Closing the trauma suitcase
Peaceful Readers, think back on some of the different jobs you’ve had. What was your favorite job? What was your worst job?
Jobs come in many shapes and sizes. Some jobs are fun, some are nightmares, some are filled with surprises—both good and bad.
Two little words
Do you remember my friend Summer? I interviewed her for this series because she handled her grieving so proactively after her husband’s death.
Summer and I met in elementary school—not as children. We met when we worked together with children who have special needs. We had a student who screamed a lot. Sometimes when Summer sat with him at his desk and he’d start screaming, she’d look at him and ask very matter-of-factly, “Excuse me?” In other words, “What the heck is that for?” I chuckled when she did that. I still chuckle about that.
If you know Summer, you know why this is funny. She is so relaxed and peaceful. She was really good at that job. Those two little words—“Excuse me?”—said a lot. They said “No, sir.” They said “Knock that off.” They said “You’re still going to have to finish your work, pal.” But all Summer had to say was “Excuse me?” That cracks me up.
The silent jobs
Let’s think about some different kinds of jobs, like the jobs we had growing up.
Healthy children have appropriate jobs at home. Maybe it’s unloading the dishwasher, washing the dog, getting the mail, etc. We call these jobs chores. They’re actually day-to-day tasks that help children grow up into responsible, capable adults. They’re important. (I’m not a real fan of the word chore, but we can get into that issue in a future series.)
Other jobs given to children are damaging—abusive. Most of the damaging jobs are unspoken, so I call them The Silent Jobs. Even though I call them The Silent Jobs, these whoppers are loud-and-clear—jobs like “When Mommy’s drunk, you’re in charge.” You’ll read about my #1 Silent Job in just a minute.
Today on Choosing Peace
Last time on Choosing Peace, we focused on steps 3 through 5 of How to Unpack a Trauma or Loss. In today’s post, we’ll focus on steps 6 through 10.
How to Unpack a Trauma or Loss
1. Look honestly at what happened.
2. Identify the lies/propaganda involved.
3. Acknowledge the impact, including what was stolen.
4. Express your feelings then and now.
5. Replace the lies with truth.
6. Choose to end the negative impact.
7. Close the suitcase (i.e., the trauma/loss).
8. Walk forward in healing and peace.
9. Share your story with someone you trust.
10. Thank God for helping you on this journey.
Step 6: Choose to end the negative impact.
My dad was a self-absorbed narcissist. (For more details, read part 1 through part 4 of this post.) My #1 Silent Job was to make him look good by being perfect. Can you say Pressure? Can you say Impossible? Can you say Frankie Ann’s dad was a total jerk? Ummm, excuse me. Temper tantrum over.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Step 6.
I’ve chosen to end my dad’s negative impact on me one step at a time throughout my adult life. Here’s an example.
The book report
When I grew up and moved out on my own, I didn’t call home very often. There wasn’t anyone there who knew me. I grew weary of “checking in.” It felt like giving a book report about someone else. “Frankie Ann is working and doing well. She doesn’t have any concerns to report because those aren’t allowed. Thank you for pretending to care. And how are you doing? Fine. Sure you are. Toodles for now.”
What a joke—the pretend “family.” What a silent movie.
I’m done with silence. I’m done with the costume they made me wear—Nameless Silent Movie Character Actor. I’m done.
Step 7: Close the suitcase (i.e., the trauma/loss).
It’s time for me to close this suitcase and say good-bye to the trauma of my dad’s emotional abuse—The Trauma of Perfection.
In part 4, I listed my dad’s lies and replaced them with a list of truths. This truth is my favorite:
I am God’s child.
My value does not come from what I do,
but from what Jesus did for me.
It is finished. Praise the Lord!
There will be times when new memories about my childhood come to me. I’ll deal with them one at a time as they arrive. How? I’ll look at this 10-point list to determine what work of grieving I need to do. Does the memory show me something new or is it another example of things I’ve already dealt with? I’ll pray about it and ask God to show me what I need to do. And I’ll do the work of grieving that’s needed, one step at a time.
Steps 8 through 10
Steps 8 through 10 can be trickier than they sound: Walk forward in healing and peace (Step 8), Share your story with someone you trust (Step 9), and Thank God for helping you on this journey (Step 10).
Step 8: Walk forward in healing and peace.
We must replace the old, scratchy, painful blanket (denial) with a soft, warm, fuzzy blanket (healing). Doing the work of grieving and doing the work of forgiving are both essential aspects of being able to close The Trauma Suitcase and place it back on the shelf—empty and finished.
