Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Panic Attacks and Sexuality in the Church

My pastor talked about sex last Tuesday night. I knew that before I got there, thanks to the Facebook post on our mid-week service page. In hindsight, I probably should not have gone, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For context, we’re currently going through the book of Ephesians and Tuesday night’s passage of Scripture provided an interesting backdrop to all the loud, destructive, cornucopia in my mind. Let me illustrate my point so you know what I mean. Pastor Doug read Ephesians 5:1-14 (For the sake of not making this post unnecessarily long, I won’t post the whole passage here, but here’s a link if you want to read it).

In this passage where you have beautiful and encouraging imagery like “be imitators of God as dearly loved children” and “walk in love” and verse 8 in particular which states, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” So beautiful and true. You would think my heart would soak that up, right? Wrong.

My brain and heart decided to dwell on verse 4: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (NASB). My wonderful, little traumatized brain said “Ooh, let’s focus on that! ‘The sexually impure…can’t inherit God’s kingdom.’ I was sexually groomed and assaulted, and have PTSD. That makes me sexually impure…” Huge sigh. I hate my brain sometimes.

By the time Pastor Doug got really into his teaching, I was already floating (my word for “dissociating”). I recall him saying “high school,” “hormones,” and then this phrase, “You ever pray for God to just take away your sexuality?” In my head, I screamed, “YES!” I wanted to stay seated but I couldn’t. I could already feel the sweat on my palms, feel my chest tightening with every labored breath I took like a skilled boa constrictor killing its prey, slow and meticulous. I knew what was coming.

The Panic Attack

The topic of sex, or anything sex-related, has always made me uncomfortable, even before the trauma. After a whispered direction to my friend to “watch my stuff,” I hobbled as fast as my panicked body would allow, trying to mentally prepare myself to face my triggers and intrusive memories in the cool, Floridian air. I flopped on a nearby bench, put my head in my hands, and begged myself to “calm down” and “stop, just stop please,” while hyperventilating in time with every memory that passed through my hippocampus. I walked around for a bit, still in a daze, but decided, after a while, that my time was better spent attending to my newfound dehydration. (Panic attacks tend to cause dizziness, dehydration, and headaches. They suck).

I entered into the church to grab some water with the intention of going back inside and actually returning to my seat. A rare moment of optimism that was crushed before it could take root. I went away again. And again. Each time, hating myself more than I did before. See, the thing about trauma and, by association, PTSD, is that it produces a myriad of shame. It is this shame that alienates you and makes you feel different from others, like an outsider.

If I could have, I would have stayed outside all night, but that would have been awkward and caused even more concern on my behalf from my friend who was keeping watch over my stuff.

Restoration?

Back to my seat I went, with more water in hand. I have to laugh because the exact moment I walked back in, Doug was just beginning to mention the two “unmentionables” in the church. Namely, pornography and masturbation. Oh, the awkward silence and laughter that followed! (This definitely goes down as his most cringe-worthy sermon ever.)

Yet, I have to give him props for even bringing it up because a majority don’t discuss sex in church, or if they do, it’s always in a “don’t do it before marriage or you are damaged goods” kind of way.

He talked more about God’s grace to restore and redeem than anything else that night, in regards to sexuality, and once again, I felt different than those around me. Here’s why: I’m asexual. When Doug gave us time to reflect and pray about what God was telling us concerning our sexuality, telling us that God would “restore our sexuality” the immediate thought in my head was, “Does my sexuality, or lack thereof, need to be restored?” I don’t have an answer for that. I’ll write more about this later, but all I can say for now is that it is extremely hard and lonely being asexual in a sex-obsessed world.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Having a Form of Godliness… (The External Christian)

Dear Lovelies,

I’m following a Facebook post by my friend in which he questions “what is the line between ‘merriment’ and ‘sin’ when it comes to Christians drinking?” This is an important question because there’s a lot of discussion around this topic and many Christians disagree (and it’s my personal opinion that Michael likes to start controversy on social media for fun!).

One commenter said the following:

“I think Paul’s writings are good insight to behavior, social norms, drinking, smoking etc. i.e. the worthy walk. It’s not a list of does and don’ts, a set of behaviors, it’s not a perfect formula. He talks about attitudes, characteristics. I think the Christian can be obsessed with the external behaviors. As long as you do these external things you are holy. Even though you’re devoid of love, full of pride, judgmental towards others, arrogant, cruel etc. This, I think, trivializes the gospel. The God of the universe that holds every molecule together is only concerned about our internal matters. God is a lover of people not behaviors. I know I’m kinda going off course, but I think this is a subject that includes a lot of other things. Paul says live according to your conscious and don’t go around offending people. It differs from person to person. If you have a passion for Jesus, you will have an internal mechanism that will be your guide. We don’t need to make God the policeman of behavior—that can lead people to dress up the outside—but the character and attitudes that reflect those of Jesus are missed.”

It made me think about that Scripture that warns against “having a form of godliness…” That’s scary to me. To think that one could claim Christianity, perform, and do all the “good things” externally that make a Christian but internally be so far removed from God that He might as well be Jiminy Cricket is, unfortunately, the case for many people, myself included at times.

