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

Not a God of Immediate Gratification

David’s words are a great reminder to us that God is not a God of immediate gratification. The Lord expects us to wait on His timing. He expects us to trust Him and “wait all the day long” for His guidance while trusting Him to meet us at our point of need. We cannot rush God, but we can rush ahead of Him. When we do, the result is often disastrous.

Lead me in your truth

and teach me, for you are

the God of my salvation;

for you I wait all the day long.

Psalm 25:5

Surrender and Devotion

Note: In the 7 months since I posted this blog, I’ve experienced many victories, had expectations shattered, dreams fulfilled, and attempted things I never dreamed I could do. Sometimes I grew impatient because God was not acting “fast enough” for my liking. Yet, He always made a way for His plan to come to fruition.

Now, I find myself at another crossroads as I contemplate the path forward. As I considered what to share this week, this blog brought me comfort and reminded me to be patient, wait for the Lord to move, and to be still and listen for His whisper.

Surrender and devotion dominate David’s writing. Throughout the Psalms, he lays his life before the Lord and says, “teach me.” He knows his limits and desires to learn from the Lord. He basically says, “Lord, I can’t do this without you. I need you to guide me and help me know the truth.” However, he does not demand an immediate response from God. Instead, he says, “I’ll wait for you all day.” He makes his plea, then waits.

David’s words are a great reminder to us that God is not a God of immediate gratification. The Lord expects us to wait on His timing. He expects us to trust Him and “wait all the day long” for His guidance while trusting Him to meet us at our point of need. We cannot rush God, but we can rush ahead of Him. When we do, the result is often disastrous.

Moving too Fast

During the early years of healing from childhood trauma, I didn’t wait on God to teach me or lead me, and it almost destroyed me. I rushed to remember everything as quickly as I could and I set unrealistic goals for completing the healing process. The result- a year in a psychiatric day program. I could not work, nor was I emotionally available for my daughter. I pushed my mind beyond the brink and feared I would never return to normal life. Still, God did not abandon me. He waited for me, guided me and helped me recover my sanity.

Listen, Rest, and Learn

As you or a loved one progresses on their healing journey, remember to pace yourself. Listen to God’s whisper, listen to those that care for you, breathe, rest, and wait. Healing is a journey, not a destination.

Painting Pictures of Egypt

leaving the security of familiar coping mechanisms is terrifying. Especially when nothing seems to ease the fear and pain like what I knew. When the “new life” became difficult or not what I expected, I wanted to return to the comfortable. I wanted what was comfortable even though it was dangerous and painful.

NOTE: This was originally posted in 2019.  I’m posting it again because I was recently reminded  how difficult moving forward can be. When an unexpected trauma occurs, it is easy to revert to old habits and thoughts. We want to grab hold of what we know or the first thing we see. The problem is we what held us up in the past doesn’t work anymore. Most recently, I’ve struggled to understand several disruptions in my life that seemingly blocked what I thought God wanted me to do. Although I was briefly tempted to reach for old, unhealthy coping mechanisms, I resisted the temptation because I recalled the song I write about in this blog. When you are tempted to hold on to what brought relief in the past, remember you are most likely, “painting pictures of Egypt and leaving out what it lacked.”

As I reflect on my healing from childhood abuse and my recovery from sexual and food addiction, I am reminded of a song by Sara Groves entitled “Painting pictures of Egypt.” I always liked that song because it illustrates how hard it is to move forward from a place that is comfortable.  Even when the comfort is painful or unhealthy, moving forward is very hard. Leaving the security of familiar coping mechanisms is terrifying. Especially when nothing seems to ease the fear and pain like what I knew. When the “new life” became difficult or not what I expected, I wanted to return to the comfortable. I wanted what was comfortable even though it was dangerous and painful. “I was dying for some freedom/But … I hesitated to go. /I was caught to between the Promise/And the thing I [knew].”[1] I was often like the Israelites who constantly complained and rebelled even though God had delivered them from slavery.

They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” Exodus 14:11

“the place they used to fit me/[Could not] hold the things I’d learned.”

I remember times memories flooded me and I forgot the strength of the woman I had become. I became the frightened child curled up in the corner wishing I could magically teleport to somewhere, anywhere that was not my parent’s home. I convinced myself that I could hold on to the “what if’s,” that “it wasn’t so bad.” and the “let me tell you about…”I told myself so many times, “I’ll get it right this time, but let me just stay here for a little while.” “I’m not ready to leave this yet.” Sometimes I took baby steps out of Egypt. Sometimes I took giant leaps. Each time, I would forget the downside of dissociation, promiscuity or overeating because “the future [felt] so hard/And I [wanted] to go back.”[2] But as Groves writes, “the place they used to fit me/[Could not] hold the things I’d learned.”[3]

I felt the old patterns, “calling out to me/Like a long-lost friend.

