Books, Compassion, Sexual Abuse, Trauma

Learning About Trauma Responses

I’m finally getting around to reading “The Body Keeps the Score.” I think I glanced through this book at some point but this time I’m really digging in. At first, it was harder than anticipated because of how it made me feel. I feel sicker and more broken than I did before I started. I did not know it was possible to feel more broken so that was a big shock! Now that I have settled in and I’ve had time to sit with the material I’m starting to feel more compassion for myself. Reading this book has shown me some of the reasons why I am the way I am. I feel like it has given me permission to forgive myself for how my life has unfolded.

Back a few years ago I read “Emotional Freedom” by Judith Orloff. I consider her book to be one of those life-changing books. Reading it truly changed the way I moved within the world. It helped me to disengage from the voices of my past and distinguish between my truth and the truth that was handed to me by my parents and other authority figures. I feel like reading “The Body Keeps the Score” is helping to continue the work I started with “Emotional Freedom.”

What books have you read to help you deal with spiritual/sexual abuse and trauma?

D

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Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

A Second Victim Steps Forward – Rebecca’s Story

Today I’m sharing a new story with you. Another victim of Calvary Gospel Church has decided to tell her story. I have always intended this blog to be a place where victims other than myself can also share their experiences. This is Rebecca’s story.

It’s my turn now. I’ve left Debbie high and dry while I’ve done a lot of processing, now it is time to tell my story. I struggle with where to start, as my story starts in the UPC when I was very young. How do I choose what to say in my first post? So please bear with me as I give the highlights and the can of worms will follow.

My parents joined Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church when I was in the 3rd grade. Soon after my sister and I were enrolled in the church’s school. My childhood was completely enveloped by the UPC. Parents were expected to take a backseat roll in favor of teaching whatever the church dictated. My parents questioned nothing, and allowed everything, as long as it was within the church’s walls. Needless to say, we were easy targets for anyone wanting to take advantage of vulnerable kids. If we questioned anything or any of the leaders, we were disciplined and labeled rebellious. Calvary Gospel is a tight-knit community, where any independent thought is quashed and shunning is commonplace, it can be frightening to show any independence. I witnessed parents who disowned children and teenagers forced to make public apologies in front of the congregation. It was built into all of us if the “man of god” said it, it was unquestionably true. I could say more about this but I need to move on.

So I was unlucky enough to catch the eye of one of my Sunday School teachers, who also helped out as a youth leader. Everyone knew he favored me and teased me about him constantly. I was called his “little girlfriend”. He would give me rides, leave notes in my school desk, show up at my house or my friend’s houses if he knew I was there, he came to every youth function, every service, everywhere I was.

In the eyes of Calvary Gospel Church, my predator was a great young man, a burgeoning minister. He was also 17 years older than me. I’m going to refer to him as “Ben”. I was 12 the first time he sexually assaulted me. He never even noticed or acknowledged that I never responded when he’d kiss me. I clearly wasn’t enjoying what he was doing and I resisted when he’d make me touch him. He would take my hand and force it onto his pants. This went on for years until we had full intercourse when I was 14. He was 31. I took my first pregnancy test at his job after hours when I was 15. I went on birth control shortly after.

During this time I wrote letters to a friend of mine telling some of what was happening. She told her sister and her older sister went to the pastor. One night after the evening service Ben found me and was very angry. He pushed me up against a car and told me I had to lie. He threatened me, telling me it would be my fault if he got into trouble, that he wouldn’t be able to able to become a minister. I was terrified of being caught, being humiliated, kicked out of the school, and shunned. So I lied. I told Pastor John Grant Sr. that I made it all up. Strangely, Pastor Grant accused the girl who brought him the letters of making them up herself to get attention, and he kicked her out of the choir. I felt completely responsible. It silenced me even more. Sadly this made me that much easier to manipulate, control, and abuse.