Cultural Christianity says “Jesus loves me and He forgives my sins, so I’m going to try to be a good Christian and follow all the rules; and even if I don’t actually give an honest effort to become more like Christ through the renewal of my mind and heart, it’s cool because Jesus is my friend and He loves me so much he died for me, so it’s all good.” That’s not Christianity. If we’re being real here, that’s not even religion. That’s behavior modification. That’s a little kid acting like a sweet angel when his mother is in the room, but the second she leaves, he hits his sister and makes her cry.

I’m only going to say this once, so I need you to listen closely:

THE GOSPEL CANNOT BE WATERED DOWN TO THE EQUIVALENT OF CHRISTIAN COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY!

Side note: For those who don’t know, CBT is used to change unhealthy and destructive behaviors and replace them with healthy ones. So, it’s basically coping, coping, and more coping.

Jesus did not descend to Earth and die so we could just cope with life and all its hardness until a happy moment happens. We are not just existing and surviving for happy moments. That’s a good way to go insane and be clinically depressed. Likewise, He did not spend three years of ministry for His followers to play pretend with His power, acting as if we are holy based solely on external behaviors, only to hurt, slander, and abuse others (or ourselves) when we think no one is looking. Having a relationship with God is hard. I’m not saying it’s going to be a straight shot of happy days and rainbows with no tornadoes in the mix, but external, “good” Christian behavior will only take you so far.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Viewing God Through the Lens of Trauma

Earlier today, I read through my friend Michael Patton’s post “On Leaving My First Love” and found similarities between where he was years ago and where I find myself now. In it, he speaks of his life’s difficulties, arguing with God, and finally coming to a place of surrender. I am somewhere between pulling myself up by my bootstraps while trying to kinda sorta trust God and giving up completely on everything. This is the comment I left on his blog (unedited):

“Damn dude. I’ve been sitting trying to figure out why I felt tempted to leave God again; this may be part of the reason why. I fell out of love with God when my heart turned bitter. Like you, I still believe in Him, still throw myself into the throes of theology to ease my weary heart, but I don’t trust Him. I haven’t done what Peter told us to do: “set apart the Messiah as Lord in your heart…” 4 years of trauma-induced C-PTSD, mental illness, life stresses… “Trust me,” God says. How can I when my life isn’t going anywhere? I’m trying and praying and hoping for His Word to match my life and… silence. Struggle after struggle, night terror after night terror. What’s the point?”

It is so easy to chalk this up to just “a lack of faith” and go on about my day, but there is so much more to it than that. Or, that’s what I like to think. I just got off the phone with Michael; we talked for an hour and a half about the depression and doubt he experienced when his sister died by suicide several years ago. We also discussed my own spiritual walk and why I feel so disconnected from everything, especially God.

Faith used to be so simple. God says something, I believe it, and that’s it. Any uncertainties I had about the Bible (why would God destroy everything with water?) or the world (why would a good God send people to hell?) was brushed under the rug with the unspoken understanding that God was wiser than I was and in control of everything, so surely, there was no logical reason to question Him…

And then, trauma hit. And with it, an ocean of doubts and questions:

Why didn’t you stop it from happening?

Did you let me go through this just to teach me a lesson or as a medium for someone else’s healing? What kind of sick bastard are you?

Am I damaged goods because of this?

How are you going to heal me from this tragedy? Is healing even possible?

As the months went on and I started experiencing symptoms of PTSD, more questions and doubts emerged, especially after rounds of dealing with well-meaning Christians:

They tell me to “speak those things that be not as though they were” and “God will use this for your good” but I just had the worse panic attack of my life so far. Are you punishing me?

Is my faith weak or nonexistent for not believing you’ll heal me when the hallucinations of my abuser are more real, more constant than your supposedly loving touch?

Are you listening? Do you even care?

It got to the point where my heart just broke because I couldn’t see how a good God could not only allow this to happen but then just sit back and watch the aftermath unfold with not even so much as a whisper of recognition in response. “So, this is who you truly are,” my heart concluded. My anger turned to silent apathy.

~

I told Michael tonight that my heart was dead and that I missed the days of my youth when faith was blind, easy, and I repressed my intellectual side, as it is way easier to relax on the back of Christian theology and apologetics than sit in the lap of God and let Him hold me or whatever. I told him that in looking at God through the lenses of trauma, I was having trouble trusting God’s love, sovereignty, and ultimate plan. His response shook me.

“…Of course, you don’t believe God loves you. Your heart’s broken.”

I interjected. “My heart is dead, Michael.”

