This is the third in a series of three articles on how my faith has been shaped by spiritual trauma. The first post focused on how I lost the faith of my childhood when I couldn’t reconcile my life experiences with the faith stories told in church. The second post in the series focused on how spiritual trauma shaped my understanding of God and the people of God. This third post will explore what a Faith that acknowledges spiritual trauma looks like for me.
Through 12-step groups and church I had rediscovered faith in humanity but I was still in significant pain. I was in and out of inpatient psychiatric facilities for suicidal and, eventually, homicidal ideation. Eventually I realized that I was either going to kill myself or kill someone else; having hit bottom, I entered treatment for my addictions and my trauma, and hoped to discover a different way of relating to myself, to other people and to my faith.
Facing my Shame
One roadblock to reclaiming my faith was my shame – I felt that I was unworthy of God. I felt a lot of shame around my suicidal thinking, with church messages about the sinfulness of suicide and secular messages about the selfishness of suicide mixed up together. For the first time, while I was in treatment a mental health professional told me, “Well, of course you were suicidal. You had a traumatic childhood and suffered from addiction, that’s a reasonable reaction. It’s not a great long-term coping mechanism for your life going forward, though. We’ll help you find other choices here.”
Another person’s acceptance of suicidal feelings as “normal” broke some of the stigma around suicidal thinking for me and helped me to forgive my self-judgments about not being strong enough to “take it.” The treatment chaplain also made it clear that, as far as he was concerned, there was no sin that could separate us from God. He believed that God suffered pain with us, and grieved our suffering, but never judged us for our despair.
Facing My Anger
Another roadblock to reclaiming my faith was my anger with God – I wasn’t sure that God was worthy of my respect, and I worried that God hated my anger. I still had a lot of anger that God hadn’t stopped the abuse, and anger that God hadn’t taken my life when I asked God to do so. Again, for the first time, the treatment chaplain told me, “Of course you’re angry at God. God’s big, God can take it. Let God hear about your anger.” And so I began to share my anger with God, but still couldn’t find my way to trusting – to having Faith. I had faith in my friends back home, and faith in my treatment cohort, but no faith in God.
A Rainbow in the Desert
One day I sat by myself, looking out at the desert, then closed my eyes and told God that I understood that Faith required a commitment on my part, but that I couldn’t find the strength to take the first step. I had to know that God was listening. When I opened my eyes I felt a deep sense of Peace overtake me, and saw that a rainbow had appeared over the desert mountains. Though I know the science behind rainbows, and know it’s just an atmospheric effect that happens sometimes in the desert, for me it was a sign that in the spiritual desert my life had become there was a promise of hope.
A New Faith: One Small Voice, One Million Hands and Hearts
The faith that I began building that day in the midst of my PTSD, my bulimia, my addiction to alcohol, and my root addiction to self-harm was a faith that God mediates God’s love through the hands and feet, hearts and mouths of other people. The unexpected eye contact with a person who sees me on the street, the thousand small social interactions that make up a week, time spent with my cat, all are interactions that touch my soul and connect me with my faith.
I also came to know that even in the midst of the most horrible pain, God is there. I don’t believe in a God that causes suffering to build character, or intervenes in daily life directly to end suffering. I do believe in a God who suffers with us, and knows our inmost pain. I have found peace in the space between breaths, in the silence of the night, when I know that I will never be alone regardless of how awful the present seems. God is with me at my root, and will never leave me alone.
Know if you feel alone that we are with you, all around you, and that God is with you, inside, loving you even when you feel unloved.