I had been wavering back and forth, trying to decide whether or not I wanted to start this blog back up and start sharing my testimony again, when I came across this website: http://www.spiritualabuse.org/
According to their website, they “cover spiritual abuse in Bible based churches and have a secondary focus on the United Pentecostal Church.”
(And to be clear, when they say “United Pentecostal Church,” they are speaking of the “Oneness, Apostolic/UPC” cult, usually those who are part of the UPCI organization.)
Maybe there are other websites out there that cover the horrific abuses that all-too often is found within such churches, but this is the first time I came across one. Reading through the content in the blog section was triggering in a way that left me shaken and with that all-too familiar “balloon-headed” feeling that signals dissociation, because a lot of bad memories started flooding in. But it also ended up bringing relief through the validation I began to find as I perused through the pages (and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the content at this website — there’s a ton of info there).
Aside from being flooded with memories of the awful experiences I had in and because of those churches, two particular thought-trains struck me at the same time.
Misunderstanding and Overlooking Spiritual Abuse
First, I’ve come to recognize over the years that the subject of spiritual abuse is often overlooked, and as such, people who are harmed by such abuses are often overlooked, and their pain is downplayed, misunderstood, or ignored. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why this dynamic occurs.
Perhaps some people ignore such abuses or look down on the abused as being weaker, because they themselves have been raised in a relatively healthy environment, both at home and at church (if they attend), and they don’t understand the damage that a cult mentality does to a person.
Maybe some people don’t understand that other types of abuses — physical, sexual, mental and emotional — are often present in the same environment that breeds and nurtures such soul-crushing spiritual abuse.
Maybe they don’t understand that abuse and its effects aren’t limited to a small bubble that exists within the mental/emotional space found inside each of us. This may be especially true if the abuse is prolonged, but it can be true even if the abuse is a one-time event but very traumatic. Maybe they don’t understand that the effects of abuse bleed over into every part of us, and over time, defines who we are, for better or for worse.
(Spoiler alert: the healing process begins to create the “for better” definition of ourselves.)
Perhaps they don’t understand that abusive people are, by their very definition, abusive! Abusers don’t usually (if at all) limit their abuses to a single category. Eventually, their abusive nature will spill over to take control of everything they do or say, affecting everyone around them who have the misfortune to be close enough to them.
So coming across people who understand how damaging spiritual abuse is, was very validating to me, and that validation is healing. I understand logically that other people who grew up in the Apostolic/UPC churches have had very similar experiences as I did within those churches. I know that I’m not the only one. But being able to connect to that knowledge in a personal way by reading through some of the stories, was validating.
Validation Brings Healing
My second major thought-train was connected to the first, like a caboose loaded with dynamite that exploded in my mind: knowing how validating (if triggering) reading through the website was for me, how could I not share this part of me with other people who might be helped, too? How could I keep silent about my life, knowing that it might somehow bring the same level of validation — of healing — to other people?
So being a part of the voices who are trying to raise awareness about abuse — including spiritual abuse — is very important to me. I may not have a very loud voice on my own, but my voice, raised together with others, makes for a very loud sound indeed.
Roadblock to Sharing: Fear of Speaking Out
The problem I have with sharing, lies within myself, and it basically boils down to one thing.
Fear was beaten into me from a very young age with fists, open palms, thin plastic belts, thick leather belts, sticks, wire hangers, and a big pink AVON brush. And when the fear this incited wasn’t enough to satisfy my mother, she would grab me by my hair and slam even more fear into my head using the walls and floors.
Fear thundered at me from the pulpit at church, sternly and with much godly authority convincing me, over time, that I was evil and horrible and that God would never love me; that I was going to hell no matter what; that I would never be good enough no matter how hard I tried.
Fear whistled through the nose of my stepfather as he breathed, and whispered softly in my ear: “don’t tell mommy, she won’t understand.”
Fear was reinforced when I told the truth about some of the abuse and was beaten. Was reinforced by my mother every time she made a public joke about how abusive she was and made everyone laugh (oh! how she could tell funny stories). Fear glittered at me from the depths of my mother’s dark eyes as she smirked, daring me to speak the truth and refute her.
Fear cracked across my face for telling lies that I did not tell; for not standing still as I was being beaten; for not looking at her as she screamed at me; for looking at her wrong when I looked at her when she screamed at me; for not speaking when I was spoken to; for speaking when I was spoken to.
Fear left a lump in my throat from swallowed tears that I had accidentally let escape as my mother pinched my arm in church, leaving a trail of bloody, moon-shaped indentations (and eventually scars) on my forearms because I had not performed on demand and had embarrassed her. I had bronchitis and was physically unable to sing, but fear reminded me that mommy must never be embarrassed. That mommy’s desires were more important than my needs or my abilities.
