Friday, February 21, 2014

Marrying into Trauma

I said that as I have been going through this, I've had some thoughts about my husband and trauma.  Really, even me and trauma.

I will say clearly, though, that I have been mentioning PTSD to the mission and to others working with us for years.  Literally years.  They have brushed that aside.  For awhile they focused on my husband's travels and said our marriage must struggle because he travels a lot and that leaves me feeling resentful.

Could have asked me how I felt about it....

I'm fine with his travels.

Then they said that it is a communication issue, so we need to work on that.

I'll agree that communication is poor.

But that is like pulling the top off a dandelion.  It'll reappear.

Not once have they listened to my theory.  Not even when after a severe trauma things began to fall apart again with both him and me.  Nope.  Moral failure it must be... you are not living right before God, that is why you have problems.  Even questioned my husband's salvation.

The doctor they sent us to questioned PTSD, although he did not focus on it much.  He said he should be treated for it.

I went and did more research on PTSD.  It makes a ton of sense.  And if you knew my husband's life, you would not be surprised.  A child of war, lived through more than we can imagine.  Ok, now he is a happy-go-lucky laughing person in public, helpful, fun, the life of the party.  But what I have noticed since early on in our marriage is his reaction to people's pain.  He runs.  He can't handle pain, so he jokes, he laughs, he gets the giggles, or he refuses to go to houses where people are hurting.  Which is odd since he is not an unsympathetic person, not really.  He just doesn't like to see pain at all.

I lived through trauma as a child.  Very different trauma, but trauma.  I suffered at the hands of people.  I also lived for a time at the edge of a war, so saw war second hand.  I have my own weak points with it.

Then we went through about nine months of very traumatic time as a family following a week of personal trauma where we thought we would lose my husband.

And were given no care.

Things went really bad after that.

I've begun to think more about it, and I have come to the conclusion that marrying people like my husband - people who have suffered severe trauma - is like contracting chicken pox.  (but far worse)  Chicken pox is one of those diseases that everyone used to get as a child and it was no big deal.  Some got it bad, some barely got it, but once you were an adult, you don't think about your exposure to chicken pox. 

Until you get shingles.

See, chicken pox is a virus, a herpes virus, that lies dormant up in your brain.  It can be there with no symptoms whatsoever for fifty years or more.  But if you hit a stressful time in your life, that nasty virus can travel down the nerve path and break out in almost uncontrollable pain and suffering in an area of your body.

PTSD, I think, is like chicken pox.  You can have it, and seem to be over it, but it lies dormant, and when you hit more stress, waa-bang!  There it is again!

Realizing this means that I have to be aware in our lives.  I'm not only pointing fingers at my husband here.  I got a good case of it after that awful nine months four years ago, and truthfully, the way my mission leadership have treated me has surely not helped.  That treatment borders on abusive and has itself become a source of more traumatic stress.  We need help for that.  We need debriefing and some good listening ears to help us sort through it all.

Then we just need to be aware, and we need to work within a mission and team who is aware of our weakness and prepared to help us.  We need a mission that reacts to any trauma by pulling us away from the front lines for awhile and getting us appropriate crisis debriefing.  We need a mission that schedules regular debrief, listening sessions.  Maybe every year or so.  Let us talk it out before it builds up.

I think we might thrive in a mission like that.  One with appropriate member  care.

Ours doesn't have it.

My husband is a valuable person.  People want him.  He comes from a group of people who have few believers and he has skills and God-given abilities that make him a huge asset.  But he also has weaknesses, and people have to be aware and plan for those.  It is like a person with a limp.  You're going to have to make sure that they have a cane over the rough ground.  Doesn't mean they are not good people, but just that because of a past injury, you have to help them on rough ground.

