PTSD devours our peace as it wounds our souls. PTSD sucks away our relationships. We must nourish several types of relationships if we hope to have peace. One of them is that we need properly ordered relationships with our different communities. This right relationship of peace can help us stay alive and heal from our PTSD.
The PTSD-Identity forces you to isolate yourself more and more. PTSD hates you being in a nourishing community and will try to destroy your healthy communities. PTSD will let you linger in toxic communities as long as you are destroying your positive relationships. Once completed, it will drive you into further isolation.
We Always Have Multiple Communities
We never have a single, one and only, community, and none other. We always have several communities which are going on at the same time with different levels of commitment, intensity, obligation, and duration. Each of them have their own unique capacity to wound us or heal us.
Your church, art club, poker buddies, bowling league, classes, you name it, these are all individual communities in which you take part. Even your job is a community. And, sometimes, your job can give you PTSD. In my case I am part of a university community and then also part of a second community in my Theology department. If you are a student, each of your classes is a community.
Examples of some of my current communities: the multiple sections of Theology I am teaching, several spiritual communities, different veterans’ communities, and several PTSD specific communities. When I was healthier and could go out more, I was in several artistic communities.
We Have Short Term and Long Term Communities
Some communities are for our lifetime, like our marriages (I hope!). Our relationship with God is for eternity. Your relationship with your mortgage may be 20-30 years, which can feel like an eternity.
Other communities can be short: a four year military enlistment, or a 15 week semester. Below you will read that I was in one community for only three hours, I believe it went a long way to saving my life.
Our Communities Can Be Virtual or Physical
If I spend time commenting on blogs or taking part in internet forums, then I am also part of several virtual communities. When I am meeting someone face to face, I am in physical community with them.
Communities Can Be Large or Small
On the one hand I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church, which has about 1.1 billion members (note this does not mean they are observant or practicing Catholics). So I seem to be part of a large group. On the other hand, I also am in a small community of just God and myself as I gimp through my daily life and prayer.
Your marriage and family are also communities that can help or wound you further. Something as mundane a sports team or chess league are also communities.
Our Communities Are Usually Toxic or Nourishing
Ideally, each of our communities would help us in some task and nourish our souls. Such is not the case.
A community might bring me into closer conversation with God as in a sacramental marriage. A community may teach me things that make me more informed, or better able to teach or write. A healthy community might help me bear with my chronic pain and not give up hope.
I was in one short term community a few years ago. It lasted only three hours. It was a Veterans Talking Circle, modeled on Native American talking circles. Whoever held the eagle’s feather spoke and no one interrupted. The expectation was one of confidentiality and no judgment.
In the circle I spoke about some of the things that happened to me overseas. I told of some things I had never spoken of before. I wept and lost all of my strength and began to slide out of my chair. Two men, one on each side of me, held me stable in the chair as I sobbed and told about a portion of my life that had been eating my soul and giving me nightmares for more than twenty years. The talking circle carried me, they lifted my burden. Most of the men and women in the circle I have never met again. But for those three hours, we were a community that offered me substantial healing.
Secular versions of this are Veterans Listening Sessions, cancer support groups, and the various types of Anonymous groups that help one another to find strength and courage.
Sometimes our communities don’t carry us to healing and fruition the way that particular veterans talking circle did for me. Sometimes we have toxic communities. Toxic communities will make our wounds fester. They contain people who are malicious and/or just plain stupid and insensitive. They will say and do things that make your PTSD soul wound worse.
The worst of these occur in relationships which were originally wholesome and life-giving. For some reason things go awry. Sometimes one’s religious group or spouse becomes toxic. Since they know you well, they know how to turn the verbal knife and make you really hurt. These sorts of people play right into the PTSD goal of further harming and isolating you.
You have probably encountered some of these groups and people in your time. They suck the light out of you and cause you grievous harm. Some know it and enjoy it. Others are simply incredibly selfish and insensitive to your suffering.
If your communities are toxic, you may need to leave them. If your communities treat others like objects, you may need to part from their company. Those people and organizations will pollute you and cause you to harm yourself and others.
If the community is too toxic, if the damage cannot be controlled by annexation, then you may need to separate or divorce yourself from that toxic community. This is true if it refers to people or an organization or group. Your soul comes first.
The PTSD-Identity will encourage you to be a participant in toxic groups while you burn up all your healthy relationships. Then, when you have nowhere to go that is healthy, it will compel you to further isolation.
Some Communities Can Be Nourishing and Toxic
Larger groups can actually have elements of health and destructiveness within them at the same time. It is possible that some elements of a community can be toxic and other parts nourishing. Then you need to find the dividing line and focus on the nourishing aspects and guard your soul against the toxic components.
The American Catholic Church is a good example of this; some bishops remain “ho-hum” on protecting minors and stopping bad priests. The majority strive to help parishioners worship God. I annex out the bad boys and focus on the good boys.
In the US Army it was easy to figure out who the glory hounds were and who really cared about their troops.
Occasionally Inventory Your Communities
Sometimes we need to step back and ask ourselves about our communities. We can inventory them and ask ourselves how they are doing.
Are they helping us heal?
Are they helping me establish healthy relationships?
Do they allow us to help others?
Are they toxic?
We don’t need to do this for every community every day. Most people who are in a good marriage know they are and don’t need to autopsy it. But if my other relationships are the kind that encourage or permit me to treat others as objects, or think of myself as worthless, then they probably need some adjustment.
Our various communities can help heal our souls from PTSD. Some of our communities may try to make our soul wounds even worse.
If we are to acquire peace when we have PTSD, and I am certain that we can, then we need to make sure our communities are in right relationship, that they nourish and they do not harm us or others. Semper Pax, Dr. Z