The healing process of the heart is very similar to the process of breaking up hard ground or soil. It needs rototilling and some excavation. The heart is the soil that often gets hardened and needs aeration and water to heal.
When trauma or great difficulty happens in a person’s life, they often respond by stuffing the emotional pain down—rather than actually dealing with it. It’s a common coping mechanism that people use in order to survive. That’s exactly what happened with me. More and more life pain kept getting shoved down on top of the already-buried trauma from my past.
The pain in my heart became very compacted.
Outwardly, I looked fine. I had a happy disposition. I functioned okay. I wasn’t the raging type. I think most of my friends would have said I was an optimistic person that was fun to be around. But inside, deep down, there were seismic shifts going on. An earthquake was in the rumbling. I lived in constant survival mode and my emotional equilibrium was very shaky.
As long as things stayed copacetic, I functioned okay. But if stress heightened, chaos ensued, a friend wigged out on me, or I started to feel overloaded, my body and emotions would decompensate. I had very little coping margin. The early childhood trauma had caused some major cracks in my foundation.
Put too much pressure on that cracked foundation and I started to crumble. Depression and health issues erupted.
The pain that had lodged so far back in my early history finally started to cry out for rescue. It refused to stay buried or be silenced any longer. I began to realize I wasn’t actually okay. I started experiencing severe insomnia and complicated migraines that landed me in the hospital. Other random health issues popped up on every front and I was forced to endure multiple medical tests and specialist doctor visits. I experimented with many prescription medications and holistic supplements as a result—hoping for some relief.
Nothing really worked. I felt desperate and very much alone.
I’ve heard it said that if our bodies try to get our attention one way and we don’t pay attention, they will then try another route. Our bodies can be like a stubborn toddler who repeatedly tries to get her mother’s attention. First, the child tries calling out, “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” After being shushed, the child then tries tapping on the mother’s arm and pulling on her leg. The child needs her mother’s attention but the mom is distracted by other things. That was totally my life. I lived in distraction and denial of my internal reality.
I wasn’t tuned into my emotions, so the pain started coming out everywhere else—bursting out all over my body. My body was saying, “Pay attention to me. Listen to my story.”
I finally had to start listening. I had to begin the process of breaking up the fallow ground of my heart. I didn’t choose the healing path on purpose. It chose me. When the flashbacks and buried memories besieged me on every front, I could no longer deny the truth of my own experience.
And once I started digging around inside the soil of my heart, more and more things turned up. It was awful. But I needed to get everything OUT that was continually causing these earthquakes in my life. I needed to be free.
So I stuck with it.
When I first began the heart excavation process, I was the epitome of a healing newbie. I’d never even seen a counselor before. I didn’t know any inner-healing lingo. I didn’t have any idea what to expect or what route to take. Inner healing became a whole new language and world for me to learn.
It was like starting kindergarten all over again but in a foreign country.
Healing wasn’t fun. I had to invest a lot of time and money into counseling and books. There was no shortcut to this process. I realized the only way out was through. So I had to force myself to be vulnerable, honest, and to talk about a lot of the dysfunctional aspects of my life. I had to look below the surface of any negative emotions that welled up and try to connect them to the pain that lay hidden underneath.
Whose idea was this anyway?
I was so naïve at the beginning of the heart excavation. I actually thought I could knock healing out in about six months to a year. I thought I could just sort of shuffle it into my already-busy life. Sort of like when I attempted homeschooling. I didn’t realize it would become an all-consuming activity.
Healing became the same way. It began to consume my life.
I had no idea that when trauma happens to a child who is still in the early stages of development that basically everything else gets skewed as a result. Because of this, everything in my life became fair game to put under the healing microscope.
I felt like my entire life was one GIANT trigger.
Almost any given situation started to feel triggery, painful, or would cause me to respond in a weird way. PTSD was raging. I felt unstable. Large gatherings of people began to feel unsafe, so I started isolating myself until I could find a more stable emotional equilibrium. I dialed back my friendships and daily activities. I had to conserve my emotional energy for myself and the sake of my family.
The breaking up of my fallow ground had begun.
This was the beginning of the heart-tilling and excavating process in my life. All of the emotions, memories, and reactivity began to emerge at the same time as I gave them my purposeful attention. Once I got my pickax wedged into the hardened dirt, more and more trauma, buried emotions, and pain began to get dislodged and fly out.
It felt insanely NOT fair to have all of this debris flying around me at the same time. I became exhausted and began to despair, “Would it ever end?”
It didn’t end but it did lessen.
I would get a brief reprieve now and again from the more high intensity levels of heart excavation. Eventually, these breathers became more frequent. Healing was by no means a linear progression in terms of improvement. But I found that some areas would settle down while others would flare up. Breakthrough in one area was often followed by the emergence of new pain in another.
I discovered healing was a lot like an onion. Lots of layers. Lots of tears.
But a REDEMPTIVE PERK emerged in the midst of all this heart toil. Some return on investment. I discovered that the more my hardened heart was tilled, the more I actually felt God’s healing waters pour in. It was like God had been pouring out these waters over my life for many years, but my heart was just too compacted with pain to allow much else in. The heart excavation gave me some wiggle room. New space opened up in my life and God’s healing love, comfort, and presence flooded into it.
I’d never experienced the Comforter prior to this experience. So I actually came to new YADA knowledge in the midst of my heart’s tumultuous excavation (See Do You Know Your God? for more on YADA knowing).
There was a lot of pain YES, but I could not deny the power of the counteractive love that flooded my entire being: spirit, soul, and body. I began to feel both at the same time—the pain of the experience and the gentle comfort of God’s presence.
Pain was still pain. Memories were still memories. But He was there in the middle of it all with me.
His presence became the antidote to all of the pain I had ever experienced in my past and all that I was experiencing in my present. It was unexplainable, indescribable, and mysterious—but it became a tangible reality in my heart.
It was a long road. Not gonna lie. My denial was especially thick. Other people’s pain may be closer to the surface than mine. Everyone’s exposure to trauma in life is different, and no two people’s healing journeys are ever going to look the same. However, there ARE universal elements within the healing journey that are so helpful to know ahead of time—especially when a person is first embarking onto their healing pilgrimage.
It’s good to have a small preview of what is to come.
For me personally, it took a lot of tilling before I got to the more softened place where God could rush in with his healing flood. I had a LOT of rocks, debris, and old roots in the way. But eventually, my heart became tender and His soothing waters began to finally soak in.
My life hasn’t been the same since He flooded into those spaces.
These days my heart is very tender. I am moved easily to tears whenever I hear a sad story, listen to a beautiful piece of music, worship at church, or encounter God’s presence in my daily activities. At first, I thought something was wrong with me. I thought crying was a weakness. But I’ve since realized that after decades of being emotionally disconnected, I’m finally just beginning to feel again.
I laugh a lot. But I cry a lot too. The gamut of my emotions have been reengaged and it still feels very new.
I’ve deactivated so many of those old internal security systems that used to protect my heart. I now live in the safety of God’s embrace. And even when I encounter hostility or other reactivity in people—I know I can crawl back into the safety of His arms. My emotions and heart are always safe with Him, even if they aren’t with other people.
Living Wholly Alive: fully engaged in my spirit, soul and body.
That’s my end game.
“…Plow up the hard (fallow) ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).