Stamp of Approval

Stamp of Approval, Mixed media, 09.15.22

The art:  This was made with watercolor pencils, oil pastels, and tissue paper on September 15, 2022.

Prize Ribbon: When I asked God about this one I immediately noticed the stamp in the center of the circle. I noticed also that the circle looks like a prize ribbon that awards people for good performance. I heard the words, “Stamp of Approval.” I sensed God was saying that I got His stamp of approval and was being given a prize ribbon for my performance. I also noticed that the red spirals and the yellow tissue paper look like confetti. It looks like there’s a celebration for a job well done. There’s seems to be a message of reward after a tough job or performance. I had some dreams recently which seem to confirm the theme of reward, but I don’t want to derail by sharing them here, plus they were extra personal and specific to me only.

Reward: You should note that my life and art  is often an illustration of what’s happening in the body of Christ or about  to come…well that is since 2012 for my life; art maybe since 2005.  So it seems we are entering into a season of reward and celebration for our hard won victories and perseverance.

Feelings of Inadequacy: This is interesting. This is not what I thought my art would convey- the Stamp of Approval or prize ribbon for good performance. In fact, I often feel the opposite of that, that I am not performing well enough and that I am coming up short. I felt like that the day I created this art. I look at my ongoing struggles and think I should be doing more or not struggling in ways that I do. I might compare myself to someone who does not appear to be struggling, who seems to have confidence and success in all they do.

Ease: I can tell you that my life was never like that. My life has been the opposite of easy, and the times I have felt a sense of ease have been rare moments only.  Perhaps when I was young and careless life seemed easier because I was reckless and naively optimistic. But even then life was hard because I acted out in ways that put my life in danger and caused myself additional harm.

Effects of Trauma: No, life is not easy, especially when you’ve been traumatized.  Especially when the trauma has occurred multiple times and in multiple ways. You develop complex PTSD. That’s just a natural consequence, but I firmly believe it does not have to be the end result. 

Extreme Trigger Warning: I was sexually abused; restrained, smothered, suffocated, choked, strangled, sodomized, had objects used on me, etc etc. Even pooped and peed on- sorry for the shocker. Also possibly drugged. In addition, there was mind control, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, psychological abuse, and other forms of torture such as being made to drink dirty dish water, watch animals being harmed,  and even watch other humans be mutilated, sexually abused, and murdered via snuff films. There was also stalkerish, invasive, controlling behaviors which occured to me on a regular basis. The abuse sometimes occurred violently, sometimes through play, sometimes as a result of a child’s need for closeness and affection.  It was unpredictable. In addition, there were one or two instances of Satanic ritual abuse.

Sorry: I don’t talk about these shockers often as I know probably nobody wants to hear about it, and most likely it’s uncomfortable for you. If you have not healed from your own trauma it could even be triggering. At the same time, this is my story, and this is my blog.  God has mandated me to overcome and show others how to do the same. I shouldn’t have to keep this a secret. Surely, just a few people could bare witness to my testimony so I don’t have to hold this alone. Not only does sharing help me work through my feelings and shame attached to the abuse, but there’s a chance my story could inspire someone else that they too can recover- no matter how bad it is or was.

Resiliency and fragility: You might think I would be a basket case, but for some reason God gave me extra doses of resiliency. I have always been what people like to call “high functioning;” even to such a degree that I have experienced survivor’s guilt. I later realized that we are all built differently and some people are not gifted with such a degree of resiliency. God just happened to gift me this attribute and others because of the high calling He placed on my life. He bases His expectations of us on the gifts and talents He blessed us with and expects us to invest them and grow them, but He also accounts for the challenges and setbacks we face. For someone whose given less, there’s less expectation. We should never judge someone for what they are walking through, how they survived, for how they’re struggling, or for how long the healing is taking. However, we do all need to be held accountable because accountability is part of the healing process. Some temperaments are just very fragile and can be devastated by the simplest of tragedies or life gone awry. We shouldnt compare ourselves to others for this reason (easier said then done) and also because God’s expectations and destiny are taylor made for each of us. We do get to decide what to do with our life, though, and how we’re going to respond to the challenges life faces us with. However, that being said, I also firmly believe that healing is available for everyone, no matter how bad the trauma was, especially when that person is relying on a supernatural source such as Jesus Christ, who is the one who always gives us strength when we are weak, if only we’ll ask. So my strength is owed to Him. I gave my life to God at the age of five, but I have always had a spiritual predisposition with discerment. Perhaps this is also a direct result of being confronted with the realities of evil from a young age. Those who have never been exposed to such evil have a hard time comprehending that it could exist to such an extent.  Demons lived in my home as a child and that added to the terror. But God lived within me and even at the age of 5, I knew how to rebuke them because my grandmother taught me how.

