PTSD Spirituality: Isolation and Grace (Preliminary Thoughts)

PTSD is insidious in its effort to make us think we are alone in our suffering.  It is true that we are often neglected in this suffering by others, but we are never the only ones who are suffering.  Even in a locked room, or some sort of solitary confinement, we are never alone as the Community of God is with us.  If we are unaware of this, or fall into the interrogator’s snare that says we are alone and that no one knows or cares about our suffering, then the PTSD can harm us even more than usual. 

Physically Isolated Does not Mean Totally Isolated

Even if we are physically alone, we can better endure pain, suffering, and anxiety if we know we are not truly alone.  This is one of the reasons why early Christian martyrs withstood torture as well as they did – even in a dungeon, they knew God and other Christians were with them.

And, we in our PTSD suffering stand as witnesses to the traumatic acts that gave us out specific cases of PTSD.  No wonder people wish we would just shut up and die.  Our presence and survival reminds them of what our society has allowed to happen.

None of this takes away from the fact we are indeed suffering, but how we deal (how our mind, body, soul, reacts) with that actuality can be influenced by how isolated we think we truly are.  While torture is cruel and extremely painful (and does not give good counter-terrorism intelligence) it does not have to cause absolute despair.  The same goes for our PTSD.

The PTSD-Identity wants us to give up.  Like most forms of torture, it does not really want any type of information from us; rather, it just wants complete power over us.  It is not unlike how a rapist seeks power over his victim, where the rape is a destructive act and not always the goal in and of itself.  The PTSD-Identity, like torture and rape, desires to make us acknowledge it as our master.  It wants us to renounce all of our healthy relationships and then die.

It does not have to end up this way.  PTSD does not have to destroy us.

Even in Isolation, We Stand Alone Together

Many PTSD sufferers are amazed to discover that others suffer with similar symptoms as they do.  It is an illness that does not want us to know we have a bond of solidarity with others.  It denies that we share pain and stories, trauma, and PTSD triggers and symptoms.  Once we realize we live in this shared world we have a community.

Like the “Currahee” motto of the “Band of Brothers,” we with PTSD also become aligned with others who have a shared experience of trauma and subsequent PTSD; that is, “We Stand Alone Together.”  Even though physically isolated and under duress, we are stronger knowing we are not alone in this type of suffering, we learn that the PTSD will not inevitably kill us.

We can choose life and stymie PTSD.

We may have been initially traumatized far away and separate from one another.  But the very act of our trauma survival and continued lives brings us together in spirit and experience.  Our lives will still have pain, but we have made the choice of life instead of being compelled by the PTSD-Identity to self-murder.  And, we must choose life continuously, every moment of everyday.

The duration of our initial PTSD-inducing trauma may have been for only a moment of time or it may have gone on for a lengthy period of time.  Whether something relatively quick like an accident, or drawn out like an abusive spouse, we all got traumatized and are now part of a community who choose life and not self-murder.

Regardless of how we acquired PTSD, we must choose life every minute of every day.

Concerning Grace

Grace is a word that has a whole range of meanings and we often see it used in ways that may not be immediately clear.  Since it is a human word that deals with God, it is a mundane earthly word striving to describe a supernatural situation.  Thus, we will never fully describe it to our satisfaction.  This is not unlike how a scientist can talk of the phenomenon of “light,” but has difficulty in determining exactly how it is both a particle and a wave at the same time.  Regardless of our inability to mathematically describe light, it is still light.

For our immediate purposes, we might think of grace as God’s complete love for us.  We are never alone. God saturates us with love.  Yet society, ignorance, PTSD, etc., will interfere with our ability to see the complete spectrum of God’s love.  The more of God’s love, grace, I can appreciate and experience, then the less likely I am to be pummeled by negative PTSD coping behaviors (porn, drugs, alcohol, risk taking, thrill seeking, infidelity, excessive gambling, etc.).

Grace does not make pain vanish; grace makes pain endurable and sometimes even understandable. 

