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Monday, January 11, 2016

The Day After "It'll hurt but it will heal"

When I wrote out my story, I had no idea if I would publish it or not. I've written my story out numerous times, most ended up being deleted or torn up which was quite cathartic at the time. But I sat with this one. I raked over it again and again trying to decide in my mind if it was wise to share it publicly.

Yesterday I posted my story titled "It'll hurt but it will heal" not believing that many would read it. Almost 300 people did; breaking a new record for my little blog. You can read it here: "It'll hurt but it will heal"

I had anticipated that there would be those who would disagree and find it distasteful and, perhaps, even shameful my being so bold in naming the places that hurt me. I knew there was a risk that it would offend and I knew there was a risk that it would eventually reach the ears of those leaders whom it described. I had not anticipated that it would reach them so soon, nor did I anticipate or prepare myself for how I might handle them contacting me.

Some of my abusers made contact last night for the first time in almost 4 years. The intention of their message, it seemed, was not to ask for forgiveness or empathize, but to (in their own way) attempt to discredit my experience; refusing once again to acknowledge the damage done.

Their contact took me back to a place and a state I have been trying to leave for the past 4 years. I felt cornered, vulnerable, and under attack again. I once again felt like the victim that I was under them. Their very words bringing a whirlwind of pain and memories I had long since forgotten, making it all feel as fresh as the day I left. Though I was and am a victim of their abuse, I will not cower in the corner again. I am not the girl that I was and I will not have my voice taken away again.

When a person commits a crime of a sexual nature, they are put on a sex offenders list that everyone might be aware of their crimes and the harmful acts that they are capable of. No one in their right mind would ever condemn a victim of sexual abuse for speaking out and her speaking out leading to her offender being labeled as such; no one except the offender perhaps. But when one commits acts of spiritual abuse, more often than not, the victims are shamed (most times) right out of the church for attempting to disgrace or dishonor a "man (or woman) of God".

Friends, victims of whatever abuse have every right to speak up and should never have their voices taken away. The very reason I wrote and shared my story was so that others may find their voices in it; that maybe through reading and seeing their church named or their school named or their organization named that they may find the courage to speak out and take a stand against their own abuse.

You can't discredit someone's personal experience no matter how hard you try. You weren't there for every moment of it. You didn't hear every word spoken. And you certainly didn't feel what they felt. Their experience is valid because it is their experience. Whether pain or abuse was intended has very little to do with the pain or abuse that was felt. And pain that is felt cannot be talked away or discredited anymore than it can be unfelt.

When those people contacted me last night, regret and panic poured into my system. I wished I had never written or shared my story. The vividness of my pain and the memories it awakened made me deeply regret having made myself so vulnerable, but they are not who I was writing to and they are not who I am writing to now. It is not for the abusers that I share these very personal and intimate details of my story, but for the abused and for those who are living amongst abuse. I wrote these things and will continue to write so that what was hidden may be touched by the light. It's for the hope of redemption. For our hope of the restoration of all things.

I named my story "It'll hurt but it will heal" and it's hurting so...it must be healing.

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I want to thank every single person who has commented or contacted me, showering me with praise and affection. I want to thank all those who have, in turn, shared their stories with me and who have made their time and their heart available to me. Your words and affirmations and support make the telling worth it and I'm so thankful for all the support of those willing to journey with me through this.

 

To read more about dealing with victims of spiritual abuse read: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what-not-say-someone-who-has-been-hurt-church

 

"It'll hurt but it will heal"

If you've followed my blog for any length of time you are probably aware that when it comes to church or Christian culture...we've had a rough relationship. Well, a few months ago I was officially diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which explained the anxiety, depression and constant panic attacks I was experiencing. Here's how I got there:

I was raised in a very open minded home. I was taught by my parents to think for myself, to trust my gut, and to be independent and strong. We church-hopped a lot growing up- something I have always been incredibly grateful to because I felt that it instilled in me an acceptance of various ways to follow God as well as a belief that one follows God not a church, tradition, or denomination. Eventually that led us to a growing church in Gainesville, FL called First Assembly where the passion and energy was completely contagious. I quickly got involved in the youth group, as I was only 15 at the time, and it wasn't before long that I was completely absorbed in that church's culture; I breathed and bled their way of thinking, speaking, and moving. Some of us even called ourselves "First-Assemblians". We used to say that First Assembly had ruined us for any other church...in a way they did, just not in the way we thought.

