3 Things to Know When Processing Trauma

 Guest Post by Allie Chapa

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

The middle is a disheartening place; you don’t quite see the beginning and you definitely don’t see the end. This is how I would describe my process with mental illness and trauma right now. I’m in the foggy, muddy middle and quite honestly, most days I want to give up.

For the last year and a half I’ve been focusing on recovery from my latest episode of depression and anxiety. I have found that for me, medication and counseling are what I need during this time, even though it may not be what’s best for everyone. More specifically, I have been doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, a specialized therapy that focuses on trauma. (You can learn more about EMDR therapy, here.)

Within the last five years, with the help of a counselor, I have learned that my childhood was abnormal from others. I have a loving mother who did her best raising me but unfortunately was also emotionally abusive. The pain from this has manifested in a multitude of false beliefs about myself and others—beliefs so deeply embedded in my mind that I didn’t know they were false until this past year as I’ve processed them for the first time in EMDR therapy.

This journey has been long, hard, and freeing all at the same. I have found relief that the things I believe about myself and others are completely wrong. I have found more anxiety because there are so many false and negative beliefs. I have found hope that I can believe new things. I have found frustration because truly believing those new things is really hard. I have found despair because I feel like I’ll never get past all of my trauma. I have found that I not only grow as I go through the process but I also fail—a lot.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

I can’t say these tips will apply to everyone because I don’t believe the journey looks the same for everyone. We’re all unique individuals, and our journeys will also be the unique. But here are some things that I’ve found help me as I get through the middle of my journey with trauma. (Note: these are all things I’m still learning to do and definitely have not mastered!)

1. Take time to take care of yourself.

The battle to replace your old belief system with a new one takes a lot of energy and can be exhausting. Make sure to be kind to yourself and do things that give you peace and bring you joy. I usually go and buy some dark chocolate after my EMDR sessions and find time to take a nap to rest.

2. Focus on one new belief at a time.

As my journey goes on, I tend to get overwhelmed and feel despair when I think of all of the new thoughts and beliefs I’m working on. Instead of trying to believe 15 new thoughts, I’m working on focusing on just one at a time. It helps me to write mine out on a large chalkboard I have and display it somewhere I can repeatedly read in my house.

3. Give yourself permission to feel pain.

This one is really hard for me. I’m learning that when it comes to trauma, there are layers and layers of pain to be dealt with. No one likes to feel pain, but I’m told that there’s no other way to get to the other side without feeling the pain.

If you are someone who has experienced trauma, I want you to know that your pain is real. I don’t want to pretend to know your kind of pain, but I do know it can hold you back for too long. Please, don’t wait to find help, because there is so much more to your life than the pain you have experienced.

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How to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Guest Post by Faith Badders

Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

Over time I have learned that my mind can create something beautiful or something dark and destructive. When I was young, I was a pretty content girl and passionate about living my life to its fullest even when times were tough. As I entered my senior year, I started to evaluate my life and noticed how average I was as a student, dancer, tennis player, daughter, sister, and friend. I felt like everything I once was content with no longer measured up to what my mind was telling me I should have become. At the same time, I was dealing with food sensitivities, recovering from a breakup, and embracing the life changes that would come after graduating high school. 

Slowly but surely I started to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. I was hypersensitive to my emotions and how I felt about food; it was if my gut was an irritable monster that wanted to avoid discomfort at all costs. I never restricted and developed anorexia, but I did eliminate a lot of foods out of my diet and obsessively thought about when and what I would eat. I became anxious and even annoyed around food and how much it consumed my thought life. After six months of dealing with this unhealthy relationship with food, I dropped to an unhealthy weight and was not capable of gaining weight back on my own. 

After graduation, I planned on going on a mission trip to a third world country. However, my parents did not let me go because they did not want me losing any more weight. My parents saying no turned my life around, and I am greatly appreciative of their decision. Instead of going on the mission trip, I decided to admit that I was powerless and needed to surrender control. I spent my entire summer at a treatment center and embraced a journey to receive complete healing. Talk about a humbling yet powerful experience. 

Treatment was hard, pushed me to my edge, and grew me as a person. Every day I had to decide to work hard, rest in grace, and receive the help and support needed to get through the program. Even though my family and friends did not always know how to address the situation, they were very supportive and loved me throughout the process. I am very thankful for the people in my life who love me and support me, but I have learned to acknowledge that I, myself, am ultimately responsible for my recovery and maintaining a healthy mind, spirit, and body.

Photo by Marcelo Matarazzo on Unsplash

Photo by Marcelo Matarazzo on Unsplash

Every person’s journey with food is different, but here are a few suggestions on how to walk alongside them in the midst of an eating disorder.

Have conversations about it—and don’t forget to listen.

It’s easy to avoid difficult conversations, especially when it comes to a sensitive topic like an eating disorder. But broaching the topic opens the door for dialogue and the road to recovery. Ask questions and listen, and most of all, be patient and supportive. Validating feelings, asking questions, and withholding judgment are vital for recovery.

Don’t give quick fixes.

