C-PTSD, Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Crime, EMDR, Pastor John Grant, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Survivors, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Finding My Freedom

Freedom is a word that keeps coming up in my life. It has been especially present the last three or four years. I keep moving closer and closer to it and with each step, I cast away more of my chains. With the most painful struggles have come the greatest rewards. My whole body has been buzzing with anxiety and it is unrelenting. I have not been sleeping and at times tears well up in my eyes for no real specific reason. I have restarted my EFT routine in hopes of being able to cope better. Why is all of this happening? I believe it is a result of all of the emotions being stirred up due to EMDR. I can feel the EMDR purging the deepest parts of my trauma and with that comes an amazing sense of freedom. I can feel those memories moving from an ever present pain to a distant sadness. That’s progress. EMDR has forced me to look at some things with a clarity that is so raw and bright. It is impossible to continue to lie to myself or not see the evil of others for exactly what it is. Along with this comes some greiving. When you lie to yourself about people and their intentions and you finally see the truth you then have to grieve what you thought your relationship to those people was. For example, I am finally starting to let go of some very deeply held shame and blame. These feelings were so hidden and a part of who I am that I did not realize I still held them. On a logical level, you can know something in your mind but your heart might tell a different story. Once you let go of the lies you’ve been telling yourself the truth can be shocking. My truth is that I was a little girl just trying to make it in a harsh world. I was not to blame in any way for what happened to me or for how I was treated by certain people. All the shame that was heaped on me was not mine to take responsibility for. It might surprise you to know that in the still of the night my inner voice would question, “Did I do something to cause these things to happen to me?” “These people cannot be as bad as I think they are.” Now I know and can say in my most full-throated voice than none of what happened to me was my fault. The magic of this is that I really feel it in my bones for the first time.

Some of the truths I’ve had to face are kind of brutal. There are some things that happened to me during my childhood that are too dark for me to give breath to here. Sometimes abuse happens and on the surface, it doesn’t look like abuse. It might feel off and you might question for decades if it was abuse or if you should just cut that person some slack. Maybe they didn’t know better or maybe they had some mental illness that made them behave a certain way. The part of you that loves them wants to protect them from the things they’ve done. Once you’ve seen them clearly and you allow light to be shone onto the things they’ve done you cannot unsee what is right in front of your eyes. Then you have a choice to make. Love yourself and set yourself free or continue to try to unsee the truth and protect those who hurt you. I’m choosing to love myself but it comes with a cost. The cost is letting go of old beliefs and feeling the pain of the reality of the situation. Right now I feel the pain every day but I know it will lessen over time. The other side of the coin is knowing that I did not, could not cause all of that to happen. I was just a child.

I know that some of you will say, “I still have friends at Calvary Gospel” or “There are still good folks there.” You are free to believe however you wish but from where I stand I do not see how that is possible. Sure years ago when maybe some people really didn’t know what was going on, although I don’t know how they could not see what was right in their faces. The information regarding how many young girls and others were abused has been out and available for a couple of years now. If they still attend they are choosing to support a church that covers up crimes and fosters an abusive environment. I cannot support anyone who turns a blind eye to the truth of what that church is. I cannot lie to myself and say that any of those people are or could be a friend to me. If you know, and they do, that these awful crimes have been committed and you still support Calvary Gospel then you are complicit. These people who still attend CGC are supporting racism, classism, misogyny, child abuse, and the Grants who have been a party to a multitude of sins. Saying this out loud is like breaking the final link in a chain of pain tying me to CGC. There was a time when I felt sorry for the congregation and maybe even wanted to save them in a way from the UPCI. I get the brainwashing and control and how hard it is to break free, but then I wonder how do the Grants still have a church, how are people still attending? Especially after everything with Glen Uselmann being out in the press. I believe that if they are still there it is because they want to be. This may sound harsh and it was my feelings of guilt and shame, which CGC gifted me with, which has caused me to worry about what others might think of my feelings.

I know that we are all on different parts of our journey and I do not expect everyone to agree with me. If you cannot agree with me I hope you can at least rejoice with me in my freedom. I hope that you will also understand that I no longer intend to soft-peddle my opinions about the Grants, my parents, or anyone else who abused me or watched while I was being abused and did nothing. My goal is to heal and that means getting really real.

