Wednesday, June 28, 2017

First Steps - Learning to take back our lives

Our first steps were a rest retreat.  It was not anything specific for trauma, but it was a good break.  It was good to get away from the judgement and criticism and get out into nature and take a rest.  Time to hear God and regain some stillness.

One interesting thing for me at this retreat turned into a significant step for me.  I had been fairly passive up to this point, letting others act and only reacting to them.  I lost my sense that I could act, that I could change anything, and was simply letting people hurt us and control us.  Looking back, I see that it was important to get that back, but I had no clue how.  One day, though, I decided to do a solo kayak ride.  It ended up to be about 5 miles all total.  I went out, and a strong wind blew in and the waves turned ugly.  I did not give up,but battled out to my goal and back again.  By the time I returned, I had blisters on my hands that had opened and were bleeding.  I still have one callous scar on my hand to this day.  That ride became important to me.  It was out among the waves washing over me and the pain that I battled the desire to quit.  I fought to the point of tears and kept fighting. I rested at my goal, emptied the water out of the kayak, fought the urge to call for help, and returned to battle all the way home.  When I got back, I had done it!  I felt this sense of accomplishment and capability.  I had fought something and won.  I look back and see that as the very first step in regaining control and healing.

I think for people coming out of trauma and/or abusive situations, some sort of physical challenge and accomplishment is a wonderful healing tool.  It may be a difficult hike to a vista point, a kayak ride, a swim, a 5k, anything that challenges and pushes them.

Another thing we did at this rest retreat was play games.  We played hard. Our family loves to play games and we love to compete.  We have no problem losing, but we love to play hard.  We played with other broken people for hours into the night learning to laugh again.  There were times during Dutch Blitz that bandaids were needed after some brutal encounters, but the very act of fighting and laughing were healing.

We hadn't laughed for such a long time.  Everything about us had been judged - even our love of playing competitively.  I had been told I was too emotional, too logical, too competitive, too..... there wasn't a single thing about me that wasn't wrong...  And now we just played and laughed and enjoyed people.  We found our smiles again and tested them out.

No one taught us all that much at this retreat, but they loved us without condemnation, and we needed that.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Tentative Hunt

We took a few days to cry together, to blink, to stay home and put in the garden.  We tried to absorb the shock.  They carefully planned all of this so that it landed on my husband's birthday as the last day he was allowed in the office.  We decided we would fight back, and we threw a huge birthday party at our house.  We knew the team needed to gather, to see we were ok, and to have a formal goodbye since nothing was planned.  So we threw a party.

First of all, Harry tried to cut off our e-mail.  Well, strangely, the office e-mail was not belonging to the mission, but it was something my family members (I belong to a family of highly intelligent, geeks.) had set up and were running.  My family refused.  Harry insisted.  My family then said that if they pushed that, they would take down the entire system that they had set up to run the entire office.  Harry backed down fast.  It was the first step to say no, to set limits on the damage, and it felt good to win it.

We began with phoning someone who was in our organization but who sounded like he had an idea of member care.  Well, in the meantime, he had left the mission, but he referred us to a church that he used to work with with some good counselors.  We drove all day and went down there.  They had a child psychologist meet with my daughter, and they had someone meet with us.

We told this psychologist the whole story, including all the "care" we had received to this point.  He shook his head, sighed, and said that it is all too common of a story.  He strongly recommended that we leave the mission.  He also referred us to a missionary debriefing center.  We also met with the church's mission team who listened for the first time to the trauma, laid hands on us, and prayed for us.  What a difference!

At home, I did my research on the debriefing place, but one thing worried me.  They did all their work in groups.  I was worried about the effect of our story on a group of people since most of what they did was furlough debriefing.  I felt that if we went in a group and told our story, it might have the unintended consequence of making other people feel like their stories were nothing, and I did not want that to happen.  Everyone's experience is valid and deserves to be heard and valued.  I didn't want to make people who suffered the confusion of having to see poverty up close and feeling unable to help everyone to feel like they didn't have a real reason to be struggling.  So I phoned the center, and explained what we had gone through and my concerns.  The lady on the phone took a deep breath, thanked me for calling, and agreed that yes, it would not be good to be in a group for that.  She also expressed shock that we were years in and our mission had not sought help for us.  She recommended that we phone another place that was actually set up not as a furlough debrief, but a trauma care center for missionaries.

During the summer, we also headed down for a week at my former Bible school.  We asked for their advice, and again we were urged to leave the mission and not stay in it.  We were told to look forward to what God has for us and be thankful that it will no longer be with them, but God will have something better.  We rested there with them and enjoyed being loved.

