Abuse, church, I kissed dating goodbye, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Balderdash Indeed.

Recently I’ve been drawn to the topic of #churchtoo.  The prolific outpouring of #metoo stories that are coming from survivors that have either been abused by members or staff of churches OR have disclosed their abuse to staff at the church and have been ignored, shunned, shamed, dismissed, or “dealt with in “biblical ways” (small nods of penance/prayer etc.)  I am a survivor, so #metoo & #churchtoo applies to my story directly, leading to my passion on this topic, as well as my strong empathy for the outpouring of the stories from these strong women.

I blogged EXTENSIVELY about the story of Jules, a young lady from Texas who was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor forcing her to have oral sex with him on a dirt road.  She then disclosed her rape, later on, the pastor was only dismissed from the church in an internal justice thing, as she was asked to keep this quiet (despite the fact that a crime had been committed).  The pastor then, later on, was hired by another church in Tennessee.  Jules then shared her story publically, and the pastor was forced to share in front of his congregation what he had done.  Instead of the shock and awe, he should have faced for the criminal act he had done, the man received a standing ovation.  After the public backlash, the pastor went on leave.  Remember this was a CRIME he got away with, that was covered up by the church.  For a long post on this, please refer to this post.

This is just one example of the #churchtoo stories that are coming to light.  Women are starting to become emboldened to speak their truth, in a patriarchal system that previously silenced them.

Now, before #churchtoo, there was #metoo.  We had permutations that came from that and one of them was #yesallmen.  #Yesallmen brought about huge backlash from the XY community, who knee-jerked into the “but wait, I’m not all men!  I am not a rapist, I don’t sexually assault women!  I don’t do these things!”  However, ALL MEN have been involved at one point in the catcalling, in the group that has made fun of a woman, etc.  All men have been bystanders while something has been said or done to a woman. So #yesallmen.  But before we get too hopped up on that broad term, let’s get a bit more specific.

I recently signed up for Twitter.  I’ve been dreading the form of social media for some reason, I didn’t really find myself connected to it, but I did come across an amazing woman who tweets fantastic content.  Amazingly, she linked a blog from Pastor Russ at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church in Missouri, I’d thrilled to dialogue with him in person, because I’m about to break-down his entire post piece by piece and would be happy to put a face to his words. My hopes are he is woefully misguided and just had a moment of feeling wounded.  “But my church isn’t like that, please don’t write us all off” perhaps is where he was coming from.  I don’t know.  I’d be happy to have a Skype conversation.  You know how to reach me.)

You can read their entire post in sequence here. (Assuming he doesn’t have the proper sense to take it down.  (Though I’ve saved it in a cache and a word doc for posterity.)

I will be writing his words in quote boxes and mine below for the rest of this post.

Maybe you’ve read the articles. The world accuses the Church of fostering a culture of sexual abuse.

Balderdash.

Millions of Christians worldwide daily pursue justice and mercy, goodness and truth, and love for neighbor within their marriages, in their parenting, at work, in church, in their neighborhoods, and in charities and social organizations, quietly modeling the character of Christ day in and day out. Their conduct never makes the news. Christ-like behavior is not nearly as sexy as one Christian whose conduct denies his profession of faith. Scandal sells.

  1.  The world-  This is church-speak for “christians vs. non christians.”  We outside of the church proper are the world, for reference.  He is taking a perspective that this is a church v. non-religious stance, rather than the sexual abusers (and those who empower/harbor/excuse them) vs those who want to make sure they are… not doing that.
  2. Millions pursue justice and mercy etc etc etc.  Sure.  Yes.  Millions of people don’t do the wrong thing. Bravo. It’s kind of like when you serve a sandwich that doesn’t have a hair in it.  That’s kind of the minimum of the sandwich artist, right?  To serve a sandwich without a remnant of the server in it?  I’m not going to cheer that my sandwich did not have a curly purple hair in it.
  3. Scandal sells.  Now at this moment, he jumps the shark. I wasn’t angry about what he said before this very moment.  I was annoyed, maybe?  I was like “yeah, I remember this gaslighting message from before, the smooth-talking “world v. us” mentality” but, Scandal sells?  Seriously?  That’s where you want to go with this?    Survivors are not a story to be monetized.  Scandal sells?  We are talking about sexual abuse, rape etc.  This is a crime in which women (and men) have DEEP DEEP shame.  This is a story that often never gets told because of that shame.  The #Metoo movement has finally brought women to the point where they feel that there are enough survivors out there that there is a safety net of numbers so they feel that they can safely be heard and supported, or they would still be in the shadows.  There is nothing to be gained by stepping out and sharing a story about their rape, their victimization, ESPECIALLY if it happened in the very communities that they share a deep connection like their faith, their friends, their pastors, their religion.

