Trauma, Addiction, and Recovery

MARK YOUR CALENDAR! Ep. 3- airs on Saturday March 12, 2022 at 11:00 AM CST! In this episode, my guest, Cheryl R. Luke, and I will discuss: How trauma places survivors at high risk for developing addictive behaviors. Hope that is found in programs like Celebrate Recovery Personal insights from our experiences

Chatting with Charlotte-LIVE

MARK YOUR CALENDAR! Ep. 3- airs on Saturday March 12, 2022 at 11:00 AM CST! In this episode, my guest, Cheryl R. Luke, and I will discuss: How trauma places survivors at high risk for developing addictive behaviors. Hope that is found in programs like Celebrate Recovery Personal insights from our experiences

About my guest: Cheryl Luke currently serves as the National Director of Cultural Communities for Celebrate Recovery. She has been in ministry for over 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge and experience about the affect of trauma on all aspects of a survivor’s life. She is one of my dearest and nearest friends whom I’ve known for two decades. Cheryl’s passion is helping individuals discover and reach their God given potential. She is a frequent guest speaker at events across the globe at Women’s conferences, retreats and workshops. Her smile and her love for the Lord is contagious as she draws her audience in with her unique speaking style that sometimes includes an unexpected song that fits a specific audience. Cheryl engages her audience in such a way that you feel like you’re in her living room listening to a friend share their passion and experience. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to hear her story, her insights, and her wisdom about trauma, addiction, and recovery! #celebraterecovery #mentalhealth #addiction #recovery #PTSD #survivingchildhoodtrauma

Spring is Coming!

When I am in the midst of a difficult season in my life, I sometimes forget that spring is coming.  I can’t see any further than my circumstance.  Fortunately, God knows SPRING IS COMING!  I ask myself, why should I worry.

Note: I think this blog may become an annual post. Each spring I think about the joy John found in our yearly jaunts into the Texas Hill Country in search of Bluebonnets. Other than watching sports, our annual trek was his favorite activity. As our birthdays draw near, the lessons I learned from this post return to my thoughts. Spring is coming! No matter how difficult the winter, spring is coming!

“Did you get it?”,  John asked with eager anticipation in his voice. “Yes, here it is,” I replied, “Looks really good this year.”   “Should be, after the rain we had in January, he commented.

As he opened the pages of the magazine, he reminded me of a child who just opened the best Christmas present ever!  For the next several hours, John poured over page after page of pictures of wildflowers.  Nothing else mattered at that moment.  I sat on the couch smiling each time he made an excited, “Wow! We need to go here this year!”  Or “I know exactly where that is! I have a picture just like this one.”  By the end of the day, John had our route for our annual sojourn through the Texas Hill Country mapped out.

Every year we made the trip.  It did not matter to John if we saw one bluebonnet or thousands.  What mattered was the journey and ultimately seeing the result of God’s workmanship throughout the winter.  The bluebonnets peeked out from the grassy field’s along the Texas highways like tiny beacons of light that illuminated the drab, colorless landscape of winter.  Each blossom represented victory over the harshness of winter.  Each blossom represented a new life and a new beginning.

Before each flower pushes through the earth to show off its beauty, it must endure the winter.

I often wondered how these seemingly fragile plants bloom year after year.  What miraculous events occur that result in such beauty?   So, like any good 21st-century researcher, I Googled, “How to plant bluebonnets in Texas.”

From this search I learned:

  1. Bluebonnets need full sunlight to for best growth.
  2. Bluebonnets can be planted from September 1 through December 15, but for the best growth no later than mid-November.
  3. Bluebonnets produce large, hard-coated seeds that take time to soften, but also protect them from potentially destructive forces of nature (winter) until they are ready to form deep roots and push through the ground.
  4. Do not soak or prick the seeds.  Although doing so may improve the first year’s growth, it may also damage the seed.
  5. A significant amount of rain is needed during the winter months to soften the seeds enough to germinate.
  6. When scattering the seeds, seed to soil contact is essential. (the grass and weeds need to be cut)
  7. Seeds need to be covered by about 1/4 inch of soil to protect them from being eaten by birds or “burning” up in the sunlight.

