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.

Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Salvation, United Pentecostal Church

When Salvation Isn’t A Relief

I was ten years old when I had my salvation experience. I took the long walk down to the altar and repented of my sins, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then baptized. This was supposed to fix the major problems of my life. I wouldn’t have to worry about hell anymore and with the power of Jesus inside me, I should be able to fix most of my problems through prayer. I left church that night feeling high! I felt so loved by God and so close to Him. That lasted about two weeks. Slowly worry and doubt started creeping in. My church taught that you could lose your salvation and suddenly I had a whole new series of problems to be concerned about. Backsliding was preached about frequently and if you backslid you could end up in hell. So really having my salvation experience did not free me from my worries about the rapture and hell. Before I had to wonder if I had reached that magical age when God would decide I was old enough to be held accountable for my sins or if I was still in the clear, now I had to worry about how much sin was too much? At what point would God throw up His hands and say “She is too far gone now!” At that point, I would be lost again until I returned like the prodigal son. Would I know if I had gone too far? Did I go too far today when I watched that TV show? These were questions that plagued my young mind.

We were taught to have faith. If I had questions, which I did, then I must not have faith. This could be really scary because faith is required for salvation. I was already doubting my ability to truly believe because I could not make my home life better. I was sure I must have faith at least the size of a mustard seed but maybe I was wrong. I sure wasn’t moving any mountains. Things at home just got worse and worse. Soon after my salvation experience, I would meet my abuser and then things would really take a turn. I never understood why Jesus did not protect me from Steve. I think because things in my home never got any better no matter how hard I prayed and because of Steve, I really believed that God did not like me. At least when I was a little child I could say to myself that once I was saved everything would be golden, but then afterward I had nowhere to look but at myself. There must be something wrong with me. Now I look back on it and I can see that the adults around me were making me feel inferior. They also really treated salvation like it was a feeling. Church was the time of the week to get hyped! They came for a show and to get their fix. If they left feeling good all was right with the world and everything was ok with their hearts. If the service was more of a downer and maybe the message darker the altar would be full of people coming back to God or recommitting themselves. Once they were cried out and had spoken in tongues they felt high again and they would feel a sense of relief. Growing up within the UPC really was a roller coaster. You begin to crave the Sunday night service almost like a drug, a way to get high in order to get you through the week. By the end of the service, I felt great and everything was good until I walked into my house. Sometimes that feeling would only last the car ride home because it was just a feeling. I would walk into my house and my mother would be crying or fighting with my stepdad, sometimes there would be soft porn on the tv and my mother would be nowhere in sight, and sometimes it would just be black because we didn’t have power. The house felt oppressive and joy and my feeling of salvation couldn’t survive there.

I am sure there are some people who would love to say I was never saved. Maybe that is true but I know for sure that I chased after God. The older I became the harder it was because everything that happened to you in your life was somehow related to some sin you must have going on. If you were sick it was because of some unrepented sin. Mental illness was a demon persecuting you. Are you in debt? You must not be giving enough to the church. In the end, it was your issue if your life wasn’t what God had said it would be. If you couldn’t pray it away don’t look at God look at yourself.

I know that this is not everyone’s experience but it was mine. I’m not willing to argue with you about Christianity or scripture. This is just something that has been on my mind and I have been wanting to share. If you’ve had a similar experience I’d like to hear about it.

2019, Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Compassion, Justice, Support, Survivors, United Pentecostal Church

2019

December is often a month of reflection. Some folks start to think about New Year’s resolutions and some of us just try to get through to the next year. 2019 was full of highs and lows and now that we are almost at the end of it I’m looking back.

This year has been a year of reunions. The CGC survivor group became a reality. We found each other and found strength in each other’s stories of resiliency. We comforted each other, listened when we needed to vent, and laughed at silly memories from childhood. I am grateful for this little island of hope and support. Who knew that from all of the pain we suffered would come this group so full of love and friendship for each other. Calvary Gospel taught us pain but we cultivated love, where there was shame now there is acceptance and mercy. For those CGC survivors reading this I feel so blessed to have you in my life. Thank you for walking this journey with me.

