Trauma: a very difficult or unpleasant experience
that causes someone to have mental or
emotional problems usually for a long time
I love definitions; they take you deeper into a word. They bring words to life with animated meaning. But Merriam Webster has proven to be woefully inadequate in defining “trauma”. And I unwittingly discovered the deep affliction of trauma firsthand – the day my brother nearly died.
It was a brilliantly beautiful Friday morning. Clear blue skies framed Pikes Peak, and the sun was warming the day to a perfect Fall ambience. Our spirits were high as Tomy and I set out on our weekly bike ride together. As we pedaled away the miles we shared our hearts, caught up on family happenings, and we laughed. I remember the laughs most of all. We encouraged one another. We spoke of anticipations and fears. And we rode. Mile upon mile.
The road changed. A crevice appeared and speed kept my brother from avoiding it. One second he was leading me down the hill and the next he was falling. Violently falling. And that’s where my own words fail to paint a coherent picture of the horror that followed. The words fall fragmented into my memory.
So much blood.
Screaming for help.
I thought he was dead. Then I thought he would die in my arms. I was fearful he wouldn’t make it even as they triaged him in the E.R. I made phone calls. I prayed. Prayed. Prayed. Oh, how I prayed. And then I waited with my family for any news that would confirm or deny our greatest fears.
I wouldn’t fully understand until weeks later that during those first horrifying moments of the crash, trauma had infiltrated my heart, mind and body. My physiology was unabashedly altered. As trauma infected my every thought with guilt and fear and flashbacks, I was swept away with overwhelming panic attacks and unrelenting tears. My body shook with tremors, anxiety choked the air out of my lungs, headaches persisted. Sleep was arrested with sheer terror as nightmares replayed every minute of the crash in slow motion. It felt as if my life were stolen and held captive by a murderous foe; and I felt helpless to change it.
That first night as terror gripped my heart and mind, I prayed a very simple prayer. “Jesus, I know you were there. Can you show me where you were?” I repeated the words over and over until my gracious God revealed His omnipresence to me. He was there holding my brother as he fell. He was there by my side as I ran to him. He was there holding Tomy’s lifeless body, breathing life back into him. He was there guiding the woman who blocked traffic with her car. He was there with another woman as she dialed 911. He was there directing the paramedics as they assessed the scene. He was there helping the paramedics lift Tomy into the ambulance. He was there in the ambulance as the driver navigated her way to the hospital . He was there in the E.R. as we arrived. He was there with every doctor making every decision. He was there in the CT scan. He was there guiding the nurse’s hands as he stitched Tomy’s wounds. He was there with each family member sitting in the waiting room. He was there holding me. He was there.
As the days became weeks I found myself in counseling. Trauma yoga. Trauma counseling. And although I discovered a renewed intimacy with Jesus through prayer, the trauma drained me of energy, of joy, of life.
So what is trauma really like?
Trauma is a vicious disease that steals your thoughts and replaces them with loops of your terrifying moments; it steals your breath and replaces it with acrid fears; it steals your calm and replaces it with sheer panic; it steals your smile and replaces it with tears; it steals your sleep and replaces it with terror. It becomes difficult to delineate sleep from waking moments because you’re living a continuous nightmare. This is the life of trauma, which for me, morphed into posttraumatic stress. It is cruel and debilitating.
Healing has come…slow but sure. It’s come through counseling sessions with compassionate people trained to walk me through the painful memories. It’s coming through trauma yoga with tenderhearted women who speak truth over me. It’s come through a supportive, loving husband who holds me through my tears and panic and assures me of his constancy. It’s come through praying friends and encouraging notes. It’s come through heart-to-heart conversations with my brother who, although healing physically from four skull fractures, has no memory of the crash that almost took his life. It’s come through living broken and believing it’s okay to be broken. It’s come through believing there’s grace in the brokenness. It’s come through letting Jesus put me back together – different but beautiful.
Ultimately, a big part of my healing came through facing my biggest fear – getting back on my bike. It took five months for me to find the courage to ride again. It would take another eight months for me to ride without tears…with the beginnings of renewed confidence. People saw me riding and thought I was better. What they didn’t see was the anxiety leading up to every ride, or the tears I tried to hide as I rode, or the flashbacks that always followed a ride. It took tremendous strength and courage every single time I got back on my bike. But we did it together…Tomy and I. We rode together and talked through the pain.
On September 30, 2017 – one year to the day of Tomy’s crash – we rode in the Tour of the Moon bike ride in Grand Junction. It’s a 41 mile ride through the Colorado National Monument. The day dawned with tremendous anxiety, but it ended with tremendous victory. It was a day in which we rode to celebrate courage and healing. It was a day we rode to celebrate life.
Posttraumatic stress is a journey, and it’s okay with me now. It is part of my journey, but it is not my destination. I will continue to struggle. I will continue to heal. I will continue to ride.