D

Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Pastor John Grant, racism, Shame, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

More On Racism and Calvary Gospel Church

Growing up half Mexican and attending Calvary Gospel was an odd experience at times. There were people who seemed to view me as white and then there were others who made it clear that they saw me as a person of color. The Grant’s real feelings about things were never spoken of over the pulpit and so when I was confronted with them it always surprised me. An adult once told me that the church did not believe in interracial marriage. When I asked about the people who I knew had interracial children I was told that if you were in an interracial marriage before you were saved it was ok. Hmmm ok, even as a kid that seemed off to me. As a person not seen as white or black I lived in this weird out of place world where I felt I did not fit in anywhere. Plus no one would give me straight answers about where I fit in, everything was communicated in looks and second-hand information.

Darlene Grant pastor Grant’s wife never spoke to me, I mean never, unless she was delivering criticism. If she said something to me regarding the school or the youth choir there was always a sharp edge to it even when there was no need for it. She communicated her dislike with every glance and I was left to wonder what I could have done to deserve her attitude. I suspect it had to do with Steve Dahl but who knows it could have been for a multitude of reasons.

Once or twice a year our church would be visited by a very popular evangelist. His name was Brother Hightower. He was very animated and funny and everyone loved it when he would pass through town with his family. He would pack the house and the altar would be filled with people. These revivals would last for up to two weeks and they had the feel of a festival. Less boring than a normal church service because they were more fun and more high energy. This particular event happened when I was about 13 years old. The Hightowers were in town and they brought their son who was the same age as me. The whole family was very sweet to me. It was clear that they did not view me the same way the Grants seemed to. Their son was kind of sweet on me and he would ask to sit by me and my friends during church. His mother was very strict about behavior during church but she didn’t seem to mind him sitting with us. One day he asked me if he could have my phone number and I said sure. We liked each other but it was strictly a very puppy love situation. He was only in town for a couple of weeks and I imagine it was hard to travel with your parents and not have any friends your age around. Somehow the Grants got wind of him asking for my phone number and I bet you can imagine how that went over.

One night after church Sister Grant sat down next to me. She asked if she could speak to me for a moment. This sent my heart up into my chest because she never came bearing good news. She informed me that I was not to sit next to my new friend anymore and if he called me I shouldn’t talk to him. She also forbid me to explain to him why I was no longer speaking to or sitting with him. Better to just cut it all off, because in her words, “We do not believe the way they do.” I couldn’t tell him why because it might offend them and pastor Grant did not want that to happen. So she laid in my lap rejecting the friendship of this sweet boy and forbid me to explain thus making me feel like a monster. She did not care how this action would make me look to him or his family. She was expecting me to be a mean girl in order to save her and pastor Grant from having the adult conversation they should have had with the Hightowers if that was so important to them. I will take this time to remind you that I was 13.

It felt like what they were saying is, you are too brown to be white, but too light to be black. They would not have wanted me to marry their son, but they also did not want me to be friends with this black boy who was infatuated with me. Can you see how this was all so confusing to me? I also feel that they thought this black family was good enough to come and minister/entertain them and their congregation but they were not good enough to have an honest conversation with or to “mix” with too much. They did not bring this situation to my parents they plopped it into my lap and left me feeling like I had once again done something really wrong. Over time I would see this kind of attitude play out over and over. Church kids (mostly white) don’t really mix with Sunday school bus kids even if those kids had been attending for years. I would befriend these mostly black kids because I worked the bus route and they were my age. By choosing this action I was ensuring even more side-eyes from the adults around me. Eventually, you get to the point where you recognize that no matter what you do they will look at you that way so you just give up.

I know that the church has changed some over the years. I am only speaking regarding my experience. As a side note, before the Hightowers left Sister Hightower pulled aside and told me that if I was ever in their hometown I was welcome in their home anytime. She smiled sweetly to me and I had the feeling she could see what was really going on. That gave me some relief from the shame I was feeling, shame that did not belong to me but to the adults in this twisted situation.

