A couple years ago I asked my son, Doug, to go to an addiction program at the IFB church where he was sexually abused to get some help for his drinking. Now, I know that was like taking a burn victim back to the building where they were scarred for life from their severe burns! But not then. It did not occur to me that this would harm him and not help him. After all, I was taking him to God’s church to find healing.
I had been going back into the abusive IFB church for a few months and I had developed a tolerance for the smells, sights and sounds of that church. Well, Doug walked into the church with me and said “OH God! I feel sick!” And ran for the mens bathroom to throw up. I had forgotten about the first time I walked into that abusive church after being out for years. I too, was physically sick. Unfortunately, I kept going into that church where my boys were abused until I could walk through the halls without throwing up. I was forcing myself to develop a threshold of tolerance for the emotional alarms going off in my head warning me to RUN….RUN. Like many others who try to go back to an abusive IFB church, I was taking my son into a burning church to heal his burn scars. That is what we call spiritual denial.
Our mind and body remember the abuse and, if we subject ourselves to the same triggers over and over, eventually the triggers will get less so we can stay in an abusive church. Doug was sick for a reason. That should have been the time to walk out of the church again rather than try to tolerate the puking. I know that now.
To cope with overwhelming experiences of distress, the brain will send out an alarm message like saying, “FIRE! FIRE!” The brain of a child who is raped may react by reducing the connectivity of the Alarm Alert regions in the brain that were hurt in order to survive if they are not removed from that church environment. Doug was helpless to remove himself from the abusive IFB church/school, because his parent taught in the IFB system. Doug’s child brain, in order to survive, went through a decrease in his emotional Alarm Alert as a self-protective response. He developed a tolerance to being in that abusive church as a child but, now as an adult, all the messages of Alarm Alert came flooding back and he vomited.
Sexual abuse of children can leave its victims prone to depression, moodiness and extreme or dulled emotional responsiveness, PTSD and addictions. This tolerance to emotional pain can ultimately prove harmful because it interferes with subsequent healthy Alarm Alert messages . Therefore my idea of taking a burn victim back into a burning building, turned out as one might predict – very badly and, caused us all more burns.
The brain can change dramatically and begin to heal when provided with the right type of support and emotional nourishment. In our case, that would not be the IFB church where my boys were sexually abused. Understanding what goes wrong during and after abuse will help IFB abuse survivors figure out how to make it right. Our long-term hope is to heal mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Those who have suffered abuse in the IFB will be more sensitive to disrespect of their pain and any empowering by others for the IFB pastors or IFB churches where they were abused. Their Alarm Alerts will begin working again in time. Getting away from that abusive IFB church environment is good thing. So if you feel like throwing up when you go into your old church environment….perhaps you should puke and walk out.