Posted in Christian Life & Theology

Anticipating the Promise

In years past, Christmas brought about many feelings including love, excitement, and wonder but a stronger one in particular: anticipation. The giddiness of hoping that what was beneath the green and red wrapping paper was, in fact, a beloved book I’d been begging for months instead of clothes which, while a necessity, were not high on my list of childhood priorities.

Over time, as the years passed, Christmas became less and less about what I could receive and instead became centered on what I could give to others. Scripture tells us that “it is better to give than to receive” and I felt that to be truer in my adult years than in times prior. A pair of earrings for my mother, clothes for my stepdad; these acts of giving made me feel more connected to God than anything else.

This year feels different though. 2020 has brought with it a deadly virus, job loss, death, and much division and uncertainty. In these times, it is all too easy for depression and despair to hold us captive, but let us not forget that God stepped down into this dark, dismal world and gave us the greatest gift ever: Himself wrapped in human flesh.

He did not come with chariots or horns, nor in a time of peace. He came in a little town of Bethlehem when the world silently held its bated breath, anxious for salvation and a deliverer. As they held fast to the promise they were given by the prophets, so we too must remember what God has promised, especially now. Amidst the fear and pain that 2020 has brought about so far, let us continue to anticipate the promise of an ever-faithful God to bring hope through the fears and years to come.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Your Support System isn’t Your Therapist, Your Therapist isn’t Superman

Dear Lovelies,

It’s time for some tough love and hard truth pills. Here’s the reality of the situation: Your support system isn’t your therapist; your therapist isn’t Superman.

We all know recovery isn’t linear and there are ups and downs, twists and turns, and even resting places on this journey. There will be days when we are not only our own worst enemy, but are a fire-breathing dragon to our friends and support system who may never tell us we are because they love us and want to protect us.

This week has been difficult for a variety of reasons. I’ve struggled with the temptation to self-harm. I’m having to force myself to attempt to process my hard-to-identify emotions, while dealing with my spiked symptoms and destructive behavior, along with depression and anxiety. This is not an easy task. Part of the reason why this is so hard is because of stress. It is also partly due to the fact that my “dark night of the soul” times happen at night when none of my support system is available because they’re sleeping or busy. So, I’m on my own here, which could either be scary or motivating, but that depends on me.

Take Responsibility for Your Mental Health

I don’t mean to sound invalidating but truth of the matter is that your recovery process is your process and your responsibility, no one else’s. I think that’s a pillar missing in the mental health community. Everyone emphasizes having a support system and reaching out to a friend or therapist when you’re in need—and yes, having community and a safe place to take your mask off is important—but what happens when your go-to friend isn’t available to talk you down off the ledge and/or your therapist leaves the office to go home and decompress from his clients? What then? Are you going to let anxiety and depression whisper sweet lies in your ear as you struggle to sleep?

Your friends don’t really care about you; they only tolerate you to be nice. You need to be stronger. You don’t want to be the ‘suicidal friend’ forever, do you? If you tell anyone what you’re thinking/feeling, they’ll hospitalize you and it’ll be all your fault. You’re a burden. Stop whining, you’re making everyone around you uncomfortable. You’re so selfish.

Here’s the Truth of the Matter

Your best friend may be the greatest listener of all time, giving you empathy and compassion galore, but she will, at some point, have to take care of herself and her needs. Likewise, your therapist, despite his caring, gentle nature, may grow calloused of going around the same mountain with you repeatedly. They can’t save you.

Sometimes, you have to walk this journey alone. Learn to sit with your emotions and actually feel them. Color, draw, jam out to music or cook a meal. Avoid your triggers and desensitization. Change your thoughts (I know that’s a hard one). You are going to be okay, with or without a support system.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Panic Attacks and Sexuality in the Church

My pastor talked about sex last Tuesday night. I knew that before I got there, thanks to the Facebook post on our mid-week service page. In hindsight, I probably should not have gone, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For context, we’re currently going through the book of Ephesians and Tuesday night’s passage of Scripture provided an interesting backdrop to all the loud, destructive, cornucopia in my mind. Let me illustrate my point so you know what I mean. Pastor Doug read Ephesians 5:1-14 (For the sake of not making this post unnecessarily long, I won’t post the whole passage here, but here’s a link if you want to read it).