I can’t wrap my head around how all of the church adults knew we were a “couple”. How was it appropriate and acceptable for a 33-year-old man to be dating a 16-year-old girl? And of course, the sex continued. He would show up wherever I was. At my school, my job, at my friend’s houses, and my driver’s ed class. He once picked me up and took me to the duplex he shared with a few other guys. He was on top of me in his bed when he heard one of his roommates come home. He shoved me into his closet and shut the door hiding me so his roommate wouldn’t see. I don’t know how long I was in there. Maybe minutes, maybe an hour. It was long enough that he grabbed some old fast food cups and gave me one so he could tell my mom that he took me there to eat instead of where he had really taken me. All I know is, I felt so demeaned, so ashamed, so lost. I felt hopeless. He controlled my every move. I couldn’t date anyone else, I couldn’t go anywhere, I couldn’t do anything, without him. After every sexual contact, he would make me get down on my knees and read Psalm 51 out loud and repent. Thinking of it makes me sick to this day. I hated it. I never liked praying out loud. I never saw the point in wanting others to listen to me. My prayers were between me and god. But I did it, read the Psalm and begged for forgiveness. “Ben” would assure me that he forgave me too.

Now I see the absurdity of it, forgive me for what?! Being a temptation when I was 12?! But in the Calvary Gospel culture, it was my fault. Men were never held accountable for their actions. I saw younger girls that were also preyed on by older men and watched how the men would be sheltered and protected while their victims the young girls would pay the price. It was reinforced again and again that the adults around me knew and would do nothing. Once when I told Pastor Grant what had happened, when I actually built up the courage, he told me not to “rock the boat” because it would “make the church look bad”. I knew I was being eaten alive by this system. I was hopeless, but like any good UPC’er, I made it look good.

I should wrap this up for now. It’s like a plate of spaghetti, one thought/memory leads to another and another…It’s difficult to stay on one path when I have so many stories and details to add. But I want to add my voice to Debbie’s, and many others, that were and probably still are being victimized by the UPC. After all of these years, I’m not the scared and depressed little girl anymore. It’s my time. I will be heard.

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

Compassion, Forgiveness, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Southern Baptist Church, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

What Will It Take?

As I sit at my desk tonight the question that sits at the front of my mind is what will it take? I and many others have lifted up our voices and spoke truth to power and yet they still can’t seem to find their hearts. Since I have told my story not one single person who is still in the church has reached out to me. In many ways, this doesn’t surprise me because once you are out of the church you are nothing to them, on the other hand, I have to believe that somewhere in that congregation there has to be one person with a heart. If only it was as simple as finding someone with a heart. Once you find that, then you have to find someone who isn’t afraid. Sadly many people who still attend and even those who have broken away are still afraid.

Lois Gibson has called Calvary Gospel Church out on her Spiritual Abuse blog over and over and yet no one has responded. She recently realized that they blocked her on Twitter so it is obvious that they know about her blog and they can see that she has heard the stories.

I am sure that they are talking about me and others because that is what they have always done, it is a testament to the hold they have over their congregants that not one person has broken ranks. I believe it would never even occur to them to apologize or seek healing between us and them. In their minds, they are with god and therefore right and we are not and therefore wrong. To be honest I cannot ever remember them apologizing for anything. I have no memory of any minister or person in authority saying they were wrong.

It isn’t just the local church the UPCI has not responded either. My guess is they assume there is not much we can do to them legally so they do not care. It is sad that they feel they bear no responsibility for the young souls they allowed to be wounded. I understand that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of every person within their congregations but they should be held responsible for the things they know about and what they did with that knowledge.

It isn’t just the UPC that is guilty of this behavior. If you follow #churchtoo you will see that the Southern Baptist Church has acted in a similar fashion. It has happened in the Catholic church and in non-denominational churches. I feel that if American Christianity wants to stop losing members it needs to address this behavior across the board. The response from these organizations shouldn’t be to call into question whether or not the wounded person really believed in god or to call upon the survivors to forgive. It shouldn’t be to lash out at people who are struggling to heal themselves demanding that the wounded repent and come back to god. What is needed is a heartfelt apology, and a willingness to look within and see where they made mistakes. Next change needs to happen, there needs to be a willingness to value young women, people of color, and those who don’t have a lot of money to put in the offering plate. They might have to sacrifice some of their sacred cows if those people are causing harm and driving people away. The reform that is needed would be very hard but necessary journey.

