Once the door was closed I was in total darkness and I was unable to see out. However, I could still hear the dragon coming
When I was a child I had a recurring dream that I was trapped in a large room in a castle. This room was long and wide. There was nothing in the room except an old metal lantern that sat in the middle of the floor. The room was sterile, the floor was cold gray granite and the walls were roughhewed rock. Lanterns were spaced evenly on the walls around the room. Unlike the lantern on the floor, the ones on the walls were dimly lit. The room was cold and silent and I was alone and the dimness reminded me just how alone I really was. I remember in my dream hearing in a distant hallway the sound of a very large dragon walking towards the room. I heard the giant tail of the dragon dragging on the floor. From time to time the dragon would breath heavy and I could hear him snort. I remember being afraid and looking around for a place to hid but not finding anywhere. As the dragon came closer to the room, I looked at the lantern sitting on the floor. So I made the decision to crawl inside the lantern. There was barely enough room for me to fit. Once inside I had to twist myself around so I could close the door of the lantern with just two fingers. Once the door was closed I was in total darkness and I was unable to see out. However, I could still hear the dragon coming.
I vividly remember this dream like it was yesterday, although in reality it’s been 40 years or more. I can nevertheless remember just how lost and afraid I was. The fear and loneliness I felt was not only experienced in my dream but also carried over to when I woke up. I remember the feelings of desperation, loneliness, and the fear of having no one to care for me or rescue me from the dragon. Looking back upon it now, I realize the dream had to do with the physical and emotional abuse I was suffering as a child. Yet 40 years later, I can still profoundly recall the feelings of loneliness that the dream brought.
The thought of being alone and having to fend for ourselves, is an emotion that is common to those who struggle with PTSD. I myself believed for a long time that I was alone in my struggle with PTSD and suicidal behavior. I looked around and was unable to see anyone else who could possibly be suffering like I was. I felt like I was trapped in the lantern of my dream. No one could identify or understand what I was going through. Even if I wanted to reach out for help, whom could I reach out to? I remember in 2010, I attending a program to honor our fallen service members. The program was sponsored by a civilian group and was primarily presented to Department of Defense civilians. During the event, a video presentation was shown. As I watched the video, I found myself in Iraq once again. I stood there dazed, trying to avoid what I was seeing and remembering. I was not in a place where I could simply walk out. I can still remember the complete loneliness I felt as I looked around the room. I thought to myself, “no one has any idea of what is going on inside me.” I wanted to run out of the room, I wanted to yell out; I frantically wanted to erase all the memories from Iraq. But I could not. When the program was over, I was filled with such fear, anger, hopelessness and loneliness that I wanted to stop existing at that very moment.
One of the major conflicts we have with PTSD is we believe we are the only one tormented by our traumatic experiences. We believe no on can understand what we are going through. In some insistence, when we finally gather up the courage to reach out to someone. We are confronted with people who dismiss our emotions and our struggles with our trauma. We hear such words as “just get over it”, “it’s time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and move on” or “stop being selfish.” They say these things as though we can easily reach into ourselves and switch off our symptoms of PTSD. When confronted with these folks we tend to retreat further into ourselves and make a greater effort to prevent people from hurting us. So we shut down, shut out and shut up.
Your trauma is not any less traumatic than the next person with PTSD. Your Trauma is yours and not anyones else’s and their trauma is not your trauma
When I started to realize perhaps I might have PTSD, I was unable to accept my trauma was real. I compared my trauma to others and thought how could I even think I have PTSD. I don’t have one big traumatic event I can point back towards. During the 24 months I spent in Iraq there were many traumatic events I saw or experienced. But there is no one big defining traumatic moment for me. When I compared my traumatic events to other Soldiers’s traumatic events, I simply could not comprehend how my experiences were traumatic enough for me to have PTSD. The truth is, I was not a combatant, by definition of the Geneva Convention and U.S. Law, I was classified as a non-combatant. I did not carry a weapon or kicked in doors. I never participated in a firefight with the enemy. I never took direct fire. How could I have PTSD? Why would I even dare dishonor the real warriors who genuinely had PTSD? I was just a chaplain living on a Forward Operating Base in Iraq.
These are the lies our symptoms tell us, it is these lies that keep us trapped in the agony of living with PTSD. We convince ourselves we are the only ones suffering and no one else understands what we are going through. So many of us suffer needlessly because we are unwilling or afraid to reach out and seek help. I want you to know today that you are not alone in your struggle with PTSD; you are not the “only one.” Your trauma is not any less traumatic than the next person with PTSD. Your trauma is your trauma and not anyone else’s and their trauma is not your trauma.
It does not matter what brought you to experience the symptoms of PTSD, what matters is realizing and accepting the reality of your suffering. What matters is, there are others in the same boat as you. What is even more important, is for you to realize in the midst of your trauma and struggles with PTSD, God has not cast you aside or forgotten you. It is easy for us to believe that God is disgusted with us and He can’t stand us. We feel spiritually cast aside. We feel that if God does not want me why should anyone else? Just as you are not alone in dealing with PTSD, you are not spiritually alone. Call out to God and seek His healing and you too will find that He is ready to reach out to you. He is simply a prayer away. If you have questions or want to find out how you can experience God’s healing in your life, please fill out the contact form and I will be happy to talk with you.