Triumphing over trauma is a process. It isn’t always a ‘linear’ one, but it is very much a possibility.
One of the first key steps in overcoming trauma, or at least beginning on the road to recovery, is the very practical one of establishing safety and security. I don’t know if anyone can recover from trauma while in the midst of it – I don’t think that’s possible, is it? Establishing safety is therefore crucial.
Safety means getting out of the harmful situations and into a place of protection. It means that your physical wellbeing isn’t threatened by external forces. At this point you may be more than likely to experience the unprocessed experiences of your trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, chronic pain, sensory overload, breakdown and a whole host of PTSD symptoms. If you’ve come through this you’ll know how tough this can be and it’s vital to get support from a professional as well as to build up a network of caring individuals that you can turn to, whether from charitable organisations that exist to help trauma survivors, or friends and family members. This can take years, so don’t give up. It really does take time, but healing and recovery is possible.
Safety also means that your basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc. are being met and that you are able to establish some kind of stability, routine and perhaps also crucially to work through a care package with a professional.
It might take months, it might take years, it might take decades, but if you continue on the positive path of recovery then at some stage you will hopefully be ready to reintegrate socially, making connections and contributions to society. Routines are very helpful in any recovery process as it establishes a system for the brain to follow, which helps prevent ‘relapse’.
So say you, or someone you know, has passed through these stages and you are now ready to not merely survive, but to Triumph over trauma. How do you do this? Sometimes people say things, and they become helpful little nuggets of truth to help us along our way. One doctor once told me (and this wasn’t even a particularly helpful doctor as her manner was very abrupt and even hurtful at times, but even so she has left a productive input in my life in some way) that I needed to begin building up positive experiences.
It seems obvious doesn’t it? Yet when you’re in a tough and dark place and your brain has been ‘put through the mill’ of negativity time after time, then it can be very difficult to see how that is even a possibility. However, what the doctor said stuck with me, as obvious as it may seem, and I set out on a path to build up positive experiences for myself and this wasn’t easy to do because of the negative forces I was fighting against.
However, this my friends, is a significant key to becoming Triumphant over trauma. It’s not the only key, nor even necessarily the main one, but it is very important. Your brain in trauma is overcrowded and clouded with negative ‘reference points’ and your thoughts will keep lapsing back to these traumatic experiences, emotions and memories unless you give your brain, your mind, somewhere better to go.
Initially, as another doctor taught me, this might be in the form of visualisation, of very simple and short ‘positive experiences’ such as through ‘grounding techniques’, breathing exercises and focusing on gratitude. These are ‘easy breezy’ for many non-trauma sufferers, but for those who have had their brains turned inside out and upside down in somewhat of a nightmare, it takes real effort, perseverance, commitment, diligence and determination and will most probably also be accompanied by several tears, some sleepless nights, anxiety or panic and so forth. Push on through….the view is worth it on the other side!
Over time the positive experiences you are building into your life will grow in possibility. You can focus on your senses and begin to actually enjoy living, even if only for a few seconds at a time at first. Taste your food. Smell the sea breeze. Feel the fresh air wrap around you. See the colour of the autumn leaves. Hear the bird song.
You may then be able to integrate such positive experiences with ‘self care’ such as taking a bath, and taking care of your self. Gradually you may build up to include hobbies as creativity can help reduce chronic pain (such a blessing to me as a mental and physical pain reliever!) as it engages certain parts of your brain linked to concentration and pleasure sensations. This might involve tactile hobbies too such as gardening, knitting, cross stitch, photography, music, drawing, painting, singing, dance, adult colouring, cooking and so forth. It could also include ‘brain training’ by doing puzzles and quizzes and building up your time with these from seconds, to minutes to even hours as your concentration and ability to regulate your nervous system improves and is strengthened.
Hopefully in time the positive experiences will also come to include trusting friendships and social and emotional connections, social events even if just little baby steps at first (it certainly was for me), and then as you build and build and build upon your resilience, your mind will be mapping out many new neural pathways and connections of positive experiences that will at first soften the ‘relapses’ and then gradually over time become new ‘reference points’ for you mentally and emotionally. And after that, what could possibly stop you from being and living Victoriously and Triumphing over trauma?! 🙂 x
Have you ever seen those pictures in magazines or online, of people relaxing in their ‘dream home’, on their ‘dream holiday’ or with their ‘dream family’ in their ideal ‘dream life’?
We all know they are posed by models, but what kind of image do they present to us? The people invariably look relaxed, peaceful, calm, serene, content or happy.
We look at such pictures and we are only partly taken in by the blissful surroundings. The other thing that resonates with us is how peaceful and calm the people in such pictures look.
Isn’t this part of our dreams for ourselves? We have all experienced situations when we have looked externally to someone or something to make us feel better, happier, calmer or more at peace. Have you also experienced the accompanying disappointment when things don’t quite match up to your ideals? Perhaps the family holiday you planned didn’t turn out quite like the ones in the pictures, and instead you picked up suitcases of stress, frustration and weariness. Maybe that new outfit or piece of clothing made you feel happy for a moment but soon the novelty of it wore off, and it felt old after a while. Maybe escaping by yourself to a quiet place in nature was also accompanied by not so pleasant weather, by insects and other less peaceful aspects of the great outdoors.
Peace of mind and happiness only partly relates to our happenings. When we envisage the life of our dreams, we need to take this into account. Some situations in life are just bad and we need to find a way out of or through them, there’s no doubt about that. However, perhaps we have gone through some tough times or struggles or inconveniences in life and have managed to order our external worlds and yet that hasn’t necessarily brought us the peace of mind that we have been searching for.
