C-PTSD, Depression, Family, Fear, isolation, Rapture, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

The Process of Leaving and Dealing With Trauma

When I speak with survivors one topic comes up over and over again. The people in their lives who love them cannot understand why they continue to suffer from trauma and pain from the past. Friends, co-workers, and people they interact with online often seem to want to give them the same advice. They want to offer you a quick fix and often that fix comes with a warning about not forgiving or holding onto negativity for too long. What they don’t realize is that the process for working through trauma can take a lifetime. Forgiving and “moving on” is not going to resolve the trauma responses coming from the survivor’s body. It can seem like someone has moved on but if you’re not inside their head and their body you can’t really understand. Triggers can make it hard to not think about things and can effect the body in some very real ways.

When first leaving an abusive group you’re probably in survivor mode. You’re trying to figure out how to get away and then how to live without the community you may have been in since birth. People who have known you all your life might shun you or feel the need to warn you about hell and the coming end times. You may lose family and will most certainly lose friends in the process. Often you end up feeling much more alone than you could have ever imagined. You may not have the social skills needed to maneuver in the new world you find yourself apart of and you may lack job skills or be poorly educated. Add to this a fear of hell and the rapture and you can see why just getting out and acclimating to the world can be a very tall order. Once you’re out you may find yourself dealing with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and loneliness. I consider this to be phase one of three phases.

When I started phase one I was a teenager. I went from a very insular community out into a big world that I was not ready for. When I left the church no one came looking for me. I struggled through the realization that they didn’t care. I always suspected that but when it became a reality it hit me hard. I went to public school for a year and found I had nothing to talk to my peers about. When I was in the church I felt weird like I did not fit in and then when I went into public school I felt the same way. Everyone was planning for their future. I thought I had good grades and could have gotten into college but I had no one to help me navigate that journey. Neither of my parents attended college. By this time my mother was already pretty sick and preoccupied with raising my bother and dealing with her abusive husband. My father’s attitude was that if I had a husband I did not need an education. He felt the same way about driving which meant I did not learn to drive until I was much older. I discovered that I had missed many of the milestones that my peers had experienced and would continue to miss them because I had no way to know what was normal and how to get those experiences for myself. Over time I came to realize that my Christian school had supplied me with a subpar education. If I had someone to help me navigate the gaps I could have taken classes to fill in what was missing, the issue is I did not know what I did not know. I worked in restaurants for a long time and got a little apartment for myself. I did what I had to to survive and tried to tell myself that I had time and everything would be ok. I was always afraid of a wrathful god. When I cut my hair and pierced my ears there was this moment where I was just waiting for lightening to strike. This new world was both exciting and scary.

The next phase comes when you finally feel free from the group and you try to convince yourself that you can live without them and just get on with things. Many people I speak to can be stuck in this place for decades. They convince themselves they are doing great and have just left it all behind. Reality is usually much different. Sometimes during this period addictions will show up as a coping mechanism. Many survivors try to fill their lives with activities, family and work in an attempt to forget about the trauma, but the unresolved trauma is still there like a ticking time bomb. During this time if you talk about your trauma or pain people will often slap you on the back and say something like, “But you’re away from them now so life must be good!” This is phase two.

I left my abusive group and then jumped right into another one. I hear that is not uncommon. I only stayed in that group for a couple of years before leaving. During this phase, I reveled in my freedom and filled my life with having children and experiencing as much as I could after a life of real restriction. The pain of my past never went away. It was always lurking in the background with it’s best friend fear. I tried to listen to what pop psychology told me. I tried to release the past and I tried to forgive. I tried to get on with my new life. Now I’m not saying those are bad ideas, all I’m saying is that they are a very simple answer for an extremely complex problem. They did nothing to address my C-PTSD and in the end, I just ended up feeling more broken because I couldn’t just get over it. Over time I got more and more sick. I have always had insomnia but as I’ve aged it has become much more constant. The underlying stress and anxiety brewing within me caused me to have severe stomach issues that I am still trying to heal. I also have asthma which I do not think came from the trauma but it is well documented that mental health has a big role to play in how severe asthmatic symptoms are. My body was trying to send me messages and I just kept turning the music up louder and trying to convince myself I was ok.

