C-PTSD, Childhood, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

I Have Been Away

I have been away from this blog for a little bit. Truth be told I think I needed to take a break from thinking about it all for a while. I have been working hard on political activism all spring and summer, pouring all of my energy into making the world a better place. I really try to keep politics out of this blog because I do not want to alienate any survivors who might find help here. That being said I am also devoted to honesty and telling my story from that place and current events definitely have affected that.

Art Heals

All of my social media is awash in Kavanaugh coverage. Because of the volunteer work that I do within my community, I am on social media a lot. I connect with others online about actions, events, and the news. When I’m away from it for even one day I feel like when I return I have all of these fires to put out and folks to support. This summer has required me to give all the emotional support I can both to those I love and to myself. I count myself lucky to have such an amazing partner who makes sure that I eat, sleep, and smile as much as possible. It helps to know that he is beside me every step of the way. He also keeps tabs on my abuser which is very comforting to me. Knowing that Steve Dahl loves Madison and visits often has made my home feel unsafe.

My Sweetheart

As I have observed everything going on with Kavanaugh I hear echoes of things that have been said to me regarding my abuse. It weighs heavy on my chest like a large boulder that I cannot lift off. Some days rage threatens every moment and every breath I take, other days I have to try desperately to keep the tears from flowing because I know that if they start I will not be able to turn them off. Then there are the days when I sit and stare into space, those days are the worst. I feel immobilized, frozen, like prey trying not to be detected by a world that feels unsafe to me.

I have heard people say they do not understand why Dr. Ford did not report when everything happened to her all of those years ago. I cannot say that reporting would have helped. Often when someone is caught not much happens to them and the accuser pays a very heavy price if she is even believed at all. What I hear those in power saying is, we believe this happened to her but we do not care. That was my experience. No one ever said they did not believe me, they just did not care. They still do not care. What they care about is protecting their male ally. They care about male authority and the sacredness of their organization. They don’t care about me and they never did.

Age 11

I hear some floating the idea that maybe she is just mistaken. It was really some other guy who just looks like Kavanaugh. I’m here to say that is unlikely. I remember my trauma very well, in fact, I remember it better than almost anything in my life. That is how trauma works. I remember what I was wearing, what he was wearing, where we were, what it smelled like, and what music was playing in the background. I might not be able to tell you the date but I know what season it was and what grade I was in. C-PTSD will ensure that you never ever forget.

The survivor knows that when she comes forward she is about to stand trial. There is always a price to be paid when you are a truth teller. Dr. Ford has paid and will continue to pay a heavy price for coming forward with her truth, for trying to do the right thing. When I started writing this blog last winter I braced myself for the backlash and it came like a storm into my life. I was accused of trying to ruin a good man’s life. They said he has led a clean good life since taking my childhood away. Apparently, the crimes committed against me mean nothing because he has been a good guy ever since. Remember these men rarely offend only once. Some questioned whether I even attended the church at the age I claimed all of this happened. All they need to do to figure that out is to look at their Sunday School, School, and Baptism records. The worst part is who came at me. Men mostly, many who have never met me, and some who knew me throughout childhood. Some of them wanting to protect the church and worst many who wanted to protect their friend. They have tried to shift the blame to me and my parents. They are happy for anyone to bear the blame as long it isn’t pastor Grant or Steve Dahl. They have been full of advice for me about how I should forgive for my own sake, take it to Jesus, and get on with my life.

Friends and supporters
Friends and supporters

The silver lining to this storm is women so many women and a few men. By telling my story I have opened the door and now I have so many allies. I have been telling my story since it happened but when I brought it completely out into the sunlight women came from all over to give me love, support, and even better they stood beside me and confronted my abuser. I hope that Dr. Ford sees all of the women protesting, holding vigils, sending her postcards, and sending her love and support. I believe her and I’m hoping my silver lining can be hers as well.

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C-PTSD, Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

C-PTSD and Rapture Anxiety

*If you are triggered by rapture anxiety tread carefully with this post*

I have complex PTSD. My condition comes from many different sources and for multiple reasons. One of the biggest causes is rapture theology. I know that I have written about this topic often so today I want to come at it from a different angle. If you spend any time on the internet you have probably heard about triggers. I have many of them and some days they can really make life complicated.