Fear lived in the cages where the children were kept. It was repeated in the words “he loves me, he loves me not.” It lived in the embroidered designs on the military uniforms as the men paced back and forth with their sticks and their dogs.
Fear clicked rhythmically to the beat of shiny black shoes that tap-tap-tapped their way along the dirty concrete floors of hidden basements . . .
. . . along the laminate flooring in the places in the hospital that only a few knew about . . .
. . . along the halls of the underground tunnels.
Fear lay still across a round bed with a red quilted blanket and waited, in silence, for the man in uniform to finish.
Fear that was too afraid to be expressed . . .
(they smell fear and they eat fear so don’t show fear)
. . . shone in the demonic eyes of unholy creatures I can’t even name.
Fear lounged in the black programming chair and, when I performed as my programmer demanded, rewarded me and induced me into thinking it was love.
Fear watched as the remains I had been forced to eat and had promptly expelled, made their way slowly down the filthy drain in the middle of the concrete floor.
It became an integral part of who I am (was). Fear to speak out. Fear to speak the truth. Fear of the ramifications that follow.
Fear kept me silent for a long time, and sometimes it still threatens to shut me down and shut me up.
Fear — the kind that grips the heart, closes the throat, and shuts down the mind — is hard to shake.
On the other hand, I’m very head-strong. I had to be as stubborn as a mule — more so, even — in order to survive and to actually be able to grow up. I had to have a very strong will to live, and in sharing my experiences — the abuses and injustices I have suffered from my family members, from church members, from oppressive and abusive religious environments, from Satanists and programmers and so-called counselors and life-coaches — I glean strength from that strong will to live and translate it into a strong will to not be silent.
I won’t allow the abusers to shut me down and shut me up.
Another fear I have of sharing is a different sort of fear that is mixed with a considerable twist of shame.
It’s a fear of not being validated. Of not being understood. Of rejection.
The fear of baring my soul and sharing my life, and having people not only disbelieve me, but ridicule me. Of shaming me even more than the shame that has already been beaten and manipulated and forced upon me.
It’s a fear of people twisting my testimony into meaning something that it does not mean. Or twisting my words into saying something that I have not said.
But here’s a truth I have learned: I can’t control other people. I can only control myself.
There are parts of my life that are unbelievable, and to disbelieve is a natural and understandable human reaction that many people would have, I imagine. But ultimately, any unbelief they choose to hold onto is their issue, not mine. I don’t imagine if they were to share a part of their life and I refused to believe what they say, that it would matter much to them at all. So in like fashion, it doesn’t matter to me if others choose to not believe what I share about my life. That’s their problem, not mine.
If some people who have no idea about me and my life, choose to say they think I am lying, again, that’s their problem, not mine. That’s their opinion, not the truth, and their opinion doesn’t change the truth of what I have been through in my life.
If those people who have abused me accuse me of lying, well . . . that’s to be expected, isn’t it? So what? What do their lies and false accusations have to do with me? Abusive people are evil and have a dark soul, and unless they repent before the Father and allow His Spirit to change them, they will continue heaping abuses upon other people, and they will continue to try to hide their abusive nature, and they will continue to try to point the blame at their victims, and they will continue to try to rally people to support “their side,” and they will continue to demonize the truth-tellers. So what? What do their lies and evil have to do with me and with what I need to do in my life? What do their lies and projections and false accusations have to do with the truth?
And while some people may reject me or misunderstand me or even ridicule me, again, this is on them. It doesn’t matter to me, at the end of the day. Their rejection or misunderstanding or ridicule is a problem they have. It’s not my problem.
If people get angry at me for sharing the truth of my life, or if people disagree with what I share about my life, or if people disagree with the opinions that I have formed that are based on my life experiences… this doesn’t matter, either. It doesn’t change the truth of what happened to me, and it doesn’t change my opinions that I have formed based on what has happened to me.
And while some may try to twist my testimony into meaning something that it does not mean, or into saying something that I have not said, again, that is on them. I know they are lying, they know they are lying, and God knows they are lying. And in the end, God will reveal the truth and set the record straight.
And if people who hear those lies are too dumb to come right to the source (me) in order to get the truth of my life and of my experiences (rather than the slander and gossip of other people), then that speaks to a problem they have, not a problem that I have.
May they revel in the selfish bliss of their stupidity while it lasts.
Other people can’t change the truth of my life. They can’t change who my Heavenly Father is helping me to become, and they can’t change the direction that He has for my life.
I have a life to live, regardless of what other people do, say, or think.
(so do you)
I have a voice, regardless of the opinions of other people.
(so do you)
So… fear can suck a lemon.
Let’s use our voice together, to bring validation and healing to others. Let’s use our voice for good and for helping each other overcome.