Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? -Mary Oliver

This post will be rambly and winding and it will not be pretty and it will not wrap up with three easy steps to anything.

These things are recent and these things are current. And I am scared to write and share this post. This is one of the most vulnerable things I’ve ever written and ever posted, and Lord knows that is saying something.

But I’m writing and sharing it anyway, for a few reasons.

First, I believe my life is not my own as a follower of Christ.

Secondly, I am desperate to live a life of {appropriate} authenticity and I’m so sick of hiding.

And thirdly, my experience with Jesus is that he longs to bring resonance, redemption and beauty from our pain. If even one of you reads this and breathes a sigh of relief knowing you’re not alone, it will be so deeply worth it to me, no matter the cost to my reputation.

Brain health and trauma have recently become new fascinations for me.

I want to be very clear and very gentle when I use the word trauma. I fear it’s become this buzzword that people are throwing around, everyone and their uncles are seemingly bogged down by their trauma, or so indicates a myriad of hashtags on social media.

And I fear that the more we hear the word, the less weight it carries.

And yet, everyone truly does have trauma.

I’ve almost wanted to rephrase Jesus’ words lately from “…in this world, you will have trouble…” to “in your life, you will experience trauma…”, because we all have and we all will.

So, let me give you my definition of trauma before we go any further.

I believe that a trauma is anything painful you have experienced or anything painful you have done that you have not been able to fully process, fully grieve, fully let go, and/or fully move on from. A trauma is something that is stuck somewhere inside you.

Okay, so I have had trauma and you have had trauma. And, our brains can be super affected by it. (I’m not going to go into any of that here, but I will offer some resources at the end of this post if you’d like to read more.)

I read that though we all have trauma in our past, trauma from our past should not be the loudest voice in our present.

I recently created a list of what I considered to be traumas from my childhood through age 44. The list, as you might imagine, was long, but nothing I haven’t worked through at this point.

Then, I made a trauma list from age 44 to the present. Why 44? That is when many of my circumstances changed immensely and things began to shift in my life.

One wounding and crisis after another have entered my life – along with an empty nest and perimenopause – and they have broken me down, devastating me repeatedly. Like waves crashing on a beach, I haven’t been able to catch my emotional breath in years. (I cannot and will not go into details, I’m just not able to at this point and perhaps never will be, but I need you to trust me here…it’s been very, very difficult.)

When I sent my current list of wounds and crises to my counselor, he responded:

This appears to be chronic trauma.
You seem to be experiencing PTSD symptomology.
And, for the love of God, please do not read this list more than once.
(Bless his heart, he knows me all too well.)

I have not been handling these things all that well this past five years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been trying.

For one thing, for as long as I can remember, as in years and years and years, every morning, I spend time with Jesus, journaling, praying, reading his Word, asking for his wisdom and help and healing and strength and anything and everything he’s willing to give me that day.

And I’ve changed what I eat and how much rest I get.

And I’m in contact with my counselor as needed, and have kept the lines of communication open with my inner circle who carry me through pretty much everything with their prayer, support, encouragement and humor.

All good things, all important, productive things.

And yet, I’ve been noticing a couple changes the past several months that have been unsettling.

The first being my lack of caring. The shoulder shrug emoticon (🤷🏼‍♀️) became my go-to in regards to almost everything in my life, both figuratively and literally. I believe I have used the phrases don’t know, don’t care or can’t see it from my house about a gazillion times this past year, which is great if I were legitimately chill but Lord knows that I’m so not and it’s been over things I should actually care about, and I just haven’t been caring.

Turns out, it was because the freeze response has been activated in my brain for some time now. My sweet little frozen brain, as I’ve been calling it. (Don’t worry, I’m working on thawing it out.)

And the second thing that has been a concern – that I am beyond embarrassed and ashamed about and, frankly, am in shock to even hear come out of my mouth – is that it seems that I had begun to become emotionally dependent on alcohol.

And yes, that is the most ironic statement I have ever made in my lifetime…trust me, I know.

(Author Annie Grace defines emotional dependence this way: if you spend time thinking about your next drink, if you think you need alcohol to enjoy social occasions, if you think you need alcohol to relieve your stress, if you think you need alcohol to relax, and/or if the thought of taking a break from drinking or not drinking anymore makes you uncomfortable, you are on your way to emotional dependence.)

I went from having perhaps a total of ten drinks between the ages of 20 and 44 (no joke) to having a fruity drink on most dates with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, thinking nothing of it. I was no longer in a relationship with an addict so I no longer had to abstain for practical, safety or self-righteous reasons. It was just something I did, nbd.

In the midst of this though, bad things and hard things and awful things started pummeling me, and I just couldn’t believe it. I had been rescued from bad and hard and awful…how was this happening again? (To be clear: NOT THE SAME KINDS OF BAD AND HARD AND AWFUL THINGS as in my previous two decades, thanks be to God; but still.)

But then, the drinking started to take a turn.
I wasn’t just having one drink when we went out a couple times a week; I was also having a drink at home, a couple nights a week with dinner.
And then, I found myself pouring a drink on some nights when I was home alone.

