This post is hard for me. I feel like I may be opening a can of worms...I fear offending people I love... but it's vital to my story.
Needless to say, It's still really hard.
My first session with B. made my insides shake. It took several weeks to make an appointment. When the day finally came I looked for any solid reason to cancel. I could say I was sick and reschedule.... because honestly I wanted to puke and it wouldn't be a lie. I could say I wasn't ready or that something came up.... I could find truth there too. BUT- I knew it was now or never. I knew I had to go. I knew this was my way THROUGH whatever it was I was facing. I knew that she would have the answers. How strange right- a complete stranger was where I was placing all trust. It actually makes sense when I look back now... because there were people in my life that had broken me, betrayed me, and I had lost my ability to hope in anyone I knew well... I also was scared to death to disappoint people in my life...she was the safest space for me to land.
I walked up the narrow staircase to the attic space B. used as her office. It was quaint, covered in shiplap, and it smelled like a field of flowers. She was warm and inviting and her smile immediately put me at ease.
Things started out slow. She asked me to tell her a little bit about myself. I wasn't sure where to start. So I began with the pleasantries. As my heart raced, I covered it up with a great big smile and words flew out of my mouth like confetti....I displayed myself as a woman with it all together... happy marriage, happy kids, the perfect home, a career I loved, a non profit I believed in, a successful business, a book and album in the works, etc.... I went on and on and on.
She listened. She began to ask me things like....
"How old were you when you married?"
"Tell me about your parents..."
"Working in Africa must be difficult, I'm sure you have seen more than anyone can imagine. Can you tell me about that?"
"The music biz is hard stuff...tell me about that..."
"Sounds like you have a very full and busy life, and one that requires you to be "ON" all the time...Do you struggle with your leadership role?"
"I am assuming all of this is weighing on you, is that true?"
The more she asked, the more my heart raced... and with each question I felt my insides burn. Anxiety at it's finest. I didn't want to talk about getting married young. I didn't want to talk about my parents. I sure didn't wanna talk about Africa, and YES I was struggling with my platform. I was DYING.... my children were exhausting, my career was in failure mode, I had completely lost myself and yet I tried to pretend. The crazy part was she saw right through me. She knew my life wasn't picture perfect. She knew I was sitting in her office... broken. Her job was to find out why... my job was to also answer that same question.... so that eventually I could do this... Have open heart surgery and finally stop bleeding out.
SO we began to unravel it. ALL of it. And we are still unraveling it today. What's scary... is she thinks I need even more help than she can give me.... because I'm in a state of disconnect. Normal, but not healthy.
So here we are. Here is me... trying to connect in some way to all the other people out there like me...Is this me trying to prove her wrong?
Eventually she asked me to practice an exercise with her.... She drew a stick figure on a large poster board... and handed me a marker and a stack of bandaids... she told me to list all the areas in my life that have caused me to "hurt"... to feel "pain"... areas I feel could be contributing to my 'bleeding out"...
I didn't know where to start....
I wrote things like...
Losing my record deals
The failure of someone close to me
Parenting my children's traumas
The death of several loved ones
The list went on and on...
Then she asked me to take the bandaids and place them over the wounds I had listed. I then had to write on the bandaids what I was using/doing to stop the pain of each wound.
THAT was rough. The truth that came from that space was UGLY.
We began the task of tackling them one by one....and working through them. So I suppose that's how I will write about this here... I will share a little about each wound... then we will circle back around to the bandaids... and face that down too.
I remember when we began talking about the church...my early marriage... and being thrown immediately into intense responsibility.
I met Jason when I was 15. We married when I was 19. We immediately began serving at a church... and Jordan was born when I was 20. I realize now that was young. I realize now I was placed under an intense amount of stress and given more responsibility than I could handle. I was practically a child... married to a child... raising a baby... and held to a high level of accountability in a church that I now wouldn't step foot into if given the opportunity. That may sound harsh, but it's true.
That's for another blog post.
As far as early marriage goes... that was the norm for my extended family. Honestly, I wouldn't change it for a second. I loved growing up with Jason...we have had an incredible 21 years....but I am aware it's uncommon. I'm also fully aware most young marriages do not last. But in the family I grew up in... most of the women married right out of high school... few- if any, waited beyond the age of 20. Jason and I grew up fast. Too fast.
As for the church...at the time I didn't realize the kind of microscope we were under... the level of expectation from the church leadership was completely ridiculous... yet we did everything in our power to adhere to the "call". Jason worked an ungodly number of hours... the church came first... the family came second. That wasn't his decision, but theirs. I never questioned this in the beginning. I just followed suit. We did as we were told. It was a painful existence. But I was accustomed to it... so it didn't seem like too much to ask. I had been in this space before. I had been placed in a very small box and expected to adhere to unreasonable expectations many years before.
