Monday, May 2, 2016

Considering Angst as a Healthy Part of Growth while Anticipating Mother's Day

The Quiverfull and Patriarchy Movements in Evangelical Christianity (which are strongly associated with the Religious Right and with the homeschooling movement among Christians) understand any deviation “from family” as a great moral problem. 

 Family translates for many as only the specific will of the parent, and for many, this means obsequious submission to the “vision” of the father concerning even banal elements of daily life. Not every family is so stringent, but children, budding adult children, and fully grown adults are expected to write their lives according to the dictates of the family script of their family of origin. Such families do not tolerate true differentiation from their ideal, regardless of what price children may pay.

As Mother's Day approaches, I thought that I would challenge the conventional thinking within this subgroup of Christians with the idea that independence in a young adult (and even of school age children) is a virtue. What autonomy and the angst that comes along in finding it is a part of healthy development? What if they have been wrongly maligned?

This weekend, I happened over a quote from Bill Gothard that noted that “meekness is the opposite of anger.” This couldn't be further from the truth, but when I heard this on day four or five of that Gothard training, I my brain was too tired to flag it as a problematic statement. Meekness that is demanded of an adult when it is not appropriate harms the whole family and it may be considered a lapse in parenting ff parents do not instill this element of responsibility in their children.  Independence is often a necessary and is sometimes a critical element of responsiblity.

Meekness is a trait of humility and a disposition that resists anger. Impertinence and petulance are the opposite of meekness, and those traits may give way to the expression of anger. Anger itself expresses pain, fear, and frustration that is often necessary to preserve our survival. Didn't Paul say to be angry and sin not? We're to do away with wrath by the end of the day by expressing it as Christians so that we don't allow it to become a motivator for evil actions.

If you're wrestling with the signs and symptoms of growth in your teen or young adult child, and you also come form a background that vilifies anger as something evil, I ask that you read this to consider if you might be able to broaden your perspective and understanding. I know that your child will love you for it (eventually), no matter what their age.

Dear Parent:

This is the letter that I wish I could write.

This fight we are in right now. I need it. I need this fight. I can’t tell you this because I don’t have the language for it and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. But I need this fight. Badly. I need to hate you right now and I need you to survive it. I need you to survive my hating you and you hating me. I need this fight even though I hate it too. It doesn’t matter what this fight is even about: curfew, homework, laundry, my messy room, going out, staying in, leaving, not leaving, boyfriend, girlfriend, no friends, bad friends. It doesn’t matter. I need to fight you on it and I need you to fight me back.

I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in. I used to know who I was, who you were, who we were. But right now I don’t. Right now I am looking for my edges and I can sometimes only find them when I am pulling on you. When I push everything I used to know to its edge. Then I feel like I exist and for a minute I can breathe. I know you long for the sweeter kid that I was. I know this because I long for that kid too, and some of that longing is what is so painful for me right now.

I need this fight and I need to see that no matter how bad or big my feelings are—they won’t destroy you or me. I need you to love me even at my worst, even when it looks like I don’t love you. I need you to love yourself and me for the both of us right now. I know it sucks to be disliked and labeled the bad guy. I feel the same way on the inside, but I need you to tolerate it and get other grownups to help you. Because I can’t right now. If you want to get all of your grown up friends together and have a ‘surviving-your-teenager-support-group-rage-fest’ that’s fine with me. Or talk about me behind my back–I don’t care. Just don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on this fight. I need it.

This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others.

And this particular fight will end. Like any storm, it will blow over. And I will forget and you will forget. And then it will come back. And I will need you to hang on to the rope again. I will need this over and over for years.

I know there is nothing inherently satisfying in this job for you. I know I will likely never thank you for it or even acknowledge your side of it. In fact I will probably criticize you for all this hard work. It will seem like nothing you do will be enough. And yet, I am relying entirely on your ability to stay in this fight. No matter how much I argue. No matter how much I sulk. No matter how silent I get.

Please hang on to the other end of the rope. And know that you are doing the most important job that anyone could possibly be doing for me right now.

Love, Your Teenager

Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD is a licensed psychologist who completed a Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. She is a trauma survivor herself and stands on more than 25 years of study and experience concerning the complexities of psychological trauma. She has served as an expert consultant for Frontline for their documentary on Alaskan survivors of priest sexual abuse (aired April 19, 2011). Gretchen is the Founder & Editor of Emotional Geographic, a web-mag created to support healing from long term trauma.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Anticipating Mother's Day

Mother's Day (Cindy Kunsman)

My first multimedia work inspired by a vignette about five year old Ashley's behavior described by Francine Shapiro in
EMDR: The Breakthrough 'Eye Movement' Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Trauma.

