Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Southern Baptist Church, United Pentecostal Church

I Was A Praise Junkie

 

 

As I was considering writing this post I became a little concerned that it might offend some people. It is not my intention to offend. This is my experience and yours may vary.

I grew up knowing nothing but Apostolic worship. Clapping and singing very repetitive songs over and over with a dash of hymns thrown in for good measure. My mother loved the likes of Jimmy Swaggert and she would sing along with him whenever his show came on. No matter how good a church was if the worship did not make you want to get up and dance my mother wasn’t interested. She grew up attending “holy roller” churches her whole life and would often regal me stories about the characters that attended services with her family. My mother and her siblings would get into trouble because they laughed at this one older woman. My grandmother was a severe woman and laughing in church was a big no-no. This older woman would dance in the spirit and while doing so would get dangerously near a flight of stairs leading down into the church basement. My mother and her siblings would laugh in anticipation of the day that woman would finally fall down the stairs but it never happened. My grandmother said the “Holy Spirit” kept her safe.

When my mother was church hopping, which happened often when I was young, she would judge a church on whether the worship was “dead” or not. She fell under the spell of Calvary Gospel in part because of the awesome praise and worship services. She loved all of the instruments and the way congregants seemed to really “feel the spirit move.” Growing up attending that church I would wish for the services that would go on forever. Eventually, they would declare there would be no sermon and things would just take off. Tambourines would be shaking back and forth and people would fill the aisles. Some would dance, others would fall out in the spirit, and others would run laps around the church. You knew it was going to be a barn burner of a service when the older women would get in on the act. My mother instilled in me a love of music and so I really enjoyed all of the singing that happened at church. It was the only part of the service that truly uplifted me. My brain would swim in all of the happy endorphins flooding my body and in those moments I could convince myself that God loved me. Once the dust had settled and the singing was over all of my old worries would creep in. Many people would get filled with the Holy Ghost on nights like these, and this is how you can become sucked in. You experience the high of this type of service and then you have to go back to your mundane life. As the days go by the glow of that service wears off and you start to desire your next fix. Sunday nights were the hot night at our church and so I would live for those services. Many people start to associate that endorphin high with God. If you could get to that place you could get close to God, or more accurately “feel” close to God.

After I left Calvary Gospel I did not attend services anywhere for a long time. I was nursing my wounds. Once I had children I told myself that I had to take them to church somewhere. That message had been implanted into my brain since birth. I searched and searched for a church and much like my mother had expressed so many years ago, they all felt “dead” to me. Finally, I started to attend a little Southern Baptist church. The service was not as rowdy as the ones I grew up on but they clapped and I recognized some of the songs. I stayed there for a long time before eventually being forced to leave because of needing a divorce. It took me a very long time to be ok with the lax holiness standards and lower energy worship. I settled for this church. It wasn’t anywhere near ideal but it was as close as I could get. Over time I grew to really appreciate the quiet worship times. I started to see that to be spiritual you don’t have to be loud and you don’t have to show off. But that realization did not come until a long period of detox and withdrawal. As soon as I started attending church again it was like a junkie going back for a fix. It was like starting my journey away from Calvary Gospel all over. Part of this is because I had not properly dealt with the issues from the past. I thought I could just bury my pain and move on, that proved to be a huge lie I had told myself. To this day Christian music is extremely triggering. I can’t stand to be around it because it causes me so much anxiety.

I do not feel this experience only happens within The United Pentecostal church. I believe it can happen anywhere where ecstatic worship is the norm. It can really make some people addicted to that high and it can keep people in a bad situation longer than they should be. My mother stayed at Calvary Gospel for so long in part because of the worship, which she felt was very godly. Did you experience anything like this? I would love to hear about your experiences.

