I can’t go to church anymore

Yesterday, the Presbyterian pastor at the church we attend as a family described the Holy Spirit as a “violent, invading force” which cannot be “domesticated, organized or tamed.” He likened the work of the Holy Spirit to the wild, fire-whipping Santa Ana winds we experience here in Southern California.

Violent. Invading.

I felt a wave of nausea sweep over me and my pulse sky-rocketed. I thought I might faint. Panic blurred my vision. But I couldn’t escape because I was seated mid-pew. I tapped my husband and when he looked at my anguished face, I mouthed the words: Violent. Invading.

If that’s what the Holy Spirit is, then it confirms all my deepest, darkest fears. God is out to get me. God is going to take me by force and punish me for all my wrongdoings. God the Holy Spirit is a violent, invading force.

[Disclaimer: I realize that I heard this sermon through my own filter. I have no way of knowing whether this sermon was objectively OK because my brain was involuntarily triggered by the "old language," the code-words that evoke immediate bodily reactions. I'm pretty sure any normal, non-spiritually-abused person could sit through that sermon and just be "challenged" or "convicted." For me, though, it's torture: no matter how many times I think I've healed or "moved on," when I hear those kinds of words, my psyche responds with a near black-out bodily reaction.]

And today, even after the last drop of adrenaline had eked out of my system, I felt awful. I fought a deep, sagging weariness all day. And then. The worst.

I was hit with a sudden, compelling urge to hurt myself. It’s an old, familiar feeling.

During my darkest days inside the fundamentalist cult, I would occasionally lock myself in the bathroom and gouge deep, angry lines into my skin. Sometimes I used my fingernails, sometimes a sharp object. Once, I carved a bloody cross into my thigh. Nobody knew, nobody saw because I hid it beneath my long, modest skirts.

Oddly enough, the physical pain blotted out the psychological pain. I felt release.

Today, instead of hiding and hurting myself, I forced myself to articulate the pain.

“Matt,” I said. “I can’t go to church anymore.”

“OK,” he said. “Maybe someday you’ll be able to attend church without having a panic attack. Until then, I want you to talk to your therapist about wanting to hurt yourself.”

I broke down on his shoulder, weeping. That release was better than hurting myself.

He’s seen me clench my fists so hard during church that my nails leave marks in my palms. He knows I’ve sometimes tucked my hands inside my coat and pinched my stomach until it bruises. I do this to ground myself so fully into the moment and to focus my mind so intensely on the bodily pain, I don’t scream in panic.

In highschool, I used to blot out the pain with exercise. I was a competitive swimmer and I used to drive myself so hard, so intensely that I wouldn’t feel the pain, the black despair that threatened to creep across the whole of my consciousness.

Avoidance is not the healthiest coping mechanism. But hey, it works.

For eight years I’ve held out hope that I could “move on” and one day I’d find a pastor I could trust. Now I’m coming to the conclusion that the problem is not any church, any pastor or any small group. The problem lives inside me. I’m so utterly broken, so completely mistrusting, suspicious, jumpy and scared that even if Jesus was the pastor, I’d probably still have issues.

How’s THAT for a lost cause?

To be completely honest, I feel like crap. I’ve tried so.damn.hard to get beyond What Happened. But it’s been EIGHT years of panic attacks, EIGHT years of walking out of church, EIGHT years of listening to myriads of different pastors–only to experience the exact same response: total, unrelenting panic.

The only place that has brought me some modicum of relief is the Catholic Church. But even that is only a partial-peace because I have to go alone.

I am so tired of fighting through this alone.

I am so tired of playing nice, of repenting and trying again, of singing hymns through the tears, of praying and seeking.

It’s over. I’m not going to hurt myself. I’m not going to keep going back to the pain. I’m walking away–for now.

I can’t go to church anymore.

  • http://www.BaptistWineClub.com Knighton

    You’re not alone.

    {{hugs}}

  • http://stmonicasbridge.wordpress.com Kristen @ St Monica’s Bridge

    Although I never experienced the abuse from which you suffer, I know about going it alone. God led me to the right man, and he’s not Catholic. My heart aches when I attend mass alone. And I wonder why we cannot be together in this house of God. My husband questions the legitimacy of Christ as the son of God. I keep asking God, why, why this challenge in our marriage in addition to a special needs child and all the other issues we must face. And yet, there I go, again and again. Because it is the only relief of the pain, the only source of truth. And I pray and pray that we can be as full as I know God wants us to be.

    Sorry to tell my own story there, but my heart now aches for you as well. Peace is my word for 2011 and as a result, that is what I pray for for you.

  • http://www.kathleenbasi.com Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    Oh, I wish I could hug you, too. Great big virtual hugs.

  • http://www.twitter.com/leighbra Eryn

    There is room in my heart for you. My grandmother survived the Holocaust with a baby in her belly & was the most deeply spiritual person I have ever met.

    But she couldn’t step foot in the places that reminded her so much of what had happened to her in Austria. Even though she was safe here, she was not safe inside. Her synagogue was at home. She had a deep communication with her holy spirit. It was intimate & true & practiced in a place where she could focus on the spirit, without focusing on her own ghosts.

    I hope for love & healing for you. I hope you can stop looking for the release that hurting yourself gives. You don’t deserve to be hurt by anyone, most especially by yourself. I hope you can feel as safe on the inside as you are on the outside.

    Have you visited a Unitarian church? I’ve seen many of my loved ones find a place in their churches. We’re all looking for a home, aren’t we?

  • http://blog.berkman.ca Janet

    My husband went to mass alone (off and on) for 20 years. Then I became Catholic.

    Find a friend to go to mass with and GO. See your therapist. Find a priest to talk to. Partake of the sacraments as much as you can. Stop going to any church that provokes the demons.

    I will be praying for you.

  • http://chroniclesofachristianheretic.blogspot.com Sandra

    Oh, EE, my heart aches with you. I left Evangelical fundamentalism much less abruptly and painfully but with just as much anger, bitterness, betrayal and despair. I can probably count on one hand, definitely two, the number of times I’ve been to a church service since then. A decade and a half of longing for community in worship but deathly afraid of the likelihood of some reasonably innocent remark setting off a cascade of unrelenting physical and psychological pain. I can certainly count on one hand the number of services I’ve attended that didn’t trigger that kind of pain.

    But as you have already written, no matter what you can do, where you can be, God will meet you there. My hope and prayer is that either God will be enough or my family can join me in that place where I can meet God. Neither seems likely at this point, but hope is eternal–however slight.

    Much love and sympathy.

  • Sara Miller

    I will keep you in my prayers. I’m so sorry for the pain you are experiencing.

  • http://www.JanetOberholtzer.com Janet Oberholtzer

    I’m sorry … about the pain and turmoil you are feeling.

    Breath deep … feelings aren’t right or wrong they simply are. It’s what we do with them that matters. (words from my counselor that saved my sanity and probably my life)
    We all have choices … we aren’t bound by anyone or any ‘rules.’ So if not going to church is a choice you want/need to make … make it!

    I’ve found that I connect with God more outdoors, then in any church (for a number of reasons) these days.

    Breath deep … you are enough!
    “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (Roosevelt)

  • Mark S.

    My dear sweet Elizabeth, I ache along with you. You do not deserve to feel the way you do. I am praying for you and know that God understands completely. I pray particularly that you will find peace and that the panic attacks will stop soon.

  • http://golightlyplace.blogspot.com Nicole

    First, you are in my prayers.

    Second, I don’t know what happened to you, but God has given you a wise and helpful husband. I am thankful that he was there for you and that you listened to him. I am so sorry for your pain. I have had difficulties in finding a place of worship over and over, but I have never experienced what you have described. I can only imagine how painful it must be to experience this in a church building. That said, of course, the church is not the building, nor the institution.

    You don’t have to give up “going to church,” because church is God’s people. Presently, I attend a loving and supportive house church. It’s right next door! :) That may be an option for you. I know that you are Catholic and that you find great peace and comfort in that. I confess, as a Protestant, that I don’t know if there is a Catholic house church movement.

    Something else you might consider in the meantime is listening to podcasts. I did this for a while when I was between places of worship/fellowship. One that you MAY find interesting is called “The God Journey.” I don’t know if they are still podcasting, but they are part of a movement that doesn’t believe in attending any sort of organized, regular worship. That doesn’t mean that they don’t engage in fellowship with other Christians; they just don’t do the typical service or mass time, programs, etc. You may find it interesting. You may find it soothing. You may find it an oasis in this difficult time, even if it is just temporary.

    Please take these suggestions with a grain of salt. Please know that I am not attempting to minimize your struggles with quick “solutions” – as if they were solutions. I am only offering ideas that may aid in your healing or that you may want to carry along with you on your journey. Throw them all out if you desire! I have only recently discovered your blog and am so sorry to visit here and find you so sad.

    God bless and be well.

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    praying for you…

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    Thinking about what the pastor said…I disagree- God is powerful- yes- but God waits for us to say YES- God does not force Himself on us- we have the free will to reject Him. The image of God that I love the best is that of the father in the prodigal son. God the father is waiting for our yes, and He runs to meet us where we are, but He never forces Himself- does that make sense?

