Flashbacks

In 2015 I went through EMDR. It was excruciating, but I saw tremendous improvement in the months that followed. I was told right from the beginning that it was not a cure, as such, that everyone responds differently and that ‘wellness’ occurs at varying degrees.

Lately I have been experiencing flashbacks. They are quite intense, but in a different way to those I endured before EMDR. Often these flashbacks are not related to overt violence or threatening situations. They’re usually about all the ways in which I was manipulated and coerced.

People often don’t realise that coercion is actively abusive, but in many ways it is equally as damaging as the more obvious kinds of abuse, and may in fact be more destructive *because* it is less easily identified. Coercion and manipulation work in such a way as to make the victim feel he or she has no choice. Coercion attempts to make the victim a willing participant. In certain situations this coercion is also known as ‘grooming’.

Sometimes it is as if I experience the situation all over again. It makes me sick. Nausea and a goose-pimply feeling of horror and disgust wash over me. At that point all I can think is: ‘I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.’

But my faith is my rock. As the flashback lessens and common sense drips back in, I tell myself that it is a sin to hate. Hatred eats away at you, making you permanently miserable; no room for love. My God says to lay all my burdens on Him. My Jesus stretched His arms wider than the earth on that cross.

I pray, “Lord, I can’t help feeling that I hate him, but I know you don’t hate him. I give my hatred and I give him over to You. Seventy times seven. To the power seven. And then some. Please keep him away from my family and from anyone else who is vulnerable. Don’t let him hurt anyone else. If you can reach his heart, I pray that you do. You tell me to pray for my enemies so that is what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what else to do but to reach out to you. Seventy times seven. And then some.”

I write because this is my testimony of what faith actually looks like – not pretend faith that avoids the nasty stuff. Life is hard. But God is always good. God is ALWAYS good.

For the Sake of Flicking Strawberries

I used a wheelchair today in the supermarket. Although I used a mobility scooter when we were in the Peaks, this was the first time I have used an actual wheelchair during this phase of illness. The last time was 20 years ago, more or less.

I guess it’s good that they provide them for customers. And it was good to have such a helpful child pushing me round and doing all the physical stuff. What a blessing a helpful child can be! But I didn’t like it – the stares, the comments. Not rude comments, mind you, it’s just that people who might usually ignore you feel obliged to say something, at least I think that’s what is happening. I think they’re wondering why someone who doesn’t look particularly ill or infirm requires a wheelchair. It’s not everyone, of course, just a few perhaps ill-mannered folk who never learned that it’s rude to stare. But even if the vast majority ignore you, it’s the handful who don’t who make it awkward. I felt ashamed of my illness. Ashamed that my 11-year-old daughter is taking on the role, albeit temporarily, of caregiver. That’s my job. And if I don’t have the role of caregiver, what do I have? I really don’t like to be the centre of attention, least of all when I’m feeling low. Which I was, by virtue of needing the bloody wheelchair in the first place. There’s no doubt about it: people look at you differently if you’re in a wheelchair :-/

I felt petty and childish when I asked God, later, when I will get to live my life. Illness has to be one of the loneliest ways to go through life. In my teens I spent a lot of time alone because of this illness and because I missed so much school. I was also depressed and very wary of pretty much everyone, so it was hard to maintain friendships. Then in my twenties, although physically I was healthy, I was deliberately isolated by my controlling, much older and abusive (so-called) husband. It’s one of the things that abusers do. They isolate their victims so that they can maintain the high level of control (and get away with it).

Eventually I divorced him and later met my dear Frank. Last year I went through EMDR and although it unlocked many barriers that trauma had created, I’m still unwell and probably worse, physically, than a year ago. I turn 40 next year and I am still waiting to be well enough to have a proper job, for the sake of flicking strawberries (tried to come up with something less rude than the usual…)

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A flickable strawberry. From idpinthat.com

Dear God, I know they say life begins at 40 but I never thought anyone meant it literally. I felt like crying earlier, which is progress, because usually I’m so detached I don’t feel much at all, but I still didn’t actually cry. How pathetic – to feel like crying but not even being able to do that.