If you have any questions about my journey or would like me to talk about something in particular here on the blog please let me know!

Thanks,

Debbie

Childhood, Family, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Food, Shame, Trauma

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about the trauma I experienced as a young person. I’ve been thinking about my weight and wondering what role trauma has played in my day to day habits. Because of growing up UPC I have had to work very hard to learn to love myself. Shame was heaped on me during childhood and even now at 47 years old I still struggle to get rid of it. Much of that shame came from the church but some of it came from my parents.

As a child, I was often hungry. My mother never wanted people to know our business so I never reached out to teachers. During my elementary years I was still in public school and going home for lunch was how we hid the fact that there was nothing to put in my lunchbox. I felt shame every time I had to run home and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that was all there was in the house to eat. I would eat it off the spoon and wash it down with some water before heading back to school. Peanuts do not agree with my stomach and I wonder if some of the stomach issues I had during childhood had something to do with this habit. Later on in middle school and early high school, we would be without electricity on and off. My mother would keep a cooler with milk and bologna in the kitchen. When I look back at photos of myself from age 12-15 I am super skinny. I’m skinny in an unhealthy way. I have to wonder why none of the adults in my life asked about whether or not I had enough to eat. I have one memory of an adult commenting to me but it was just a passing comment. She was sewing me a new school uniform for the year and she told me that I looked so thin she was afraid I would blow away if I wasn’t careful. At this point, the adults in the church knew about our money problems. If only my mother would get her heart right…

One time I dared to comment to an adult in our apartment complex that I was hungry. I was about 6 years old. This compassionate woman was our next door neighbor. She waited until my mother came home and brought us a bag of groceries. Inside was a loaf of bread and some milk, along with a few other things. My mother was VERY embarrassed and really angry with me for saying anything. I never did that again. The last thing I wanted to do was to make my mother angry. She would not only spank me but she would threaten me with hell for not being obedient.

The start of the time when I was the thinnest was right when Steve Dahl was molesting me. It is hard to know for sure what role his actions played but I have my suspicions. I have a clear as day memory of him telling me the only thing he would change about my body was my tiny tummy bump. My stomach wasn’t flat, it has never been flat even when I was a size 3. As I write this my tears are overwhelming me. I have never cried about this before, maybe I have unlocked something? One of the reasons that spending time with Steve was so alluring is because he fed me. He took me out for ice cream but also for real food if I was spending the day with him. My mother rarely had the money for that, but it was something my dad would do with me. My father being in and out of my life would make a big show of treating me when he was trying to make amends for being absent. Steve was in many ways a substitute father. Food was definitely part of the grooming process.

While at the Christian school I barely ate anything. I never ate breakfast and I would usually bring an apple or banana for lunch. I would save any change I found for the soda machine. I could get a soda for 25 cents. No one ever asked why I did not eat, in fact, no one really ever asked how I was doing. Right now I am talking about the adults, I’m sure that my friends commented but I’m also sure I just brushed it off. Once I reached about age 14 I started to make babysitting money. I would use this money to buy clothes (not food) because Sunday church was such a fashion show and I was already one of the poor kids. I just wanted to fit in. When I was old enough to work I got a job at a steakhouse and then I was never hungry. I was given one free meal per shift and I had money to buy food for when I was not working. I worked as often as I could. I would often pay for my friends and me to grab a slice of pizza or some other fast food, I liked being able to treat them.

I left the church at 16 years old and launched into adulthood. I had my first apartment at 17 and I was married at 19. In my early to mid 20’s I started to gain weight. Some of it may have to do with the damage done to my body during childhood. It seemed that I gained really easily and if I ate what “normal” people ate I would balloon up. For years this tortured me. My first husband mocked me and made fun of my body, which I’m sure you can guess did not help. I could not figure out what was going on and all the doctors would say to me is to eat less, exercise more. I did that. When I wasn’t pregnant or nursing I ate very little and worked out whenever the kids were not awake. It did not make a difference.