I have spent much of my adult life trying to undo the damage done to me by the church. I know in my conscious mind that I no longer believe what I was taught but because it was taught to me at such a young age it did permanent damage. Over time things have become better but my triggers never go away completely. I have been putting this off because I know how crazy it sounds but I am also very committed to being honest here and so here it goes…

On most days these things don’t bother me that much but it only takes letting one in to start a cascade of anxiety. A bad day can come out of nowhere and before I know it it has taken over everything. I had a day like this recently and it all started on Twitter. I got up in the morning and I started to mindlessly scroll through Twitter. Another survivor retweeted a tweet featuring a photo of a guillotine. That person was talking about how that photo triggered her and seeing her post triggered me. I immediately felt a sense of dread and my pulse quickened. I started to breathe fast and shallow and I had to self-talk myself out of an unexpected panicked state. Once that door is opened it can be very hard to force it closed again. I start to move through my day trying to keep “I wish we’d all been ready” from playing on a loop in my brain. That first trigger opened the door for the second (that damn song) and that leads to the next, the dreaded white van. So a little later in my day I head out to walk my dog. I have my headphones on and I’m listening to a podcast in part to keep the rapture thoughts at bay. I turn a corner and there is a white van parked on the side of the road, my pulse speeds up again as I rush past it and try to push out the memories of the Unite van from A Thief In The Night. No, men are not coming to get me in order to force the mark of the beast on me, but my lizard brain doesn’t understand that. I talk to myself about how it is just a movie and how we don’t believe in that anymore but the dread lingers all day. My brain keeps shoving things in my face the guillotine, the song, the van. Over and over. Weird looking clouds and loud horns can add to my anxiety when I am in this state. Is that god returning in those creepy clouds, is that horn signaling the start of some apocalyptic hell scape? Later I decide to take a hot bath and pamper myself a little bit, while in the bath my eyes fall upon the shampoo bottle with the UPC code facing out towards me here again is another trigger. I try to resist my impulse to turn all of the bottles away from me so I can’t see the bar code. I don’t want to give into the anxiety soon I just turn them because I want to enjoy my bath, the song returns and my bath is ruined. Before long it is bedtime and I’m laying there trying to sleep. I’m on edge because the anxiety will not let me rest. I look out into the darkness and try to will my mind to be quiet. My inner child will not rest. She knows the danger out there, Unite might be coming for me at any moment. What if you are wrong lingers on the edges of my mind. I sometimes get up and go get a drink in the bathroom. As I walk into the room I see his electric razor sitting on the counter and I’m triggered again.

I know how this sounds, which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to write. It. Things are much better now than they were when I was younger. I don’t respond to these triggers in the same way every day. They have to catch me in the right moment, maybe I’m tired that day or feeling emotional. Maybe I’m already thinking about the church or rapture for some other reason. Sounds  and visual cues affect me worse than words but occasionally words can do it especially certain Bible quotes. “No man knows the day nor the hour…” “Two men will be in the field, one will be taken…”, 666. This is why I don’t participate in conversations online about the rapture because people will bring up these verses and always the Thief in the Night films, and then it is all over for me. When it gets really bad my brain just starts flashing images at me to force me to pay attention. When I was a kid this sweet woman from the church came to give my mother a Bible study. The Search for Truth Bible Study. This Bible study was very popular within our congregation and they wanted all new converts to go through it. It was a huge flip book that stood on the table by itself with large full-page black and white drawings. One of these drawings has stuck with my mind my whole life it featured the white throne judgment and after all of these years (I was 8 when I first saw it) I can still bring it up into my mind easily.

http://search4truth2.com/DOCs/study/search4truth1-chart.pdf

Start at page 54 and go through to the end and you will see what I mean. The night I had my salvation experience my pastor preached a fire and brimstone sermon that scared the crap out of my 10-year-old self. I fully believed that if I left that service unsaved I would burn forever. From my childhood church experience I have almost no memories of anyone talking about god’s love, it seems like it was mostly turn or burn on repeat. I heard it at home, at church, and at school. It was inescapable.

