Today I’m going to step back from the How To Lead Your Feelings series to share a podcast that has helped me be honest with myself about how I’m currently handling the stress of the pandemic compared to how I want to handle it.
The Allender Center Podcast, hosted by Dr. Dan Allender and Rachael Clinton Chen, has a three part series called Love and Courage in a Global Pandemic.
Each episode is about 30 minutes long. I’ll touch on parts 1 and 2 in this post.
In Part 1 Dan and Rachael establish that the pandemic qualifies as a trauma. A traumatic event is a life experience that includes perceived or actual threat of harm, physical or emotional, or death to oneself or a loved one. Trauma overwhelms our existing coping mechanisms rendering them ineffective, and produces a fight, flight, or freeze response.
Dr. Allender asks the question: “How much are we going to operate out of fear, and how much are we going to operate out of love?”
I really appreciate the validation of this as a real, overwhelming, stressful situation on multiple levels that triggers conflicting desires to both panic and completely deny the threat. It’s okay to be struggling with the threat of covid-19 and all the domino effects it has on our lives. Yet, we still get to choose – who are we going to be during all this stress?
Part 2 focuses on the 3 realities of living with trauma: Fragmentation, Numbing, and Isolation.
Fragmentation refers to how trauma overwhelms your coping mechanisms causing you to experience disruptions in your normal functioning. For example, I can’t seem to efficiently do any task that requires me to remember more than 2 steps at a time right now. Composing this blog post has been very challenging. I routinely walk into a room and forget what I’m doing or looking for, even for things I’ve done hundreds of times like getting Declan’s pajamas as part of our bedtime routine. Getting “stuck” in a thought, daydream, state of mind, or distraction is another common fragmentation. So is not being able to find any language or words to describe our trauma experience. Dr. Allender and Rachel also mention similar experiences in the podcast.
In what ways are you experiencing the frustrations of fragmentation in your life?
Numbness is the body’s natural response to threat, fear, or dread. Each of us has habits and cravings designed to help us escape from threat, fear, and dread that is too overwhelming for our existing coping mechanisms. Overeating, drinking alcohol, and drug use are some common and obviously dangerous ways to self-medicate. Some of our numbing behaviors and addictions are sneakier or more socially acceptable like Netflix bingeing or workaholism. They are just as dangerous to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health because the numbness triggers a desire for resolution and relief, to feel something, which supports more addictive behavior.
Rachael Chen suggests, “There has to be grace to pay attention to the places where it is easier to dissociate. In some ways it’s a context for survival, but it limits our capacity to be present with what is.” We cannot choose to love well without doing the hard, scary, courageous work of being honest about how this hurts us right now. How can I bring connection and relief to my loved ones by entering into their pain and fear if I won’t even acknowledge my own?
What numbing behaviors are you drawn to? Who will you talk to today about just how overwhelming the dread, pain, and anger are for you and how it’s driving you toward addictions that aren’t part of who God wants you to be?
Isolation refers not to social distancing or quarantine as an effort to protect others from the pandemic, but to the desire to avoid more pain by distancing yourself from the pain of others. This is the opposite of what we need. It’s intentional disconnection from others, including from God. When I become aware of the desire for isolation in myself I take it as a huge red flag about my mental and spiritual health. Usually it manifests as intense anger toward everyone around me (also including God) which is my effort to either drive them away and destroy connection by causing pain, and/or convince myself I’m a horrible person and I need to protect others from myself as justification for isolation.
Now, don’t confuse this with the difference between introversion and extraversion. I am super extraverted, but introverts also need meaningful connection with other people on a regular basis.
Dr. Allender explains a key part of dealing with isolation in the podcast when he shares about being quarantined to his garage just a few weeks ago. One of his family members was due to have surgery, and Dan had symptoms, which turned out to be a sinus infection. His wife asked him to move to the garage, just in case. Upon entering isolation in his garage he let out a long scream –
“I am wordless with regard to all that I am experiencing, but the Spirit of God is connected, living in me, drawing even that scream into a connection that my Lord hears me. And even if nobody heard me, I needed to know that my scream was held by the Living God who is my refuge and strength. The one I do turn to, not only for joy, but to hold my suffering in a way in which I am not alone.
We have to go into this with a sense that we are not in isolation, not alone, we are not cut off, unless we have chosen that. And that is a choice that will lead us ultimately to even something darker than mere dread, ultimately to a kind of internal death. And that’s what evil wants with regard to this whole process of disease.”
The two scriptures Dr. Allender refers to are:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”Romans 8:26-27 NIV
That is about the Spirit of God connecting us so we are never completely isolated. Even when we lack the ability to express how we are feeling with language our God is able to understand us deeply and completely. His presence and understanding bring a survival relief to the emotions of trauma even while the traumatic events continue to unfold.
Dr. Allender says the second reference is from Psalm 91 about God being his refuge and strength who is always present in trouble to rescue and to honor:
“I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ –Psalm 91:2, 14-16 ESV
[God says] ‘Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’”
To sum it up – I’m greatly encouraged by the words of Dr. Dan Allender and Rachael Clinton Chen. They helped me normalize and find language for the trauma I’ve been experiencing due to the global pandemic. They’ve also reminded me to be courageously honest about where I am so I can choose who I am going to be in all this: I am a follower of Jesus who is known by her bold love.
Who are you going to be?