If I were a twitterer I’d probably create a new hashtag: #effinguseless

Still, the great thing about reading your bible every day is that you can bring to mind appropriate verses. So here are a few words from the Psalms that remind us that struggle is universal, to some degree, and that we’re never alone, however much it feels like it (thank you, God, for Your Word):

These things I remember as I pour out my soul…

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.

 From Psalm 42:4,5 (NRSVA)

 

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

Cathy, Come Home

One of my favourite scenes of any novel that I have ever read comes from Wuthering Heights, that dark, brooding tale of obsession and death (why anyone would think it’s romantic is beyond me but that’s not the focus of this post). It is one of very few novels where the main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy, are utterly unlikeable yet remain genuinely compelling. Emily Brontë was a genius. This is the scene of which I speak:

This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten. ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in—let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton) ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’ and maintained its tenacious gripe, almost maddening me with fear. ‘How can I!’ I said at length. ‘Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’ The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closed above a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again, there was the doleful cry moaning on! ‘Begone!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.’ ‘It is twenty years,’ mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’ 

I have felt like that voice in the desperate darkness. Sometimes I have felt like I’ve been wandering, desolate and lost on the moors for so many years that I’ve forgotten what home is like. That cry of “twenty years!” strikes at my soul.

Twenty years ago my friends all went off to university. I didn’t. I was ill. Three years later I went away to college with a view to moving onto university after a year. Two weeks after that I had the utter misfortune to meet my first boyfriend, 12 years my senior. 18 months after we met he had coerced me not only out of my long-held dreams of studying but into a controlling marriage and even motherhood. I found myself mother to an autistic child (not that I knew that then, of course, but there were signs), living in a council flat with a jobless, manipulative psycho. What the **** happened? I spent so many years feeling like… like a cockroach. Waiting to be squashed. Disgusting and despised.

Nowadays… I sometimes just wish – I wish I could feel like I had achieved something. I wish I didn’t feel so different to everyone else. Last week I received a certificate of participation for a course I studied via Future Learn. For me, this was a big deal. Straight away I wanted to go out and get a frame so I could put it on the wall. I don’t have any certificates other than my rather pathetic 6 GCSEs. It doesn’t matter that I taught myself in order to pass them (I was too poorly to go to school most of the time). I didn’t do A-levels. I didn’t get the degree. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t do all the other stuff my contemporaries did. I never ‘fulfilled my potential’. So for me, this certificate from Future Learn meant – well, quite a lot, actually. But even my own husband made a joke about it. He didn’t mean to cause upset and I wouldn’t take to the blogwaves to complain about my spouse, that’s really not my point. It’s just that, well, sometimes I’m fed up of being different. I’m fed up of people who have led really good lives and they don’t even know it, who live like kings and don’t see it.

Don’t worry. This is not going to be a great long wallow in self-pity. There’s just one thing that I would like to say to the blogosphere in general: if you had the chance at education, at making choices, at being a ‘normal’ Western teenager, a ‘normal’ young adult – just recognise how lucky you were. Please. And if in your life you have been granted more than enough, whether it be materially or spiritually, in friendship or in love – please take it as your God-imbued duty to be thankful, to be accountable for what you do with what you have been given, and to share.

Actually, make that two things. There are two things I’d like to say. The second is to please try your very best to make the disaffected welcome. Especially in churches. Churches aren’t supposed to be full of well-fed, content middle-class people. More often than not they are. They’re supposed to be home to the movers and the shakers and the sinners and the broken – one big messy family, made holy in Christ. Last week I was brave enough to share with someone at church that I’d been receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She just frowned at me.

Churches must wake up to the broken within their walls, as well as the broken without. It’s not ok to exclude people because you don’t understand them or because they scare you. It’s not ok to not make an effort to include someone, however unappealing they may be. Ask yourself: who is my neighbour? What does that really mean?

Jesus never excluded anyone. In fact, He always did the opposite… and that knowledge always cheers me up no end. I know that if Jesus were to sit here with me, He’d say that I have been given gifts beyond measure. He’d point out that I’m just about to begin my next module with the Open University. He’d point out all the wonderful things I’ve been able to do with my family. He’d even remind me that, no matter how tough EMDR was, I’ve reaped the benefits in the past few months. Jesus would show me again my wonderful husband, and my super children. He’d say that I’ve found the most important thing in my love for Him. With Jesus there is no lost wandering on the moor. There is no desolation or despair. Jesus says, “Cathy, come home.”

