When my therapist said the words to me, I nearly fell out of my chair. "You were abused!"
At first, I denied the words and acted like I couldn't hear her, but she would not let it go. Abuse, she insisted, is not just physical and verbal. Up to this point, I could identify the abuse I'd lived through with my domestic partner years back, but she was asking me to admit that another part of my life involved abuse, a part I simply hadn't considered.
Many people find it difficult to fathom that my personal relationship with the creator is as strong as it is when I am dead-set to never go to church. I sometimes struggle with that decision, but I make no secret that I feel more spiritual not going to church, closer than all the years I was there every time the doors opened.
Church—and, mostly, the people in church—were a distraction. It was difficult to celebrate God in church because I never saw much difference in church folk and "sinners." I didn't know this was not the way church should be until I was faced with the incident that turned me off church all together.
He reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr. He was smooth, clean and charming, and I was immediately attracted to him. He had a smile that reassured me, making everything in the world all right—as long as he smiled. To me, a girl who had lost her daddy, he was perfect. To a broken girl recovering from an abusive relationship, this man was a breath of fresh air. To a little girl robbed of self-awareness and pride, he was a savior. He was a knight in shining armor who happened to be a pastor.
At first, I found refuge in his church. Parishioners took me in and made me feel whole. I hadn't felt that way since my daddy died. The church eased the pain a little bit and took my mind off missing him. But soon, I started feeling the eyes of the mothers staring at me, and I had no idea why. I was trying to get to a safe place with God, a place that I thought they had reached. I admired them. I wanted to be "saved" like them. I wanted to speak in tongues and dance in the spirit. I wanted God to love me as much as he did them. I mean, nobody else seemed to, at the time.
One day, after church service, a lady I had thought very sweet walked over to me. "Your clothes are too tight," she said. "Your dresses are too short, and they are much, much too tight."
She looked at me as if I was the devil. I was embarrassed; I was wearing what I had. I never thought God cared about what I wore. He only cared about my heart, I thought. Feeling defeated and destroyed, I sought relief. I needed someone to tell me I wasn't a bad person for wearing "slutty" clothes. I went to the pastor. "If your pastor doesn't say something is wrong with your clothes, then nothing's wrong with them," he said.
I trusted him, and admiration went flying into lust. When he made advances, I was flattered, never thinking that I was wrong. He was the pastor, the head of the flock and favored by God. Surely, he wouldn't lead me down the road to damnation. Would he?
It didn't take long for him to notice my crush, and soon, it went to inappropriate touches and meetings. It went along for quite some time, until the church members started to notice and chatter picked up. When I asked him about it, he assured me that it was nothing to be concerned about.
In church, I sat on the corner seat with my leg dangling outside the pew, just as he'd instructed me. Then, one day I listened as he gave a sermon about girls coming into the church to seduce the men of God. He spoke about college-aged girls led by the devil—girls without place in his church.
I could feel the eyes of that church mother staring at me as I held my head down in shame. It may have been the longest sermon I've ever sat through. When I rose from the pew and exited the church, I believe that I left my entire soul there.
Every time I've visited a church since then, I've cried from the time I sat down. I've mourned for that little girl who I left that day. This person I trusted, admired and respected stole away from me the journey that church should be. I don't know, yet, how responsible I am. I haven't begun to assess that—this is the first time I've written about it.
Like me, many women don't recognize abuse, and we don't know the damage it's done or how it's affected us. But my soul says that it's time for me to forgive, and maybe, begin to heal. I have to let it go now so that God can get on with the work he has planned for me. And I suggest that anyone who had a bind in their heart such as this one do exactly the same.
Funmi "Queen" Franklin is a word lover, poet and advocate for sisterhood. She has a weakness for reality shows.