PTSD Awareness Month: Poems

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Here are three more poems from my various collections on the nature of the violence I grew up with and PTSD. Than you for reading!

 

7/21/02

 

Family Values

 

Denial carves deep, the truth betrayed

As she watches her soul drip off the blade

 

Pain becomes comfort, trust becomes threat

She’s beginning to break, but they’re not finished yet

 

Love is divided: dominion/defeat

With no middle ground in which to retreat

 

Again and again they annihilate her soul

Splitting her brain, wanting total control

 

“Snap out of it now, it isn’t that bad

Nothing is wrong, stop looking so sad

 

Now, this might hurt, but it’s for your own good

Stop sulking as if you’re so misunderstood

 

It’s all out of love that I invade this space,

Erase your reality, leaving no trace

 

I’m saving you, trust me, you don’t want to know

Perhaps this won’t affect you if it doesn’t show”

 

Shadows and secrets, the family’s domain

A prison of dread in which she remained

 

Blinded, noiseless, bound by fear and shame

Awaiting rejection, assumption of blame

 

We blocked the scenes, smiled, waved to the crowd

Each taking up no more space than was allowed

 

The lesson was learned: you should be what you’re not

One child submitted, the other one fought

 

Needing was selfish, a luxury shunned

“You may BE a child but stop ACTING like one

 

For crying out loud, I’m doing my best

Your father’s a bastard, I can’t ever rest

 

Sweetheart, can you help me in all of my strife?

It’s not asking much– all I want is your life”

 

© Sarah Henderson 2002

 

8/13/03

 

Blind Fury

 

What was that omnipotent power he had

To control your emotions while driving you mad

 

Then somehow make you feel that you were at fault

For every abandonment, wound, and assault

 

So slight that you couldn’t articulate it

A snake in the grass that suddenly bit

 

With no way to explain just how low you feel

And no one to believe that his harm is real

 

You naively try to block out the world

As you switch back and forth from woman to girl

 

Pretending so hard that nothing is wrong

Telling yourself you have to be strong

 

While watching your mother continue to fade

Losing life and love slowly, shade by shade

 

Seeing the small deaths he inflicted on her

Wondering how much more she could endure

 

Again you are struck by the weight of his word

When you think about everything that has occurred

 

How he was able to slowly destroy

Every last bit of our innocent joy

 

Simply by looking at us with disdain

Casually triggering torrents of pain

 

While knowing that no one would stand up to tell

He imprisoned us all in invisible hell

 

© Sarah Henderson 2003

 

2/7/04

 

Stalker

 

You don’t have to be there to see it

You don’t have to see to believe it

 

You can only tell what you feel

You can’t tell that it isn’t real

 

There are fears you cannot explain

And some unidentified pain

 

That keeps you locked in the past

Under shadows that memory has cast

 

While clawing to stay in today

You’re suddenly hurtled away

 

To times when you were not safe

From violence, dysfunction, and rape

 

When your life was always at stake

There was only so much you could take

 

And it stays with you year after year

‘Till you hit that final nadir

 

When so much as a hand on your arm

Can be felt as serious harm

 

And what’s seen when you lay down your head

Prevents you from sleeping in bed

 

The curtains are always pulled tight

For the fear that during the night

 

A shadowy figure will pass

And their eyes will peer in through the glass

 

You will always be watching your back

You will never feel safe or relaxed

 

Sudden noises will cause you to start

Put your hand over your pounding heart

 

 

And resign to lifelong nightmare

Of which you will always be aware

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2004

 

Do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

For Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention Month

 

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This is a photo of me, age four. Because April is both Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, I want to take a minute and have you put yourself into this precious little girl’s story. At four years old she was being molested and sometimes raped by her father on a nearly nightly basis. She was being hit, choked, shoved. She was being threatened and abused with guns and knives. She was being called names like, “whore,” “slut,” and, “bitch” even though she didn’t know what those words meant. She was told that if she tried to tell someone what was happening, no one would believe her. That her father, her abuser, would kill her mother and her sister and her cats. He had weapons, after all. She believed him.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what went on in that house, of what happened to that child. And you’d never have known it, because every day, though she vomited each morning before school, she pasted a smiled on her face and made sure that the only word that came out of her mouth when anyone asked her how things were was, “fine.”

