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Pivot Point

In the past few months, I’ve taken a break from writing.

I’ve been doing self-work, but frankly, I also dealt with a lot of stressors.  The largest of which was being admitted to Grad School.

I feel that this page is about to pivot drastically.  As I’ve begun to meet the people in my class, I’ve started to face some new facets of myself.  I’m pursuing my MSW with a focus on Licenced Clinical Social Work, and my continued work of facing challenging topics, my own privilege, and social issues will be pivotal to my success.

So, I foresee this page becoming an outlet for discussing those interactions and issues.

Stay tuned!

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Day One.

The past few weeks have been full of full of various brave women pursuing and disclosing their truth, and pastors (or their congregations) defending their reputations.

Something to remember during this time is how difficult it is for women to disclose abuse.  Rarely is there a motive to stand up with shaking voice and say #metoo. Especially knowing that every single woman who discloses will go through a twitter war from people still behind the aggressor.  Take for instance the first main case, Jules Woodson.  There are so many people still involved with HighPoint that are going to the ground behind Andy Savage (who has subsequently taken a leave of absence, been scrubbed from most media, and who’s original supervisor during the incident has resigned and affirmed the severity of the assault.)

One would expect that Savage would step up and tell his flock to stop sending threatening messages (one such message was wanting to smash supporters of Woodson in the head with a hammer.)

I’ve started writing my book this week.  My thoughts are heavy as I start to really dive into the depths of Church in Rape Culture America.

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I’m Not Third (Anymore)

 

Back in the late 90’s the silicone bracelets were making their debut as the “it” thing, post-WWJD lanyards.  They started with the large causes, but then filtered down to the church, not only as the WWJD style wording but the latest lingo; “I’m Third.”

The “I’m Third” movement started as a way to make sure that people were cognizant of the keeping god and service in the center of our lives, before considerations of self.  The idea was “God First, Others Second, I’m Third.”

God First: Looking back, this fits perfectly into the expectations the church had of us.  We were expected to put god at the center of all we did.  Of course, what god wanted us to do was often filtered through the mind and voice of our pastor.  We were youth, and thus rather new to the idea of religion, and our minds were suggestive.  We had such high standards as to what we should be shooting for, nothing short of perfection.

Read our bible for hours a week, pray more, and attend as many church events as possible.  This was the formula for putting god first.  This formula also was prescribed whenever there was a struggle in our lives.  We either needed to do “all the things” more, or we haven’t done “all the things” enough.  Either way, our failure was the common denominator. However, complications arose as we were also told that we were broken, and born in sin. A man had to come and literally die for us, because we are born in sin.  God had to be first because we didn’t deserve any of his love anyway. (And we were reminded of that frequently.)

On top of this, we were to use our gifts to serve the church (meeting goals 1 & 2) but somehow do so without calling attention to ourselves.  If we had a talent for music (in my case) we had to dance a fine line between “guiding people to the Lord” and performing from the “self.”

Others Second: The idea of subservience was implanted through service, thinking of others before ourselves.  This fed the church as well, having many people who thought that service was a requirement, like some sort of punch card to heavenly admittance. We served by being ushers, youth leaders, prayer team people, and doing all the grunt work of the ministerial staff.  This was seen as a way to continue to validate god’s desires for the church.

As women/girls, we were being groomed to be wives.  This was the ultimate goal of the girls, to find a godly man, marry, and have babies.  Of equal importance was the idea that men were “over” woman, as we were to be submissive to our husbands. Other’s second also set up a dangerous precedent for an unhealthy marriage.  Women especially were taught to please their husband, over their own desires.  In the worst cases, this led to abusive relationships, and even marital rape.  Biblically, women were to submit to sex whenever their husband desired it, regardless of their own desires.

Again, we were an after-thought, after men.

I’m Third: In an environment where self-care was “self-ish,” it’s no wonder there were so many tired, broken people.  We (especially women) spent all our time trying to earn our god credit (putting him first by DOING), and our relationship credit (sacrificing self for others, our husbands and children) that we lost our souls in the process.

