Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 6

Well, I think I will wrap this series up in this post. You can read the other posts in this series by clicking here (they will be in reverse order, so scroll down to the bottom to get part 1, then on up).

This has proved more difficult in some areas than I expected and easier in areas I expected difficulty. Funny, that. Parts 4 & 5 was especially hard. There are some deep emotions involved with events in this period - ones I have never really acknowledged before. The emotions that were at play in me - anger, guilt for the anger, guilt for not being 'normal' and living up to my families expectations, fear, and a whole lot of just nothing - no emotion.

As I thought about it, I realized that I don't remember crying much from about the age of 14 on - until the last few years. I remember, during the time I was first in counseling - during the nightmares and the depression and the not being able to sleep, there were no tears. I remember wondering if I would ever be able to cry again. I doubted it. I seemed to be numb - cold - inside, like a vitally important part was just not there. And this is not totally gone. There are still numb periods - I will cry for a while, then just go numb inside. It is a scary place. It is a place where nothing seems to matter. I hope to be free of it someday.

It was in this state that I read the Bible through and went back to church. As I said in my last post, I believed then - and still believe - that God led me to attend this church. I think that His reasons were not apparent until I was no longer in it. I had heard about this church first when I saw a billboard they put up. I drove past it every time I went to counseling. It simply said, "Jesus saves," then gave the name of the church. The simplicity of it attracted me. The fact that it was focused on Jesus attracted me. A few years later, when my mom wanted someone to pray for her, we went there. I liked the message - but the only thing I remember (it was nearly 18 years ago) was the statement, "If something doesn't make sense (in reading the Bible) eat the meat and spit out the bones." Because of the way some scriptures had been twisted in the past to bind, this statement helped me keep my ear open to the Bible. I wish I had heeded it more closely once I actually started attending the church.

When I went into this church, I was not in a strong position, emotionally or spiritually. I believed that everyone in the building was so far above me spiritually because of 'where I'd been' and 'what I'd done,' that I was open to any 'correction' that might be given. I'm not saying that I didn't need correcting. I did. But, looking back, the bulk of the true correcting was internal - between God and me. And those correction were mostly about little adjustments in attitude and perception. I joined this church eight years ago.

A lot of what was taught was about the promises of the Bible in health and prosperity and freedom from pain. That appealed to me - a lot. The way to achieve this was through faith. And faith was the main thing, after all. The way to demonstrate to God that you had faith was by what you said and your willingness to sacrifice what you had - your willingness to step out and take risks. This is a very simplistic presentation of their teachings. To be honest, this particular flavor of doctrine is something my mom had been into for many years. 

None of this is extra-biblical. What grabbed me, because of having spent a lifetime feeling like I had no control, was that idea that the ball was in my court. What I could get depended entirely up to how much I put into it. I was so used to accepting the responsibility for how things went wrong that I didn't see the problem in this doctrine (a main one among many). I didn't see, then, that it was essentially a doctrine of works - of earning God's favor and gifts by our effort to be pure. And so, I proceeded to try to do everything they taught. Tried to do it just right. Not seeing the trap I had walked into.

By this time, we had moved into a tri-level house where sis and brother-in-law had the downstairs - den, bathroom and bedroom. Dad and I shared the rest. My sister and brother-in-law joined this church at the same time I did. I was delighted. A family thing - what I so wanted - a sense of real family. When we started going, so did my mom - naturally. As I have a tendency to do (my friend laughing calls me an extremist - in a good way), I threw myself into it - attending Sunday night and Wednesday night. The last three years I was there, I didn't miss a single service - 3 a week. Missing was unthinkable.

Within those first few months, I found my tears. I would sometimes cry through an entire service. To feel like I was accepted by God again. I hadn't attended, let alone joined, a church in more than 20 years. Interestingly enough, from the beginning, I was a little surprised at how cold the people seemed to be - especially to visitors. But I still felt that I was where I belonged, even if they didn't think so.

