I remember seeing an incredulous look on my best friend’s face shortly after my sophomore year of college as I ashamedly admitted that I hadn’t quite gotten over a heartbreak that I’d suffered nearly two years prior.
“Still?!” He said. “Dude. What is wrong with you?”
We both laughed. He laughed, knowing that I was no longer so crippled as I had been before, and knowing that I could handle some tough love that day. And I laughed, knowing that there was so much that I was still terrified to share; the fact that shortly after the incident I pulled into oncoming traffic and only at the last moment lost the courage to collide. The fact that I stared down at Market Street, sixteen floors beneath my feet, but just couldn’t get myself to take the leap off that roof.
I laughed, I guess because that’s just what I knew I was supposed to do. I wasn’t upset with my friend for thinking my situation was crazy; in fact, I knew just as well as he did that I clearly shouldn’t have been holding onto something that happened so long ago – and perhaps that was part of the reason why I felt so screwed up in that time. I felt pressure from those around me to get better, but I just wasn’t ready yet. Everybody else involved was able to move on, but there I was – stuck on an island with no lifeboat, with no way out.
You see, while no one had to bury my body in the aftermath of that emotional pain, I ended up burying a part of myself – my feeling of self-worth. Now, don’t get me wrong; I still have confidence in my abilities, and I certainly still struggle with arrogance. But what before was just a bloated view of my own qualifications has now become a struggle of constantly overcompensating to find even just a sliver of that confidence I once had. That foundation of emotional well-being was destroyed, leaving just a facade behind. What are the steps, then, to moving forward when you feel trapped? How can you find that “new normal?”
The really crappy part of the healing process is that it hurts. Badly. A lot of times, the healing process is much worse than the pain that made it necessary, simply because it lasts longer and forces you to think about the issue and how to resolve it. A lot of people avoid the process altogether because of that truth; when you’re in that dark and lonely place, it seems almost easier to just stay there instead of trying to claw your way out of the pit.
What’s important to remember here, though, is that you have to allow yourself time to not be “OK.” It’s not a lack of trust in God if you choose to dwell in your circumstances for a little – in fact, it’s an important first step in the healing process. If a doctor tries to heal a wound without checking the severity of the injury, he could ignore a serious issue that requires attention – and the same is true of “emotional surgery.” How could you possibly move on from physical abuse if you never come to grips with the fact that you have trouble trusting the opposite gender? It’s ridiculous to suggest that a doctor would treat cancer with a band-aid or give mouth-to-mouth for a heart attack, and it’s just as ridiculous to ask someone with emotional wounds to heal before they’re ready. We see this a lot in the Bible as well; take David, for example, in Psalm 38:
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. 7 For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. 8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. (Psalm 38:6-8, ESV)
David doesn’t skip right to the praise – he dwells in his loneliness, in his pain, for some time. He confesses that it hurts, he admits that he’s struggling, and – if you ask me – he doesn’t seem too thrilled about it either. Now, eventually, he takes the leap from pain to praise, but what is important here is that he doesn’t do it right away. It’s a cliche phrase, but it needs to continue to be repeated, especially in Christian circles: it’s OK to not be OK. You don’t actually have to have it all together (side note: nobody does).
Moving Forward on Your Own Schedule
Even though it’s OK to dwell on your pain for a season, there comes a time in every situation where you just have to put your best foot forward and prepare for battle. Satan will use every weapon in his arsenal to keep us crippled, but without making the choice to unpack your baggage, you’ll never experience the road to healing. It’s a hard step to take; I think oftentimes we allow ourselves to grow numb in the aftermath of emotional pain, and regaining feeling doesn’t feel too great. But it’s a necessary step nonetheless.
At first, it’s just lonely. Regardless of whether or not you have a true support group, it’s typical to feel like you’re stranded, like you’re alone in the fight. Everybody else looks happy, the person that hurt you is living life normally, maybe your friends don’t understand how much it really affected you. I think God allows Satan to tempt us with this isolation because it helps us pick up the pieces that we need to on our own: that we are loved, that God cares for us, and that we have to come to a point of reconciliation in our own lives with what happened. We can receive guidance from others, but we have to take steps in our own mental solitude to come to grips with what cut us so deeply.
In my own life, it’s been a slow journey. The depression that crept in late in high school and early on in college is something that never truly goes away, I’ve just learned how to battle it and keep my eyes set on the promises that God has for me. Satan certainly uses it in very effective circumstances and in situations that I’d never expect, which is tough; it’s unbelievably hard to combat an enemy so dead-set on taking us down, especially when he uses people close to us. It seems like a cop-out answer to the struggle of depression or mental illness, but truly the only way I’ve found to proceed with healing is to trust who God says he is. Once we’re willing to head down the path of mental reconciliation and emotional recovery, it’s these truths that illuminate our steps: that God loves us, that he will meet our every need, and that we do not have to understand why or how he is working. When we believe that God loves us, we can believe that he will protect us. When we trust that he will meet our needs, we can trust that there is no need to worry. And when we remember that we won’t always know how he is working, we can remember that though we face awful and painful roadblocks, God’s work is deeper than what we see just at surface level.
In my 20ish years here on Earth, perhaps the thing that sticks out to me the most is this: emotional wounds just really, really stink. There’s no way to get around it. And though God’s surgery on these cuts won’t allow for any anesthesia to numb the pain, we, as Christians, can trust that his intervention will close up our wounds. We’ll have the scars, still. And those cuts might even open up again over time. But as we learn to embrace our pain and then seek the reconciliation that only Christ can provide, the process gets easier – if only slightly.
I wanted to close with a quote from one of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis; his words, far more eloquent than my own, truly capture the spirit of trust that we are called to embody as believers.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
With such a taboo subject being discussed, my biggest concern is that others struggling with the same thoughts as I have feel comfortable reaching out. If you or anyone you know is fighting suicidal thoughts, please reach out either to a friend or mentor, or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255. If you’d like to speak to me about the road to recovery, I am always reachable by email.