off.
Life is SO hard! And it’s okay to be sad about it – but GIRL!! I CAN DO HARD AND HOLY THINGS! I am strong enough to move through life’s mishaps BECAUSE I am healthy. And every time I hear from the Holy Spirit – he increases my strength to weather the storm. Just like you showed me last night Lord, “I will give thanks to your name for your CONSTANT love and truth. You have exalted your PROMISE above everything else. On the day I called, you answered me, you INCREASED STRENGTH WITHIN ME.” -Psalm 138
4. I need a pattern of happy/bad, happy/bad…. There is no pattern to life. There is no formula. There is no ten steps to happiness, or 5 steps to your best life. Jesus is outside of time, feeling and circumstance. Jesus does not cause chaos. There is life and it is a journey – your soul is eternal and He will be with your soul every step of the way as you find your wounded parts and with the help of the Holy Spirit – bring them back to safety. True safety is consistent, resolved and true. True love leaves us with clarity, confidence and conviction. Jesus is good and kind – and that is the ONLY pattern that matters.
“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.” -Matthew 12:20
During my Immanuel time today I realized something. I was looking at what JESUS WAS NOT doing, until I realized what HE HAD BEEN DOING THE WHOLE TIME. What I was confronting in my Immanuel session isn’t relevant for this post. What is relevant is that I was wanting Jesus to give me something, do something, or say something. Instead he showed me something better; he demonstrated true love and relational consistency within a hard situation.
He held little Rochelle the WHOLE time a tricky thing was happening: he did NOT put me down. He delighted in me, laughed and smiled with me. He held my hand and led me OUTSIDE of the circumstance – it did not go away, but he put distance between me and the aggressor. Finally, he distracted me – in a way that was constructive, he never left me – he put me on a swing and pushed me, I felt carefree, even though the aggressor was a ways off and still present. I was swinging, laughing and playing with Jesus.
When the circumstance still attempted to torment – he turned me around and looked at me eye to eye – His eyes showed such delight in who I am. He laughed and his smile was so warm. He pushed me on the swing and I never took my eyes off of his.
In this Immanuel time – I wanted someone to come rescue me from this ominous thing. I wanted approval, or something to HAPPEN.
The Lord showed me the opposite: He showed me his peace, calm, kindness, affection, admiration, delight, love, consideration, gentleness, and playfulness. I had all the man I needed, right in front of me!
And He NEVER left me from start to finish.
My Dear Sister,
Has your car broken down? Has your lawyer failed to get you what you need during mediation? Have you experienced parental alienation? Did your hot water heater break? Run out of grocery money for the month? Roof leak or old appliances? Flat tire? Memories haunting you?
Sister, you are not being punished. The reality is old wounds and distortions can cause you to believe God is evening your score, but He is not. Hard things happen and that reality will never change. This is the truth of a world that follows the rule of cause and effect.
I will lose my wallet and I will experience loss of relationship – BUT in these hard things, I am training my eyes to see the REAL JESUS. The one who NEVER let go of me and continues to build a gigantic track record of trust over time.
The One who is kind, gentle, loving, consistent and affectionate. When I see Him show me that kind of love, then I can show that to myself.
God is outside of evil. He cannot cause evil or chaos. If He did, He would be breaking a promise He made to us and himself.
“For example, there was God’s promise to Abraham. Since there was no one greater to swear by, God took an oath in his own name, saying:
“I will certainly bless you,
and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.”
Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.
Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” -Hebrews 6:13 – 19
God is in the GOOD my love, He is NOT within the bad. It wasn’t Him who did this to you. In fact, He is laying on your bed, stroking your hair, and crying with you right now in this moment. He will lay with you as long as you need to lay.
Take courage dear woman. You are stronger than you know, and built by a God of goodness.
You are not alone.