Fellow Traveler, Take Heart.
Well, hello there.
I must confess that I’ve been having a rough go of things lately. Everything feels harder than it did just two short months ago. I probably should chalk it up to seasonal gloom and the stress of the impending holidays…that and the fact that my kids are growing up and leaving home at an alarming rate. But, even so, it feels like I every time I gather my resolve to keep on fighting and working my recovery—BAM!—out of nowhere I am triggered: the emotional wind is knocked out of me and I feel that I floundering to regain my footing.
I used to hate the word “triggered”. I DESPISED it. When I was in treatment, any and every time someone used the word, I would perform the biggest eye roll of all time: “As if!”
It is true, no one can make me do what I don’t willingly choose to do (with very limited exceptions). But it is also true, that life throws some awfully unexpected punches. And we have an Enemy dedicated to our destruction. He strikes quickly and often without warning. It’s very hard to control how being throat punched makes us feel.
At the beginning of September I began doing Celebrate Recovery at the NCCIW (a women’s maximum security correctional facility in Raleigh). This was a dream come true for me personally. The very first night did not disappoint. I left the prison flying high on the wings of knowing that I had just experienced the truest form of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I was in prison and you visited me.” Elated was an understatement.
We stopped at Subway to eat a late dinner and bask in the glow of what had just transpired. I ordered my sandwich and BBQ chips and, tray in hand, walked over to the beverage case to select a drink. There was man standing there. I will refer to him as “random man”.
Random man surveyed the contents of my tray. Then he surveyed me. “You know, baked Lays have like half as much fat and are four times healthier than regular chips,” he said.
“What did you just say?” I was having a hard time believing that a random man could be so stupid as to tell a woman she needed to make healthier food choices.
He said it again. Verbatim.
I looked at him with incredulity and walked over to sit at the table with my friends. My mind was buzzing with the various and sundry things I was DYING to say to him. But, I refrained. I have long since learned that I have an inside voice and an outside one. And the particular words and phrases orbiting my brain fell cleanly in the “inside voice” category.
Generally speaking, there wasn’t much a random man could have said that I would have been shocked to hear. Random men have been saying random and ridiculous things to women for ages. But, I have never had someone outright say, “Boy, you look like you should lose weight.”
At least, this was how I interpreted what he said to me. And it shook me.
I was triggered. In an unexpected and diabolical way. I felt worthless, I felt embarrassed, I felt out of control, I felt ashamed, I felt…ANGRY. Because I recognized someone’s dirty fingerprints all over what that random man had said to me. They were the greasy fingerprints of the father of lies. I laughed out loud as I fully comprehended the events at a truck stop Subway, as I saw them for what they really were: a thinly veiled attempt by the Enemy to derail me from accomplishing God’s work.
Not today Satan, not today.
So, in the light of what I have been feeling and experiencing as of late, I decided to write something for you that describes the way I think about and process triggers. And, be warned, it isn’t a clinical how-to. Oh yes, there is value in those types of essays and books. But today I am craving inspiration. I am craving hope.
With all of this in mind, read on! And feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone you think would enjoy it:)
(And you’ll want to keep scrolling because there is exciting news at the end!)
The holidays are almost here! Which is wonderful news.
Unless it isn’t.
It’s no secret that the holidays can be super hard for a wide variety of reasons. Especially Thanksgiving, when chairs are empty and walls echo with memory. The mere whiff of apple pie can elicit longing for a simpler time, when Grandmas doted and fussed, and Grandpas laughed their raspy laughs and regaled eager listeners with stories of days gone by.
Not to mention all that food. If you struggle with food and body image issues, eating Thanksgiving dinner can feel akin to strolling through a field infested with tripwire and landmines. Will there be gluten, carbs, sugar, dairy, fat, processed foods?…of course there will…so how do I partake of these and not hate myself for doing so?...how do I refuse to eat turkey (because I’m a vegan!) and not look like a freak show or start an argument with my husband?…how in the world will I ever be able to burn off all these calories?…
And, to top all of this off, Thanksgiving participation often requires being in too-close proximity to people who caused hurt, to family members who inflicted (and are still inflicting) pain.
Thanksgiving is a trigger packaged in a trigger masquerading as turkey-shaped nostalgia. Yay!! Please pass the gravy.
But, before you stop reading in despair, I want to let you in on a little secret: It’s perfectly ok to panic and feel sadness and grief over all of the above-mentioned scenarios. They, and the subsequent emotions they produce, are a part of the journey. Tolkein calls journeys adventures. And, as Bilbo Baggins so aptly observed in The Hobbit, “Adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine.”
