PTSD and Unafraid

While rummaging through the garage at an estate sale recently, I startled unexpectedly. A man behind me accidentally dropped a brick on the concrete floor. Though I didn’t see him, the sound made me jump and instantly sent chills down my spine. Seconds later, I wondered, “Wow, body … what’s with that? Why the big reaction?” And then I remembered: it’s just my brain sending out an alarm based on memory. My poor, hypersensitive amygdala speed dialing my body to jump and quiver.

Even though God has healed me from the things in my past, I still have triggers. Noises like that are locked deep inside my memory, reminding my subconscious mind of the murder that I witnessed years ago. And while I can’t control how my subconscious mind processes unexpected sounds like a brick dropping on a concrete floor, I have learned to talk myself down. Because not every startle deserves a response.


Scientist call this reprocessing. My reprocessing started when I developed post-traumatic stress disorder. It was a hot summer and I was a young mom living in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I managed to get both kids down for a nap at the same time. I grabbed a book and turned on some soothing, quiet music. I lay down on the floor, pillow under my head and book in hand, the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the living room windows. The patterns of the dappled light caught my attention.

Without warning, tears started streaming down my face. It was so beautiful. I took a big breath, as if I were about to go under water. And then it happened—full-out, unexpected post-traumatic stress disorder. As I lay there, the images of the murder repeated endlessly, like a movie stuck in the most horrid replay, prying open the eyes of my soul. A boy. A gun. My teacher lying awkwardly crumpled on the floor, blood gushing out his ear.

I could hear the noise all over again. The murmuring. The gunshot. The screams. The chairs scraping on the floor. More screaming.

I could smell everything. Gunpowder. Pencils. Chalk dust. The perfume I sprayed on my T-shirt that day. In that moment I was lost. Lost to my sense of reality. Lost to my husband and my children. Wandering in a grief so deep I thought I would never return.

I wanted to pick myself up off the floor and find home. Return to laundry, dishes, checking on my children—anything in my real life. Instead, I was transported against my will to my past. Images flashing, relentless sorrow, and a complete inability to do anything but lie on the floor and fall apart.

I thought I was going crazy.

It was a blur.

But I then heard a song, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488: Adagio.

Swelling in the background, the melody was bittersweet. A lone piano, notes slow and quiet, and then strings tenderly entering, like a movie score accompanying the pictures in my head. There were more tears. I was completely caught up in the song, and then I heard a whisper. A God-reminder from my husband’s sermon earlier in the week. And there were only four words:

Yet you are holy.

God…holy. In this confusion? Holy in these memories?

Right there on the floor, God met me and started the healing process I didn’t know I needed. The four words David spoke. Four words to catch me, comfort me. The four words God used to slowly turn me around.

Yet you are holy.

A slow revolution. The most desperate and profound soul spin.

I cried, hitting the floor with my fists over and over again, racing to escape the pain. But God suspended me through music until my mind could accept the truth.”

 (excerpt from Unafraid: Trusting God in an Unsafe World)

While it’s easy to understand why people brace against PTSD (I certainly tried), I realize now it was an integral part of my healing process. It was hard and horrible, but it represents the first step of my ability to reprocess the events in light of who God says He is no matter what the circumstances. I truly believe PTSD was part of God’s curriculum for my life. He allowed it to unfold because I needed to revisit the bad thing so that I could grieve appropriately and move forward without fear strangling my future.

I don’t know all that God might be asking you to move through but I do know that God is a compassionate teacher and a trustworthy Father. And even in the hardest situations, he is always seeking our best. It’s because of that, we can find confidence to live life unafraid.


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photo: kate stafford