I recall that self-care (though this buzz phrase was not specifically used) as defined by the church was explained as a way to call attention to self.  To feed one’s soul first was to miss the point completely.  If you were doing the formula right, you wouldn’t need to do anything else to be happy.  Happiness came from serving god and others.  To expect more was to be selfish and egotistical, or because one just wasn’t “doing it right.”

Adventures in Missing the Point: Though I no longer consider myself to be part of the church, I do feel as though I extend myself into the spiritual often.  I see a perfect blue sky, I hear an amazing piece of music, I fellowship with people I love.

As time has gone by, I processed the “I’m Third” framework and realized how backward it is. I spend time paying attention to my feelings and responding in practical ways to them.  I work on my soul and historical references in therapy.  I meet the needs of my chemical imbalance with antidepressants.  I do things that make my soul happy like being in a hammock in the sunshine on a Saturday.  I sleep in on Sunday mornings and feel more connected with a higher power than I ever did.  I spend time with my friends when I want to, and say no when I don’t.  I refuse sex from my husband when I don’t want it.  I take nights away from my family and go out for sushi and margaritas, and leave my husband to parent (read: not “watch” or “babysit”) our son.

The more I feed my soul, the more I care for myself, the more I have to give.  It goes back to the cheesy (but true) adage, “fill your cup first so you can give the overflow to others.”

I am learning how to not be third anymore.

I deserve to be first in my own life. 

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Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

I recall the time that I found so much hope in the church, like there are people who will finally take care of me, and I can relax into my authentic self.  Growing up in a family where I was the primary caretaker of myself, having a place to go several times a week where I was given clear instruction on how to better my life was relieving.

That saved a wretch like me.  

We were told that we were broken, and only God could help restore us.  The more broken people were the closer to God they became.  As a girl who viewed herself as broken, this framework worked well for me.  This worked in reverse as well, the church continued to remind us youth how broken we were and how far from perfection we were.

I once was lost, but now I’m found.

If we followed a certain guide, whatever the leadership laid out, we could find salvation.  Especially if we gave all our time, all our energy to spiritual things.  But be careful, because if you gave too much, you could be calling attention to yourself.  That’s “soulful.” (Being led by your flesh.)

Once blind, but now I see.

I’m just coming out of this view, starting to see the church and its leadership as the abusive, misguided people they were.  Warping the goodness of others to serve their interests.

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The Body Keeps the Score

CW: Rape & Trauma Processing

Recently I’ve been faced with a health challenge that is draining my physical reserves.  The cell phone battery of my body charges to an unpredictable level… when I wake up, usual daily chores/activities are taking everything for me to get through.  Often even walking upstairs causes me to need to lie down for a bit.

This lack of autonomy/function in my body has caused me to have increased flashbacks as of late.  My heart is already racing from basic activity, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to jump into a PTSD moment.  Something as simple as my child accidentally scaring me, or even the sound of a male voice can fast-forward my memories into trauma.

Flashbacks aren’t new to the survivor, and I’ve certainly had them before, but the flavor of these have been particularly intense.  During the actual assault, I did what many people do in traumatic events, disassociated.  I recall leaving my body behind and watching from above.  In the actual moments, I don’t recall feeling pain, as my body protected me from the physical trauma by disconnecting my body from my brain.  However, in the past month, my flashbacks have incorporated split seconds of “pain memories.”

The first time I remember feeling actual pain was in the hospital after the assault.  I was numb, and I don’t actually know how I got there (obviously I drove, but I don’t remember the act of getting there).   I looked down as I stood on the collection paper, and saw blood, and a lot of it.  In that moment, I started to “wake up” and realize what I had seen wasn’t a movie, but rather something that happened TO me.

My body told the tale that my mind protected me from.

