There is no denying that when you are in the middle of a traumatic flashback that the darkness seems very real. But the fact that you must hold on to is that it is a lie. The trauma is over. You are safe.
What about right after a trauma? In one of my books, The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War, I had a terrible spell of Weltschmerz (literally “world pain”) when I was researching and writing about World War One. I simply couldn’t believe that anyone could have come through such senseless, horrible slaughter, in this case at Verdun (nearly half a million Germans killed on one day), and not be scarred for life. It rested so heavily on my heart that it actually hurt to breathe. I didn’t know how I could continue the story. People want to see sense in the world. That is one reason they read. And what did I, a thirty-some housewife in the Midwest know about that kind of suffering?
I will always remember (unless I get dementia or Alzheimer’s) the powerful words that materialized in my mind one day as I brooded on these things while doing the wash. The voice said clearly, “G.G. you cannot bear this pain. You were not meant to. There is only one who could ever bear it, and He has already done it. Remember, death is not the ultimate tragedy. The ultimate tragedy is not becoming who you were born to become.”
Now I knew first hand the “Balm of Gilead.” Working it into my novel was more problematic, but I managed it somehow. The words certainly weren’t my own. And I was given other words. I am in Florence now, and without my copy of Last Waltz, but Amalia’s best friend has just saved her from unintentional suicide. She tells her, “All you see is darkness, but the darkness is a lie. There are still colors there. There are people and places and textures. The darkness just hides them. Walk into the light. Make a conscious effort to walk into the light.”
Amalia resists. Don’t we all when we’re in the grip of intolerable pain? But this is the time we most need to drag ourselves with our last modicum of strength into the light.
Things that bring light into my life are the smiles and voices of my grandchildren, the solicitude of my husband and children that never wanes, the arms-open Christus statue I have in my home, the Minerva Teichert painting of Christ as the white-robed shepherd, holding me (the little black lamb), and all the little angel gifts my dearest friends have given me.
When we make ourselves live in the light, it hurts at first. But if we stay in the dark, we will die early. Who is it you were born to become? Perhaps you were meant to be the Good Samaritan on someone else’s rocky journey. PTSD makes you feel helpless, but that is also a lie. You lived through the trauma. And it is absolutely true that where there’s life there is hope.