Shame and abuse, to the steps towards healing.
First things first. I'm not a writer. But I do have my story. Please bear with me as I try to put this to paper.
The Early years.
Some of my first memories are in the basement of my big pentecostal church sneaking timbits off the table and running wild with the other church friends who grew up immersed with me. We went to church Sunday morning and evening, had "club" at church on Wednesdays, youth group on Fridays. I went to a Christian school, where we had bible studies on books like "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" and all the other equivalent books of the 90's. I learned to play piano in front of a congregation. I was modest and excelled at school. I listened to all the 90's christian bands and could sing you the raps to "Go West Young Man" and ""I Don't Want it" like every other good christian kid. From the outside all was well. I seemed happy and bubbly, and loved my faith more than anything in the whole world!
There was so much to unpack about this strange time. My dad was physically present, but that was probably worse than if he hadn't have been. He was/is misogynistic to the core, and verbally abusive, while being the "head" of family of three girls. The sense of shame I felt growing up in this culture was crushing. It was not a question. My body WAS female and the source of sin. I have countless examples of the many people and ways it was said to me. Everyday. And I towed the line. I dressed modestly. I wiped the blush off when told I looked like a prostitute in 8th grade. I put my arm down off the back of a chair when I was told my tightened shirt was "distracting the boys. I watched the girls who got pregnant dragged in front of the church/school to apologize while the boys mysteriously never had to say a word. I can't even put into words the feeling of just knowing your existence is wrong. I owned a female body. I was broken by default.
Meanwhile I had a narcissistic mom. She was depressed and also shamed from the way my dad treated her, but I had no understanding of that growing up. She would use things like withdrawal of affection to shame me into doing what she wanted. One time when I was 17 she refused to talk to me for 4 months. While I lived at home. Over I don't even know what. In the midst of all this, I understood nothing of emotional or verbal abuse. My faith was the constant. Jesus never made me feel the way my life did. But yet there was so many things that just felt so off at church I could never put my finger on, or to be honest, was to scared to try to put my finger on because I'd lose so much socially if I did.
So basically, the PERFECT set up for abuse. I wanted to be loved wholly more than anything in the world. Growing up in the small Christian school with all the teachers and youth leaders, well, it was normal for there to be closeness between kids and adults that blurred lines of appropriateness. I had be ass slapped by teachers on a regular basis, IN FRONT OF MY MOM, and no one said a word.
And then the first email in grade 10. A married teacher. Telling me he couldn't help but watch me, notice me, and how often he "forgot" I was a student. The combo of my body shame that I clearly had caused his stumbling, and the part of me so hungry for affection set up the perfect scenario for me to say nothing. Do nothing. The emails became a daily thing. He needed me. He loved me. He was going to leave his wife for me. Then the touching. The sneaking phone calls. He convinced me to come to his house. I was so trapped in this world of not wanting to lose the fact that someone was paying attention to me, mixed with the deep deep shame that I had caused this. I let this happen. But if I told, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it would be me who was blamed. My christian upbringing had reinforced this logic well. I saw another girl get abused by a youth pastor, and it was HER family that ended up moving out of province because the social cost to her whole family was so intense. And besides, he was my teacher. I had good grades. I wanted to go to university. He had so much control over my future I couldn't say no. I resigned myself to the fact I could not escape him until I graduated and moved on. But even then, his wife found out about me and after graduating would email me, show up at my work... She told me she had a miscarriage and I had caused it. I seduced her husband. (At 15) And I 100% believed it was all true. I apologized to her everytime she showed up in my life, absorbing her anger and blame that my body had done all this.
I had an eating disorder. I tried to end my life. I took so much tylenol I don't even know how my liver functions still. All over facing the shame of a church community who would certainly crucify me. And yet I still held on to God in it all. There was this micro/macro view point that I couldn't figure out. While I knew there were friends who loved me, and even my parents in their broken way, I still believed they loved me as best they could. But the big scale story was so loud and dangerous that no one could save me, stand with me. I was alone. And yet Jesus. Despite the horrible lens I took him in through, I couldn't help but feel safe, and not alone when I prayed.
Fast forward 15 years after high school, and I was married with a hoard of kids, successfully working in my career, and carrying on. The trauma box was tucked nicely way up on the shelf and every once in a while I would venture near it, but was too terrified of what was inside. After the birth of my last baby, I got hit with a depression and anxiety so deep I didn't think I'd ever recover. And maybe I still haven't. But I'm trying. They mental health issues were so all consuming I couldn't function anymore. Attending church put me into panic mode. It wasn't so much as a decision to leave, and more it just happened as I tried to cope with everything going on. And then came down the box. The box of things I had never processed. It was full implosion. I required medication and therapy to even begin to function again. And as my brain quieted ever so slightly, all the questions I didn't know I had came flooding out. I had been so close to being on the fringe, being on the outside. If anyone had ever found out about what had been happening at that time in my life so long ago, I would have been out, of my house, of my social world, of any support and love I had known. The questions started piling up about other groups on the fringes. If God really loves us all so much, why can't gay people be christians? Why can't women be equal in churches? What is white privilege and how am I making it worse? Does that actually look like Jesus to me? And just like that, everything fell apart. I couldn't read that Bible. I couldn't anything anymore. I couldn't go on in a culture of faith that had hurt me so badly.
Back Together, but Better.
A friend suggested I listen to the liturgist podcast. The very first episode I listened to was about LGBTQ and I sobbed. For the first time in my life, I was listening to people openly question. Disagree. And they were OK WITH IT. This launched the rebuilding that has been going on inside ever since. I found that there are many voices out of my evangelical box, and they made a lot of sense. I didn't have to try so hard to silence my head. They didn't make me feel unsafe and unseen. This world of people were bravely paving the way for the likes of me to get up again. To start the healing. I can read the Bible again, and see things I NEVER saw. And I feel like the less I know and understand about "God" the more the healing comes. They mystery is saving me. I never stopped relating to Jesus though any of my story. I can't let go of the radical love. His way of loving the underdog, the fringe people, the abused and unsafe. I'm crying as I type this because while I once said words like "Hope" so flippantly, now I know it. The Hope that people can change, that I can keep breathing, that my kids hopefully will grown up knowing things I didn't, that social justice is inseparable from Jesus. The hope that I'm surrounded by divine in every breath I take, and I don't understand it, and it's beautiful.
I did end up going back to a church. It in many ways seems like that worst choice for me. It embodies so many big church stereotypes. And yet I continue to go. I want there to be someone there that speaks up for the kid like me. That fights against the shame. I want someone to be there that says "It's not your fault" and "You are infinitely beautiful because you are you" so that maybe those kids won't step right into an abusive situation. I want someone to fight for LGBTQ kids because they are DEFINITELY there in hiding. Being there can be both the hardest thing for me to do, and the most natural. I feel both angst and joy while I'm there. It's a weird feeling I don't have all figured out but I can't leave again. I don't know if it's the right thing to do. I feel less sure of everything these days. But I feel hope. So that's enough for today.