In short,  to endure the winter, bluebonnets need to be planted in the right season, need sunlight, need contact and covering from the soil, need enough rain to soften their hard shell and need to grow at their own pace without being picked or rushed.  As I read this, I was reminded that God works the same miracle with us every time we go through a severe (winter) season in our life.

God has a perfect plan to help us endure the winter.

Spring always follows winter.  New life happens in every part of God’s creation in the spring.  Spring can be one of the most beautiful times of the year!  However, when I am in the midst of a difficult season in my life, I sometimes forget that spring is coming.  I can’t see any further than my circumstance.  Fortunately, God knows SPRING IS COMING!  I ask myself, why should I worry.

If God takes care of bluebonnets surely He will give me what I need to endure the winter:

  1. His Son, in all his glory shining down on me. John 3:16
  2. He knows exactly how long I need to endure the winter before spring arrives Isaiah 40:31
  3. He covers me with his wings until I can safely stand and flourish. Psalm 91

Although He provides all this, my part is:

  1. Not try to endure the winter without relying on Him. Psalm 78:7
  2. Not allow others to push me, shame me or blame me for being in the circumstance. Romans 8:31, 39
  3. To remain connected to God by abiding in Him. John 15:7
  4. Allowing Him to stand over me when I am weak. Philippians 4:13

No matter how cold or dark the winters of your life seem, remember SPRING IS COMING!  God provides all that you need to endure the winter.  God’s perfect plan will get you to spring.

How has God helped you endure a winter season in your life?

Distorted Love

Sometimes poetry allows expression of emotion that prose does not allow. Writing these Sonnets helped me connect the thread of how my early experiences affected how I defined love and my relationships with others, with myself and how I interpreted everyday experiences.

Repost: The following blog was part of an assignment in the Apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. It was one of the first blogs I posted to this website and was my first attempt at writing sonnets. This month as I focus on the topic of love and healthy relationships, I thought I would revisit where my writing began. There are links in the text to the five sonnets I wrote for the assignment. 

Modern culture often distorts the love through carelessness, but sometimes “deliberately… by those who find it in their interests to render” the term love “empty of meaning.”[1] Child sexual abuse, for example, distorts love at a vulnerable age. The abuser deliberately manipulates the child by implying that love and sex are the same act. For me, love distorted by my father and others from a very young age.

There are many ways to convey the hurt, anger and confusion created by such a distortion. Poetry provides an avenue for creative expression that helped me reveal my inner turmoil and eventual relief in a simple form. I chose a specific form of poetry, the sonnet.  In the four-sonnet sequence, I describe how my early experience of sexual abuse from my father created a distorted understanding of love in my mind. The distortion continued for most of my life. My sonnet sequence describes the paradox created by language distortion through sharing my experience at five stages of my life: age eight, age twenty-six, age forty-five, age fifty-five and age sixty-five.

In Sonnet I-Are Daddy’s Words the Truth or Does He Lie? I describe the confusion created by sexual abuse. In ‘Sonnet II-Does Love Reside Where I Cannot See?’ I describe how the distorted link between love and sexual performance led me to marry my first husband. In ‘Sonnet III-How Can I Make It Right?’ I describe my battle with pornography and promiscuity, a common outcome for an adult who experiences sexual abuse as children.

In “Sonnet IV-The Truth Revealed,” I describe the pivotal event that redefined love for me.  I describe my inner transformation and tentative acceptance of a different meaning of love.  The first two quatrains describe meeting John, my second husband. In the second quatrain, I describe our wedding, emphasizing the kiss. While I do not say this directly, I imply that the wedding kiss was our first kiss. I begin the sonnet questioning love but move quickly toward acceptance of John’s love which did not include sexual intimacy prior to our marriage.

