Archive for anxiety
The Ghost of Dysfunctional Christmas Past ~ Part 2
How come I could NEVER find the right gift for my Mother? I never seemed to be able to make her happy. My Christmas gifts as well as any other gifts I found for her never had the desired effect one wants when giving a gift to someone.
There was always this disappointment she showed when she opened a gift from me. Her face would fall. She would look uncomfortable. She wouldn’t say much about whatever I had chosen for her. I agonized over what I would get her, and then I worried about it until the day I gave it to her. I dreaded her reaction. I guess I was hoping that her face would light up. I was hoping for approval.
I got so that I HATED thinking about what she might like for a gift and what I should get her. There was so much anxiety around gift giving that I couldn’t actually concentrate on the celebration itself. There was so much “obligation” around all these events that I didn’t understand back then.
My mother never made it easy for me by pointing out or mentioning a specific gift she wanted. It was as if my “guessing what the right gift would be to get for her” was part of what would make her happy. It was a though if she “told” me what she wanted, that would ruin it. In order for the gift to be “special”, I had to Read More→
In honor of the first anniversary of Emerging from Broken, I thought it was fitting to have a guest post from my very special friend Carla Dippel who Co-Authored this blog with me for the first 6 months of its life! I am really excited to welcome Carla back as a guest blogger! As always please feel free to contribute to this wonderful post by leaving your feedback and comments. ~ Darlene Ouimet, founder of Emerging from Broken
Emotional Abuse and Anger by Carla Dippel
During one of my sessions, my counsellor left the room and came back with a document created by the Canadian government which defined child abuse. He brought his chair around to sit right beside me and traced his finger under the following words as he read aloud:
“Neglect is often chronic, and it usually involves repeated incidents. It involves failing to provide what a child needs for his or her physical, psychological or emotional development and well being… . Emotional neglect includes failing to provide a child with love, safety, and a sense of worth.
Emotional abuse involves harming a child’s sense of self. It includes acts (or omissions) that result in, or place a child at risk of, serious behavioural, cognitive, emotional or mental health problems.”
(You can find this information as well as other abuse stats at the Dept. of Justice Canada)
I remember feeling two things when he read this to me: a deep sense of affirmation that something had indeed happened to me to explain my current struggle, as well as a subtle disbelief that what had happened to me really was all that bad. My childhood would have looked absolutely normal to most people. I was never beaten, deprived of physical needs, verbally or sexually abused. But at age 16 I knew for the first time that I suffered from depression. It wasn’t the kind of depression that took me through huge highs and lows. It was just this ever-present, cloudy feeling. I operated my life in a constant state of anxiety. I strived to conform to what I thought was the “ideal” or “perfect” way all the time. I had a chronically low self esteem. I see now that the nature of my depression was exactly the same as the nature of my abuse.
My home life was not emotionally vibrant. I had no idea how much of an impact this would have on me. I don’t remember sharing in a lot of joy with my family or being encouraged to express myself freely. My Dad, though very consistent and responsible, was a very emotionally shut down person because of his own childhood. My Mom was more emotionally healthy but also anxious because of the lack of relationship with her husband. There was a lot of simmering, under-the-surface anxiety in our home that was nearly impossible to put your finger on. I never knew the pain of my situation, never was able to consciously feel the disappointment or grief at what was lacking in my emotional development .There was no kids help phone for emotional neglect! And, even if I had some kind of education on the subject, it would have been impossible for me as a child to suspect my own parents of this kind of neglect. But my human soul felt it deep deep down inside, was left with an ache and a hunger that is still under healing to this day. I had all the array of emotions deep within me that every one of us has, but I learned to keep them hidden. They weren’t encouraged to come out in my home and because of this I believed it was safest to keep them locked away.