The struggle: But I digress…I was trying to talk about my struggle, not my strength. You see it can be both. You can be both strong and weak. My trauma set me up for a giant, constant life struggle that feels like it does not relent. I have to work hard to overcome. Each day is filled with stressors and things beyond my control. The stress does not relent, and I worry about the toll it takes on my health. I’ve asked God numerous times to deliver me of certain struggles.

Recovery: I’ve been in recovery for 27 years- ever since my daughter was born in 1995. 11 of those years were spent in direct therapy focused on trauma. I had my daughter out of wedlock after a 6 year period of being back slidden, engaging in reckless drinking binges, and  promiscuity. This led to more rapes and sexual abuse although I lost my virginity at age 19 to a rape as well. I was 26 years old at the time I started my recovery and my daughter was born, although I read self help books and attended Alonon meetings prior to that. I knew I didn’t want to bring my daughter into a world where I was so unstable. So I started therapy with a therapist specializing in trauma and sexual abuse. I learned it’s better to see an expert in whatever it is you’re struggling with. I saw someone for 6 months before starting with the trauma specialist, but I don’t even count her because all she managed to address was my self-esteem, and she helped me get back on the dean’s list in undergrad college. She really thought I had it all together because I was smart and did pretty well in school despite partying all the time and missing the maximum days I was allowed; I volunteered as an intake coordinator at a counseling center; I had a very active social life, a small group of close knit friends, and a very active dating life (sometimes 5 boyfriends at once in open relationships.) I could also talk about my trauma without flinching. I was logical, matter of fact, and stoic. I fooled her. I wasn’t trying to. I was telling her about how unstable I was and about my fears of sexual abuse- as at that point I only suspected it because of my dreams, but she couldn’t see past my “collectedness.” I don’t know if you want to even call it that because I was out of control. Maybe a better word is my “high functioning.” So I learned that I needed to find someone who understands about trauma and who understands my stoicism and matter of factness when talking about my trauma just meant I was dissociated  and detached from my feelings. That is not a good thing. It meant I had not yet begun to heal.

Working hard: So I put my all into my recovery. I was kind of pollyannaish; that was one of my biggest coping skills, but it also kept me somewhat in denial of the struggles I still did have. The first thing I had to do was decide if it even happened and learn to live with that ambiguity of not knowing and my lack of memories.  My first therapist was named Pepper. She was a gestalt therapist and one of the best. It took 3 years, but I credit her for bringing me stability. I won’t go on with every detail of my recovery here (just what relates to my theme) but if you’re interested, I have been leading workshops at my church on various mental health topics and one subject is PTSD recovery in which I go over the basic facts of what PTSD is as well as critical aspects of the recovery process sharing some of my personal experiences as well as my artwork with bible verses as it relates to rach aspect of recovery. As of now, I consider myself maybe 80% recovered. You can find those workshops in the Psalms 102 Ministry page here on this blog. The PTSD workshop consists of parts 1- 5 in a series.