Sonnet V-At Last I Stand Approved” describes how my relationship with John transformed my distorted view of love. The last six lines describe my current understanding of love. I begin with the disclosure that I am a widow, but the loss does not change the truth. Line ten answers the question asked at the end of Sonnet I.  The declarations found in the remaining two lines of the provide the transition from earthly love to Divine Love. The final couplet confirms that the language distortion no longer controls my thinking and I know the true meaning of love.

Sometimes poetry allows expression of emotion that prose does not allow. Writing these Sonnets helped me connect the thread of how my early experiences affected how I defined love and my relationships with others, with myself and how I interpreted everyday experiences. I hope they provide comfort, hope and encouragement to you or someone you love.

Each Sonnet tells part of my story. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments. Sonnet I -Are Daddy’s Words the Truth or Does He Lie?  What Kind of Love is This? Part I   What Kind of Love is This?- Part II

[1]Holly Ordway, Apologetics and the Christian imagination: an integrated approach to defending the faith (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017), 59.

A New Thing-New Beginnings

We cannot change the past, but we can look for evidence of God starting a new thing. He can water the deserts, clear the wilderness, and chart our course for whatever plans He has for us. We cannot see Him at work unless we keep moving forward. 

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

As we begin a new year, Isaiah reminds us to keep our eyes forward. While I don’t think he intends for us to forget the lessons from the past, his prophetic words stress the importance of seeing God at work even in desolate times. 

Our vision gets clouded when we focus on missed opportunities, failures, or hardships from years gone by which may cause us to miss the wonder that awaits us in the new year. We cannot change the past, but we can look for evidence of God starting a new thing. He can water the deserts, clear the wilderness, and chart our course for whatever plans He has for us. We cannot see Him at work unless we keep moving forward. 

Reflection

Where do you see God working in your life?

A Letter to Baby Jesus

Jesus was fully divine and fully human. What went through Mary’s mind on that night so long ago? How can we relate to her mixed emotions as she gazed on the face of God.

[Repost] For some reason I’m already thinking about all things Christmas which is not my normal pattern. I generally wait until mid-December to put up my tree and other decorations, but this year, the celebration of the birth of our Savior already brings me joy. In anticipation of the event, I thought I’d repost this letter. I wrote it a couple of years ago for another website as part of their Advent Calendar and posted it here last year.

As you know, if you’ve followed me for anytime at all, I love writing letters to express my thoughts and feelings. The letter below is a letter to Baby Jesus. For those who are familiar with the song, “Mary Did you Know?,” some of the inspiration comes from the lyrics of the song. In the letter, I express my journey toward understanding and accepting God’s unconditional love. It has elements of my experience as a new mother, my journey to freedom, reflections on Mary’s experience as she gazed on her newborn son, how important Jesus is to me and all of humanity.

Dear Baby Jesus,

The good news of your birth announced by the angels was not just for the shepherds gathered round the manger or the Kings who found you by following a star, but for all humanity. As the day we celebrate your birth draws near, I thought I’d write you a letter to tell you how much you mean to me. 

You came into this world as an infant who depended on your mother, Mary for all your needs. She was not much more than a child herself on that night long ago, but she knew that God had touched her. I wonder what she thought as she held you for the first time. Did she see the man you would become? Or did she only see her son and feel a mother’s love? Maybe she wanted to hide you away and protect you from harm. Did she wonder what God had in store for the beautiful boy that she held so close to her breast. How could she fully understand what the future held or how you would fulfill your destiny? 

You were fully divine and fully human, but when she kissed you for the first time, Mary touched your divinity with her humanity transposing divine love into human expression. For years, I did not understand the love Mary felt for you. Nor did I understand God’s unconditional love. The revelation came forty-one years ago, when I gazed upon my newborn baby girl for the first time. As I held her, joy and peace filled every fiber of my being. In that moment, your divine love for me intersected with my human frailty. I finally understood that your entrance into the world as an infant demonstrates that intersection. You were divinely conceived but born to a woman. Humanity and divinity united to bring salvation.