Cold, rainy days in November are just as much a part of the adventure as sunshiny days in May. Maybe more so. For it is in those moment we discover what really matters, what really motivates us, what is worth trudging on through the bitter wind and sleet for.
Because we get to decide where the adventure takes us.
(The adventure continues, so keep scrolling!)
There is nothing I detest more than “Just get over it” type statements. These can present themselves as “Don’t let what others did to you become greater than what God did for you” or “Your past doesn’t define you”or “Get over yourself,” etc.
These little ditties may be inspirational and they may be, strictly speaking, true, but (for me) they have never been especially helpful on the practical side of my day to day life.
Of course my past defines me. This is a good thing! Every experience has formed me into who I am. Every moment of my life, the good and the bad, the lovely and the unlovely, belongs to God; they are a living testimony to His relentless grace; they make me His in the fullest sense. It’s all His—the past, the present, the future. He makes beauty out of ashes. He finishes what He starts. I am His workmanship. I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Every moment of my life defines me because every moment has been crucified with Christ. Every moment is His.
The world is longing for this kind of world-view, this kind of reality: the unvarnished truth of who we are in the nail-scarred hands of the Savior. This is redemption, after all. I once was lost and now am found. Found means nothing without having first been lost. Sight means so much more when we know we have been blind. Life has meaning, it has purpose, it has power, when we understand that we have been raised from the dead.
This wholesale, unguarded, “every moment of my life" truth-telling was the evangelization method employed by one of the very first preachers of the good news, the woman at the well: “Come and see the man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” The world craves this kind of authentic gospel. We were designed to be fully known and fully loved.
Embracing the totality of who we are releases us from shame because, in so doing, we have given ourselves permission to feel our feelings, to be real, living, breathing human beings, created in the image of God. And, part of being a real, living human being, created in the image of God, is dealing with life and all its triggers. Hello, Thanksgiving!
Therefore, even though I am not required to manufacture a positive emotional reaction at every juncture, in the face of very real triggers in a very real life confronted with very real people who have hurt me, I am, however, required to make a decision about what I am going to do with those emotional responses.
Because this is my adventure. I get to decide where it leads.
(Keep scrolling to read the end!)
The tree in the picture above is at Raven Rock State Park. If you look closely you will see JE + JE. They stand out in rust-colored contrast to the previous, fully weathered entries. What stories this tree could tell! When my husband broke out his pocket knife (the moment to use it finally arrived!) and started to carve JE, followed by another JE, my kids began to express concern/pity over his having to carve his initials twice in an attempt to make it appear that he wasn’t all sad and lonely. They then quickly realized that my initials and my husbands are, in fact, the same. Immediately, their eyes lit up as they oohed and awed over the beautiful realization that two people, their parents no less, really can be in love for twenty years.
My husband took my picture as the sun regarded us with dappled, golden light through the canopy of leaves above. It was a sunshiny day. It was full of happiness, full of wonder, full of togetherness. And we all knew it. Each one of us appreciated the light-filled day for what it was.
Sunshine days are glorious; they are inspiring, they motivate us and compel us onward and upward. But sunshine days are just…days.
Days of gloom and damp mists are likewise just days, too: Thanksgivings spent in inpatient treatment on the other side of the country. Holidays routinely overshadowed by bingeing and purging and fighting and silent treatments. Mornings of depression, evenings of guilt, and sleepless nights of shame. Missed concerts and plays and games because isolation and the eating disorder were more important. Day after day of trying and failing and trying again and failing…again. Day after overcast day.
But sprinkled throughout, woven around dark and shadowed days, are days of light. Because that’s the way adventures work. They aren’t a straight line from struggle to accomplishment, from hard labor to ease. They are an anthology of grace: weeping endures for a night, joy is ever always on the horizon—for morning is coming.
And the adventure is all the richer for it.
Yes, it may be a frigid, blustery day. It may be a 100 year flood day. You may have to fight and claw your way ahead, clambering up a slippery, muddy embankment as the river swells and threatens sweep you away. It’s ok to feel discouraged and to feel derailed. Especially on Thanksgiving.
Tomorrow is a new day. The sun rises in the east as a reminder that His faithfulness never wavers. And when it does, you will be able to look back and see that He has never once left you to face your troubles alone, that He has been steadily, quietly working all things together for the good.
So, fellow traveler, take heart! Thanksgiving is coming. Strap on the stretchy pants. Because stuffing and apple pie and cranberry sauce are awfully delicious.
I do my best adventuring in stretchy pants. - J.E.