I wasn’t quite done with the subject of working hard: I tried so hard to heal as fast as I could so I could be a good mother, but despite my best efforts a lot of my anxiety was transferred to my daughter. It was like a domino effect. I’m trying to catch the pieces as they fall and as I recover, but I can’t catch them fast enough. I’ve since realized that my most problematic symptom was the hyperarousal I experienced and still do. This made it harder to parent because I could be prone to mini panic attacks with normal, everyday problems which made me less effective at disciplining in particular. It also made me more reactive at home although at work I’ve always been able to stay unusually calm. I have a quietness and stability about me (now) as well as a soft voice and demeanor which is soothing for people, but I know how to be outgoing when I need to. On top of that my daughter had a more difficult temperament and did not respond the way most children do with normal parenting techniques. On top of that, I was a single mother without support, living in poverty, and struggling just to survive, so there were very real dangers lurking all about. One wrong move could lead to homelessness or calamity. I worked hard at parenting, too. I was always resourceful, and I learned that my survival and my daughters survival and well-being demanded that I lower my pride and ask for help when I needed it. It took me 3 years to open my eyes to this, but once they were opened I took advantage of resources that were available to me such as food stamps, Medicaid/FAMIS for her, counseling etc. I actually had free mental health care for at least half of my therapy journey. I also managed to get a job as a clinical counselor (really a psyche tech, but that was my title) when my daughter was born, then put myself through grad school while she was a toddler. I did not get my degree, which I attribute to working at a slower pace because of my anxiety. 9/11 exacerbated it. Also, there was the death of a family member, which also hindered my ability to concentrate and the trauma work, which probably interfered as well. Not to mention being a single mother, having to work part time, and taking the bus 8 hours a day. It was not a school where you could choose to work at your own pace, and they decided I was too slow and didnt let me finish even though I was allowed to try twice; that my PTSD was not an excuse because I wasn’t on disability. The 2nd time, I also dealt with a death in the family. I felt like if given 6 more months, I could have finished my thesis. In this way, I feel robbed. It’s a catch-22 because being so well functioning meant I never got disability or compensation in any way. There was never justice in any form for me. However, I’ve come to believe that my PTSD was a disability. It just didn’t affect my capacity to work and perform well at my job. Where I struggled was at home and in my family life, and being slowed down in my graduate thesis work (I actually did well in everything else and finished all my classes except the thesis), but that is not a criteria for receiving disability. So in retrospect, what I should have done is get a psychological evaluation ahead of time which would explain and document my limitations as needed for a modified class work plan and accomodations which every person with a disability should be entitled to. I am probably dyslexic on top of that. Then the school has to make such accommodations by law. This is my recommendation to anyone else out there struggling with PTSD or any other mental health issues. I didn’t get diagnosed ’till after my schooling, despite suffering from PTSD from as early as I can remember.

Despite that, I actually got hired as an art therapist right after my last internship in 2000, and I have been working there ever since. I’m telling you that God just compensates for me! It’s amazing! I have worked in the same psychiatric hospital for the last 22 years, and I work with teenagers and adults of all ages. At one time I also worked with children, for maybe 10 years. I work with a variety of mental health issues, but the most common problems are bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia/psychosis, PTSD, substance abuse, suicide, self harm, anger and impulse control problems, as well as personality disorders. Personality disorders are not usually why people get admitted (and there’s usually always a coexisting more pressing diagnosis.) Often we won’t even diagnose it in the acute care setting, but we did when we worked with teens in residential or ruled it out, and its just helpful to know as that can impact how people engage in treatment and interact with others or behave in the group setting. I run 45 minute art therapy groups on all the units, and I am also capable of identifying problems, strengths, developmental level, and coping skills/defenses as well as suggested diagnoses based on art therapy assessments. We did this all the time for the residential teenagers, but not as much for the acute population. It’s helpful if a Dr. is stuck on what the diagnosis might be because of complicated variables or if the person is nonverbal or just highly defensive.

Ironic: Its kind of ironic that I’ve had so much stability in the art therapy field despite not getting my degree when most of the graduates I know have not kept their jobs for long and are not even practicing art therapy or moved onto regular counseling or social work jobs. But it did cost me. I don’t get paid as much as others with my level of experience, and it’s limited where I can work because typically you can’t practice without a Masters degree. I’m covered under the umbrella of social work and the company I work for. Also, I love it there. I have good benefits and a pension, too.

Back to the struggle (this is turning out to be a long post). I got my daughter all the help she needed (counseling, medication, IEP, Child Study, psychological evaluations, in-home counseling, FAPT) and really worked hard to parent her effectively which often resulted in self sacrifice because her discipline usually hurt me, too, and there was no way to get around it. For instance if I gave her a timeout she wouldn’t stay there. She would come out, try to destroy something, throw something, bang her head, bite herself, try to hit me etc. The behavior required me to hold her, and the holding her would escalate her for awhile. It took on average 45 minutes for her to calm like this. I had to brace myself against the wall and wrap my legs over her legs as she bucked wildly. If I let go too soon she would act out unsafely again…I would try because believe me I didn’t want it to go that long. I took her to see therapists, got her disability when she turned 16, and managed all of that. All those behaviors eventually disappeared. When I think about it I can pat myself on the back that I averted some major catatrophies and crises for her later on in life; but its possible other people could see where we still fall short. She never ended up on drugs or in prison or even promiscuous or reckless like I was. Now, she is responsible with a good job and moving up the income ladder faster then me, although she struggles with depression and anxiety. She did have a baby out of wedlock too, and now her own daughter has her own challenging behaviors and problems…and they both still live with me. My daughter still struggles in ways, but she’s come a long way and I’m proud of her! She has amazed me in ways! I’m finally starting to see some good traits and genes passed down versus the negative. Its been hard work! Perhaps that is the new family legacy: the ability to overcome despite the obstacles. Only she is almost anti therapy and medication now because I was so adamant about it when she was growing up and forced that on her which in my opinion is a major problem still.

