This is a blog post series by the author who wrote the devotion series "Dear Survivor". Follow along as he blogs about the background of his experience on his continued journey of healing.
Dear fellow survivor,
A few months ago, I was listening to a podcast and heard a story about the Warrior Surf Foundation (WSF) in Folly Beach, SC. According to their website, WSF was “founded by American Combat Veterans and surfers in May of 2015” and “addresses post-service transition challenges such as PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], moral injury, survivor’s guilt, and TBI [traumatic brain injury] through surf therapy, yoga, wellness sessions, and community.”
Two things about this story struck me.
- The first was the interconnection between the veterans’ minds and their bodies. The physical activity of surfing helped them mentally. I had experienced that myself when I followed my therapist’s suggestion and started lifting weights at the gym.
- The second thing that struck me was this: The veterans were grateful for the “gift of vulnerability.” Warrior Surf provided them with a community in which it was safe for them to be vulnerable. That vulnerability enabled them to start letting go of everything that they had been keeping locked up inside them and to start taking steps toward healing.
I have never served in combat. My therapist, however, has diagnosed me with PTSD. I wouldn’t be surprised if your therapist has diagnosed you with PTSD as well—or if you have PTSD without any sort of official diagnosis. The abuse we experienced was traumatic. And one of the ways in which people (especially children) tend to deal with trauma is by keeping it all bottled up inside them. That certainly is what I did. For thirty-six years, I kept everything that I was feeling, all the trauma, bottled up inside me, only letting the slightest glimpse of what was going on out to my closest friend who knew me well.
With all that trauma came a whole lot of anger, even though I didn’t realize it. When I was at the Seminary, we were given an opportunity to participate in the Big Brother program. I signed up, thinking that it would be a good way for me to serve. Part of the approval process was taking a personality test. When the results of my test came back, they rejected me as a Big Brother candidate. My test results showed that I had a dangerous anger problem that would pose a risk to any Little Brother I might have in the program.
I am sure that you, my dear fellow survivor, can relate to what I’m talking about.
I’m sure that you know what it’s like to keep all that trauma, all that pain, all that anger, all that fear, all those raging emotions that threaten to destroy you all locked up inside you. You know what it’s like to think that there’s no way you could ever tell anyone about what you experienced, what you’re feeling, or how terrified you are even of what others consider normal, daily experiences. You know the fear that if anyone else knew what you’re hiding inside you they would look at you with horrified disgust and run away in terror. You know what it’s like to resolve that it’s better to suffer alone because as painful as that is, it’s better than letting anyone else know what’s really going on.
That’s how I felt until my wife convinced me to go see a therapist. As I mentioned in last week’s post, that was scary for me. The thought of exposing what lay inside me to anyone else seemed terrifying. But then I sat down on that couch. And I started talking. And I kept talking. All that poisonous crap that I had kept bottled inside me for so long just started flowing out. And I couldn’t stop it. It was like I was a bottle of champagne that was shaken and then uncorked.
Everything came flowing out—all the pain, all the shame, all the anger, all the disgust, all the false beliefs, everything—and there was no way that the cork was going back in. That was hard. But it also felt so good.
I don’t mean to be gross, but it reminds me of when you have a stomach bug and need to vomit. Vomiting is awful. And what comes out when you vomit is really disgusting. But after you vomit, you feel better. The foul stuff that was making you sick is out of you now. And while the experience wasn’t pleasant, it helped. Getting out all the foulness that I had kept bottled up inside me for more than three decades was hard. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was often very, very ugly. But that foulness isn’t inside of me anymore. It’s out. And while I’m still a long way from being completely healed (and may not be completely healed until I stand beside Jesus in heaven), I am doing much better. I’m healthier now because I’m not keeping inside of me everything that was making me sick.
My therapist gave me the gift of vulnerability. He gave me a safe place in which I didn’t have to pretend that everything was OK. It didn’t matter what foul thing came out of my mouth. He wasn’t disgusted. He didn’t run away in horror. But it’s not just my therapist who has given me this gift. My group of brothers (who now number eight—I’ve recently added a new one) also give me the gift of vulnerability. They have provided me with a safe place where I can go whenever I’m struggling, and they will be there to help carry me and my burden. I’ve shared a lot of very intimate details with them, and not once have they reacted with disgust. They are my brothers. They love me. And I am so grateful for the gift of being vulnerable in their midst.
My dear fellow survivor, I understand your reluctance to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
You were vulnerable when the abuse happened. Why would you want to open yourself up to being vulnerable again? But you are not in the situation of being abused anymore. And while keeping everything bottled up inside you may seem easier than letting it all out, keeping all that foulness inside you is making you sick. It’s OK—actually, it’s very good—to get it out.
Give yourself the gift of vulnerability. Start with one person whom you trust, whether that’s a family member, a close friend, your pastor, or a professional therapist. Allow yourself to share just one part of what you’ve been keeping locked up inside you. I won’t tell you that it’s easy. It’s not. I won’t tell you that it’s not extremely messy. It is. But I will tell you that as hard and messy as it is to be vulnerable with someone you trust, it is worth it. Getting that foulness out is the first step toward healing. That’s what the veterans at Warrior Surf have discovered. That’s what I have discovered. That’s what you will discover too.
Your Brother Survivor