PTSD Spirituality: Prayerful Healing is a Sanctification Opportunity.

Human beings afflicted with PTSD’s soul wound often find themselves in denial.  They often self-medicate in ways that further damage their health, spirituality, and relationships.  Even after we stop denying we have PTSD we are still often trapped in a cycle of coping that just digs a deeper hole for us to be buried within.  While we ought to embrace the medical side of PTSD treatments, we ought to also embrace a way to strip off some of the PTSD-tar from our souls.  We need some way to reconnect to the image and likeness of God that dwells within each of us.  The PTSD-Identity desires us to forget and deny that we have any connection to the divine, to the Light and Love that is God.  How do we reclaim our soul’s Light and Love from the alienation produced by PTSD?

PTSD Tries to Paint Your Soul with Tar

We know PTSD seeks to damage our relationships.  If it can destroy your healthy relationships then fewer people will be able to help you through PTSD darkness.

PTSD  wants you to

  • give up on others
  • give up on yourself

By destroying our healthy and good relationships, PTSD can more easily lead us to self-destructive behaviors and eventually an active or passive suicide.  If we give up on others and ourselves – and if we believe others have given up on us – then we will lose the sense of value we have in our lives.  The PTSD helps us to become more willing to hasten our own destruction.  It laughs at us the whole time.

A common theme I am told by those who care about someone with PTSD is that before the trauma (be it Iraq, Vietnam, a car wreck, Bosnia, a sexual assault, Afghanistan…) is that before the trauma someone was loving and did not go in for extreme behaviors.  After the trauma, those same people now engage in porn, drugs, heavy drinking, adultery, violence, and more.  They tell me that before trauma the person used to be full of light and life and now after the trauma that person is dark and down.  PTSD has smeared tar on that person’s soul.

Sometimes the PTSD sufferer knows they are somehow changed.  But they cannot figure out what is going on or why they do things which are abhorrent and relationship destroying.  Other times they are in denial of their PTSD for fear of being stereotyped as weak or cowardly.  If they are military service members they are often afraid of having security clearances revoked and promotions denied.

The more PTSD, and for that matter our culture, convinces us to discard our healthy relationships and diminish the value of life, the more tar it can pour on our soul.  The more PTSD can dim our souls, the easier it is for us to extinguish our healthy relationships and even our lives.  This does not have to happen.  It is not an irreversible process.

We regain our lives by reaching out for Life.  Sometimes that process can be painful and perhaps even humbling.  We can be restored to Life. We never have to abandon hope.

Healing is a Lifetime Opportunity

When I first started writing this PTSD Spirituality essay I was going to say that “Healing is a Lifetime Plan,” but that just did not taste right.  It is true that we can plan to heal and should even work up good plans that promote healing – certainly nothing wrong with that.  Yet, healing is more than a mere “plan” as if I am hoping to drop five pounds by following the best diet plan.  The more I think about healing, the more I myself heal, and the more I work with others on their own PTSD healing, the more convinced I am that healing is an opportunity.   

Why is PTSD Healing an Opportunity?

  • Healing promotes Hope.
  • Healing promotes Life. 
  • Healing promotes Love. 
  • Healing Promotes Healthy Relationships.
  • Healing promotes Holiness.

To state the obvious: Healing means we get better, become healthier, and we get closer to God.

Healing and the Sanctification Journey

In Christian terms, a healing journey is a sanctification journey.  While we may consider ourselves “saved” or redeemed” or “forgiven,” we still need to strive to become healthier, more loving, to be worthy of the titles, “Friend of God” and/or “Disciple of Jesus.” 

In literal terms, a sanctification journey is a journey in which we strive to become more holy.  In terms of the Gospel of Matthew (5:48): “So be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect” (NAB) (You get bonus points if you know what Jesus is referring to when he says that).

Perfection in the Bible also means to be at Peace.  Peace is a set of right relationships we pursue and nourish.  We pursue peace, we pursue the presence of God, in doing so we become more perfect, we can become more holy.

I am not unaware of the hubris that the above statement might suggest.  Yet, we strive to be more than merely saved and then do nothing until we die.  We strive to get closer to God, as close as we can stand.  The closer we are to God, that is the more we are sanctified, the more we are perfect, the more we are at real peace, then the less power the PTSD soul wound has over us.  The closer we can get to God, the less the PTSD-tar can smear our soul’s light.

