The Single Reason Trauma Survivors Do Not Heal

Author of #RecoveryInRealTime shares more about the writing process behind her “Anti-workbook” for surviving multiple traumas. The following post was published at Publishing for a Change, LLC. Shared in full here, with permission: 

I don’t wear trauma like a badge, but I do know these scars are stories that can support others, as we all walk the path of a lifelong recovery – whether you are a survivor of sexual assault, damaging religion, emotional abuse, or witness to a violent act (to name a few of my scars), I know what it’s like to keep chasing “healing.” Imagine endless thirst while crawling through a desert of memories – That is the survivor’s search for healing.

I know what it’s like to have lovers, friends, and family members set out eggshells of “discomfort” as they become weary of our attempts to understand the trauma.

I know what it’s like to have fellow survivors minimize the recovery process by pontificating about their psychological successes. We do this sometimes as a form of denial, by the way. We claim we are “beyond trauma” so we don’t have to deal with it in any new forms, but that is not true. (It always cycles back – and it “should” if we are recovering, not resisting.)

I know what it’s like to have intrusions from social media – ignorance from people who are trolling posts, or even that dreaded “suggested friends” list – ever seen an abuser or abuser’s relative show up on your page? I have…

I know what it’s like to go several months without thinking about any major effects from trauma and then be right back in a grief cycle as if it all just happened yesterday.

There is only one reason trauma survivors do not heal.

It has nothing to do with reading the right books (though I think mine is helpful, it is for recovery, not “healing.”)

It has nothing to do with having the right therapist (though this is a vital part of the process).

It has nothing to do with being on the right medication (though medication can be a tool for recovery).

It has nothing to do with how much time has passed since the trauma (time does not “heal” wounds of trauma).

The reason trauma survivors do not heal is simple: HEALING IS NOT A REALISTIC GOAL.

I created #RecoveryInRealTime as an Anti-workbook for a very specific reason – I was cycling through another iteration of my grief. I was grieving the innocence of my faith, as I thought about how toxic religion had destroyed a healthy sense of trust and hope. I was grieving how my body still maintained a level of memory of sexual and emotional abuse. I was grieving…

And the only resources I could find were hashtags about awareness/prevention or books about the BEGINNING stages of trauma recovery – 300+ page workbooks, starting at the novice stage of recovery. Worse, I had my original copy of The Courage to Heal, which had become nothing more than a bright-yellow paperback eye-sore on my bookshelf. I read my own notes in the book, which I owned for almost two decades…

And I decided to burn it.

I made a fire…

And I burned it.

Because what I was lacking was certainly not the COURAGE to HEAL.

I was lacking a tangible reminder that HEALING wasn’t about about courage at all.

Healing had become like a dangling carrot on my path – it was costing me my sanity every time the cycle of grief found me.

Healing had become a false belief that with enough therapy and support, the effects of trauma would be wiped out of my life.

Healing had become an obstacle because it wasn’t realistic.

But… I had courage alright…

The courage to burn a broken path, with an unrealistic goal – and write my own damn resource book!

Is #RecoveryInRealTime possible? Yes.

If you’re a long-term survivor, you’ve probably had enough of the unrealistic goal of “healing.”

We minimize the grief cycle every time we accept the product of “healing.”

I do not want to “get over it.”

I do not even want to “heal” from it.

I want to have the courage to see it when it visits and process it, in real time, so I can keep living my life.

Survivors and loved ones reading this – please consider…

How much lighter would the burden be if the goal was integration, not healing?

What if the journey is the destination?

What if the process is the goal and there is no magical product known as healing?

We must stop selling healing and start buying into our own stories of recovery.

This is why there are 125 hashtags

So you can see yourself in the black and white print another had the courage to put out there.

I gave you a mirror.

Look deeply.

See your own recovery as it happens, right now, in real time.

See your own story, as it unfolds, each new chapter, at every new turn of your life…

It is not the courage to heal that we need to find…

It is the courage to see and share… without apology, for the rest of our lives.

Brave readers, keep sharing. I’m here with you. #RecoveryInRealTime happens today.