Every day faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, caring for victims, and pursuing justice and accountability, quietly and faithfully. But that’s not newsworthy. Scandal scintillates.

  1. Here, let me fix that for you: “Faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of CRIME, sweeping things under the run, shaming victims (like I’m doing in this post,) hiring would be felons, having no accountability, keeping things quiet (I totally agree with that one, buddy).  And that is newsworthy because that’s what we have been doing for so long and it’s finally coming out, and we are all nervous. Scandal scintillates.  And I’m scared that it might come out about my church, too.”
    Whew, much better.  See how that flows?
  2. Broad swaths of churches are not handling abuse, and the large amounts of disclosures that are happening from victims well.*

For two thousand years the Church of Jesus Christ has inculcated the virtue of self-control (Titus 2:11-12), the importance of love for neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and the necessity that men treat women as sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The Church has been teaching men and women to conduct themselves with sexual integrity since the days of Moses. But that’s just a killjoy. Scandal is so much more intriguing than obedience.

  1. Self control- YES. See, that’s what could keep you from getting in this mess.  The church slut-shame girls and women by telling them how to act, dress, and to keep themselves all prim and proper (Hi, one-piece suits for girls but topless boys,  double standard! I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, I’m looking at you too!), rather than teaching men to keep it in their pants,  control their minds, and not martially rape their wives.
    When we are taught to be submissive, not to be valued; when we are trained, like dogs; when the biggest value we have is hospitality, to be a mother, and a wife, not a member of society, to go to college,  to get an amazing job, to contribute passionately to the world, not our minds, wit, and spirit…
  2. This sexual integrity you speak of is totally not of this church world.  When the church teaches about sexual integrity in the terms of passing around a rose and by the time it gets to the end of the youth group is all smudged and broken and we are told that is what we are when we give part of our heart/spirit away like we are objects… or a piece of paper that gets ripped in half each time we like a boy until there is just this tiiiiiiny piece for the person we marry… see how we are objectified?  This is what the church teaches.  Mind you also, this is ALWAYS DIRECTED TO THE GIRLS.  We are fine china and any chip in the china and we are damaged goods.  Wonder why we don’t disclose abuse and rape? When all of that is shattered when our “purity” is taken from us, and we are disempowered by the very church that tells us it’s ultimate value, that is the power the church has.
  3. “Mansplaining” what it’s like to be in a survivor’s shoes, by this point in your blog is getting offensive.  You’ve started to lace in sexual purity and self-control to the narrative as if the #metoo or #churchtoo movement has to do with a lack of self-control.  RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE IS NOT ABOUT SELF CONTROL ON THE PART OF THE SURVIVOR.  IT IS ON THE PART OF THE AGGRESSOR/ABUSER.

The world expects, nay, it demands, that the Church share its outrage against sexual sin, which is the sin de jour. If a church instead chooses simply to live in fidelity to the truth and in sexual integrity, rather than to make showy, toothless, public proclamations, then that church is—according to the world—complicit. Phrases like “silence is consent” bandy about as the world shames the Church. But if the Church does rebuke sin, and if that sin is not the sin de jour—or if it is a sin that society refuses to call sin—then the world denounces the Church as hateful or racist or misogynistic or any number of other derogatory labels of contempt.

  1. Violence.pngRAPE IS NOT SEXUAL SIN ALONE.  RAPE IS A CRIME. RAPE IS A FELONY IN MOST, IF NOT ALL, STATES.  IT IS NOT THE “SIN DE JOUR”.  IT IS THE “CRIME DE OMG WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN ON THE FOREFRONT OF ALL CHURCHES ALWAYS WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THE TIME AND WHY AM I EVEN HAVING TO SPELL THIS OUT FOR YOU?”
  2. Are you really saying that the world would have an issue with you going “the church will have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual abuse, assault and rape?”  Is this really even something I’m saying?
  3. We ARE shaming the church.  When the church has unprecedented access to vulnerable populations (children, homeless, women, survivors, etc), you ARE held to a high standard of behavior.  There is story after story coming out of staff who are known predators who were hired with known criminal records.  This is UNACCEPTABLE.  This point cannot be argued.

And now you go into your affirmations.  I recall these.  In the church we used to say stuff and just because we said it, it made it true.  We had a gal who had cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition, where the pastor told her that she still had it because of unconfessed sin, but that’s for another time), we spoke it out that she no longer had CF and waited for Jesus to heal her, because anything claimed in his name became true.  She died before she turned 30.  But let’s go into this pastor’s affirmations.  These might go over better.

I affirm that individual professing Christians have been guilty of sin and abuse. I reject the idea that an entire institution is guilty for the sin of an individual.

Onboard.

I affirm that individual churches have mishandled abuse cases, and in so doing have wounded the abused. I reject the idea that every church stands guilty for the sin of one church.

