As the anniversary of my first memory approached with the certitude of the orange sun slowly rising out of the deep azure sea each morning, I was beyond exhausted from this seemingly endless journey. I was learning that it was important to take an occasional break from the healing process in order to come back to the work more refreshed and able to find a greater level of success. After each break I was still motivated to continue the work, yet the process was still wearing on me. I understood what was meant by “don’t grow weary in well doing.”
The last few weeks of that first summer living with this realization brought what could only be described as a budding version of normalcy and inner peace. These two once mythical things were becoming an achievable goal, not just a carrot on a stick. I was even getting to a point of considering that it was time to reduce therapy and my support group. I was feeling better, almost . . . . happy? After all, I hadn't had any new memories in months, sex was becoming less difficult and triggering, and I was sleeping again.
“What could be worse than what I had already experienced?” I thought.
My wife and I had decided that we were going to try and go back to church. We had not attended in quite some time for several reasons, but the most obvious what because the thought of entering a church building would send my stomach into convulsions. During this time of discovery I felt that God had abandoned me, turned his back on me. I was angry at God because His representative should have known better. God should have prevented AFB from even being alive. Needless to say, God and I were not on speaking terms. A church building was the last and most unsafe place I could think of going. It was going to be painful, but it was a war I was willing to fight.
Even though Jesus and I had our disagreements, I felt It was important to teach my kids morality and about Jesus. Contrary to how I felt, I wanted my kids to feel safe and nurtured in church. I wanted them to have lifelong friendships and memories of happy times, learning adventures and a healthy development into adulthood.
It was a frigid fall Sunday morning. A thick cloud of malaise and anxiety circled my head as we checked our children into their classes. I could hardly see my way down the crowded hallway. Fear began to raise my heart beat to a heavy thump, THUMP, THUMP. I needed an exit, I needed away from all of these people!! Adding to my discomfort in the brightly lit hallway, it smelled as if a cheap perfume tanker truck had exploded nearby and a toxic cloud of musk and chrysanthemums hung in the air like the stench of sewage after a heavy rain, oppressive and overwhelming.
Tightly grasping my wife’s hand for comfort and support, we found our seat (near the exit and in the back). The music began to play and the congregation assembled around me started to sing along with the words projected on giant screens on either side of the room. I stood where I was, stiff and unmoving, arms crossed trying to hold myself together. There were movement and sound all around me, yet I was frozen in another time.
“It’s ok,” I told myself over and over again, “It’s not the same place. I am safe.”
I am safe.
I am safe.
Its not the same place; I am safe.
My eyes darted around the hall looking for differences to focus on. I fumbled with the keys and coins in my pocket, a futile effort to ground myself in the present. Instead, all I saw were similarities to the past. Same colors, same light fixtures, same pews. In reality there were no similarities between the two churches, the one that I was abused in and the one I was in now. The exception was that grotesque mauve color found in all remodeled or newly built churches during the latter part of the 20th century. Who chose that color as the symbol of holiness for all churches??
The music director ended the song playing and then began to sing an old hymn. I tensed up. It was familiar.
I am not safe.
I am safe.
I am not safe.
I held myself tighter desperately trying to appear like nothing was wrong. Noticing that I was beginning to lose my grasp on reality, my wife took my right hand and began to tap it in an effort to bring some tactile stimulation based in the present.
The song played on. . .
The chairs around me transformed into old wooden pews. . .
As if reaching through the dense smoke of war, commanding the same amount of attention as a nuclear blast in a populated city, a hand from somewhere behind me touched my right shoulder and squeezed firmly. I looked behind me to see who it was. There was no one there. Just a retired couple absentmindedly singing a few rows back, far out of reach. Even though I looked behind me to see who it was, I immediately knew whose hand had touched me. A sharp pain, not acute as a pierce, but as the mist of wispy fog, passed through my anal sphincter and it began to ache as if there were something there that shouldn’t be. I could feel movement behind me and inside me. A rubbery feeling as skin feels as it rubs against itself. Then, I felt less friction in the movement inside me.
I was lost in the world outside of the present. The fog of the past wrapped its tendrils around my body holding me in place as relived every movement, every pain, every sensation. I was suspended between two realms, not seeing, nor hearing--just feeling. My body was the veil that kept me from the now. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. I wanted to run, but my body could not hear my mind screaming commands. Like so many years ago, my body and not my mind was experiencing my abuse, only this time, I was there feeling it from the other side of the mist.
The church service ended. We then piled into the car and drove to Wendy’s for lunch. I still didn’t know what had happened. I was afraid that I had finally cracked. How could my body, not my mind, remember? It seemed so disconnected.
“I could tell you were having issues today,” My wife said to me as we began to enjoy our hamburgers. “What happened?”
I could hardly speak, “There is nothing like going to a seemingly safe place like a church, only to be reminded of how utterly unsafe it is.”
I could tell she wanted to talk more, but I wasn't ready to elaborate.
Later that day, I was curled into tight ball on the couch. The T.V. was playing somewhere in the distant background.
“Are you O.K?” A familiar voice echoed through my deep depression.
I had read about what I had experienced in a survivors book a few months ago. I never thought in my wildest nightmares that I would have these ghostly memories as well.
“No.” I abruptly replied.
I needed to speak, but the words were missing. “Joel?”
“There is nothing better than going to church on a Sunday only to be reminded that you were ass-raped by God's very own representative.” I bitterly replied.
Without any more discussion She sat down next to me. I put my head on her lap and she lovingly caressed my head until some of the tension and turmoil eased.
The strange sensations of movement had faded away as the day grew older. Though what lingered was just as troubling and confusing. The pain of penetration lasted into the days afterward. It was obvious I was not ready to go back to church anytime soon.
Later that week during my support group I began to describe the odd feelings during the weekend. As I finished my story the group facilitator spoke the most important words of wisdom I shall never forget, “The mind may block out memories, or even forget altogether for a time. The body has a memory of its own, and it never forgets.”
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