One example of this in my own life is when I bought my first flat, moved in, and then had a bit of a breakdown and c-PTSD, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Things like this happen in life sometimes, and even if you are fortunate enough to get through life without any major challenges, you still have your own mind to manage on a day to day basis.
Whatever your journey has been so far, as we step into the new, we all could benefit from greater peace of mind.
This means being aware of the internal reactions we have, and finding a way to manage or overcome some of the more difficult things. It might take a bit of work, but the kind of mental resilience that helps us live more mentally peaceful lives is worth the time, effort and sometimes the tears and facing up to our fears.
It’s an on-going effort for all of us as humans in a world where we suffer, we are faced with ‘information overload’ sometimes, we face stress and challenges, yet as we move through this new year into what we hope to be one where our ‘dreams come true’ let us remind ourselves and each other that this does not depend merely on our circumstances but also on how we think. Is this the year for you to seek help and support to enable you to manage some of the difficult things in your mind? Is it the year to build up on what you have been learning in creating resilience? Is it the year to seek out inspiration? Is it the year to inspire from all that you have learned? Wherever you find yourself, things can be better, your mind can become a calmer and more peaceful place and it is worth putting in the effort daily to make it so. x
In recovery of any sort, it is absolutely essential that we get a hold of and harness our thoughts if we want to have a successful outcome.
Please bear in mind that I don’t say this at all lightly. Having experienced the nightmare of complex PTSD and severe generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression, believe me when I say I know how incredibly tough it is to calm those intensely distressing thoughts. Tough, but not impossible.
You need more than muscle or physical endurance to get through a trial or a challenge. You need to set your mind on higher things. Things that are above your pain, above your problems and your circumstances. You need to tell yourself the Truth, and not give in to the despair of lies.
Our thoughts can lead us to all kinds of places. Sometimes those can be incredibly dark places such as low self esteem, depression, fear, phobias, eating disorders, relationship breakdown, self-harm, addiction, obsessions, suicidal ideation and even death. Such negative and intrusive thoughts can affect any of us, and it can be hard to ‘fight them off’. Self pity can lead to anger, bitterness and poor choices. Our thoughts can affect the words we use and our behaviour towards other people. These are certainly not trains of thought that any of us want to get on, but I’m sure that quite a few of us have experience of what it is like to be on such a journey through dark tunnels in our lives.
However, we don’t have to stay on that train. You don’t have to. The longer you are on it, the longer you will hear those ‘announcements’ from inside the carriage, loudly reinforcing that you are headed towards ‘destination nowhere’. Your fellow travellers will be headed in the same direction even if they get off at different stops. And the longer you are on it the more deeply ingrained those messages will become, messages that you may not even realise you are internalising and letting become part of your psyche.
You need to be aware of how detrimental, how devastating and damaging staying with those thoughts can be. They drive deep tracks into your internal processing, how you think of your life, your circumstances and these will inevitably affect not only your mental and emotional health, but your physical health too, as well as the choices you make and how your relationships with other people turn out.
But don’t despair. You are not your thoughts, and you can come back from it. I’m proof, although I’m a work in progress. Many of the negative things, the abusive words that pierced me in childhood became part of my internal processing. I believed the lies, and they damaged me greatly. Childhood is a very vulnerable time when we don’t have much resources or resilience to deal with what comes our way.
As adults, however, we can choose to get off the train and choose a new destination. I’m not saying that positive thinking is the cure to all of our problems, certainly not (as you probably well know, I believe Jesus Christ Is The cure!). However, we need to train ourselves, our thought patterns and develop new ‘tracks’ in our mind.
Think of the physical process of laying down a railway track. It’s a piece by piece effort, and similarly you will need to redesign your thought processes one thought at a time, reinforcing these as you go.
In your recovery you will learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. You will need to work through things at your own pace. However, it is always helpful if someone can save you some of the heartache by giving you advice and the benefit of experience and hindsight as early as they can for you.
It’s best to decide ahead of time what your ‘go to’ thoughts are going to be, especially in challenging the negative thoughts you have been allowing to become part of your mental make up. You might not even realise that you are doing so. For example, do you allow yourself to dwell on thoughts such as ‘it’s so unfair’ or do you let them drift by and replace them with more productive thoughts such as ‘this isn’t what I would have chosen to happen, but now I have the power to choose what I do with it, and I will choose something productive’.
Thought patterns are so called because of their similarity. It’s unusual to jump from negative thoughts to positive thoughts without intention. For example one negative thought will tend to lead to another, and then another, until ‘tracks’ and ‘grooves’ are formed in our thinking: patterns.
A thought such as ‘it’s so unfair’ could quite easily lead to a stream of other such thoughts, forming a not so beautiful pattern of negativity. ‘It’s so unfair’ can lead to ‘victim thinking’. Whereas as children we may be victims because of our relative powerlessness, as adults, even if our lives are broken, we do have more resources available to us to find a way out. Where we can’t advocate for ourselves, others can, and if we’ve made it into adulthood, we will by default have some ‘tools under our belt’ simply because we have survived this far. We may not feel particularly strong, but we don’t need to be bound by victimhood. We can, at the very least, change our thinking. Victim thinking, such as ‘why me?’, or ‘this always happens to me’ can lead to an apathetic stance, one of ‘giving up’ – ‘what’s the use of trying anyway, nothing ever works out’. I’m not belittling such thoughts because I personally know from experience that they often come from a place of deep hurt but however long the journey of recovery is, we need to begin by acknowledging them for what they are, and then challenging them, followed by replacing them.