He responded. “Your heart’s not dead. Your heart is broken. If your heart was dead, you wouldn’t feel the pain you currently do… God has to be control of everything, otherwise suffering would make no sense… I know a lot of people think that God created them for a specific purpose, to fill some ministry or evangelical hole, or to use them and their suffering for someone else’s benefit, but that’s not why we were created. God created you because He wanted to have a relationship with you—and He was excited about it!—that’s the sole reason…”

I contemplated what he said. “The sole reason God created you was for a relationship, just you and Him.” Somehow that made me feel one thing: betrayed. For the majority of my life, it’s been said to me, either directly or indirectly, that the reason for my existence was to bring God glory AND… There was always something attached to that whether it was “bring God glory AND be a light for someone else” “…AND be involved in ministry” “…AND learn lessons through pain without complaining or losing your faith…” the list goes on. I feel like if someone had sat me down and told me this earlier in my life, I could have saved years of legalistic behavior and religious performance and jumping through hoops in vain attempts to make people like me or appear “spiritually strong” when I was dead inside.

Looking at life, and God, through the lens of trauma is hard. Even when sunshine greets you in the early morning like a long-forgotten friend, you still hold, in the back of your mind, thoughts of escape and every day becomes a survival game where you’re just waiting for the next bad thing to happen. When every day is survival of the fittest and you’re trying to do what you can to move forward, while secretly hoping for a sign that God is actually for you, making the concept of “God is in control” into the background music of a chaotic soundtrack of life is daunting. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even with God being in control and aware of everything that happens, and allowing certain experiences to be had as apart of His unknown will, some things just don’t work out. Death still happens. Toxic environments still exist. People still silently suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety. God owes no one anything and that’s a hard reality to come to terms with, whether you’ve been traumatized or not.

I want to believe. Help my unbelief, Lord.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

The Siren Song of Self-Harm

These past few weeks have been hard, especially Tuesday. Tuesday was a hellish day because it marked 4 years of dealing with the Beast that is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You would think that after some time, especially with the introduction and implementation of coping mechanisms and breathing techniques, the Beast would get bored and go away. Nope! That ugly thing is still with me. I hate it. I hate what it does to me, my relationships, my worldview, and hell, even my writing, but that’s not why I’m penning this. This is not a complaining post. Here, I wanna show you something: Grace still exists for those who need Him most. (I know you probably thought grace was a thing. Grace, like love, is a person. For those of you wondering “What are you talking about?” just keep reading, I’ll explain as we go on).

Hearing the Siren Song

For the past few days, I have heard what I call the “siren song” of my scissors. A siren, according to Greek mythology, was a dangerous half-fish, half-human creature who lured sailors to their doom with their beautiful, enchanting voices and music. (Think mermaid, but evil). As legend has it, the only way for a sailor to resist the siren was to either put beeswax in his ears, so he couldn’t hear the disastrous song, or have his crewmen tie him to the mast of the ship so he could not jump off of it and into the water when the siren’s song was heard.

Wanting to Jump Ship

So, what does Greek mythology have to do with grace and/or self-harm? I’m glad you asked. As previously noted, these past few days have been hard, not just because of PTSD but life in general. I am seemingly a constant ball of stress, depression, and anxiety. I’ll be honest, some of that is because of sin which makes things interesting. In my previous post, The Great Divorce, I said the following concerning my heart towards God:

“I don’t actually believe God loves me… I am deeply and keenly aware of the fact that I don’t deserve His grace and I wish I did. I wish I could somehow, some way, prove myself worthy of His love.”

I feel most often, concerning this particular reason, that punishment is needed. Even though Romans 8:1 says that there’s “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” this is a hard battle to fight. My thought process: The condemnation and guilt I feel, even after confession and repentance, isn’t enough of a reprimand so I’ll take matters into my own hand. After all, how could I possibly claim the title of “Christian” if I struggle to believe God about a fundamental truth like unconditional love?

And yet, God extends His grace.

Putting Beeswax in My Ears

Remember how I said earlier that grace is a person, and still exists for those who need Him most? This is where that’s relevant. God is the embodiment of every good thing on Earth. Love, grace, mercy, kindness, gentleness, etc. Yes, God gives grace but it is my opinion that He also is grace. God cannot give of Himself what He is not. And He has given me grace bountifully these past few weeks, by gently reminding me that His thoughts and ways are better than my thoughts and plans of self-harm.

I’m a creature of habit, I admit. When I self-harmed in the past, I always did it before I showered so I could make sure my cuts were cleaned and prevent them from getting infected. In a twisted way, it was a form of self-care, as I was forced to be gentle with myself to prevent future harm. And that was my intention, my dilemma, several times during the last two weeks, and especially Tuesday; and if I’m truly honest, even now as I write this.

Like a siren enticing a sailor to shipwreck with songs of sensual seduction, I hear my scissors calling me when I least expect it, on nights when the trauma memories and PTSD symptoms are more constant than lunar phases, and the reminders of past sin make me ashamed to look in the mirror.

When the siren’s song was luring me earlier, it was almost always at an inconvenient time. My parents would come home and I’d be afraid of getting caught, or I’d forget the scissors in my room, or something else would distract me. Maybe I’m thinking too much into this, but I feel like those instances were God’s way of tying me to the mast so to speak. I still heard the siren song, but I couldn’t jump ship. Even now, I hear my scissors calling me, but I also have worship music blaring out of my headphones. To remove the proverbial beeswax from my ears now would be deadly and have dire consequences.