Honestly, my mission doesn't see me as valuable at all.  I don't have as many skills and abilities as my husband.  Well, ones they see.  I have giftings and abilities that are very different.  I'm good at some things.  I haven't been given the opportunity to do much of what I am good at since for ten years I have served under Dick who has devalued me in his own mind and to others.  He has questioned my mental sanity and really made my life difficult.  You can't go to a leader who thinks you are the worst person in the world, impossible to live with, and ask to do a ministry in your gifting area.  He would have rather shoved me in the closest garbage can and put the lid on tight! :) 

But I still serve under God, not under Dick.  And God has a story here.  And I believe God has a purpose and calling for my life.  See, unlike my husband, I deal with people's pain well.  I am drawn to suffering and am able to be there for people.  I have a deep burden for women and those who have been abused.  I am also an awesome teacher/coach of kids and school or Sunday school.  I am not a teacher, but a nurse, but I am good at teaching, too, and can work patiently with those who struggle until they get it.  Even if it takes us three years to get it, I'll stick in there.

Actually, my husband's giftings and mine compliment each other and fill in the gaps for each other.  Together we are stronger.  But together, we are also both weak in one area.  If we suffer a trauma, we will both need care. 

It is really that simple.

So what now?  Well, we are beginning to talk.  We love our work.  We love our team.  But it may be that this is not the place for us in the future.  We both have dreams.  There are some other places that are doing very similar work that would better fit who my husband is.  Where I could also serve.  And most importantly, with a mission who might be able to understand that they would be working with people who have a limp and will need help over rough ground.

This week, we are beginning to send some initial feelers out to two places....  

It's hard, though.  You want to leave well.  You want to wrap up ends and leave well.  But at this point we don't know if it is possible.  Dealing with Dick was dealing with a man with hopefully good intentions, but one who never lived near us, and chose to judge without hearing or seeing.  Dealing with Harry has been dealing with a man who says, "this is what you have, and this is how I am going to treat it, no questions allowed."  And he also is not living near us, and not seeing.  I'm not sure that leaving well is going to be an option.

We're going to try one last time.  To go in and say, "listen, we both feel we have been through some really rough times (ie, that nine months of trauma), and that it has really affected us (I won't mention that they apologized for not doing anything for us after it..... and still did nothing...), and that we feel that it would be beneficial if we could have some personal debrief time with people who are trained in that area. (we have a place in mind)."  If they allow us to do that, then we may have a chance of recovering enough to leave well at some time in the future and still maintain working ties with individuals.  

We will see. Pray that they hear this time.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bucket Emptiers

So, I said I met two friends recently who have changed things some.  I'll tell you some about that...

I went recently with my kid's school on a service trip to another country - one I had never been to before.  (That was fun!)  One of the leaders on this trip was a lady who has the same two cultural backgrounds as I do - two continents that most people don't combine, but she has both in her background as I do.  That in itself was fun, because while some, especially among MKs, are able to understand one of my cultures, few can grasp both, so even among MKs, I am sort of an outsider.

We talked as the service trip went on, and then one evening, she began to ask me more questions about my life, my past, and my history. And she could understand what I was telling her, and how that fit in with my husband's culture and all the oddities of our life.  We talked for several hours late one night, and at the end of the evening, she asked if she could pray for me, and she did. 

Now you have to understand that in my life now, simply because of circumstances, I have lost my friend that used to pray for me and bless me.  And that has been very difficult.  It has left wounds unbandaged.... no one to hear those hurts and pray with me for them.  I've had some rough months from that, and then that pain itself has begun to hurt.

But she sat with me and prayed with me for these hurts, and she carefully bandaged my wounds.  And some of the hurt began to heal.

She sat with me and she listened.  And she allowed me to empty some of my bucket.

See, I have this word picture.  I see pain sort of as a bucket.  The bucket gets full of tears that are unable to be shed or to be heard, so they go in the bucket, and we carry these buckets through life.  In normal situations, we may be able to handle the tears in the bucket ourselves, and able to slowly dump them out a piece at a time.  But when trauma or deep pain happens, and especially when it happens in the absence of a supportive environment, we fill our buckets.  There is no one to hear the pain, no one to hear our stories, no one to help us process them, so our buckets fill with unshed tears and unheard pain.  Carrying around the full buckets then become a effort in themselves that hinder us from being able to heal and cope with life normally.