Very quickly, though, my brain shut down those pain feelings… and filed them.  Until just recently.

The lack of autonomy that I feel in a body that is not at its best is wildly triggering.  I sit in therapy trying to hear what she’s saying… at the same time as I hear voices in the foyer that are male and try to manage the flashes that happen.  When I’m alone at home, it’s even harder as my mind spins on the possibilities of what “could” happen. I check the doors, make sure they are all locked and crawl into bed and wait for the moment to pass.  Sometimes it passes quickly, but more often than not it lasts for what feels like an eternity.

PTSD is a bitch.

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Fear

Fear: an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerouspainful, or bad that is happening or might happen:

In Star Trek Voyager (yup, I’m a nerd!) Captain Janeway is battling a character that is the literal embodiment of Fear, in this case, a clown.  She is negotiating with Fear to release several hostages, and this quote comes from her lips:

“I’ve known fear. It’s a very healthy thing, most of the time. You warn us of danger, remind us of our limits, protect us from carelessness. I’ve learned to trust fear.”

As someone who grew up surrounded by trauma, encountering abusive people and scenarios from a young age throughout my young adult life, fear was a familiar feeling.  The longer I lived, the more of a foundation fear built of my eventual psychological construct.

What became different and what may resonate with other trauma survivors, is that though fear built my foundation, I was unable disallowed to head its warnings.  Fear would tell me that someone was dangerous emotionally, but I would need to use them to get where I needed to go.  Fear would tell me about how stairwells were dangerous places, but unless I walked through them to get to class I wouldn’t be able to graduate college.  Fear would tell me that I needed to stay with this partner because without them, maybe I would never find someone who would see me as anything other than broken.

If one sits down with a trauma survivor and attempts to logic them through why they shouldn’t fear (a stairwell when they have been raped in one) (people taking notes when information has been used against them in the past) (providers when helpers have abused their power) (the church when they have spiritually/emotionally abused them) (the male voice outside the window that sounds just like ‘him’) (et all) they will fail gloriously.  We’ve learned to trust fear, to a fault.

It’s impossible to bring people into our world, without them truly sharing our experience.  This can cause us to form these inner worlds of fear, no one can understand, why attempt to explain?

We see danger everywhere, and it is all in our minds.

And it’s real to us.

 

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I See You.

During traumatic times, those of us who have lived through trauma do one of two things.

  1.  Avoid the news like the plague, which is likely the smarter thing.  This was we avoid being re-traumatized by recent events.
  2. Start to look at everything out there that we can, videos, photos, articles, everything we can to try to connect with the traumatic event that is unfolding.

My best friend watches the videos of jumpers from the towers of 9/11 every anniversary.  I believe she does this in order to connect with her own feelings, to connect with that moment where someone made a choice to end their own life (though a quite different circumstance) in order to understand her father, and by extension her own trauma.

Today, we watched as people ran from a madman shooting at Mandalay Bay in Vegas.  But what was different was the cell phone video taken by one of the people in the crowd.  I found myself captivated by it, and horrified, as much of America, but not as a lookie-loo, but as someone who could immediately place myself in their shoes.

The things they said “we have to go or we will be trampled.” the looks they exchanged as they weighed their options of ‘do we stand or do we huddle in place?’

The looks they exchanged as they weighed their options of ‘do we stand or do we huddle in place?’  Where is the shooter? Is there more than one?  Which option will cause our odds to live to increase?

Where is the shooter? Is there more than one?  Which option will cause our odds to live to increase?

Which option will cause our odds to live to increase?

These are the moments of trauma.  I watch the video over and over… Because the looks made me feel less alone.  It was horrifying to connect on such a visceral level.  It shook me to the core, you see.

Others who haven’t truly lived through a moment like that can think they get it. But until they lie in a stairwell, fearing to breathe, fearing that the knife that is stuck in their hair might still be used against them, they have no idea.  They can imagine, but that’s all.

Until they have a moment like Mandalay Bay.