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the TRAUMA zoneTRUSTING GOD FOR EMOTIONAL HEALING
By R. Dandridge Collins
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 R. Dandridge Collins, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Trauma DJ
Trauma is life's ultimate test. It pushes you to the edge of your breaking point. Each of us, at some time, faces a life circumstance that is so trying that we feel like crumbling. It could be the death of a loved one. Or it could be something else: divorce, incest, infidelity, sudden job loss, church blowups ... All can be crucibles that leave us reeling in emotional pain for years. The aftermath of this trauma is for the survivors to be left with a strange, uncomfortable voice, like a tape playing in their heads. It's the voice of the Trauma DJ.
Sometimes the voice of the Trauma DJ thunders. Sometimes the voice whispers. Usually it's a nonstop chatterbox that speaks to you, keeping you on edge. The Trauma DJ speaks to your heart, leaving you stymied, frozen, and overwhelmed. You feel like hiding and taking cover. You end up feeling like a chicken running in circles with its head cut off. You feel trapped in a time warp that is embedded in your past as you relive your nightmares a thousand times.
For some people, the Trauma DJ assumes the form of a disturbing image. It can be a flashback-a snapshot of a tragic experience that litters the landscape of your mind.
Tricky and tenacious, trauma slips on the noose and tries to strangle you. The Trauma DJ whips your feelings into a frenzy by getting you tobuy into the thinking that your life can never change. It's a kind of "once bruised always damaged" type of thinking.
The Trauma DJ counsels you to expect the worst from life and people. It points to your life experiences that have been tragically painful. It convinces you (to prevent an encore performance of pain) to be on guard. Be ready to duck. And if necessary, duke it out. "Don't take no stuff!"
The Trauma DJ has a message with your name on it. Based on your personal crucible, the internal tape begins to play, saying:
"What's the point in even trying? You'll never ..."
"They never supported you before. What makes you think it will be different now? "
"Remember when things fell apart before? You might as well not even bother now."
And the beat goes on. The voice of the Trauma DJ is persistent and overbearing. When you heed its advice, it binds you up, like a ball and chain. When you follow its instructions, it renders you powerless.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the Trauma DJ is akin to a broken fire alarm system. It goes off daily when there is neither fire nor danger. The work of healing from your emotional pain is to identify when the Trauma DJ is sending out another false alarm and to tune it out. The challenge is to learn how to relax and calmly face whatever the Lord allows. Trauma tends to make you an emotional basket case if you let it. So remember that the Trauma DJ always speaks in the language of exaggeration.
When the Trauma DJ overwhelms you with a recurring problem, one that has tripped you up many times before, slow it down a bit. Take it easy and learn from your errors. Allow your mistakes to be your mentors. When the Trauma DJ tries to persuade you that past tragedies will hunt you down and haunt you forever, say "hogwash." Say to yourself, "Then was then and now is now." Remind yourself that you can choose to live powerfully in the present.
When the Trauma DJ tries to paralyze you with fear to the point that you feel you can't move, just keep walking, one step at a time, and you'll march out of The Trauma Zone. When the Trauma DJ whips your emotions into a frenzy and you are inclined to overreact with sadness, anger, or fear, just remember that the Trauma DJ's message is overstated. Stay calm and respond to your challenges with the strength that comes from God's love.
The Trauma DJ is a fearmonger. But remember the words of Paul to the church at Corinth. God never tests us past our breaking point. Instead, His tests are designed for our good. They are intended to bring out Christian character.
God is able to transform our emotional hurts into spiritual gain by making us more discerning, wise, and loving of self and others. This newfound understanding helps us to sort out both external and internal distractions. The Trauma DJ is an internal distraction. Its message of doom and gloom is never fully accurate. Instead, it is the voice of cover-up.
We can choose to listen to another voice-the voice of recovery. This voice of the Holy Spirit calms us, renews us, and redirects us. This voice encourages and inspires. This voice connects with hope and an uplifting vision that leads us out of The Trauma Zone and into a relationship with the Good Shepherd. "My sheep listen to my voice," Jesus said. "I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
1. Learn to quickly recognize the Trauma DJ based on the negative messages that it gives you about yourself in particular or life in general. Sometimes the message is a put-down of who you are or your abilities. Sometimes the message creates a pessimistic view of others. If you buy into these negative messages, they will keep you stuck in The Trauma Zone.
