Healing, trauma, and Sabbath

Hi. It’s been a minute. Good to be back. When you’re out on disability you aren’t allowed to do any work related things or else you’ll lose the disability benefits. So I couldn’t do things like check my email. When I finally checked on Wednesday morning and I had 35 unread messages. 

         I thought to myself, that’s a lot less than I expected!

         And right as that thought was ending, another 200 emails came through. And I thought, “ahh.” I’m slowly working through them. But as many of you know, emails and my version of ADHD are not friends, so it is taking a while. Please send it again if you haven’t heard from me on something. I missed it.

         I tried to share with you all, but again, I couldn’t check my email so I don’t know the effort was successful, about why I needed to take an additional week of recovery.

         The reason, in short, was nothing personal. But that I was, I am, struggling with processing trauma.  

I was prepared for the physical trauma of surgery, though I have never experienced a pain like what I experienced in the days following after this surgery.

         I was somewhat prepared for what I would need to do to recovery mentally from the trauma of major orthopedic surgery in terms of managing my ADHD and supporting my mental health.

         But I was not in any way prepared for the emotional trauma that was unleashed upon me from having 7 surgeries and more than 20 years of physical pain. All of that came crashing down on me like I had been dunked in a dunk tank. Catching me completely off guard, and leaving me completely surrounded and struggling to come up for air. 

         It took a lot of intentional effort and help, but after a little more than 4 weeks, I was beginning to feel human again. I remember, it was a Wednesday. I talked with my therapist and surgeon, and they both agreed I was doing much better and was well enough to consider coming back to work at the end of the week.

         And as I finished my visit with my doctor, my Mom was sent to the hospital by her primary care provider. At first, it seemed like a minor procedure would get her right. But 20 hours after going to the doctor, I found myself on an airplane praying for a miracle, and that if a miracle wasn’t available, that I would make it to her in time to say goodbye.

Mom got her miracle. It took a very tense week in the hospital and a very complex surgery by a remarkable surgeon who was presented her case and thought it looked interesting, but she’s home now and continues to recover.

         Being next to her through this was, hands down, the most difficult thing I have ever done. I was, I am, physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. I’ve woken up several nights in a row uncertain of where I am, walking through in my head what the walls look like to figure out where I am; if I’m safe.

         It will take time to recover. But, I’ll do the work. I’ll be ok. And I’ll be present with y’all to the best of my abilities while I do, and I’ll be honest about what those abilities are. That’s what any leader should do, but especially what a spiritual leader should do.

         Today though I would like to use my story to talk about mental health in general a little.

         Because, in the midst of all this I had a very strange experience that has stuck with me, and I would like to share it with you all.

         I really want to have some major theological breakthrough to share. But I don’t. Life is short, tomorrow isn’t a guaranty. We all know that. Most of us have had experiences that taught us that lesson, making it more than just words.

         No. My experience revolves around a smell.

         I imagine that most of us have a smell that takes us back to another moment in time, and experience, or place. An apple pie cooking taking us to our grandmother’s kitchen. The smell of chicken noodle soup offering comfort when we’re sick.

         For me, there’s a certain smell that kind of surrounds me when I wake up from surgery. It’s from the plastic tubing they use in hospitals to intubate. But it’s not just a taste. It’s a smell. It’s all over my face, my hands; in my hair.

         It’s a smell that reminds me of pain. That I’ve just had a difficult surgery, that I don’t feel good, and I’m about to have a difficult few days, weeks, or months of recovery. The smell lingers for a few days, suddenly finding me and taking my breath away.

         I was just getting beyond this smell for myself, when I begged my way in to see my Mom in the recovery area after her surgery last week. I bent down to kiss her head, filled with a love and gratitude I can’t even express that she had somehow survived. 

         And I was met with that smell. My Mom, one of the two most important people to me on this entire planet, was afflicted with the same smell, the same pain, the same illness, that covered me and had made my life so hard for the previous month and so many months before.

         Triggers, my partner Amy reminded me, come in lots of different forms. And the worst thing about them is that we don’t always know when they will strike.

         I, many of us with traumatic experiences in our lives, we set ourselves up to avoid our triggers, or to at least have an internal shock absorber for when they come. But sometimes, they sneak up on us, while we’re looking the other way.

         This is where therapy and prioritizing our mental health comes in.

         Which is hard.

         I, personally, don’t like it. At all. It’s messy and sloppy and requires such vulnerability to honor and heal our mental health.

         I felt like I was letting you all down for needing an additional 10 days to be able to come back to work. I hated looking into the dark corners of my trauma to unpack them, find places of forgiveness, and heal. And I hated sitting by my Mother’s hospital bed, feeling helpless, scared, exhausted and overwhelmed. 

         I don’t like talking about it now. But it’s important. It’s important to own our truth, and to tell our stories.

         And, it’s important because there’s this stigma around mental health. Or even needing help at all. And I have no idea who decided it was a good idea to put a taboo on talking about mental health, but they were a fool.

         It was probably someone like the leader of the synagogue in this Gospel reading. Chastising Jesus for healing someone in need on the Sabbath. 

         I think, it’s easy to look at this reading and think that Jesus was anti-Sabbath. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus regularly took the time he needed to rest, to revive himself, and remain fully able to engage in his ministry.

         Jesus was at work that day in the synagogue, as were the unnamed leaders of the synagogue. And he probably rested after.

         As a theological point, I vehemently disagree with the idea that Satan had anything to do with a person being in pain. While Satan certainly wreaks havoc on the world, I personally disagree with the idea that pain from an ailment is caused by Satan. I think assigning blame to Satan is along the same logical path as saying everything happens for a reason.

         It takes away the human element of blame. It’s a lot easier to blame Satan, or to assign divine meaning to tragedy, because these ideas help us feel better about why a tragedy strikes. The randomness of life and repercussions of decisions is often remarkably unsatisfying.

         My shoulder required 7 surgeries because of a strange series of events, all based on human decision making, only one of which was my fault, and a doctor who didn’t take an extra minute to be curious and investigate something unexplainable 20 years ago.

         My Mom was sick because she’s a bit stubborn and ignored some troubling, but gradual, signs until it was nearly too late. Neither God nor Satan caused my Mom to be sick, just as God didn’t cause any of the series of human decisions that lead to my shoulder needing to be replaced, twice.

         Neither God nor Satan caused the woman to be sick in the reading.

         But when given the opportunity, Jesus healed her. It didn’t matter what she had or had not done in her life; nor did it matter that it was on the day that other people called the Sabbath. It wasn’t Jesus’s sabbath; he was at work!

         And Jesus made sure to take sabbath; he’s mentioned as going to meditate and pray pretty frequently in Scripture. 

         It’s a balance. And Jesus is modeling that balance.

We have to take the time we need, and it’s ok to work when we need to work. It’s ok to take the time we need because, we can only care for others with what we have in the tank. If we don’t recharge, rest, replenish, we won’t have anything left to give.

         Take your sabbath.

         Get help when you need it. Take someone up on the offer to help if you need help. Take time when time is what you need. Take a break, take a breath. Eat, drink, go to a concert.

         It’s ok to be human. Being human means that sometimes things are hard. And hard things are hard.

         Sometimes I think this world would be a much better place if we just admitted sometimes that things are hard and we need help. Wouldn’t it be great it we honored our humanity and that of others as well?

         I thank you all for honoring my time, my boundaries, and my healing needs.

         I am happy to be back, and excited to hear about all the mischief you got up to while I was in the early days of healing.

Amen

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