Even though comments like “Just eat more” or “Just look in the mirror—you look great” can seem like a natural response, they can do more harm than good. These statements imply eating disorders are casual problems rather than the complex situations they are. If a statement starts with “just,” think twice before saying it out loud. Instead, encourage your loved one and speak truth about their value as a person.

Offer to help look for professional help.

Finding a doctor or making an appointment with a counselor can be intimidating for many people. Offer to look up providers in the area or to take them to an appointment. Receiving compassionate care can help a person understand any diagnoses they may have as well as screen for any related medical problems. Optimally, eating disorders are addressed holistically, with a team of people helping to talk through nutrition, their relationship with food, and healthy coping mechanisms (counseling was my favorite).

Stay away from shaming.

Stay away from focusing on your emotions and blaming an individual for them (i.e., “I’m scared when you don’t eat” or “I feel guilty that you’re not doing well”). Addiitonally, rather than making comments about actions you disagree with (not eating enough, hurting yourself by doing this, etc.), ask about the emotions or motivations behind these actions. Instead, ask questions about topics like what they find stressful in life or what drives their fear of gaining weight.

Learn about eating disorders.

The more you know about eating disorders, the more likely you’ll be able to offer empathy and positive support. Researching will help you understand what kind of treatment your loved one might need, and it will also make you aware of personal challenges or biases you may not be aware of.

Tips for Parents

While these next few are especially useful for parents, we can all implement them in our lives.

Set a positive example.

This goes far beyond what (or how much) you eat. It includes being mindful of your own self-esteem and self-image and speaking positively about yourself and your body. It also includes avoiding criticism about appearance (your own or anyone else’s). In conversation, try focusing on character qualities instead of physical appearance.

Hold your child accountable, but don’t hover.

Instead of acting like the “food police” or trying to force them to eat, set limits. Using natural consequences to their actions instead of “punishments” you prescribe can be much more powerful motivators. For example, when I was in a weakened state, it wasn’t safe for me to go on a trip to Belize, so my parents didn’t allow me to go.

Don’t blame—your child or yourself.

Instead of focusing on the “could have” and “should have” moments in life, look forward and identify action points you can take today. Evaluate what you have learned and how you can incorporate that into you relationship with your child. Instead, continue to provide hope to yourself and your child by focusing on every victory, no matter how small.

Make meals enjoyable.

Eating meals as a family or inviting friends over for dinner can make mealtimes something to look forward to. Having fun with each other instead of talking about the day’s complications or problems can help create a positive atmosphere, which can become associated with food.

Last of all, take care of yourself.

Make sure you have a support system where you can talk about your struggles and the complex emotions around a loved one with an eating disorder. Consider setting aside a regular time when you can process verbally with a friend, family member, or therapist. By practicing self-care, you’re not only ensuring you can parent your child well, but you’re also modeling self-love in a practical way.

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5 Reasons to Try Therapy

As I parked, I wondered if anyone would drive by and recognize my car. At this point, I was so worn out from life I lacked the energy to care about the stigma anymore. I shrugged and walked across the street to the Counseling and Testing Center on campus. 

It was a temporary building and everything was a bit squished inside, but I appreciated the office’s relocation to the outskirts of campus instead of at the heart of social life, like it was before. It felt safer.

Over the following weeks, I stopped worrying if people would spot my car or notice me walking in for appointments. In the crowded temp building on the edge of campus, an internal shift began. I gravitated from the outskirts of myself toward the very center, and as I tended to my heart I found there was no place I would rather be.

Three years later, I’m still an avid fan of therapy. In fact, I think everyone should go to therapy. Here are a few reasons why:

1. You probably need it.

After experiencing firsthand the benefits of therapy, I’ve encouraged scores of people (okay, pretty much everyone I know) to make it a priority. The responses vary, but I’ve noticed something. 

The people who are most adamant about not needing it usually need it the most.

A main roadblock to getting into a therapist’s office is stigma. Stigma—which I like to call a Silent Killer—tells us therapy is only for people who are “weak,” “have problems,” or are “broken.” 

But aren’t we all broken? Don’t we all have problems? In this case, “stigma” could be a synonym for “pride.” 

Therapy isn’t solely for times when we’re so beaten down we can’t get back up without help (though it is incredibly helpful for those times). It’s also for anytime we desire to be healthier, know and love ourselves well, and interact with and love others well. Which should be….all the time.

If you haven’t figured out how to love yourself yet, therapy is for you. If you ever have conflict with others, struggle with self-hatred, or have a screwed up family, therapy is for you.

If you’ve figured out life already or if you are smart enough to figure it out without help…therapy is especially for you. (I know because that used to be me.)

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

2. It's a healthy practice - like a wellness checkup.

In nursing school, patient education is heavily emphasized, especially when it comes to disease prevention.

“The best treatment,” I remember my professors instructing, “is prevention.”

When it comes to mental health, a similar premise holds true. Much like medical care, therapy is not limited to addressing acute situations. Rather, therapy is useful for promoting wellness holistically.

It helps increase our emotional IQ (I didn’t even know this was a thing until I started going to therapy) and keep our mental habits and frameworks in working order. 

Nearly every operational thing needs periodic maintenance in order to function at full capacity—cars need oil changes, air filters in our homes need changing, etc.