I do remember expressing anger. From time to time it would come out and was always directed towards my Mom. It might have been in a fight we would have over what I was going to wear- just simple everyday things where I felt safe to let out some of my pent up emotion. (Interestingly, I never expressed anger towards my Dad. I believe my childlike wisdom knew he wouldn’t be able to handle it and I needed to protect myself from the unpredictable). As I got older, I got angry a lot but always at things removed from the actual root cause. It would come out in rages towards myself (for not being perfect) or rages at drivers on the road or at my pets who were driving me crazy. It would fly out at my brother when he mistreated me in those “little” ways, and I didn’t understand that part of that anger was also towards my parents who didn’t stand up for me appropriately. Through counselling, I was able to put a spotlight on the very real root causes of these feelings, the root cause of not being taught my true worth at a young age, of learning to accept mistreatment to prevent “rocking the boat”, of fundamentally not being free.
I know now that it is good to be angry at what is not right. Anger is a human emotion that helps us keep ourselves intact. It’s an alarm system that alerts us if we are not getting what we fundamentally need or deserve. After I had learned that the emotional neglect in my childhood was very real and deeply damaging, I was able to understand my anger and actually start to practice it. I strive to do this with all of my emotions now which will be a lifelong process for me. I can see in myself the child that wasn’t given the opportunity to express herself. In all my life situations, I am learning to pay attention. I use my perceptive powers to catch glimpses of my real feelings as they ebb and flow. I grab hold of them and say “Carla, you’re feeling disappointed. I can see why- it makes perfect sense.” Or I’ll feel really anxious about something and I’ll think, “Yeah, I’m not just anxious- I’m also excited, curious, unsure, and eager! How normal is that?? You can handle it all.” If I’m feeling really angry at things that don’t really deserve my anger, I use the opportunity to dig a bit deeper and pinpoint the root cause, to understand myself more deeply and practice compassion and constructive action.
I believe the hardest part of recovery from emotional abuse is affirming that it actually did happen. The nature of emotional abuse makes us doubt how we really feel about anything. It’s a challenge to start to trust our emotions and help them guide us to the answers we are hungry for. But I do know it is possible because I am finding my way step by step into freedom.
I would love to pass on a most excellent resource for anyone else who resonates with what I have shared. If you’d like to learn more about the effects of an emotionally repressed childhood, check out Gabor Mate’s amazing book “When the Body Says No.” He offers a wealth of insight and hope in his findings as a medical doctor and psychiatrist.
With hope for the recovery of an emotionally vibrant life,
Bio for Carla in her own words ~ Since I was very young, I have searched for what would truly make me happy. I tried being a good girl, pleasing my parents, pleasing my friends and relatives, going to Sunday School, giving of my time and talents at church, Christian school, being “accomplished”, being popular, being smart, getting a degree, having boyfriends, getting my own home, being thinner, being prettier, having hobbies, having more friends, having less friends, being a leader, consulting everybody else, pleasing EVERYBODY. I laboured furiously, always putting the cart before the horse. The answer to my ultimate question “How can I be happy?” has been whispered in my ear many times along my travels. Within the last few years, I have been able to hear the answer more and more clearly: real happiness lies in accepting, knowing, that I am valuable just as I am, with no strings attached and no extra dressings, and that there is a definite purpose and meaning for my own unique life. Walking in this truth has changed everything, giving me the courage to replace despair and depression with hope and joy. ~ Carla
Carla Dippel lives in beautiful Alberta Canada. She loves to cook, dance, write and grow in knowing what is good and true about this life. As Carla has emerged from broken, she delights in being a distinct and adventurous woman, living her life to the full, exploring new possibilities and making her dreams a reality. Carla loves to share reflections of her journey with others and to hear the stories of others in return.
I am pleased and excited to have guest blogger Susan Smith sharing a piece of her story with us today. Susan is my friend and fellow truth seeker, as well as the author of her own wonderful blog “A Journey” and I’m also blessed to have her as a frequent commenter here on Emerging from Broken. ~ Darlene
“When I finally was able to make peace with the past I could write a new ending to the story and claim what was rightfully mine – me.” ~Susan Smith August 26, 2010
Like many – or most – of the readers of EFB, I grew up in a less than nurturing environment. Physical, emotional, mental, sexual abuse and neglect was the “normal” for me in my home and the rural community where I was raised. As one person put it, I’d grown up in a “battlefield”, a warzone where there was no “safe place” for a small child to even exist. I’d been taught that sex was where my value lay and that this was where my emotional and physical needs were met – by exchanging sex for physical touch. I came to believe at a very young age that this was how the world accepted me and valued me; this was what my role was.
