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!
Life can leave us feeling crushed sometimes. Disappointment after disappointment can pile upon our fragile hearts so much so that we begin to lose hope. Discouragement can sometimes be worse that what we are afflicted by because when discouragement sets in, as I well know, we lose faith that things will get better for us.
Can anybody relate to this?
Whatever you may be going through right now in life, if you have ‘serendipitously’ (or purposefully) stumbled across this post, I want to plant some words of encouragement in your heart and mind.
I know what it is to be crushed. To watch other people’s lives progressing, sometimes almost seamlessly, while feeling I am face down in the dust, having to get up over and over, punch after punch, hard knock after hard knock.
If you can relate to this, whether that be because of ill health, chronic pain, mental distress, family breakdown, hurt, pain, abuse, loss, loneliness, divorce, bereavement, self-hatred, addiction or whatever other of the many things you might be facing in this broken world, then listen up, my friends.
When we feel crushed, it can feel so very personal on so many levels. Our spirits and hearts may be crushed, and our minds feel ‘broken’ and we’ve all but lost hope. It seems far too great a leap to even think that things can get better for us sometimes, don’t you think?
This is precisely where we need to start to gently and gradually work towards a vision for our recovery. As unbelievable as it may feel or seem to you right now, it matters so much.
How can you do this?
Faith. The Rock on which I stand and on which my Life is built, is and always will be Jesus Christ, so in the first instance I will point you to look to Him in your desperation and to call out to Him – He not only knows what to do, but He knows you personally, having woven your substance into being, giving you the breath of life, and He not only knows what to do, but He also has the power and ability to heal you, restore you, and give you a purpose to use your pain for good. Ask Him, however feebly, to Help you.
2. Inspiration. Regardless of where you stand in relation to my first point, this second one will help you to bridge the mental and emotional gap between where you are now and where you believe you can be. It is quite simply to find living examples of people who have defeated the odds, and to listen to their stories, to watch their videos, to read their books or blogs, to talk to them in person. This really helped me in a dark and difficult time in my life when I was diagnosed with c-PTSD.
One person I found a great deal of inspiration and courage from was and is Katie Piper. In her early twenties she was a young, attractive, blonde, outgoing woman, interested in a life as a TV presenter and she was also involved in modelling. Her career was built around her looks and her bubbly personality. She unfortunately got into an unhealthy short-term relationship and when she realised there were ‘red flags’ with this person and called things off, he retaliated. First she went through horrendous physical attacks by this man, who also raped her. Then he set her up by getting a friend of his to pour acid on her face. She was covered in severe burns from head to toe, and when her parents saw her in the hospital they couldn’t recognise their daughter because she was so severely disfigured. It was a world away from the world which she had once known and any hopes and dreams of her former career and life were instantly burned up with that acid. She couldn’t walk, talk, eat, was in excruciating pain and wanted to die. She now has gone through years of intensive burns treatment, is a writer, has published books about her experiences, set up a burns charity and foundation with the doctor who treated her, thereby helping countless others, has been involved in documentaries helping other survivors, and is now happily married, a wife, mother of two lovely daughters, has her independence again (after being terrified to leave her house) and appears on TV, radio, awards ceremonies and helps other people, as well as now branching out into other roles that have nothing directly to do with her ‘survival story’.
I find this incredible, because at her lowest Katie had all but completely given up. I read her biographies and watched her videos, because to me it seemed far ‘worse’ than anything I had ever gone through. This is not a call to ‘compare’ traumas, because we can’t really do that, pain is pain at the end of the day, but it helped me to have someone to look up to through her writings, almost like a ‘big sister’, and also because her story was so far removed from mine it wasn’t ‘triggering’ in the way other sources that I turned to were. I previously obsessively watched YouTube videos on bullying, bullycide and these negatively affected me because they were my experiences. But looking to other people who made it through their different tough times I was able to find inspiration and motivation. If they could go through all that and make it through then I could surely get through my ‘stuff’. Another person I found encouraging was Nick Vuijicic. I won’t go into his story here because you’ll understand my point of looking to people who haven’t given up and whose lives have the power to inspire your own recovery journey, but look him up.
