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We can’t run, we can’t hide – what can we do?

Notes on relational chaos (Part 1)

By Rev. Jim Innes

When the winds blow crazy strong, and trash flies dangerously close, duck, and as best you can, get out of the damage zone.

Too often we try and calm the storm. We can’t. Not usually, and certainly not without a well-developed resilience. But, even then, despite our skill, the storm will inevitably cost us something.

In some cases, without warning, the storm can brew up and blow full on. This is the birth of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). And as I have suggested in a past article, this very real wound may need to be addressed before anything other healing can be done; including the re-establishing of a peaceful space (after the storm).

PTSD, because it puts you on high alert, can lead to neurochemical changes. The brain can build an emotional wall behind which a person feels detached or withdrawn. At the very least, someone who has been so traumatized, may be disabled from processing the depth of pain associated with the storm.

In short, sometimes, after the storm blows through, we need time to come back into our bodies. And we may naturally fight this. Because it may feel too scary…like stepping into a dark hole that will swallow us up.

Yet the work needs to be done. We may need to talk to our doctor. If not, we carry it within us. Which, according the DSM-V, can have any number of related symptoms; from job performance to extreme psychological stress.

I once heard it said, “95% of us have experienced some manner of trauma, the other 5% are lying.” This witticism is not far off the fact sheets.

Relational chaos, and the distressing effects such turmoil creates (including PTSD), are not avoidable. We can’t run and we can’t hide. And in some unfortunate cases, which is not all too uncommon, we are in some way addicted to them (a topic for another article).

So, how do we weather the storms? How do we live inside the chaos? As a person of faith, I like to pose the question as, “how do I put one foot in front of the other, managing the inevitable chaos, and staying peacefully tuned into the Spirit that carries me.”

There is no straightforward, one page, 600-word solution to this issue. Nonetheless, I’d like to offer a thought (for now) from personal experience. To quote Timber Hawkeye, a Buddhist writer, “You can’t calm the storm so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.”

As I see it, all we can control is ourselves. And doing so is work. Either we tackle it head on, or predictably, we become part of the problem.

It requires a skill set that includes healthy distractions, self-soothing, and an acceptance of what is. There is nothing simple about these skills, and developing them is a process of success and failure (in equal doses). More on this in part 2.

One last thing… a belief in a higher power is a measurable benefit in regards to managing chaos. Trusting that everything is situated within a bigger picture promotes increased stability. It is helpful to focus on developing a prayer life that is meditative in nature. Particularly, a prayer life that deepens our awareness of God’s constant presence.

Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the regional Ministry of South Huron.
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