~~
Disclaimer:  Therapies and books that recommend healing often provide immediate respite for the beginning stages of healing. #RecoveryInRealTime exists for long-term process for survivors – an angle on trauma that is often minimized. If you are just recently disclosing your trauma, you may find that these resources are incredibly helpful. 

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Florence + the Machine: When Musicality Meets Magic

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All photos by Gail Dickert 2015

In all of my years of blogging, I haven’t felt the need to pause and discuss just how important concerts and music have been in my healing journey… but last week, when I saw Florence + the Machine for the second time at Merriweather Post Pavilion, I was fully captivated by the musicality and magic that exists when she enters the sanctuary of her stage. The scene cannot be represented with my words and even my photos from the concert or the videos that I’ve seen uploaded only paint a sense of her performance…

Truly, you would have to be standing there, in the front rows, as she extends her body, voice, and soul into the immediate aura that is, her audience.

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Photos by Gail Dickert 6.9.15

There are musicians who can perform and there are performers who are musicians, but what Florence and her magical machine offer in those hours of singing, movement, and direct engagement with the crowd is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Specifically during this tour, I saw such light, reverence and passion coming from her back-up singers and brass ensemble. From the entire band, there is a collective force of some of the purest energy I’ve ever encountered… and I work with children! 😉

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Photos by Gail Dickert 6.9.15

There were times I didn’t know whether I should be cheering, laughing, crying, bowing, or lying back as if I were blissfully staring into a sky of stars on a cool summer night.

Her performance, with her surrounding “machine” took me back to a sweet and innocent place where I could flirt with angels, feast on the inhibitions of childhood, and reconnect with both the internal and global peace that comes with being in harmony with others who were open to love and being lifted out of their own baggage.

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Photos by Gail Dickert 6.9.15

I know that every performer carries a humanity that would probably make fans blush or “lose respect” – we are in fact, human, no matter how many perceive us as imperfect in our art. For me though, it is the humanity that I perceive in Florence’s art that causes me to pause in gratitude, like I have found an artistic mentor or temporary guru in my path towards self-awareness and healing.

I am one who has never truly known how to be vulnerable. I can “do” vulnerability and “choose” it, but to embody it to the point where I don’t even know it is my state of interaction is the goal of my whole existence. She appears to me, to already have that down and maybe I am a fan with an inaccurate picture of her “real life,” but that is okay – that is art… it draws us to be clear about what we dream, how we hope, and what we choose as a priority for our lives.

So to close, I want to thank Florence + the Machine as well as her devoted FANS –

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Photos by Gail Dickert 6.9.15

… because it is the collective energy that can be felt at her shows that surely empower her to bring the magic to her musicality. When you’re at one of her shows, there is a cosmic pause that affirms all things vulnerable, all things love, all things broken, and all things… human. There is a deep surrender to the Heartlines that connect us all. I cherish this music and the experience of her profound lyrics and presence.

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Photos by Gail Dickert 2015

Namaste, Florence + the Machine… for the badassery you’ve brought forth for yourself and for all of us – your interconnected web of love and light otherwise known as… your fans.

“Oh the river, oh the river, it’s running free. 
And oh the joy, oh the joy it brings to me.
But I know it’ll have to drown me,
Before I can breathe easy.
And I’ve seen it in the flights of birds,
I’ve seen it in you.
The entrails of the animals,
The blood running through.
But in order to get to the heart,
I think sometimes you’ll have to cut through.
But you can’t…

DSCN1545We will carry…
We will carry you there…”
– Heartlines, Florence + the Machine

~~

RAY_7279Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News, SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine, Blue Mountain Arts, and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

A Survivor’s Last Stand: The Freedom to Say, “Enough”

In Enlightened-ish, I wrote about the Freedom to Say, ‘Enough,’ which many readers have claimed is the climactic chapter of the book. The focus of the stories I tell in the chapter is that when we come to acknowledge that we have done all we can to heal, support, process, endure or survive a situation, a powerful awakening occurs. Saying, “Enough” sets us up for establishing firmer boundaries, learning healthier outlets for our natural frustrations with life’s temporary (or permanent) disappointments and welcoming exciting opportunities for us to grow. It’s damn near the most powerful word in our vocabulary and while this freedom was pretty solidified through everything I grieved in order to even write Enlightened-ish, it is a freedom that I realize I have to exercise in another scenario this month: My advocacy work with survivors of toxic religion and ex-gay therapy.