Abuse was an actual CRIME, but okay.

I affirm that entire denominations have failed to speak or have actively covered up sexual sin. I reject the notion that every denomination is thus a nursery for abuse.

When there are posts like this pastor’s, shunning the speaking up of victims of abuse (you can bet that no one from his flock will because HOLY SHIT, #nothischurch), and being in a system that is male-dominated, and where victims often are told that the abuse will be handled internally, rather than to be encouraged to speak to police, the Church (Big C, meaning any/all) will not be a safe place to disclose abuse.  But don’t just take my word for it.

I affirm that the Church must balance justice and mercy, giving appropriate weight to each when dealing with sin and abuse. I reject the intimation that world knows best how the Church should deal with sin.

There is a whole justice system set up to deal with crimes.  Which is what we are talking about here.  If the church wants to help out with the spiritual side of an abuser, carry on, warriors, but justice and criminal repercussions are handled in the courts.

The world understands neither justice nor mercy, and it certainly knows nothing of how justice and mercy meet in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

Eyeroll.  Just no.

I reject the hubris of the world in presuming to tell the Church what it should or should not do and say.

Here, let me help you out.

  1.  We the church will not hire, abet, encourage, employ or affirm abusers.
  2.  We firmly stand with, affirm, believe, encourage and stand up for the victims of sexual assault, abuse, and rape.
  3. We will IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement if we become aware of any information that breaks ANY laws regarding sexual crimes involving children.  We will immediately encourage any women to report sexually based crimes to law enforcement.  We will support them FULLY through that process.
  4. We believe in the autonomy of both women and men, and the absolute value of both sexes.

It’s really that simple.  IT’S.NOT. THAT. HARD.

The Church of Jesus Christ—with all her warts, flaws, sins, shortcomings, baggage, failings, and weaknesses—is still the beautiful Bride of Christ whom He will deliver blameless on the last day. The Church still binds and looses, opening and shutting the Kingdom of God through her preaching of Good News. To the Church Jesus has given the oracles and ordinances for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. With the Church He is battering down the gates of hell.

The world is in no position to bad talk the Bride of Christ.

In fact, the world might find that the Church’s husband has been keeping score, and He is jealous for His Bride.

Is that… a threat? Keeping Score?  If I’m keeping score on the bride of christ, you have a chance to do better.

I’m available via skype, OP.  I’d love a dialogue.  I’m a survivor, of a rape that happened IN my church.

The church has an opportunity to call survivors in by acknowledgment of organizational failures (if not singular church failure), rather than call the world out for pointing the finger at the clergy at Large for harboring.

HOW WILL YOU USE IT? 

TRY AGAIN, PASTOR RUSS.

 

* I’m adding this edit: I realize that this pastor is one of the first to come out and attempt a dialogue.  This is hard work.  It’s hard to be male and attempt a dialogue about sexual assault, being that the voices that should be out there should be the victims.  Victims need to be the ones talking, but it takes a lot of emotional labor to be always educating on this issue.

I spent a lot of time on this article, and I also spoke with many people as I wrote it, including quite a few who are in the church themselves to ground my anger with the faith-based responses to the #churchtoo movement.  I do understand that likely this pastor is working to try to understand how the church can meet people where they are.  I imagine there are people in his church that have experienced rape, and I hope that he can find a way to hear their stories without judgment.  Victims deserve to have their perpetrators face justice within the justice system and to have support systems in place to encourage them to speak to authorities if they so choose.

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse is not only a sin, it is a crime.  Pastoral staff need to take a stand against this crime and stand with women who are starting to be able to find their voices and boldly step into the light.

 

 

Authenticity, Vulnerability

Calling People “In”, The Antithesis of Shame and Blame

Last week was hard, friends.  I faced a difficult moment of truth about myself, and I’d like to share it with you.

Black and white thinking is safe feeling to me. Things are either right, or wrong.  Often this thinking helps protect me from the grey of life, people doing wrong things with right intentions (or no intentions at all), or being able to vilify an entire population like “the church.”  This way of thinking seems so clear.

Therapy has been such a battle for me, as I unpack “big T” traumas (like sexual assault, or abuse), I find that there are more and more “little t” traumas, like how people reacted to my disclosure of abuse, or spiritual teachings gone awry in the church.  It’s been so easy to look at the church as either good, or bad, the people in it are “good or bad”, helpful or abusive.  This has been a protection from me needing to humanize the people involved in my story.

For example, it’s been comfortable for me to look at my former religious life (the church, the pastors, the teachings) as a whole.  It’s all bad, they had poor intentions, etc.  But there is so much more to it.  There is nuance.  Perhaps my pastors give teachings in love, but were misguided.  My hurt is real, but intent may not have been present.  (Or the intent was to guide, rather than to shame.) *Side note, there are people out there who directly intended to hurt others, an example being my rapist, this is not in reference to those who committed crimes nor to people who had true intention to harm others.

