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Trauma and Words

I believe at a deep foundational level we, as humans, need to be known, and in that knowing we need to be loved. In the absence of these two things, we experience the deepest suffering and wounding known to man. But out from the presence of these two necessities flows healing for every other trauma.

To be known and not loved carries a profound trauma. To be loved not as you are, but as someone imagines you to be, leaves the soul in a traumatic quandary as well. Either way, life hands us a name - unloveable - and if we accept it, the immaterial self is wounded, regardless of whether or not the naming occurs in the presence of textbook ‘trauma’.

It is in the bedrock of intimacy and love that we are able to grow up into our fullest purpose as individuals. Without knowing-love, how can one be secure in their identity? Identity is bestowed just as a name is given. It is not only an anchor, but a compass and a stronghold, for good or bad. Life and circumstance offer us a name at every turn. The world, ever desirous of the opportunity to gain power over us as the giver of identity, hands us a name in response to each choice we make. But the giver should be worthy of the gift. If a name is not given in knowing-love, that name is not worthy of its recipient.

A name begins with a single word.

POTENTIAL TRIGGERS: a brief mention of a traumatic memory as a child.


As adults, we seem to hit uncharted waters when we least expect it. An unnamed place buried in our soul is unearthed by seemingly benign and unrelated present-day events, and we are suddenly lost in a world we thought we left behind. A world that words have not paved because, perhaps, that world began before word was given, or no words exist to adequately convey the experience. Events unfolded without understanding, in a deluge of sensations and stimuli that the mind recorded but could not process. When trauma strikes and sufficient language is inaccessible, we must one day revisit the past to name it, instead of it naming us, to give the gift of words to places that have needed them most.

In a world without language, instinct reigns. Bereft of cognitive capacity to process the unthinkable, traumatized individuals, especially children, may leave the scene of a crime intact physically, but certain instincts have become welded to the soul. Later in life, when hope, joy and opportunity beckon, this barnacle of the soul still emits a fog of indifference and terror, reminding one, again, of the potential hidden in the unforeseen and the risk of embracing life fully.

As a small child I was starved and abandoned to fight for survival in a place where others, like me, were being hunted and eaten. I don’t know all the reasons, but I know it was intentional, to break me and prepare me to be used as a slave later on. It prepared me to accept any name I was given.

Be silent. Be still.

These words embody the way I initially survived, and now the burden I’ve carried for decades. To speak truth boldly and disobey these instincts feels as if I will be submersed back into the horror I escaped, inviting violence to give chase again. If I do open my mouth, often no words come. I want to tell you the story, but I also want to protect you and myself – from the bad, the shock, and from the trauma that tore me to pieces even after my body remained. But in the end, I cannot give what I do not possess. I need words.


Traumatic memories, like Thanksgiving dinner and Tyrannosaurus Rex, always seem to have leftovers – we call them artifacts. They litter the floor of the mind like stray shards of glass strewn about carelessly, awaiting a day to come, clinging to their paltry dreams of finding a wholeness once lost. They speak of what was as if it is, as if it ever was and as if repeating it presently will somehow return the ‘before’ that was shattered. They are remains, a memorial, a graveyard. Like a weary traveler pining for a destination or an orphan longing for a home, they seek a resolution and a validation as to why they exist in the first place. They seek a name.

Stories need a voice. If we can’t tell it in words, we tell it in erupting emotions, in a hesitant, anxious demeanor or in a tremor we can’t shake. Each eyelash we compulsively pull or nervous laugh we offer in response to tender care tells on us. We share it each time we walk into a building and note every exit and scan every face to gage potential threats. We find it speaking to us when we should feel joy and, instead, we freeze and can’t seem to find an appropriate response that still ensures safety. In a deep place, we are still trying to survive and protect ourselves and loved ones from an unseen threat. And just maybe we have momentarily lost the line between past and present, me and you, where I end and you begin, the truth of what was and the reality of what is.

These artifacts are clues — clues that tell of a story waiting to be excavated, named, and accepted as it is, not as we wish it to be. Until acceptance comes and the story told, the fragments remain, searching for a resting place, searching to be found, crying for a voice.

Sometimes the story seems unbelievable and the events preposterous, but it must be told as it is, nonetheless. The unbelievableness of it all can be an artifact itself, a splinter of what one felt during the actual event – also called derealization or depersonalization. The pieces hold recordings and snippets of past events, feelings, thoughts, instincts, assumptions and rationale. Often these recordings are distorted or lodged in a world known only to children. An adult may easily unravel their meaning, but innocence and naïveté blunt the edge of reason.

Still, the story must be told.

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1

Within an untold story is a person, a heart, in need of rescue, in need of a love that knows. Within each untold story is the Rescuer, waiting to be unleashed. Even as adults we may not have words to give to our traumas. There are no vowels or consonants that fit together to bear up under the devastation of my young experience, and perhaps it is well that they don’t exist. Perhaps language shouldn’t be molded or bastardized to frame things that should not exist. There is an honor in being given a name, and maybe it is best if some things remain nameless.

What I do know is where words fail, the Word steps in. That which fractures under the sheer weight of grief, where language cannot envelop or contain – all things are held together by the Word of His power. Where there is no comfort to be found in the creation of the tongue, comfort abounds from the heart of the Creator. The One Who spoke a word and flung planets into orbit still speaks in and through the impossible, bringing life where death once reigned.

It is He who first gave a name to man and endowed him with the incredible gift of naming others. He can be found where we least expect Him, where others dare not go. He speaks in and through the silence, misunderstanding and grief. He reminds us who we are and speaks the name He has given to us. We need not be named by our circumstances, instincts, or poor choices. Even when we’ve lost ourselves and have been shattered by life, He still holds all things together and promises to fashion a ‘good’ out from the mess we offer Him.

And so, we look to the Word, the Word Who ever was, and ask Him to reveal Himself in and through our journey and be the voice we never had. I walk with Him back into the wastelands of the heart and allow Him to speak Truth, overwriting the name left by trauma. And I speak with trepidation and gentleness to the battered soul, even if it is my own, and whisper, “I want to give you words, dear heart. I want to give you the words you need to be known, to be seen, to be heard. You are not alone.”

As loved ones of Christ, we come from Him, live through Him and will one day return to His side. For when the words of this earth have failed and cannot touch the anguish of the heart, I find the healing I seek is not a restoration of what once was, but an invitation into something new – an invitation into a higher realm where He lives, where I am known and loved, and where His love makes all things new.

True wholeness can be found in one place, in one Person. His name is Jesus Christ.


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