Here are some more positive thoughts for you to build upon, and reinforce daily, as you progress and persevere in your recovery over whatever your personal challenge may happen to be:
This isn’t what I would have chosen, but I can choose to do something about it.
It feels ‘too much’ but the lives of other people who have overcome difficulties testify to the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. If they can do it, I can too.
The pain feels too much, but I won’t add to my suffering by thinking negatively about my pain. I will look for the lessons in this tough time and will use them to help other people afterwards, or even while I am in the midst of this.
I am grateful to be alive.
I appreciate that I can do these (you fill in the blanks) things.
I am an overcomer.
I am a survivor.
I am determined.
Nothing is impossible.
I will use this difficult experience for good in the world.
As with weight lifting, where muscle is built and defined and strengthened over time, it also takes time to grow mentally tough. No one said the process won’t hurt, be challenging, or even gruelling at times, but when you begin to see those mental ‘muscles’ gaining definition and strength, you won’t want to look back, and in time you will want to train other people to be strong and positively minded individuals also. Just imagine what good this can do in the world!
The past few years have been characterised by exactly that: the past. Despite all of my determined efforts to push past life’s hurts and to build up my life, my body, mind, heart and spirit simply could not do this. Life had other lessons for me to learn, which in a sense meant being broken open for all of the hurt to begin pouring out.
The past few years have been intense at times: I went through a process of a lot of the pain and hurt and anxiety and depression that had been stuffed down and bottled up within me, ‘exploding’ to the surface in what felt like a breakdown. I was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. It was pretty awful, and it had felt that way for a very, very long time indeed.
Do you notice that I said ‘had’? That is monumental. I notice even at the early stages of this new year a shift within me – within my thinking and within my heart. I may not be completely healed or whole or well or recovered yet, but the nightmare of explosions within my mind keeping me trapped and frightened in this unreality between past and present has in fact passed. Or at least it feels like that just now, and that is incredible. I didn’t know if my mind and heart would ever feel calm again and at one point I was feeling like giving up.
The noticeable shift is that my heart and mind are naturally inclining towards the now and the not yet rather than to the past. The past difficulties I have faced now are part of a bigger narrative, they are being processed, redefined and finding their place and in working on this I am allowing myself to find my true identity and to walk in it.
And as naturally as if I had always been this way (which I never had) I am able to ponder the present and the future (the ‘now and next’ as my mum says) without feeling crippled, pulled back or limited by the pain of the past.
It is perhaps for many people a simple thing, taken for granted to be in the now and the next, but it is a beautiful miracle for me, one which I would like to pause and to appreciate with you right now, even as we move into the not yet.
Medication: If you are taking medicine that is prescribed by your doctor, make sure you have an adequate supply, and that you are able to get your repeat prescriptions on time. Check in advance that you will have enough medicine for the days when doctors surgeries, pharmacies, etc. will be closed over the holidays so that you don’t run out. Ask someone for accountability to help make sure you are taking the medication as per your doctor’s advice, and if you feel foggy, hazy or forgetful, keep a log or tick off your calendar so that you know when you have taken or need to take your doses. If you need any help or advice regarding your medication please consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Grounding technique: keep a small, safe object handy for when you need to feel grounded. This could be something like a pebble or stone, something that won’t break easily, or perhaps some children’s ‘putty’ / play-dough that you can squeeze, or anything you think will help to ground you. Make sure that you can’t hurt yourself on it, that it doesn’t have sharp edges, won’t break if you hold or squeeze it, and that makes you feel calm when you hold it as a grounding object.
If you feel like you are experiencing anxiety, panic, dissociation, dizziness, confusion, intrusive thoughts or mental and emotional distress, use this object to help you ground yourself. Focus on how it feels to touch, what it looks like, observe it, the way the light touches it, its texture and so forth and focus intently on this safe object while calming your breathing. Keep it in your pocket or take it with you so that you can use this to help you when you need it. The good thing about a small object like this is that other people most likely will not even notice it in case you are worried about that.
Also, you can try the ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ method as a grounding technique where you focus on being aware of your five senses. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
I wonder if you’re a bit like me. If in childhood you caught the ‘reading bug’ and became an avid reader, transported from one world to another, and set on a course of imagination and possibility?
“When I was just a little girl…”
As much as I was an adventurer, a little girl who loved to play in nature, under this vast sky, some of my fondest memories also include being absorbed in books. I still remember vividly the big old library with wooden winding staircases that my mum and I used to go to when I was little, in the days when our library cards were actually made of cardboard 🙂 I loved the smell of books, the touch, the feel and the worlds within a world that I could embark upon to spark my own imagination. I loved books, everything about them. Some were beautifully illustrated, others were text only, but I had an affinity with them, as perhaps many of you did too.
My passion continued.
As I grew, my passion for reading, for literature, and for writing (I started writing stories and poems as a little girl) continued, unabated. I was commended and won prizes in school for my writing, and loved studying English, so much so that I went on to study English Literature as part of a joint-honours for my first degree (afterwards going on to complete a Masters in Human Rights, Women’s Studies, and International Development).
I loved reading, and I was introduced to a new way of looking at the world of literature through more focused analysis, intertextuality, literary theory, and so forth.
It was an amazing new challenge, however, part of me missed just being able to step into another world, through the gateway of reading, and to imagine without analysis.
Success and ‘Failure’.
