Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Breaking free from Panic Attacks

The tremor had begun with a slight twitching of the face and hands, and then rippled through her body like electric shock waves.  She radiated sheer terror and, like a drowning person, could not stop gasping for breath.  Her eyes held the look of someone gazing into the face of their most dreaded fear.

Leaning forward in my chair I spoke quietly, reassuringly, “Mary, you’re having another panic attack.  We know part of what is causing it so let’s start by slowing things down a bit.  Shall we?  Lower your head and breathe slowly now.  We want to prevent you from hyper-ventilating.”

Slowly – ever so slowly – her pulse rate dropped and breathing returned to normal, even though her hands still shook.

Living with a Panic Disorder

My first encounter with panic attacks several years ago had created some confusion and anxiety on my part because I didn’t know how to treat this problem from a counseling perspective.  I did realize that most authorities feel the first attack is best understood as an Adrenalin rush that is in some cases not explainable, often beginning at an intense moment of anxiety.  When the panic hits, the victim is absolutely terrified.

Some of the Symptoms of a Panic Disorder 

  • Sweating
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Hot flashes
  • Severe discomfort
  • Extreme fear
  • Hyperventilation
  • Tingling sensations
  • Chills

Traumatic Life Experiences can be the Genesis of a Panic Disorder

It was evident that Mary had become agoraphobic (one who fears the marketplace or being in crowded open spaces).  Her initial attack was coming at a time when she was struggling with depression and a worsening marriage situation.  Fleeing for home after that first encounter, although she was fine after a few hours, she began to associate her feelings of frightening panic with the place she was when it first happened.  Later in the week she headed back to the same store only to find herself panicking as she approached the door.  Wrestling with her emotions she pressed on into the building but was suddenly gripped by a cocoon of fear that seemed about to suffocate her.

 The Emergence of a Habitual Cycle of Panic Attacks

“It was as if I couldn’t breathe or even think”, she recalled with emotion.  I had to get out of there as fast as I could!”

When she had regained her composure, I commented, “You see, Mary, as we were recounting that terrifying moment in the store, your mind triggered the memory of that event so clearly it was as if it were happening again.  Rather than avoiding that experience, we want to put it into perspective and clarify what really happened that day.”

Breaking the Hold of Panic Driven Fear


She continued to tremble as I went on.  “Part of the problem is physiological, and you are on a specialized medication to help correct the noradrenaline imbalance in your neurological system.  The second aspect of your problem is psychological and needs to be thought through very carefully.  You have actually fed your panic attack tendencies by avoidance patterns such as staying away from that store.  Now we need to slowly walk you through that door to help you regain the confidence that you have nothing to fear in that situation.”

Facing the Origin of our Fear creates Confidence and Empowerment 

At the suggestion of returning to the dreaded store her head dropped and she began shredding a piece of tissue in her hands. 
“Mary, I said slowly”, I reassured her.

Looking thoughtfully at her I recalled the fact that although she had come to Christ for salvation several years ago, there seemed no real evidence of His presence in her life.  Was it possible that Mary was not truly born again?  If not, she had never met the issue of Christ’s Lordship.

The Foundation of the Peace of God 

“The third aspect of your problem is spiritual”, I explained.  “You need the control and peace that only Jesus Christ can give you as you work through this and other problems in your life.  These panic attacks are but a symptom of the anxiety that is churning inside you.”

“But I have never been able to trust anyone that much!”  She looked up with eyes filled with tears and anguish, “I have to stay in control, If I’m not in control I get hurt!”

“And what has your control accomplished?” I countered.  “As you turn over the control of your life to Jesus Christ He will give you direction through His Word as to how to tackle the challenges you are facing.”  I paused and then said gently, “You cannot cast your cares upon Him totally unless you yield to Him completely.  You must let go.”

I picked up a Bible that was on a table nearby and opened it. "Mary, do you mind if I read something from the Word of God that speaks specifically to the very things that you are struggling with?" 

"I would like that, thank you." she said in a whisper.

""I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I turned to her and smiled as I said, "Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, so it makes sense that if we want inner peace, real peace, it should come from the only one who can truly give deep, comforting peace...especially when you are dealing with panic attacks."

I handed her the bible and said, "Here Mary, this is for you, I already signed your name in it, so take it with you and read it with a heart that is open."

She thanked me and asked me to pray for her so I did. Mary stood there with her head bowed, and with hands that gripped her new Bible life it was a life preserver. 

Finding the Courage to Challenge your Fear 

It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon when I leaned against a stop sign waiting, my eyes focused on the doorway of a local store.  My apparent composure was no reflection of the tension within as I stood watching like a secret agent on a mission of grave importance.  Time had passed, as had more counseling sessions, before Mary had yielded the throne of her heart to the Lord Jesus Christ….

Suddenly the store doors opened and Mary stepped out into the sunlight.  Eyes bright with joy she raised her right arm, thumb pointed heavenward with an enthusiastic thrust of victory!

