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.

2020, C-PTSD, Childhood, Depression, Physical Symptoms, Sexual Abuse, Stress, Survivors, Trauma

Trauma and Illness

Happy 2020! If you are new to my blog I encourage you to start at the beginning even though there is a lot of content to get through. You will understand my story better if you start at the first post. This year I suspect the content of this blog might shift a little. I want to focus a bit more on the after-effects of trauma and how it impacts people long term. I know that it continues to affect me and many others I have contact with.

About a month ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and possibly another autoimmune disorder. There is a lot going on with my health, way more than I have the time to get into here. I firmly believe that my illness has a lot to do with the trauma I suffered in the past. There is science to back this up. Women are much more likely to suffer from fibro and those who have been through childhood trauma are even more likely. There seems to be a real connection between fibro and childhood sexual abuse. Even more so there is a connection between childhood trauma and autoimmune disease in general. I find this to be a fascinating topic. Many survivors I know suffer from depression and anxiety due to their past abuse and many folks with autoimmune disorders also suffer from mental illness.

I think the physical burdens carried by abuse survivors speaks to how hard or impossible it may be to “just let it go.” We are often told to forgive and forget but when your body is still experiencing things decades later it can be hard to just pretend like nothing ever happened.

If you are a survivor, have you suffered from an illness that you feel is connected to your past experiences?

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-02-links-adult-fibromyalgia-childhood-sexual.html

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/chronic-pain-and-childhood-trauma-2018033012768

 

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, Childhood, Rapture, Salvation, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Stress, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Set Point Stress

Maverick and I going for a walk in the snow. This is one of the things that helps me cope with stress, especially in the winter.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking and not writing. There comes a point when you have expressed all of the surface junk and everything underneath seems so much harder to put into words. I am at a point in my life, 49 years old when things are not moving as fast for me as they were when my kids were little. I have a bit more time to breathe and time to reflect on things that I want to unravel. One of these things is stress.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t stressed. Stressed about my parent’s marriage, school, money, food, church, and god. Some might say that stress is a normal part of life and I agree with that to a point. Being stressed shouldn’t be your set point and for all of my life, it has been my normal. My first teacher about stress was my mother. She was always stressed and for good reason. Money was tight, her jobs were stress-inducing, her marriage was a disaster, and she was always afraid of missing the rapture. Along with that came other things like untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She and my dad were always overly concerned about being late and so they created a child who is always early and never not stressed about time. Before we could leave the house my mother would have to check all of the nobs on the stove to be sure they were turned off and then check the door multiple times to be sure it was locked. Sometimes she would have to tour the rooms of the house to be sure all of the lights were off. She taught me to always check the backseat of the car for a masher even if all of the doors had been locked while we were away because…you never know. You never know became a big part of my life.

My experiences with the church and the UPC specifically only added to my stress response. I never felt good enough and always worried about my salvation and along with that came all of the end-time theology. The church was well acquainted with “You never know” and so they reinforced that message. You never know the day or the hour when Jesus might return. You never know you might have some unrepented sin hiding in there. You never know what book, movie or music might be a doorway for Satan to get into your heart. All of this made me one stressed-out kid and that in turn led me to be a stressed-out adult.

As you probably know we lay down these patterns as kids. Our brains and nervous systems are being formed and habits are laid down before we can even comprehend what is happening to us. So even after becoming an adult and being in a place of being able to make my own choices about what I believe my default is to be stressed. It’s funny how and when things hit us, it just hit me today that I’ve always been this way to the point of having ulcers when I was in grade school. I have always had what my grandmother would call a “nervous temperament.” So some of it is a natural disposition and a lot of it is learned. The whole time I was growing up and surrounded by religious adults I never felt the peace of god or grace. I felt like my mother, teachers, youth leaders, and others were always wagging their fingers at me saying be careful. Starting really young, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see, for the father up above is looking down with love.” Hmmm kind of a weird song, be careful because he is watching but “with love.” I learned the hard way after my interactions with Steve Dahl that I couldn’t trust myself or my body. My body could really get me into trouble simply by existing. This caused enormous stress and made me wish I could disappear. I started to feel like all men could be dangerous, also stress-inducing because well half the population were men. Along with checking the backseat, my mother would check closets and under the bed when we returned home from being out. She was checking for those dangerous men.

So what do you do when you realize your default is stress? One thing that brings me some relief is moving my body. I like to hike, go for dog walks, get to the gym, and do yoga. I enjoy dancing when I get the chance! I try to remind myself to breathe and I enjoy a hot bath from time to time. These are all coping mechanisms, what I am seeking to do is move my set point and that is not an easy task. There was a time when this would have been an impossible task. Before I started to give voice to my trauma and really deal with it I couldn’t have even approached this work but now I feel like maybe I can start. I am going to begin the process by just trying to move the needle a little bit. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so I’m going to try not to stress myself about stress. One simple thing I’ve been doing is trying to change my self-talk. When I get up in the morning instead of thinking, “I have to do all of this stuff today”, I try to say “I get to do all of this stuff today.” I remind myself that so much of my stress is self-generated and that I can cut myself some slack. I will probably post about this more after I have been working on it longer.

Does my experience sound like yours?