In this passage where you have beautiful and encouraging imagery like “be imitators of God as dearly loved children” and “walk in love” and verse 8 in particular which states, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” So beautiful and true. You would think my heart would soak that up, right? Wrong.

My brain and heart decided to dwell on verse 4: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (NASB). My wonderful, little traumatized brain said “Ooh, let’s focus on that! ‘The sexually impure…can’t inherit God’s kingdom.’ I was sexually groomed and assaulted, and have PTSD. That makes me sexually impure…” Huge sigh. I hate my brain sometimes.

By the time Pastor Doug got really into his teaching, I was already floating (my word for “dissociating”). I recall him saying “high school,” “hormones,” and then this phrase, “You ever pray for God to just take away your sexuality?” In my head, I screamed, “YES!” I wanted to stay seated but I couldn’t. I could already feel the sweat on my palms, feel my chest tightening with every labored breath I took like a skilled boa constrictor killing its prey, slow and meticulous. I knew what was coming.

The Panic Attack

The topic of sex, or anything sex-related, has always made me uncomfortable, even before the trauma. After a whispered direction to my friend to “watch my stuff,” I hobbled as fast as my panicked body would allow, trying to mentally prepare myself to face my triggers and intrusive memories in the cool, Floridian air. I flopped on a nearby bench, put my head in my hands, and begged myself to “calm down” and “stop, just stop please,” while hyperventilating in time with every memory that passed through my hippocampus. I walked around for a bit, still in a daze, but decided, after a while, that my time was better spent attending to my newfound dehydration. (Panic attacks tend to cause dizziness, dehydration, and headaches. They suck).

I entered into the church to grab some water with the intention of going back inside and actually returning to my seat. A rare moment of optimism that was crushed before it could take root. I went away again. And again. Each time, hating myself more than I did before. See, the thing about trauma and, by association, PTSD, is that it produces a myriad of shame. It is this shame that alienates you and makes you feel different from others, like an outsider.

If I could have, I would have stayed outside all night, but that would have been awkward and caused even more concern on my behalf from my friend who was keeping watch over my stuff.

Restoration?

Back to my seat I went, with more water in hand. I have to laugh because the exact moment I walked back in, Doug was just beginning to mention the two “unmentionables” in the church. Namely, pornography and masturbation. Oh, the awkward silence and laughter that followed! (This definitely goes down as his most cringe-worthy sermon ever.)

Yet, I have to give him props for even bringing it up because a majority don’t discuss sex in church, or if they do, it’s always in a “don’t do it before marriage or you are damaged goods” kind of way.

He talked more about God’s grace to restore and redeem than anything else that night, in regards to sexuality, and once again, I felt different than those around me. Here’s why: I’m asexual. When Doug gave us time to reflect and pray about what God was telling us concerning our sexuality, telling us that God would “restore our sexuality” the immediate thought in my head was, “Does my sexuality, or lack thereof, need to be restored?” I don’t have an answer for that. I’ll write more about this later, but all I can say for now is that it is extremely hard and lonely being asexual in a sex-obsessed world.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

The Siren Song of Self-Harm

These past few weeks have been hard, especially Tuesday. Tuesday was a hellish day because it marked 4 years of dealing with the Beast that is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You would think that after some time, especially with the introduction and implementation of coping mechanisms and breathing techniques, the Beast would get bored and go away. Nope! That ugly thing is still with me. I hate it. I hate what it does to me, my relationships, my worldview, and hell, even my writing, but that’s not why I’m penning this. This is not a complaining post. Here, I wanna show you something: Grace still exists for those who need Him most. (I know you probably thought grace was a thing. Grace, like love, is a person. For those of you wondering “What are you talking about?” just keep reading, I’ll explain as we go on).

