There was a time in my life when my attitude was putrid and rotten. When living under a cloud of depression and remaining a prisoner to the fear and anxiety related to post-traumatic stress, it was hard for me to perceive any sense of the light. I saw everything through a dirty, old filter and it governed much of my thoughts and attitudes. Because of that, it was next to impossible for me to walk in an attitude of thankfulness and love. Without even realizing the emotional and spiritual damage of those attitudes, I was bearing an awful lot of dead, rotting fruit.
I have experienced a lifetime of dissociation and hyper-vigilance. My husband has had to walk carefully at times, because my startle reflex has been so intense that the slightest movement could send me clinging to the ceiling in a state of fright. I cannot count how many times I have clawed at the ceiling, with bug eyes surveying the scene! I was constantly watching the periphery, waiting for the slightest threat. It is very stressful for the body to live in a constant state of “flight or fight” and the hormonal state of that affects the brain, the reproductive system, the heart, the lungs, and other important bodily functions. It is as if the entire physical body is saturated in a chemical called “fear”. There were days when even moving my limbs to carry out the normal activities of daily living felt impossible. The energy required to even brush my teeth was, at times, too burdensome to comprehend. There were also days when walking through a parking lot or making it through the grocery story successfully felt like a full on battle of the mind.
Through therapy, counsel, prayer, and studying scripture, I have been able to peel back those layers of dissociation and hyper-vigilance in order to walk more soundly and live in the present moment without being bound up in fear. Dissociation, to me, has felt like living life on autopilot and from a distance; like being on an airplane and looking down at the tiny world below. I could be walking and talking like everyone else, yet not even present to enjoy what I was doing or who I was with. My head has been floating tied to balloon strings with a cloud surrounding my vision that I began to refer to as my “gauzy layer of protection”.
Sometimes, the need to dissociate drove my ‘need’ to self-medicate in order to make that gauzy layer of protection even more gauzy. There was a time when I just wanted my mind to be bubble wrapped and separated from my surroundings entirely. At the slightest perception of threat, my mind was on point at being able to retreat from my surroundings completely. Just the threat of judgment, abandonment, and rejection could have my mind living on an entire bouquet of balloon strings for weeks at a time.
I finally began to write about and talk about some of the most disturbing of memories. I don’t want to run the risk of this blog becoming nothing more than a trip down the bad memory lane, but I do believe sharing parts of this journey are important. There are others out there who are living with trauma, fear, and anxiety and are feeling completely trapped in a state of hopelessness.
While I am not likely to go into the fine details here, perhaps bits and pieces are appropriate in order to explain some of the roots of the ‘fight or flight’ and how deeply trauma can actually affect someone. When I was thirteen years old and had gone missing, I began to find myself in strange places, having no clue how I got there or who all of those scary grown-ups were. There were some people who kept me drugged up with a plethora of hardcore chemicals that I had absolutely no understanding of at the time. So, the bits and pieces of some memories have been haunting to the core. I don’t care to take my mind on that journey today, but I remember enough. I have vocalized some of these memories in therapy, to my husband, to a few others, and to my mother. I don’t know that they want a repeat of that, because they read this blog and pray for these words along with me. A lot of those old memories go completely dark and void, save for the haunting sound of my voice screaming.
Years ago, I used to find myself driving in my car, having no idea where I was going or doing, and listening to myself screaming. I would even scream at God to make it all stop and why was He letting me scream like this, anyway? Didn’t He hear me screaming for help? Where was He? Did He not see what was happening to that little girl? A long time ago, in an insane state of fight or flight, I have tried to attack my mother and my two brothers. Others have witnessed these states as well, having no idea what was going on, left to walk away believing I was a lost cause or completely off my rocker.
I still have nightmares about screaming and seeing faces I do not want to see, but Jesus started showing up in those dreams and shouting, “Leave her!” I wake up with a start when that happens, feeling flooded with peace and love. My night terrors and nightmares have come under His authority and I praise Him for that one, tiny miracle. There was a time when I would keep myself up all night long after a nightmare, sitting with a blanket and pillow, watching the room in case someone or something was going to get me. It was brutal. That small miracle of peaceful sleep opened up for me when I began praying Psalm 4:8 every night before laying my head on the pillow:
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.
Granted, what I have been through is not even as awful as what others are forced to live through each and every day. But, I have asked myself this question many times: how does a God of love even let such atrocities happen in this world?
I wish I had easy answers and could lay it all out in black and white like some profound expert of wisdom. There are no easy answers. But, I do know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt; the Lord grieves over the things human beings are doing to each other. The Lord grieves over our losses, our wounds, our hurts, and our dirty, putrid attitudes. He grieves over these things because they separate us from Him.
God loves us so much, He gave up His Son as our ransom so that we could be freed from the prisons of the soul. I am taking that belief to the bank and cashing it in, because God Himself has woven all of the fine details of my life together so all I can see is Him when I am haunted by the worst of it.
If you are trapped in a prison of fear today, I want you to know that you are not alone. There is hope. There is freedom. There is life after the darkest of days. If you or someone you know needs prayer, my inbox is open and available. I have resources galore that I have collected during my time in therapy and I love to share those resources with those who are seeking help and a way out of the slimy pits and prison cells of the mind and soul.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
This post appears in the book: Shattered in Him © 2016 JD Mays