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This post was prompted in part by a post over at Sacred Wrightings, which is a very good blog if you ever have the chance to take a look. The author, Terry, is much more learned than I and I have learned a lot from reading what he has to say. He’s also quite funny.

Celebrating Summer (and the End of EMDR)

We had a lovely summer. We’ve spent time together as a family and although three of us caught the dreaded lurgy and had to come home from our camping trip early, we had some moments that we will treasure. We explored the English countryside and rediscovered our ‘green and pleasant land’. Most of all (for me, at least) these few months since I finished EMDR have been a time of continued renewal and healing. Everyone says how well I look and those who know me well have commented on how I am interacting with people better. I’ve even been horse riding, which I don’t think I would have if it hadn’t been for EMDR. I’ve been so much more able to give of myself to my family, too. A great burden has been lifted that I’d been hefting for years. I can’t tell you how wonderful that is. I am so, so thankful!

A few highlights: Fluff won an award at school for attainment. There were 11 of these awards handed out to a year group of 130, so she was thrilled. This is the same little girl whom I was once told was below average. I always knew she wasn’t – it was just everything that she’d been through, and we’d been through. Frank and I have fought hard for her to have the best education, and to support her in all her learning. Little Chipmunk did her first ever dance exams and gained a Merit and a Highly Commended. Yay, Chip! My girls and I have taken up horse riding, and I have fallen in love with a beautiful gelding called Balthazar ❤  I’ve also taken up Pilates, which is far more difficult than I’d anticipated. Muscles ache the day after in places you never expected to even have them… Praise the Lord for ibuprofen!

We’ve been blackberrying and made jam for the first time ever. We’ve enjoyed picnics and walks in the woods. We visited:

 

FLAG FEN

3,500 years old!

a 3,500 year old archaeological site,

The castle had a bread oven. On the roof. As you do...

The castle had a bread oven. On the roof. 

an 800 year old castle and a 600 year old manor house. On visiting the castle and learning its age, Prince commented, “This place makes our house seem quite young, Mummy…” Quite so!

 

Enormous slices of Bakewell tart for Daddy and Prince

Enormous slices of Bakewell tart for Daddy & Prince

GRAFFITI

Century old graffiti in the castle

Our little archaeologist

Our little archaeologist

A green spider on the train one day

Fluff insisted on taking a photo of this green spider on the train. Wonder where he was going?

GIRL GARDEN

Little girl explores an English country garden…

Little girl let loose with a camera in the English country garden:

 

 

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So how about you? Have you anything to be especially thankful for? Have you done anything special over the summer (or winter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere)?

You’re Little for a Little While

 

The end of the summer term brings numerous school traditions. This morning was, once again, Prize Day at Chip’s primary school, and I was invited once more to the ceremony. As they read out the title of the award, followed by the names of the children, I reflected on whether my little Chip would be likely to win any particular one. I didn’t think she’d win ‘Exemplary Behaviour’ like her sister the year before. She’s a little too – er – bouncy for that, by which I mean she occasionally forgets to be considerate in her eagerness. I joked with her beforehand that she ought to win ‘Most Like Tigger’. She just grinned.

The teacher continued to announce the various awards and when it came to ‘Most Improved in Confidence’ I nearly snorted. Chip was definitely not going to be eligible for that one. Any more confidence and she’d be dangerous. Like I say, our very own little Tigger. So which award do you think she won? You might have an inkling. It was ‘Most Enthusiastic Learner’. Bless her, the teacher said that she approaches everything, even the subjects she doesn’t like so much, with enthusiasm and endless curiosity. I was proud.

Next week I’ve been invited to Fluff’s school where she also has won a prize. It’s good to know, as a parent, that you must be doing something right if your offspring continually achieve well. It’s good to know that, despite all the horribleness and ugliness and darkness that we’ve been through as a family, we’ve not only come through, but come through strong. Even this past year, while it has been the best year of my life so far (hallelujah!), has not been easy. EMDR was nothing if not gruelling and it had an impact on the whole family, not just me. My biggest lesson from EMDR, perhaps surprisingly, has been to learn that being a good mother is good enough. I don’t have to be the perfect parent to somehow make up for the past.

