I Turned to the Church Amidst Abuse, and They Turned Me Away
If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
You would think that by now, I could talk about the church without freezing or going into a panic, but I can’t. It’s been two years, which feel more like a billion light years, but the pain is still just as fresh and the wound just as deep. It’s been two years since my struggle with suicidal thoughts caused my church to push me away. I wish that was all that caused them to push me away, but the truth is, I was shrouded in total darkness as memories of childhood abuse resurfaced and the therapy that it took to try and heal also made me face the fact I was in an abusive marriage. Suddenly without warning, they waited until I was on the very edge, and then pushed with all their might and just walked away.
Growing up, my home was chaos. Before my mom remarried, she was never home. My brother and I were the definition of latchkey kids to the very core, which meant anyone could come over at any time and there was never a safe place. After she remarried, her and my stepdad took drinking to a new level and wanted us to join them. I never had the fairytale of a mom at home, baking cookies and serving dinner, but I wanted it. When friends invited me to church, I found a room full of women who were there to love their families and serve them. There wasn’t much hope in my future, but I knew somehow and someway, I wanted that in my life.
At 17, I gave my life to Christ and I have no doubt of the realness of that moment. While the church may have failed me, my faith has not. I spent time with other church families and spent a lot of time watching the women as they served their families. Years later, I met my prince charming. He went to church, seemed to love God deeply and painted the prettiest picture of our possible life together. When he asked, I said yes. Together, we built a life that on the outside looked perfect. But as he pulled further and further away from church, I ran to it as a place of safety and solace.
Things might look lovely on the outside, but on the inside, I was dying. There came a point in my life where I felt like a circus performer, spinning plates in the air while riding on a unicycle. Nothing in my life could change or falter for one second or those precious plates would fall and everything would crumble. When I couldn’t keep up the act any longer as repressed memories of childhood abuse resurfaced, it all fell into a smoking pile of ashes.
This would be the point in the story where the church rushes in and helps their people. It was what I had always been told — you give it all for others because the church is there to take care of the sick and hurting. The childhood memories were suffocating me to the point where I no longer knew how to function. My kids were struggling to know what to do and how to carry their lives forward when their mom seemingly disappeared overnight. We were the very definition of the sick and the hurting. But the church never showed up.
Week after week, I still crawled into the church. It was my family and my community. No matter what nightmares were terrorizing me as complex trauma destroyed my life or how badly the panic attacks got, I knew I could walk into the safety of my church home and be alright. Because I felt they were my family, I slowly let them into the inner terror of my life, but still held that one big secret ultra tight to my chest. Over time, I went from saying, “My husband has been a little harsh in the past, but he’s trying now,” to finally admitting with as much levity as I could find that sometimes I didn’t feel safe around him. Yet no matter how much I let that secret slip out, I always followed it with a disclaimer that he was really trying now.
The truth was, he wasn’t trying. I was struggling to the point of wanting to die and my husband only cared if dinner was on the table and the house was clean. He wasn’t there to support me and it was his choice. There was no one to help with the kids, no one helping around the house or with dinner and all the weight that had been on my shoulders was still there even though I could barely breathe. The only time I had support was within the walls of the church, as long as I smiled and laughed.
But once the weight of truly horrific memories became too much and I could no longer form a smile, the church didn’t want me. My safe place within the walls of the church starting caving in as they drew further and further away from me.
Then, after the gossip within the staff grew to a level they could no longer contain, they did the one thing I had asked for them to never do and called my husband. At that point, because the husband is the head of the house and the men within the Southern Baptist Convention are seen as being more godly than women, the church took matters into their own hands. It didn’t matter how much I had told them he wasn’t safe to me or that he had been rough in the past, all that mattered to them in that moment was the head of our house knew the truth to what was going on with me. What they didn’t know is he already knew, and he didn’t care.
Their call to tell him that they thought I was suicidal resulted in him yelling at me for being careless with my words to others. I wasn’t suicidal that day, but in the days following as they hid from their actions, the thoughts this world was too much for me grew by leaps and bounds. I called a meeting with the pastor and his assistant, as directed in the Bible when there’s disagreements, and I asked they never do that again. He looked me in my eye and told me he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again in a second. They thought I was being prideful and didn’t care about how I told them they had made me extremely unsafe in my own home.
Men in the Southern Baptist Convention are often held in such high regard that I became nothing but a prideful, broken woman in their eyes. My words and pleas meant nothing. The same pastor called my husband again the next day.
I tried one more meeting, with another pastor present, to fix the rift between us, but with every word, their knives went deeper. There was no compassion and no love, there was only judgment and directives to trust my husband. I left that meeting knowing I would never walk back in that church again. Overnight, I lost my community and I lost my church family.
The somber truth is they shouldn’t have worried about me being suicidal on the day when their gossip stirred up panic within the walls of their office. But the days after they invalidated all of my words, made me feel extremely unsafe and then took everyone I trusted away from me, they should have feared greatly for my life. The only caveat being that at that time, they were all gone and none of them cared.
The church was so worried about my life until I left on that final day. After that, there was never a single phone call or one single email. I was truly alone in my life without a safe place and the church didn’t care. My husband, the one who was supposed to be the godly head of this house yelled at me to go back to bed and continue to be worthless while the church turned their heads and pretended I didn’t exist.
However, I have some really bad news for that church and the people there who wanted me to disappear. I’m still here. Not only am I here, I am healing. What they tried to destroy in a pile of judgment and pride, God had other plans for. I am here. I am healing. I will not be abused any longer by any person on this earth.
I am a survivor of child abuse.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
I am a survivor of suicidal ideation.
I’m still here. And I am healing.
Not only am I healing, I am coming back stronger than ever before.
The church today has to a lot of work to do. First and foremost, the church needs to recognize women as people. For too long they have made women lower than men and too often that results in abuse. Men hide within the church because it is often safe for them to abuse women and children and that fact has been proven time and time again.
Next, they need to learn about abuse and learn the signs of domestic violence. If a woman says there is any abuse in the home, even a little tiny bit, the church needs to rise to protect her and her children. In my opinion, marriage counseling is not the answer when one partner is being abusive because the dynamic will always be lopsided and the goal of the abusive partner will always be to defeat their victim.
The church also needs to recognize emotional and mental abuse are just as harmful as physical abuse. Words matter. Gaslighting, manipulation and emotional abandonment are made to destroy and hurt. Generally, people don’t walk away from emotional or verbal abuse without long-term trauma and pain.
Finally, the church needs to learn how to walk with the suffering. Until they can truly act on their words, they need to lower the banners that claim they are there for the hurting. That statement is false from my experiences. Until the church can look at a broken person without judgment and understand their role is to be a safe place, they will only hurt those people more.
The church cared about me until I became too much. When that happened, they walked away without caring if I stayed on this Earth or if I left.
I stayed. It’s been two years, but I’m still here. While I can’t drive past that church yet without grief stabbing my heart, I can smile again and I can breathe again. Hope has returned and my faith is still intact.
The church has hurt a lot of people. If you’re one of them, I’m deeply sorry.
Two years ago, I thought that shroud of darkness that covered me would never lift. Day in and day out I truly thought all hope was gone. Every time I was able to crawl out of that pit of terror, something else knocked me right back in. The fear I would never escape the abuse held onto me so tight, I thought for a while leaving this world was my only option. Some of you have been there or might be there now. If so, I see you in the dark and I’m asking you to stay. Try one more day. Please, just try.
Getty image by Rawpixel