June 2024 Project HELP living with PTSD
Compassion Ministries

Peace Is Possible: Living with PTSD

The rain pounded the car, the windshield wipers slapped back and forth, and tears streamed down my face. I begged God to end my life right there on the interstate. A car accident in the rain would be easy for my family to understand. I prayed God would provide an end to the constant fear and shame.

Then, almost as clearly as though someone sitting beside me had spoken, I heard, “Try counseling.” Again, not audibly but clearly, I heard, “Try counseling.” Indeed, it was not my voice. My prayer was for God to end my life. This voice urged me to do something I had never considered.

The day before, scrolling through social media, I saw the face that set this spiral into motion. His face was staring back at me, the boy, now an older man, who sexually assaulted me when I was 11. Immediately, my mind spiraled back to the day I was trapped in a house with a teenage boy with assault on his mind.

As a result of the assault, my mind stayed on high alert, ready for danger. Sounds, smells, and now pictures could catapult me back to that moment. Science says when we are in a life-threatening event, we are wired to fight, flee the situation, or freeze. Although more than 40 years had passed, the fear was real again, and I froze.

Gratefully, God did not allow the car wreck. With some help from friends, I was able to locate a Christian counselor with whom I began meeting once a week.

Therapy helped reveal many emotional moments I had experienced. At first, it was awkward and tense, but in time, trust grew between me and my counselor. Examining the painful moments from early childhood through my teens and twenties was excruciating but healing. However, I hesitated to talk about the assault. The secret was buried deeply for nearly 50 years, and sharing the story was difficult. It took a while, but once I shared the secret, the reason for my lifelong fear became clear.

Sexual assault victims often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with emotional health challenges. Since that day at age 11, my mind and body constantly expected harm. My mind and body waited to react in an instant with the natural fight, flight, or freeze response. This constant high alert led to a list of symptoms often related to PTSD, like constant worry, nightmares, flashbacks, trouble remembering, and depression, all compounded by the shame associated with sexual assault. Through the years, I learned to cope by using drugs and alcohol, leading to an even longer list of issues.

PTSD is often associated with members of the military who experience trauma during service, but any terrifying event, such as a car accident or a significant unexpected loss, can lead to some level of trauma and stress.

We all experience trauma at various points in our lives and may need help to deal with that trauma, though it may not result in a PTSD diagnosis. To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person will have experienced a qualifying traumatic event and then exhibited certain symptoms that last for more than a month. Those with PTSD often feel anxious and stressed even when there is no clear danger.

The good news is PTSD has effective treatments. With proper mental health care, including talk therapy and sometimes medication, coupled with the support of family and friends, people with PTSD can know relief. The treatment and level of healing is different for everyone. In my case, a series of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatments helped me process the fear and lessen its effect.

Today, when I am reminded of the events of the assault, my mind is calmer because I know I am safely within God’s care, and harm is not imminent. My mind and body learned the assault happened in the past and was not happening again.

Witnessing a loved one navigate the ups and downs of PTSD can leave many feeling helpless. Understanding another’s fear and stress can be difficult. People living with PTSD struggle to feel safe when fear does surface, but you can offer them prayer and your presence with patience and acceptance. In Philippians 4:6–7, Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV). Ask God for peace and understanding as you seek to love someone with PTSD well.

The events that led one to experience PTSD cannot be erased, but with God, fear can be conquered, and help is present. Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Pray your loved ones would know God’s presence when fear arises.

Tamela Turbeville is a trauma survivor and writes about God’s redemptive love and healing grace and her experience as a childhood sexual assault survivor in her book, A Rescued Life: A Story of Secrets and Shame, Hope and Healing.

Disclaimer: The information shared in this article is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.