When it comes to my pastor, there were several things he did wrong, and many things he should have done better.  When I disclosed my rape on church property to him, the first words he said to me were “well, why were you over there?”  (I was going to a restroom that wasn’t often used, for context.)  When I contemplate his intent, it’s easy to see this as victim blaming, and shaming.  (And it is.)  The choices then become, what do I do with this question and how do I feel?

I will be meeting with him in the near future to ask him about this question, which he likely will not remember.  Which brings me to point two.

As I move into preparing my statement for my former pastor, I am starting to reassess my beliefs regarding his response to one of the biggest “Big T” traumas.  Maybe he asked me the question of the location in order to know more about what had happened.  Perhaps he was wondering what had prevented me from using a restroom that someone could have hurt the assault happening in (close to the youth group room). What if he was feeling guilt and wanted to know how far his responsibility went towards how he could have prevented this crime.  Hopefully he wasn’t asking this to question the validity of my experience.  The fact is, I don’t know what his motive was.  It’s easy to assume that he was victim blaming.  (And this has been a huge part of my story.)

This brings me to last week, where I stepped in it.  I had read a post about using handclaps in social media posts (as in one clap in between each word) and how it was seen as cultural appropriation.  I read more about it, and was very interested that it was seen that way, and recognized the connection of the emoji to the culture of a population that I intrinsically don’t belong to (I’m caucasian, and it refers to the handclaps as being appropriated from black culture.)

While I don’t use them in my posts, I knew of a close friend who did.  Knowing her, I knew she never wants to offend anyone, as she is a social justice warrior herself.  Then, I jumped the shark.  I messaged her the article and said “I’d imagine you’d like to know, the handclap between words thing is a cultural appropriation issue.”

I left no room for connection.

The way I said it came across as accusatory, and as if I was the end all and be all of the issue.  I called her out, instead of attempting to connect with her as a fellow human being and “call her in” to conversation about what she thought.  And as one would guess, she responded in frustration and anger about what I had sent, rather than wanting to explore the issue further.  I found a week later that she was upset, and when I explored what might have been wrong, by looking at my messages to her, my comment was glaring.  This way of stating my feelings has been consistent in my communication, and I’ve been called out on it more than once.  I tend to try to be direct, but it often is (or comes across as) harsh.  I needed to find a better way.

This week I finally dove into “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown.  I tend to really love hate her books, and the margins are always peppered with curse words as she calls me out to be better, more vulnerable and seek connection with others, especially over challenging issues.  Anytime I read Brene, she speaks right to my soul.  This week I was on chapter 5 “Speak Truth to Bullshit.”

Brene speaks of several instances where people called her out, rather than calls her in, and her response to the person.  She describes how when people make black or white statements, or accusations (as I had done with my friend) it bounces her soul right into the reminder of the “if you are not with me, you’re my enemy” thinking.

It’s not that she says “don’t challenge the status quo” or even “keep your opinions to yourself”, but rather to take a moment to process your statement and thread civility into it.  By remembering that most people act from a place of good, learning more about their motivations can help you both get to a place of openness and connection about even the most challenging issues.

I will continue to talk a bit about her approach, with this caveat, my friend’s statement to me was not bullshit, nor was her use of handclaps.  This is important to note, as Brene describes issues of difference (as it pertains to not embracing change or desiring to self-reflect) as “bullshit.”  This needs to be really clear.

When an issue of conflict in belief comes about, Brene talks about…

Avoiding creating an environment where there are two sides.

  • Setting up a black or white response framework cuts off the ability for understanding and the nuances of why the person believes what they do.
  • Perhaps they just don’t know (but why would they admit it, if doing so would make them look like an asshole because you are accusatory?)
  • Perhaps they do believe a variation of what you are asking about, but have reasons behind it. (But why would they explain that if you leave no room for conversation?)
  • Perhaps what you THINK they believe is actually not even the case (or only some parts are true).  (Why would they take the time to explain it, if you are accusing them of being one way?)
  • *Side note: there ARE black or white issues.  This is speaking more about the nuanced belief systems. But, even those issue have nuances of reasonings and explanations that we could learn more about.

What could I do better to not “call her out” but “call her in” (to conversation)?

  1. I could have mentioned this article I read in a WAY better way.
  2. I could have asked her about her feelings about the article, rather than implying “dude, I see you do this, knock that shit off”, “this article is true” and “what are you going to do about it?”

Looking back, I would bring this issue up like this:
“Hi friend!  I read this article the other day, and was curious what you thought about it?  I notice you use handclaps in your statuses frequently, can you tell me what that means to you? I’d really like to talk more about this with someone who utilizes this tool in their communication to learn more about it!” 

