Three years ago today, I triumphed over Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.
Oh, it didn’t look like triumph on my twenty-ninth birthday. It looked like a sopping-wet woman walking exactly three steps from the shower before crumpling into a shivering, crying, heap on the floor of the closet because she was too physically ill and spiritually injured to stand for one minute longer.
It didn’t feel like triumph, either. It felt like sickness and pain and despair. (It also felt freezing cold, since I was naked and the closet was drafty.) It felt exhausting, frightening and lonely. It felt like defeat. Hell, it probably even smelled like defeat, given my close proximity to dirty laundry.
But despite the look and feel (and smell!) of that moment, it was a moment of triumph.
People who hear my story of spiritual healing might not think so. They’d probably call out other moments that seem triumphant—and some of them are, in their own way. Like the day I first slipped into meditative stillness, or the time I went back to my old church and knew it could never hurt me again.
They might see me now, vision-questing with the Nemenhah tribe, hanging out with the Amish, speaking about PTCS, or finishing my book and think my triumph is today.
Today is a good day, but it is not the best day. The best day was one of my worst: May 15th 2011, because you can’t have an end without a beginning.
I wish I could reach back in time and tell myself that a story isn’t written with the last word; it’s written with the first. But since that is impossible, I’d like to give myself the best 32nd birthday present I can imagine—hope—by telling everyone who is beaten down, discouraged or disheartened this one truth as I remind myself:
Defeat is triumph in disguise.
Whatever is defeating you today—whether it is Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome or grief or anger, overdue bills, underperforming business units, illness, confinement, pain, addiction—it’s actually triumph. It’s just cloaked in layers, a stranger-danger mask, and Cruella de Vil hair.
I hope this PTCS blog will be a resource to help you strip away some of the camouflage. We’ll explore topics like forgiveness, healing, spiritual injury and creative recovery with people of all faiths and no faith. We’ll laugh and cry (or at least I will because I’m emotional like that). I’ll share some of my stories, and you’ll share some of yours, too.
We will walk together where I had to go alone three years ago.
I hope one day in the future, you will look at this day of defeat and see it for what it really is, just as I am looking back at my twenty-ninth birthday today: ugly, painful, desolate… and triumphant.
Reba Riley is the author of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions (Chalice Press, Pre-Order HERE). And yes, it really is her birthday.