C-PTSD, Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

C-PTSD and Rapture Anxiety

*If you are triggered by rapture anxiety tread carefully with this post*

I have complex PTSD. My condition comes from many different sources and for multiple reasons. One of the biggest causes is rapture theology. I know that I have written about this topic often so today I want to come at it from a different angle. If you spend any time on the internet you have probably heard about triggers. I have many of them and some days they can really make life complicated.

I have spent much of my adult life trying to undo the damage done to me by the church. I know in my conscious mind that I no longer believe what I was taught but because it was taught to me at such a young age it did permanent damage. Over time things have become better but my triggers never go away completely. I have been putting this off because I know how crazy it sounds but I am also very committed to being honest here and so here it goes…

On most days these things don’t bother me that much but it only takes letting one in to start a cascade of anxiety. A bad day can come out of nowhere and before I know it it has taken over everything. I had a day like this recently and it all started on Twitter. I got up in the morning and I started to mindlessly scroll through Twitter. Another survivor retweeted a tweet featuring a photo of a guillotine. That person was talking about how that photo triggered her and seeing her post triggered me. I immediately felt a sense of dread and my pulse quickened. I started to breathe fast and shallow and I had to self-talk myself out of an unexpected panicked state. Once that door is opened it can be very hard to force it closed again. I start to move through my day trying to keep “I wish we’d all been ready” from playing on a loop in my brain. That first trigger opened the door for the second (that damn song) and that leads to the next, the dreaded white van. So a little later in my day I head out to walk my dog. I have my headphones on and I’m listening to a podcast in part to keep the rapture thoughts at bay. I turn a corner and there is a white van parked on the side of the road, my pulse speeds up again as I rush past it and try to push out the memories of the Unite van from A Thief In The Night. No, men are not coming to get me in order to force the mark of the beast on me, but my lizard brain doesn’t understand that. I talk to myself about how it is just a movie and how we don’t believe in that anymore but the dread lingers all day. My brain keeps shoving things in my face the guillotine, the song, the van. Over and over. Weird looking clouds and loud horns can add to my anxiety when I am in this state. Is that god returning in those creepy clouds, is that horn signaling the start of some apocalyptic hell scape? Later I decide to take a hot bath and pamper myself a little bit, while in the bath my eyes fall upon the shampoo bottle with the UPC code facing out towards me here again is another trigger. I try to resist my impulse to turn all of the bottles away from me so I can’t see the bar code. I don’t want to give into the anxiety soon I just turn them because I want to enjoy my bath, the song returns and my bath is ruined. Before long it is bedtime and I’m laying there trying to sleep. I’m on edge because the anxiety will not let me rest. I look out into the darkness and try to will my mind to be quiet. My inner child will not rest. She knows the danger out there, Unite might be coming for me at any moment. What if you are wrong lingers on the edges of my mind. I sometimes get up and go get a drink in the bathroom. As I walk into the room I see his electric razor sitting on the counter and I’m triggered again.

I know how this sounds, which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to write. It. Things are much better now than they were when I was younger. I don’t respond to these triggers in the same way every day. They have to catch me in the right moment, maybe I’m tired that day or feeling emotional. Maybe I’m already thinking about the church or rapture for some other reason. Sounds  and visual cues affect me worse than words but occasionally words can do it especially certain Bible quotes. “No man knows the day nor the hour…” “Two men will be in the field, one will be taken…”, 666. This is why I don’t participate in conversations online about the rapture because people will bring up these verses and always the Thief in the Night films, and then it is all over for me. When it gets really bad my brain just starts flashing images at me to force me to pay attention. When I was a kid this sweet woman from the church came to give my mother a Bible study. The Search for Truth Bible Study. This Bible study was very popular within our congregation and they wanted all new converts to go through it. It was a huge flip book that stood on the table by itself with large full-page black and white drawings. One of these drawings has stuck with my mind my whole life it featured the white throne judgment and after all of these years (I was 8 when I first saw it) I can still bring it up into my mind easily.

http://search4truth2.com/DOCs/study/search4truth1-chart.pdf

Start at page 54 and go through to the end and you will see what I mean. The night I had my salvation experience my pastor preached a fire and brimstone sermon that scared the crap out of my 10-year-old self. I fully believed that if I left that service unsaved I would burn forever. From my childhood church experience I have almost no memories of anyone talking about god’s love, it seems like it was mostly turn or burn on repeat. I heard it at home, at church, and at school. It was inescapable.