I worked hard, studied and read a lot, put my heart and soul into my studies, and gained two First Class Degrees. I had achieved a dream in excelling in English Literature as a big part of my studies, and my identity, as it was part of the fabric of my being.
However, the victory would shortly give way to ‘failure’ in a sense.
My adverse childhood experiences from being traumatised from bullying and hate crime over an intense couple of years most particularly in the first two years of high school, coupled with having severe anxiety, and experiencing the stresses of young adulthood and looking for my first jobs, moving out, and other challenges, bullies in adulthood, close to 3 years of not sleeping, night terrors, and so forth all combined to trigger an ‘explosion’ in complex PTSD, and a few years ago everything collapsed.
My brain felt like it was exploding. Everything was terrifying. The smallest of things was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how I would take the next step or make it through life. I was devastated. My waking and ‘resting’ life was a nightmare, I was both awake during the daytime in a living nightmare even as I went about my day to day or tried to, and was unable to escape in the repose of sleep either.
And to make matters worse, reading had become terrifying for me. My head was exploding, everything was frightening and confusing and overwhelming, thoughts ‘screamed’ at me, sentences were a blur, I couldn’t focus, and when I did my mind couldn’t make sense of things, I was intensely fearful and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew I should be able to read, I had majored in English Literature as part of my undergraduate degree after all. And yet, I was broken, and could not read even one line in a book without fear and terror.
I could spend an age staring at one page, tears filling my eyes, the room swimming around me, utterly broken and devastated. What had happened? Why were books no longer a safe and comforting place for me? Why was my brain malfunctioning such that even reading one line in a book was a tremendous and terrifying ordeal?
Was it over?
Scrambling back up that mountain.
There’s a line in a song that encourages me: “Life ain’t over, life ain’t done yet, so get back up in your place, child’.
That’s what we’ve got to do.
The song goes on to say: “When you feel like it’s the end, no mother and no friend could love you more”.
The song is about the faithful love of Jesus, and He carried me through it all and continues to. Suffice to say I got help, and after years of persistence, I started reading again….including for pleasure.
A new way of exploring books.
Although I write a lot as part of my professional work, and have managed to push through and excel (high functioning! 😉 ) in my productivity at work, and although I have started reading again for pleasure, it is not quite as easy for me to just sit down and read a book as it once would have been. I used to be a ‘voracious’ reader, and I would lose count of how many books I had read in a month, in a year. Now, however, I can count the books I have read in a year on one hand. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, or move forwards to something new.
Recently, however, I have been enjoying new vistas of opportunity for my mind and imagination: audio books. I have embarked upon a free online borrowing system with my public library that allows users the chance to borrow audio books online, download them and listen at leisure – for free.
Once again I am able to get cosy on a cold winter’s evening, and absorb myself in a good book. Only this time, someone is reading to me. I can go about my tasks while listening, or I can close my eyes and imagine the scenes unfolding before me as someone helps to lead me on that journey with their voice. What a pleasure to find a new avenue into the world of books. Of course, it is nothing new, audio books have been around for goodness knows how long now, and with technology, they literally are at people’s fingertips.
The hope of new adventures.
Sometimes we all need a helping hand to get us through. Even Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress found comfort from like minded friends on his arduous journey. Like faithful friends, the narrators of audio books are helping me through, from the slough of despond to being able to see in the far distance a promised land, a ‘Celestial City’.
Audio books are a new gateway for me, into new stories, adventures and realms of inspiration. I can listen to the Word of God, Scripture, biographies, factual accounts as well as fictional stories being read to me.
There is comfort in this. When I was a little girl, I also enjoyed listening to stories on tape and read along with the accompanying illustrated picture books. Perhaps this is like the adult version of that. Another form, another gateway into the realms of stories, of human life, of imagination.
A word of encouragement.
So what can you glean from my gratitude for and enjoyment of audio books? Perhaps that no matter what your challenge is, there is a way forward, it might not be the route you thought, it may seem like you are using a ‘crutch’ at first as you hobble on your journey, injured as you are, but nonetheless, as you persevere you may just find that what you thought was a crutch assisting you in your weakness actually turns out to be a blessing and a gift of comfort, strength and new possibilities as you continue on.
We all have a story. A story to live and a story to tell. And no matter who we are, we all have light and shade on our path. You have lived. You have experienced. You have done things. And you have had things happen to you. Good and bad. Light and dark.
For some blessed souls, their experience has been one with more light than darkness, more protection than distress or horror, more hope and joy than pain, despair, anguish and loss.
So, what will you do with what has happened to you, whether good or bad?
We all have a choice to make. A series of choices. A lifetime of choices.
What happened to you?
For some among us, that question will be poignant, it will resonate deep within, it will touch our soul. We have not lived on the surface of life. We have not been allowed to. We have been hurt, we have suffered, we have known the laceration of spirit and identity that we seek so desperately to be healed. Is this you? You are not alone.
If what has happened to you in life has been mostly good, then I rejoice with you, and encourage you that you can use that too. You can use your strength to help and comfort the weak and hurting. You can give the love that was lavished upon you to those whose wells are dry and empty, who have all but given up on life. You can use the good things that have happened to you too. Perhaps it is the easier path, but you are blessed in it.
What do you do next?
At some point in our lives we have to make a choice. No matter what has happened to us, we all have to make a choice. Life or death. In the physical real as well as in the spiritual realm. I know this road is strewn with complexities, with difficult issues and with choice seemingly taken away from some people at times. You only need to look at the news to see this. But we all have to make our own choice. Life or death. Light or darkness. To step into the light or to stay crippled in fear in the darkness.