As she turned to run across the street, it seemed as if I was watching a very young child released from a year of school, eager and ready for a summer of adventure.

If you struggle with a panic disorder, consider checking this resource link for some helpful strategies in dealing with and overcoming Panic Attacks.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When your Past is your Prison

She had a haunted look that spoke of pain and sadness.  A quiet mourning that was near the surface but rooted deep.  Her eyes could meet yours, but not really connect in a personal way, as if preoccupied and full of a desperate intensity.  Her face bore a tightness around the eyes and the corners of the mouth as though the skin was under a tension tugging deep beneath the surface of her personality.

She leaned forward in her chair to speak, but turned her head to one side, listening to the voice of anguish deep within that pleaded for release, and yet screamed for silence. She was a young teenage girl, but she was hunched over actually embodying the posture of an 80 year old woman.

“You’re hurting deeply inside, aren’t you Sarah?” I spoke with a quiet gentleness, concerned not to startle her into her burrow of protection, yet seeking  to draw her out into the realm of reality and light.  Her eyes misted and brimmed with tears.  She nodded her head slowly.

“Sarah, it is clear that the inner turmoil that you are experiencing is flowing out a deep well of hurt, and emotional pain buried within you.  You have asked me to help you find the peace, and healing, that Jesus Christ has for you. However, unless you can share that with me, I cannot help you.”  I paused, waiting for some response.

Sarah breathed deeply as if to draw enough strength to speak of the unspeakable. She ran her hands through her hair as if to steady herself, and then she looked up and began to tell her story.

The unfolding of the horrific tale of abuse and deprivation that followed explained why she found it so difficult to recount it to anyone.  Sarah had somehow survived the terrible experiences, but not without the painful scars of hurt and bitterness.   

Now, at 19, she was battling feelings of shame, anger, and guilt.  She also felt confused, for feeling such guilt for not having stopped the abuse sooner.  “I feel so guilty”, she confessed quietly as the tears overflowed.”I should have told someone,” she said as she wiped tears from her face. “I was too afraid.”

“Sarah, you were seven years old when it started,” I pointed out. "It is hard enough for a teenage girl to go through the awkward changes in her own body, let alone reveal to another the terrible things that you were threatened and coerced into unwillingly participate in."

I paused and opened my Bible, sat it on my knees, and smoothed out the worn pages with my hands. When I looked up, Sarah looked at me intently.

“It was at thirteen when you fought back.  Don’t take the blame for what you, at such a young age, were made to do by a trusted adult figure.  That is a false kind of guilt, that is really a form of shame. It feels like guilt, but it is more focused on how you have been made to see yourself as a bad person, when you are anything but.”  

I looked out the window at the autumn leaves rustling against the glass with an urgency and impatience. “What concerns me is the painful hurting and anguish that is locked deep down inside of you.” Sarah nodded her head, and then looked down at her clinched hands that lay balled in her lap.

“Our inner self is like a kind of house, that is full of rooms that portray the memories and chapters of our lives. Deep within you there is a room full of suffering that you have not been able to give over to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

You know Him as Lord and Savior, but you have not allowed Him access into this part of your personal life. It has become a kind of prison, that keeps you like a prisoner within your own kind of personal bondage."

Opening my Bible to Isaiah 61, I reminded her that Jesus came to heal the broken heart, and to set the captives free. That included Sarah as well.

“But why am I so afraid to do that?” she wondered aloud.  “It terrifies me to even think of dealing with this part of my life…..but it is true, my past is my prison.” 

“What you may be afraid of is the emotional anguish of those six years of horrific abuse, and perhaps you may wonder if it will be too much for you to experience as you discuss it."  I paused and said, "You do not have to focus on or talk about the details of what happened Sarah. It is the hurt and burden of it that is keeping you a prisoner of the past."

Jesus said...

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…and you will have rest for your souls’.” Matt. 11:28-30.

God encourages each of us to lay our troubled past at His feet, by laying it at the foot of His Cross.  Let the Cross symbolize God’s remedy for broken and sinful lives.  As you release those years of pain to Christ, remember you are merely applying by faith His liberating promise to set you free. You are simply trusting Him for what He has already done for you at the Cross, and validated by His resurrection.” (See II Cor. 5:17-21)

Holding her trembling hands out, as if clasping a fragile container of suffering, she prayed, 

“Dear Lord Jesus, you have saved me and have given me new hope for my life.  Lord, I hurt so very inside yet.  Please take this hurtful burden from me." She wiped tears from her face with a Kleenex, and continued,  "I seek Your deep inner soul rest…peace for my soul.  I set this burden down, by faith, and ask You to release me from the anguish of my awful past.”

Pausing to wipe the tears from a face that was shining and wet, she exclaimed, “Lord, I am receiving your precious healing, and I am clean and pure in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I’m going to accept my new beginning.  Thank You for Your healing and grace.”

