Re-scripting Your Life, Part 11
In our last post we looked at the powerful principle that truth can truly set us free only if we are willing to accept that the truth of the Gospel of Jesus is the only true truth. Once we accept that, we can move on to applying the truth to our lives and begin to see the powerful transforming effects of re-scripting our lives.
Biblically speaking, a truth that is said to be understood is a truth that is actively being practiced. Until there is action, there is no real understanding and if there is no understanding, there is no transformation. In order for truth to fully free us from the effects of faulty thinking and believing, we will need to first allow truth to permeate down into the dark recesses of the past and shine the light of the Lord on any lies that may be hiding there.
The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the innermost parts of his being. [Prov 20:27 NASB]
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. [Psa 51:6 NASB]
Back To Your Future
The premise behind the 1980’s movie series, Back to the Future, is intriguing when it comes to healing our brains from the effects of a past that contained brokenness. In the movie, the main character was able to go back to his past and watch how his present came into being. If he were to alter things in his past, his present, and surely his future, would be altered too. It is not physically possible (at least not yet) to travel back in time but it is possible to mentally go back into our past and look at the events from a point of view that if we could alter some things in our thinking about our past that our present and future could be changed.
Because of past negative events, many of us are living limited lives still feeling, reliving, and rehearsing these hurts. How can it be that years afterward, these events can still have a death-grip on our ability to live in freedom? We have previously touched on the concept of PTSD (Post Transgression Sin Disorder) and how the “ripple effect” of being cut off from our creator caused a multitude of separation-induced soul sicknesses: fear, anxiety, selfishness, greed, anger, revenge… to name a few. Going back to our past is accomplished by remembering these events, looking at them from God’s vantage point (God lives outside of time so He is present in our past, present, and future all at the same time!), and drawing new conclusions about how they will affect us.
The key point in this process is a clear understanding of what remembering is at a mental/psychological level. To “re-member” something is the process of putting individual thoughts (which include input from all of our 5 senses) together to form a stream of consciousness similar to the way movie films (before digital) were produced, one frame at a time. These thoughts are stored as bits of information in the subconscious memory systems of the brain. All these thoughts are coded in such a way that they can be put back together when recalled (remembering) and almost instantly can be replayed to the conscious mind.
A good analogy would be how it is possible with the tap of a button to download an entire 2 hour movie onto your phone or other device in a matter of seconds from a digital storage facility, “the cloud,” that is storing the movie in the form of little information packets we call bits and bytes. This digital information (basically electrical impulses) is then put back together by the device so it can be seen, heard, and experienced. This is why at just the slightest hint of a memory (something or someone pushed your button) from the past we can see the whole scene played out in vivid detail, even feeling the same emotional responses that were present when the event happened. If these were pleasant and happy events, a stroll down memory lane would be a great way to spend the day. However, if these memories are of painful or traumatic events, it can feel as though you are in a war zone triggering all manor of fight or flight behaviors.
Our first task then, is to lay out the process of what going back into the past looks like and what is it exactly we need to do once we get there. It would be entirely counterproductive and even possibly more destructive to a person who is struggling with life in the present to have to relive the pain of the past without a clear understanding of what to do with the memories and thoughts of those experiences. So, to model this process, we will track along with Elaine (her name has been changed), a young woman who was seeking help for a desperate problem, that if left unchecked, could have taken her life.
Elaine’s Story - Back To Her Future
There was a long pause in our conversation as Elaine, a severely obese 32-year-old woman, sat in silence staring at the arm of the couch in the counseling room. She was scheduled for gastric by-pass surgery in a few months, but her doctor told her that she needed to address her overeating addiction before he would do the operation. She was desperate to lose weight and at this time she weighed close to 400 pounds on a frame of less than 5’4.” Her physical health was deteriorating from the stress and strain of all the additional weight, but I could tell by the hopelessness that ravaged her face that her emotional and spiritual health was in much worse shape.
“I have tried so many diets and weight-loss plans only to end up gaining more weight that I now believe that if I don’t get this surgery I will die before I am 35. I desperately want to get married and have a family but what guy is going to want to fall in love with and marry such a fat, ugly woman?”
The pain in her words was palpable. I could only imagine how many times she had tormented herself with condemning and caustic words of personal disgust. She continued, “If I ever wanted to punish myself for failing to lose weight I would stand in front of the mirror and look at myself. I would scream and curse every feature of my fat body until I felt the self-hatred boiling over, and then collapse on the floor sobbing.”
