You are in crisis.
Your marriage is over. Or you are losing your house. Or someone close has died.
Whatever the cause, the anxiety is killing you.
Suddenly, you understand why people commit suicide. Your life has devolved down to the gnawing fear in the pit of your stomach. You are unable to concentrate.
At best, your life has become an unending series of painful tasks.
Joy has deserted you.
This is when you need God – and the Church.
What you need now is a plan.
“Twelve years ago, I learned that my ex-husband had been systematically raiding our bank account,” says Betty, now remarried and in her fifties. “He spent nearly $100,000 on courses to become ‘enlightened’ in a cult. I didn’t notice because I was too busy working night and day to support the family. He was a free-lancer who consistently lost clients – and as I came to understand, a sociopath.”
Betty was left to raise their two children on her own, as her ex paid no child support. She turned to an 80 year old Monsignor, who gave her hard-headed advice. “He told me three things: ‘Get your finances in order. Keep a close eye on your kids. And stay close to the Church.’”
Betty did all these things. Within months, her finances were under control, and her children recovered. Four years later, she met and married a good Catholic man – at the ripe old age of 47! Today, her almost-grown children are happy, healthy and successful.
Betty’s story is exceptional. Not everyone has a wise Monsignor to turn to. This was Elena’s situation. “I knew for many years that my husband would probably die before me,” she says. “But when he did, it was still a shock. I spent two years watching TV, not wanting to leave my house.”
Sarah’s ex did everything to demoralize her before he finally left her for another woman. “He told me I was fat. He said that I disgusted him. That he deserved a super-model.” To her utter shock, he took every dime in their bank account, too.
Michelle’s ex-husband grew increasingly aloof from her, and their lovemaking became less and less frequent. Finally, it stopped altogether. Then, her 14 year old daughter stumbled upon his child pornography websites. The damage to both mother and daughter’s psyches has been incalculable.
“I’ve come to believe that internet porn is really something diabolical,” says this slender woman with tired eyes. “It utterly destroyed our marriage, and today he is a shell of the man I fell in love with.”
These all-too-common tragedies are the stuff of our daily lives, it seems. And for many women, trauma like this start a downward spiral which compounds the damage as they attempt to cope using food, alcohol, drugs, or sex. Worse, the damage overwhelms their children, who become easy prey for the dark forces in our society.
“Some of these things are a normal part of life – birth, sickness and death. But the plain fact of the matter is that Catholics – like everyone today – are fearful,” says one American priest. “There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much of this.”
How to cope when you are in crisis? The key is to recognize that you are Catholic, and to understand the Church’s wisdom in teaching that we are complex creatures of body, emotions and spirit.
When you are in crisis, each of these aspects of YOU have been attacked — and traumatized. Trauma requires treatment. Therefore, you must put a recovery plan into effect for yourself. Unfortunately, nobody else can do this for you. It’s your life, your health and your children who are at stake. Ready? Let’s roll.
STEP ONE: REALIZE AND RECOGNIZE
First, you must realize that it is your solemn responsibility to get your life in order.
Then, recognize that you are only human. Your recovery will take time.
How long? Only God knows. This leads us to Step Two:
STEP TWO: SPIRITUAL SUSTENANCE
Your soul has been traumatized. So you need to turn to the Church. Everything you need is there for you: Confession, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion. These are all nourishment that your damaged spirit needs now to start healing.
Spiritual care is crucial to your recovery. You must do one good thing for your SPIRIT every single day. In the beginning, this may be something as simple as sitting in church and silently praying over and over: “Help me. Help me.”
This is fine. In fact, it’s a big step. The best way to do this is to be in front of the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, it’s worth traveling for, if it is not done in your parish. For sure you can find it at a traditional parish here:
Later, you may be able to progress to reading the Bible, praying the rosary or reading about the saints. But remember: ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR SPIRIT every single day.
STEP THREE: PHYSICAL NURTURING
Your body has been traumatized. Maybe you can’t sleep or eat properly. Or you have mysterious aches and pains – or worse, real stress-induced illness. It’s time to heal by doing one good thing for your BODY every single day. Remember that exercise needn’t be violent. Experts recommend that you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, three times a week. As your recovery progresses, don’t slack off: ALWAYS DO ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR BODY every single day.
Attend an exercise class
Work out at home
Garden or other outdoor tasks
Swim or hike
Walk or run
Ride a bike
Do breathing and stretching exercises
Take a hot bath
Give yourself a home manicure/pedicure
Get your hair done
Get your nails done
Get a massage or a facial – or both!
You can’t heal on junk food. Cook – and cook often. Invite friends and neighbors to your table on a regular basis for fresh, healthy food. (Need ideas? See ‘Sunday Dinner with the Romans’ in this issue.)
STEP FOUR: EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
Your emotions have been traumatized. Perhaps you feel numb. Maybe you can’t stop worrying. It’s possible that you have sudden crying spells. Or you have thoughts that you cannot control. Maybe you are even thinking about suicide.
Do not be afraid. Bad feelings are normal when you have been traumatized. It is imperative that you recognize this and do one good thing for your emotional state every single day.
Get yourself a good, Catholic therapist. How? Ask a good, Catholic priest or nun – or friend or relative. You need someone who is skilled at working with trauma – and who is not trained to be ‘value neutral.’ A practicing Catholic therapist will understand and support your moral values and your need for prayer.
Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Be persistent. Talk it out.
Next, you need some talking buddies. That is, more than one person who will listen to you. Why? Because you need to talk this out. So, be sensible and spread the wealth. Don’t overburden any one friend with your pain – respect their need to live their lives, too. Finally, get yourself a fat notebook or two. You are going to use this to journal everything. Here’s some ideas to help you get started:
- How Could This Happen?
- Why I Hate My Life Now
- My Prayer for Today
- Help Me, Lord
- What I Want for My Kids
- What I Must Fix This Week
- What I Accomplished Today
- What I Need To Do Tomorrow
- How I Want to be Living In a Year
EVERY SINGLE DAY: Talk about your pain. Write down what you are thinking. Your agony. Your prayers. Your hopes. Your plans. Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Over time, your need to talk and to write about this will wane, as you begin to heal.
Grief experts say it takes about a year, at minimum, to recover from a devastating loss. But everyone is different. Your recovery is a completely individual process.
You, however, are not helpless in all of this. Once you understand that you must work to take care of your whole self – body and soul – you will have taken the first, crucial steps out of the dark place where you are now.