Traumatic grief, part 5 of 5

Touch, wallow and heal

Have you ever found yourself singing along with a song that you learned many years ago, and then you actually start realizing the words you’re singing? You wake up from singing on auto-pilot and say Wow. That’s not who I am anymore. You realize that it’s time to turn off the radio or start listening to a much better song.

In a similar way, later in this post—in the section called Renewing Our Minds—we’ll think about the tapes that play and replay in our minds. Your tapes may have been playing since you were a child or a young adult. If you have negative tapes or messages that replay in your mind, it’s time to throw out the old tapes and start playing new ones.

But first, let’s spend some time thinking about addictions.

In this five-part post, you’ve probably noticed the close relationship between trauma and addiction. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s common for traumatized people to use drugs and/or alcohol to deaden the pain and hide the memories. While they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they’re more likely to traumatize others—emotionally, physically and/or sexually. And the cycle continues….

You’ve probably heard this saying: Hurt people hurt people. So true.

We choose addictions to avoid feelings, memories and/or the truth. People minimize certain addictions by referring to them as escapism. Sure, people who play video games or view social media for hours a day are obviously escaping from life in general and from various responsibilities. But isn’t there more to it than that?

Fueled by lies
On some level, I believe that every addiction is fueled by lies—the lie that since this is a good thing (or since I enjoy it), I should spend hours per day doing it; the lie that it’s okay or “not so bad;” the lie that I’m not hurting anybody; the lie that I deserve a break from this or that; the lie that “It’s my life, so…;” the lie that “Everybody else is doing it;” the lie that it doesn’t matter who I am or how I live; the lie that I’m not responsible to anyone or anything; the lie that I don’t matter; the lie that God doesn’t matter; the lie that I don’t care; the lie that God doesn’t care; the lie that my life has no meaning; the lie that God doesn’t have plans for my life.

Dependence and avoidance
Addictions are obviously bad for us physically, mentally and spiritually, and they also hurt our relationships. An addiction often begins as a coping mechanism—a momentary escape; but it can quickly become a physical or psychological dependence. In other words, it becomes “I’ve got to have this (in order to avoid that).”

It’s easy to identify the addiction—the “I’ve got to have this.” It can be a little trickier to identify what we’re trying to avoid. Let’s reflect carefully and honestly on the first sentence under Escapism:

We choose addictions to avoid
feelings, memories and/or the truth.

From good/normal/everyday thing to addiction
People can use all kinds of things as addictions. It’s easy to think I don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, so I don’t have an addiction problem. But addictions come in many shapes and sizes.

All these normal, seemingly-good or potentially-good things can be misused, becoming addictions: working, eating, sleeping, exercising, showering, reading, using the computer, watching television, doing crossword puzzles, having sex, doing yard work, cleaning, doing community service, volunteering, praying. We don’t normally think of these things as addictions, but there are many people in the world who are addicted to each one of these seemingly normal, daily kinds of activities.

Let’s reread counselor Liz Taylor’s definition of an addiction from part 3 of this post:

If you use something to the exclusion
of the rest of your life, that’s an addiction.

Do you remember the man who was addicted to taking showers? (If not, see this post.)

Walking away
Addictions keep us from doing the work of grieving, so addictions keep us from experiencing healing and peace. Also, addictions take our original problem—denial—and add another problem on top of it, so now we have two problems to deal with—our denial and our addiction.

To walk away from an addiction, we have to acknowledge what we’re using the addiction to avoid—what feelings, what memories and/or what truths. We need the involvement and support of others who’ve been there. And we have to replace the lies in our minds with truth—God’s truth.

Let’s return to our tour of Trauma Town with our tour guide, counselor Liz Taylor, as she talks about the 12-step aspect of treatment for substance abuse.

Healing from substance abuse: counseling + the 12 steps
I’m a big believer in the 12 steps in the therapy aspect. If I can get [my clients] to buy into what it means to get a sponsor and go to meetings and work the steps, the recovery rate is probably 40 percent higher than if they do nothing. I would love to say it’s 90 percent. I’ve got recidivism all the time. The reason why they cycle back is because they didn’t work the steps. Why they didn’t get a sponsor is because of the trust level.

(For more information about the 12 steps originated by Alcoholics Anonymous, click here.)