Our love of God, the love we receive from God and others, can peel the tar off of our souls.

This healing journey is a long one.  You can get PTSD in just a few seconds, hours, days, or months.  Equally one can get PTSD from the accumulated effects of a military tour or enduring an abusive relationship.  The PTSD-inducing trauma does not care how you get traumatized; it just wants the chance to smear tar on your soul.

Our sanctification journey lasts a lifetime.  Some folks blanch at that, especially in a short-attention span consumer culture that demands instant gratification. 

It would be nice if we could take a pill, get an injection, or snap our fingers and be freed of our PTSD.  I have never heard of it working out that way. 

There may be cathartic moments where we are freed of much of our traumatic fears and PTSD, but we need to keep ourselves attuned to continued healing practices…the opportunity of continued healing.

A Short PTSD Recovery Prayer

Consistent PTSD Spirituality readers know that I am very big on writing and prayer.  Much of our personal writing can also be understood as a form of prayer.  If in our writing we are expressing truths, our sufferings, our longings, fears, loves, and concerns, then we have been engaged in a prayerful activity, if we know it or not.  Yet, there are also times when purposeful self-aware prayer is the best opportunity to start healing or maintain our healing. 

PTSD, Prayer, and Cactus Addictions

Often we may need to pray to seek the grace to not succumb to the PTSD-induced temptations to engage in porn, abuse alcohol, or ignore our healthiest and most important relationships  If I have engaged in an unhealthy relationship with say…let’s see here…cactus, Yes! Cactus!  If my PTSD has caused me to turn my back on my family, friends, and God and has encouraged me to start having an illicit relationship with a cactus, then how can I pray to heal from that?

One of the keys is NOT to constantly remind yourself of illicit internet images of cacti and that secret cactus plant you have growing in the attic.  When tempted, don’t keep asking God to heal yourself from desiring multiple cacti adventures as that will only keep the bad images of a cactus in your head.  We don’t want to reinforce that cactus image.

Rather, ask God for the grace and healing to live a more peaceful life.  I suggest that you do that at least twice a day.  Once shortly after you get out of bed, and once before you go to bed.

Dear God, Please Bless Me With The Grace And Healing To Be More At Peace.

Breaking a bad habit like cactus addiction, especially one where the thoughts of cactus become more important than the thoughts of being with your family or seeking sanctification, is hard.  But if you ask God to bless you with grace and healing, that will help you get past the cravings of a naughty cactus habit or addiction.  The longer you can avoid being devoured by cactus temptations, the more easily you can avoid the next round of temptations.

Whenever the PTSD-Identity tries to hook you with cactus temptations, then you should ask God for the blessing of grace and healing.

Making that your prayer is an invitation for God to lead you more fully into God’s own perfection and holiness.  Such a prayer does not stir up prickly memories of earlier cactus misadventures and idolatry.  That sort of prayer opens the door to God while it simultaneously endeavors to shake the cactus needles from your soul.  Such a prayer helps to protect us from idolatrous habits like porn, alcohol abuse, and cactus addictions.  It also allows us to seek peace.  It allows us to allow God to scrape some of the PTSD-tar from our soul so we might experience the delight of God’s love and light.

Sometimes we will be tempted, pray, and then we still look at cactus.  Don’t let that throw you or overly discourage you.  Rather, ask forgiveness, and continue to pray for God’s blessing of healing and grace.  Since we are in this for a lifetime, we know sometimes we will fail.  Just don’t give up.  Keep pursuing a healing life.  Peter failed, but he did not give up. 

A healing life, where we pursue our healthy relationships and always seek God’s grace and healing, is a life that will shine by the light in our souls.  The PTSD soul wound is not irreversible.  Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged.  We always have hope and healing.  We need to continue to pursue peace (Psalm 34:14).  To again state the obvious, if we pursue peace we will become more peaceful.  We will heal more, the tar will be peeled from our soul and we will value all life because we know that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1).

Never give up!  You always have value.  If you feel worthless, then that is a clear sign the PTSD is trying to get you killed.  Don’t give it the satisfaction.

 Your life is worth living.  And, while the sanctification healing trail may feel steep and rocky, you have every right to peace and grace.

 Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Dr. Z,
    Thanks so much. I’ve tried to carefully weigh how much to share for the very reasons you describe. Unfortunately, asking for help, due to physical limitations – (currently in treatment), just seems to open a Pandora’s box. There doesn’t seem to be a way to respond to people’s denial, judgments, or assumptions. The couple people who show the spiritual strength are already stretched thin (partly because they have compassion for others). In an ideal world – they’d understand the help requested is so that I can heal and get back up onto my own two feet.
    My self esteem feels intact but I feel exiled from the human race. I continue to hand it over (hourly) and look for God’s will.
    Thank you for your words of reassurance.

  2. Thanks Dr. Z.
    Your writings are always thought provoking.
    Not that I’m attracted to Cacti, but – how many others get to a point where a Cactus sounds more accepting & gentle than the “people” in our lives?
    I’m painfully (and prayerfully) gaining awareness of changes in me but see so much of it triggered by unconscious communication dynamics. People need to contradict, counter, minimize, and/or correct as an unconscious defense mechanism – find fault in me so as to feel this world is a “safe” and “fair” place. This cycle leaves me feeling reduced to a social leper – unacceptable to 95% of the population; being careful not to expose too much to the couple courageous ones left.
    Is it just my situation, or is that something yourself and others have found too? Have others found a way to reconnect? I’m thankful Jesus accepts me as worthy. (no less & no more than any other child of God.)
    Thanks (wondering if I should go find me a welcoming field of cactus – might hurt less)

    • Howdy Russ!
      I think you hit it right on the head: Many people, as a self-defense mechanism, will minimize or deny our suffering. Sometimes they will deny that the types of things we describe could have ever taken place. If they acknowledged that reality then their world will feel less safe and more capricious. It would cause the need to radically change how they perceive justice issues. They cannot accept that they live in a world that produces those kinds of trauma and that those traumas go unchecked. Similarly, some folks may also deny our symptoms as legitimate. We can, to state the obvious, get PTSD from trauma. But we can also get a sort of bounce-back PTSD from the symptoms of our initial PTSD. I might survive a trauma, say for example, I was forced to watch two hours of daytime TV, or say I was forced to watch local TV news broadcasts (a clear violation of the Geneva Convention!). I may get a drinking problem as I fail to cope with the associated PTSD from those events. If my drinking problem is bad enough, it can produce its own PTSD as well. Many folks will try to minimize our PTSD (causes or behaviors) because if they admitted they were real they might have to actually do something. People will feel safer if they can deny that there are so many traumas actually lurking out there. There is a lot of incentive to be in denial and/or blame the victim.

      Few people are worthy of our wounds. We need to be careful who we share them with. Most folks will deny and avoid learning about our trauma for whatever reasons. PTSD survivors have to be careful that once they are lucky enough to find someone with empathy and compassion that they don’t overwhelm that person. It can feel like walking on a tightrope.

      This is one of the reasons it is so important that we have our own personal writing and/or prayer to express so much of what the “normal” population is unable or unwilling to cope with. Writing it down can be a road to healing.

      Given all that, a field of cacti can feel more inviting than trying to deal with a compassion-deficit society. On the surface, with a cactus, it seems there is no stress about not performing properly or the usual fear of overwhelming someone. Yet, we run the risk of having those very acts magnify our own sense of desolation and loneliness. We will then provide the stress ourselves and dig ourselves in even deeper. But, yes, on the surface it can seem that we are less at social risk by engaging non-human cactus-like players. This is why PTSD works so hard to isolate us from real, healthy relationships and replace them with faulty, addictive, soul-destroying behaviors. Sometimes we go to those fields of cactus because there are no human beings around us who care, or we go there because the humans around us are in denial. It remains a trap because PTSD’s ultimate goal is to isolate us from real relationships and kill us.

      In a better world, someone would be there to help us on the path. Fortunately, as you say, Jesus has not abandoned us. He knows the experience of betrayal, abandonment, and isolation. He knows how PTSD can feel like, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We go through our own crucifixions and resurrections from PTSD’s soul wound. In some cases, while there may not have been anyone willing or interested or capable to help us with our soul wounds, we may over time, be able to be the person who helps others survive their own particular wounding. We know God did not inflict us with trauma, but given we have survived it, we can bring God in and help others survive their trauma. In helping others heal we heal a bit more ourselves.

      I appreciate you, Russ, for the encouragement you’ve offered me to continue this website. It helps me a lot.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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