My friend, Rev. Melissa Fain, wrote a thoughtful post about progress this week. I think we’ve got a theme going and I think these are important conversations to have.
Last week, I wrote A Halfway House for Post-traumatic Church Disorder Survivors. But, I didn’t talk much about how people get to that point or what it’s like being in that place.
Let’s say you have a friend who loves to swim in the ocean. One day, she gets caught in a riptide and nearly drowns. Somehow, she manages to swim back to shore. She stands on the beach wild-eyed. Heart pounding. Shaking. Terrified. The ocean is dangerous to her now. In fact, she’s downright aquaphobic.
Would you immediately take her out a mile from shore and toss her back in? (I sure hope not.)
She can’t just hop back into the ocean. She needs to start with something like sitting in a bathtub full of water without having a panic attack. Then, she can move up to a swimming pool, then a lake, and then maybe she can give the ocean another try.
I almost drowned in that ocean. Nobody threw me a lifesaver or offered a hand to pull me out. And I thought I was strong enough to jump right back in. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? If a horse throws you, you get right back on?
Right after I moved to avoid my church stalker, I enrolled in a Christian college. I joined a Bible Study group and became friends with one of the boys who attended. I told him why I’d moved and how hard it was for me to process what had happened without abandoning my faith. I told him I was having trouble trusting Christians. I told him I was absolutely, 100% not interested in having a relationship until I worked through some of this.
One night, we were sitting alone in the common room watching a movie when out of the blue he grabbed my breast. Not “accidentally brushed”. Grabbed. I told him that was so not OK and left. I didn’t want to deal with him at all, so I asked our RA to tell him to leave me alone. She did.
Then, he started leaving presents outside my dorm room and visiting my sister at work. He’d come up to me in the cafeteria like nothing was wrong and look confused when I’d blow up at him and tell him again and again to just leave me alone. I even dropped the class we had together.
The Dean of Students eventually got involved and the boy I refer to as Stalker-lite (because at least he wasn’t threatening to burn me alive) finally left me alone. But, it was too much and too soon and it proved to me that Christianity was not a safe place.
After this second cruelly inverted baptism, I swam back to shore again. And I stayed there. I stayed there for over a decade.
Every once in a while, I’d long for the ocean again and approach the shore.
I’d dip my toes in…
Feel the waves wash over my feet…
Then I’d run like hell in the other direction.
It took me a long time to work up the nerve to give the ocean another shot. I’m only about waist deep, but I’m in.
Though, it’s not exactly a fun place to be.
I’m standing here, up to my waist, waves hitting me in the chest, knowing that if I make one wrong step I could easily slip back under the water.
Meanwhile, I can see all the people who are out in the deeper water, floating around and swimming. And I can see the people standing on the shore.
And they can all see me too. And I look ridiculous to them.
They’re all yelling, “In or out?! In or out?! Make up your mind!”
“Why would you risk drowning again?” someone on the shore asks, “Are you delusional or just stupid?”
“Hurry up already!” a swimmer yells, “It’s easy. All you have to do is lie back and let the water hold you up.”
“No,” another swimmer corrects, “Just tread water like I’m doing.”
“Don’t do it that way,” another adds, “You’ll never get anywhere like that. Reach forward and kick your legs.”
But, I can’t do any of that. My muscles are frozen and I’ve forgotten how to swim. It’s taken me 15 years just to get this far out. I try to tell them, but they don’t hear me.
If I move further out, I could slip and drown… Would any of them even notice?
A woman is standing to my right. A man to my left. They stare at the swimmers with the same plaintive expressions.
We clasp hands in an anxious, unspoken communal prayer.
We’ll swim again someday. But, for today, we’ll stand in the waves and hope.