Am I Enough? Rejection and PTSD

In a departure from my usual format, I have asked for & received permission from a friend married to a Wounded Warrior with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to repost a note she shared with some of her friends.  The remainder of this post is dedicated to responding to her pain.  I applaud this dear young woman for her bravery in being willing to share her deep heartache with others.  Her desire is to help others who are dealing with their own confusion and rejection from the man they love.

“I have been silent on here 4 a long time but now I just need to share. My husband came to me last week out of the blue and told me when he retires he is leaving me and going back to his hometown to live and I am not invited to come. I have been trying to rationalize this in my head but my heart is just smashed all to pieces… I can’t make sense of it… I practically begged him to not leave me and told him I would do anything I needed to, to change. I have a back injury that has left me on crutches for the last two months. I have gained about 40+ pounds due to medications and not being able to do much. I even asked him if it was because of that and he says no he just doesn’t want to be around people including me….wow did that feel like a punch in the gut….I am just totally heartbroken and can’t seem to stop crying…I am trying to figure out where I failed him.” ~name withheld

Sweet friend, 

First let me say I HURT for you.  Rejection can be brutally painful.  It tears at our self-image & shatters our confidence.  It always leaves us questioning, insecure, full of doubts about our “enoughness”.  Rejection, especially from someone we love, can cripple us even more than a bad back or other physical ailment. We limp through our days heartbroken, wondering what we could have done differently.  Even today I understand rejection more than I wish I did and have cried more tears because of it than I am comfortable admitting.  

Someone told me year ago that “rejection is God’s Protection”. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time.  I felt cheated by God in those moments for not “fixing” the situation so I could be happy with the man I loved. It took years before I realized what God had, indeed, protected me from.  In my current struggles, I thank Him for His sovereignty knowing in the heat of my circumstances I can trust Him even when I don’t understand.  I’ve learned to trust God with those who reject me and I pray for their own healing as well as mine. 

Having said all that, May I speak to you as someone who suffered gross violence and lived with my own PTSD as a result of it?  In my PTSD I abandoned ALL my friends, my family and a man who loved more than I’d ever been loved in my life.  Seclusion was, for me at the time, a matter of life and death.  I couldn’t explain it to anyone and I knew they wouldn’t understand if I tried.  I moved in with my rape crisis counselor but I wouldn’t even let her speak to me.  Thankfully, she understood what I didn’t and she gave me plenty of space.  I couldn’t even bear to make eye contact with anyone, feeling like they could see into my soul how wounded and messed up I was and if they pitied me it would destroy me.  I needed to pretend that I was in control even as I struggled to make it moment by moment on my own.  The more anyone tried to get close to me the meaner I became.  I hated myself even more for being heartless with people but felt I would die if I didn’t somehow regain control over my life.  Eventually God led me through extensive counseling, healing and recovery.  I still walk with a bit of an emotional limp but God restored my heart to be able to trust and love again, to even risk rejection from someone new.   

What you need to know is that this rejection is not about you…not about how thin, or pretty, or healthy or loving you are.  Not about how clean you keep the house, how quiet you keep the children, how delicious you prepare the meals, how steamy you are in the bedroom.  You could be all those things and still not reach your husband because the truth is, this has NOTHING to do with you.  Your husband is in a battle for his mind and for his very life…even greater than the battle that raged while he served in the Middle East. He imagines and feels a threat against his soul that if he doesn’t guard against, it will take his life.

Not all combat vets {or others} with PTSD will physically leave.  Most will just check out emotionally, withdraw to a separate space or melt into the sofa watching tv, oblivious to their surroundings.  They may spend countless hours with buddies who understand without a word.  They may bury themselves in work or projects. They may seem normal for a few days, maybe even let you feel close to them but when it gets to be too much, they suddenly “disappear” again.  Life becomes an endless roller coaster.  Sadly, I understand both sides of this because I’ve lived them both.    

I am living proof that there is always Hope for recovery from PTSD.  I would be the last person to tell you to give up on your husband.  However, unless and until your husband is willing to seek counseling and commit to healing in that process, there is almost nothing you can do for him.  The more you push, the more he will reject you.  The more desperate you act, the more determined he will be to flee. The more you cry, the more heartless he may become.  I wish it wasn’t true but I think many who live with someone traumatized by violence will attest to similar experiences.  

