When Life Becomes an Extreme Cha Cha

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.

Sometimes Healing Sucks

We often talk pleasantly, longingly, about healing, but sometimes we don’t want healing. Because sometimes healing sucks.

Let me explain.

Awhile back, an opportunity was presented to me that was just that: an opportunity. Sounds good, right? The thing is, it came wrapped in a situation that also represented a stark reminder of the betrayal and humiliation I’d walked through five years ago. Most of the time, I’m good with talking about that whole episode of my life – I wrote a blog entry on it for the entire world to see, for crying out loud! But parts of that whole era were never addressed, and the remaining wounds scabbed over enough for me to be functional – more than functional, really – and I would have been content to keep things that way forever.

Ok, I would have been more than content. Way more. I really would have preferred to leave that aspect of things on a shelf and literally never deal with it again. Like that box of God-only-knows-what from the very first time you moved that keeps finding its way onto the moving truck and into the new house but never actually gets unpacked. I really wanted to just keep things packed and shoved into a corner, because the proverbial unpacking was going to hurt, and I just didn’t have the time or space or emotional bandwidth for that. And I wasn’t planning on creating any, either.

Until this…opportunity…came along. It was impossible to ignore, and, almost as bad, it was impossible to fight against. It was literally a Godfather-esque “offer I couldn’t refuse.” And I cried. Oh y’all, I cried some really angry tears. Because I could have been given the opportunity without the painful walk down memory lane, but it wasn’t going to work that way, and I felt like the extra gut punch just wasn’t necessary.

But perhaps necessary is in the eye of the beholder.

From my perspective, gallivanting through a bunch of stuff I’d rather just never think about again seemed like a terrible idea, regardless of how much better I’d be on the other side of it. If I was at the “80% solution” and was in a fairly good place, I was ok with that. Things were moving along, life was good on all fronts, and I didn’t see broken things, which meant nothing needed to be fixed.

I’m pretty sure The Man Upstairs saw something different. I had done a lot of healing, but I wasn’t healed. I had done a lot of forgiving, but I hadn’t completely forgiven. I had pieced my life back together, but there were still places with cracks and missing shards where my heart was unprotected. He saw through all my claims of functionality to the depth of my woundedness, and He couldn’t leave “well enough” alone.

Our Creator God is funny like that. He loves us as the hot messes we are, but He sees bigger, better, more complete things for us. He wants us to be whole. He wants us to be healed. He wants us to be free. And He will lead us on some really weird journeys to get there.

Have you ever broken a bone and had it heal badly? You might still have the use of that appendage, but not as completely as you might have otherwise. So the bone has to be rebroken and reset – so that healing can be complete. The process sucks – it isn’t pleasant at all, but the end is good.

When I wrote about God’s never-ending pursuit of us, I drew a lot from Cory Asbury’s Reckless Love. I still don’t know if this whole opportunity-wrapped-in-pain is a shadow, a mountain, a wall, or a lie that God is doggedly tearing down, but I know He won’t let it go. I really wanted Him to. I really, really wanted to run the other direction as He started pressing on the painful places that I just didn’t want to deal with. I would have settled for broken woundedness over complete wholeness, because while being healed is awesome, the healing sucks sometimes. But God’s not really into settling. He’s into pursuing. And redemption. And restoration.

He’s also into mercy and grace. Mercy, because God let me go five years without forcing a showdown with my pain. Grace, because with every effort to pull away, He kept bringing me back to this.

I’m not through this process yet. Everything about this “opportunity” indicated that it would be a season rather than a quick I-went-to-my-therapist-and-I’m-great-now session. Seasons take awhile; this crummy process is taking its sweet time. Here’s to whatever “healed” looks like on the other side of opportunity.