When I turned 18 I left for a small bible college in a tiny town full of suburbians and retirees; the college's claim to fame was that Billy Graham attended the college back when it was called "The Florida Bible Institute" which is now known as Trinity College of Florida. I went there to major in missions. Planned to graduate in 4 years, marry, move overseas, and die overseas as a missionary; I honestly didn't believe I'd live past the age of 25 holding martyrdom as the highest accolade a Christian could receive. There were only around 200 students in the college and only about 30 or more women attending. In that college I encountered the exact opposite of how I had been raised. Here I encountered students and professors alike who fully believed that women could not hear from God and had no business in ministry except behind their husbands. I was denied scholarships, leadership roles, and was a subject of student protest because of my gender. I changed my major to counseling within the first few weeks of my freshmen year as I could not respect a presiding professor who publicly shamed his students and prayed over his student's papers to discern their grades rather than holding them to any grading scale. I was put through the ringer and denied repeatedly both when I tried to change my major from missions to counseling and again when I tried to change my major from counseling to an associates of science that I might graduate earlier and go live and work overseas. I was laughed out of the office when I told the admissions counselor I was leaving to go work as a missionary; his response was, "But you're not married." I remember reaching out to my former youth pastor from First Assembly on one of my weekends home from college. I was baffled by such gender beliefs within Christianity, having never encountered it in my life before, and was attempting to process this him. His response was that I should be careful because I was "verging on becoming a pharisee."

I left at 20 years old to join an organization that was recommended to me as much as I was cautioned against called Youth With A Mission (aka YWAM). Initiation into the organization is a 6 month long course called a Discipleship Training School (aka DTS). I chose mine to take place in Auckland, New Zealand because it had a focus on social justice- a field I was determined to pursue. I spent 3 months in New Zealand studying and preparing for the 3 months myself and others would spend in Thailand working directly with victims of sex tourism. It was a darkness I have never encountered the like of since and one I never wish to revisit... Once one completes their DTS they can then move on to other courses or become a staff member of a base (the center for YWAM ministries and schools within a city). I chose to continue on as a staff member in Adelaide, South Australia and staff there under the invitation to help start a music ministry. I had no idea what I was really walking into.