And I’d spent a lifetime carrying this baggage with me. I’d become an irritable, angry, pessimistic person that tried to control everyone and everything around me. My relationships were unstable and fraught with conflict, confusion and replicated the abuse, neglect and violence that I came from.
Eventually, I lived in complete isolation and had gotten to a point where I was losing more and more time. I couldn’t remember things – not only things from a few minutes before, but memories of my own life and of raising my children. I’d gone from “normal” dissociation to the extreme on the dissociative scale where I realized years and decades were just gone from my memories…and that this wasn’t “normal”.
Depression had plagued me off and on for years. My anxiety was bordering on paranoia and I could easily be triggered into “psychosis” as I reacted to today’s world as though it was my past. PTSd symptoms had turned me into a prisoner in my own home. I was ashamed that I even existed and believed that I was “broken”, “ill” and somehow intrinsically defective.
I found myself stuck in that place where I was “acting in” and my pain was turned inward and expressed as depression, anxiety, dissociation and other emotional and psychological coping skills that were less than helpful. Sometimes my pain was expressed in “acting out” as I engaged in self-harming behaviors and abusive relationships that recreated the trauma I had been raised in.
My body was falling apart and no physical cause could be found for much of my physical pain and complaints. Life had become too difficult a burden to bear any longer. I had shut down mentally, emotionally and physically. I had dissociated to the extreme point and in the fall of 2007 I was told the newest diagnosis was D.I.D. and I was abruptly taken off the numerous psychotropic drugs I had been on for all the previous “diagnosis”.
At first – I listened as the latest psychiatrist told me that this was my “diagnosis” and he handed me a couple of books on the subject one that told the story of one mans journey through MPD and talked about “alters”.
And while I admittedly recognized that I felt fragmented, I had turned to another psychiatrist that encouraged me to become more attentive to time and what I was doing by using a time log and recording periodically the time and what I had done. This was an exercise in learning to stay present more than one of time management.
I read about “Internal Family Systems” and began to understand that when I was “tuning out” I was avoiding some painful thought or feelings. The therapist I’d chosen to see encouraged me to become intentionally aware of where I was, what I was thinking, feeling and doing.
And while there are many more layers to my journey and how I found “me”….I first had to lay claim on and believe that I was a single person who had had some horrendous experiences and that I had the potential to be and live a whole healthy life.
I came to understand that dissociation was a wonderful tool that protected me from the pain of the past. I also understood that this skill of slipping into a dissociative state was no longer helpful – and was in fact hindering my ability to live beyond the past as I was in a chronic state of avoidance and nurturing the anger and pain connected to it instead of going “through it” to “get out of it”.
By facing dissociation and my other avoidance strategies as learned skills that had helped me to avoid my pain – I became strong enough to face the pain and begin to let it go.
about Susan Smith;
I am a trauma survivor…but I no longer live only to survive. After a lifetime of trauma’s ranging from physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect as a child to two violent marriages, I entered the mental health system seeking help for depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance and irritability where my lifelong history of trauma was dismissed. For over 15 years I was given a variety of “diagnosis”, numerous mind altering psychotropic drugs and a routine of weekly “talk” therapy. In the fall of 2007 I was abruptly taken off of the drugs I’d been prescribed all those years and began to reclaim both my mind and my life.
I connected with a therapist trained in Trauma Informed therapy and heard a new message of hope – that I could learn to create the life I wanted for myself…in spite of the past I’d had.
Today, I no longer accept any labels for myself and live the life of my choosing, following my dream and passion to share a message of healing and hope as I write and speak about this journey that has been my life.
