How things got so grim: Unaddressed Trauma
“But in my experience, dust never settles really does it? In life?” ~Vera (British TV Detective)
I hate feeling my feelings. Usually I choose not to. Especially when they are unpleasant. Especially when they are unpleasant and involve people I love. I prefer to eat chocolate, put on a podcast, and pretend everything is fine. I just want to wait till the dust settles.
But the dust never settles. It keeps swirling around and eventually the dust storm gets so big you can’t avoid it.
I think a lot of us feel those storms around deaths. When my mom died, I found myself engulfed by old feelings, new feelings, feelings of regret, anger, remorse, and more. I felt like a gray blanket had been pulled over my head, I could still see out but everything looked blurry and hopeless.
I’m not talking about those first weeks after her death. Funerals are actually kind of sweet times. You remember, and laugh, and cry and hug. It is weeks later when the pain hits you in the back of the head like a boomerang.
I began reliving all the sadness of her life, and for some corrupt reason blaming myself. I blamed myself for not making her happy, not spending more time with her, not getting my kids around her more. I blamed myself for not doing more.
I know that all those things were impossible. But depression does not bother with rational thoughts about what is or is not possible. Depression just says everything is awful and it is your fault.
And I had the opportunity to deal with those feelings. If I had ever had the courage to bring them to my mom when she was alive she would have instantly forgiven me and told me how proud she was. But I didn’t. If I had talked about those feelings with my wife, or kids, or brother after her death, they could have helped me process them, mourn the mistakes and heal. But I didn’t. I really don’t like talking much in general. I hate talking about my feelings.
So I stuffed them and waited for years until they went away. They didn’t. And when I finally got too exhausted to carry them anymore, they overwhelmed me and sucked me into the black hole. I was no longer sad. I was depressed.
Oddly, the most basic of theology helped me out of this hole. My counselor started here with the simple statements: Is your mother in heaven? Even if she was disappointed with you, don’t you think she has forgiven you now? Do you think she is sad now? If she is not sad now, why are you beating yourself up for not making her happy?
I believe in the resurrection; I really do. But in the fog of depression, I refused to apply it to myself. I needed someone else saying these things in my ears. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The gospel is louder in the ear than it is in the mouth.” I believe that. I desperately needed someone to whisper the good news in my ear.
If you carry the weight of past trauma around, or if you are running from it. I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it will not heal itself. The good news is that the Gospel is enough for it. But as usual, you cannot do it alone. You need to find a wise and experienced minister to apply that healing balm to you. You have to hear it. I hope you do.