Series One: Blog Fifty-Four
I have been a recovering addict for over 30 years. The greatest healing experience in my addict life has been the ever-deepening exploration of my own personal story. Nothing has been as invigorating and palliative as embracing the depth of my life experience. My brother Steve and I were exposed to many of the same dynamics growing up. In many ways we shared the same experiences. We never really talked that much about our common experiences of struggle. He addressed his encounters in his way and I addressed mine differently. I think that I have always understood why Steve felt and expressed himself the way he did regarding injustices that were meted out to me and our family. There were plenty of his own injustices that he had to sort through. Everyone has a way of responding to circumstances and trauma differently. Every addict that I have ever known or treated has a story of trauma and abuse. Many refuse to unpack and clean the wound. Past wounds are downplayed and blown off as if they were yesterday’s newspaper. As a result, they likely are passed from one generation to the next with shame being the payload and secrecy the conduit. I share my story of sexual abuse for two reasons. First, to recognize that the impact of sexual abuse in life is long lasting to every addict. Second, so that what I experience can be exposed to the light of truth so that the generation that follows me will not be dominated by the abuse that befell me.
Looking back, I regret the bullshit that Steve, my other siblings, and I had to endure. There were times of laughter and ordinary fun. For that I am grateful. Yet, the days of torment and tough times demanded that I learn to reframe in order to keep from going insane. I guess I could say that we made it but the scars and damage that had been done need to be validated. The shame that dominated needed to be stalked. The story is incomplete until healing has transpired. Though I am unable to provide for anyone else’s healing in my family, I learned that I could champion my own. I hope this writing is a testament to my own healing journey. When I was in the 7th grade our pastor, who had physically abused me with a public whipping and various instances of humiliation finally felt called by God somewhere else. My prayer had finally been answered. He had been such a nightmare to me and my family. It has been said “be careful what you pray for you might get it”. In a sadistic measure, one perverse pastor was replaced by yet another sadistic reverend. After pastor from hell #1 left, Jerry Van Tine became the new pastor. There seemed to be a new era that arrived. At first, it felt good and exciting. He was young, enthusiastic, excellent musician and sort of represented the revival of youth in the church. Little was it known that he was also a child molester. In time it was told to me that he had molested numerous young boys in the churches that he had pastored.
Whether that was true or not, I will never know for sure, but I certainly know my own experience. He continued his practice of molestation at my church. For the first two years of Jerry Van Tine’s ministry he did not take note of me. In retrospect, I later suspicioned that he had been working with other young boys and engaging them. My dad never knew much about being a dad with the exception of working hard and bringing home the bacon. He never interacted much with any of the kids. As a result, there was a huge emptiness in all of our lives. If my parents were not working, they were involved with some activity in the church. For me, there was nothing attractive to attending the church when I was young. It was overwhelmingly boring. I did not care for the kids at church. There were not any who cared about what I cared for. Some were interested in cars and Popular Science magazine, but I was interested in sports and that was pretty much it. My dad was working all the time and though I loved sports, I felt really traumatized by my experience of failure with sports as a kid.
Consequently, I never really thought that I deserved to hang out with the jock crowd either. Through high school, I felt painfully inferior to other athletes. I became a prime target for someone who would groom for molest like Jerry Van Tine. Every child who was ever molested was vulnerable. Child molesters are good at sleuthing out vulnerability. They develop an inner radar of knowing which child is vulnerable and how to take advantage of a child’s naiveté and broken condition. Bored and with nowhere to go for excitement, I considered it a privilege when the pastor contacted me wondering if I would like to run an errand with him. I thought I was getting special attention that I certainly was not receiving from mom or dad. Van Tine would always tell me how mature I was for my age. In truth, I thought that was strange because when he made these statements, I knew the culture of the church preached that to be a mature teenager meant to be a Christian. I was specifically not trying to be a Christian.
Nonetheless, given the fact that I was isolated without guidance and going through a time that I was not playing organized sports, I took it all in and feasted on it. During those days I was lonely and vulnerable. I had felt so much loss. As a little leaguer, I lost my confidence which resulted into painful self-doubt without any assistance to walk through the crisis. I was never a good student and felt lost in the classroom. Even, during this time my business math teacher had polled students declaring that I was least likely to go to college. I felt low on the totem pole. Once, while traveling with Van Tine locally doing parishioner visits with him, he stopped by his office to pick up something. He had me come into his office. He began to complain about suffering excessive tension.
By this time, his special treatment triggered my thoughts that I had a designated special place with the pastor. He seemed to be less formal with me and would even joke about swearing which was like off limits for fundamental Christians. Playfully he would say “shit” with a long “I” to see how I would respond. Then he would laugh about it. The very fact that he would do this in my presence would make me feel that I was privileged and that I was a special friend. He often complained that he suffered high blood pressure. During this time, he asked me if I could massage his legs, stating that the massage would ease the tension that he felt. I remember touching his legs and feeling weird.
By this time in my life the only time I touched or was touched by someone else was for punishment or a fight. Eventually, he loosened his pants and pulled them halfway down his legs. In time he had me rub the perineum area between his anus and his scrotum, insisting that this would relieve the tension that he suffered. I only recall thinking “well if he is the pastor, it must be ok”. I was 14 at the time.
Well, it did relieve the tension, he ejaculated. I can faintly remember the smell of semen. Yet, as best I recall, from that day to this I have been unable to maintain a sense of smell. I do recall feeling shocked and wanting to throw up. What I remembered most is how embarrassed I was going to feel if my older brother Dave ever found out about what happened. It felt awful. I swore I would never tell anyone. On other occasions, he would have me rub his body with Dermassage lotion. One of the places occurred at the campgrounds that pastor from Hell #1 announced to the camp that I had wet the bed and was a “pee-baby”. I remembered distinctly being in a bed with Van Tine in one of the private bunks massaging his body. Those are very painful memories.
To cover his over invested time with me and other young boys, he would come to our house and fuel my mom and dad with bullshit praise as them being the “rock” of the church. He would tell my dad that he was a Bible scholar. My dad, with his 8th grade education, ate it all up. The conclusion was that surely, having his son hang out with the pastor would be ok! But it wasn’t. Instead it was tragic! I do not pretend to know all of the abuse that Van Tine meted out to others, but it was immense. The more time I invested in experiences with Jerry Van Tine, the more isolated I felt from others. It got to a point where I didn’t have any other connection in or out of the church. You might have thought an observant parent would have known something was up. But my parents were raised in homes void of significant nurture, affection, relational boundaries, and guidance. So, they really had none of that to give. Instead, they believed that you cannot go against God’s anointed and not face the wrath of God.
It became a perfect storm scenario for continued abuse, and it occurred. The abuse was profound. Jerry not only abused me but many other boys as well. It would be helpful for people who minimize the impact of sexual abuse to contemplate the longer term effects that can be uncovered by listening to those who have experienced this devastating exploitation. The results of drug and alcohol abuse, bipolar, dissociative, borderline, and obsessive-compulsive disorders that existed in and around family were all impacted by the ravages of sexual abuse. Though these hurtful behaviors occurred so many years ago, the results continue eating away at the fabric of mental health in the lives of those generations who have followed. Quietly and unnoticed, dreams are foiled, and anguish persists as a derivative of sexual abuse from past generations. Van Tine’s abuse of me culminated in a downward spiral. There was confusion, betrayal and abandonment that littered throughout the critical years of formation in my life. I noticed more brooding and depression.
In the end, during a trip home for Christmas break, I decided to cooperate with others and confront the sexual abuse by the senior pastor and reported the abuse to ecclesiastical authorities. The local church was utterly non supportive. Many blamed my family for contaminating their beloved pastor. My parents were accused of being troublemakers. Officials in the church decided to employ a disciplinary strategy of shunning my parents for two months even though they had been members of the church for 40 years. You might think that surely my parents would leave the church, but they didn’t. My father continued his involvement throughout the rest of his life. My mother did the same. The church totally abandoned me and all those who had been molested by Jerry Van Tine. There were no criminal charges or arrests ever made by the police. The only discipline administered was that Jerry Van Tine had to leave his pastoral ministry in the denomination of my home church. He later joined another denomination, untreated with the full prospect of continuing his devastating behavior.
The lack of action taken against a child molester by the church and the punitive action taken toward my parents was traumatic and had a devastating impact on my family. The church’s inaction and my parent’s response to the church’s appalling behavior cemented a belief that had long since been ingrained, that being, to ignore the obvious and embrace the improbable. This dynamic contributed to the addictive behaviors that germinated and flourished in my adult life. The church I grew up in was a cult. Thank God it is no longer in existence. The toxic cult nature of the church I grew up became a foundation for lifelong depression that I effectively manage and the addictions that I have had to learn to live with and manage. Though not every addict I treat was sexually molested, it is a common characteristic shared. Not every addict lived in a cult. Yet, the dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors that undermine childhood development which later triggers life damaging addictions, appears in every story I listen to. Many addicts have stories similar or even more impactful. I have listened to similar stories almost every day for the past 26 years.
Here are a few suggestions for addicts and others who have experienced abuse.
Simply, when you grow up with abuse, you don’t know anything else. Even, when you notice others living differently, you figure your experience is the way life has to be for you or you make up that your experience is toughening you in ways that others will grow up to be weak. The truth is that abuse is not the way it is supposed to be.
Nothing ever changes until it is real. A “comfort zone” for one abused is likely unbearable for someone else. An ongoing abusive culture can condition the abused experience as familiar or normal. Oddly, it becomes a comfort zone. To escape, it will require breaking away from the culture that dominates you. Just as Angela Davis and other freedom fighters broke away from the oppression of racism with radical choice, abused victims will need to do the same. You might think that the obvious should be easy, but it is not. You must separate yourself from family, institution and influence that has perpetrated abuse toward you. For me, breaking away from the local church and the domination that supported it, was a radical choice absolutely necessary to ending cult abuse. You might think that the obvious should be easy, but it is not.
Early in life I learned that abuse and chaos was the way life was meant to be. When I married my wife, I learned differently, and the chaos began to stop. I say “began” because I continued to create a lifestyle that promoted stress and tension. It was all I knew, and I had become addicted to the adrenaline of it all as if it were my morning coffee. The footprints are still there. Yet, through hours of hard work in choice making, I have learned that I can give up the storyline of abuse and offer a new legacy to my children and the generation that follows them. You can give up the story line of abuse behavior, but you will have to work for it. Freedom from abuse requires courageous radical choice making.
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