As I often say, I write for anyone who will read, I write for believers and non-believers alike; in fact, one of my most interested readers is a friend who is an atheist. Nonetheless, I can only speak the Truth that Jesus Christ is the Light that has extinguished the darkness in my life. Once and for all. A new life, a new heart, a new spirit, a new hope, a new mind-set, a new future, a new Identity, a new kingdom, a new everything.
We all have to make a choice. And how we respond to Jesus Christ is the greatest and most eternally significant choice we will ever make.
What are the burdens that you carry? Shame. Guilt. Fear. Anger. Turmoil. Terror. Self-hatred. Loss. Grief. Pain. Oh the pain. Death? He has taken the sting out of Death. He can bring healing and peace, liquid love into all of our dark and broken and crushed places.
‘He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds’.
‘By His wounds, we are healed’.
He heals the broken hearted and crushed in spirit.
Don’t I know it? I certainly do. For some the healing comes in an instant. For others, like me, it is an unravelling, layer by layer, bit by bit, but the pain, it does ease, the chains, they do fall off, the heart that was defeated, crushed in despair, feeling completely hopeless, useless, weak, unwanted, unloved, despised, rejected…this heart…my heart….finds a home….a HOME, a dwelling place in Pure Perfect Selfless Love….in Him.
But what if you don’t believe?
Things have happened to you. You perhaps feel far from what I am saying. It’s where you are right now. Do I have a word for you?
What will your story be?
Things have happened to you. You have done things. You have lived, experienced, survived. So far.
What do you do when the pain is so great and you’re in a fog? What do you do with what has happened to you? I understand how deep these wounds, these lacerations, this anguish can go. I understand that the darkness in the world can feel like it has all but wrecked us. But it hasn’t.
You can choose.
Will your story be to be defined by what has happened to you? Will you be crushed by it? Will you merely survive it? Perhaps that’s all we can do at times. But we can still choose. Choose to believe in the impossible, in something better, in a purpose from the pain, and choose to use it. Even today.
What will you do with what has happened to you? Will you hope, and will you push through and endure the darkest seasons of recovery so that in time you will break through to the other side? Or will you accept the lie that this is all there is for you, you’re not one of the so called “lucky ones” in life? This isn’t all there is for you. Believe me, there is so much more good things than the bad we leave behind.
Will you endure the hardships, will you allow them to refine you and not merely define you? Will you dream so much farther than the depths and heights of your pain? Will you dream of helping one person some day with what you know, know deep in your soul…what you have survived….what you one day can conquer?
We can work with the surface, but only Pure Love can heal the depths. Can transform.
So, what is your answer?
What will you do with what has happened to you? Will you push through, will you ask for help, will you seek advice, support, counsel, will you do the really tough hard work that will help you to get better, at least better than you are now, and will you pass that on to someone someday, even today?
That’s my choice. I’ve been broken hearted and crushed in spirit. Heavy laden. Giving up inside. In a way that people don’t see on the outside. But healing is Real, it is possible, and even though the journey still can be tough, it is leading somewhere, and it has purpose.
But it’s a choice, our choice, to keep taking that next step. Will you?
(A ‘longish’ read, but hopefully worth it, and full of inspiration and motivation!).
Any superhero, DC, Marvel, general comic book, etc fans out there?
Let me start by confessing that I don’t know a great deal about superheroes and heroines but I do know enough to know that most of them have some pretty intriguing ‘origin stories’.
Looking at the ‘good guys’ and ‘gals’, and with a little help from my friends Google, and Wikipedia 😉 let’s take a closer look at some of our well known and loved superfolk and their origin stories.
Superman: perhaps one of the most known, amiable and familiar superheroes is Superman. Wikipedia tells me that there have been several variations over time to his life story through publications, adaptations and revisions. However, the basics of his story are as follows (thanks Wiki ! 🙂 )…
“While the individual details vary, certain key elements have remained consistent in almost all retellings.
Superman is born Kal-El on the alien planet Krypton. His parents, Jor-El and Lara become aware of Krypton’s impending destruction and Jor-El begins constructing a spacecraft to carry Kal-El to Earth. During Krypton’s last moments, Jor-El places young Kal-El in the spacecraft and launches it. Jor-El and Lara die as the spacecraft barely escapes Krypton’s fate. The explosion transforms planetary debris into kryptonite, a radioactive substance that is lethal to superpowered (as by Earth’s yellow sun) Kryptonians.
Clark keeps his powers secret in order to protect his family and friends, who might be endangered by his criminal enemies. In order to use his powers to help humanity, Clark creates the alter ego of Superman. A number of elements are added to each identity to keep them distinct enough to prevent the casual observer from matching them. Superman wears a characteristic red and blue costume with a letter “S” emblem and a cape. Clark Kent takes to wearing glasses, styling his hair differently, changing his body language, significantly altering his voice, and wearing looser clothing and suits that hide his physique.
Spiderman: In Forest Hills, Queens, New York,Midtown High School student Peter Benjamin Parker is a science-whiz orphan living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. As depicted in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962), he is bitten by a radioactivespider (erroneously classified as an insect in the panel) at a science exhibit and “acquires the agility and proportionate strength of an arachnid“. Along with heightened athletic abilities, Parker gains the ability to adhere to walls and ceilings. Through his native knack for science, he develops a gadget that lets him fire adhesive webbing of his own design through small, wrist-mounted barrels. Initially seeking to capitalize on his new abilities, Parker dons a costume and, as “Spider-Man”, becomes a novelty television star. However, “He blithely ignores the chance to stop a fleeing thief, [and] his indifference ironically catches up with him when the same criminal later robs and kills his Uncle Ben.” Spider-Man tracks and subdues the killer and learns, in the story’s next-to-last caption, “With great power there must also come—great responsibility!”