I walked into the middle of the splitting and dividing of a base; staff were being divided to go and start another base in Tasmania and new staff had been brought in to replace them myself (unknowinly) included. Tensions were high and the dividing line between the two "sides" was clear. I was one of a few single staff members to who it was made completely clear that YWAM bases run on the backs of. We were over-worked and left to fend completely for ourselves, having no tangible support from leaders who are meant to have weekly meetings to check up on and care for the emotional, spiritual, and mental needs of their staff. When I asked and even begged for such meetings I was told that it was impossible to do so for their staff and that I was demanding too much. As tension increased and times got tough for the base as a whole, the demon hunting began. It wasn't uncommon to be woken in the middle of the night to the shouts of our staff and leaders casting out demons around the property or performing exorcisms. It also wasn't uncommon to walk into various offices or areas of the base to find groups of staff and leaders casting out the demons that were oppressing the presiding staff member, causing stress and tension, and over-spending. Our debt, insufficient funds, and discord were all labeled as demonic attacks; attacks which could only be met by rigorous prayer and mandatory fasting. I was rebuked for saying I was sick (when in fact I was constantly ill due to the poor living conditions) and was accosted for "speaking curses." Similar accusations only followed the more that I began to speak up to the inconsistencies and the problems I saw which lead to a growing frustration seeing how my concerns and questions were met with empty promises followed only by more empty promises of change and resolve. I was working over 80 hours a week and had not had a day off in 3 months, out of exhaustion and frustration I told my leader that I did not trust him and he would have to prove to me that things would change. He told me to go home because he refused to work with someone that spoke curses over him. His wife found out what I said, found me having a breakdown in the prayer room and for over an hour she rebuked and scolded me, telling me every single thing she ever thought about me. I have never in all my life felt such pure hate from another human being toward me. I took 2 weeks to go and recoup and get some perspective at a neighbor base in Melbourne only to find too many "refugees" of my base in Adelaide- people who fled and came there to recover. I was then met by more than half a dozen leaders on separate occasions who sympathized with me explaining that they knew what my leader was like and how dysfunctional, abusive, and neglectful he was as a leader. The more YWAM leaders who attempted to sympathize with me, the more infuriated and isolated I began to feel realizing that all of the people who had the authority to hold my leader accountable for his repeated actions were not only aware of it, but were also unwilling to utilize their authority to protect staff and students leaving them vulnerable and (essentially) doomed. I came back to Adelaide only to find that my leader's wife had not gotten everything off her chest and she encouraged other staff members to do the same. I spent my first day back being chased down, yelled at, and berated by her and other staff members she had encouraged to do so. A few days later I handed in my resignation with a month's notice to train someone, of their choosing, to replace me in the various jobs I had taken on in the year that I had spent there. A secret meeting was held and I was fired- a fact to which I found out by happenstance two weeks later. I spent the remaining month completely ostracized with the occasional gatherings and meetings to be reminded how hated and what a trouble maker I was in their eyes. I did not handle finding out I had been fired or the continual confrontations well. The day I left the national director of YWAM Australia, a man informed of my situation, and I crossed paths. He asked me how things were going and when I informed him that I was actually going home he said, "Oh good. I was going to tell you that you should either find another base or go home." One more leader who preferred label me the problem instead of addressing the true issue.

I returned to America, to my home, a shriveled, heaping mess of tears and anguish. My days were filled with terrors, feeling those members of Adelaide staff around every corner- seeing them in crowds. And my nights were filled with nightmares of their continued and repeated acts of hatred and neglect, waking shaking, sweating and crying. I cried day and night for a month straight. I tried to get back into my church that had financially supported me, being in a great position of need now more than ever. I was denied a meeting to my former youth pastor and my head pastor by the missions director at the time saying that they were too busy and she would determine if a meeting was necessary. During that meeting with her she informed me of the various ways that I should get involved in the church and give back despite everything I shared with her that happened in Australia. I was denied any meeting with the pastors. I eventually left First Assembly feeling that I was neither wanted nor protected there. I remained in my former youth pastor's small group, despite my having already left the church, still feeling some sort of obligation to both my mother church and my friends there. Almost a year after returning to America, I finally got a meeting with my former youth pastor. Out of curiosity, he wanted to hear my story of what happened in Australia and when I shared it with him he instructed me to find another church.

So that's my story, a small summarized part of it anyway. The truth is I want to heal my past. I've been trying to heal my past because forgetting it is out of the question, but I've since learned that healing it is quite out of the question as well. I can't heal the past anymore than I can rewind, but I believe that the past can be redeemed and through that redemption there is healing. The only step I can see, at present, toward that hope is in joining with others who have been through similar traumas and heartaches. I'm sure some will chastise me for my candor and transparency and all I can say to that is that what is hidden cannot be touched by the light. I hope that light will infiltrate not only my heart and life, my wounds and my mind, but that it will infiltrate arenas of great trauma such as First Assembly, Trinity College and YWAM; not simply for my sake, but for all our sakes.

"I'm gonna hold my breath. Let's all hold our breath together and turn this graveyard into a garden and grow from here...but it has to hurt if it's to heal...it's gonna hurt before it heals...it'll hurt but it will heal, I'm starting to believe it."- Failing is not just for failures by Listener