“To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and the capacity for evil in human nature. To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the events are natural disasters or acts of God, those who bear witness sympathize readily. But when the events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the person stand by and do nothing…the victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman
She’s right. It’s true. And if I hadn’t been on the victim side of this coin as many times as I have in my life, I would probably be right in line with the bystanders who successfully pretend it isn’t real. The problem with suffering yourself is that it opens your eyes wide to the suffering happening all around you. And once your eyes are open, you really can’t close them again. It’s kind of like waking up from the Matrix. You take the red pill and you go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. The more you see, the more you experience, the more you suffer. And you can’t go back and take the blue pill. You can’t reverse the domino effect. You can’t forget.
Suffering is a difficult subject to address, especially when you throw God into the mix and then try to figure out how it all makes sense. Believe me when I say I don’t feel qualified to speak to the subject, especially not the God part of it. I always believed that cursing at God and accusing him of being a horrible, malicious bully was wrong, but in the last few months I’ve made up for lost time. It’s been awhile since he’s gotten anything but rage, accusation, or the cold shoulder from me so needless to say, I probably shouldn’t try and give advice on God right now.
I don’t know a lot, but I know a couple things. I know that suffering is real and that everyone experiences it to different degrees. I also know that denying or ignoring it are both really bad ideas. For me, though, suffering has not just been a “season” in my life that I’ve just had to buckle down and endure until it was over. In order for that to be true, I would’ve needed to experience something other than suffering to compare it to. Suffering and extreme emotional pain is the very environment into which I was born and the only thing I understood of people and the world until I was 20 years old, which was when I felt a feeling of love for the first time in my life. It was brief. Very brief. But though momentary, I’ll never forget the feeling. Extreme emotional and psychological pain was set as my “normal” and was internalized as such by the time I was a young girl.
I’m only now able to see my life as being so painful. At the time, it was just life and I probably would have found it strange not to feel the pain. Although I was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a recent trauma, there is no doubt that I have suffered with it for much longer than that. I remember having flashbacks, extreme emotional responses to triggers, panic attacks, etc. since I was young. Growing up in the family I did forced me to cope with life and chronic emotional pain in some really unhealthy ways. One of those ways was an eating disorder that almost claimed my life at the age of 20. I was also diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I remember dissociating in a severe way after my parents got divorced and having no connection to my emotional or internal state at all. I remember day dreaming about different ways to end my life because those were the only thoughts that brought relief from the endless emotional torture. Even though in-patient and out-patient treatment brought physical life back to my body, I remember being forced to endure further trauma without the coping mechanism I had developed, pushing me even further into dissociation and a nearly complete level of emotional numbing. I don’t know how else to describe it. And to make it worse, I didn’t even know until recently what was actually happening to me. At least now I have a name. Something solid that can be studied and understood…explained. Before, I was just acting out without a clue.
“War and victims is something the community wants to forget. A veil of oblivion is drawn over everything painful and unpleasant. We find the two sides face to face. On one side the victims who perhaps wish to forget but cannot. And on the other, all those with strong, often unconscious, motives who very intensely wish to forget and succeed in doing so.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman
Perhaps worse than the trauma, the abuse, and all the resulting effects, is the complete lack of acknowledgement from others. I’ve had people ignore, deny, and dismiss my experiences just about as much as I’ve had the experiences themselves. You wouldn’t expect a perpetrator to acknowledge the pain or abuse they inflict, but I think most people would expect others to. Friends, family (given they aren’t the perpetrators), pastors, community…someone. But I never had any of that. Family and friends were usually the perpetrators. I wasn’t allowed to show pain without incurring more of it, and strangers didn’t know the difference. Ever since I was a little girl, all of the pain I have experienced has been internalized, shoved down, and locked deep inside my body and mind. It comes out, but in ways people don’t understand and can’t recognize. I have body aches, muscle aches, headaches, anxiety so high I can’t concentrate on or remember anything, I dissociate a lot, I isolate, I hide, and I run. Or I fight. If I can’t hide or feel trapped, I just start fighting and nobody understands why. Sometimes they disappear but usually they just reign down insults, accusations, and shame on me…pushing me further and further into myself.
Sometimes I try to explain it but it doesn’t make sense to most people. It’s only ever made sense to the people who have experienced similar things themselves, but there aren’t many of those. The one hour a week of therapy I get is the only time in my life I don’t feel crazy. It’s the only time I get to be honest and have someone treat me like I’m a normal human being. It’s the only time I see or feel compassion from someone else. The rest of life is just desolate, dark, despairing, and painful beyond all imagination. It’s full of expectations I couldn’t meet on my best of days, and rejection. So…much…rejection. Some days I’m able to flip the switch and make myself go numb. Other days, I lack the strength and the pain comes seeping into everything I do and say.
I don’t understand why God has made me suffer so much. I don’t understand why he never gave me support or help to deal with it in better ways. I can’t pretend to know why he’s sat back and watched as I disintegrate into a shadow of a person without ever stepping in, showing up, or making good on any of those lofty promises you read about in the Bible. I can’t pretend that I still believe he’s good…not after I’ve spent years begging for help and healing and never getting any more than a turned back. I can’t pretend like I know anything about anything any more. But I do know that even though my body and my mind feel like they’re wasting away to death and destruction, my eyes are more open than they’ve ever been. I see and feel not just mine, but other’s pain in ways I never did or could before. I see the delusions and denials of the world more than ever before. And I feel a rage towards it all that I’ve never had before. If anything is for sure, it’s that I swallowed the red pill, and there’s no turning back.