    • http://www.laundryandlullabies.blogspot.com Emily

      Exactly, priest’s wife. Exactly.

    • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

      YES!

    • http://thewinedarksea.com/weblog.php Melanie B

      Exactly. He waits eagerly for us to turn to him but he will never force us.

    • Evelyn

      I was reading a theology of the body book yesterday, and one line stuck with me, almost exactly what a clergyperson told me when I disclosed some issues related to spiritual abuse:

      God is a gentle lover. He always woos and invites; never forces.

      May you find Him, unshakeably.

    • http://simplyurbanliving.blogspot.com R-

      Thanks Priest’s Wife. Reading the pastor’s words really upset me because when I read the Bible I find that the Holy Spirit is a Counselor, a Comforter who gives us words to pray and even when we can’t pray the Spirit prays for us. That sounds like loving patience to me.

    • amber

      E. E.,

      Your post has broken my heart.

      I don’t know the god that that pastor serves. But, I know my God. My God’s voice can be heard in silence…and His Son sought Him out in lonely, solitary places…. He is a gentleman that knocks quietly.

      If I have learned anything in the past 6 months, it has been that “just because someone says’s something doesn’t mean that is true.”

      Please don’t believe that pastor, or any pastor, all these well meaning people, or even me. Ask Him who He is, and read what HE says about Himself in His word.

      I love and am praying for your peace.

      Sincerely and wholeheartedly,
      Amber

  • Elisabeth

    So, so sorry about this experience. I, too, was in a religious cult and even though I wasn’t involved in it as deeply as you were, parts of it still haunt me.
    I’m so thankful that you have a husband that knows you so well and loves you so carefully. My thoughts and prayers go with you.

  • Vikki

    That pastor is an idiot. God is not out to get us. God sacrificed His only Son so that we may live forever. It’s called grace and it is a gift that is freely given to those who will accept and believe. The Holy Spirit is our comforter; not a violent, invading force. I would suggest that you start reading your Bible and ask God to reveal Himself to you. Also, find a new church.

  • Richard Jones

    Thanks for this post.

  • Laura

    That pastor is completely off base. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. That’s not a description that brings to mind either violent or invading. I would have been incensed if I had heard such preaching.

    :hugs:

  • http://www.aworshipfulheart.typepad.com Jan

    I can very much relate to your dilemma and pain. My story is probably somewhat different from yours, but I also have “triggers” in church that will send me running for the door – literally – afraid I will throw up right in worship. I have nothing but compassion for you and pray for God’s grace to fill your life and his peace to fill your mind and heart.

    I don’t presently have a church home. We attend a church sporadically but it is not home. I have formed a group of girlfriends into a “book club” and we read spiritual books together then discuss and pray. They are my companions on the journey and this format works well for me and doesn’t trigger panic attacks. I don’t dread meeting with these women. Our meetings don’t cause bad dreams. I’ve also started a monthly worship night (I’m a former worship pastor) where we simply worship and pray and take communion. No preaching. We hear from God, not each other.

    All of that to say that I’ve had to figure out alternatives for myself although I don’t feel I’m at a perfect place by any means. I’m sure God will guide you as well as you seek Him alone during this time. I think my biggest battle is loneliness – partly because I feel no one understands. Partly because I have no real home for the first time ever in my life. So I’d urge you to look for simply spiritual community – even if it’s just in your living room. Or online.

    Blessings to you on the journey. Hope I didn’t come across as a fixer. I am praying for you tonight – that God would help you feel His sweet and loving presence where ever you may be.

  • mary

    I am also a former self mutilator…. for many of the same reasons (not a cult, but guilt when I needed love.) First, let me say, you can be free.

    I’ve read your blog for awhile, but I get it now. I didn’t understand why you were so afraid of the Holy Spirit, oh but now I understand. There are songs I can’t listen to. There is an entire paraphrase of the bible I can’t touch. I understand triggers, EE. My heart aches, dear.

    Go to counselling. Talk about this. I know why you do it. I can even come up with good excuses for you. But the relief from that pain is only a cover for so much more.

    And EE, try not to be afraid of the holy spirit. I promise, they call him the comforter for a reason. One day, many years from now, you may even find yourself in a church needing some good old fashioned conviction. But in the mean time….

    You are so broken, and so sinful, and so imperfect. And there is a really big God who knows all of that. In fact, he even sees your sins that you don’t notice. And he gives so much grace. So much forgiveness. So much healing. Even to you, dear EE. Especially to you. Mary shows you compassion, but I promise the holy spirit has even more for you. He loves you. Hang in there while the healing continues.

  • http://www.ignoremeitseasier.blogspot.com AmyDe

    I’m so sorry you had an anguished experience in a place you are meant to trust. Just a reminder though – God is not ‘At Church’ and He totally understands – especially when other’s do not. Take care and know that you are loved!

  • http://www.laundryandlullabies.blogspot.com Emily

    EE, is there a reason why your family can’t all go to the Catholic church with you? Seems like you’ve been going with them elsewhere for quite some time. Maybe it is their turn to come with you? Obviously I don’t know your family dynamics…just a thought.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    Just wanted to say I’m really sorry this is so hard for you. I wish it wasn’t, as I know you do, too. Definitely hoping you’ll be able to find comfort and peace in whatever sanctuary you can find.

  • http://www.specklesoffaith.com Speckles of Faith

    I stumbled upon this post via a twitter mention. I’m amazed at how you
    seek God, Jesus and Spirit. You must already know He has never left
    you. Thank you for the reminder, however unintended, and may you be
    blessed greatly.

  • Joanie

    Oh, the frustration of wondering when it will just END. The dealing with it. The cycles. The pain. (Pain, I thought you were last year’s news. Why are you back?!?) That feeling of treading water but getting nowhere. But you are getting somewhere, Precious EE. I don’t know where and I don’t know when, but I know it will someday be behind you.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. Something about spiritual abuse has a way of redefining what abuse is. So much more torturous.

    I recommend Streams, an oldie but goodie compilation from the 90′s that specifically deal with working through hurt. “From Above” and “Sanctuary” in particular have helped me heal. Our God is loving and gentle and I pray in time the Bible will be a love story in your heart. No rush! No thumping you over the head! Just wishing for you to have peace. You are so treasured.

  • Tara Meghan

    This is also just me, but my visceral response is – What a crazy thing for the pastor to say! That’s like saying that out in space, solar winds are really dangerous. Okay…but we’re not in space! We’re surrounded by an atmosphere that protects us.

    So yes, God is awesome and huge in a way that can seem scary, but His plan for us is suited to our small condition. It’s so similar to parenting. In raising kids, we parents have so much going on – budgeting, cleaning, working, watching, teaching….but sometimes our poor kids think that they are the all-in-all, that they’re responsible for doing everything right…like somehow our lives as parents will be complete if only they could be perfect children. Poor, poor babies. Sure we want them to do well, and life is easier and happier for us when they do, but we love them and are proud of them anyway, and we help them, and we wait for them to get it right in their own time. That’s what God is like, only better. Because as much as our lives are beyond the comprehension of our tiny children, God’s thoughts and love is SO much further beyond our comprehension. He’s got it under control. *We* aren’t under His control, anymore than our children are under ours…but the *situation* is under His control. And he loves us 500 million times better than we can even love our own children.

    St. Joseph is my very favorite Saint, as the patron saint of fathers and husbands. My dad is a nice man, but very wounded, and he was not very good at raising kids, so other than extrapolating from the excellent job my mom did, I have little concept of what a Father’s love would be like. Thinking about St. Joseph, and what he must be like, and what a strange struggle his life must have been, gives me a fuller sense of what God’s love, as the ultimate Father, must be.

    It’s okay not to go to Church when it’s too hard! God worked incredible miracles in my life when I wasn’t going to Church. You are having mercy on yourself, and that’s going to make it a lot easier to see God’s mercy as well. <3 <3

  • http://www.stevensabby.wordpress.com Abby

    Elizabeth–

    I am usually just a reader of other people’s blogs–but I stumbled across this post and wished I could sit down for some coffee with you. Maybe words from strangers will help, maybe not, but I hope that you find peace.

    My life story has been very different in most ways, but the overwhelming inability to trust has been very much the same. I don’t know what your journey forward from here looks like for you, but I am living proof that there’s no such thing as a trust that’s too deeply broken to be restored. I went through a season of what I can only describe as depression several years ago. I didn’t know how to find my way out, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to entrust myself to anyone, even this Jesus whom I had always known and loved so deeply. So I did the only thing I could think to do: I started with Psalms and I began writing out page after page of Scriptures–Scriptures that spoke of his love for me, of his promises to me, and of the truths I didn’t have the strength to believe.

    I don’t know when I realized I believed again, but I did.

    Don’t give up. I believe it takes great courage to continue to hold on when you’ve seen no healing and it seems no relief is coming. I won’t make you false promises that healing will come for you–but I can tell you that it DID come for me. And until it did, I didn’t wait alone. I wrote a blog about how Jesus waits with us as we wait for our happy endings–read it if you think it might bring comfort.
    http://stevensabby.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/before-the-happy-ending/

  • http://www.recoveringalumni.com Recovering Alumni

    As a fellow survivor of spiritual abuse, I totally affirm your decision to stay healthy by staying out of the church system. God is not displeased with you for making that choice, no matter what other well intentioned believers might say. There are many of us outside the church walls and I hope that God connects with you the people who can help you on your path to wholeness. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad for being who you are.