Wonder Woman’s origin story relates that she was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and was given a life to live as an Amazon, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek gods. In recent years, DC changed her background with the retcon that she is the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, jointly raised by her mother and her aunts Antiope and Menalippe. The character has changed in depiction over the decades, including briefly losing her powers entirely in the late 1960s; by the 1980s, artist George Perez gave her an athletic look and emphasized her Amazonian heritage. She possesses an arsenal of advanced technology, including the Lasso of Truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets, a tiara which serves as a projectile, and, in older stories, a range of devices based on Amazon technology.
Wonder Woman’s character was created during World War II; the character in the story was initially depicted fighting Axis military forces as well as an assortment of colorful supervillains, although over time her stories came to place greater emphasis on characters, deities, and monsters from Greek mythology. Many stories depicted Wonder Woman rescuing herself from bondage, which defeated the “damsels in distress” trope that was common in comics during the 1940s.
What’s your super powers and identity?
Ok, so what has the identity and origin stories of comic characters and superheroes and heroines got to do with us? Good question, and I think exploring the answer is a bit of a longer term ‘project’ for me psychologically.
But for the time being, let me share some thoughts and points to ponder.
I’m sure we all want to be people that we can be proud of, people who make a difference in the world during our perhaps fleeting time on earth. People who as children and teenagers once had dreams of accomplishing great things, even using those dreams as perhaps a form of ‘escapism’ of the hard realities of growing up. However, as we have grown up (and I presume most of us are in the category of technically being adults, even if we don’t always know what that means! 🙂 ), it’s likely that we have taken a few bumps and bruises through our journey in life, and so maybe we’ve let go of those dreams and high ideals.
Thinking of the above point, do you ever find yourself merely ‘trudging along’ from one day to the next? Have your dreams and ideals been swamped by the cares of this world, and simply making it through? Are you simply trying to put one foot in front of another? Have you given up hope of making any significant difference? Does it matter?
Does it matter? Let’s start with that. I guess you and I are deciding that every moment of every day in the precious lives we live. We live much of the time taking our lives for granted, even though we know that time on this earth is limited. As a Christian, I have the sure and steadfast hope of an eternity with Jesus Christ, but I don’t have ‘forever’ on this earth. It’s something we don’t like to think about. Surely it should be a bit of a ‘wake up call’ though, shouldn’t it? Surely knowing this, we should seek to live in a way that matters, for ourselves, those around us and maybe even future generations. Wouldn’t that be to walk in wisdom, redeeming the time?
I’d like to think that all of us, however long we’ve been blessed to live, would say yes it does matter. But how do we make it count? We would do well to take time and to take stock of what matters, and perhaps our answers will all differ, but at the core, what kind of legacy do you want to be leaving for the future, and for right now, what kind of a life do you want to be living? So, maybe we’ve had to let go of some dreams and ideals. Maybe none among us here will win the Nobel Peace Prize (although, don’t rule it out for yourselves 🙂 ), we might not walk on the moon, we might not set up orphanages across the world and help suffering children by starting up a global humanitarian organisation, and we might not solve the hunger crisis, or the problem of homelessness, malnutrition, child neglect, climate change or poor health and inequalities. Maybe we won’t write the next great music score, or be a world class musician, a missionary taking the Gospel to far off lands, a sports person, novelist, film maker, discoverer, break boundaries in the science and arts and in communication. Maybe we won’t be the person to come up with the invention that changes the world for good. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t change the world for good in our own way. Can’t we all be ‘superheroes’ in our own spheres of influence?
So I’ve listed a lot of things that most of us probably won’t be or do (although, like I said, don’t rule it out if any of those are your dreams, work hard and use your talents for good). However, I’m not a person to leave anyone with a list of ‘can’t do’s’. Here are some of the things we perhaps can do, and doing them together we will make much more of an impact for good in the world. So the Nobel Peace Prize is kind of out of the picture, but can’t we all work for Peace, in our own lives and minds, our families, friendships, workplaces, neighbourhoods, communities, and our online sphere of influence? When so many people in the world are struggling or tearing each other down, can’t we be the ambassadors of peace in our realms of influence?
Is walking on the moon a bit of a leap too far for us now? Can’t we help someone else to fulfil their dreams? Can’t we teach the children in our lives, whether or not they are our own, to reach for the moon and the stars, and to dream big dreams? And can’t we be there to help, encourage and equip them to reach those dreams so that they become achievable goals?
What of the other things listed? Maybe we can’t do any of those lofty things either (or maybe they are actually achievable for some of us), but what can we do? Could we give to charities and humanitarian organisations that set up orphanages and help suffering children? Could we be a source of support to a suffering or vulnerable child in our sphere of influence? Could we work as a community to provide outlets and activities for children and young people to help them grow up in healthier ways which might actually keep them from otherwise experiencing unnecessary suffering? Could we give out food to homeless people, donate our time, money or resources to a soup kitchen or homeless charity during Christmas, or any other time of the year for that matter? Are we in the position to advocate for someone, take them in, or provide support in some other way, however small? Could we give someone a smile, treat them like a person, give them a cup of coffee instead of walking by? Maybe we can make more responsible choices with regards to the environment, and help others to do likewise, or maybe we can write to companies to take action, or come together as communities to think about how we can do things better, and listen to the children whose lives it will most affect. Can we help to guide people and also ourselves implement healthier life choices? Can we be involved in groups to help address the inequalities in our worlds? Can we share the gospel with the people in our lives, or reach out to ‘strangers’ and live in a way that is loving, kind and points people to Jesus? Can we share our musical gifts and talents with others to bring joy and a sense of community, or can we learn or teach an instrument, write a song, make an uplifting video on our phones, use art to bring hope and comfort and joy to ourselves and others, write that one book (or more! 🙂 ), write the blog that helps to encourage and inspire others, even if it reaches one person and not one million? We may not invent breakthroughs in science, arts, technology and communication, but we can study to understand and respect the world we live in, we can explore and share our gifts of creativity, we can learn to use technology for good and not for harm, and we can seek to breakthrough communication barriers and communicate with more love, respect and kindness with the people in our own lives, and help others to do the same.