I wasn’t comfortable in my new life, but returning to my old habits wasn’t an option because “Those roads were closed off to me/While my back was turned.”[4] I longed to escape reality even though dissociation was frightening to my adult self, mentally disappearing brought momentary relief to my ravaged soul. I tried to revisit the past because as Groves writes, “The past is so tangible. /I know it by heart. /Familiar things are never easy/To discard.”[5] Letting go of addictive behaviors and temporary mental escapes that kept me sane for so long was excruciatingly painful. I held on for my life. I knew there was something better because I experienced it in moments of sanity and clarity. Groves words rang true to me so many times during those early years of recovery and healing, “I don’t want to leave here/ I don’t want to stay/ It feels like pinching to me/Either way.”[6] I felt the old patterns, “calling out to me/Like a long-lost friend.”[7]

Wanting to return to old patterns wasn’t about “losing faith…or about trust/It [was] all about comfort.” My addictive behaviors were comfortable. They weren’t perfect, but they were comfortable. I depended on them for my life, or at least I thought I could not live without them. Then I learned I could live without them and I learned new healthy ways of managing anxiety and stress. Memories did not send me into a spiral of irrational thought.

no longer caught between the Promise and the things I know.

After years of work I realize, “I am no longer caught between the Promise and the things I know.”[8] Groves ends the song with “If it comes to quick/ I may not appreciate it. /Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?”[9] I firmly believe there is no quick fix for healing or recovery. While I believe in miracles, I also believe sometimes the journey is the most important part of healing. A quick fix might rob you of the ability to appreciate the change in your soul. However, change requires taking the first step out of Egypt. Waiting too long might cement the habit or thought pattern and makes it harder to leave it behind when you walk toward your Promise.

Leave Egypt once and for all

To move forward, we must take a close look at what we are holding onto.  What is keeping us stuck? When we keep one foot in Egypt as we look toward our “promised land,” we hinder our ability to move forward.   Through Christ, you have freedom. In Christ, you can move forward. We can leave Egypt and not be trapped by, “Painting pictures…leaving out what it lacked.”

Related Posts

How do I Change?

Sonnet III. How Can I Make It Right?

[1] Sara Groves, Painting Pictures of Egypt lyrics © Music Services, Inc

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

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.

Suggested Resources

You Don’t Have to Heal Alone!

Here are just a few places you can get help. Please remember you do not have to do this alone. There are people, groups, and other resources that can help you heal.

Reporting Child Abuse:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/responding/reporting/how- to-report-child-abuse-and-neglect/

Symptoms of Child Abuse:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child- abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864

Resources for Healing

Books:

A., Van Der Kolk Bessel. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York (New York): Penguin Books.

  • Explains body memories. One of the most troubling parts of my healing was understanding how my body remembered things my brain did not. This book provides answers to that question.

Bass, Ellen, and Laura Davis. (2008). The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Harper.

  • The first edition of this book was a vital part of my early work as I navigated the onslaught of memories. It provides concrete tools to sort through the confusion of processing the lifelong impact of abuse.

Websites/Organizations

Relate: In the fall of 2016, I transferred the intellectual property of Living as Conquerors to Cheryl and Eleanora Luke. The updated the name to Relate and are currently upgrading all the material to bring it into the twenty-first century. While I don’t discuss the full scope of the ministry in my memoir, the concepts and tools found in Relate transformed my life. It is much more than a Bible Study. It is a way of life. I continue to use most of the tools found in Relate. For more in- formation  and current group offering visit: https://www.cherylluke.com/campaign-1

Celebrate Recovery: Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. Celebrate Recovery is a safe place to find community and freedom from the issues that are controlling our life. https://www.celebraterecovery.com/

Helping Survivors: helpingsurvivors.org Their mission is to assist anyone who has been victimized by sexual assault or abuse. The website is a compilation of information around different instances of sexual violence. They offer resources to assist survivors and their families, and we will continuously be adding more. Survivors can also reach out to them if they have any questions at all or are looking for advice.

Resources for Information:

Looking Back: The Journal of a Mental Hospital User in the 1960s: The Psychologist.

Nelson, Barbara J. Making an Issue of Child Abuse. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 2000.

Myers, John E. B. The History of Child Protection in America. Sacramento, CA: University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, 2010.

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

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.

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