Hearing the Siren Song

For the past few days, I have heard what I call the “siren song” of my scissors. A siren, according to Greek mythology, was a dangerous half-fish, half-human creature who lured sailors to their doom with their beautiful, enchanting voices and music. (Think mermaid, but evil). As legend has it, the only way for a sailor to resist the siren was to either put beeswax in his ears, so he couldn’t hear the disastrous song, or have his crewmen tie him to the mast of the ship so he could not jump off of it and into the water when the siren’s song was heard.

Wanting to Jump Ship

So, what does Greek mythology have to do with grace and/or self-harm? I’m glad you asked. As previously noted, these past few days have been hard, not just because of PTSD but life in general. I am seemingly a constant ball of stress, depression, and anxiety. I’ll be honest, some of that is because of sin which makes things interesting. In my previous post, The Great Divorce, I said the following concerning my heart towards God:

“I don’t actually believe God loves me… I am deeply and keenly aware of the fact that I don’t deserve His grace and I wish I did. I wish I could somehow, some way, prove myself worthy of His love.”

I feel most often, concerning this particular reason, that punishment is needed. Even though Romans 8:1 says that there’s “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” this is a hard battle to fight. My thought process: The condemnation and guilt I feel, even after confession and repentance, isn’t enough of a reprimand so I’ll take matters into my own hand. After all, how could I possibly claim the title of “Christian” if I struggle to believe God about a fundamental truth like unconditional love?

And yet, God extends His grace.

Putting Beeswax in My Ears

Remember how I said earlier that grace is a person, and still exists for those who need Him most? This is where that’s relevant. God is the embodiment of every good thing on Earth. Love, grace, mercy, kindness, gentleness, etc. Yes, God gives grace but it is my opinion that He also is grace. God cannot give of Himself what He is not. And He has given me grace bountifully these past few weeks, by gently reminding me that His thoughts and ways are better than my thoughts and plans of self-harm.

I’m a creature of habit, I admit. When I self-harmed in the past, I always did it before I showered so I could make sure my cuts were cleaned and prevent them from getting infected. In a twisted way, it was a form of self-care, as I was forced to be gentle with myself to prevent future harm. And that was my intention, my dilemma, several times during the last two weeks, and especially Tuesday; and if I’m truly honest, even now as I write this.

Like a siren enticing a sailor to shipwreck with songs of sensual seduction, I hear my scissors calling me when I least expect it, on nights when the trauma memories and PTSD symptoms are more constant than lunar phases, and the reminders of past sin make me ashamed to look in the mirror.

When the siren’s song was luring me earlier, it was almost always at an inconvenient time. My parents would come home and I’d be afraid of getting caught, or I’d forget the scissors in my room, or something else would distract me. Maybe I’m thinking too much into this, but I feel like those instances were God’s way of tying me to the mast so to speak. I still heard the siren song, but I couldn’t jump ship. Even now, I hear my scissors calling me, but I also have worship music blaring out of my headphones. To remove the proverbial beeswax from my ears now would be deadly and have dire consequences.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

An Honest Conversation about Suicide

I did not want to write this, but it needed to be said. This is hard for me. Please give me grace.

An Honest and Vulnerable Prayer

God, please, if You are, at all, merciful like they say You are, like I know You to be, please kill me. Please. I will never ask for anything ever again. Just…please? I can not do this anymore. I just wanna be with You. Is suicide so bad if it means I get to be with You?

This I prayed in hushed whispers between crying and screaming sessions with my tear-stained pillow, off and on for two and a half hours, early Monday morning before the sun made its debut. God did not respond, at least, not like I thought He should, so I sat in silence for a few minutes before continuing.

They say You have a plan, a purpose for every creation You breathe life into. What about me? I can’t find any direction. I’m not needed. I’m just a burden to my family and friends, just a parasite taking up space and resources. Are the PTSD and depression enjoyable to You? Why won’t You just be kind and kill me?

Like Job’s friends should have done for the duration of his suffering, God sat with me in utter silence as I wept and wiped tears on my pillow. Under normal circumstances, having someone sit beside me in silence and understanding, if not empathy, would be comforting, even welcoming. But for God to do it? Somehow, it seemed wrong and cruel, especially since I was, in an albeit roundabout, twisted, and wrong way, searching for peace and an end to my pain.