Sounds nice, but I’m just ‘getting by’….
Now that we’ve hopefully reignited some of that ‘spark’ of imagination and the desire to do something worthwhile in our lives, recognising that the smallest of things are important and special too and can change one life at a time, what about the ‘nitty gritty’ reality of it all?
It sounds great, but what if you’re just getting by? What if there are still too many ‘can’t do’s’ in your life?
What if even having broken it down to these less lofty heights, you feel like these smaller things are still way out of your grasp, you feel like a failure, and life has knocked you down so many times or hurt you so deeply that you feel like you can’t even find the strength to bother enough, to care, or to pick yourself up again?
I hear you. I feel it. I’ve been there. That feeling that you just can’t make it through another moment, let alone another day. That feeling that life is too painful to bear anymore, and that maybe, just maybe if you could slip away….
But wait. Stop. Please stop and listen if you feel like that. That is not meant to be the end of your story. It’s a hard, poignant and challenging, tough part of your journey, and maybe it ‘defines’ you more than you’d like it to, but it is by no means the end. Believe me. I’ve been there. You can’t see a hope and a future, but there is one.
Back to our Superheroes:
Let’s think once more about our superheroes. At this point they’re ‘saving the world’, or at least within their sphere of influence they are. They’re doing those great things some of which include the ones on your list (you have a list right? you are a world changer after all! 🙂 ). But they didn’t start out that way. They started out as lumps of clay, of awkward teenagers who were bitten by radio active spiders, as ‘aliens’ in a sense, strangers on earth, orphans taken in, with superpowers, but also with arch enemies, and a fear of kryptonite.
The point is, they had to go through something, and maybe you did / do too. They were born with potential, but they had to go through a whole bunch of stuff before they could make a real difference, they had to learn some tough lessons, fight off some ‘dastardly’ villains, grapple with their identities, realise that they’re different somehow, and figure out what to do with their strength, how to use it for good.
Maybe your ‘origin story’ sucks.
Sorry for putting it bluntly, but maybe you’ve had a pretty tough and awful start to life. Maybe reading this you are struggling with the reality of your life as a backdrop against which all these shiny and lofty dreams and ideals are presented. Maybe you’ve suffered abuse, ill health, trauma, poverty, homelessness, grief, anorexia, addiction, fear and anxiety, depression, neglect. Maybe you’re thinking, nice fairy tale, comic book story, but it’s not real life, and it’s not for you. But it is.
Who do you know, have read about or seen in a documentary inspires you? There will absolutely definitely be someone who you can find out about who has gone through some rubbish in life that has turned it around and are being ‘superheroes’ in their own spheres of influence. Does anyone come to mind for you? Maybe you just haven’t found them yet.
For me, I can reel off a few names of people that inspire me and motivate me and help me find courage. If you haven’t already heard of them and their stories, I encourage you to do a bit of searching and find out a bit more about them. Katie Piper, Nick Vujicic, Lizzie Velazquez, Malala Yousafzai. These are all young or fairly young people that are still alive today and still making a difference with their lives, impacting many other people for good, even though they have gone through some really difficult experiences and encountered evil. They have been courageous and you can too. Not only them, but if you look through the history books, there have been so many people whose lives we can take inspiration from. I could come up with lists of my own, but I’d rather leave that to you to ponder, and even better if you could share who inspires you in the comments then you’ve made a good start today with reaching out and inspiring others, including me.
So for many of us, parts of our ‘origin stories’ have been tough, things we feel have hurt us, scarred us, all but defeated us, held us back and are stopping us from being the people we dreamed of being in this world.
But your beginning is not your ending, dear friends. Finishing well does not depend on having a good start. Sure, it would have been easier if we’d had an easier time of it, but there are things we were powerless to change, and things that we have in our power now to change for the better. We can recover, heal, get strong, and make a difference. We can surprise ourselves with the difference we can make in our lives. What if the difference you can make is comforting someone else who is going through what you went through, with a letter, a text, a kind word, a hug, some practical support, or even crying with them, getting through it together? That is no small or insignificant thing. Some of the most pivotal moments of our lives, and the most life changing moments for ourselves and others are moments like that. That is not out of your grasp is it, dear one?
Your origin story is not your destiny. It is part of a far bigger picture. How we think of those dark or difficult parts of our lives hugely impacts how we go forwards and what we do and become. Do we see those things as life-long limitations? Or can we survive? Can we dare to thrive? Can we keep making small changes everyday until our whole lives are transformed?
I remember sitting in an appointment, talking to my trauma psychologist, crying to him because I felt so weak and had gone through so much effort to try to overcome the emotional, psychological and physical effects of complex trauma in childhood, mainly through bullying, verbal abuse, physical attacks by peers, neglect by teachers, loneliness, isolation, intense and crippling fear, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, etc, etc.