One of the things I desired to do was make friends. I am not good at this, but I do know that one of the fundamental points is to talk to people and be where they are - give them a chance to talk to you. This was something my mom did not want to do.

Mom had started developing rheumatoid arthritis a few years before. By the time we started going to this church, it was an issue. She didn't want to sit around and wait after church. As soon as the service was over, she was out the door. If you made her wait, she was grumpy the rest of the evening. Hanging around after church and talking became too expensive - emotionally. So much for trying to make friends. My mom's ability to embarrass me socially increased exponentially at this time.

For the first year and a half, I tried to volunteer to help where I thought I would be useful and was essentially ignored. Then I got sick. After I quit smoking (I had smoked for 19 years), my health went downhill. I quit having bad chest colds and such, but my digestion and circulation were messed up. I didn't say much - but by this time, I had quit cleaning and cooking. It was all I could to walk to and from the car. Sitting through services was a challenge. But I kept going. I didn't want to quit - again. Plus I thought I would probably die if I quit hearing the messages. I never went to the doctor, by the way. I have not had hugely great experiences with them, plus, unless I was actually dying, why bother with the expense? I never really told people what was going on with my health beyond what I had to to explain my slow pace, etc.

It was during this time that, every time I went to the restroom - whether in public or private - mom would always make the comment, "Are you okay? What took so long." Finally, one night when it was just she and I at the house, I decided to explain what was 'taking so long,' so that she would leave it alone. It worked. She never brought it up again. But the rest of that evening was pure hell. She started by telling me that she didn't want to hurt me, but maybe this was the opportunity to bring it up (yeah, right). And she started in on my weight. Over the years, especially after my accident, I had gotten very heavy. There are a lot of things that have played into this, not the least of which was the sexual abuse. I asked her to stop - that I did not want to talk about this right now. She spent 20-30 minutes not stopping - she would not let it alone. I begged. She was unrelenting. I was finally reduced to holding my head in my hands and sobbing. Then, and only then, did she get up, slowly and in a very dignified manner, with a hint of a smile on her lips, leave.

And then, in the middle of this, the pastor's wife (no less) asked me to help. It was an area that was nowhere near what I thought I was qualified for and I didn't know how my health would let me, but I said, "Okay." A young woman with some serious mental problems (Schizo-effective Disorder and BPD) had asked for help. I had no knowledge about these things. The pastor's wife, I found out later, did. But she handed this girl over to me to 'disciple.' And as I did this, my health began to improve.

For the next year, I met with her once a week for a one on one Bible study at a local restaurant. I really did not know what I was doing, but I did the best I knew. I was a little bit of a snot sometimes - a little self-righteousness would slip in. But I met with her and took her calls, sometime in the middle of the night. One night, she called at almost midnight very distraught - claiming that she had done something very bad (I won't say what). I told her to meet me at the restaurant. Then I called the pastor. I was a little hesitant to call him at that late hour, but I needed guidance. I wasn't sure if I would have to get the police involved. He told me to just take care of it - that I could handle it. He was right, but his attitude was beginning to show through and I was a little concerned. (BTW - the police did have to be called, but in the end, it was determined that she didn't do what she thought she had done.)

After a year, I reached the place that I could no longer work with this girl. I didn't understand the personality disorders and could no longer tolerate the games she would play. I still wonder how she's doing and pray that she is okay. God, help her. She ended up at another church - and was probably better off for it. 

Right about this time, the secretary had made an announcement that they could use volunteers to help in the office. I did. Soon, I was doing the bulletin and the newsletter. During this time, we were in a building project. They really started ramping it up, now. And, being in the office, I began to see how they actually treated people, especially the 'help.' I was troubled by the apparent lack of empathy for people. I also became aware of the fact that it was essentially a family business. There was no denominational affiliation - no accountability above them, and the primary staff and board were made up of mostly family. This concerned me - a little. But I was still not able to see the forest for the trees. Another marker along the way.