Our brains benefit from maintenance too.

3. Counseling is different from venting to a friend or receiving advice from a mentor.

A common misconception about therapy is it’s simply a place to vent or externally process—much like a coffee date with a close friend or phone call with a confidante. 

While therapy does provide the opportunity for both venting and processing, it also creates space for so much more. 

It provides an objective perspective—and someone who will call you out on your bull. Many times, we aren’t aware of our weaknesses or lapses in judgment, and neither are the ones closest to us. In fact, they might have the same blindspots we do.

Therapists focus on what's best for us and are extensively trained to identify and help us address underlying issues.

They are equipped to see past the smoke screen and find the fire. Sometimes the fire is obvious and blaring, and other times we've dismissed it as a smoldering pile of ashes from the past. That's a skill worth paying for.

Sessions are helpful for working through difficult situations, but perhaps their true value comes in the way they challenge our way of thinking.

4. It allows you to empathize with others.

Being willing to try therapy for yourself serves a dual purpose when it comes to relating to others. 

First, it allows you to relate to those who go to therapy. Some of the people I connect with most are friends who also go or have gone to therapy. They understand how wonderful it can be and how difficult, how the stigma still stings sometimes, and how it’s worth it anyway.

It shows me they are humble enough to seek help and admit they’re still growing. It lets me know they’re less likely to judge me for my issues.

Second, it gives you a leg to stand on when you suggest someone else try out therapy. Mental illness is increasingly widespread, and odds are you have already suggested that a loved one seek therapy. It’s one thing to encourage a form of treatment you’ve “heard” works. It’s a whole different thing to endorse a practice you’ve been willing to try yourself.

5. It could change your life.

When I walked into the office for the first time on campus, I was terrified and I was proud. 

Yet therapy changed my life—and it still is. (At some points, it probably saved my life.) Therapy isn’t the be all end all, but it is incredibly helpful.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in therapy, it’s this:

We’re all broken, including me. It’s okay to need help, and it’s courageous and healthy and right to ask for it.

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What Therapy Taught Me About Tithing

Therapy and tithing. What an odd combination of topics.

Counseling is not cheap. I learned this after I graduated college and was looking for a therapist. I was still riding the waves of the emotional hurricane of Cambodian hospital experiences as well as trying to fight off my own personal archenemy, depression.

Counseling is not cheap, but I am. (At the time I was as stingy as Scrooge, and the only difference was I’d had the excuse of being a college student for the previous four years so people didn’t judge me quite so hard.) But you see the equation—something had to give. Well, really, I had to give. If I wanted counseling, that is.

When I first started going to counseling, it was up for debate in my head how often I would go. I was hesitant about spending so much money on myself. It seemed…excessive. Exorbitant, even. However, after the first couple sessions, the decision was no longer a difficult one—because after counseling, I didn’t feel like I was drowning anymore. I felt a little hope rise up in my chest; the suicidal thoughts faded after counseling.

This, I decided, was worth any amount I could pay. If someone had told me I could pay to have the feelings of suicidality go away…it would have been a dream come true. For so many long days and miserable nights, I had wished I could buy freedom from depression—I would have emptied my bank account in a heartbeat!

And here, in a counselor’s office, I finally found that a little bit of freedom was indeed available. Suddenly, the price seemed so small a sum of money compared to the alternative torture of riding the fence of suicide day in and day out.

Photo via

Photo via

It wasn’t a decision, really, because not being suicidal was so valuable to me.

The cost wasn’t even a question anymore because mental health had become so important to me. Every single time I spent money, I weighed the benefit and the cost, but I had never witnessed the scales tip so drastically in favor of the benefits before.

One day, as I was driving home from counseling, I began thinking about money and my mind wandered to tithing. I often found it hard to tithe, just as I found it difficult to write a check to my therapist those first couple of sessions. I cringed a little inside as I thought of the expenses on my budgeting spreadsheet adding up, and I hesitated to add tithing to the list.

Yet as I recognized this feeling—this hesitance to let go of money and a sense of control and security—I thought of the scales weighing benefit and cost, and I had one of those moments where I realized how good God was to me all over again.

God is so good to me. His love is unconditional, and His presence is constant. He gives me breath in my lungs and plants hope in my heart every morning. He doesn’t withhold His goodness if I withhold my tithe or if I rebel or for any reason at all. He is the Wonderful Counselor, and He is everpresent, Emmanuel.

He doesn’t require me to pay for His relationship; in fact, He paid the highest price—His Son’s very life—for me already. For me to spend not a session but eternity with Him. He gives us life itself, and He gives us Him self

Suddenly, tithing seems like nothing. How incredible that He asks for (not demands or requires, but requests) money.

Material money.

Of course He can have it. It’s His, anyway. And when I think of His love, His goodness, His companionship…all the money in the world cannot buy these things. Tithing transforms from a sacrifice to an honor as I realize again how grateful I am for Him, for a relationship with Him, for His love, for His presence, for His promises.

He who paid the highest price for us invites us to walk with Him each day. What a privilege it is to offer back to Him a few dollars in gratitude.

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