  • ry

    I used to live in a place where the heat felt violent and invading, where it was oppressive and dangerous and the women and young girls dressed in their hijabs and burkas. They’d sit on the beach and they’d look hardly alive, suffering and sweating in political, spiritual, emotional and physical pain.

    But then, suddenly, without warning, summer would break. And the heat would dissolve into the cool, gentle breeze blowing through the city. And the women would leap to their feet and laugh and dance and in an instant, the beach was alive, the women hopeful and the young girls gleeful over the autumn’s potential for calm, restful nights–for relief.

    Hopeful that the Spirit’s cool, gentle breeze shows up and brings you relief.

  • http://ashleighbaker.net Ashleigh Baker (Heart and Home)

    The toll this takes, on our bodies as well as our minds, is unmeasurable. It’s simply… unfathomable. Even, sometimes, for us – we who experience it.

    Take a break, a rest. I wish I could.

    I love you.

  • Rachel

    I don’t have words. I’m just so, so sorry that you have to experience this. Good for you for having the courage to talk to your husband instead of hiding. I hope you find peace.

  • frogla

    @ recovering alumni your words of love acceptance & understanding are refreshing. I hope to see you @ the Wendy & Doug’s next meeting. *wink*
    @EE I was just talking to my therapists about not going to church anymore for the same reasons. One therapist suggested I read Steve Atreburn’s book “Faith that hurts Faith that heals”. Idk if I’ll be reading it. I also feel quite damaged from all the spiritual abuse. (hug)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001405388687 Nate

    Because I know you wont be getting angry at other material he supplies at his site, I found his information on the Holy Spirit very helpful in my own spiritual journey. In no particular order that I can tell I put them in;
    Who is the Holy Spirit and Why is He Important to Christians?
    Sanctification
    The Holy Spirit is God
    The Holy Spirit

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    Like others, I don’t grasp why you have to go to Catholic Mass alone. I’ve never been Catholic, but I’ve been to Mass more times than I can count or remember over the course of my life. I guess I don’t grasp why it would be a big deal for your family to go with you — at least sometimes.

    Peace.

  • Wanda

    I too wish I could put my arms around you and give you a hug. I am so sorry for your pain. Someone above said to “hang on through the hurting” and that is what to do.

    I have been in the bottom of the black pit and cried out to God and found comfort in a time – a long time – of despair. Despair caused my IF religion and ministers. I too cannot tolerate church services any more if they bear a resemblance to former experiences. So have found refuge in a more structured, liturgical setting….for now.

    God, his precious Son, and yes, the gentle Holy Spirit love you with an everlasting love. You are loved. God bless and keep you my dear sister.

  • Theresa in Alberta

    Revelation 3:20 “I am standing at the door knocking”!! Go to a Catholic book store and buy the print based on this verse of Jesus knocking at a door with no doorknob….because the only way this door will open is by you opening the door from the inside!!!!!
    while you are there look for any books by the catholic psychologist Dr Conrad w Baars…FABULOUS doctor who helps you heal your emotions.

  • KatR

    I love you, and you aren’t alone. I’ve crawled over people to get out of a church building, I’ve sat in my car shaking too hard to drive away. If God is truly a loving God, he certainly can’t demand this weekly psychological torture. Enough IS enough.

  • http://www.heathershodgepodge.blogspot.com Heather’s Hodgepodge

    I am so sorry that you have been hurt again. I know how traumatic it is to have a new “safe” place made to feel unsafe. All of us survivors have our triggers :( I’ll be praying extra for you the next few days. Follow your husband’s advice regarding your therapist.

  • Leanne

    Language is so very important. And while we cannot keep from hurting or offending all people, one would hope those who use words, especially to describe and articulate God, could pick better phrases and illustrations.
    Unfortunately, the pastor at that church probably has never had violence done against them and so describing God in violent manner doesn’t evoke panic in them. But for so many, it is damaging. I am sorry this pastor didn’t choose their words better and more cautiously.
    I love how you can differentiate between church and God. So many use what the church does or say as an excuse against God. You still cling to God. You also don’t condemn the church. We fail so often. Thanks for the grace you show EE.

  • Cara

    Know that you are loved, by God and by us. I will keep you in my prayers.

    • http://whitewashedfeminist.wordpress.com Cally Tyrol

      My thoughts exactly. God bless you Elizabeth!!

  • http://sheilascribbles.blogspot.com SheilaScribbles

    Elizabeth, though from a fundamentalist background myself (no pants, no make up, no swimming because the boys would see you, etc.), I have not experienced your levels of pain and hurt. I cannot claim to know how you feel. I do not know even why I found your blog some time ago and have subscribed and keep reading it – except to feel like it’s part of God’s plan for me. I am praying for you today that God’s arms of peace and protection will wrap around you in such a way that you can feel Him without any doubt. I pray that He will protect you from the triggers that send you spiraling. I pray that Matt will go to mass with you maybe once a month -even though it may not be his thing – just to give you some support. I pray that the still small voice of God will drown out the “old language”. You are loved Elizabeth.

  • http://phariseefreed.blogspot.com/ Susan

    You are definitely not alone.

  • Barbara in NY

    God bless you, Elizabeth. Hang on hard to your rosary. All graces come through Mary.

  • Maggie Dee

    You’ll be in my prayers Elizabeth. For the record I think that Pastor is way off base. My experience with the Holy Spirit has been one of peace and love. I agree with another poster talking about how God is like the father of the prodigal son. Watching and waiting and running to greet us when we come home. He loves us so much!! Can you even imagine not running to greet one of your own precious children home? And we can’t even begin to love in the perfect love of God.

    I hope you’ll be able to find someone to attend Mass with you. The Catholic church is where I’m finally understanding the Love of God. It’s funny because I know it can have a reputation of “guilt”, but all I’ve found is freedom. The minute I walk into the confessional booth/room I feel completely loved by God. I can’t explain it. I don’t want to leave. It’s happened everytime with different priests. For me it’s like God envelopes me with his warm embrace. That’s what the Holy Spirit is to me. I’ve been a Christian just about my whole life, but lost that feeling of being loved in the Protestant world, I’m so glad I found it again because I too wanted to walk away from church all together and never look back. May God surround you with his warm embrace. YOU ARE LOVED!

    • Maggie Dee

      In re-reading my post I hope I didn’t offend any Protestants out there. It’s just that world is part of a painful childhood. Part of my path back to sanity was leaving it behind.

  • http://ifmeadowsspeak.blogspot.com/2010/11/when-i-was-scared-of-church-how-i-came.html Tammy@if meadows speak

    Sometimes when I write raw, I feel like the ugly was let out and I either feel set free or completely exposed, naked bare soul laying out to be trampled. I see your silence, your slinking back from this post, maybe because you do feel all together better and removed from the words, or maybe just the opposite. No religion, or denomination, or insititution can help us know God any better, except by a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. I understand you have filters (I’ve had different ones) but He IS able to reach through them and it’s always been gentle and meek to those seeking Him. Dig for Truth, it’s worth the cost. And the cost really is full of a Love beyond even our wildest dreams….the Enemy likes your bondage and uses condemnation, fear, angry God-images to keep you away. Because he knows if you ever truly grasped the depth and the Truth of this Love…you’d be set totally free.

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      I’m being quiet because I said what I needed to say. It’s the raw, honest truth and I’m not ashamed of it. It’s been a long time coming. I HAVE dug for the Truth. Now the Truth needs to come find me.

      • Tara Meghan

        Good for you! Mega-hearts to you. The truth will come find you, and you are one of the bravest people I know.

  • http://ifmeadowsspeak.blogspot.com/2010/11/when-i-was-scared-of-church-how-i-came.html Tammy@if meadows speak

    Ps. May I just add, God isn’t a denomination? Nor does He need you to pick one to finally be a Christian….there’s only ONE denomination and that’s Christ. Getting to know Him without the filter isn’t found in a building or “church”…..

  • Mary E.

    As a Catholic revert who married an Evangelical Protestant when I still considered myself “ex-Catholic,” I went to Mass alone in the beginning. I’d invite my husband, no pressure, and he kept saying no thanks for a while. (He’d been raised by fundamentalist missionaries who had some anti-Catholic beliefs, which colored his perspective.) I actually didn’t mind going alone at first, maybe because I’d been used to the uber-social, coffee-sipping atmosphere of our evangelical church service and some privacy was a relief at first? But I did long for my husband at my side.

    Anyway, one morning my DH attended Mass with me. Long story short, he is now in RCIA and will enter the Catholic Church at Easter! (I think his attendance and research began with concern for my “reverting,” but it lead him to convert.)

    I’m just sharing this to give you and some of the other commenters hope that you can attend Mass as a family one day. (As I believe you already know, your family shouldn’t take the Eucharist until they become Catholic themselves, but they would be welcome at the service and may be surprised by how much of the bible is read and how the main focus is Jesus; I know those things surprised my husband.)

