Hooks come in all shapes and sizes. They pretty much all bare one purpose in common, and that is to catch hold or snag something, and then hang on to it dragging it along. For me, that is sort of describes an aspect of my PTSD.
We talk a lot about triggers. I've written a blog about my triggers, but I think often, "What causes the triggers that trigger the triggers of my PTSD?" I think for me, my triggers are tied to hooks; events or things that traumatized me taking deep hold of me long ago. These hooks were unknown to me until recently as I worked through my PTSD with the help of friends, and my counselor Tom.
From Trigger to Hook
It's no secret for those who know me a bit, know that I spent over twenty years in South Africa involved in ministry, raising a family, teaching, and taking care of orphan children. I returned to the States because of "burnout" because family, friends, and I thought it best for me. Then eighteen months into the first church I pastored an event took place that shook my world.
One particular day, two very well known women in the congregation passed by me in the hall down from my office . One commented to the other while looking in my direction, "Oh, I hated being pregnant, I hated being fat." With that they laughed, and I guess I made a bit of a gaff when I replied, chuckling as they passed by, "I thought being pregnant was the only time it was a beautiful to be fat?" And, with that both women physically climbed into me in the church in front of my office door. Both women held positions of leadership in the church, and I have to tell you I've never, ever been hit that hard in my entire life! I remember thinking as they delivered a half dozen blows with doubled up fists, "I could take both these gals out, right now, right here with pretty much one punch each." I turned the other cheek so to speak, as they pretty much punched the crap out of me. I hope Jesus was pleased. It was pretty much my fault, I've should of know better. Never comment on a woman's weight! Rule 101 of male-female etiquette.
A Hook Uncovered
Now that one event unleashed a series of emotional events which at the time didn't seem to make much sense. If you suffer from PTSD you get this point. The sense of detachment that began particularly with that first congregation I pastored eventually led to my resignation six months later. That single event troubled me more than anything I'd seen in Africa, or anything I've seen on the fire scene serving as chaplain the past eight years. Nothing I've seen troubled me compared to that one morning in front of my office when two women in my congregation hurt me; physically and emotionally.
I was told by several leaders, not to mention the issue at first because no one would believe me, second it was my word against theirs, and third, is would cause a fracture in the congregation as both women were well respected leaders in the church. I then retreated into emotional anonymity as I was deeply deeply wounded. It wasn't until four years later that I realized, something had snagged me deep down inside; a hook.
The Hook Identified
When I first started seeing Tom, I just sort of figured right from the beginning that my struggles were due to the stresses of the pastoring a American church. And, I can tell you my friends the stresses in the pastorate are very stressful! Tom in addition to being a great counselor and therapist is also a pastor's kid. So, he understands church and ministry. We talked much about my second pastorate where my emotional paralysis grew. Over time our sessions led to my many experiences in Africa. I sort of always figured it was Africa not the pastorate that caused me such deep seated adjustment difficulties.
One particular session as I brought up the two-women assault again, Tom looked at me and said, "What was growing up like." Now, my mom was a single parent of six children. There were hard days in the 60's & 70's, and she did the best she could. She loved us, and I loved her. I actually wrote a blog about the great things my mom did for us kids.
In the sixties, being a single mom was a curse. Not many woman were single or divorced in those days. Times were tough, and I could tell many stories of our hardships. When the hardships were quite acute, mom tended to lose it. And, when she lost it - love you mom - she tended to become very very physical. This my siblings and I thought was normal in our upbringing; something all families shared in common with us. But, as we're matured we realized that my mother's physicality with us indicated she needed deep help; something she never received.
The Hook Removed
On the day two women in my church accosted me, it opened a vault door of hidden emotions unleashing fear and terror which paralyzed me for five more years. It was only when the hook was revealed, identified, and understood that I began to recover. Oh, to be sure, some of the Africa stuff had to be dealt with too, and a lot of the pastorate stuff as well, but a lot of it goes back to injury caused in the developing years of childhood.
Tom encouraged me to write about each traumatic event in my childhood in my personal journal. The more I write, the more I realize that that little boy who ran and hid as other siblings were assaulted, was just that, a little boy. That little guy doesn't exist any more. I am here and now surrounded by family and friends who love me deeply. Grandchildren bless me with their presence, and crawl all over me like the statue of Buddha you see where all the children sit all over him.
I carry a renewed sense of purpose as I launch into a new career at age fifty-seven of Life Coaching. I am also starting my own nonprofit to travel back overseas and offer free coaching, cross-cultural leadership training, and assistance to third world community leaders.
For the first time in years I am on the mend, on the up and up, and doing much much better. Oh, if you suffer from PTSD, you know it's a constant companion, but once I identified my hook, the battle of managing my PTSD got a whole lot easier and effective. And, I am finding there are other hooks too.
Just My Thoughts,
Don spent twenty-two years with his wife, Kathy, serving orphan children and HIV-AIDS families in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Towards the last few years in South Africa, close friends and family noticed he was struggling with something. No one was quite sure. So, with a return to the United States Don thought a change was all he needed.