Tag Archives: Healing
Recovery. Healing? Restoration? These words contain both information, movement, and emotion. What words do you like to use when describing the process of getting better after a traumatic experience? How do you communicate that you are better but not so much better that you have no more bad memories; that you have no more nightmares; that you are not triggered into panic when you see someone who abused you?
What words do you shy away from?
Let’s consider healing first.
I was and am being healed?
Some hear healing language as a completed task. “I have been healed.” Past tense. If I was in a wheelchair but now I walk…would I say I have been healed if I walk with a limp or need a walker to get around? Do you ever hear someone say, “I was healed, in part.” Would it be better to say I am being healed or I am recovering. Compared to Greek verb tenses, our English language doesn’t communicate well the ongoing state of something. In Greek, we can communicate a present perfect tense such as, “I was and am currently being healed” all in one verb form. But in English, we cannot communicate such an ongoing process without more words. Thus, when we use the shortcut, “I am healed,” it sounds like a finished job.
What about recovery? Restoration? Renewal? Recovery words are popular amongst former addicts. For them it connotes that they are no longer using but making the daily choice for sobriety. However, they recognize the danger exists of falling back into drunkenness and so they communicate that they are in a lifelong process. For some, however, recovery sounds like a failure–failure to find victory and failure to accept a new identity. The truth is, few people outside of AA use the word recovery in every day speech. The other “r” words are more likely used in Christian circles but not so much in discussion of life after trauma.
Can you integrate trauma?
I have just finished reading Wounded I am More Awake: Finding Meaning after Terror by Julia Lieblich and Esad Boskailo (2012, Vanderbilt University Press). Julia helps tell Esad’s (a Bosnian doctor) experience of being held in 6 different concentration camps. He is now a psychiatrist in the US and works with trauma victims. However, he faced much brutality in being treated worse than one would treat an animal and so was not in good physical or psychological shape when he came to the U.S. I commend the book to those who want a basic understanding of trauma and of this thing we are trying to call healing and recovery. Listen to these quotes from Boskailo the psychiatrist,
I can’t take away what happened” [said to another survivor]. But [I] can help [you] imagine a better future.
“You are fifty, not twenty-five. You will never be the person you were twenty-five years ago. Even if you didn’t have trauma, you would not be the same.”
What Boskailo is arguing for is integrating trauma into one’s present life. One cannot go back and recover what was lost. A trauma survivor is never going to be free from losses suffered. To do so would be to deny truth. Integration means allowing the reality of trauma and its losses while finding meaning and value to live in the present with hope and even joy. Integration requires acceptance and willingness to look for meaning and purpose.
I like the connotations of integration. But, I am not sure I like the word integration since it also doesn’t connote some level of arrival at a good enough place. What word would you use?
Recovered. Healed. Better. Restored. Resolved. Whole. What words do you use when describing positive change regarding traumatic events like abuse, the pain of adultery, or other like experiences? And more importantly, what do those words convey to yourself and others?
Why am I thinking about this? Soon, I will begin teaching an on-line summer class called “Healing Trauma in International Settings.” To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable with the title I chose. Words matter and “Healing” conveys a message. Imagine replacing “healing trauma” with
Now, maybe I’m being overly sensitive but consider some of these other kinds of problems we face
- You break your tibia during an aggressive move on the basketball court. Your leg heals and you go back to your basketball playing. Here we use healing to denote that you regained your former capacity to play sports. You are back to normal or near normal.
- You cut your finger while slicing vegetables. You go to the hospital to get stitches. While you have a scar, your finger heals and you use it again. In time you have only a slight scar to remind you of that day.
- Your house sustains a fire. You lose belongings. Your insurance company restores your house and replaces your possessions.
- Your car is stolen. The police recover it and return it to you (with fuzzy dice attached)
- You have a protracted conflict with a family member. At some point, you have a heart to heart and resolve your differences.
My examples all convey a resolution of a problem where the problem recedes, maybe even disappears. But what about trauma? Is there a form of resolution and healing of rape or sexual abuse or domestic violence where the memories disappear? Should there be? Wouldn’t forgetting these experiences place the person in danger of living in unreality and, in some cases, at risk of re-injury? Here are some important questions:
- What does healing from an affair look like? How do you know you have “recovered”? What symptoms or experiences would remain?
