I remember the last two years before I walked away from my old church. Every Saturday night or early Sunday morning I would have a nightmare involving church. They always involved church. It might be something like the pastor calling me out for some imagined sin from the pulpit and he and I fighting in the sanctuary. One time I dreamed that my home was filled with an abundance, a crazy wild abundance of things, like opening the bread box to have three fresh loaves leaping out instead of one, or opening the silverware drawer and finding set after set of silver in the drawer. That dream was terrifying because I was attempting to get my pastor to see the heaping helpings of abundance every where I turned in my home and he was scoffing, saying hateful things.
It wasn't only the pastor I dreamed about. Church members that I knew to have issues or to be a bit on the hateful side featured prominently. I woke up one Sunday morning horrified that I'd dreamed of beheading a fellow parishioner in the chapel out back..
But occasionally the dreams would not feature anyone I knew. Dreamed one morning that I was walking down a dark country road late at night and I spied God coming down from the heavens like a white robed wraith. I ran to him, calling out, screaming that He was all I wanted. As God drew near to me I could see him instantly change from the Almighty to a dark demon, who grabbed my hands and would not let go.
The nightmares stopped as soon as my husband convinced me to go with him to a local mainstream United Methodist church. I've not had another nightmare involving any church or pastor or church goes again.
After almost nine years away I've come to conclude now that it wasn't 'the devil' making me have all these horrible dreams. I was told when I timidly asked about nightmares at the old church that I was under direct attack from Satan to stop going to church. But that's not it.
I think now that it was my sub conscience screaming at me to wake up and run! What I could not perceive as unhealthy, twisted and cult-like while I was awake because I was in denial, brainwashed even, my inner mind knew was bad. All stimuli had to be switched off for the message to make its way into my active mind. The inner parts screaming at me to run away as quickly as possible, to protect myself and go.
Starting to know that I had to leave wasn't hard. But what was hard was the actual going, the giving myself permission to leave a toxic environment for a healthier future. After what I went through leaving my old church I think I now have some small inkling on a very primitive level why abused women stay with their abusers. Giving yourself permission to leave is hard. It requires that you recognize and admit to yourself, that regardless of how hard you tried to make things work that it was never going to work. It's admitting a failure, even if that failure isn't caused by you. It is hard to give up a dream, a vision of how things really should be and finally being able to take a long hard look at the reality of your situation.
It goes well beyond the practicalities of detangling yourself financially and physically from a religious organization. It involves almost amputating yourself from the body, sometimes in a radical and bloody way. But it's worth it, after you finish licking your wounds that is. Because no one else at the place you're leaving is going to give you permission to go. They're going to insist you don't have that right, or that you are deceived, to please stay because it is 'God's will'.
Let's get one thing straight, if you are being spiritually abused none of the abusers has the right to stop you from leaving. But they will try to stop you and insist that they are doing it out of love.
Even after nine years there are still people I run into from the old church that insist I'm sinning by having left, or that I'm going to hell for adminning No Longer Quivering, or they think I'm running around doing 'UnGodly' things. They don't understand that I hold all my own power and their attempts to control me are like mosquitoes tried to bring down a Harrier jet.
You don't owe them explanations.
You don't need them to give you permission to leave.
You don't have to keep allowing them to try and make you feel guilty.
You are strong.
You are enough.