Over the summer I was able to do so many things I never thought possible. I spoke to the media and spoke at a press conference about my experiences. I allowed myself to bloom instead of keeping myself small and allowing the shame of what happened to me keep me quiet. I allowed my truth to be told in a very full-throated way, unfettered by worry about what CGC might think or do. This was a very liberating and healing experience. I learned that when you share your story you might get some blowback but more than that you open the door for people to support you.

I was on a podcast! It was amazing! I am a podcast junkie and so this was a really big deal for me. Again all I found was support and understanding. I realize I keep using the word support over and over but it is the best word for what I have experienced over 2019. My network has grown so much and put me into contact with so many wonderful people. Ronna Russell has helped me keep my dream of writing a book alive and stoked the fire when it was growing dim. Thank you Ronna.

I have no idea what 2020 will hold but I have a feeling it is going to be a big year. I intend to keep fighting. I want to see the Mandatory Reporter bills pass here in Wisconsin. I also want to continue to tell my story both here and as I attempt to get a book on paper. Is there a podcast coming? Maybe…Who knows? I’m keeping all options on the table that don’t involve quitting.

I hope 2019 has been good to you and I hope 2020 brings you much happiness!

Debbie

Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Becky’s Story Continues

This is a continuation of Becky’s story in her own words…
I’m not sure how to start this, so I’m going to just jump in and hope it comes together. It’s like being at an intersection with a million crossroads and trying to pick the best route.
After my first blog piece, I’ve had so many people ask “what’s next”, and “then what happened”, so I will try to answer some of them. It’s impossible to do fully since I can only pick one direction at a time, but eventually, I might travel all of them.
Since I (and many other fellow women) went public with our stories, I have been pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support I’ve received. Cards, letters, facebook messages – from friends, fellow survivors, and complete strangers – telling me their own stories, offering support, or saying “thank you”. We were all warned by the newspaper staff to brace ourselves after releasing our stories for negative comments, as social media and whatnot can be vicious. I am happy to report that I did not receive one negative comment from the general public. Not surprising, the only negative and derogatory comments came from members of the church we were speaking about. Anyhow, a big thank you to all of you that showed your support and encouragement. I know many have expressed hesitancy at saying anything, as they don’t know whether we want to talk about it, but please know that it’s always ok.
Some have asked why the Capital Times article didn’t address certain topics, so I will try to clarify some.  First, there is a limit on the word count. A story like this has many facets, and not all can be addressed in 5000 words. Second, we were tying our stories in with the current bill in discussion regarding clergy being mandated reporters, so our stories were focused mostly on that aspect. Yes, there are/were many other aspects we would have loved to add, but it would take a book to discuss it all.
Moving on to more of my personal story – first, I would like to discuss the fear that was taught/ingrained in us as children in UPC. From early ages on, we were taught that if we didn’t strictly follow UPC’s definitions of biblical “salvation”, we would be damned to hell. We would burn in a lake of fire forever. We were told that there was a worse place in hell for those who had “heard the truth and walked away”. So that obviously put us in the “worse place”. Not sure how eternal fire could be worse, but apparently UPC found it. These rules, and not remotely an extensive list here, were that women were to be unquestionably submissive to the men, women could only wear long skirts/dresses, no makeup, absolutely no cutting/trimming of their hair, no jewelry, no public swimming, no movies, tv in homes was also taboo, we had to pay a minimum of 10% of all our income to the church (with your name on the envelope so if you weren’t giving they would know), and attendance to 3 services a week plus prayer meetings, etc. Public education was frowned on, so most ended up in the church-based school. Alcohol was a complete sin, to the point that some members would no go to restaurants if they served alcohol, or use food extracts because of the alcohol content. One woman I knew wouldn’t use conditioner in her hair because it had a type of alcohol in it. So between no alcohol and the strict dress code, it made most sports off limits too. Here’s a dumb example – in the church school, if the girls wanted to go play outside in the winter, we had to put skirts on OVER our snow pants. Apparently snow pants could show our curves (my eyes have rolled back so far in my head they may never come back out).
Back to the hell part – we were told that if we missed the rapture because we had sinned, then IF we survived the next few years of the apocalypse, we still had a slight chance to make it to heaven if we became martyrs for christ and had our heads chopped off. I was 9 years old when they showed us a movie about people getting their heads chopped off, and all sorts of human torture while turning off the lights to scare us even more. Even as a child, I knew I would never be perfect enough to be “saved”, so I knew my head would have to be chopped off to avoid burning forever. I know now how terribly psychologically abusive that is, especially to young developing minds. I look back now and can identify many times that I was having panic attacks as a child. I lived in terror and fear. Not just of hell, but of getting in trouble with the adults around me for not living up to the church’s rules. I was “rebellious” once and wore clear nail polish – I was given detention at school and then pulled out and slapped for it – let me say that again – I wore CLEAR NAIL POLISH, was slapped and made to repent of my sin and my “jezebel spirit”. Between school, 3 services a week, prayer meetings and youth group, I literally spent most of my childhood in that building.
