Trauma is a Fact of Life
I remember the day I first met her. Walking into the hospital room, I wasn’t sure what to expect. She was so tiny and surprisingly whiter than I anticipated and had a tuft of black hair. She was precious. We had prayed and waited for this day for months, and finally, the day had come. Undoubtedly, it was a day of celebration. The newest addition to our family had arrived. Ellie Magdalene was brought into the fold of the Basye family. While we assumed we were adopting an African American child as we lived in Memphis, the Lord had other plans as He entrusted to us this Mexican/Persian beauty.
Early on in our marriage, Shelly and I had decided that regardless of whether or not we could have kids biologically, we would use adoption as a pathway to grow our family. As practitioners in many realms of our lives (from medicine to community development work to our faith), we were convinced that if we were opposed to something like abortion, we also needed to provide solutions for unplanned pregnancies. Adoption seemed like a good option. Since that time, in addition to our oldest biological son, we have had a biological daughter and adopted our second son from China. As I look at our family, I can’t help but think about the kingdom to come where there will be a gathering of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
Without question, both my wife and I are huge advocates for adoption. However, when we entered into the adoption world thirteen years ago, I would say that we were pretty naïve in our understanding of the complexities of adoption. See, what we had come to see as a celebration and answer to prayer, which it was, was also birthed out of much hardship, difficulty, and pain. That’s right, the baseline for adoption is trauma. Over the years, Shelly and I have walked the path to better understand the trauma of adoption and how we can best help our children overcome these heartfelt challenges and find peace in God’s narrative for their lives. However, every story leading to adoption is different with different circumstances and needs. Certainly, no one adoption story is the same. For my daughter, we have a relationship with her birth mother and half-sister. In fact, the screensaver on my daughter’s phone is a picture of them. However, my son was adopted as a two-year-old, and we know nothing of his family of origin. His trauma is further exercised as he doesn’t have a name or a face when he considers the two individuals responsible for bringing him into the world.
For these reasons and more, I found Bessel Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, a fascinating read. In the introduction, Van der Kolk states the purpose of the book is “to serve as both a guide and an invitation – an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.” Let me be honest and say that this book was a challenging read on many levels, namely in the horrific, gruesome, and painful trials so many of his patients endured. And considering the experience of my adopted children, I have seen and witnessed their pain as it has become my pain. But as we take it a step further, the reality is that we all have experienced trauma on various levels. There are several events in my own life, which has been quite cush, that have taxed and scarred the deepest part of my soul. Van der Kolk, a trained psychiatrist, author, researcher, and speaker, has devoted his life work to understand trauma and provide hope for its victims. He writes,
We must most of all help our patients to live fully and securely in the present. In order to do that, we need to help bring those brain structures that deserted them when they were overwhelmed by trauma back. Desensitization may make you less reactive, but if you cannot feel satisfaction in ordinary everyday things like taking a walk, cooking a meal, or playing with your kids, life will pass you by.
There are several aspects of this book that I sincerely appreciate. Van der Kolk’s story of first being introduced to trauma as he was working with veterans and concluding that there is something more going on than mere alcoholism or drug abuse. These soldiers had witnessed (and done) horrific atrocities that forever changed the course of their lives, such as the following story:
The day after the ambush [when his best friend was killed] Tom went into a frenzy to a neighboring village, killing children, shooting an innocent farmer, and raping a Vietnamese woman. After that it became truly impossible for him to go home again in any meaningful way. How can you face your sweetheart and tell her that you brutally raped a woman just like her, or watch your son take his first step when you are reminded of the child you murdered?
Yet, as bleak as Tom’s story may sound, Van der Kolk finds hope and says this “doesn’t mean, however, that our maps can’t be modified by experience.” While Van der Kolk deploys many different methodologies for ensuring the wellness of his trauma patients, one of the best things one can provide is a healthy network of support. He writes, “A deep love relationship, particularly during adolescence, when the brain once again goes through a period of exponential change, truly can transform us.”
Leaning into the trauma that surrounds me, Van der Kolk’s assessment provides me with great gospel hope – change, wellness, peace, and joy are, in fact, possible, even for those who have suffered the most.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 131.
4 responses to “Trauma is a Fact of Life”
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I read this post twice. It was that powerful. Thank you for your personal and leadership connections here to the text. It is a breath of fresh air.
Hey there Andy. That is super encouraging. Thanks so much. Happy Easter!
Eric, I am just so blessed reading this part of your story! You and Shelly have such a rich/deep faith.
This struck me…”That’s right, the baseline for adoption is trauma.” Do you think one of the reasons Christianity today is perceived as irrelevant is because we don’t recognize our faith trauma….we are adopted sons and daughters? We haven’t really grappled with our PTSD?
That is a really interesting thought, Nicole. Hmmm… boy, having walked through adoption with two kids, I personally don’t think it is a fair parallel as to the trauma. Adoption as sons and daughters, yes, but I am unsure about the ‘negative’ side of things. I will have to give that some more thought!