I’m Not a Sunday School Teacher, I’m a Child who was Failed by the Church
A Series Interruption
I woke up to a nagging numbness in my wrists and didn’t think anything of it.
The numbness got worse, and I couldn’t feel my arms. Then my ankles. Finally, my throat.
I thought it was restlessness, a sign of stress so I opened the door to the stairwell and descended the seven flights. I started walking, and kept going for several hours.
I came home and laid down in my bed. A few minutes later I woke up to the tingling in my fingertips, and again, numbness in my wrists.
I looked at the calendar, and nodded, realizing my aloofness.
I looked at the skin pulled off on four of my fingers, and sensed the slight tremor in my chest, understanding the cues I’d avoided noticing.
A month ago, I resigned early from a three-year position serving on church council, which is really no different than other kinds of boards or advisory groups.
Except for one key factor — the role of spiritual discernment in guiding decisions and guiding priorities.
I moderated my final congregational meeting, and I resigned. I was serving as the President at the time.
Two days ago, my little sister had open heart surgery, and COVID realities prevent me from being with her in person.
We facetimed last night, and every minute or so she’d have to close her eyes. She’d been intubated and didn’t have her voice back, but I felt energetically the special exhaustion of postop.
Before she was admitted when I asked my sister if she was nervous, she shrugged her shoulders and offered plainly, “No, I’ve done this before.”
My mom said a version of the same thing; “This is just our life.” Her texts have echoed that sentiment as she’s cheerleaded and reassured, offering always, “This is all normal.”
My family values village and journey metaphors, and our vernacular invites ambiguous check ins.
I’ve learned not to listen to the words and instead to study body language. In this case, body language through a screen.
When I picture my childhood, I picture waiting rooms and ICU rooms in hospitals.
Medical emergencies have been a prominent soundtrack in my life and relationships, and they’ve influenced a quiet coping. I’ve taken in information coming at me quickly, and uncatalogued.
The task of making order out of chaos hums in my breathing, and I meet its pace.
Where I get tripped up is when mine and my environment’s energy exchange is lengthier, and I unconsciously substitute listening out for listening in.
I’ve been so immersed in my family and institutional relationships that I forgot the memory that was surfaced.
Until…my body reminded me.
With a numb wrist, and a second, and so on, waiting for me to detach, and reengage.
Seventeen years ago, I was raped and impregnated at age fourteen.
While I was pregnant my grandmother had died.
The fog sheltered me, and then mania. And then rage. I was distracted by that rage.
I took up running, and I limited times when I was sober.
I learned how to withhold emotion and information to set boundaries, and I created profiles of adults, peer and authority figures to have more control.
I did anything I could think of to be left alone by adults.
I didn’t label trauma responses, and I didn’t label abuse.
To have done that, I would have had to label abusers and that wasn’t possible.
I would have had to believe that institutions were trustworthy.
I would have had to trust adults to keep me safe.
I would have had to trust adults to believe me.
The fog changed me, and the mania regulated me. The rage got me in trouble.
I needed the chaos in my family, my friend group, my relationships with institutions to be easier to detach from, but instead I detached from myself. My body in particular.
I would have needed support staying in my body.
Quiet coping groomed me for suppression, self-discipline, and a million daily calculations.
Calculation was just focused mania, the practice observing what I catalogued about my surroundings.
I learned from my siblings that I didn’t want added attention placed on me, because attention hadn’t created a calmer or safer homelife or school life.
I would choose anything over what came at the price of restricted body autonomy.
Which brings me back to my wrists, today’s communication from my body.
Every time I’ve been raped, my arms and legs have been pinned down.
In many moments there have been multiple attackers, and additional people observing.
Every time an abuser has yelled at me, there have been additional people around.
There’s been a surrounding belief system, a surrounding ecosystem of people to intervene.
There’s been direct and indirect nudges to invite less violence, less aggression, less disharmony.
There’ve been attempts to see situations within vacuums, to forget what has happened before.
But violence is only a small part what has already happened, and a large part what will happen if nothing changes.
If no trust is built. If abuse is always excused. If the simultaneous assaults remain simultaneous. If the actors are distracted by the fogs and manias that spill over into slow building rage.
I’m not ready to talk about why I left Council, anymore than I’m ready to talk about my childhood growing up in churches, or caregiving for children growing up in churches.
But my body has waited for a long time to have and hold my attention, and it warns me about the cost of asking for too much time before I listen to its unsafety.
My training as an advocate warns me about placating survivors.
My training as a doula warns me to tune to vulnerable relationships.
My training in organizational behavior warns me that we cannot do change work with abusers.
My training in facilitation warns me to keep reading the room.
And when that room is my apartment, and the energy I’m holding is just mine, and the fog and mania and rage lift, I have only stories left.
Stories about a child that didn’t learn to trust God by trusting her community, or her family, or even herself.
Stories about a teenager who spent time with God on long, triggering runs.
Stories about an adult with softness that is only a gift from God, and resilience that she would trade for almost anything else.
Stories about an adult who couldn’t tell she was reliving a rape because she’s holding distracting energy that is hers, but only because she’s holding it for someone else.
Many, many someone else’s,
many, many institutions,
many, many messengers,
many, many interpreters,
occasional truth tellers,
energy workers and body workers,
those with knowledge from their experience, and those with knowledge to release.
What will it take for us to release denying that abuse happens in our communities?
What will it take for us to rage for safety and wholeness with God?
I don’t know, but there’s nothing I want us to want more.