Recovering from any wound takes time. It takes time to tell your story to yourself and it takes even more time to learn how to tell your story to someone else. Worse yet, if the limelight finds you, your ability to tell your story becomes infected by a concern about how others will perceive it, what it will mean for your personal legacy and how your life path can be defined by said limelight. (No one has a good side, in limelight). So the wounds, however fresh or well-healed, somehow remain visible and viewed as a part of our lives, if we continue to advocate for an end to the abuses. (As this post heats up, enjoy some background music that seems to match my mood when this was crafted.)

Yet a survivor as an advocate is much more powerful than an “ally” because of one simple reason: Trust. We can trust a survivor much easier than a bystander or compassionate activist because more often than not, a survivor is re-processing and sometimes re-traumatizing himself in order to tell the truth. Who would do that to themselves if they didn’t truly care and have a story worth hearing? (We can answer that but masochism is a topic for later in this post). An ally, on the other hand, is merely relating and tragically, may have an alternate agenda. (Cue gasp).

This topic comes up a lot in June, for LGBTQ people, if we attend Pride events. Often times, the inauthentic Christian leaders and wolves in sheep clothing come out in droves to “show support” for the LGBTQ community but their intent is actually evangelism. Evangelism, which is not at all what is proven to draw people into spirituality, is also not likely to be a desired connection a pride-goer is hoping to make, gay or straight! (We are there for the chaps, the eye candy and maybe some cool home-made jewelry… oh and it’s a social celebration of how far we’ve come, no thanks to the church in most cities, thanks.)

The problem, however, is that often times, there are legitimate allies who are working towards equality, full inclusion of the LGBTQ person of faith in the church and the state. These allies are worth our time, but even pausing to distinguish a true ally from a smiling jesus hatconniving poser can be a trigger for someone who is recovering from toxic spirituality. The baby, the bathwater – it’s all the same if the point is to be “recruited” to do anything that I’m not already doing. (Bottom line, if I were looking for a church community, I’m pretty sure I can google your website, but thanks for the rainbow flag with a smiling Jesus on it. Nice touch.)

For me, working to discern the “Christian allies” from the “Christian posers” has left me exhausted. I consider the teachings of Jesus to serve me well enough directly and don’t require an intercessor in my connection to those teachings. That may, in some circles, actually make me more of a Christian than anyone who goes to churches, affirming or non-affirming. Labels aside though, what is bothersome for a survivor is that we have already spent a significant time of our lives recovering from being a pawn in the church’s political war. Nobody wants to be a pawn, even if they like the people playing chess.

All this to say, I’m reflecting on all the energy I have spent the last two years, advocating for survivor voices to be heard and leaders of toxic spiritual teaching to be awakened and I think…

I’ve done…

Enough.

As a portion of my story is shared in an upcoming piece of Our America with Lisa Ling, I can wonder how the limelight will turn my way or how it could just be another passing story that leaves no impact. I could wonder if it was a mistake or if it was what I’ve been waiting to do for 12 years, since leaving toxic teachings behind in my early 20’s. I could wonder a lot of things, but I’ve decided that I have too much going on that involves moving on and thus, the episode, with Our America is, in fact, this survivor’s last stand.

It is the last you will hear about my trying to kick against the goads that the modern-day Pharisees have laid out for the church at large. They are now working with organizations like the Marin Foundation, LoveBoldly (gag me and deceive me boldly) and other prophets of false hope in order to keep the homosexual trapped in his/her own body, as they take an unapologetic stand against civil liberties and even preach celibacy as if it is the new cure to this “sinful” state of gay…

It’s sick… and they should be ashamed of themselves, masquerading as bridge-builders when their bridges are clearly to nowhere. (And some of them should be sued for malpractice and false advertising but I digress).