I cannot force my way into grace.  I can’t force God to make me more aware of divinity.  Thus, no secret formula, novena, prayer chain, or secret hand shake, can force God to provide me grace.  This is why I ask to be open to it.

The Grace to Endure and Pray for Toxic Morons

I am writing about grace these days in my own journal.  The pain in my hands has decreased enough to allow me to do so.  I hope to translate some of that into an essay.  Given how my health keeps knocking me down, I know better than to promise I will post an essay on this or that topic soon.  I need to conserve enough energy for my job as well as the people who I meet face to face.  I don’t always manage to stretch out my health to cover all the bases, but we live in hope.

One of the graces I need to more fully embrace is an acceptance of the reality of my own disabilities.  That said, grace has been on my mind.  I am trying to better grasp how it relates to enduring PTSD and also finding the best in life.  I need to not allow frustration with my health (and other things) to further activate my PTSD and throw me into despair.  I am no good to anyone if that happens.  I have to accept I cannot write and blog as much as I wish I could.  It does force me to value my still existing abilities and skills.

Rationing Our Limited Abilities Against Expectations

With the combination of PTSD and physical disabilities I find I have to ration how I spend my self.  I also have to strive to manage my expectations and desires against reality.

Sometimes people (not the ones I meet through this website) try and guilt me for not writing more.  Sometimes they get angry with me.  One Catholic priest I know has voiced to myself and others a certain dissatisfaction that I have not finished my PTSD Spirituality book fast enough to suit him.  He voiced this more than once, even though he knew I had recently survived another mild stroke and had other health issues.

That guy is a selfish moron.  Yet, I remain a Roman Catholic as I can perceive a lot of truth (and grace) from the Roman Catholic Church.  I stay in the Church in spite of the small number of clergy who are abusive, lack compassion, lack realism, or just don’t get what it takes for a lay person to survive in modern America.  Not every priest or pastor is a jerk, we just tend to remember the jerks more than the one’s filling a graced-filled vocation.

We all meet crappy Christians and idiot clergy from time to time.  Sometimes they embarrass us.  Sometimes they cause people to leave Christianity.  While they make my PTSD worse, they also help me realize that Christianity is about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The toxic foolishness of that priest does not neuter the validity of my Christian faith or my membership in the Catholic Church.  This guy’s toxicity means I have to be more careful, that PTSD triggers also comes in the forms of people.

The love of God for the world – and You – is bigger and more powerful than any combination of toxic priests or otherwise crappy Christians.

This is where I have to depend on God and not feel guilty when some people try to make me feel guilty that I cannot physically do what a physically healthy person can do.  The same applies to my PTSD-induced aversion for fireworks, crowded places, large dogs, and screaming babies.  People may give me grief about being anti-social, but I also need to assess and respect my PTSD triggers.  The people who get angry at me for not attending their noisy crowded event will be even less forgiving if I have a PTSD episode at their party.

In fact, this type of PTSD reality means I should continue to pray for that crappy priest so he himself will heal and thus quit harming others in particular and Christianity in general.

Well, looking back on that last section I see I needed to get that off my chest.  Yikes!  But I also know that if I am not careful then inconsiderate people, especially self-described Christians, will activate my PTSD.  If the person really wants me to finish my book, then he should shut up and let me write it.  When he activates my PTSD, I won’t be writing much that could benefit others.

And so, I must take my own advice.  I need to identify the PTSD triggers, understand them and my current sensitivities, and take the necessary precautions.  Then I need to pray for both that particular toxic priest and myself. Both he and I need to do some respective healing.

I need to ration my limited abilities to do the most good for others and myself.  I can’t let myself get burnt out by other people’s unrealistic and uncaring expectations.  Neither can you.  If they don’t understand then they need to read up on PTSD and the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5.