I wrote this to give you all an idea of what it is like to deal with C-PTSD. When the church exposes young minds to ideas, images, and thoughts they are not ready for or able to fully understand they are committing child abuse. My young mind was damaged in a way that I cannot fully fix. I cannot predict when all of these thoughts will rush at me. Rapture theology is not the only thing contributing to my condition but it is a HUGE part of it and the most unpredictable.

D

Compassion, Forgiveness, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Southern Baptist Church, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

What Will It Take?

As I sit at my desk tonight the question that sits at the front of my mind is what will it take? I and many others have lifted up our voices and spoke truth to power and yet they still can’t seem to find their hearts. Since I have told my story not one single person who is still in the church has reached out to me. In many ways, this doesn’t surprise me because once you are out of the church you are nothing to them, on the other hand, I have to believe that somewhere in that congregation there has to be one person with a heart. If only it was as simple as finding someone with a heart. Once you find that, then you have to find someone who isn’t afraid. Sadly many people who still attend and even those who have broken away are still afraid.

Lois Gibson has called Calvary Gospel Church out on her Spiritual Abuse blog over and over and yet no one has responded. She recently realized that they blocked her on Twitter so it is obvious that they know about her blog and they can see that she has heard the stories.

I am sure that they are talking about me and others because that is what they have always done, it is a testament to the hold they have over their congregants that not one person has broken ranks. I believe it would never even occur to them to apologize or seek healing between us and them. In their minds, they are with god and therefore right and we are not and therefore wrong. To be honest I cannot ever remember them apologizing for anything. I have no memory of any minister or person in authority saying they were wrong.

It isn’t just the local church the UPCI has not responded either. My guess is they assume there is not much we can do to them legally so they do not care. It is sad that they feel they bear no responsibility for the young souls they allowed to be wounded. I understand that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of every person within their congregations but they should be held responsible for the things they know about and what they did with that knowledge.

It isn’t just the UPC that is guilty of this behavior. If you follow #churchtoo you will see that the Southern Baptist Church has acted in a similar fashion. It has happened in the Catholic church and in non-denominational churches. I feel that if American Christianity wants to stop losing members it needs to address this behavior across the board. The response from these organizations shouldn’t be to call into question whether or not the wounded person really believed in god or to call upon the survivors to forgive. It shouldn’t be to lash out at people who are struggling to heal themselves demanding that the wounded repent and come back to god. What is needed is a heartfelt apology, and a willingness to look within and see where they made mistakes. Next change needs to happen, there needs to be a willingness to value young women, people of color, and those who don’t have a lot of money to put in the offering plate. They might have to sacrifice some of their sacred cows if those people are causing harm and driving people away. The reform that is needed would be very hard but necessary journey.

If you have any questions about my journey or would like me to talk about something in particular here on the blog please let me know!

Thanks,

Debbie

Childhood, Family, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Food, Shame, Trauma

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about the trauma I experienced as a young person. I’ve been thinking about my weight and wondering what role trauma has played in my day to day habits. Because of growing up UPC I have had to work very hard to learn to love myself. Shame was heaped on me during childhood and even now at 47 years old I still struggle to get rid of it. Much of that shame came from the church but some of it came from my parents.

As a child, I was often hungry. My mother never wanted people to know our business so I never reached out to teachers. During my elementary years I was still in public school and going home for lunch was how we hid the fact that there was nothing to put in my lunchbox. I felt shame every time I had to run home and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that was all there was in the house to eat. I would eat it off the spoon and wash it down with some water before heading back to school. Peanuts do not agree with my stomach and I wonder if some of the stomach issues I had during childhood had something to do with this habit. Later on in middle school and early high school, we would be without electricity on and off. My mother would keep a cooler with milk and bologna in the kitchen. When I look back at photos of myself from age 12-15 I am super skinny. I’m skinny in an unhealthy way. I have to wonder why none of the adults in my life asked about whether or not I had enough to eat. I have one memory of an adult commenting to me but it was just a passing comment. She was sewing me a new school uniform for the year and she told me that I looked so thin she was afraid I would blow away if I wasn’t careful. At this point, the adults in the church knew about our money problems. If only my mother would get her heart right…

One time I dared to comment to an adult in our apartment complex that I was hungry. I was about 6 years old. This compassionate woman was our next door neighbor. She waited until my mother came home and brought us a bag of groceries. Inside was a loaf of bread and some milk, along with a few other things. My mother was VERY embarrassed and really angry with me for saying anything. I never did that again. The last thing I wanted to do was to make my mother angry. She would not only spank me but she would threaten me with hell for not being obedient.