Liz works very long hours and has 47 people on her client list right now. If they stay in counseling, they stay sober. Seven or eight [of them will] relapse. If they’ve been in counseling, [it’s] rare [for them to] relapse. I’ve got a really good percentage. I have a personality that is very confrontive, but very loving. I can read people really well. I’m what I would call an empath. [But] your stuff doesn’t impact me.

I feel really confident in my ability to help somebody touch that pain, help them wallow around in it, let it soak in and then bring them back so they can face the rest of the week. They trust me. I deserve the trust and nurture the trust.

What was stolen
Peaceful Readers, why do we need to touch our pain and wallow around in it for a while in order to experience healing?

The trauma—the pain—stole things from us.
We must identify what it stole.

Did it steal your innocence? Did it steal your confidence? Did it steal your faith? Did it steal your peace? Did it steal your sleep? Did it steal your ability to trust people? Did it steal your ability to ask for help? Did it steal your ability to feel comfortable in your own skin? Did it steal your joy? Did it steal your childhood? Did it steal your ability to discern goodness from evil? Did it steal your parent(s)?

Think about all the things your trauma and your pain stole from you. Write your list in your journal, and add to it as you think of new things that your trauma and your pain stole from you.

Trauma’s lies
Trauma plants lies—some that are spoken and some that are unspoken. These lies include: “Life is bad.” “Life is all about pain.” “Life doesn’t matter.” “No one cares about you.” “No one can/will help you.” “You’re on our own.” “You deserved it.” “No one will believe you.” “If you tell, you’ll be in big trouble.” “If you tell, no one will love you.” “No one that you know did what you did (or experienced what you experienced).” “You absolutely must keep it a secret.” “The secret must be protected at all costs.” “If you tell, you’ll be rejected by everyone.” “You are worthless.” “No one will want you.” “No one will love you.” “You are bad.” “You are ugly.” “You are stupid.” “You can’t be forgiven.”

Knowing that each statement above is a lie, state—out loud—the opposite of each lie. Speak the truth. Write the truths that speak to you the most in your journal.

The truth
In addition to planting lies, trauma can also steal the most important truths—truths about God… the truth that God made you, the truth that you were made in God’s image, the truth about your inestimable value to him, the truth that God cares about you, the truth that God sees and knows you, the truth that God has plans for your life, the truth that you can be forgiven, the truth that God hears you, the truth that your mind can be renewed, the truth that God loves you.

Renewing our minds
In acknowledging what was stolen and the lies that were planted—literally, in our minds—we can see with clarity the impact of the trauma and the pain. Then we can begin to take healing steps to reclaim the good things and the truths that were stolen from us. The tapes that play and replay themselves in our minds—the lies that mislead us—can be replaced with the truth. We create new tapes, new thoughts and a new focus, based on truth and love. Our minds are renewed by the truth.

There’s power in the written and spoken word. If you have negative tapes that play in your mind, take out your journal, and write the truth. If you’d like, reread the truths just above this section, starting with the truth that God made you. Write truths about yourself in your journal and read them out loud. Do this daily, until these truths become a natural part of your beliefs and thoughts.

Who is The Accuser? See Revelation 12:9-11.

How are we transformed? See Romans 12:2.

Let’s get back to counselor Liz Taylor and our tour of Trauma Town.

Healing from prostitution and trafficking
I work with a prostitution court and the feelings of self-abandonment [that the women experience]. They don’t believe in themselves. They take their lives in their own hands every time they get into a car. Working with that clientele, it takes some time. It’s a two-year program, [and] sometimes [takes] up to four years, based on relapse. We graduated six [women] last March, [and have] five slated to discharge next March. Most of these women have been trafficked on some level.

Liz told me about the RISE program, started by Judge Brent Carr in Fort Worth, and an agency called The NET. Their whole focus is on trafficking. They work on the girls socializing, the social aspect, [teaching them that] it’s okay to have female friendships. That walks hand-in-hand with the counseling, treatment team, and probation [department]. We all meet every other week before court as a treatment team.

Watch this video about the RISE Program in Fort Worth, and hear a message from The NET at the end of the video. You will be moved.