The amazing thing is you’ll find so many more people whose lives testify to the tenacity of the human spirit, the determination to survive, and then to find ways to thrive, using those adverse experiences and pain in a transformative way, many touched and carried by the Grace of God, and seeing His touch in their lives. People, who like us become more outward facing, as they challenge the pain that draws them in and under, and defy it. People whose compassion is real because they, we, have gone through our own stuff too.
Find your people. They may surprisingly be closer than you think, because everyone has a story to tell. They might be famous people, or they may be the person you see every day but have no idea that they’ve themselves ‘overcome the odds’. Other people don’t necessarily see me, or you, or know our stories. They may think it’s all been plain sailing, but it has not. Similarly, there may be stories, lives of hope all around you. When you find them, if they are in that place where they want to share with you, listen carefully, attentively, and let that hope encourage you as you take your next steps forward, as you simply breathe your next breath.
3. Your future self. As you begin to dwell in the realm of possibility, inspired and encouraged by faith, and by seeing and hearing about the lives of real life people who didn’t let their circumstances defeat them, start to envision your own recovery. Who do you want to be on the other side of this? Forget the impossible, which is to say, forget that anything is impossible, it only seems to be.
So you can’t get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t either. Your vision doesn’t need to be bound by that: what do you want to be on the other side of this challenge? A blogger, a writer, a motivational speaker, a mentor, a compassionate friend, someone who listens, someone who inspires? Be specific if you can. Do you see yourself in front of a group of people who are suffering, telling them how you did it, and that they can too?
Your vision is yours. As you think about these things, you switch the pathways that are focusing on your pain, on your ‘prison’, to focusing on your possibilities.
‘Neurons that fire together wire together’, so be aware of the thought patterns that you are allowing to keep you down or help you up. Keep thinking of the possible and you will overcome the prison of your pain.
Creativity has been a great natural pain reliever for me, because of where it allows my mind to go, and the new neurological pathways that form and get strengthened. It isn’t an easy or a quick road, or way out, but it is a healthy way out and forward and I can’t even believe how much of a difference it has made in my life. Because it takes me away from the suffering, even momently, into a different mental, emotional, and neurological and psychological space. Keep building up your creative outlets, focus your mind on what can be built rather than what is broken, and you will find some soothing in that.
5. Your People
Times may get tough. You’ll need people on your side, cheering for you, motivating you, listening to you or being there when you break down. I have had some really special people on my side, and now it is my turn to be there for others. Find someone, find a group of people, and if you don’t have anyone in your friends or family to be those people, know that there are groups, helplines, charities and networks you can reach out to. In my deep times of PTSD and depression when I felt it was too much for me to keep burdening friends and family although they were always there for me, I turned to helplines and found encouragement there, even if for a moment, and that is what they are there for, to help you through, to help you now. You’re not meant to do this all on your own, so find your people, and believe that one day you will become that person to someone too so don’t feel ‘guilty’ for reaching out and accepting help – we’re all human and we all need that human touch and support. Accept their help and appreciate them. Your turn to reach out and give back will come in due course.
Listen to inspiring, motivational music, find your ‘fight song’, the one that gets you up, keeps you going. Mine, which I still listen to almost every day is ‘Overcomer’ by Mandissa. I like the video that goes along with it because it shows real people, real overcomers. What you allow in to your mind will be shaping what you think about your identity and the possibilities, so make sure it is positive, truthful and going to help you forwards, rather than keep you focused inwards on the pain and suffering. You’re an overcomer.
Gratitude is a far more powerful force than people give it credit for. Suffering will lead you to a greater appreciation of the things most people take for granted – the very ability to breathe your next breath in life. To do the simplest of things, this takes on a new meaning, a new value. Be grateful for the ‘small victories’ for they really aren’t that small at all. I can’t tell you how it felt that I could not move my body or do the smallest of things without feeling like my mind was exploding in a nightmare, depression meant I could barely function it was a massive achievement for me to merely feed myself, to wash a cup, and yet I’ve somehow maintained a full time job, done well and I’m out and about traveling and meeting friends again when I was terrified to leave the house before. Taking a spoonful of food might be our greatest achievement in a particular day. Sleeping through the night an incredible feat. Going to your next appointment. Tying your shoelaces. Brushing your hair when your hands are crippled with pain. Remembering to take your medication. Staying alive. These ‘small things’ can be massive, so appreciate them, and appreciate the many blessings you have.