The tone is SO different.  Instead of learning about her feelings in a way where she felt she needed to be understandably defensive, we could have had a good conversation about the article and come to conclusions about its implications.  I deeply care about my friend, and the way that I approached this issue with her was totally not valuing her as the strong, thoughtful, and aware woman I know her to be.

This is Brene’s second point, Speak the truth to bullshit, but BE CIVIL. Rarely is a good conversation where both people are heard, respected and learning started with such direct and pointed conversation.  She brings up the acronym BRAVING again in this chapter. (Brene’s words in italic.)

B- Boundaries- What’s okay in a discussion, and what’s not?  How to you set a boundary when you realize you’re knee deep in bullshit (either from them, or from you?)

R- Reliability- Bullshitting is the abandonment of reliability.  It’s hard to trust or be trusted when we BS too much.  (I take this as both people involved!)

A- Accountability- How do we hold ourselves and others accountable for less BS and more honest debate?  Less off-loading of emotion and more civility? (Again, from both sides.  For me, it was “how could I have promoted a valuable conversation, rather than hurt my friend?”)

V- Vault- Civility honors confidentiality. BS ignores truth and opens the door to violations of confidentiality.  

I- Integrity- How do we stay in our integrity when confronted with BS and how do we stop in the midst of our own emotional moment to say “you know what, I’m not sure this conversation is productive” or “I need to learn more about this issue”?  (We couldn’t even get to a place of conversation, because I had shoved the door open and pulled her inside, rather than gently inviting her in.)

N- Nonjudgment- How do we stay out of judgment toward ourselves when the right thing to do is say “I actually don’t know much about this.  Tell me what you know and why it’s important to you.” How do we not go into “winner/loser” mode and instead see an opportunity for connection when someone says to us “I don’t know anything about that issue?” (In this case, what I knew was I read an article.  I knew my friend used them.  The jump I made was launching right into the issue with a “this isn’t right”, rather than seeking understanding and connection with someone I cared about.)

G- Generosity-  What’s the most generous assumption we can make about the people around us?  What boundaries have to be in place for us to be kinder and more tolerant?  (Though I made the assumption that my friend wasn’t using handclaps to be offensive, I equally assumed that she was wrong. The former was not even implied in my message to her, but certainly my view of “you are wrong” came across strongly.  Though my intent was not to call her out, I did.)

I read this section of the book today and though I had already apologized to her for how I approached this, Brene really “called me in” to do much better.

I’m sorry, dear friend.DFwOGZFVoAAdIPG.jpg

 

church, Process, Spiritual Abuse, Vulnerability

When Being Human Feels Like Imposter Syndrome

For me, nothing feels more vulnerable than not being able to perform at the level I’m used to.  I find solace in the idea that if anything I prove my worth by doing ALL THE THINGS.   Over the past few months, my health has taken a weird turn, requiring me to really pare down how much I am “doing” throughout the day.  I’m consistently tired, thus needing to pass some of the workloads I’ve previously owned, to my husband.

At the same time, I’ve been in therapy with Jessica for over three years now.  I’ve been working through years and years of trauma and abuse, while simultaneously trying to {adult/wife/mother}.

I have a lovely husband, an amazing child, and a great life.  But my trauma keeps me from enjoying it the way I should.  I feel like an imposter in this life, as if I can’t play all the parts I should to deserve it all. I sit in therapy and spin in circles about the human I am, who I was supposed to be, and the complex factors that created who I am today.

Despite her not giving me a single reason to, I’ve consistently challenged Jessica’s dedication to me as a client by calling her out on various things she says that trigger me.  (Interestingly enough, she probably finds this totally helpful and empowering for me to do.)  Every few months I seem to hit this Wall of “OMG WHY AM I NOT “BETTER” YET?”  Today she mentioned in response to the Wall, that therapy for complex trauma survivors can take 10 years + to move through.

I was dumbfounded.  Then she drops this:

“When you’ve grown up in persistent and systemic abuse, with incident after incident, complex trauma, therapy is a process of totally rebuilding a new human being.

Of course it’s going to take a long time.

Not only that, but it’s expected and okay.”

I left shaken, and in tears of both shame {for feeling this way} and relief {maybe I’m not broken?} I turned on a podcast and started listening to my weekly “geek-out” of Psychology in Seattle about Imposter Syndrome.

The podcast got me thinking.  I feel like just existing is imposter syndrome for me.  I consistently question my own reality because of the spiritual abuse I experienced.  The church shunned facing trauma head-on and working through it.  I recall ministries that would have you bring your trauma to a weekend retreat and be expected to let god heal it all {read: never need to worry about, deal with, or mention said trauma again}.  If you did struggle with that trauma afterward it was because of {a lack of faith, a lack of reading your bible enough, a lack of prayer, unconfessed sin in your life}.