    P.S. I have no history of spiritual abuse, but if a pastor or priest described the Holy Spirit as violent and invading, I would want to run too. Honestly it sounds like a form of verbal rape or something! Don’t blame all your reactions on your background; I think most people would recoil at hearing the Holy Spirit described in that way. We’re not talking about Rambo here!

    • Mary E.

      P.P.S. May I add, when I say my DH was raised with anti-Catholic attitudes, that was an understatement. His family taught him that Catholics worship the pope, practice idol worship with statues, resacrifice Jesus at Mass, etc. (None of these beliefs are true but it’s what his family taught him.) He didn’t take all this in 100%, but it was woven into many conversations as he grew up. So it’s a true miracle that he even let himself attend a Mass.

      I’m not sure that some Protestants realize how a minority of other Protestants view the Catholic Church; for some it’s not just viewed as another church, but as a non-Christian church where idolatry is practiced. So, that is why it can be a huge mental leap for them to even walk into a Mass; they see it as pagan and idol-worshipping. Of course I don’t agree with this, but I’m just trying to explain what I’ve heard from the other side.

  • http://catholicpostergirl.stblogs.com Emily

    Big, big hugs for you, EE. I will be praying super-hard for you.

  • http://www.barefootbohemian.blogspot.com Kimberly
  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    I am blessed that my husband is the preacher at our church, so he knows my triggers for the most part and avoids them. I still have those dark moments though. I was reading a child’s version of the bible that described Jesus being sent to the cross, blamed for everyones sins so that God could pour out his anger on him, and then described God abandoning Jesus on the cross while he cried out for him. It made me sick to my stomache. I detest that manipulative petty narcisstic god.
    Needless to say, that child’s bible is getting pitched in the garbage. I just hope that someday I can read the bible without hearing my dads voice explaining a God that “beats you over the head with a 2×4 until you get with the program”. But right now? The bible just makes me feel like there is no hope, and I’d be better off just killing myself and ending the mess.

    • http://thewinedarksea.com/weblog.php Melanie B

      Young Mom, That anyone could paraphrase the Bible in that way makes me sick to my stomach too. That is was in a children’s Bible… I don’t even have words to describe how ill it makes me. But I know what Jesus said about letting the little children come to him and not hampering them. I am positive that Satan was filled with glee when that corruption of the Word of God was printed. I don’t believe in burning books; but that kind of blasphemy deserves to be destroyed in a good clean fire.

    • Margaret

      I still have those dark moments though. I was reading a child’s version of the bible that described Jesus being sent to the cross, blamed for everyones sins so that God could pour out his anger on him, and then described God abandoning Jesus on the cross while he cried out for him. It made me sick to my stomache. I detest that manipulative petty narcisstic god.
      ************************

      Wow, if those were the actual words, that is detestable.

      “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

      Jesus was not “sent” to die. He is God-with-us. Being *God*, he laid down his life for us, voluntarily. Because he loves us. He laid aside his Godhood too, and experienced the full consequences that our sin would lead us to, times millions, since he took on the sins of the whole world, and all of us. In human form with flesh and mind that had human weaknesses, he did cry out, *feeling* forsaken. He was not forsaken.

      The relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are something that are humanly impossible to fully comprehend, and that is why the Trinity is called a mystery. But one thing I know for sure is that the relationship between Father and Son in the Godhead is *nothing* like that of an abusive father to a helpless son. They are One. Not competing divinities, or one stronger god beating on a weaker god.

      • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

        I think I’m going to write a post on this, I could hardly believe it either. I thought I’d be safe trying to read a kids bible.

        • Margaret

          I’d be interested to know what version this is. Or to read your post on it if you write one. Can you email me? haraphiyo AT yahoo DOT com

    • Jack

      \\I was reading a child’s version of the bible that described Jesus being sent to the cross, blamed for everyones sins so that God could pour out his anger on him, and then described God abandoning Jesus on the cross while he cried out for him. It made me sick to my stomache. I detest that manipulative petty narcisstic god.\\

      While the idea that “God killed God to satisfy the justice of God”–or to put it another way, He was so po’d that He had to vent His spleen and take it out on somebody or something, it’s the reductio ad absurdum of many sermons I’ve heard as a Baptist.

      Orthodoxy and Eastern Christianity generally rejects such notions as slanders against God.

  • http://www.mustardseedyear.com Jason

    I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through the pain you’ve faced. I will pray for you.

  • http://www.4andcounting.blogspot.com nicole

    I hate that your past has robbed you of the blessings of community. I hate that this happens to so many people in the name of Christianity. I will pray that one day you will be able to go to church with your family and feel the peace that is there. Until then, listen to your husband–he seems pretty wise.

  • http://hollylovesnonsense.blogspot.com Holly

    Thank you for sharing this. Just because you can’t right now doesn’t mean failure it means turn right or left and change directions. You are peeling back the layers and throwing them away but the scars are deep. I pray you’ll find relief. (PS what an excellent husband with excellent words. You aren’t in this alone! Your bathroom is vacant!)

  • http://www.jeffjordanblog.com Jeff Jordan

    No answers here…just listening…

  • supernalquest

    I also had a meltdown at church last weekend. It wasn’t even something the pastor said- just being there precipitates such a strong reaction, it takes a lot of willpower to “act normal”. I’ m not sure if its braver to stay home or better to attend because of the kids. Blessings to you and thanks for being so honest.

  • http://jennyrain.com Jenny

    Elizabeth, how my heart has grieved with you as I’ve read some of your accounts of the spiritual abuse you suffered. I can’t help but think of the many who find themselves in your position who are suffering in silence… thanks for having the courage to share, to risk trying again… my prayers are with you that you find safety again in your spiritual journey. As I was reading this, I thought about a teacher who really helped me heal from some wounding I had experienced – his name is Danny Silk and he did a series called “Unpunishable” that talks about how God is not out to get us because He has solved everything on the cross… it’s good (and Danny has a great sense of humor layered with a lot of counseling – healthy counseling skills)… this is the link… I pray it encourages you http://www.ibethel.org/store/m6/DannySilk/p973/UnpunishableTheFruitoftheCross/product_info.html?ref=4&affiliate_banner_id=4&manufacturers_id=6

  • http://ainesahm.blogspot.com Canadian Anne

    Hi EE…I’ve been following your blog through following other blogs for some time now. I’m Protestant-Baptist…with liturgical leanings and appreciation. My husband & I went through a very difficult time going through a church upheaval of pretty much epic proportions…I totally understand how you feel about not wanting to go to church anymore. My husband was a deacon and elder, and I’ve grown up going to church my whole life…and to decide to not go for awhile, to heal…to be so hurt you can’t go…I get that. I don’t think God is the Attendance Keeper In the Sky. God promises to reveal Himself to us, if we seek after Him. Take the time to heal…definitely get the counselling/therapy your husband told you to take…God will not leave you…He walks with us through all our troubles…and He so very much cares for & loves you with His (to quote my kids’ Jesus Storybook Bible) “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” I will be praying for you…that God would comfort you, and that you would find peace & healing.

  • http://gendernos.wordpress.com Max

    -hugs- This echoes with me, too, right down to the self-injury.

    My own journey away from church has taken me further and further away from god… Acknowledging and accepting my disbelief has brought me more real peace and joy than I ever knew as one of his followers. I’ve only found the freedom that the cult promised to be exclusive to religion by escaping it entirely.

    Not everyone who leaves an abusive religious system responds this way, but in my case I’m confident that my lack of faith, my skeptical atheism, is right for me. I’ve been accused of throwing the baby out with the bathwater but in fact coming to this place has taken years of careful thought and consideration… That just still doesn’t change the conclusions I’ve reached.

  • http://www.kellysauer.com/ Kelly Sauer

    Oh. my. gosh.

    Oh man. I want to talk to you. On the phone. For real. This hurts so bad. I. have. been. here.

    Praying. Holding you close to my heart. I knew I liked you for knowing Him.

    I’m serious. If you want to call. My number is on my site.

  • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

    More hugs over here.

    I have found the holy spirit to be invading, but oh so gently…it’s his gentleness that brings me to my knees.

  • Margaret

    ((((Elizabeth))))

    Ah, so many things I want to say, and points of reason, and encouragement and explanations.

    I know that’s not what you need. I pray that you will know the Holy Spirit as the true Comforter. And that someday you will be able to worship with others without your wounds being poked and prodded and re-opened.

  • http://thewinedarksea.com/weblog.php Melanie B

    Dear EE,

    Praying for your healing and that you will come to know the fullness of God’s love in his person as Comforter.

  • http://thewinedarksea.com/weblog.php Melanie B

    EE,

    A quote that seemed to be meant just for you when I saw it: “…even if nothing more were to be said in all the pages of Sacred Scripture, and all we heard from the mouth of the Holy Spirit were that `God is Love,’ there would be nothing else we would need to look for.” ~~St. Augustine on the Epistle of Saint John

    • Maggie Dee

      Beautiful! It’s realizing just how much he loves me that has gotten me through some rough times. Sometimes I feel like I’m hanging onto that fact my the tips of my fingernails, but no matter who the, ahem, “well-meaning” christian is trying to “correct” the errors of my “theology”, I’m not going to give up on that fact. He came to save, not to condemn. And I think St. Augustine would know a thing or to about working through feeling condemned.