I've been through a lot this last year, and I've lost a few bucket emptiers.  People that would hear me on a regular basis.  People who would share my life and hear me.  I process things verbally when I can.  In a life where I have to be largely silent about what is happening, I depend on some bucket emptiers.  It's been difficult and painful without them.

But she listened.  And among all the people in the world, she could hear easily since she automatically knew how this would relate to my different cultures.

A blessing.  I seriously needed a bucket emptier.  I've noticed that God sometimes just sends them along at different times.  I've also noticed that we can at times be bucket emptiers for others while we hold a full bucket ourselves.  I have one good friend who we empty each other's buckets.  Sadly, circumstances has her unreachable for a few more weeks.

But that helped.  To be able to be honest, to talk, and to be prayed for and blessed.

Then God sent one more friend along, too.  I'll write about that later.

And things are changing.  I am seeing in my husband more and more the man I chose to marry.  It seems that he has turned a corner, too, and he is involved in our lives, taking responsibility, staying calm, talking to his kids that they need to learn to control their tempers (while controlling his) so that they do not cause pain like he has, and generally being a wonderful person again.

After four years of praying, it is wonderful to see this happening again.  I have some thoughts about trauma and the risk it proves for him, but they will be for another post.  I will say, however, that I think we have learned that if we ever go through something horrific again, we will get counseling.  Honestly, though, we tried and we asked for it, but we could not afford it, and our mission did not consider it something that they needed to provide in any way.

And that makes me angry.  We did not need to suffer like this.  I am angry.  I am thinking about how to be vocal about it in a way to prevent this from ever happening to others again.  It should have never happened.  It shouldn't have.  If you have a crisis that is one as people over there said, "one that we never expected to see you again from" happen, you should be morally responsible for helping people heal from emotionally.  You should not just throw them back out into their work, ask them to help their team heal, and do nothing to support them in any way except give them a one week vacation.

I wish someone had cared for us.  We were too traumatized to know how to seek care on our own.

Now we pick up the pieces of that.  Still. Four years later.  And it hasn't gotten easier by the waiting.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dealing with Tom, Dick, and Harry

I've started working more than I used to, so I have little time to blog.  I miss it.  It is also a hard season in my life to blog through as things are so unknown right now.

Today, things are good.  There was a major breakthrough recently, and things are doing better.  I'm watching change happen.  The thing about that is that it is like watching grass grow.... you don't see it, but you stop after a time and say, "wait, does that seem different to you?".  Very slow, but slowly discernible progress.

I'm beginning to think that a rough situation has been made worse by the actions of our mission leadership.  I will not say who we are with because I still have respect for my mission as a whole, but I am beginning to seriously doubt our local/country leadership.  There have been some serious mistakes that have cost our family dearly.

I named the characters involved Tom, Dick, and Harry just to give them general names.  I labeled them in order of their closeness to us in the structure (not emotionally!).  Tom is the closer guy, Dick, the next one up, and Harry is above him in authority.

Dick has been talked about in great detail. Dick has had a huge detrimental effect on our marriage.  for the most part, now, he is out of the picture.  I am not sure I trust him that he is staying out, but time will tell.

Tom is a new character, although there was another Tom.  Tom is a fairly newcomer on the scene since the Tom of years ago left.  Time will see how Tom plays into the situation, but impressions so far are not good.  Tom is someone who has taken over for my husband since my husband was asked to step down from leading our small team.  The problem is that Tom used to be a big shot somewhere else and he is unable to shed those habits, so he is wreaking havoc in our small team.  Like the Tom before him, he has chosen favorites in the team, and is well, favoring those.  You absolutely can not chose favorites in a team.  It will rip a team apart.  It took us a year to begin to heal the damage from our last Tom who came on our team and did that (he wasn't leadership, but he was also older and thought that he didn't have to listen to our warnings.)  So we watch in grief.  We love our team as family.  There may be ones we do not naturally get along with as easily, but then we chose to love harder.  This situation has little to do with our marriage, but is causing us grief and stress as we watch, and we lift our hearts up to God asking for an end to it.

