"Faith is not a belief. Faith is what is left when your beliefs have all been blown to hell."
~ Ram Dass
All who have survived trauma know well the feeling of the broken spirit. The loss of faith that comes with having your belief system ripped out from under you.
How can trauma survivors come to a place of restoring faith? Our faith has been built over time as we live and construct in our minds the things we believe in. Trauma can shatter those beliefs in an instant.
In her amazing book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman, M.D. addresses the issue of faith. She states "(Traumatic events)...violate the victim's faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis. "
In other words, we begin to question everything we have come to know.
Herman goes on to state the depth of this loss of faith:
In situations of terror, people spontaneously seek their first source of comfort and protection. Wounded soldiers and raped women cry for their mothers, or for God. When this cry is not answered, the sense of basic trust is shattered. Traumatized people feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life.
Let's re-read that last sentence: "...cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life."
There is nothing more profoundly despairing than that feeling. To feel abandoned by the Divine is a trauma in itself and leads to the disconnection that can be such a hallmark of PTSD. So how do we begin to rebuild our faith?
It is important to distinguish between faith and belief. Beliefs are products of our minds. They are decisions we have made, constructs we have formed to make sense of our world. We believe in God, in certain people, in certain relationships.
Faith is a product of the spirit. Faith is the abstract knowing that the Divine is constant. When there is a crack in that knowing, what can heal it? When there is a tear in the fabric of faith, what will mend it?
After 9/11 there was a wonderful quote by Mr. Rogers going around. His advice in times of extreme trauma was to "Look for the helpers." This is a start in restoring our faith.
If you have survived a trauma, you were likely helped, if not immediately after, then soon after. Look at those helpers. For me it was kind police officers, a calm and soft-voiced trauma nurse, and my friends who came in the middle of the night without asking why I needed them, they just came. When I looked back on all that, it made a few stitches in my torn faith. I could trust the goodness of those people, and they had faith in me that I would survive this. It was a start.
Who were your helpers at the time of trauma? Who around you still holds you up?
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit."
~ Psalm 34:18
Another way to restore your faith is to simply ask. Ask God to restore your faith. We can do nothing apart from God. We can't restore our own faith by ourselves. Sit in quietness and solitude and ask. Gather with others and ask. God will begin to show you the constancy of Love. God will lead you beside still waters and restore your soul. You will begin to see examples of Divine Love that will make you smile, knowing it's another stitch in your torn faith.
For me, the final step in restoring my faith was through service, and I wish I had come to it sooner. When you want to curl up in a ball and feel abandoned, take action instead. Get out of yourself and find a way to help others as soon as you feel able. It is a balm to your wound. Compassionate action opens the way for the light to return. Imagine a sky that is thick with gray clouds, except for one hole where sunlight is breaking through. That is what service will do for your faith.
An added by-product of service is seeing your value in the world again. Sometimes trauma can leave us feeling powerless. Service restores our faith, not only in God, but in ourselves.
Be inspired by these words from Walt Whitman:
The question, O me! so sad, recurring -
What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here - that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on,
and you will contribute a verse.
Despite your trauma, you will contribute a verse. It will be an act of faith and it will alchemize your trauma into purposeful compassionate action!
You are beloved.