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Episode 147 - It's Time To Exhale


I do hope the past 5 weeks of the Rewind series has been valuable to you. I know I’ve heard from some of you that you appreciate having the reminder these episodes bring. I need the reminder over and again, myself. But I’m fascinated by the chain of events that God set in motion, starting with a pull towards taking some time to rest and then actually making it happen by planning and executing the Rewind series 8 weeks ago. God is Omniscient – He knows all - and cares so tenderly for His children that He orchestrates things to set us up for what’s coming.

In fact, I want to talk about what’s been going on with me over the past 6 weeks or maybe it’s been 8 - and how all that I’ve been talking about in over 140 episodes is considered lifetime learning. It’s never a one-and-done. If we want to continue to heal and grow, we will be applying these truths forever. If you’ve been a listener for even a short period of time, you know I’ve been very transparent and real with you. Well, this is going to be a lot of the same. And I only always share because I know there’s someone else out there that needs to hear it and needs to have hope on the other side.

If you’re a widow or widower listening, and I know there are many, you’re probably going to understand what I’m about to say. After your loved one dies, the first two years are hard. In Episode 43 – Left Behind: After a Loved One Has Died I talked specifics when it comes to the first and second year of grief. I remember walking around saying, “Is this really my life?” Year three is when reality seems to hit and settle in. Year three with when you say, “This is my life.” And then, slowly but surely, you begin to figure out just how you’re going to live that life without your spouse in the next few years. But here’s something that I never anticipated happening at year six. Year six is the first time that the event – in my case, the death of my husband – actually falls on the original day of the week. Brian died on a Saturday. This is the first time since that August 5th fell on a Saturday. When I became consciously aware of that, my brain started recounting two weeks prior, one week prior, the day and night before, the day, that night, the next few days, preparing for my oldest son’s wedding that was the very next Saturday, that day itself, though I remember very little of it sadly, and the following day, Sunday, when we held Brian’s Memorial Service. Over and over again, I walked through each day - all the details that my brain has wanted to hide for six years. But for some reason, it now wanted me to see it all again - each event, every conversation, all the specifics - and get the answers to some lingering questions. And, as it turns out, to exhale. And when I finally did, I realized I’d been holding my breath for six years.

But let me tell you what actually happened before the exhale. Because I know that the reason mine is especially complicated grief is because of the trauma I experienced surrounding the fact that my husband died by suicide. As my mind was replaying the days in my head – and believe me, this was involuntary; I did not consciously set out to think through each day. This is evidence that the subconscious knows. And it was as if my brain had a mind of its own (no pun intended) and was leading me down a path I had no control over. And my body was responding to what was going on in my brain. The body and the brain are intimately connected. When psychologists talk about “psychosomatic” issues, they’re generally referring to the effects that the “psyche” (the mind) has on the “soma” (the body). And the effects my psyche was doing to my body was serious. For more than two weeks, I was so tired and lethargic. My body felt heavy and exhausted, even when I woke up in the morning. I’d work and then go straight to bed, sleep as long as I could before taking care of my pups, and then crawl back in bed again. This went on for several days straight. Then I’d have about three good days where I felt like I was getting back to normal, and then it would hit me again. I did nothing on the weekends but sleep. Now, realize at the time, I had no idea what was actually going on. I had not made the connection to grief and processing the anniversary date of Brain’s death. I even made a doctor’s appointment to get my blood work done to see what might be off. And the reason it was hard to make that connection was because this was year six, for heaven’s sake. Not year two. I’d moved through July and August with very little difficulty the past few years. I was doing great. I was getting stronger each year. So this couldn’t possibly be the effects of grief. But one thing we know about grief is that it’s unpredictable. Navigating grief is an on-going, ever-changing experience. There’s an ebb and flow, and things can shift so rapidly, just as I mentioned in the Rewind series, Grief Is Not A Gremlin.

But here’s where I think it gets interesting. That “holding my breath” feeling I had was actually what experts in psychology would describe as Disassociation - an involuntary survival instinct that helps protect us from mental and physical pain. It’s part of the survival response and can arise long after the trauma is over. Some of the symptoms of Disassociation are forgetting about certain time periods or having gaps in your memory surrounding events, thoughts, and personal information. Everyone’s experience with Disassociation can be different. It can range from the normal activity of daydreaming to extreme disorders that effect your personal identity, hindering work and relationships.

Then, the “exhale” was the brain and body’s way of deciding that it was safe enough to process some of the trauma that you were previously being protected from. And this could be set into motion when you encounter a situation or memory that reminds your nervous system — consciously or subconsciously — of the trauma. And in my case, the anniversary of his death on a Saturday. Even if you don’t remember specific details, your body sure does. If you’d like to study more about this, I highly suggest Bessel Vander Kolk’s book The Body Keeps The Score.

And here’s something even more intriguing to me. God made us this way. He has a very specific reason for the way our brains and our bodies are so intimately connected. He has created the neural pathways, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the chemicals and hormones that flush through our bodies associated with emotion. And He has created a way for all of these to work together to release the trauma that gets stuck in the body. He’s constructed our brains to be able to be rewired so that negative neural associations can be properly integrated, and even created tears that trigger endorphins to elevate neural association for a more balanced mental state. Y’all, we’ve been designed so intricately by an amazing Creator. He’s given us power to heal. And sometimes we just need to recognize what’s really going on and attend to it.

It might sound scary to process something that your brain and body have been avoiding for such a long time. But there should be some confidence in knowing that when you’re finally there in that place it’s because you’re ready. You’re safe to do it. And the greatest comfort is that the One who created you to be able to go through this intensive healing is the One, not only directing you, but walking with you every step of the way. He longs for you to be healed. To be completely whole. In fact, He sent Jesus so that we can walk in newness of life (Romans 6, verse 4) here and now. And He wants this for you, because He knows that when you are transformed by the renewing of your mind, when you are walking in freedom, then you are free to invite others into your life, and ultimately invite others to Jesus. For your good and for His glory.

Friend, if you’re experiencing any kind of response in your body that’s unusual, I encourage you to seek the Lord to see if there’s some residual unprocessed trauma that needs to be attended to. Jesus invites us to come all who are weary and heavy burdened, and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). And even if you’ve not experienced trauma like I have, or some other form of what is called “Big T” trauma, we’ve all experienced some kind of trauma in our lives – a loss of a job, a loss of a significant relationship, a physical impairment or disability, financial strain, even a loss of a pet. Okay, all the things that make up life. Everything we experience in life, our brains make up stories about it – about us – who we are, or aren’t, if we’re good enough, or not. We’ve got trauma, and God wants us healed and whole. No more holding it in. It’s time to exhale.

Hey, I don’t want you to go as long as I did before you finally get the healing you need. I coach Christian women and I’d love to help you. If that doesn’t describe you and you’d still like some help, grab the Listener’s Guide that will help you work through this and get some clarity on your own. The link is in the show notes. Otherwise, book a free call on my calendar so we can chat.

Have a wonderful week, friends. See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life.


I know, you can’t actually hold your breath for six years. But metaphorically, apparently you can and not even know it.

That is exactly my felt experience these past 6 to 8 weeks. And I didn’t realize that I’d been holding my breath until I exhaled.

What did “holding my breath” actually look like? Disassociation - an involuntary survival instinct that helps protect us from mental and physical pain. The brain and body cannot handle processing all that needs to be processed when you’ve experienced trauma. So, it waits until it’s safe enough to do so. And it “exhales.”

And when it decides to exhale, the processing begins. But you may not even be consciously aware of what’s going on. The subconscious is driving all of it.

This episode focuses on the continuation of healing after trauma.

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