I remember once my name was placed on a church schedule to sing a special on a Sunday night. I was probably 16 at the time. I went to the Christian Bookstore and spent hours looking for just the right song... then I spent weeks preparing and making sure I had it down perfectly. Once I was ready I then made myself notes... listing all the things I wanted to say to the congregation... Why I chose the song and what it meant to me... hoping it would mean something to them too.
I got to the church that Sunday evening and I was in the hallway getting ready to go inside the sanctuary and take my seat... a woman approached me. A prominent woman... a woman I loved very much and had a huge amount of respect for. She came up to me and very slowly looked me up and down... and said,
"Erica. Are you supposed to sing tonight?"
"Yes I am." I replied.
"Well I hate to be the one to tell you, but there is now way we can allow you to take the stage dressed the way you are dressed."
I looked down and was...
So. Very. Confused.
I was wearing a long jumper. Pants. Wide-legged and the hem hit the floor. My top had long sleeves and came up around the neck, tying in the back. I'm not sure any more of myself could have been covered.
She went on to express her distaste for my pants and told me that I would be a distraction to the congregation. She told me we were to ALWAYS wear dresses on stage. God expects our "best".
I was embarrassed, mortified, and felt so confused. Was it true that God couldn't use my heart if my heart was wearing pants? Long story short, I didn't sing that night. It was the beginning of a long road for me.
I was groomed to think my life could be used by God but only under certain conditions. I was made to feel shame and to hide. "Come as you are" did not apply to me. I had to present a "holy' person at all times...a person I could never measure up to in reality.
From that day on... I began putting on the show I was expected to... falling into a story line that wasn't mine.... walking a journey that didn't belong to me. I feared making mistakes. I feared choosing a wrong path. I was terribly afraid of disappointing God, my family, and most of all... all the watchful eyes. I knew following a "mistake" was intense judgement and shame... because in those days... no one aired their dirty laundry... we were all "perfect".
Such a smoke screen.
Years later, Jason had applied to a church.... hoping to land a FT youth pastor position. It seemed like he had it in the bag, until one day they called me in. It was a baptist church and they were uncomfortable with the fact that I had been baptized in an A/G church. They basically told us Jason had the job, but ONLY if I would be re-baptized. I was stunned. I refused. And honestly... I would say that is probably the moment I began to harbor feelings of resentment towards the organized church. Yes I know that's probably not a good thing... but remember... this is my HONEST space. Jason wanted that position so badly.... but not enough to throw my personal baptism away... he was as angry as I was... we walked away. We didn't look back.
Yet in spite of the resentment building...we stayed in the organized church. We continued to serve and we continued to be scrutinized... coming under intense attack for years to come.
I feel like now is the time I need to say....I'm not writing this to hurt any certain church or person. I want to make that perfectly clear. Parts of my upbringing and past in the church, will be with me always... memories and teachings I will FOREVER carry with me. Like my youth pastor from Ozark A/G... he passed away very unexpectedly, at only 38 years old, and it was one of the most devastating things I have ever been through. He taught me SO much. He taught me about divine appointments... he gave me room to find my purpose... he believed in me. There are relationships I forged at a very young age that spoke life into me... prophesied that I would one day use my voice... people who have never stopped praying over my life since the beginning...I will always carry them with me.
BUT... even so... in order to find healing... HONESTY is required... even if it hurts. The honest truth... I have spiritual trauma. Yes that's a "thing". Many churches claim they are there to "restore the broken"... but in fact THEY do most of the "breaking".
When you discover you've experienced spiritual trauma.. it becomes very important to UNLEARN the painful parts, while still holding onto faith... because in spite of the pain you've experienced... in the midst of human error, human judgment, and broken behaviors.. lives a gracious and loving God...
His name is Jesus.
Sadly he is often HIGHLY misrepresented by the "Christian"... yet he is still worth getting to know... because he is THE ONLY ONE who WILL love you... just as you are. ALWAYS. Don't let ANYONE tell you otherwise. Don't let anyone tell you... you are not good enough for his love, that he loves you "conditionally". Don't let anyone tell you his love must be earned or that you can make a mistake that will cause him to turn his back on you.
LIES. It's all LIES.
Jesus doesn't sit and preach
"Shame on You"...
He preaches "I'll LOVE you through...."
Bottom Freaking Line.
Lovelies... We were once taught that "God loves the unlovely"... but let's take that apart... Does he really love the unlovely? What a dark thought to think we are all "unlovely". I think if Jesus were standing here looking you straight in the eye... he would call you beautiful... valuable... worthy... perfect in every way... regardless of the road or burdens you've carried. Jesus loves the LOVELY... because we are all IN FACT... lovely people.
So the big question... Am I the only one willing to admit I have had my share of spiritual trauma? How many of you have been there too? I have studied spiritual trauma with intensity this last year and have found some ways to move forward...how to heal the heart, leave the toxicity, and walk away with a stronger and even more honest faith... If you would like that info... let me know... send me a message or post a comment... and I will be sure to post those notes here soon.