I rejoice knowing you remain steadfast and that your love never fails. I rejoice knowing that your divine love still intersects with humanity. What began 2000 years ago in a manger, still brings peace to the hearts of humanity. 

Your adopted sister,
CHARLOTTE THOMASON

Surviving the Holidays-Tips for Trauma Survivors

Not So Merry and Bright?

Are the holidays difficult for you? Are you dreading upcoming family gatherings? Do you wonder how you’ll manage the chaos of returning home for the holidays? Maybe you’ve decided not to go. How do you manage telling your family you’re not coming home? How do you manage loneliness an isolation? What about temptation to indulge in addictive habits-is there a way to avoid relapse?

The holidays are tough for trauma survivors. For some reconnecting with family means triggers, anxiety, fear, sorrow, or guilt. For others the decision to not attend family gathering means loneliness and isolation.

Whether you’ve been through significant losses, abuse, or any other traumatic life event, you may have discovered that the holidays don’t always feel merry and bright. There have certainly been times mine didn’t!

Keri Kitchen

What To Do

While there may not be one answer to the dilemma faced by many during the holidays, on Friday, November 12, at 12PM CST, Keri Kitchen M.Ed, LPCC, NCC and I will host a live lunch time conversation to address some of the common questions and concerns we’ve heard over the years regarding holiday events. We’ll share, not only from our professional experience, but from our personal healing journeys.

Topics to be covered:

  • The role of journaling
  • Plan ahead
  • Accountability
  • What works for us
  • Identity in Christ
  • and other topics the you bring up

Open the Eyes of my Heart

This verse is an open invitation for the Lord pierce our heart with truth, not just give us knowledge to process with our mind, but with our heart.  In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis describes “The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment” which, functions as the liaison between the intellect and sentiment.[1] Being that it is the chest suggests that it is the “heart” of man.  It is the element that guides the choices we make.

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

Ephesians 1:18  ESV

At the heart of the matter

This verse is an open invitation for the Lord pierce our heart with truth, not just give us knowledge to process with our mind, but with our heart.  In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis describes “The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment” which, functions as the liaison between the intellect and sentiment.[1] Being that it is the chest suggests that it is the “heart” of man.  It is the element that guides the choices we make.  It is the element that causes us to have internal conversations when faced with moral decisions.  Lewis also refers to the middle element as “emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiment.”[2] 

It’s my choice

Choice is a key element in God’s interaction with us.  In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes, “I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you’re turning a central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before… slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.”[3] Without an open and active heart, we risk enduring unbridled emotions that lead to chaotic choices or the cold and calculated choices of pure reason. When the eyes of our heart are open, we view our circumstances from a balanced perspective that intersects reason and passion and allows us to hear and see the truth God has for us, which allows us to make better choices.

[1]C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1974), 25.

[2] Ibid.,25.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952), 86.

Never Too Old-The Adventure of Learning

When I retired in 2015, I didn’t know what to do with my time. I worked full time for most of my adult life and the lack of a regular schedule did not set well with me. As the months passed, my love of learning prompted me to explore learning opportunities. I looked at a few online opportunities, but nothing fit what I wanted to explore. Then my daughter shared her experience with the Masters of Apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. She loved the program and encouraged me to apply. I did and was accepted into the program.

Growing Old is an Adventure

A few months ago I created a Twitch Channel so I could livestream my book launch to the platform. For those who don’t know, Twitch is a platform where gamers, podcasts, and others can livestream. I chose Twitch solely because my daughter livestreams Minecraft on the platform and she agreed to host the book launch. Setting up the channel wasn’t complicated, but involved creating a title. I decided to name my channel “Never too Old,” primarily because, at age 68, I enjoy playing Minecraft. However, today I realized I have experienced many new things and learned several new skills over the past few years. So, I thought I would share my thoughts on the adventure of growing old.

