Sunday, April 7, 2013

When You Look Down and Realize That You're Broken

The trouble with feeling like you generally have your act together is that occasionally you look at yourself and realize something's really broken in you. I've always basically had decent self-confidence, enough assertiveness to do well, and am capable at most anything I try my hand at. Well, I used to be.
I'm going to link to a blog post by Penelope Trunk, but I want to warn you. She writes bluntly about uncomfortable stuff, and if you go read the post, don't say I didn't warn you. However, it's only the last few sentences I want to quote, because when I read them, they nearly knocked the breath out of me. She punched me in the gut, as it were, and I felt sad and suddenly self-exposed. Here's what she said:

"Long-term repetition of low-level trauma is worse for somenoe's personal development than a one-time huge trauma. Here's how I know: I was at the World Trade Center when it fell. And I tested very high for post-traumatic stress. But after talking with me, the psychologist told me my high levels are from my childhood—of repeated, subtle abuse—rather than from 9/11. If you have unpredictable, low-level stress that you have no control over, you can't recover until the low-level stress stops." (The links are hers and will take you to posts where she addresses those points.)

It was that last sentence: "If you have unpredictable, low-level stress that you have no control over, you can't recover until the low-level stress stops."

That's me. In spite of the fact that in the past I've been a capable, confident, talented achiever, I actually have some long-term low-level stress that I am not recovering from. Ugh. I hate to say that, but it's simply true.

Do you have this too? Events in your life -- from childhood, or from adulthood -- that have gently traumatized you over and over, and you just can't seem to shake the effect it has on you, rather like a bad illness that recurs? I have stress from repeated job loss, and man, I can tell you that it's highly unpleasant. I live in a constant state of fear that we will lose our employment. It's not logical. It's occasionally downright ridiculous. But it is so very stressful. I wish I could shake it. I pray to shake it, You can tell me that it's all a matter of trust in God, and prayer, and Scripture reading, and I'll tell you, yes I've tried all that. Those of you who are similarly broken will understand. Those of you who aren't, won't.

Penelope had a history of childhood abuse. Some people simply come from conflict-ridden homes. Living in repeated poverty has the same effect, or living with an alcoholic. You feel insecure, afraid -- very afraid. You desperately avoid the triggers that seem to bring on your fears, but in the end the fears live inside you. It takes almost nothing for them to wake and turn you into jelly.

In a way, it was helpful to see Trunk's words there on my screen, to have someone just say it -- I'm fundamentally broken from some life experiences, and I'm not going to recover simply by wishing it so.  I don't know if this will be helpful to anybody else, but I'm putting it out there just in case. Perhaps self-awareness is the first step to somehow living with the fear and the stress it brings.


  1. I will pop over and read that post. We do suffer and I think sometimes we see suffering as temporary, but most of the world suffers always. We cling to the Savior and He saves. I know you cling to Him tightly.

  2. You know that I know exactly what you're talking about. It's a constant 'waiting for the other shoe to drop' sort of living/existing.

    Thanks for the link. I remember you mentioning her awhile back on your FB page, and I found her shocking, but amazing at the same time. Refreshing to read someone who doesn't so much intend to shock, as to just lay things out frills.

  3. Melissa, you're the second friend to describe this type of life as "waiting for the other shoe to drop." It's the anticipation of disaster that kills you. Trunk is a strange cookie, no doubt, but occasionally she speaks so lucidly. It's worth listening to her.


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