I am lucky to have survived that life. I am blessed to be healing and recovering. Not every abused child is so fortunate, and there are children experiencing what I did and more every. Single. Day. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, even those of a “good” family. Please help me to stop the suffering of child sexual abuse by visiting the following websites. Thank you.

Darkness to Light

Erin’s Law

National Sexual Violence Resource Center: Child Sexual Assault Prevention

Introduction

This blog is simply a place for me to expound on topics that are too long for Facebook posts, and maybe for some of my poetry. I am a woman on a journey of faith, healing, discovery, and recovery. Currently I am in school, seeking my Associate’s of Science. I plan to use that as a bridge to finish my Bachelor’s of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center (if I’m lucky enough to get in!) Ultimately, though, I feel called to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. What that looks like yet, I don’t know. My feeling is the priesthood, but it could be something else. Once my Bachelor’s is complete, I will apply to seminary.  Right now, I’m simply in prayer and discernment, taking things one step at a time. I have plenty of time and wonderful clerical guidance in my life to discern God’s plan for my place in the church, if indeed that is where He wants me.

I currently serve on several ministries at my home church, St. Mary’s, including Eucharistic minister, worship leader, and arranging altar flowers. I recently completed my postulancy to become a member of the order of the Daughters of the King. When I say this is my home church, I mean that in the truest sense of the word. There is nowhere in the world that I feel more comfortable or safe than the nave at St. Mary’s. The people there are my family. I feel loved, cherished, needed, and wanted there. Through the pastoral counseling I received there I’ve found so much healing, hope, compassion, and peace.

Despite all of the healing I’ve done, I still struggle with many things. Most of my issues now are with grief. I grew up in violence and chaos. I was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused, and sexually tortured. I am a child of domestic violence, a victim of rape and incest. Most of these things were committed by my father. I was also raped again as a teenager by a stranger, sexually harassed by my gymnastics coach and a college professor, nearly date-raped by a guy, and sexually assaulted by another college professor. Classic re-victimization; it happens. I had a major surgical trauma at 23, when I developed a rare pneumonia and was forced to have my chest cracked open to have part of my lung removed. I briefly coded on the table during surgery (read: died for minute) and was in a coma for several days. It took me nearly a year to fully heal from that surgery. I have some trauma from several car wrecks, as well as the sudden death of my young cousin, Tyler. Basically, I’m a walking case of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Along with those things, I have struggled and nearly died a few times from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, bipolar disorder, and self-harm (cutting myself mostly, hitting myself with blunt objects, at times until I broke bones, and rarely burning myself). I’ve had some issues with prescription pills at times.

You would, too.

I’m thirty three now, and I’ve been in therapy since I was fifteen. Basically, I’ve spent the second two thirds of my life trying to recover from the first. At the present I am also dealing with chronic illness: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac disease, inflammatory arthritis, fibromyalgia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a number of gastrointestinal issues that need not be detailed. (To be noted: there has been resent research into the link between childhood trauma and the development of autoimmune disease later in life “Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness”). Last year, I found out that I am infertile, and unable to have my own biological children. (That has been brutal.) I take about twenty pills each day, which keep me stable, but have a number of really not-fun side effects.

So what’s the upshot of all of this? It sounds like a lot, right? It is. The only way I can claim any sanity in it all is God. I give all credit to Him. I am not just saved by Jesus through the waters of Baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Cross. Jesus saves me every day, in little ways, when I don’t have the strength to cope, to get out of bed, to tolerate the pain, the fatigue, the grief, the stress.  Jesus saves me. He gives me a peace that passes understanding. He sends me rescuers in the form of family, friends, my beautiful little Godson, trashy novels, Netflix binges, my cat Sophie, white chocolate mochas, thunderstorms or perfect sunny days, poetry and prayer, my church, my clergy, and scripture. He resurrects me from the ashes and reminds me that I am more than what was done to me, more than my failing health, more than the scars that cover my body.

Jesus had scars, too. And they were reminders, not just of the wounds inflicted, but of victory over the pain and death. I like to see my scars that way, too.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. At times it may be difficult, but I hope you see what I see: the beauty from the ashes.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations…
 Instead of your shame

    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them…

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation.

Isaiah 61