      • Maggie Dee

        “by (not my) the tips of my fingernails”

  • Lindsey

    EE, I’ll keep you close in prayer. I’m new to your blog and don’t know all the history, but is there some reason your husband cannot go with YOU to the Mass and he can go alone (for a while, anyway) to the Presby church? It seems he knows the pain the latter causes you so I would think he’d want to protect you from that as well as aid you in your healing. I hope you are able to keep going to Mass. God pours out countless graces through the Sacraments. Try to cling to that. MANY PRAYERS for you…

  • http://bellwhistlemoon.blogspot.com/ mary bailey

    You are so brave in your honesty. Praying for you.

  • http://www.wholeheartedcatholic.com Leslie

    Dear Elizabeth,
    I just want to say I’ve been there. For the first 4 years (5?) after converting I had massive panic attacks and had to leave Mass. Sometimes for months at a time. It wasn’t pretty. And, sometimes it still happens. I was on my way out the door to Mass a couple of weeks ago (without my husband) and I crumbled. Complete panic. And, my daughter (who was home with me and ready to go to Church) was devastated when I said I needed to stay home. We prayed together. We sang hymns. I explained that the place we wanted to be…needed to be…was at the Holy Mass…and God knew how much we wanted to be there…but, he also understands when we are too sick to go. But, I was devastated too…

    The helpful things, I’ve found for me:
    -finding an understanding priest to talk to (and it might take a few tries before you find a good one). The best one I found suffered from ptsd. Boy, did he GET IT.
    -Finding a friend to go to Mass with…but someone who knows my history and “gets it” too.
    -Focusing my whole heart on Jesus in the tabernacle from the moment I walk in the door. Trying to listen and be involved sometimes ignites the old panic.
    -Prayer. Just keep going to God. Not the God that you were “taught”, but the God that you know…deep down…somewhere in you that longs and cries and seeks and understands…just bring it all to him. Pour the grief, the fear, the panic, the exhaustion, the guilt, the discouragement…just pour it out to him the way you sobbed on your husband’s shoulder. He understands. He’s much more patient with you than you are with yourself. And, this is your journey…and He is taking you on it…and no one can tell you how to obey Him…how to answer his call. You have a sense of where you want to be…where you are headed…just keep leaning on Him…and, I believe, the rest will come…is coming…in its own time.
    Love and prayers,
    Leslie

  • Cee

    Though most of the churches that I’ve been a part of weren’t cult-like, there were definitely manipulative aspects, and I spent many Sundays crying on the way home-about the deception.
    We stopped going to a regular church over a year ago. It’s been a very good change for us. Not sure if it will be that way for a long time or not.
    We take communion as a family, at home and listen to worship music that we like. Getting out in nature and playing music has helped us connect with God more. We are more intentional about service opportunities now than before, and not out of duty.

    We’ve also been encouraged by the video podcasts at http://www.ibethel.tv/

    You may find this site helpful also: http://ransomedheart.com/

  • Nina

    Hey, sister in Christ. First: I am hurting just reading your words; I am praying for you and you are in my heart. But I’m going to quickly say two things that I hope the HS is leading me to: I believe (just my instincts, Nina…. my advice if you were to ask me…. ;)) that: 1) you ought to try to keep going to Mass and the sacraments, when you can, as I truly believe this is the Source of your longing and the Answer ultimately—- even despite not “feeling” it…..and will have a profound affect without you realizing it, and that, 2), you ought to try an SSRI—-just* try*, try: you don’t have to tell anyone or share it or explain it or worry about it!—-and see if you get relief. RELIEF from this unremitting imbalanced pain. Because lady, you deserve it. And it doesn’t matter where it is coming from, from without or within, or a little of both, bio-chemicals combined with brain re-wiring on synapses, connections of neurotransmitters from trauma, etc…..the FACT is: God wants you to function fully, be well, and experience His peace and comfort and there are options—-there is hope. You are on a journey. It is part of the purification process and His perfecting you in humility and spiritual childhood! Don’t be afraid.

    If this medical route would help—–you will know. You will feel better, that’s all. You will feel well, not so heavily burdened at every turn and more capable of taking each laborious step. Like you said, you are a mom and a wife. You need to feel well and be well. :) XOXOXO God works through His means, through nature—–grace builds on nature. We must first help the physical, so the full spiritual will be able to flourish.

    The Holy Spirit in Catholic theology is the Counselor, the Giver of Life, the filler of love and joy, comfort and guidance. He is Love. Lady, don’t give up. I gotta run….Hope. Humility. Hang on!

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      But I’m not depressed! This pain only happens when I keep subjecting myself to the same situation; ie. church. I appreciate your suggestions, of course, but I’m sincerely not depressed. I actually feel MUCH better after writing this piece. Since I have been depressed, I know the signs and symptoms and if I’m headed down that road, I’ll def. seek medical help. For now, though, I just feel so.much.better after getting this post written and out of my system. But I *will* keep going to Mass! :)

      • Nina

        Okay, yay. Yay, yay, yay.

        [ I was thinking more of a deeply rooted pre-existing type of anxiety even, manifested in the panic and acute sensitivity. You know, a predisposition, then exacerbated by these stimuli/experiences. But what the heck do I know? ;) I only "know" you from the bits of pieces you've shared here, and don't have the whole picture, only trying to love you from afar---ha. (Ignore me.) ]

        “Talk” to you soon. :)

      • http://ikeepmymemorieshere.blogspot.com/ Ruth Ann

        I read your post entirely, but I haven’t read all the comments, so I’m sorry if this has already been addressed by you or others.

        Do you understand “going to Mass” as different from “going to church?”

        • Jack

          \\Do you understand “going to Mass” as different from “going to church?”\\

          Orthodox and Catholics certainly do.

          The highlight of the service is NOT the sermon, or seeing how many people will walk down the aisle during endless repetitions of an “invitation hymn,” but meeting with Jesus in the reception of the Holy Communion.

          • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

            Thanks, Jack, for explaining this better than I could. It really IS a different orientation altogether.

  • http://presentlyhuman.wordpress.com presentlyhuman

    I made the decision to stop going to church for similar reasons – it was contributing to me being suicidal, it was tearing down my faith and I would have to spend the whole week rebuilding it, just to go back on Sunday and have it happen all over again. I never knew if what I was hearing was actually what was being said, or if I was just filtering everything through my perception of things, hearing certain implications where there were none. Either way, I was much more stable and happier the day I finally decided I couldn’t handle the emotional and mental stress of church anymore.

    • Erin

      Dear PresentlyHuman,

      Thank you for your brave comment here. I had the same experience – of going to church, and somehow it prompted suicidal feelings, and then it would take me all week to try to work through them. Then the next Sunday it would start all over again. I thought I was the only one on the planet. For me, I realized I needed to leave that church, even though it was very difficult. I send caring thoughts to you, as that is such a painful thing to have gone through.

      Thanks to Elizabeth for her brave post. I can relate to it also. It is hard when church is such a difficult place, when we wish it could be a warm, peaceful and healing place.

      Wishing everyone peace,
      Erin

  • http://www.morningstarr.typepad.com Dina

    wish I had words that could soothe!

    hubs is flying out to your city next week and I wish I could pack in a hug to deliver to you. sending up prayers instead because that’s all I know to offer.

    love, d

  • Caryl

    I’m sorry you are having such a hard time. I hope your therapist can work with you on triggers (it sounds like you have the PTSD/Depression/Anxiety trifecta) and that you find the peace you deserve.

    Hugs,
    Caryl

  • Jamie

    i’m sure you’ve heard it all as you’ve unearthed these emotions and let us all in on your thoughts and experiences. sounds like it really sucks. :( sounds like you feel vulnerable and dead-tired. this is where you can look at the people who’ve said they haven’t stopped smiling since they started following Jesus and know the truth of the GUTS it takes to walk the narrow path.
    i wonder if you’ve ever received prayer and annointing for lingering spirits from those dark times? i don’t think “torment” is too strong a word for what you feel and experience, but only you can know that.
    thank you for walking this path and opening it up for others to see. i’m sure its frightening, never knowing what others would/could write in response. press on.

  • http://creatingtreasures.blogspot.com tereza crump aka MyTreasuredCreations

    Elizabeth, there is a book that helped me immensely. It’s called “destined to reign” by Joseph Prince. he is a pastor from Singapore. he preaches the gospel like i never heard before and i have been a christian for 15+ years. the HS is not violent. i think you are suffering from the results of condemnation. if you can look the pastor’s website out, he has a teaching on how condemnation kills, it’s what we and others do to ourselves. we punish ourselves for our sins and others’ sins. totally unnecessary because Jesus already took our punishment on the cross.

    i can send you the book and audio CD if you like. if you don’t want to purchase for yourself.. just email me with your address.

    grace is the gospel of Jesus. :) there is hope.