Again I did my research.  After being so burned, we took our time to thoroughly research everything.  We also phoned two more people, another person from our organization and another good friend.  The first apologized and said they already knew that our organization severely lacked member care and they were sad that this had happened.  They supported us looking for debriefing and trauma care and prayed with us. The second person listened and also referred us to the place we had already been referred to.  They said they had also been there and they were very helpful.

So we picked up the phone and applied to go.  Another friend strongly recommended that we take the entire family to this place.  The costs were in the thousands... and we had no money.  So hesitantly, we wrote our home church asking for funds to go.  Our home church wrote our mission and our local church and asked what they thought.  Our mission wrote them back, ccing us, and told them not to support us going there because we were not focusing on the things they told us to, our marriage, and were looking for other types of care that "may have some benefit, but are not the problem".  So our home church refused to support us.  We cried that night.  But the next morning brought news that one supporter was giving half of what we needed because he believed in us and knew we needed some help.  We scraped the rest, and some friends donated as well, and we set out to go.  To be honest, our hopes were not that high, but we set out to go.

Merciful - To All of Us

I was once reading soldiers recollections of WWII.  There was a story of a battle near the trenches, and a man was injured out in the mud a few hundred feet from the trench.  Night fell, and all sides were hunkered down in their trenches, all but this badly wounded man in no-man's land.  No one could get him without risking being shot at, and he was badly injured.  No one thought he would live all that long.  But he was screaming.  He screamed and screamed in pain.  He screamed for his mom, and he groaned and howled in agony.  This went on for four hours into the night.  Darkness in the trenches and silence save the screams of a dying man.  It made all the soldiers huddled in the trench nervous.  It stole their courage.  That might be them out there, and they began to break down hearing the pain of another.  Finally, one man, a native Canadian who could walk sure footed and silent, went over the top.  He made his way to the injured man, and there was silence.  Silence went on until he slipped back unseen into the trench.  The guy telling the story said he asked the native Indian what happened.  

"He's dead now.  I slit his throat.  Merciful - to all of us."

I thought, "You know, an army without a good recovery/medical capacity will kill its wounded".  Not because they think the wounded are useless, but because it affects them too much.  "Merciful - to all of us".  Now they don't have to hear the cries.

We were required to meet with a couple on the team when we returned from this odd counselor's house.  They wanted an assessment of what was wrong, and the counselor mentioned that possibly I may have ADHD. Ok, I may.  So may my husband.  Not severe.  So they settled on that and asked me to get assessed for that.  I told them that while one or both of us may potentially have ADHD, it was not the problem.  We were getting closer... it was a set of initials, but they needed to try PTSD. Nope, they insisted.  So I told them that I would ask for a referral to a doctor.  Socialized medicine meant that that referral would take a year or two, so I had no worries about agreeing.  I just didn't agree without reminding them that it was PTSD, not ADHD that was causing the problems.  Because I did not agree and kept telling them something, they again labeled me as argumentative and a problem.

It would have been amazing how argumentative and how not a problem they would have found me to be if they had just simply considered the obvious - we were suffering from PTSD.  I actually had more training in psychology than anyone on the healing team dealing with us, but no one would listen.

Then our home church got involved when getting reports from our mission and are local church.  They decided that I did have a problem getting along with people and that I needed to see a counselor to learn how to communicate better.  I really wouldn't have minded, except counselors are not cheap and they were not paying!  I told them there is no way I can afford a Christian counselor, so they told me to find a non-Christian one. I also needed help for my daughter, so we went in search of one together.  I found one that said she could do the treatment my daughter needed, except when we got there she said she couldn't.  She also had no clue about faith and asked my daughter dumb questions like, "so do you think what you dad believes is important to him?"  We both hated going and talking to her because she was spacey.

But somewhere in there, I began to work more, and as I began to work more in a healthy environment with people who believed in me and valued me, I began to see myself differently. I also began to be open with my coworkers about my PTSD.  They began to help me when I had flashbacks or triggers.  They'd walk the halls with me, bring me a cup of tea, or simply give me a hug.  I began to believe that I could survive.  I began to see the difference between the emotionally and spiritually unhealthy environment of the mission and the church and the healthy environment of the school I was working in.  This stabilized me enough to allow me to take action instead of only reacting.

My first action was one of passive rebellion, but it gave me the giggles, and enough strength to begin to think I could resist and work outside the abusive system that had set itself up.  I got tired of seeing and paying for seeing this totally useless counselor.  I read the letters from the church that kept insisting that I see a counselor... and then it hit me!  These counselors would never report to the church - the law forbids it and they will not break the law because they think as Christians they can.  They will not even tell the church if I go or not.  A small giggle began to form... the letter only asks that I see a counselor - not that I talk to one!  So every week, on the way home from school, I would drive by the building where the entire lobby was glass walls.  I would pull in the parking lot, stare in the building until I saw a counselor with their tags on around their neck.  Then I would drive home.  I dutifully reported that I was seeing a counselor weekly, and it was really helping.  It was!  It was giving me my power back, reminding me that I was capable of standing up to abuse, and making me laugh again.  In an odd way, it was the beginning of recovery from PTSD.  PTSD can happen when horrific things outside your control happen suddenly and you can't cope.  This small step of taking back control began to tell me that I could, and I began to breathe again.  The church was very happy that I was finally cooperating and seeing results.  I was happy, they were happy, and some breathing room was gained.