Thankfully around 1998, I discovered feminism! It has taken me years to learn to love myself and let go of shame. I have been working on being more healthy overall. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Balance is very important to me. I have discovered that I am an athlete. Being a plus size woman can make that hard, but I love being athletic so much and I have not let my weight stop me. That being said I am not perfect. I try hard to eat healthily and I try to love myself even when I don’t see the scale move, even if the scale never moves. During my long struggle with my body, it has never really occurred to me until now that maybe some of my childhood trauma has affected my body. One thing about writing is that it brings things to the surface that you might never notice otherwise.

I know that the lifelong insomnia that I suffer from is at least in part caused by being afraid of missing the rapture. I’m hypervigilant even though I no longer believe that doctrine. As a kid, I would lay awake worried about the rapture and I would often be awakened by nightmares about it. I’m sure I have sexual abuse trauma hiding out in my body. Little by little as I bring my trauma out into the light I hope that some of that trauma can be released. I wonder how many of us within the #churchtoo movement suffer from the same physical issues.

I hope you can excuse this long rambly post. I knew what I wanted to write about today but I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out. Much of this I am still unwinding and trying to make sense of it all. To all those out there who feel I should just let it go, get over it, and move on, I wish it was that easy. I am the walking wounded, working to heal a little more each day.

Childhood, Crime, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

True Colors

When I was a child I was taught that we were not supposed to associate with people outside of the church. The church was very narrowly defined as the United Pentecostal Church. I even got the impression that my pastor did not approve of some of the churches within our Wisconsin UPC district. I know that he thought the church in Janesville was too liberal. If someone left the church they were generally shunned unless the purpose of talking to them was to bring them back into the fold.

It is peculiar to me that so many people from UPC churches here in Wisconsin associate with Steve Dahl. He is not ordained as a UPC minister but that doesn’t seem to matter to them. His doctrine mirrors the UPC doctrine but that usually would not be enough. These are very insular people and they do not associate with outsiders. In my view, there is no bigger outsider than Steve Dahl. I’m sure that not everyone within the district knows about his past but enough of them do. I wonder what he says when they ask why he is not ordained within the UPC? What is even more strange is they preach at his church and he travels to other churches within the UPC. He has followers on his Facebook page who attended CGC when he committed his crimes and yet it seems that time has healed all memory of what he did.

I never felt clean after what Steve did to me. I struggled through my adolescence always feeling judged. As a young person once you have the stain of sexual sin on you it can be impossible to remove. I felt like the adults around me were always assuming I was acting inappropriately. I could never grow past what happened to me. Shame was applied liberally and I soaked it all up. Now as an adult as I try to tell my story from a vulnerable and honest place I am aware that nothing has changed.

Just like when I was a child they prefer the child abuser over the abused child. As I and others have tried to speak out and tell our stories we are scoffed at and declared to be liars by some who don’t even know us or the details of our stories. The church has gone out of its way to be friendly with Steve. They are friends with him on social media and they visit one another’s churches. Just like when the abuse happened he seems to be accepted and I am denied. They did not report his actions at the time and he was taken in by another UPC church. He was eventually put in charge of a daughter work and now it is like nothing ever happened. He does not hold a UPCI license but that doesn’t seem to matter much to them. Meanwhile, when I speak my truth they do not want to hear it. My story is automatically met with denial, disbelief, and scorn. there is no willingness to even entertain the idea that I might be telling the truth. Steve is enjoying a fair amount of support on his page. People are offering him prayers and verbal encouragement as he goes through this difficult trial. Not one person who is still in the church has reached out to me.

It isn’t like this is even a he said she said case. At 12 I had no reason to lie and he was caught in the act with another girl at the same time. At the end of the day, I think accusing Steve would not irritate them so much, what really gets them is my calling out how badly they handled it all. They can’t stand that I am saying Bishop Grant is wrong. They view me as a fallen woman and not as a victim.