There is so much on your side, your Creator is with you and for you, people who care for you are propelling you on, there is so much motivation in the lives of others who have made it through. You might feel like giving up right now, like it is an impossibility, but take heart, and simply take that next breath.
In previous posts in this Winter Survival Guide I suggested trying to on the one hand say ‘yes’ to new opportunities, and also to know when it is best for you to say ‘no’ to things that other people ask you to do, and to have the confidence to do that where appropriate.
However, what if youwant to say yes to so many things, many or most of which might be your own suggestions for yourself? What if you actually need to say ‘no’ to you?! 🙂
Maybe you’re in tip top health, are feeling vibrant, exuberant and want to ‘do it all’ and ‘tick off’ as many suggestions on your ‘bucket list’ as possible this season. Or maybe like me you’ve previously gone through long drawn out seasons of poorer health and haven’t been able to do much at all, and you want a season of contrast to your hard times, and to ‘make the most of it’ now that you are feeling better than before and heading in the right direction.
Whatever the case may be for you in your particular circumstances, and whether the ‘invitations’ to do things are coming from yourself and / or others, it is important to take a breath and remind yourself that you can’t do it all. Now, I’m not wanting to put a dampener on the proceedings, or take the fun from your party, and I’m certainly not saying that you and I aren’t capable and shouldn’t be making the most of things. What I am saying though is that none of us were designed to be full steam ahead all of the time without a break, and if in your excitement you over-plan to do things, or over-commit to what you want to be involved with, then at some stage you are going to hit a proverbial brick wall and come to an unwanted halt.
Even the fiercest ‘go getters’ among you need to recharge every now and then, so don’t try to do it all, or if you do, give yourself space to be able to reorganise, reschedule, change your mind and allow yourself to say no to your original plans in such a way that you won’t be letting yourself or anyone else down. Basically be flexible and don’t wear yourself into the ground by trying to be ‘superman’ / ‘superwoman’.
Sometimes Less is More:
As excited as you might be to cram it all in to this wonderful season, sometimes less truly is more. By being more selective in how you use your time, you will be able to deepen the quality of your experiences and get so much more out of them in a more meaningful way. It’s the difference between seeing all the bright lights everywhere and taking time to focus on the flickering flame of a candle in a dark room – there is a different internal response and experience from both exciting and meditative experiences and we need a balance of both in our lives.
Give yourself permission to enjoy the simple things, get rid of the ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out) and enjoy the beauty of this season without overstretching yourself or trying to do it all. Don’t overfill your calendar! After all, after the excitement has passed you will want to be rested, refreshed and ready to head into a brand New Year!
Sleep it off: sometimes we really need the chance to rest our bodies and our minds. If you have tried the other tips, maybe you could try to get some sleep. Make sure that you have eaten well and maybe have a warm drink and then giver yourself some rest and the chance to heal.
There are points in our lives that ‘define’ us. That statement in itself is loaded, and one that can be debated. But in the simplest of senses, certain things in our lives change the way we see things, the world and ourselves.
Such points can happen negatively in trauma where one’s sense of identity is shattered, our minds feel like they’ve become fragmented or fractured, we become ‘stuck’ in a place of pain and fear, and we live the trauma and torment over and over again for years until we finally process it and are able to move forwards having gleaned a new narrative and a new meaning from it.
They can happen also in rescue, where once we were broken, helpless, feeling unwanted or unloved, and alone, prisoners to our own overwhelming and unmanageable experiences, we come in contact with a rescuer, someone who can help, who can revive, nurture, heal and restore. We are no longer alone, fighting ourselves over whether to try to go on living through the pain or to give up, we have others fighting in our corner, and they can help us through. (The ultimate Rescuer Who can perfectly help us is the Saviour, Jesus Christ, but people can help us in smaller ways on our journey too).