  • Lucy

    EE,

    I’m pretty new to your blog and while I’ve read a few of your posts related to your past, I don’t really understand the extent of it (and who would, based solely on blog posts?). I read this when you first posted and chose not to comment, but it’s continued to be on my mind, so I’ll just say a few things. I grew up associated with a very conservative, cult-like homeschooling program that hurt my family in many ways (although I will always say that while my parents did some things wrong, they always loved me and still do very much). I do understand the visceral reaction to certain songs, phrases and attitudes present in some churches. In my twenties, I had reached the point of being so hurt and angry that while I believed God existed, I didn’t want anything to do with Him. But I kept trying because really, where else would I go? Eventually I found the Eastern Orthodox Church. I’m not trying to proslytize, just telling my story. I was first attracted by the history, the sacraments, the “smells and bells” that were so different from what I grew up with. But what has kept me there is God’s Love. Several times through the service, we acknowledge God as the Lover of mankind. After I’d heard that a thousand times, I started to believe that maybe, He really does love me, even though I mess up and wear the wrong clothes and listen to the wrong music and do many wrong things.

    I can’t really go to evangelical churches, even though it was not my church that was damaging. I have just found the Calvinist, penal substitionary approach to the atonement to be so totally not what I have found to be true about Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection and how we interact with and know God. The “angry God” of my youth was a deception and not who God really is. I’m sure some would say that I don’t understand the theology. And they’re right. But I know what it did to me and that discovering a new (well, actually, a really old) way of relating to God has brought me so much healing. I used to dread going to church because I knew I was faking it and was such a disappointment to God. Now I love it and go every chance I get because it’s like being in Heaven. I never thought I would feel that way. (We’re also big Mary-lovers, which took some getting used to, but now I could not live without the prayers of the Theotokos.)

    So I guess, in my opinion, which counts for exactly nothing, I’d suggest you stay away from the Presby church (although I love Presbyterians!) and go to Mass. Find a priest to hear your confessions who truly knows God (that has also been a saving grace for me – a priest who shows God’s love and does not judge) and who will pray for you. Receive the eucharist as often as you can, for it (He) brings healing to soul and body. I’m sorry you had this experience, but perhaps you will look back and see how God used it for your salvation and it was a way He provided because He is a good God and the only one who loves mankind.

    I’m sorry this is so long, and like I said, I don’t really know enough to offer anything, but we grew up with similar influences (yours was definitely more extreme, although I remember clawing my wrists in agony over my failures to be a “good Christian”) and I know what saved me. I hope this at least helps you know that you’re not alone. If it doesn’t help, well, hopefully it doesn’t make anything worse. :) May Christ have mercy and bless your journey.

    • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

      I’m sure some would say that I don’t understand the theology.

      For what it’s worth, I do understand the theology and find it detestable. I don’t really care what sort of argument someone can construct about it. If that describes God, then it’s a God I would never worship, much less love. Obviously, I don’t believe it describes the God we see in Jesus of Nazareth or I wouldn’t call myself ‘Christian’ (or at least something like one). I agree with Fr. Thomas Hopko. One of the words that captures that theology is ‘insane.’

      Grace and peace.

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    I’ll add a brief thought. Back in the late seventies I remember my father experiencing similar reactions sometimes from different triggering events — “flashbacks” from Vietnam. We would all call it PTSD today, but the term wasn’t used as frequently back then. He talked to me then and over the years a little about it and about some of the experiences and triggers. So I understand how a trigger can suddenly trip.

    I also saw the same sort of thing in my oldest son when he was five in the events that led to us getting full custody from his mother (my second wife) and strictly limiting her access to him to therapy (which she never actually attended) and supervised visits. It was pretty frightening. I remember one triggering event when we were at McDonald’s and he was having fun. He looked down and saw he had eaten all his food and went into a full-scale panic attack. He was diagnosed with chronic PTSD from abuse with self-destructive behaviors like making himself throw up. (The latter I saw and it was later documented when he was in the hospital.) I never did figure out what triggered the particular panic attack above, nor do I need to know. The things I heard, either directly from him or from his doctors, still haunt me.

    I share the above to say that the reactions you describe sound a lot like PTSD. You’re right. You do have to try to avoid triggers in order to continue to heal. On the positive side, though, people are resilient and with care (and treatment as needed) we do heal. My Dad is not free from panic attacks, but they are fairly rare these days and the full-scale flashbacks are long gone. Although it was rough going at times, and much of the time I didn’t know what to do and probably did the wrong thing, my son today is doing well. He’s married, doing really well at his job, and raising a beautiful daughter.

    It sounds like you have the close support you need in your family and that’s one of the most important things. Peace.

  • http://debsueknit.blogspot.com DebbieQ

    Oh {{{{{{hugs}}}}}

  • http://alisteningspace.blogspot.com/ Kath

    Peace to you. Confronting to see yourself this way. And frustrating that healing is not always as fast as we want. 8 years…if only it was enough.
    I love your spirit, that you can find solace in another church, and seek it with your family, too.
    Kath

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com suzannah @ShoutLaughLove

    we are all broken and you are not a lost cause. there is such power in language and that pastor was WAY off base. the Holy Spirit is a Comforter like someone above said, and thankfully none of us needs a physical place of worship to encounter a [ loving, gracious, merciful] God.

    i pray that even if you can’t be in a church, the Church [as a people] would surround and encourage and love and remind you that even if you–like each of us–is broken, you are also made in God’s image–creative, amazing, and uniquely gifted by God.

    grace and peace (God’s deep shalom–wholeness!) to you this day

  • Smoochagator

    I’m pretty sure any normal, non-spiritually-abused person could sit through that sermon and just be “challenged” or “convicted.”

    Not necessarily. Something I didn’t realize when I was in the midst of spiritual abuse is that it’s possible for a normal, God-loving, God-fearing Christian to hear a sermon and say, “Nope, I don’t agree with that.” And they’re not in “rebellion!” They’re not “resisting the Holy Spirit!” They are simply saying that their understanding of God’s truth is different than the speaker’s. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to disagree with a pastor or priest or other spiritual leader. It’s okay to have theological differences. It’s even okay to be WRONG. It’s even okay to think the PASTOR is WRONG.

    Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way… (Sorry, “conviction” and “accountability” are two of my trigger words. I refuse to accept the idea that just because I disagree with someone in spiritual “authority,” that means there’s something wrong with ME. Because it’s NOT TRUE.)

    You are NOT a lost cause. There is nothing wrong with your healing journey taking as long as it needs to take. Eight years is a long time, but who says you have to be okey-dokey by now? Whose deadline is that? Be kind to yourself, and accept that you are healing and growing on the timeline that is just right for you, and God is NOT tapping his foot and huffing about, impatient with you because you haven’t “got it together” yet. Quite the contrary – I am certain that God is much more patient with us that we ever are with ourselves. An eternal God will not roll his eyes at 8 years or 80 years – he’s got a much longer view of the big picture than we do.

    *much hugs and love*

    • Maggie Dee

      The words “Teachable Spirit” are what make my blood boil. Two of the most misused, manipulative words in the Church dictionary. If anyone uses that phrase to try and get me to do whatever it is they want me to do, you can pretty much guarantee hell will freeze over before I’ll do it.

      • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

        Our word was: “Entreatable;” as in, “is that person entreatable?” Which was code for: can I manipulate/control that person to do what I want him/her to do? The more I’ve gone to church, the more it seems like leadership wants me to DO something; ie. clap my hands during worship, take notes, give more money, volunteer in Sunday School. And then when they try to manipulate me into doing something because it’s “for the Lord,” I just totally freeze up. So, yeah. I get it. Ugh.

  • http://pastorleanne.wordpress.com Leanne

    Triggers are frustrating – I was in two very spiritually abusive churches in a row, and I never know for sure what is going to trigger something in me – a worship song, a word spoken by someone. I spent an entire afternoon crying and freaking out because someone used the word “undershepherds” to refer to our deacons [this was one of the things that finally caused me to go into therapy!]. Spiritual absuse is NEVER God’s plan, and since each of us is a unique individual, His individual plans to heal us from our experiences are all going to look a bit different. I applaud you for doing what you need to do for right now to take care of yourself – and I know that He understands, too!

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      See, this is my point exactly. It’s like walking into a minefield, you never know when you’ll inadvertently step on an “undershepherd” or “violent, invading force.” *sigh*

  • http://andtheycallerblessed.blogspot.com Jessica Bish

    Your husband sounds very wise and loving. Have you ever thought of having him ‘preach’ to just your family on sundays…. have church within your own home, where you feel safe and secure, where your children can learn with both of you together. It may not be something you want to do forever as God commands us to fellowship with other believers… but it might be what you need now.

    Hugs

  • sarah

    I’m so sorry to hear you are going through this!

    I love your blog, though I hardly ever comment (sorry!). I just wanted you to know that I too struggle with PTSD and, although our triggers are quite different, I can relate to your frustration and despair. I have definitely had periods in my life where I was unable to even go outside because I would be so apprehensive that something would trigger a panic attack, and it’s a hell I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Therapy, a loving husband, and antidepressants have all helped me manage PTSD and “take the edge off,” if you will, but mostly it just feels like one big chronic illness. Or like fighting an uphill battle. Or like playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. It’s exhausting. I’ve had days where I’ve felt like, “I’m cured! No more anxiety! Phew!” just to be knocked right back down a week later by an enormous panic attack. Awful, isn’t it?!