 

Calvary Gospel Church, Compassion, Self Esteem, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Good

“Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.”
― Brené Brown

I have been doing some deep soul searching. When you first leave a toxic church or family it is all about survival. Then as the years peel away deeper issues are revealed. One of my biggest struggles right now is to see myself as good. Now I know that if you are still a Christian you may not agree with this post and if that is the case please feel free to scroll on past. I can’t ever remember a time when I felt that I was good, from a very young age I felt wrong, off, broken, and dangerous. Some of the blame for that I can lay at my parent’s feet and some of that blame belongs to the church. I was a vibrant child with intelligence and ambition. I was artistic, athletic and loving. Somewhere along the way, very early on my light was snuffed out. Some of that was stress and some of it was from constantly being reminded that I was a sinner, and the worst kind of sinner, a woman.

“We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.”
― Brené Brown

I’m taking a class right now that requires me to do a lot of journaling and soul searching. As I look back on my child self I find myself struggling to like that little girl. I find myself asking why, why did I always feel rejected by God and why did I always feel like I was somehow the exception to God’s love? It makes me so angry that my light was extinguished so young and that I was taught to hate myself especially my own body. I was taught to see my very existence as sinful and the body that I had no choice but to live in as dangerous and flawed. What awful poison! Now as an adult I try to reach back to my child self and offer her love and understanding but I feel like I’m failing. My only hope is that somewhere in my mind I can find the truth of who I was/am. I realize as I type this how crazy this must all sound. I’ve been out of the church for so long, how can this still be a struggle? It’s a struggle because I am not yet totally healed and may never be, but I strive anyways to heal a little more every day. Part of that process is to grant my child self something she never had, unconditional love and belief in her inherent goodness.

“Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it- it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”
― Brené Brown

When I try to hold an image of my child self in my mind all I can see is shame hanging on her like a dirty cloak. Shame because of my parents’ behavior and choices, poverty, shame about what was done to me, and shame about my early blooming body. I knew that I did not come from the right family and yes I felt shame because of my skin color. Shame about my intelligence and shame because I had questions. In the past, I have worked hard to let go of shame but this work is showing me that there is still work to do in that department. I have to remind myself that the shame they heaped on me was not my shame to carry. I need to find a way to see my child self without the gray filter that is always present.

For now, I’m going to keep pulling the past apart and reminding myself how the adults around me were wrong and deceived. I’m going to try to love my child self the way I love my own children. This might be an unpopular opinion but I believe we all come into this world good. I refuse to believe that a child deserves hell or is even capable of sin. I’m also going to remind myself that all of those statements include me. I am not the exception, I am good.

 

Crime, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Southern Baptist Church, United Pentecostal Church

Timing

I have been thinking about this blog for days and today especially. My writing has slowed down to a trickle as I have been dealing with new parts of the trauma unearthed during the writing process. 2018 has been a weird year. It has been amazing in some respects and a horror show in others. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is that they (The UPC) can still hurt me. I’m not talking about physically but emotionally. I was caught off guard multiple times by things I learned about Calvary Gospel and what has and is going on there. They continue to surprise me and I thought I was way beyond that. I participate in many online support groups like Ex-evangelical and some UPC specific groups. In those groups there are always folks who want these Christian organizations to reform themselves and acknowledge the pain they have caused. I think there was a corner of my heart that wanted that as well, but that is not how I feel now. I have been watching as this year has played out and what I see is organization after organization covering up crime on the backs of the abused. My wish for 2019 is that more people will feel emboldened to tell their stories and report. I want our laws and government to reflect the idea that just because you are a church doesn’t mean you get a free pass. My wish for myself is that I can continue to fight this fight even when it takes me to the darkest of places.

I have been thinking about how they keep us quiet. My younger self had this fear that if I told anyone the church might say ugly things about me and I think part of that fear still lives although on life support. They might say I was rebellious, or they might tell you how I snuck into movies in highschool or that I wore clear nail polish one summer, or worst of all they might say I was never really saved. When I look at it closely I know that nothing I did as a child would even register with most people as being a bad thing. These are the things they use to discredit women and girls within the UPC. She wears her skirts a little too short don’t you think? She asks too many questions or the wrong questions. She listens to the radio when her parents aren’t at home. Why do we care what they say? Well I guess the best answer is these are the people who raised us. We have so many shared experiences with these people and shame can be hard to shake off. Especially when it is served to you by those who are supposed to care for you. While women are discredited and condemned for any tiny little thing the perpetrators are given grace and forgiveness without stain or scar. They are not overly scrutinized or raked over the coals they are tolerated and enabled to abuse again and again. They are promoted and exalted even when they leave a trail of wounded in their wake. This is not ok.

