As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, this quiet season in Italy has created opportunity for overdue introspection. After hearing from many friends about the Enneagram, I thought it might be time to take a longer look at what it means. Reading and listening to different resources on the topic (such as the Typology Podcast) helped this visual learner personify the implications of what everyone has resoundingly told me from the beginning: I am a SEVEN.
Referred to as the Enthusiast, many of you will not be surprised by this description. Sevens are known to be eternally optimistic, curious, adventurous, bold and often non-committal. I do my best work when I have to improvise and my constant craving to grow and learn sets me up to be a “Jack of all trades and master of none.” These are the obvious indicators.
What more people don’t realize, is a seven’s tendency to ignore their own trauma. I bounce back from things very quickly. At least that’s what I tell myself, and what others observe. My optimism in the midst of pain, grief and disappointment meant believing God was knocking something I cherished out of my hand in order to give me something better. This turned into a habit of tossing all the pain, grief and disappointment into a pile, somewhere in my subconscious, where I could forget about it. Little did I know that in the summer of 2015, it would all come down in an avalanche.
In the first two years of working with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Salem, I dabbled in almost every program: Training schools, short term mission trip facilitating for youth groups, five day backpacking leadership development, international ropes course construction, marketing and hospitality. The ever increasing drive to dip my toes in everything landed me alongside some of the more outdoorsy, adventurers on staff. In that fateful summer, our campus offered a Wilderness First-Responders (WFR) course, and I was encouraged to enroll. It seemed like good advice, since I was spending more and more time in the woods, responsible for people.
Perhaps now is the time to tell the readers who don’t know me as well, that I have almost died many times. The first being, at age three, when my family found out I had a deadly allergy to nuts. We had been driving from one grandparent’s house to the other, chowing down on walnuts, when someone realized I had stopped breathing. I was rushed to the hospital.
Most famously, my appendix ruptured when I was eleven and I was misdiagnosed as having colitis. On the fifth day of poison filling up my body, my mom refused to be sent home from the hospital, and insisted they do more tests. Upon the inspection of an ultrasound, doctors discovered what had happened, and realized I was totally septic. I was in-and-out of consciousness and they weren’t sure they could save me. My surgery was delayed in favor of someone who had just come in with an appendix about to burst. When I was found to be still alive, afterwards, they took on the task of saving my life and spent six hours in massive surgery, trying to wash out my little body. The following weeks of draining, packing the massive wound in my abdomen, drugs, antibiotics, and a bought with C-diff, were horrific. Twice a day, my poor family had to hold me down, screaming, as they changed dressings and helped me learn to walk again. Even now, I can’t recount these events without crying.
Throughout my teen years and into my twenties, the incidents kept piling on, probably due to my thirst for adventure and optimism for trying new things:
A snowboarding accident where I sprained my neck.
A car accident, resulting in an ambulance ride to the hospital, almost asphyxiating on my vomit as I was strapped down to the board.
More car accidents and more whiplash.
Hypothermia, the first time being so bad, my body dropped a couple degrees and became susceptible to getting there easier three more times.
A horseback riding accident, being thrown from a retired barrel-racing horse (pictured above) that was spooked and launched me onto gravel. Whatever this did to my pelvis and lower back resulted in scar tissue which still exists almost ten years later.
A concussion. Make sure you have your helmet securely fascinated before rock climbing!
And a host of other sketchy situations and close calls.
Meanwhile, I had sworn off doctors. My distrust of them from the appendectomy and hospitalization left me determined to walk things off. The thing which eventually pushed me see a doctor was access through Obamacare (thanks, Obama), and that nut allergy which, after 27 years, was increasingly life-threatening. After my first, full-fledged experience with anaphylaxis, I realized I was way overdue for an epinephrine prescription.
With all this trauma, neatly tucked into the deep recesses of my mind, my optimistic seven self listened to all my new friends who believed I could take the WFR. Boy were we wrong.
This intensive ten day course was taught by a man who was pretty high up in America’s first-responders world. His decades of experience had calloused him, as survival would need it to, and he used a lot of flippant humor when discussing what to do with a victim. As he explained each possible emergency: hypothermia, anaphylaxis, triage, whiplash, head, neck and back injuries, my first-hand experience with all of them began to wind something inside of me tighter… and tighter…
On day three, I snapped. I snapped in a way I had never snapped before. A full fledged breakdown, crying hysterically and inconsolably. I could feel everything. I wanted to strangle the instructor as he plowed through a responder’s need to sometimes “play God” about who to save in a triage situation. Obviously this man cares about people, or he wouldn’t bother with this work, but in that classroom, I didn’t feel like he cared about anyone at all. He represented every thoughtless choice that had brought me to within an inch of my life.