Here’s something I have rarely spoken of, because for some reason it is really tough for me – but as a child, I would envision the devil and demons flying around my bed at night, just waiting for me to sin. Everything in UPC is considered a “spiritual battle” and they feel the devil is always lurking to trip them up. I would hide under my blankets and beg god to forgive me for anything I could’ve possibly done wrong. I started some self-harm techniques, long before I knew that’s what it was, and long before I could identify that was what I was doing – I would scratch myself until I bled, or pull out all my eyelashes and eyebrows – in an attempt to ease the torment in my mind.
I had no one to reassure me, to calm me, or to tell me it was going to be ok. Every person I knew was UPC, and every adult around me was UPC, and those adults enforced every rule.
Oddly, sexuality was a huge focus in UPC. Women were subservient but had to be excessively cautious about not being attractive, lest they cause the men around them to lust and sin. It was always the fault of the woman – they showed too much leg, too much arm, etc. If you were lucky enough to be naturally attractive, you were criticized and told you had the “spirit of sexuality”. Hence all the dress codes were on the women. But in their teachings, and the constant focus, they were doing much the opposite – they were keeping sexuality at the forefront of their religion. I sat through a youth class where the minister told us where men like to be touched, and what turns them on so that we wouldn’t do it. Talk about backward. Of course, it was abstinence-only. But in the background, where everyone knew but wouldn’t talk about, was a massive problem. I think because sex was such a forefront issue, and because you were only allowed to marry other UPC-ers, couples were often getting married extremely young and the only compatibility goal was your mate be UPC too. So little to no thought was placed on if you were a good match, or of life goals, personalities, etc, just be another UPC-er and god will take care of the rest. So affairs, sexual crimes, porn addictions, and unprotected sex was rampant. It was as if most everyone knew – I mean come on, I was a child and could see it, there’s no excuse for the adults not seeing it too – but no one talked about it or addressed it. No one would open that can of worms. Just as I sit typing this I can think of 7 examples of older men dating underage girls, just from my age group and circle of friends. I’m sure if I actually sat and counted, that number would be much higher. And by younger girls, I’m referring to girls in middle and high school. This was no secret, and so common in that community that no one even thought it weird. Those that did had enough sense to leave UPC, so the adults that were left were the ones too ingrained in the religion to think for themselves. I have often explained it as adults, parents would join UPC, and completely turn their children over to the church. They assumed the church was a good place, a safe place, and so they went against every parental instinct and just allowed whatever or whomever to now be in control of their children. Consequently, this mentality created a spectacular place for every predator imaginable. They could join this subset of society, do anything they wanted as long as they obeyed the outward rules of UPC, participate in services enough to be considered “godly” or ‘ministers’, and do anything they wanted and get away with it. No one would ever tell on them, because they already knew their religious group wasn’t looked on favorably by “normal” society, so they dealt with everything internally in order to avoid the public eye.
Not only was I preyed on by my perpetrator, who I previously referred to as “Ben”, but inappropriate behavior was common. On my wedding day, I was carried out by one of “Ben’s” friends, while they did the kidnap-the-bride thing, and his friend stuck his hand up my wedding dress and held onto my lady bits (sorry, oddly enough I feel weird saying “genitals”). I squirmed and tried to move, and asked him to stop, but he just kept it up and laughed at me. I couldn’t get away from him as he was carrying me, and he thought it was funny. It wasn’t until all this came up that I have even told that story. I realize now that this guy was so bold that he sexually assaulted his buddy’s wife on their wedding day. But even then I knew no one would believe me or care if I did tell. I have since learned that this same man had previously assaulted two other women, and he was actually made to apologize to the congregation for one assault, but he was still allowed to be a minister there.
What strikes me is how I had been taught and treated to think I had no boundaries, or no voice, in that arena – how UPC had sucked the very life out of me. I didn’t choose to grow up UPC – I was a child, and at the mercy of the adults around me – my parents, my teachers, my friends – were all UPC. The psychological and emotional abuse had irrevocably altered my development. I grew up in fear and suppression, completely vulnerable and completely hopeless, in an environment that preyed on the weak.
I need to wrap this up. I have a soft spot in my heart for children now. I wish every child could feel love, acceptance, and support, and to feel free and uninhibited to follow their dreams and be the person they want to be. I wish for every child to have a good meal in their belly and be in a safe place.
If anything ever comes of this, I will know that I fought for the child I was once was. I have grown up now, and have promised myself to never be that willingly vulnerable again. I can see myself as that young child, and I will be what she once needed, and somehow, hopefully someday, bring her some justice and healing.
Calvary Gospel Church, Compassion, Self Esteem, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Good

“Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.”
― Brené Brown

I have been doing some deep soul searching. When you first leave a toxic church or family it is all about survival. Then as the years peel away deeper issues are revealed. One of my biggest struggles right now is to see myself as good. Now I know that if you are still a Christian you may not agree with this post and if that is the case please feel free to scroll on past. I can’t ever remember a time when I felt that I was good, from a very young age I felt wrong, off, broken, and dangerous. Some of the blame for that I can lay at my parent’s feet and some of that blame belongs to the church. I was a vibrant child with intelligence and ambition. I was artistic, athletic and loving. Somewhere along the way, very early on my light was snuffed out. Some of that was stress and some of it was from constantly being reminded that I was a sinner, and the worst kind of sinner, a woman.

“We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.”
― Brené Brown

I’m taking a class right now that requires me to do a lot of journaling and soul searching. As I look back on my child self I find myself struggling to like that little girl. I find myself asking why, why did I always feel rejected by God and why did I always feel like I was somehow the exception to God’s love? It makes me so angry that my light was extinguished so young and that I was taught to hate myself especially my own body. I was taught to see my very existence as sinful and the body that I had no choice but to live in as dangerous and flawed. What awful poison! Now as an adult I try to reach back to my child self and offer her love and understanding but I feel like I’m failing. My only hope is that somewhere in my mind I can find the truth of who I was/am. I realize as I type this how crazy this must all sound. I’ve been out of the church for so long, how can this still be a struggle? It’s a struggle because I am not yet totally healed and may never be, but I strive anyways to heal a little more every day. Part of that process is to grant my child self something she never had, unconditional love and belief in her inherent goodness.

“Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it- it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”
― Brené Brown

When I try to hold an image of my child self in my mind all I can see is shame hanging on her like a dirty cloak. Shame because of my parents’ behavior and choices, poverty, shame about what was done to me, and shame about my early blooming body. I knew that I did not come from the right family and yes I felt shame because of my skin color. Shame about my intelligence and shame because I had questions. In the past, I have worked hard to let go of shame but this work is showing me that there is still work to do in that department. I have to remind myself that the shame they heaped on me was not my shame to carry. I need to find a way to see my child self without the gray filter that is always present.

For now, I’m going to keep pulling the past apart and reminding myself how the adults around me were wrong and deceived. I’m going to try to love my child self the way I love my own children. This might be an unpopular opinion but I believe we all come into this world good. I refuse to believe that a child deserves hell or is even capable of sin. I’m also going to remind myself that all of those statements include me. I am not the exception, I am good.