A Conversation Starter

Despite fleeting moments of happiness and distractions, I’ve been dealing with heavy bouts of suicidal thoughts all week. Don’t worry, I’m not actively suicidal. I’m not gonna kill myself at the end of this. Having an honest conversation about suicide is not easy. It is scary and uncomfortable for both parties, but oftentimes, it is necessary for lives to be changed and saved. More than once, my pastor-friend Michael Patton had to talk me down off the ledge. I truly believe that was God-ordained. He’s got his own family history with suicide, so he’s one of the few people I could trust with this.

The first time Michael had to talk me down, I told him, in no uncertain terms and after reading his post, “Suicidal Thoughts on Suicide,” exactly what I was thinking. I considered the outcome of such a drastic move.

Having an honest conversation about suicide is not easy. It is scary and uncomfortable for both parties, but oftentimes, it is necessary for lives to be changed and saved.

Being Honest about Suicidal Ideation

I told Michael that I didn’t want him or my family and friends to feel pain from my decision. He replied, in his typical fashion, “Well, of course, we would. Sheesh.” I continued to ruminate over possibilities. I gave him examples of what I thought people would say in regards to my death: “Trauma got her.”  “She was such a talented writer…so much potential. It’s a shame she wasted it.” Or my biggest fear: “Maybe she wasn’t a Christian after all.” He disagreed with me about the last one, as I knew he would. What he said next, left me silenced for several minutes.

He said to me, “I don’t know how most of us don’t do it. There are just five things holding us back:

  1. We know it is wrong and we don’t want to go against Him.
  2. Fear of death. No matter how strong we are in the faith, God has built in a healthy fear of death. It will always be there when we think about killing ourselves.
  3. Not wanting to let others down or hurt them.
  4. The slight hope that our sadness will end and we will still find purpose and relevance down the road.
  5. The love of life [love of writing he added later for me]. We are built to love life. It is ingrained in us. And when we think straight, we remember our basis of human instincts and experience (breathing, eating, sex, aesthetics, social interaction, laughter, etc.), no matter how short-lived, bring us pleasure.”

I smirked and told him that 4 and 5 didn’t apply to me because “hope is hard”. He responded in the typical-Michael Patton way: “Well, that’s three of five. It’s settled. You’re not doing it… Man, I should train people for the suicide prevention hotline!”

I could do nothing but laugh and shake my head at him. He had me.

During another conversation that same week, Michael said: “I am so sorry… God will give you the ticket when the time comes [that was a C.S. Lewis reference].” After telling him that I was, essentially, a basket case of stress and anxiety, he went on to say, “I’m sorry. I really don’t know what God’s plans are for you, so I don’t know if it will get better even though I think it will.”

I wholeheartedly appreciated the fact that Michael admitted he did not know if it was going to get better. Many Christians do not do that. Maybe because they are afraid to be weak or wrong in front of other people, I don’t know, but I appreciate Michael not holding his hair back when he threw up” by showing me that he does not know everything, nor does he have all the answers to every question I throw at him.

It is refreshing, but even more so, it gave me a better understanding of the nature of God. Specifically, that He is infinite, while I can, unfortunately, control nothing, not even my own death.

An Interesting Realization

So, by the end of these conversations, I realized one important thing: God did actually respond to my suffering, just not in the way I thought He would. I was expecting an overwhelming sense of peace or an audible voice booming down to me from above, but none of that happened. Instead, God chose to respond to my death wish by using an existing friendship to open my eyes a little wider to get me to see that maybe I’m not alone. Maybe I’m not a failure, maybe I have something to offer to somebody, and maybe, just maybe, He does love me.

Sometimes, or most often than not I think, God heals and speaks to us not by grand gestures in the sky, or with a loud voice, but in the quiet moments, and by the people we already know, love, and trust. He places His wisdom and care in the hearts of men who share His love to those who need it most.

It has been a hard week, and the prayer at the beginning of this post still crossed my mind and made its way past my lips at random intervals, but not as fervent as before. I’m starting to find hope

By God grace, it should be easier to handle as I continue to be have open, honest conversations with the godly people around me who love me and are praying for me.