D

Calvary Gospel Church, isolation, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Stress, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

Virginity

*This post could be viewed as graphic so reader beware*

When you grow up in a church like the one I grew up in virginity is very important. Alongside that goes the rampant sexual abuse of young girls. These two things coexist in an impossible way. Girls bear all of the responsibility for keeping themselves and the males pure even if those males are adults. The males can be forgiven over and over and never really lose any status but once a girl gives in she is forever ruined in the eyes of the church. After Steve Dahl abused me I was seen as a temptress and as spoiled. How sad to have the adults in your life see you as ruined at the age of 12. It hurt to be seen this way and it destroyed my self-esteem. I started to see my future as very limited. Women are viewed as only good for marriage and raising a family and you can only marry someone who is also United Pentecostal. I had 5 dating options within my church if I wanted to stay within my age group. If the parents of those boys saw me as dangerous or tainted they were going to dissuade their sons from dating me. This meant that I often dated and had puppy love romances with boys from other UPC churches. Their parents wouldn’t know about what Steve did to me.

At age 16 I dated a man who attended Calvary Gospel. His sister and her husband were part of the “in” group. This guy was well into his 20’s but no one batted an eye. I wasn’t anything to preserve or protect, after all, I was already ruined. This guy was a chronic backslider and he was the most dangerous choice I could find. At this point, I was so angry. A boy who I really cared about, one of the 5 options, had just broken my heart. I knew his mother did not approve of us being together. She made no secret of how she felt often saying things when I could easily overhear. It was after this break up that I started to see the church in a way that became harder and harder to look away from. I cried for weeks after this breakup. I would cry in my office at school and I stopped eating. Eventually, I withdrew from all of the church activities I was involved with and went from sitting in the second row to sitting in the back row. People would look at me kind of weird but no one said anything and none of the adults checked in on me. So I decided to rebel.

After years of feeling never good enough I decided to date Mike, the 20-something guy who I would eventually have sex with. We went to church together and everyone knew we were a couple but no one spoke out and said, “Hey that guy is an adult and she is underage!” It was accepted and I am sure the church saw it as a good match. The guy no one would want their daughter to marry and the teen no one would want their son to marry. People treated Mike fine, he was male, and whenever he backslid the prayer chain would light up. They had compassion for him even if they thought he was kind of a troubled guy. Our relationship was not a good one. He was mentally and emotionally abusive to me. He stalked me after I broke things off with him. One night, just like many of the evenings we spent together, we had sex. It was not special. It was more like checking something off of a list. I was detached from what was happening, being with Steve Dahl taught me how to do that. I wasn’t in my body or feeling anything. I was somewhere else watching someone else. I believe I felt that by doing this I would be stepping closer to adulthood and if the church was going to insist that I was a whore than I was going to be one. My heart breaks for my child self because I was still a child and I needed an adult, just one adult to care about me.

I have been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of days. It hit me, while I was doing yoga, and I see things clearer now than I ever have. Mike didn’t take my virginity. Steve did. By age 12 he was doing everything but having intercourse with me and he tried to have intercourse with me. Not to be too graphic but you don’t have to have intercourse to have penetration. All those years growing up in that terrible church the adults all knew something I did not. I kept thinking that I was still a virgin because I had not had sex, but they all knew what Steve took from me. I think this is part of the reason I felt nothing about what Mike and I did when we eventually had intercourse. This makes me so sad.

I want to close this post by saying I do not agree with Calvary Gospel. Losing your virginity doesn’t make you less than. If you are young and reading this please hear me! You are just as worthy before sex as after. If an adult is having sex with you or trying to have sex with you please tell someone. If the first person does nothing keep telling until someone listens. If you have been or are being abused please don’t take the shame of the abuser into yourself. The shame and responsibility belong to them. If you were abused and never told anyone that is ok too. If you want to tell now, even if the abuse has stopped that is ok too. You are good, worthy, and wonderful. I am here to support you along with so many others.

D

C-PTSD, Calvary Gospel Church, Sexual Abuse, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Escapism

While I have been working on my book I’ve been thinking about the past. In particular, the time right after I left CGC. Because of trauma writing is a slow process and at times it can really knock me off my feet. Other times I just sit and stare feeling nothing but a heaviness in my chest that I cannot explain. I suspect that heaviness is pain, pain that I’m not ready to address or pain that I am afraid to feel.

