Tackling Traumatic Memories – Handling Hope and Pain

I’m differing from a bookish post to share a personal story. A story rooted in personal memories and experience.

I’ve always blogged with the hope that my story will help others. Especially when it comes to trauma, adoption, and faith.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how traumatic an event really was. Especially defining traumatic events. They happened. You remember the feelings, the promises to not let it happen again.

That event is in the past. It is an accessible memory. A memory you prefer to leave untouched. Safely forgotten.
But sometimes, it still comes up. An explanation of a broken relationship. Trying to tie in things for friends. Explaining where life went wrong.

Perhaps, you treat the memory too casually. And that hurts. Memories should never be treated casually. They should be held with care, delicately remembered.

One of my favorite books, The Giver, unpacks this idea. Memory defines community. It binds us together. It heals and hurts. It connects the past to our future.

And when you treat a traumatic memory casually, you will hurt. Memories aren’t just stories. They shape you. And traumatic memories are especially important.

Last week I shared a story. Late in the evening, shortly before going to bed. I was tired, and instead of dealing with the emotional repercussions of the story, I brushed off my my emotions. I wanted to sleep.

I know better than that. I know painful emotions can come up, sometimes casually.

But bringing up memories like that is powerful. It can wound you, and remind you of your deepest pain. You can’t walk away and pretend that nothing is bothering you.

Because while you can try to pretend, your mind and heart won’t leave you alone

All night, my memories tackled me. I wrote a raw piece the next morning, trying to calm my aching heart and explain what my mind was dealing with. I wasn’t even sure what i was feeling, till I started writing.

It’s hard to really speak of trauma and share what it’s like. The words flow better on paper.


The worst part of suffering trauma is not simply the memory. It is the nightmares. Remembering, sharing your story, only to be immersed in it again.

To wake terrified. Holding back tears. It’s not real. You’re safe. It’s not real.

To fight falling back asleep. It’s fine. Sleep brain. You need to be up tomorrow. Still awake. Please sleep brain.

But sleep won’t come. Instead, you tremble, whimper. Force your breathing into calm. Every time you close your eyes, the memories are there. Real or imagined. Dreams mixed with awful truth.

You are loved. You are safe. But the truth is hidden by bolder, braver, evil thoughts. You rehearse the dream, craving peace. What could I have done differently? What could I change?

Sleep is elusive. But exhaustion is not. Eventually, it takes hold. You wake gasping, the dreams still so near. Sheer weariness lets you close your eyes.

Then morning. An alarm. A roommate is awake. You need to be awake. You need to go.

The dreams weigh you down. Your fingers tremble. You rub on make-up, carefully applying mascara.
It’s not real.
The abuse is done. But the memories are not. You berate yourself. I should have kept quiet. I shouldn’t have shared. I didn’t need the reminder.

Now you are plagued. You can’t break down. It’s time for church, or work, or school. Your hands are still trembling. Each time you try to relax, the dream swims into focus. It’s not real.

You close your eyes, and the feelings are omnipresent. Helplessness. Blame. Shame. It’s not real. But the guilt claws at you. It’s right under the surface, threatening to drag you down. Even keeping your eyes open, the thoughts swim. What could I have done?

It’s not real. It’s not your fault.
You pick up your keys. Comb through your hair again. Push away the terror, the powerlessness. Bite your lips, whisper a prayer.
The memories are still nipping, begging to be remembered.


Is sharing your story worth the pain? Yes. Pain wants to be hidden, the trauma swallowed in a veneer of peace.
Keeping quiet only adds to the emotional headache. The sense of abandonment, of detachment.

Telling your story allows others to share your burden. To grow with you and help you walk on a journey towards healing.

Sharing is important. You can’t really plan when you’ll share and when you’ll be quiet. You can’t plan trauma out of your life.

Because life happens. Questions come up.

Hiding from your memories is damaging.

Telling your story is healing. It truly is.

But I have to remember where I am today. What grounds me, what keeps my heart focused, hopeful.

My story isn’t me today. It’s a part of me, but not who I completely am. I can’t leave myself in the emotional blackhole of the past.

I have to return to my greatest source of comfort. Who I am in Christ. I’m not defined by my memories, the trauma, the feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. I’m not defined by either the past or the future.

Christ has redeemed me. I am His and He is mine. He cares for me, more than any earthly love or relationship.

When I was overwhelmed, hearing this song soothed my soul. I wept, barely able to whisper the words.

“I rejoice in my Redeemer,
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul:
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

My worth is not in what I own,
Not in strength of flesh and bone,
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross.”

 

A Redheaded Texas Gal. I love the woods and thrive where there’s green grass and room to grow. I dream of living in a used book store and wearing period costumes to work everyday. In the meantime, I’m studying Journalism and Political Science, and trying to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

  • Jennifer Garey

    Thanks for sharing such an emotional post! You are amazing!

  • Suzi Gray Beeman

    I love you Elizabeth Faith….I am sorry the pain re-surfaced and you remembered once again…Such a great God who not only loves us, but knows how to help us also remember that the shame and pain do not define us…I praise Him that there is newness of life in believing and holding fast. i have to think of how one tries to destroy us with lies, but God takes pain and actually turns it to good as it gives us an opportunity to once again remember who we really are. I didn’t know you like “The Giver”. That is one of my favorite books as well. Consider yourself hugged!