A time to heal...

When we carry trauma into our marriages, we are likely to experience difficulty in the marriage bed.

This is the third of several posts about healing from sexual trauma. You can find the first two posts here and here. This post discusses the time for healing to begin. The fourth (and final) post will discuss the decision to begin healing and how healing can happen.

I do not claim any expertise other than my heart. I am not a Biblical scholar, nor am I a counselor. I am speaking here as I would to a woman in my real life who came to me and said, “I had this awful thing happen to me, and I don’t know how to make things better now. My husband is suffering, and I’m miserable and scared. What can I do?”

 ~ ~ ~

We may be trapped by our past sexual trauma. We might experience feelings of shame regarding our sexuality or guilt about feeling so broken in the marriage bed.

Even when we want to be healed, the prospect of going through the healing process can appear overwhelming. Doesn’t healing mean that I have to relive everything? I’ll have to tell someone what happened, and as soon as I say the words it will make it real and I’ll have to admit that I feel like God abandoned me long ago. How can I trust anyone, even my husband, after I was violated like I was? It sounds so hard, and I’m not sure I can do it.

Or maybe there is, I’ll get around to it some day. I know I can’t live like this forever, but I’m just not strong enough now. Maybe in a few years.

Recognizing that we need healing is in itself a big step—but we still have to actually do it. How do we know when the time is right?

We may put off the work of healing for various reasons—but that doesn’t mean the trauma stays buried during that time.

Even if we choose not to address our trauma in an intentional way, pieces can still come to the surface. In addition to being a rape survivor, I have post-traumatic anxiety relating to an extended situation in my life several years ago.

As I experience a trigger or a difficult memories comes to mind, I take a look at the memory. I see what happened, and I remind myself of the truths of my life now. I see the past and give myself permission to grieve about it—and then I hand over just that one memory to God, remembering that the memory doesn’t define who I am.

Once I’ve allowed it to come to the surface I can begin to release it. Seeing difficult memories can be painful, and grieving can hurt–but it is how healing often happens.

One memory at a time, one issue at a time, I heal—piece by piece and peace by peace.

The deep benefit of healing when the moments present themselves isn’t that each of those things is healed. More important is that it teaches me that I can face the trauma and survive.

For me, with the nature of this particular trauma (it’s pretty light-weight, as traumas go), the right time to work on healing is whenever the need presents itself.

With deeper trauma due to sexual abuse and assault, this approach may not work (although it was how I did most of the healing from my own rape). The memories may be far too difficult for us to face alone or at unexpected times. There may be too many memories. Facing them alone and waiting for them all to surface can take far too long, prolonging the sometimes painful process of healing.

In these situations, we sometimes need to make  a decision to work hard on healing for a time, devoting time and energy to the process.

Healing from sexual trauma is likely to be a season rather than just a moment.

My Bible reading lately has involved a lot of “Okay, God, show me what you need me to see” and opening the Bible to random places. Every single time during the past two weeks, I have landed at scripture that eloquently speaks to something that is on my heart. (Side note: I am in awe when that happens. It’s truly amazing.)

The other morning, this exercise landed me in the Old Testament, in one of my very favorite passages in the Bible.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

What I love about this passage is the reminder that life is full of seasons. What belongs in one season may not belong in another. Life requires us to do things that at another time in life may seem inconceivable. Yet throughout life, there is a time for everything.

The patterns of how we think, feel, and respond were laid down in the past. We don’t unravel those trauma-based patterns and build healthy and joyful ones overnight.

When we decide to take back the power of the traumatic memories, it is a time to begin healing.

Nearly every one of the couplets in this scripture can be applied to healing from trauma that carries into the marriage bed:

Throwing away
Being silent
Giving voice to that which has been kept silent

Read the scripture above and ask yourself, “When it comes to my trauma, what is it time for now? Should I begin my season of healing?”

Healing may require you to do things that are uncomfortable or painful—but healing is just for a season. The trauma you experienced was one horrible season in your life. The season of healing comes next.

Followed by that is the season of being a healed woman—one who can feel whole within her own skin and within her marriage.

Other posts in this series

Trapped by Trauma
Shame, Guilt, and the Gift of Sexuality
Beautiful in Its Time

  Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Thoughts on “‘Tis the Season

  1. Chris – Thank you for writing these posts about healing from trauma. As you know from my last “reply” I too have experienced sexual assault, many times over.

    I had been so traumatized as a child that I didn’t even recognize situations as sexual assault in my teen years. So, I was victimized over and over again.

    I whole heartedly agree with your post.

    Time and seasons.

    To embrace a season of mourning and grief is the bravest act of self care in which you can engage. It is a way of giving a Holy love to yourself.

    I needed a counselor to help me walk through it all. She also used a technique called EMDR. The new theory on our brains and trauma is that the memories are stored near our “fight, flight, or freeze” adrenaline response area. EMDR is a technique to help move the memories to the cortex of the brain, where you can choose your response to the memory and separate the past from the present. After working through several memories with the counselor and Jesus Christ, I am now able to walk through it with Christ alone.

    Another part of my healing was participating in a small group with Mending the Soul (there is a book and workbook). Steven and Celeste Tracy are a Christian husband and wife team who have worked with trauma survivors for years. Their books are beautiful in how they unfold scripture and the theology of abuse. http://mendingthesoul.org/

    I did eventually share with my husband specifics of all that I’ve gone through and when I experience another flashback I can now tell him. He always holds me and I can say…”Just a heads up, I’m gonna be a little off for the next few days while I work through this.”

    My vulnerability has been a big key for me to receive from him love and care, in words, in actions and in the marriage bed.

    I just wanted to share the key pieces that have helped me walk through and into my healing. It has been a 2+ year process. So give yourself the permission Chris talked about…permission to name the sin done against you and all that you have lost because of it, then grieve.

    As Henri Nouwen says: “The steps of dancing are learned in the mourning”

    Chris and I agree…you will learn to dance again.

    • Cheryl, what you say about how your childhood trauma rendered you unable to identify later trauma is so profound. Trauma begets trauma begets trauma. All it takes is one trauma or experience that makes us feel unworthy and unlovable to start us in the cycle where it’s hard to see that healing is possible or that we deserve to be healed. When the cycle of victimization begins in childhood, it shapes a woman’s sense of self.

      I am picturing a merry-go-round. I remember one time as a child, I was trapped in the middle. Someone kept spinning and spinning and spinning. I lost the ability to see straight. I felt sick to my stomach. All I could think about was being off the merry-go-round, but there were so many other children on that I couldn’t even make my way to the side where I could have rolled off. One of the other kids finally yelled “Stop!” and it stopped. I stumbled off the merry-go-round and threw up on the playground. I remember wondering why I hadn’t been been brave enough to be the one to yell for it to stop. I remember thinking that my voice wasn’t one that would be heard.

      Thank you for sharing some of your healing experience. The next post will give an overview of how women can pursue healing, including counseling and small groups. I appreciate these specific suggestions and will try to link to your comment in that post..

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