Monday, May 10, 2010

Fear and God III: Fear, Addiction, and Abuse

I’ve been giving Fear a great deal of thought since I started this series.  For years, I’ve wondered why I was so tortured by fear as a child.  From as early as I can remember until as late as my mid-twenties (coincidentally, or not, around the same time as I began leaving behind my fundamentalist explanations of spiritual reality), I was daily or almost daily wracked with terror, a nameless dread: mind-numbing, heart-pounding, palm-sweating, tooth-clenching fear. The too-scared-to-cry, too-terrified-to-scream kind of fear. Being alone, in crowds, in bed at night, waking in the dark, speaking to people, the rare movies we saw, stories I heard from teachers in school or at church, all set off this incapacitating fear, both in the moment and in the memory.  Only escaping into books, cartoons, or music allowed any solace, any surcease albeit very limited.

When I studied for my degree in psychology, I saw in myself the symptoms of the abuse victim but I couldn’t identify anything that constituted abuse—of course, we only considered physical and sexual abuse that were fully remembered; the idea of repressed memory of abuse never came up in class and I’d never heard of spiritual abuse until quite recently. I have so many recurring hang-ups about sex that my husband has more than once questioned whether there was any incident in my history that precluded my ability to relax (a significant inquiry since he does have such incidents in his history).  A few years ago, a friend who is psychic and a hypnotist saw in me the energies of abuse and, under partial hypnosis, I even created for her a recovered memory.  The “remembered” account never happened but the psychological conditions that set the stage for the “memory” are devastatingly real.

A friend of mine in college participated in an alcohol intervention for her sister, my first exposure to the ideas of addiction, 12 Steps, and the co-dependent alcoholic family system from a perspective other than Sin, Moral Depravity, and Lack of Faith or Willpower.  Her story felt familiar but I didn’t understand why.  Years later, I described my family of origin to a shrink friend as “like alcoholics but addicted to God instead of drink.” She nodded knowingly and replied that there is nothing more deeply damaging than when the soul gets caught in addiction. She shocked me because I had never really considered that I had sustained soul damage from my family’s religion.  I promptly shoved those thoughts back under the rug of my unconscious.

But, still, I didn’t understand the source of these terrible fears. Even my friends who had lived with alcohol dysfunction and sexual molestation weren’t tortured by fear the way I was.  Surely there was some horrible event in my early life to which all this anxiety was post-traumatic stress.  The things I needed to see were staring me in the face, pointed out to me by friends; I even stated them to others, but without acknowledging the crucial relevance.  Even now that I can admit the relevance, I can only look at my fear from the corner of my eye in quick glances.  To stare my fear right in the face, to admit that I had reason to be afraid for my very soul, is more courage than I seem to have. 

I have been writing this post for weeks, it has consumed me.  I can’t write on any other topic. My virtual trashcan is overflowing with aborted attempts, stream-of-consciousness scraps, false starts and tangential leads.  I can’t read except escapist trash. Every conversation with friends turns to the Fear in my childhood.  Obviously I am struggling to bring to consciousness something that has been long denied.  These old wounds have festered under the surface of my awareness for so long that even the healing is frightening and painful.

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