A ray of late afternoon sun seemed to reach in through the window to kiss the wall and brighten the room with hope. A new beginning for Sarah was not to be without its challenges, but begin she would. A new release within had given her renewed hope, peace, and as she thought with a smile, the prison cell door is open and I am free.

For Sarah there would be more sessions to sort out the twisted labyrinth of her past and discover how to walk in the new found liberty as a child of the King. I knew just the female counselor that I would refer her to.

Understandably, as she learned to grow in her faith, she would begin to leave behind the ashes of a painful heart, now replaced by a beauty that only Jesus Christ can bring to a broken, and bruised life. The rocky soil of her heart gave way to His creative new life, sprouting new growth, and she was aglow with the radiance of it.

* It is noted that photos of a variety different young women were portrayed in this article to give a reflective view of just how many youth struggle with the burden of When your Past is a Prison.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Healing the Broken Heart in The Quiet Place

The silent burden of a broken heart…we have all experienced it at some time in our lives. It has been said that God can heal a broken heart if we give Him all the pieces. That is certainly true. but the real challenge is to first find all of the pieces, and that is easier said than done. Like shards of a broken glass, the pieces weave themselves deep into our hearts. 

The pathway to The Quiet Place is often bathed in the tears of those suffering the hurt of a broken heart. It is one of our life experiences that if unresolved, can ripple on throughout our lives, affecting each significant relationship in the future. If the woundedness within does not experience the healing that is needed to move on, it is very hard to build trust and intimacy with another. 

Working though the Pain of a Broken Heart 
There is a period of time, when the hurt within, literally takes away the capacity to breathe without pain. The painful ache touches a precious and vulnerable place often unknown to friends and family, but God knows it is there; an icon from an earlier time in our lives. When hurting is the only thing you can feel for a time, it can be a very lonely place. 

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

Those who are the closest may encourage you to get over it, to move on, and let it go, but relational hurt most often heals slowly. The struggle can come from close friendships gone awry, but mostly it is forged and cast within the breakdown of intimate relationships; a significant other that meant enough, that the loss cuts deeply into the marrow of our soul. 

“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Job 3:25-26

The Death of a Dream

We all dread loss. When we focus only upon the things that we count as loses in our lives, we become miserable. When an intimate relationship ends, it is as if a death has taken place, but there is no real shared funeral service to mark it as a place it our past personal history. Relational loss can linger on, and often whispers in the periphery of our minds, with feelings of deep regret, guilt, resentment and sorrow.

It has been said that time heals all wounds, but that isn’t really true. In time, the memory of something painful may dull, but the rasp of its presence upon our consciousness needs only a nudge to awaken its tenacious hold upon our memory. For some, there is the discovery that someone you thought you couldn't live without in your life, becomes someone you wish you had never met. 

Only God can Heal a Broken Heart 
There are countless ways to numb the pain that is within the human heart, and the world has an innumerable array of temporary remedies that simply do not last and never truly heal the hurt within. Only the God who created us knows the intricate and complex nature of inner woundedness in man. Only He can heal us deep within, when our hearts are broken and we are in deep anguish. 

There are many people who suffer through their grief alone, and are unwilling, and resistant to be vulnerable with God, even in the midst of great sorrow. Some blame God for the break-up, feeling that if He loved them He would have prevented the loss.

"In Quietness and Trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” Isaiah 30:15

Opening your Heart to the God who Created you

David was struck with a sense of wonder at the all-knowing depth of God’s insight into the human heart and soul, and wrote in awe the following:

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” Psalm 139:1-3

David put action to that truth, and humbled himself before God to thoroughly search his heart, and reveal to him any unhealthy hurt within.

“Search me O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24

The Hebrew word “hurtful” in the NASB version, is more literally translated, “…way of pain…” David requested that God explore his heart to see if there might be any, “way of pain,” within him, perhaps suggesting that even he might not realize the existence of a painful woundedness within.

The Pathway to Healing a Broken Heart

When a relationship ends the hurt left behind can be debilitating. Trying to forget someone you love is like trying to remember someone you never knew. One must bring the hurtful burden of that loss to God, in order to find a comfort that only He can provide.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  2 Corinthians 1:2-4 

You must first drive a tap into the Maple tree in order to draw out the sweet sap to make Maple syrup. Likewise we must step forth in faith, and personally tap into that comfort, in order to experience His healing and gentle quietness within. Otherwise we may pray unceasingly, yet continue to experience unrelenting grieving, without any relief from the burdensomeness of the sorrow.
Finding God's Comfort in The Quiet Place

During a time of great distress, David found a secluded quiet place, and communed with God and penned,

“I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”  Psalm 131:2

We have all seen the sweet peace, and contentment that a child often experiences in the tender, nurturing arms of his mother. When you draw near, you can almost hear the infant cooing and purring with satiation and contentment. 

If you are struggling with a broken heart, remember that it takes time to heal a broken heart. Allow yourself time to heal, take responsibility to take care of yourself, work through unresolved issues of forgiveness, and spend devotional time in the Quiet Place.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3