I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a family member who has struggled with alcoholism for over 2 decades. Of the many things I’ve learned about alcohol and drug abuse, one is that it stunts a person’s ability to grow and mature mentally.
So if someone began abusing alcohol at age 16, many times, their mental and social skills will not progress until they emerge from their substance abuse. Even though Uncle Johnny is 42 years old, emotionally he’s still equivalent to the insecure, fearful teenager he was when he started drinking. That’s why so many who have abused drugs struggle to reconnect socially after years wasted in the twilight zone.
Spiritual Abuse is No Different
While I never abused drugs or alcohol, I was in a spiritually abusive church for over a decade. After finally realizing I was in a bad place, it took at least 10 years to come to any sense of normalcy for me, my family, and my career.
Along the way, I’ve often been frustrated at my lack of ability to connect socially. Sometimes I am too quick to assume a personal relationship and I bowl people over by being too blunt or over-sharing personal experiences without really sensing whether someone really wants to hear them.
I’ve been frustrated at how I’ve lost almost two decades denying myself the chance to develop skills or careers. In the past, I was too busy trying to “build the church”, or “reach out to the lost” and felt selfish about taking time to continue my Classical Guitar studies. I have a lot of talent, but I’m really no better a musician than I was 20 years ago.
I sold so many belongings that I should have kept. At the time, I assumed God would see my sacrifice and be there as I gave time and money to causes I thought were spiritual and everlasting. Now I wish I still had my Roland Jazz Chorus amp to make the music that I love. I wish I hadn’t sold off all my valuable baseball cards to pay for a missions trip with Campus Crusade. The many hours of free labor I gave to church and para-church ministries while my own family struggled.
The time I let my boss (at the Christian bookstore) bully me and demand I quit my second job, because he worried that other businesses in the area would think he didn’t pay his employees enough money (he didn’t). The time I let a pastor guilt me into leading worship for many more months than my schedule allowed…all the while hoping and praying that God would see my sacrifices and have mercy on me and my family.
Hoping that I was building an eternal reward, by denying myself in this life.
Right Back Where I Started
At times I’m angry at the years lost. Other times I’m just sad that I passed up so many great opportunities, both professionally and personally, because I thought I was serving a greater spiritual purpose.
At the time I thought I was running the race to be embraced and rewarded by The Father. But in reality, I was serving other people and their dreams while mine got pushed to the back of the line.
I find myself exactly where I was 20 years ago, unsure of how to navigate middle age, because I never got much of a chance to live life and grow through my experiences without someone telling me to question my heart and lay down my desires to some higher purpose.
But that’s what abuse does to you, it freezes you. It stifles and chokes you and tries to convince you that you’re moving forward when all you are doing is sinking, sinking into a hole that is harder and harder to climb out of the longer you’ve stayed.