Please be sure to visit Susan at her website http://www.susankingsleysmith.com/
“If we repeat a lie over and over we will eventually accept the lie as truth. Furthermore we will believe it to be the truth” Napoleon Hill
Think about this quote from a different angle; if we are told over and over again that we have false memories, that we were or are too needy, that we are wrong, difficult, an instigator or trouble maker or even if we are repeatedly told we are crazy, what impact does that have on our self image? What about our mental health and self esteem? If we are told that our expectations were or are too high or that we deserved what ever happened to us such as beatings or punishment or public humiliation. I was told that I couldn’t take a joke that I was too sensitive and this was their excuse for their behaviour, which makes it still my fault or weakness ~ oh the list goes on. Do you think that this could be at the roots of depression, anxiety or stress disorder?
I didn’t think about this before I “emerged from broken” because I was too busy trying harder, trying to be what they wanted and trying to get approval and love, that I didn’t realize that **I** was not really the biggest problem at all.
When I talk about living in the truth, and standing up to abusive behaviour, there was an order to it. First of all I had to realize what the lies were. Was I really crazy? Was what I was upset about really an unreasonable thing to be upset about? Was I needy? Were my expectations really too high? Did I really have false memories; did I make up or even exaggerate the abuse and the way that my feelings were discounted or the way that I was humiliated in front of others? Is respect a two way street? Was it right or fair that the burden of the relationship should have been completely on my shoulders? I didn’t think about the truth this way before. When I was able to really see that these were all the lies that I believed about myself by acknowledging specific situations and seeing them through a different grid of understanding, I was able to see their origin and begin to change my belief system about them. This is key.
It isn’t so much that I confronted the people who held me back and devalued me, as I just stopped accepting that kind of behaviour in my life. This took some time; the fog didn’t lift over night, it was like one layer at a time. I had to stand up to my husband first, because I lived with him. The first time I said anything to him I simply told him that I was going to continue my therapy for as long as it took (he didn’t approve) and that I was no longer willing to live the way we were living as though only his goals and wishes were important and as if my purpose was to make things easier for him. I was terrified to say it. I had an anxiety attack just saying that much. He ended up having to get his own help with his own belief system and realize his own truth in order for him to change only then could we work together to heal our broken relationship. This took time and the fog began to clear with the rest of my relationships.
A couple of YEARS later I started to set bigger boundaries. I stood up to my older brother once. I never got a second chance. I didn’t get very far in talking to my mother about my abuse or my difficulties with our mother daughter relationship because she slammed the door on it. That is the chance that I took though and I never realized how much healing and freedom was on the other side of even that. The truth in what my mother did by not wanting to continue the talk was that I finally knew that she really didn’t really care enough. It was her, not me. In our last conversation, she told me that she would see a therapist with me, but she never called again. I was finally ready to face the fact that she didn’t really care. In a way this gave me permission to be so public about it.
The truth set me free to be who I am and to live in a way that impacts others for their own truth and freedom.
It is devastating to realize how little regard parents can have for their own child when that child is you. It is deeply wounding; I was filled with self doubt about why they felt this way. They planted that doubt; they made me question my value all along. This is a difficult cycle to understand and even more difficult to escape because the roots go so deep.
One of the things that I realized in the process of recovery was that the fear of losing my parents love was still very real. Even as an adult, the thought of standing up to my mother about our dysfunctional mother daughter relationship filled me with dread and could cause my heartbeat to spike with an anxiety that I never understood. No one wants to be rejected by their own parents. What I didn’t realize is that I still had the fears from the view point of a child.
When I was a child I was pretty sure that if my parents rejected me that I would be left to die. I could not survive in the world without them. That’s not just a fear; that is a reality. I didn’t think about someone else taking care of me. I think this is why it was easy for me as a child to take the blame for things that went wrong. If it was my fault, I could try harder. If I blamed my parents, and they rejected me, then I had no hope. So I tried harder.
Many other problems can grow out of this mindset though. When we have been kept down this way, it is easy for other people to treat us the same way; like we are less important than they are because we accept that we are less important and this sort of opens the door to other maltreatment. This was something that I fought accepting for a very long time but when I began to understand this concept I began to realize how my life was like a big sticky mess that kept snowballing into a bigger sticky mess. Everyone seemed to disregard me and there were times I was shocked at how I was treated by people.
