Nearly all of us pray for healing following trauma or tragedy, but the type of healing we desire often correlates with the injuries we sustained: broken legs to be mended, burns to be smoothed into supple skin, depression to be lifted, and so on. We don’t like to hear that healing may arrive in the spiritual rather than temporal form, because – naturally – we want our broken bodies to be made whole again.
Maybe you’ve experienced trauma from an injury or severe abuse or neglect. Maybe life has drastically changed in ways you never anticipated. So how does one regain and maintain any semblance of sanity, particularly interior peace, in such times? Here are some thoughts I’d like to share with you in the hopes that you, too, may find fruitfulness during the intensely painful moments of living with trauma.
Understand the cycle of stress: You A.R.E. stressed.
Stress, even eustress (the good kind) is cyclic. I often consider where I am in the cycle of stress, which helps me refocus and listen to what my body needs. The first stage of stress is alarm, which is that fight-or-flight response to coping with unexpected pain. This stage alerts our bodies to produce more cortisol, which is why we feel the symptoms of anxiety: rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, racing thoughts, etc.
Once we have been under duress in the alarm stage for a time (which can vary from seconds to days or weeks), our bodies enter the resistance stage of survival. If stress is prolonged, we become adapted to it for a time. We develop certain coping mechanisms, however healthy or unhealthy they may be. Despite the appearance of managing stress in this stage, our bodies were not designed to tolerate it forever.
That is why we finally enter the stage of exhaustion. This could be a gradual or rapid decline in our energy levels, often manifested in the form of colds and viruses. Our bodies are telling us to slow down, even stop altogether, because we need rest in order to repair the damaging effects of prolonged cortisol release.
Understanding how stress manifests in your body will give you clues as to when you need to reach out for help, let go of certain things, and most definitely attend to your basic needs: sleep, proper nutrition, and plenty of fluid intake. It may seem trivial to explain the necessity of these, but I’ve found that my basic needs are the first to fall by the wayside when my brain is focusing on the results of Sarah’s diagnostic tests and treatment options. Stress can – and does – arrive unexpectedly and swiftly, often robbing us of the ability to process our thoughts pragmatically.
Form your line of defense, both temporally and spiritually.
There’s nothing worse than living life on the edge only to discover that an unanticipated crisis throws us into a nervous breakdown. Why not prepare yourself now for the inevitable surprises? Though it may sound contradictory to prepare for surprises, what I mean is that there are certain practical measures we can have in place to lessen the intensity of stress when traumatic events occur.
I like to keep a computer file updated with important phone numbers, including my support system (babysitters, extended family, and neighbors). When crises happen, I can easily reach for my list, thus eliminating the added frustration of figuring out whom to call and what phone numbers I need to cancel scheduled activities. I also make sure our water bottles and thermal totes are accessible in case I need to toss in some healthy snacks at the last minute.
Most importantly, I keep my Bible, journal, pen, and rosary at my bedside. I have found more healing in these four items than I can express in mere words. Scripture, though at times cryptic, is a balm for wounded hearts. If I am too exhausted to muster words to pray, I read the beautiful and eternal Word to nourish my battered soul. My rosary is another comfort, because it is a rote, yet meditative, prayer that eases my anxiety when I cannot control my external circumstances. Finally, the journal and pen invite me to pour out all of my emotions and thoughts, uncensored, which is very cathartic. These basic spiritual necessities go with me to the children’s hospital and every time we go out of town, because they provide meaning to all of the unknowns we may be experiencing.
Pray, but expect spiritual rather than physical healing.
Here is where the deepest healing occurs in our lives. Many times our circumstances don’t change and, in fact, worsen. How do we find healing if all we seek is restoration of our former lives or the longing for something better? These are exterior changes, but God often uses the most disastrous events to stimulate a greater interior transformation.
So pray while you are hurting, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Pray in the midst of the mystery and in the thick of your calamities, but pray for spiritual rather than physical healing. Somehow when we reach a place of acceptance, peace floods our souls. And peace is certainly not the absence of chaos, but rather it is a distinct imbuing of something greater than our pain.
Realizing our littleness in the midst of God’s greatness and knowing that we may never find the answers to life’s questions about suffering and trauma will lead us to this place of peace. This doesn’t mean we travel to a state of denial in order to cope, but rather it is a conscious decision to simply yield in total surrender to His will, whether active or permissive. At times His permissive will is most difficult to comprehend.
Use deliverance prayer.
Trauma, both emotional and physical, can be inflicted upon us through abuse, neglect, the occult, and many other ways. Regardless of the source of our trauma, our Catholic faith is rich with beautiful prayers of deliverance that can free us from any sort of spiritual bondage or curses that may enter into our wounds. Healing often comes in the form of deliverance, which subsequently brings about great liberation.
I’ve read all sorts of books on the subject of deliverance, and one approach I really appreciate is the Unbound Ministry by Neal Lozano. He takes five keys as a guideline for how we can pray for deliverance and understand some deep-seated wounds that may have become buried psychologically due to spiritual enslavement. The five keys are: faith and repentance, forgiveness, renunciation, authority, and the Father’s blessing. Victims of trauma would immensely benefit from learning these five keys from a trained deliverance minister and then applying them in daily life.
The best final words I can muster are: Choose victory over victimhood. Do not allow your trauma, whether acute or chronic, to oppress you. God wants to use all things for our good, and sometimes it just takes a lot longer to discover where the beauty is hidden within the darkness.