I felt like a bit of a ‘failure’ because after so many years I was struggling to make it through each day, when there were people like Katie Piper who went through so many difficult things, an acid attack, immense physical and psychological trauma, wanting to die, seeing no hope, but going through rehabilitation, recovery to now having her own charities to help burns victims, writing books, speaking up for other people in public platforms, having a family and making a difference in the world. And there was I sitting crying my eyes out and not making much of a difference.
The strange thing was that with absolute sincerity my trauma psychologist told me that I was an inspiration, he couldn’t imagine doing as well as I had if it had been him, he genuinely was in admiration of my perseverance, tenacity, determination, and the fact I had aced my studies, was holding down a full time job, had two first class degrees, but there was I sitting feeling broken and beaten down and like I wasn’t making any difference.
Maybe you know all too well what that feels like. But it’s not the end of the road for you. Just think how much we can do with applying the same determination we have had to into ‘surviving’ if we can continue and put that into thriving. You are making a difference, simply by being you, and you are a superhero, you may just not feel like it right now with where you are in your life’s journey, but it’s not the end for you, not yet, and you have some choices to make.
I hope you’ve found some hope or inspiration from my experiences and my ramblings. 🙂 I’d like to end this post by saying how important it is to consider how you think about yourself. You are not your failures, and you are not the things that happened to you. You are amazing, an original, one of a kind, valuable, a world changer.
I am also on a journey of discovery, but I’d like to end this post with speaking about my true source of hope and identity. Jesus Christ is The One Who has given me ‘new birth’, a new identity, a sure and solid foundation, spiritual blessings in Christ, heavenly armour, and His Strength to enable me to be ‘more than a conqueror’ in Christ. His death and resurrection means that no matter what life has thrown at me, He can and in His time will heal me of it, turn it around for His glory, my good and the good of other people. I owe all of my victories to Him. I hope you find all that you can be in Him, too.
If like me, you’ve suffered with trauma, you’ll be familiar with the distressing battle with intrusive thoughts, memories and flashbacks. It’s important if you have C-PTSD, PTSD, or any related conditions that you seek professional help. I’ve tried to get through things on my own in the past, but I couldn’t get a handle on the ‘explosions’ in my mind and the related physical pain from trying to cope without really knowing or understanding what was happening to me. It was scary, but getting help has been a game-changer for me.
I’m not a professional, a trauma psychologist, or a medical practitioner. But I am someone living with and overcoming complex post traumatic stress and the daily challenges that a maladaptive brain presents. Getting help has given me understanding and hope, but now I’m no longer getting this input, I still have to invest in ways of discovering how to help my brain heal.
If I can help anyone else out there in a similar position to find relief and mental strength, that would mean so much to me. So I’ll just share with you some of the things that I am continuing to learn on this journey.
One of the most overwhelming and difficult things for me has been how adverse childhood experiences impacted and crushed my sense of a positive identity. This has been a long road, but I’ve worked hard and am finding strength and would like to help others also. Yes, we can work on positive self talk (which is so important), we can exercise our minds to think on positive attributes about ourselves and go over and over these again and again until new ‘tracks’ are formed in our mental processing. We can work hard at retraining our thought processes and reactions. However, we all, who are on this journey, know the crippling pain and distress caused by those intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and experiences that are laden with powerful emotions. We become scared of these thoughts, and sometimes we become lost in them. Our minds become frightening places to dwell. We might try to pretend that certain things didn’t happen, we might try to minimise their significance in how they affected us by comparing our experiences to others who went through far worse, we might try to block things out, or find harmful ‘coping mechanisms’. We need someone to help us work through these things a little at a time, and it may take years, or even decades depending on how we were initially affected by the trauma. But one thing we can do for ourselves is to create a context in which these difficult thoughts, memories and emotions can sit, and in doing so, defuse their power, and take back control of our own minds and lives.
Let me share with you what I do. I seek ways in which to put the painful and difficult experiences into a context of being part of a bigger plan of becoming the strong and positive and amazing individual I am meant to be. I know that I am made new in Christ, but I also think of myself as a Princess Warrior, and so when the negative comes to mind, I remind myself, that I can see it in a different context – rather than seeing myself as a victim, I can choose to think of it as a painful and difficult part of my life’s journey, and in fact reclaim control of my mind by seeing it as a training process to make me strong, an overcomer, a warrior of light. How can I be a princess warrior if I haven’t been through any battles?
Our minds seek narrative, context, meaning and explanation. Sometimes our experiences are just too painful to be able to get there in any easy way. We have to let things take their course, but if we can regain control over our narratives, we can begin to shape a more positive future for ourselves. Creating context and meaning is something our minds crave, so we can find ways to do this. I am far less afraid of those formerly extremely troubling thoughts. I have a narrative and when they intrude, rather than try to push them away, fear them, or block them out, I embrace them in a new way of thinking – I think to myself, oh yes, that was a lie, I break it, or that helped shape me into becoming the overcomer that I am meant to be, and I think of what I can take from those experiences to use positively today and in the future.
Once we know we are not helpless, that we have choice, we are not victims, we can rewrite that narrative, give it new meaning and context, and look upon it productively so that we don’t have to spend all of our days in mental suffering, but we can transform our minds, little by little, bit by bit, even when it is painful, and we can become strong enough to help others. What do you want your identity and story to be? Today is a good day to start figuring it out. Be blessed, and may your future be filled with Love and Light and purpose. x