Family strife: It didn’t take me long to figure out that most families have an easier time then what we did. I guess you can say, I always looked at other families and felt jealousy and pain that I didn’t know the magic formula for peace, happiness, order, or ease. I always wanted just a stable, happy, healthy family more then anything in life aside of God. I worked so hard in therapy thinking it would prepare me to have a stable family life and healthy marriage, but marriage was a disaster and family life was chaotic. I was married for 10 years starting when my daughter was 8. You can say that life as a married person was even harder then life as a single mother. I had double the trouble. It didn’t seem that there was any way therapy could have prepared me because there are things that get exposed in you through marriage that don’t come out any other way. There were verbal arguments which sometimes escalated and involved the cops which brought on triggers and increased anxiety for me, and most likely additional trauma. It brought up alot of memories and flashbacks which were relived through my body. I just wanted to run and hide, but I had to stand up and intervene and try my hardest to bring peace and safety to volatile situations. I felt like the only adult…and the finances were actually worse because my husband couldn’t keep a job and now our expenses were more then our income.

Grace and depravity: God also graced me with good problem solving and survival skills so I always managed to keep us afloat, but the threat of homelessness always hung over our heads and we came close a few times. There was food scarcity as well. Sometimes I gave up meals just to save money or so others in the family could eat. I knew what hunger was. I also knew what it was to want something, but to have to wait years just to buy it. One example was a laptop. Another was a car. I knew what it was like to have cravings that just could not be satisfied. This happened on a regular basis; longings and cravings for things I couldnt afford. Even simple things like a sweet treat or a fancy coffee. I knew what it was like to spend 4-8 hours a day on the bus getting to and from work and even therapy, depending on what time period, but there were years of this. I lived through many hardships perhaps many others will never experience.

Equipped: As I get even older (I’m 53 now) I’m learning that my experiences gave me good survival skills and equipped me to handle difficult times or situations. For instance the pandemic was not a hardship for me. It was not nearly as difficult as other things I’ve been through. In fact, not much difficulty at all…but of course, for most all intensive purposes my life went on as normal. I never stopped working. In fact, I finally felt like the world could finally relate to me to a degree. Not that I wished hardship on anyone else, but I finally didn’t feel so alone in the level of intensity of the hardships I’ve been through.

Perilous times: As times get more perilous and as our nation and world teeters on the verge of economic collapse, somehow I feel confident in my ability to survive and adapt, and most likely I will be on the front lines assisting others to adapt, providing resources, or just psychological and spiritual assistance.

Designed, equipped, and called: I realize that God allowed these traumas and catastrophes in my life to occur even though He didn’t cause them. It wasn’t His plan or design. He had to let it happen because of free will, including my own. However, as hopefully my testimony demonstrates, He also gave me supernatural strength, resiliency, endurance, problem solving skills, survival skills, grace, and favor. He also devised a plan to create meaning out of my tragedies and hardships. He gave me a testimony. He called me to share it. That’s why I do even though its hard, it can be embarrassing, and I still get afraid of the repercussions at times. God’s called me to transparency and genuineness as well. That’s hard for the same reasons. But it’s also easier just to be authentic because I don’t have to worry about being exposed. I’ve already dealt with my life and my own shame so I don’t have to accept anybody else’s shame and judgement.

Judgement: I started off saying that I usually judged myself and was hard on myself. I feel like my journey to healing has been slow and painful. Many times I judged myself for how long it was taking. Normal adult milestones were delayed for me. I just got my first house at 52, finally! I’m much more financially stable now compared to my young adult years, but still I’m sort of in middle class or lower middle class. With inflation rising rapidly, I’m thankful for a home at a fixed rate of 2.5 interest with a mortgage I can afford, but I still worry. It’s not that I don’t know that God will take care of me. It’s just that I don’t want to suffer again. The times I have suffered really crucified my flesh. I believe all followers of Christ go through a period of dying to the flesh, but along with dying comes ressurection. Eventually, there is reward and gain, and a transition to rest and abundance. I still see the hardships in my life and judge myself for not having a healthy, stable family yet, although there’s alot more stability now then when I was married. I’ve decided that family healing and generational blessings are the last stages of the recovery process.