Watching how well Steve has been received and how much the church wants to deny all of this has hurt me. When I see people I used to respect, like former Sunday School teachers being friends with Steve online that is pretty hard to witness. The really awful part of this is that Steve is not the only one. I know of multiple men who go on being accepted while the women they abused are labeled liars and troublemakers. As far as I’m concerned they lose all credibility when they behave this way. They are not behaving Biblically or in accordance with their own UPC rules.

I know that the light casts out the darkness and so I have no doubt that the truth is going to come out. I intend to keep working to hold them accountable and I hope that someday soon Steve will have his day of reckoning. I’m going to keep telling the truth. The truth doesn’t change just because people don’t want to believe it.

D

Childhood, Crime, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Crime and Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be a beautiful act to witness and experience. It is central to Christianity’s salvation message. I feel it is one of the most positive messages you will hear when attending church. Unfortunately, that message has a shadow side. When those in authority decide that forgiveness means that someone who has committed a crime should not suffer the consequences of that crime the message becomes toxic. That attitude assumes that the forgiven person will never commit the crime again and it assumes that the community is no longer at risk. It also minimizes the harm done to the victim. Just because the perpetrator is forgiven by god doesn’t mean that the victim isn’t still suffering the consequences of whatever happened.

I have encountered story after story where the perpetrator was quickly moved away from the church into another unsuspecting congregation. The victim is left to deal with the gossip and shame surrounding the incident. The perpetrator’s life goes on and the victim’s life is destroyed. Often the victim is blamed for the absence of a beloved perp and viewed as a troublemaker. In the case of Calvary Gospel UPC, this often means the young woman is kicked out of school and youth group. Her peers are told not to communicate with her unless they want to be removed from the community as well. She is cut off from her support system at a time when she needs them the most. Because the victims are often minors they have few choices. The perps, on the other hand, go on with their adult life often paying next to no cost for what they have done. They are not shut away from support or the company of their peers. They might be forced to move temporarily but it is seldom permanent. They might lose their license to preach but often they are invited to preach and teach later with or without a license.

Why shouldn’t these men be turned into the police? If they want to claim god’s forgiveness I’m ok with that, but does that forgiveness mean they don’t have to obey the law? If someone commits murder would they cover that up too? If someone robbed the church would they extend the same forgiveness without police involvement, I think not. What about mandatory reporting laws? I have been unable to figure out if there were mandatory reporting laws on the books in 81/82. My case happened a long time ago but some of the women who I’ve talked to experienced abuse that clearly happened when mandatory reporting laws were on the books. So I guess that is another law it is ok to ignore if you are a Christian? The perp breaks the law when he commits the crime and then the pastor also breaks the law by failing to report. Parents who fall under the pastor’s leadership often do nothing but add to the shame and torture the victim is experiencing. Is it criminal to not report the rape and molestation of your own child?

I’m going to be bold now and speak my mind completely. Make no mistake Calvary Gospel has two types of women you can be. Madonna or whore, it is a story as old as time. If you and your virginity make it to the marriage altar then you gain the Madonna role. You will be held up as an example and they will praise you. If you are one of the many who is sexually abused during childhood then the only role available for you is the whore. I know this is harsh language but it is the truth and someone needs to say it. If a sexual crime is committed against you no amount of god’s forgiveness will wipe away the stain in the eyes of the church. You will carry the shame of that crime forever unless you get out of the church and do a mountain of work, I’ve done all that and I still feel shame thirty years later. Meanwhile, the pastor and perp feel no shame and suffer no consequences. If you are a young man with a bad reputation and you change then you are seen as a story of great redemption. Most young victims never find that redemption if they stay in the church because they never receive any counseling or even recognition of the horrible crime committed against them.

Sexual abuse, molestation, child abuse, sexual assault, rape, whatever you choose to call the crime it deserves to be punished. As a society, we must be willing to hold religious leaders to the same standard as everyone else. Religious freedom should not be a cover to commit a crime without penalty. Were you enraged to find out what was happening within the Catholic church? What about the FLDS? I’m here to tell you it is happening within the UPC too. I’m sounding an alarm and I hope the UPCI will pay attention and take action against these pastors and perpetrators. I hope they will seek to make restitution towards all of the victims who have suffered and had their lives destroyed by the church.

D