The Adventure of Learning

When I retired in 2015, I didn’t know what to do with my time. I worked full time for most of my adult life and the lack of a regular schedule did not set well with me. As the months passed, my love of learning prompted me to explore learning opportunities. I looked at a few online opportunities, but nothing fit what I wanted to explore. Then my daughter shared her experience with the Masters of Apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. She loved the program and encouraged me to apply. I did and was accepted into the program.

The program was the catalyst for starting my memoir. During the final year of the program, I began sharing parts of my story in the class discussion boards. Opportunities to share appeared in the form of questions related to life experiences, love, miracles and the problem of evil. Each time I shared, the class response was supportive and encouraging. I went “public” by sharing a video about my near death experience on Mike Licona’s YouTube Channel in November 2017, which motivated me to create this website and begin sharing more. The video has over 230K views the last time I checked. The success and positive response to the video motivated me to re-visit the idea of writing a book about my life.

However, the influence of my professors and fellow students didn’t end with the video. Over the next two years, I wrote essays, sonnets, and blogs related to child abuse. In my final semester began writing my memoir as my capstone project. Holly Ordway, the instructor for the course, encouraged me to write my story as a memoir, rather than follow my plan to write a self-help book. The thought terrified me, but I changed the focus and found the process encouraging and healing.

The adventure of learning began as a way to fill my days but resulted in a published memoir. I realized you’re never too old to begin something new.

Next Time…The Adventure of Play

Reflections on Writing

While the memoir focuses more on hope, redemption and faith rather than detailed descriptions of the abuse that I endured, it sometimes left me raw. I thought I had processed all the baggage from my childhood but writing my life as a story around a specific theme has peeled away more layers. I discovered that showing my readers what happened differed greatly from telling the story.

A Look Back at the Process

Writing my memoir, What Kind of Love is This?-Finding God in the Darkness was hard, much harder than I expected. I often became exhausted physically, spiritually, and emotionally. While the memoir focuses more on hope, redemption and faith rather than detailed descriptions of the abuse that I endured, it sometimes left me raw. I thought I had processed all the baggage from my childhood but writing my life as a story around a specific theme has peeled away more layers. I discovered that showing my readers what happened differed greatly from telling the story. Telling allows me to create some distance and describe events like a narrator of a documentary. Showing puts me smack in the middle of the events. Those scenes brought new insights and understanding to aspects of my childhood that carried over into my adult life. My hope is my readers will see and feel the scenes through the eyes of the child I was rather than through the eyes of an adult recounting past events.

The biggest revelation came early in writing.

I realized that writing the memoir transformed memories from a slide show into a feature-length movie. I entered the center of the action and experienced nuances of events that were left out years ago when the memories surfaced. I discovered I still have grief work to do for the child that had no voice and suffered in silence. I gave her a voice through the narrative, and she spoke loud and clear. Her message was one of struggle to find hope amid the despair and loneliness created by my family. While I struggled to understand who Christ was and how He interacted with me, I found hope through my faith in Christ.

Writing the memoir has also brought an element of joy. Several times, I smiled when I realize where a habit originated. Some seem rather silly, but they show the power of childhood experiences. For example, until recently, my kitchen décor comprised 80s’ style grapevine themed everything. I didn’t know why I liked grapevines, but the themed décor brought comfort to me. Then, I recalled escaping the chaos of my home by spending time in an old grape arbor in our backyard. I encountered Jesus in that enclosure, which kept me sane during the time we lived in that house. Perhaps, subconsciously, the grapevine themed kitchenware provided that same comfort. (Yeah, I know that seems silly, but it made me smile.)

I also realized that I could not complete this project on my strength.

