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
Human beings thrive on narrative. We need things to make sense, and we try to bring order out of chaos through talking things through, discussing them, or compartmentalising them in our minds.
Women perhaps more than men make sense of the world through verbal narrative. Men may be bemused at why women seem to talk things through so much, but what they probably don’t realise if their brains are wired differently is that there is a lot going on socially, emotionally and psychologically through the process of talking about things. By this I of course don’t mean gossip, but if a woman has a problem you may find that her instinctive response is to talk about it, whereas men are more ‘solution – driven’. The verbal narrative helps us to process our thoughts and emotions, make sense of things, find validation and connection as we engage with the person we are talking to and also work through possible solutions without jumping straight in.
Yet regardless of how we approach the narratives of our lives, we all need our stories on some level to make sense. Isn’t this one of the deepest reasons for why we write?
In trauma, a lot of our experiences, memories and sensations simply do not make sense nor do they fit into a ‘timeline’ because these unprocessed parts of our experience, and of us, are up front and in the here and now just as much as they are from the past and we often experience them in the present with great intensity.
Whether or not you’ve experienced trauma, you do have an innate need for reason, logic, the unfolding of a story and for things to make sense. I personally think that’s one part of being human. And so we write, we talk, we listen, we express.
Yet, some of the ways we think actually impact our unfolding narratives. Which is why we need to work on our ‘mind map’ – our own internal mental journey, because this impacts how we move through life.
Regardless of what your experiences have been you can find purpose and meaning in them, even the most difficult, as you gradually reframe them and make them part of something bigger. Seeing the difficulties as chapters in a book for example, and discovering how these form the identity that you are walking into. Look back at my post on superheroes and origin stories for a better idea of what I mean.
The more we are aware of the mental road map we are forging out the more we are able to navigate our way forward with purpose and positivity, taking the difficult things and allowing them to be used for good, for a greater purpose, as part of a bigger narrative.
I sometimes feel that writing is a gift through which we can better understand our life’s journey.
It gives the seed of a thought expression, the opportunity to ‘dance’ into life and then perhaps more profoundly to be noticed and nurtured and watered into life by a reader.
It is quite an exquisite thing to realise that one’s thoughts can connect with those of another.
I’m writing just now to discover those seeds of thought that perhaps need to be planted and watered in order to find their true expression.
What I’m thinking of right now is the gradual movement into a season of more peaceful healing. For years I have been in recovery from complex PTSD and literally battling demons, but greater is He. My Creator, God.
Sometimes when our painful symptoms are alleviated we might think that we can press on into the next stage, whereas what we may really need is simply to slow down and gently take the time to fully heal. It is a real gift to be given time and space to work things out, to allow the healing waters to soothe the troubled soul and mind and to restore what has been broken or frozen in fear by the darkness. God Is Good. The healing that once seemed impossible is beginning to bud and bloom and a new day is sure to follow.
Every now and then we need to remind ourselves to take the time. To accept that the wounds may be deeper than we would like to face, and to give ourselves that time to be restored by the hand of our loving Creator. There are things we can do too for ourselves, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Yet, the tracks of years of thinking in one way may take time to be washed away as we lay down new tracks, those of life giving thought, as we think of what is true, noble, good, pure, excellent, praise worthy.
There is a time for healing. A time for all purposes under the sun. And perhaps this is your time as well as mine. Give yourself the gift of accepting that time. You may have to face difficult things but soon enough the path will get smoother, either that or you will get stronger and the challenges will no longer seem insurmountable. There is a place of peace and restoration promised to us in Christ for the healing of our hearts, for the mending of the broken-hearted and the grace that gives us the gift of complete forgiveness…which as we let ourselves receive it and as the chains that fettered and bound us gradually fall away, leads us to walk ever gently into true freedom.
Don’t be disheartened if it takes time. Give yourself the gift of that time, and I will learn to give myself that gift also. The darkness and the lies are never greater than the Beauty of Truth and Pure Love that has come in Christ to set us free. So know that you are valuable, worthy of healing, of forgiveness and love, and take time today to rest in that.
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*!
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.
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
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?
Difficult, dysfunctional and challenging people, including young people, can often be broken and traumatised and acting out as a result of that, and in great need of someone to see beyond the surface, and reach out to them with grace, love and kindness.
(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