After a few months, I started coming in to the office more and more - helping in many areas. They treated me pretty much the way I was used to being treated. And yet, somehow, I thought if I could just do enough to help, they would appreciate me. I hadn't learned, yet. 

As I got more involved, I became less concerned about anything else. Sis and brother-in-law quit going after about  a year or so. They saw through it before I did. Mom and I, however, continued every Sunday night. There are many occasions a when my mother was rude and demanding - even threw a mini tantrum once at a New Year's Eve gathering. It was getting more and more embarrassing. An interesting dynamic was developing that I only just, right now as I typed, saw. My mother and my church were in a tug-of-war for me. Slowly, but surely, the church was winning. My mom was not happy.

Sadly, I began to pick up on and take on the attitude that if people were not going to church, they were one step removed from hell - and if they weren't going to this church, they were not getting the vital instruction they needed to succeed in life. I am sad to admit that, for a time, I bought into this. As my friend and I now say, we drank the Kool-Aide. This was the time that I began cutting things out of my life that did not fit the 'program.' I got frustrated with my family because they didn't seem to 'get it.' I fear that I began to be a bit of a self-righteous pain in the ass.

Then, my dad had a nervous break down (not because of my going to this church - he overworked himself, not for the first time). He's still recovering, sort of. Long story. Then we had to move. Then sis started not joining in the fun when mom came up - twice a week, like clockwork. So, mostly, it was just mom and I. 

Then the church did a terrible thing (please imagine great sarcasm). They dropped the Sunday night service and moved it to Friday nights. When I found out, I actually felt fear in my gut. I knew mom would be upset. She was. She still is (which is really bizarre, considering she knows, now, what that church is). This was 4 years ago. She still puts it like this: "I didn't really want to go to that church anyway. I only went because you kids were going. But after I did, I started to think of it as my church and God pulled my church out from under me." This is said with great indignation. The suggestion that she might come up on a different night to go to church was met with the 'look.'

Then I was invited to audition for and made the praise team - while the pastor was out of town. I still think he was upset about that but couldn't figure out how to deal with it without looking bad. I was back-up for one of the main people, so I only played occasionally, when he (the one I was backing up) was gone. Then I started working in the office full time - volunteer. All through this time, the harder I tried to fit in, the more I didn't seem to. I would sometimes sit in my car after service and just cry. What they were teaching wasn't working. I didn't yet see that it wasn't my fault it wasn't working.

It was around this time that the new building started going up. Three years ago, it was finished. We moved in and shortly after that, I was 'promoted' to the position of leader. In this church, leader would be the equivalent of deacon/deaconess. Shortly thereafter, the person who was to become my best friend started coming along with her husband.

Throughout my tenure as a volunteer in this church, I never felt like I was good enough. I know that part of that was the baggage I had coming in, but they basically treated me the same way my mom did. Over the next two years, as I was directly involved with the inner workings of the church, I began to see more and more that troubled me. There was a constant power struggle going on between the pastor, his wife and his mother. It was ugly. And they really didn't care much who got hurt along the way. Image was more important than substance. Someday, I hope I can tell you about the events of my last 6 months at this church. But right now, I can't for legal reasons.

Right at the time I left the church, the family sort of started self-destructing. My mother almost died - not sure to this day if it was not a deliberate self-sabotage on her part. Some of the events of this past year that have helped me move into more and more awareness - and gain the courage to break free - I will write about in future posts.

I will get into the things they taught more in individual posts, but I became aware - intimately - of some extremely ungodly behavior that was being covered up and that was leaving people wounded and lying on the side of the road - discarded. I was asked to participate in the cover-up. I could not. I walked. Some of the things that were said to me at that time I covered in my post titled Controlling With Fear. I came to realize that they were far more concerned about protecting their image than whether they hurt someone.