Prison inmates, substance abuse and their children
Almost every man who’s been through prison has had some horrific story; [being] raped in prison is commonplace. They’ll do anything; they make drugs and bring drugs in so they don’t have to feel. They hide behind big muscles because it’s “eat or be eaten.” A lot of people come in here after prison release or before going to prison. The judges see the value of the counseling.

We can justify and make excuses. A boy whose father is in prison has to make up a story, lying: “My daddy takes business trips” or [“My daddy] is in the war” as an excuse.  He doesn’t know how to say “My dad’s in prison.” There’s a lot of that.

Leaving inpatient treatment
The most challenging aspect of leaving inpatient [treatment] is to continue counseling and to continue taking medication. They relapse or get into the cycle of shame, hearing the voices again, paranoia. Those are the real challenges. Another challenge is money. Counseling here is free. For each client leaving, [we emphasize the importance of taking their] medications and returning for counseling. Most of our clients are homeless. They return to the streets. [There are] very limited resources for housing. The housing resources have just bottomed out.

If you haven’t already read it, I recommend the book Same Kind of Different as Me. You’ll come to understand the why of homelessness more clearly. You’ll read about a true story of Traumatic Grief and all of the devastating consequences. But more importantly, you’ll read about the healing power of friendship.

The five myths of grieving
As we drive back up The Road of Traumatic Grief out of Trauma Town and close out our tour, Liz will share with us The Five Myths of Grieving. People say these things to other people routinely—thinking they’re being helpful—and instead, they perpetuate long-term Traumatic Grief and all the fall-out from life in Trauma Town.

The Five Myths of Grieving
“Don’t feel bad.”
“Replace the loss.”
“Grieve alone.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“Be strong for others.”

They’re all lies. They’re the myths of grieving.

Has anyone ever said one or more of these lies to you? How did these lies impact your decisions about grieving? What do you need to do now?

Have you ever said one of these myths to someone else who experienced a loss? What will you do and say now and in the future, now that you know The Five Myths of Grieving?

Let’s reword each one of these myths/lies so we end with the truth.

The Five Truths of Grieving
1. Acknowledge the pain you’re feeling. Talk about it, and cry when you feel like crying.
2. You can’t replace what you lost, but you can do the work of grieving, you can heal and you can move forward.
3. You need to grieve with other people—with your loved ones (and, depending on your loss, in a quality support group).
4. Doing the work of grieving will enable you to heal and to reach your destination: Peace.
5. Doing the work of grieving is excellent role modeling for your family. Teach them what you’ve learned.

The list below—from Time for Grieving, part 6—is a good place to start.

To-Do List for The Season of Grieving
1. Cry.
2. Journal.
3. Pray.
4. Attend a quality support group.
5. Read books that will help you.
6. Remember happy times (and/or God’s faithfulness).
7. Look for humor and joy.
8. Spend time with people who are good to you.
9. Attend church weekly.

Most of the items in the To-Do List for The Season of Grieving apply to the rest of our lives too. Take out #1 and #4, and the rest of the list is filled with good advice for life. (And go ahead and cry when you feel like it.)

Peaceful Readers, that wraps up our tour of Trauma Town.

I’d like to express my very special thanks to counselor Liz Taylor for teaching us so much about Traumatic Grief and for narrating our tour. The many things we learned will help us to be more compassionate toward others and toward ourselves. These new insights also shine the light on the things we need to do to heal and move forward on The Journey of Grieving.

Thanks so much, Liz!

Time to reflect
Now that we’ve left Trauma Town and The Road of Traumatic Grief behind, how do you feel? What did you learn that surprised you the most? Do you know anyone who’s experiencing Traumatic Grief, who has an addiction and/or who needs to do the work of grieving? Share this blog series with them.

Help is available.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these posts about Traumatic Grief. Leave me a comment below or send me an email at

Coming next: Come back next time for a little Gomer Pyle, a big brown spider and more.

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: James 1:2-4

Song for Healing: I remember hearing this song by Ginny Owens when it was released in 1999 and listening to the CD. It’s an emotionally-powerful, tender song I always remembered.

I’m including two different versions. The first one is the studio release. The second one is a live recording that includes some of Ginny’s story before she sings the song. I think you’ll really like the live version. It has an additional verse at the end and some good whoops from the audience.

(Studio release) “If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens

(Live recording) “If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens

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