Last week, the nurse had me lay down on the table and strapped my knee in place while asking me what type of music I liked.
“Christian,” I replied.
She put worship music on for me, and just as I got distracted by the words, the loud noises of the machine startled me and transported my mind back to the psychiatric hospital in Turkey that I was placed in a few years ago.
I didn’t want to relive that MRI in Turkey, and I certainly didn’t choose to. I remember that I was terrified, could not understand the Turkish being spoken to me over the sheer volume of the noises coming from the machine, didn’t know what they were doing to me, and I felt trapped and isolated.
I was alone.
I tried to fight the flashbacks by focusing on my breathing and grounding myself in that present moment. I tried hard to focus on the song lyrics and think about God. I hid everything on the inside so as not to alarm the nurse and ruin my MRI. But even as I fought hard to remain present and tell myself that I was safe and no longer in that MRI machine in Turkey, my body continued to react. That flashback created a domino effect and other disturbing memories surfaced.
And here’s the deal, even a mature Christian who knows how to take her thoughts captive, and who has made setting her mind on things above a habit, is not immune to the way the human body stores and reacts to trauma.
“When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. But because their left brain is not working very well, they may not be aware that they are re-experiencing and reenacting the past – they are just furious, terrified, enraged, ashamed, or frozen.” This is called an “emotional flashback” (Bessel van der Kolk).
Of course I survived last week’s MRI, but during it the past terror made my present seem scary and overwhelming. After the MRI my husband noticed something was different about me. I was exhausted and coming down from about 45 minutes of actively trying with all my might to keep my mind in a good place while my body reacted on autopilot to the trauma stored within.
I went home and went to sleep for a little bit because It’s ok to come out of a triggering situation and need a break. We are human. Our brains are incredibly complex and the way trauma changes the brain does not have anything to do with my identity as God’s child or my secured salvation through Christ.
You, Christian, are human. Never forget that. Experiencing an emotional flashback is not a character flaw or due to lack of faith, but rather an unfortunate and difficult symptom of PTSD. And even if flashbacks persist, so will God’s sustaining grace to endure.
“God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my life.” Psalms 54:4