In recovery we meet change points when we move from the mental state of a victim to that of a survivor, and then a fighter, an overcomer, a warrior.
And in restoration we meet these moments when we discover a new narrative, a new identity and new hope.
God tells us that He can give us a “Hope and a future”, and Scripture is filled with the realities of brokenness and the greater realities of God’s transforming love and power to bring rescue, healing, recovery, a hope and a future, ‘beauty for ashes’, ‘the oil of joy’ to replace mourning, and ‘garments of Praise’ in place of a ‘spirit of heaviness’.
The pages of Scripture tell of the realities that many followers of Christ have lived through. Read people’s testimonies, listen to what they have to say and you will find this translation from darkness into Light, from old to new, from fear to courage, from despair to hope, from abandonment and loneliness to the rescued knowing that they have been saved by Grace, adopted by Christ into the family of God and are now Beloved, washed clean by the atoning sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) and have a new heart and a new spirit.
This kind of a hope and a future goes far beyond recovery processes, self-help journeys, 12 step programmes or positive thinking. Why? Because when we are born again, spirit filled, our very nature changes spiritually – the power of God Is within us, and we are ‘new creatures’ / new creations as the Bible tells us.
The healing journey can often be painful and take a long time, although for some people by the Grace of God it happens instantaneously such as people who have been in a moment by the power of Christ been set free from drug addictions for example. The ordinary Christians around you will have some extraordinary stories to tell of our incredible God.
It can seem like it is getting worse before it gets better, but that is because God deals with the deep rooted things within us, the brokenness, the sin, the old, which needs to be taken out just as the new needs to grow and flourish. It is because He Is transforming us perfectly, and this is a work He will bring to completion in His time.
On this road, there are change points too. A point where we cross over in our healing and restoration journey to a place of standing in our True Identity in Christ. That doesn’t mean to say that the damage has been fully healed, the battles all fought (although at the Cross they are overcome, victory is in Christ), but we no longer view our recovery, our challenges, our lives from a place of defeat, but of victory.
That is one of the most remarkable change points of our lives. And although we may stumble and struggle, we get up, renewed, our minds being transformed to know that if God Is for us, Who can be against us? He will give us everything we need, and that gives us a hope, a future in Him, in His love and eternal victory – and that, no matter the struggle, changes *everything*!
I posted earlier about the importance of maintaining a healthy perspective, especially when we might be facing some gloomy wintery days.
Similarly, it’s important to take time every now and then to appreciate just how far we’ve come. Only you know your own personal life journey and how far you have come. The same goes for me. We might share aspects or details of our lives, but no other mere human being can enter into our experience with us. They might comfort us, walk beside us for a while, or encourage us, but no one (except Jesus) can feel exactly what we feel.
How far have you come? Not just this year, but through the bigger challenges of your life? How far have you come in terms of your mental and emotional health? In terms of your confidence socially? In terms of the challenges and hardships and traumas you may have overcome? How far have you come in terms of your education, your learning and in terms of your skills? How far have you come in your character – growing in kindness, patience and love? How far have you come to overcome personal pain and to help other people? How far have you come from simply surviving? How far have you come in health challenges? How far have you come in learning and growing in skills and abilities, talents and in your employment, and how far have you come in passing on some of this learning?
We have all come further than we appreciate or give ourselves the acknowledgement that we often need to keep on going even stronger.
What will you appreciate about how far you have come in your life journey today? x
In my last post (21) I wrote about taking time out just to ‘be’ and to enjoy doing nothing in particular. This post explores taking time out to reflect and to deal with some of our ‘stuff’. Not the stuff in our attics, spare rooms, garages or basements – but to spend a bit of time sorting out what’s overflowing from our ’emotional junk drawers’ in our hearts and minds.
Hopefully we’ll all have a bit of time this season where we can have even at least a day or two to ourselves to rest and reflect. If we think we don’t have this time, then maybe we are not being intentional in making this time for ourselves (time we would otherwise spend watching TV perhaps).
