Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Rapture, Salvation, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Stress, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Set Point Stress

Maverick and I going for a walk in the snow. This is one of the things that helps me cope with stress, especially in the winter.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking and not writing. There comes a point when you have expressed all of the surface junk and everything underneath seems so much harder to put into words. I am at a point in my life, 49 years old when things are not moving as fast for me as they were when my kids were little. I have a bit more time to breathe and time to reflect on things that I want to unravel. One of these things is stress.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t stressed. Stressed about my parent’s marriage, school, money, food, church, and god. Some might say that stress is a normal part of life and I agree with that to a point. Being stressed shouldn’t be your set point and for all of my life, it has been my normal. My first teacher about stress was my mother. She was always stressed and for good reason. Money was tight, her jobs were stress-inducing, her marriage was a disaster, and she was always afraid of missing the rapture. Along with that came other things like untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She and my dad were always overly concerned about being late and so they created a child who is always early and never not stressed about time. Before we could leave the house my mother would have to check all of the nobs on the stove to be sure they were turned off and then check the door multiple times to be sure it was locked. Sometimes she would have to tour the rooms of the house to be sure all of the lights were off. She taught me to always check the backseat of the car for a masher even if all of the doors had been locked while we were away because…you never know. You never know became a big part of my life.

My experiences with the church and the UPC specifically only added to my stress response. I never felt good enough and always worried about my salvation and along with that came all of the end-time theology. The church was well acquainted with “You never know” and so they reinforced that message. You never know the day or the hour when Jesus might return. You never know you might have some unrepented sin hiding in there. You never know what book, movie or music might be a doorway for Satan to get into your heart. All of this made me one stressed-out kid and that in turn led me to be a stressed-out adult.

As you probably know we lay down these patterns as kids. Our brains and nervous systems are being formed and habits are laid down before we can even comprehend what is happening to us. So even after becoming an adult and being in a place of being able to make my own choices about what I believe my default is to be stressed. It’s funny how and when things hit us, it just hit me today that I’ve always been this way to the point of having ulcers when I was in grade school. I have always had what my grandmother would call a “nervous temperament.” So some of it is a natural disposition and a lot of it is learned. The whole time I was growing up and surrounded by religious adults I never felt the peace of god or grace. I felt like my mother, teachers, youth leaders, and others were always wagging their fingers at me saying be careful. Starting really young, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see, for the father up above is looking down with love.” Hmmm kind of a weird song, be careful because he is watching but “with love.” I learned the hard way after my interactions with Steve Dahl that I couldn’t trust myself or my body. My body could really get me into trouble simply by existing. This caused enormous stress and made me wish I could disappear. I started to feel like all men could be dangerous, also stress-inducing because well half the population were men. Along with checking the backseat, my mother would check closets and under the bed when we returned home from being out. She was checking for those dangerous men.

So what do you do when you realize your default is stress? One thing that brings me some relief is moving my body. I like to hike, go for dog walks, get to the gym, and do yoga. I enjoy dancing when I get the chance! I try to remind myself to breathe and I enjoy a hot bath from time to time. These are all coping mechanisms, what I am seeking to do is move my set point and that is not an easy task. There was a time when this would have been an impossible task. Before I started to give voice to my trauma and really deal with it I couldn’t have even approached this work but now I feel like maybe I can start. I am going to begin the process by just trying to move the needle a little bit. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so I’m going to try not to stress myself about stress. One simple thing I’ve been doing is trying to change my self-talk. When I get up in the morning instead of thinking, “I have to do all of this stuff today”, I try to say “I get to do all of this stuff today.” I remind myself that so much of my stress is self-generated and that I can cut myself some slack. I will probably post about this more after I have been working on it longer.

Does my experience sound like yours?

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.

 

Book, Childhood, Family, Rapture, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

Yesterday I finally finished Ronna Russell’s memoir! I posted a review on Goodreads.

“This book was not an easy read. I grew up in a UPC church as well and at times it all hits too close to home. The author is so brave in her telling of her story! This is a wonderful read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Christian denominations that exist on the fringe. The author’s vulnerability allows us into a world that many people never see filled with rapture anxiety, purity culture, and the pressure to be good enough. Beyond the church and the damage, it caused is a story of hope, self-acceptance, and self-love. She touches on religion, family, love, lost love, and finding and accepting oneself. I’m grateful she shared her happy ending because it gives hope to all of us raised in that atmosphere. I can’t wait to read what she writes next!”

 

I love memoir’s and this one is even more special because I can relate to it so strongly. It is not often that I have the opportunity to read about another woman’s experience within the UPC. When I talk with other survivors their stories always share common threads. For many, the fear of the rapture and hell is very real and then there is the sense of never measuring up. Normal sexual milestones tend to be suppressed and twisted leaving women feeling wrong and dirty. Secrets are everywhere and there is a knowing that comes with that. They are only secrets because they are not openly expressed but that is not the same as no one knowing or suspecting.

Ronna’s story isn’t just about the bad times it is also about hope, determination, and self-discovery. I owe her a special thanks because she has been an encouragement to me with my own writing. Women supporting women!

D

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

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.