Living with the symptoms of PTSD and trauma is like living in a house full of pets.
Over the years we have accumulated a number of pets. At last count we have 3-cats, 4-fish, 1-dog and 1-bird. We never sat down and discussed how we were going to accumulate such an assortment of pets. It just short of happened over time. Now you would think having such an assortment of pets would result in a house full of frenzy disarray and chaos. But somehow our pet population has found a way to get along. That is not to say there are no pet conflicts, but somehow it stays pretty peaceful.
Most of the conflict comes between the cats, as they tend to be pretty moody. Most of the time all three cats: Natasha, Bullwinkle and Zika the Angry Cat live in a precarious truce and co-exist in relative peace. Sometimes my dog will get a bit spirited and chase the cats around the house to demonstrate he is still the boss. Then we have the bird that belongs to my daughter, the bird is old and grouchy. If she does not like what is going on she will squawk loudly until someone pays attention to her. Then there are the fish, they are always quite, don’t complain and pretty much swim in circles all day long.
Even though they get along pretty well they are still animals with natural instincts. I’ve caught Natasha sitting on top of the fish tank looking through the opening of the tank lid. No doubt dreaming of the day when the fish will swim too close to the surface and she will finally get to enjoy a good fish snack. We have observed both Natasha and Zika the Angry Cat, crouching behind the couch in the best tradition of Sylvester the Cat, waiting for a chance to eat the bird. Then we have my service dog Delrin, who out of nowhere will jump up and chase the cats just for the fun of it. From time to time Gracie the bird will get upset at something and let everyone know very loudly that she is unhappy. Usually she does this when she is out of food, being ignored or her ladder is disconnected from her climbing tower. Living with the symptoms of PTSD and trauma is like living in a house full of pets. The potential for conflict is always there, in an instance a peaceful moment can explode into a major conflict.
My analogy expresses the uneasy peace we have within ourselves. The struggle we face when we wake up wanting more than anything, to live a normal life for just one day. It is the battle that goes on within, when we find ourselves reliving or having our thoughts invaded with unwelcome memories. It is the fear we face when our hypersensitivity takes over and we see the enemy behind every corner. It is our frustration when others cannot recognize the threat that is before them. It is the helplessness we experience when we feel ourselves getting ready to explode, but somehow we cannot stop it from happening. It is the anger, disappointment and frustration we feel after we lose control. It is the hopelessness we face when we attempt to go to sleep only to have our dream interrupt whatever rest we might have.
The question I have today is “Can we find spiritual peace when we find ourselves fighting through the symptoms of our trauma and PTSD?”
We read in Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
So how do we find this peace with God? We first see that we are to rejoice in the Lord always. This does not mean we rejoice over the struggle we have with PTSD. It means we rejoice in the things that God had done for us. Even if all we can do is rejoice that we have some water to drink. I know this is not an easy thing to do, especially when we feel as though our lives are falling apart. Finding something to rejoice in, even if it is small and insignificant is an important step in finding peace with God. As we learn to rejoice in the small things we become more encouraged to rejoice in the bigger things.
Secondly we see we need to let our gentleness be evident. This seems like an impossible task when we are consumed with anger, bitterness and resentment. It seems that showing gentleness is completely opposite of the emotions we show when we are faced with PTSD. Like most of us, I struggled with explosive bouts of anger that seemed to come out of nowhere. Before I retired from the Army I was downtown San Antonio with my first service dog Maxwell. Maxwell was a great dog but he made a terrible service dog. He could not keep his focus and had this bad habit of jumping at kids. One day while we were walking around the river walk a family passed by and Maxwell lunged at one of the kids. This of course scared the kid and as any father would do he confronted me about Maxwell lunging at his son. The father was confrontational and as we exchanged words, I completely lost it and I started to scream at this man who was just trying to protect his son. I became so angry and hateful that he actually began to cry in public. He told me that he deals with the same problems I have, my response to him was just more anger and hatefulness. As I turned around and walked away I thought to myself “what have I become?” This is not who I want to be, I don’t want to be an angry hateful veteran who is controlled by anger from his PTSD. I made a decision that day; I would not allow myself to become that angry hateful veteran. So I learned how to be gentle, despite all the anger and bitterness that comes with having PTSD. If we are to find the spiritual peace that God wants us to have, we must learn how to exchange our anger and bitterness for gentleness. How do we do that? Just like rejoicing we find ways to show gentleness even if it is small. Showing gentleness once makes it easier for us to show it again and again.
Part of dealing with PTSD is fighting with anxiety and learning to overcome it.
Thirdly, we put aside our anxiety and anger. Now if the first two seem impossible then this one seems even more unlikely to ever happen. Putting aside our anxiety is not an easy thing to do. Part of dealing with PTSD is fighting with anxiety and learning to overcome it. There are many methods of dealing with anxiety, being mindful, learning and using coping skills, using breathing techniques are some ways of reducing anxiety. When it comes to finding spiritual peace and laying aside our anxiety, the Scriptures tell us the exact formula to use. We are told in every situation we find ourselves, we are to make our request known to God. When we are faced with anxiety and worry, we are to bring them before God through prayer and petition. Notice we are to do so with thanksgiving. Why would we approach God with thankfulness for our anxiety and worries? We are not told to be thankful that we are worried or suffer from anxiety, but we are to be thankful because in doing so we will experience the peace of God.
This section closes with the promise that as we bring to God our anxiety we will find the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. This mean despite everything we feel or struggle with, when it comes to our anxiety, God will give us peace. This peace He gives is beyond our understanding. It goes against all of our arguments, doubts and uncertainties, even beyond our anger, resentment and hate. To find spiritual peace in the midst our storms we simply turn to God and let our struggles be known to Him. The question is, are you willing to bring your anxiety to God and find peace? Or do you simply want to live in a precarious truce like my cats do until the next time everything explodes?