The new calendar year will be upon us in a matter of weeks, and the general mood of new years, and beginnings of various sorts tends to be geared more towards action rather than reflection. Those around you, as well as the things you read and see in the media, will be imparting messages of goals, things to accomplish, plans and experiences.
This time of the year, however, lends naturally to reflection, to taking time to pause and ponder, to rest and be thankful, to look back before looking forwards, to re-evaluate where we are and where we need to go. It is also a time for being honest with ourselves and taking time to deal with some of our ‘stuff’ emotionally and mentally.
We can choose to view some of our struggles as blessings. For example, this time of year can bring certain things in our lives more sharply into focus. Light might be shed upon our true feelings and motives, for example, the sociable nature of this season might reveal our inner loneliness; the frivolity and consumerism might pull on our heart strings to search for something deeper and more meaningful in our lives; the end of one year might nudge us into reflection as to whether we have made the best use of our time or simply been frittering it away.
As much as we need plans, and to take action, we also need to do this purposefully and to do so requires quieter times of thinking and reflection.
Moving forwards also requires letting go of some of the burdens that we carry. We might be allowing things from our past to hold us back from stepping into the future that we long for. Perhaps we need healing, need time to seek counsel, therapy and to get help with how to deal with traumas or difficulties in our lives. This can be a long road, but we have to start somewhere and we don’t have to do it all at once. We often face a ‘stop-start’ process in any journey of self-reflection, repentance, healing, recovery and change. But the thing is to start, to reflect upon what is needed to go from where we are to where we are meant to be.
I am blessed in that I don’t take this journey alone. Jesus Is my Shepherd, King, Healer and Lord, and He leads me forward with grace and peace. There is healing that only He can bring and things that only He can do. There are also certain things that I must do to cooperate and participate in the process – things like renewing my mind, working on difficult issues, forgiving, letting go, and reframing the way I think about difficulties I have experienced. These things, like the changing of the seasons take time.
But it’s important that we do take time to reflect upon our lives and to consider what things we have been ‘stuffing down’ deep within our hearts, and into our subconscious that we hope will just ‘go away’, things that actually in their time need to be dealt with in order for us to go forwards in our journey with a greater understanding, appreciation of life, sense of identity and purpose.
Will you give yourself some time to do just that this season? You need and deserve it. x
It’s 00:50 hrs. I can’t sleep. I’m in the midst of the healing process – not always comfortable – and I’m trying to distract myself. I’ve come a long way. A very long way. It’s miraculous that I’m here writing this, and sometimes I forget that. I forget it perhaps because in part I have tried to ‘block out’ the reality of what I had to go through to get here, in order that I can press ahead with my life. But if, like me, you’ve been through or are going through your own recovery process, then you’ll know that sometimes you just have to stop a while, before it all stops you.
Bits and pieces
My great desire is to be a voice of encouragement to someone else going through tough times, like me. Maybe that someone is you, and maybe you have something to share with the world to encourage each other too. I pray over this blog, and I believe that if you’ve stumbled upon it, then it’s not really ‘by chance’. In some way, beyond our understanding, maybe we are meant to connect, to allow our paths, our stories, our healing journeys to coincide.
If you’ve been through trauma, or any kind of suffering, perhaps in your younger, formative years, such that it affected your very sense of self and identity, and if you are a survivor, then you might recognise certain patterns in your psychological survival mechanisms after the circumstances have passed.
I’m not an expert, I’ve read and researched a bit, but I write mainly from painful experience, authentic, real, lived out experience. People wouldn’t know just from looking at me. Maybe you know what I mean?
First the trauma, maybe repeated trauma, maybe over a period of years. You’re in fight / flight / freeze mode, and ‘exist’ in that way even after the events have passed….long after….your body, mind, brain, nervous system – they’ve all been conditioned that way.
You’re not whole, your insides….well, they’re all in bits and pieces, just like your fragmented memories, your overwhelming emotions, your identity, your life.
Fortunately, life comes in waves, in seasons, and nothing stays the same. The darkest of days endure too long, but they also pass. However, even though the events, the seasons, the lived reality passes, it’s still in you, part of you, and you can’t just ‘shake it off’.