The start of the time when I was the thinnest was right when Steve Dahl was molesting me. It is hard to know for sure what role his actions played but I have my suspicions. I have a clear as day memory of him telling me the only thing he would change about my body was my tiny tummy bump. My stomach wasn’t flat, it has never been flat even when I was a size 3. As I write this my tears are overwhelming me. I have never cried about this before, maybe I have unlocked something? One of the reasons that spending time with Steve was so alluring is because he fed me. He took me out for ice cream but also for real food if I was spending the day with him. My mother rarely had the money for that, but it was something my dad would do with me. My father being in and out of my life would make a big show of treating me when he was trying to make amends for being absent. Steve was in many ways a substitute father. Food was definitely part of the grooming process.

While at the Christian school I barely ate anything. I never ate breakfast and I would usually bring an apple or banana for lunch. I would save any change I found for the soda machine. I could get a soda for 25 cents. No one ever asked why I did not eat, in fact, no one really ever asked how I was doing. Right now I am talking about the adults, I’m sure that my friends commented but I’m also sure I just brushed it off. Once I reached about age 14 I started to make babysitting money. I would use this money to buy clothes (not food) because Sunday church was such a fashion show and I was already one of the poor kids. I just wanted to fit in. When I was old enough to work I got a job at a steakhouse and then I was never hungry. I was given one free meal per shift and I had money to buy food for when I was not working. I worked as often as I could. I would often pay for my friends and me to grab a slice of pizza or some other fast food, I liked being able to treat them.

I left the church at 16 years old and launched into adulthood. I had my first apartment at 17 and I was married at 19. In my early to mid 20’s I started to gain weight. Some of it may have to do with the damage done to my body during childhood. It seemed that I gained really easily and if I ate what “normal” people ate I would balloon up. For years this tortured me. My first husband mocked me and made fun of my body, which I’m sure you can guess did not help. I could not figure out what was going on and all the doctors would say to me is to eat less, exercise more. I did that. When I wasn’t pregnant or nursing I ate very little and worked out whenever the kids were not awake. It did not make a difference.

Thankfully around 1998, I discovered feminism! It has taken me years to learn to love myself and let go of shame. I have been working on being more healthy overall. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Balance is very important to me. I have discovered that I am an athlete. Being a plus size woman can make that hard, but I love being athletic so much and I have not let my weight stop me. That being said I am not perfect. I try hard to eat healthily and I try to love myself even when I don’t see the scale move, even if the scale never moves. During my long struggle with my body, it has never really occurred to me until now that maybe some of my childhood trauma has affected my body. One thing about writing is that it brings things to the surface that you might never notice otherwise.

I know that the lifelong insomnia that I suffer from is at least in part caused by being afraid of missing the rapture. I’m hypervigilant even though I no longer believe that doctrine. As a kid, I would lay awake worried about the rapture and I would often be awakened by nightmares about it. I’m sure I have sexual abuse trauma hiding out in my body. Little by little as I bring my trauma out into the light I hope that some of that trauma can be released. I wonder how many of us within the #churchtoo movement suffer from the same physical issues.

I hope you can excuse this long rambly post. I knew what I wanted to write about today but I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out. Much of this I am still unwinding and trying to make sense of it all. To all those out there who feel I should just let it go, get over it, and move on, I wish it was that easy. I am the walking wounded, working to heal a little more each day.

Forgiveness, Sexual Abuse, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

Forgiveness and Casting Stones

Often over the past week, I’ve caught myself thinking about forgiveness. When is it appropriate to forgive? Is forgiveness necessary? I’m suspicious of the idea of radical forgiveness that is often taught in self-help books, new age philosophy, and some Christianity. I’ve tried it and it has never really worked for me.