I know too well what it's like to be Ashley.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Daffodils Along the Way of the Higher Path

Through daffodils forgotten and found and reclaimed in my recent meltdown, perhaps those reading here can catch a glimpse of how healing from trauma can unfold. In the writing of this, I am almost amused by how spontaneously the whole concept bubbles up in me. I spent many years wondering whether I ever even know joy because it seemed that I'd forgotten because trauma alienated me from the memories of it. I couldn't find it no matter how hard I tried.

Having already defined my dilemma of moving through the Third Stage of healing in the last post, I feel as though I tackled the integration element well. Moving forward and reconnecting, the other tasks involved in Stage Three, blend for me in what I have yet to work through. I noted an example of a meme that objected liars and gossips as “lowlifes,” yet I wanted to aspire to something better. But I hadn't figured out how to get to “the high road,” having made the choice to seek resolution of conflict as opposed to perpetuating it. For my own benefit, I wanted and needed to aspire to something better.

Disclaimer: Everyone has to find their own way through their conflict in ways that work well for them, and It's important to note that not everything works for everybody. I draw on my own supportive beliefs to transcend pain and loss and trauma, though I understand and expect that many people will find their way through such conflicts differently. I also find myself at a point in my own exemplar conflict where I've come to terms with my anger and the injustice. I also don't want anyone to misunderstand this approach as offering forgiveness to people who aren't sorry for what they've done. I do hope to see justice for everyone involved. Taking an approach that avoids marking people as adversaries or that comes from the secure perspective that love can offer shouldn't be mistaken for cheap forgiveness that ignores justice. (Here's an index of over seventy blog posts that basically argue that without justice, forgiveness and mercy are meaningless.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Daffodil Season Ends but Recovery Continues

More than a month ago, I learned about some cruel gossip that's being spread about me and it triggered a host of complicated hurdles for me. The questions of others sent me back to revisit my history of hopping around through some truly fringe varieties of cultic Christianity, but I also found myself more affected by the deep personal losses that are all wrapped around that history, too.

Ironically, I'd just started blogging about the stages of recovery right before this happened, but I suddenly realized that I was living an experiential reminder, too. Stage One persisted for a good two weeks before it faded into decrescendo, mostly because I still can't understand that if people took issue with me that they didn't feel comfortable with approaching me. And the truth is that there may be no rational reason behind their actions.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Daffodils of Integration: First Promise of Joy through Recovery
(Photo Credit)

(Read Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 in
my Quick Revisit of the Stages of Recovery.
But only if you want to.)

James Taylor's melancholy Fire and Rain which laments the unexpected loss of a friend, and I now think of the loss of integration of trauma when I hear him sing “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”

In a way, that is what trauma does to us. Our dreams break apart, perhaps because they weren't very realistic but sometimes because we don't have time to realize them because we're so busy trying to figure out how to put ourselves back together. Sometimes, we just can't recover all that we've lost. Sometimes, we lose our ability to fly because the pieces lay on the ground, smashed and broken because of what happened to us. We become no longer whole. We dis-integrate.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

#TGC16 and Soveriegn Grace: Break the Story. Break the Silence.
I'm watching the film Spotlight, and I stopped it because my husband came home from work. I'll finish watching it in a bit. I needed to express this much before I do.

A New Springtime: Daffodils Reclaimed (A glimpse into Stage Three of Recovery)

(Read Part 1 and Part 2 in
my Quick Revisit of the Stages of Recovery.
But only if you want to!)

I wonder what I thought when I was old enough to find those scattered daffodils in the woods behind my parents' house. I must have been quite young, for in my mind, I seem to have always known that they were there. 

I had a good sense of what belonged to my family and what did not, for that is all wrapped around how I treated them. I must have asked permission to pick them, though I remember only being concerned about whether the property owner wanted them. Yet still, in their own way, they were mine. I saw what no one else saw in them. And I remember that excitement of going to look for their blooms when I saw daffodils bloom at my neighbor's house.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Gospel Coalition's Inclusion of CJ Mahaney: Words are not enough.

Adapted from two works by nakedpastor David Hayward with much gratitude.