D

Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Devil

Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday. This probably comes from how much I enjoyed it as a child. My mother was a candy hound and liked going out to get treats almost more than I did. My mother was very conservative but never saw Halloween as anything more than good clean fun. I’m sure my grandparents didn’t approve but they lived too far away for it to be a problem. Mom could be counted on to take me out even if it was very cold and near blizzard conditions. This was back in the ’70s when everything was made out of plastic and the masks would stick to your face once you started to sweat. We often didn’t have money to buy me a costume and we would be out shopping at the last minute trying to find something in the right size. I was a good-natured kid and could be happy with almost anything. My favorite costume memory is from the year I was “Police Woman”. This costume was modeled after a popular 70’s show featuring Angie Dickenson. After we were done my mom and I would go through all my candy. I would give her whatever I didn’t like and we would enjoy a few pieces. If I was lucky “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” would be on TV and everything would be right in the world.

We had these wonderful decorations for the windows. They are coming back into style now. I was at World Cost Market the other day and saw they had replicas of the ones my mother used. We had witches, black cats, bats, and all the usual fare. It was innocent and a bright spot in a sad childhood.

When I was a kid I was never a fan of the really scary movies and didn’t come to embrace them until I was an older teenager. The church was always talking about the ways in which the devil could trick you and lead you straight to hell. This was more than enough scary for me! There was a time when the church would hold parties around Halloween. These parties involved going to church in some sort of Bible character costume and I avoided these gatherings like the plague. If I wasn’t going out to get candy (because I was too old) then I wanted to dress up and give it out to the little people coming to the door. It was one of the only times I felt like we were normal. We were participating in a community event and a part of things instead of being on the outside looking in.

When I think about it I rarely ever heard people talking about the devil, Satan, demons and the like outside of the church. The church acted like the devil was some kind of boogie man who would jump out at you from the movie screen or record you were listening to. He could be found roaming your thoughts and wanted nothing more than to pollute your soul and make you one of his. They believed that if you listened to music about the devil like the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil”, you would instantly be inhabited by a demon. They warned us about how reading the wrong books would open a doorway to hell. Really they seemed very fixated on Satan and demons, much more so than the rest of the world I encountered.

There is a point to all this I promise, let me use this as an example. The church focused on sexuality and talked to children about it too much and the adults seemed to always be thinking about sex. To be honest they seemed to have their minds in the gutter, always expecting the worst. Within the congregation of CGC so much inappropriate sexual activity went on and some of it was criminal. I have to wonder if these things would have happened if the church did not have the attitudes about sex that it has. Where every little thing is sexualized and made unclean and evil. I wonder if they made Halloween, metal music, scary books and movies more enticing and interesting to certain young people because they railed against it and at the same time talked about the devil like he was a real entity that might try to get you. I feel they introduced some of the demonic stuff they were telling us was so wrong and so real just by talking about it so much. Was it the world that had been turned over to Satan because the world did not seem as impressed by him as my church was?! CGC really brought all the scary things into my life during my childhood. I think if I had been raised like a normal kid I might have encountered those things as I grew up and it was an appropriate time to be exposed. My children were only able to watch scary shows and movies as they were mature enough to handle the material. I was the mean mom that said no to certain things I didn’t feel my kids were ready for. They never knew the terror of being raised with a devil around every corner, you have to attend church to get that kind of horror.

 

Childhood, Compassion, Family, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Leadership, Parents, Poverty, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

You Are Worthy

Today I want to tell you that you are worthy. If you were sexually abused as a child you are worthy. You did not draw that older man into sin. He made his choices and he was an adult. You were a child and children cannot consent. I am so sorry if the church did not protect you, love you, and help you to heal. You deserve love, support, and an apology. I am still stunned at Calvary Gospel’s silence. I am experiencing them as no more loving now than they were when I was a child.

You are worthy even if your family did not dress right, or if you are brown or black, and even if your family did not tithe enough. A child shouldn’t have to pay for their parent’s choices. None of us can control the color of our skin or the family we are born into. We certainly could not have controlled our parent’s actions.

You are worthy even if you made mistakes, snuck into the movies, or listened to top 40 radio when your parents were out. These things are not sins, they are a normal part of growing up. No one perfectly listens to the adults in their life. Normal human development dictates that teens challenge adults, it is how we grow and become independent.

You are worthy if you wore a slit in your skirt, asked too many questions, or got bored in church. If you kissed a boy behind the church camp auditorium when you were supposed to be inside, if you faked being sick to stay home from church, and even if you faked speaking in tongues because you were afraid to disappoint your parents.

I see you trying to pretend that you are ok, trying to heal, trying to deal with the coldness coming from the people who raised us. I see you dealing with trauma, being the family outcast, never being 100% sure if you made the right decision when you left the church. I see you wondering if you should have kept your mouth shut about it all.

I understand not being educated properly and how that stays with you all your life. I understand playing small, staying invisible, always waiting for something bad to happen. I understand feeling weird in the world like you can never quite fit in. I understand the world not understanding where we come from and how exhausting it can be to try to explain.

For the men out there I see you too. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened to the women you grew up with, ministered to, your sisters and friends. I see you having many of the same struggles as I have only different at the same time. I know that there are survivors among you and when you are ready to tell your story we will be there for you as you have been there for us.

Consider this my love letter to all the survivors out there no matter what your damage is. You are worthy. Please don’t let those who refuse to ask for forgiveness, who refuse to take responsibility, and who choose to stand in judgment rather than lend aid define you. I see you as strong, brave, and overcomers. We have overcome the lack of love, support, grace, and normal human kindness we should have received as kids. We have found each other and created a life raft for one another and any new survivors who choose to join us. You are good even if you are not perfect. You are worthy.