Category Archives: Trauma

Here Comes The Truth

Honesty.

I always tell my clients that honesty is at such a premium in this world that being a truth teller is a skill worth developing. People thirst and hunger for truth, for words that are plain and simple, without sugar coating or gentle couching or even padding. Basically, there is so little honesty in this world that we are starving for it.

Don’t believe me?  Just think for a moment about how many times you have talked to one of your friends and had them read you a text or email to see what you think it means.  We have been become experts at analyzing words and phrasing in texts and emails, hoping to decipher what the person really means, what they are actually saying…which makes it painfully obvious that we don’t trust people to speak the unadulterated truth.

I mean it when I say that truth is so rare that we are starving for it.

However…I have to distinguish being truth-telling, and beating someone with the truth.

Sadly, I have heard plenty of people speak sentences full of barbed words, swinging sentences like a bat aimed at the other person’s head. After they finish speaking, these people all say the same thing: I’m just telling the truth, that’s all.  And they are, kind of, but not really.

You see, the truth—if you want it to be heard and accepted—needs to be spoken in love.  The kind of truth that sets you free is truth that is given as a gift, delivered directly and bluntly without sugar-coating…and without any barbs or knives.

I call it the open-handed truth.

Basically, I tell my clients to hold out their hand, palm up, whenever they speak the truth. This is to signify to them and their listener that the truth they are telling is offered as a gift. The listener is free to take that gift or leave it, but there it is: honesty and truth, offered to them as a gift.

I ask them to do that because any move away from giving a gift to delivering a barbed truth will cause their hand to suddenly shift from an open palm to a pointed finger. You know what I’m talking about: that finger-shaking, “I’m going to give you a piece of my mind” gesture that we use when we are slapping someone across the face with our words.  I tell my clients that the difference between an open-handed truth and a finger-shaking truth is the difference between honesty as a gift and honesty as a 2×4 upside the head!  It’s an effective metaphor, because who the hell wants to speak the truth as a 2×4 to someone’s head?

The answer to that question is: any member of the media when speaking to Donald Trump, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Why am I busy talking about the truth?  Well, when I started as a counselor, I found it very hard to speak certain truths to my clients, especially if the truth was particularly ugly. I also shied away from telling my clients when they were engaging in unhealthy behaviors, even when they were engaging in unhealthy and unwise behaviors right in front of me.

In short, I have been an incredible wuss for years.

And then recently I decided to try something for my stress. Being a counselor is very stressful. Clients can be very demanding, and the need to help them can leave you feeling like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders. It can be overwhelming, and it does overwhelm me occasionally. It really wouldn’t matter that much, but I have chronic health issues, and stress makes them worse. I am at a point where something has to change or I am not going to be able to keep up with my practice. I am not willing to let stress derail my health…and I’m not willing to let my health end my ministry.

The thing was that no matter what I was doing, nothing was reducing my stress level.  Exercise was helpful, but not enough. Diet changes were helpful, but not enough. Hobbies, vacations, meditation…all of it was helpful, but not enough.

Then I remembered something I learned from watching my daughter get sober. The 12 Steps are powerful and deeply spiritual, and without them people often fail to overcome their addictions because the biggest problem in addiction is that we keep trying so hard…instead of relying on a God who is so much more powerful than we are.

And that was my epiphany.

I began reciting the first three steps (as best as I could remember them) in relation to my clients.

I admitted that I am powerless over my clients—powerless over mental illness and trauma—powerless over my client’s lives—and that trying to be a healer is becoming unmanageable.

I remembered that there is a Power greater than myself who can restore both me and my clients to sanity.

And then I made a decision to turn myself…and my clients…and their problems…and their healing…over to God’s care.

I cannot tell you how liberating that felt. Every time I’d start to get stressed about my clients or my practice, I’d remember that I am powerless over mental illness and trauma, and utterly incapable of healing anyone. Then I’d remind myself that God is more than capable of handling all that and is willing to use me along the way to bring that about…and I’d calm back down and my stress level would drop and I’d start to feel less overwhelmed and exhausted.

But there was this funny side effect of all this: I’m not a wuss anymore!

All of a sudden, I find myself saying things in session that are blunt, open-faced truths that I was unable to say before.

Dare I say…I have become strangely bold?  And I’m not talking 2×4 bold, either. This is calm, open-handed truth that is popping out of my mouth without hesitation or even the slightest twinge of guilt.

Jesus said that the truth would set us free, and the truth I discovered is that I am powerless, and when I accept that powerlessness…suddenly I am far more free to share the truth with others.

The truth about me became the truth recognized by me and spoken to others becomes the truth that sets them free.

If this is powerlessness, sign me up. And we will all be free together.

Amen.

Them Unicorns

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.  I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.         Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

Lately there has been a great deal of us and them rhetoric.  You hear it in the arguments over what restroom transgendered people should use; you also hear it in discussions about illegal immigrants, and sometimes even when we discuss immigrants in general.  Us and them distinctions show up when we talk about terrorists, even though the United States has suffered more from domestic terrorism than we have from foreign terrorism.  Us and them are distinctions that allow us to separate our friends from our enemies, our familiars from the strangers, and our own people from the outsiders.

Maybe I should refine that statement I just made.  Us and them are distinctions that allow us to separate our supposed friends from our supposed enemies, our assumed familiars from the supposed strangers, and the people we are told are our people from the people we are told are outsiders.

Let me give you an example.

I am a trauma therapist, and many of my clients are women who have been sexually abused by men.  Most of them were abused as children, and all of them were abused by family members.  I know that some people are abused by people outside their family and even by strangers, but I have been practicing since 2005 and I have yet to work with a client whose abuser was not a family member.  For many of these women, talking about the abuse is an act of betrayal against their family.  After all, they have spent years keeping silent to protect the public image of their family; others have spent years keeping silent because revealing the abuse to another family member led to repercussions and punishment instead of assistance and rescue from their abuser.  While I do all that I can to help my clients recover from their abuse so that they can live full, joyous lives, many of them find that they continue to have a deep distrust of men, whether those men are family members or not.  These are women whose male relatives—the men in their lives who were supposed to be their protectors while they were children—violated one of our society’s biggest taboos.  Their deep distrust of men can make it difficult for my straight clients to find life partners because they are not willing to expose themselves to the risk of dating.  Many have difficulty identifying men who are ‘safe’—men who will never commit acts of physical or sexual violence against a woman because it is not in their nature.  Some of my clients have trouble believing that there is any such thing as a ‘safe’ man, as if ‘safe’ men were something like unicorns, existing only in stories but not in real life.

Then I tell them about the unicorn that I met several years ago.

My unicorn shared with me about what it means to be a member of the ‘tribe’—the tribe of people who have been sexually abused as children. The tribe has certain ways of being, certain scars that are dead giveaways to the pain and loss they have suffered.  Whenever this unicorn recognizes other members of the tribe it reveals itself and speaks the magic words: “I understand.  I was sexually abused for years.”

Turns out that unicorns are for real.

You see, men get sexually abused as well, and those men…well…they understand what it is to be afraid.  They understand what it is to not be believed when you try to tell the horrible truth.  And they understand what it is to doubt that it is possible to be safe.   They understand that an entire gender can come to feel unsafe and remain that way no matter how much therapy you get.  And men who have been sexually abused know that the fear that the tribe has of their perpetrators is not unreasonable and not unrealistic because they know what it is like to be made into a victim.  They know what it is to fear half the world’s population, and what it is like to be unable to trust men.  Sadly, unicorns know all too well what it is like to be constantly afraid, and some of them fear…

Women.

For years the politics of sexual assault has told us that men are the perpetrators and women are the victims, and statistics will tell you that this is true most of the time.  But ‘most of the time’ is not the same as ‘all of the time’ and nothing is quite that cut and dried or that black and white.  In the end, it is not so easy to separate the world into us and them, to create two groups where one is good and the other bad and then create a worldview that supports that understanding of humanity.

I remember my own moment of us and them, when I found myself baffled because a woman was tried and convicted for her participation in the atrocities against prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison.  I did not want to comprehend that a woman would agree to sexually humiliate male prisoners, that she would agree to abuse them and violate them physically and sexually.  How could she possibly agree to such violence knowing the damage it has done to her sisters in the human race? How could she participate in something so degrading when things like that happen to women all over the world every day?  Most of all, how could she possibly consent to becoming one of THEM??!  I struggled to accept Lyndie Englund’s choices because I could not conceive of the reality that women can be abusers and men can be the victim.  I believed in the us and them dichotomy that makes it so easy to vilify the other side, to hate them with impunity and ease, and to treat them as less than human.

I’m so glad that something challenged and made me abandon my us and them thinking before I met a real, living unicorn because if I hadn’t I might not have believed him when he told me his story.  I might not have been able to help him overcome his trauma so that he could live a sober, productive, joyous life…at least the best life that he can have in the face of all the abuse that he lived through.  Most of all, I would never have had the opportunity to let my other clients know that the world is not so neatly divided into us and them, women and men, victims and abusers.  In the end, the lines are far more blurred and our chances to redeem the entire situation far greater than we realize because unicorns are real and that means that some of them are our our team…and we aren’t alone in this struggle after all.

God never intended for the world to be separated into us and them.  God’s will has always been for unity and healing no matter what side a certain person fell on, and this is evident over and over in the Bible:

Joseph, who saved the Egyptians from famine

Elisha, who healed Naaman the Syrian

Jonah, who saved the people of Ninevah (Assyrians) from destruction

Jesus, who healed the son of a Roman centurion

Jesus, who healed the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman

Jesus, who healed a Samaritan leper

Peter, who preached to many Gentiles

Paul, who preached to many Gentiles

And then there is always Jesus, who died for the sins of an entire world.

There is no us and them.  There is only God’s children and God wants us all to come home, no matter who we are or where we are from or what group we claim allegiance to.

“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”     Revelations 22:2b

The leaves of the tree are not for the healing of God’s chosen people, or the healing of the faithful, but for the healing of the nations.

That’s all of us.

All.

Amen.