Early in the process, I created a group text with four women that supported me through prayer many times over the last several years. Each time I began writing I sent the message, “writing now.” I briefly described goals and specific requests for the writing session. When I finished for the day, I sent the message, “done for the day.” Knowing I had four powerful intercessors praying for me while I wrote encouraged me and gave me the stamina to complete the session.

I revisited self-care throughout the process as I tried to balance writing my story with getting enough rest, eating well, and taking care of other essential activities. Sometimes I wrote longer than I should because I felt an urgency to be done with it. I realized I can’t just be done with it, because that shortchanged the frightened, yet very strong little girl showed me parts of our story that I had not attended to. I recognize the need to take breaks, take naps, and listen to my favorite hymns frequently to stay grounded. 

The process did not send me back to the darkness of my early days of healing because I know the physical, emotional, and spiritual signals to prevent that from happening. I have tools that keep me in the present. I have friends and family who pray for and encourage me. I was not alone in this process. I did not relive the trauma, instead I gave a voice to a very strong young lady who never gave up and who trusted Jesus to keep her soul safe from destruction. If you embark on a similar journey, be careful to rest, have a support group, listen to your body, and pace yourself.

Related Posts:

New Every Morning

Letter to My 13-Year Old Self

Finding God in the Darkness

Learning Brain vs Survival Brain

In the video, Dr. Ham excellently explains the impact of trauma on learning. While his intended audience is teachers, the points apply to survivors of childhood trauma.

Thoughts on Video by Dr. Jacob Ham

Learning vs Survival

In the video, Dr. Ham excellently explains the impact of trauma on learning. While his intended audience is teachers, the points apply to survivors of childhood trauma. The rock illustration provides a clear image of the effort involved to access the learning brain when the survival brain dominates a person’s actions and reactions.

In the video, Dr. Ham stresses that a strong support system is vital to the child’s ability to relax, have fun and learn. Without such a system, a child becomes overwhelmed by the circumstances and cannot see beyond their immediate surroundings. Instead of enjoying life and learning, the traumatized child worries about the next episode of trauma.

As I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I did well in school given the abuse I endured. Where did I get enough emotional support to counter the dominant survival brain? I recall times when I struggled with learning and those were the times when the abuse was the most severe.

During most of my childhood, I loved school. School provided an escape from the trauma. From the first day of kindergarten through most of the third grade, my teachers created the environment that Dr. Ham describes in the video. At the end of third grade, I lost my teacher’s respect when the teacher caught me cheating. (which I did to avoid losing a friend.) I also lost the friend. My support group vanished as did my ability to control my survival brain. I did not regain my love of school until Junior High when I formed friendships and the severity of the abuse decreased.

However, there is an aspect of the battle that Dr. Ham doesn’t address—The role of faith as a support system. I knew Jesus from a very young age, but I did not fully understand God’s unconditional love. I did not understand the idea that Jesus was in my heart, so I sought Him in the external world. When I could not connect with God, my survival brain took over and my performance in school declined. When I connected to God (Jesus) my learning brain seemed stronger and I performed well in school.

As an adult, understanding how the brain functions helps me cope with my emotional response to triggers. I know when brain fog settles in, it’s time to engage in self-care, rather than beat myself up for not being able to think.  Dr. Ham states that “survival brain trumps learning brain every time,” but there is a way to alter the automatic response. When my survival brain kicks in, I’ve learned to pause, focus on who I am, rather than what survival brain tells me. God determines who I am, not the world. I also have a support group that prays for me. I realize I don’t have to fight my battle alone, but I have to ask for help.  Now, admittedly, in times of intense stress, I do not always remember to use these tools, but when I succeed, learning brain trumps survival brain. The rock (from Dr. Ham’s video) gets pushed to the top of the hill and stays there.

Community, support, faith and accepting that I need help are key components to short circuiting the survival brain response. Science explains how my mind reacts to trauma and triggers. God provides tools to level the playing field. Both are essential to healing from childhood trauma.

%d bloggers like this: