Unquestionable

Not to long ago I considered myself a Christian. For years I was part of the church, most of my life actually. In early high school though I decided being part of the church was something I wanted for my life, my family and my children’s lives. It was what I needed at the time to cope with my life. I became part of several different churches, all with the same outcome. Disappointment, hurt, judgement, and confusion. Abuse. As previously discussed in NOT YOUR CHURCH, I have wrestled with a lot for a long time when it comes to the church. Only recently have I become comfortable with my struggle and really decided to sit with it. Quantify it. Discover it. To develop the ability to talk about it and learn from those experiences. In this time of discovery, I have learned 4 main things:

1. Religion is not finite: 2+2=4 is finite.One’s beliefs and relatability to the earth, other people, and [a] higher power(s) is something that is going to be tuned to what the person is experiencing in that moment.What is going on the world, how the climate is, and many other factors. A finite religion is going to disappoint. It is going to cause pain. Simply because it does not change.

2. Beliefs are going to and should change overtime as we learn and grow: When we are kids a lot of us read or watch things such as Cinderella and Snow White or more recently Frozen. These are fairy tales, where love at first sight happens, the good guy always wins, and an obstacle is overcome to create this love story unlike any other. Yet, most of us know that this is not always how life ends up. We grow up and learn that life is brutal, money is a very necessary evil, and love at first sight is not how love typically works. Beliefs in other things such as religion and/or ethics are similar. As we learn the ways of the world, our beliefs are going to change. Another example being that for most of my life, while I would have never admitted it, I was very colorblind in my thinking, actions, and beliefs. I had no idea the privilege I have as a white person. I had the very common belief that if I was in the wrong it was up to ‘those people’ to teach me. I fell for the ‘ we are all the same on the inside’ and ‘color doesn’t matter’ bullshit. I used words like ‘ghetto’ and ‘gangster’ to describe things that were neither of those things. These things contributed to the further marginalization of people of color, and while unintentional it was still very damaging and I had to grow. I had to learn. It is my job to change these beliefs, to learn and grow. To take responsibility for my own learning. For myself. In this I think religion should be similar, that we take responsibility for our own growth and we strive to make the world better. That old constructs are sometimes the very thing that needs to be destroyed in order for love to grow.

3. Creating boundaries and admitting fault where it is due: One might not understand how these things go together, but hear me out. Take the following as an example: In the recent months I have had some health issues which lead me to need home health care. One of the services they offered was a social worker, she helped me get access to some community services as well as getting my advanced directives done. Once these things were done the social worker came 2 more times, and while I agreed to theses appointments I really did not want her to come any longer as my needs had been fulfilled. The appointment before last she was at my house for 4.5 hours and the last one for almost 2 hours. Mind you this appointments are suppose to be 1-2 hours at most. After the previous appointment, I discussed with my wife and the speech therapist about my uncomfortableness with the situation and both told me I needed to set boundaries. This woman simply had my trapped in conversation inside my own home, and was not professional enough to keep things not private. She invaded my space, she demanded my attention, and she demanded that I share personal things with her in the name of ‘helping” me. With the last appointment I told her I had X amount of time to meet. This boundary was not respected so I called the supervisor and spoke with her about what the issue was and the visits have since ceased. – In this situation, creating boundaries was hard but it was necessary. It isn’t my fault what the situation was, but I didn’t set boundaries with the social worker in the beginning which was my fault. If we don’t set the correct boundaries, it is not our fault that the person in power took advantage of the situation; but it does then require us to do something about the situation. Taking the time to set boundaries in the most safe and healthy action we can take. This sometimes means involving someone else as a way to protect yourself from further harm.

4. Guilt vs shame: These terms are used interchangeably most of the time. Personally, I feel as if there needs to be a defined and distinct difference. Guilt is an appropriate feeling of remorse where as shame is an inappropriate feeling of remorse. If you steal something from someone a feeling of remorse is appropriate. If someone does something to you such as abuse, a feeling of remorse is inappropriate and damaging. In the church we are taught to shame ourselves for everything, this comes from the concept of sin in that we are sinful in nature and have to atone for the “original sin of man.” Atonement is inherently shameful. Oftentimes we are asked to atone for things that we do not have responsibility for. We are asked to atone for things that happened to us or things that we were forced to do because we did not have the agency at the time to say no. The church does not make that distinction in my experience. We are asked to seek forgiveness for any perceived wrong that we may have committed regardless of intent or ability to alter our circumstances. While seeking forgiveness is cleansing, it can also be self-serving to seek absolution from a godlike entity instead of the person we actually harmed. The church asks us to take on sins that are not our own and because of that we can harm ourselves in our quest to absolve ourselves of others sins.

