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Episode 2 Faith over fear? NO! Love over fear!

I remember when I made up my mind to do the work it was going to take to get better. I was in a behavioral health hospital; and had been for several weeks. I was able to be more present and engage with group material and art therapy and even setting in the day room for longer stretches with others near me.

It was during this hospital stay that I began to remember what had happened to me as a teenager and the fact that it had been traumatically difficult and damaging to me. I had always in my mind felt that it was all a lot of horrible things I had done wrong. Guilt and shame washed over me and in talking to therapists and doctors about these feelings led to the realization that the adults in my life had used and abused, even assaulted me; over and over again.

I went straight into DBT group therapy and individual talk therapy from the hospital. Every week day I had some kind of interaction with the team of doctors and mental health professionals that helped me. They helped me develop a plan of dealing with flashbacks. The diagnosis finally led to the right medicines and they actually started working for me. DBT, that is, Dialectical Behavior Therapy taught by a team of three therapists, gave me skills to use in the worst of flashbacks, panic attacks and depression that I dealt with daily.

I approached this therapy like it was chemotherapy or surgery and post surgery therapy; as if my life depended on it. I opened up about the events that came back up. Slowly though, sometimes unable to verbalize it, I would sketch stick figures. Those sketches allowed the therapist to ask questions to help me figure out the underlying problem and the skill(s) I could use when the event resurfaced. Let me give you an example.

In my mind I continually saw myself in a bed with a man and a woman and what seemed to be mirrors above the bed. It was horrifying, nightmarish even. Because I am a Star Wars fan, the therapist suggested drawing myself in battle with lightsabers and breaking those mirrors. It took months, but finally I realized there had not been mirrors above the bed; I dissociated to bare the events in those moments and led me to experience something like an out of body view of what had happened to me through the years.

The DBT skills I found to be most effective were: Observe, that is explain my thought to myself and run through breathing exercises until the extreme feeling subsided. I pictured my thought sitting on a wave, rising through my mind and subsiding. Rising again and subsiding. This helped me realize that thoughts were not permanent. They came and went. Even though at that time in 2012 it was hourly. It still wasn’t constant. That perspective helped me see relief, if even for a short time.

When I was able to breathe through to a more calm state I would immediately begin a self soothing activity such as, woodworking, building a campfire, drawing, painting, or something that would take thought effort to do and this gave me a longer break each time. Now I do those things without even thinking about it when horrid thoughts creep in, and they do still creep in. Like waves they leave again. The sea of my mind is much calmer now, in 2023 because I put effort into renewing my mind. I have been transformed from a shame laden fearful tiny child into a woman who knows God loves me and I live in his grace day by day.

Next Episode is about finding a path through dark moments using what God gave us.

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