Carrying Baggage Into Trauma
The drowning of a young man in my youth group on July 26, 2014 triggered an avalanche of depression and anxiety in my brain. I was desperate, first, to be right with God. But, of course, to be healed of my anguish. I had four different counseling experiences in the four years to follow (a post for another day). Two were good, but insufficient, one was really bad, and the last one was absolutely what I needed, just in the nick of time.
I learned that a good counselor will take the time to build a relationship. They know that gaining trust can be an arduous and frustrating process. I was surprised at the amount of “small talk” during the intake sessions of my counseling experience. I now understand a relationship was being built that would serve as a bridge to true openness. No one knew the full extent of my struggle (except my wife eventually; and that took way too long).
Each session, as I felt more “safe” with my counselor, a piece was added to the puzzle. Truly opening up is a painful process for the sufferer, and can be very frustrating for the counselor. If you don’t have the time or patience to unearth the roots of deep pain, please be gracious enough to refer the sufferer to someone else.
Eventually, enough of the puzzle was constructed to get an accurate picture. So why was I having so much trouble with guilt? Were there underlying factors that led to the anxiety disorder that was beginning to cripple me?
I carried a couple doozies right into my storm. Unfortunately, we can’t see these types of storms forming on the horizon. They come upon us suddenly. And they hit HARD. It’s important that we’re not lugging around excess baggage when the storms hit. They have a tendency to magnify our trouble. They make them even heavier than they already are.
I carried a deep sense of guilt into July 26, 2014. I FELT guilty about my perceived failure as a father. Life with our autistic son has been very difficult. For too many years, I underestimated the difficulty on my other children. We made some adjustments along the way, but I felt it was late. Along with some health issues I’ve had, it had taken extra effort and resources for the church I had served in to keep me in ministry. I FELT guilty about that. I never wanted to be a “high maintenance” type.
I had lived with some level of anxiety (more like concern, I suppose) over a countdown that was regularly on my mind. We knew that once our autistic son turned 22, many services that had been such a help to all of us would no longer be available. We had no idea what we would do and what life would look like. Even though it was years away, I was very aware of it. I did pray over it, and I acknowledged my worry to the Lord. It didn’t consume me, but it was certainly there.
So piled on top of the sense of guilt and anxiety I was already struggling with was this traumatic event. It happened on my watch. I was in charge. The buck stops here. What’s going to happen to the family, the other young people on the trip, and the church? That burden was heavy enough. But I was already carrying some baggage. Everthing that was troubling me leading up to the traumatic event was magnified. I had to deal with the baggage alongside the traumatic event. Complicated, but doable.
What are you carrying around right now? Be honest about bitterness, anger, guilt, worry, etc. These things are not healthy during the normal everyday grind of life. But they can be devastating when an unexpected storm hits.