Phase three is what I like to call the “wake up” phase. Sometimes it happens suddenly and sometimes in little things that add up to a creeping realization. By this time the addictions are at a breaking point or maybe you just don’t sleep anymore. However it displays, you reach a point where you can no longer ignore the toll the unresolved trauma has put on your body. Things will pop into your head that you just can’t shake and you can no longer make excuses for. I feel people often reach this stage when they are in midlife and things slow down a little. They have age and experience which causes them to view the world differently. They are fully adults now and are in a better position to judge where they came from. This is usually a crisis breaking point. Illusions fall away and the past you have been hiding from is waiting there for you.

My phase three went on for a very long time. Over the years the creeping realizations would make it hard for me to ignore what happened in the past. When my oldest child reached the age I was when I was molested I realized how little she was. I could see how sweet and innocent she was and I had a bit of a crisis. These things would happen from time to time over the years. As I matured I could see clearly the past decisions that the adults made around me during my childhood as monsterous and cruel. For a long time I would make excuses for them and try to find ways to not face up to how bad things really were. Once I started writing this blog I started to really wake up. It felt like blindfold after blindfold was ripped from my eyes forcing me to look at the trauma I suffered and get real with myself about the repercussions of it. This can be really hard, when you get to the point where you can’t look away. You can no longer deny the truth in front of you or make excuses for people’s bad choices. It forces you to change the way you think and can really change your life in profound ways. Some people lose what remaining family they have, some people just realize the depth of what was done to them in childhood. With all of that comes fresh waves of grief, anger, anxiety, fear, and so on.

Once you can see the trauma you suffered clearly then you have to get to work on healing yourself and figuring out how to live in your new reality. This is where I am right now. I left the UPC when I was 16, I’m now 49, that’s 33 years to get to this point. I am one of those people who is always working on myself, I’m introspective and I’m always seeking self improvement and it still took me 33 years. This is not a quick process and I suspect I will be healing from it forever. I am ok with that and I hope that you can be too. One of the hardest things is when the people you love or just the people you want to like you seem annoyed that “you’re still dealing with that?” They question why you can’t just forget and be happy. If you love me or even just like me some the best thing you can do for me is accept me where I’m at. Understand that this isn’t something that is just going to go away. It is something I’m working on all the time. Sit with me when I’m sad and don’t try to fix it, just let me know you’re there. Take me out for coffee and listen even if you’ve heard it a million times. Lastly try to remember that I’m doing my best.

 

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Childhood, Depression, Fear, Justice, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

The Walking Wounded

I am one of the walking wounded. I have been attempting to write a book. Even though the process of writing can at times make me feel all alone I know that there are so many others like me. I just finished listening to the NPR podcast “Believed.” This podcast covers the story of Larry Nassar and his many victims. Although their story takes place in the world of competitive gymnastics there are so many similarities. Last week was an awful week for me. I battled my demons daily as I continued to write and try to unwind the story of my childhood. ITunes helpfully suggested this podcast to me and I’m so glad I took a chance on it. Now if you are like so many people in my life you might ask why would I put myself through that? Well because listening to other victims tell their story makes me feel less alone and strange in the world. The podcast was hard to listen to. I could relate to many of the women and their experiences. They inspired me to keep going and their journey gave me hope that maybe my story can have a better ending than it has had so far.

My friends and family worry about me. People tell me to take breaks and to take care of myself. They worry that telling this story might hurt me more than it helps me. I’m grateful for everyone in my life who has reached out to check in and give me advice. The thing is I cannot quit. I carried this trauma inside me for decades and now is the time to give it a voice. I cannot sit back and do nothing when I know that young people are continuing to be abused in the church I grew up in and others like it. My abuser is still out there doing god knows what. This isn’t about revenge but about justice. Justice for myself and all of the others like me.