This eruption of emotion shocked nearly everyone around me. My seven self had always re-framed my past harrowing experiences in a stand-up-comedy way. I didn’t realize that, as a seven, my most basic desire was to know someone would take care of me. Suddenly, my middle child syndrome came raging to the surface. Is anyone looking out for me?
These assertions weren’t fair, but so are almost all our hidden pains. Unless we bring them into the light, truth doesn’t have a chance to identify itself.
The anger I felt reminded me of how my parents watched in horror as their sweet, tender hearted eleven-year-old yelled at her nurses. If came up later that year, at a family meal, when some of them started crunching walnuts onto their salad and I shouted, “why do you still eat those around me?!” They quickly apologized and corrected, but truly hadn’t known how much it bothered me until that moment.
A perfect storm. My curiosity gets me into dangerous situations. My insatiable social life opens me up to a Russian Roulette of food possibly laced with nuts. My aversion to experiencing pain excused me from staying in uncomfortable situations. While I learn many sevens live their lives one side-step of deprivation or pain at a time, mine is heightened, because all my deepest fears have already been realized. I’ve felt the excruciating pain which often doubles as a preamble to death. I don’t want to feel it anymore. I don’t want to be so adventurous anymore. I want someone to grab me before my impulsiveness falls into another pit.
Last September, I was in Naples with my church for a twenty year celebration of our partnership with our sister church there. By the grace of God, my assigned roommate was my dear friend, and also registered nurse, Kimberly. One night we all went out for “the best gelato in town” and I ordered a flavor I thought was safe, since I’d had it before. It wasn’t. One tiny decorative piece had one tiny bit of hazelnut in it. That evening I experienced the worst pain I have felt since I was eleven. Thankfully, Kimberly was there with an epi-pen, medication and expertise. My body had gone into full anaphylactic shock. Muscles were cramping, systems were shutting down, but Kimberly got me through it. I thought I was going to die.
The next day my body was still struggling to re-boot. I couldn’t eat anything but bread and couldn’t get enough Pepsi, even though I normally do not drink soda. My arms and legs didn’t want to move. All I could do was sit. As I began to consider the coming months ahead, living alone in Italy, a new level of fear began to creep in.
As a fun side effect of these traumas, my body was becoming sensitive to more foods. I think it has given me chronic pancreatitis, among other things. My normal, insatiable thirst for a stacked social life was quenched by the fear I wouldn’t be able to explain my allergies and sensitivities to new Italian friends wanting me over for pranzo. All my missions training said, “eat whatever someone offers you! Don’t be rude!” So I cheated in the other direction and didn’t pursue situations which would lead to someone inviting me over. I decided to be all-time host, in order to ensure a safe kitchen, free of cross contamination.
Because what would happen if I ate nuts again and there was no Kimberly around?
As I listened to Typology Podcast, and learned from the experience of fellow sevens, I heard a common theme: We don’t do a good job letting people know we need help. We need people to ask us if we’re okay, but we also need to get better at recognizing and admitting when we are not okay. Ignoring this fact is how we lose people like Robin Williams and other comics who excelled in hiding their pain.
Part of why I hadn’t been introspective until this season, was because I didn’t want to face the pain, grief and disappointment lurking in the corners of my mind. It was way past time to do this.
After the hysterical meltdown of 2015, I had a couple counseling sessions, but only scratched the service. I shoved those feelings back down and threw myself into leading a training school outreach to Armenia, then into the refugee camp work in Greece. People started to notice a difference in me, over that time. I was becoming more serious, less goofy, stressed, and more committed. While at once, some close to me worried for my tender heart wading into the atrocities of the refugee crisis, I knew the dam had already been broken. My avoidance of pain had reached it’s limit. Now all I wanted to do was sit in it, and be there for people who needed a friend, a safe meal, a refuge.
I more readily allow myself to swing between my stage, comedy-spewing self and my deeply acquainted with grief self. I’m learning to be a healthy seven. A healthy Bethany Rae.
The name Bethany means “house of poverty and affliction”, but as my dad points out, my middle name Rae indicates light in those places. While I’ve always had a dream of owning a home where others can feel safe and loved, it’s been pointed out to me, many times now, that I am that house. No matter where I live.
All this revelation reminded me of the movie “Saving Mr. Banks”. (Spoiler Alert) It is about the woman who wrote Mary Poppins. She had a very tragic personal history with her own father, and there is a point in the movie where Walt Disney tells her, “George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” That movie makes me sob, because of how it captures so much of who I am.
God has given me a power, by His Spirit to redeem things, but in order to do so, I need to acknowledge the pain.
A special thank you to everyone who has ever taken care of me, changed their menu to accommodate me, yanked me out of the street before getting hit by a car, etc. Also, my mom for refusing to take me home from the hospital all those years ago. God has used you all to preserve my life until now. He isn’t finished with me yet.