For much of my adult life, I’ve tried to forgive the worst crimes committed against me. Everyone told me to do it for myself, I wouldn’t heal without it. It did not feel right at the time and it doesn’t feel right now. Where do we get our ideas about forgiveness? I would argue that our ideas about forgiveness come from our culture’s Christian underpinnings. I have had many Christians tell me that I must forgive because god forgave me. Those types of arguments do not work on me because I am no longer a Christian. They’ve also pointed out to me that I’m sinful and therefore have no right to cast stones. This too has no meaning for me because I no longer believe. I have to wonder where that line of logic ends. So if someone murders my child will I be accused of casting stones if I call out the killer? If a person’s home is robbed are they supposed to stay silent because they have sin in their past? Maybe this rule is only applied to church abuse victims? I do not believe that casting stones is the same thing as calling attention to a problem.

I’ve been accused of being bitter and of trying to destroy a man’s life. I don’t feel that finally having the courage to speak truth to power is being bitter. My actions will not be what destroys his life, his actions set that all in motion many years ago. He continues down the road to destruction by minimizing what he did through referring to it as adultery and not child abuse. I suspect his dishonesty will be his undoing. He claims to have asked for forgiveness years ago, but how can that be so when he cannot even speak the truth about what he did? Those around him seek to protect him from his crimes and part of that is by turning the focus onto me and what I may be doing wrong.

In the end, telling victims that they need to forgive is a way to take the heat off of the perpetrator and focus it back onto the victim. It becomes about whether or not she/he has forgiven and whether or not she/he believes they’re sin free and therefore worthy to call out sin. It gives the victim a task to complete and a way to judge the victim whenever they attempt to speak up for themselves. Using the coded language of adultery instead of child abuse is a way to minimize the crimes of the perpetrator and create crimes for the victim. She/he is now no longer a victim but a sinner just like the abuser, guilty of sexual sin and therefore unworthy to cast stones. Pardon my language but that is some bull $%^&.

Since I started writing this blog I’ve noticed a few things. I am becoming stronger and stronger every day. Through telling my story I have received so much goodwill and understanding from people. By bringing it out into the light and revealing the crime I’ve gained support in a way I’ve never experienced before. This blog has led me to others like me and allies that I would’ve never had contact with had I just forgiven and kept it hidden. I don’t see forgiveness for Steve Dahl in my future. This doesn’t mean that I intend to think about what happened 24/7 and let it consume my life, it means that this happened to me and it was awful and I will never forget. I believe there is a time and place for forgiveness, it comes after getting honest about what you’ve done and trying to make amends. It doesn’t come through victim blaming and minimizing your crimes.

 

 

Childhood, Confusing, Leadership, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

So Much Confusion

Childhood can be a very confusing time no matter where or how you grow up. I was a pretty logical kid and so when things did not make sense I would comb over and over them to try to make it all fit. We had a youth pastor at our church and I really liked him. He was fun and not too serious about the rules. It was a relief to be around him because I felt like I could breathe. He worked in our Christian school and so we saw a lot of him. On the one hand it was a relief to be around him but then, on the other hand, it was confusing. He would let us come over and watch television in his basement, and often that would include a chance to make out with whatever boy you liked at the time. He walked in on me once. I was making out with a boy on a bed. The boy was much older than me. The youth pastor said nothing, he just closed the door and walked away. He was permissive. He was also the pastor’s son. I think he was probably in the midst of his own rebellion and I have no idea why they had him in that position. We would sit in church and hear about sin and burning in hell and then the youth pastor would not only condone sin but invite us over to watch television which was considered a sin. He is now the pastor of Calvary Gospel Church.