I could watch it all unfold and see if my having shared has any impact or…

I can let it be enough that I have spoken up for survivors the last 2 years without stopping. And when I was called upon to participate in what we hope is the final “exodus” of this sick theology, I took time off work, paid my way out to LA from DC, (got $250 back from the production company which was a welcomed gesture) and I FACED THE DEMON that is this anti-gay, civil rights obstacle known as Exodus International and the toxic spirituality it represents.

I have done my part. It is enough.

So now what happens?

Well, because of results that you see below, from our work at Beyond Ex Gay, I will remain connected as a volunteer to survivors, as they seek online resources for addressing their healing.

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It doesn’t drain me to speak to and connect with survivors because I trust it and I trust their intentions. It’s easy. They aren’t making a dime on their own healing. (Most of them, I hope!) However, when it comes to sharing my story publicly or connecting with leaders in order to see if they have a shred of social and emotional intelligence… I simply have to move on…

The ex-gay cult and restrictive spirituality are parts of an identity crisis that I’ve healed.

So I share within this post, links for new readers or old readers alike… to all the places you can access my story and perspective. If you can’t find my opinion, perspective or recommendations in my coming out book, spoken word pieces or blogs, then it does not exist.

I’ve said all I care to say on the matter…

Those who choose a religion of martyring themselves, have, in my opinion, created a wading pool of sludge where those who lack social and emotional intelligence drink or drown and call it healing. It is a masochistic and somewhat sadistic way to live. Whether they were born into it or they choose it, I send them love… light… and I release it to collapse on itself, as it will when we all awaken to a life of connection, life-affirming spirituality and gentle surrender to all that is… enough.

Namaste, to the tenacious survivors, their families, and to all who walk a path towards love, light and general badassery.

*** Updated after taping aired.*** If you want to see how I handled Alan’s apology, this is the only verbal footage that OWN used of my response. 

Marriage Equality Humor

Time for a lil’ levity at For Gail So Loved the World… (First vid will take ya to YouTube)

I was happy to see the response from lesbians… NICE!

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When Hope Disappoints, Honor Life

On February 16th, I was facing the 5-month “anniversary” of my father’s death when I was simultaneously stunned by the betrayal of trust from an intimate friend who I never could have predicted would lose sight of the interconnected web of life that exists between us all, particularly between those we say we love.

While losing my father and the long night of September 15 – 16, 2011 changed my life, the dark night of February 15 – 16, 2012 was also very symbolic in my process of grief. I had to ask myself, “How can I lean into Hope when Hope is the very thing that appears to be causing the disappointment?

I wasn’t going to write about the grief that I’m “processing” right now because like my sister  suggests, sometimes people get so caught up in “process” that they don’t live their lives! I do not want to be guilty of missing out on my life however I also do not want to betray myself by squelching my emotional or soulful response to disappointment and loss.

That said, what I’ve decided to share is how I went to the store, in the midst of my grief, on less than 2 hours sleep, February 16th and picked out a bouquet of flowers to honor the losses. I also posted on my Facebook page about the importance of self-love and wrote “Never underestimate the power of buying flowers for yourself.” I took a picture of them that day… it’s below:

Today, March 3rd, when I woke up in the silence of a home I don’t recognize, though it’s still the same geographical residence, I was drawn to meditate upon various passages from the Sufi poet, Rumi. I read the words, “You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” I sipped my tea, read a few more passages and then looked at my flowers.

Here is the photo from this morning:

There isn’t a chance that anyone can tell me that 17 days later, a $8.99 bouquet of store-bought flowers is expected to be living this vibrantly.

I’ve changed their water, removed only three pink carnations, and the rest are reaching out to the Light and the Creation outside my window as if nothing has been lost… and today, while writing this post and uploading the photos, a dove sat on my windowsill, as if to say, “Hey, what magical Love is happening here this morning?”

Friends, loss is inevitable and while betrayal may not be, how we respond is our gift to the Universe. I read today also that “Your life is a message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring.

