The month of February is an extremely painful month for me if only because of two incidents.
On February 1, 2003, on the same day the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry, I was in a near-fatal car accident. I was making a left turn on a foggy night with low visibility when I was hit by a 18-wheeler. That caused a smaller car to slam into the truck. By God’s grace, no one died. The woman driving the car also walked away without a scratch. Had I been hit two feet to the right, I would not be here. For me, I lost my eyeglasses and have a small cut on my right hand.
I almost titled this post “Deadly Anniversaries” but that might have been too morbid.
The second incident happened just two years ago. I have struggled with OCD throughout my life: the “O” part. OCD is more than the repetitive handwashing that people associate with OCD. It is more than being overly organized. It deals with repetitive, intrusive thoughts that cannot be ignored. Some of these thoughts can border on blasphemy. There are plenty of Christians who struggle with OCD. When such thoughts attack Christians, they can feel inferior and alone. I read one blog where they encourage Christians to just “repent and confess it” as sin.
Whether walking away from a near-fatal car accident or dealing with highly intrusive thoughts, you can’t walk away as if nothing happened. For years, I hated driving at night and get very nervous making left turns. For years! On the one hand, I have to master my fears and become a better driver. On the other hand, traumatic events must be dealt as traumatic events. Whether it is a 24 year old Marine who survived an IED attack in Iraq or a 54 year old man surviving a stroke, the human brain needs time to heal.
I think we need to be more open about painful anniversaries. In the US, December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, are our nation’s collective painful anniversaries. However, there are big differences for individuals and for the nation. In the latter case, every memorial ceremony and ritual is done so that we don’t forget.
In the former case, often we want to hide; for years, I have never told anyone about my accident. I certainly do not talk about my struggles with OCD unless I believe it would be helpful for others. Both incidents are just too painful to dwell on. However Christian psychologist Curt Thompson and authors Jay and Katherine Wolf believe that our shame makes us hide our pain from God and others. Rather, they assert we must do the opposite: to share with others in a loving, affirming community.
If you are like me and have painful incidents, I guess the first thing I would share this: give yourself time to heal. I wanted my OCD attacks to be over now! It took almost 5-6 weeks before I felt “normal” again. You can’t reboot your brain the way you reboot your PC. With driving, it took me 8 years!
Next, the value of an affirming community is priceless. In 2019, I talked to pastors, psychologists, and my friends and asked for their prayers. Knowing that I was loved and lifted up in prayers, that gave me a lot of comfort and hope. If you ever want to hide, you must resist that urge. I’m not saying you have to blast your problems all over social media, but do talk to a trained professional.
Ultimately, we all have days we would rather forget.
We wish we could do them over. Unfortunately, time machines are found only in science fiction.
Trite words like “You’ll get over it” are horrible and inaccurate because they assume such events are just minor hurdles. False. They are not minor hurdles:
– if just thinking about driving past that intersection gives you a cold sweat…
– if you can’t drive over a pothole in suburban America because that’s where insurgents hid an IED in Iraq…
– if your brain can’t stop dwelling on intrusive thoughts for days and weeks and you can’t sleep…
– if your spouse walked out on you after sixteen years of marriage and you were not at fault…
I wish I could give some quick fix in a blog post like this. Eight hundred words and maybe a meme are absolutely inadequate to help another person with their own painful anniversaries. The road to recovery is long and painful.
The only truths I rest on are:
1. God is good.
2. God loves you.
3. God is with you, even in the pain.