Making Friends with the Night



“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me                                                           dwell in safety.”  ~ Psalm 4:8 .                         

This idea came to me a few weeks ago – making friends with the night. It’s something I still struggle with from time to time. I still have very vivid memories of fearing the night, the dark, and sleep; all of these fears when my trauma was fresh. How could I sleep again when sleep had left me vulnerable and the night had brought danger? It took a long time before I could truly sleep, and I spent almost a year feeling sleep-deprived and not able to function well during the day.

I saw a concert film last night, “Concert for George.” It was a tribute concert for George Harrison made in 2002. The lyrics to one of his songs struck me, as it described the feeling trauma survivors have about sleep:

“Watch out now, take care

Beware of the thoughts that linger

Winding up inside your head

The hopelessness around you

In the dead of the night.” ~ from “Beware of Darkness”

This verse so poetically describes the post-trauma brain trying to find sleep. One fearful thought quickly multiplies, spiraling into a cyclone of random thoughts and images, leading to that hopelessness that feeds our tendency to isolate. But we find our release (relief?) in the first line – “Watch out now, take care.” That is the key. The way out is to be ever-vigilant with our thoughts, and ask for help when we need it. We often also need to physically be certain of our safety, so our logical mind can help our emotional mind get through. This is a start to making friends with the night.

Initially, being in control of our thoughts is almost impossible. Once the shock begins to wear off, our brains go into hyper-drive trying to make sense of what happened. We usually have no frame of reference, so the fearful thoughts we try to plug into previous memories and logic are finding no home. They run amuck in our brain until we form new synapses, a new filing system, and ultimately new coping skills for what we have experienced. This is a time for good therapy to help you frame your experience in a way that will be helpful to you.

But alone, at night, it’s just you and your fearful brain. There are many tools to help us get control of our thoughts. Just as with any healing tool, we have to experiment to see what works for us. And no one thing will work every time! These are tools I have used: prayer, distraction (read, read, read), and detach and replace. Often, if I just start praying, especially if I’m praying for a long list of others, my fearful brain will turn off, and my mind enters a more contented space, more connected with the Divine than with this world. Sometimes I have to just distract myself with reading until my brain is too tired to make me crazy. And sometimes, I practice detach and replace. It’s kind of like catch and release in fishing. I observe the fearful thought as though it’s not part of me (detach), then replace it with a different thought. So it goes something like this:

Fear thought: I’ve been harmed. It could happen again. What was that noise?

Detaching thought: Hm. That’s interesting that you’re thinking about that.

Replacing thought: I’m a beloved child of God.

Basically, you are disarming a bully, it just happens to live in your brain and come out at night. If you are still deep in the healing process, I encourage you to also explore EFT (tapping) as a tool to help you get to sleep. 

It can be difficult to use affirmations and trust in God and tell yourself you are safe, when you have very vivid memories of not being safe. But the alternative is to live IN fear instead of IN SPITE of it. If we remain frozen and paralyzed by it, then the fear wins, the trauma wins, and our life is lessened by it.

“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how the story ends.”                          ~ Brene Brown

We must keep trying to make friends with the night, so we are rested warriors and we can choose how our story ends. Try not to be afraid of the dark (and I will too), God is there as surely as God is in the light, encompassing our fear with the mighty power of Divine Love.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee


This is Your Brain on God


“We expand what we focus on.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Healing trauma can feel so overwhelming. Good days and bad. Doing the work but not feeling better when we want to. Annoying friends and bloggers telling us to pray. Pray about it. What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo!

It’s not just mumbo-jumbo. Science is now proving that not only does trauma significantly change the brain, but so do prayer and meditation. New research is constantly studying the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the adult brain to change and adapt.

Without getting too technical about parts of the brain, etc. suffice it to say that trauma definitely affects brain function. Brain researcher Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD, says this; “It is no use telling them to ‘get over’ it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” In fact, new research in imaging is allowing the diagnosis of PTSD with PET scans, because the changes in the brain are indeed observable.

If you are a trauma survivor, you are probably already aware of this. Your thinking, reactions, and processing of information is different. Your brain has been rewired to some form of protection mode, and God knows we need this. However, functioning long term in this mode is unhelpful and unhealthy.

As science continues to expand in its understanding of the effect of trauma on the brain, so will the treatments available. According to Alexander Neumeister, MD who researches the brain and PTSD, “People with cancer have a variety of different treatment options available based on the type of cancer that they have. We aim to do the same thing in psychiatry. We’re deconstructing PTSD symptoms, linking them to different brain dysfunction, and then developing treatments that target those symptoms.”

There is so much hope on the horizon for the treatment of trauma. But there is also new evidence that we can do simple daily actions that will help our brains recover.

This is where the mumbo-jumbo comes in. God. Yes, focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation, will connect new synapses in your brain that will heal, or at least diminish the strength of the changes trauma has created. And science is proving it.

“Be silent, only the hand of God can remove the burdens of your heart.” ~ Rumi

Richard Davidson, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin, claims we can change the brain with training and practice. He’s proven that the thinking brain connects to the emotional brain, so our thoughts can indeed influence our feelings and change how we react to certain stimuli. Quieting our thoughts also has a profound impact. In one study on people meditating for 30 minutes a day Davidson reported, “Just two month’s practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions.”

Dr. Andrew Newberg, author of “How God Changes Your Brain” says prayer can absolutely heal. His new field, called neurotheology, studies the effect of religious and spiritual experiences on the brain. He has scanned the brains of Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns. He found that in deep meditation or prayer, the part of our brains engaged in focus light up, while the part engaged in organizing sensory information goes dark. When this part, the parietal lobes calm down, our sense of self diminishes (in a good way) as we feel more oneness.

We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” ~ Ram Dass

For people with faith, this research is not a surprise so much as a validation of what we already feel. Focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation lead us to feel more whole and healed. For people without faith, this is wonderful scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness can truly help heal the brain that has suffered trauma. Focusing on the breath, closing your eyes, trying to empty your mind each day will speed your healing.

Whatever our beliefs, knowing that our brains are plastic and capable of change brings hope. Knowing that God and prayer truly do change the wiring of our brain means that we have the tools to begin and extend our healing any time, anywhere.

Knowing that science and the Divine are working together for our benefit is astonishing.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

October 5, 2016

Note: I do not suggest that spirituality alone can heal trauma or PTSD. I merely suggest that restoring your faith, and finding a spiritual practice, can enhance effective therapy and assist in post-traumatic growth.