- What does healing from a rape look like? What would be expected if you “pretty well recovered”? What is to be expected to not change?
As a counselor I do not want to under or over-sell the recovery process. Victims do find tremendous healing but to assume all vestiges of a traumatic experience go away would be false. Unfortunately, we who have not been traumatized sometimes expect the kind of recovery where victims go back to a way of life and thinking as if the trauma never happened.
If we are honest, we wish to live in a world without lasting consequences from sin and suffering.
We want people to “get over” their pain and go back to a way of life as if it never happened. It would be like asking a person who lost a leg to hope they will run exactly like they did before losing the leg. Indeed, they may run again. But never as fast and never as easy. There will be a stump to care for, a hip to learn new motion, phantom pains to re-interpret, and limits to accept.
This world of limits is one God wants us to live in and one we detest. Our first parents saw the limits of their wisdom and desired to get wisdom on their own. We too love the happily ever after story where humans obtain health and healing apart from limitations. We tell the stories of miraculous healing as if we no longer live in a broken world.
Let us endeavor to tell true stories of healing that glorify God and remind us that we depend upon him for every breath.
Now, a post title like this deserves a long and fair answer. Lacking the time, I’m only going to address one issue–that of the healing process with addictions. If you ask a person in AA how they defeat addictions they will quickly point out the need for God (or higher power) and the need for community in changing their lifestyle. They need a sponsor, they need to feel they are fighting with others to maintain their sobriety. Will power will not be enough.
I suspect that most Christians would agree. But, here’s the problem. When we are asked about the healing agent for any sinful or repetitive problem, we point to Jesus. True, without God we do not have a shot of defeating our nemeses. When we talk like this it can sound like an isolationist, just me and God, healing process.
One of my students said it well. When he got saved out of his addictions he got new friends, new discipleship activities, and a new view of the reality of addictions (friends died). He had new activities to replace the old, new reinforcement patterns, etc. And, while he points to the saving grace of God, it wasn’t an isolating event.
That is our problem. We continue to think of our sanctification as a me and God experience. AA does a better job (often) than the church in reminding each other of the need for support without any condemnation for needing years and years later.
Yesterday’s commment about Paul and possible suffering he might have experienced from intrusive memories of past murderous actions got some fun dialogue going here and on Fb. So, in light of the summer doldrums, let’s try another provocative thought. While neither this one nor the yesterday’s musing is based on the actual text (rather they are musings about the personal experience of two apostles), I think they are still fun to consider.
*in chapter 18 of John, the story of Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus is told to us. We are told he is warming himself around a communal fire during this episode. Fast forward to chapter 21. Jesus is now resurrected, has met with the disciples in Jerusalem and now meets the disciples in Galilee after a night of fishing on the Lake. Verse 9 tells us that when the disciples landed and saw Jesus, he was standing beside a charcoal fire cooking fish. What transpires next is Jesus thrice asking Peter if he loved him followed by the command to feed and care for “my sheep.”
Is it purposeful that the only two times in the book of John that charcoal fires are mentioned are these two? What memories does it evoke in Peter as he sees Jesus by it and smells the fire. Does it trigger a way of shame? Had they yet to talk about his denials? Was Peter hanging back? Was Jesus three questions intended to undo the damage done by Peter’s 3 denials?
Clearly, we can say that Jesus’ questions hurt Peter (the text tells us this) but we don’t know the nature of that hurt. What we do know is that humans often carry with them visceral reactions to triggers that bring them back to shameful past events. We don’t know that is what happened to Peter but it might well have.
We can also say that sometimes it is appropriate to have symbolic healing experiences that help commemorate and change our experience of something. I would caution those too enthused with ushering in healing with half-baked re-experiencing moments. And yet, I suspect we all have had some postive, even painful experience that resolved a negative experience from the past.
*This idea did not originate from me. I heard a pastor begin a sermon on this passage by remembering his own traumatic experience (bike accident) and how he physically remembered that accident when his young children were biking. He then mused about Peter’s reactions with Jesus in this passage. He did not suggest the text tells us much here but it was worthwhile considering how we respond when facing memories of past negative and shameful events.