Perhaps this is why the formerly religious struggle so much with trauma.  Without a forum to safely express feelings, doubts, and struggles,  how is trauma to be resolved? {Or maybe not even resolved, but integrated into our lives.} When lack of healing is connected with lack of faith, there is little motivation to explore struggle with past trauma.

When I was in the church, I was basically cattle.  I was being raised to fulfill certain duties {youth leader/wife/worship leader} and to not stray beyond that.  Purity was of the utmost importance, and the appearance of being unblemished was critical for those roles.  The girls, specifically, were raised with a goal of a marriage and children.  There was little room in there for humanity or cracks in our perfect porcelain plates.  In order to have a great match, endorsed by the pastors, we needed to have an appearance of perfection, and a lack of struggle to be holy.

Upon exiting the church, I felt everything I was and formed myself to be was called into question.  I was wandering among the world we were taught to not be of, with huge gashes from childhood and young adult complex trauma, with no support system.  I felt so vulnerable because the part I was groomed to play was suddenly taken away from me.  An arranged marriage to a member of the ministry, all my friends, my musical self {worship team}, and even my family.  My sense of self was systemically taken from me {or never allowed to develop}, piece by piece during my childhood through to my young adult days along with countless others.  {Some of whom are still deeply involved in the church life to this day, and now a cog in the spiritual abuse wheel.}

Thankfully, I’m a member of several FB groups where deconstructing religious experiences and spiritual trauma is an everyday discussion.  I feel less alone when I see similar stories of spiritual abuse, and how their experiences in the church have cause people significant and ongoing harm.  It hurts me to know that a group of people can hurt people so badly, and even after a person leaves there is significant, ongoing wounds that pop up.

On the flip side, at times a topic will be brought up that turns my world on end again.  This goes along the lines of “know better, do better.”  I will suddenly have a realization that something I experienced wasn’t normal, or was downright abusive, which puts me back in the trenches of needing to deconstruct my long-held beliefs.

I frequently doubt my ability to reconstruct a whole human being from the broken parts I’ve gathered over the years.  I feel a sense of obligation to be further along in my process than just 3 years.  When I struggle to be the perfect wife, mother or friend, I have little sympathy for myself, or grace.  I am keenly aware this is a result of the unbending black/white thinking I grew up in, but cutting myself the slack to know that I’m not going to break my child by reacting a certain way when I’m triggered… my husband isn’t going to leave me because I need to rest and not unload the dishwasher… I’m not failing at life because I sit in therapy every week spinning on the same issues over and over… is difficult.

 

 

Process

Same office, different hour.

Once (sometimes twice) a week I walk into a room where I don’t have to speak French to talk about trauma or “not trauma.”  I can walk in and speak about whatever I want, and know that I can be understood.

At times, that is the most freeing experience ever, and at times the most frustrating as I can’t hide anything.  I can’t hide my microexpressions, my breathing, nothing.

Trauma is isolating. Survivors are isolated from the world, from non-survivors, and from each other.  We are on an island.  I don’t get to therapy early because I don’t want to sit there in the waiting room and see other trauma survivors and not talk to them.  It’s already so isolating.  I don’t even look at anyone in the eyes in the office because I know that they have a story I can relate to, but I’ll never know it.  It’s worse to be surrounded by them, and know that you can never know.  Being aware these are your people, and you’ll never know them, it’s incredibly hard.

It’s worse to be lonely, than alone.

One day when I walked into Jess’s office there were drawings left over from the previous hour, another client… a drawing of a spider, on pink cardstock… with the words “fuck u.”  I saw that and just got them.  I got IT.  Sometimes that’s just how we deal.  We sometimes feel like we are just balloons floating around the world that doesn’t get it.

For me, I often have/had to approach the world with a “fuck u” attitude.  You think I can’t make it? Well, fuck you.  You think I need to trust everyone?  Fuck that and fuck you. (And so on.)  The Survivor’s Guide to Life is defense AND offense.

This little glimmer of the Fuck U spider was a moment of the humanity of someone else battling their own war.  Jess cut it out for me, and I have it in my wallet, to remind me that even though I don’t see them, somewhere out there, there is someone out there who gets it.

Over time, I’ve formed a music playlist that has been my go-to source of inspiration, and often play it in therapy.  I shared it with Jess and she asked if she could share this list with another one of her other clients.  Music is a huge part of my soul, and to pass it to another going through trauma was a gift I was thankful to share.  It gave me comfort to know that the notes that I curated into this list were being given to another.  Eventually, the idea was floated to connect the two of us. This person had no name, it’s like they weren’t real.

Until they were.

 

I got an email in my inbox, from the same office… different hour.

Subject line: Insert Awkward Subject Line Here.