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*HUGS WITH PERMISSION*

When working with survivors, a few things need to be clarified. Unfortunately some of these should be a given such as respect but the are not always. When it comes to survivors (of all kinds of trauma) it takes more work than usual to build and establish trust, the 10 things listed below are not the only things, just the foundation of trust.

  1. Respect – In reference to [survivors], respect means to treat with esteem, kindness, and equality. We are not glass antiques. We are not a pet. We are not your guinea pig. We are human, just like you.
  2. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. – This comes in for me when people say they will always be there for me. This has only been true for a select few people that I’ve known ever. Many survivors have also felt this over and over; weather its our families, the others we worked with that were sold, killed, or left behind  when exiting the life. Moreover those that decided to leave for no reason without an explanation. All this to say, refer back to respect; if you do not think or do not know if you can commit to something DON’T. If you say you’ll be there: BE THERE. If you need a minute or 7: SAY IT.
  3. Be intentional – We survivors know we are/can be a lot to handle. We know what we’ve been through is sad and angering and scary and a lot of other things. But we also need to talk about it. Being intentional means, if you ask a question, be ready for the raw, real, and honest answer. Going back to #2; words mean things, be thoughtful and compassionate with your words.
  4. Show Up + Be Present – While we understand things in life come up and needing to reschedule; its important to keep your word when you say you want to meet up. As with any relationship, the other important thing is to be present and engage. This is especially important because we (most of us) have not had people in our lives who really care and want to know us for a long while. If ever.
  5. Listen, acknowledge, and validate – Listening is something we, unfortunately have to ask for as survivors. Many of us have been burned this way by ‘advocates’ all too many times. Please listen to us, actively. This goes back to #4 and #3, show up, be present, be intentional. Acknowledgement, I feel should be a given, but it is not. Acknowledgement is done in many ways from showing up, to asking questions, to having appropriate reactions to the things we say. The combination of these things are what create validation. It doesn’t hurt to tell us that our feelings, thoughts, etc. are valid.
  6. When a survivor confides in you, thank them. – A lot of us are very open about being a survivor, but keep details to ourselves for the most part. Those that know more than that are privileged; if we feel comfortable enough to share our pain. Please thank us. This leads into the next factor.
  7. Never use a survivor’s story without EXPLICIT permission. – Our pain, feelings, experiences etc. are not yours to share. Period. If/when we give you permission to share something. It is for that specific thing only and for that one time. We have the right to know when, why, how, and where our story will be shared. We have the right to place restrictions on or revoke your ability to share at any point for any reason. Even if the reason is not forthcoming. Our stories are just that, ours.
  8. Don’t assume or compare – Just because we share characteristics of some/many kind(s) as another survivor, does not mean we deserve to be compared. We do not deserve to be expected or assumed to follow suit of others. Just because I grew up in a ritualistic cult gang does not mean I will have experienced the same thing or will heal the same way as another survivor who grew up in a ritualistic cult gang. Or anyone else for that matter.
  9. Ask before giving advice or touching – Not only is this polite, but also crucial for survivor relationships. We have had a lot of unsolicited advice over the years, it is a big thing most of us use to gauge a person’s safety level. The same goes for touch, we’ve had way more than our fair share of unwanted and/or unsolicited touching. If you want to build our trust, please, PLEASE ask.
  10. Survivors are more than our trauma. – We are more than our abuse. Our stories don’t begin and END with the things that have happened to us. We are human. We exist outside of our circumstances. This is something that is a huge factor for probably most, if not all of us. We are told in the life that we will never be more than a ho. We are striped of everything. Literally. We are lucky to be alive. To have escaped, if we have. If we are still in the life ALL of these are that much more important.