Today's "Win" with PTSD
Today I had my first book signing for my latest book, Victim to Victorious: A Journey of Overcoming. It is by far the most vulnerable book I've ever written, and it was the most difficult to write. I think if you turn the pages you'll find bits and pieces of my actual heart in the binding.
This first book signing was a huge leap of faith. Not because I needed the books to sell - although that would be nice! It was a leap because it would be an opportunity to share, with strangers, my message: Is it possible to be victorious in Christ regardless of your circumstances? That's an easy question to ask until I explain that I asked it in the midst of losing my husband and my home and in the aftermath of more than 25 years of trauma.
I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). This means the hardware in the limbic system of my brain is scrambled a bit because of the intensity, complexity and frequency of trauma I've experienced. The last eleven years or so I've been on a journey to, quite literally, rewire my brain. When I first began my journey, I would have an emotional and physical breakdown at least two or three times a week. I'd have no sense of time or space and would, in my mind, be reliving one of the many experiences of trauma while my body convulsed as though having a seizure and I felt as if I was having a heart attack. This went on for years.
Today as I stood behind a table full of my books, Victim to Victorious, the question surfaced once again: Are you still victorious regardless of your circumstances? If you don't sell a single book - are you victorious? If no one wants to talk to you, are you still victorious? If you can't speak about the things that happened, are you still victorious? If you have a panic attack, are you still victorious?
Meanwhile, other messages flooded my brain as if someone were standing on either side of my shoulders: You can't do this. No one cares what you have to say. You look ridiculous. Who do you think you are? What could you possibly have to offer? You're not any better than you were ten years ago - you're just better at faking it. Look around you - does anyone care? You're making a fool of yourself...
On and on they went, and with every message I had to make an intentional choice to brush it aside and instead focus on something else. Typically it'd be the people in the area. I'd focus my attention on a specific person and engage them in conversation - about them. Eventually they'd ask me about my book and I would feel my heart take a panicked leap in my chest. I'd swallow or nod, take a deep breath as subtly as possible and ask God for help. Then I'd tell them what it was about.
"That's intense," they often said in response. Internally, sentences ripe with insecurity fired at me like a Tommy gun. Another deep breath and I'd mentally swipe the onslaught away to smile and respond with something like, "It was hard, but it's the truth, and I needed it. I didn't plan on publishing it, but God told me others needed it, too."
Meanwhile, my heart slammed against my ribcage in such a way I was certain they must be able to tell. If they couldn't see my heart threatening to leap out of my chest they must notice the way I can't look them in the eye - that much intimacy while sharing about this book is too much so I have to look past them or not at them at all while I'm talking. If they don't notice that, they must see the way my hands are trembling. Do I look like an idiot standing here?
Stop it - how are they? What do you know about them? What are they struggling with? They're here, so maybe there's something you can say to encourage them today. Find out what that is. There's got to be something.
I'd find out how to encourage them pretty quickly, and then do it. They always left with a smile. Typically they took a business card - one young woman actually bought a book - and I told them they could order it on Amazon later if they wanted to.
In finding ways to encourage the people who came by my table I found myself sharing parts of my story and God's hand in it. One man was so moved by my story he wanted me to share it again to a videographer who was putting together a promo video for the event where I was allowed to sell my books.
I was able to share my story to three strangers on camera. Throughout the whole thing my heart was hammering, my hands were trembling, which I hid by holding my sunglasses near my stomach, and I was terrified of stuttering or not making any sense at all. I wanted to run. I felt that tension at the base of my neck and in my spine of a sprinter before the gun goes off. But I stayed, and I asked God to give me the words, and I opened my mouth to speak.
I'm certain I lost my words a few times. I'm certain I messed up the way I was supposed to speak. I forced myself to say things that appeared confident - not to fool anyone but to convince myself I could do what I was terrified to do. I only sold one book in three hours. And yet today was a huge success for me. I spent most of the afternoon in a state of a mild panic attack that I kept at bay by seeking out people to encourage and reminding myself of the truth of who I am.
I am a daughter of the Most High King, saved by grace and on a perpetual sanctification process that is, more often than not, really, really messy. My hands shook and my heart pounded in my chest through most of the event. Multiple times I was reminded in conversation of my deepest hurts and losses and longings in current relationships - things that normally would make me shut down and walk away. I sold only one book. For most of the event I felt super insecure and the uncomfortable twinge of a panic attack on the verge of immobilizing me.
But I stayed. I spoke. I made eye contact when I could. I told the truth. I didn't apologize for myself or what I'd written. I told my story - several times, and once on camera - and didn't fall apart. I cried, but I kept sharing. I spoke of hope, not despair. Rather than act on the hurt I felt, I mentally ran my hand along the fence of new boundaries in those relationships and reminded myself why they were there and prayed for healing.
When the whispers of shame and condemnation wouldn't quit, I spoke life louder into the lives of others. When I didn't feel like it was making a difference, I chose to continue anyway. When memories of my worst sins played in my mind like a Blockbuster movie, I ran to Jesus in my mind and not away. I shook, but I used the tools I had to stay present.
Today was hard, but today was a win. No one at the event would have had any clue that this was going on. They likely just saw a smiling woman selling books and talking to anyone who came to her table. What they heard was encouragement and even a little laughter. I doubt anyone knew what was going on inside of me or how hard this day was. That's okay, because God knows. I'm blessed to be loved by a Father who loves me enough to make it possible for me to make today happen.
It's not about how the day felt, because we aren't what we feel. It's not about what we think happened, because our perception is only one perspective. It's not even about what didn't happen - because it didn't happen. What matters is what victories did happen. Difficult doesn't mean bad. A difficult day just makes the win that much sweeter. The truth is, another day is another day won by Christ because what he did on the cross is just as finished today as it was yesterday.
Once again, I am victorious in Christ regardless of my circumstances.