Our counseling conversations continued over the next few weeks. The emotional landscape of Elaine’s interior life was beginning to reveal a complex, intricate maze of walls and barriers that she had erected to protect her wounded soul from any form of true relational intimacy. As we talked about her recent past, she stated that she had had a few boyfriends, and one, that was serious enough to begin conversations of marriage. She said that in each one of these relationships, some type of invisible, uncontrollable force-field would go up and she found herself pushing away the very love and acceptance that she was desperately craving. These men, frustrated and confused by her reactions, would end the relationship, leaving Elaine to certain self-inflicted punishments for yet another relational failure. Her preferred method of punishment was to turn to the refrigerator and binge-eat until she was sick.
Elaine was not always obese, and her emotional state was not always so guarded and vigilant against intruders. She had been a pretty, athletic young woman who grew up in a dysfunctional family in which her father was an unpredictable alcoholic. She was able to make it to her senior year in high school and maintained average grades. However, by the time she was 17, the family dynamics began to unravel. The fighting between her parents escalated, and her unpredictable alcoholic father became predictably more violent towards her and her family on a daily basis.
In desperation, Elaine pleaded with her mother to let her live with some relatives who lived across town. She aspired to finish high school, go to college, eventually get married, and move far away from the dizzying drama that filled her life each day.
She loved her aunt and uncle and confided in her mother that she wished that her uncle was her father and “not that drunk that you married.” After a few weeks of relentless begging, her mother acquiesced and sent her to live with her brother and sister-in- law and their family to finish out her senior year of high school.
The weeks and months passed by and Elaine was thriving. It was a breath of fresh air and a welcomed reprieve from the constant stress and anxiety of living in a home where she never knew what type of bomb was going to explode. For the first time in her life, Elaine felt secure. She was experiencing a “normal” healthy family life that included real, meaningful conversations and real, meaningful conflict resolutions. Her confidence level was growing and her grades in school were exceptional. During this time, Elaine began to build a strong bond with her uncle and even started to confide in him about some of the intimate, personal issues that she was facing with dating, sexuality, future plans, and how to reconcile with her father at some point down the road. She told her uncle that she trusted him more than she had trusted any other person in her life and that she looked to him as the father that she never really had.
About 10 months after she moved in with her relatives, Elaine was a high school graduate preparing to head off for college in another state. Life could not be more filled with promise and potential as she spent her last few weeks packing and planning for the next phase of her life. A conversation with one of her cousins, however, dealt a death blow to the very core of Elaine’s soul. She was instantly pulled back into the pit of despair that entrapped her during her younger years. All the hard work that was done in building trust and believing that life could be good, filled with hope and promise was pulled out from underneath her. “He has been spying on you the whole time you have lived here,” her cousin told her. “He even videotaped you while you were in the shower and when you were getting dressed in your room.” “He’s posted some of the video on the internet and now the police are investigating him.”
The obvious disdain in her cousin’s voice and the perfunctory tone with which she relayed the disgusting account of her father’s secret actions told Elaine that her idolized uncle was a perverted and conscienceless man. The person to whom she had risked opening up her deepest emotional life to raped and pillaged her trust. In an instant, Elaine went from high expectations to total devastation. It was in that moment that a decision was made that shaped the next 15 years of her life.
As Elaine was retelling this story, the emotion in her voice, the sadness on her face and the associated body language spoke of how real and still very present this pain was. I asked her if she remembered the first thoughts that came into her mind at the moment her cousin revealed what had happened. Without a hint of hesitation, Elaine recited these words: “I will never trust a man like I trusted my uncle and I will never let another man look at me sexually again!” These words of pain and protection came gushing out of Elaine’s mouth like a river that had just escaped the confines of a dam that was blown to bits by tons of explosives.
Without really knowing what she was saying in that moment of trauma and pain, Elaine was laying the foundation of what would become a fortress around her heart. Unless something changed, she would be spending the rest of her life trapped, peering from the watchtowers and pacing the walls of her protective bastion to make sure any would-be intimacy invaders were kept at bay.
In our next post we’ll pick up Elaine’s story and how the re-scripting process kicks into high gear. So, stay tuned and tune in!
by Pastor Jim Anan