Right now I will speak anywhere I am asked to speak and share my story anywhere I can get a platform. I am afraid because I don’t know if I have the skills to make my book a reality and I know for a fact that I am not a public speaker but the time for fear is over. Fear can be really hard to let go of, especially when you are raised on fear and it is what you know best. When you are told to keep yourself small and to go unnoticed it can be hard to step into the sunshine. So I keep going. I do it for myself and all of the survivors of Calvary Gospel and the UPC organization. Most importantly I do it for her…

Age 11

D

Childhood, Depression, Forgiveness, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Where Have All Of The Children Gone?

Since I have been writing about my childhood within the church many people have contacted me. Through those contacts, I have had contact with even more people. One thing that has become clear to me is that Calvary Gospel Church (CGC) seems to lose many of their young people. Why does this happen? Is it because of abuse within the church? Sure in some cases but I feel there is more to it than that.

When young people are abused the church tends to minimize the damage and try to cover it up. They do not listen to the victims and they don’t offer any kind of aftercare/compassion when these things occur. Because the police and social services are not involved that pathway to help is not available to the victims either. Those young people are left to twist in the wind and try to make sense of the devastation in their lives. This often leads to depression and a low self-esteem. Victims are made to feel less than and because of that they eventually leave the church.

When the survivors leave, the church writes them off. Time after time I have heard about people leaving and never hearing from the church again. Young people who have spent their whole lives within the church are treated as if they never existed. This has bothered me for years. I don’t know how they can see this behavior as Christ-like. When I left no one came after me. It was like I never existed. What the church often does when someone leaves is they gossip about that person. Eventually, the person in question hears about this gossip and is reinjured and suffers trauma all over again. This makes it very unlikely that the young person will ever want to return to the church.

Questions are often off-limits. When young people go through their teen years questions are natural and should be expected. Teenage rebellion and acting out should also be expected. Within CGC questions and questioning authority is not ok. If you ask too many questions you will be told you have a rebellious spirit. If you are a naturally curious person you will not do well within that congregation. Normal acts of teenage rebellion are often used to label a person forever. Things that all kids do are seen as worthy of a life sentence. If you do anything wrong in the future your past will be brought up as if it happened yesterday.

Mental illness is not treated seriously. Often they will attribute it to sin and tell you to pray harder. They treat the consequences of abuse the same way. If you have anxiety because of their end-time teachings that must be because you are not ready for the rapture. It could not possibly be because those teachings are not healthy for young children to be exposed to. If you are depressed and struggling because of abuse that happened during your childhood they will tell you to forgive and let go. Let god handle it. When that doesn’t work some young people will turn to alcohol and sex to try to quiet the demons. They often leave the church looking for help wherever they can find it because the church did not help and in many cases made things worse.

This brings me back to my original question. Where have all of the children gone? Many of them have left in search of a church that teaches love and grace. Some had to leave and even cut off family members just to save themselves and their sanity. Some, like me, have found other paths that have proven to be healing and helpful. The church seems upset that so many of us are angry. They don’t understand why we can’t just forgive and move on, they feel attacked. I would say they need to look at themselves. They need to ask why so many of their children walk away. They need to take some responsibility for the young lives that grew up in their presence and were influenced by their teachings. If I were them I would ask myself why are these people still in pain? Why are they so angry with us after all of these years? What is my responsibility in all of this? They need to come to terms with the role they have played in creating the situation they now find themselves in.

I’m not surprised so many young people have walked away. For many leaving was the only way for them to survive. For those who got out, I’m so happy for you. For those who are on the fence, maybe one foot in and one foot out, we are over here waiting for you. If you ever decide to really leave those of us who have been out will welcome you with open arms. You won’t find judgment here but you will find compassion and understanding. Once I left the church I found my value and I learned I was worthy of love. On the outside, I found acceptance and understanding. CGC isn’t the only way.

