This is going to be long, and it’s going to be messy, but it’s going to be something I need to say. So stay with me. Or don’t. It’s your choice.
In the highly likely event that you missed me rambling on a podcast a couple of months ago, here is the link again. In this conversation I admit something hesitantly to Adam’s listenership that I’ve told few people in my own life, and now find myself having to be more open about. Which, I suppose, was my intent. In case you hate listening to things or you find my voice grating, which I’d understand, I’ll tell you. With just about the same amount of hesitation. I’ve been sexually assaulted on four separate occasions. It never gets easier to say, because the truth of it doesn’t ever get easier. But I’ve been trying to tell people for a while now, not just for my own sake, but because I think it’s time that we all start being honest about it.
There’s so much sense of shame around it all. And on the wrong people. Victims should feel no sense of shame. The people who should be ashamed of things like this never really seem to be able to admit they’ve done something grossly wrong. The truth is I’d been doing a pretty good job of repressing everything. A magnificent job. Sure, I’d get really sad or upset for what even felt to me like no reason at all. But the time came where people were beginning to tell me I was happy. I was healthy. I was beginning to believe it myself. Then something happened again, and that’s when it all went south. You never know when PTSD is going to be triggered, and if you don’t know you have PTSD you definitely aren’t expecting your brain to suddenly fall to pieces and start dripping out of your ears and nose and eyes.
Here’s the thing though. A while ago, the second time, the worst of the times, I had been going to a church that I wasn’t fully connecting with. That happens to me a lot. People in congregations do not approach me. People who have been attending service places for a long time do not approach me. I’d been going to service this place for a few years before I finally felt like I had people I was pleased to see on Sunday morning or looked forward to seeing and who looked forward to seeing me. People who seemed genuinely interested in my life, but I still didn’t feel connected.
But I was finally doing all of those things people tell you to do when you aren’t meeting new people at church. I was going to all of the events. Sure, I always went with one or both of my roommates, but I went. And one night someone who seemed to have been trying to talk to me for a while approached me at St. Patrick’s Day party at the church building. My roommate and I had been upstairs in the balcony listening to the band and he approached me to tell me he liked my silly St. Patrick’s Day ensemble. It wasn’t anything exciting. Mid-calf length brown trousers, green and white striped socks, combat boots, and who knows what top I was wearing. Who can ever know? I just remember the bottom half because it was absurd.
Two Sundays later he approached me again and asked if I wanted to get coffee with him. Why not? I admit it. I was excited. I hadn’t been on a date, mmm, much of ever. So that afternoon, while short notice, I met up with him. We, mostly he, talked for four hours. And if I’m honest we didn’t actually drink coffee. And he didn’t want to actually meet in the coffee shop. He wanted to go into the church basement for privacy. It was suspicious, but fine. Mostly he raved in that manipulative boastful insecurity. A sort of insecurity that attempts to manipulate the listener into countering everything the speaker is saying into building him up, buuuut the listener doesn’t need to. Because the speaker some how finds a way to do it at the same time. Not a humblebrag. That’s important. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s boastful insecurity. Confident low self-esteem.
Later that night we went for a walk, but even though we lived down the street from each other, he wanted to make sure we weren’t seen by the other people he lived with. Again, weird, but whatever. Nothing quite like feeling like someone is ashamed of you, but still wants to spend time with you. Honestly, it’s probably a definition of abuse somewhere. Definitely of manipulation and control. Make her feel wanted, but make sure she feels reliant on that feeling enough that she shrugs off that nagging reminder that he’s hiding her.
Part of me kept saying that it was all just for fun anyway. I didn’t want anything, it was just nice to have someone to hang out with for a while.
We hung out a couple of more times, but things kept getting weirder. He kept asking to skype with me, but as you’ll remember, he lived down the street. MAYBE four blocks. I never did. It was too weird.
One night we went for a car ride and things took a terrible turn. Back roads. I won’t get into the squeamy details for you, but it was terrible, which is an understatement.
And I never once felt like I could approach someone in the church about it. He lived with so many guys from the church, and I didn’t feel safe with anyone. And I got the impression, I was not the first person this had happened to. He kept bothering me. He was quite sure he didn’t do anything wrong. I was being dramatic. He was well connected, not just in the church. So, while I was offered a job I would soon fall in love with, I moved to Indianapolis. As soon after things happened as I could. And he called me one night while I was out with friends. I had told him earlier that day to leave me alone and never speak to me again. I had gotten a new job, and I was moving. And he told me he was proud of me. Someone I’d seen a few times and was a total monster, who had not invested in my life in anyway other than total devastation was proud of me. To this day, I find it very uncomfortable when people tell me they’re proud of me.
I moved and he still tried to engage in conversation. Was going to come to Indy and visit. I ignored him, but was unsettled. I tried a few churches in Indianapolis, and the only person who spoke to me at any of them was a 7-year-old girl. And that was just to thank me for letting her have a drink from my water bottle because she was coughing uncontrollably.
In less than a year I moved home. Still struggling to connect with a church community When things were triggered last year I slowly stopped going to church. I had been going with my boyfriend, which felt safe, but he started going somewhere else, and I tried to go with him. But I had a pretty big wiggins every time I went. Then I slowly stopped going at all. Then we broke up. Then I stopped altogether.
Church wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe without knowing I had people right next to me who would fight for me. That church where I met that terrible man was not safe. Those people weren’t safe. The church that I had been attending for five years fairly consistently wasn’t safe. There weren’t enough people who knew me. It was only my parents and a few people I knew threw high school. The people from high school were so well connected in the church though that I felt disconnected. I would run into people from church, still do, that I had to introduce myself to a dozen Sundays. People who had met my friends once and threw their arms around them in public and looked at me like I was a total stranger. Who never, while treating me like a stranger, asked again who I was in public. That’s not a safe feeling. Being a single woman with no attachments in a church filled with families is uncomfortable. And when people in your church make you feel unsafe and you don’t have enough connections to say something you stop going.
So other than Easter, I haven’t been to church since February. Maybe January. Because it’s not safe. It doesn’t feel safe. A place that is supposed to be safe isn’t safe. I want to start going again, but how do I start all over. I don’t particularly want to search with other people. It has to be something I can do for myself. Brave enough. Strong enough.
Here’s the thing though. Just because I haven’t been to church in a while, doesn’t for a moment mean I’ve given up on God. Quite the contrary. He’s my constant reason for…anything. To stay. To live. To try. He’s important. He’s everything. Attending a service somewhere on a Sunday morning is not salvation. If it is one’s salvation, one has missed the message. I’m not saying that fellowship, that constant interaction and teaching of God’s Word isn’t important. Goodness, it is. I am saying some of us don’t feel safe there. Some of us have been hurt so deeply by the Church that church terrifies us. Don’t assume sleeping late on Sunday mornings means a lack of faith or turning one’s back on Christ. The people who claim his name and then do terrible things and go back to the safety of his community. They are the reason I’m going to have to fight pretty hard to get myself to go back to church. Anywhere.
As a point of interest, that man is married now.