    I think what has helped me is realizing that I’ll always be in a state of healing. I’m not sure if I will ever be magically “healed,” or that my triggers won’t ever affect me. In the meantime, I just try to deal with it as it comes and cling to God — whether that means going to Church or not. If your presbyterian church gives you panic attacks, then please, don’t go! It’s no failure on your part. God will seek you out, as He seems to be doing through the Catholic mass (and as he did for me)!

    Aaaanyway. Please know that I greatly admire your courage in sharing your story; it really helps to know that I am not alone. Please feel free to email me if you need someone to talk to!

    ((((hugs!)))))

  • Anonymous

    I stumbled upon your blog by accident. As I’ve read this post, I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve needed to hear raw emotion from a fellow believer in Christ so badly. I’m still currently in that dark place that your mind went to with the triggers. Thank you for authenticity. My word for the new year was ‘peace’. I hope you can find that kind of soul rest as well. I’ve searched and searched and listened to all the “advice”, well meaning advice, I suppose, but nonetheless, not helpful. I ‘m not going to go into details of my life, but I needed to know I wasn’t alone, and I hope that you know that too.

    • http://andtheycallerblessed.blogspot.com Jessica Bish

      There are no ‘accidents’. :) Sounds like God brought you here for a reason.

  • Mary Ann Wilkerson

    Elizabeth,
    I am so sorry you suffered such abuse as a child and a teenager, and that you suffer, even now, as a result of that abuse. I never suffered physical abuse as a child or teen, but I did have “issues”. As a teen in junior and senior high school I had major stagefright, and suffered miserable humiliation in front of peers and teachers when I had to give oral presentations in class. While in college I had serious doubts of God, which scared the crap out of me. While I was not raised in extreme fundamentalism, as you were, I was raised in the Methodist Church on a doctrine of a predominantly works-righteousness theology. Thus, when beset by doubts of God’s existence I had nothing to fall back on but myself, which was of little use at the time. Miraculously, it was through these doubts, and the writings of Hannah Whiteall Smith (a dead Quaker woman) that I came to understand that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and these doubts were not only okay, they were pretty normal. I learned that Jesus was not condemning me for my doubts, but that he understood and could handle them for me. My life after college, however, was not a bed of roses. As a young adult I suffered a series of panic attacks. These occurred at night so I was not crippled by them during the day. They were horrible!!!!! I no longer have them, but I will never forget them. Elizabeth, no one, not even Christians, are exempt from “issues”, “stuff”, “crap” in their lives. I do not care how perfect some couples or people look to you; they are not. No one has it all together. People are imperfect, and, unfortunately, that is why we cannot look to people for all of our happiness, peace, and contentment. That does not mean we do not love, fall in love with, and are loved in return by, people. But humans fail, pastors fail; heck, Adam and Eve failed, and that is why we are in the mess we are in (Read ICor.15:21-22). However, God knew, thousands of years ago, the mess we are in, and before you were ever conceived, He took your place on a cross and died for you, but then came back to life – defeating spiritual death. He did this because He knew it was the only way He could have a personal relationship with you. Love like that is beyond understanding. Please read and believe Romans 8:1.

  • Tina

    God is Love.

  • http://www.heidijowhatdoyouknow.blogspot.com Heidi Jo

    ee- i can say that i know that it is difficult to go alone….but i can’ truly understand the loneliness you feel. however, the amazingly cool thing about being a Catholic, and one that i discovered when i converted, is that you are NEVER attending mass alone. you are attending w/ me. when you’re sitting in your pew 2000+ miles away, i’m sitting in mine hearing the same gospel, the same prayers, the same “great amen”. we aren’t alone. please don’t stop receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. tell Him how much it sucks, and ask Him for just enough grace to see you through.

  • Catgal

    I am sure that I am not saying anything that hasn’t been already said many times. But your post jumped out at me.
    Do what you feel is right for you. I don’t think that anyone I have ever listened to in Church would explain the Holy
    Spirit that way. It’s represented by a Dove, how can that be violent and invading? That is the issue I have with different
    churches and different priests (I’m Catholic), how do I know what they are saying is correct? How do I know God endorses
    what he is saying? We are all sinners, so maybe that pastor needs to reconcile what he said about the Holy Spirit. Whe you are
    ready to go back keep trying different places times pastors until you are comfortable. God will lead you to the right place
    He did for me, and for my mother as well. I am so glad that you let your emotions out instead of hurting yourself. Oh, and
    I go to church alone. Sometimes it bums me out, but other times it is just me and God, my redeemer. I understand your need
    for support in the form of an actual person seated next to you. You will find what you are looking for spiritually, and good
    on your husband for suggesting you talk with your therapist about all this. Those sessions can bring you further that a
    mass anyday. Lovingly, Cat

  • Pamela

    EE, I am so sorry you had this set-back. I am thinking the pastor used “violent & invading” to try to stir the folks at the Presbyterian Church up a little. Not a great choice of words on his part, tho.

    The church-hurt thing DOES get better. It really does. It’s a gradual recovery, in a “two steps forward, one step back” sort of way. Sometimes even “one step forward, two steps back”! Like any recovery, I suppose.

    Jesus is for you, and understands what you are going thru. I’ll be praying for you. -Pamela

  • http://becoming-becoming.blogspot.com/ heather

    So thankful that you have such a loving husband.

    I recall a psychology prof in a college class saying that in order to heal, often times we have to move away from the source of pain. It can be next to impossible to heal when we keep getting hit in the same spot over and over-our wounds just keep getting damaged and never have the opportunity to get stronger. Hoping this decision allows you to get stronger and to stop having the old wounds torn open over and over. Love to you.

  • http://outofthesilverchair.blogspot.com/ Julie (toxicsheepnomore)

    I have panic attacks most times I try to go to church…I understand those terrible feelings.
    much love!

  • Bex

    Add Episcopalians to those who understand that going to Mass is different from “going to church.”

  • Gordon Strate

    Dear Elizabeth,

    Two thoughts:
    1 If that pastor could bring himself to describe the Comforter as “invasive and troubling” his mind/soul had to have been in the fires of Hell the preceding week. If you feel strong you could mention it to him.
    2 The current Episcopal Church Hymnal 1979 has Hymn 67, for Advent, in which the closing lines of the first verse state:
    “tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.”
    Sometimes a hymn has words of comfort.

  • Jocelyn

    I am so sorry .

    Adoration – adoration is beautiful…or an open church …no one saying anything just you and the body of Christ . I have sat before the blessed sacrement alone and crying ….When you are ready perhaps a weekday Mass ( no homilies usually ) personally I like the low latin mass…really melow ..all in latin …no triggers ( for me anyway) .

    God Bless

  • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

    Elizabeth ((hugs)),
    I think I know a bit about what you are feeling. I’m the same way. Certain lingo was so drilled into me in the IFB that I automatically reject those words..even if they are in proper context.. I have to find my way around that lingo and find Truth another way. I’ve been chopping through the strongholds for 2 years, hacking away at what hurts and binds me..to find freedom. Freedom to love Father and receive His love in return. Once He breaks through a stronghold..his grace flows over me..and puts me at rest. It’s awful that we have to ‘work’ so hard to find grace and love..when it’s within us all along..but those mental strongholds are there..plain and simple. And when those strongholds do come down..any tiny splinter of abusive fundamentalism that is seen in our path again..makes me want to rage against it. I am constantly reminded that it’s just a tiny splinter in the road and I need to remember that the wall was torn down. So I squash that splinter under my foot and walk right passed it. Nonetheless..it still ‘cuts’ me when I see them. There are blogs I just can’t read without wanting to throw my laptop across the room.(ok yes I’m exaggerating) but I think you get my drift.

    My family was deeply hurt by fundy-ism and it’s extremely difficult to go to churches for us..there are a few that don’t get into all that stuff..that we occasionally attend, but we won’t ever plant ourselves in one again. After much prayer, we decided to continue our home fellowship instead and that is where we find the most freedom to heal..among close friends every Monday night. I hope to meet you someday and give you a big hug…I do live in CA btw… perhaps I shall come down and see you soon.

  • http://www.thebeautifulheresy.com Brian

    I completely understand. My panic attacks started in church over 30 years ago and that is still where I have them most often. If it weren’t for my family, I would have stopped attending long ago.

  • Phil Liszewski

    I grew up catholic, I will never go back. I became a baptist, pentacostalist, trying to find God in the churches. All I found were lies dressed up as doctrinal dogma. What the bible teaches and what virtually any church teaches are at odds with each other. I have come to love God, love the Holy Spirit and his direction in my life. When I attend church, the hairs on my skin stand on end listening to the crap they put out.
    I was not a mutilator, I was someone who was continuously contemplating suicide, but was too gutless to follow through because of the possible eternal consequences. Now that I know those eternal consequences I used to think were there were just a bunch of lies, I’m already far enough in my walk with Him. I felt alone in this for years, but I have found many others who have left the Institution of Church so that they could join themselves to God’s love andi learn for themselves what He’s really about.
    I have come to the conclusion that the church is God’s fiery furnace, outside the Kingdom of Heaven. I know that sounds wacky, but they are no different than the Jewish religion that the bible was about, and that Jesus ultimately destroyed with the final destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70AD. Religion is the fire that burns away the ego, and hopefully ultimately leads you to find Christ and grace. The message is in there, but what we’ve been taught things mean from scripture are so many lies.
    I wish you the best in your new journey. Prayers are for revelations for you, to lead you to peace.

