It has been awhile since I’ve been able to sit down and actually get a post written. In the wake of my Storyteller talk, I have found an incredible number of opportunities to talk to people, listen to hurting hearts, and simply let people know they were not alone. Unfortunately, this left me somewhat lacking the emotional bandwidth to write, but the time has certainly come.
While sharing my story has been the best way to redeem the things I’ve walked through, I’ve found that I tend to feel pretty vulnerable on the other side of the telling. There’s nothing easy about standing up in front of a room full of people and baring your soul, but as I’ve done it a few times in the last month and a half, I have continually found myself saying, “By the grace of God, look how far I have come.” And it felt good. It felt victorious. It felt like I’d crossed the finish line of healing.
Until it happened.
I won’t go into what happened, but it wasn’t good, and I could never have anticipated the triggered physical and emotional responses that would follow.
I spent an entire weekend in bed with crippling depression.
I had my first panic attack in years, in the middle of the night, and I woke up thinking I was going to die.
I couldn’t sleep. I lost my appetite, and what food I did consume just didn’t taste good.
I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, and I never seemed to be able to get enough air, which had me hyperventilating in fear that I was suffocating.
I had some of the worst non-stop headaches I’ve ever had.
I cried. A lot.
And I was angry. Angry that something had triggered responses so extreme I felt like I was reliving the hell of five years ago. Angry that my motivation to do anything had suddenly disappeared. Angry that the stars and sunrises and sunsets and everything else I normally found tear-jerkingly beautiful had been drained of their color and wonder and inspiration.
I was angry that something had happened to me. Hadn’t I walked through enough pain to earn my safety? How could this be real life?
I still got up each morning and put on my uniform and went to work. There was a mission to carry out, and sense of duty is a powerful thing. I had people to lead, people to help, people to care for, and that couldn’t wait. So I went, and I hid my tears, and I tried not to let on that I couldn’t breathe. And I survived.
This morning when I woke up, I found myself staring at the ceiling, again fuming that I was right back at square one, that I’d come so far only to have all the progress erased, as though my life had turned into an extreme cha cha – one step forward, one step back, a million steps forward, now go all the way back. But two things happened as I prayed and thought through this insane dance; I realized that I was having to walk out what healing looks like. Just as I’d said in my talk, healing isn’t linear; it’s cyclical. You can think you’re over something, and it will jump up and hit you like a ton of bricks, and you have to dig in and do the work all over again. The second realization was that time is relative in the healing process. It took me years to get to a place where I could stand on a stage and tell my story and talk about redemption and hope and healing. That doesn’t mean that this step backwards in the healing process requires years to come back from.
Perhaps that’s what resilience is actually about. You might have to bounce back from the same woundedness again and again, but each return trip takes less and less time. You’ve experienced the light at the end of the tunnel, the place of being alright, and that makes it easier to get back to. Your heart has a map; it knows the way.
This dance isn’t always fun, friends, but it’s real. I write this knowing that I’ll be okay again and that this won’t own me. I also know that there are no shortcuts to healing; I have to experience this in its entirety, to work through the emotions and the pain to come to wholeness on the other side. I can’t engage in all the unhealthy coping mechanisms that are so tempting – drinking too much, eating my feelings, etc. – because then I’m putting my faith and my pain in places they don’t belong.
I’m keeping my eyes on things above, and I’m letting Him lead me in this crazy dance.