In healing God defeats to enemies of his kingdom. David Goneau preached a sermon from Judges 7 that illustrates this point. You can listen to it here (link at top right). The reason God has Gideon defeat the Midianites with only 300 men is to fight the evil that was overtaking Israel. While it is easy to see that the oppressors were evil, David points out that God is also fighting against Israel’s unbelief. He wins the battle for Israel in such a way as to engender trust and belief–loyalty.
David goes on to say that the tougher battle for God is not the evil oppressor (they disappear from history) but the repetitive habits towards idolatry and unbelief. Fighting disloyalty in order to win the hearts of his people is the major cyclical theme in Judges and in the whole Bible. David ended his sermon with the reminder that God uses another “absurd strategy” to end this cycle–that of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I make a similar point in a paper on a biblical theology of inner healing coming out in a special issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. All of God’s healing activity in the bible, including that of Jesus’ healings, have the near goal of ending suffering but the ultimate goal of healing disloyal hearts by showing us his power. We get caught up with the amazing power of the miracles but do we see them first and foremost as God showing us his Kingdom power?
I don’t know about you but I’m usually suspicious of the stories of healing told in the media. Its not that I believe God doesn’t heal–I do. I get suspicious of the reasons why the person is telling it to the media. But, here’s one I heard recently on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air. This one sounds authentic because it doesn’t fit the “happily ever after” story we like to write. Listen here to her interview with Reynolds Price.
Mr. Price (70 something) is an author of many books including a recent one called, Letters to a Godchild. Terry asked him about a vision he had of Jesus healing him. Mr. Price puts the following story in this context: he reports having only 2 experiences of visions and 1 auditory word from God. In short here is the story of a vision he had in 1984. He had been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his spine and given about 18 months to live. He was losing the use of his legs and the radiation treatments he was to undergo would likely make him a paraplegic (which it did). Just prior to his radiation treatment he had a vision that he was resting beside the Sea of Galilee. He was wearing normal clothes but there were men lounging around him in “Jesus suits.” One came over and he recognized him as Jesus. Jesus beckoned him to come into the water, which he did. Then Jesus cupped water and poured it over the scar or spot where the tumor was. Jesus spoke these words to him: “Your sins are forgiven.” Mr. Price reports that wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear so he asked Jesus, “Will I be healed too.” Jesus says something like, “that too.” And that ended the vision. He went on with the treatment, did lose the use of his legs and the next year was touch and go.
Terry asked Mr. Price what he thought about the healing vision since he wasn’t really healed. Mr. Price seems to think otherwise.
This sounds so much like a true vision. God heals in his own way but it may not be what we would expect. And true to form in the New Testament, God is more concerned with healing our sinful nature first. His vision is so much more believable than the “everything worked out just as I wanted it to” version that is popularly told.
One other story. In the darkest hour of his cancer, Mr. Price remembers wondering out loud how much more he had to endure. He heard an audible, “More.” And indeed, he suffered much more before getting healthy again.
Again, sounds authentic. We have fantasies about God removing our suffering. Instead, he often sustains us and is with us through that dark hour. For some, he does remove them from the disease. Others, he does not. But, he is with them.
Caught the last 15 minutes of the last installment of Ken Burns’ The War on PBS. At some point I’m going to have to watch all 15 hours of it. A couple of men were talking about the unspoken PTSD they experienced after the war but couldn’t really talk about (back then). One man, from Minnesota, had described several traumatic experiences in other installments. He concluded the show with a comment that I don’t have in quotes but is as close as I can remember it. He said something to the effect of, I’ve had a great life; I’ve enjoyed myself; I have a great family…but sometimes the war sucks you back in.
Another gentleman described coming home from being a POW in Japan and being filled with hate for anything Japanese. At some point in his life he realized he had to let it go. As he said, the Japanese weren’t being hurt by his anger, he was. He met with a preacher who helped him find relief and to let it go. But the most interesting part of this little story is that the man telling his story then paused and said something like, but its taken me another 30 years to deal with it.
Isn’t that the truth. We find relief and healing; but that doesn’t mean no ongoing consequences and no ongoing fighting to hang on to truth, hope, sanity, and peace. Healing rarely is immediate and complete. But don’t mistake slowness and ongoing battles as the absence of healing. No, we are being healed–just day by day as we hang on to God and the folks he has placed in our lives.