A few months went on.  We heard nothing.  Then we were asked to plan a meeting with Harry and our pastor again.  We asked that they hear us before the meeting, as they still had not yet taken any time to listen to us, but only tell us what they knew was wrong about us.  At this point, in January, they asked that we write a letter together and tell them what we thought was wrong.  We were so relieved!  Finally, we would be heard!  WE worked on the letter for two weeks, carefully detailing all the trauma we had been through since we first began moving towards the field years before.  We counted and were in the high forties of friends we had had killed.  We had been in several critical incidents and a few near misses.  And then the trauma.  We detailed it all.  We wrote that our marriage had been doing well before this trauma, and then we began to suffer PTSD.  We wrote about how PTSD was affecting each of us and how that it together was affecting our marriage.  We talked about the nightmares, the lack of sleep, the heightened sense of fear, the fog our brains were in, the anger outbursts, everything.  We asked for trauma care, for PTSD counseling, and for a trusted couple to meet with us weekly and pray with us and listen to us.  We were so happy.  January and February were happy months.  We knew that something good was going to come now that we were finally listened to.

In February, I went on a missions trip with my son and with his class.  It was a wonderful time, and I spent an emotional break from the abusive environment we were in.  In March, Harry was gone, so we planned to meet in April.  The day came, and we were nervous, but happy.  We drove to the church, and saw Harry in the parking lot.  He was tired, so we offered to grab him a coffee.  He agreed, so we drove and got one.  Then we filed into the church to meet with our pastor.

We didn't see the knife in the dark.  We didn't know that they had no intention of getting help, but only of silencing the cries of the wounded.  It was merciful.... for us all.

We sat down and there were about 30 seconds of "how are you?" and then Harry began to talk.  We blinked our eyes in shock.  He said that as of now, we are to step down from our positions, hand in the keys to the office, our e-mails would be shut down, and we were placed on a forced sabbatical.  We were to do no work, not come to the office, not show up for prayer meeting.  They would write a letter to all our supporters and tell them that we were placed on leave for moral failure.  We were not to say one bad word about the mission in all this time, and if it was found out that we did, then they would take our support.  During the 18 months of leave, we were to work on the course of counseling at our own expense that they decided we needed, and at the end of it, they would evaluate us and see if we would be allowed back.

We blinked. And swallowed.  And my husband asked if they had even read our letter.  Yes, they had, we were told.  But we were handed a letter that was what Harry had read to us.  Both of us noticed the date on it - before we were given permission to write them, and before they got our letter.  

We were kicked out.  And given a gag order.

My husband took it better than I did.  We had been twenty years in this mission, and had grown up with them as children.  And that was that.  With threats.  But he took a deep breath, and told me as we left not to worry, God was in control, and we would make it through.  

What followed was the hardest months ever because of the gag order.  We told a few close friends who could be counted on not to gossip back.  Two told us to sue them, but we did not feel that that was the right course of action.  We sat down and decided that we would take a few months and not even deal with them, but that we would begin a search on our own for the help we needed.  In a way, it was a blessing, because we began to take the action that we needed.  We were forced into it.  Oddly, the two of the first people we phoned were people inside our mission, but people who were wise and good listeners, and not in our country.

As far as the mission was concerned, they had silenced the cries.  What they didn't know was that they had injured more.  We went that night to our team, family by family, to tell them the news.  As a unit, they all decided that they would leave too.  They could not work for a mission that did that, and they would not stay.  We begged them to stay.  We told them not to think of us, but to think of the people they are ministering to.  To remember that they serve God, and not the mission board, and to continue in that.  We told them we would be ok, we would survive.  We asked them to accept the new leaders and stay.  The new leader was one of the healing team, one who was that very day we were in that meeting emptying and rearranging the entire office so that when we arrived back to pick up my husband's computer, we were handed boxes of stuff that they no longer felt belonged in an office - all the team's kids toys, coloring books, and nap blankets from when the little kids would come after school to do their homework in the break room and hang out for prayer and family suppers.  We always questioned this team member's motives.  He had always been a team leader, and had come here to take a secondary position, but always seemed to push for leadership.  We walked away.  We sorted the toys out that night and gave them back to the families they belonged to.  An era was over.  The team was no longer a family working together, but only an office.  

An army without a good capacity to heal its wounded will kill them.  To be merciful to everyone.