I am a survivor of complex trauma. Complex trauma is prolonged trauma that begins in early childhood and prevents normal attachment and development. After 15 years of therapy and other treatment modalities, my symptoms are manageable and do not meet the criteria for the diagnosis of a psychological disorder. Now, as a trauma survivor and woman in ministry, I choose to share my story and use the knowledge I have gained to help other leaders.
Trauma (especially complex trauma) survivors often wrestle with shame-based questions like, “Is my pain my fault?” “Am I being punished?” and “What can I do to fix it?” These questions can cause perpetual anxiety and compulsive behavior.
In my case, I spent the better part of 20 years trying to earn God’s presence in my life by eradicating shame with perfectionism and performance in ministry. It wasn’t until I stepped away from pastoring in a toxic ministry culture and faced my unresolved trauma head on that I began to learn that God’s presence is a gift to be received.
Throughout my ministry, I have always practiced and espoused active spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, fasting, study, and service as a way to connect with God and others. However, with a perspective colored by complex trauma, these disciplines actually triggered my compulsion to earn God’s presence. After I stepped off my ministry platform, I found that more passive spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, stillness, and, in my case, physical suffering arrested my compulsivity to perform and enabled me to receive God’s unconditional love.
02. Bitter: Critical Care
Last November, I penned this in my journal, “My whole body aches. My stomach has been cramping. I have constant migraines. I don’t know what’s wrong. God, help me.” By the end of December the pain in my abdomen was so bad I was crawling on all fours to the front door for my husband to take me to the emergency room. There, they found two large abscesses and a perforation in my colon due to diverticulitis. Needless to say, with stool spewing throughout my entire digestive system, my body was in sepsis, and I was admitted to the critical care unit and scheduled for emergency surgery.
When I woke up from surgery, I found myself wired with various heart monitors, an NG tube down my nose to my stomach, a PICC line in my arm, an oxygen mask, a catheter, a drain on either side of my waist, a wound vac machine connected to my abdomen, and at least three other IV’s. My surgeon explained that the damage to my organs was so extensive he had to cut me open with an incision from my navel to my pelvic bone. Then, he removed my sigmoid colon and performed a colostomy. The colostomy would give my digestive system time to heal, but it also meant I would have to hide a colostomy bag under my clothing for the next six months to a year.
However, the colostomy bag was the least of my concerns. I was barely conscious for the next week, and in so much pain the week after that I wondered if I would live to see another day beyond the hospital walls. In the blink of an eye, my only window to the outside world and the life I once knew as a hiker, traveler, and newly certified yoga instructor was Channel 2 on the TV that played a loop of nature scenes from the National Parks.