I wrote this to give you all an idea of what it is like to deal with C-PTSD. When the church exposes young minds to ideas, images, and thoughts they are not ready for or able to fully understand they are committing child abuse. My young mind was damaged in a way that I cannot fully fix. I cannot predict when all of these thoughts will rush at me. Rapture theology is not the only thing contributing to my condition but it is a HUGE part of it and the most unpredictable.

D

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Childhood, Family, Fear, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

The Monsters

There are many things to be afraid of from my childhood but the thing that has scared me the most is rapture culture. It still haunts me at 47 years old. I have complex PTSD due to this teaching. I have had to work with a therapist who specializes in spiritual abuse in order to stop having flashbacks and nightmares. None of that is gone completely, it is the monster under my bed and just behind every door, always threatening my peace of mind. If I let it in even a little bit I will spend a week fighting it back into its cage. It is real and more dangerous than any man who ever put his hands on me.

My mother was tormented by fears about the rapture. She could never be perfect enough so she spent long hours on her knees praying and that meant she was not really looking after me. As a small child, I would sit outside her door and worry about if she was ok. She would cry and speak in tongues for hours, I would listen and try to play with my toys…alone. I know that much of my adult anxiety comes from the rapture culture I was raised in. I was always worried about what unconfessed sin I might be missing that would cause me to miss the rapture. I could never rest easy and I could never just be a kid. Add to that those grown men trying to creep on me from the 6th grade on, my life was always about trying to be purer.  I thought something I was doing was causing them to lust after me, and that might make me be left behind.

In 1972 a film came out called Thief In The Night. It spawned a series of 4 films and my church would show them once a year. I was two in 1972 and one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me out of a showing of that film at the Assemblies of God church we were attending. There is not a time I can remember when I did not have nightmares about those films. I could not sleep alone as a kid because I was afraid of being left behind. My mother finally forced me to sleep alone in the 5th grade and I think that is when my insomnia really kicked in. I have had horrible insomnia for most of my life. Tired is the rule, not the exception. I don’t believe in the Christian god or the rapture any longer but my poor lizard brain still does. That is what is so awful about this teaching. When you start teaching it to very young children it becomes part of them and they are stuck with it for life. My therapist explained to me that the brain cannot always tell the difference between something it sees that is a movie and something actually happening, especially when you see it at such a young age. This is why my brain thinks it witnessed a beheading. I am traumatized like a soldier who actually witnessed someone being executed because my child mind could not logic out the difference. This is an interesting thing to research if you are into brain science like I am. I have been trying to hack this out of my brain for many many years.

When I was in early elementary school I fell asleep under a plastic sled. I had been using it to create a fort in my living room. When my mother came home from work she could not find me. My little body was completely hidden under the sled. She screamed and ran to our neighbor’s house sure that I had been taken and she had been left. Suddenly all of these adults come crashing into our living room screaming my name, it was not a nice way to wake up. She was relieved and I was freaked out, it really drove home that she and her friends really believed this stuff.

Since starting this blog I have spoken to many people who suffer the same fears that I do, we all attended the same church. The aftermath of this teaching is anxiety, fear, nightmares, and depression. I wish someone could explain to me why my parents and church leaders thought it was ok to show small children these films. They are violent and if they had been rated they would have not been appropriate for kids. They showed people being beheaded via guillotine and they featured a child awaiting execution. They showed babies starving due to parents not accepting the mark of the beast. Oh and the people running from the One World Government. I spent so many sleepless nights due to dreaming of being chased by men in white vans and armbands. To this day white vans, helicopters, barcodes, and guillotines can still trigger me. It is an awful price to pay if you are an adult raised in this culture. I can be just out enjoying my day and suddenly I’m triggered and I will often have a panic attack. All this because I see a white van parked on the side of the road. My logical brain could care less but my hindbrain really thinks it is a threat. I will have heart palpitations and I will experience fight or flight sensations. I just have to power through it so it doesn’t take over the day.

So once a year my church would show these films 4 nights in a row. They said it was to save the lost, but really it was to keep the congregants in line. After the film, the altar would be filled with congregants and maybe a stray “lost” person. You may be saying to yourself, yeah but they are just movies. The thing is when you are shown them in early childhood, and then the pastor reinforces the teaching all year-long until you watch them again, that all feels pretty real. Every adult in your life tells you it is real. In your world it is real. Our pastor would make a speech before every film saying that we don’t actually support everything in these films. What he meant was that they were softer than his teaching. The films showed people being saved after the rapture and he did not teach that. If you missed the rapture your only hope was to be killed for not taking the mark. Add to that constant talk of demons and devils trying to deceive you and oppress you, and you can start to see where all of the anxiety comes from.

