“…What year is it?” I asked J. near the beginning of our session as I tried hard to ground myself to reality. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe.
“What year do you think it is?” He, being the therapist that he is, never gives me a straight answer; always opting for me to figure it out myself. Usually, I appreciate this about him but Tuesday, it gravely annoyed me.
“…2006?” I hesitated before answering because I was attempting to logic my way out of a middle school flashback; my efforts were futile.
“What makes you think it’s 2006?” he asked. No judgement, merely curious and wanting to gain understanding.
I don’t remember my answer but I do know that was the beginning of the end for me, at least that day. That session ended with an intense panic attack (brought on by another flashback) that took me a little longer than normal to come back from, even with J.’s help.
After reminiscing on the session, I grew frustrated with myself. Even while in the session, after the panic attack, I was frustrated.
“I should have better control!” I yelled at J.
“You will, with time. You’ve already come so far.”
“No! I need to be better, stronger…” (cue mini panic attack)
“Give it time. You’re still healing.”
As healing starts or progresses, you are going to hurt. It’s ironic and sounds a little backwards, doesn’t it? You get a little stronger and unknowingly put ridiculously high expectations on yourself to do everything you can to prevent yourself from ever being triggered by the trauma, and when a trigger or painful memory materializes physically in the form of a panic attack or rage or fits of crying spells at odd moments, you think you’ve failed and punish yourself.
But as you heal, after a while, you find that your old coping skills don’t work anymore. You get tired of your arms stinging in the shower after a relapse; the harshness of life you used to chase away with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, or with a rum and Coke, doesn’t go down as easy anymore. For me, I’m finding that the places I finish growing up in are the same ones in which I heal.
Abandonment and abuse in childhood gives way to independence and strength in adulthood. Sometimes, the scars itch, and on days when I’m tired of being strong I scratch them, but they are more often forgotten memories, reminders of where I’ve been and how much I’ve grown. I still have a ways to go, as repressed memories emerge from the past like the Loch Nest monster rising from the murky, dark waters into the autumn sun. Is it scary? Hell yea, but I’m healing. Come hell or high water, I’m healing even though it hurts.
I just read a personal account of someone who was telling of the importance of church in their life. When speaking of their daughters’ stint from church, they said this: “During the time they were out of church, we worried about them, but the Bible had promised that they would return to their faith.” (Emphasis added). That rhetoric rubs me the wrong way for two reasons: 1) That’s not Biblically sound and 2) it’s reminiscent of cult language.
The Bible does not promise that a child will not fall away from its parent’s faith if taught a thing properly and consistently. That ever-quoted verse in Proverbs is not a die-hard, one-size-fits-all kind of saying.
Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
If this verse were an absolute truth, there would be no need for free will or personal choices. Christianity would be naught but a robotic, mechanical faith with no love as a foundational structure. If this Proverb were to be taken literally, then why is there recorded in Scripture the charge to “work out your own faith with fear and trembling”? If this were true, then atheists and agnostics, as related to the Christian faith, would not—could not—exist, as the application of that verse would make it impossible.
Furthermore, beyond the desire for a spiritual legacy to be left for their children, the writer is implying that the maintainer, so to speak, of a child’s faith, and salvation, is solely on the parent; and should that child walk away from the faith of its parents, then the parents have failed, as a result of the child’s spiritual exodus. In addition to bad theology, that is just blantant grounds for emptional manipulation and abuse. Besides, though we do have a part to play in our relationship with Him, it is God who upholds and maintains our salvation.
Having a relationship with God is a personal endeavor. She who seeks God must come boldly to the throne of grace, and she must come alone.
I know how to stop myself from having a panic attack.
Sometimes, it doesn’t work.
On the days that it does, it makes recovery seem like within the reach of my fingertips. On the days when it doesn’t, on the days when I hide in my bed, under my bedsheets, hiding myself from the world, recovery seems like some kind of sick joke someone would tell to just be a jerk. Like telling someone who’s drowning to just “think happy thoughts” or “you need to fight harder against the waves; that’ll save you!”
Panic attacks make recovery worth it. When you’re not fighting an enemy, the victory seems… stale like crackers that have been left in the pantry two months past their expiration date. Panic attacks aren’t always hyperventilating, hands covering, protecting ears from triggers or familiar faces, eyes covered to hide sounds that remind you of the things that your nightmares are made of.
Sometimes, panic attacks look like a silent scream in the middle of a prayer session. Contortions as you silently fight against your body, wanting to let it all out but you can’t because you’re in public and you have to control yourself. You wouldn’t want others to think something’s wrong, now, would you? Of course not. Don’t be silly. So, you hold it until you get alone and then you can let it out. Silently scream or actually scream into a pillow… or the air.
Sometimes, panic attacks look like an open chasm of broken tears. The kind of tears one would make when one steps on glass—barefoot—in the middle of the night. Almost as bad as stepping on a Lego. Almost.
Panic attacks aren’t always hyperventilating. Sometimes, they look like anger. Sometimes they look like numbness… like void… like nothing. Sometimes they sound like you picking a random color, maybe blue or red or magenta, and naming everything you can think of that’s that color to trick your mind into thinking: “You’re not crazy. See? You have control. You can still recognize colors, cars, shoes, books and… purses and… blankets. Anything to forget the touches, kisses… angry, loud, cacophony of voices… see? You’re fine. You can recognize the TV and your lamp that’s on your desk. And the tea bags. And the books that are scattered all over the room. And the car outside. And the green grass outside your window. You’re not having a panic attack if you’re in control, right?”
I know how to get rid of a panic attack. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. The days where it doesn’t… are the days I fear. They do nothing more than validate the thought in my head that I don’t actually have control, that I can’t get better.
One day, this’ll be over. and I’ll be happy again. And won’t automatically look for the negative things in a good situation. One day, I’ll be at peace. No more fear or panic to control me. One day. But until that day comes, panic attacks make recovery worth it.