Remember Chinese drywall from about a decade ago?  It was hard to detect for a while.  Air conditioning units that corroded and were replaced a few times, coughing and congestion, smells that were hard to nail down, copper wiring that turned black and other indicators persisted for a while before the dots were connected. The same thing has happened to others with black mold in their walls. 

The experience of stress and trauma comes disguised in so many packages, all of which can be accompanied by a pervading sense of helplessness and being powerless to change it. While the term “post traumatic stress” is often synonymous with military combat, police work, fire or paramedic work, it can also come into our lives through a car accident, a relational betrayal, abuse, a hurricane or even a pandemic. The symptoms can start gradually or they can hit all of a sudden like a ton of bricks.

Captured this photo of a window/wall in Katmandu, Nepal. When I returned home, I noticed the man behind the lattice who was watching me. I never saw him when I took the image. ~ Dennis

So what do we do?  Often our natural tendency and reaction is to avoid. As people, we spend a lot of time, energy and money avoiding pain. And sometimes the things we avoid will eventually stop bothering us. But, more often than not, the things we do our best to avoid just grow. When Chinese drywall was actually determined to be present, most of the homes had to be taken down to the studs. The insidious toxin hiding inside the walls was too great. Wiring, duct work and more were torn out and replaced.  In my neighborhood, sometimes the only clue on the outside was the dumpster in the driveway or the debris sitting at the curb.

Our emotional house is not all that different. We call post-traumatic stress an invisible illness because from the outside, the house may look in-tact but inside may be a very different story. I wonder what kind of pandemic trauma we will see soon, or a year or two from now.  As with any injury or illness, we are all in different phases of trauma and recovery. Some things have started to feel a bit more normal.  But there are tons of challenges yet. Most everything in our lives have been in survival mode for months now.  COVID 19 has brought our whole world experiences of shared trauma.  So my question is, how’s your house?

No matter the stage of your recovery there is hope. Maybe you’ve adjusted enough to the new normal that you feel mostly safe again on the outside.  But do not neglect to turn your attention to the emotional house. The repair and remodeling of the emotional house is just as important as the repair of the physical house touched by Chinese drywall. Left unattended the neglect of the emotional house after a trauma is akin to letting mold and toxins grow inside the walls. It might be invisible but the effects can be deadly.

The truth is that it’s OK not to be OK…but it’s not OK to stay that way. Coming to acceptance that trauma-whatever the source-has changed us is both sobering and hopeful. The good news is that there’s more to all of this than just a label of post traumatic stress and the debilitating symptoms that go with it. We have the hope of post traumatic growth. The idea that even in the midst of destruction and devastation the human spirit can arise stronger, more connected and forever better gives us the motivation to rebuild our emotional houses too. It’s hard work but worth every bead of sweat it takes.

Are we the same after trauma? No and we never will be but maybe that’s OK.  Friends of mine used the opportunity of renovation after Chinese drywall to change the colors and flooring in their home. They loved the new look! We can use times of stress and difficulty to lean in to the new and making changes in our lives.  Get counseling.  Talk to clergy for spiritual guidance.  Explore your relationship with God and allow Him to work in you in areas where you may have been previously resistant. Remember this, any experience, any event, or any difficulty is not a dead end if the road took you somewhere you needed to go.

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