Harry is the man dealing with things at this point, along with our here pastor.  Our here pastor (who I will only refer to as our pastor and refer to our home church pastor as our home pastor) is turning out to be a HUGE ally in our behalf.  He is a younger man, about our age, and has to be a voice among two older men, so it is perhaps intimidating, but he has learned to find his voice and to speak up against wrongs.  May God bless him as he attempts to help and to speak against the misdirected "help" we've been getting!

Harry is turning a leaf that I find frightening.  After our awful encounter with a psychiatrist that they sent us to, where the doctor not only didn't listen, but then sent confidential notes to the other spouse and to Harry without our permission, it got worse.  Harry wrote me asking to send part of those notes (without the confidential section) to others on the "healing team".  I was not comfortable with that, neither was my husband, but we have no choice.  This whole time, we have been treated like children - told to do this or that, told what our sessions will be about, never asked what we think we need, told who will be told what when, and never told how the plan to approach things will be.  So we had no choice....

Finally, I wrote Harry back a short note.  Told him basically, ok, those notes, but not the other ones that he was out of line to write.

Well.... here an awkward situation went worse, and I lost any trust I ever had in Harry....

He wrote me and scolded me for not including my husband in the e-mail.  He wants all conversation to be between all three of us.... (by the way, not the wisest way of dealing with a situation of a spouse dealing with severe anger, but that is another story...).  So, ok, but I was busy... I had just been with my friend crying while explaining to her about hospice care and her dad..  I forgot to add my husband to the e-mail.  But seriously, it was just an e-mail that said, "yes, sure, you can do that."  Not exactly major content.  One line, a simple yes to a question he wrote both of us.

I didn't see why he was fussing so much.

But it wasn't just fussing.  He went on to threaten.  If I do not do what they say and insist on writing letters where I do not include both of them, he will cut off all help.


I must admit that I sat there in open mouthed shock...  and cold chills went down my spine.  What the.....?!

I wrote him an apology.  Sorry, I was busy cooking for 13, babysitting my friend's baby, and sort of distracted from the tears earlier that day with my one friend.  Cooking for 13 was because another of my best friends was moving to a new continent the next day.  I was just busy and forgot to check that I added him to the subject line.

Ok, a normal person would have responded, "Ok, next time make sure, sorry things are so rough today."

Seems Harry is not a normal person.

And that is what has me sitting here feeling cold fear in my tummy.

nope... he wrote back that he accepted my apology, but he is sure I can see that it looked like a continuing act of deliberate insolence.

wow........   just wow.......   whoa......     what??!!

Still reeling from that.

But, thinking perhaps he is a normal person who just didn't think... I wrote him back and told him that it was quite a jump to jump to that conclusion and I don't understand it as I would have been more likely to jump to, "hey did you notice you didn't do that?  Why not?" before jumping to "it is a continuing act of deliberate insolence" (especially when he had in front of him the letter explaining about finding out my good friend's dad is dying and I had been there that day dealing with that.)

He wrote back that it wasn't' a jump, and that it looked like that to him, and he wants no further communication about it.

He also included a warning that if I chose to get involved in people's lives when they are suffering, that I  am considering my marriage to be trivial and told me I need to change my priorities.

I was stunned.  I actually still am.  Just flabbergasted.

I guess I shouldn't be.  This man is good buddies with Dick.  It was foolish of me to think that Dick's years of influence haven't influenced him.  But I was still flabbergasted.

Thankfully, God has put our pastor in the middle of it all, and our pastor, unlike Dick and Harry, has actually lived in the same city as us and seen us more than three times a year briefly.  I immediately sent all that correspondence to our pastor.  I wrote him a passionate letter about how I feel about being asked to walk away from my good friends when they are suffering.  Seriously, I went to my friend's house to deliver a Christmas gift and she had just heard the news.  She opened the door and threw herself into my arms sobbing..... was I supposed to push her away and go home and "work on my marriage"?  I haven't spent more than a few hours with her in the last three weeks, but I love her.  I love her, and when she hurts, I hurt.