So I shall spend this lovely summer’s day enjoying being a Very Proud Mother, and giving thanks to the God of all things good.

The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.

Matt 18:4,5 (GNT)

AFTER EMDR: WHAT NEXT?

I had my final EMDR session. It went well, as these things go, meaning that I was little more than a quaking wreck by the time I walked out the door. At the end of every session I go ‘into my safe place’, which means I close my eyes and imagine I am in St. Julian’s church in Norwich, kneeling before the altar. I surrender everything to God and I pray the Lord’s Prayer. As I pray, I imagine all the people who have knelt in that place, including Lady Julian, all who have prayed and praised and lived out their lives for God. How wonderful it is to recall centuries of prayers and centuries of saints whose shoulders we stand upon.

Do not be afraid—I will save you.
    I have called you by name—you are mine…”

Isaiah 43:1 (GNT)

Afterwards, at home and curled up on the day bed, I was listening to ‘Flash’ by Rachel Anne Ridge. She quoted the above verse. I recall a friend giving me the same verse several years ago, when life seemed like nothing more than a long, dark tunnel. I couldn’t see the light at the end of it, but I had faith in The Light, if that makes sense. I clung to the belief that just because I was in the tunnel it didn’t mean that light couldn’t exist. It was what might be termed a ‘dark night’, but eventually I found myself able to see the light again. I was bruised and scarred, but I could see.

In ‘Flash’ Rachel Anne Ridge describes the moment she recognised all the names, all the identities, she had taken on herself:

damaged

defeated

afraid

alone

unloved

etc., etc.

I suspect Rachel is not alone and that many of us have borne a long list of negative names for ourselves. It is a prolonged process to become free of the sticky web of lies. As I have learned through the years, abuse shapes a person’s sense of self so deeply that often we’re unaware of it (this is partly why we are commanded not to judge one another – but that’s a post for another day). Sometimes the world creeps in and tells me that because I am not such-and-such, because I haven’t done such-and-such, I am worth less than other people, I am somehow a failure. Now that I have finished EMDR, I admit I haven’t a clue where God will lead and of course I am wondering. Will I get a job? Will I complete my degree? How will I serve Him? What does He want me to do? Will He make use of the talents He gave me?

I have been praying recently, knowing that EMDR was coming to an end, about where my life will go. I know it sounds daft but sometimes I feel my life has been wasted. I’m rapidly approaching 40 and yet there are so many things I’ve never done. I feel odd and foolish when I’m around other people who have done all sorts of different things. But maybe – just maybe – that’s a good thing. Maybe God has given me a gift because I have learned (am learning) that my value is not in what I do or who I am. My value, my dignity, is a gift from God, God-breathed and God-inhaled, and that is a gift worth sharing.

Ridge also says:

‘That afternoon, it hit me: as a child of God, I belong to Him. He made me. He owns me. I am His… Only He has the right to name me… My identity is in Him. He has given me a new name. I am not what I do. My value doesn’t come from my successes or my failures. What I do comes from who I am, not the other way around. My value is inherent, not earned.’

I reached the end of the chapter. Still of a prayerful mind, I felt the stirrings of praise and out poured this song:

‘…I saw the Lord… sitting on his throne, high and exalted… Around him flaming creatures were standing… They were calling out to each other:

“Holy, holy, holy!
The Lord Almighty is holy!
His glory fills the world.”’

Isaiah 6:1-3 (GNT)

I looked up the passage from Isaiah that talks about the angels singing ‘holy, holy, holy’. Then, as I read the following verses, it was like God tapping me on the shoulder. It’s as if He was saying, “You’re useful to me, even if you don’t see it.”

‘I said, “There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the creatures flew down to me, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with the burning coal and said, “This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven.”

Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?”

I answered, “I will go! Send me!”’

Isaiah 6:5-8 (GNT)

I hope these words are useful to you, too, dear reader. God bless.