Remember I said “there is Almost nothing” you can do…You can pray.  You can respect his space.  You can refuse to view His conduct as Your fault.  And you can become really good at forgiving as God stretches you to love deeper, unconditionally.  Most importantly you can take care of yourself.  It’s what the “Hope for the Home Front” retreat was all about, remember?  In the end if your husband leaves you permanently or simply checks out over & over, you must believe that you did your best and you must not feel guilty for taking care of your heart first.

Our goal at “Hope for the Home Front” is to embrace women who are living with the agony of rejection and the crazy-making of the back & forth, ups & downs.  We don’t spout empty platitudes or offer you 50 cent solutions for million dollar problems.  We simply understand what you deal with every day because we have been there, are still there.  We are here to walk this journey with you…even as you limp along.  We want to listen to you, cry with you, rejoice in little things with you and love you.  The saddest words I read are “I haven’t spoken up for a long time…” because I know the heartache and loneliness that comes from carrying these burdens alone.  Please know, you are Enough, you are Loved, and most especially, you are Never Alone.  

Any woman needing to connect with others who love a man with PTSD and/or TBI, please feel free to write to us at:  http://www.whenwarcomeshomeretreats.com/index.cfm/PageID/1601/index.html

Is Sex “Just Physical”?

I wept this morning as I read an article about a young woman selling her virginity to raise money for charity. 

Here’s a girl who seems to have a good heart, wanting to raise funds to build houses for homeless in her community.  Yet she seems to have bought into the prevailing lie that sex is no big deal, just a physical act. 

The irony of this situation is that bids for her virginity top $155,000 so far.  Obviously, purity is worth considerably more than most young people have been led to believe.  This woman is auctioning off more than just a one night stand.  Despite her good intentions of benefiting her community, no amount of money could ever restore what she will be sacrificing if she goes through with this.

In a recent workshop I attended entitled “Designer Sex”, the issue addressed was, “Is Sex Just Physical?” Here are some of the questions we were asked to consider:

~Why is it when a child is sexually abused, that abuse follows them the rest of their life–whether they realize it or not? Why is that betrayal harder to shake off than any other betrayal by an adult?

~Why is rape so much more devastating to a woman than being beaten up?

~Why is it that most men who struggle with sexual addictions often have uninvolved or distant fathers in their past?

~Why is it that promiscuity in most women correlates to an uninvolved or distant father?

~Why is it that if most people talked about their deepest regrets, it would be sexual?

Whether we look to religion, the Bible or simply to human nature for answers to those questions, the conclusion is the same.  Sex isn’t just physical.  It goes to the deepest part of our soul.  All other animals perform the sex act for procreation.  Humans are the only creatures who have the emotional ability to engage in sex for the opportunity to know & to be fully known.  It’s called intimacy.  When something so tender and sacred is stolen from us or we voluntarily give it away merely for physical gratification we risk losing the ability to be intimate.  Sex becomes recreational rather than relational and over time we not only lose intimacy, we numb our senses, even become incapable of being tender and vulnerable with another.

Humans were not designed emotionally or psychologically to give our bodies to multiple partners.  We were designed to unite with one partner for life.  Becoming one is an act where two hearts become so intertwined separating them is impossible.  Think scrambled eggs.  Exclusivity is a gift that facilitates becoming one.  It is not a sacrifice but an investment.  Every time we say “No” to random opportunities for sex we are saying “Yes” to the One our hearts long to become one with.  When we say “No”, we are in truth saying “Yes” to deeply soul-satisfying intimacy.

Despite what our culture is telling us, Sex isn’t just physical.  It is rooted in the deepest level of my being, the level where I long for intimacy…to know and to be fully known.

Throwing Away the Remote: A Lesson in Courage

Flipping the page on my Alaska Wildlife calendar to a new month I’m reminded of an encroaching anniversary. 

I’ve lost track of how many years passed since my home break-in but even without a calendar on the wall I internally sense its date.  My first clue?  Something in my spirit hungers for more control.  From serving eight years as a volunteer for women’s crisis centers I learned that need to control is a common denominator among survivors of violence.  Not surprising when you consider that during the commission of many violent episodes/crimes, victims are generally at the mercy of the perpetrator. 

