Welcome to "My Beloved Shepherd" blog, which is a personal meditative contemplation of Psalm 23 in the Bible. Today we're looking at verse one, the second line.
The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want. Psalm 23:1
We all know this story: an unexpected "BANG!" from a car engine backfiring, or the unexpected "POW POW POW!" of fireworks going off in a neighbor's backyard and the combat vet is sling-shotted back to the battle scene. Instantly, they are in the middle of bullets, bombs and death.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a perfect name for this experience.
Post - after the event.
Traumatic - the event was shocking and deeply disturbing, even destructive.
Stress - the body and mind's reaction to the trauma
Disorder - normally, when we encounter a traumatic event, we go through an orderly set of reactions that eventually lead us back to mental and physical equilibrium. With PTSD, we never get back to equilibrium. The physical and mental stress never resolves itself. It merely goes "underground" until the next flare up - like a coal - seam fire.
Through a variety of causes, some natural, some human, a fire starts in a coal mine that can't be extinguished. This fire releases highly toxic fumes that poisons the breathable air and the mine is shut down. As the fire spreads, gases escape and poison the air of any human habitation. If it approaches the surface, the ground becomes unstable and the threat of fire to human structures and land is likely. Therefore, evacuations become necessary. There are thousands of these coal - seam fires across the globe today. The most famous in the U.S. is the one in Centralia PA. It has burned for 58 years and destroyed two entire towns. Australia is the home to the oldest coal - seam fire; 250 years and counting.
Isn't that a perfect picture of PTSD? This hidden, unquenchable fire that consumes, poisons and destroys everything around it. That might be a bit much to say that PTSD does all that. But it certainly has in many peoples' lives.
In recent years, we have discovered that PTSD is not exclusive to the combat vet. The National Health Service (NHS) describes the following types of events that can lead to PTSD include:
- serious accidents
- physical or sexual assault
- abuse, including childhood or domestic abuse
- exposure to traumatic events at work, including remote exposure
- serious health problems, such as being admitted to intensive care
- childbirth experiences, such as losing a baby
- war and conflict
You may be wondering, what does this have to do with Psalm 23? Actually, a lot! I'm almost there. Just a bit more.
A new form of PTSD has come to light in recent years - Complex PTSD, or C-PTSD. While PTSD is the result of a single event or period, such as a car accident or a combat battle that happened when the individual was already an adult, C-PTSD forms during childhood over an extended period of time, months and even years of trauma, resulting from verbal and sexual abuse, neglect, and violence among other similar causes. It is called Complex because it affects all the developing areas in a child, including mental, emotional, relational and even physical.
Here is an excellent article on C-PTSD
When a child with C-PTSD grows into an adult, they may look and sound normal. But internally, they struggle with emotional instability, low self-esteem, anxiety, healthy boundaries, identity, depression, This can result in repeated failures, substance abuse, broken relationships including marriage, many illnesses and even early death. And much, much more.
Can you relate to any of this? Sadly, many can - including myself.
C-PTSD can leave you with a world of want inside of you. Want, need, lack, failure, belittlement, less-than, not enough.
Interestingly, all those words are what the word "want" means in the second line of Psalm 23.
"I shall not want." does not mean that you don't want anything! Of course, we want. Everyone on the planet wants! Desire is one of our most basic - and God-designed - drives. When you stop wanting, it usually means you've stopped hoping. And that is not a good thing.
Let's go back to C-PTSD for a minute. People with this condition have flashbacks too, emotional flashbacks. But they are not stimulated by a physical experience, but rather an emotional one. One minute you are going along just fine and then something happens and you feel like you have been assaulted, or are in great danger or have been horribly rejected.
I could give you a million examples of this in my own life but here's a couple.
One day I showed up at my doctor 10 minutes early for an appointment, but there was a long line of people waiting to sign in. By the time I got to the front, it was 10 minutes past my appointment. Then, one of the office personnel said they had moved my chart because I was late. I was instantly filled with anger and indignation. I wanted to yell at them! And I never, ever yell. But I did defend myself. "I WAS on time!" I said as calmly as I could, but not that calmly. But they didn't even respond to me. Why? They didn't care that I was 10 minutes late, they were just looking for my chart. End of story. At least on their part. But I stayed pent up for a long time.
The above story was easy to get over. But the next story has been deeply painful and oft-repeated. But it is a perfect example of an emotional flashback.
As a creative person with ADHD, I have lots of great ideas and insights. I love creating new things whether they are stories that make a point, interesting blogs, new musical compositions or discovering concepts that can change lives. I love doing those things! But not in a vacuum. I need to share these things. For me, it's part of a relationship dynamic. I create this thing of beauty and goodness. I give this thing to you. You receive it. You share your joy with me for the good it brings to your life.
I know that not everyone is going to love what I do or want me to give it to them. I'm okay with that. Except when it comes to my husband. When I share my big new thing with him, if he doesn't respond with praise and awe, I am instantly filled with pain and rejection. I get angry and feel trapped and desperate. I feel terribly devalued and worthless.
He is NOT making me feel this way. Those feelings are already trapped inside of me from the trauma of my childhood. When he doesn't respond to me, I am sling-shotted back to a "battle scene" from my distant past that is still alive and on fire inside me.
So, so many times, I have tried to correct my husband. I have blamed him for my pain. He has received many an impassioned lecture about how wrong he is and what he needs to do differently. Poor guy.
How differently things turn out when I own my pain - and name it! Instead of fighting and running from it, I stay with it, sit with it.
"I am feeling so belittled, so unimportant, so inconsequential. Like I have nothing of value and am nothing of value. I am nothing." I have written these words or very similar ones in my journal many, many times. I don't turn away. I let them flow, let them be real. I look them straight in the eye.
Is it painful? Yes!!! But I know what's coming next. So, I know it's worth it.
This is the moment my beloved Shepherd is waiting for. This moment when I look up to him and hold up my hands filled with anguish and cry out my pain to him.
I cry out my pain, my lack, my need, my failure, my belittlement, my less-than, my want.
With a smile, he pours his love into my want. He soothes my pain, fills up my lack, erases my failure, honors my need. He makes me big, strong, important, included. That familiar anguish evaporates. I mean it, it evaporates! In its place, warmth and goodness are gushing Joy is erupting! He elevates me to a transcendent place like nothing I have ever experienced.
Does this fix everything in my life? At the moment, it sure feels like it. It doesn’t, BUT it does heal something! Afterward, I’ll notice a new response in me, new confidence or hope. I’m not so serious or tight about things. I’ll see myself not responding to things that have always triggered me. Something that I’ve struggled with or felt overwhelmed by is now manageable.
Little by little, my childhood trauma is healing.
Little by little, I am understanding the great love of my beloved Shepherd.
And little by little, life is becoming less of a battle zone and more of a beautiful garden.