PTSD, Snakes, and Scripture
by Kristen Wisen
PTSD used to be a diagnosis that was saved for people with military traumas, but the qualifications have widened to cover a broader group of people. It stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and broken down it means this:
Post - Anything in your past...
Traumatic - ...that caused by emotional distress...
Stress - ...that results in present day anxiety...
Disorder - ...and affects you on a regular basis.
Anything in your past that caused emotional distress that results in present day anxiety and affects you on a regular basis.
I was chatting with a friend recently and told her a story of when I was six years old, playing with a school friend. We were in a field behind her house and we stumbled upon a nest of snakes. I can remember what looked like thousands of snakes squirming in a pile and then running through tall grass to get back to the house, convinced they were chasing me because of the sound the grass made.
My friend looked at me and said, "Well, you have PTSD. That's why you are afraid of snakes today."
Now, I don't want to downplay the seriousness of PTSD, but because the qualifiers have changed over the years, I probably could get a professional opinion with the same conclusion, because I do have an irrational fear of snakes. It doesn't matter how much I think about what I am going to do next time I see one, or how much I force myself to watch videos about them, or how much I tell myself they are more afraid of me than I am of them, when I see one, I act like I am being attacked by a swarm of bees and run away screaming. Over the years I've learned to limit how far I run, but I really haven't gained much ground until recently.
One of the benefits of memorizing scripture is that when you are frustrated, mad or sad, you can take your mind off your worries, no matter where you are, by quoting scripture. I like to memorize whole chapters, so that I really have to concentrate when I am saying it out loud. It becomes a great distractor and helps me to set my mind on the Lord, rather than the object of my anger or worry.
Know what else? It's a great way to get through something that is frightening to you. We have a long driveway and when the weather is good, I like to walk it each day. But, as God would have it, there is the occasional snake that pokes its head out of one of those holes on the side of the driveway who growls at me, or the snake that suns itself right in the middle of the drive - the same snake who isn't afraid of me and won't move as I walk towards it. Snakes, snakes, and more snakes.
So what should I do? Stop walking? Well, that's my first thought but my logical side tells me that my fears are irrational and to keep on walking. But when I get to that one curve in the drive, my heart starts to pound and I know what is coming. I'm going to see a snake. It's at that moment that I start working on my scripture memorization. I crank up the volume (that means I am quoting it very loudly, as if the snakes will cringe at the sound of the Word of God - which actually there is some spiritual imagery there, isn't there?) and I march right through that curve, snakes or no snakes.
And the truth is, it works. Since I started using God's Word, though I've still seen snakes, my heart no longer pounds and my blood pressure no longer rises. I focus on the truth of the words and I trust that the Lord is with me and will never forsake me. Then I continue on, accomplishing what I know is what He wants me to do - not simply getting a daily walk in, but leaning heavily on Him when I am frightened.
Psalm 19:7-11 says:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgements of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Law, testimony, precepts, commandments, judgements - these are all words describing the Word of the Lord. The value in knowing it is life changing. It gives you wisdom, it gives you strength and as I can testify, it gives you courage.
Many of you have suffered deeply in your past - way deeper than a nest of snakes. I am confident that the Word can bring you peace. May I encourage you to put the Word of the Lord to memory, so that no matter where you are, it can uphold you, strengthen and encourage you, and give you courage to handle the challenges in life. And if you ever see me, marching down the road, quoting scripture at the top of my lungs, don't worry about me...I'm getting victory over my snake thing.
Suggested favorite passages to work on – Psalm 139, Psalm 19, Colossians 3:1-4, Isaiah 53, Psalm 121