About a year before I left the church I started to work at York Steak House. It was my first real job and I was so happy to have it. I finally had the opportunity to meet kids my own age and feel somewhat normal. To the teens I met, I was rather exotic, a “private school girl”. I think that made me much more attractive to the boys than I might have been had I not showed up to work in my school uniform every day. While I was there I tried to blend in but it became clear to the other teens that I was not one of them. That being said they welcomed me with open arms and soon I was being invited to parties and other social gatherings. This acceptance did nothing to help the church in my eyes. The church never really accepted me and when I was there I felt so unwanted and unloved. Suddenly I found this group of kids who liked me, who saw me as normal-ish, and who were willing to be my friends. A whole new world opened up for me. These couldn’t possibly be the teens my youth pastor and pastor had warned me about, you know the ones who would lead me straight to hell! How could it be that these “worldly” kids could be so kind, compassionate, and warm?

For a short while, I walked the line between my new friends and my life at the church. I tried to be good but also cultivate these new relationships. Having these friends made it so much easier for me to walk away when it became clear to me that I could no longer tolerate the church. I want to be crystal clear about one thing, I did not leave the church because these friends were a bad influence, I left the church because of how CGC had treated me for a decade. I left the church because I had no fight left in me and no hope that my situation would ever be better.

Once I left CGC I embraced my new life slowly at first. Tears and worry came when I cut my hair and pierced my ears and I waited to be struck by lightning. When nothing happened I breathed a sigh of relief and set out to discover the world I had been in but not a part of for so long. I started to party with my new friends and we went to many many concerts together. Music has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. For most of my adult life, I have looked back on these days with rose-colored glasses firmly in place. It was a magical time. To this day I love the feeling of being down in the pit at shows, the energy of the crowd is so much better there. I may have traded in Cinderella for The Avett Brothers but some things never change. I could breathe in this new life, I could relax and just be without the stress of the church breathing down my neck. It was so fun to choose clothing that was off-limits to me in the past. Now I had money to spend and the freedom to really enjoy it by buying whatever I wanted.

Along with this came alcohol. I experimented with alcohol before I ever left the church but that was very mild compared to the drinking I did after I left. I drank every weekend with my friends and although we did it pretty safely it became a habit. I’ve never struggled to abstain from drinking and I count that as a small miracle considering how much I drank in my late teens. Before I started really digging into my past through the writing process I would look back on that time with fondness.  I was so free! I had friends and we had so many good times together. I attended so many great shows and lived my life with youthful abandon. This included my interactions with boys, and there were so many of them. I have always promised to tell the truth here and so I intend to be truthful about this as well. I had sex with many young men. It was the only way I knew to get my emotional needs met. I understand now that as accepted as I felt I could only get so close to people. I kept everyone at arm’s length, never really letting them close to my heart. I existed in self-protection mode at all times. It has been well documented that women who have suffered sexual abuse as children often become promiscuous as teens. I was not an exception.

I have always been the type of person who becomes still when I drink. I am not an angry drunk if anything I become much more chilled out. I think this is because of C-PTSD. My nerves are always on high alert and alcohol makes my system calm down some. As a teen I never drank to get drunk I drank to get to that place where I could relax and not feel so much. When I drank I could feel less and that was a relief. I was carrying around so much pain. At that time I did not want to talk or think about the past, I just wanted to move on. I recognize now that I was in survival mode. I wasn’t ready to open any of the doors inside my heart and brain, all I was ready for was removing the threat by leaving the church and then trying to catch my breath. I spent years trying to catch my breath, trying to figure out how to move on. People would always say, “Isn’t great that you’re out now, you can move on.” Sadly that isn’t how it works. Those things inside me just got louder and louder until I was strong enough to listen. Sex and relationships with men were another way I tried to cope. I wrapped myself in them and it gave me something else to focus on to forget the pain. I was chasing my dad, Steve, and every other male who had let me down and abandoned me. Through my trying to escape my trauma I only created more. Each time my heart was broken by a man it was like reliving the pain of the past over again. Sadly at that time, I couldn’t see it.

So those years don’t look so rosy to me anymore. I’m finding as I write, more and more of my past is cloaked in darkness. There are so many things, events, and people that I will never see the same again, and although that makes me sad it is also liberating. I believe in truth and I try my best not to hide from it. It can be hard to look truth in the face. Doing so may cause you to lose community, family, and so much more, but by embracing truth you can release so much pain. In my life, that action has been the only path to healing.