I’m leaning into hope and the truth that We are One. My decisions, behaviors, thoughts and feelings are not so much “mine” but they are a garden to which I will tend to carefully and mindfully in order to protect and enhance the larger web of Life. It gives me peace, to honor Life.

We must begin with self-love and allow the Universe to show us the connection…

So I’m taking a risk with Hope and Light, God and Love and all of those other wildly ethereally expressions that are best summed up with words from Vernon Howard: ‎”Don’t try to be spiritual. That is only a word in the dictionary. Make it your goal to become a normally functioning individual. Let these principles shape you according to your real nature of a simple, decent, honest, unafraid human being.

Cheers, to a “simple, decent, honest and unafraid” human experience.

Namaste ~

~~

Romans 5:5 “... and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” A reminder, from “even the Bible” that we are connected. We are One.

Looking for Love…

I do not claim to have relationships figured out but I have recognized the simple fact that many people, myself included, have been looking for love in all the wrong places. (Insert SNL skit with Eddie Murphy if you like. “Wookin’ pa nub?” Anyone? Anyone?)

This Valentine’s Day, it’s been important for me to identify the “wrong places” that I have been looking for love. I don’t have to take you through the inner monologue I have with myself about the relationships, church leaders, friendships, online communities and meet-up groups where I’ve looked for love. All of these characters, that may or may not been aware of their roles, make up a series of failed adventures in Love. The details are different for each of us but we all play out the same predictable plot. We go looking for love in all the wrong places because we avoid that one, lonely, quiet and somewhat frightful place where true love can be found:

Within ourselves.

Personally, I acknowledge how my first serious relationship wounded me to the point that I allowed that wound to shape my responses in my second relationship. Now that I’m years removed from both “failed” attempts at a long-term commitment, I’m stunned sometimes by how those two overlapped in my third serious relationship.

It’s important to identify the patterns, if we truly hope not to repeat them…

What I see as a reoccurring theme is that conflict comes when I fail to recognize that only I hold the power to love me unconditionally.

I’ll write it again: Only I hold the power to love me unconditionally.

Unconditional love. I look for it in others but is that realistic? Do they have the capacity to bear witness to my body, thoughts, feelings and beliefs and UNconditionally accept me, just as I am?

I argue that it is not within anyone’s capacity to offer that kind of love.

It is a role for the Divine… and maybe for our parents. But beyond the parents who celebrate me and the Creator who guides and comforts me, this role cannot exist in my partner. It is internal. Forever and ever, inside of me.

Truly, if the woman I’m with really loves me, she will love herself, her thoughts, feelings, body and beliefs unconditionally. She will hold herself accountable to the life she wants and the love she chooses. Alas, then, we come to one another out of CHOICE and not out of need.

And truly, if I love my thoughts, feelings, body and beliefs unconditionally, that is the platform from which I will choose her.

And that, my friends… is where the trust begins. My wife will love herself enough to tend to her identity, desires, integrity and dreams. I will love myself enough to tend to my identity, desires, integrity and dreams.

And that is how the sacred marriage will occur. When two people with very different identities commit to companionship while maintaining a balance of healthy self-love.

Can it be done? I still don’t know if it will happen for me this time but what I know now that I didn’t know before is that I don’t NEED a relationship. I want one. And there’s a big difference.

I’m no longer looking for love in all the wrong places. I’m going inward… and I’m learning more about Love than I’ve ever known before. In fact, today, I learned that the Path to Love has many more thorns than it does roses… so whether we are single, married or somewhere in between, let us walk slowly on the Path of Love, acknowledging the prickling sensations when they come out of nowhere and celebrating the sweet smells and sights of Love when it blooms.

Today and every day, when we look for love, may we first start by looking within because only you can meet your needs to be loved unconditionally. You… and maybe a lil’ Buckwheat Sings clip just for fun: http://georgespeedys.weebly.com/buckwheat-aka-eddie-murphy.html

Namaste.