I don't even want to be a part of a Christianity that walks away from its wounded.

I may not be perfect, but I can still love, and if I don't love, I will wound.

I was in tears the next week at church, and spoke to an older, semi-retired missionary/pastor.  He snorted and said, "Girl, there are times you have to chose to obey God and not your mission leadership."  I was comforted.

The next week, my pastor preached a passionate sermon about how we are all a body of Christ, and while none of us is perfect, our calling is to be imperfect together, and in our imperfection to love each other and support each other.  That we should not wait until we are perfect to minister, but we are to love people from where we are, and in doing so, God's body will be built up and we will all grow towards being more like Christ.

I seriously thought he took the theme from my letter.... :)

So here we sit, waiting.  I will have a talk with my pastor soon... before any meeting with Tom, Dick, and Harry.  (ok, no Dick, but I like the phrase.)  He listens.  He is not happy with people attempting to manage this from a distance using e-mail as a means of communication.  He knows us.

And in it, things have happened, good things.  Good things that have nothing to do with the "help" they have set up.  Good things of my husband and I resting, talking, and working things out.

See, if any of you have been here for awhile, you will remember we had a crisis a few years back.  An awful, scary, trauma.  Our mission did nothing for us.  Oh, besides belittling us when we were down, "Oh, it was nothing! so and so that happened to for longer!" and criticizing us.  And leaving us to try to heal our own team's reaction to the trauma and not being able to heal ourselves.

In the months before that trauma, our marriage was great.  It was so great that I was sharing with my husband, and almost showed him this blog even.  We were open, enjoying each other, praying together, and doing well.  We survived the initial months after the trauma, but as the months went on, we began to disintegrate more.  My husband has a childhood of trauma.  His childhood did not include riding bikes on the sidewalk and waiting for the ice-cream truck.  He grew up in a war.  He saw what no child should see.

My daughter suffered from the trauma we went through.  She needs counseling.  We all do, likely.  We never got it.  We never even got a real de-breif.  They apologized for that years later.... but still did nothing....

And now, here we are, dealing with anger and moods, and depression.  I begin to question if they had dealt with the trauma, maybe this would not have come up again....  My mother was looking back over our marriage and looked at the other rough time and said, "Did you realize that that came just after that trauma?"  I hadn't....  perhaps because I was so sick and anemic at that time...  But she saw more anger after a trauma again...  and we being to wonder...

I know that my mission has paid for three years of counseling for someone on our team.  I only know this because I used to be the leader's wife.  We don't know what it was for, but we know that they did it.  The mission never scolded that person, never demoted them, never made their issues public, never shamed them.  When I asked for help, I guess I expected that.  Some help and some counseling.

I never expected this.

I never expected for my husband to be publicly shamed, demoted, his and my issues told to everyone, bullied if we do not do "help" just the way they want, not listened to, even called crazy by Dick.

I would have never asked if I had known.

I would have never wanted my husband to be treated like that.

I love him, and I wanted help for him.  Because I believe he needs it, we need it, and he is worth it.

Today, I wish I had never asked for help.  Because they have made it worse.  And not helped at all.

Today, I am sad.

But then, just when we are sad and too tired to do anything but sit, no tears left, God has this way of stepping in.  And he sent a friend, someone new, and then He sent another woman who is living my life.

Both a breath of hope....  one able to see and understand, able to pray for me, knowing what we face is not only physical, but spiritual, and able to pray for that.  The other, a quiet reassurance from God that He is not done with us, and even though His people have judged us harshly, He still wants to use us.  We work among broken people....  I keep having this quiet firm belief that as God heals us, our scars which may be ugly to the unscarred will bring hope to those with wounds.

Because scars show wounds which healed.