  • http://lauriemo.blogspot.com Laurie M.

    What you are going through breaks my heart. I can relate, though my experience has not been as severe. I can’t undo what’s been done, or unsay what has been said to you all these years that’s caused you so much pain, and I’ve no idea how to make you feel safe enough to go to church again. But I can tell you this: Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Comforter”, not the violent invading force. I pray you will know real comfort.

  • Brenna

    I know. I know…

  • http://inamyseyes.blogspot.com Amy

    You don’t have to go mass alone. I know you don’t know me, but I live in Orange County. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and now attend Catholic Mass. I am in RCIA at a Parish in SJC, but don’t mind a drive if you ever need company. I will pray for you.

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  • Liz

    Hi Elizabeth, I will say payers for you and am so sorry you are going through this. If there is an Adoration chapel near you, please try to go and just sit with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist for a few minutes – or longer if possible. Go once a week if you can – you will find it is better than any therapist, for it is Christ that sits before you, and the Holy Spirit that will whisper gently in your heart, and guide you in the direction you need to go. You will find peace, joy and clarity in your life, and hopefully the Holy Spirit will lead you back to attending Mass. It took me a long time to realize that we go to Mass not to be entertained and demand a great homily and music, but to worship God; to get down on our knees and honor Him. The Church is made up of sinners and saints, but it is guided by the Holy Spirit, God Himself, so despite its’ human faults, it has survived for over 2000 years, and will be around til the end of time. (No matter how much man tries to mess things up.) There will always be great homilies and bad homilies, but that’s not why we go. We go for Him. We go to recieve Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and to offer everything to Him – our joys and sufferings. It’s great if we get something out of it, if the homily that day is inspiring, but Catholics go to Mass to worship and honor God – whether we feel like going or not we go. Love is not a feeling, it is a decision. We decide to love our children each day whether we feel like it or not. Same with God – we may not feel like going to Mass, but out of love, we go, because He is our God. He doesn’t need us, but He knows we need Him and that we need his sacraments. He is there at Mass, in the Eucharist, waiting patiently with great love. Please don’t give up on Mass – the graces you receive there for you and your family are beyond words. Lots of prayers, joy & peace, Liz

  • http://thriftyurbanmom.blogspot.com/ Rachael

    Elizabeth,

    I just want you to know that you are not alone. There are many like you. God said he sent the Holy Spirit to us as a comforter. God loves you no matter if you NEVER go to church again.

  • niki

    Recently found “Christa Black” her music is awesome. Best song is ” God loves ugly ” , she has a book with the same title. Just really hearing the title broke something in me. If anything…… she has a beautiful voice :)

  • http://wizzyswandrings.wordpress.com Wizzy

    Wow. Thank you for such an honest post. Like many others I have been struggling with “church” and have come to realize, after 20+ years of following Jesus (or trying t0) that church isn’t a place you go, it is WHO YOU ARE. You can have “church” with one or two friends who are kindred spirits and you pray together or share with one another. It does NOT have to be a place you go – at all. I strongly suggest reading the book “So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore” (on Amazon of course) – it was the most freeing, beautiful book I have read in a long, long, LONG time. You may find comfort between its pages. I hope that you find the peace you long for. God bless.

  • Elijah

    Deja vu. You’ll be on my prayers. A litlle story.

    I used to date a girl, I was 26, she was 25, (y. 2005). She used to hurt hurself since she was 9. Besides that, she had at least one serious attempt of suicide (21 y) with a poisonous cocktail of medic pills. I was deeply depressed by her situation, I was a victim of her manipulation and felt graceless over those days, I felt too weak or dumb to help her. We stopped dating, she was a nice girl, but I couldn’t handle the situation anymore, I saw her bruised and marks in her arms several times. She hurt hurself with anything she had in her hands, cutting herself with a fork would releif her. She used long sleeves to hide the scars. She knew how irrational this was.

    She got seriously ill some months afterward and had an important surgery, we still kept in touch by those days. Her mother had to come to town to take care of her in her post-operatory recovery (a tumor as big as a tennis ball was in one of her ovaries; she lost one, and half of the other one). During those 25 days in which she had to be mom’s baby again – she barely could walk by herself -, they had the chance to talk a lot, and for the first time, be intensely sincere to each other.

    Her mother, a nurse, found out her girl used to “dope” herself with all kinds of medication she kept in her house. She had been doing for more than 15 years, and besides that they had the chance to talk about what her mother didn’t know: she was abused by an older woman when she was 9 years old. This woman used to take care of her when her parents were at work. Being just a kid, she tried to talk to her family and they didn’t beleive anything about it at that time. She had a double wound, an almost mortal wound: against her family – specially her parents who didn’t beleive a word -. and against women as an extension to the abusive figure which raped her with a stick.

    Mother and girl cried together. They hugged and prayed together and gave each other the grace of forgiveness in the name of the Lord. Her mother asked for her forgiveness. It had been 15 long years. She mentioned how some reflections and prayers on forgiveness as a gift from God and a necessity to heal helped them through the process. (A book I gave her, actually, from a catholic priest. I know! there are no formulas).

    Several months later, we were updating our lives on the phone, she was pregnant – against all ods. She told me about how after that time of recovery with her mother she had never had the temptation of hurting herself. It wasn’t even a temptation, she didn’t have to struggle anymore with that. She regognized it as a grace and she was just peaceful about that situation. She realized she was healed as time passed by and she was reflecting about her life. She wasn’t really a religious our deeply spiritual person. But she kept searching with an open heart. Thank God for her. Deep forgiveness and sincerity in her family brought her the grace of being healed. That has helped her over time to heal slowly the corrupted image she had of women and feminity. How hard was for her when we dated to have confidence in other women!

    I know, nowadays, she keeps struggling with the contingencies of everyday life. From time to time, we talk, she has her own family now and her daughter has been a big blessing for her.

    I came back to church that year 2006 after a tormentous year. I repeat: I’ll keep you on my prayers. The Mercy of Our Loving God be with you.

    From a far and away country,

    J.

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  • http://chaseafterwind.blogspot.com Amy B

    I’m newish to your blog and I have been reading with interest, especially your posts about finding God in the Catholic Church. I’ve written on my own blog about my journey away from the Catholic Church and into Protestantism. Our stories could not be more different – and yet I do find things in your words that resonate with me. I’ve enjoyed reading.

    I wanted to echo Nicole’s words: “You don’t have to give up “going to church,” because church is God’s people.”

    And I wanted to let you know that I will say a prayer that the broken places in your heart be healed some day, even if not until the world to come, by the One who is making all things new. xo

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  • http://Likeachildscience.blogspot.com Lac

    Wow….i just wrote a blog post on this a few weeks ago. Thank you for sharing your story (i found you by way of rachel held evans roday)

  • Chantal

    Holy Spirit, violent? Really? I read that and I thought of the prophet who went to the mountain and the thunder ” But God was NOT in the thunder” ect He was in the the gentle breeze.

    I weep. I am deeply distressed of the hurt and wrongful image of God. So many woman who have sought and loved God only to be abused.

    May you find peace and healing.

    I too find the Catholic Church to be my place of refuge. I find a loving God striving to capture our fleeting love and waiting, waiting, and waiting grieving and hurting to be with us and to heal us.
    May the Comforter, comfort and heal you.

  • Rabbi Michael Wallace

    I am assuming something that may not be true. I am assuming that you are Jewish by blood, by your appearance and your name. Is this the case? If so, is there a reason that you have not checked out Messianic Judaism (Jews that believe Yeshua [Jesus] is the Messiah)?

    • http://www.elizabethesther.com elizabeth

      I’m not Jewish by blood. I’m Greek. With a double Biblical name. :)

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  • http://seeminglyrandom.com seeminglyrandom

    i, too, grew up fundamentalist.  fire.  hell.  brimstone.

    it wasn’t until college that i heart that grace. love. substitution. was any home for those things.

    the rhetoric that was used to describe the Holy Spirit (i have 2 degrees in communication) is indeed harsh… and doesn’t paint a true picture of the spirit that my God describes.

    that Spirit has comforted me and spoken for me when i was too broken to even utter words.

    i say all of this to say… i think i might understand.  (i don’t say that i DO understand.  i think it’s presumptuous for any person to say that to anyone else.)

    with that said, i have a question.  it’s an honest question: meant in all sincerity and curiosity– not one ounce of judgment.  

    you say that the catholic church brings you relief.

    can you explain this more?  

    (note: this isn’t an invitation for me to get into a “discussion” or theological argument.  it’s an invitation for you to tell me how it makes you feel that way.  from one “F” to another… (INFJ), i’m just curious.)

  • dulcinea

    That’s exactly how I felt yesterday when my pastor, a man I generally trust and like, said “God is not a rapist.”  I know he said NOT, but I can’t stand those ideas in the same sentence. His point was that God doesn’t invade, but rather knocks.  I heard, through  my own filter, something entirely different.

  • Lydia

    Thank you for sharing. I can’t go to church either and thought it was cause of some type of rebellion. For the first time for a moment I feel normal.
    I grew up in a very secluded religous group.