Grace as Immersion Healing

Grace allows me to enter healing that is not merely pharmaceutical or diversionary.  Grace allows me to understand it is not all about me, that I need to look at relationships.  Grace informs me that while I am triggered by some people’s uncaring actions, I should then ask myself: “am I a PTSD trigger for someone else?

Grace is far ranging but also an intangible.  We need to realize that it is more than a magical wand that makes pain go away.  Rather, grace is a therapy that can allow us to immerse in God’s love regardless of what is happening to us in the world.

Grace gives me the will to live in a country that would prefer its veterans to be quiet, out of sight if disabled, or just dead and silent.

Grace allows rape survivors, and abused spouses, and molested children to choose to live and not kill themselves.

Grace allows those of us who have suffered trauma and still suffer from PTSD to choose to not actively go out and ruin other people’s lives.

If we survive trauma then we have to choose how bitter we will become.  I carry some bitterness and it comes out in my writing at times.  But, I must choose to not purposely make other people a miserable mess under the premise of if I am hurting then they should too.

Arriving at the decision to not make others suffer, even as I am suffering, is the result of grace.  It is a Pro-Life decision.

Grace is Pro-YOUR Life

Anytime I choose life or healing is a graced decision.  It is my decision, but the process to preserve, enhance, or heal life, is one that results from grace.

To choose extreme selfishness and to embrace Compassion Deficit Disorder is anti-Life. Those decisions are not from grace – no matter how much they may insist it is.

The more someone explains it is too expensive to provide treatment for rape survivors, molested children, or wounded veterans; the more they display their own Compassion Deficit Disorder. 

Oddly, when they hurt, they don’t care how much it costs to fix.  While my pain is real and it hurts, their illness is more deep seated as they render themselves and their desperation for their money into their own true gods.

Grace allows us to seek the common good and not what is only good for our own particular tribe or clan at the expense of others.

Grace is Sourced From God

So grace is a lot of things.  Suffice it is a good thing that comes from God.  The more we live our lives, including the joyous parts as well as the painful parts, then the more we can learn about and experience grace.  The more we experience grace the more we experience God.  We may still be physically or mentally wounded, we may still be in pain, but we were never promised a pain-free existence.  Grace allows us to live for our God through our joys and our suffering.  Grace allows us to love God regardless.  Like peace, grace is something we pursue and pray for, and hopefully we are the recipients and exemplars of it.

Grace helps us to be freed from the isolation that PTSD inflicts on us.  Grace is Life.  Choosing to stay alive and not enter despair and suicide is a result of God’s grace.

Physical Isolation, but Spiritual Community

Because we co-suffer with others we are never truly alone.  Our suffering has meaning in that it paradoxically helps others to better endure their own suffering (The same holds true for joy).  Even if isolated, God is with you – in both joy and in sorrow.  PTSD does not want you to see that.

PTSD and those humans afflicted with Compassion Deficit Disorder wants us to give up, be quiet, and stay out of sight so they don’t have to be disturbed or think through how others might be damaged and suffering.  God on the other hand, loves us no matter what, God’s love is eternal, God wants you and I to live.  God made us in his “image and likeness,” he does not want to see it destroyed.

Thankfully, Grace is a never ending fountain of God’s love and concern for us.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Wow!

    Thank you for writing this blog post! It came just when I needed it as I struggle with PTSD and new physical disabilities. Your perspectives are a huge blessing to me and I thank you so much for sharing them with us! God Bless you!

    • I still hope to one day get back to writing on the subject of grace, isolation, and PTSD. I’ve written quite a bit in my notebooks as I grapple with the topic and try to put it all into words. I am gratified to know you have found this essay of use. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Dr. Z

        Thanks so much for responding! I really encourage you to write more about it. I understand you have a chronic pain issue? I hope someday that you can do it. I think, insofar as PTSD goes, this article, your site and writings have been tremendously helpful to my understanding of PTSD and as well to formulating ideas on supporting others who are also struggling. I would like to attach a link from my blog if you don’t mind. This information is truly invaluable. Thank you again.

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