Saturday, June 24, 2017

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.

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