Where might God lead you to freedom this year? Caroline Beidler shares her story and offers us all great hope.
Learning to Sing
By Caroline Beidler, MSW
I remember the feeling of soft relief in my therapist’s office the day it happened. Her eyes sparkled like a glittering lake as she said: “You have post-traumatic stress disorder.” I was thirty-years-old, in addiction recovery and after having trudged through an overwhelming amount of the muck and pain of life, I was not prepared to be surprised. Or relieved. But I was both.
Everything made sense in retrospect. She explained to me some of the symptoms (things I had experienced for years) and each word was like an embrace. All at once, it was as if the distorted notions that had plagued me like “I’m crazy” or “something is wrong with me” had permission to retreat.
Since that day, many of the lies I’ve believed about myself, lies that led me down torturous roads of sexual violence and deep insecurity, have transformed over time into a more grace-filled and compassionate understanding of myself—a truer understanding of my identity. This didn’t happen overnight or with idealistic finality, but the foundation was laid—or better, uncovered.
Trauma shows itself in a variety of ways. Some people with PTSD are tormented by a heightened sense of fear and exaggerated startle-response (jumping out of my seat when I hear a loud noise, for example). Some experience anxiety, panic, depression, flashbacks, and disorienting disassociation like being in the middle of a blizzard. Some, like me, can only make sense of it all once it is named. For years (especially at the height of my addiction in high school) I was blinded by my symptoms. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. The world and everyone in it moving in slow, excruciating motion.
Dr. Van Der Kolk, who wrote a foundational work on trauma called The Body Keeps the Score, asserts that “as long as trauma is not resolved, the stress hormones that the body secretes to protect itself keep circulating, and the defensive movements and emotional responses keep getting replayed.” It’s no wonder that so many people, like me, turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to ease this suffering, one of the most popular being substance use that often leads to a deep-rooted, snarling addiction.
Not being able to control my immediate environment or being objectified in a presumed “safe space” made attending a regular church nearly impossible. I dreaded walking into the building and finding a place to sit. Yet while trauma impacted my ability to truly connect with a faith community at that time, this was not the end of my story. Nor was it the full story. In fact, I would learn that Jesus, himself, declares victory over all of the mess that trauma can conjure in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
As Christ followers, we are called to bind up the wounds of others—not looking the other way, but tending to and walking alongside those who suffer. We can provide a safe place for vulnerability. Just like my therapist, and so many of my sisters and brothers in Christ, have done for me.
In Psalm 147:3, the psalmist proclaims that “God is close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” I have experienced the healing salve and seen with my own eyes the wounds of trauma disappear into wholeness. I have also learned that my difficulty in connecting with a faith community has been about more than just the physical space of the sanctuary. God has revealed that is has also been about the space or condition of my heart.
Today I believe that we can be a church who learns, listens and responds. We can be there when someone with a traumatic past walks, head down, into our sanctuaries. We can be there when someone cries out to God in distress. And we can be there when they finally come to sing in celebration of their new found freedom. Indeed, (Praise Jesus!), I have experienced this firsthand: God “sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing.” (Psalm 68:5-6) Thank you, my dear faith community, for singing with me.
Caroline Beidler, MSW, is an author and founder of the storytelling platform Bright Story Shine where she has released her eBook: 10 Practical Ways to Make Your Recovery Shine and a 7 Day Recovery Reset Devotional. She is also a team writer for the Grit and Grace Project and blogger at In the Rooms. She also leads Creative Consultation Services, LLC., a business focused on creating sustainable addiction recovery support services and a Research Collaborator with the Lyda Hill Institute on Human Resilience. Caroline lives in Tennessee with her husband, Matt, and her twins, Henrick and Violet. Connect with her on her website, Instagram or Facebook.