Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Secret Pain of Spiritual Abuse

I found out last week about the spiritual abuse synchroblog, and at first I thought I wouldn't participate. Sure, I have a story, but I'm much too busy to sit down and try to write a portion of it out, right? Then on Sunday, inspiration hit, and I changed my mind. I've been trying all day to get my story out. I've started and stopped. I wrote a whole post and declared it crappy, started completely over and declared that one awful too. I've agonized, grieved, prayed, and been generally grumpy. How do you do this? How do you tell a story that's so deeply painful and personal? I want to get this out, I need to get this out. Where to start? If I start at the beginning, it'd take me forever to tell. Instead, I'll start at my darkest moment.


She found me after church. I knew she'd sought me out and wasn't going to leave until after she'd talked to me. I wasn't talking to very many people those days- a depressed introvert will do that. She was one of the few people I trusted that I could share at least part of my heart with. She looked me in the eye, it felt like she looked straight into my soul, and said,

"If it wasn't for your kids, you wouldn't still be here, would you?"

I was too ashamed to even admit it, but she was right. I'd reached that place where ending it all seemed like the easiest answer, where life was so painful I didn't know if I wanted to keep on living. There was so much hurt, so much pain, so much confusion. I was at the end of my rope and barely hanging on. She was right, my kids- the one in my arms and the one in my belly- were the biggest reason I was hanging on.

How did I get to this place? How does the good Christian girl who grew up in the perfect Christian family, had the perfect husband and perfect baby- how does this girl get to the place of despair and wanting to end it all? Two words: spiritual abuse.

You see, that perfect Christian family that I grew up in wasn't so perfect after all. Everyone was jealous of us- of how my mom was always smiling and how my sister and I were always obedient and always got along with each other. But behind that appealing facade was a dark truth- that we were that way because we had to be.

I don't know where or how exactly it started, but somehow my family bought into the same lie that so many other families and churches buy into- the one that says that control is a good thing. Unquestioning obedience was required. It didn't matter how ridiculous or unfair the demands were, as children we were to obey. Lack of obedience to parents meant lack of obedience to the Lord.



It would be impossible to tell my whole story. And spiritual abuse- what does that even mean? To me it means using the threat of being unpleasing to the Lord to manipulate people into doing things that are unhealthy, or using the Bible to wield control or power over another.




In my family, it looked like things like this:


It looked like the time when I was 7 years old, when I stopped reading my King James Bible out loud every morning for devotional time and started reading novels instead becaue they were more interesting, how my dad spanked me 100 times for the 100 days I'd been lying (by omission) to him about it. It looked like how he then pulled out the family photo albums and pointed out to me how "the light" had gone out of my eyes when I stopped reading God's word every day.
It looked like how when I'd forget to do my chore of washing my dad's clothes, it wasn't seen as a mistake or forgetfulness, it was seen as a serious character flaw, lack of respect for my father, and selfishness that needed to be repented of.
When I was 14, spiritual abuse looked like my father, in the name of sex education, forcing me to say words like penis and vagina. When I was too embarrassed to comply, he commanded me to say them, declared that I was not too old to be spanked for disobedience, and yes, spanked me for not saying those words in front of him. At Fourteen. Years. Old.
Spiritual abuse looked like my entire courtship with my future husband. It was securely woven in the way that we weren't allowed to make any decisions about our relationship on our own. We couldn't decide when to talk on the phone, when to spend time alone together, when to start using the titles "boyfriend" and "girlfriend", when to hold hands, when to kiss, when to say I love you- all in the name of having a God honoring relationship. Of course, God-honoring meant parent controlled. It was damaging enough for my husband to be subjected to such inane rules, but he'd already had the experience of living an adult life and making choices for himself- something I'd never done. And even then, as I was supposed to be making the incredibly important decision about the person I'd be spending the rest of my life with, the decisions were not my own.
Spiritual abuse looked like being taught that because I was a woman, it would be sinful for me to work outside of the home, or make major decisions for myself, or try to be equal with my husband, or basically think for myself at all.



Those are glimpses of what spiritual abuse looked like for me. I lived 22 years in that world, in that box, trapped in a place where I couldn't think for myself, where I couldn't be myself, where I didn't even know that there *was* a myself that I was missing. To me, that was the worst part of it- not that I was in the box, but that I didn't know the box existed. At 22 years old, when I saw that first crack start to appear, and I got my first glimpse into the outside world, my life was changed forever.



But simply knowing and seeing the truth does not instantly make for a beautiful life, not when seeing the truth for the first time means starting over. For me it was quite literally a Matrix-like moment, as if discovering that my entire life had been a lie. And that led me deep into depression.

The Bible that I'd devoted so much time into reading, studying, and following- I couldn't even open it. I literally couldn't read it because every time I tried, reading passages that I'd read before would trigger a horrible memory, would bring back that terrible feeling like my gut had just been punched. I could barely sit through church. "What a bunch of fakes.", I'd think. "Do they realize how many people they're hurting in the name of God? Do they even care?" I couldn't sing, so I'd just stand there. I'd cringe throughout the sermon, hoping it would end soon so I could crawl back home to solitude. I could barely pray. I definitely couldn't do long, drawn out prayers on my face pouring my heart out to the Lord. All I could manage was a sentence or two. "God please help me." "Please help me make it through this." But He still heard.

And I still believed in Him. I couldn't understand how such terrible things could be done in His name, and I still don't fully understand that. But somehow, I knew it wasn't His fault, that it wasn't what he had wanted all along. I couldn't open His precious word, I could barely open my mouth and speak to Him, and yet I clung to him. I clung to hope that I would someday, somehow make it through this.

I don't remember what else that precious woman said to me after church that day, but I do remember that it encouraged me. That encounter became a bit of of a defining moment for me, a lifeline to hang onto, a confirmation that God really was still there and really did still care about me. Little did I know just how carefully He was watching me, holding me, guiding me, leading me to the place I am today.

This post was written for Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week, a synchroblog hosted by several Christian bloggers. I'm linking up with Wine and Marble today, I'll be keeping up with Rachel Held Evans' series on abuse and the church all week, and you can see the rest of the participants in the graphic below. I hope you'll read along, and find hope and healing along with me.


1 comment:

  1. *sniffsniff* I wipe my eyes here.

    Um. No words, just that I've been there. Hugs if wanted. Stories like this are not always easy to tell.