Confronting the Ghosts of Your Past
- Wednesday, August 09, 2006
I grew up in a typical Happy Days family during the 1950s - only Fonzie was missing. Yet, we had a dark secret eating away at our souls.
You see, during WWII, my dad was an artillery sergeant stationed in the South Pacific. He survived the war, but returned a different man. When I was in the fifth grade my dad started losing his temper, usually when he was disciplining my sister or me. His face would turn beet red and he would be unable to quit hitting us.
Mom did not intervene. She was afraid of what he would do to her "Just don't make waves," she would say. Dad's mental illness began to worsen and he was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I was self-assured at church or school. At home, I was fearful of my father's unpredictability and paranoia. Eventually, I went away to college and married a man with strong Christian principles. I never wanted to move back into the house with my parents.
The year I turned forty, I began having flashbacks to actual situations where my father beat me. I felt I was floating on the ceiling watching myself. I cried all the time and my husband realized I needed to see a Christian counselor. Like my father, I had posttraumatic stress disorder. Here are the signs:
- Constant crying
- Feelings of hopelessness lasting more than 2 weeks
- Having flashbacks, nightmares, bad memories or hallucinations
- Trying not to think about the trauma or staying away from people who remind you of it
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Difficulty sleeping
- Touchy, angry or on edgy
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Sense of having no future
- Exaggerated responses to things that startle
- Feeling scattered and unable to focus
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Not being able to face certain aspects of the trauma
As a child, I learned from my father that all men were untrustworthy. Now, as an adult, I needed to forgive my deceased father for the way he treated me. The other thing I realized was that I had been married for twenty years and never trusted my husband.
I had also transferred my lack of trust of men to God. I did not trust Him to control my daily life. The concept I developed of my Heavenly Father was an unpredictable, angry, and vengeful God. I knew Jesus had saved me, but I was afraid I would not live up to his expectations. I was afraid to confess my sin for fear of getting "zapped" by a heavenly lightening bolt.
I felt I inhabited the bottom of a deep, dark hole with sides too high and too slick for me to climb out. My counselor assured me of God's answer for me in Psalms 40:2: He brought me up out of a horrible pit. "He can do it for you, too, Alice. Are you ready to reach for the rope?"
It has definitely been worth the risk for me to reach out and grab the rope. And it will be for others. Here are some thoughts and Scripture that helped me deal with PTSD:
- Know that what happened was not your fault.
- Understand Romans 8:39: "Nothing can separate us from the love of God." "Nothing" really means no thing - human or inhuman.
- When Romans 8:38 says that "…things present nor things to come… cannot separate me from the love of God," it is intended to be an all-inclusive statement.
- The past is also included in the "nothing" that will never separate us from God's love.
- "All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). All things working together for good does not mean that everything happening to us will be good, but that God will use even the bad things in our lives for a good purpose.
What God wants is for us to take a risk by turning and trusting in Him. Only then will we have true freedom from the bondage of our past. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil (or mask) is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom."
Alice M. McGhee and husband, Ken, live in Littleton, Colorado. Other than writing, her passions are teaching Bible studies, playing with grandchildren, and singing in the choir.
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