So it was time for the untangling and rebuilding process. The tricky part was that I had to learn to refuse to be treated like I was less than anyone else. The first step was believing that I was equally valuable by exposing all the lies I believed, and replacing them with truth and then I had to learn how to draw boundaries. Now that was scary but I came to realize that if I didn’t do it, I would stay right where I was and my new growth and my hope for excellent mental health would be stalled.
Although I became aware of the way that I had been devalued by my mother and the damage it caused, for several years afterwards I continued talking to her and just ignored her jabs. I think I believed the new me would finally be good enough. I still wasn’t ready to deal with our dysfunctional mother daughter relationship but my life had already begun to change. I was speaking in mental health seminars about my recovery from Dissociative Identity Disorder and Chronic Depression and I was good at it. I was impacting people and inspiring hope that they too could overcome their mental health problems. I was impacting mental health professionals too.
I was invited to do the content edit on a book being written by a therapist about the destructive nature of power and control. I was SO excited to tell my Mom. She wasn’t impressed at all. She wanted to know why he asked me. She wondered (out loud) if I was having an affair with him. Something snapped in me. Ever since I was 6 she had communicated to me in various ways that the only thing that I was good for was sex or something to do with sex. That realization had been a big part of my therapy. Now, I was building a professional career and I had gone back to school. I was speaking regularly in seminars about recovery and my Mother, my own Mother, decided that if someone was noticing me, it couldn’t possibly be because I was smart or that I had a talent in that area; it had to be because I was having an affair and that any man who saw value in me really just wanted to have sex with me. I was so stunned that I didn’t say anything. I was silent and didn’t stand up to her. I knew that I didn’t deserve that kind of treatment and I thought long and hard about what to do about it. In my therapy process, I had taken a close look at my trust issues with others, but what about the trust issues that I had with myself? I knew that it was time for me to take action; to honour myself and step into my new belief; that I was worthy.
I was already aware of my fear of being rejected by her if I told her that she couldn’t treat me that way anymore but I also knew that if I didn’t tell her what my boundaries were, and stick to them, that nothing would change. The time had come.
Exposing truth one snapshot at a time,
In high school I wrote a worship song with these words: “Cleanse my motives, make them pure. Change my heart to be like your’s. Fill me with your precious love. Dear Father make me holy…” It was really more like a dirge!
By this time, the religious systems I was a part of had me convinced that my heart was very bad. My heart, the thing inside me that feels and is moved, the spirit that holds the essence of what it means to be ME… colourful, pulsing energy that is unpredictable, passionate, unpretentious, desirous, drawn to the truth. The thing inside that feels the most and wants the most… My life force… I had come to believe that this thing inside me was dangerous.
In my young mind, if my heart was bad and in dire need of correction, then my safest choice was to distance myself from it. Why would I embrace, explore, trust or be lead by something that was bad?? I disconnected myself from its vitality. I put up walls to protect me from its unpredictable, ungaugeable movements, and (though I didn’t realize it then),put up walls to protect it from the outside correction that deep inside I did not understand.
The incessant teachings I learned about knowing “God’s will” for my life compounded this dynamic. We were taught that we might have a certain dream, we might desire to get married or climb Mt. Everest or be successful and rich. BUT that- might- not- be- God’s- will- for- you. Because we couldn’t trust our hearts, our deeper motives for any dream had to be analyzed, questioned, examined. We might just be wanting ourselves to look good, or feel important or pursue a dream only for our own satisfaction. Rather than finding our way by getting to know what was inside, we were taught to find God’s will by the signs in the sky or by what other people told us. I was steered into the confounding pain of feeling desire, but not trusting it. Of trying to find my way, but anguishing that if I did something I enjoyed, I might be doing it for the wrong reason. And if I really found JOY in what I was doing, well then I wouldn’t be finding my joy from God alone and that was an unpardonable sin. Somehow, God had to tell me exactly what I should do with my life so that I would not get it mixed up with my own fulfillment and satisfaction. Somehow, I had to contort my heart to match some altruistic, non “self-serving” aim.