Right then I knew, Hannah was good people.  Right off the cuff she was snarky, fun, and made fun of the therapeutic process, as we hardcore PTSD clients are prone to do. (It’s a coping strategy, don’t judge.)  Within days we developed a good rapport where we were able to express some of our challenges (what brought us to our hour) with ease.  It was amazing to be able to not only talk about those challenges without needing to interpret why xyz might be complex for us, but also knowing Jess allowed us to understand how that expression might play out in the hour.

My therapist offered a bridge between our two islands.

Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so alone.

Process

Brokenness

Broken

a :damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
:having undergone or been subjected to fracture 
:not working properly 
:disrupted by change
:made weak or infirm 
:subdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
:cut off 
:imperfectly spoken or written
:not complete or full 
The vulnerability project was born of brokenness. Of a desire to put together pieces of my soul and spirit in a new and unique way sure, but at its core, out of brokenness.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been processing an event that occurred more than a decade ago.  Part of trauma is the constant cycling of information in your brain, the recycling even of new ways of looking at the same event.  My therapist would refer to it as processing (UGH).
I’ve loved, truly loved, two men in my life.  I’m married to one of them.
This event involved the other.
More than a decade ago, I worked at an overnight camp and fell in love with an amazing person.  He was strong, kind, and knew what it was like to live through something hard.  At the time, I was still going through night terrors and reliving my own trauma, and he was able to empathize as he was a vet with PTSD himself.  The ability to speak the same language with him, without ever actually talking was unique and powerful.  For the first time in years, I felt like I wasn’t alone.
So much could go unsaid. But not like in the outside world.  Words could go unsaid because finally there was understanding.  I could bring up a trigger, and I didn’t have to go through the full story.  He could do the same.  It was like being in a book group, with someone finally reading the whole book, just like I did.  It was a breath of fresh air.
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I felt broken for years, alone, like a jagged shard of glass, but around him… since he had his own trauma, I thought perhaps we could be more like sea glass.  We could tumble a bit together and become something less sharp, if only because we had a mutual understanding.
Maybe together, we could both heal.
One night in the pitch black we went walking together in the neighboring regional forest next to our camp, after work.  It was dark, but I was with him.  I was with him. We were just talking.  I said something that caused him to be upset with me.  I recall he stopped. We stopped. and then he left me there.
And suddenly I was alone.
I remember my thoughts running in fast forward.
Where did he go?
Why did he leave me here?
Where am I?
I have no way of getting back, what will I do?
I.AM.ALONE.
I am going to die here.
And then I started to panic.
My mind flashed.
Suddenly I wasn’t in the forest, I was in my assault, and he put me there.  He left me alone in the middle of the woods, he knew what he was doing, and he left me unsafe.
Someone I loved, someone I trusted.
someone WHO.KNEW.BETTER.
I came back to my body in a violent landing, like a comet hitting the Earth because that’s exactly what I had done.  I was on the forest floor on my hands and knees, wondering why it was so loud.  What is that horrible noise?  What is dying?
That noise was me, screaming.
Time stood still.  I screamed and screamed.  I had no way of getting back, I didn’t know where I was in the park because I thought I was walking with someone safe,
someone I loved,
someone who would protect me.
He was in the army for god sakes, leave no one behind?
I thought I was going to have to wait until daylight to return back to camp, and if I had to scream until then, I would.
Time passed.
Days.
Years.
Minutes.
Seconds.
He finally returned.
We walked back together, and by that I mean somehow his body and mine shared space along the way to where we needed to go.
I moved my things out of his cabin that night, and he kept moving them back in.  I recall sleeping next to him shaking.
I spent time thinking about this throughout the following days/weeks and made a conscious choice to put it aside in my memory.  “You’re broken,” I thought.  “This might be your chance.  He gets that you are broken, and stays anyway. This might just need to be the way it is.”
So we moved on.  We stayed together for several more months together until we broke up in the fall.
Years go by, and we reconnect.  He has married and has a lovely wife and kids.  I do too and we realize that we still both deeply care for each other.  We have great conversations, and I look forward to any time we are able to talk.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago.
Out of nowhere, he says (I’m paraphrasing) “You know, I’m sorry for what happened in the forest. I knew it would trigger your PTSD.  That’s why I stayed nearby, you couldn’t see me, but I was nearby.”
……… And I look at those words and my heart sinks.
He had left me there and heard me suffer.  While he listened nearby, triggering me into a trauma space.  And as someone with PTSD himself, doing that knowingly.  Suddenly my narrative of the situation drastically changed.  I thought he had left and then returned when he noticed I hadn’t made it back.  Instead, he was nearby, listening to me scream.
I spoke with him via skype because I needed to know what he was thinking.  I needed to know one thing.  Had I triggered HIM, with something I had said?  This was the ONLY reason I could come up with, the only acceptable purpose for him leaving me in that moment.  It was the first time that I had HOPED that I had royally messed up and done something egregious.
But I hadn’t.
And I knew I hadn’t.
He said I hadn’t.
I had “frustrated him” he said.
I started to spiral and went into a very dark place.  How could someone I loved so deeply do this to me?  Could I trust anyone to not do this to me?  I had recently lost a friendship with someone I had cared about who hadn’t valued my friendship, was this a pattern?  Am I broken?
Could I trust myself, my heart, with a person who would purposely do something to trigger me into a deeply traumatic space, regardless of our history?  I found myself mourning the idea of losing someone who had been a big part of my life, and someone who was truly one of the only people who spoke the trauma language fluently in my life.
This relationship is broken.