 

 

Compassion, Depression, Family, Fear, Illness, United Pentecostal Church

Funeral

My mother was not well. She had very severe asthma and had to be on disability. On top of that, she suffered from horrible depression. Mostly she was ignored. She had one close friend in the church. I don’t have anything bad to say about that woman, she was one of the few who always showed my mother kindness. I feel that because we were poor and my mother made some choices the church did not agree with she was deemed to be unimportant. She suffered for years with her illness and an alcoholic husband. She had my brother when I was 13 and it was hard to raise him after she became sick. My stepfather was no help. I became a second mother to my little brother.

When I was nineteen, about three years after leaving the church my mother died. It was sudden and the worst thing that has ever happened to me. My mother, even with all of her flaws, was my whole world and I loved her unconditionally. It felt like time and space stopped and all of the colors were drained from my life. My mother’s super religious family flew here from Florida to attend the funeral. They were not much help. At nineteen I planned the funeral, picked the casket and acted as the executor of her estate. I became an instant mother. My stepdad was in rehab at the time and so he could not care for my little brother.

The funeral was surreal. Many people from my old church showed up and I was really shocked. A few were people who I knew and had friendships. I was not the only one who had left. I had a lot on my plate. My grandmother was complaining that I was not paying enough attention to her. My little brother needed me more than anyone else, and now I had to deal with these church people. Pastor Grant was offended that I did not ask him to speak at her service. He felt that because he had been her pastor for so long he should have the privilege of handling the service. This was shocking to me because he never cared about her when she was sick. She had not heard from him in years. Thankfully none of the church people said anything really offensive to me but they did go after my stepfather.

I was greeting people as they came in and my stepdad was sitting slumped in a chair, grieving his loss. I saw this old woman come in and I could not help but groan. She was a busybody and always gossiping. She approached my stepdad and proceeded to tell him that if he did not get his life right with god that he would end up like my mother. This filled me with rage! Not only was she saying this to a man who was out on a day pass from rehab, but what exactly was she implying about my mother? My mother died from an asthma attack in the middle of the night. She was implying that my mother died and was probably in hell because she had sin in her life. That was the reason for everything within that congregation. Do you have cancer? It is probably because of unconfessed sin or because you do not have enough faith. Are you plagued with depression? If you would just get your life right with god everything would work out. Over and over I watched people approach my stepdad not from a place of compassion but from a place of preaching at him.

This whole scene made me so angry. Ninety percent of the people from the church who showed up did not show compassion. They were more interested in saying “see we told you so.” The weeks following my mother’s death were some of the darkest days I have ever know. All of those church people disappeared and I was left alone to handle my grief. From here it just gets worse.

Ten days after my mother died my stepdad was released from rehab. He arranged to meet me at the house so I could help him find some documents. When I arrived he was dead. He had shot himself in the head and timed it so I would find him. This time around no one from the church showed up. I shut down and to be honest I have almost no memory of this time. I don’t know how I survived or moved through the days that followed.

My poor mother had such a hard life. The church could have been her refuge. They could have strengthened her through fellowship and loving-kindness. They could have visited her when she was ill or helped when she was hungry. Instead, they offered gossip, judgment, fear, and shame. My mother loved god so much and wanted nothing more than to serve him. Eventually, she did start going to another church but she did not build strong friendships there because she was unable to attend regularly due to illness. She knew what the congregation thought about her and that kept her away. They never came after her, just like they never came after me. She had no money to offer them, and she was too sick to earn their love through service.

I did not see people from that church much after this. I avoided all contact because I could see their true colors. The older I became the more clear things were. They are often referred to as Jesus Only people but I did not experience much Jesus coming from them.

D