Triggered: I was recently triggered by a friendship that felt “stalkerish” to me. Whether or not I overeacted remains to be seen. It’s not that I reacted in any kind of way necessarily. I didnt lose my composure or my kindness. I didn’t even have a flashback. I haven’t had a flashback in over 7 years and I only have nightmares 3-5 times a year compared to everyday as a child and young adult. I just had alot of anxiety and an urge to avoid this person or places where he might be which involved shared friendships, gatherings, etc. This got me thinking about different aspects of my trauma I hadn’t focused on as much such as my Dad’s invasive, controlling, stalkerish type of behaviors. I already shared enough trauma details so I’m not going to get derailed by this, but the point is that there’s always something. There’s always more layers of recovery. It seems there’s an endless supply of trauma memories.

Recovery Assessment: I previously estimated my recovery to be about 90% and now I dropped it down to 80% based on that experience and my realization that I still struggle with hyperarousal. Trauma affects the central nervous system and rewires your brain so this aspect probably can’t be fixed in the natural although there are things you can do to help….Notice how I said, “in the natural”…But God. God is supernatural. I actually believe that there’s an appointed time He’s going to fix this in me and deliver me of all my problems and give me the family I always hoped for, too- including marriage. I also see myself with a rag to riches type of story, but don’t know how on earth that will ever happen, except supernaturally as well.

Supernaturally: If you haven’t caught on- which I’m sure you have- there’s a theme of the supernatural in my life, and this is the only way I survived. I learned to be dependent of God. He is my strength so I don’t have to be strong. I may not know how, but He does. He has all the answers and He knows everything. I don’t accomplish anything because of my own ability, but because of His ability! This can be frustrating for me at times, but it’s so true!!

God’s mercy: My last point on this blog post, which went on way too long, is that God doesn’t see me the same way I see myself. He doesn’t even use the same measuring stick with me as He might with someone else. He sees what we’re up against. He sees our battles. He sees our struggles. He sees what’s on the inside as well as the outside, what no one else can see. He measures us with that in mind. He sees us through the eyes of mercy. That’s why He sent His son to die on the cross, so we could be forgiven and have eternal life, but more then that…so that we can overcome all the powers of the enemy, and live life to the fullest. He looks at what we’ve had to overcome and promises us an overcomer’s crown and compensation, if not in this lifetime then in the next, but often there’s reward and compensation in this lifetime. Our life here in this Earth is about overcoming. It’s filled with trials and hardships of all kinds because Satan rules the world, but when we become sons and daughters of God He separates us from the world and gives us special rights, privileges, and authority over every evil just because we are His children. He guarantees healing will come. He rewards us for our faith.

The Stamp of Approval and Prize Ribbon: So when I asked God about the artwork that’s what He showed me. I had earned His special “stamp of approval.” I had earned a prize ribbon. Not necessarily for any outward manifestation or success in my life, but for the internal work that has happened in my heart, mind, and soul. He saw what I had to overcome. He’s had patience and mercy with me. He understood my struggle with fear and he didn’t punish me for it. He was gentle. He didn’t even punish me when I was back slidden although I suffered natural consequences. Every time I mess up God sees it through the heart of compassion, gentleness, and patience. He sees us that way because He knows what we’re up against. He knows our frailties, struggles, and vulnerabilities. He just asks us to give Him what little trust we have and follow Him. He doesn’t get mad that we don’t trust a lot. He understands. But as we reach out to Him, walk with Him, talk with Him, and rely on Him; and are honest with Him, confess when we fall short, and earnestly strive to do better and to please Him, He forgives us, our faith grows, and we become stronger. We may even surprise ourselves at where He takes us or what He does in our life, because our life and accomplishment is no longer based on what we can do, but its based on what He can do, and God can do ANYTHING! Absolutely anything!!! When you follow after God you’re life becomes supernatural!!!

In the end: I may not be where I want to be yet. I may not see how I’m getting there yet, such as becoming a full time artist and going into full time ministry, and with a healed family, but God knows. He sees the beginning from the end. He calls me worthy and you too-that’s why He sent Jesus. He just told me I did a good job. I didn’t expect that. But that’s the way God is, always merciful, always loving, always kind, always encouraging, always gentle and compassionate, and slow to anger. Oh, I love Him so much!!!

Here are some annointed songs which will bring healing and compliment this testimony.

Healing is Here, Deluge
Egypt, Worship Mob

Published by creativecassandra7

God-lover, artist, writer, art therapist, dreamer, minister. I see life as an adventure of overcoming and bringing light to dark places. I have overcome extensive trauma and sexual abuse and now I share my testimony and teach/preach what God has to say about the recovery process through both logos and rhema words. I love nature, dancing, worship, and all creative expressions. I have a heart to see families restored, curses reversed, and generational blessings released.

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