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  • Writer's pictureFaith Hakesley

Learning to Live Again

+JMJ+ It hardly seems possible that three months have gone by since my heart nearly gave out when I suffered an episode of ventricular tachycardia. Sometimes, it feels like it happened just happened and, other times, it feels like it happened a long time ago. I remain grateful for my wonderful doctors who have been incredibly supportive and helpful through this frightening and life-changing experience and for my ICD and the protection it offers me.

If anyone is wondering what episode I'm referring to, you can read about it in my blog post entitled "Holding Onto Hope in my Heart." Note that this links to my original WordPress blog which I am no longer actively using!

I suppose that, on the outside, not much has changed in my life but, in reality, there have been quite a few changes. A near death experience doesn't just come and go. The stages of grief accompanies any trauma and I have been going through those stages at varying times and in varying ways. However, I am learning to "live" again. Some days I feel okay and others days I'm just not okay. The tears flow and I lean on the support of my husband who has been amazing through all of this. That's no surprise to me but, still, after an event like this, we both better appreciate the vows we took on our wedding day over 11 years ago. I am so grateful for him and for my parents who have done whatever they could to help and support my family and me. Our three children (ages 8, 6, and 2) still don't understand exactly what happened on that frightening night back in June (nor do they need to know all the details) but, of course, they have picked up on the fact that some aspects of our life are different. These past 3 months have been an adjustment for all of us, but I think it's been especially hard on them. I was ordered not to drive for 6 months and so the kids and I don't have the freedom we once enjoyed to go on spontaneous field trips, visit a friend's house, or just head to the store. Needless to say, we've been a bit more isolated than usual but we are all adjusting to this new, temporary situation. I still can't get up at night without remembering the episode. Due to PTSD, I began psychotherapy with a wonderful Catholic therapist few months ago which has been helpful in more ways than one. She has helped me to, not only deal with this particular issue, but she has helped me to address many unresolved issues surrounding my past traumas - using a Christ-centered perspective. The experience has been challenging but also very refreshing and greatly rewarding. As seen so often with trauma, the physical wounds can be difficult to heal from, but they tend to heal long before the emotional ones. Physically, I feel stronger but I'm still struggling greatly. Adjusting to a higher dosage of beta blocker was especially difficult. I was forced to deal with the unpleasant side-effects of fatigue, muscle weakness, cold extremities (to the point of feeling numb), and an overall feeling of unusual calm. On the one hand you might think that calm is good! Well, it is but there's calm and then there's "not myself calm." I find that putting this into words is difficult, but it felt strange to be upset about something but not react to an issue as I usually would - my brain and body were not in sync. In short, I didn't feel at all like "me." Fortunately, after some trial and error, I think we have finally found a manageable dosage of medication. I still have the side-effects but they're not as intense. Changes like this take time to adjust to and I am slowly starting to feel like "me" again. My exercise routine suffered greatly - I could barely lift weights, couldn't run a mile (in the past, I was sometimes running 3 or 4), and even walking just tired me out. I'm working hard to gain back some strength and endurance and I'm happy to report that, over the past couple months (with my doctor's approval), I've managed to work my way up to running 1 mile a few times a week and I can feel some strength slowly coming back. I've also made several adjustments to my eating habits which weren't "bad" per se but there was room for improvement. I completed a sugar detox which was really, really difficult but it wound up being so worth the while. My improved diet has awarded me with enough of an energy boost that I can function through the day and keep up with homeschooling, writing, household duties, etc. More than anything, I've slowed down. This is tough for me because I definitely come from a long line of "go go go" Energizer bunnies! No Energizer bunny here! To be honest, this has been one of the best changes. I've been forced to slow down and examine my life with all it's highs and lows and this has helped me to better recognize God's graces and blessings. As I previously announced, the title of my devotional is Glimmers of Grace: Finding Peace and Healing After Sexual Abuse. The title was inspired by my beloved Mom who, during a particularly difficult time in my life, once wisely advised me to learn to recognize the little things that God gives us to show us His presence. It's funny really - here I am trying to help inspire others to find hope through their faith and encourage them to look for God's glimmers and, yet, here I am being reminded to do this too (thanks for the advice, Mom!). I've been slowing down and learning to see His glimmers of grace all over again. They are all around me and, wow, what beauty there is to be found when you are able to truly open your eyes and see! I say this to my social media followers all the time: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! This is something I've had to remind myself of too! I am not alone in this and God will use my experience for His greater glory. He will take this pain and bring something beautiful from it. I have seen, once again, the beauty that can be found only in suffering that is united to Our Lord on His cross. No one has a perfect life. What we can do is lift our lives up by the grace of God despite the imperfections. I want to share some of the things I have found most helpful for me as I have sought healing over the last 3 months:

1. Pray

Pray everyday. Each day as soon as I wake up, I pray the Morning Offering so that my entire day is offered to God – all of my "prayers, works, joys, and sufferings." If you can, don't just pray in the morning, evening, and/or before meals. Find little moments throughout the course of your day to say a quick "hello" to God. Check in with Him. Tell Him how you're doing and how your day is going. Talk to Him like you would a friend - God is our best friend! What better friend to have than the all-knowing and all-powerful Creator of the universe!

My anxiety has worsened since my heart episode but the fruits of these two novenas that I have been saying almost continuously have helped tremendously! Note: the cover of "The Surrender Novena" is in French but the prayers are in English (fyi).

2. Practice gratitude

Every morning, thank God for the gift of a new day. Try to find little moments throughout your day when you can practice gratitude by thanking God for the little graces and blessings (those glimmers of grace) that have been gifted to you. Maybe your gratitude is for something as simple and small as a gentle breeze, a good meal, or a hug from your loved one. Gratitude is such an important element of healing and studies have repeatedly proven that it helps! End your day with gratitude as well. You can start a gratitude journal or you can just take some time to recall the blessings that have come your way over the course of the day.

3. Take care of your physical body

I can't say it enough: the mind, body, and spirit are connected. When one suffers, so does another. We have to create a healthy balance. Our bodies are so amazing and they need to be cared for, nourished, strengthened, and treated as the gifts they are. This means wholesome foods, quality exercise, and good sleeping habits. A note on eating habits: we become what we put into our bodies. If we're constantly putting unnatural foods into our bodies, never exercising, and taking an overall "ho-hum" attitude in regards to our physical health, we're going to feel "ho-hum." I don't know about you, but I like to have energy! I like feeling good physically and mentally and not walking around in a nearly constant brain-fog. Having a good, healthy relationship with food is so important! As someone who once struggled with an eating disorder, I know how easy it is to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. Nutritious foods and exercise exist to lift you up and make you a better, more well person. When your body isn't at its best, your brain suffers (literally) and even your spiritual life suffers. Again, it's all about finding a healthy balance that works for you and your lifestyle. God gave us these earthly bodies – these temples of the Holy Spirit – and He meant for us to take care of them.

4. Accept when you can't do it alone and accept help from others

I'm one of those people "do it yourself" people who has a really tough time accepting help. Basically, I could be drowning and, if someone offered to help, I'd probably tell them, "I'm good! I've got it," even though I definitely "don't got it." The reality is, I can't control what's happening right now and, while I certainly do feel sad and frustrated at times, I'm learning to take a breath, then do my best to give it to God. For example, I feel like a kid again when my parents have to pick me and my kids up and cart us around when my husband isn't available. But what can I do about it? Nothing! What I can do is choose to be grateful for what I do have instead of focusing on what's just not possible right now.

5. Allow the stages of grief to happen as they will

Grief happens at different times and manifests itself in different ways for each of us. One thing is for sure, grief hurts and it's not easy to deal with. Life changes after any trauma. Things are different and may be for quite some time, but things will get better and you will find a new norm. In the meantime, some days will be good and others will be bad and that's completely normal. Allow yourself to accept and address the emotions as they come.

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

6. Surrender to God

A few years ago, I made a "pray, hope, and don't worry" sign for our home. This is one of my favorite quotes from St. Padre Pio and I put it in a place where I can see it frequently throughout the day. Whenever anxious thoughts enter my mind, I do my best to accept that they are there but then I try to surrender them to God. Anxiety is not "your fault" nor is it something you always have control over. However, there is someone we can take our anxiety to: God! Whenever we feel anxious, we can repeat over and over, "Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of this." Trusting can be difficult, but we can learn to trust in God the Almighty as the good and perfect Heavenly Father that He is.

Thanks be to God, I'm still here and He is giving me the strength I need to do whatever I need to do. I cannot thank you, my followers, enough for the prayers and support! I am thrown to my knees in gratitude everyday for the graces God has awarded my family and me to get through this painful situation and, with His love, grace, and goodness, I am learning to live again.

God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.

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