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.