The Real Left Behind

Children in Gaza

Daffodils Grieved in Recovery

After the first stage of recovery where we find safety and stability (things we sometimes must learn about for the first time), we find ourselves in a place of revisiting trauma to see it for what it is.

Awareness in Grief

For me, though, the experience is more than that, and I find it to be more spontaneous. The best analogy that I have is that of driving home from work after a busy twelve hour shift as a nurse in critical care. I don't know how long it took for my body to become self-aware after a hard day, but I know that by the time I hit the ten mile point, I'd suddenly have acute awareness that I hadn't emptied my bladder in quite some time. Epinephrine or adrenalin suppresses function of the gut and the urinary tract, and for me leaving work, its effects lasted until I'd driven ten miles from my workplace. My brain would become magically aware of the needs of my body. I'd race in the house and retreat to the bathroom, and then, I'd remember that I was hungry, too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Protest Against The Gospel Coalition 2016 for Inclusion of CJ Mahaney
I am so angry and feel so helpless that I have been unable to write about this issue.  Protestors from SNAP (Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests) have joined Pam Palmer in Louisville this week to protest CJ Mahaney's presence at the The Gospel Coalition's conference.  I can't think straight enough to write about it (and I know that's hard to fathom considering my verbosity).  I'll let others do it for me.

(Learn more about the media event HERE.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Stages of Trauma in the Flowers of Spring: Daffodils Forgotten

I grew up in a house that stood at the edge of a small plateau on the incline of a mountain. It was bordered by unoccupied wooded acreage that sloped down behind it. In the spring, the forsythia and the azaleas bloomed in our yard, but we had no daffodils. Down in the woods behind the house however, daffodils poked their heads above the crisp, brown leaves that had covered them all winter. Nineteen plants grew there within twenty feet of the edge of our land on the hill as it rolled downward toward the city.

I don't know how they came to grow there in no particular pattern, but I looked forward to the appearance of the daffodils every year. I can only imagine that someone bought and forgot about them and just threw their remains into the woods. Maybe some naughty children used them to see how far they could throw them. I never harvested them to replant around our house because they weren't mine to take. I would wait for the first bloom to wilt first before I picked the ones that remained, just in case the owner came by, for he did occasionally used our driveway to gain easier access to that edge of his land. He may not have even known that those plants existed. I knew every single one of them.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Safe Expectations as the Safest Place in Recovery

I used this quote a short time ago, but I read something that brought it to my mind again. There is so much truth to the saying that “we learn what we live.” Alice Miller makes that fact so clear for us by explaining why people who have been hurt often repeat the same tactics that were used against them. But how does this relate to feeling safer?

Hurt People Hurt People

Many weeks ago, I ended up in a conflict via social media that didn't end well. People who were connected to the same type of trauma fell into two groups – and each was traumatized in a different way within a totalistic and authoritarian system. From that emerged a discussion that essentially pitted the comfort and perspective of one subgroup against the other. It became a survivor war.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Watershed Moment in Stage One of Recovery
The Mighty
The message in this meme from The Mighty website speaks so well about how trauma pervades one's life, feelings, and sense of self. I found it to be essential to my own healing, and I often wonder why no one had said this to me much earlier. I'd been to counselors many times before, worked at my recovery, and read about everything I could find. Why didn't someone tell me this during one of my first few visits?

At age thirty, after I walked away from my spiritually abusive church, I eventually found my way to an exit counselor. It was a year after the Cult Awareness Network folded (and was bought by Scientology), but she worked with them as a volunteer prior to that. She addressed the issues faced by people who exit high demand groups, but she was not a therapist. She quickly recognized that I needed deeper work and more help than she could offer.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Balancing Hope and Safety in Stage One of Recovery
During the last year in a spiritually abusive Shepherding-Discipleship church, I developed all sorts of allergies, partly because of how my body voiced what I could not through new, more intense illness, and partly because of the general hard toll that trauma took on my immune system. Two physicians recommended that I see a hypnotherapist, but I didn't feel comfortable with the idea.

It took another decade and the advice of yet another physician to see if hypnosis would help. Most notably, medications that were meant to ease pain and symptoms became severe, life-threatening allergy triggers for me. I quickly ran out of available treatment options, and I spent all of my time avoiding physical triggers and chasing symptoms. It's much like the challenges that Suzanne of No Longer Quivering deals with in her recent blog post.