That was 14 months ago. Awareness broke through. Wow, what a year this has been. Just before I left the church, my best friend (one of the ones they discarded and left on the side of the road), sat down with me and let me talk. You see, she had recognized in me the pain of abuse. She was abused by her husband. She understood and she cared. Something I had been looking for all my life. And then she listened. What a gift. That began the journey toward healing. In this year, I have also connected with an aunt that I had been estranged from. We have helped each other walk further and further into the awareness of how we were abused. Why did God lead me to go to this church? This is why. If I had not, this friend and I would have never met. And neither one of us would have had the strength to do this alone. All that I went through in this church was worth it to have this friendship on the other side. It has been a bumpy ride and it is far from over. But I have come to realize a few things:
  • My mom is (probably) a malignant narcissist
  • My ex-pastor is (probably) a malignant narcissist
  • My dad abused me, too (emotionally) 
  • I need therapy to sort out the things inside that are messed up
  • I need to completely break free of my family
  • I have no further interest in religious games or anything like
  • For the first time in years, I have glimmers of hope for my future
  • The church has played a mostly abusive role in the whole of my life
  • I don't have to obey men to have a good relationship with God
  • What I have lived through actually is bad - kind of - a little bit...
  • As was so eloquently stated in a comment on one of Anna Valerious' posts, "The responsibility for my mother's soul is ultimately her own, not mine."  (Thanks, Kelly) This applies to all the people in my life.
  • I can tell my mother and/or my father and/or my sister 'no' and the world will not explode
  • Relationships are far more important than images
  • God will very rarely do things the way I think He will - or should ;-)
Am I going to make it? Yeah, I think so. I have cried more in the last 15 months than I think I have in my whole life. Some days are better than others. Some days, I am strong and ready to take on the world. Others, I am afraid to even talk to my therapist and just want to find a nice dark closet to hide in. I think that's normal, under the circumstances. I am healing. I will heal more quickly, I think, when I am no longer living with family - as my friend puts it, no longer living in the war zone. I am working on getting my own place and not living with my father anymore. I am in the process of breaking free. Finally. ;-)


CZBZ said...

Dear Katherine,

Thank you for having the courage to talk about your life. Ever since reading Judith Herman's work on Trauma and Recovery, I've come to understand the importance of narrative in reconstructing our lives. She wrote:

"Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims."

This is something we must do for ourselves...


Katherine Gunn said...


Thank you. I need to hear that.

It is remarkable how much I have heard that I should not delve into the past - that I should just forget it and move on. I'm sure a lot of people hear this. I hear it before they even know what it is they are telling me to 'forget.' I think one of the main reasons is that people are uncomfortable with the ugly side of life - they don't want to be reminded that there is evil in the world, especially in their own back yard. ;-)

If I could leave it there and move on, I would have done so long ago. I have tried. It keeps following me. ;-) And it will not leave me alone until I acknowledge and deal with it.

Again, thank you. Hugs back.


CZBZ said...

Looks like we're a couple of relentless seekers, Katherine. Of course we'll encounter resistance. Many people are threatened by those who dig into their past and put a accurate name of their experiences: Abuse.

Over the past few decades (my gosh! Has it really been that long??!!!), I have refused to silence myself which has led to a healthier sense of self and purpose. Though many people suggest it is unhealthy to ruminate on the past, for some of us, it is the only way ground ourselves in the present.

So never give up on yourself. Never. And if some people are uncomfortable with your 'journey', well...don't tell them about it. ha! Just change. Then the responsibility for them to change is back on their shoulders, not yours.

Unfortunately, narcissists are willing to end the relationship entirely rather than question their behavior---present OR past.

Thank goodness for blogs.


Katherine Gunn said...

Thank you. Yeah, relentless seekers. I cannot continue where I was (trying to pretend that it was gone) and I cannot stay where I am. Survival demands the course I'm on. So... even if no one is willing to adapt to the changes in me, I still must change.

My family, for the most part, is not adapting well (so far), but I have friends who understand - have and are walking this walk themselves - and they are what we call 'chosen' family.

Hugs back,