I’m sorry if this seems a little rambly, I have had lots of thoughts swirling around in my head and I have been avoiding this blog and all writing really for months. I’m going to end my first blog post of 2019 with a reminder. I am here and so is this blog for you, the survivor. If you want a platform to tell your story please reach out to me and I would be happy to help in any way I can. I can’t promise that it will be all roses, healing and light, but I can promise that I will be here with you every step of the way. There are so many of us here waiting to hear your story and waiting to offer support. I think the timing is right, let’s make this the year we hold them all accountable.

D

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, Fear, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Shame and The Price of Being Female

Now that I have been networking with my little group of survivors I’m aware of the shame and fear installed into us throughout childhood. As we discuss next actions there is a fear and shame that permeates everything. Even now in adulthood, it can be hard to stand up to those who abused us and caused us so much pain. It can be hard to stand up to the Pastor when you are still afraid of him. I did not realize until I started writing my story that I still feel fear about confronting Pastor Grant and Calvary Gospel.

I was raised in a congregation where women are not believed or supported. Your thoughts, dreams, aspirations, interests, and opinions don’t matter. What matters is obedience. Women are treated like wild animals who need to be caged and trained to be docile and voiceless. You are taught from birth that women brought sin into the world. You are also taught that your body is dangerous and shameful. From a very early age, the responsibility for your body and how it affects others is laid in your hands. Men can’t be expected to control their god given urges but a preteen can be expected to have all of the control in the world. They teach young women that god expects them to be submissive to men and then they say you have to say no and safeguard your body until marriage. This can be very hard when you have men thirty years and older constantly flirting with you and trying to seduce you into giving them whatever they can get. These older men are savvy and they know how to groom their victims. Most of the young girls in this situation have no chance of coming out of the situation without shame. This is the price of being female.

Cover yourself completely, keep men safe from the sight of your knees or collarbone, but be pretty or you will not catch a husband. Having a husband and children is really the only path forward. Make yourself attractive but don’t wear makeup or jewelry because that makes you a Jezabel. Always be planning for marriage but don’t think about boys too much because that is sinful.

There is also fear. Fear of being caught, fear of the abuse continuing, being afraid to report, and the worst of all fears, fear of the judgment of an angry god. I know I lived in fear the entire time I was attending Calvary Gospel. I was afraid that someone would find out what Steve was doing to me. Then I was afraid to tell my pastor, and when I did tell I was afraid of the gossip I knew would come. I was afraid of what kind of embarrassing punishment I might have to endure, and I was afraid that maybe god wouldn’t forgive me. After each abuse, I would run to my room and pray beside my bed. I would cry and ask god to forgive me. I never felt clean. I never felt forgiven.

This was my childhood prayer, words attributed to my childhood hero King David from Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

All of that was a big burden on the heart of a child. We who were abused within the church still carry the shame. The echoes of the crimes committed against us vibrate out even now. They have affected my choices in most areas of my life. Shame coupled with fear kept me in my first marriage for way too long. Both of those things have caused me to strive to keep myself small, under the radar, and uncertain of my worth. It has taken me until the age of 47 to really understand all of this. Who would I have been had someone protected me from this predator? What would I have done with my life had the church supported me and helped me to heal from the abuse? Would I have made better relationship choices, instead of choosing the same bad men over and over again? Would I be able to love my body instead of being at war with it for my whole life? I question myself a lot. I think this comes from not being believed. They did not really believe I was molested they believed I was an adulterer. Women who leave the church due to abuse are often characterized as being crazy, and even if you know you are not crazy it can lead you to distrust yourself.

Now I know I have worth and I try to remind the others like me of their worth. We are not forever broken or tarnished. We are not those little girls anymore. We are grown women, strong survivors who have children of our own. I have to keep reminding myself of that last part. I am a grown woman now and there is a reckoning coming, I intend to hold my abuser accountable and also those who covered up his crime. It might make my heart pound in my chest but I refuse to cower anymore. They might hold the power to make me flinch but I will not let them make me back down, I refuse to let fear and shame win!

D