This is an extremely anxious way to live. I’m not trying to say that we should follow every whim we feel or live without contemplation, wisdom and learning. But the core of this anxious state for me was being divided against myself… Not feeling I could trust that anything within me was good. It felt impossible to move forward or chart out a satisfying life for myself. I couldn’t trust my heart, but trusting in outside “signs” or other people to tell me which direction to go was incredibly uncertain too and made me very vulnerable.
Abusive religious systems want people to remain disconnected from their hearts because that’s how they can keep controlling them, keep them “hanging” in uncertainty with the need to come back again and again for direction. At the heart of the journey of wholeness is becoming free to connect with and value our true hearts, uncovering the lies that scaled over our eyes before and recovering the life we lost long ago. To me, this process is the true “rebirthing” of the heart and spirit.
~ Carla ~
** Special Announcement!!!**
We want to let you know that tomorrow, Friday July 9th, Darlene will be interviewed by Diane Viere (“Setting Boundaries and Finding SANITY”) on LIVE blog talk radio! The interview will air at 11am Mountain Standard Time and 12 noon Central Standard Time. If you’d like to hear Darlene’s incredible message in person, this is a wonderful opportunity! You can visit this link for more details: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/settingboundarieswithyouradultchildren/2010/07/09/challenging-your-belief-system
I was a very esteemed member of the small private school I graduated from. Most people might have considered me to have been lucky, been jealous of my “status.” My peers looked up to me. My teachers applauded me. I was valedictorian of my class and won the “Student of the Year” award numerous times. I was told I was very gifted and would do “great things” for God. I was chosen to go to Leadership Retreats. I seemed happy and confident, was attractive and intelligent. I was a “shining example”… But inside, my own light was so dim.
I was heralded as a leader at my school. In reality, I was a teenager who was starving for validation (of my true self, though I didn’t know it then) and acceptance. It is easy to look at teenagers who are “trouble-makers”, who break the rules and rebel, and think “Wow, they have issues.” But my experience was exactly the opposite. I had some serious issues, painful doubts about my value and very little sense of my identity. But I just chose a different way of trying to mend those issues. I chose to mend them by excelling and being the “Golden Girl.” I found myself in a system with rules that I found easy to follow. Because I followed them so well, I was heralded as a leader.
The rules in the religious system of my school were: you have to know the right answers about God and Christianity; you shouldn’t trust your own humanity or desires; you must be well behaved good people who don’t swear, smoke, dress promiscuously, have sex, watch bad movies, or listen to bad music; you must sacrifice your life for God and find his will for you (which, to my young mind, meant I might have to do something I hated for the rest of my life… but God would be pleased); you must be an example to the WORLD of how great God is (by being academically superior, by being good kids, by making a difference). We were under eighteen years old!! Speakers came and told us how the world needed us to be heroic Christians so we could make a difference for God. We were taught about other religions and how they were wrong in what they believed- we were taught how to “defend our faith.” We were taught to be good examples when we played sports with “non-Christians” (don’t lose your temper, be nice, be positive). We were told (in a nutshell), “You are free to pursue any kind of life you want, even outside of Christianity- BUT, wait and see how unhappy you will be if you do…” We did performances at other churches and schools to show how amazing we were as a school and as students. The more “godly” we were, the more applause we got. I excelled at doing all these things.
I learned to gain my value from “system pleasing” at school. The better I became at “system pleasing,” the more I was applauded as a leader by the bigger leaders and the more I gained my sense of value from THAT as well. PLUS a huge feeling of responsibility that other people’s spiritual growth depended on ME… PLUS the pressure of having to keep up the “perfection” facade so I could keep getting the approval I thirsted for so I could maintain my threadbare, patched together self-esteem. The sad truth was, I was not a leader. I was actually a supreme follower who had found a powerful way to gain approval. A system that is concerned primarily with its own survival more than it is concerned about the people in it easily takes advantage of that kind of a “leader.” I was taken advantage of in being valued more for what I could offer the system than for just being me.
