Sunday, 4 July 2010

On Surviving Abuse, Part 1

I'm a survivor.

It's been a long time coming, this post. Even now I'm trying to avoid writing it. But I owe my friends an explanation, at least of the sort that can be given in public, as to why me and God co-exist peacefully rather than partaking of talk and action as Christians seem to like to do.

You see, the abuse I suffered increasingly over a four-year period was not physical. It was psychological, spiritual, and personal. It slammed me right at the hinge of my faith and snapped a fair few choice ligaments.

At the centre of the horror stands a man who still haunts my dreams, telling me I will never be sufficient, in that absolutely convinced voice of his that will permit no argument. It came as a surprise when he stepped in to lead a loose prayer group I had been involved with, yet he took the reins and set off at a gallop. I cannot call him a pastor, for he was never that.

He meant it well. Of that I have no doubt. It's just that he seemed perpetually unable and unwilling to consider the viewpoints of others, or that he might be wrong in his assessments of the miserable flock he had been given. Any disagreement at all, no matter how slight, was met with anger like a brick wall. No, let me rephrase that. Like the Great Wall of China, coming at you on the back of a hundred tanks. We either gave in and agreed, or remained stubborn and received a thorough verbal shredding. Me being the rather hard-headed type, I ended up getting hammered often, at times to the point of screaming.

The matters we disagreed on? I've forgotten most of them. They were probably minor. But one thing that came up again and again was the direction taken in the music. We were the kind of group who didn't like to plan out how many times to sing a song or its verses or chorus or bridge or instrumentals, or even which songs to sing. We'd just start into it and reach into the Spirit inside us for guidance on where we felt it should go next. If you're not familiar with that practice, don't weird out on me, it's called free worship and it can be a lot of fun, even making up spontaneous songs on the spot.

Well, you guessed it. We disagreed on just where the Spirit was leading us. I had to learn to quash my own sense of listening in favour of the leader's. Did I mention my position was actually the worship leader? Yeah. It got tricky. Often. Many, many times, too often to count, I would lead a song in one direction, only to be stopped short and admonished for hearing wrong - and this in front of everyone in the meeting. The meetings were never large, but it gouged my soul nonetheless. He taught that every note we played had to be guided by the Spirit - and not only that, but it had to match up to what he believed the Spirit was saying. So an incredible heavy stiffness and uncertainty came into every note of our worship. I never knew when I was going to be right or wrong, commended or berated.

All the while, I was trying to convince myself that he was right and I was wrong, as it was the only way to go on. I have not trusted myself to attempt free worship since leaving that group. Since free worship was the source of inspiration for my songwriting, guess what? I haven't written any songs since then either. Oh yeah, and I've pretty much stopped playing the guitar. While in Ireland I took up the bodhran, a nice, safe percussion instrument without the necessity for leadership - just spicing things up, which suits me fine.

More next Monday. Quicklink to part 2 here. In the meantime, I sure would appreciate some virtual hugs.


Andrea Graham said...

Also a survivor of emotional abuse--I know it's even more devastating when it comes from a spiritual authority. Hugs, hon. One thing that helps me is realizing the perpetrators are often survivors themselves, broken people who hurt others because they don't know how to be any better. Turns my anger into sorrow at least. We tend to float right towards other wounded souls, which unfortunately includes those who wound,too.

Connie Brzowski said...

Hey there,

Sure glad to see you posting this. Get it out in the open and get some light shining into the nooks and crannies.

Much love! And an extra hug or two for good measure~

Carole McDonnell said...

(((((((((HUG))))) ((((HUG)))))) (((HUG))) ((((HUG))))) ((HUG)))
I'm a survivor of emotional abuse as well. From my grandfather, a minister; from churches. I really had to learn the difference between true forgiveness and true lamb-like behavior. The way folks defined Christian goodness meant being a doormat. I've survived but I don't know how well I am. I understand the bravery needed though. Emotional abuse makes a person feel unworthy of friendship, etc. So many things other folks do normally we have to build up courage to take. And rejections from publishers bring up all the issues. What helps me is to see God as not getting annoyed over my imperfections. He is always loving and sweet. -Carole

Fliterary said...

Praying for you and sending very gentle cyber-hugs. (((((Grace)))))

Maggie Woychik said...

Thanks for posting this, Grace. I think many of us can relate to some degree. I've been in churches like that and relationships like that. And I've often been the one to stand up and make noise about the abuse, but usually not until I've taken it for a good while and for the same reasons: maybe they'll change; maybe I need to change.

Anyway, bravo for bringing this up, for allowing healing to take place, for hopefully forgiving the offenders.

And I do understand about your God-relationship at this point. At the tail end of several years of post-accident PTS, I can completely relate. And I'm so very glad he understands both our situations.

Yes, hugs, love, blessings, friendship; you know I'm here for you.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Big, big hugs!! I understand emotional abuse, too. Dated an emotional abuser for four years. Physical abuse you can get a grip on, prove it, have something tangible to fight back--if you choose to fight. Emotional abuse is harder to attack, and it's sneaky and manipulative. Sometimes you don't even realize what it is till years later.

As for spiritual abuse, I can relate to that, too. I grew up in a church where I was treated as a complete outsider by all the other kids. Because I went to a different school. Yep--how wonderfully Christian of them, eh?

Point is, the problem is not you. And we're here for you!!

R. L. Copple said...

Another hug!

Abuse comes in so many forms, it seems. I've been there, and it usually involves the need to control another. Pastors, unfortunately, can succumb to that temptation due to their position.

I've been in that situation to a degree as well. Even listening to sermons I know he crafted to speak to my situation, on something he didn't agree with, but had all wrong. What he thought I was doing it for and what I was doing it for were different, and he wouldn't listen.

Sometimes it is just conflicting expectations and opinions, but when it goes into treating another with disrespect, into attempting to control through manipulation, that's when it goes into abuse.

Kudos to you for facing it for what it is. I pray doing so will continue whatever healing needs to happen.

Fred Warren said...

What Rick said.

And spend some time in those beautiful New Zealand forests, with nobody around to tell you you're doing it "wrong," and do a little free worship on your own. Take the bodhran with you...or maybe even the guitar. :)

Prayers and best wishes,


Adam Graham said...

Grace, it takes courage to talk about this. I also have dealt with some spiritual abuse issues, and I still suffer from the effects until this day.

Unknown said...

Many, many hugs for you, Grace, and prayers that the Spirit will mend your hurt and inspire your music anew.