November 18 – 24, 2018
The weekend passed faster than it usually does. Kelsey had discharged and moved north to step down to PHP (Partial Hospitalization) which is the next level under residential. I was really sad that she left. I was happy that she was moving on and able to step down, but sad that I wouldn’t have her to make eye contact with during groups, sharing in silent inside jokes.
On Monday I met with Erika and we walked upstairs. Her office smelled like fall, probably from a candle or diffuser. I sat down on her couch against the back wall, Erika sitting in a chair slightly to the left of the couch.
I was starting to shake slightly. I didn’t know what to expect from this. She started by saying, “So I’ve had you in groups but I don’t know much about you! What is your story and what has religion looked like to you up to this point?”
I began to tell her about growing up catholic and attending St. Peter’s Catholic church. After my parents got divorced, I would alternate between the catholic church with my dad and the baptist church with my mom each Sunday. I would attend christian summer camps, fall retreats, discipleship weekends, and bible studies. All of my closest friends attended the baptist church with me too. I eventually got really plugged in to the baptist church with my youth group.
When I was about twelve, I told my dad, through tears of guilt, that I didn’t want to go to the catholic church any more because I wanted to go to the baptist church full time. I felt really guilty and like I was letting him down, somehow disappointing him with this decision.
The youth pastor from the Baptist church moved away and my friends and I slowly stopped attending church events. The head pastor left to start his own church. During all of this transition, my friends and I were left in a limbo of time where we didn’t attend church at all. We found other activities to fill our time, like drinking cheap bottles of UV Blue bought by older siblings and jumping into relationships. The new church started and I attended occasionally, but none of my friends really went and I ended up leaving for college very soon.
I found a church in college, Cross Church, that I loved attending. I joined a christian sorority called Sigma Phi Lambda which involved chapter meetings, events, and small groups. I worked at the Cross Church nursery 10 hours a week and went to the Wednesday night college nights. I got plugged into a bible study that was lead by one of my best friends, which I describe in Part III of my story.
After I was taken advantage of and sexually assaulted on my 21st birthday by this friend, the leader of my bible study, I took a lot of blame. I didn’t attend the bible study any more, I didn’t attend the church. I didn’t want to see him or think about what happened. I would feel physical nausea and distress any time I even thought about him or saw him pop up on instagram. I dropped out of Sigma Phi Lambda. I didn’t think I should be in it any more.
I never got plugged into a church after this. I tried out a few but never felt comfortable, never felt safe. My senior year, I met a coworker who was vice president of CRU on campus, lead bible studies, and was a leader in his church. It did not end well, as told in Part I of my story. This experience reinforced the fear for attending church. I felt even more unsafe in any kind of organized christian setting.
When I moved to Oxford in July, I found a new church that I thought I’d try. I attended once and left the service in a panic. I was so panicked and guilty and scared, that without thinking I drove to Community Donuts which is on my way home. I went through the drive through and ordered a dozen donuts, not even caring what flavors, “Just a mixture,” I told the man at the window. I ordered a chocolate milk to help them go down smoother. I ate the entire box, 12 donuts, drank the little chocolate milk, and felt grounded from the panic for a second. I felt numb to the thoughts that came up when I attended that church full of strangers.
I rushed home and the guilt set in. The guilt of all the sugar and fried dough I had just consumed. The guilt of everything I’d been through. So I would force all of the food back up, purge all the guilt. I described it all to her. I told her I panicked any time I went to church after that so I started working in the nursery, but my donut habit continued every Sunday on my way home. I just didn’t feel safe in church surrounded by strangers. Strangers who I didn’t feel like I could trust.
I finished talking, tears running down my face and hands shaking. She nodded and said she understood where the fear and panic comes from. She said it made sense that I didn’t feel safe in churches or bible studies. She said she understood the trust issues. I really started crying, “When I go to church I just really feel like I shouldn’t be there at all.”
She handed me a tissue box from the little table in between us. She told me that the guilt and shame that fuel these messages does not come from God. I heard everything she told me and they were things I have heard before. God loves me unconditionally, Jesus died for all of our sins and our shame. We talked about working my way back up to attending church and bible studies. She recommended that I start coming to the christian groups on Saturdays and Sundays because it was a safe place with girls that I know and trust already. It could help with my comfort level of bible studies at home. I agreed.
She ended our session by asking me if she could read a verse to me.
“I thought of this verse after hearing your story:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings to us so closely. And let us run with endurance the race that is set out before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throng of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
I laughed, incredulous. She read me the exact verse that my friend from work had included in his letter to me only a few days ago.
“God must really want you to hear this verse then!” she told me.
She explained the setting a little further to me. In the chapter before, Hebrews 11, the writer of Hebrews had a list of individuals who had been faithful to god even through trials and persecution.
This verse specifically is to remind us that even through trials and suffering, God loves us. While they went through painful things, they would positively affect them and lead them to maturity in their faith. It would make them stronger in Him.
It really had felt like God had not been with me the past few years. I had a hard time finding Him. But even through my trials and struggles, He was there, providing everything I needed. Rebekah, Lauren, Kristin, Jeana, Liz, Leila. He introduced me to Jackie, who’s sister works at Renfrew. He had my path cross with incredible people, incredible women. Copious resources, opportunities, and paths for healing. I can see now, looking back, God was there with me in every moment of it all.
We agreed to another session next week, I said I’d attend christian group, she prayed for me and I left her office. I went in my room and cried some more. Maybe from relief of telling my story again, saying my fears out loud, owning them. Maybe from being overwhelmed.
I washed my face and I walked downstairs. Liz happened to be walking down the hall and she said, “How was the session with Erika?” Of course she knew I made a session with Erika.. I’m not sure why I hoped that she didn’t know. I also hoped that she couldn’t tell I had been crying and avoided eye contact, rushed by, and I said, “Good!”
As she passed me, she turned around and said, “I’m happy about it!!” A smile on my face appeared almost reluctantly. I was happy about it too.