I’m not saying any of this to throw Roy Grant under the bus. When I was a kid I liked him a lot and looked up to him. I’m sure he was not thinking about how his actions would cause confusion. He always seemed like a big kid himself, I never saw him as pastor material. I do wish he would have stepped in when he saw things like kids being sexual. I was about 14 when he walked in on me with that boy. First of all the boy was too old for me and secondly, it was just inappropriate. It was happening in his home and he was supposed to be supervising me. I would have listened to anything he said, he had influence over me, but he said nothing and just let it happen. He could be a very nice guy. He gave many of us rides to school and I have warm memories of him doing donuts with us kids in the truck with him. I have some weird memories too. On one occasion he had me and one other young teen female over to his house for the weekend. His wife was there but we rarely interacted with her. It was just the three of us hanging out. That’s just odd. From the outside, it probably looked like he and his wife were being kind to two girls in the youth group, but his wife was not around. The strangest part of the whole sleepover was bedtime. He tucked both of us in and gave us both a kiss on the forehead goodnight. That might seem innocent to some but to me, it just seems off. An adult man kissing two teens goodnight and tucking them into bed within a culture where you are not supposed to touch the opposite sex is confusing. I remember the two of us looking at each other after he tucked us in, both of us kind of in shock and without words. I have since heard other stories of unusual behavior coming from Roy, but those stories are not mine to tell. I can’t help but wonder if he is more careful now that he is the pastor?

About halfway through my teens years, the church switched things up. Roy was not as prominent and we had a new youth leader and school principal John Seidl. John was a very different person. He was harsh, judgemental, and by the book. It was like whiplash, suddenly everything became very serious and there was no wiggle room. I suspect they were trying to correct the direction of the youth group and make it more godly. John was stern, unbending, and kind of cold. To be honest I was a little afraid of him. I did not feel like he understood me or would be capable of extending compassion. My worst run-ins with him happened in school. He was my teacher for pretty much everything and he wasn’t very good at it. When I struggled in school he would give me demerits for not finishing my work and then detention. It did not matter to him that I did not understand my work or that I had cried all night trying to figure it out. All that mattered is that I came back to school with unfinished algebra. He did nothing to figure out how to help me and continued to punish me knowing I was stuck and after watching me cry at my desk because I couldn’t understand the problems. Other than that I tried as hard as I could to stay off of his radar. I think he was more focused and harder on the boys. I feel he looked for infractions and I think he was a scorekeeper, not a forgiver.

One thing I learned as a kid was how to adapt. Within the church and my family, you had to figure out what each adult expected from you and then be that person. I could never be myself or let my guard down. The adults around me were not into helping or being compassionate towards young people, they were into being judgemental and gossiping. My mother followed some of the church rules but not all of them so, at home, I could relax a little, but then when I stepped foot into the church or school everything was different.

I knew that they believed the wages of sin were death, but I also knew that Jesus taught plenty about loving your neighbor as yourself. It was confusing because our church seemed stuck on the punitive part of the Bible. They were focused on what you shouldn’t do but not so much on what you should do. The “shoulds” consisted of their rules. No pants for women, no short hair, etc…Not much was being done to feed the poor, love your enemies, or show compassion. Because I knew the Bible so well over time I was able to see them more clearly. It’s all about who you know and who you are related to. They are mostly hypocrites. If your parents are the right people you won’t get heat for doing the wrong things, if you’re not in that crowd look out because they are looking at you. Sadly being judgemental has become part of the lifestyle. When I was a young person I could not understand how the elder’s kid could get away with so much but it felt like they were just waiting for me to make a mistake so they could pounce.

D

 

Crime, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Struggle

I have been struggling lately. I have not known how to move forward with this blog. I have been depressed. More and more victims of the UPC church are being uncovered every day. Most of them are too fearful to take any action against their abusers and so along with feeling sad about their stories I feel helpless. Let me be clear, I have not given up, but I have been taking a moment to gain some clarity.

This is my message to all victims of the UPC church…Come forward and tell your story. If we all told our stories it would be so much harder for the church and the authorities to ignore us or brush us aside. Yes, the statutes of limitations might be over for your case, and it might be true that the police cannot do anything about it, but if the cops keep hearing from us whenever someone comes forward then they will have to pay attention. Remember this isn’t just about us as victims it is also about those who are still there. If I can keep another young girl from being abused I will do it! If you want to tell your story but are too afraid to come forward let me know. I will stand beside you and have your back the whole way.

I will write more soon.

D