A healthy system would have encouraged me to cut myself some slack; it would have nurtured me to become my own individual beyond exalted, “Christian” achievement; it would have offered their version of the truth, but also welcomed opposing ideas and “outside the box” thinking. It would NOT have applauded me for being a copy cat or a puppet. A healthy system would have helped me learn that how I really felt or thought was GOOD enough and that I was accepted for more than just my accomplishments and good behavior. A healthy system wouldn’t have put so much pressure on kids to be heroes for God (heroes as defined within its own rules). A healthy system would have said, “You can bring God glory by being YOURSELF. Not by squashing your own desires to death under the microscope of ‘is this God’s will’?” A healthy system wouldn’t have propped a girl up as an example only because she mirrored everything the system was teaching her.
In this religious system I blindly followed the lie that I was valuable for serving a system outside myself, not valuable for being me. I walked a tightrope of good behavior and spiritual achievement which ultimately left me hollow and disconnected, anxious with so much responsibility and the need to be “right and good” to help someone else’s cause rather than for my own benefit.
As children we have a childlike faith. It just is. Faith that our parents are always right and acting in our best interest. Faith that we can take things at face value and learn to operate in this world based on the feedback we get from the prominent people in our lives. In my childhood, I also developed a very simple kind of faith in God. I grew up going to church every Sunday and my experiences there constructed another faulty corner of my belief system. In my last post I shared one of these experiences, and now I want to describe a recurring church experience that fueled the belief that I could not trust myself.
Every Sunday that I went to church, I took with me this simple and childlike faith in God. It was a natural, simple belief that just was. I didn’t try hard to make it happen. I sat in Sunday School and church and took in everything I was taught about what it meant to believe in and love this God and what it meant for him to love me. I believed everything they told me because as a child, I didn’t have much else to compare their teachings to and didn’t learn to question it.
In my early teenage years, a new pastor came to our church. He was charismatic at the pulpit and presented himself very humbly and earnest in person. In his sermons he went into deep detail about all the ins and outs of the Bible. Our church esteemed him as our all-knowing leader who was very close to God. I pretty much took everything he said as golden truth.
Sunday after Sunday I listened intently to his sermons. By my teenage years, my depression was becoming more uncomfortable for me and I started hungering for comfort. Sitting in those services, I was the epitome of vulnerable… A hungering heart, a simple faith, an obedient listener. Sometimes I found comfort in the sermon. I would grasp at some words or phrase or Bible verse that assured me that I was loved and that I was accepted, that I was good enough. But this doubt about myself and my faith kept growing within me. It was a confusing, gradually consuming “merry-go-round” feeling. I would leave church feeling lighter and assured, but over the week more and more doubts would grow. I didn’t have the perspective at the time to understand why. But now I see the huge twist that was happening.
Every Sunday, at the end of almost every sermon, the pastor would challenge all of us. He would challenge us with this kind of question: “Now, you may have told God that you want to follow him. You may have prayed at various times throughout your life for his forgiveness. But, take some time now to look deep in your heart and ask yourself, are you sure? Have you really made the decision to follow God? You may think you have, but today, why don’t you be sure? Make that commitment anew. Show God, once again, that you are serious and genuine in your belief.”
It seemed like a good admonishment on the surface… It seemed like the pastor wanted us to know God and that’s why he challenged us. It seemed like a good thing when people would go to the front to pray, crying and contrite. It seemed like it was good because, well, of course it would be good to want to be sure that we were following God… Who could argue with that? But how come myself and the other people there weren’t jumping out of our pews joyful and alive every week? How come, for me, my depression grew worse and worse and I grew more and more anxious about my faith? My doubts about the genuineness of my faith grew so strong that at one point I went to talk to the pastor and asked him for help with it… I told him I was so doubtful about whether or not I really did love God. He took out a pamphlet of The Four Spiritual Laws and walked me through it. He assured me that if I had faith and believed, then I was okay. In his office he validated my faith; but from the pulpit he didn’t.