Broken

a: damaged or altered by or as if by breaking 
bhaving undergone or been subjected to fracture 
cnot working properly 
ddisrupted by change
emade weak or infirm 
fsubdued completely (a broken heart/broken spirit)
gcut off 
himperfectly spoken or written
inot complete or full 
e3594e608b8a8ad58cca8201613eb1df--vikings--vikings-lagerthaI HATE that this situation has now spun me into questioning whether other people I love and care about will also “leave me in the forest” triggered, and terrified for reasons that aren’t equivalent to the amount of terror that it imposes on me.
Will my husband?  Will my friends?   Will my care team?
I feel vulnerable.
I feel that I let my guard down, and I’m now reaching for my shield again.
Process

You Have The Floor

Recently I’ve identified as being numb.  This is a scary place to be.  When one feels nothing, there is no place to go but down.

I sat on the floor of my therapist’s office (yes we do this), today and expressed how numb I felt to life, and this alarmed me.  Typically little things like the sound of my child laughing and my husband kissing me on the forehead would bring a smile to my face, but I just had no reaction to them anymore, other than straight apathy.

For 30 minutes I sat there describing my apathy, my numbness while Jess deftly navigated around how I presented.  Until I came to the realization that numb is another presentation for emotionally flooded.

I’m currently overwhelmed with feelings, and when I am overwhelmed, I tend to go inward and shut down.  For the past 6 weeks or so, I’ve been a metaphorical emotional black hole.

11855765_10100430304967611_6629280669820837149_n

 

I have a pattern of being very frustrated with the pattern of cycling back on a topic that I feel I’ve “dealt with” in the past.  If I’ve brought the trauma to the surface in the past, talked about it “to death,” picked it apart, and “processed it” I feel like it should be done.

Right?  It’s that simple.

I feel deep shame when I circle around to an issue that I’ve brought up before and feel like I’ve met a conclusion with.  As if there’s some sort of failure curve in therapy.

I’ve wanted to write, and every time I open this page, I felt this pang of failure.  I have a big topic to discuss but felt like it wasn’t the BIG trauma, thus, not important enough to write about.  This came up on the floor today too.  I couldn’t talk about this other trauma because it’s not like my life was on the line here.  I wasn’t going to die in this situation.  So it wasn’t important.  So I turned those feelings inward to apathy.

IT wasn’t important.

So *I* wasn’t important.

I need to get to writing.

 

 

Uncategorized

The Greatest Thing…

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“The greatest thing is just to love,

AND be loved in return.”

 

 

My grief cycle moved very nicely from anger to sadness throughout the day, which I credited to really FEELING my emotions, which I hadn’t really done before with strong “negative” emotions, for lack of better terms.

Last night I attended another Authentic Relating circle.  I was particularly nervous because a friend was also attending.  This made me feel vulnerable for a couple of reasons.  First, they knew me outside of the circle, and that I had been struggling.  Second I was concerned that I would no longer be able to be an on-looker at the circle, and need to participate more.  Both concerns were forcing me to look at my emotions and focus on being present in the space which I ended up being very grateful for.

I also was grateful that I was asked a pointed question about how I was feeling, which forced me to be out in the open and vulnerable.  After the past few days, I was feeling raw, and was craving the opportunity to speak about my experience and yet still feeling really trepidatious about opening up to a group of nine people I barely knew about the hurt I was feeling.  But as soon as I started talking I started to feel a release of some of the sadness I was carrying.

I started to hear the stories of the other’s in the room and one line struck me about being a giver, and pouring a lot of love and time into relationships and feeling like you’re not getting much back.  When I heard that line it hit me so hard, like someone threw truth at me like a brick.  All I wanted to do was to reach out touch the person who said this, but they were across the room.  It was an almost overwhelming desire to connect and go, I hear you, this is exactly it.  The givers give, but often we are not given TO.

Yes. yes. YES. You are not alone, I hear you.

One of the reasons I surround myself with such amazing people is TO LOVE.

 

I’ve realized that equally important is to be loved IN RETURN.