2. Pray for wisdom to quiet the voice of the Trauma DJ in your life. God's wisdom will help you discern healthy self-reflection from toxic negative thinking. Healthy self-reflection enables you to look objectively at how you can improve and grow. The thinking generated by the Trauma DJ never helps because it only makes you more indecisive and afraid to live your life to the fullest as God intended.
3. Study God's Word. Fill your mind with God's promises that represent His ideas about you and the wonderful plan He has for you. Meditation is one excellent way to fill your mind with God's promises. Choose some of your favorite Scriptures. The book of Psalms is a great place to start when you are going through a difficult time. Allow your mind to think about God's Word and how it applies to your life today. Meditating on God's promises creates enormous life-giving spiritual energy. You will find that what you think about makes all the difference in the world. Remember His promise:
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!-Isaiah 26:3
Let's Pray Together
Father, many of us have been through the wringer emotionally. We learned to listen to a voice that was not Yours. It was the voice of our pain, our fear, and our doubt. It was the voice of the Trauma DJ. Teach us today to override the voice of our misery with the voice of Your mercy. Help us to overcome the voice of fear with the voice of faith. Empower us to conquer the voice of defeat with the voice of Your overwhelming, life-transforming love. Remind us, dear Father, that there is a way out of our heartache and that You will show us the way. Amen.
Together let's begin to plot the road map for exiting your personal, trauma zone.
Chapter TwoThe Trauma ZONE Has Exit Signs
Remembering a tragic experience is gut-wrenching! One of the first things I do when working with people who have experienced something traumatic is to give them hope before we begin to take on the monsters in The Trauma Zone.
I encourage them to think of The Trauma Zone as a landmark that they can use to let them know that they have gone too far. Understanding the trauma landmark enables them to recognize that they are in an unfamiliar neighborhood. The remedy comes from slowing down, making a safe U-turn, and heading in the right direction.
I have an exit sign in the waiting room of my office. Often, at the end of the first session, I point to the sign and say, "The Trauma Zone has exit signs." I usually get a big smile and a nod of the head. The message has gotten through. Their pain can heal. Their trauma doesn't have the last word. They have the last word. You do too! You can make choices, one step at a time, to reverse the effects of your pain.
One of those steps is to make a U-turn. In the process of healing, a U-turn can be an act of transformation. When you are beset by your burdens, it is easy to fall into a victim mode. But when you stand up to your trauma, you begin your road to recovery.
Overwhelming stress does strange things to you. One of the biggest changes that overtakes you is that trauma saps your power. It makes you feel helpless and fearful.
We all know what it is like to be a child and afraid of the dark. The experience of being stuck in the midst of your own personal trauma is akin to being a child in a very dark room groping for the light switch. Darkness and fear are "roommates." Breaking free from the grip of trauma is all about learning how to face and manage your fears.
Second Timothy 1:7 is a wonderful building block to help you corral the spirit of fear. Listen to Paul's words: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."
Meditate on this Scripture. Let its words soak into the soil of your soul. The spirit of trauma causes you to live in fear. This kind of stress makes your soul quake. But when you meditate on the three principles in this passage, you realize that God does not want you to be intimidated. Instead, the Holy Spirit equips the believer with the power to get things done and to be effective. He gives us love that keeps us nurtured and protected. And He gives us self-discipline that keeps us focused in the right direction and grounded in hope. When you put these three together-power, love, and self-discipline-they become a wonderful spiritual fortress protecting you from evil yet at the same time giving you the tools to face it.
Healing comes from taking your power back. Defying trauma and the voice of the Trauma DJ is a first step in reclaiming your power.
One of the best role models for reclaiming power comes from the pages of African-American history in the person of Frederick Douglass. He was an eloquent critic of the institution of slavery. Masters knew that the only way they could keep people enslaved was by "getting into their heads" and instilling fear. Flogging was a way they sought to intimidate their slaves. One day, when Frederick was only sixteen, his master took him to a flogger who beat him unmercifully. Frederick remained "defiant," and his master later sent him back for another flogging. The result this time was very different. Frederick fought him back! And from his ordeal with the flogger he penned these memorable sayings:
Power only backs up in the face of raw power. Power concedes nothing without a demand.
