Truths About Trauma: Places of Healing

Sometimes not having a set schedule means it’s easy to lose track of time. I did just that and only this week realized that it is already July. The realization made me a little contemplative.

In just over a month, school will be starting back up at the Bible school my husband and I just recently finished. For the first time in four years, I’m not preparing to go back to that place. It honestly hit me kind of hard; friends I have gotten used to seeing every August, teachers, the school itself, none of that will happen this year. Shortly after the start of the year, the school has a preview weekend for high school students. My husband, the pastor he is interning with, and a group of students from our church will be going for that weekend. I won’t. Traveling any amount of distance is harder and harder these days so I am going to be staying put. I already knew I would be sad to have my husband gone for a few days; I didn’t realize how sad I would be not being able to go because I miss the school.

But what is it about this place that I am so connected with? Honestly, there’s far more than I could possibly describe. There are some very wonderful and some very painful memories there. More wonderful than painful. One thing stands out above the rest though.

I actually finished the program two years ago come December. I was what they refer to as a “halfer.” I started at the school in the Spring semester rather than in the fall. That meant a lot of different things, but one thing in particular is that as an incoming freshman, I had to get up front with the rest of my fellow halfers (it’s never a big incoming group) and introduce myself on my first day of classes. Then at the end of the program, those of us who had continued for all three years were given the opportunity to get up front again, this time to talk a little about our time at the school and what God had done through that time.

The first time was uncomfortable, especially as one of the questions was what brought us to Bible school. I could tell you the chain of events, but I really had no idea why I was there. I just knew God wanted me there. As I was there, many reasons for God bringing me there were became apparent. But when I got up the second time to talk about what God had done through my time at school, one answer stood above the rest: To heal.

In the years following my first college degree, I’d experienced a series of traumatic events and came to school suffering greatly from the effects of both primary and secondary trauma. (In case you aren’t sure what that means, primary trauma is something that directly impacts you and your sense of safety. Secondary trauma is when the events directly impact another person but by helping them in their situation, you are also traumatized by the events.) In my first semester at school, even I was unaware of how deeply I was hurting from those things. I honestly felt pretty “normal” and lived that way.

And then I started my second semester.

God knew exactly what He was doing when He led me to start in the Spring rather than the fall because a particular class switched that fall. If I had taken it the year before, it would have been something I took in high school. Instead, it was switched to something unlike anything I ever took before and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. It covered some topics very close to my heart after years of working with high risk populations. And it involved assignments in which we needed to take an in depth look at some of those topics.

As I sat down to write the first assignment, I cried for the first time in years over some of those traumas I’d experienced. And I spent the bulk of the next three years sick, unable to sleep, and on an emotional roller coaster as the emotions that should have been allowed to come up as the experiences happened finally exploded. It was not an easy time.

The second time I got in front of everyone, I could honestly say that God sent me to Bible school to heal. It was not an easy process, but the concentrated time of investing in the Word of God and some very close friendships really made the whole thing doable. There are still moments of flashbacks, nightmares, and difficulties. But where I am today is so much better.

If you spend much time talking to me and we get to issues surrounding trauma, you will quickly find that I am very passionate about investing in the healing process both as those going through it and those connecting with those going through it. I’m sure it can be rather obnoxious at times; I don’t want to be annoying about it. But I care about it because I have seen too many approaches which are at best ineffective and at worst harmful.

Part of the problem we run into is that it’s not well accepted in North American culture to do one of the things I think is very necessary. Getting away for more than a couple days. I understand where the trouble with this comes from. But we have a great deal of mental health treatment in this country and even more mental health problems. We aren’t handling it well.

We’re driven. Type A. We always have to be busy. We have to be doing things we deem productive. Or else we’re lazy. And when we do take down time, it’s often in the form of entertainment, pleasure seeking. We numb our minds any way we can because we think that is relaxation and renewal. There are times where just shutting down for a bit needs to happen. I get that.

But mind numbing doesn’t work through the issues that led us to the point of needing a break so bad we just don’t have the energy to do anything else. It simply throws a blanket over them in hopes that they will somehow magically disappear. They don’t and the blanket soon isn’t enough to cover everything. So we need more.

We don’t take extended time to process, to heal, to put things back into perspective. We grieve and hurt in fly bys that just don’t take into account the depth of the hurt. It’s a bandaid over a wound that eventually festers without proper care. Getting away from the context where the hurt is most accute and spending concentrated time healing is just as emotionally beneficial as bed rest is for a patient in physical distress. It’s not easy; it’s not fun. Sometimes it feels too restraining to be of any profit. But then when the positive outcomes start to show, we see that it is worth it.

If I had known before I started Bible school how difficult the healing process would be, I would have run the other way. And maybe that’s part of the reason we seek to numb rather than heal. We don’t want the pain that’s going to come from dealing with the issues head on. But the problem with being numb is that we can sustain even greater injuries we know nothing about because we didn’t feel them.

Wallowing in self-pity isn’t the idea of getting away for a while. There will be tears and frustrations and moments of feeling like it’s never going to be okay. But an approach that recognizes the pain and hands it into the hands of the One who can heal the wounds is absolutely necessary. Saying, “I hurt, and I can’t do this on my own,” is not the same as saying, “I hurt and everyone should feel sorry for me.” Bringing trusted people into our pain must come with an acceptance that they are there not to say, “You poor thing,” but rather to be a hand that lifts us out of our muck and a voice that says, “Nope, you can’t do it on your own, but here’s the One who can heal you.”

That’s what a place of healing needs to be. If it’s not that, then it isn’t really going to fix anything.