So you try to get away. At least, that’s what I did. You can’t always get away physically but perhaps you do. Some of the ways I tried to ‘get away’ from the mess and hurt of it all was to put my head down and ‘over achieve’. I focused on my studies, I aced them, but I couldn’t cope with human interaction. I was so, so very broken, and so terribly afraid. Can you relate? Maybe that’s part of your own story too?
Getting away also in some ways meant telling myself those things are behind me, even though I was crippled and shackled by the piercing pain, I tried to imagine my way out of things – to dream of a future, to overcompensate in trying to think of myself in a new way, whereas all of that was just trying to assuage a wound (as if trying to heal a disease with a band-aid / plaster) that was far too deep to be assuaged, without first coming to the surface in all its awfulness, exposed and therefore painful, leaving me vulnerable, but only then with a chance of real healing.
Breakdown or breakthrough?
Have you lived this too? When you can no longer cope with normal day to day things, when getting through and surviving really is just a facade, and your body, brain and all that you are just won’t let you go any further? The ‘disease’, the trauma in you, is screaming to get out, to be released….and ‘sorry kid, it’s going to hurt a heck of a lot for a long time before it gets any better’.
That’s the short, sweet and sugar coated summary of my experience. It HURT. Goodness, did it all hurt! You know what I’m talking about? Friend, you’re not alone.
What might breakdown look like? Unrelenting panic attacks, inability to function, severe depression, fear, anxiety, flashbacks, C-PTSD symptoms, suicidal ideation, dissociation, nightmares, poor health, weakness, being awake in a ‘nightmare’, avoidance, crying, helplessness, crippling pain, re-experiencing childhood trauma, poor relationships with food and other ‘crutches’ or control mechanisms, relationships falling apart, psychosis, and oh how the list can endlessly go on.
But if you imagine the state of play when someone has a disease, or needs to undergo an intensive operation, then you know logically that things have to get a whole lot worse before they begin to get any better. And perhaps the breakdown is a gateway to a breakthrough. Pus is released, the ‘boil’ is lanced, the intensive operation gets to the ‘root’ of the problem, and only through this messy, painful and unpleasant ‘recovery’ process can things begin to heal.
And truly, we need a Great Physician to do that deep healing work, that purification, bringing the forgiveness, healing, love and restoration that only Christ can bring.
When you want to move forward but your body and mind won’t let you.
I have to encourage myself right now and I hope I can encourage you too. It’s admirable that we’ve got this far, and that we have a vision of leaving it all behind to positively press on into a brighter and purposeful future where we can use the pain and trauma to do good in the world and to help other people.
We’ve got the vision, the goals even plans, but our bodies are in some kind of psychological and emotional toxic shock and we are ‘stuck’. Recovery doesn’t happen over night. We get help, we learn tools and techniques, we cry out for Help and we receive a touch of Grace. But recovery is seldom a linear process and that is a tough and frustrating reality.
Building blocks and stepping stones.
But just for a minute, in case you are getting discouraged, think of how far we have come already. Sure, it would be great to not feel that turmoil of mind, and just press ahead and accomplish what we want to, but we need to be aware of what our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits are saying to us for they might be all telling us to slow down, even to stop….and to heal.
It takes time, practice and patience. It is frustrating, and tough. But these building blocks are stepping stones to the future, and we can’t miss out these ‘baby steps’….of learning to crawl, to breathe, before we can consider walking, running, or even some day taking off in flight, to soar far above the rubble we’ve left behind.
What about right now?
I’m advising myself, that sometimes we’ve just got to sit through it, bear with it, ‘tough it out’, and let the healing process have its place. We need time and space to get better, and sometimes that means admitting what we perceive to be a (temporary) ‘failure’ – of realising what we can’t do, at least not right now, and giving ourselves the time to recover, train and grow strong so that someday we can do it.
Right now, I’m holding on, being Held, muddling through, finding perspective. You know what I mean, right?
This is it, and this is where ‘life happens to be’ right now – no great offerings of advice, just telling it as it is, and hoping that together we can find the strength and courage to take that one next step in the right direction. I’m rooting for you, and I hope you’re rooting for me too. Be blessed. x
(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.