During my home break-in, I didn’t know for hours if I would live or die.  Wickedness taking the form of a human held me prisoner at gunpoint, my only recourse to endure his abuse or perish.  In those dark hours, control stripped from me, helplessness assailed me.  Even for weeks following I was not in control.  Fear gripped me, preventing me from living my life.  Every noise startled me.  I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep without nightmares, couldn’t step outside the shelter of a friend’s home without trembling, couldn’t look people in the eye without crying, couldn’t watch tv newscasts without feeling sick.  Aftermath of violence rendered me helplesss in nearly every aspect of life.

A lie took root:  Absence of Control equals Helplessness.   The remedy appeared obvious.  The more I control my world the less helplessness I experience.   In a misdirected attempt to avoid soul agony of helplessness & vulnerability, I convinced myself I must always be in control.  Some control proved helpful like planning where I ventured out to and for how long, making sure to return home before dark.  Other decisions seem random.  I controlled the length of my hair, lopping it boy short for the first time in my life.  I wore unattractive colors & frumpy clothing.  I isolated myself from everyone, including friends.  Many nights when insomnia owned me, I took refuge in television, not for my viewing pleasure but mechanically pressing a remote control every few minutes for hours until I drifted off exhausted.  It seems so ridiculous now but at the time, I felt powerful with control literally at my fingertips.

Problem is my controlling spiraled out of control, ruining relationships, isolating me from people who love me.  Control cost opportunities, rendered me a slave to lists and self-imposed rules of how life must be structured for my protection.   Need to control narrowed my world, prohibiting me from venturing too far beyond the familiar and manageable.  It chained me to routines, limited my circle of support, prevented me from trusting, robbed me of freedom, cheated me of JOY in living and loving.  Ultimately, control consumed me.

What I needed wasn’t control but courage.  Friends told me how brave I was for living through a violent attack.  There’s nothing courageous about being a victim. Courage can only be found in choosing to move from victim to survivor, choosing to FULLY LIVE as a Survivor.  Control is the antithesis of courage.  Despite my best efforts to appear brave, I realized bravery cannot emerge as long as I control everything because control roots and thrives in fear. 

As long as I knew exact outcomes, hid behind routines, averted vulnerability by limiting my friendships, as long as I buried my heart and surfed through meaningless relationships like channel surfing with a remote control, true courage evaded me.  I was, in fact, cowardly hiding behind a thin veil of false bravado destined to unravel in ugly ways.

True bravery emanates from staring down our fears, especially the fear of losing control.  Courage emerges when everything in me shouts “RUN! HIDE!” but I chose not to, when outcomes are shaky & threatening and I risk anyway, moving forward even in uncertainty but with resolve to conquer.  “Courage”, as my dear friend Marshele Carter Waddell puts it, “is running up to the dark and taking one more step.” 

The truth is, the more I tried to control the more I became controlled.  If I honestly believed in the Sovereignty of God, I had to surrender control to Him.  Surely the God who numbers the hairs on my head and watches over lowly sparrows cares about my struggles, right? {Matthew 10:29-30}  But surrender seemed like giving up, admitting defeat, weakness.  I fought until I nearly destroyed myself.  The longer I avoided raising the white flag, the deeper fears bored into my soul and the emptier I became.  No 12-step program delivered me, no magic formula to follow…just a simple prayer of relinquishment, a commitment to reach out to others for love & support and a long journey of intentionality to trust my Creator with details of my life every moment, every breath, every heartbeat.

As I glance again at the calendar on my wall I commit the date August 3rd to the Lord.  I won’t be controlled by fears in this season.  My heart beats a little faster when I think of that night but I recognize fear sooner when it attempts to slip through cracks of my brokenness.   I’m quicker to declare I will not let fear rule, not let it constrain me anew to channel-surfing-type control.  Instead I choose to throw away the remote.  I risk more.  I forgive quicker.  I laugh louder.  I love deeper.  I live freer… I live courageously

{A woman’s magazine invited me to contribute an article about my recovery from violent crime.  I submitted this & it’s now under review by the editor.  I’ll let my readers know if it they accept for publication.  At the risk of sounding self-serving, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a lot of clicks on this link so please FEEL FREE to share.  Thanks!}