After what has felt like the longest year of our lives, we had our first visitor from Texas last week. He’s a dear friend, but since we lived in different parts of Texas, not a friend we saw often. He and Nate have become close over the past year and we were glad to make a spot for him in our lives last week, giving him the space, wilderness, and water he needed for this particular juncture of life.
One afternoon as we paddled the river together, a fishing pole bobbing behind us, a conversation about music preferences among us, I mentioned that since the shooting, I haven’t listened to music as often.
“Shooting?” he asked. “Wait, why do I not know about this?”
And, well, I didn’t know what to say. So much of our lives is absorbed by me and written about for you, what do I say when I’ve omitted the story of one of the most traumatic and life-altering experiences of my life? I’ve written about it before, briefly, detachedly, but I mostly just don’t. It’s not a story that I’m ready to process with others in detail.
I feel the same way about my sexual abuse and another event I experienced more recently. These are not stories I have any plans of sharing in detail with anyone outside a small group of people.
It may seem that because I write so candidly about so many things, I must be hiding or pretending about something. But I’m not. There have been a thousand events in my life and there are five or six deeply traumatic ones that I do not have plans of writing about.
Why? Why in a culture when telling your story is a sign of empowerment, when it seems to be the mark of moving from victim to victor, when so many people have felt alone and silenced in their trauma, have I chosen to stay quiet? People have asked me about this before, many times. Why don’t I advocate for more sexual abuse victims? Why am I not retweeting and sharing the videos that circulate after yet another shooting? Why am I not wildly promoting books and talks and posts from victims who are speaking out?
Here’s why: I am not yet healed and I’m not afraid to say that out loud and live in its reality.
I wrote recently about what feels like relief, especially for a victim, can masquerade as healing, while exacerbating actual healing. Telling our stories to the general public can feel like relief, like getting something off our chest, like a step toward victory. It can feel like a balm on an open wound, but a balm does nothing to root out the infection within. That is a deeper, and sometimes more painful, work. That takes going in, instead of going out. That takes a kind of pain most of us don’t want to do, even if we know the end result is good and even better. We would much rather the balm, the ice, the aloe—and all those things are good, don’t get me wrong, but they can begin the outward work of relief (a scab or a scar forming) without the inward work of healing (the infection rooted out or the scar tissue dissipating).
It has been so commonplace to hear the traumatic stories of people around us that we don’t necessarily know how to differentiate which ones are coming from people who have done the work of healing and which are coming from people who are just hurting. And while we need to be careful to not blame someone who is hurting for seeking relief from what hurts in whatever way they can, we also need to talk about the blessing of doing it a better and more holistic way. This is why good friends and good community and good therapy are so necessary for someone who has walked through trauma. I can write about the shooting or sexual abuse for years and it will not even hold a candle to the kind of healing that has come through walking with a few safe, attuned listeners for a very long (years) time. I am still doing that work.
There are very few people who have heard me tell the story of the shooting or my sexual abuse in great detail because for a long time, every time I told it, I felt it in my body. I felt anxious. I felt panicky. I felt afraid, unsafe, ready to flee or freeze or fight. I also sometimes feel that way when listening to someone else’s story about similar traumas.
I believe God created our bodies that way on purpose. When I get that lump in my throat and jittery feeling and short of breath, I believe it's God's way of saying, "Hey, I want to protect you from retraumatization and I want to protect you from imprinting your experience of trauma onto this story of abuse you're listening to, effectively making you believe there is another layer of abuse on top of the story you're hearing—making what is already horrific, even more so. Leave now."
I have learned to pay attention to those cues for multiple reasons. One of which is they tell me there’s more work to do, that I am not yet ready to bring this big story and all the ways it has affected my life, my body, my personality, and more into the world. It is still too tender.
Praise God for therapy and EMDR and good theology, because five years ago I was afraid to go to the bank without obsessively locking my doors and having a panic attack on the way there. I am, by God’s mercy, not there anymore. But I also know reading the news about another police shooting, school shooting, or racially motivated shooting, is going to do things to my body and the healing work God has done in me, that are still premature.
It undoes my healing. It pulls off a scab. It inserts infection back in a wound.
My story is important. And it is most important to God who wants to heal every single part of it. And it is important to my husband who walks with me through it. And it is important to my therapist who doesn’t need me to retell the stories every time we meet, but can start where we left off. And it is important to the friends to whom I’ve told the story once and don’t need to keep replaying it. I don’t need to relive that trauma again and again with them.
I relived it not just in the telling of it, but in anything related to it, guns, police, gunshots, hijacking, etc.. Same with sexual abuse. Same with other abuses or festering wounds. I’ve realized there are some topics that for me, at this time, are off limits. Bringing my triggered self into those conversation with people who are not triggered and can talk about those experiences or topics in measured ways (either because they have healed entirely from their own experience or because, by God’s grace, they’ve never experienced it), is only going to exacerbate my healing process and not further it.
I believe God's grace is sufficient for that and I believe he heals people every day, some all the way, some not until they meet him face to face. What I do not believe, though, is that I can clearly see or understand the depths of my own trauma and I especially do not believe I can see or understand the trauma or intricacies of another's trauma without bias.
Here’s how I want to close, with as much strength as I can muster, I want you to know my experience is not limited to me in this way. When you listen to any of the number of courageous men or women who are speaking up about their trauma and you hear their voices quivering and see tears smarting in the corners of their eyes and their breath go ragged, you must understand what is happening to them: they are, in some ways, reliving the trauma they are not yet healed from. And they are doing it at great cost to themselves because they don't see enough people who have not been traumatized speak up clearly on their behalf. It is rare to find someone who has not been traumatized who cares as deeply and passionately about these subjects as someone who has.
And that's why it's so important and I cannot stress this enough: if you have not been traumatized or can listen to a story about it without living yours yourself or embellishing their story in your mind, and you are willing to speak on behalf of victims (and on behalf of those who've been accused wrongfully because they become victims too), we need you.
Dear reader, my body is feeling tense right now, my breath short, and this is why I don't speak about this often or hardly ever. Writing this costs me. Sometimes the cost is worth it. But for me, the cost hasn't been, not yet. In order for me to believe God is at work healing all that is fractured in the world, I have to receive the healing he has for my own fractured self, and we’re still in process there and I’m not ashamed to say that. It doesn’t make me more broken than someone else. It doesn’t make me weaker than someone else. It just makes me honest about who I am and the life I’ve lived and the God who loves me too much to leave me wounded.
warm hugs to you, as you continue your way.
Thank you. My daughters are both victims of abuse. It connects with our family deeply. You get to tell your sacred stories how, when, why, and not. I'm holding you before God with my girls and all who have insured these traumas. Thank you for adding perspective and hope.