Written by Phil Monroe
Monday, 25 November 2013 00:00
Recovery? Healing? Restoration? What words do you like to use when describing the process of getting better after a traumatic experience? The words I just used convey information as well as movement. They evoke feelings about what happens after a crisis.
For those of you continue to contend with a troubled past, ponder this: 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. I was in a wheelchair but now I walk...I have been healed. However, would I also 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? 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 even when we don’t mean it that way.
What about recovery? (or other “r” words such as restoration, renewal, or recovery?) Recovery words are popular among 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 others, 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 or community mental health 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?
In Wounded I am More Awake: Finding Meaning after Terror (by Julia Lieblich and Esad Boskailo, Vanderbilt University Press), Julia helps tell Esad's (a Bosnian doctor) experience of being held in 6 different concentration camps. He faced much brutality during those months in concentration camps and was not in good physical or psychological shape when he came to the U.S. He is now a psychiatrist in the US and works with trauma victims. 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 or a significant change.
What word would you use?
As Christians we talk about being free from sin, being made new, having changed lives. Indeed, these things happen to us when we become disciples of Christ. And yet, we are not completely free from sin. In fact, we sin quite a bit. We find our old selves showing up most days. Yet, we say without a hint of lying or deception, we ARE changed. We ARE free. The struggle remains but we fight it on a different level. We fight sin from the vantage point of having already been declared the winner in light of the cross of Jesus Christ.
So, when you talk about your traumatic past, try talking about it as one who has already won the big battle and has the power and grace to deal with the ongoing skirmishes.