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, 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.

 

Assemblies of God Church, Childhood, Family, Fear, Government, isolation, Poverty, United Pentecostal Church

Isolation, Bootstraps, and Fear of the Government

My mother was a very strong woman. She often worked two jobs and still made the time to do things like refinishing the living room floor. We were very poor for most of my childhood but my mother would not consider asking the government for assistance. In the 70’s it was much easier for men to get out of paying child support and my father very rarely paid anything. Because of her stubborn resistance regarding asking for help, we often were on the edge of losing our housing and we often did not have enough to eat. I would walk home from school at lunch and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that is all we had. I also have memories of my mother fishing for dinner. If she did not catch anything we did not have dinner. At times she would keep a cooler with milk, bologna, and maybe some kind of fruit. When you don’t have electricity it can be impossible to cook or keep food cold. It wasn’t always that bad but it happened pretty regularly.

Where did her resistance regarding asking for help come from? It can be traced back to her parents and religion. My grandparents were rugged people who believed you should help yourself through hard work and determination. They tended to only associate with others from their church because of fear of the world and the devil’s influence on it. They passed that fear down to my mother. They felt that you never ask the government for assistance and you don’t let them into your life if you can help it. This means don’t call the police unless you are dying and never answer the door for social services. You should never apply for things like food stamps because you would have to fill out government forms, thus giving them info about yourself and because you should be able to help yourself through hard work.

All of this kind of thinking tends to lead to isolation. You cannot ask for help without shame, you can only associate with others from your church, and your church is pretty anti-government. On the surface, it might seem like the UPC is patriotic and pro-government, but that isn’t really the truth. My grandparent’s Assemblies of God church was pretty much the same. Once you are isolated from the community around you all you can do is hope your church will help, in our case that help never came.

I have many memories of sitting on the floor at my grandparent’s house listening to the adults talking. They often talked about the end times and the One World Government. They speculated about who the anti-Christ was and how he would take over the U.S. They talked about the government being able to watch us through our televisions and about how someday they would be able to see through the walls of our homes. They felt we were already being watched. I know this may sound crazy to someone who has not grown up around this stuff but I assure you they believed it all. My mother and her family saw the government as evil and this meant you did not go to them unless you had no other option.

This distaste for the government may have led to my molestation not being reported. Sure the church did not want the bad press of having a molestation case coming out of their church, but there is also a distrust of the government happening there. In the end, the pastor is your government. He makes the rules, punishes the sinners, and decided who rises and who falls. You cannot question him because that is taboo.

1 Chronicles 16:22 “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”

Anyone could be the anti-Christ. It could even be the U.S. president. He might even be serving right now. With that always being the case then how could you trust the government? It will be the government that eventually gives out the mark of the beast so…you can see where all of the fear comes from. The end result makes pastors into kings of their own little kingdoms. They are not to be questioned and if you do you will soon find yourself out in that cruel world they have warned you about. You will be shunned and subject to a different type of isolation.

All of these beliefs kept my family in poverty and kept my mother suffering for much of her life. It makes me sad that she worked herself to death trying to live and pay medical bills. It makes me angry that her mental illness went untreated for so long because she thought it was sin and not illness causing her depression. If she had not been afraid maybe she could have received help from the county with childcare, food stamps, and medical assistance. How could my life have been different if I had better medical care, enough food so that I could concentrate on school, and childcare so I wouldn’t have to be a latchkey kid? If some of these things had been in place maybe I would have not been such a good target for Steve Dahl. Being with him was an escape from a pretty hard life, at least I knew he would feed me.

D