~~ This post is dedicated to the online community Homospirituality 101, where we are all teachers and we are all students. Unconditional love may be impossible in love relationships, but somehow, we are creating it within community. When the people reflect the heart of the Divine… it may be possible. For more information about this online community, email or message me: www.facebook.com/groups/gail316

 

 

Social and Emotional Intelligence and its Role in Christianity

Last Saturday, I was encouraged to call into The Practical Christian (a show I was on in October) and participate in a conversation with the open-minded and warm-hearted Rev. Mark Sandlin, who formed the pages Until All Can Wed and The God Article, to name a few. I wasn’t sure that I would have anything specific to add but late in the show as I heard both the host, Rev. Guy Lynch and Rev. Mark explaining how the church would do well to focus on mindfully loving others, I realized that my perspective was timely and could possibly be well-received by today’s leaders in Progressive Christianity.

So, I called in and made the suggestion that if Christianity is going to have a chance in this world, its leaders simply must change its course from being some of the most socially and emotionally inept people in the nation to becoming socially and emotionally intelligent.

Of course, that is a tall order (and it should be after all of the social and emotional damage the church has done) but it also begets the question, “What is social and emotional intelligence?” There has been some online discussion about a definition of social and emotional intelligence and as a Director of a pre-school, this topic couldn’t be more relevant to me. I simplified a definition for the show and stated that social and emotional intelligence is about the power of an individual’s voice and how that voice is what defines what a person likes, dislikes, wants, does not want, believes, and does not believe.  A socially and emotionally intelligent person knows what he/she wants and knows how to express himself without fear and certainly without needing to be right.

When is the last time you had a conversation with a “Christian” who could express himself without fear or the need to be right, especially during conflict?

I don’t mean to reduce all of Christianity to this issue but allow me to share a quote from a Native American Peace Keeper whose writing reflects my understanding of social and emotional intelligence, although that is not what he is addressing in this statement:

“Many challenges and difficulties we face as human beings everywhere on Mother Earth are either the result of our own actions or those of other members of the Human Family. To a large degree, human beings make the human experience what it is. Because we don’t understand the natural laws that govern the physical and spiritual worlds we live in, we violate each other and the natural world upon which all life on Mother Earth depends. As a Human Family, we dwell within the web of relationships we have made with other peoples, nations, nature, and the spiritual world. The hurt of one is the hurt of all and the honour of all is the honour of all.

“The totality of the impact that the web of all these relationships has on our lives, on our future generations and on our Mother Earth itself is what can be referred to as humanities challenges. Prosperity and poverty, sickness and wellness, justice and oppression, war and peace — all of these are products of the impact of these fundamental human relationships.” – Phil Jane, Jr.

In short, social and emotional intelligence is about finding one’s own voice, knowing where we fit in the largest social structures, knowing how to fit in the smallest social structures and having the emotional awareness of self and others to bring about peace and support while maintaining responsibility for self.

Now, can you imagine what would happen if you had all that and added a healthy spirituality?

A church that was spiritually healthy AND socially and emotionally intelligent would be on fire with possibility but healthy spirituality without social and emotional intelligence is a church of perpetual conflict, always creating and putting out fires but never fully in sync with the natural human existence.

I offer this note as a peace-pipe to those who work in Progressive Christianity, or anyone who is trying to fulfill a calling be it spiritual, social or emotional!

My resistance to being a ‘Christian’ has very little to do with Jesus and has much more to do with the lack of awareness that the church has for one another and the greater connectivity of the creation that we share. So far, I have never attended a socially and emotionally intelligent Christian Church. I’ve met socially and emotionally intelligent Christians but… as a whole, they are more heaven-bound than earthly good and I think it’s a flaw of the “organized” faith…

Because I do not think Jesus was socially or emotionally inept… only those who are more concerned about following him to Heaven rather than living like him on Earth seem to have developed this delay.

I wish you all well because there is possibility… and when I pray, whoever is listening to me, knows that I still have great hopes for where this will all be in three more decades. In my lifetime, may the word “Christian” represent peace-builders, stewards of the Earth and people who walked the Earth with compassion, gentility and in authentic relationships.

Namaste.

Gail