This is child abuse. I have to wonder what I would have accomplished in my life had I not been fighting to keep my sanity. Not turning in predators is child abuse. Who would I be if I had not been preyed upon by those men? I’m happily married now, but I have been through two divorces because I have an awful track record with men. One of my exes was emotionally and physically abusive and the other one ran off with a much younger woman. By the way, the second one grew up in the same church as I did. I have to wonder if that has anything to do with his upbringing and what he saw happening all around him. He basically told me I was too old. My relationship with my parents suffered due to what they exposed me to and the resentment I felt about that. All of the people from my childhood I basically avoid like the plague, which has left me alone to struggle through the wreckage of my childhood. I’m going to end this post with gratitude. I have found others and I think they understand my struggle, I feel validated and their compassion has warmed my heart. I have 4 amazing kids who I love more than anything. They will never know the sorrow of being raised like I was. Lastly, I have a husband who has stood beside me as I reveal this story and I know he understands. I’m grateful for having survived.

D

Childhood, Family, Fear, Rapture, United Pentecostal Church

Beginning

I guess the best place to start a story is at the beginning. My mother was raised in the Church of God. She came from a small town and her parents were very religious and conservative. The church of her childhood was very charismatic. She told me stories about people dancing in the spirit and speaking in tongues. When she moved to the big city (Madison Wisconsin) it was a pretty big shock. She married young and had me quickly after. My mother was always looking for the “right” church. Her and my father attended an Assemblies of God church close to our home for the first few years of my life. Eventually they left that church, although I’m not sure why. In the corners of my memory I think I remember her saying something about not liking the new pastor. I was dedicated to god in that church and one of my earliest memories is of that church. A Thief In The Night was a movie that played a big part in my childhood. That film came out in 1972, at that time I was 2 years old. It was not released in theaters but instead traveled from church to church like a virus. I don’t know when exactly it was shown at our church but I know I was not much more than a toddler. It is one of my earliest memories. I don’t know what scene it was exactly but it was a scene where someone (probably Patty) screams, at that moment I started to cry, hard, and my dad had to carry me out of the auditorium. At the back of our church there was just glass, you could stand outside the sanctuary and look inside. It was probably like that so that parents could take their kids out and still hear and see what was going on. My dad paced the floor with me and I cried because I was scared. I sometimes wonder if the scream I heard was even in the movie or if it was someone in the congregation who was freaked out by the film. That sort of movie was still pretty new for that time period and I’m sure many people had never seen anything like it. It is now considered the grand daddy of all the end time films.

During my childhood we visited many churches and my mother would only stay in a church for a short time (couple of years) until we started attending the United Pentecostal Church in our city. That was when our whole world changed but that is a story for another day. One thing ties all of the churches we visited together like a sinister cord of fear, and that is those damn Thief In The Night movies. Watching them punctuates all of my church experiences. They were a big deal in the 70’s and I could not escape them no matter how hard I tried.

My mother was a church hopper. She struggled my whole childhood to find just the right place. She was never satisfied. I hope you understand that I am not trying to be critical, I understand her struggle it makes sense to me now that I am an adult. My mother grew up believing that her church was the right church. She was raised that you had to be Church of God to be saved. My grandparents were livid when they found she was attending a “Jesus Only” church. In order for church to feel right for her it had to have charismatic worship, fire and brimstone preaching, and a strong belief in end times prophecy. They also had to baptize in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. The UPC had all of those but not the baptism part. She spent the most time at the UPC but never fully embraced it, because of the baptism question. I think she stayed there because it felt the most like home. My mother struggled with depression and I’m sure that is why she struggled to find a church home that fit. Our life was full of drama, her depression, my father’s cheating, poverty, and divorce, I think many pastors just did not know how to deal with all of those issues. They gave her non-answers and non-help.

She was very talented. My mother could sing and traveled from church to church with a gospel singing group as a teen. She played multiple instruments and often played and sang in church. Because of her religious upbringing and depression, plus our often dire straits, she spent a lot of time in prayer. Not bow your head kind of prayer but weeping and speaking in tongues. I would sit outside her bedroom door and wonder if she was ok. She was always worried about hell and the rapture. She heard it her whole life and then passed it down to me. The fear of being left behind punctuated my childhood. I believe it led to the anxiety issues I have today. I no longer worry about the rapture but I do struggle with anxiety and I can trace it directly back to her.

D