[Pause: My knee-jerk reaction to what I just wrote is to want to reassure you all, to make this sound less than it is, to tell you that I never drank and drove (TRUE), that I never drank and then coached (TRUE), that I never drank and wrote (TRUE) , that I never drank and webcasted (TRUE), that all I ever did was have a drink on dates with my husband (TRUE) or had a drink while sitting on my couch with Netflix (TRUE). However, that is not the point of all this. So, I am sorry. Truly. I am so sorry to Jesus (He knows), to myself, to my husband, to my children, to my friends, and to you – my readers and clients – whom I have let each and every one of you down. I promise to you and to Jesus and to myself to do and be better moving forward.]

And I had to admit the real reason why I was drinking: not because I could, not because I was allowed to now, not because there were no strings attached to drinking, not because it tasted good, but because of how it made me feel…just a little bit numb. One or two drinks could make me not think about my life for a little while. And I had become pretty desperate to not think about my life.

John Eldredge says in his book Get Your Life Back, “…in my rattled state, I want something that’s going to make me feel better now. When we’re unsettled, unnerved, unhinged, it’s human nature to seek a sense of equilibrium, stability, and I find myself wondering – how many addictions begin here, with just wanting a little comfort? Get out of this rattled place and soothe ourselves with ‘a little something’?”

But in all my reading about the brain, I stumbled upon a book called Naked Mind. And it talked about the effects of alcohol on our bodies and our brains, and for some reason, I woke the heck up.

Alcohol – as it turns out – is ethanol, defined as “a volatile, flammable, toxic chemical”…so, you know, poison.

And alcohol – who knew? – stays in your system for 7-10 days, so I had basically had poison in my system for the past five years. (To be clear: I am not saying I have had a drink every day for the past five years. I am saying that if one alcoholic beverage stays in your system for even seven days and I were to have had even one drink per week, then I had alcohol in my system for the past five years straight.)

Alcohol – I already had known this – is a depressant. And I was taking an anti-depressant. So, they were basically cancelling each other out. Two chemicals don’t make a right.

Alcohol – I for sure knew this – changes your brain chemistry, destroys brain cells and decreases the effectiveness of neurotransmitters.

And alcohol does nothing, literally nothing, to serve you, to help you, to fix your problems, to make your life better.

(How I didn’t remember this from my previous life is beyond me. Or better put, why I didn’t choose to remember this is more like it.)

So I’ve quit. I have stopped drinking alcohol. Not one drink since January 19.

In the past two months:
I have started reading voraciously again after ages of reading almost nothing with my little frozen, who-cares brain.
I have started a daily practice of walking – even in the snow, even when it’s 0 degrees.
I have started a daily practice of stretching.
I have gone off of my anti-depressant (with my doctor’s knowledge).
I have quit drinking alcohol.
I have taken myself through several trauma journaling sessions.
I have created several boundaries plans as I reevaluate my relationships.
I’m working on memorizing a few Scripture passages.
And I have just undergone brain resetting sessions to unstick and unfreeze my precious brain that I (and life) have treated so poorly lately.

I have been feeling like a victim, though I wouldn’t have said that to anyone. But I am no victim. I have been an active participant in my life up to this point, albeit not choosing the best courses of actions and responses.

And I have been feeling a tad option-less. But though my circumstances have not changed and I do not foresee them changing, I am in fact changing. (Look, you can change even at 49, girls!)

And I am waking up. I’m taking my life back.

To be clear, Jesus is waking me up.
Jesus is bringing me back to life.
Jesus is resurrecting me.
Jesus is bringing me back to myself.
Jesus is bringing me back to the woman he created me to be.

Because even when our circumstances are unchangeable, we have so much more God-given agency than I think we believe or perhaps want to believe.

We can change our minds, literally and figuratively.
We can change our health.
We can process our emotions and memories.
We can shore up our safe harbor, investing in our life-giving relationships.
We can set boundaries, stepping away from destructive relationships and letting go of things that aren’t our responsibility.
And we can always, always go deeper with Jesus.

We are each 100% responsible for our spiritual, physical, emotional, mental and (our contribution to our) relational health and wholeness.

We can change. If I – who hates change – can change, then you, sweet girl, can change.

So, let me end with this prayer:

You strengthen me deep within my soul
and breathe fresh courage into me.
By your mighty power
I can walk through any devastation and you will keep me alive, reviving me.
I ask you, Lord,
to finish every good thing that you’ve begun in me!
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past.
Sift through all my anxious cares.
See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,
and lead me back to the path that brings me back to you.
-from Psalm 138 & 139 (The Passion Translation)

Girls, we are not alone in these hard lives of ours. Jesus is with us every moment, loving us every second. If you need a safe and confidential place to share your current struggle or a secret, feel free to email me at elisabeth@elisabethklein.com. (I will read it once, pray for you, then delete it.)

And if you feel the need to unsubscribe, to stop heeding my counsel, I will absolutely understand. But remember always, that Jesus loves you completely and He will never, ever let you down or leave you.

 

for further reading:
Try Softer, Aundi Kolber
Naked Mind, Annie Grace
When to Walk Away, Gary Thomas
This is Your Brain on Joy, Earl Henslin
Setting Boundaries for Women, Allison Bottke
Setting Boundaries with Difficult People, Allison Bottke
Get Your Life Back, John Eldredge