"So tell me, what is it that you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?"
--Mary Oliver

Thursday, January 29, 2009

fully human

I realize now, finally, that the pain I've endured will always be an indelible part of me. But recovery and healing aren't necessarily about erasing pain; I think it's more about using our time in the darkness to become fully human. St. Iraneus of Lyons wrote, famously, that "[t]he greatest glory of God is a human being fully alive," meaning, I suspect, that we become saints by simply becoming more of who we are, even in our brokenness. Perhaps especially in our woundedness. Happiness, I've come to believe, is overrated: joy is the thing to strive for. They are not the same thing.

I think I first began to comprehend this when I was raped at the age of 32. The grief, the overwhelming sense of shame, of self-hatred and disgust, threatened to drown me. It was like living the first weeks after my PTSD diagnosis (and the childhood rape that originally caused it) all over again. But, along with the love and support of my family, friends, and the Basilica community, one thing saved me.

I'm the last one to discount the value of my many years of therapy, and the excellent medical care I've received--which I have no doubt saved my life--but I wonder. Without my experience of Christ's healing love, would any--or much, anyway--of my treatment been successful? one of the most enduring legacies of sexual abuse and/or rape is a pervasive, all-encompassing sense of shame. And of course I know, intellectually, that the ways in which I was violated were not my responsibility. But what is slowly changing that perception of myself in my heart is the realization that I am, just as we all are, the imago dei: made in the image and likeness of God. At last, I am able to (sometimes) accept that my violation was God's violation, too, and that He wept with me in my sorrow and grief.

I often think of the Scripture story of the woman with the hemorrhage. Because of her constant flow of blood, her society considered her unclean--just as I often feel unclean. Think of the shame she must have felt. Yet she summoned the courage to touch the hem of Jesus' cloak, and by her faith, she was healed, healed in the most profound way possible, and her shame was no more. It was her trust, her utter, complete surrender to her love for Jesus, and His love for her, which made her free.

Just as I hope that someday I, too, will be made free.


Roxane B. Salonen said...

Barbara, sometimes it really does seem unfair that we must suffer to understand the cross better, but it seems that it's true. And even though Jesus doesn't want our suffering anymore than he wanted him own suffering, because of his pain, he IS fully there in ours, and ready, waiting to lead us out of the darkness, no matter how long it takes. I see you grappling with big things, and your writing just might be the thing that helps free you. Blessings, and keep moving toward the light!

Michele Rosenthal said...

You're writing about brave things here, and I applaud you.

I, too, made the same discovery (and am writing about it on my blog, too) as I healed my PTSD:

the secret is to search for joy because, as I see it, our capacity for joy lies in the most innocent part of us -- that part that trauma cannot touch, and so that part of us which remains fresh and clean forever, despite our experiences and so holds the key to healing. Shedding our survivor selves and reconnecting with our joyful selves transitions us from imprisonment to freedom.

From one PTSD experiencer to another, and from one who has healed to one who is healing, let me say this: it can be done -- it IS possible to bridge the gap between PTSD and a joyful life. You're on the right path. Keep going!