The twist worked away at my soul. It is the same twist at the heart of all kinds of abuse, the twist that teaches us to doubt ourselves through contradicting messages. There I sat in church, with my simple faith, along with hundreds of other people with their faith (why ELSE would they be at church if they didn’t have some level of desire to know God??) and Sunday after Sunday, the pastor shot arrows, challenging us to MAKE SURE that we were serious about following God. Our actions showed we were serious. But the faith that we were already demonstrating was ignored. Instead, we were admonished to be better, to believe better, to decide stronger, to commit more deeply.
The questioning started digging underneath my faith, slowly hollowing out a pit of self doubt and confusion which easily spread to every area of my life too. I was groomed to doubt all of my feelings, all of my “simple faiths” about anything else. It was one of the most powerful, churning lies at the root of my struggle with depression.
My next post, “Spiritual Abuse and Emotional Ravaging” will put a spotlight on the emotional damage that happened to me at church…
I’ve been working my way through a depression over the last few weeks. Maybe “underneath” is a better word… Sometimes the journey to freedom feels easy and the truth is crystal clear. Risks don’t feel so risky. There is a strong pull forward. It somehow feels simple to make decisions based on what I know is true. Over the last few weeks I’ve felt a pull downward, a pull to just stop where I am and hibernate for awhile. Some relationships in my life have become more distant and I have felt so afraid. I think the fear of being alone, of being rejected, is one of the most powerful fears we face in our lives. I found myself listening to old voices (much clearer this time around) that said, “See, you just can’t do this. You don’t have what it takes. If people abandon you, you will die. If you are rejected, you really MUST be messed up. You can’t survive on your own…”
I’ve learned this fear comes to revisit me in varying degrees along the journey of healing (I used to believe that if I had dealt with it once, I shouldn’t have to face it ever again.) I know this depression has some very real reasons behind it. In becoming whole, some things must fall away and others will grow stronger. In my survival, I was a ship that had attached myself to many many other ships around me. One rope here, another there, spread out like a giant spider web. These ropes felt like my lifelines. I sent out distress calls and survived by interpreting the feedback I got from the other ships. As I become whole, those ropes gradually get cut or fall away. Some just shrivel up and die. Others have to get snipped more intentionally. And I don’t mean that these ropes are only connected to “people”. Some of them were attached to old belief systems that kept me stuck. Some were religious, some were cultural “norms”, some were family belief systems. But one by one, I have freed myself… I became free to focus on my own ship and start listening to what it was all about, where it wanted to go.
Some people love freedom when they first taste it. For myself, freedom has not been an easy experience (yet!) Living so long with my ropes tied to other ships, I had so little sense of my own direction, of where my own sails wanted to take me. Cutting those ropes has sometimes felt absolutely terrifying. How will I know where to go? How will I know that I’m going the right way? What if I cut these ropes and sail off to sea all by myself? Will I ever be close to others again? How can I be close to others if we aren’t tied together?… My depression was a way of coping with these fears. If I could just turn the voices down, or just fall back into the old belief that all of my pain really is my own fault, maybe this would feel easier… Maybe I could go back to coasting alongside someone else… or just hole up in the harbor again, or maybe find some isolated island to call my permanent home…
Deep within my own ship is a lantern, burning with the truth about who I am, with the life and the unique journey that is mine to take. Throughout this depression, I have felt its presence. As loud as those old voices and fears have been, my own presence has been loud too. I know that it is there. But I have felt such angst, running back up to the main deck, peering at the ships I used to be tied to, fearing my “aloneness”, fearing that the lantern with my own light isn’t bright enough to trust, isn’t good enough (now I ask, good enough for who?) It’s the most life squishing lie of all time.
My soul won’t give up. As tempted as I have felt over the last few weeks, the light inside wants to win. To keep walking forward into what feels terrifying is what my whole self wants so much more than to fade away back to the place that feels deceptively safe and familiar (it’s not the same back there anyways). I have always wanted the open sea. Facing old fears is part of learning to sail well, and I am on my way.