By Amanda Lewallen
God's Brave Women - Amanda's Story
Sitting in her office, I traced the tiny circle on the arm of the chair with my thumbnail.
“That’s the PTSD part,” she said with compassion.
I took a deep breath and nodded. I knew that already, but sometimes hearing the words from someone else is the grounding we need. My clenched muscles relaxed their hold a bit as I forced myself back into the present moment.
“I know,” I said. “My body just feels like it's decades ago, and so I guess my brain does too.”
I suffered childhood abuse when I was growing up. My father was abusive in many different ways - verbal, emotional, and sexual. Growing up with domestic violence leaves scars that don’t heal easily.
He was an angry, unpredictable man who self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, leaving my mother and I to tiptoe through life, peering around the corner for the next outburst. We were ready to dive for cover. Even now, as a grown woman with a healthy marriage, kids, friends, and church community, a cross word or uncomfortable moment can sometimes plunge me right back into that frightened little girl.
"Even now, as a grown woman with a healthy marriage, kids, friends, and church community, a cross word or uncomfortable moment can sometimes plunge me right back into that frightened little girl."
Fear was a visceral part of my childhood - I have very few memories without it. We understand as a society that ongoing abuse is traumatic and very damaging to children (and adults) who endure it. We may all be familiar with PTSD, but fewer of us may have heard of Complex PTSD (CPTSD). In 1992 Judith Herman introduced the diagnosis because she didn’t feel that the symptoms of PTSD encompassed what she was seeing in her patients who had endured ongoing childhood trauma.
Complex PTSD is, well, complex. The difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD lies in the length of the trauma. People are vulnerable to PTSD after a traumatic event like a car crash, an earthquake, or an assault. Symptoms can include anxiety, flashbacks, depression, and being easily startled. Complex PTSD can result when a person undergoes ongoing trauma and symptoms include all the symptoms of PTSD, plus relationship issues, shame, guilt, struggles with emotional extremes, and detachment.
Living with complex PTSD means that sometimes things can be harder, but it certainly isn't hopeless. It’s taken me many years sitting in that office to really know that. Broken bones heal rather quickly, but a soul injury? That takes some time.
"Living with complex PTSD means that sometimes things can be harder, but it certainly isn't hopeless... Broken bones heal rather quickly, but a soul injury? That takes some time."
When I’m plunged back a few decades by a random event into that visceral fear, I know now that my amygdala has decided there’s danger and it needs to take over. The thinking part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, takes a back seat while the amygdala dives into crisis mode. This beautifully designed process works very well when there is actual danger - we are able to react quickly with adrenaline and find safety almost through instinct. The problem is when there is no current danger and the brain is reacting to something in the past.
Fear like this brings up shame. Why can’t I just get over it? Why does it still hurt? The looming fear is crushing and most of those moments I’m just not brave, I’m afraid.
But I’ve learned that God lends bravery like it’s water, and there’s no terms or interest. He doesn’t even give it to me, He holds it close to Himself and beckons me towards it. I lean on the solid wall of His bravery and wait until my racing heart slows and my gasping breath returns to normal. He sits with me and lets me settle, never judging my fear.
"The looming fear is crushing and most of those moments I’m just not brave, I’m afraid. But I’ve learned that God lends bravery like it’s water, and there’s no terms or interest. He doesn’t even give it to me, He holds it close to Himself and beckons me towards it."
Those moments of borrowed bravery have given me more of a window into the heart of God than any study I’ve ever done. He is not just the God of the universe, maker of all things visible and invisible. He is my God. The God who holds and heals, who catches tears and weeps with me in quiet understanding.
"Those moments of borrowed bravery have given me more of a window into the heart of God than any study I’ve ever done. He is not just the God of the universe, maker of all things visible and invisible. He is my God.
He lends courage so freely and my borrowed bravery sees me through until I’m able to find my own again. And that’s really the heart of healing. Learning how to share our pain, our joy, our whole broken selves with another who can reflect love back to us and steady us when we need it.
Brave Woman Manifesto
Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story!
And by the way...
You are Brave!
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Amanda Lewallen is a wife to Michael and mother to 5 busy children. Before Covid-19, she worked with at-risk mothers and their young children to develop parenting skills. Currently, she is homeschooling her youngest four children and writing full time.
Amanda is a non-fiction writer with an M.A. in English from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. She is a childhood trauma survivor and is passionate about giving a voice to those who suffer with wounds that are unspeakable.