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How My Abuser’s Church Congregation Reminded Me It’s OK to Relapse

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I was sexually abused at the hands of my youth pastor for seven years. From that, I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). I have made a lot of progress, with the obvious ups and downs over the last several years since the perpetrator was sentenced and imprisoned in 2017. However, living in the same community where the abuse occurred has proven to be one of the biggest setbacks in my healing journey.

This worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been heartbreaking for everyone. However, it has personally provided me the opportunity to stay home and focus on some much-needed healing. I got another year further in school, bonded more with my service dog, spent some much-needed time with my family, got a boyfriend (which I couldn’t handle before with all the triggers that the PTSD and living in this community brings), and worked darn hard to let go of my past piece by piece. It’s all worked. I’ve been able to have a successful relationship so far. I have gotten pretty much all As in college and finally settled on a degree path. I have allowed my service dog to slip more into being an emotional support dog than a full-blown service dog, as I didn’t need him as much.

Today, I went into a local restaurant for one of the first times in a while instead of my usual mobile orders on the shelf or curbside pick up. Today, I was reminded of where I live and the horrific experiences that landed me here. A couple of people were staring at me and proceeded to talk, glare and laugh as I waited in line and proceeded with my order. I realized within a few minutes that they were from that congregation. To my family, close friends and a select few families from the congregation that bothered to learn the whole story of what happened to me, I am the victim. To those who either weren’t close enough to know the full story from me or chose to believe their own version of the story, I am the casual lunchtime conversation — the thing to scold and giggle over. I had forgotten that the rape and abuse of a teenager was such a gossip topic for the church congregation.

Since the world shut down in March 2020, I haven’t had to deal with those people. But today, I was reminded of how much these events trigger me. The guilt, pain and shame that comes with what I went through felt renewed. What I have to remind myself of now is that it is OK to relapse. It is OK to feel those old emotions and use those coping skills I thought I had left behind. Right now, I am reminded that I have to do what I have to do to be OK. If that means staying in for the night, pulling out my coloring book, Netflix, and comfort food, then that is OK. While it is so difficult to have all of these thoughts again, it is nice to see the progress I made has still stuck. Just because the circumstances and surroundings have evolved doesn’t mean all my healing is gone.

My takeaway today, and what I hope you’ll get from reading this, is that any progress made is never fully wiped away. Setbacks and relapses are OK. Without these setbacks, I wouldn’t know how far I’ve truly come. I am less biter. More accepting that people don’t need to understand what I went through. I also feel less responsibility for what was done to me, not by me. I get to see that my service dog has been trained so well that he will always jump into action when he knows he’s needed again. I will be OK. Thanks to today, I am reminded that C-PTSD relapse is OK.

Image via contributor

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