Are you having trouble forgiving? You’re not alone. Forgiving will be the subject of the next series on Choosing Peace. I’ll give you some hints now. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting what happened or condoning what happened. We don’t say “That’s okay,” because it probably wasn’t okay. We say “I forgive you.” More on that subject—forgiving—in the next series.
Because I’ve successfully done the work of grieving and because I’ve forgiven my dad for his emotional abuse and The Trauma of Perfection, I can walk forward in healing and peace. Heavy sigh.
Step 9: Share your story with someone you trust.
I’ve shared my story with my close friends (and my wonderful Peaceful Readers) here on Choosing Peace (Step 9). You may be wondering, What about Brandon? I share certain details about this journey with Brandon, but not all of them right now. He’s taking a much more painful journey than I am, so I have to be sensitive to his needs for healing. In that same way, you’ll want to choose the person you share your story with wisely. If you have a friend who has six children at home or is significantly stressed or over-extended, choose another friend—one who can peacefully listen and receive your story without adding undue stress to your friend’s life. In other words, we don’t want to dump on someone whose life is currently experiencing flood waters.
If a great counselor has been a part of this chapter of The Season of Grieving, you’ve already shared your story with someone you trust. If you don’t have a great counselor or support group in your life, you can share your story with a trusted pastor at your church, with a good friend, or with a valuable mentor. Think and pray about this choice. Don’t rush into it. Pray to God and ask him to show you the right person to share your story with. Wait for his answer.
Wait for the LORD. Be strong,
and let your heart take courage.
Yes, wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:14, New Heart English Bible
Step 10: Thank God for helping you on this journey.
Now it’s time to thank God for helping me with The Journey of Grieving about my dad. I didn’t know that this journey was coming, but I’m very glad that I did the work. I’m going to use one of my favorite Bible verses—one that I think and say all the time—as part of my thank-you to God.
Great is the Lord,
and greatly to be praised….
Psalm 145:3a, King James Version
Angry at God
Have you ever felt angry at God? Most people have, truth be told. Have you asked Why? Why me? Why now? These questions are totally normal. As you read the daily devotions in Through a Season of Grief by Bill Dunn and Kathy Leonard, you’ll receive wise counsel that can help greatly with these questions. See this post for more information about this book and other resources that help us do the work of grieving.
Regardless of your answers to the questions in the paragraph above, do the stepping back exercise demonstrated below. It can help you to see the intricate steps involved in your healing. Hopefully that will help your gratitude to God to blossom and grow.
Let’s walk backwards a little, like we did in this post. What major steps over the course of two very-pivotal years led me to this point of healing? Healing about a trauma that I didn’t even acknowledge?
Step 10: My work of grieving this trauma is done.
Step 9: I started doing the work of grieving about my dad and The Trauma of Perfection.
Step 8: The Holy Spirit gave me Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts of my dad’s mantras.
Step 7: I interviewed counselor Liz Taylor, and she mentioned The Trauma of Perfection.
Step 6: I attended the abortion recovery follow-up support group socials, where the retreat coordinator told me about counselor and Traumatic Grief expert Liz Taylor.
Step 5: I attended the abortion recovery follow-up support group.
Step 4: I received an email about the abortion recovery follow-up support group.
Step 3: I attended the abortion recovery retreat.
Step 2: The Holy Spirit gave me Type 2 Intrusive Thoughts, encouraging me to go to the retreat.
Step 1: Advertising about the abortion recovery retreat arrived in my email at work.
Stepping back can be very helpful, as we come to understand the interweaving of different issues and losses in our lives. I had no idea that doing the work of grieving The Trauma of Abortion would lead me to do the work of grieving The Trauma of Perfection and more. Sometimes, Peaceful Readers, you’ll find the building or climbing effect where your healing is concerned. As one trauma is healed, you naturally move on to the next one—the next layer of your onion. The traumas may seem unrelated, but perhaps they aren’t so unrelated. It’s something to think about.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights….
James 1:17a, New Heart English Bible
Coming next: You’ve read about my dad, the narcissist. Now it’s time to read about my mom. Instead of an anger letter, I wrote a poem to her. It’s not very long, but it says a lot.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Romans 8:14-17
Song for Healing: This song has been a long-term favorite—“I’m Not Who I Was” by Brandon Heath. When he sings “I figured out I can sing,” I reword it and sing “I figured out I can write.” I like to make it my own. You can too.