What this means for the survivor is that trauma must be defied. I tell my counselees to do the opposite of what the Trauma DJ tells them to do. I ask them to identify the trauma station they feel they are in, and then I remind them that The Trauma Zone Has Exit Signs!
1. Are there times when you have felt helpless? Remember that you are not helpless nor are you a victim.
2. Specify one thing you can do to reclaim your power.
3. Consider how love can make a difference.
4. Identify an area of your life where you need to exercise more self-discipline.
5. Note one thing the Trauma DJ is telling you to do, and choose to do the opposite.
Let's Pray Together
Lord, give me the strength to face my fears. I know sometimes life can be scary. People do cruel things to each other. Some people use their words like sledgehammers. But that's their problem. I have found new strength because You are greater than my trouble. You are my healer.
Help me today to step out from under the shadow of fear and to live victoriously. I am not a victim. I am not helpless. "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). With You by my side I can face the storm that rages inside of me. Help me today to reclaim my power. Thank You, Lord, for hearing my prayer. Amen!
Another crucial step in your healing journey is to break the devastating power of secrets, in the next chapter you'll learn how to undo the suffocating
Shhh! Quiet. Hush. Secrets are the issue here. Some deeds are so despicable that the only sensible thing to do, so it would seem, is to forget they ever happened. Some pain is so great that the best thing to do, so it would seem, is to just bury it and never bring up the subject again. Keep it undercover. Maintain a code of silence. Be a good soldier. That's the best thing to do, right?
Adam and Eve knew what it was like to have secrets. Not long after the newly created couple got a tour of their stress-free provisions in the garden of Eden, they decided to assert their independence from God. At that exact point, sin entered the human race. Adam and Eve took a bite from the fruit of the forbidden tree in defiance of the Father's instructions. God went looking for Adam. He asked Adam, "Where are you?" Adam and Eve both hid, covering themselves with fig leaves, when they heard God coming. They were naked and afraid.
Acting independently from God will have that effect on you. It will conjure up the skeletons in your closet. Sin and shame were born that day when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree. Shame is an emotion that cries out "something is wrong with me." Shame makes you want to hide. Shame is a breeder of secrets.
Monica, a gifted graduate student, recently entered therapy. She and her family definitely bought into the notion of keeping secrets. When she was thirteen, her father began a tryst with her sister that lasted for several years. Incest! It was unspeakable. The secret remained safely tucked away until her father wanted to resume the affair in her sister's adult years. It was too much and big sister, Tammy, "spilled the beans."
The result was predictable. The truth came tumbling out. Mom and Dad got divorced, but even that was contained. Only the family knew the real reason. If the people in the community knew, scandal would have erupted. Dad was a civic leader, so they kept the whole matter a family secret. It was never reported to child protective services and the police were never contacted.
When Monica described it in therapy, she kept with the family code of silence. She understated the sadness of her story. She kept with the family tradition of secrecy. When she told her story, she minimized the seriousness of Dad's actions. She used non-provocative language and said, "Dad slept with Tammy." In our work together I pointed out that "slept with" sounded so calm and respectable, almost consensual. But the reality was quite different. When an adult has sex with a minor, the term is rape, not "slept with." When a father rapes his daughter, the word is incest.
Rape and incest are unsettling words, but words that demand to be spoken, not swept quietly and unceremoniously under the rug. Giving an unmuffled voice to your story is an essential part of your healing journey. Trauma has a way of emptying out the ol' emotional bank account. You can become spiritually bankrupt if you allow the minions of trauma to silence you.
Secrecy is powerful. It keeps you cornered by your pain. Cut off. Shut off. Alienated. Estranged. Holding on to secrets keeps the burden of the responsibility on the sufferer, not on the one who created the suffering. Secrets maintain the status quo. They anchor you in The Trauma Zone. Secrecy is rooted in fear, isolation, and shame that fill you with emotional poison.
Excerpted from the TRAUMA zone by R. Dandridge Collins Copyright © 2007 by R. Dandridge Collins, Ph.D. . Excerpted by permission.
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